Kant and Spinoza, together at last…

For some people– both theists and atheists among them, perhaps –Kant and Spinoza, together, may offer a framework through which our previous discussion of God-talk may become more intelligible.  [Note: This approach is rather specialized and will not appeal to everyone.]

kant and spinozaOn the one hand,  both Kant’s phenomena and Spinoza’s modes fully encompass the macroscopic world of classical physics–indeed, they encompass anything and everything that is perceived to exist (or conceived to exist) merely in relation to other things that exist in space and/or time (scroll down to the graphic–and see also this Quick and Dirty Summary of Spinoza and Kant).

On the other hand, it’s easy to see how Kant’s noumena and Spinoza’s substance each refer in some sense to that which is absolute– that which is in itself  –however much these thinkers might differ as to whether, how, and to what degree the absolute (or that which IS absolutely) may be known.

Meanwhile, centuries after Spinoza and during the two centuries following Kant, we have begun to explore the mysterious subatomic realm of quantum physics which seems to lie at the boundary of the apparent world– the boundary between the absolute and the relative, per chance –between eternity and time; the transcendent and the immanent; the ideal and the real.  At the very least, quantum physics has thrown a monkey wrench into the “clock-work universe” of Newton,  and the doors of western culture seem to be opening once again to the vertical dimensionthe domain of faith which had become somewhat effaced (or defaced) in the modern period, as we fell under the spell of the empirical sciences and began to imagine that the horizontal dimension– the apparently deterministic world of natural historyconstitutes the whole of  reality.

As such, we can now see that while the phenomenal realm– the world of our experience –offers an awe inspiring re-presentation of reality in space and time (a la Kant), it may well be that our real truth and being is to be found in (what Spinoza calls) our “knowledge of  the union existing between the mind and the whole of nature” (see his unfinished essay, On the Improvement of the Understanding, aka Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect ).  Indeed, for Spinoza, this knowledge is, for us, the supreme good.  And it would seem that it is only with reference to our knowledge of this union that the real meaning of the apparent unfolding of our lives in space and time can be realized.  This blessedness is for us, as it was for Spinoza, a nondual realization of that which IS as it IStimelessly/eternally  –here & now.  And this would also seem to be our intuitive point of contact with a domain which Kant excludes from knowledge, per se–i.e. the domain of God, freedom, and immortality.

Similarly, for Christians, the meaning and purpose of life is to be found in being reconciled to God  (who, according to Acts 17:27-28, is not so far from any one of us–indeed, in Him we live and move and have our being).  From this point of view, as well, it is understood that– Christlike –we, too, may come to know that we are atOne with the Father and members one of another.  In other words, whatever the future may hold, we have eternal life, here & now– being buried with him in baptism and raised with him in newness of life –all of which is just another way of saying that we have the mind of Christ.  And to say that we have the mind of Christ is another way of saying that, on some level, we are aware of the union that exists between the mind and the whole of Nature–between the Cosmos and God.  In other words, we are reconciled to God (which is to say that, having taken up our cross, we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God ).   And the goal of Christian worship and practice is to grow in grace and knowledge of this truth which is then reflected through us– through our lives and relationships –out into the world at large.

If the forgoing account seems at all helpful, perhaps the diagram below (together with this Quick and Dirty Summary of Spinoza and Kant) will help to further illustrate some of the points of comparison that can be drawn between these two great thinkers.  And perhaps this, in turn, will help to provide a philosophical framework through which some of the obstacles to living faith can be removed.  As always, take what you find helpful and leave the rest.  But do keep in mind that different people will quite naturally speak of– and comport themselves quite differently with respect to –their Divine source or ground (depending on BOTH their cultural & educational background AND their natural temperament).  One size does not fit all–and yet there is room for all in this field of awareness that we are–this Divine presence that I Am.

Quick and Dirty Summary of Spinoza and Kant

Note:  Click on the graphic, below, to enlarge it:

kant and spinoza5


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