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Meditation V: Negation and the Finite within the Absolute Synthesis

Negation and the Relation of God to the Finite—Affirmed Negation and the Individual: The Finite is within the Infinite—The World is a Willed, Affirmed and Purposed World in which the Individual has its rights: Monistic Pluralism: Casualty.

When we take an objective universal view, Negation is seen to be the metaphysical principle, the ground and possibility of all difference and individuation: in brief, of the “existent” as opposed to Being in se and a se.

If God be the Absolute Synthesis, the question of Negation and the consequent relation of God to the finite individual and of the finite to God is the most vital question in philosophy.

The Absolute, in the sense of the Totality, is an infinity of contraries or opposites and of seeming contradictions. It is an infinite Becoming (whose sense-analogue is Motion), and yet it holds itself together as a system. We are constrained to ask, Is there any key to the Whole—any universal conception—under which we may group the Whole? I find Being and the Objective Dialectic; and the Objective Dialectic is the Teleologico-causal Notion.

The resistance of the Negation meets us, but Negation is to be regarded only as a moment in a one concrete process. This Negation is to be found inherent in the modality of Being One and immanent—modality being the mode and possibility of finitude. As an “abstract,” negation is Nil, and the same may be said of Aristotle's “first matter”.

When the Objective Dialectic emerges as reflected into a finite subject, we find ourselves, as I have frequently said, compelled to take up the universe of experience, as Being Universal and One, determined through negation and by a dialectic movement into individua, and therefore, as a purposed Total—a One in Many. The subjective revelation is the objective fact. It is subject-object that we have always present in reflective consciousness.

Let us then, once for all, recognise Negation and the concrete of opposites, viz., Being and Negation as ground and possibility of creative activity. Without Negation there would, and could, be only a One—absolute, self-sufficing, undivided, indifferent; and for knowledge null.

AFFIRMED NEGATION AND THE INDIVIDUAL.

The Actual, then, as we have it, is a dialectically affirmed negation. From the universal point of view, the determinate,—the finite Actual, is a negation of absoluto-infinite Being, while contained within the infinite which it yet negates.

If we consider subjective mind, we may note a similar process: The individual presentate is, as a finite, not only a negation of the non-finite, but of all other individual finites. But finite A is not constituted by the negation of all the other letters of the alphabet. A is first of all A, an entitative individuum. In the analysis of subjective reason, we saw that the telos of the moment which we call Percipience (the rudimentary act of reason) is the affirmed determinate—the positive in which is contained negation both of the subject affirming and of all other existences (consequently all negative relations). The negation of all else save itself is in and through the affirmation of A; not otherwise. This is the way in which knowledge is founded, and the way also in which (with a difference dependent on the object) it always proceeds. Omnis determinatio est negatio does not mean that the determinate “is” by virtue of the negation. Immanent in percipience, as end of the percipient act, is affirmation in and through negation of all else. The positive, the determined, does not rest on the negation as ground of its reality, but is determined by it only as ground of its possibility. To say anything else is to confound formal with formative mediation. So with the phenomenal presentate: its ultimate reality is in its determined being—its idea, not in its note of negation. So also with the Universal: the Negation is ground of the possibility of externalisation only; the world is the “positive affirmation” of absolute eternal Being; out of which affirmation negation issues as possibility of the affirmate or individual.

The individuum is, we saw, a synthesis of the thesis—determination of Being (essence, idea), and of the antithesis—Negation. Absolute Being is involved in the Negation in order that It may become an existent. The dialectic determination as essence, idea, purpose, yields the positive relations of the individual to all else, whereby a world of individua is possible as a coherent and teleological Whole. The bald individuality, on the other hand, is the centre of negative relations. The individual, as finite negation, is in opposition to the idea and seeks after its own bare self-assertion, whereas it is only as a positive and through the “other” and the whole that it can effect its idea and realise its full being. The Negation, as itself within Being and subserving the dialectic end, viz., individua, is not a “contradiction” of Being One and Absolute, but a conciliated opposite.

Thus, God is always present in His creation as essence, idea, the Positive; but, at the same time, His creation is always opposed to Him, as the “other” which, while revealing Him, resists Him, and acts from its own centre. In brief, the One, the noumenal with its moments, is always in the many or phenomenal, (modality)—the negation whereby the finite and individuality are made possible; but the individual, as so constituted, is ipso facto thrown out from God as Absolute Being and has its own life to lead, its own cosmic function to discharge in and within The Absolute.

The world, then, is the affirmation of, and by, God; and He is in it and sustains it: it is also the negation of God and opposed to Him. The negating modality is “the other” of God, but it is the positive in it that gives it its specific character and significance for the Whole. The Universal Whole, then, is an affirmed negation: it is the idea in each and all committed to the negation of individuality.

We are speaking of the supremely important: For only by the fact of Negation we save the universe as an “existent”: by that fact alone, individuation and individuality, and, thereafter, Ego and personhood are possible; by that fact (re-enforced by the fact of Unconditioned Being as Potentiality) do we escape monistic pantheism; by that fact alone can we explain the casual and the eternal struggle and evil of an imperfect world.

In the painful and ever-renewed search after God, it has often been said that the sum of the finite is God (crude pantheism), and it has also been said that the sum of the finite is a created negation of infinite Being, which infinite Being is God, removed from the finite as an isolated Cause—a lonely mechanician. What I desire to show is that the finite is in its genesis a beënt and an affirmed negation—that Absolute Being in evolving the finite affirms Itself in it—(each “thing” being a determination of Absolute Being), and, yet, as therein negated. God is immanent in that which is not God, and which yet is God. Accordingly, we have a monistic pluralism. In like manner, finite reason affirms the object as “not” itself (the affirming subject) while subsuming it into identity with itself: but, God's affirmation is the creation of existences, man's affirmation is the cognition of that which already exists.

Were the negation, and the finite generally, not within the Infinite Being, God would be merely a great architect outside the universe, and, as such, finite; were the Infinite Being not in and through the finite, man and all individuals would be castaways. In other words, if the infinite were not in its negation, there would be no God in the world; if, on the other hand, the negation were not held in the infinite, there would be nothing worth speaking about, for we should have only a crude pluralistic individualism for ever separated from God; whereas creation is ever alive with God, and were there a moment's suspension of the Divine activity, all would collapse.

The World is a Willed, Affirmed and Purposed World in which the Individual has its rights. Monistic Pluralism. Casualty.

We would affirm, then, that the universal object (i.e., the sum-total of experience or “The Absolute”) is Absolute Being that generates within Itself the dialectic nisus operating in and through the moment of the negation for the attainment of ends. This is the form of “Becoming,” which is not a helpless interplay of Being and Nothing. The fundamental category so explained is merely a pictorial way of conceiving the fact of transition.

The externalisation, accordingly, is a caused world proceeding out of a free act (the Will-Kinetic in the Dialectic Notion) containing and mediating, and in the resultant, attaining, End: it is, therefore, a willed and purposed world. For the Dialectic notion whereby we grip the world of experience is, as we have shown, a one in four prime moments, each of which involves the other. Cause conceived as mere kinetic is not cause, but only efficient antecedence; and the result of such a cause could only be chaos. Being, energising as will-dialectic, “determines” this or that in the mediating moments (formal and formative) of its dialectic process. This determining-so is the idea—the esse: the result is the concrete determinate or notion—the “hoc, esse”. The process, then, of Absolute Being as creative is a rational process. And we affirm that it is so, because we cannot help doing so: it is simply the way in which finite reason grasps all experience: and the way also in which the experienced exists.

Meanwhile, as a determinate or actual, the individuum sists itself in the high court of the universe. The explicit world is in the form of an infinite series of such individuations, each of which has its own specific nature and rights, and, as such, is opposed to the One, and to all other finites. Each mind-matter-monad (primordial actual) contains the meaning and harmony of the whole in its positive nature and relations: but, as a negating individuum, it resists the whole. If it were not so, the finite would fall back into the infinite, the many into the one, and there could be no world. Again, were Being not in the “moment” of negation the said negation would be Nil.

Thus we have the infinite in the finite, the one in the many—identity in endless difference; in brief, God in all as Being, Source, sustaining activity, life, reason. Nature, then, is living, not frozen, spirit; it is the vehicle and vesture of a living God—God's modality; it shows Him and does not conceal Him: and we may now see that it must be so. Spite of the resistance of the negation to God as idea, it is overpowered by the affirmation and transformed into an ordered reasoned vehicle of the idea in so far as this is compatible with negation and individua. Thus the concrete, as we see it, is informed and formed by the idea; and in its phenomenal vesture becomes a fit subject for physical science, for only through the phenomenal can we know the characters of the essence.

Absolute Being has, we may crudely say, in so far as immanent, given itself away and is locked up in the finitude or negation which is a moment in It as creative: it is thus restricted by its own limitations. This is the world of experience as we have it as a matter of fact, viz., Absolute Being committed to and immersed in the finite as immanent in it—a living Being moving on in Time to ends; and that movement is in terms of an infinite dialectic that emerges in it.

Such is the result of our analysis of knowing on the one hand, and of our synthetic contemplation of Being on the other as that presents itself on the man-plane of the Absolute Whole.

The visible world or determinate is not God. In its primordial possibility it is negation of God, and, again, as determined, it is the negation, and other than God; it is the “many” of the One. And yet it is God; for as Being-immanent it is God, and again as dialectic it is God defining Himself by affirming (i.e., creating) things, and further as a visible world it is the truth of God; for the telos or phenomenal determinate is only the final moment of a one concrete dialectic process.

To recall for a moment the meditations on Essence and Primordial Actuals. The Mind-determination, as the idea of each monad, unfolds itself into the display or phenomenon and is eo actu a determinate; repeating the dialectic, as now in a “thing” of Nature, in a series of physical processes (energies and qualities). The idea as thus concreted is the Actual; and each “thing,” as so concreted, may, from the subjective side, be called the “notion” of that thing. It is obvious, however, that we can never “know” the specific essence or idea of a specific thing in respect of its what. The “idea” throws no light on individuation, but individuation is there in the phenomenal presentation or determinate—the hoc esse. The fact of absoluto-infinite Being man feels and affirms as ground and source of the finite; the protensive infinite of sense too he contemplates; the Dialectic also: he can point to the genesis of these supreme realities in the activity of subjective finite mind: he can affirm them in each individuate as Being and Form; but of the distinctive non-sensible characteristics of the “idea” which make each individuation unique, he can say nothing. This is a mystery: and we must drop scholastic subtleties that gather round such questions, as they gather also round the inner essence of Absolute Being. Such discussions are prohibited by human limitations: so conspicuously prohibited that any attempt to speak of them is soon found to be the mere disporting of finite categories in a region in which they have no significance. In brief, just as we cannot characterise Absolute Being save as revealed in its immanence, so we cannot characterise the individual “idea” save in its phenomenal aspects—the concluding moment in the divine dialectic process. We gladly give the go-bye to such questions as the “esse of the uncreated Socrates”.

I have frequently said that the rudimentary, and so far forth completed, act of the subjective dialectic is Percipience. Percipience is of the single and must seek the ultimate unit of differentiation in every concrete. But if there were no “many,” percipience and individuation with it would be for us non-existent. Attuition crudely senses individuals; percipience actively discriminates and affirms them; and, by virtue of the ceaseless and inexorable activity of Will in search of end, seeks to push them home to their ultimates,—even to the atom which vanishes as we touch it. And yet we must content ourselves with the Universal as determined phenomenally thus or thus (haecceitas); and beyond this explanation of the fact and genesis of individuating, no definition of the individual is possible. Negation is the principium individuationis, and all I can know about the thing as an individuated concrete is phenomenal or modal (belongs to the negation), and it is the object of the science of nature to ascertain what is there before me in its concrete actuality. The idea phenomenalises itself, and the science of nature is seen to be the science of God as a Determinate.

Casualty.

Absolute Being, we may now see, holds finite subject and object and all individua in a one related system. But the distinctions of individua are from their genesis upwards: for each is a dialectic determination of Being. It is by these differences that Absolute Being has any explicit content, and although they are not absolute differences (that is to say self-dependent) they are yet veritable differences mutually exclusive in the Absolute, without which the Absolute would collapse into nothing save a dim Potentiality. Absolute Being IS in se and a se: but it lives and comes within our ken in so far as it has a content of real differences.

The different is, through the moment of Negation, over-against God, but it is not parted from Him. It is within Him, for it is a determination of Absolute Being.

The World is not let wholly loose from God. From Being and the Dialectic that affirms the “idea” it cannot escape; but, in so far as it is Negation, it resists the idea, and, in so far as through the negation it is a system of individuals, it contends with all else, including the very source of its Being. Thus, while the world, although within the Absolute, is the Other of God, it is so under conditions which involve negation, opposition and consequent casualty. Why the idea should not be at once victorious and triumphant and all be harmony and peace we cannot tell. The teleological moment in the objective dialectic, however, compels us to affirm that all moves towards End, and this in a world made possible by Negation. We see that the End could not be attained save by struggle and a possibility of chaos. The lot of Man, as in a supreme sense the Negation of God resisting the Spirit, and as an individual fighting for his life (which life is the “idea” of his concrete actuality), is thus determined for him; and through millenniums he has to work out the purposes of God, millions falling by the way and all falling short of the idea. There is surely casualty and disorder here.

Nor are we weakly to deplore this; for without contingency and casualty the world would be a dead and monotonous “fated” world, not a living exhibition of a living God. The way of creation is not set up by God as an amusement. He does not sit on His throne and laugh at the freaks of monads and the antics of man. It is the necessary mode of His life as a finite; and an intensely living mode it is. He is constantly energising in the “idea”; and the “Absolute Idea”—the completed End and the fulfilment of infinitely many ends, must be ever in His conscious purpose. It may be asked what ground have we for saying that there is an Absolute Idea at all—a completed Thought of the universe in Absolute Being as creative? This, that God as Dialectic seeks End; and ends which are not contributory to a supreme End would be present and total chaos.

Let us then conclude that it is by virtue of the Negation that each individual is thrown out into a dependent independence and has to work from its own centre. Freedom of each and all, according to its degree in the scale of Being, is the Method of God. The true freedom of each is in its idea which is also its telos: its power to go astray (formal freedom) is in its negating barren individuality (cosmic original Sin), and its power to fulfil the divine end is in the subsumption of the idea by the individual, and the cancelling thus far of the Negation. This movement is the transforming of the atomic individual into the concrete ideal. The negation negates itself, and God flows freely; the individual thus unified with the Universal now joyfully and freely lives its larger life and is at home with God, living and moving in Him just as it has its being and source and end in Him.

I trust the reader will not resent the repetition of much that is already in another form contained in the First Book. It is part of the general argument that the Analytic of subjective “Knowing” (in its large sense of awareness) yields the objective or absolute synthesis we call “God”. And as regards the relation of subject and object I seem to see clearly that the object in presentation is a spiritual object revealing itself to finite mind in the modality which is the expression or equivalent of the idea; finite mind being in modal as well as ontological continuity with the Given. In brief, finite subject and object are (like infinite Subject and Object) an identity in difference—both alike determinations of and within Being Absolute. Any other way of looking at experience, by driving us into either subjective idealism or crude dualism, extrudes man from his place within the Absolute One and estops at the threshold all attempt at Objective interpretation.