Friday, November 09, 2007

A Note on Epistemology

"Matter confers individuality, form universality." - Aristotle

Ross' paper on on Meaning and Universals prompted this consideration.

"An individual object AS an individual object is PARTICULAR, not universal", while the blueness of the object IS universal....speaking for instance of my PC monitor. There are many blue things so blue is a quality of many objects, a universal. But, in so far as the monitor participates in the universe as a whole, is, indeed, a foci of the universe...every object is a focus of all reality, prima facie, I think, then perhaps the assumption that the monitor is not a universal like its quality of being blue is just that, an assumption. After all, it is true that, like blueness, there are many instances of "monitorness" as well.

Yes, BUT man made monitors. He didn't make blue. Can't. And, more importantly, blue is not material while monitors are. Monitors have always been POTENTIALLY in existence, but blueness has always been ACTUALLY in existence, at least since the creation of the universe, I
think. Actual objects not yet "invented" or realized, in their potentiality, are part of the end within, the entelechy. Abstractions/universals that will pertain to these coming objects are all with us now and are not the end within. Universals are actual within themselves even if there is nothing to which they might pertain. The quality of being blue, then, is metaphysical, an eternal paradigm waiting always for suitable conditions to pertain for it to come into existence. An object, an individual, i.e., a sentient life form with perception in the appropriate bandwidth, and so on, these are such conditions. This is the Platonic "form" of blue.

Here is the formula from Ross:

"The "form" of the object will be the complex of all its abstract features and properties. If the object looks red or looks round or looks ugly, then those features, as abstractions, belong to the "form." The individuality of the object cannot be due to any of those abstractions, which are universals, and so must be due to something else. To Aristotle that was the "matter" of the object. "Matter" confers individuality, "form" universality."

Based on these considerations, reason is to knowledge as understanding is to wisdom, I think. Reason, a kind of measurement, is ALWAYS anthropomorphic, rooted in our "body". You can measure your way to knowledge but not wisdom. People confuse understanding with measurement. Understanding draws from the "Tacit Dimension", from form and constituent universals, not from matter, individuals. While measurement is always "of" matter, understanding is "of" form. Form takes us beyond the individual because constituent qualities of form pertain beyond any one material aggregate. They are abstractions of the "thing" and as such are the coin of understanding in the same way mathematics, for instance, is the coin of measurement in the service of reason. Therefore, understanding pertains to the field beyond the individual. Its culmination is wisdom. Further, in answer to the question "how do I understand this?" I answer, "because I am this."

There is no proof of wisdom, no logic, no mediation through reason, knowledge, or measurement.

Wisdom like blueness is a universal and might come to pertain to certain individual sentient beings equipped with the proper bandwidth, so to speak.

Wisdom is the entelechy of understanding as much as knowledge is the entelechy of reason or a rose is the end within the rose bud, or the oak within the acorn.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Instinct, will, thought, reason, faith

During study of Blaise Pascal's "Pensees" I note that one can have will without thought. For instance, animals "will" but can't do math. Instinct in animals is akin to a primitive form of will. Animal instinct evolves in man to will and thought emerges too bringing reason into existence. Instinct did not exist before evolution of animals. So, with progress of evolution from matter to life there is emergence of attributes such as instinct, will, thought, etc. that pertain to conscious being. Instinct, will, thought, reason are concomitant ingredients of consciousness.

These and others are surely seeded in existential mass itself by knowing intention and their emergence proves existential meaning and purpose to the cosmos.

One must wonder if faith is the opposite of will. Not exactly, I think. But while faith is not intention it could be characterized as the yielding to "intrinsic" intention, intention embedded in fundamental reality itself.

Seeing there is something here, in existence, in the Real, beyond my understanding, beyond my ability to fully grasp and hold as "my" own knowledge, while I apprehend benevolence therein, I yield, suspend "my" will. That, I think, is faith.

I accept that the Real is a divine mystery the discovery of which is infinite action of the unknown. Life is the platform for this process and consciousness is the tool. Faith is a mechanism, perhaps "the" mechanism, of sentient life to participate fully in this cosmic purpose and meaning.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Eroticism, Music and Madness - annotated


Prof. Poteat passed in 2000 so this is more than a little late I suppose. I knew him briefly at the University of Texas, Austin philosophy department in 1970/71 where he was guest lecturer from Duke University.

Another of my benefactors instructed that if you bring something to mind again and again it tends to take on a life of its own and that in fact, if you are following others who have pursued similar meditations you eventually tap into that stream of consciousness, as it were, and benefit from the work of those in whose steps you follow. I have done that all these years with the knowledge imparted to me by Bill Poteat. That endeavor has increasingly come to occupy my mental activities and has been a source of inspiration and discovery. I was blessed to have the great fortune to have known this wonderful man. I am, of course, not an academic and am anything but an expert in these things but they bring me joy and more importantly, peace. It helps me to write this down in a more formal way than it exists in the books and papers scattered around my study and in the thought patterns, modifications, of my mind.

Bill Poteat used this course in part to convey his thoughts about modern man’s malaise. His thinking is that a large segment of western man has evolved into a spiritless self, a self in despair and that this personal tendency has roots in a fundamental philosophical conflict between Greek and Hebrew world views. Hebrew thought, being the basis for Christianity, is a primary underpinning of the western experience. It is this influence that creates, or posits, as Kierkegaard (Author A) wrote, the daemonic in nature, the sensuous genius, the erotic. This daemonic spirit is expressed most eloquently in the classic work of Mozart, Don Giovanni but its ramifications are much more than musical. This spirit informs every aspect of modern life. Poteat thought that it was the foundation for a madness that permeates modern civilization. He particularly thought that the development of atomic weapons were the most egregious manifestation with the accompanying policy of “mutual assured destruction”. He put together a tape that he played for the class that combined among other things the sounds of exploding atomic bombs with the music of Mozart’s Don Juan. At this juncture in my life, I am not so sure that it would not be more accurate to attribute war like activities to a more primitive impulse in the human animal than the sensuous in nature as posited by Hebrew shortcomings that flowered in Christianity. This is not to say that these attributes have no bearing whatsoever on the tendency of mankind to make war. It is an ephemera that we pursue here. Trying to pin down such cause/effect relationships is an extremely daunting intellectual exercise to which people, like Bill Poteat, dedicate their entire lives. My efforts pale in comparison.
Having said all that it is important to point out that Prof. Poteat was a practicing Christian. So was Kierkegaard, though he was at odds with the established religion of his time. The ESOTERIC teachings of Christianity do not carry the same negative baggage as that written of here. It is but one scenario that might shed some light on western history, on western man in particular, and how he has evolved as a sentient being in a world. I happen to believe that Christianity on the whole has been a positive influence. Take particular note that I, and not Poteat, focus attention on so called evangelicals. However, it goes without saying that I find a limited common cause with them in certain ways, particularly in the political realm. I think we share a common love of liberty and an attendant rugged individualism. This is an infinitely complex issue and any attempt to quantify all of the nuances involved will necessarily fall short. I would note in passing the parallels, I think obvious, between the activities of intoxicated youth (and yes, adults too) at rock concerts and those in attendance at an “old fashioned” revival meeting. As well, it is worth noting that highly successful political figures, e.g., Adolph Hitler, used the spoken word in the musical sense herein described and were able thereby to not just engender a longing in the sense of the sensuous but to make it into a power base, to use it to hold a whole population in thrall and set them on a suicidal course of action.

The previous post in this blog, of course, is as true a copy of the syllabus as I could make. Here I presume to insert my personal comments. I also appended Pascal’s fragments 72, 205, and 427 as well as the below referenced excerpt from Kierkegaard’s (Author “A”) Either/Or Vol. I.
I would provide an excerpt for the reader here from Blaise Pascal’s Pensee’s, fragment 72. This is good to keep in mind as you undertake a reading of what follows:  He who regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and observing himself sustained in the body given him by nature between those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight of these marvels; and I think that, as his curiosity changes into admiration, he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than to examine them with presumption.”

In memory of William H. Poteat

"Eroticism Music and Madness"
Course Syllabus
I. "Eroticism, Music and Madness"
As principle, as power, as self-contained system, sensuousness is first posited in Christianity; and in that sense it is true that Christianity brought [the] sensuous into the world.
1. Arche' as Cosmos, logos, psyche.
Arche', first principle, beginning of the world {as cosmos, i.e., order, ornament, opposite of chaos; as logos, i.e., fundamental order of the cosmos, divine word or reason (believed) incarnate in Jesus; as psyche, i.e., human soul, mind, spirit, universal consciousness}
2. Arche' as davar.
 
Arche’ (Greek) as davar (Hebrew), word or thing, action of God in space/time. From root word “dibur” meaning “to speak”. Every davar expresses a dibur—a spoken message. Every physical object or phenomenon, in addition to its physical reality, conveys a spiritual comment on existence.

3. The ordinacy of Cosmos arche' –
Orderly arrangement, disposition of order as first principle.
4. The different ordinacy of davar arche'
Orderly arrangement, disposition of word or thing, action of God as first principle, beginning of the world.
a. Logos is being, is reality, is divine. (Reality does "hide" itself, must be sought behind "appearances".)
b. The relation of "appearances" to logos. Being and nothingness relation.
c. Yet: Being is finite and fully knowable.
d. Davar is not reality, is not being, is not divine.
e. The paradigmatic act -- speech
1). Speech and speaker: former manifests latter, but not fully.
2). Act and actor: former manifests latter, but not exhaustively.
3). The person cannot be known exhaustively -- by another, by himself.
4). The Person is fully disclosed only to God.
5. What is the ordinacy of the Davar arche'?
a. Keeping promises -- God's model.
b. Is retaining one's identity
1). Cf. Israel vs. Yahweh: "I will be as I will be" -- "absolute relation to the absolute, relative relation to the relative."
2). Edward Chamberlain, Bendrix.
II. So -- whether you have the ordinacy of a finite Cosmos, or that of a providential divine will -- faithful Yahweh -- as alternative principles, you still do not have "restlessness and tumult, infinity."
A. How then does Xianity posit that spiritually (pneumatically) qualified sensuousness expressed in the musical Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera?
B. Xianity destroyed the finite, harmonious and fully intelligible cosmos of Grk. thought by substituting davar (the speaking and heard word) for logos (the word as written and read).
The book of Mark, 16:15 “Go into the world and PREACH the gospel…!” Proselytize, evangelize, stand in a pulpit and exhort the congregation. Passion is key to success of evangelizing. I would further note that, to my knowledge Jesus never wrote. Any reference to his teaching always follows the form “Jesus said so and so.” I think this simple fact goes a long way towards verifying the thought of Kierkegaard and Poteat.
C. This made the relation between medium and its content more equivocal and contingent.
1. Reality does not hide behind appearances -- logos behind aesheta.
2. Reality is equivocally manifest as a person is always equivocally manifest in his speech.
3. Reality of man is contingently manifest inasmuch as he cannot fully indwell his own speech.
D. But the medium of speech becomes radically distinct from all cyclical and organismic forms of ordinacy; and becomes paradigmatic medium to reality.
E. Let us remember:
1. Language has its element in time.
2. It passes away in time in an essential sense.
a. Because of verbs with 3 tenses
b. Reflexive first personal pronouns -- thereby making a constant reference to the world as radically experienced by each of us in our bodies.
3. That inasmuch as speech has its element in time:
a. The sensuous element is negatived
b. Therefore: as a medium, speech frees us from ordinate nature, thereby giving us spirit --while restoring ordinacy at a higher level. (We "hear" the meaning not the "sounds")
F. Yet -- the very equivocalness and contingency of the relation between this medium and its content has two consequences:
1. Emphasizes the importance of fidelity to the spoken word -- the promise -- with Yahweh as model. Our words are forever in danger of becoming "musical".
2. Thereby suggests an antithesis to itself.
3. The loss of identity in passion finds a perfect expression in another medium which has its element in time, viz., music.
Evangelism aims to create a sense of passion as an instrumentality of loss of identity to a separate reality, abode of the divine. Intense emotional response and so called speaking in tongues is outward appearance of this. The speech of the evangelist is more music than word. One goes beyond listening for the meaning and listens for the “beyond” and in a sense goes there to the point of being in trance like state even at times, fainting.
a. Sensuousness is pneumaticized, i.e., freed from ordinate nature, by music because it hurries in a perpetual vanishing and has no reflexivity.
Pneuma, the vital spirit, the soul, or the spirit of God as holy ghost. Sensuousness comes to be filled with soul, i.e., soul is transfigured as sensuousness, the erotic in nature, and thus assumes characteristic of the daemonic. Evil is state of being insatiable, forever seeking fulfillment through sensual gratification.
b. We hear the "restlessness, tumult and infinity," not the sounds.
c. Eroticism thus becomes a power in itself.
d. It is inordinate, discarnate, spiritual, infinite, erotic longing.
It is a chaotic, disembodied spirit totally given over to infinite, erotic longing. This is the seusuous genius of Don Juanism.
e. Cf. E/O. p. 88 -- "The Middle Ages..."**
E/O is Soren Kierkeegard's "Either/Or, Vol. I"
f. Don Giovanni is "pure, discarnate erotic spirit..."
4. With neither the ordinacy of finite cosmos nor that of an unfailingly faithful will, the world is neither eternal (as a Cosmos) nor contingent (as a creature which might have not been) and becomes "contingent" in the sense that it is underivable, as a meaningless surd.
5. Pascal's Pensee's: Fragments* 72, 205, 427.
6. If psyche (Cosmos) is no longer the locus of numinal power; and, if pneuma no longer corresponds to the Yahwist speech, then psyche (Cosmos) becomes heimarmene, the insensate prison of an alien and restless power in quest of a 'hidden' divinity.

Heimarmene, divine providence or fate in the sense of God’s justice-dealing activity. I think Poteat meant something other than this here.

Now -- both the ancient Cosmos metaphor and the Yahwist metaphor gave alternative accounts of the background of order and meaning in the world; they both saw this background as “holy"; and in different ways commensurate with human existence.  When both of these metaphors are fragmented -- we are left with an impersonal cosmos and a homeless voice whose questions evoke no (Yahwist) answers.
This fragmentation is, of course, what we are trying to understand.

Pascal advises the wise thing to do is just “contemplate in silence” the mystery of being. I agree that the default state is silence, peace. But absent any evidence to the contrary it is as likely as anything that God is a child with an ant farm and that there is no purpose outside that parameter. The cynicism of this view is astounding suggesting as it does that to see what we will do he invents trouble to throw at us, stirs us up with a stick for the pleasure of watching whether we overcome or succumb. This is as far as skepticism can take us, I suppose. I am personally more comfortable with less extreme approaches to achieving an understanding of being in the world. Coming out of that infinite silence of Pascal one can make a way to an infinity of destinies. The main problem with some views is they are just too simple and I think the purely skeptical, cynical view clearly falls into this category. One can mold life around the kernel that we live in an “impersonal cosmos” but it is wrong to do so. At the same time we can evolve unconsciously into a modality of living that means necessarily that ours is “a homeless voice whose questions evoke no (Yahwist) answers.” I think this is the obvious outcome of living a merely materialistic existence. One can consciously choose to believe that the universe is impersonal but those that follow the paths of Don Juanism, of the sensuous, the daemonic spirit that is materialism, make that choice unconsciously. It is made for them by their nihilistic solipsism. In the complete service of evil, as a majority of society seems to be, we all suffer from the combined madness and flounder in a tumultuous malaise of dread, fear, and anxiety from which there is “no exit.” I think there are good reasons to take different paths.

Plato, in the Timaeus, defines out of the divine, out of God, an aspect or facet he names the Demiurge. In Gnosticism this Demiurge is a divinity that is more builder of the material world than creator of the universe. He is the Archon, stands between man and God proper, and is capable only of endowing man with a sensuous soul whereas a rational aspect to the soul is an additive of the greater God. The Hebrew Jehovah God was identified as Archon by the Gnostics.

Speaking from personal experience, ritual activities of evangelical Christians involve dissipation of self identity in passion. A confused amalgam of feelings of not just joy, but guilt, anxiety, dread, fear, sorrow, and awe characterize the passages into these trances. I would point out that joy is not necessarily peace and also note Kierkegaard thought that dread was the opposite of faith. I wonder whether Christian faith, for many, is not also based on feeling? They try the impossible, to “know” with their body rather than their soul. They intend to “love” God, but is it not something less than God that they truly love? Is the trance itself a surrogate for the divine and thus is it not true that they in reality worship evil? God, thus, eludes them and their embrace sadly closes merely on the abyss. We are warned that there are serious pitfalls on the spiritual path, that evil is devious in the extreme and can appear as the greatest good, as the brightest truth. Tread carefully the path to God.

Look again at Don Giovanni, the sensuous genius as expressed in Mozart’s opera. This mode of worship of which we speak is not unlike Don Juanism, not unlike the tumultuous musical experience. Meaning is lost to feeling; feeling IS the whole of the Real, assumes a spirit of its own, a forever discarnate spirit, disappearing on its appearance, ephemeral and perpetually vanishing, seeking everywhere anihilation. It can’t be held and therefore is impossible to truly affirm. It is essentially empty, a meaningless, purposeless surd. Evil is that. Void of meaning and purpose is that longing for rapture, union with the divine in a “separate” realm, a heaven, to be carried away there to permanent bliss, joy, and release from the bonds of the flesh in order to join with eternal spirit. It is an impossible dream and those who truly find the essential truth of reality find that “the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/ and know the place for the first time.”

So, for the simple person, is there a true path to the divine? Yes, and it is essentially characterized by humility. Fundamentalist Christians, and others too (secular humanists?), egotistically claim they have the secret to truth. This is not so, for, in a sense, the secret to the truth is bound up with doubt. One can never ever hold the truth, hold God, as his own for how can one hold what he always already has? “Salvation” is a process and I assure you the more you cling to certainty the more salvation will slip away.

* Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662)
Fragment 72
Man's disproportion. - [This is where our innate knowledge leads us. If it be not true, there is no truth in man; and if it be true, he finds therein great cause for humiliation, being compelled to abase himself in one way or another. And since he cannot exist without this knowledge, I wish that, before entering on deeper researches into nature, he would consider her both seriously and at leisure, that he would reflect upon himself also, and knowing what proportion there is ....] Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in her full and grand majesty, and turn his vision from the low objects which surround him. Let him gaze on that brilliant light, set like an eternal lamp to illumine the universe; let the earth appear to him a point in comparison with the vast circle described by the sun; and let him wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very fine point in comparison with that described by the stars in their revolution round the firmament. But if our view be arrested there, let our imagination pass beyond; it will sooner exhaust the power of conception than nature that of supplying material for conception. The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God, that imagination loses itself in that thought.
Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature; and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him estimate at their true value the earth, kingdoms, cities, and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?

But to show him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him examine the most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute body and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins in the limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him exhaust his powers of conception, and let the last object at which he can arrive be now that of our discourse. Perhaps he will think that here is the smallest point in nature. I will let him see therein a new abyss. I will paint for him not only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature's immensity in the womb of this abridged atom. Let him see therein an infinity of universes, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion as in the visible world; in each earth animals, and in the last mites, in which he will find again all that the first had, finding still in these others the same thing without end and without cessation. Let him lose himself in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in their vastness. For who will not be astounded at the fact that our body, which a little ago was imperceptible, in the universe, itself imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, is now a colossus, a world, or rather a whole, in respect of the nothingness which we cannot reach? He who regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and observing himself sustained in the body given him by nature between those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight of these marvels; and I think that, as his curiosity changes into admiration, he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than to examine them with presumption.

For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.

What will he do then, but perceive the appearance of the middle of things, in an eternal despair of knowing either their beginning or their end. All things proceed from the Nothing, and are borne towards the Infinite. Who will follow these marvelous processes? The Author of these wonders understands them. None other can do so.

Through failure to contemplate these Infinites, men have rashly rushed into the examination of nature, as though they bore some proportion to her. It is strange that they have wished to understand the beginnings of things, and thence to arrive at the knowledge of the whole, with a presumption as infinite as their object. For surely this design cannot be formed without presumption or without a capacity infinite like nature.
If we are well-informed, we understand that, as nature has graven her image and that of her Author on all things, they almost all partake of her double infinity. Thus we see that all the sciences are infinite in the extent of their researches. For who doubts that geometry, for instance, has an infinite infinity of problems to solve? They are also infinite in the multitude and fineness of their premises; for it is clear that those which are put forward as ultimate are not self-supporting, but are based on others which, again having others for their support, do not permit of finality. But we represent some as ultimate for reason, in the same way as in regard to material objects we call that an indivisible point beyond which our senses can no longer perceive anything, although by its nature it is infinitely divisible.

Of these two Infinites of science, that of greatness is the most palpable, and hence a few persons have pretended to know all things. "I will speak of the whole," said Democritus.  But the infinitely little is the least obvious. Philosophers have much oftener claimed to have reached it, and it is here they have all stumbled. This has given rise to such common titles as First Principles, Principles of Philosophy, and the like, as ostentatious in fact, though not in appearance, as that one which blinds us, De omni scibili. 3

We naturally believe ourselves far more capable of reaching the centre of things than of embracing their circumference. The visible extent of the world visibly exceeds us, but as we exceed little things, we think ourselves more capable of knowing them. And yet we need no less capacity for attaining the Nothing than the All. Infinite capacity is required for both, and it seems to me that whoever shall have understood the ultimate principles of being might also attain to the knowledge of the Infinite. The one depends on the other, and one leads to the other. These extremes meet and reunite by force of distance, and find each other in God, and in God alone.

Let us then take our compass; we are something, and we are not everything. The nature of our existence hides from us the knowledge of first beginnings which are born of the Nothing; and the littleness of our being conceals from us the sight of the Infinite.  Our intellect holds the same position in the world of thought as our body occupies in the expanse of nature.  Limited as we are in every way, this state which holds the mean between two extremes is present in all our impotence. Our senses perceive no extreme. Too much sound deafens us; too much light dazzles us; too great distance or proximity hinders our view. Too great length and too great brevity of discourse tend to obscurity; too much truth is paralyzing (I know some who cannot understand that to take four from nothing leaves nothing). First principles are too self-evident for us; too much pleasure disagrees with us. Too many concords are annoying in music; too many benefits irritate us; we wish to have the wherewithal to over-pay our debts. Beneficia eo usque laeta sunt dum videntur exsolvi posse; ubi multum antevenere, pro gratia odium redditur. 4 We feel neither extreme heat nor extreme cold. Excessive qualities are prejudicial to us and not perceptible by the senses; we do not feel but suffer them. Extreme youth and extreme age hinder the mind, as also too much and too little education. In short, extremes are for us as though they were not, and we are not within their notice. The escape us, or we them.

This is our true state; this is what makes us incapable of certain knowledge and of absolute ignorance. We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.

Let us therefore not look for certainty and stability. Our reason is always deceived by fickle shadows; nothing can fix the finite between the two Infinites, which both enclose and fly from it.
If this be well understood, I think that we shall remain at rest, each in the state wherein nature has placed him. As this sphere which has fallen to us as our lot is always distant from either extreme, what matters it that man should have a little more knowledge of the universe? If he has it, he but gets a little higher. Is he not always infinitely removed from the end, and is not the duration of our life equally removed from eternity, even if it lasts ten years longer?

In comparison with these Infinites all finites are equal and I see no reason for fixing our imagination on one more than on another. The only comparison which we make of ourselves to the finite is painful to us.
If man made himself the first object of study, he would see how incapable he is of going further. How can a part know the whole? But he may perhaps aspire to know at least the parts to which he bears some proportion. But the parts of the world are all so related and linked to one another, that I believe it impossible to know one without the other and without the whole.

Man, for instance, is related to all he knows. He needs a place wherein to abide, time through which to live, motion in order to live, elements to compose him, warmth and food to nourish him, air to breathe. He sees light; he feels bodies; in short, he is in a dependant alliance with everything. To know man, then, it is necessary to know how it happens that he needs air to live, and, to know the air, we must know how it is thus related to the life of man, etc. Flame cannot exist without air; therefore to understand the one, we must understand the other.

Since everything then is cause and effect, dependant and supporting, mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though imperceptible chain, which binds together things most distant and most different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole, and to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.  [The eternity of things in itself or in God must also astonish our brief duration. The fixed and constant immobility of nature, in comparison with the continual change which goes on within us, must have the same effect.]

And what completes our incapability of knowing things, is the fact that they are simple, and that we are composed of two opposite natures, different in kind, soul and body. For it is impossible that our rational part should be other than spiritual; and if any one maintain that we are simply corporeal, this would far more exclude us from the knowledge of things, there being nothing so inconceivable as to say that matter knows itself. It is impossible to imagine how it should know itself.

So if we are simply material, we can know nothing at all; and if we are composed of mind and matter, we cannot know perfectly things which are simple, whether spiritual or corporeal. Hence it comes that almost all philosophers have confused ideas of things, and speak of material things in spiritual terms, and of spiritual things in material terms. For they say boldly that bodies have a tendency to fall, that they seek after their centre, that they fly from destruction, that they fear the void, that they have inclinations, sympathies, antipathies, all of which attributes pertain only to mind. And in speaking of minds, they consider them as in a place, and attribute to them movement from one place to another; and these are qualities which belong only to bodies.  Instead of receiving the ideas of these things in their purity, we colour them with our own qualities, and stamp with our composite being all the simple things which we contemplate.  Who would not think, seeing us compose all things of mind and body, but that this mixture would be quite intelligible to us? Yet it is the very thing we least understand. Man is to himself the most wonderful object in nature; for he cannot conceive what the body is, still less what the mind is, and least of all how a body should be united to a mind. This is the consummation of his difficulties, and yet it is his very being. Modus quo corporibus adhaerent spiritus comprehendi ab hominibus non potest, et hoc tamen homo est. 5 Finally, to complete the proof of our weakness, I shall conclude with these two considerations . . .

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been alloted to me? Memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis. 7

Man does not know in what rank to place himself. He has plainly gone astray, and fallen from his true place without being able to find it again. He seeks it anxiously and unsuccessfully everywhere in impenetrable darkness.
** The Middle Ages had much to say about a mountain, not found on any map, which is called the mountain of Venus. There the sensuous has its home, there it has its own wild pleasure, for it is a kingdom, a state. In this kingdom language has no place, nor sober-minded thought, nor the toilsome business of reflection. There sound only the voice of elemental passion, the play of appetites, the wild shouts of intoxication; it exists solely for pleasure in eternal tumult. The first-born of this kingdom is Don Juan. That it is the kingdom of sin is not yet affirmed, for we confine ourselves to the moment at which this kingdom appears in aesthetic indifference. Not until reflection enters does it appear as the kingdom of sin….

[Footnote 3: "Concerning everything knowable" - the title under which Pico della Mirandola announced the 900 propositions which he undertook to defend in 1486.]

[Footnote 4: "Benefits are pleasant while it seems possible to requite them; when they become much greater, they produce hatred rather than gratitude.

[Footnote 5: "The manner in which spirits are united to bodies cannot be understood by men, yet such is man." - St. Augustine.]

[Footnote 7: "The remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day." - Wisdom, v. 14.]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In memory of William H. Poteat

"Eroticism Music and Madness"

Course Sylabus

I. "Eroticism, Music and Madness"

As principle, as power, as self-contained system, sensuousness is first posited in Christianity; and in that sense it is true that Christianity brought [the] sensuous into the world.

1. Arche' as Cosmos, logos, psyche.

2. Arche' as davar.

3. The ordinacy of Cosmos arche' --

4. The different ordinacy of davar arche'

a. Logos is being, is reality, is divine. (Reality does "hide" itself, must be sought behind "appearances".)

b. The relation of "appearances" to logos. Being and nothingness relation.

c. Yet: Being is finite and fully knowable.

d. Davar is not reality, is not being, is not divine.

e. The paradigmatic act -- speech

1). Speech and speaker: former manifests latter, but not fully.

2). Act and actor: former manifests latter, but not exhaustively.

3). The person cannot be known exhaustively -- by another, by himself.

4). The Person is fully disclosed only to God.

5. What is the ordinacy of the Davar arche'?

a. Keeping promises -- God's model.

b. Is retaining one's identity

1). Cf. Israel vs. Yahweh: "I will be as I will be" -- "absolute relation to the absolute, relative relation to the relative."

2). Edward Chamberlain, Bendrix.

II. So -- whether you have the ordinacy of a finite Cosmos, or that of a providential divine will -- faithful Yahweh -- as alternative principles, you still do not have "restlessness and tumult, infinity."

A. How then does Xianity posit that spiritually (pneumatically) qualified sensuousness expressed in the musical Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera?

B. Xianity destroyed the finite, harmonious and fully intelligible cosmos of Grk. thought by substituting davar (the speaking and heard word) for logos (the word as written and read).

C. This made the relation between medium and its content more equivocal and contingent.

1. Reality does not hide behind appearances -- logos behind aesheta.

2. Reality is equivocally manifest as a person is always equivocally manifest in his speech.

3. Reality of man is contingently manifest inasmuch as he cannot fully indwell his own speech.

D. But the medium of speech becomes radically distinct from all cyclical and organismic forms of ordinacy; and becomes paradigmatic medium to reality.

E. Let us remember:

1. Language has its element in time.

2. It passes away in time in an essential sense.

a. Because of verbs with 3 tenses

b. Reflexive first personal pronouns -- thereby making a constant reference to the world as radically experienced by each of us in our bodies.

3. That inasmuch as speech has its element in time:

a. The sensuous element is negatived

b. Therefore: as a medium, speech frees us from ordinate nature, thereby giving us spirit --while restoring ordinacy at a higher level. (We "hear" the meaning not the "sounds")

F. Yet -- the very equivocalness and contingency of the relation between this medium and its content has two consequences:

1. Emphasizes the importance of fidelity to the spoken word -- the promise -- with Yahweh as model. Our words are forever in danger of becoming "musical".

2. Thereby suggests an antithesis to itself.

3. The loss of identity in passion finds a perfect expression in another medium which has its element in time, viz., music.

a. Sensuousness is pneumaticized, i.e., freed from ordinate nature, by music because it hurries in a perpetual vanishing and has no reflexivity.

b. We hear the "restlessness, tumult and infinity," not the sounds.

c. Eroticism thus becomes a power in itself.

d. It is inordinate, discarnate, spiritual, infinite, erotic longing.

e. Cf. E/O. p. 88 -- "The Middle Ages..."

f. Don Giovanni is "pure, discarnate erotic spirit..."

4. With neither the ordinacy of finite cosmos nor that of an unfailingly faithful will, the world is neither eternal (as a Cosmos) nor contingent (as a creature which might have not been) and becomes "contingent" in the sense that it is underivable, as a meaningless surd.

5. Pascal's Pensee's: Fragments 72, 205, 427.

6. If psyche (Cosmos) is no longer the locus of numinal power; and, if pneuma no longer corresponds to the Yahwist speech, then psyche (Cosmos) becomes heimarmene, the insensate prison of an alien and restless power in quest of a 'hidden' divinity.

Now -- both the ancient Cosmos metaphor and the Yahwist metaphor gave alternative accounts of the background of order and meaning in the world; they both saw this background as "holy"; and in different ways commensurate with human existence.

When both of these metaphors are fragmented -- we are left with an impersonal cosmos and a homeless voice whose questions evoke no (Yahwist) answers.

Note: F. 3. e. E/O is Soren Kierkeegard's "Either/Or"

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Does a waterfall ever change?

I am like Descartes when he asked "What am I?" except instead of using doubt to arrive at my core I use a process of discarding the constructs or determinate-man made, if you will-parts of my mind/body consciousness complex. Not surprisingly the point of arrival, after the method has been exhausted, is the same as Descartes. It seems, moreover, that any reductionism if faithfully carried out, would find that "man...is situated in existence by a combination of the temporal and the eternal," as Kierkegaard said. Descartes, of course, found that the doctrine of doubt reduced him to the infinite, as it were. He said the infinite is in me before the finite. I take it that his term "finite" would coincide with Kierkegaard's term "temporal" in the quote.

I ask what is given and finally find that only that by virtue of which there is asking is given, i.e., the world is the only given. Merleau-Ponty refined this into the notion that the world is the truth. It follows that it is a concomitant of sentient life that the truth therefore has an outlook on the truth. The self sees the self. Man is a device whereby the real can gain self awareness. This is a kind of tautology. But consider that the individual's point of view on the world is unique. New individuals constantly appear making discovery ever renewable. Each one is an existential mind/body instantiation of infinity for whom time and distance are uniquely relative. Then, we have something greater than a mere tautology. Each instant that the real is self identical it is nevertheless not the same real as before. Consider this as you ponder whether you can place your hand twice in the same river, or as you wonder whether a waterfall ever changes.

The scientific realist's description of the world will never be final and definitive. There can never be a "grand unifying theory" of reality. Of space/matter? I doubt that too. One's knowledge grows, yet the closer one approaches complete knowledge the greater the effort required to complete the final increments. And besides, knowledge is not the same as understanding and truth about the real itself in the end escapes precision. Material existence lends itself to measurement and science mistakes measurement for understanding, for truth. For attainment of true understanding that is fatal.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Shakespeare Sonnet 116

On the occasion of my son's wedding.

I read a little while ago that in future computer data would be stored differently than now. All the technology now available only provides for temporary storage, more or less. Hard drives fail, DVDs, CDs, flash memory are all impermanent. In future the most permanent, enduring memory will be written in industrial diamond. When we reach the ability, in ten years or so, to store data at the rate of one bit per atom, say carbon-12 for zero and carbon-13 for one, we will be able to store in 25 grams of diamond memory matrix every event in the lives of all the citizens of Germany, for instance, for six years. Please see this.

But lovers have known this for millennia. Nothing new here. What is a memory if not forever, and what is forever if not diamonds? Thus their ubiquity in wedding rings.

But I digress. Forgive please.

This was a civil ceremony which somehow troubled me greatly. I suppose I had nothing to worry over and this appropriately filled that all important slot in my mental life for a brief interlude from more mundane matters. I wrote the following email to finally and fully vent the pressures in my tumultuous, tormented soul. Weddings are not easy. This is true on many levels. It is an intensely spiritual event and can, if done with extreme care and attention to every detail bring a beauty of supernal light into a gathering of family and friends, a beauty that will endure and serve as a touchstone for those who follow us down life's path. This wedding, the planning of which studiously sought, I perceived, to exclude any and all references to the sacred turned out to my everlasting delight and surprise to do just the opposite. Yes, it was intended to be merely secular, appealing only to the approbation of the state as the one true source of meaning for the ritual performed, but when Shakespeare took the stage all that went by the way.

The email:

Christopher and Amber,
At the wedding I didn't get to make a toast for whatever reason so indulge me here instead, please. I am not sure what my toast would have been, probably not quite what you see here. The toasts that were made brilliantly balanced levity and gravity and would have been impossible to top and difficult to equal, most especially Amber's dad. It seems early in my life it was all levity. Perhaps that explains why now it is all gravity. At any rate, here are some thoughts I would share.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Ellen Weaver's rendition of these words was by far the highlight of the wedding. Her voice in these immortal words brought eternal spirit into the very moment and transformed what would have otherwise been the merely secular into the sacred. So the two, Christopher and Amber, became one; a one centered everywhere, bounded nowhere. For that is the nature of soul, further evidence of which is the ability to "gaze steadfastly at stars which, though distant are yet present to the mind." Love is the faculty of bringing that star, "ever-fixèd mark", into the very heart of one, so from wherever the light shines, it shines from the heart. Love, "an ever-fixed mark...star to every wand'ring bark...not time's fool.." untouched by chaos, time's tumult, endures "...to the edge of doom." As such it is evidence of an abiding spirit beyond mere material reality.
With Christopher, captive audience, en route to Pilot Point I gave similar voice to these sentiments, but my source was different. Our friend Plato's thought was that love was a spirit too and that the creator, in need of a device, a vehicle, with which commerce could be carried between sentient life and himself, brought love into being. I pointed out to Chris that my own thoughts were that giving and receiving love, participation in love, actually grows love as spirit, as vehicle, and thus it lives, thrives. It shines like the sun and, like light, is attractive, drawing souls towards itself.
My benefactor said to me that doing good made doing good easier the next time a choice to do otherwise presented itself. I have come to see the wisdom of this and note herewith that you two, together, have done good and made it look so natural and with such eloquent and elegant ease that life for all that might happen to pass through your shadow will not be there eclipsed but attracted by your combined light will find their own light kindled and renewed. Love begets love. A simple mystery to discover, not a riddle to unravel.
Finally, understanding, for the secular mind, ever depends on being able to take measure, to find a dimension, a boundary condition. Note carefully that love, as discussed here, and this is likewise true of its cousins, truth, beauty, courage, meaning, justice and so forth, have no dimension, boundary condition. They are qualities of spirit and thus can't be measured. Understanding of these, therefore, is not based on measure, on dimension, and to have it is to acknowledge the unfathomably deep mystery of life. Discovery of that mystery is the very action of the unknown and understanding is never complete thereof but instead ever new. I ask, does a waterfall ever change?
Dad

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reaving

I whip the steel cable into position and catch the rope off round it.
An upward pull applied, the coil sine waves up the pole
and is caught with a guy knocker.
Between my feet a galvanized anchor eye
holds chain hoist hook,
my hands hold the cable and straight grip in bond.
Hook the grip with second hoist chain
and jack the handle.

Look up at the sun beams
bouncing off the fog bank
shrouding the city.
Maelstrom of light-
poignancy so intense
atoms of perception,
separate, distinct entities
coalesce again into task at hand.

Road up the Mountain

yellow flowers
dazzling thick
hear a voice of
blue sky
crying out to the sun,
green forest!

hearing louder than sound,
seeing brighter than light.

i go to the center of things
and writing your name there
i am lost from the other
like oblivion hides in infinity.

the sight of your eye
in sun's summer sigh
hides in noon's highest sky.
as wind blows grass to shimmering life
a bird wings blue spirit in empyrean flight.

May, 1972
The road up the mountain
Dawson's farm, Harpers Ferry

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spring

The rite of spring
riot of blooms
rout of cold winds winters bane
shivering bones
clattering in dismal dungeons dark

Violets are gone now
and iris and lily
bluebonnets take the stage
peerless blue to shame a cloudless sky

Pretty pink primrose too
takes the eye and
pink petal's secret promise folds
virgin thighs' blissful path

See me touch me
feel me smell me-
please don't pick me
let me cast seed and wither and die

I'll be here every spring
past winter's baleful fling
and if you fail to come again
my bloom our last visit will still contain

Of all I am the flowering sum
Pinnacle of the past
nadir of the future
purpose centered everywhere bounded nowhere.

Reflection

Reflection.
Meaning cannot be reduced to its expression.
The distillation of meaning, knowledge, truth, liberty, and the like, into formulae is ultimately impossible because these qualities, embedded in the real, are inexhaustible, ever renewing, ever in process of being increased. The mere attempt to express meaning GROWS meaning. Yet meaning, truth, liberty, etc., do not change in themselves. The fire of liberty remains fire, but grows brighter with action done in its service.
With the increasing illumination one imagines that attraction likewise increases and that correspondingly that "spirit whence issued forth of old..." this cosmic activity, smiles a little more at the unfolding of his intention.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Gathering of Eagles

I have been involved with this organization. They have a Texas component as well as national.

The past few days, during discussions with my new GOE associates some thoughts have been percolating and it seems appropriate that I should put them down here.

This is an answer to Why GOE?

To most of the people I have been talking to lately this might seem a dumb question. Well, maybe not. All involved in the germination of this project have an understanding on some level in their own minds as to Why GOE? Some of these are complex, some simple, some from the intellect, some from the gut. Here, briefly stated, is my thought.

The American people want, whether they consciously know it or not, to be intimately connected with the "real" thing, by which I mean something greater than themselves as individuals. Duty, honor, truth, courage, crowned by liberty. Those are "real" things in the deepest most spiritual sense. Given proper leadership people will weld themselves to action that will rekindle these.

Everyone remembers the image of Pres. Bush, his arm around a grunged up firefighter standing on a pile of rubble at the WTC. All easily recall what he said that day and how a special kind of energy ran forth from that moment and instantly crossed the nation and informed a national purpose with a very special resolve. Where I live seemingly every vehicle and home instantly sprouted American flags.

An image like the one of which we speak, of course, awakens in our breast feelings that feed on these sentiments. People were first filled with dread, anger, fear, yes, even guilt and self loathing. But with one image, one simple phrase, these instantly gave way to courage, duty, honor and the like.

We literally swell up when duty calls and we can, following our conscience, find honor in a courageous act that further enshrines liberty in the hearts and minds of all who will follow her light.

A terrible resolve went forth that day and the world trembled at the thought of coming retribution. But, alas, this resolve has waned at the same pace as a diminishing national leadership. In this leadership vacuum opposing forces have taken the stage and pose an existential threat internally as grave as the external threat from Islamofascism.

It is the need to counter this internal threat that is the impetus for GOE. GOE is an answer to a need that is in the air for this kind of renewal.

Absent adequate leadership at the top we, the people, must provide it from the bottom. Our very existence as a nation depends on whether an enduring and terrible resolve to advance the cause of freedom can be rekindled.

The fire burns low precisely because, bombarded with negative images and associated negative tag lines, people become bewildered, lost, purposeless. People respond to images. It is in the fabric of our society. We are oriented to and from what we see. The failure of our leadership is in their inability to sustain the propagation of images and POSITIVE tag lines contrary to the daily drumbeat of the mainstream, liberal, defeatist, essentially soulless enemies of victory over tyranny. These are the blame America first crowd. All are apologists for those external threats of Islamofascism, Communism, and the like. They will fight for nothing. And, essentially are nothing in their nihilistic, atheistic solipsism. Their highest achievement in life is a kind of banal or vapid political correctness. This and their guilt and self loathing as seen in their perpetual anguish for minority rights becomes the apotheosis of their self invention as multiculturalists. What is lost is allegiance to something greater than the self. There is no "greater than the self". The self, for the moonbat, is centered everywhere, bounded nowhere.

This is the enemy within. He is a statist, a fascist, but thinks, knows, those who oppose him are these things. Until he is utterly vanquished it will be difficult to face external threats.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Brief Exchange

Yesterday I read Aristides post Sociobiology and made a comment to which he made a reply:

John P. said...

.....

Wilson's thought is rigorous to a degree that most of us never achieve and I am humbled by the reach of his intellect. My personal reaction is that one needs to appreciate the limitations of knowledge which I view as restricted by its contingency on existential matter. Knowledge can never be complete, all encompassing. No body of knowledge is ever going to fully and finally give absolute expression to reality. Like material things knowledge is limited to a participatory role. It may be so that whatever absolute truth, or beauty, if you like, exists is coextensive with all being but at the same time each instantiation of that truth or beauty conveys no meaning beyond itself because of the ubiquitous nature of the substratum. Thus it takes a leap of faith or "belief" to dig out the "metaphysical" reality.

To me and others before me the emergence and the appreciation of values such as consciousness, truth, beauty, wisdom, conscience, justice, liberty, love, courage, nobility, and the like are essential clues to the true purpose of life. These do not have an existence of their own. St. Thomas Aquinas, if my memory serves, characterized such entities as contingent on the existence of another. In this instance that would be mankind. My own thought, borrowing from LeComte DeNouy, is that these things are actually imbedded in existential matter and given the right set of circumstances come into being. Taking these into consideration it is not to subtle a leap of the intellect that these evolutes, fragile as they might be, nurtured by religious and philosophical traditions and, yes, political ideology too, are, as the ancient Greeks (Socrates) pointed out, mechanisms by which man has commerce with a divine reality. Or, to put it another way, they are facets of the divine by which G_d's nature finds expression, and I might add, self awareness, through sentient beings. Life emerges from matter in order that the spark of consciousness will give rise to these divine qualities. I heard that the nuclear scientist is the atom's mechanism for attaining self knowledge. Well, the universe perhaps is G_d's way of seeing into his own nature.

Your insert regarding "...implications in the choice-migration to America.." provoked the thought that what is really at work in America is the evolution of the "Good" in a political mechanism that will tend to evolve and if it prevails impede the propagation of its antithesis, evil. Wilson, I suppose, might see this as mere tribalism. I don't.

In a nutshell the Universe is self aware, operates heuristically in the sense that discovery IS the action of the unknown. And as far as Nietzsche's void is concerned it is the great mystery of the real that out of nothing something does indeed come and passes back to its origin, the void. In a sense this accounts for the fact that knowledge can never be complete. How could you ever fill the void? Or, isn't the void filled with every experience and simultaneously emptied? So, instead of taking the view that, as Samuel Beckett wrote in his "Waiting for Godot", "They give birth astride graves, eh Didi?" one can alter the focus with a simple act of will. There is little reason not to rejoice in the fact that on the way to the void there is much to see and many wayfarers with whom to share the journey, such as Mr. Wilson.

1:04 PM
Aristides said...

John P.,

First, I'd like to thank you for your thoughtful post. In many ways your views mirror my own.

Nietzsche always claimed that the proper symbol for reason is Uroburos, the snake that inevitably twists back to bite its own tail. I think this is beyond any doubt, a consequence of the Void as both condition precedent and condition subsequent of being in time. As you noted.

But this is not so for finite things. Microcosms are immanently accessible to reason precisely because Genesis is already presupposed. It is true that knowledge, even of a microcosm, can never be complete; but it is also true that relevant understanding does not depend on completeness. This is a basic tenet of information theory, and a basic truth of the world. To be complete, a theory of cell division would have to account for quantum electrodynamics in addition to cellular and chemical phenomena. However, to be efficacious--i.e. to be known or cosmically self-aware, as you put it--it does not. Information can be compressed by dropping redundancy, and yet the signal still gets through. Cosmic self-awareness and its attendant actualizations still occur.

Therefore, I am very confident in the prospect of ultimately understanding Man as Microcosm, even if we can never truly know Man's relation to the Void. A complete science of man is possible, though it is only recently back in favor. What's held us back is not the inadequacy of reason but rather an extremely daunting level of surface complexity which stems from the combinatorial capacity of the human mind and its manifest behaviors. Of course, Science needs to acknowledge its limitations, but it must do so without discarding its confidence. So long as its method emulates evolution--which is procedurally congruent to science--its confidence is justified.

But fundamentally you are right. Science can tell us that man, to avoid a cognitive phenomenon called despair (what Qutb called the "hideous schizophrenia"), must self-elect a submission to a particular metanarrative or purpose (i.e. get faith in the Kierkegaardian sense); and it can tell us that a society, once it's lost or exhausted a unity unto which it collectively submits (its soul in a Spenglerian sense), will eventually devolve and dissolve and factionalize around the quest for power.

What it can't tell us is a universally correct metanarrative, and the right unity. In fact, it warns against them because both history and evolution are complex non-abelian processes--neither predictable nor static.