Garden of Eden

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Page 2

Let me begin with a few remarks on the nature of certain mythological 'images' that have exceptional, very rare features, normally obscured because such images are automatically classified with all mythological products and set against our current ideas of truth and knowledge. Deeper reflection on the subject ( such as may be found in Schelling's Philosophie der Mythologie and in R.Rosenzweig's commentary on that work) is needed in order to remember that the format of philosophy and philosophical method cannot offer the last word on knowledge. Philosophy is and remains only a striving after knowledge. It is necessarily abstract and the objects with which it deals are constructs and abstractions that can only exceptionally be said to coincide with real entities. Ordinarily, they are isolated aspects that have their being only in the human mind. Real entities are not thus isolated; they are concrete entities, things, events, persons, living units or whatever one may wish to call them. They exist in time and space, even if they lead thought to a region that transcends these categories. In other words, truth itself is ultimately always either story or else the structuring of a concrete, not an abstract, entity. In this outward aspect, truth resembles the statements made by science rather than those of philosophy. The difference remains, of course, between science and philosophy, between their conceptions of truth, between the testing of a working hypothesis in science and the infinitely stricter demands of coherence in philosophy.

Now it is generally accepted that what we call mythology deals with concrete entities, with allegedly real beings and not with abstract attributes or with substances. What is less familiar to us is the reflection that the word mythology is a collective label that can be used, and is used, to cover equally both a vast quantity of the more or less valuable fruit of the ramblings of human fantasy and also the extremely rare and exceptional achievements of the human mind when it approaches the 'true story'. Then, on those few occasions, mythology reveals itself, not as the work of pure fantasy, but, so to speak, as a biologically embryonic phase, equivalent to an entire, subsequently to be developed faculty in man, the faculty, not only of thinking, but of thinking truth, of achieving defensible results in that field. It is then, as it were, 'the instinct for truth', an intuitive knowledge which must precede the systematic search that methodically goes over the entire field of reality and possibility. The criterion that enables us to distinguish these few cases from the mass of worthless or only superficially valuable expressions of mythology is the close proximity, the affinity and translatability of these so-called mythical images - which are, as we shall see, not mere 'images' in the ordinary sense at all - to and into the language of thought and argument. That thought does not, however, remain in the sphere of abstractions, the sphere of method; it penetrates into the domain of real results. In that domain, the necessity of resorting to images recurs, images of a higher order that have, as it were , passed through the process of abstraction and method. Let me illustrate this with a few examples of such 'images of a second order'.

Let us look at a passage from Bergson's Evolution Creatrice. He seeks to show that the coherence as well as the gulf between human beings and the realm of animal and plant life is the consequence of one and the same evolutionary process. He writes 'Everywhere, except in man, consciousness found itself driven into a blind alley; only in man did it continue along an open road. Man, therefore, continues the movement of life into the limitless, although he does not drag along with him everything that life contains. Advancing along other lines of development, there are other tendencies contained in life itself, tendencies of which man has preserved something, however little. Everything happens as if an indeterminate being without contours, call it man or superman, has striven after self-realisation and achieved it only at the price of abandoning parts of his being on the way. These lost elements represent the remaining forms of life, in animal life and even in the vegetable kingdom'

Another image of this kind can be found in Kant's Critique of Judgement. Here, Kant speaks of the notion that the 'womb of the earth' brought forth the multitudinous forms of life; he describes the philosophical task of analysing and applying the idea of such a process as 'the adventure of reason'.

In both cases, that of the Bergsonian and that of the Kantian 'image', we see that they are not just similes used o illustrate an event in reality, something that actually happened in a way different from the illustrative description. The images were not chosen arbitrarily nor can they be exchanged for any other simile or symbol ( for instance, the notion of fortitude may be symbolised by the figure of a woman with a sword, by a Greek hero or by a lion). The philosophers' images literally mean what they articulate. Bergson's image is not one of several possible metaphors illustrating a thought from which it is quite distinct; it is the only description of that which the writer wished to convey. In other words, it is no ordinary image, any more than the word 'substance' is an arbitrary picture of something that underlies phenomena. It is identical with the object it describes. The same applies to the Kantian image. And it also applies to certain mythological descriptions and images that aim to present 'the true story'. I have mentioned the 'truth' criterion that distinguishes them from the overwhelming majority of other mythological representations. I shall now try to apply that criterion to the story of the Garden of Eden. I shall enumerate the answers given to certain problems implicit in the second chapter of Genesis and express these in the language used by philosophy.