Part1: Between Experiences and the Transcendental
Chapter 2: The Quest for Certainty in Philosophy

2.1 Fear of Knowledge - The Range of Thought and Being

Knowledge of reality beyond experience is different in kind from knowledge of experience and from knowledge in mathematics and formal logic. Anyone who would like the first type of knowledge to imitate empirical or mathematical knowledge or seeks to subject it to their principles, lacks understanding, indeed does not seem to want to understand the differences. There are profound psychological reasons that explain the absence of any desire to acquire this kind of knowledge., indeed to run away from it. An analysis of that phenomenon is a topic on its own, the psychology of philosophical enquiry. We shall here only make a few remarks on the subject.

We have already discussed the view that no trans-empirical intuition ought actually to be labelled true or false in the scientific sense, as also the view that a great deal more in philosophy is left undecided than opinionated schools of thought would have it. All of this does not invalidate a view, also widely held, that philosophy has failed signally to achieve its ends, more so than any other of man's intellectual activities. Even if it is the case that we never lose the thousands of single works, there is no sign of construction nor of any use being made of preceding achievements; in short, there is no indication in sight that progress has been made in finding a solution to the problem of intent in the mission of philosophy.

Philosophy seems to be having a hard time. Its sizable target, a target seen and set by the human mind itself, is constantly being missed. The explanation or apology endlessly repeated, namely that the failure is due to the fact that the target area is beyond the capacity of the human mind, looks suspect, justifiably so. Either it is a delusion to think that there is a drive seeking trans-empirical knowledge, including the purpose of such knowledge, or the statement that the quest for that knowledge makes demands that 'exceed' human capacity is a rather lame excuse. As the Positivists have it, the human mind does not set itself tasks that it cannot fulfill. We believe that that is so. But the Neo-Positivists conclude from this proposition the non-existence of metaphysical understanding. One could come to a different conclusion. Man's urge to know reality beyond experience is at odds with itself - it is not that man cannot master this particular area of epistemology; rather that he only half wants it - which, in this case, means that he does not want it. These are internal obstacles. Why? Surely, truth is lofty, noble, beautiful, desirable, to name but a few of the available pathos-filled epithets. So should we not pursue it wholeheartedly?

Now truth, actual, spiritual penetration into reality beyond experience, may well have all of the just mentioned properties; but it has something else besides, something that renders it anything but harmless, indeed renders it highly frightening. Man's ultimate goal is not without very real danger. Actually penetrating and tackling this area of reality, essentially closed to man, is a process that affects consciousness, not only intellectually but psychologically. That is so because the consciousness of a person living in the world of experience, unaffected by even the keenest flights of metaphysical thinking, is here being exposed to specific modifications. That is the case as soon as a sensitivity is added to thinking, one that begins to 'realise' a trans-empirical state being accessed by reason. There are no limits to that happening.

The instrument that enables this 'realisation' is the philosophical imagination ,i.e., imagination that is both guided by and inspiring to thought, having bonded with thought to form a unit. At that point, the natural condition of consciousness alters, as witness the case of some, religiously creative persons as well as others well known in the history of philosophy. That could indicate a seemingly unbearable condition, namely where there is an extension of existence while holding on to a normal human state of consciousness. It should be noted that such potential modification can be foreseen well ahead.

The imagination has unlimited power to render the abstract concrete. That means that there are degrees of intensity in becoming aware of a trans-empirical (or any other) state. Philosophical rendering of such a state does not necessarily show the degrees of awareness or even recognise them. Often, there is no way of telling from a statement couched in philosophical language whether a wholly abstract thought is being expressed in concrete terms or whether a situation is being articulated that is perceived as concrete and imbued with an atmosphere of realism. This has been the cause of countless misunderstandings in philosophy. The fact that 'fulfillment' or non-fulfillment', in the rather unsatisfactory meaning given to these words by the Phenomenologists, is so little and so rarely evident in the words employed to describe a philosophical conception is due to a limitation of the language of philosophical discourse. Repeating, reformulating is often but a poor remedy, because the words used are expressions of thought and they leave out degrees of intensity in that which they convey. We may, for instance, speak of 'the veil of the Maya'. We are absolutely capable of understanding, intellectually, what the words are about; but the words actually carry an intimation with countless levels of intensity. What is more, the words brought in to clarify the meaning suffer from the same disability. Yet that barrier can be overcome and, when that happens, it is as if worn out words receive new light. The breakthrough is achieved by rendering a situation increasingly concrete. The use of words such as 'intuition' and 'third degree of knowledge' are indicators of a change in the way we realise what we envision.

Apprehending matters beyond experience is gradual and radiates back into normal consciousness of reality. It is this process that is rightly to be feared. It is not harmless to a person in normal reality. It is the very fact that normal reality enters consciousness without our being aware of it that gives us our normal feeling of security. Spiritual 'balance' is made to feel dangerously unsure because a reality for which man is not really equipped is increasingly being sensed. This statement is just a hint at what lies at the end of a thought process or of imagination's reach: dangerous proximity of a new creative orientation and pathology. Suffice it to say that the human life instinct is inimical to that which lies on the way to solving problems. Myths have always known that great treasures are surrounded by danger and that secrets are guarded by dragons. Instinct senses what lies ahead and avoids the feeling of insecurity by setting up principles of search in the opposite direction. This has to be done without arousing the suspicion that, in the end, we do not seek truth with all our might; blame is to be laid on the inadequacy of the human mind, not on a resolve that is lacking or perhaps reoriented.

The important principle invoked here is certainty, absolute, scientific discipline, rigorous demands to prove, verify down to the last detail. There is no end to the demands made on philosophical theories here and nothing is ever certain enough. Here, mountains of superfluous philosophical problems are presented and the scholar is asked ever new questions, answers to which, as he anyway knows, will then provide essential foundations. For instance, the problem of finding a true basis for logic and thus liberate it from the inadequacies or ordinary language, perhaps by making it 'calculable'; or how to give mathematics an unassailable grounding. These are questions of interest to a scientist, questions of a mathematical nature; they are completely pointless in the context of the progress of philosophy, as are all specialised scientific questions. These so-called philosophical preoccupations that seek a way, finally, to make philosophical thinking scientific by means such as symbolic logic, for instance, are only the grotesque tail ends of a long standing tendency that would make of philosophy an ancilla scientiae. Even objective observers of cultural processes can see, underlying these extreme positions, that the aim is to sabotage philosophy and its enquiry. Not by chance do all these reforms of logic, research into form, necessarily indifferent to universal matters, ally themselves to a dogmatic Positivism. The latter would have it that philosophical questions are pseudo questions and that that which is understood by the term metaphysics is devoid of meaning. From this standpoint, that which was previously termed philosophy has, indeed, lost all meaning. But then, that standpoint has no meaning in terms of philosophy, where experience is not a dogma, but rather a problem area, a section within an overarching whole.

We maintain that this variant form of the trend that would make philosophy into science - not science sui generis, but a branch of science, is but the last phase of a movement seeking to demonstrate sterility at the very inception of philosophy. In truth, the seed of this wish to sterilise lies in an unconscious anxiety, known to the human organism, anxiety when faced with the chasm of existence and that which exists, leading to flight into the known, the certain, the ever more certain. However, as certainty and unambiguousness are demanded of philosophy, it is not only the original problem area that disappears and dissolves and necessarily loses its meaningfulness because it remains for ever without answer. With it disappears all free movement of thought. Certainty is best acquired with as little movement as possible. That means not venturing to make 'major' assertions; the less said, the less likelihood of being mistaken. With this, thought loses its uninhibited character, essential to every effective functioning of a life function, including the function of thinking. In early, na´ve thinking, being uninhibited always provided a reassurance that the endless quest for conscious certainty could be surmounted; the reassurance that, when faced with infinity, it is not ever possible to be completely mistaken; that thought, envisioning a situation intuitively, will always grasp at least one aspect of being; and that aspect could then only be corrected once knowledge attained a specific stage, namely once it had gathered together all its principal aspects. These may not even be unduly numerous and each stage is finite. Thus, at one particular stage in European philosophy, the essence of the real beyond experience appeared as 'the Will'. Now, while this is clearly not 'false', it is far from being 'the truth'. The Will appeared as matter, as spirit, as Ego, as a neutral substance, as sphere of original imagery and, surely, all of this is not 'untrue'. But it is far from being 'the truth'.

We need to trust our thinking to look into that which exists. Criticism that offers no correction in a given perspective is both cheap and of little use to philosophy. Early, na´ve thinking was satisfied if it found a perspective and an insight that appeared evident. Then, the ability to think through a situation was as clearly evidence of its existence as empirical evidence of sense data is of the existence of empirical reality. And that is both natural and fundamentally justified. Thinking already means thinking about reality. 'Just thinking'. i.e. thinking without a reality component, assumes a transfer; it combines, in a way, the function of thinking in the domain of experience with the function of thinking in the field of reality beyond experience. The statement made by Parmenides "Thinking [the existent] and existing are the same" (Diels) is appropriate here. Thinking is thinking freely; it is more comprehensive than sectional experience. That means there can be no 'just thinking'. Thinking is not more comprehensive than infinite existence and it cannot function emptied of that which exists if it is thinking, that is if it is building connections between matters rooted in experience but reaching beyond experience. A modern thinker, Oskar Goldberg, saw that the infinity of existence essentially entails that the character of the super-natural must be such that it must contain everything that thought can possibly think in terms of potential reality. We believe this principle, which we cannot enter into here, to be a highly significant guide-line in ontological and methodological terms. It also sets an outer limit, securing against an uncontrollable tendency that thought has of constantly falling back below its theoretical and essential maximum. All serious thinking, in the perspective of infinite being, testifies to something that is not untrue. The 'uncertainty' here is not the threatening uncertainty we spoke of earlier, when we discussed thought as reaching and penetrating a reality beyond experience. But it is a first stage in that process.

This is the place to specify a particular principle in the domain of truth and of science (again, we can do no more than touch on it in the present context) which, like every methodological principle, needs to be appropriate to the object to be grasped by a particular method. Its character will differ from the defining hall marks of truth and knowledge in the specialised sciences because the subject of philosophy is different: the totality of that which exists, 'large' areas, single subjects and their relation to the totality. The criterion for what, in the specialised sciences, would constitute true and false is partly more tolerant and partly more stringent than in those branches of science. The tolerance factor, both essential and indispensable, lies in the fact that the area of that which is possible in the field of knowledge of reality beyond experience has a far greater role than in our knowledge of empirical reality. Imagination as a function of thought is not only admitted but must be used to the utmost; it is an irreplaceable instrument in our apprehension of total reality. The heightened stringency factor, on the other hand, is to be found in an unfolding scale of truth evaluation that is far more extensive than in the sciences because a theoretical maximum is philosophy's aim. Accordingly, philosophy's undertaking addresses humanity; it seeks not only to know, but to master reality and nature. The technological knowledge we possess constitutes but a pale, fallible step and substitute. Genuine mastery of nature is the most important and the most necessary of man's goals. In terms of the demands of philosophy, true is ultimately only that which can master reality and can indeed create experienced reality. Goldberg termed this principle the 'creative principle'.

To apply this pragmatic test, it is essential to sharpen the corresponding demand for an equally essential 'generosity', namely in admitting concepts and aspects of reality. That constitutes a broad, unavoidable first stage in gaining the measure of reality, an area that is not smaller than the reality that can be thought, 'thought reality'. It is vital to keep in mind that thought reality must never get entangled in the ties of language, of words, but must always stay focused on its object. That means that the unavoidable vagueness, not surprisingly characteristic of experience beyond reality, should not lead one to confuse concepts which are abstracted notions - and not names for independent experienced data - with matters that are universal. Herewith a few, crude examples: 'The light of mercy and goodness' or the current 'idea of courage' or 'the way of the spirit' or 'the guardian of the threshold' or 'the god of fire'. All of these are the product of thinking that has a far smaller measure of reality than a vague, transcendental concept such as 'substance' or 'time in relation to the world sum' or even 'completion and completing constructs effected by living forms on the basis of insight sought in their own principle'.

To sum up: A highly indecisive reorientation at the heart of philosophical subject matter gives rise to a demand for certainty in philosophy. Evidence of such demand is seen in the broad area of a first stage in approaching reality beyond experience. That area would be barred by a 'scientific philosophy' and room would be made for so-called stringent and exclusive theory. The stringency and certainty, however, lead us away from the domain of philosophical enquiry, since they cut off any examination that goes beyond reality from the very outset.

We shall try to provide an illustration that can show how reason may be turned so that it can apply itself to this subject of enquiry. It is a question of what is possible. And that which is possible is not only logical; ontologically, it is also the geometric location of reality that can be experienced.