Anyone who proposes to write a serious book on the subject of Philosophy has a few mandatory bases which must be tagged along the way. The intent of this Section is to present a brief view of my own philosophy, and to tag those mandatory bases.
the earlier definition of the term "Metaphysics" stated, this subject
will include everything which we will recognize as a "First Principle,"
irreducible primary value, or universal law. As noted in that
definition, the name of this subject area comes from the title of an
essay by Aristotle in which he attempted to derive one or more such
values or laws from what he knew about the physical laws of his
universe. Later philosophers, who were primarily guided by the dictates
of religious dogma, expanded the definition of "Metaphysics" to include
any "First Principle" which we accept as a matter of religious faith.
As noted earlier, whether or not we include principles of "faith" as
part of our metaphysical view of the universe is a question of what we
choose to accept for our epistemology. This is the essential tension in
metaphysical discussions: you really cannot discuss what belongs as a
first principle in Metaphysics without at the same time discussing the
epistemological rationale for including or excluding the particular
principle under consideration.
As Aristotle inherently recognized, this is a subject area which defies direct investigation, and can only be approached by working backwards from the sum total of all knowledge accumulated for consideration. As later scholars recognized, this subject eventually ends up as including the same first principles which support your religious faith.
Here is an important point:
The essential tension in all metaphysical discussions is that the irreducible primary values of the religious dogmas of all of the previous great religions in the world are in a fundamental state of conflict with the irreducible primary values which may be derived from the knowledge produced by scientific inquiry.
for this tension is epistemological; those who intend to rely upon
knowledge produced by scientific inquiry will tend to reject knowledge
which must be accepted on faith alone, while those who are the
proponents of faith reject all of the knowledge produced by scientific
inquiry which is at odds with the dogma of the particular religious
views to which they adhere. Virtually all known fundamentalist
religious movements are trying, in one way or another, to ameliorate
the complexity of modern life by rejecting the advancements of science
and by returning to a mode of existence which became obsolete centuries
ago. In our own country, those who try to have our schools at least
teach creationism as an alternative to evolution are part of this
world-wide fundamentalist movement.
We must not underestimate the power of fundamentalism. The governments of several countries (such as Iran and Afghanistan) have been overthrown by fundamentalist groups, and several more (such as Algeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) are under various amounts of pressure from militant fundamentalists. Many more countries (including the United States and Israel) are subject to having governmental policies of one sort or another strongly influenced by the political pressure which these organized fundamentalist groups can bring to bear.
The fundamentalist pressure, of which there is indisputable evidence, is a direct consequence of the decline of Western Civilization. As the Civilization declines towards extinction, the people feel increasingly uncomfortable (particularly the lower strata of the population, which are the most susceptible to the ideological pressures of fundamentalist groups), and can easily fall prey to the "quick fix" answer resulting from a "return to fundamental values which worked in the past."
We can probably all agree that there is something fundamentally "broken" in Western Civilization. Spengler21 provides the details, not only of the observable decline, but of the forces and processes which bring it about. As Spengler asserted repeatedly, the Culture dies when "Intellect" destroys the "Soul" of the Culture, and at that point, Civilization is born, only to immediately begin its inevitable decline towards oblivion. Why does the decline begin immediately? Because the "Soul" is dead! Why is the "Soul" dead? Because it was fundamentally irreconcilable with "Intellect," and when "Intellect" finally came to the fore in the Culture, the "Soul" had no choice but to yield, and in yielding, to wither away and die.
If you study Spengler with a view towards developing a "solution" to the problem which he describes, you discover that it is really rather obvious: "Intellect" is cold and hard, and cannot sustain the aspirations to greatness which are essential to a young and growing Culture. For so long as the "Soul" of a Culture is inherently at odds with "Intellect," the soft and sensitive "Soul" will always be destroyed by the hard and unyielding "Intellect." So, the question evolves to: "must the `Soul' always come into conflict with `Intellect?'" The answer here is less obvious, but I oh so strongly believe it to be a resounding "No!" If the "Soul" of a Culture is based on principles which do not (and cannot) come into conflict with "Intellect," then the two ("Soul" and "Intellect") ought to be able to peacefully coexist. This is, at base, a philosophical conflict; the essence of the conflict is that the metaphysical views of the universe held by "Soul" and "Intellect" are incompatible with one another. If they can be made to be compatible, it might very well be the biological equivalent to an immortality serum for the resulting Culture.
As Spengler noted, each previous Culture sprang out of a rural-agrarian base which led to a Cultural "Soul" filled with essentially the superstitious beliefs of a farming population. While the "Intellect" of Western Civilization was influenced by the great guiding hand of Aristotle, the "Soul" of Western Culture was derived from Christian dogma as applied to the rural-agrarian people of Eighth Century France. While the bulk of the ruling class paid only the barest lip service to Christianity,22 the peasant class was strongly influenced by it, and the essential power of the priesthood over the ruling class was the power to influence the peasants against their rulers. I have no reason for believing this to be any different from other Cultures.
The essential problem for mankind, then, seems to boil down to a question of deriving a Cultural "Soul" which is compatible with Philosophy, which is in turn a product of the exercise of "Intellect." The somewhat trivial answer then seems to be to derive the Philosophy first, then construct the "Soul" to match!
As Will Durant noted, traditionally Philosophy and Religion are each the "Great Enemy" of each other. As Spengler seems to imply, the aristocratic feeling for identifying with a particular piece of land and the metaphysical world-view of the religion are the two key parts of the Cultural "Soul."23 Philosophy, on the other hand (at least to the extent that a Philosophy is an organized piece of work), is a product of pure "Intellect." This "Intellect" arises out of the educated masses of the so-called "Third Estate" (or bourgeoisie). Thus, the tension between Philosophy and Religion is seemingly the same tension as exists between "Soul" and "Intellect" and which also leads to some form of revolutionary overthrow of the aristocracy by the bourgeoisie. What the people seemingly forget during this revolution is that they are also overthrowing their religious beliefs when they revolt against the aristocracy. As the people define new modes of government based upon exercises of "Intellect" and including broad statements of Philosophy, they are, at the same time, rejecting the priesthood which has always been in league with the aristocracy for the purpose of controlling the "uneducated masses" of people.
The thing which is missing from the resulting Civilization is the "Soul" of the previous Culture. Because the "Soul" of the Culture is based upon a very different metaphysical world-view, it cannot survive the transition. So, then, the resulting Civilization goes forward, seemingly never noticing the lack of a "Soul."
Therefore, here is another key point:
The missing element from all philosophies derived from exercises of pure "Intellect" alone is the force derived from the aspirations and motivational power of a Cultural "Soul."
then, which confronts any metaphysician who takes on the task of
healing a clearly sick Civilization is the problem of creating a
Cultural "Soul" which can be transplanted into the Civilization in the
place of the long dead "Soul" with which the Culture was born. Such a
transplant will hopefully restore all of the aspirations and the
motivations towards greatness which previously infused the Culture.
Initially this seems to be a problem of creating a religious priesthood
which accepts intellectual supremacy and which the masses would also
Let us look for a moment at how Spengler defined the birth of such a Cultural "Soul:"
"A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly-definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound."24
source of a "Soul" for any Culture is "the proto-spirituality of
ever-childish humanity." This contrasts with those who would assert
that Intellect and Wisdom are usually associated with old age. So the
question then becomes: "Can a group of people so organize their affairs
such that they display both the youth and vigor which are associated
with `the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity' while also
accepting the Intellect and Wisdom which are the products of old age
and hard-won knowledge?" I cannot help but answer: "Of course!" It is a
matter of popular psychology that we are exhorted to "get in touch with
our `inner child.'"
The difficulty for past Cultures is that they either did not possess, or rejected at the outset, the Intellect and Wisdom developed from prior Civilizations. I refuse to believe that this is an inevitable consequence of a youthful Cultural "Soul." Just as modern mankind knows to educate its young people, cannot we also essentially educate our young Culture to accept the product of centuries of Intellect and Wisdom from past Civilizations? Again, I cannot help but answer: "Of course!"
But the problem seems to be that all formal philosophies, derived as products of pure Intellect, forget a need to sustain "the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity" while all Cultural "Souls" of the past, like the willful children we know all too well, have neglected the products of Intellect and Wisdom as they set about to define their missions upon this Earth. In the terms of a Hegelian dialectic, the thesis would seem to be a need for mankind to organize itself for group action; the later antithesis is seemingly the Cultural "Soul" against the "Intellect" of Civilization; and the development of the synthesis, which will include all necessary components of both the "Soul" and the "Intellect," would be the objective of this book.
Thus, the approach which I adopt herein is to attempt to go through a pure intellectual exercise at philosophical development, and then to make any and all necessary allowances for "the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity."
Ayn Rand asserts that the essential principle of Metaphysics, the irreducible primary value from which all other metaphysical principles will flow, is the Law of Identity, which she expresses as: "things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature." She contrasts her axiom of the primacy of existence (of reality), with the "other" theory of the primacy of consciousness.25
If you choose to base your Metaphysics upon the primacy of existence, you will be led inexorably to the scientific wonders which mankind has developed down through history. On the other hand, if you choose to base your Metaphysics upon the primacy of consciousness, you will be led to a fairyland of make-believe, because your conscious mind is so easy to fool; so easy to lead astray; and oh so easy, therefore, to convince that right is wrong and wrong is right. Ayn Rand asserts that virtually all of the fuzziness in Philosophy, which tends to confuse the uninitiated, occurs as a consequence of writings by those philosophers who elected to follow the primacy of consciousness.
But, you ask, it is really this simple? Viewed this way, the choice is obvious: we must all rely upon the primacy of existence and ignore those things which are based upon its alternative, the primacy of consciousness.
And what about our need to allow for "the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity?" The simple single rule of the Law of Identity says nothing about the needs of our Cultural "Soul." It seems that in her desire to sift through all known facts to arrive at the one irreducible statement of metaphysical principle which cannot be challenged, Ayn Rand discarded at least one very important thing along the way: the need for humanity to feel fulfilled by exercising its consciousness. So, while we must not allow our consciousness to be the irreducible primary, seemingly we need a "second principle" of Metaphysics to allow for its fulfillment. Let's try:
Mankind knows the specific nature of some things, and knows that it can eventually discover the specific nature of other things, but there may also be things whose specific nature is never discovered. Mankind's "Mission" appears to entail pursuit of all such discoveries.
Why is mankind the only species with a developed sense of consciousness? Why is mankind the only species who appears to desire to live according to some code of conduct other than "The Law of the Jungle?" If we are to give meaning to these distinctions, we must apply some purpose to them. That purpose should also bear some relationship to "the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity." There would seem to be a close relationship between the evolving consciousness of mankind (which some philosophers erroneously assert is "prime"), the essential "proto-spirituality" of the Cultural "Soul" which was referred to by Spengler, and the child-like needs and aspirations which were also part of the Spengler quote. So, our development of a metaphysical world-view is still not yet complete; we must need at least a "third principle" of Metaphysics to try and complete our world-view:
The conscious mind of sane individuals is motivated primarily by a desire to pursue personal happiness (which includes the avoidance of pain and other sources of unhappiness).
One way in which Mankind derives personal happiness is from using our conscious minds in pursuit of the discovery of the specific nature of things, including (eventually and to the extent which it is possible) a determination of the specific nature of God.
If the conscious mind and ability to act cooperatively as a group which mankind seemingly possesses are to have some purpose to the universe as a whole, that purpose can seemingly only be fulfilled to the extent which mankind motivates personal happiness in individuals by encouraging those individuals to engage in the pursuit of the discovery of the specific nature of things, including (eventually and to the extent which it is possible) a determination of the specific nature of God.
then is: does this metaphysical world-view satisfy the needs of a
Cultural "Soul" (i.e., "the proto-spirituality of ever-childish
humanity")? Also, does this world-view allow for total intellectual
freedom in pursuit of Truth? The answer (to me, at least) is a
Those who will tend to be more spiritually inclined can view God as the ultimate Truth to be discovered by mankind. Those who will tend to be more intellectually inclined can focus on Truth as the ultimate manifestation of God.
But we cannot get off that easy. We cannot leave our Metaphysics without going through the process of iterating back and forth with Epistemology long enough to assure ourselves of the essential rightness of our decision.
21 The views of Spengler are not at all popular because so many people see them as a "downer." Also, for example: "Spengler saw history not as a linear progression, but as the flowering of a number (either nine or ten) of self-contained cultures, each with a characteristic spiritual tone, or conception of the space within which they are to act. The work was important in making a break with the Hegelian concept of history as a process governed by reason. Instead, Spengler's metaphors are biological: cultures go through a self-contained process of growing, going through their seasons, and perishing. There are no historically intelligible laws to this process. His speculations have been extensively criticized as insensitive to the interactions between cultures and to the thoughts and intentions of agents involved in the process." ("The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy" (1996), by Simon Blackburn. This characterization of Spengler is unfair. There are "laws to this process," and they are the laws which Spengler found as controlling his biological metaphor. Finally, there is the essential tension between "Soul" and "Intellect," which is also the essential tension between "Culture" and "Civilization," and which is my reason for relying upon him as providing the metaphysical "answer" to the dilemma we now face.
22 For an interesting rendition of how the ruling class acquired and disposed of wives during the Twelfth Century, sometimes with the aid of and sometimes in conflict with the church, I would suggest reading "Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings," by Amy Kelly (1950).
23 Spengler notes that each Culture exhibits a pattern of initially being ruled by two "estates," the aristocracy and the priesthood. Later, the so-called "third estate" (or bourgeoisie) arises. It would seem that the "Soul" of a Culture must be a product of the joint efforts of the aristocracy and the priesthood, while the "Intellect" of the Civilization which follows is virtually all a product of the bourgeoisie.
24 From "The Decline of the West," by Oswald Spengler.
25 I have a bit problem with her repeated reliance upon dichotomies as part of her exposition. I do not believe that virtually everything can be defined in terms of two alternatives, one of which is "right" and the other of which is "wrong," so that the individual need only choose the "right" one. Not only is there at a minimum the possibility of a synthesis, as suggested by Will Durant (in The Mansions of Philosophy, 1929, page 78), but more intense thought could certainly derive one or more other alternatives to these two basic premises, the nature of which I will not speculate at this time. To some degree, then, she is thus guilty of the same sort of intellectual dishonesty of which she accuses others.
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