WHAT IS NATURE?

Part 2

When the gods , too, having become homeless through the dissociation of the cosmos, relocate themselves in the truth of God, and thereby the relation of the divine to the world has become clear, this clarity leads in turn to new problems, as soon as the relationship is interpreted in the language of the experience of being.

The difficulties are caused by an only slowly dissipating obscurity concerning a number of points. In order to avoid lengthy historical investigations, we prefer to formulate them as theses:

(1) The being of philosophical experience is not a newly discovered entity to be added to the things that are already given in the primary experience of the cosmos.

(2) The experience of being differentiates the order of things (a) in their autonomy, (b) in their relation to one another, and (c) in their relation to their origin. This experience discovers the order of the cosmos.

(3) The divine ground of being is not an existent thing of the type of the existent things in the world.

(4) Things existing in this world have, in addition to the order of their autonomous existence and of their relations to one another, also a dimension of order in relation to the divine, nonworldly ground of being. There are no things that are merely immanent.

(5) The world cannot be adequately understood as the sum total of relations of autonomously existing things. That is not possible even when the directly experienced relations are extrapolated into infinity, for the indefinite progression is itself a world-immanent event. The mystery of a cosmos penetrated throughout by gods is not overcome and left behind by the experience of transcendence that dissociates the cosmos into God and world. The impossibility of construing the world as a purely immanent complex of experiences is even today a central theme of theoretical physics.

The historically concrete problems will be understood more clearly in the light of these theses.

The cosmos is dissociated by the experience of being, but all that it formerly comprised in a compact way, which also included the gods, must now be reinterpreted in the language of the order of being. In other words, the now-world-transcendent God must henceforth come to be philosophically included in the order of being. This undertaking is a philosophical necessity—for where and what would be the world's order of being if it did not issue from the creative presence of a divine being?

Yet here we run into the difficulty that the divine and the worldly being are not things that lie on this side or that side of a spatial dividing line. Instead, transcendence and immanence are no more than indices attached to being, once the cosmos is definitively dissociated by the experience of transcendence. Now being is nothing but a network of ordered relationships among the "things" given in the primary experience of the cosmos (not in the world), the network being what we are interested in understanding correctly.

Hence as we speculate about being, which itself is not a thing (Thesis 1), the pre-philosophical, cosmic things have a tendency to insinuate themselves as the model of being. When, as in Parmenides, God becomes the model of being, then the being of the world sinks, in comparison with the being that has found its ground in Truth, to the status of a doxa; when the nondivine things provide the model for being, then the predicates, derived as they are from the world-being, including even the predicate, being, can apply to God only analogically.



In the Experience of Being, Cosmos is Retained


Impasses of this type cannot be resolved on the level of an objectifying speculation about being. In order to solve them, the philosopher must acknowledge that the forms of the primary cosmic experience are still present in his speculation about being, and he must include in his philosophy the truth of the primary experience of a compact divine-worldly cosmos. For the cosmos may very well be dissociated by the experience of Being into a divine and a worldly being, but that differentiating knowledge does not dissolve the bond of being between God and world, which we call cosmos.

If the consciousness of the cosmic bond of being that lies in the background of all philosophical thinking fades out, then there emerge the well-known dangers of an ungodded world and of an unworlded god, of a world reduced to nothing but a nexus of relationships among existent things, so that it is no longer a world, and of a god reduced to mere existence so that it is no longer god.

The agony of modernity induced by this reduction when it becomes a fact of life, and the resultant tension between a full God [Vollgott] and a God of being [Seinsgott], rings out in the appeal of Pascal's Memorial: "Dieu d'Abraham, Dieu d'lsaac, Dieu de Jacob, non des philosophes et des savants" [O, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and sages].

Plato was aware of this cosmic background of philosophic speculation and therefore separated carefully speculation about being from myth: The problems of the transcendent idea belong to the dialectic of speculation about being; the problems of the destiny and judgment of the soul (Gorgias, Republic), the cycles of order and disorder (Statesman), and the creation by the demiurge (Timaeus) are expressed through myths.

Under the third and final heading, the act of the experience of being confronts us with the problem of the relation between the order of being and the man who is cognizant of it. Contrary to the possibilities that the order of being might be unintelligible to man or that, conversely, man with his capacity for recognizing an ordering principle might confront a being without order, the actual situation demonstrates a remarkable conformity between order of the mind and order of being.

Today that conformity may appear as a curiosity, if it is even noticed in the first place; this is reflected in Einstein's dictum: "The only thing unintelligible about the universe is its intelligibility." Or, as an alternative, it might appear as a basic problem of philosophy, a truth to be regained by means of a laborious confrontation with modern objectivist thought, to which one must clearly commit oneself—as Heidegger did in his Satz vom Grund.



The Man Who is Awake


The Hellenic thinker simply had the experience, and needed only to interpret it. Heraclitus (B1) makes a play on the two meanings of the term logos, i.e., as the order according to which things come into being and as the didactic discourse that explains things (hekasta) according to their nature (kata physin); and Parmenides (B3) states bluntly: "For it is the same thing to think [noein] and to be [einai]."

The experience of being rouses man to the reality of order in himself and in the cosmos; only he who lives in this movement is a man awake, who holds in common with others who are awake the one and only world (kosmos), in contrast to the sleepers, each one of whom lives in his own private world (Heraclitus B 89).

In the background of the experience of being, the primary experience of the cosmos, in which man is consubstantial with the things of his environment, asserts itself. This is a partnership which in a man engaged in philosophical speculation is raised to the level of a waking consciousness of the community of order that unites thought and being. The knowledge of these relations of being remained alive in Greek thinking to Plato's and Aristotle's day.

For Plato, as for Heraclitus, the philosopher is a man awake, who communicates to his society the knowledge of its right order, while the tyrant is the sleepwalker who gratifies his lusts in public and commits crimes that come from the dreamworld of fantasies. For Aristotle the spoudaios is the full man who is in the highest degree permeable to the cosmic-divine movement of being and who, by virtue of this quality, is a creator of ethics, passing down to society the knowledge about what is right by nature.

Once the cosmic background lying behind the thinking on being is lost, this classical conception of the full man faces the same dangers as the conception of the full god: Man, reduced to a being, turns into an existent thing in a world understood only as immanent; and in his relation to the world of being he is no longer a partner, but is reduced to that of a cognizing subject.

Once more we must ask the question why, in the history of Hellenic thought, the philosophical concept of nature was narrowed down to the metaphysical conception of nature as form. Our survey has revealed the cause: The problems of the new thinking about being could obviously be mastered only one step at a time. The philosophical conception of the nature of being admitted, or retained, a becoming that was already represented in the primary experience of the cosmos; whereas the metaphysical conception inclined toward identifying the nature of things as the aspect of being that is ordered by form.

Between these two tendencies tensions build up that can be detected in a remarkable passage of Aristotle's Metaphysics Delta, which deals with the interpretation of a statement by Empedocles. In the version passed down to us by Aristotle (the text B 8 in Diels-Kranz's edition is different), Empedocles is quoted as saying: "None of the things that exist has nature [physis]; there is only a mixing and separating of things mixed, and 'nature' is but a name men give to the mixtures."



Why Set Aside Becoming in Favor of Form?


He seems here to want to say that the reality of the being of things is found in the coming together and coming apart of their elements, rather than in the configurations they assume in their ephemeral existence. Aristotle then adds the astonishing anti-mythical commentary that, even if a thing which is or becomes by nature already has on the one hand the elemental content of its being, we attribute a nature to it only if it has its idea or shape (eidos kai morphe).

The problem of becoming, which was dominant for Empedocles, is set aside in favor of form. In view of the rivalry of these dominances, we have to ask ourselves why the two concepts of nature got into mutual tension. Why could one not supplement the other without conflict?

The tension has been caused not so much by the technical difficulties of thinking through the problems or of developing a suitable terminology—although these are weighty enough in themselves and have not been mastered to this day. The real reason is an emotional blockage created by the fact that the experience of Being is at the same time an experience of God.

This survey has shown that the dissociation of the cosmos began with the Ionian experience of being, but was brought to completion only through the experience of transcendence on the part of later thinkers. The partners sharing the cosmos separate into a world of relatively autonomous things this side of God, and a divine ground of being beyond the world.

Between the two stands man as the being in whom the dissociation takes place, in whom, nevertheless, God and world encounter each other again in the manifold of experiences that elicit the rich vocabulary of philia, pistis, elpis, eros, periagoge, epistrophe [love, faith, hope, eros, conversion, turning-toward], and so on, as a manifold of expressions corresponding to them.

When the autonomous nature of existing things in the world comes up, the question of the nature of God also arises, without whom understood as transcending the world, there could not be any world of things this side of God, endowed with autonomous natures. And wherever God and world are separated by the experience of being, the problem of man in turn comes up, as who experiences the order of being, and therewith experiences himself to be who experiences it: the problem of man, who with the experience of himself as being the experiencer of order comes upon the knowing truth of his own order, and therefore of his nature.

This ontological complex makes sense only as a whole. Philosophizing becomes senseless if it isolates one of its components without regard for the others.

When the experience of being differentiates itself from the primary experience of the cosmos, it presses forward toward a new image of God as the former of the order of being, toward the image of the demiurge. We can measure the fascination with this newly grasped formative power by the fact that Aeschylus's Prometheus could give expression to a human derailment corresponding to the demiurgic image of God even before Plato created the myth of the demiurge. This new experience of God becomes a source of disturbances in which the form of being gains dominance over the becoming of being.

The following examples might illustrate the intensity of the illumination radiating from the experience of a demiurgic image of god.

In the myth of the Timaeus, the demiurge is the master builder who fashions the cosmos by imposing form on matter. In the Statesman, the statesman is seen as a kosmokrator [ruler of the universe] who imposes form on the human soul-stuff of society. In the Sophist (265E) Plato draws a parallel between human activity and the divine: "I posit, that things that are said to be made by nature are the work of divine art, and that things which are made by man out of these are the work of human art. And so there are two kinds of production [poietike], the one human, and the other divine."


ANAMNESIS
CW Vol 6
Chapter 7, "WHAT IS NATURE?"
pp 163-169.




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