Footnotes to Plato on Cosmotheandrism
by Adam Robbert
A response to my earlier post on OOO and ecological ethics (itself a commentary on a post over at After Nature from earlier this week). Matt Segall (Footnotes) continues to argue, following Raimon Panikkar, for a cosmotheandric vision of the cosmos; a trinity of theos, anthropos, and cosmos. I have no particular qualms with this brand of theology, and find it incredibly refreshing and expansive in comparison with many religious positions that attempt to reconcile religion with cosmology (I’m looking at you I.D.).
As is usually the case, I’m not sure that Matt and I are having a substantial disagreement. He continues to champion a process-relational view over an object-oriented one, I continue to maintain that the differences are slight, perhaps even insubstantial. On this note, Matt and I both take a different view on the PR-OOO debates than some, given that neither of us think that Whitehead reduces entities to their relations and that we also understand OOO to be a heavily process-infused philosophy. But lets take a few these points one at a time anyway.
1) I had some choice words regarding the “trauma” inflicted upon european societies when I wrote:
“[OOO] reveals that the human has not been traumatically ‘decentered’ by the triple revolutions of Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud (feel free to add to this list your favorite ‘traumatic’ decentralists…). This decentering, we can now see, was actually only a traumatic event from a particularly eurocentric, dualist, and transcendentalist perspective. I think its time we stop whining about the poor european psyche’s ‘displacement’ and realize that immanence, ontological parity, and evolutionary cosmology actually center uswithin the context of things.”
To which Matt responds:
Civilized life is predicated on the assumption that our species, at least at its scientific and spiritual best, represents a unique example of a universal anthropic tendency intrinsic to cosmogenesis. Without faith in this highest human potential, I believe we simply lose the will necessary to live together peacefully on earth. Without an anthropic orientation, in other words, our ethicality and zest for life (as Teilhard calls it) would shrivel and die within a generation or two. Indeed, I think European civilization is growing precariously close to the death of belief in the Anthropos, just as it has already killed God.
Nothing I wrote in the above implies the loss of any of the notions that Matt calls our attention to — humans are still unique and noble creatures (at their best). I also agree with Matt that there is quite a bit of good theoretical evidence that the universe does indeed tend towards the emergence of life (possibly even intelligent, humanoid life). However, I don’t see this as being an archetypal necessity (as Matt does) but rather, a constitutive property of the universe’s own self-organizing dynamics.
2) Matt writes:
I am all for immanence, ontological parity, and evolutionary cosmology; but I affirm the importance of these principles right alongside those of transcendence, ontological depth, and involutionary metaphysics. There are cross-cultural parallels in the philosophies of India and of various indigenous traditions for these three notions; they are not simply anomalies of a deranged European mentality (e.g., the Indian Vedas and the Mayan Popul Voh). The modern scientific “displacement” of humanity is unavoidable, but if our civilization is to survive the 21st century, I think we must also seek out and discover some sort of cosmotheandric re-orientation.
Ontological depth is not at odds with an object-oriented approach to ecology and environmental ethics. There is no conflict here. Further, ontological parity does not deny the uniqueness of human beings, and the depth of individual entities is definitely still on the table for discussion (these are the “psychological layers” of the cosmos Harman points to). So on this note, I think, we still agree since there has not been much of a real disagreement to begin with.
Further, I certainly don’t think that transcendence, ontological depth, or involutionary metaphysics are the products of a “deranged european mind,” though I wouldn’t try and justify any of these beliefs by an appeal to their appearance in multiple cultures (we had a long debate a while back over facts of experience vs. truths of experience — these issues, for me, fall in the former, but not necessarily the latter).
My only point here was to point out that certain forms of european dualism (coupled with an exclusively transcendental christianity), create the illusion of a massive displacement in the european psyche. I hold that this was not an inevitable experience, but rather the product of unique historical circumstances. Had europeans abstained from “bifurcating nature” in the first place, the insights of Copernicus, Freud, and Darwin could have been received very differently.
3) Where the real difference lies, I suspect, is that Matt is much more comfortable with an involutionary metaphysics (i.e., alongside of a material evolution complexifying in space-time there, is also an involution of divine influence into the cosmos). I won’t deny that this may indeed be the case, but I don’t go so far as to say it is necessary for this universe to be how or where it is today — let alone an established fact of existence.
Further, there are multiple ways to construe a sacred dimension to the universe, and Matt highlights only one among many possible options. Where I take issue on this point is with the tacit suggestion that a singular cosmotheandric vision is required (Matt states that we “must” seek out a cosmotheandric vision) for us to escape a “disenchanted” cosmos. I think the enchanted/disenchanted binary is a bit of a worn shoe, and don’t really see it as the hook for too many problems in particular. I say let a thousand gods bloom, die, and be reborn as they see fit. I like atheists too.
4) Matt’s final statement was “Everything actual possesses a degree of interiority (and so withdrawnness) precisely because it is a process of becoming.” To which I add (somewhat sluggishly — the point has been made too many times), there is no conflict between a process of becoming and the substantiality of objects emerging, perishing, and transforming.