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Meditation XV

THE INFINITE: The Indefinite and the Infinite—The Infinite Unconditioned—The Infinite as given in and through the conditioned and as generated by the Dialectic—In what sense do we “know” the two Infinites?

By the lifting of finite mind out of mere Attuition and planting it on the plane of the Dialectic, the evolving God creates Man. The subjective dialectic is the form of freedom: it is supra-naturam: it is spirit. It grasps the individual and the whole as a teleologico-causal system and gives oneness and coherence to experience. The a priori categories are, in fact, a list of the new conceptions under which the rise of the Dialectic compels us to subsume experience as a reasoned system. Moreover this Dialectic, by its very nature, introduces mind to a region beyond and above the Categories. What is that?

The common character of the dialectic, in dealing with things, being always determination of parts, or of a synthesis of parts—a Concipient or a Causal synthesis—this act is impossible save as implicitly affirming the indeterminate or indefinite; and, further, as revealing to us the fact of Infiniteness.

The Infinite Unconditioned.—Feeling, as embryo subject, has, for its object, Being indefinite and unconditioned.

This is the True Infinite—the not-yet-finitised. But it is in Feeling only, and not in the form of knowledge.

On the dialectic plane this “feeling” of Being Unconditioned is, however, perceived and affirmed as not the Finite. It is perceived and affirmed as the Positive which the Finite negates. As determined through the finite it is a negative percept. But it is only the perception “that Being-unconditioned is” that we attain to; and we can “know” nothing of the “what” or “how” or “why” of it as Being. The what and how of it is the Finite. It is the first and ground moment in our conception of The Absolute Whole; and there we must leave it. All things, including Ego and Knowing, repose on this unknowable foundation, and in this Absolute Being as first moment of the Concrete Whole they have their mysterious genesis: it is as unknowable that we affirm it as a “Feeling”. That is to say, the fact of Being Unconditioned is known (perceived), but only as in Feeling.

We can never detach ourselves from this the Universal of Universals—Being Unconditioned.1 We find it continuing itself into the Conditioned in which and of which we are: and within the Conditioned we again encounter the Infinite—the infinite of transcendence, and it appears to arise thus:—

The Infinite as given in the Conditioned, and as generated by the Dialectic.—“Sense” of the outer begins its career with a feeling of homogeneous diffusion. This continuousness is broken up into diverse and limited objects which are forced on sense. In sensing an object, the subject feels an undefined beyond as given in the defined presentate. This is a feeling of the “Indefinite” in space and time.

Subject, rising to the dialectic plane, further “determines” each percept and concept as a finite and conditioned, and is therein conscious of an undetermined and a Beyond: also, in determining or limiting Space and Time (the sense-universals), it ipso facto perceives and affirms the Indefinite (which the attuent mind only “felt”), viz., the fact of a “greater than any assigned quantity”. This, however, is not a true infinite, but only an affirmed or “perceived” Indefinite.

Haunted by this Indefinite which ever shadows it, Reason (implicitly) consults its own processes and sees that, inasmuch as the act of percipience or rudimentary knowing, and of all knowing, is always determination, the undeterminability of the finite is involved in this very act. The undeterminable in all “knowing” of the conditioned—space, time, and all else, must be, as long as man is man. Thus the Knowing subject now clearly perceives that in the affirmation of the finite is wrapt up a “greater than any assignable quantity,” in other words, immeasurableness: and this of necessity, because it is involved in the act of percipience. Percipience imposes limits, just to be forced to remove them. Necessary immeasurableness is given to consciousness, accordingly, not in and through the measured or limited, but as revealed in the act of measuring or limiting; and this is the perception of the true infinite within the conditioned of space, time, etc.;—the Quantitative Infinite (geometrical). The consciousness of a non-limited which limiting involves is merely, at best, I say, the perception of an “indefinite” beyond: it is only when we see (or implicitly are aware) that the act itself of limiting, determining, perceiving, judging, knowing carries in its bosom the non-limited necessarily, that we perceive the illimitable or infinite. The infinite is not in the fact of limiting, but in the act.

So with intellectual and moral conceptions. No man can grasp a fulfilled ideal. Truth, Goodness, Beauty, we affirm, and imaginatively clothe them with perfection; but absolute Truth, absolute Goodness, absolute Beauty, must always elude us because of the infinite in them. The conception of Perfection is impossible as a real. This is the Qualitative Infinite and is necessarily involved in the very “act” of conceiving an ideal whole.

The non-finite of Unconditioned Being has now revealed itself in the not-to-be-finitised of Conditioned Being, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Man is within a certain circle of evolving Mind-universal; but the consciousness of the fact of the Infinite breaks through the circle at every point in its circumference.

As to the Infinite generally: we may so define “knowing” as to exclude the infinite from the possibility of being known, and so relegate it to “belief”. But what is Belief here? There must be a consciousness of the Infinite to admit of the introduction even of the word “belief”. What is this specific consciousness? We may also define the infinite in a peculiar sense as the ever-going out and return into itself; or as that which is limited only by itself. The symbol of this would be the snake with its tail in its mouth. But however this may be, it does not unveil the genesis of the percept, Infinite; nor yet its true nature.

In brief, we may say that the quantitative and qualitative indefinite within the conditioned arises in determinando: the true infinite is contained and revealed in actu ipso determinandi.

On the side of the minimum possibile, it is precisely because the infinite lies concealed in actu ipso determinandi that there is infinite divisibility. So with the maximum possibile. Am I therefore entitled to say that in largeness, Space and Time are endless, or that in smallness the process of division is endless, and that there is no real atom; or, on the other hand, that there is a subsistent real atom, etheric or other, in rerum natura? I am entitled to say none of these things. The minimum materiale, doubtless, is the postulate of physics; but of its existence as a “real” I can say nothing. All I can say is that, within my sphere of Universal Being, the reason-percipient act affirms, and must affirm, the endlessness of littleness. So also of the maximum possibile, it must affirm the endlessness of bigness.

Thus, man finds himself in a peculiar position, standing as he does between two infinities—the non-finite (or not pet finitised) of the Unconditioned and the infinite (or not to be finitised) of the Conditioned,—sometimes, but wrongly, called the Sense-Infinite. I say wrongly so called, because this expression covers only the Indefinite, and also leaves the qualitative outside. It is, properly speaking, the dialectic Infinite: it is a dialectic percept.

The Dialectic, then, in all its functioning determines the indeterminate, and in that determination affirms the indeterminate beyond; nay more, a closer examination reveals the infinite as implicit in all dialectic affirmative acts as such. This is sufficient to satisfy us that a completed knowledge—a synthesis of The Absolute is for man impossible. An “Absolute synthesis” of his experience however, which shall contain this very fact of the unattainable, is possible.

This consciousness of the transcendent Infinite as the gift of the Dialectic is a wonderful revelation—not the result of a mind-impotence, but of a mighty potence. It is worth to man more than all his reasoned judgments regarding finite things. It exalts and elevates him by carrying him outside and above the range of his ordinary life. Thus the Dialectic contains the possibility and prescience of a higher plane of mind than itself.

There are those who treat the consciousness of the Infinite as if it were an illusion. To say that we “know” the Infinite is a manifest contradiction, for “knowing” is, as we have said, determining or finitising. But to say that we know the fact of the Infinite in the conditioned is not a contradiction: it is simply a fact—a dialectic percept: so called because it is generated by the Dialectic as Act.

But it will, further, be said that to say we “know” Infinite Unconditioned Being is a contradiction. Not so: for it is not Infinite Unconditioned Being that we “know,” but the “Feeling” of Infinite Unconditioned Being that we know and affirm.

In short, the fact of the transcendent Infinite is generated by the act of the Dialectic in contact with the matter of sense and thought: and the fact of the Absoluto-Infinite (or Unconditioned Being) is given in Feeling—affirmed or known as Feeling. Does Feeling count for nothing in the epistemology of Man?

Thus, Man as the head of a finite world is not restricted to the finite, but, on the contrary, has the Infinite insistently thrust on him in Feeling and also in all knowing of the conditioned. In the root-experience—Pure Feeling of Being Unconditioned, in his further experience of the same Being as immanent in sense, Man is permeated and surrounded with that which is not less but more than knowledge, because it is the ground both of existence and of knowledge, and is compelled to the further affirmation of that which is above all knowledge. He is thus, from the first and always, involved in the Universal,—a conscious sharer in the Divine Life in his feeling, his sentience and his knowing. To be consciously at home with the Infinite is the privilege of Man.

Note.—The feeling of the Unconditioned Infinite has nothing to do with the Geometrical Infinite, I have said above, unless we first sensualise it, which would be absurd.

The Unconditioned, as Source of all, finds in the “All-other” Itself which it yet retains. It thus may be said to be infinite, because it is not limited by difference; or, if limited, it is by a self-limitation which it at the same moment cancels. It is a ceaseless outgoing and return. But infiniteness is not in the “ceaselessness” (this would bring it under the geometrical infinite of Time) but in the fact of non-finitisation. The finitisation or negation is within Itself. Thus Absolute Being continually says within itself: “I am not No” and I am everything that is “No”. This, however, is little more than to say that Absolute Being is always and necessarily in its own determinations. Were it not so, the world would be a seething, fermenting vat of microbic godlets. The thought of the non-finite in the finite is not more difficult to realise than the fact that this sentence, as printed, is me and not me.

  • 1.

    In this Infinite as perceived there is nothing geometrical.