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Meditation IV: God Is the Absolute Synthesis

Subject and Object as different but identical: God is revealed to Man as the Absolute Synthesis—The Absolute Synthesis and the Individual—The Content of the Absolute Synthesis.

What, then, is God? He is the Absolute Synthesis; and we have to explicate the content of this expression.

When, in speaking of finite man-mind, we say object is subject, we mean that all that passes into man as a sentient being exists as object in the Absolute precisely as it exists in subject to the extent to which the subject can receive it; and further, that the will-dialectic in man is the objective dialectic individuating itself as constitutive of man's specific nature, and raising him to his lordly position. Both the modality and dialectic of the world, then, are reflected into man, and constitute all he is or can be as an actual in the universal system. He gathers the whole up into the one of himself. And what is the matter of knowledge (adequately conceived) save God making Himself the content of each subject-entity to the extent of its capacity? Every thing and process is part of God as externalised, and everything that “feels” is mind and, to the extent of its range, receives and reflects God into itself. Man, the sum of finite mind, receives and reflects the totality of God as revealed on this plane of the Divine evolution. Were man unable to contemplate himself as part of the externalisation of God, he would be as restricted in his range as an animal is; but the dialectic in him enables him self-consciously to grasp himself as part of and within the Totality. Thus what we have called the “Universal Object” includes man. It is the Absolute.

And yet there is Dualism. Even rudimentary Feeling demands a “felt”. Subject which receives, reflexes and knows is one actuality in a system, and Object (which is a term used to represent an infinite plurality of presentations and experiences) is another. When, again, we supplement the above proposition of Natural Realism by the affirmation that “Object is Subject,” we mean (as I have endeavoured to show in the First Book) that Object is the filling of the Subject. That is to say, phenomenal shapes and events and noumenal implicates and the Will-dialectic itself, are the truth of the universe “becoming” in and for a subject which exists to feel and to know them. There is a One of continuity within the universal system. There is no breach. Nor can I see why or how there should be. And as to the relations of parts in the Whole, it has to be noted that it is Absolute One Being determining Itself that is always presented to us. In this One all is held. All things, including Man, are steeped in Absolute Being.

Let us think this universe emerging out of Unconditioned Being which, therein and thereby, reveals Itself. Did this outering of the inner arrest itself at the completion of grades of Being that are unconscious and inanimate, we should have the outering of a God which itself was inanimate and unconscious—a poor and futile thing at best. But God, if He be a living God, a conscious God, would, by such arrestment, misrepresent Himself to Himself in His creative utterance. At a certain point in His finite evolution we see that He must begin all over again, so to speak.1 Being and Dialectic are in things, but now these must reflect themselves into themselves, if God is to make His finite outerance adequate to Himself.

Life, accordingly, in all its subtle variations is the next moment in the emerging of a God who Himself is Life: and, in and through Life, the evolving God finds His way to sentience. The psychic evolution then begins. Being and Dialectic now reflect themselves into themselves as Feeling, and by infinite gradations rise, in the self-referent man-subject, to the full exposition of the Whole of God as creative. And this whole of Object includes the subject as feeling and knowing. God as creative is to finite subject God given. The knower as a dialectic is within the given; but that which is active energy could not be given to subject save as in and through the active energy of the subject itself. The Objective Dialectic must reproduce itself in the subject in order that it may be a finite experience. And just as the infinite objective dialectic creatively penetrates all with its own form or process, so is it the function of the same dialectic, as self-referent in a finite being, to subsume all in its own form. At every stage of the finite mirroring of infinite fact there is activity; but it is “pure” activity on the dialectic plane alone. Accordingly, the self-conscious spirit of man is, when it understands its place in the vast system, God feeling and thinking His finite externalisation in and through a finite. Man is thus the veritable image of God. He cannot create, but he can receive and know what is created and return to God (so to speak) what God has freely given. The unseen implicates “become” for him along with the phenomenal shapes—and in his happier hours he sees all things in their truth; that is to say, in God, and God in all things. The Universal is in and for him: he becomes aware of himself as in and of the Universal; and it is no rhetoric to say that, were it not for the natural conditions out of which he arises and which still hold him, Man would float away into infinite spheres in an ecstasy of contemplation. But not for him is reserved this lofty destiny without toil. He has to accept his conditions, and work his way step by step to the highest.

How, then, shall we, in the terms of our philosophy, name God? We name Him The Absolute Synthesis.

On its finite subjective side, the Absolute Synthesis is Experience in the grip of the Dialectic. By Experience we mean the record of feeling and sense, inner and outer, as given universals: not merely the given of nature: and the given of Experience contains Being Unconditioned, and immanent in the Conditioned. This—that is to say, Experience in the grip of the Dialectic is, on the subjective side, God as Notion.

If this be so, then the Absolute Synthesis on the Objective side, as the great Totality, is Unconditioned Being conditioning itself in the modality of Time and Space in the form of the Dialectic. This is God as Actuality.

Thus the Ultimate in knowledge and the knowing of God are identical. The infinite Object as revealed in finite subject is God, but inasmuch as the subject has to realise the Object for itself, we have to distinguish between God as Notion and God as Objective Actuality.

God is, then, The All; and the All is a One of Being, Modality and Dialectic Process. This would seem to bring us close to Pantheism and demands further consideration. And, just as all I have said rests on our doctrine of Knowledge, so it is to the doctrine of knowledge I must go to ascertain the nature of the content of the Absolute Synthesis.

THE ABSOLUTE SYNTHESIS AND THE INDIVIDUAL.

When we say that All is a One of Being and Process, we are merely saying that there is One God. The only alternatives are either many gods or two potent Spirits contending. In the latter case we represent the true God to ourselves as a Being self-derived whose aim is presumably The Good, but who, from all eternity, has found another being already in possession—a Being whose aim is sheer mastery over things—a Spirit of tyranny: the God of Goodness finds a refractory element over against Him which He will reduce ultimately, but which meanwhile is a potent antagonist as the Spirit of Evil and of arbitrary force (the Zoroastrian conception).

It is not the needs of man but the doctrine of knowledge that compels us to say that God must be All; All in All; One; One in Many; Identity in Difference. It is manifest that He must be ultimate: as such, the resting place for thought, beyond which there is naught. There can be nothing truly outside Him, that is to say in its essence and nature; because if there were, that would be another god. The Finite must be held within the Infinite. He must be self-creative—causa sui and a se; otherwise, the Prius of Him would be the true God. He must be the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. This is, however, a monistic conception, and the fact of difference is too insistent to allow us to leave the notion of God as we have just put it.

In the contemplation of the presentation we beheld unseen implicated Universals as the ground-reality. We saw Absolute Unconditioned Being determining itself into a conditioned of Space and Time and Motion, breaking itself up into a world of finite individua. Being Unconditioned is now Being immanent in the conditioned. The One of Being and its Will-dialectic in all and holding all—that is the Absolute Synthesis.

But how does it hold it? As a system of individua. God as dialectic or “determination” of Being is the essence of each individuum from the atom to man; He is the infinite and sole affirmer; but He is met by the Negation, whereby alone “determination” can become a “determinate” or individual.

And just at this point, we may say, God stops. He is not the individual and particular as such. The “individual” is a synthesis of affirmation and negation. As negation it is not God, and yet within His creative movement; as affirmation or essence it is God. Each actual thus constituted is a “for itself,” and has to fulfil itself among an infinite number of individuals. God does not retire: He cannot, without the collapse of His universe. Essence is always there: and essence as determination of Being is the issue of Will-dialectic: it is willed purpose or idea; and its perfect fulfilment, as a concrete and in all its contained relations, is the ideal.

The negation whereby the finite individuum is possible is not to be trifled with. The individual has to sustain itself and to fight its own way in the Absolute Whole. The condition of finite existence is strife, and this we must accept and try to understand. God, meanwhile, is content to know (if we may so speak) that, in the affirmation, essence, or idea, the nature and limits and possibilities of the individual are fixed. There is in each a “thus far and no farther” in the fact of its distinctive “idea,” which contains its positive relations to the cosmic whole.

The finite externalisation is not therefore God thinking, but the “thinking” of God caught in the Negation so to speak: it is the accomplished “thought,” and has to fulfil itself, not to be fulfilled by another, not even by the action of God.

Accordingly, whatever Absolute Unconditioned Being may be in its lonely self-identity, it is, as externalised, a system of real differences and contraries. And were it not for the many, there could be no One; were it not for oppositions and contraries, there could be no Harmony; were it not for evil, the ideal Good could not exist in reality or for knowledge; were it not for the ugly there could be no Beautiful. This is the manner of God-finite: but, meanwhile, the Dialectic in the Absolute Synthesis presents the whole as teleological—as moving towards ends and End by way of these contraries and contradictions. Only so can ideal ends be reached, and only as the conciliation of opposites can man think them. Without the teaching of the Dialectic, we should be lost in the confusions of a chaotic experience. Why it should all be as it is, no man can tell. Our business is to face the facts and conditions of our sphere of Being.

The world, then, it would appear, is not a helpless emanation out of Unconditioned Being; God is immanent in each and all as Being and Will-Dialectic, and each and all are individuals which have to be reckoned with. Each has to contend for its life in an infinitely complex system. Hence conflict, struggle, pain, casualty, and an imperfect and distressful world.

Were the affirmation (essence or idea) in each individual powerful enough to subdue the negation, the world would cease to be a system of individuals and present itself to us as the easy placid-flowing stream of a one Divine Life; it would be God emanant, not God immanent. In so far as each idea was different from others, there would doubtless be the negation of those others; but not negation of God. The finite would not negate the infinite, the particular would not negate the universal. Our interpretation of experience would then be Monistic Pantheism.

When we come to self-conscious individuals—the supreme negation, the dialectic, as now self-referent, throws on them the interpretation and fulfilment of themselves. They have to search for and to find their own positive relations and, subsuming these into their negating individuality, strive to realise the ideal of Man in themselves by themselves, thereby co-operating with the Divine Purpose.

These remarks show the sense in which we say God is the Absolute Synthesis. The particulars are not God in so far as they are negating individuals, still less are all the acts of the individual the acts of God. The Negation is within God, but not as the issue of the purposing Will-dialectic. It is the primal “condition” of the manifestation of the One as a Many, the Infinite as a Finite. It is as Being only that God is in the Negation, not as Dialectic. The Negation is in and through the dialectic affirmation. The significance of the contradiction in which I indulged in an early Meditation is now apparent: the World as a finite world is God and is not God; or rather is God and God “Not”.

When, then, we say that God is the Absolute Synthesis, we mean that God is the system of necessary universals in the particular—not an aggregate of particulars. This latter is the crudest form of Pantheism. “God is the Absolute Synthesis” as source, and as Being and Dialectic immanent in each and all. His method is the method of Individuation with all its lamentable consequences.

To say “God is the Absolute Synthesis” has a pantheistic sound; but if God be not, in some fashion, All, what else is there? Who made the world, the oldest of us ask, just as we did when children. There can be no making out of materials which God has to borrow from some other power. He made the world “out of nothing,” we are told—a great and pregnant utterance, whose purpose was to destroy all other agencies and elements save One. We and all things are in Him, nay within Him, but so that we, as well as phenomenal nature, are the negation of Him, while yet held close to Him in the all-comprehending arms of Being and the Dialectic. The phenomenal negation, accordingly, is not God, and yet it is God; just as it is Being and not-Being. And when we proceed to ask further questions as to the contradictions and absurdities and evils of this world, we shall find that it is only by the eternal fact of Negation as necessary moment in Absolute Being, in so far as it is creative energy, that we can get any way of looking at the facts of life which candidly recognises these facts, and gives a possible explanation of them. The fact of Negation is not a hypothesis, but, rather, a fact in and of knowing. Without negation, whereby finitude and the phenomenal are made possible, there can be no veritable difference—nothing save The One. I am speaking here of God as creative, i.e., as revealed in this living breathing world. And, yet, the phenomenon as a concrete is; and reveals God. If the universe of Sense be not the modal display of God; if it be not the “idea” written out in Quantity, Quality, etc., we can have no interest in it. Physical Science would be a mere pastime.

“God is His own ‘other,’” we have been told. But the question is, How can we so conceive the One in the Other as to rescue the latter from being the One? Accordingly, we must consider the various elements or moments, which go to build up in us our notion of the universal God, as more than the object of our thought, but yet both object of our thought and the subject that thinks; and yet, all so that I am and remain an individual, an Ego who can even defy the source and sustainer of my being. The One in Many constitutes not only man's reality, but also God's reality as a finite. If I am exiled from God, how can I hold converse with Him? If I am in identity with God, how could the question of God ever arise?

THE CONTENT OF THE ABSOLUTE SYNTHESIS.

“Absolute Synthesis,” I have said, is an empty phrase, save in so far as it symbolises a definite content. On the subjective side, the content is the Feeling of Being and the Knowing of the universal process as teleologico-causal dialectic, comprehending the Negation whereby alone individuals are possible whose function is to be themselves, and, so far as they are individua, to resist the Universal, while yet living, moving and having their being in it, and truly finding themselves only in the Whole. Thus I complete my Notion of God in His Totality, so far as our argument has yet gone. The Noumenal and Phenomenal, as a concrete, constitute the Absolute Synthesis.

To say that, after all, Man is himself the Absolute Synthesis would, perhaps, be misleading; but there is truth in it. There is a universal fact and movement, which we have called the Universal Object (including all finite subjects) in and within and of and by which man, as an individuum, exists. It is not created by man, but it is all reflected into him; and as gathered up and reflected back by him into the universal, it is God—the God of man—the true God of the man-sphere of Being. This Absolute Synthesis is God; and there can be no other God. What men have often called God has not been false, but only one aspect of the total content of the Notion. As Time grows old, it is the adequate and full God that we desire to feel and to know as sum of the Actual, including man himself as finite sum and interpreter of the Actual. Analytically, I have seen what the Actual is to knowledge: we are now merely reconstructing that Actual synthetically, and so revealing God in the sense of The Absolute Whole. The Knowing of Knowing is the Knowing of God.

It would appear, then, that, on the subjective side, “Absolute Synthesis” is only another expression for “Absolute Notion,” as I have previously defined the term Notion. It is the vast concrete including Man—not merely over against him. The Absolute Notion, then, we may say, is our God. But the notion is a One in Many. The One contains the Many, permeates the Many, while the moment of Negation, as alone making a finite world possible, saves the many for itself; although ever within the One, which it can never escape. When, next, I think the “Absolute Synthesis” on its objective side, I simply repeat the subjective content: it is the whole externalisation including the spirit of man and is the utterance of Absolute Being as creative energy: Being and Dialectic are immanent in each and all. The grain of sand reveals God. In other words, the content of The Absolute is a teleologico-causal content. Grades of existence are the unfolding of the riches of mysterious Being. These I, a finite being, am invited to make my own. Whether the method of evolution is itself a “real” Dialectic, just as we have a “formal” Dialectic, I cannot tell. The fact, however, of ever-growing concreteness, and the ever-greater fulness of what we call Mind or Spirit in the ascending series of things is beyond question. When the movement reaches Man, it reaches a being into whom the whole actuality passes, and who, the dialectic being reflected into him, interprets the secret movement whereby the whole is effected.

Accordingly, the fact of the Dialectic forbids us to imagine the various grades of the Divine existence as thrown out of the eternal Source arbitrarily, and the infinitely various whole to be a mere collection, like articles in a museum. The phenomenal process by which the whole is evolved is not an unmeaning series. Even if we could grasp the whole of the series, it would be a mere curiosity except in so far as we saw therein the moving and unfolding Spirit. And yet it is at the same time, not that Spirit. The thesis and antithesis give us the synthesis which is the concrete universe, just as they yield the synthesis of the individual.

Let us not forget, however, that the Absolute Synthesis, subjectivo-objective, is the sum of the Man-sphere of Being alone. It is not, and it cannot be, the Synthesis of The Absolute. Our doctrine of Knowledge showed us that the true Absolute contains the true Infinite—undetermined, unconditioned Being—as ground; and further, the Infinite apprehended as a quantitative and qualitative Infinite that insists on entering into all judgments. Thus we know the total “Actual” under the category of the Infinite Unconditioned in primal fact and again of the Infinite of the Conditioned in Quantity and in Quality: and “The Absolute” is this Actual and no more, in so far as it is, or can be, a possession of finite mind.

On the termAbsolutesee Appendix, Note 3.

  • 1.

    The necessity of using language under the sense-categories must be allowed for.