Reclaiming Hikmah (II): Towards philosophical liberation
By Amir Suhail Wani –
With the arrival of “Reign of Quantity” and submergence of the qualitative approach to life, a host of existential issues have arrived floating in our lives. The scientific doctrine that “what can’t be measured can’t be known” was ruthlessly applied to all dimensions of human life, which led to the chaos of unforeseen order. The failure to appreciate Transcendence and to contextualise everything in terms of immanence brought with it the “courage to disbelieve”. The transition of epistemology and ontology from the expansion of human understanding, to its limitation, proved to be a most grievous crime committed by pundits of Western philosophy. Philosophy, in the post-renaissance era operated under the influence of science, and this led philosophical methodology to be characterised by the same shortcomings as were inherent to the science of the times. In placing entire emphasis on the sensory faculties of man, the philosophers of this era paid no attention to the rational and spiritual facilities of man. Hegel, Kant and others of their species metamorphosed the landscape of western philosophy, which later had its repercussions of the widest and worst possible nature. From what one can know, the nature of the question now changed to what one cannot know. From what one can understand, the emphasis laid on what one can perceive by mere sense organs. Locke thought that the role of philosophy was not to extend the boundaries of knowledge but precisely to limit it. This limited epistemology and consequently bounded ontology, constrained the trajectories of human imagination.
The human mind, with its sensory, rational, imaginative, intellectual and spiritual possibilities of understanding, is intrinsically infinite. The infinity of human imagination is not circumscribed by the finitude of human physicality. Man’s quest for infinity with all its possible implications finds its satisfaction in the perception of God, the institution of the sacred and the concept of the divine. When this infinitude of the human mind is made to vibrate on the membrane of finitude and made to feast on half backed philosophies of logical positivism, materialism, existentialism, Marxism or Freudian philosophy, it starts revolting against its own essence- the essence of the infinite and feels a sense of isolation, dread and despair. That is why religion, anticipating this self-revolting essence of man’s finitude, introduced the concept of God in the paradigm of infinity. The issue of stress emerging between classical theology and modern philosophy was addressed by Kierkegaard in his “Fear and Trembling”.
Kierkegaard resolved this dichotomy by his “leap of faith” doctrine. Kierkegaard opined that faith ought not to be a subject matter of philosophical rationalisation or scientific materialisation. He stressed the notion that the greatness of belief lies not in the theorisation, but in complete surrender to the object of belief. Kierkegaard in his own words said that,
“But he who expected the impossible became greater than all”.
But his successors failed to appreciate this leap, and henceforth from Nietzsche to Sartre, we come across a series of thinkers who could not escape this self-imposed finitude. Nietzsche, perplexed by his individual context, went on to pronounce the death of God. His famous statement that “God is dead”, seems to have earned him universal fame. By substituting the notion of God by his Superman, he laid the foundations of modern-day philosophical atheism. But many later day philosophers like William James, Wittgenstein, Plantinga, Rashdall, Tillich and scores of others, reclaimed to religion, its philosophical merit.
Anthony Kenny pertinently reminds us of the phenomenon that though Nietzsche declared the death of God, but he could not kill religion. Though the notion of religion without the concept of the divine remains a hoax with its own shortcomings, the zest of reconfiguration of religion and theology did not come without a cost. For a long time, it led to the all-round pervasiveness of notions like chaos, dread, anxiety, each term having a specific philosophical connotation.
One of the deleterious aftermaths of this constrained epistemological approach has manifested itself in the form of blind scientism, and unchecked materialism that has made the entire civilization crawl on the surface of material finitude. It has utterly failed to let man discover the transcendental aspects of being intuitive and spiritual aspects of learning. This has been the tragedy of prominent philosophers like Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre and others, who in their quest for higher possibilities of being, were shackled by their own limited epistemological paradigm. This led them to deny the transcendental realms of existence. Such approach to reality has, instead of opening the human finitude into the ocean of the infinite, confined the human infinite within material finitude.
The failure to look beyond the manifest and to fix our gaze on actuality, and denying the future of possibility, has made man to revolve in short-circuited immanence. Focusing their attention on handpicked issues of theodicy and eschatology, the later day philosophers have completely severed the roots of religious tradition. The overwhelming evidence pointing towards the existence of God and the transcendental realm is rubbished against a bunch of misplaced scientific statistics. The veracity of religious scriptures is sacrificed by the single stroke of a pen. This reflects the dismal state of scholarship that is taking over the intellectual world.
What is needed at this instant, is that people resort to genuine scholarship before drawing any conclusions, having its bearings on man’s individual and collective life. Simultaneously, the religious scholarship is expected to raise its standards in addressing the issues encountering the modern mind. The postmodern era has put us in a volatile state where the institutions of tradition need to be furthered and strengthened to ensure that society does not fall apart.
World today, with all its conundrums stands in a dire need to grasp and perceive things and the realities beyond the manifest. The journey to Transcendence is not only necessary, but the only condition to ensure the mitigation of human anxieties. Any failure in this direction will intellectually, morally and spiritually leave our world an ugly place to live in. Deepak Chopra, realising the same urge has put it eloquently by saying,
“Then God matters, more than anything else in the creation because God is the word we applyto the source of creation. It isn’t necessary to worship the source, although reverence is certainly deserved if we want to give it. The necessary thing is to connect. Across the gap in the transcendent world is some totally necessary things that can’t be created, not by hand, by imagination, or by thought”.
The world is crying for ideological and philosophical beautification, and this restoration of beauty calls for a look back at tradition, Transcendence and our glorious religious heritage. In these perennial treasures of wisdom, we shall discover panacea to the posers of existence.
(Amir Suhail Wani is a Kashmir based freelancer, Comparative Studies Scholar, and R&D Engineer with SA Power Utilities Pvt Ltd. Feedback at [email protected])