from The Collected Works
The Failure of Immanentist Metaphysics
Truth is not about world-immanent objects
The Aristotelian speculation ends in a serious impasse, both practically and theoretically. Practically, the discovery of the truth seems to serve no other purpose than to forge a new instrument for keeping the rest of mankind in the untruth of their existence. Theoretically, we are faced with an aporia that affects the theory of human nature and its actualization.
The philosopher who is in possession of the Truth should consistently go the way of Plato in the Republic; he should issue the call for repentance and submission to the theocratic rule of the incarnate Truth. Aristotle, however, does not issue such a call and, consequently, the imperfections of actualization (although technically called “perversions”) tend to become essences in their own right, forming the manifold of reality; they become “characters,” and the category of character is even extended from human individuals to the types of constitutions.
The dimension of potentiality-actualization, thus, is crossed by a plane on which the grades of imperfection appear as coordinated types to be respected and preserved in their essence; the imperfections become actualizations of their specific types. This theoretical conflict could not be reconciled within the “system” because the problem that caused it had not become sufficiently explicit.
The problem underlying the Aristotelian aporia may conveniently be designated the “historicity of Truth.” The Truth of the philosopher is discovered in the previously analyzed experiences of Socrates-Plato. The cathartic experience of Thanatos and the enthusiastic experience of Eros open the soul toward transcendental reality; and they become effective in that re-ordering of the soul that Plato symbolized through Dike.
Truth is not a body of propositions about a world-immanent object; it is the world-transcendent summum bonum, experienced as an orienting force in the soul, about which we can speak only in analogical symbols. Transcendental reality cannot be an object of cognition in the manner of a world-immanent datum because it does not share with man the finiteness and temporality of immanent existence. It is eternal, out-of-time; it is not co-temporal with the experiencing soul.
When, through the experiences of the Socratic-Platonic type, eternity enters time, we may say that “Truth” becomes “historical.” That means, of course, neither that the flash of eternity into time is the privileged experience of philosophers, nor that now, at a specific date in history, it occurred for the first time. It means that in the critical period under discussion we are advancing, in the Platonic sense, from the symbolizations of the people’s myth to the differentiated experiences of the philosophers and to their symbolizations.
This advance is part of the historical process in which the older symbolic order of the myth disintegrates in the souls (in the previously described manner) and a new order of the soul in openness to transcendental reality is restored on a more differentiated level. By “historicity of Truth” we mean that transcendental reality, precisely because it is not an object of world-immanent knowledge, has a history of experience and symbolization.
The field of this history is the soul of man. Man, in his knowledge of himself, does not know himself only as a world-immanent existent but also as existing in openness toward transcendental reality; but he knows himself in this openness only historically in the degree of differentiation that his experiences and their symbolization have reached.
The self-understanding of man is conditioned and limited by the development of his existence toward transcendence. As a consequence, the nature of man itself as an object of metaphysical inquiry is not altogether a world-immanent object; the formation of the soul through invading transcendence is part of that “nature” that we explore in metaphysics.
When the philosopher explores the spiritual order of the soul, he explores a realm of experiences that he can appropriately describe only in the language of symbols expressing the movement of the soul toward transcendental reality and the flooding of the soul by transcendence. At the border of transcendence the language of philosophical anthropology must become the language of religious symbolization.
In the realization of this border problem we touch upon the difficulties of Aristotelian metaphysics. We have studied the religious aspects of the conception of the bios theoretikos. In his philosophical anthropology Aristotle, following Plato, penetrated into the region of the nous in the religious sense. He arrived at the idea of a “true self” of man and at the idea of homonoia, that is, of the parallel formation of the souls of man through nous, as the bond of society. Actually, Aristotle penetrated so far into this region that his very terminology could be used by Saint Paul in making homonoia the central concept in the theory of a Christian community.
Human Nature is not merely immanent
Nevertheless, there remained in Aristotle the fundamental hesitation that distinguished the Hellenic from the Christian idea of man, that is, the hesitation to recognize the formation of the human soul through grace; there was missing the experience of faith, the fides caritate formata in the Thomistic sense. In the case of Aristotle, the most poignant symptom of this hesitation is his insistence that friendship (philia) between God and man is impossible. Equality is for him an essential element of friendship; philia between unequals is difficult, if not impossible; and it becomes quite impossible if one partner to the friendship is as remote from the other as God through his preeminence of qualities is from man (N.E. 1158b35 ff.). This is the Hellenic position, in contrast with the Christian experience of the amicitia between God and man.
The Aristotelian position does not allow for a forma supranaturalis, for the heightening of the immanent nature of man through the supernaturally forming love of God. It is true, the Aristotelian gods also love man (N.E. 1179a23 ff.), but their love does not reach into the soul and form it toward its destiny. The Aristotelian nature of man remains an immanent essence like the form of an organic being; its actualization is a problem within the world. Although the noetic self is the theiotaton in man, and although its actualization is conceived as an immortalization, human nature finds its fulfillment immanently. Transcendence does not transform the soul in such a manner that it will find fulfillment in transfiguration through Grace in death.
The metaphysical construction of human nature as an immanent form is technically inadequate because it is supposed to cover structures of the soul that are formed by transcendence. From the conflict between the reality of experiences and metaphysical construction stem the aporiai of Aristotelian philosophizing that occupy us at present. The experience of transcendence, on the one hand, is differentiated to the point where the supranatural fulfillment of human potentiality has come into clear view; for the bios theoretikos is, within the Hellenic limitations, a sanctification of life leading toward the immortalization of the soul, toward the beatitudo in the Christian sense. The metaphysics of immanent form, on the other hand, requires the immanent actualization of human potentiality. From this conflict results the construction of an immanent actualization of the supranatural potentiality of the soul.1
We shall meet with a similar theoretical situation at the end of the Middle Ages when, with the disintegration of Christianity and the new wave of immanentism, political thinkers began to evoke the idea of an intramundane realization of perfect human existence. The immanentization of transcendental fulfillment resulted at that time in the development of political “ideals,” and ultimately in the political chiliasm of transforming society into a terrestrial paradise by means of organization and violence. The modern, immanentist possessors of Truth do not hesitate to extend its blessedness to everybody whom it does not concern.
A similar movement of political idealism and chiliasm would have lain in the logic of Aristotelian metaphysics. The spiritual sensitiveness and the magnificent realism, both of Plato and Aristotle, however, preserved them from the catastrophic derailment that characterizes modern politics — although in our study of Plato we had occasion to note the danger point of a breakdown into a theocratic tyranny. The conflict between transcendental spiritualism and immanentist metaphysics worked its confusion only at the theoretical stage.
The immanentist construction of the best polis, to be sure, compelled Aristotle to classify all empirical constitutions as perversions, but it did not induce him to make war on the perversions in the name of Truth. On the contrary, his careful attention to the manifold of political reality led to the problems that we characterized as a political sociology. It led to the theory of a cycle of political forms, and above all, it led to the problem of the “characters” whose autonomy of historical existence must be respected by the possessor of the Truth.
From the complex of problems just adumbrated we see emerging a genuinely “natural” study of man and of his existence in society and history — “natural” not in a biological sense but in the sense of those components in the essence of man that determine the structure of intramundane, human existence. “Nature” in this sense, however, is not an independent essence; for the notion of this “nature” is formed on the experiential occasion that historically brings the supernatural formation of the spiritual soul into view.
With the differentiation of the Socratic-Platonic experiences, immanent nature begins to differentiate as its correlative. In Aristotle’s philosophical anthropology and politics this correlative differentiation is the all-pervasive problem. It expresses itself in the differentiation of a bios theoretikos, which no longer can be integrated properly into the supposedly all-embracing immanent political order, and of an immanent political and historical order, to be judged by the critical standards of the philosopher as a “perversion” but to be left in its perverted state nevertheless. We see prefigured a differentiation that later will develop into the temporal and spiritual order of a Christian society.
1.For the problems of the present section, see chap. 9, §2.
Plato and Aristotle,
CW Vol 16 (Order and History, Vol III)
§ 2 The Failure of Immanentist Metaphysics
This quote is taken from a collection of brief Voegelin quotes which can be found HERE