THE ANTINOMIES OF APOPHATIC THOUGHT
We saw earlier that a crucial antinomy arises at one end of the question of “beginning”, the one concerning human action, because of the failure to distinguish between the logico-conceptual separation of Subject and Object, of knowledge and experience, of judgement and perception, and the practico-empirical unity of these two apparent poles. Incidentally, both Schopenhauer’s critique of Kant, which provided the foundations for Lukacs’s analysis of “the antinomies of bourgeois thought”, and Lukacs’s own Marxist-inspired historical-materialist attempt to overcome the Kantian chorismos or antinomy – both these critiques result in the positing of an “individual subject-object” that seeks to recapture the immanence of human knowledge without a qualitas occulta (at least on the side of the Subject).
Yet another antinomy arises, however, when we consider the other pole of the “beginning”, which pertains to the physical origin of the universe. Upon closer reflection, the two “beginnings” actually converge and intersect because even the origin of the universe calls into question the existence of an Uncreated Creator, of a Divinity from which the universe originates but that does not have a prior cause or beginning in turn. Let us see how the two questions intersect by returning to Hannah Arendt’s perceptive summation of the beginning that we quoted at the start of our study:
206 On Revolution - Arendt
It is in the very nature of a beginning to carry with itself a
measure of complete arbitrariness. Not only is it not bound into
a reliable chain of cause and effect, a chain in which each effect
immediately turns into the cause for future developments, the
beginning has, as it were, nothing whatsoever to hold on to; it is
as though it came out of nowhere in either time or space. For a
moment, the moment of beginning, it is as though the beginner
had abolished the sequence of temporality itself, or as though the
actors were thrown out of the temporal order and its continuity.
The problem of beginning, of course, appears first in thought
and speculation about the origin of the universe, and we know
the Hebrew solution for its perplexities - the assumption of a
Creator God who is outside his own creation in the same way as
the fabricator is outside the fabricated object. In other words,
the problem of beginning is solved through the introduction of
a beginner whose own beginnings are no longer subject to
question because he is 'from eternity to eternity'. This eternity
is the absolute of temporality, and to the extent that the beginning
of the universe reaches back into this region of the absolute,
it is no longer arbitrary but rooted in something which, though
it may be beyond the reasoning capacities of man, possesses a
reason, a rationale of its own.
The problem of beginning is the problem of creation – whether of the cosmos or of an artefact. But for there to be a beginning, we cannot trace it through a chain of causation that goes to “the beginning of time” – and that for two reasons at least. The first is that if every effect must have a cause, then the infinite regress of this hypothesis means that (a) we shall never be able to identify a First Cause, because even a first cause must be the effect of a prior cause; and (b) because such a First Cause must be toto genere, categorically different from its effect or creation, so that it is contradictory to say that any effect can have such putative First Cause as its cause! The second reason is that the regressus ad infinitum and the toto genere objections – first delineated by Schopenhauer in his critique of Kant – mean that for there to be a rationale that is not “arbitrary”, one that is “necessary”, one that, as Arendt puts it, “possesses a reason, a rationale of its own”, such rationale must indeed “reach back into this region of the absolute”, - it must evoke “a beginner whose own beginnings are no longer subject to question because he is ‘from eternity to eternity’” – per saecula saeculorum in Christian liturgy. This is the transcendental deduction that both Scotus and Kant effect to divine (!) the conceptual necessity of the Ab-solute and at least the possibility of its actual ec-sistence.
But again “this eternity is the absolute of temporality”, in other words this temporality is so eternal (!) that it lies outside of time itself! If indeed the Ab-solute ec-sisted, then it would negate the very apophatic concept that led to its projection or de-sumption. The beginner and the beginning are such that “not only do they not rely on a chain of cause and effect”, but also “it is as if the beginning came out of nowhere in either time or space”. This is the apophasis of the trans-scendental, of the meta-physical: the ab-solute concepts of philosophy can be conceived of only in negative terms, in terms of what they are not; not in terms of their con-ditions or limits, but in terms of the Un-conditioned. But these apophatic (negative) concepts – the infinite, eternity, the One – are not real concepts because their essence is pure negativity, because they do not con-ceive or “grasp” anything at all – they are mere negation, sheer emptiness, sheer void.
So here is the second antinomy, aside from the subject-object one discussed above, that involves the beginning as creation: this is an antinomy induced by the logico-conceptual projection from the finite to the infinite – as distinct from the first antinomy that is induced instead by the logico-conceptual distinction between experience and knowledge, perception and judgement. The projectio per hiatus irrationalem (Fichte) seeks to link by “leaping over them” the finite with the in-finite, the peris (limit) with the a-perion (unlimited), time with the time-less, time with eternity! Kant’s notion of Pure Reason (Vernunft) as a logically or dialectically necessary transcendental extension of the intellect or instrumental reason (Verstand) to complement and project the finitude of the intellect toward the infinite of our imagination once again, as in the case of the experience and knowledge distinction, hypostatizes a logico-conceptual category into a practico-empirical reality!
The ineluctable fact remains that it is idle to extrapolate from finite empirical observations to the positing of an entity – however infinite – that has no discernible bearing on human existence. Above all, the very positing and conceiving of notions such as eternity and infinity and of the Deity point to a spatio-temporal, perceptible realm that is wholly inconsistent and contradictory with the ideality of the concepts themselves! As Scotus himself would put it, a square circle is unimaginable, and therefore it cannot exist – but neither can God and eternity, then, contrary to what Scotus argued! If the finite points to infinity and the temporary to eternity, the opposite is also true – so that it is impossible to derive not just the necessity but even the possibility of these antitheses requiring the existence of both poles! Furthermore, and this puts the final seal to the transcendental projection, once we project a concept such as eternity or an entity such as God at the end of time or of the causal chain, or of space for infinity, - at that precise moment the temporality of eternity, the personification of God and the totality of infinity return paradoxically and catastrophically to destroy the very basis of the conceptual projections that gave rise to them! Thus, eternity is annulled by the receding infinity of time which, in its very infinity, still remains “temporal”! And God is materialized by the chain of causation – as a finite “being” that begins the entire chain – and so on and so forth.
From Scotus, all the way to Kant, the transcendental has operated through apophasis – through the conceptual positing of the negative of the hic et nunc, of the human experience of the in-stant. Thus, philosophy has always posited as real what the real does not speak of but e-vokes: once again, in-finity out of finitude, eternity out of time, and the One out of the many. The Un-conditional has been desumed (assumed apophatically) from the conditional. But the Un-conditional is always and everywhere purely conceptual. Not only can its ec-sistence not be desumed, but also it cannot even be conceived of except in its void-ness, in its empty-ness.
“Nulla di incondizionato e’ intuibile, ne’ in cielo ne’ in terra – direbbe Hegel. Incondizionato non e’ l’oggetto, in quanto apparenza ed esperienza; incondizionato non e’ il soggetto pensante, in quanto determinabile soltanto mediante il riferimento a cio’ che gli appare realmente (poiche’ reale e’ questa apparenza) come esterno a se’….” (M. Cacciari, Dell’Inizio, p.44).
Far from being objects of the intellect, these concepts are simply contradictory because immediately we conceive of them as ideal, as res cogitans, they imply or entail the spatio-temporality of the res extensa – and then vice versa, the minute we project conceptually their material spatio-temporal existence to infinity, we end up with an ethereal abstraction that has no basis in concept or in reality! It is impossible to reconcile time and eternity, to extrapolate from finitude to infinity, from multiplicity to unicity. This is why we must con-fine ourselves to finite space-time as the only conceivable reality. The eternal and the deity and infinity are not ‘objects’ of the intellect because they are unintelligible and inconceivable except as the most vacuous abstractions – literally as non-sense! We have no concept of eternity or of infinity or unicity because all immediately require their sensual opposites – time, limit and duality or multiplicity.
Cacciari in Dell’Inizio: “Il postulato del pensiero empirico sostiene che cio’ che e’ formalmente concepito risulta anche percettivamente intuibile (cioe’: immaginabile). Un pensiero che non permette immagini, che non e’ immaginativamente costruibile, sara’ mero ‘Schein’… Percio’ la sintesi con cui immaginiamo la forma del triangolo ‘tiene’ perfettamente a quella (percettiva!) con cui lo apprendiamo sensibilmente” (pp.38-9) [Again, the example of a “square circle” or “green red”.]
Conversely, as Cacciari rightfully insists, even the non-contradictoriness of a concept does not and cannot obviate its in-existence or even allow for its mere possibility, as Scotus wrongfully believed – in other words, the fact that a concept is not of the type “a square triangle” or “a green red” does not mean that it does or that it even can exist!
“La pura possibilita’ logica, la pura non contraddittorieta’ del pensiero, non solo nulla dice sulla effettiva esistenza dell’oggetto stesso, ma, in quanto tale, permane senza senso ; essa non si accerta, non si documenta, non si legittima prima di essersi mostrata in figure, prima di essersi schematizzata. L’esperimento [scientifico] altro non e’ che questa figurazione-schematizzazione-immaginazione del concetto,” (ibid., p.40).
As we intimated earlier, this problem or enigma is evident from Kant’s oscillation in the formulation of the transcendental imagination as the ‘screen’ between sense perception or intuition that invokes the object and the intellect that invokes the appearances filtered by the intuition as Empfindungen – sensations. Kant’s “solutions” to this enigma fatidically end up in his acquiescence in describing and categorizing them as insoluble “antinomies”. (On this, see further chapters 1and 2 in Cacciari, Dell’Inizio.)
“E’ della massima importanza capire bene che qui Kant non assume la conoscenza fisica, bensi’ la stessa matematica….La matematica adempie alla esigenza di di-mostrazione del concetto ‘mediante la costruzione della figura’ …. Il ragionamento matematico in se’, come ogni conoscenza teoretica, raggiunge la propria certezza quando sa darsi in figure, quando se ne intuisce la verita’…[E’] questa idea della matematica a informare di se’ quella della fisica,” (M. Cacciari, Dell’Inizio, p.40).
Importantly then, it becomes impossible also to separate mathematical reasoning from physical scientific experimentation because the experiment is a Gedanken-experiment (Mach) that would be un-imaginable without the “figure-schema-image” of the concept (see Cacciari above at p.40). The scientific experiment can be “applied” only through the lens of the physico-mathematical concept – however much we may choose to separate the studies of “pure” from “applied” mathematics and physics! Science does not in-vent in the sense of ex-cogitating; it does not dis-cover except in the guise of un-covering. At best, it re-searches in the sense that it finds what and where it was already searching.
Heidegger was perhaps the first to opt for this anthropological reading of Kant as against the German Idealists on one side, and Schopenhauer on the other – in Kant’s Problem of Metaphysics. His methexisof the imagination completely supplants the Platonic chorismos. Heidegger’s fallacy is his outlandish claim that Kant actually meant his critique to emarginate transcendence and to establish the osmotic union or synthesis of the Object and the Subject in (a) the act of perception framed by (b) the transcendental imagination. (Contrast Husserl’s dismay at this reading of Kant in his marginal notes to Heidegger’s Kantbuch.) Yet the overwhelming evidence is that Kant’s transcendental or critical idealism essentially confines metaphysics to the role of ancilla scientiarum from which he had proposed to rescue it (in the Introduction to the First Critique) – to the explication of the valid boundaries of the physico-mathematical sciences. Kant sees only transcendental forms that delimit the sphere of idiographic disciplines outside the nomothetic physical and mathematical sciences. (Of course, the rapid rise of Neo-Kantism from Lask to Cassirer, Cohen to Kelsen, Windelband and Reichert to Dilthey and Weber, Schlegel to Scleiermacher, is explained thus.)