Future, Present, & Past:
Speculative~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
patience, will, and limit
I closed last post noting that Wittgenstein said that we run up against the limits of language, and said in comment:
There’s something in this (very ancient, and in a way Socratic) language of struggle that bears reflection. The violence of the metaphor needs to balanced against the more patient connotations of the careful attention (also Socratic) needed to help us trace these limit of thought in ever-finer (fractal) detail. But both are needed, and needed, I would say, both by reason and by faith.
By faith I mean, here, simply the assertion or stipulation of unprovable claims, such as dy0genes remarked upon when he said that the notion that there are limits to thought is itself a religious assertion. For the moment, I won't distinguish in any other ways amongst differing unprovable assertions, but of course I don't hold that there are no relevant distinctions.
It strikes me that there's a kind of urgency, a will-to-power, to this talk of "running up against;" it's very close to what Plato calls eros. And both reason and faith, in the sense I'm using it here, require this urgency, this commitment--what the Existentialists used to call engagement.
On the other hand, both reason and faith also require a kind of patience, an attention that pays heed to however things comport themselves, even to the mere thusness of things. (Malebranche says that attention is "the natural prayer of the soul.")
This attention is harder to see in reason and faith at once; the more one sees it in one, the easier prejudice intrudes to obscure it in the other. If one sees reason as patient, one might be inclined to see faith as merely presumptuous and over-reaching. Conversely, if one sees faith as patient, it's reason that looks like a universal solvent eating away at everything.
I trust I do not need to belabor the point that both of these are caricatures. The scientist sorting through the data, the legal scholar weighing evidence and precedents, are models of patience and attuned listening that an aspiring monastic might envy. So too the painter wholly absorbed in the dialogue between scene and canvas, or the musician finding the way the melody leads. The eros of will, striving unattainably to know the in-itself, always finds its real purchase on things in the attention to what-is-there.
That this is so whether our mode of engagement is reason, or faith, suggests a kind of foursquare array: there is an outward-directed and vehement faith, indefatigable in its efforts to take the kingdom of heaven by force; there is a calm and receptive faith that patiently sits with the moment-by-moment flux of experience; there is an outward-directed reason that brooks no competition; there is a meticulous reason that weighs suspended judgment against the accumulated testimony of data and canons of prudence.
My point is not that faith, in whichever mode, posits the idea of "limits to thought" and reason in whichever mode refuses to countenance them. Both faith and reason think. Each of them encounters the limit; and each of them responds both ways--repeatedly running up against it, as if to batter it down; and patiently, carefully, meticulously, thinking as close as it can to it. The closer they get to it, the more pronounced their similarity and their difference; the more they become mirror images of each other (and mirror-images are not merely the same). One might say that only on the other side of the limit do they become "one." But to say this is already to overstep.