On The Disenchantment of the World

We touched on something in the last post that may as well be called the convertibility thesis. This thesis holds that individuality and ineffability are convertible with one another, so that both just refer to the same thing in different ways. To return to our analogy with language, individuality is like just saying the subject of a sentence whereas ineffability makes it clear that the subject as such contains no predicates to be described by.

The convertibility thesis does a lot of work in a number of different fields. Take philosophical anthropology for an example – which is slightly broader than the philosophy of mind – and consider that if individuals are in and of themselves ineffable, then individuals are not in and of themselves effable as anything, let alone as physical, or as compounds of matter and form. The convertibility thesis thus rules out a great number of widely held views on the matter, decisively favoring a Platonic anthropology over physicalism or hylemorphic dualism.

Continue with this application, but now think about gender studies: if individuals are in and of themselves ineffable, then individuals are not in and of themselves effable as anything, let alone as males or as females. This result is indifferent to gender binarism as well as to whether maleness or femaleness are social constructs or naturally occurring phenomena; but, it rules out the idea that gender is part of who we truly are. This in turn helps make sense of the Pagan belief that one may reincarnate in a different gender.

One of the most important consequences of the convertibility thesis is that individuality – or ‘unity’ – is not convertible with being. The reasoning goes like this:

  1. Individuality is convertible with ineffability. *
  2. Ineffability is not convertible with being.
  3. Therefore, individuality is not convertible with being.

We have seen reasons to believe premise (1) in the previous post, but what about (2)?

The question here is whether or not being is ineffable, and the answer is that, inasmuch as it is what we encounter through our faculties, being is not ineffable: it is intelligible. The intelligibility of being is presupposed by the very human drive to understand reality. It is a necessary pre-condition for our experience of the world, and for the existence and success of our sciences and arts.

Simply put, if being is convertible with unity, then either unity is effable or being is ineffable. But, unity is as clearly ineffable as being is intelligible.

Moreover, because ineffability is clearly just individuality in relation to predicates, the convertibility of being and unity entails that there is no individuality, and thus that there are no things – or that there is literally nothing – at all. But, that is absurd.

Finally, if being were convertible with unity, then, because being is intelligible, there would be no ineffability. But, this is contrary to our experience, which gave rise to our concept of ineffability.

See proposition 115 of Proclus’ Elements of Theology for additional reasons to separate being and unity.

Granting that our argument is sound, why does it matter?

Well, if ‘unity’ and ‘being’ are just the same thing from different perspectives, then there is no unity beyond being, and so no individuals beyond being. That is, there are no Gods on this view, as it reduces theology to ontology. Despite its wild popularity among medieval “monotheists” then, the claim is fundamentally atheistic.

Separating unity from being requires that either one is included in the other, or that neither is related at all. But, they are undeniably related, as nothing could exist unless it were a ‘thing’ and thus had ‘unity’, and unity includes being as the most general sort of ‘what’. Separating the two thus establishes that unity precedes being, an essential principle for Pagan apologetics.

I mentioned in the comment section of the previous post that I did not think many so-called “monotheist” thinkers were actually after monotheism. Since monotheism is intrinsically committed to positing a “God” that is composed of ‘who’ and ‘what’, and these thinkers wanted to posit a God that transcends all composition whatsoever, they were really after something else: a position on which ‘who’ and ‘what’ are identified or eliminated in God, not separated. But, the identification or elimination of ‘who’ and ‘what’ entails, one way or the other, that ‘who’ does not transcend ‘what’, so that there are no individuals beyond being. This third position is thus fundamentally atheistic, and ruled out by our convertibility thesis.

The soundness of our argument matters for another reason—which will concern us for the rest of this post: the failure to subordinate ontology to henology, or being to unity, will result in the subordination of ineffability to intelligibility or sensibility.

The current state of the West makes sense in the context of a widespread prioritization of the intelligible and sensible over all else: atheism, materialism, naturalism, scientism, all of these were only a matter of time.

Monotheism initiated the decline from ineffability by positing as the foundation of all reality that which is intrinsically intelligible – even if not to us. Sacrificing ineffability on the altar of reason, the focus shifted from approaching all things in a God-centered way to approaching all things in a World-centered way. That is, we ended up turning our eyes from the ineffable to the intelligible and sensible. But, the more one focuses on the world, the less she will focus on the Gods, and so this re-prioritization carried with it a tendency toward religious indifference, agnosticism and outright atheism – a tendency that is today being realized in ever clearer terms. Moreover, the farther one recedes from the ineffable, the closer one approaches the sensible. And so this tendency continues to march right on through the intelligible and into the territory of materialism, scienticism and hedonism.

For all the incredible benefits that have followed the acceleration of our sciences, we have become alienated from the world; disenchanted with a place that has been made the home of intelligibles and sensibles, but not ineffables. Cold, lifeless, mechanical, industrial…a world without ineffables is a fundamentally impersonal world. We’ll never re-enchant the world, or recover genuine mystery from the clutches of mere intellectual puzzles or regain a sense of meaning and purpose in an apparently pointless universe until we return to the ineffable.

If the West continues its course into the depths of the sensible, we should expect further decline from the intelligible, which means people will start relying on feelings in place of thinking. Eventually, science, philosophy and any discipline which prizes knowledge will be utterly irrelevant to people.

At the end of the day, what we’re seeing is a decline from the highest levels of reality to the lowest, and to reverse this process just is to revert upon the highest levels of reality. But, the highest level of reality is the ineffable, and the acknowledgment of and relation to this level is nothing more than polytheism. In short, the decline from the Gods can only be reversed by a return to the Gods.

People might wonder how polytheism is relevant today. What does it offer us? Let’s start with the re-enchantment of the world.

In the next post we’ll consider and critique the section on unity in Thomist philosopher Edward Feser’s recently released, and much anticipated book “Five Proofs for the Existence of God.”

 

 

* Interestingly, Thomas Aquinas seems to explicitly disagree with premise (1):

“Intelligibility is incompatible with the singular not as such, but as material, for nothing can be understood otherwise than immaterially. Therefore, if there be an immaterial singular such as the intellect, there is no reason why it should not be intelligible.” – Summa Theologiae, I.86.1. rep. 3