P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 114
14 February 2006
I. 'Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment' by Alfredo
II. 'An Emergent Eschatology' by Dr A. B. Kelly
III. Guerrilla Radio Show
In his fourth article for Philosophy Pathways, Alfredo Lucero-Montano gets to
grips with Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno,
providing a thoughtful and illuminating introduction to this difficult work. A
concept becomes 'dialectical' when we discover that it fails to apply to
itself, or when that concept taken to the extreme reveals a flip side which is
the opposite of what the original concept intended. The historic root of the
term 'dialectic' is the question and answer method of Socrates. To see a
problem dialectically is to question the question, and then question that, and
so on, indefinitely.
One of my all-time favourite works of 20th century philosophy is Space, Time
and Deity by Samuel Alexander. In his article Dr Anthony Kelly develops the
framework for an 'emergent' view of creation which is strongly influenced by
Alexander's metaphysics. Born in Australia, Alexander came to the Philosophy
Department of Manchester University in 1893, eventually becoming Professor and
Head of Department. In his day, he was one of the most celebrated British
figures in academic philosophy but is little talked about today.
The Guerrilla Radio Show, based in Santa Barbara California, first went on the
air in November 2005 and has been stirring the air waves with a series of
provocative broadcasts on philosophical themes. You can catch their shows on
Tuesdays at 7pm Pacific Standard Time by logging on to their web site. Full
details below. This week in a rerun episode, Nathan Salmon is talking about the
Philosophy of Language.
I. 'HORKHEIMER AND ADORNO'S DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT' BY ALFREDO
1. Enlightenment bursts into history raising the flag of disenchantment and
demythologization. All could and must be submitted in the court of reason, all
could and must be arranged according to reason: politics and ethics, aesthetics
and science. But something seems to have gone wrong with the initial plan. The
proof? The re-enchantment of the world. The myths and the gods, that
enlightened reason let for dead and buried, are rising from their graves and
coming back. They are coming back because man needs them subjectively to set
the ends and values that reason cannot objectively define. Enlightened reason
has specialized in wining battles, but it does not know anything about the war.
The development of Enlightenment has failed with reason's universal vocation:
there is no common reason as a practical horizon for the diversity of human
activities. The extraordinary developing and differentiation of the cultural
spheres (science and technology, economics and politics, etc.) has exhausted
and collapsed a substantive reason.
Today we speak of the return of myths without any sorrow. Max Weber warned us
with sorrow and fear that the ancient, disenchanted gods could stand up from
their graves, but now we celebrate them. But it is not that the new
philosophers are fools. They surely would be if they were to have thrown
overboard mankind's achievements of freedom. Because they don't want to do it,
they distinguish between good and bad myths. The bad myths are the monomyths:
Reason, Man, Reality, Social Class, Humanity, Race, Free Market. There is no
Enlightenment in a singular mode. The enlightenment achievement par excellence,
freedom, is only guaranteed with the plurality of myths. Freedom is plurality.
Everything is plural, many gods, diverse reasons, numerous opinions, but
certainly that pluralism is not a guarantee of freedom. Each daimon, each
particular logic, strives to take over the entire scene. In 'liberal'
societies, the economy tends to suffocate politics; in 'authoritarian'
societies, politics interferes with social action. And over all, science has
achieved its specific logic as the main analogy of rationality. What is left,
then, for philosophy?
The sensitivity that depicts the consciousness of the crisis of reason has a
name: Dialectic of Enlightenment (DE). What other thing does 'dialectic'
express, but the consciousness of a failure -- the insufficiency of
enlightenment -- as well as the hope in the liberating force of enlightenment?
The 'dialectic of Enlightenment' expresses the consciousness of the complexity
of the processes that produced Modernity, and now these processes are at the
point of overcoming it or maybe they already overcame it. This means that the
processes, and the situation into which them have forced us, are marked by a
basic ambiguity: these processes can realize the Enlightenment, but it also can
destroy it. The latter happens when we ignore or forget the dialectic -- that is
Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno's central claim.
The aim of this work is to review critically at Horkheimer and Adorno's
conceptualization of the process of Enlightenment, to offer an analysis of the
concept of enlightened reason that is in the core of the issue. The concept of
reason (rationality) is closely linked to values of great interest to mankind:
freedom, justice and solidarity. For Horkheimer and Adorno, these values are
definitely at stake, and that is their main interest to write the DE: 'Save the
We have already started to take position in the clash of ideas regarding the
DE. If this first reading of DE were clear and distinct, the DE would not imply
any other thing but the renewed self-critique of Enlightenment, but the present
situation is much more complicated. Since the late seventies this work has
contributed to the make up of opposite trends in the contemporary philosophical
world: on one side, a neoconservative counterenlightened position, and on the
other, a postmodern -- non dialectical -- trend. For Horkheimer and Adorno, the
critique of Enlightenment by any means implies its negation, but with a more
full and comprehensive realization of it. There is no other way to save the
Enlightenment and the values it assumes, except by being aware of its
dialectic, that is, to enlighten Enlightenment about itself. But the dilemma
that Horkheimer and Adorno faced is 'the self-destruction of the
Enlightenment.' (DE, xiii) The Enlightenment cannot forget its own dialectic,
for 'if enlightenment does not accommodate reflection on this recidivist
element, then it seals its own fate.' (Loc. cit.)
We could depict the character of the crisis of reason by taking a glance at the
dawn of twenty-first century. We find taking place the combination of four
convictions: a) the claim that the analogy of reason is science, b) the
identification of the enlightened reason with the universal reason, c) the
close relation between knowledge and ethics, and d) the effectiveness of
ideas. Here the pertinent question is: What does enlightened rationality
2. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno's starting point is
a dramatic experience: mankind has not advanced toward freedom, but it moves
backward and it 'is sinking into a new kind of barbarism.' (DE, xi) They set
themselves to understand the causes of this drama, of this dark 'reversal,'
that means 'the indefatigable self-destructiveness of enlightenment.' (DE, xi)
Their analysis results in a paradox: 'Myth is already enlightenment; and
enlightenment reverts to mythology,' (DE, xvi) and this claim turns out to be
the DE's main thesis. In Jurgen Habermas's words, they put forward the claim of
'a secret complicity to challenge this opposition' between Enlightenment and
We can find a key to understand this first thesis in Horkheimer's claim:
'Reason's disease lies in its own origin, in the effort of man to have dominion
over nature.' Enlightenment rises under the sign of domination. Since the
beginning, it 'has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing
their sovereignty,' (DE, 3) and its program was 'the disenchantment of the
world; the dissolution of myths.' (Loc. cit.) In other words, Enlightenment has
been understood as an opposition and counterforce to myth: Enlightenment
contradicts myth. Therefore, Enlightenment entrenches the knowledge of science
that does not work any more 'by the fortunate insight,' but for the
exploitation and dominion over a disenchanted nature. In the process of
Enlightenment knowledge turns into power, and nature becomes reduced to 'a
substratum of domination.' (DE, 9) The Enlightenment functions according to the
principle of identity: it cannot stand the different and the unknown: 'What was
different is equalized.' (DE, 12) 'When there is no longer anything unknown.
That determines the course of demythologization, of enlightenment' which
reduces all to 'pure immanence.' (DE, 16) 'Enlightenment behaves toward things
as a dictator toward men,' (DE, 9) and it knows them in so far as it can
manipulate them. In this process, 'mimesis' is displaced by power, which now
turns into the 'principle of all relations.' (DE, 9)
But this reason's disease -- Enlightenment's inclination for power -- which has
determined the development of Western civilization, it is already present in the
myth itself. In the myth, there is a moment of Enlightenment; moreover, the myth
is the first stage of Enlightenment: 'Yet the myths which fell victim to the
Enlightenment were its own products.' (DE, 8) The myths, in fact, wanted to
'report, naming, the narration of the Beginning,' but they also wanted to offer
an 'explanation,' that is, they wanted to control and dominate, as it is
explicit in the step from myth to mythology, from narration to theory, from
contemplation to rationalization. In the myth there is a desire of power. At
the end, 'myth turns into enlightenment, and nature into mere objectivity.'
(DE, 9) As Habermas points out: 'The permanent sign of enlightenment is
domination over an objectified external nature and a repressed internal
The Enlightenment, then, is a process of demythologization, which develops as a
progressive rationalization, abstraction, and reduction of the whole reality by
the subject -- under the signal of dominion. This process, that hoped to be a
liberating process, has historically developed as a process of alienation:
'Enlightenment is more than enlightenment -- the distinct representation of
nature in its alienation.' (DE, 39) The latter thesis seems to contradict the
former, but it is just the other face of the same coin. The process of
Enlightenment reveals a Janus-face: the domination of external nature is done
at the cost of repressing man's internal nature.
Man's domination over himself, which grounds his selfhood,
is almost always the destruction of the subject in whose
service it is undertaken; for the substance which is
dominated, suppressed, and dissolved by virtue of
self-preservation is none other than that very life as a
functions of which the achievements of self-preservation
find their sole definition and determination: it is, in
fact, what is to be preserved. (DE, 54-55)
According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the enlightenment process of
self-destruction is the result of a self-preservation drive, which mutilates
reason; reason itself destroys the humanity it first made possible. This
process of self-destruction follows, as the Enlightenment itself, an inexorable
logic which ends turning against the subject, reducing its own internal nature
as a mere substratum of domination. That is, the process of emancipation from
external nature reveals itself, at the same time, as a process of subjection of
man's own internal nature: 'The fallen nature of modern man' ends up as a
process of regression to the old bondage under nature:
The decline, the forfeiture, of nature consists in the
subjugation of nature without which spirit does not exist.
Through the decision in which spirit acknowledges itself to
be domination and retreats into nature, it abandons the
claim to domination which makes it a vassal of nature.
The domination of man over nature paradoxically carries with it the domination
of nature over man. For Horkheimer and Adorno, the representation of this
paradox is Odysseus's fate. Here the conflict is radical and original, and it
takes place between man and nature, between the 'domination of nature' and the
'domination of man.'
The Enlightenment started by the sign of dominion and the reductio ad hominen
of the world historical processes to its principles, it has not just eliminated
the myth, but also the 'meaning' that transcends the bare facts:
On the road to modern science, men renounce any claim to
meaning. (DE, 5) What is abandoned is the whole claim and
approach of knowledge: to comprehend the given as such; not
merely to determine the abstract spatiotemporal relations of
the facts which allow them just to be grasped, but on the
contrary to conceive them as the superficies, as mediated
conceptual moments which come to fulfillment only in the
development of their social, historical, and human
significance. (DE, 26-27)
This means that the Enlightenment itself has fallen victim of its own
reductionist logic and returned to mythology, that is, to the necessity that
this logic hoped to liberate man. In Horkheimer and Adorno's words:
Mythology itself set off the unending process of
enlightenment in which ever and again, with the
inevitability of necessity, every specific theoretic view
succumbs to the destructive criticism that it is only a
belief -- until even the very notions of spirit, of truth
and, indeed, enlightenment itself, have become animistic
magic [...] Just as the myths already realize
enlightenment, so enlightenment with every step becomes
more deeply engulfed in mythology. (DE, 11-12)
In Habermas's words, 'the modern fully rationalized world is only seemingly
disenchanted.' In other words, the demythologization seems to dispel the
enchantment of religious-metaphysical thinking, but it really appears to us as
confusion between nature and culture. 'The process of enlightenment leads to
the desocialization of nature and the denaturalization of the human world.'
Enlightenment's relapse into mythology means the fall of the spirit -- which
arose with it -- under the blind dominion of nature. The latter thus takes
revenge against man exploitation, to whom it has been externally subjected, and
the repression that has internally taken place in the subject itself -- all this
formed according to the principle of self-conservation and dominion. Nature
rebels this way because the spirit in the process of Enlightenment has
forgotten it. In fact, at the beginning of this process, there took place a
'loss of memory,' which precisely made this process possible; Horkheimer and
Adorno basically conclude that 'all objectification is a forgetting,' (DE, 230)
all objectification is a 'loss of meaning.'
What is the scope of Horkheimer and Adorno's critique of Enlightenment? Can we
still talk about the dialectic of Enlightenment or we must consider the paradox
of Enlightenment? Horkheimer and Adorno's critical interpretation of the
world-historical process of Enlightenment agrees with Max Weber's diagnosis:
the Enlightenment is a progressive and irreversible process of rationalization
of all the spheres of social life; a process that at the same time is the
progressive functionalization and instrumentalization of reason, with the
consequent loss of meaning and freedom. However, the process of Enlightenment
was leading to a final catastrophe. Here Horkheimer and Adorno enter in the
field of the radical critique of enlightened reason.
What does this radicalization of the critique of Enlightenment mean? The
authors of the DE extended and radicalized Luckacs' concept of reification and,
with it, Weber's concept of rationalization, beyond the mode of capitalist
production, to the whole history of Western civilization. The radicalization
that the critique of Enlightenment experiences here is paradoxical: the
criticism turns so radical that it undermines its own basis, its own condition
of possibility. In fact, if the history of Western rationality is at the same
time a process of collapse and returning to myth, then the ideology critique
loses its utopian dimension: 'the rational potential of bourgeois culture,'
with which it faced up to reality and criticized it, demands and makes possible
its realization. This radical critique, then, excluded the possibility to
enlighten the Enlightenment about itself, that is, the possibility to realize
it as such.
Obviously, this paradox is present in the mind of Horkheimer and Adorno. It was
the enlightened-emancipator impetus at stake which motivated their thought: 'We
are wholly convinced -- and therein lies our petitio principii -- that social
freedom is inseparable from enlightened thought.' (DE, xiii) Their position was
not to avoid the paradox, but to abide in it without fleeing toward irrational
In fact, the process of demythologization, which is suspended between myth and
Enlightenment, leads man a confusion between nature and culture, where the
external world is differentiated into the objective world of entities and the
social world of norms, and they both stand in contrast to the subject's
internal world of experience. This is the place where the procedure of ideology
critique can be examined. When contexts of meaning and reality, that is, when
internal and external relationships have been unmixed and differentiated only
then can the suspicion of ideology arises. The process of Enlightenment shows
that the autonomy of validity claimed by a theory, when it follows its specific
logic and is cleansed of all mythological dross, is an illusion because secret
interests and power are hidden.
Horkheimer and Adorno's critique, which is inspired by such suspicion, becomes
ideology critique when it attempts to show that the validity of a theory has
not been adequately dissociated from the context in which it emerged (reality)
and the context of justification (meaning). Precisely, the ideology critique
wants to show that these internal and external relationships are confused and
that they are confused because validity claims are determined by relationships
Enlightenment, through this critique, becomes reflective and it is performed to
its own products. But when ideology critique 'itself' comes under suspicion,
then, the doubt reaches out to include reason. Habermas claims that the DE
takes precisely this step: 'So what enlightenment has perpetrated on myth, they
apply to the process of enlightenment as a whole. Inasmuch as it turns against
reason as the foundation of its own validity, critique becomes total.'
Thus, the radicalization of ideology critique does not have anything in reserve
to which it might appeal. Did the paradox with which Horkheimer and Adorno
confronted themselves leave no way out?
The DE suggests, nevertheless, that in the Enlightenment's process of
self-destruction, because reason is not itself a completely dominant reason,
there is within a hidden moment of truth which arises in certain historical
events. This 'secret utopia in the concept of reason' (DE, 84) is the last
resort that holds the DE's liberating hope, which transcends the contradiction
and makes possible the aim 'to prepare the way for a positive notion of
enlightenment.' (DE, xvi) However, this moment of truth in the concept of
reason is only invoked in the DE. What does it involve? The DE does not
explicitly have an answer. Dialectic of Enlightenment holds scarcely any
prospect for an escape from the myth.
We can draw lines, though, that the critique of Enlightenment does not involve
the 'subjugation' of nature, but its perversion into an instrumental --
homogenizing and reifying -- reason. Here the perversion is located in the
origin itself of the Enlightenment process, and it arises from an original
forgetfulness at the dawn of Western rationality. Because reason forgot its
original unity with nature and myth, it was formed then according to the
principle of power, and with it the seeds of its own destruction. That
criticism does not mean a withdrawal of reason in favor of nature nor a
nostalgic return to nature, but the overcoming of the Enlightenment's
perversion through Enlightenment itself. The overcoming of the process of
alienation of reason/nature is not in the margins of reason itself.
3. From Horkheimer and Adorno's approach we must confront a dilemma: either we
welcome the turning back of the myths and the gods or we do not resign
ourselves to the failure of Enlightenment. Something was wrong in the initial
plan, something happened between the project and what has really taken place.
What went wrong? It seems that our time lost the path of its horizon of
meaning. Western rationality is dying of success, but it is already finding
itself in rigor mortis. Western rationality is construing the cage for a new
servitude. What resumes modern rationality is its 'reification' which is the
virus incubated in its first moments.
It seems that the design of modern rationality was hanging by a thread: the
equilibrium between the substantive reason and the particular logics was ready
to break. This thread is now broken. We are witnessing the extraordinary
developing of the specific rationalities, and at the same time, the vanishing
of the substantive reason. Here substantive reason means a common horizon of
meaning for the diversity of human activities. That function of reason is the
one that transcends the claims of universality of modern reason -- that it is
plural. In Weber's terms, the 'rationality of choice' was separated in
particular rationalities (politics, economics, culture, etc.), each one with
its own legitimate logic (logic of power, logic of money, logic of knowledge,
etc.). Certainly, these specific logics are the result of the disenchantment of
the modern world, separated from the common horizon of the substantive reason.
The consequences of this split are of two types: a) When each particular
rationality separates from the common horizon which pretends to give a total
meaning to action, the outcome is a deficit of rationality. Despite the
extraordinary developing of science, it advances without direction. Science
investigates by investigating, it does not know why it investigates, and it is
indifferent to the meaning of its own research. Finally, nothing prevents
science that even man would be the object of its research, that is, to subject
the whole man to a process of objectification. b) Concomitantly, the outcome is
also an excess of rationality. Without a common horizon that regulates the
limits of each specific logic, each particular rationality would have a
tendency to colonize the rest. Science -- the analogy of the rationality of
choice -- binds all the spheres of knowledge to conform to its particular
In sum, the enlightened reason had disenchanted the world by throwing off the
myths and the gods, but now they are rising from their graves and coming back.
They are coming back because man subjectively needs them to set the ends and
values that instrumental reason cannot objectively define. For Horkheimer and
Adorno, the 're-enchantment of the world' can be overcome by enlightened reason
1. Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans.
John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1998). Horkheimer and Adorno's book was
first published in Amsterdam (1947) and is the starting point of the discussion
2. Horkheimer and Adorno, cited in Juan Jose Sanchez, 'Introduccion,'
Dialectica de la Ilustracion, trans. Juan Jose Sanchez (Madrid: Trotta, 1998)
10. (My translation).
3. See Reyes Mate, Memoria de Occcidente (Barcelona: Anthropos, 1997) 32ff. (My
4. Habermas, Jurgen, 'The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Max Horkheimer
and Theodor Adorno,' in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans.
Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT, 1996) 107.
5. Horkheimer, cited in J. J. Sanchez, op. cit., 12. (My translation).
6. For the authors, mimesis is a primordial reason that recalls the model of
exchange between the subject and nature that is free of violence, and whose
position has been usurped by power.
7. Habermas (1996), op. cit., 110.
8. Loc. cit.
9. Ibidem, 115.
10. Habermas (1996), op. cit., 118.
11. Ibidem, 118-119.
12. 'The only way -- Horkheimer writes -- to help nature consists in liberating
its seeming opposite: autonomous thinking,' quoted in J. J. Sanchez, op. cit.,
31. (My translation).
13. For Weber, the rationality of choice precisely expresses the modern
rationality, which he defines as follows: 'Action is purposive-rational when it
is oriented to ends, means and secondary results. This involves rationally
weighing the relations of means to ends, the relations of ends to secondary
consequences, and finally the relative importance of different possible ends.
Determination of action either in affectual or traditional terms is thus
incompatible with this type.' Quoted in Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of
Communicative Action, vol. 1, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon, 1984),
14. See Reyes Mate, op. cit., 52-53.
Habermas, Jurgen. The Theory of Communicative Action. Vol. 1. Trans. Thomas
McCarthy. Boston: Beacon, 1984.
Habermas, Jurgen. 'The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Max Horkheimer
and Theodor Adorno,' in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Trans.
Frederick G. Lawrence. Cambridge: MIT, 1996.
Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. John
Cumming. New York: Continuum, 1998.
Reyes Mate. Memoria de Occcidente. Barcelona: Anthropos, 1997.
Sanchez, Juan Jose, 'Introduccion,' in Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno.
Dialectica de la Ilustracion. Trans. Juan Jose Sanchez. Madrid: Trotta, 1998.
Alfredo Lucero-Montano holds a Masters degree in Philosophy from San Diego
(c) Alfredo Lucero-Montano 2006
II. 'AN EMERGENT ESCHATOLOGY' BY DR A. B. KELLY
In this paper I adopt the concept of eschatology suggested by Richard Schain.
(Philosophy Pathways Issue 101) He says: 'The non-philosopher has only a vague
interest in the abstractions of universal ideas, what he really wants is to
apprehend the meaning of his own life. This inevitably becomes a matter of
I also take account of Samuel Alexander's recognition that each new Emergent
stage of being has its roots in a lower level of existence, but it does not
belong to that lower level as it constitutes 'a new order of existent with its
special laws of behaviour'. (Space Time and Deity 1920 II,46). Each Emergent
Stage is distinguished by its own sphere of law. I identify these spheres of
law as the Physical and Chemical laws of Matter, the Genetic laws of Life, and
the Moral laws of Human Moral-cultural life.
SCIENCE AND COSMOLOGY
Science is based on the application of the Principle of Sufficient Reason,
which holds that everything has a reason for being, and for being as it is.
Science pursues empirical reasons for events. Detectives and Philosophers
consider the available empirical facts, and seek the insights needed to
discover the meaning of those facts.
Attempts to find meaning in the world, without taking facts into account, have
little chance of success. Most such attempts have been heavily influenced by
Myth or Religion, rather than by science. Science cannot provide meaning
directly. But Hercule Poirot is able to derive meaning from the empirical facts
he discovers. Meaning can be derived from sufficient facts.
Cosmology only became a science in the Twentieth Century. It has now provided a
mass of evidence of the way the Cosmos has developed since the Big Bang. The
Cosmos began some 13.7 Billion years ago with the Big Bang. Before the Big Bang
there was nothing, not even a 'before'.
Time, Space and Energy all began with the Big Bang. Matter began to develop
immediately, producing all the elements of the Periodic Table in a succession
of exploding Stars. Some 4.5 Billion years ago Planet Earth developed. By about
4 Billion years ago, life had emerged on Earth. Life evolved in complexity,
producing vegetative, instinctive, and conscious animal forms, which latter
form included the Hominids. An advanced Hominid, Homo sapiens, evolved some
160,000 years ago as a new animal species. The Big Bang was thus the beginning
of an ongoing process that has operated to date through a series of Emergent
The Big Bang could not just happen. Nothing 'just happens'. Everything has a
cause. Such a cause would need to be powerful, intelligent and creative. I will
call this entity the Creator. I avoid the word God because of the mythical and
other baggage that the idea of God carries.
THE QUESTION OF MOTIVE
Can the Cosmic process make sense? Does the evidence indicate a possible
purpose? Motive becomes important here. What motive could the Creator have for
initiating the complex process that began with the Big Bang and continues to
Aristotle was the first Philosopher to consider the question of the motive for
Creation. He was able to reason from the contingent nature of the world to the
necessity of a Creator, but he was unable to reason his way back from the
Creator to the world. Aristotle's Creator was perfect, but the world was
obviously imperfect. Why would a perfect Creator make an imperfect world?
Was Aristotle unable to resolve the question of motive because his only
perception of process was based on the circular, repetitive processes of
nature, and he lived in an otherwise static world? The category of a linear
developmental process through time had to await Hegel. Modern Science and
Philosophy can take development through time into account.
THE EMERGENT STAGES
The Big Bang was the beginning of Time. It provided all the Energy needed for
the process of Emergence, resulting in all the Emergent Stages that have
developed to date. These Emergent Stages are Matter, Life and Human
Moral-cultural life. Each of these stages has its own sphere of law. The
essential difference between the Emergent Stages is related to the Information
that operates within each stage and that gives rise to the law of the stage.
The Big Bang was not only the initiation of Time and Energy. It also provided
the Information that distinguishes the different Emergent Stages.
Each Emergent Stage is built upon the previous stage. The new Emergent Stage
incorporates the previous stage, but transcends it, introducing a new sphere of
natural law. While the law of the new stage transcends the law of the previous
stage, the law of the previous stage remains in operation. It is the new sphere
of law that distinguishes each new Emergent Stage from the earlier Emergent
stage upon which it is built. The laws of Physics and Chemistry apply to the
Emergent Stage of Matter, the Genetic laws of life to the Emergent Stage of
Life, and the Moral Law to the Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage.
Matter is the first Emergent. Life appears to have emerged as soon as matter
had developed a potentially life-friendly environment. Life evolves on Earth,
eventually producing a series of Hominids, including Homo sapiens. The third
Emergent stage, Human moral-cultural life, is very recent. It began to emerge
among Homo sapiens less than 3,000 years ago. There were human cultures prior
to that emergence, but no human moral cultures. Homo sapiens took a long time
to develop from simply being an advanced animal species to begin to become
human, and then begin to become moral.
THE PROCESS OF EMERGENCE
Time and Energy are important to the process of Emergence, but Information is
even more important. It is Information that makes each new Emergent stage
different from the previous stage, and provides the law of the new stage. New
Emergent stages do not come into being as a result of some pre-existing Law of
Nature. Laws of Nature are simply statements of the regularities that are to be
found at the Emergent Stages of Matter and Life, based on the Information
embedded in each stage, and of the moral activity that emerges at the beginning
of the Human Moral-cultural Stage.
The laws of Physics and the laws of Life are embedded in the first two Emergent
stages. The moral law, however, is not embedded in the Human moral-cultural
stage. The moral law only comes into effect through the activities of
individual humans, as it is perceived and conveyed by those individuals.
Each new Emergent Stage operates with greater freedom than the previous stage.
The laws of matter are deterministic, material novelty arising from the
interaction of these deterministic laws. The laws of life provide greater
freedom than the laws of matter. Life is opportunistic rather than
deterministic. The Moral Law allows complete moral freedom. As Nicolai Hartmann
notes 'The Moral Law commands, but cannot compel.'
Bernard Lonergan argues that the growth in complexity within the Emergent
stages of Matter and Life occurs through the process of Emergent Probability.
In this process simple components form higher integrations by
self-organisation. He maintains that the formation of these higher integrations
is not pre-determined, nor is it simply a matter of chance. The higher
integrations are considered to be the result of a series of freely operating
processes, involving a succession of probable realisations of possibilities.
(Insight, 1958, Chapter IV)
As distinct from developments within an Emergent Stage, a new Emergent Stage is
not the result of higher integrations of existing components. Each new stage
requires further Information in order to operate in a new way. A new Emergent
Stage only emerges when the Information needed to initiate it becomes
effective. This Information brings the new stage, and its new sphere of law,
In the beginning of the Emergent Process, Energy and Information combine to
provide the Emergent stage of Physical Matter. The laws of Physics and
Chemistry express the Information that forms, or in-forms, this first Emergent
stage. Matter is informed Energy. We know a lot about the processes by which
matter develops from very simple to more complex forms, but we do not yet know
how energy is informed to produce matter. We can however deconstruct some
matter to produce energy.
Life is the next Emergent Stage. Just as energy is informed to produce Matter,
Matter is further informed to produce Life. The laws of Genetics express the
Information that forms, or in-forms Life. Again we know a lot about the
processes by which Life develops from simple to more complex forms, but we do
not yet know how matter is informed to produce life.
Life evolves through a number of distinct sub-stages, including Bacterial life,
Vegetative life, Instinctive Animal life and finally Conscious Animal Life. Each
sub-stage is subject to the same sphere of law, the Genetic laws of life.
The laws of the Physical Emergent stage are deterministic, but the interactions
of various physical laws make for a diversity of physical outcomes. At some
time, in some part of the material Cosmos, at least one planet that is capable
of supporting life will develop through the process of Emergent Probability.
Earth, a complex life-friendly planet, eventually develops. Life emerges on
Earth. Life exercises greater freedom in its self-organisation than does
Physical Matter. Life on Earth freely evolves new forms in order to fill every
available environmental niche. More complex life-forms develop by the
self-organisation of existing Genetic elements.
Conscious Animal Life enjoys more freedom in its range of possible activities
than does Instinctive Animal life. Homo sapiens originally evolves as a new
species of Conscious Animal life. At some stage Homo sapiens begins to develop
cultures. This development of culture is the beginning of self-creation, as
distinct from earlier forms of self-organisation.
SELF-ORGANISATION AND SELF-CREATION
The early Emergent stages, Matter and Life, both develop through
self-organization. Self-organisation is the re-organisation of already existing
elements. Self-creation goes further and initiates a new element, such as
culture, rather than simply re-organising existing elements. Humans create
their own human-ness, both culturally and existentially, as they develop
themselves and their cultures. Cultures are processes of human self-creation.
Homo sapiens have been around for some 160,000 years. The species has changed
slowly, but significantly, since it first evolved. The first members of this
new species were not people, as we now consider ourselves. They were highly
evolved animals, but they were simply animals, nothing more.
The gradual development of Homo sapiens, from an animal species to human, took
a long time. This development was mankind's own doing. As Bernard Lonergan
points out in his 'Second Collection': 'Man's development is a matter of
getting beyond himself, of transcending himself, of ceasing to be an animal in
a habitat and of becoming a genuine person in a community'. (1974,144)
We are still engaged in this process of becoming more human. As a species, Homo
sapiens began the long process of self-creation, from animal to human, by
forming and developing cultures, as some other Hominids had also begun to do.
Self-creation began with the Hominids. It began while they were simply
conscious animals. Every Hominid culture is a potential process of
self-creation. Cultures are made by the 'people' of the culture, and cultures,
to a significant extent, make the 'people' of the culture.
Homo sapiens gradually developed the capacity to access information from the
environment, to a greater extent than had other hominid species. The new
species developed a knowledge base, and individual members developed their
intellectual ability in the construction of knowledge and in the pursuit of
Human intellectual development was painfully slow. Apart from the development
of language, the first significant cultural change after the evolution of the
species occurred in the Palaeolithic revolution of some 40,000 years ago, with
the construction of symbolic representations of concepts. That was 120,000
years after the species first evolved. An even more significant change, the
beginning of critical thought and of moral sensibility, took a further 37,000
years to develop. The capacity for principled moral perception appears to still
be in the process of development. The majority of people today still lack the
capacity to make principled moral decisions.
HUMAN MORAL-CULTURAL SELF-CREATION
When the intellectual abilities of some cultural groups had become well
developed, some of the people of those cultures began to perceive that human
situations had a moral dimension. Having first developed the capacity to access
and apply information from the natural environment, some individuals began to be
able to access moral Information directly. They also sought to apply moral
concepts within their cultures. This was the beginning of the Human
The transition from pre-moral human cultures to morally influenced cultures is
necessarily a slow and irregular process. It appears to be at least partly
dependent upon the intellectual self-development and the level of critical
rationality achieved by the people of each culture. It is only within the last
millennium BC that any significant intellectual and moral development becomes
evident in any human culture. Before that time most people appear to have
lacked both critical rationality and moral sensibility. All cultures had Laws,
but these were simply mores, or cultural rules. They did not stem from a moral
sensibility. In his 'The Discovery of the Mind' (1953) Bruno Snell traces the
gradual development of both critical rationality and morality, particularly in
Snell shows how Greek literature provides evidence of the gradual development
of a moral perspective in Greece. Homer's stories are ancient and are
pre-moral. In Homer, what is declared good is what is successful, not what is
moral. 'Good' does not signify a moral dimension in Homer. Some time after
Homer, Hesiod (c.750 BC) rationalises the genealogies of the Olympian Gods, but
he does not concern himself with their lack of morality. Two Centuries after
Hesiod, Xenophanes (c.570 BC) one of the pre-Socratics, declares that the
Olympian Deities cannot be Gods, because of their immorality. Moral sensibility
has emerged in Greece.
The Hebrew developed a moral perspective earlier than the Greeks. The critical
focus of Hebrew thought was primarily directed to moral action. Amos and Hosea,
Hebrew Prophets who were vitally concerned with moral action, were approximate
contemporaries of the Greek writer, Hesiod, who failed to exhibit any moral
concern when he rationally recast the genealogies of the Olympian Gods.
The Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage is anomalous in two ways. It depends
upon self-creation, as distinct from the self-organisation of the earlier
stages of Matter and Life. Secondly, the law of the Moral-cultural Stage, the
Moral Law, is not embedded in the stage, as is the law of the two earlier
In the human Moral-cultural stage Information is accessed in a new way. Moral
individuals, those capable of Kohlberg's 'principled morality', appear to have
some direct access to moral Information. This access enables them to perceive
the moral aspects of human situations.
Such direct access to moral Information is still rare. As Kohlberg has shown,
only a very small percentage of people are capable of making principled moral
decisions. The development of moral cultures appears to be primarily dependent
upon the influence that people with a principled moral perception are able to
have within the culture. The 'morality' of the vast majority of people does not
rely on principled moral perceptions. It is simply the adoption of societal
THE MEANING OF THE COSMIC PROCESS
What meaning or purpose can we derive from the Evidence of the development from
the Big Bang until the present day, including the emergence of matter, of life,
and of human Moral-cultural life? Unlike the suggested analogy to a Detective
investigating a criminal act, we do not have all the evidence. The Cosmic
process does not yet appear to be complete. The human Moral-cultural stage is
still developing. It is still anything but perfect.
The vast size of the Cosmos, and the time that has elapsed since the Big Bang,
are often invoked to imply that humanity is insignificant in the overall scheme
of things. But if we are looking at a freely operating process rather than a
directed process, the age and size of the Cosmos may be a necessary factor in
that process. It took a long time for a life-friendly planet to develop, and
further time for life to emerge and evolve.
It could well have taken even longer, but it could well have occurred at some
other place and time, given sufficient places and sufficient time. Lonergan
suggests that 'No matter how slight the probability of the realisation of the
most developed and most conditioned schemes, the emergence of those schemes can
be assured by sufficiently increasing absolute numbers and sufficiently
prolonging intervals of time.' (Insight, 1958 Ch.4)
Lonergan does not propose an answer to the question of the purpose of the
Cosmic process. I would also prefer to leave it to readers to consider the
evidence and reach their own conclusion, which I would be happy to discuss.
(c) Anthony Kelly 2005
III. GUERILLA RADIO SHOW
This Week on the Guerrilla Radio Show! (Tuesday, 02.14.06)
Live Webcast GMT 12:00 am on Wednesday, 02.15.06
Philosophy of Language 101 (ReRun Episode)
What is the philosophy of language? How does the philosophy of language differ
from linguistics, or from other branches of philosophy? Why do philosophers
study language? What is the purpose of language? How does language relate to
the mind, both of the speaker and the interpreter? How does language relate to
the world? What is the nature of meaning? What is the relation between meaning
and reference? How are sentences composed into a meaningful whole, and what are
the meanings of the parts of sentences? Why do expressions have the meanings
they have? How do words and sentences acquire meanings? Be sure and join the
GRS crew and special guest Nathan Salmon, Ph.D. (University of California,
Santa Barbara) for an important discussion about the Philosophy of Language and
the upcoming Steven Humphrey Excellence in Philosophy Conference entitled
*Advances in the Theory of Meaning* (February 17-20, 2006).
Dear Philosophy Enthusiasts, ThereÍs a brand new informal philosophy talk show
assaulting the radio airwaves! The Guerrilla Radio Show is the only Cutting
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Committed to Waging War Against Idiocy and Bringing Philosophy to the Masses,
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The Guerrilla Radio Show can be heard live on KCSB 91.9 FM (Los Angeles to
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night from 7:00-8:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time). You can also listen to
archived episodes of the show by logging on to the Guerrilla Radio ShowÍs
website at http://www.guerrillaradioshow.com
The GRS airs on Tuesday nights 7:00-8:00 PM (PST) on KCSB 91.9 FM (Santa
Barbara, CA) or Live on the World Wide Web (via web-cast) at
On Air Calls: 1 (805) 893-2424
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GRS Website: http://www.guerrillaradioshow.com
GRS PodCast Channel: http://www.guerrillaradioshow.com/podcast
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