A pdf version of this essay is available here - dwm-some-metaphysical-questions-v5.pdf
Personal Reflexions On Some Metaphysical
The cosmogony described in the Ιερός Λόγος tractate of the Corpus
Hermeticum answers certain interesting and important metaphysical
questions in a particular and ancient way:
All such 'theological' answers - from
classical Greco-Roman paganism and mysticism to Gnosticism to
Christianity and Islam - lead us to enquire (i) if Being - whether
denoted by terms such as acausal, born-less, θεός, The One, The
Divine, God, The Eternal, Mονάς - can be apprehended (or defined) by
some-things which are causal (denoted by terms such as spatial,
temporal, renewance), and (ii) whether this 'acausal Being' is the
origin or the genesis or 'the artisan' (2) or
the creator of both causal being (including 'time', and 'change')
and of causal living beings such as ourselves.
Δόξα πάντων ὁ θεὸς καὶ θεῖον καὶ φύσις θεία.
τῶν ὄντων ὁ θεός καὶ νοῦς καὶ φύσις καὶ ὕλη, σοφία εἰς
δεῖξιν ἁπάντων ὤν· ἀρχὴ τὸ θεῖον καὶ φύσις καὶ ἐνέργεια
καὶ ἀνάγκη καὶ τέλος καὶ ἀνανέωσις [...]
τὸ γὰρ θεῖον ἡ πᾶσα κοσμικὴ σύγκρασις φύσει ἀνανεου-
μένη· ἐν γὰρ τῷ θείῳ καὶ ἡ φύσις καθέστηκεν
The numen of all beings is theos: numinal, and of numinal
The origin of what exists is theos, who is Perceiveration
and Physis and Substance:
The sapientia which is a revealing of all beings.
For the numinal is the origin: physis, vigour, incumbency,
accomplishment, renewance [...]
The divine is all of that mixion: renewance of the cosmic order
For Physis is presenced in the divine. (1)
That is, (i) has causal spatially-existing being 'emerged from' - or
been created by - acausal Being, and (ii) are causal beings - such
as ourselves - an aspect or emanation of acausal Being?
My admittedly fallible understanding now, after some years of
reflexion and based as it is on my limited knowledge, is that
formulating such a question in such terms - causal/acausal;
whole/parts; eternal/temporal; ipseity/unity; emergent from/genesis
of - is a mis-apprehension of what-is because such denoting is 'us
as observer' (i) positing, as Plato did, such things as a theory
regarding 'the ideal' (3), and/or (ii)
constructing a form or abstraction (ἰδέᾳ) which we then presume to
project onto what is assumed to be 'external' to us, both of which
present us with only an illusion of understanding and meaning
because implicit in such theories and in all such constructed forms
are (i) an opposite (an 'other') and (ii) the potentiality for
discord (dialectical or otherwise) between such opposites and/or
because of a pursuit of what is regarded as 'the ideal' of
some-thing. Hence, perhaps, why Heraclitus is reported to have
εἰδέναι δὲ χρὴ τὸν πόλεμον ἐόντα ξυνόν, καὶ δίκην ἔριν, καὶ
γινόμενα πάντα κατ΄ ἔριν καὶ χρεώμενα
One should be aware that Polemos pervades, with discord
δίκη, and that beings are naturally born by discord.
πάντα δὲ γίνεσθαι καθ᾽ εἱμαρμένην καὶ διὰ τῆς
ἐναντιοδρομίας ἡρμόσθαι τὰ ὄντα
All by genesis is appropriately apportioned [separated
into portions] with beings bound together again by
enantiodromia. [Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 7]
In effect, our innate assumption of our existence as sentient
individuals - separate from 'the other', be that other Being
itself or other beings - leads us and has led us to formulate and
to strive to answer certain metaphysical questions in a particular
way. That is, from the position of an 'observer' whose answers are
dependant on postulated concepts described or denoted by words
such as 'time', 'change', God, theos/theoi, and 'the ideal'.
Is it therefore possible
for us to discover our being, our physis - in effect, know Reality
and discover the meaning of our existence - without such
postulations, be they metaphysical or theological or otherwise? My
fallible answer, based as it is on my limited knowledge and my own
experience, is that it is possible; and possible by means of
empathy and pathei-mathos. However, by necessity - given the
personal (local) horizon of both empathy and pathei-mathos (4)
- the knowing so revealed is (i) only our personal fallible
answer, and also is (ii) always sans denotatum (5),
a wordless empathic knowing that cannot be expressed (by words,
terms) without in some way distorting it or denuding it of such
numinosity as has been personally discovered (revealed) by empathy
For empathy and pathei-mathos incline us to suggest that ipseity
is an illusion of perspective: that there is, fundamentally, no
division between 'us' - as some individual sentient, mortal being
- and what has hitherto been understood and named as the Unity,
The One, God, The Eternal. That 'we' are not 'observers' but
rather Being existing as Being exists and is presenced in the
Cosmos. That thus all our striving, individually and collectively
when based on some ideal or on some form - some abstraction and
what is derived therefrom, such as ideology and dogma - always is
or becomes sad/tragic, and which recurrence of sadness/tragedy,
generation following generation, is perhaps even inevitable unless
and until we live according to the wordless knowing that empathy
and pathei-mathos reveal. In this matter, Heraclitus perhaps had
something interesting to say, again:
τοῦ δὲ λόγου τοῦδ᾽ ἐόντος ἀεὶ ἀξύνετοι γίνονται ἄνθρωποι καὶ
πρόσθεν ἢ ἀκοῦσαι καὶ ἀκούσαντες τὸ πρῶτον· γινομένων γὰρ πάντων
κατὰ τὸν λόγον τόνδε ἀπείροισιν ἐοίκασι, πειρώμενοι καὶ ἐπέων
καὶ ἔργων τοιούτων, ὁκοίων ἐγὼ διηγεῦμαι κατὰ φύσιν διαιρέων
ἕκαστον καὶ φράζων ὅκως ἔχει· τοὺς δὲ ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους λανθάνει
ὁκόσα ἐγερθέντες ποιοῦσιν, ὅκωσπερ ὁκόσα εὕδοντες ἐπιλανθάνονται
Although this naming and expression [which I explain]
exists, human beings tend to ignore it, both before and after
they have become aware of it. Yet even though, regarding such
naming and expression, I have revealed details of how Physis
has been cleaved asunder, some human beings are inexperienced
concerning it, fumbling about with words and deeds, just as
other human beings, be they interested or just forgetful, are
unaware of what they have done. [Fragment 1]
What, therefore, is the wordless knowing that empathy and
pathei-mathos reveal? It is the knowing manifest in our human
culture of pathei-mathos. The knowing communicated to us, for
example, by art, music, literature, and manifest in the lives of
those who presenced, in their living, compassion, love, and honour.
Germane to this knowing is that - unlike a form or an abstraction -
it is always personal (limited in its applicability) and can only be
embodied in and presenced by some-thing or by some-one which or who
lives. That is, it cannot be abstracted out of the living, the
personal, moment of its presencing by someone or abstracted out from
its living apprehension by others in the immediacy-of-the-moment,
and thus cannot become 'an ideal' or form the foundation for some
dogma or ideology or supra-personal faith.
Plato, Art, and The Ideal
Since art can wordlessly communicate to us the
wisdom, and the knowing of Reality, revealed individually by both
empathy and the culture of pathei-mathos, it seems apposite to
briefly consider Plato's rather influential notions of τὸ καλόν (of
beauty) and of 'the ideal'.
As Isocrates wrote of Helen of Troy:
κάλλους γὰρ πλεῖστον μέρος μετέσχεν, ὃ σεμνότατον καὶ
τιμιώτατον καὶ θειότατον τῶν ὄντων ἐστίν.
things valued, numinous, and divine, she had the greatest
share: beauty. [Encomium, 54]
However, with Plato, τὸ καλόν becomes impersonal, even when the
subject he is writing about is human 'nobility'. That is, it becomes
something unrelated to what is personally known and proven
(revealed) by what is real (as for example in the deeds of a
real-life individual). For Plato, it is related to or
manifests ἀρετή ('virtue'), which in his philosophy becomes a
hypothesized abstraction which a person may or may not possess and
which, it is claimed, can be 'brought into being' by other
abstractions, such as a Republic.
Thus, in Phaedo (78b), Plato writes about αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν and
about αὐτὸ ἕκαστον ὃ ἔστιν: that is, of 'abstract' (true,
ideal) beauty and of 'abstract' (true, ideal) being. In
Kratylus 389d he has Socrates talk about 'true, ideal' naming
(denotatum) - βλέποντα πρὸς αὐτὸ ἐκεῖνο ὃ ἔστιν ὄνομα.
Also in Kratylus (386d-386e), Plato has Socrates say:
μήτε ἑκάστῳ ἰδίᾳ ἕκαστον τῶν ὄντων ἐστίν δῆλον δὴ ὅτι
αὐτὰ αὑτῶν οὐσίαν ἔχοντά τινα βέβαιόν ἐστι τὰ πράγματα
Furthermore, he writes that:
Each being has their own mode [of being] which is
constant, and which is neither caused by nor related to us.
πρῶτον μὲν ἀεὶ ὂν καὶ οὔτε γιγνόμενον οὔτε ἀπολλύμενον,
οὔτε αὐξανόμενον οὔτε φθίνον (Symposium 210e - 211a)
Firstly, it always exists, and has no genesis. It does not
die, does not grow, does not decay.
ἀρχόμενον ἀπὸ τῶνδε τῶν καλῶν ἐκείνου ἕνεκα τοῦ καλοῦ ἀεὶ
ἐπανιέναι, ὥσπερ ἐπαναβασμοῖς χρώμενον (Symposium 211c)
Starting from that beauty, that person must - because of
such beauty - always as by a ladder move on, upwards.
While many other examples could be adduced, it does seem evident
that Plato posits some abstraction - whether described by him in
terms such as ἰδέᾳ, εἶδος, or involving αὐτὸ (i.e. form, ideal,
'true'/of itself) - and which abstraction, because it has no
genesis, does not die, does not grow, and yet which invokes change -
a moving-on by, or discord resulting from, the pursuit of such an
ideal by individuals - is independent of and often damaging to our
living (and thus numinous) reality as individual diverse human
beings possessed of the faculty of empathy and able to learn from
the culture of pathei-mathos.
In contrast, when Aristotle, in an oblique reference to Plato,
writes τοῦ δὲ καλοῦ μέγιστα εἴδη τάξις καὶ συμμετρία καὶ τὸ
ὡρισμένον (6) he is referring to what is
real, what actually exists - ὥστε διὰ τοῦτο ὀρθῶς οἱ γεωμέτραι
λέγουσι καὶ περὶ ὄντων διαλέγονται καὶ ὄντα ἐστίν: διττὸν γὰρ τὸ ὄν.
That is, to the beauty of geometry as manifest, for example, by
geometricians when - as in Euclid's Elements - they make logical
deductions from schemata and harmony and consonancy. Aristotle goes
on to write that τὸ καλόν is especially revealed (δείκνυμι) in
mathematics: ἃ μάλιστα δεικνύουσιν αἱ μαθηματικαὶ ἐπιστῆμαι.
Also, when Aristotle deals with ἀρετή he considers it a μέσον
(meson, median, a balance between 'being' (actually existing) and
'not-being' (a potentiality), qv. Metaphysics 9.1051a) and thus
discards Plato's εἶδος of an abstractive 'good' and 'bad'. Which
discarding was an excellent philosophical beginning given how
Plato's abstractive 'ideal' of some-thing with its implication that
a person "must - because of that ideal - always as by a ladder be
moving on, upwards," is and has been the genesis of discord and
Empathy and pathei-mathos,
however, emphasize the importance of living in the "immediacy of the
personal, living, moment", sans the pursuit of some ideal or of some
assumed perfection; with what is 'good' being not some abstraction
denoted by some faith, dogma, ideal, ideology, or by some
collocation of words, but rather is a function of, a wordless
revealing by, our personal, our individual, empathic horizon, by our
pathei-mathos, and by the collected human pathei-mathos of millennia
manifest as that is in the culture of pathei-mathos. Which revealing
is that what-lives is more important that any ideal, than any
abstraction or form, with 'the good' simply being that which does
not cause suffering to, or which can alleviate the suffering of,
what-lives, human and otherwise.
Thus the 'meaning' of our physis, of our living, so revealed, is
just that of a certain way of living; a non-defined, non-definable,
very personal way of living, only relevant to us as an individual
where we - appreciating our human culture of pathei-mathos, and thus
appreciative of art, music, literature, and other emanations of the
numinous - incline toward not causing suffering and incline (by
means of empathy, compassion, and honour) toward alleviating such
suffering as we may personally encounter in the "immediacy of the
personal, living, moment".
The genesis of this essay was some correspondence, in February and
March 2015, with an academic, and which correspondence concerned
certain metaphysical questions. I have paraphrased parts of, or
utilized quotations from, or rewritten certain passages from,
several of my replies. All translations (and errors) are mine.
(1) Myatt, David, Ιερός Λόγος: An Esoteric Mythos.
2015. ISBN 978-1507660126.
(2) In respect of theos as artisan (δημιουργόν) qv. the Corpus
Hermeticum; for example Poemandres 11.
(3) qv. Plato, Art, and The Ideal, below.
(4) The 'local horizon of empathy' is a natural consequence of my
understanding of empathy as a human faculty, albeit a faculty that
is still quite underdeveloped. For what empathy provides - or can
provide - is a very personal wordless knowing in the
immediacy-of-the-living-moment. Thus empathy inclines us as
individuals to appreciate that what is beyond the purveu of our
empathy - beyond our personal empathic knowing of others, beyond our
knowledge and our experience, beyond the limited (local) range of
our empathy and that personal (local) knowledge of ourselves which
pathei-mathos reveals - is something we rationally, we humbly,
accept we do not know and so cannot judge or form a reasonable, a
fair, a balanced, opinion about.
For empathy, like pathei-mathos, lives within us; manifesting, as
both empathy and pathei-mathos do, the always limited nature, the
horizon, of our own knowledge and understanding.
(5) Denotatum - from the Latin, denotare - is used here in accord
with its general meaning, which is "to denote or to describe by an
expression or a word; to name some-thing; to refer that which is so
named or so denoted."
(6) Metaphysics, Book 13, 1078a. "The most noticeable
expressions of kalos are schemata and harmony and consonancy."
Notes on Aristotle Metaphysics 987b