Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Metaphysics as Seeing: The Christic Center of the Metaphysical Journey

Metaphysics as Seeing - The Christic CenterIn the quest to enter metaphysics as ‘seeing’ it is essential to establish the importance and necessity of a metaphysical schematic for understanding reality. Metaphysics is important because it is needed to answer the fundamental questions of life, and it is necessary because we interpret reality through the principles of first philosophy. Now, we are prepared to analyze Wolfgang Smith’s essay, Metaphysics as ‘Seeing’, so that we might find the Christic center of our journey.

Contrary to the modern suggestion, metaphysics isn’t confined to the halls of academia where professors smoking pipes and wearing tweed jackets break down the problem of universals to its linguistic parts in order to reject it as an ancient abuse of language; nor is it a field of thought accessible only to the modernist apologetics intelligentsia utilized only to frustrate the new atheist credo.

Metaphysics is effectively a human endeavor.

Wolfgang Smith reminds us of this perennial truth,

“Since the beginning of modern times, metaphysics has been viewed as an academic discipline, to be pursued at universities; and it is of interest to note that, as such, its standing and prestige in the educated world has steadily declined, to the point where many nowadays deny its philosophic legitimacy. Yet I contend that the metaphysical quest pertains by right, not to the artificial environment of the contemporary university, but to human life, human existence in its untruncated reality. In plain words: it springs from man’s innate thirst for truth, which is none other than the thirst for God…Metaphysics is therefore something that concerns each of us by virtue of the fact that we are human, which is to say, ‘made in the image and likeness of God.’ It is indeed a case of, ‘noblesse oblige’: so far from reducing to a mere academic discipline – to be pursued by ‘professionals,’ notably recipients of a doctorate in philosophy – metaphysics constitutes an activity of the mind and heart to which, in principle, all are not only entitled, but are, in a way, ‘called.’”[1]

It is worth noting that because metaphysics is by its nature a human endeavor, and not a speculative product of academic investigation, that its deepest roots are planted in the theophany of aesthetic wonderment. Humans crave answers to the deepest and most fundamental questions of life because we are made in the imago Dei and participate in a created order that proclaims the glory of the Triune Creator. Our hearts are restless, St. Augustine says in union with St. Paul, because it is “in Him that we live and move and have our being.” To the contrary of modern materialistic and epistemic reductionism, metaphysics springs from aesthetic longing and wonder, rather than doubtful skepticism.[2]

The divergent approaches in the metaphysical quest for truth points toward an important distinction between the perennial tradition and the modernist misconception. It is because the modernist intellectual conviction manifests itself through speculative doubt that it subordinates metaphysics to the confines of critical reason alone. With this in consideration, Smith says that “we tend to think that the means or modus operandi of metaphysics consists of reasoning, that is to say, of rational argument, when in fact it is, again, the very opposite: a question, namely, of ‘seeing,’ of direct perception, of gnosis properly so called.”[3] This is not to deny the rationality metaphysics exemplifies in the human pursuit of truth; it is, however, important to identify the appropriateness of its praeambula-type nature, that is, “reasoning does have a role to play; but its function is inherently negative and preparatory; to be precise, rational argument serves to deconstruct false beliefs, and in so doing, to purify the mind.”[4] Smith’s explanation corresponds to St. Paul’s teaching, “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”[5] Once these metaphysical “obstacles” are cleared away and the mind is ‘wiped clean’, the ‘seeing’ person will be prepared to perceive God in Christ.[6]

Metaphysics is not only a human endeavor; it is inherently mystical in its ultimate end, which is seeing the Incarnate Christ.

These truths should point us to the realization that the spiritual and intellectual journey of metaphysics as seeing is not merely an external investigation of the fundamental principles undergirding all of reality, but an internal examination as well. God is not only the end to which our initial aesthetic desire is satisfied, but the very subject imminently prompting our soul towards its beatific union with the Creator.[7] Smith says, “It is this inscrutable indwelling of God – as the ‘soul of our soul’ – that enables and indeed powers the quest from its first inception to its ultimate end.”[8]

Metaphysics as seeing is the primordial human endeavor journeying toward mystical union with God through the life, death, and resurrection of the Incarnate Christ.

While this is what metaphysics as seeing is, it is important to recall that a purifying of the mind in order to see reality properly is required. The human pursuit of divine truth has been clouded by a “collective blindness.”[9] Motivated by the illusions of progress, guided by the mantras of the Enlightenment, and fueled by the habituation of concupiscence, modern man has institutionalized the postmodern abyss described by Catholic doctrine as the fall of man. Progress, so-called, is the cultural actualization of nihilistic deterioration. When the demonic deceptions of the serpent echo throughout the halls of modernity the collective blindness inexorably increases in its darkness as the light of God in Jesus Christ is pushed further to the margins. This modern cultural reality indicates that, “the primary task of the true metaphysician is then to undo the collective decline, to reverse it in himself. It is a question of restoring the ‘heart’ from its ‘darkened’ condition, and in so doing, to recover the unimpaired use of our God-given ‘eyes’: such, in brief, is the task of veritable metaphysics.”[10]

In order to prepare the mind to see nature as a theophany created by God the metaphysical evangel must expose the faulty, indeed the diabolical, Cartesian dualist apparatus presupposed by modernity in an effort to wipe the blurred mirror clean. Cartesian dualism sets up an illegitimate bifurcation of reality into the mechanistic and extended material realm and the internal subjective realm of the soul or conscious mind. Dividing the world in this way has disconnected the external and internal, and nobody has figured out how to reunite them. Instead of casting aside the Cartesian project for the disaster that it is, its presuppositions are maintained due to their usefulness for scientific modeling. The ruinous nature of this bifurcation becomes most apparent when the issue of consciousness is addressed.

Smith explains,

“The point is that ‘seeing’ does not reduce to the ‘reception into consciousness’ of something that pre-exists in the external world, but constitutes rather an ‘act of intentionality’ which conditions and in a way ‘defines’ its object. What is more, consciousness is not something which precedes that ‘act,’ but is itself that act, which is to say that it is never without content – like an empty receptacle – but is invariably a ‘consciousness of.’ So too, what antecedes the intentional act ‘externally’ is not in fact the object or ‘extended entity,’ but the phenomenon, conceived (according to the literal sense of that Greek word) as ‘that which shows itself in itself.’”[11]

The participatory nature of the conscious intentional act and the phenomenal showing in itself not only circumnavigates the prioritization of the object and the intentional act of consciousness or the intentional act of consciousness and the object, but effectively breaks down the Cartesian bifurcation with the intrinsically simultaneous relation of being between subject and object.[12] And when the erroneous sophistry of the Cartesian divide has been exposed the insanity of the project, ironically, manifests itself as the demonic trickery of a philosophical nightmare.[13] After cleansing the mind of the bifurcated illusion, we can begin to take steps toward seeing anew in the depths of our heart.

After clearing the spiritual and intellectual blockade of Cartesian dualism, realizing that we are not confined to the inner sanctuary of our mind and that reality is in fact accessible, we come face to face with another hindrance obstructing the path of metaphysics as seeing – Newtonian mechanism. To properly expunge this stain from the mirror of our mind, Smith proposes the scientific Anschauung of Johann Wolfgang Goethe. The Goethean view of science suggests that the objects under observation cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts, mechanism is rejected for the organic whole of nature, there is no mechanism standing behind the phenomena waiting to be discovered by the scientist, and that which is ‘seeable’ is that which is being theorized (that is, the theory is of the object and not concerning anything ontologically behind the object).[14]

This view of science, according to Smith, has been vindicated by the discovery of quantum mechanics,

“I would like to now point out that the Goethean ‘denial of mechanism’ – which in his day was met with derision, bordering upon contempt, and not only by the scientific establishment, but by the ‘enlightened’ public at large – has in fact been vindicated through the discovery of quantum mechanics, which turns out not to be a mechanics at all. It appears that the physical universe – the universe as conceived by the physicist – cannot actually be separated from the interventions effected by the physicist himself: as John Wheeler has put it, we have been forced to admit that physics deals, finally, with ‘a participatory universe.’ What ‘breaks a physical system into parts,’ it turns out, is the empirical intervention by which the parts in question are specified; and because the measurement of one observable has an uncontrollable effect upon its so-called conjugate, it follows that the system as such can no longer be conceived as a sum of well-defined parts.”[15]

Saint Bonaventure Quote copy

The Goethean view of science, as it has been vindicated by the quantum discovery of a participatory universe, opens the door for the possibility of reconnecting to nature rather than remaining alienated from it according to the inherently reductionist project of ideological scientism. It intuitively follows from this renewed understanding of participation that a qualitatively permeated “kinship” with nature as an organically created whole reflects its analogical correlation to its divine source of being.[16]

It is from this perspective then, after eradicating the modernist presuppositions of Cartesian bifurcation and Newtonian mechanism, that metaphysics as seeing moves from being a mere potentiality to an appropriately situated mystical actuality. Metaphysics as seeing actualizes the potential for discovering the realization of the “primary center in man”[17], that is, man is the pinnacle center of creation having been made in the imago Christi, which is to say imaged after the Christic center of the Trinity. To see is to know Christ, and to know is to see Christ. The metaphysical quest begins and ends with God; indeed it culminates in our union with Christ.[18]

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Science & Myth, Pg. 201

[2] “We are prone, first of all, to imagine that the discipline stems from ‘doubt,’ when in fact it springs from a profound sense of ‘wonder,’ which is actually the very opposite of doubt: for that wonder proves to be in essence a recognition, however dim, of the inscrutable immanence of God in the thins of this world.” Ibid, Pg. 201

[3] Ibid, Pg. 201, 202

[4] Ibid, Pg. 202

[5] 2 Corinthians 10:5

[6] “Admittedly, reasoning does have a role to play; but its function is inherently negative and preparatory; to be precise, rational argument serves to deconstruct false beliefs, and in so doing, to purify the mind. That is all it can do, and indeed all it needs to do; for to the extent that the mind has been purified – the ‘mirror’ wiped clean – the ‘seeing’ takes care of itself. This holds true to the very end: as the Savior assures us: ‘the pure in heart shall see God.’” Ibid, Pg. 202

[7] “We need however to realize that God enters the picture, not only at the end of the metaphysical quest, but from the very outset, and not only as object of the aforesaid ‘wonder,’ but in a way as its subject as well. Indeed, we could in no wise ‘sense’ God outside of ourselves if H were not also present within the depths of our soul as the first ultimate ‘seer.’” Ibid, Pg. 202

[8] Ibid, Pg. 202

[9] “We have maintained, in keeping with sapiential tradition, that metaphysics is inherently a ‘seeing’; it needs also, however, to be noted that every ‘seeing’ – even the humblest act of sense perception – is in a way metaphysical, and can in principle serve to initiate the metaphysical quest. It is a question of following what may be termed ‘the spoor of God’ in visible things. ‘For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made.’ (Rom. 1:20) One may take this to mean that what St. Paul refers to as ‘the invisible things of God’ are in fact what is ‘clearly seen,’ which is to say that they are precisely what would be seen, if indeed we say ‘clearly.’ St. Paul is putting us on notice that in ‘seeing’ we generally ‘see not.’ We are given to understand that a collective blindness has overtaken us, which the Apostle goes on to ascribe to an apostasy, an estrangement from God: ‘Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’ (Rom. 1:21)” Ibid. Pg, 202, 203

[10] Ibid, Pg. 203

[11] Ibid, Pg. 204

[12] “It is to be noted, moreover, that the phenomenon, by virtue of the fact that it shows itself ‘in itself’ – that is to say, not just in some representation, some private phantasm, but literally ‘in itself’ – does not belong ‘exclusively’ to the external or objective side of the Cartesian divide: it breaks the dichotomy, in other words.” Ibid, Pg. 204

[13] “It should however be noted that in fact – mercifully! – not a single human being accepts this Cartesian stipulation in his or her daily life: to do so would constitute insanity. Instead, we have leaned to oscillate, as it were, between our ‘daily’ Weltanschauung and the Cartesian – we uphold in our scientific convictions – without so much as realizing that these two orientations stand in stark contradiction: that one moment the grass is green and the next it is not!” Ibid, Pg. 205

[14] Ibid, Pg. 208, 209

[15] Ibid, Pg. 210

[16] “But there is more: Goethe’s science is based, not only upon a profound kinship with Nature, but also upon a deep love: a love which cannot but be near to what religion knows as ‘the love of God.’ If Nature be more than a mechanism – more than an inert machine – it must be something noble and beautiful and instinct with power; and that, to be sure, is something worthy to be loved. One senses an almost Franciscan quality in Goethe’s relation to what he termed ‘Nature.Ibid, Pg. 211

[17] Ibid, Pg. 214

[18] “The metaphysical question – which is none other than the task of religion according to its highest conception – reduces thus to a cleansing that rids the soul of its impurities: those intangible and elusive ‘little bits’ that stick to it and impair our vision. We are called to the very ‘purity of heart’ by which we ‘shall see God.’ Nothing less than this will do: such is the perfection Christ has enjoined upon us…” Ibid, Pg. 220

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