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Modern and Contemporary Essay

This paper deals with two things in relation to pantheism: first a few samples of the contemporary literature, which argue very little and unpersuasively, However, two major historical theorists of pantheism, Spinoza and his later follower, Schelling, serve to rescue the theory and place it on a firmer, more scientific ground. Pantheism has taken many forms throughout its history, and no one definition will suffice to take in all particular manifestations of this phenomenon.

One of the main disconnects concerning pantheism as an ontology is to what extent Pantheism can be called a religion: this is the real issue. The modern, contemporary pantheists seem to have no religion whatsoever: no God, no doctrine. The contemporary readings on this question seem to “socialize” the vague “interconnections of all living things. ” (Russell, 2008, 2). To merely attach a vague feeling of the “sacred” to a purely secular view of natural interconnections is not to create a religion. And hence, the problem.

One might take the view that there are generally two forms of pantheism over time: the modish, trendy version that seeks to sacralize the secular phenomenon of nature, and a far more sophisticated form of pantheism made famous by Baruch Spinoza and his later pupil (of sorts) Friedrich Schelling. Both of these questions will be dealt with in this paper. First, we will deal with the contemporary readings on this subject, and then, the far more substantial questions of pantheism brought up by the Dutch philosopher.

Standing in the Light is a book that says very little. It is heavy in vague emotive connectiveness, very light on definition and ontology. Ultimately, the “light” is whatever you want it to be: it can be a religious figure, a philosophical idea or merely a feeling, hence reducing it to nothingness by attempting to cover every emotive reaction (Russell, 2008, 3-4). In this view, she seeks to redefine atheism (cf page 4) as a view where the “universe” is seen as not sacred. But since the concept of the sacred is never defined, there are no atheists.

Or, better, that this vulgar view of pantheism, which is reduced to a feeling of awe in the face of nature (as representing both good and evil, as she holds, 87ff), is itself atheism in that there is no God, but there is an awe in the face of nature’s grandeur. Few atheists would recoil at awe when looking at nature. In this same vein lies the work of Paul Harrison (2004). Again (35), he holds that “nature is to be revered. ” It is unclear whether he thinks nature of “god,” since god is an elastic term that covers the object of one’s awe or respect.

His dispensing with philosophical rigor is typified in his manipulation of Anselm’s famous ontological argument for god’s existence. In Harrison’s case, he mutilates it beyond recognition. The original argument was, to summarize, that god is that about which nothing greater can be conceived. But since this object must have existence (since to have existence is to be greater) god must exist, since that would be the greatest thing conceptualizable. Harrison does not seem to understand the nature of this controversial view.

He assumes (Harrison, 36) that nature is the greatest thing that can be conceived, and hence, is god. This has no bearing on the argument ascribed to Anselm of Canterbury. He also seems to completely misunderstand Aristotle’s argument from causality. On page 38, Harrison holds that the “skeptical” answer rejects the necessity of a first cause, there is no need for one. If one can imagine a limitless future, one can imagine a limitless past. Since no one can imagine or visualize a “limitless” future, the same might be said of the past.

Harrison seems to posit an actual religious element to pantheism in that it holds that matter is eternal, ever existing, always changing, and hence, it is a belief to be taken on faith, and hence, religious. A mildly interesting argument is his philosophy of history. He holds that history contains three movements: the hunter gatherer stage, agricultural and technological (Harrison, 50-53). It goes like this: at one time, man lived in full accordance with nature as hunter’s and gatherers. Then he decided to become settled.

This was the great evil: settled agriculture places man as master of nature. Only in the technological phase was nature reintroduced, permitting a rational eco-centrist to rebuild our planet. Making sense of this argument is difficult: there are several fallicies: first, that the hunter gatherer lives in accordance with nature. He seems to have the hidden premise that all things primitive must be eco-friendly. Second, that agriculture means that man masters nature. This seems hard to swallow, since the agriculturalist mind, up until the 20th century, worked as a partner of nature, not its master.

The explicit Baconian idea of dominating nature is precisely the beginnings of the industrial revolution. The argument is that when people no longer had any connection to nature, no longer lived off the land, they could then romanticize nature, and hence, see it “for its own sake” (Harrison, 52). In other words, when the technological revolution created urbanization and rape the landscape, the now alienated urbanite could make of nature of object of romantic devotion. It is precisely in the leaving of the land that one can then see it as an aesthetic object.

Lastly, the author refuses to deal with the question of determinism (60). The pantheist determinism argument might look like this: all things are interconnected, the force, the unity of the interconnection is “divine,” human beings are part of this divine interconnection and hence, to conclude, humans are determined by these connections. It is difficult to wiggle out of this argument, an argument that is not found in Harrison’s book, but dismissed regardless. If freedom exists, it cannot be material. If it is not material, it is spirit.

If it is spirit, then it must have a cause. But the concept of pantheism presented by Harrison posits no cause. Hence, human beings are merely determinations of material reality and hence determined. Harrison denies that human beings are determined, but does not explain how one can get out of the pantheist argument, unless one posit’s human beings as, to some extent spiritual beings and hence outside of the natural, universal causal chains that are so evocative of reverence. This is another serious flaw. Next, we have the short piece by Wood (2005).

Wood is not so much arguing here for pantheism as for evolution, upon which all contemporary theories of pantheism seem to rest. This piece is basically an attack on fundamentalism, which is defined as that belief system that rejects evolution in that it rejects the principle of change inherent in all things. Pantheism has no belief system, only evolutionary ecology. One need not be a pantheist to accept everything that Wood says, it is a non-philosophical piece. Far more substantial is that work by Steinhart (2004) on the question of ontology.

This is an interesting survey piece dealing with the nature of pantheism from the point of view of materialism, Platonism and Pythagoreanism. But just as interesting is his idea of the nature of god: God, in traditional theology must be: supernatural, complex (in the sense of maximal inclusivity), God must represent Himself to man, and God must be holy (Steinhart, 2004, 65-66). Of course most of these can be challenged. In Christianity, for example, God is not complex, he is simple. He is not merely supernatural, but exists within nature as its designer and guide (thought this is never an ontological connection).

Nevertheless, the key to the argument is maximum inclusivity, which is not an attribute of God in traditional theology in the sense Steinhart means it, and it is question begging in terms of pantheism, since the argument presented her is that the nature god of the pantheists is by definition all inclusive, and hence, comes closest to the “traditional” idea of God. He seems to engage in the same logical fallacies as Harrison. Steinhart fails on several levels. First he fails to explain how the materialist whole can be “holy,” in any sense.

Second, he fails to show how the disembodied forms of Plato can be associated with pantheism in the definition he provides. In fact, the relationship between the forms and matter is precisely Plato’s rejection of earlier Greek pantheism (referenced by Russell, 2008) and, more importantly, is nearly identical with the early Christian and Augustinian view of the relationship between God and creation. God is identified with nature as its guide and creator, but is not identified with nature simpliciter. This is a severe logical flaw.

He has better luck with Pythagoras, though it is possible to see a similar objection arising. Nevertheless, it remains the case that this work also fails to do justice to pantheism. The greatest and most interesting approach to pantheism is the creation of Baruch de Spinoza. Here is an intelligent, logical and extremely interesting of the idea. Nearly all the works surveyed reference him, but only for a short time, as it is clear that few of the above authors have spent the large amount of time necessary to master the difficult system of the Dutch metaphysician.

Spinoza is the greatest and most intelligent manifestation of the Pantheist idea, and hence, should be treated at length. Spinoza begins with the concept of Substance, which is to be identified with god. Substance is the “in itself. ” That is, it is something that defines both affirmation, since affirmation requires negation (Parkinson, 1977, 451). Substance has gone beyond affirmation/negation because it is the whole, the everything. Hence,. Substance is its only name, and that incomplete.

If substance in the Aristotelian sense is that which remains unchanging, that which survives change, for Spinoza, since all Aristotelian substances are part of a larger sphere of interconnections, the only real substance is Substance, or god. All things are determinations of God. There is no external reason for its existence. It is eternal causality. Of this Substance there are two Attributes, thought and extension, experienced as different but making reference to two forms of expression os substance relative to the limited sense experience of human beings.

Further, these attributes are divided into a huge multiplicity of modes, which might be called all particular things, which are incomplete existences by definition. What is worth mentioning is that Spinoza holds that these attributes that subdivide into modes are not real. They are experienced, but this experience derives from the limited abilities of the human observer. But God in Himself is Substance that contains infinite attributes, only two of which are available to human beings.

The attributes must be infinite because, given the nature fo Substance, there is nothing to constrain their development. A fully understood attribute of an infinite Substance is by definition infinite (Spinoza, 1927, 124-125). Science might struggle with this. First, it suggest that science is only a tiny form of knowledge in a sea of infinity. In other words, science can only deal with incomplete experiences relative to the limited observational capacities of the person. A “fact” in the truest sense of Spinoza’s pantheism is that which contains all reality, it must be Substance and only Substance.

Anything less would be limited, and hence abstract, outside of its true context and contingent. Even Spinoza’s epistemology is limited in the sense that sense data is only the persistence of a pattern of perception. Hence, there is no direct human mode of perceiving God. God is full interconnectedness (the phenomenon, th international of Modes relative to both attributes, i. e. thought and extension make up the same Substance relative to humans) that has its root in the Substance itself (the noumenon, outside of experience) (Rocca, 1996, 192). Spinoza writes:

Hence it follows, firstly, that there is no cause, either external to God or within Him, that can excite Him to act except the perfection of his own nature. It follows, secondly, that God alone is a free cause; for God alone exists from the necessity alone of His own nature. Therefore He alone is a free cause (Spinoza, 1927, 132) . Several things come from this: first, that human beings are determined, being themselves manifestations of the divine nature, containing in themselves the two attributes of thought or extension, the only two forms of experience permitted to man.

That this determination is a good thing in that all things are pre-determined in the infinite nature of God, and hence, there is little to be done but live peacefully. But it should also be clear that there is no emotive attachment to this will-less and thought-less entity (Spinoza, 1927, 132). God is God only in that He is Substance. He is a metaphysical principle, not a cause of awe or worship. He is substance deduced logically in the following way: A cause of a thing must exist either inside or outside the object being caused.

The reason for a square to exist is not to be found in the square itself. There must be a cause, then, outside it, a cause that has made it necessary to exist. Hence, Substance, which exists necessarily, is uncaused. This is because if Substance (that which survives all change) has a cause outside itself, then it is not Substance; that Substance must be it. Hence, there is a cause that is uncaused, Substance, and this is what survives all change, existing necessarily and the (logical) cause of all things (Spinoza, 1927, 124, “On the Essence of God. ” also cf. Bennet, 1997)

Friedrich von Schelling is another metaphysician who skirted the concept of pantheism, and is often considered one. Here we have a post-Spinozistic idea of the Spinozian concept of God, taking liberally from Spinoza and yet another interesting approach to the concept of pantheism. Schelling’s basic metaphysic is the spiritual exists as such in nature. Putting this differently, nature is the physical expression of the spiritual, but constantly limited by materiality. Even further, the pantheism derives form the idea that nature eventually creates the conditions necessary for the spirit, or conscious life.

Here, the idea of spirit deriving from nature is posited from the circular concept that nature is spirit in expression in matter (Bowie, 2001). The development of the spirit in nature moves like this: 1. The absolute principle is the ground, just as in Spinoza, between the conscious and sub-conscious life, that is, sprit and matter respectively, since here, matter is merely “slumbering spirit. ” 2. Nature and spirit are identical to Spinoza’s two modes, extension and thought respectively. Nature tends to objectification, while spirit tends to subjetification, but there is no ultimate distinction between the two.

3. These are held together in actual life by force: attraction/repulsion; light, gravity, while in spirit these forces take the form of knowledge, will, etc. 4. Both these forces are attributes (in Spinoza’s sense, not modes, since they are not “particular” and hence unreal, things) derive from the single Substantial source, not called Substance, but the Absolute. (Snow, 1996) 5. The movement of Substance then, is the reconciliation of opposites: thought and extension, matter and spirit, object and subject. Spirit will suffuse matter, matter will be saturated with spirit.

This is the evolutionary picture of Schelling prior to Darwin (and is interesting on that account alone). In other words, Schelling differs from Spinoza in granting some limited “will” to the otherwise abstract absolute: the will for interpenetrating and the end of philosophy with a spiritualized matter. God will be present in matter in full when consciousness and matter merge, or more accurately, nature is suffused with consciousness. This paper has done two things: first it basically dispensed with the contemporary literature in pantheism is non-scientific and hence non-philosophical.

Instead, this paper has briefly summarized two major pantheistic writers and metaphysician who are highly related in terms of basic ideas, Spinoza and schelling. In their view of pantheism, the absolute/substance is necessary existence. This is posited and proved because it is impossible to imagine a cause without origin, or a causal chain with ether no purpose or no beginning. Spinoza does not believe that causes exist eternally, but that Substance does: time, and hence, cause, is a human, mental construct.

A serious, philosophical pantheism avoids the problems mentioned above, and posits a Substance or Absolute that is conscious experienced in forms or modes. All things are God in that all things are expressions of God. References: Russell, Sharman. Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist. Basic, 2008. Harrison, Paul. Elements of Pantheism. Media Creations, 2004. Wood, Harold. “Practice of Pantheistic Mindfulness. ” Pantheistic Vision 24, 2005. Steinhart, E. “Pantheism and Current Ontology. ” Religious Studies 40: pp 1-18 Parkinson, HGR. “Hegel, Pantheism and Spinoza.

” The Journal of the History of Ideas. 38, 1977: 449-459 Spinoza, Baruch de. Ethics and Other Writings. Joseph Ratner, Trans. Modern Library, 1927. Bennett, Jonathan. “Spinoza’s Metaphysics. ” in The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza. Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pps 61-89 Della Rocca, Michael. “Spinoza’s Metaphysical Psychology. ” in The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza. Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pps 192-267 Bowie, Andrew. “Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University Press, 2001. Snow, Dale. Schelling and the End of Idealism. SUNY Press, 1996.


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