The Historical Status of Philosophy
7 minutes • 1403 words
(2) We can also believe that many philosophical affirmations were to be found in the mystery religions; in any event they presented symbolically adumbrations of later, superior representations. Still, a good deal of the sensible is mingled in them.
They probably belong to the very ancient remnants of nature-religion which have, in fact, retreated into darkness.
In general what is retained in the mystery religions belongs to a stage of culture far below that to which the people have attained.
In the Christian religion, mysteries essentially contain the speculative. The Neoplatonists called the speculative concept mystical. The terms muein, mueisqai (consecrate oneself, be consecrated) signified to be engaged in speculative philosophy.
Consequently there is nothing unknown in these mysteries; their name signifies not something mysterious (Geheimnis) but rather consecration.
Thus, all Athenians were consecrated into the Eleusinian mysteries (and philologically speaking the same observation is to be made, for the same notion [Vorstellung] holds there); Socrates alone is an exception. The only thing that was forbidden was to reveal these things publicly before strangers; with regard to some of them it was made a crime to do so.
What we find in the Christian religion is similar; there dogmas are called mysteries.
They are what is known of God’s nature and disseminated as doctrine. Thus, a mystery is not something unknown or hidden; it is something revealed, familiar, what everyone in the community knows; and it is by this knowledge that they are distinguished from members of other religions.
Here, too, then, mysterium does not mean secret (since every Christian is in on the secret); it is simply another name for the speculative. For the senses, for sensual man with his desires and his ordinary understanding, it is, of course, a secret; for understanding finds only contradictions anywhere in the speculative; it finds difference impenetrable and cannot grasp the concrete.
Mysterium, or the idea, however, is at the same time the resolution of contradictions. We are here concerned with mysteries, then, only to the extent that in them thought as thought, articulated in the form of thought, is present.
b. Mythical Philosophizing.
It can also be claimed that myths are a way of philosophizing; and that they have also often been so. Mythical language is also deliberately used, as it is said, in order to evoke sublime ideas. Plato, for example, employs many myths. Jacobi, too, belongs to this number, since he employs the forms of Christian religion in his philosophizing and in this manner says the most speculative things. This form, however, is not the correct one or the one which suits philosophy.
Thought which has itself as object must be, in its form too, object for itself; it has to have risen above its natural form and to have appeared also in the form of thought.
There is a fairly prevalent opinion that Plato’s myths are superior to his more abstract mode of expression; nor is there any question that Plato does present them beautifully. When we consider them more carefully we see that his myths are partly the result of an inability to get thought across to human beings in a purer form. Partly, too, Plato speaks this way only to introduce his themes – when he comes to the principal theme, however, his manner of expression is different. Aristotle says: “Those who philosophize mythically do not deserve to be taken seriously.” That is true. Still, when Plato employs myths he certainly has good reasons for so doing. In general, however, the mythical form is not the one in which thought is best portrayed; it is only a subordinate way.
Just as the Freemasons have symbols which count as deep wisdom – deep in the way that we call a well deep when we cannot see the bottom – so men are easily convinced that what is hidden is deep. But, when something is concealed, it may well be the case that there is nothing behind the concealment. Thus, among the Freemasons what is totally hidden (not only from outsiders but also from insiders) is really nothing and requires neither a special wisdom nor science. It belongs precisely to thought, on the other hand, to manifest itself; it is its very nature to be clear. Manifestation is not, so to speak, a situation which can take place or not, such that thought would continue to be thought whether manifested or not – manifestation is its very being. [This paragraph inserted from Michelet’s first edition of 1833.]
Others have employed lines, numbers, and geometrical figures as symbols. A snake biting its own tail, for example, or a circle count as symbols of eternity. Such a symbol is a sensible image; spirit, however, does not need that sort of symbol, it has language. If spirit can express itself in the element proper to thought, then the symbolic is an incorrect, a false mode of presentation. When we talk about Pythagoras we shall come back to this point. This sort of thing is found among the Chinese, too; they use lines and numbers to signify thoughts.
So, the mythical as such and mythical forms of philosophizing are excluded from what we have to say.
c. The Place of Thoughts in Poetry and Religion.
The third remark to be made is that religion as such, like poetry, contains thoughts. The form in which religion is presented is not merely that of art, as it is particularly in Greek religion;
Rather it contains thoughts, universal notions. By the same token, poetry (i.e., the art whose element is language) attains to the expression of thoughts;
in poets, too, we find profound universal thoughts. Thoughts such as these – e.g., on fate in Homer and the Greek tragedians, or on living and dying, being and ceasing to be, birth and death – then, are clearly abstract and important thoughts, which also are often imaginatively presented, for example, in Indian poetry.
Still, in the history of philosophy we are not to consider this mode of presentation either. One could speak of a philosophy of Aeschylus, of Euripides, of Schiller, of Goethe, etc.
But, such thoughts are to an extent merely incidental and, thus, not germane to our presentation; they constitute general ways of representing the true, the vocation of man, morality, etc.
To an extent, also, these thoughts have not attained to the form which is proper to them; and the form which is required is that of thought, wherein what is expressed must be the ultimate and constitute the absolute foundation.
With regard to the thoughts we have just spoken about that is not the case; in them there is an absence of distinction from and relation to each other.
Besides, in the case of the Indians, whatever has a relation to thought is shot through with confusion.
In addition we are not concerned with those thoughts which have their source in Christian religion or in the Church.
The Fathers of the Church were, it is true, great philosophers, and the growth of Christianity owes a great deal to them. Still, their philosophizing moves within the framework of an already fixed and given doctrinal concept which is fundamental to it.
In the same way we do not see among the Scholastics the sort of free thought which develops from itself and builds upon itself; rather we see that their thought is tied to all sorts of presuppositions.
This, then, is what I wanted to say by way of introduction to our treatment of the history of philosophy.
Two points in particular have been emphasized in what we have said about the relationship which these last types of thinking have to philosophy.
One of these concerned the formal element, self-thinking in general as it occurs in the natural sciences, in what might be called popular philosophy.
In that case it was the form which is common to them and to philosophy; whereas the determination of content, the matter, is not developed from the thought itself, but comes from elsewhere, from nature or from feeling, or, as is often the case, sound common sense (Menschenverstand) is adopted as a criterion (as in Scottish philosophy).
The other aspect was the substantial, which religion in particular shares with philosophy. In this case, however, what is lacking to the substantial element is the form of thought. Thus, what remains for philosophy is simply the substantial element in the form of thought. ,