April 2018 – “A Restatement of Christian Philosophy” by C.E.M. Joad [to mark his 65th Anniversary]

“A RESTATEMENT OF CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY”

BY

C.E.M. JOAD

index

 

TRANSCENDENCE AND IMMANENCE

 

TWO ORDERS OF REALITY

Having considered and rejected a number of views as to the nature and interpretation of the cosmos, I shall try…to state the one which seems to me to be open to the fewest objections. It is, briefly, what I take to be the traditional Christian view, namely, that the universe is to be conceived as two orders of reality , the natural order, consisting of people and things moving about in space and enduring, and a supernatural order neither in space nor in time, which consists of a Creative Person or Trinity of Personsfrom which the natural order derives its meaning and in terms of which it receives its explanation. 

This supernatural order is fully real in some sense that the natural order is less than real; it is also perfect in a sense in which the natural order is morally imperfect. The eternal reality which is the supernatural order is related to the natural order. The nature of the relationship depends at least in part upon the living human souls which are denizens of the natural order. It is of great importance – at least to them – to ensure that the relation is a right one….

Of the various explanations of the universe that have been proffered, this, though far from exhaustive, and resting to a large extent on speculative hypotheses which those who hold it receives on ‘faith’, covers, in my view, a wider area of the facts given than any other.

TRANSCENDENCE – IMMANENCE

Of the many difficilties of this explanation, that which touches the nature of the relationship between the two orders has historically provoked the most damaging criticism…

Briefly, the relation seems to me to be one both of transcendence and immanence.

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The supernatural order, that is to say, is both other than and independent of the natural order, and it is also present in the natural order; it expresses itself in it, and makes it to a considerable extent what it is.

I will begin by trying to illustrate this undoubtedly difficult conception.

THE PERSONALITY

Consider the movement of a sonata…

Consider now a personality…

The whole personality is, then, more than the sum of the parts upon whose combination, according to the account given by the sciences, it supervenes.

But suppose that to think of the personality as resulting from the concurrence of a number of parts was misleading from the first.

Suppose that the personality is logically prior and that the parts derive from it, in the sense that it is in the parts that it expresses itself and finds its embodiment.

At first, in the bodily part…A man’s nature…is thought to be expressed in his smile…Or a man’s nature is expressed in, and is deductible from, a grooved forehead and lines about the eyes; the eyes, we say, are the windows of the soul…

It is expressed, secondly, in his psychological life. His moods, tempers, hopes and fears are all, psychology teaches, expressions of a certain type of nature. The do not constitute the nature, they are the ways in which it shows itself.

All these are ways of expressing the truth that the personality is immanent within the ‘parts’, immanent in the bodily behaviour, immanent in the psychological moods. The ‘parts’, as in the case of the other illustrations, are what they are because of their relation to one another and to the immanent whole which expresses itself in them. In the case of this illustration, it is hard to think of the the ‘parts’ as existing separately from the informing personality,; in so far as they can be conceived of as doing so, they would, it is obvious, be different in isolation from what they are in the context of the personality.

THE SOUL

Christianity regards the whole which I have been calling the personality as an immortal soul which will survive the break-up of the body, even if it did not precede its formation.

If this is true, there is a sense in which the personality is more than its expressions both in the body and in the psyche, so that besides being immanent, it is also transcendent.

THE TRANSCENDENCE – IMMANENCE RELATION

I have tried by means of these…examples to illustrate  – I have not, it is obvious, explained  – the transcendence-immanence relation.

In my view, the relation of the two orders of reality, referred to above, is a relation of this kind. I propose to develop this view as it bears upon certain well-known philosophical issues, namely:

The Relation of Body and Mind

The Relation of Universal and Particular

The Relation of Value and Fact,

The Relation of God and the World

Interpretations in terms of the transcendence-immanence relation will be suggested…

HEISENBERG AND QUANTUM THEORY

Now nothing, so far as I am aware, has been advanced by either physicists or biologists to suggest that the movements of matter do not obey the laws of physics and chemistry and are not, therefore, determined [with the possible exception of the movements of microscopic particles – Heisenberg’s “Priniple  of Indeterminacy” affords perhaps a possible example]…

CONCLUSIONS

I draw  three conclusions, first, that life, mind, spirit and value cannot be adequately conceived in material terms as off-shoots of, or emanations from matter; secondly, that they are non-spatial; thirdly, that on both counts, science is disabled from giving an adequate account of them.

Starting from these conclusions as premises, I propose to give some account of the relations between the two orders, or levels, of reality to which, in my view, spirit and mind on the one hand and matter on the otherrespectively belong…

I say that the relation of God to the world, of spirit to matter, and of mind to brain, is the transcendence-immanence relation which I began by trying to describe…

THE HYPOTHESIS – MAN AS THREEFOLD

I venture to develop in an admittedly purely speculative direction the hypothesis that there is included in the make-up of the human personality a timeless element. My excuse is that, where so much is in any event speculative, the fact we should be in a position to urge on behalf of a particular speculative hypothesis that, if it were true, it would cover a number of facts which seem to be inexplicable on any other, is not to be lightly dismissed.

The hypothesis in question is as follows.

The traditional division of the human being is not twofold into mind and body, but threefold into mind, body and soul (or spirit).

I suggest that this traditional division may approximate more closely to the truth than any other.

THE SOUL (OR, SPIRIT)

The soul (or spirit) is the seat of personality, is, in fact, the essential self and is timeless.

In fulfilment of a purpose it is incarnated in a body, or, perhaps, in a number of successive bodies, and so intruded in the time order for a definable period or periods of time,

The soul (or spirit) so conceived is analogous to what the Hindus call the Atman, with the exception that, as Christianity has always insisted against Hinduism, it is inalienably individual. Its individuality, that is to say, is not merged after death in a sea of universal consciousness, but sustains immortality without losing its individuality.

The soul is normally inaccessible to us but I conceive that in certain psychological conditions the soul rises, as it were, into consciousness , or, more precisely, our normal everyday consciousness penetrates on occasion through to the soul.

i should suppose, though I speak without experience, that it is the soul which is the recipient of mystical experience; also, I imagine, of certain kinds of aesthetic experience. One does not, for example, have to be a mystic to respond to Charles Kingsley’s rhetorical question, “Have you not felt that your real soul was imperceptible to your immediate vision except in a few hallowed moments?”

Kingsley has just been describing the nearest thing to mystical experience of which most of us are capable or with which most of us, at any rate, are acquainted, namely, certain moments of transport or tranquillity that we enjoy in our intercourse with nature. His account so closely corresponds with my own experience that I venture to quote it “When I walk in the fields, I am oppressed now and then by with an innate feeling that everything I see has a meaning, if I could but understand it. And this feeling of being surrounded with truths that I cannot grasp amounts to indescribable awe sometimes.”

The concept of the soul, as I am seeking to describe it, obviously answers in certain respects to some psychologists’ descriptions of the unconscious. In certain respects but not in all.

The soul, as here conceived, has not, for example any affinity with the sexually pervaded unconscious whose denizens, the ‘libido’, the ‘id’ and so on dominate the thinking of the Freudian psycho-analysts.

Thete are, however, two respects in which what psychology, and notably Jungian psychology, has to tell us about the soul, tallies with what I am attempting here to convey.

First, the soul is the source of genius and the medium of inspiration. I have often been struck by the fact which has never, as far as I know, received adequate comment, that the spheres in which the infant prodigy appears are three and three only, namely music, chess and mathematics. It is significant that none of these spheres derives its material from life. What I would suggest is that children of outstanding capacity in these spheres bring something with them into this world, that this something has its origin and abiding place in what I am calling the soul and that, as experience of life at the ordinary level of consciousness accumulates, the soul and its precious inheritance is increasingly overlaid so that the gifts of the prodigy fade as adolescence approaches.

Secondly, it may be that the subconscious essence or foundation of our personality which I am identifying with the soul, is in touch with a something ‘more’. If there are higher spiritual agencies at work in the world, agencies which touch and quicken us, enriching us with what we call our gifts in inspiration and responding to our solicitations in prayer, their point of contact and communication with us, the point at which, as it were, they touch us, is the soul.

My view that this region is normally inaccessible to consciousness is consistent with the well known fact that we are often unaware of the sources of our inspiration and ignorant how the healing and strengthening influences that bear upon us when, as we say, our prayers are answered, do their work.

i am suggesting that the soul, which is normally an inaccessible region of our personality, is not only the medium, but the necessary medium through which this work is done.

God, to use the language of religion, influences man hrough his soul. The soul, then, is the vehicle of God’s immanence. It is that in respect of which we are, if not divine, at least in contact with the divine.

Thus, it is only when the hubbub of ordinary life and consciousness dies down that  as the Bible has it, the still small voice of God can make itself heard, heard that is to say, by the soul of which at the moment of being influenced, but only at that moment, we are conscious.

The phenomena of spiritual healing and spiritual regeneration are also most plausibly to be explained on the assumption that God, in response to prayer, acts upon us through the soul to heal the body and strengthen the mind.

THE MIND (OR PSYCHE)

Mind is brought into being in consequence of the contact of the soul with the natural, temporal order, which results from its incorporation in a physical body. It is brought initially into being in the form of ideas. More precisely, ideas emerge on the combination of soul with body much as water emerges on the combination of oxygen and hydrogen, and it is the cluster of these emerging ideas which constitute a mind.

Since a mind comes into existence as a by-product of the soul’s incarnation in matter, its existence is temporary only. Moreover, it is not in the mind that the unity of the person resides, so that the arguments advanced by Hume and later by William James, against the conception of the substantial or united self, arguments which at the level of psychology it is extremely difficult to rebut, are beside the point, seeing that the unity of the self resides elsewhere, resides, in fact, in a region which is normally inaccessible to consciousness.

THE ‘BUNDLE’ THEORY OF THE MIND

To put the point in another way, soul or spirit, when brought into contact with matter by incarnation in a body, expresses itself initially in a succession of ideas. A mind is simply the bundle of ideas which constitute it at any given moment. Hence ideas are primitive and mind derivative.

SUMMARY

These various suggestions all pre-suppose a particular view of the relation between the mind and the body or, as I would prefer to put it, between the soul and the body. The relation in question is a particular case of the general transcendence-immanence relation which, I am suggesting, constitutes the most fruitful explanatory hypothesis of the phenomena of the natural world that the mind of man has yet hit upon.

In brief, I am suggesting that the individual soul, or spirit, transcends the body in the sense of bmeing other than it, of being independent of it and in all probability of surviving it. It is, nevertheless, immanent in the body in the sense that for a limited   period and no doubt for a special purpose the soul is incarnated in matter.

How this comes about, and what the resultant relation between soul and body may be, we do not know and, if I am right in thinking that the relation is devised by a divine mind, will probably never know.

The incarnated soul expresses itself in ideas; these ideas cluster in bundles and are known to us under the name of mind or consciousness, whose interaction with the body constitutes our nornal mode of conscious experience.

The closeness of the clustering varies from one individual to anouther, and ideas may become detached from the bundle to which they normally belong and associate themselves temporarily with other bodies and brains and even with non-cerebral matter.

It is in this tendency of ideas to wander, as it were, from the cluster to which they normally belong that the more plausible explanation of many super-normal phenomena is likely to be found.

I venture to add that none of the explanations of these phenomena that rely upon and confine themselves to the concepts normally employed by the sciences seem even remotely satisfactory. Hence science has either to ignore these phenomena or to write them off as illusory…

PLATO’S FORMS AND VALUES

It will have been quickly apparent to those familiar to philosophy that arguments used from time to time…have a Platonic flavour, nor is it dificult to see that the two-level structure of the universe…and in particular the transcendence-immanence relation between the two levels of reality, is conceived fairly closely on Platonic lines…the Forms belong, as Plato holds that they do, to a supernatural world, more particularly if…what we call the Values – and it is under this term that the Forms may, I think, be most appropriately referred to in respect of their most outstanding manifestations as Truth, Goodness and Beauty – are the modes of God’s revelation of His nature to man.

For if that is, indeed, the case, the relation must be regarded as the immanence of a transcendent Being in a medium which, though it manifests, is itself other than, the Being manifested.

Now, we cannot, I suggest, expect to achieve a ‘know-how’ of the mode of manifestation of a Divine Being…

VALUE AND FACT

Proclaiming the existence of the values of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, thinkers have…unduly emphasised their apartness from and transcendence of the familiar world. The invisble world of values has floated like an impotent mirage above the solid world of moving matter. Thus, the world of values was dismissed as being merely abstarct, a figment of thought or a refuge from the vulgarities and deficiencies of the world of fact. The values, in short, were the philosopher’s version of’pie in the sky’. That they are transcendent is, indeed, the case, for they are…the forms under which God permits Himself to be revealed to man. ‘In ultimates,’ as Goethe said, ‘we see God.’ But they are also immanent.

GOODNESS

Consider, for example, the value Goodness…goodness is not only transcendent but immanent, being the source of that in us which aspires after greater goodness – a point, this, which Plato was surely trying to bring out when he spoke of the individual soul as not only modelling itself upon the Form of goodness as its exemplar, but also partaking of it in the sense that the soul was the medium of the Form’s manifestation.

As with Goodness, so with Beauty; it is the presence of beauty in works of art which causes them to have value. Consider a picture…It is not, unless and until it becomes immanent in matter, that the artist’s ‘idea’ achieves value. Yet the idea transcends the matter in which it finds expression. ‘Hamlet’ would still be a play even if there were no books to print it in, or actors to speak the lines…

THE VALUES OF SCIENCE

The transcendence-immanence formula for the relation of value to fact can also be applied to the values of science. For science, too, has its values – coherence, for example, order, relation, even elegance and that canon of economy which, given tow or more hypotheses, each of which covers the facts, prescribes the choice of the most economical. These are truly values in the sense that their discovery and establishment may be said to constitute the end at which the scientist aims. having established them, he formulates them in laws which purport to determine the behaviour of phenomena not immediately under his observation, and to predict the behaviour of phenomena which have not yet occurred…

These, then, which are the ‘values’ of scienc, are not imposed by the scientist but are presented in the phenomena which the scientist studies. What is more, they are discovered as presented. In other words they are immanent; but since no particular configuration of matter on any particular occasion exhausts them, they are also transcendent. Thus, the world studied by science cannot be reduced without remainder to material particles in motion. It contains also non-material laws which the particles obey, and these non-material laws constitute the values of science.

GOD AND THE WORLD

I would suggest that the various examples I have considered are paralleled by the relation of God to the world, a relation of which they constitute special cases. I do not want to stress the analogy between God and the artist to the point of asserting a metaphysical dualism, yet there is much in the universe to encourage us to think of God’s creation after the same fashion as that of the artist.

Genesis, no doubt, tells us that ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’, created them, that is to say, not as the artist creates in a subject matter which precedes and is other than his creation, but created them out of nothing. Nevertheless, granted the prior existence of the subject matter, whatever its origin [Note 1 – I suggest a logical and, perhaps, a chronological priority for the creation by God of the brute material stuff of the universe], the mode of God’s subsequent creativity would appear to illustrate the transcendence-immanence formula. The Incarnation of Christ, whereby the Word was made flesh would, on this view, be no more than a particular and extreme case of such creative immanence.  

God’s relation to the world, in so far as it is a relation of immanence, would also typify the other stances of the transcendence-immanence relation at which I have glanced in respect of the fact that the method of the ‘entering in’ is unknown to us and will presumably remain so. 

So, too, with the Incarnation of Christ. We do not understand how it could have happened. If we did, it would not be a miracle, nor would the so-called miracles of Christ be miraculous. Yet if the general line is followed…the miracles are a particular case of the immanence of the divine in matter and we have, therefore, no right to expect them to be intelligible. At the same time we have no more right to dismiss them because they are not intelligible, than we have to write off the mind as a by-product of the brain, merely because its mode of interaction with the brain passes our comprehension…

THE SURD ELEMENT

I am suggesting, then, that the facts of experience may be most satisfactorily covered by the hypothesis that God and God’s creatures are not all, but there is also matter [the surd element – Ed], a brute, intractable stuff derived we know not whence – save that it, too, must have originally proceeded from God – and that our souls are emanations of the divine temporarily incarnated in matter…

CONCLUSION, GOD AND THE WORLD

It is time to draw these scattered observations to a point.

I have sought to exemplify what I have called the transcendence-immanence relation in the relation of

mind to body…

forms to particulars…

value to fact…

the artist to his work, and

divine plan to human history

because these familiar problems seem to me to be less inexplicable  – I would put it no higher – in terms of this relation than in that of any other.

The relation of God to the world, I have suggested, also illustrates this relation. God is, in the first place, immanent. If He were not, we would have to reject the whole testimony of man’s spiritual experience according to which it is possible for us to make contact with a source of spiritual experience which, if we solicit its assistance by prayer, will help and strengthen us in the continual moral conflicts of which our lives here on earth are composed. The help and strengthening take the form of what we know as divine grace.

Moreover, unless God is immanent, we are left with the alternatives

(a) of a straightforward materialism which, if it admits spirit at all, treats it as epiphenomenal upon matter, or

(b) if we are prepared to admit the causal efficacy and partial independence of spirit, of envisaging the cosmos as a field in which a number of detached and isolated spirits originating we know not whence arbitrarily interfere with the movements of pieces of matter, either to no end at all – save that of perhaps their own self-satisfaction – or in pursuit of values which are themselves arbitrarily given, pieces of spiritual furniture which just happen to be lying about in the cosmos, their number being as arbitrary as their characteristics and the pattern of their arrangement, if any, which they constitute.

On the other hand, God cannot, I think, be wholly immanent for the reasons given…Briefly, they are that if God is wholly immanent;

(1) there is no even remotely tolerable explanation of the problem of evil.

(ii) it is impossible to set limits to God’s pervasion of the universe yet to assert that my toenail is also God, or part of God, seems to me to make nonsense of religion and to reduce the concept of God to meaninglessness.

Further, a wholly immanent God is fatally entangled in the death, whether from heat or cold, of the physical universe. But a God who is doomed to die with the world that he pervades is not the God of religious experience, nor is He a God whom man could worship.

If the transcendence-immanence relation be accepted, we cannot expect to comprehend its nature. One conclusion of great importance follows. If God created the world and is or may be immanent in it, it might be expected that He would from time to time intervene in its affairs, if only through the instrument of grace by means of which he works upon us. But it is also on this assumption quite reasonable to expect certain special interferences such as Christianity, with its record of the series of God’s mighty acts, affirms.

The culmination of these interferences, which is also the supreme expression of God’s immanence, is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The transcendence-immanence conception also covers Christ’s miracles, which may be interpreted as interferences by the spirit with the behaviour of matter in unforeseeable and inexplicable ways. It may even, though their acceptance is by no means necessary to the truth of Christianity, be extended to explain the stories of God’s interventions in the Old Testament.

All these – the Incarnation, the miracles, even the Old Testament stories – would only be special and dramatically picturesque examples of the functioning of a relation which, if the conception developed…can be accepted, is normal and continuous, but which transcends our powers of comprehension.

 

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[Source: “The Recovery of Belief – A Restatement of Christian Philosophy” by C.E.M. Joad – Faber and Faber 1952 – pp 182-283]

 

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