Friday, September 18, 2015

Defining phenomenology and radicalizing (a)theism | Best quote ever | Jean-Luc Marion

How do we define a phenomenon? It seems reasonable her to privilege the answers, convergent in the essentials, advanced by Kant and Husserl, since they almost single-handedly established the only positive concept of the phenomenon ever formulated in modern philosophy. According to this understanding, a phenomenon is defined by the adequacy in it of an intuition (giving and fulfilling) to a concept or a signification (empty and to be validated). Consequently, a thing can appear to me in two ways. Either I determine the intuition received by fixing it (identifying it, subsuming it) with an imposed concept, so that I am no longer dealing with a simple lived experience of consciousness (or a manifold of intuition) but instead precisely with a lived experience assigned to the case of a particular object or being, which then becomes describable; or the concept that I could form on my initiative (through spontaneous understanding or conscious intentionality) ends up finding empirical validation in an intuition, which comes subsequently to fill it and to qualify it as a particular object or being. It matters little from which of these two end points the adequacy is accomplished, since in every case the phenomenon only appears by synthesizing in itself the intuition and the concept.

How does this work when I say 'God'? From the outset it seems clear that in this case I have neither an intuition or a concept at my disposal. -- I have not intuition at my disposal, at least if by intuition I mean that which can be experienced according the forms of space and time. For, by 'God' I mean by definition and first of all the eternal, that which endures unceasingly because it never even begins to endure. I also mean by definition what is non spatial: hat which is situated nowhere, occupies no extension, admits of no limit (that the center of which, no less than the circumference, is found nowhere), escapes all measure (the immense, the incommensurable), and thus is not divisible, or capable of increase. Let us note that this twofold impossibility of entering into intuition implies no avoidable requirements of the mere possibility of something like God. The most speculative theology, which itself maintains that "no one has ever seen God" (John 1:18), agrees here with the most unilateral atheism to postulate that, in the case in which one wishes to say 'God,' what is involved is the transgression of the formal conditions of intuition: if intuition implies space and time, then there cannot be intuition of God. Or, more radically, there must not be any such intuition, if God is ever to be considered. Thus, God is distinguished by the impossibility, for us, of ever receiving the least intuition of him.

But there is more (or less). Let us suppose that it so happens that I have a rather exception intuition, such that I consider assigning it to something called 'God'; in spite of this, I would not know 'God,' since, without any corresponding concept, I would not recognize this intuition as (that of) God. I could recognize it as such only by assigning it a concept that identifies it as the intuition of something as divine, a god or even 'God,' or, what amounts to the same thing, a concept that it fills and that in return confers on it a form and signification. Here, let us note, the fundamental inanity of the nation of 'natural mysticism' stands out: it can mean, in the best of cases, only a perfectly undifferentiated intuition (more blind than any other) of a divine, of god, or of "God" that is completely indistinct. -- Ad what about this concept? Here too, by definition, I can legitimately assign no concept to God, for every concept implies the delimitation of that the comprehension of which it assures; it thus contradicts the only acceptable definition of God--namely, that he passes beyond all delimitation, and thus every possible definition supplied by a finite mind. Incomprehensibility, which in every other case attests to a weakness of my knowledge or an insufficiency of the thing to be known, here and here alone ranks as an epistemological demand imposed precisely by what must be thought--the infinite, the unconditioned, and thus the inconceivable. 'Incomprehensibility is contained in the formal definition of infinity' (Descartes).

But it will be objected, if no concept that I use to designate God can, by definition, reach him, all of them nonetheless retain a certain pertinence: it is enough to overturn them, to transform their illegitimate affirmations into just so many legitimate negations. For lack of saying of God what he is, the concepts at least say what he is not. In this case, the principle is upheld that the negations always go further than the affirmations. Perhaps. But this gesture, as legitimate as it may be, does not restore any of these concepts' theoretical validity for aiming at 'God,' even in a solely negative mode.

"If my potential concepts designating 'God' in principle say nothing about God, they at best say something about me, insofar as I am confronting the incomprehensible. They say what it is that I am able to consider, at least at a given moment, as an admissible representation of God; they thus articulate the conception of the divine that I make for myself--a conception that occurs to me as the best because it defines precisely the maximal and the optimal conceivable for me. In short, the concepts that I assign to God, like so many invisible mirrors, send back to me the image that I make up for myself of the perfection of the divine, and therefore are images of myself. My concepts of God end up as idols--that is, as always, as idols of myself. Consequently, not only can I not aspire to attain the least concept of of God (for in the final analysis such a concept must claim to comprehend and seize the essence of God, which would contradict that essence), but above all I must not do so, for in this way I would only reflect (on) myself, me alone.

This unavoidable weakness of the concept in general concerning God leads to a double consequence. -- First of all: because the 'death of God,' in order to identify this 'death' as that of a particular 'god' or even of 'God,' must necessarily assume a particular concept of his essence (the 'moral God,' the 'final cause,' causa sui, summum ens, etc.), it thus disqualifies in each case only that which corresponds to this sole concept, leaving all the others (undefined, but just as inadequate as the first) still to be reviewed and critiqued. In other words, every conceptual atheism remains regional, and thus provisional: it progresses at the slow pace of justice, which investigates, examines, and challenges the ever-repeating concepts that claim, always just as illegitimately, the master of the essence of 'God,' precisely in order to challenge it. But each refutation refutes itself, since it only ever refutes one definition that is by definition inadequate of the essence of 'God,' opening at the same time the path for every new possible definition; which, in turn, will be able to claim to be adequate only for as long as the tribunal of reason leaves it unchallenged. And so on, for atheism refutes itself by having to repeat itself, following the rhythm  of the concepts that it assumes and then challenges.

A second consequence results: the difficulty of a concept of 'God' applies just as well to every form of theism or deism, for "They imagine that it [the Christian religion] simply consists in worshipping a God considered to be great and mighty and eternal, which is properly speaking deism, almost as remote from the Christian religion as atheism, its complete opposite.... in particular, in each case, we presupposed that 'being' or 'existing' still mean something when we apply them to 'God.' But nothing is less certain, or betrays more clearly a second idolatry. The impossibility of assigning a concept to God, then, lies in God's very definition--which is that he admits of none.

Confronted with this double impossibility, it becomes inevitable to conclude from the common determination of phenomenally the impossibility of any phenomenon of God. And here again, which is to say with the rational theology of metaphysics, theism accepts this result, just as much as atheism.

Excerpted from Negative Certainties (Religion and Postmodernism)

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