After the dark quiet of the year’s beginning, I return now to pick up the threads of my reflection on integration. This is my own personal inquiry, and for me it is no academic exercise but rather the forefront of my personal quest for the real. My hope is that you may be nourished by sharing with me.
I am seeking to understand and unfold the riches of the notion of integration. While the notion isn’t as common as, say, peace or happiness, I believe that we sense what it means to flourish as a human in some way profoundly involves integration. Christian believers sense that integration has something to do with God, too: Jesus Christ is the one in whom all things cohere. But we also all sense that our world and our very selves are fragmented. We live in an era of fragmentation. On the other hand, we rightly fear as repressive comprehensive initiatives which try to put us together. Such would not be integration, but rather a defacing homogeneity—perhaps an enemy reality we already face.
So considering integration holds prospect for existential, spiritual, and perhaps even global healing. What is integration, why does it seem absent, and how may we find it?
To recap the explorations of last year’s posts: I started last January with the idea of integration as a creative putting things together. I commended Polanyi’s fundamentally integrative epistemology; I described a little of my work in covenant epistemology; I reflected on artist Makoto Fujimura’s understanding of integration, and of kintsugi as a gracious binding together of broken shards to create a work of greater beauty. And in a preliminary way with respect to later work with D.C. Schindler’s thought, I posed that the good life consists in fundamentally integrative encounter and intimate communion with the real.
Then I turned to consider more extensively Schindler’s work, especially his 2018 Love and the Postmodern Predicament: Rediscovering the Real in Beauty, Goodness and Truth (Cascade). It turns out that we in the modern West need not only an integrative epistemology, but also an integrative metaphysics.
First I considered first the very simple notion of what it means to be a thing. Things by definition are irreducible to their parts—in direct challenge to our very common modern misunderstanding. This means that real things are in themselves fundamentally integrative. Most recently, I began to sketch some of Schindler’s claims, enough to get started, and enough to make the point that delighting in a thing is your and my attuned response of love to the thing’s beauty—its self-manifestation as real. I suggested all too briefly that we may cultivate delight to the end of integration.
This 2019 side of Christmas I return to this text, trying to synthesize and appropriate his work more deeply. First, why is it that delight, of all things, is key to integration? And how is that key to modernity and our longing for integration?
What he says about delight is typified in a typical scenario for a child. I remember being terrified of lightning and thunder, fearing that the house would burn down around me. My father responded by explaining thunder and lightning to me, having me count the seconds in between, and thinking that would take care of my feelings. It was interesting, of course; I did the same with my own children. But what happened with my children is that we were happily doing that—until the moment our house was struck by lightning a few yards from where we stood. Something like this also happens with a rainbow, in the film, Thirteen Conversations about One Thing. It indicates something about how disconnected that character is from reality.
The point is that we can tend to “explain away” an encounter with reality with a scientific analysis. There’s nothing wrong with scientific analysis. But there is everything wrong with it obviating the encounter and erasing the delight. There is everything wrong with it as an exclusive epistemic paradigm, and as humans’ (or a culture’s) fundamental disposition toward the reality.
Delight, by contrast, displays the human’s intrinsic desire for contact, encounter, with reality. (And we may add the descriptor, contemplative, here.) Schindler describes our modern era as “making every effort to buffer this encounter,” “a conspiracy to protect us from the real,” “an effort to keep reality at bay.” (2-3). In the process of exalting analysis in modernity, delight has been demoted, from its place as loving response to reality self-disclosure in beauty, to the status of a private sensation of no consequence to knowledge.
How could modernity ever have gotten us into this plight? Schindler’s analysis reveals that modernity came to be with a rise of self-interest of a defective sort—a kind of selfishness with respect to “the other.” “The other” references not just other people, but reality beyond us. The other is things, including nonhuman things. This is not to say that no selfishness ever transpired apart from modernity! But perhaps this might be called an era-shaping fundamental posture of selfishness. Schindler says it has to do with humans (and culture’s) most fundamental disposition toward reality.
Defective self-interest depreciates the other, then misappropriates the other. The specific form that self-interest took at the dawn of modernity had to do with utility: an inappropriate self-exaltation and the instrumentalization of the value of everything else. Modernity consists of a shift from valuing the other intrinsically to valuing the other only instrumentally. Schindler records this telling claim of Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan,1651): to know something means to be able to imagine “what we can do with it, once we have it.” (26) That is to reduce knowing to utility. What is sacrificed for this is the thing itself. In modernity, knowing denatured nature, demoted reality. Utility replaces gratuity, Schindler says: things no longer are loved for themselves as gracious gifts. In Hobbes’s caricature, the knower’s attention shunts immediately away from the thing to its pragmatic value.
Schindler adds that technology in our current age intrinsically (!) ensconces the instrumental. In a footnote he offers a common example: regular use of a GPS, while it is so helpful in getting us where we need to go, tends to deprive us in the process of our latent orientation and appreciation for a place. (28)
You can easily feel the adverse impact of such a move if you imagine that someone dear to you suddenly were to shift from valuing you intrinsically, for who you are, to valuing only the use you are to them. That would be utterly heartbreaking, and potentially deadly. Further, you might find yourself compelled to produce out of your heartbroken state (here I picture Ben Hur (Charleton Heston, actually) grimly rowing in the galleys!), forced to give what is in no way the generous self gift that is you. This is what modernity has done to things. Denatured, misappropriated things are therein fragmented.
When such a massive indignity is to be committed, the evidence must first be destroyed or distorted. Schindler’s account identifies “the evidence” as beauty, goodness and truth, transcendentals, marks of all being (God and his creation) and of each being in its distinctive core. Contemplative inquiry regarding things and about beauty, goodness and truth, constitute metaphysics. (Love of the real, according to Schindler, just is what philosophy is.) So to dispose of the evidence, modernity had to excise these or distort them beyond recognition. As humans it is never possible to avoid doing philosophy or metaphysics; but what modernity has produced is an antimetaphysical metaphysics. Schindler terms it a “bourgeois metaphysics,” then shows why this is an oxymoron.
Beauty, goodness and truth fundamentally concern the way humans relate to the real. They “reveal the nature of our very being in the world.” (22) That is why a book on the transcendentals is a philosophical anthropology. To summarize Schindler: With respect to beauty: either we take the world as most fundamentally beautiful and receive it as a gift, or we do not. If the latter, we strip beauty of its ontological basis, rendering it a matter of subjective taste. With respect to goodness: either we respond to the world as being desirable in itself, or we stand indifferently outside the world’s appeal. We exalt our self-interest. With respect to truth: either we recognize things as true in their very being (and truth as our whole-personed communion with the whole of things), or we relegate truth to correctness of information, and this only as it is a matter of utility. It is evident the choices which modernity has made. Look again at Hobbes’ rendering of what it is to know. Modernity’s penchant eventually undermines itself: the last thing it is is good for the self. It is self-destructive. An agenda that denatures nature—fragmentation is really a gentle way to represent such destruction—fragments and destroys us.
Nothing less is at stake than “our disposition toward the world and everything in it, the way we interact with the various things we encounter in our day-to-day living, and indeed in a subtle but profound way the quality of our experience—our experience of absolutely anything and everything.” (21) “What is at issue in the transcendentals, in short, is the most basic meaning of things and so man’s fundamental relationship with the world, with himself and others, and with God.” (22) In this book he will argue that humans’ relationship in and with the world ought to be one of love. It is a relationship of openness to the heart of things. And this is not mere subjective choice, however well intended. This must be consent to an ontological posture, rejection of which spells demise.
Love and openness to the heart of things is a stance modernity has eschewed. Alas, what may be done? Technology has spawned what Thomas L. Friedman designates “the age of accelerations.”Technology is here to stay and growing exponentially. And we have generally bought in to anti-philosophical philosophy, “bourgeois metaphysics”—philosophy seems to many people so heady and useless! Yet we feel our fragmentation. We feel our disconnect from reality.
What we can do is small, but real and precisely on target. It is as profoundly philosophical and ontological as this pervasive, destructive modernist stance. We can delight in things. The simplest moment of integrative, contemplative delight in a particular thing, understood as consent to the real, subverts the overwhelming pall of modernity. Love a thing: a person, an ocelot, a blossom, a work of your hands, even a motorcycle. Resist its demotion to the subjective and instrumental. Install that love, that contemplative, as your proper human orientation to openness to the heart of things. Resist its subjectification; this is sound philosophy.
“Why do you boast, oh mighty man? …But I am like an olive tree, flourishing in the house of God.” (Psalm 52)
Esther L. Meek, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Geneva College, as well as a Fujimura Institute Fellow Scholar. Her books include Contact With Reality:Michael Polanyi’s Realism and Why It Matters; A Little Manual for Knowing; Loving to Know: Introducing Covenant Epistemology, and Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People.
Thomas L. Friedman, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Surviving in the Age of Accelerations (Picador, 2017).
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