You are here


The lectures in this book were given as Gifford Lectures at the University of St Andrews before a small but attentive audience in the months of December 1964, January and February 1965. Their theme is to be continued in a Second Series of lectures, entitled The Transcendence of the Cave, which will be given in December 1965 and January 1966. The present lectures require this sequel for their complete understanding.

The idea underlying the lectures is that what may be called the mystical and transcendental is an inescapable part of all experience, thought and diction, and that our most ordinary transactions with things or persons, let alone our higher scientific, aesthetic, religious, technical, political, philosophical and symbolic activities involve it throughout. It is not some rarefied speculative addition to our ordinary talk about the world or our dealings with it, without which they remain significant and self-sufficient: without it the most ordinary activity loses all point, and the plainest statement becomes ill-formed and ungrammatical. The method of the lectures is apagogical: it is to show up the absurdity of attempts to isolate what may be called the middle ranges of thought from what may be called their mystical and transcendental horizon.

The lectures are not opposed to the logico-analytic preoccupations of contemporary British philosophy, but to a philosophical attitude which involves their one-sided exaggeration. They are not built on the view that we can separate off something called critical analysis from something called audacious speculation; they do not exclude the possibility that what starts as modest analysis may end in general subversion. They reject the assumption that we can clearly separate off a body of empirical data, on the one hand, from a set of linguistic or conceptual or logical approaches on the other, the latter deriving all their value and sense from the way in which we use them in regard to the former. They take the view that the phenomenal order of the world and experience involves much that is general, negative, modal, hypothetical, subjective, much that would widely be held to ‘transcend the given’, and even to involve unverifiable and metaphysical elements. It is the attempt to extrude all these elements from experience, and to imagine them as due to some legitimate or illegitimate ‘doctoring’ of the given, that is artificial and misguided. The lectures also reject the view that the logical forms in which things should be conceived and talked about are a single, unmodifiable set, which involve no hidden commitments regarding the sort of world we inhabit, and which cannot be altered or added to by reflection on that world and themselves. On the view of the lectures, the proper way to speak about the world is a fruit that must grow out of a prolonged reflective struggle, it may well involve many extraordinary additions to our categorial repertory (separate forms, e.g. to deal with mental reference and certain mystical relations), and it may very well also end in patterns of assertion that from a less reflective level appear ill-formed and absurd. Self-contradiction must be avoided throughout, but our notion of what involves a genuine contradiction will be altered as we proceed, and as our half-formed rules are defined and reshaped, what at first seemed consistent becoming absurd and self-contradictory, while another thing that at first appeared self-contradictory becomes consistent and even logically necessary. In all our reflections great stress will be laid on logical connections that are connections of likelihood, not of necessity, which express what may be called an intrinsic affinity among notions, not their identity, total or partial, nor a mere overlapping of their field of application.

It will be plain from what has been said that the lectures are inspired by Hegelian methods, though this means no more than that they proceed in a revisionary manner, developing certain notional schemes in abstract isolation, which even exaggerates their less acceptable features, then showing up their inadequacies and internal discrepancies, and then proceeding to fit them into notional schemes which avoid these inadequacies and discrepancies, and which take account of other matters which the first schemes ignored. It is important in reading particular treatments in the present volume to realize that what is said in a particular lecture, e.g. on time or the ego, is not necessarily meant to stand. It is giving us the world as it appears in a certain notional perspective, confessedly inadequate and not destined to remain unrevised. The criticisms come after, in special lectures devoted to demolition. In the treatment of the world at each conceptual level use is made throughout of the phenomenological or descriptive method of Husserl. The use of this method means that one does not examine one's notions piecemeal, as revealed, e.g., in ordinary or extraordinary language, that one does not argue or wrangle over their minutiae, but that one uses them protectively, i.e. one sees the world in terms of them. Thus one considers, e.g., the whole pattern of bodies in space and time as a complete notional picture, in which details fall into place in a fairly simple, uniform scheme. This ‘seeing’ method may appear dogmatic, but it has the advantage of conforming to our actual experience in which the a priori functions in inexhaustible variety, in which it always precedes the a posteriori details and makes them significant, and exists always as an inarticulate, embedded scheme long before it is precisely formulated. The method also has the advantage, by its overall vision, of concentrating our gaze on what is important and central in our ideas, and avoiding all blind-alleys and confusing suggestions. One has but to contrast the treatments of Husserl (not mediated through bad translations) with those of many British analysts and linguistic philosophers, to be assured of the immense superiority of the ‘seeing’ method. Husserl tries to see and he sometimes succeeds, but the analysts and linguistic philosophers do not try to see anything (with perhaps the exception of Moore) and they seldom succeed in doing so. A language of the ‘phenomena’, of ‘appealing to the appearances’ etc. has, further, the advantage of undermining, because borrowing, the spell of certain scientistic notions such as ‘data’, ‘facts’, ‘observation’, ‘tests’, etc. Phenomenology thereby lives up to the Husserlian claim of being the true empiricism or positivism, one that takes things exactly as they give themselves out to be.

It must be stressed, however, that neither my methods nor my results can claim to be strictly Hegelian or Husserlian. I am not an Husserlian phenomenologist, since I construct not one, but a whole series of phenomenologies, of which only the last is meant to stand. I am not a phenomenologist since I neither practise nor wholly understand the εποχη or suspense of conviction, of which Husserl wrote so much: for me the phenomena move towards a final stance where things absolutely and metaphysically are as they give themselves out to be. And I am also no phenomenologist, since I believe in a probabilistic, as much as in a rigorously necessary a priori. I do not, finally, use the terms ‘phenomenology’ and ‘phenomenological’ exactly as Husserl does. I am, also, not an Hegelian, since, though I try out an immanent, this-world, teleological philosophy of ‘spirit’ on Hegelian lines, I do not stay at this, but feel pushed by the pressure of the phenomena, or by the logic of the matters before me—it does not matter which one says—in the direction of forms of experience and existence which break down and break through what we ordinarily believe in and find clear, and which force on us a discourse, and a style of reasoning and conceiving, which have their own strange standards of cogency and clarity. I have used Hegelian methods in a most un-Hegelian cause: to establish just that sort of ultimate other-worldliness which Hegel is so often at pains to dissolve.

The standpoint of the lectures is therefore otherworldly and mystical. It makes sense of the phenomena in our world and the forms of this-worldly discourse by connecting them with phenomena and forms of discourse that are in many ways deeply different, particularly in bringing together in strange union what are here strictly separate. But it refuses to place such otherworldly experiences and diction in a relation of mere antithesis to their this-worldly counterparts. There is, and must be, a continuous transition from the one to the other, in virtue of which either only has its full sense, even if the one may be said to enjoy some sort of final precedence over the other. The lectures believe, in short, in a sort of logical and phenomenological geography which is rather like terrestrial geography in that the sort of statement that is a simple truth at its mystical poles seems absurd and unthinkable at its common-sense equator and vice versa, and yet all are parts of one and the same geography, and shade steadily into one another. The mysticism of the lectures differs from many other forms of mysticism in that it does not seek to do away with logic—nor indeed with ethics or science or anything else—but to round them off. The truly well-formed sentence, we may say, must involve some mystical terms and co-ordinates. The lectures are plainly much in debt to the now not respectable parts of Plato, to which they owe their title, as well as to many other mystical and philosophical writings, both western and oriental.

I must, in conclusion, thank the University of St Andrews for inviting me to give the lectures, and King's College, London, for giving me the leave and leisure to compose and give them. They have made me direct my thoughts to matters of great importance, even if I may be very incompetent to deal with them.

J. N. Findlay St Andrews February 1965