[These excerpts show Voegelin's techniques for coming to grips with a problem. There is no "methodology" although there is method. One cannot drop one's problem into a Voegelin sausage-making machine!  But by absorbing these principles, it is hoped that one would be able to summon them when they are needed.]

 ( * means newer)

Anamnesis: Commentary on a New Literary Form

There just has come out a volume of about 400 pages, entitled Anamnesis. It is my philosophy of consciousness. . . . The book has several functions. In the first place, I had to publish a book in German sometime as a sort of public obligation—my work in English is not read here. . . and a professor has to come out with a book now and then.

Second, I had to work through quite a number of theoretical problems before I could finish Order and History —this I have done, in recent years, in a number of articles published in German, and now integrated into Anamnesis.

Third, however, and most important, I wanted to experiment with a new literary form in philosophy. Let me explain: Heraclitus has been the first thinker to identify philosophy as an exploration of the psyche in depth—its tension, its dynamics, its structure, etc.

This exegesis of psyche or consciousness has remained the center-piece of philosophy ever since. However, it has been overlaid historically by philosophy in the secondary sense of communicating the results of exegesis as well as its speculative consequences. Hence, philosophy moves in history as an up and down of an exegesis of consciousness and a dogmatic formulation of results, a return to the original consciousness, new dogmatizations etc.

At present, we are faced with the problem of getting rid of a considerable heap of dogma—theological, metaphysical, and ideological—and to recover the original experiences of man's tension toward the divine ground of his existence. Now, while dogma can be presented in the form of systems, of ratiocination from unquestioned premises, or discursive exposition of problems presented in the philosophical literature, original exegesis of consciousness can proceed only by the form of direct observation and meditative tracing of the structure of the psyche.

Moreover, this structure is not a given to be described by means of propositions, but a process of the psyche itself that has to find its language symbols as it proceeds. And finally, the self-interpretation of consciousness cannot be done once for all, but is a process in the life-time of a human being.

From these peculiarities stem the literary problems. Heraclitus has found the form of the aphorism as the adequate expression of biographical moments illuminating the structure of the psyche. Another form is the via negativa of Christian meditation, still used by Descartes.

The matter is further complicated, inasmuch as every attempt at original exegesis of consciousness is undertaken historically in opposition to the prevalent dogmatism of the time, and receives its coloration from it.

The exegesis is an attempt to recover or remember, (hence the title Anamnesis ), the human condition revealing itself in consciousness, when it is smothered by the debris of opaque symbols. Hence, one cannot simply take over an historically earlier analysis of consciousness, such as the Heraclitian, Aristotelian, or Augustinian, but must start from the current obstacles to human self-understanding.

This should give you some general idea of the problem. In my special case, I proceeded in the following manner:

Parts I and III of the book contain two meditative exercises of about 75 pp. each. The first one I went through and wrote down in September-November 1943; the last one, in the second half of 1965. The first one, in Baton Rouge, was the breakthrough by which I recovered consciousness from the current theories of consciousness, especially from Phaenomenology. The second one, begins as a rethinking of the Aristotelian exegesis of consciousness (in Met[aphysics] I and II), and then expands into new areas of consciousness that had not come within the ken of classic philosophy but must be explored now, in order to clear consciousness of the above-mentioned dogmatisms.

—Between the two meditations, I have placed, under the title "Experience and History," eight studies which demonstrate how the historical phenomena of order give rise to the type of analysis which culminates in the meditative exploration of consciousness. Hence, the whole book is held together by a double movement of empiricism: (1) the movement that runs from the historical phenomena of order to the structure of consciousness in which they originate; and (2) the movement that runs from the analysis of consciousness to the phenomena of order inasmuch as the structure of consciousness is the instrument of interpretation for the historical phenomena.

Well, we'll see how the public will take to this novel form which is neither pre-Socratic, nor classic, nor Christian, though it has certain affinities to the mysticism of Plotinus and [Pseudo-] Dionysius Areopagita, not to forget the Cloud of Unknowing.

Robert B. Heilman and Eric Voegelin
A Friendship in Letters, 1944-1984,
Hurried over the Face of the Earth ,
Letter 110, [Munich], June 19, 1966,

pp 241-243.


Doxic Methodology

. . . A critical study of history, based on empirical knowledge of phenomena, is impossible, when a whole class of phenomena is denied cognizance. Since the appearances of empirical knowledge, as well as of critical science, must be saved just as much as the appearances of reason, a considerable apparatus of devices has been developed for the purpose of covering the defect. Such devices I shall call doxic methodology; the resulting type of doctrinaire science, doxic empiricism.

The problem is set by the constructions of history to which our analysis had to advert: they draw their strength from their opposition, not to faith and philosophy, but to late doctrinal forms of theology and metaphysics; and they remain themselves on the very level of doctrine whose specific phenomena they oppose. The persuasive trick of carving history into ascending phases or states of consciousness, for the purpose of placing the carver's consciousness at the top of the ladder, can be performed only under the assumption that man's consciousness is world-immanent and nothing but that. . . .

CW Vol 12,
Immortality: Experience and Symbol,
p 71.


The Experiences which Philosophy Presupposes

The immediate experiences presupposed in Aristotelian metaphysics are not difficult to find in the classic sources, if one looks for them; but after all this preparation, I am afraid, they will come as an anticlimax because of their apparent simplicity. For we find ourselves referred back to nothing more formidable than the experiences of finiteness and creatureliness in our existence, of being creatures of a day as the poets call man, of being born and bound to die, of dissatisfaction with a state experienced as imperfect, of apprehension of a perfection that is not of this world but is the privilege of the gods, of possible fulfillment in a state beyond this world, the Platonic epekeina, and so forth.

I just have mentioned Plato; if we survey this list of experiences, we shall better understand why for Plato (who had a sharper sensitiveness for the problems of existence than either Aristotle or Thomas) philosophy could be, under one of its aspects, the practice of dying; under another aspect, the eros of the transcendent Agathon; under still another aspect (that leads us back to the formulations of Aristotle and Aquinas) the love of the Wisdom that in its fullness is only God’s.

CW Vol 12,
On Debate and Existence,
pp 41-42.


The Historical Horizon—
Classical and Christian Experiences

In speaking . . . about the experiences of the mystic philosophers and their fulfillment through Christianity, an assumption concerning history is implied that must be explicated. It is the assumption that the substance of history consists in the experiences in which man gains the understanding of his humanity and together with it the understanding of its limits.

Philosophy and Christianity have endowed man with the stature that enables him, with historical effectiveness, to play the role of rational contemplator and pragmatic master of a nature that has lost its demonic terrors.

With equal historical effectiveness, however, limits were placed on human grandeur; for Christianity has concentrated demonism into the permanent danger of a fall from the spirit— that is man's only by the grace of God— into the autonomy of his own self, from the amor Dei into the amor sui. The insight that man in his mere humanity, without the fides caritate formata, is demonic nothingness has been brought by Christianity to the ultimate border of clarity that by tradition is called revelation.

This assumption about the substance of history, now, entails consequences for a theory of human existence in society that, under the pressure of a secularized civilization, even philosophers of rank sometimes hesitate to accept without reservation. You have seen, for instance, that Karl Jaspers considered the age of the mystic philosophers the axis time of mankind, in preference to the Christian epoch, disregarding the ultimate clarity concerning the conditio humana that was brought by Christianity. And Henri Bergson had hesitations on the same issue— though in his last conversations, published posthumously by Sertillanges, he seemed inclined to accept the consequence of his own philosophy of history.

This consequence can be formulated as the principle that a theory of human existence in society must operate within the medium of experiences that have differentiated historically. There is a strict correlation between the theory of human existence and the historical differentiation of experiences in which this existence has gained its self-understanding. Neither is the theorist permitted to disregard any part of this experience for one reason or another; nor can he take his position at an Archimedean point outside the substance of history.

Theory is bound by history in the sense of the differentiating experiences. Since the maximum of differentiation was achieved through Greek philosophy and Christianity, this means concretely that theory is bound to move within the historical horizon of classic and Christian experiences. To recede from the maximum of differentiation is theoretical retrogression; it will result in the various types of derailment that Plato has characterized as doxa.

[ FN ]
FN. The dependence of a progress of theorizing on the differentiating experiences of transcendence has become a major problem in intellectual history. Theoretical superiority as a factor in the victory of Christianity over paganism in the Roman Empire, for instance, is strongly stressed in Charles N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine (New York, 1944), esp. chaps. 11 and 12. The technical superiority of Christian over Greek metaphysics has, furthermore, received careful treatment in Etienne Gilson, L'Esprit de la philosophie medievale, 2d ed. (Paris, 1948), esp. chaps. 3, 4, and 5. The continuity of development from Greek into Christian theoretical explication of experiences of transcendence, on the other hand, was clarified by Jaeger's Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers. In this contemporary debate comes to life again the great problem of the praeparatio evangelica that had been understood by Clement of Alexandria when he referred to Hebrew Scripture and Greek philosophy as the two Old Testaments of Christianity ( Stromates vi). On this question see also Serge Boulgakof, Le Paraclet (Paris, 1946), 10 ff.

CW Vol 5,
Chapter 3
The Struggle for Representation in the Roman Empire
§ 1 pp 151-52.
[U.Chicago ed., p 78-80]


Literary Criticism: Its Proper Method

And now let me take up some of the principles I have discerned, or believe to have discerned [in Heilman's new book on Othello, entitled Magic in the Web, ] and which I admire both for clarity of conception and force of execution.

First of all, the principle of exhaustion of the source. The interpretation of a literary work by a first-rate artist or philosopher must proceed on the assumption that the man "knew" what he was doing—leaving in suspense the question of the level of consciousness at which the "knowing" in the concrete instance occurs. Under that assumption the interpretation will be adequate only, if every "part" of the work makes sense in the comprehensive context.

Moreover, the sense must emerge from the texture of the linguistic corpus, and it must not be prejudged by "ideas" of the interpreter. No adequate interpretation of a major work is possible, unless the interpreter assumes the role of the disciple who has everything to learn from the master.

—Under all of these aspects your book is a model of the art of interpretation. No premature generalization from the partial sense that can be secured by pulling out this or that strand of motifs; no preconceived "psychology" of characters, that easily could be bolstered from so rich a work by looking away from what does not fit; but the discipline of proceeding with the analysis, until every piece of text has revealed the part of "magic" which it contributes to the web.

That is an achievement of the first order in a time when corruption of method is the order of the day. I do not know how bad the situation is in your field; but in political science and philosophy, we are buried under the flood of literature which interprets, for instance, Plato as the Fascist or socialist, or constitutionalist, without so much as attempting a conscientious analysis of the structure of a dialogue.

From your notes I have the impression that the general level in the study of Shakespeare is somewhat higher—but the impression may be erroneous, because you may have followed the same method as I do on such occasions, of simply ignoring the worst kind of rabble.

The first principle (the exhaustion of the source, in order to make sure that the meaning ascertained is indeed the meaning intended by the source), has then to be accompanied by the second hermeneutic principle: that the terminology of the interpretation, if not identical with the language symbols of the source (a condition that can frequently be fulfilled in the case of first-rate philosophers, but rarely in the case, of a poem or a myth), must not be introduced from the "outside," but be developed in closest contact with the source itself for the purpose of differentiating the meanings which are apparent in the work, but too compactly symbolized as that the symbols could be used in the discursive form of rational analysis.

If that contact is not preserved with the utmost care, the interpretation will rapidly derail into the sort of interpretation that is so easily "put upon" a work of art. —In this respect again you have lived up to principles—and the discipline has paid off well in as much as it forced upon you a richness of vocabulary for expressing nuances of emotions and ethical attitudes that can only arouse admiration. For considerable areas of moral life you have delivered something like a "phenomenology," especially for such "in-between" phenomena as "insecurity," "romanticism," "aspiration," "intention," etc., nothing to say of such really complicated phenomena as "toughness."

In the case of a tragedy by Shakespeare, the discipline just mentioned will carry, however, only from a strand of compact motifs to the more immediate differentiations and distinctions in terms of a phenomenology of morals. Beyond this immediacy of analysis lie the meanings, which the poet develops in the action and language of his poem, and which the critic must translate into the rational order of his work.

This conception of the whole of human nature, that in the poem is carried by the magic in the web, must now be carried by the magic of the system.

And here I am now full of admiration for your qualities as a philosopher. For you have arranged the problem of human nature in the technically perfect order of progress from the peripheral to the center of personality—if I may use [Max] Scheler's terminology. You begin with modes of deception, the problem of appearance and reality; and you end with the categories of existence and spiritual order—with life and death, love and hate, eros and caritas, transfiguration and demonic silence.

The form of your book has convincing authority because it is determined by the substance presented. . . .

Robert B. Heilman and Eric Voegelin
A Friendship in Letters, 1944-1984,
Philia Politike,
Letter 63, Cambridge, Mass., July 24, 1956 ,

pp 150-152 .


Metaphysics, Truth and Debate

The speculations of classic and scholastic metaphysics are edifices of reason erected on the experiential basis of existence in truth; they are useless in a meeting with the edifices of reason erected on a different experiential basis. Nevertheless, we cannot withdraw into these edifices and let the world go by, for in that case we would be remiss in our duty of "debate". . . .

The "debate" [in opposition to ideologists] has, therefore, to assume the forms of (1) a careful analysis of the noetic structure of existence and (2) an analysis of Second Realities, with regard to both their constructs and the motivating structure of existence in untruth. "Debate" in this form is hardly a matter of reasoning ( though it remains one of the Intellect), but rather of the analysis of existence preceding rational constructions; it is medical in character in that it has to diagnose the syndromes of untrue existence and by their noetic structure to initiate, if possible, a healing process.

CW Vol 12,
On Debate and Existence
p 51.


The Philosopher's Duty: To Avoid Both
Fideism and Skepticism

[. . . We] can lay down two rules for the philosopher. On the one hand, he is not permitted to side with the [religious] believers and, in particular, he must not let himself be betrayed into arguing the doctrinal question whether man, or his soul, is immortal or not. For in doctrinal argument symbols are erected into entities: and when he participates in it, he involves himself in the error that Whitehead has named the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

On the other hand, he is not permitted to side with the objectors, as they deny validity to propositions concerning God, the soul, and immortality, on the ground that they cannot be verified or falsified like propositions concerning objects of sense perception. This argument, however, is pointless, as nobody maintains that doctrinal propositions refer to the external world; the appearance of an objection accrues to it from the false premise that doctrinal truth is not derivative but original. . . . [The Philosopher] must grant the intellectual advantage to the objector, because he escapes the believer's fallacy of operating with hypostatized symbols. He must grant the existential advantage to the believer, because the objector pays for his intellectual cleanliness the price of denying truth altogether, while the believer preserves truth experienced at least in its doctrinal derivation. . . .

CW Vol 12,
Immortality: Experience and Symbol,
p 65.


The Philosopher's Field of
Experiences and Symbols

To gain the understanding of his own humanity, and to order his life in the light of insight gained, has been the concern of man in history as far back as the written records go. If today a philosopher turns reflectively toward the area of reality called human existence, he does not discover it as a terra incognita, but moves among symbols concerning the truth of existence which represent the experiences of his predecessors.

This field of experiences and symbols is neither an object to be observed from the outside, nor does it present the same appearance to everybody. It rather is the time dimension of existence, accessible only through participation in its reality; and what the philosopher moving in the field will see or not see, understand of not understand, or whether he will find his bearings in it at all, depends on the manner in which his own existence has been formed through intellectual discipline in openness toward reality, or deformed by his uncritical acceptance of beliefs which obscure the reality of immediate experience.

CW Vol 12,
Experience and Symbolization in History
p 116.


Restoring Political Science to
a Consciousness of Principles

By restoration of political science is meant a return to the consciousness of principles, not perhaps a return to the specific content of an earlier attempt. One cannot restore political science today through Platonism, Augustinianism, or Hegelianism. Much can be learned, to be sure, from the earlier philosophers concerning the range of problems, as well as concerning their theoretical treatment; but the very historicity of human existence, that is, the unfolding of the typical in meaningful concreteness, precludes a valid reformulation of principles through return to a former concreteness.

Hence, political science cannot be restored to the dignity of a theoretical science in the strict sense by means of a literary renaissance of philosophical achievements of the past; the principles must be regained by a work of theoretization that starts from the concrete, historical situation of the age, taking into account the full amplitude of our empirical knowledge.

CW Vol 5,
p 89.
[U.Chicago ed., p 2-3]


Symbols and Non-existent Reality

The symbols in question [such as the language symbol Immortality ] intend to convey a truth experienced. Regarding this intent, however, they suffer from a peculiar disability. For, in the first place, the symbols are not concepts referring to objects existing in time and space but carriers of a truth about nonexistent reality. Moreover, the mode of nonexistence pertains also to the experience itself, inasmuch as it is nothing but a consciousness of participation in nonexistent reality. As Heb. 11:1 has it: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen." And finally, the same mode also pertains to the meaning of the symbols, as they convey no other truth than that of the engendering consciousness. . . .

CW 12,
Immortality: Experience and Symbol,
p 52.


The Theorist, the Truth He Represents
and the Questions He Must Ask

. . . . Society [has been shown to be] a cosmion of meaning, illuminated from within by its own self-interpretation; and since this little world of meaning was precisely the object to be explored by political science, the method of starting from the symbols in reality seemed at least to assure the grip on the object.

To assure the object, however, is no more than a first step in an inquiry, and before venturing further on the way it must be ascertained whether there is a way at all and where it leads. A number of assumptions were made that cannot remain unchallenged. It was taken for granted that one could speak of social reality and of a theorist who explored it; of critical clarification and theoretical contexts; of symbols of theory that did not seem to be symbols in reality; and of concepts that referred to reality while, at the same time, their meaning was derived from reality through the mysterious critical clarification.

Obviously a whole series of questions imposes itself. Is it possible that a theorist be a person outside social reality, or is he not rather a part of it? And if he be himself a part of reality, in what sense can this reality be his object? And what does he actually do when he clarifies the symbols that occur in reality? If he does no more than introduce distinctions, remove equivocations, extract a true core from propositions that were too sweeping, make symbols and propositions logically consistent, etc., would then not everybody who participates in the self-interpretation of society be at least a tentative theorist, and would theory in a technical sense be anything but a better reflected self-interpretation? Or does the theorist perhaps possess standards of interpretation of his own by which he measures the self-interpretation of society, and does clarification mean that he develops an interpretation of superior quality on occasion of the symbols in reality? And, if this should be the case, will there not arise a conflict between two interpretations?

The symbols in which a society interprets the meaning of its existence are meant to be true; if the theorist arrives at a different interpretation, he arrives at a different truth concerning the meaning of human existence in society. And then one would have to inquire: What is this truth that is represented by the theorist, this truth that furnishes him with standards by which he can measure the truth represented by society? What is the source of this truth that apparently is developed in critical opposition to society? And if the truth represented by the theorist should be different from the truth represented by society, how can the one be developed out of the other by something that looks as innocuous as a critical clarification?

CW Vol 5,
Chapter 2
Representation and Truth
§1 pp 129-130.
[U.Chicago ed., p 52-53]


Time and Preanalytic Experience

The analysis of existence has to proceed step by step; and it has to use verbal expressions such as illuminate, become aware, transcend, and so forth. The appearance of a process in time thus created, however, must not be taken for reality. the process is inherent to the analysis, not the existence. In reality all the moments of the structure, distended into analytic steps, are present at once and “known” at once in preanalytical experience. . . . The analysis of existence can do no more than make explicit what everyman knows without it.

CW Vol 12,
On Debate and Existence,
p 48.


The Tricks of the Ideologue

. . . Truth experienced can be excluded from the horizon of reality but not from reality itself. When it is excluded from the universe of intellectual discourse, its presence in reality makes itself felt in the disturbance of mental operations. In order to save the appearances of reason, the doctrinaire must resort, as we have seen, to such irrational means as leaving premises inarticulate, as the refusal to discuss them, or the invention of devices to obscure them, and the use of fallacies. He does no longer move in the realm of reason but has descended to the underworld of opinion, in Plato’s technical sense of doxa. Mental operations in the subfield, thus, are characterized by the doxic as distinguished from the rational mode of thought.

CW Vol 12,
Immortality: Experience and Symbol,
p 70.


The Two Aspects of the Anthropological Principle: as a General Principle for Interpretation and as an Instrument of Critique

You are familiar with Plato's often-quoted phrase that a polis is man written large.[ FN ] This formula, one may say, is the creed of the new epoch. To be sure, it is Plato's first word in the matter and by far not his last. But, however much this principle must be limited by the introduction of other ones, and even though concessions must be made to cosmological interpretation and to the truth that, after all, it contains, this is the dynamic core of the new theory [of politics]. The wedge of this principle must be permanently driven into the idea that society represents nothing but cosmic truth, today quite as much as in the time of Plato. A political society in existence will have to be an ordered cosmion, but not at the price of man; it should be not only a microcosmos but also a macroanthropos. This principle of Plato will briefly be referred to as the anthropological principle.

Two aspects of the principle must be distinguished. Under the first aspect it is a general principle for the interpretation of society; under a second aspect it is an instrument of social critique.

As a general principle it means that in its order every society reflects the type of men of whom it is composed. One would have to say, for instance, that cosmological empires consist of a type of men who experience the truth of their existence as a harmony with the cosmos.

That in itself is, of course, a heuristic principle of the first importance; whenever the theorist wants to understand a political society, it will be one of his first tasks, if not the very first, to ascertain the human type that expresses itself in the order of this concrete society.

Plato used his principle under this first aspect when he described the Athenian society in which he lived as the sophist written large, explaining the peculiarities of Athenian order by referring them to the socially predominant sophistic type; he, furthermore, used it in this sense when he developed his Polis of the Idea as the paradigmatic construction of a social order in which should find expression his philosophical type of man; and he, finally, used it under this first aspect when in Republic viii- ix he interpreted the successive changes of political order as the expression of corresponding changes in the socially predominant human types."

Inseparably connected with this first aspect is the use of the principle as an instrument of social critique. That differences of social order come into view as differences of human types at all is due to the discovery of a true order of the human psyche and to the desire of expressing the true order in the social environment of the discoverer.

Now, truth is never discovered in empty space; the discovery is a differentiating act in a tightly packed environment of opinion; and if the discovery concerns the truth of human existence, it will shock the environment in its strongest convictions on a broad front. As soon as the discoverer begins to communicate, to invite acceptance, to persuade, he will inevitably run into a resistance that may prove fatal, as in the case of Socrates.

Just as in the cosmological empires the enemy is discovered as the representative of the Lie, so is now, through the experience of resistance and conflict, the opponent discovered as the representative of untruth, of falsehood, of the pseudos, with regard to the order of the soul. Hence, the several Platonic types do not form a flat catalogue of human varieties but are distinguished as the one type of true humanity and the several types of disorder in the psyche. The true type is the philosopher, while the sophist becomes the prototype of disorder.

The identification of the true type with the philosopher is a point that must be well understood, because today its meaning is obscured by modernistic prejudices. Today, in the retrospect of a history of philosophy, Plato's philosophy has become one among others. In Plato's intention, his theory did not develop a philosophy of man; Plato was engaged concretely in the exploration of the human soul, and the true order of the soul turned out to be dependent on philosophy in the strict sense of the love of the divine sophon.

It is the meaning that was still alive in Saint Augustine when he translated the Greek philosopher into his Latin as the amator sapientiae. The truth of the soul would be achieved through its loving orientation toward the sophon. The true order of man, thus, is a constitution of the soul, to be defined in terms of certain experiences that have become predominant to the point of forming a character. The true order of the soul in this sense furnishes the standard for measuring and classifying the empirical variety of human types as well as of the social order in which they find their expression.

FN. Plato Republic 368c-d. [ BACK TO TEXT ]

CW Vol 5,
Chapter 2
Representation and Truth
§4 pp. 136-138.
[U.Chicago ed., p 61-63]