Sunday, January 20, 2013

Transcending into the World

    Transcendence is typically understood as going beyond nature or the world (of appearance).  I have an interest in broadening this understanding by recognizing that transcendence also involves coming into the world.  This is not a new discovery in the history of philosophy, but a re-emphasis of past thought and a reflection on terminology.
   For Kant, 'transcendence' refers to whatever goes beyond any possible experience.  Even though this is the only sense in which 'transcendence' is used by Kant, we would do a disservice to ourselves if we did not allow ourselves to consider it in terms of its reverse.
   Kant defines life as the faculty of effecting representations.  This faculty of life is not itself a representation, and so we have a relation between something transcendent (us) and representations - cause and effect between things that are different in kind.  It is plain to see the problem, and even to associate it with its well known name: the mind-body problem.  This is the classical situation of transcendence into the world; it is frequently associated with Descartes, but I would contend that we can see it as very old, going all the way back to Parmenides' statement, "τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι" [the same thing is for thinking as for being].  We may do well not to go into obscurity, and stick with Descartes for now as the locus classicus of the problem.
   Recently, I wrote about how Descartes' doubt only affects his understanding of the subjective.  The world is cognized by our passive faculties, while our active faculty (will) is employed in doubting.  Doubting only annuls possibilities of action, rather than objects or the will itself.  Descartes cannot entirely annul life in doubt, since the doubt is also an act of will, but he is cut off from acting among the things of the world with any certainty.  The mind-body problem in Descartes, therefore, concerns how to understand how an intelligible entity (will) can effect objective entities.  Descartes considers that something greater than both subject and object is required for this, and, along with Anselm, God is employed as this object.  Matters stand differently for Kant.
   For Kant, the mind-body problem was not a live difficulty.  It is clear that asking how the category of cause can apply to something merely intelligible is an impossible question from a theoretical point of view.  The best we can do theoretically is to show that there is no inherent contradiction in thinking something intelligible as a cause.  However, in circumstances where it is demanded of us that we act, life is simply posited, unproblematically, by practical reason.  Taken practically, the mind-body problem is irrelevant, since it would only ask into what was already assumed.  However, now a peculiar reversal makes itself apparent.
   It is the experience of life that gives us a foundation for the theoretical mind-body problem.  And so, the actual transcendence into the world sets the stage for the problem of exiting the world and returning to ourselves - to transcend experience, or to know ourselves.  This first transcendence in action, which postulates life, connects the theoretical and practical in an interesting manner.
   (Perhaps a thought-worthy way to express the mind-body problem is as regulative: the mind-body problem is the idea of the highest technique.  If we could use the 'cause' of the mind-body connection it seems we could use it for any effect - it would be a godlike power: the mind body problem as the idea of the highest technique is the technically practical ideal of happiness.  I will leave this thought unfinished here.)
   We enter into the world through first transcendence by being directed to objects in the world.  An infatuation with the world immediately seems to conceal the coming-into-the-world, and our thought is modeled after the world in great part.  When we seek to employ our worldly thought in attending back to the first transcendence, we find ourselves incapable.  (We even find that our worldly way of thinking is not sufficient to understand world as such.)
   We are not necessarily cut off in thinking more broadly than our normal worldly way.  Certain things awaken a recognition of our first transcendence, for instance, the moral law expressed in our sense of duty, the sublime, and beauty.
   Philosophy seeks the return to the point of first transcendence in understanding; this is not for the purpose of leaving the world, but only in order to move back into the world with new direction.

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