On not chasing your own tail

4 09 2008

In this aspect of Plotinus’ thought, moreover, we find a critique of human reflection and consciousness that had been set in motion by the discovery of of different levels of the self. In both cases, the simplicity of life escapes the grasp of reflection. Human consciousness, living, as it does, split into two, and occupied by calculations and projects, believes that nothing can be found until it has been searched for; for the only way to build is to put various pieces together; and that it is only by using means that one can obtain an end. Everywhere it acts, consciousness introduces something intermediate. Life, by contrast, which is able to find without searching, invents the whole before the parts and is end and means at the same time- which, in a word, is immediate and simple- is incapable of being grasped by reflection. In order to reach it, just as in order to reach our pure self, we shall have to abandon reflection for contemplation.

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision

For me, having started the study of “philosophy” at a young age (perhaps not as systematically as some, but still), most of what passes for philosophical reflection really comes down to chasing your own mental tail. That is, it comes down to trying to justify life with mere human thought, and that in the end is quite impossible. The ultimate answer comes down to an absolute simplicity before the question is asked. The ultimate journey of the mind to God is a return to itself. The crown of reason is to use it in order to surpass thought.

What of all of the problems that our society is faced with, then? Should we not argue ethics, politics, and other life issues? Indeed, we should, or rather, we have to. There is no real way around it. And there, of course, logic and reason provide us with the only tools that we can use on this side of death. But to avoid the ultimate question, that of the return to the self into itself through knowledge of God, and by this finding hapiness, is the real burning question of philosophy. All else derives from it.

It is only this transformation that will change anything anyway. You have to start with a change of self.