What Is Transcendence?
Transcendence is a word we often use at this site but it seems like few people have understood its proper meaning. To clarify our definition of transcendence we must first begin by explaining the core philosophy of ANUS; how it came to be and how it was developed over time. We start out by defining the two main philosophical movements within Western philosophy: empiricism and rationalism.
Rationalism is the view promoted by people like Plato, Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes and postulates that we can gain knowledge of the world through thinking alone without experiencing it. Empiricism was a response to rationalism and was mostly developed by the British school of philosophers like Locke, Berkeley and Hume and claimed that our knowledge of the world comes from experience. Extreme rationalists suggested that we avoid emotions and focus on rational thinking, extreme empiricists claimed there was no objective rational truth at all and thus all is simply subjective experience.
The man who broke this conflicting trend was Immanuel Kant. Coming from a rationalist educational background but inspired by the empiricist skeptic David Hume, Kant realized that both of these schools had problems. Rationalists were right in that we're able to form judgements about certain things the world without necessarily experiencing them, but empiricists had a point in that absolute truth seemed unjustified and that we need to experience something in order to build additional knowledge upon that. What followed was the so-called "Copernican Revolution;" Kant brought the focus away from objects of our knowledge to how our cognitive faculty operates. The result was the astounding philosophical system that changed the entire Western philosophy: transcendental idealism.
Transcendental idealism is a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism. In the opening words in The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant suggests that:
There can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience...But though all our knowledge begins with experience it does not follow that it all arises out of experience
In other words: we depend on experience to know anything at all but our conscious is able to reason and reach logical conclusions that aren't necessarily dependent upon a correlating experience. Such knowledge we call a priori; that which we know regardless of sense-experience. The opposite is what the British empiricists always emphasized, a posteriori, which is knowledge gained only through sense-experience. Kant never gave up his rationalism but pointed out the limitations of the human faculty and asserted that the world is comprised of two realities: our phenomenon world and the objective world, or things-in-themselves as he called them.
The basic idea is this: we cannot know anything about the things-in-themselves because that implies we're able to go beyond our human faculty. What we experience are phenomena, or impressions from the things-in-themselves. Thus all our knowledge is confined within a purely subjective realm of thought. At the same time we enact within an objective space, which is shared by all of us. We perceive reality similarly and are born with a conscious that interprets, categorizes and structures our impressions via a shared rationalist apparatus. S.R. Prozak explains it in the following way:
The derivation of truth, and attainment of goals in the language of truth, is a process of uniting mind and body that transcends subject/object division. These perceptions are not objective in that they originate and end in the individual, but are stimulated by and acted upon within objective space. (Love and Nihilism: An Integralist Primer)
Transcendental idealism is a search for understanding how we attain this knowledge. The post-Kantian philosophers like Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche went a step further and distanced themselves from much of the inherent rationalism in Kant's philosophy. Nietzsche for instance removed the things-in-themselves altogether and suggest they may not even exist at all. What followed was a strong empiricist idealism: we shouldn't even bother finding "truth" - all that matters is our phenomenon world and what we find aesthetically pleasing about it.
While Kant had asserted that ethical duty was the highest principle of man, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche removed that as well and pointed out the falsehood in much of morality. Instead they upheld a more existential concept called the Will, which is a form of inner, metaphysical strife for an understanding of the world through intensifying power and sacrificial attainment. This is the German idealism that ANUS primarily espouses, although it recognizes and affirms the core of Kant's transcendental idealism: we experience the world through subjective impression and structure these impressions in a way inherent to our cognitive conscious.
So where does nihilism come into the picture? Nihilism as we use it is a method by which we sort out all the garbage impressions and try to observe the phenomenon as they are in themselves in our conscious. Kant had a similar idea that he called transcendental aesthetics: when we perceive something we ought to remove all the conceptualizing and isolate the sense-impression so that we only have empirical knowledge left. Then remove the sense-knowledge and study the form of the impression. Nihilism to us function in a similar way: leave out all confusing emotions, all moral concepts and ethical principles: what's left? Pure form and structure. This is as close as you can get to "objectify" the things-in-themselves.
Transcendence is this process of uniting our conscious with the objective space in which it exists and transcend its conceptual limits. Note: this does NOT mean we gain access in any way to the actual, objective reality. This is impossible. What we can do is to understand the phenomenon world and we do that by avoiding to project more unto the world than we already do by default. This is where Kantians and Nietzscheans would differ: the former claim we can mostly reason our way to transcendence whereas the latter would say this is completely irrelevant and instead praise subjective experience for what it is: experience, will to power.
ANUS, although tending to be Nietzschean at its very core is mostly concerned with the basic skeleton of these philosophical beliefs: our mind and the shared objective space in which it exists share a common function. Different schools of idealism and even rationalists like Plato would discuss the details of how exactly our world is comprised and in which specific ways we sort impressions, but ANUS tries to see the unity in what these philosophies are trying to say. The reason to this is that it we claim it ultimately doesn't matter in how we relate to the world as, to cite S.R. Prozak again, "its operation can be measured and predicted without knowing its composition."
People who claim transcendence is a gateway to the things-in-themselves are deluded and are free to spend their life trying to prove an impossibility. What was so beautiful and brave about philosophers like Plato, Kant and Nietzsche was that they pointed our focus away from an obsession with objects and instead said that we need to study how we perceive these objects most realistically. They all came roughly to the same conclusion: study the Forms (Plato), Phenomena (Kant) and Aesthetics (Nietzsche). Objective truth is beyond us but truth as in an impression of our shared objective space is what we strive for. That is true transcendence.
February 17, 2008
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