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Tags: spirituality, transcendence, thinking, Plato, dualism, the cave allegory, autonomy

Thinking, in addition to including the many reorientations involved in someone’s responding and navigating through an ordinary day, can also be a non-pragmatic delving or soaring into previously unidentified regions of experience, into the looming unidentified now. It can be an opening of new directions and new pathways of curiosity. This often involves writing, uses writing as a tool, and the crucial role of language in writing does not mean that the thinking process begins or ends with language. With thinking-as-delving you search around in the concrete dust and muck of the objective world to uncover in this moment the precise beauty and detail of structure there. With thinking-as-soaring you notice and question the occurrence of abstraction, ideas and ideality, the presence of memory and expectation in all acts of perception, even in the most concrete experiences. You notice the recognition of types, categories, universals, patterns, relationships, and structures which have no perceivable existence as particulars, and which consequently point to a mental, ideal activity often conceived as subjective inwardness or spirituality. The directionality of any human gaze is so equipped with what cannot be perceived, with subjective non-actualities such as questioning, curiosity, expectations of futurity, aspirations, and lessons learned, (caring, anticipation, evaluation) that it points (in addition to some region of surroundings) in a direction that can only be characterized as personally inward, to an interiority of spiritual non-actuality. To say that spirituality is personally interior is to say nothing more than that it is not an actuality among things, but is still the marker of what is most local for any particular person.

In Plato’s allegory of the cave, from Republic, Book VII, a crowd of people is watching shapes move about in front of them. They do not know that they are in a dark sloping cave, and they are looking at a wall at the bottom of the cave. There are people outside the cave, near the entrance, carrying cut-out images, models of objects, back and forth in the direct light of a fire beaming down into the cave, so that the cut-out images cast shadows all the way down onto the wall at the bottom. The people in the cave believe they are perceiving real objects, when in fact they are seeing shadows of cut-out images of objects. One person in the crowd at the bottom of the cave, presumably thinking philosophically, separates himself and turns away from the wall of shadow images, and sees that he is in a cave with light streaming down from above. He makes his way up the slope and reaches the top where he sees the cut-out images being moved about, casting shadows down into the cave, which the crowd at the bottom mistakes for reality.

Plato had an elaborate theory of supernatural Ideas as the ultimate reality, but it is not necessary to accept Plato’s metaphysical theory to find meaning in the allegory of the cave. It is a story about discovering transcendence. In that context, Plato’s cave makes sense as the simple unconsciousness of the transcendent spirituality of ideality itself, of the idea that is thinking itself in thinking your life. It’s right here. Plato’s cave is simply ignoring spirituality as we gaze from it or through it at the shapes of objects in our surroundings, leaving ideality itself as a blind spot, so that materialist monism seems sufficient. We get caught in the symbolism and pageantry of property rights, competitive materialism, the valley of concrete things, behavioural science and economics as destiny. We lose the transcendence of spirituality, the magnificent absurdity of outreaching curiosity and sensitivity, caring (often desperate), newness, incompleteness, projecting an intervening voice, abstraction, ideation, temporal projection, futurity, creative freedom. Plato’s cave is the loss of the awareness of transcendent spirituality. Philosophy is most interesting as a descriptive exploration of spirituality, and there is a perennial dualism in such philosophy because it is the dualism of spirituality meeting actuality that brings the transcendence of spirituality into focus. Truly creative freedom is transcendent no matter how conceived, so if we are to recognize freedom, we are stuck with dualism.

Having a working recognition of spirituality makes a profound difference. It means that transcendence exists at the level of individuals and that every individual has direct personal access to transcendent spirituality. Transcendence is not remote or occult, not the preserve of devotees of altered states, not from supernatural revelations or custodians of ancient knowledge. It means that transcendence is in experience that is immediately available to everyone. It is local and personal for everyone, with no need for speculations about supernatural entities. Even more important, since freedom is at the core of transcendent spirituality, it means that creative freedom is an inherent power of each individual. The simple fact of autonomous individual consciousness, based on the unique placement of individual bodies, brings with it the whole package of autonomous spirituality. The possibility and historical fact of philosophical thinking demonstrates that autonomy.

People in positions of institutional authority are dismissive of generalized individual autonomy as a centrifugal force, can’t allow themselves to see it or admit its importance, and prefer to accept psychology, social science, and economics as revelations of unalterable destiny. The philosophical agenda is to have everybody recognize their personal and autonomous power of thinking-as-soaring, to recognize an inherent ability to question and recognize relevant experiences, to discover and live the truth of spirituality meeting actuality. The message of spirituality is not surrender but instead is individual autonomy.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.

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