Questions about Eric Voegelin

Miscellaneous questions and issues. Things that puzzle me.

Your comments and corrections are always welcome: please e-mail Bill McClain.

Process philosophy. I find the accent on "process" disorienting. If I read Whitehead and Bergson will I understand it better? Of course, Voegelin doesn't say that everything is "process", making much of the hierarchy of Being and man's synthetic nature. Nor does he characterize his own interests as "process philosophy", or as any other school.

Self-referential definitions. No doubt my trouble here is knit up with "process", and with the experience of reality that is neither subject nor object, and with the use of symbols which are not themselves properly objects of thought.

History. Voegelin writes much about "history" and gives various definitions, but I don't grasp what he means by it. I tend to think of it as a timeline of physical events in a physical world, but I realize that is not suffcient for reading his work.

A craft of practical politics? Voegelin's political science deals with a level remote from what I would call politics. Even if we agree that the wise man does not order his life according to precept, he still has to cope with the practicalities of making a good life. Is there a craft or science of politics and economics in the concrete? To what extent are its contents widely applicable to the human condition? In "What is Political Reality?", he writes that there are no legitimate objective principles or propositions of political science, that practical affairs are best governed by a type of common sense. But: if common sense is a compact form of wisdom, wouldn't it be possible to differentiate that wisdom, articulating its contents into a persistent craft of politics? Or would he say that such differentiation simply leads to the "art of choosing rightly" of the wise man?

Consensus of the wise. To what extent will the wise, even those who are "like-minded", be compatible in their attempts to order their society? Are they wise enough to handle conflicts?

The relatively and absolutely transcendent. Granted that man has a sensorium of transcendence, is this faculty able to distinguish between the relatively and absolutely transcendent? How are we to know if our experience of the Divine Ground is not of God, but rather of some "psychic magnet" out in space, or of a supernatural demonic being? Is this necessarily part of our uncertainty, with which our faith, hope and love must cope?

Meditation. When Voegelin speaks of meditation, is he referring to some specific discipline? Being self-reflective does not seem to be enough; many modern intellects have been so. Eugene Webb writes that, in conversation, Voegelin often referred to The Cloud of Unknowing (available online) and the Upanishads in this context.

What is "intersubjectivity"?

Anamnetic experiments.

Are all passions disordering? In "Reason: The Classic Experience", Voegelin writes of the ordering reason vs the disordering passions. Presumably the desire for the good, the true and the beautiful are not counted among the latter. "Passions" must refer to the sensual. But it seems wrong to call all sensual pleasures disordering; the desire for family life and comraderie are ordering impulses which have their sensual components. I'm thinking of the mildly hedonic satisfactions of food, shelter, clothing, and sex. Is there a distinction to be made between good and bad passions?

He cites Cicero on some symptoms of disorientation caused by the rejection of reason:

We recognize these as destructive impulses. But is there some element apart from moderation that distinguishes ordering from disordering passions?

Material philosophy of history.

The supernatural. Nowhere in my reading have I found any reference to the possible physicallity of Divine action. "Miracles" such as they are, occur only in the human soul. Would it be presumptuous of me to say that Voegelin discounted physical miracles, or are there still mysteries in this realm? The issue will be acutely important to orthodox Christians.

Natural science. Would it be proper to say that the natural sciences, dealing with the external phenomena of things, employ a "doxic" form of knowledge? Shouldn't we distinguish between natural science and the philodoxy of the sophists and ideologists? Would the distinction be that "doxa" are the proper way of knowing the external world, but not of knowing existential reality? Webb suggests that the natural sciences properly use a critical realism which is close to Voegelin's episteme (cf. Polanyi). Naive realists are gnostics practicing scientism. [Webb, Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History, pg 117].

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