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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Philosophy of History (Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien)

This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.

As we saw in the chapter of Metaphysics: the stream of life not only contains your personal history, it also contains a collective and universal history – together a history, which consists of images. The Indian philosophy claims, that the movement of time in itself is a negation-power. Time is one great negation of the Now´s unmoved being, which is the unmanifested, the actual source: the Good, the True and the Beautiful. In Western theology this is God. In Indian philosophy it is called Brahman. God is the nondual, monistic reality or Wholeness. This is the unmanifested, undescribable source of the Universe; an absolut Otherness in relation to the created world. 

The negation-power is in that way the power behind the world´s manifestation. The manifestation of the universe, the Indian philosophy claims, has thus arised on the background of a mighty universal vision, which originates from past universes. In this way, the future arises, and an outgoing creative movement; a movement, which can be compared with what they within science call The Big Bang (but it is not the same). In the outgoing movement, the great vision becomes, because of the negation-power, shattered in many images, which now become a kind of memories about the great vision. In this way, the past arises, and a longing back towards the origin, the unmanifested. And then a destructive backmovement is created. Life becomes a Quest.

Philosophy of history is the philosophical study of history and the past, and in many ways it is therefore a study of the above-mentioned. Probably the most important question in the philosophy of history is whether history is teleological, that is, purposive, providential, plotted, planned, or predestined. Is it a story, with a meaning, or is it “just one damned thing after another?”

To see the difference, says Kreeft, contrast two famous poetic expressions of the two opposite answers. One is Hobbits´ humble Walking Song:

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say
(LOTR, p. 72)

The song see life – the life of the individual, of the community, and of the larger community of communities that is the world – as a Road, that “goes ever on and on”, that has an objective nature and meaning and direction of its own, and presents to us tasks so that “I must follow if I can”, even though we know little and “cannot say” the future. You could call this philosophy Life seen as a Pilgrimage.

The opposite philosophy is that history is no story at all. That is Macbeth´s philosophy of history:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out! Out, brief candle!
Life´s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing (Macbeth, Act V, scene v).

Accoding to Kreeft this is Hell´s philosophy of history, for Macbeth is a damned soul, and he is already seeing life as the damned see it.

Once, when our civilization believed in gods (Zeus, Jupiter, JHWH, Jesus), we understood our history to be part of a grand story. We pitied poor damned souls like Macbeth and wrote cautionary tales about them, like Marlowe´s Dr. Faustus. But our culture has turned inside out, so that it is no longer on the outside of Macbeth, looking in at him with pity and terror, but inside Macbeth´s mind, looking out at a world as objectively meaningless as his, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And because our culture is thus not “looking at” Macbeth but “looking along” him, it is not writing moralistic plays like Shakespeare´s, but “naturalistic” novels like Faulkner´s The Sound and the Fury, showing what life looks like when its teleological frame is removed. Goethe also does this in his great revision of the Faust story by transforming Faust from a damned villain into a clever hero, by transforming the Christian God of moral goodness into the pantheistic God beyond good and evil, and by transforming the devil from God´s enemy and Faust´s terror into God´s own dark side and half of Faust´s fulfilment. This is also the idea behind Karen Blixen´s demonical counter-stories. It is also the idea behind the paradoxical nature of my concept of Lucifer Morningstar. We must face the Guardian of the Threshold on our spiritual quest.

Myth and fantasy show us the significance of our lives, and, when done on a large and epic scale, of our history. By not showing us particular historical facts that we all know, a fantasy like The Lord of the Rings shows us more clearly the grander universal truth that we have forgotten: the truth that these particulars form a meaningful pattern, like threads on the back of the tapestry, deliberately, not randomly, arranged. What greater service could literature perform for us than that? What mythic search is greater than “man´s search for meaning”? What issue is more momentous than whether history is “chance or the dance”?

When we see our lives from this higher point of view, we share in a tiny bit of God´s mind. That is ultimately why we love literature, according to Tolkien:

If lit. teaches us anything at all, it is this: that we have in us an eternal element, free from care and fear, which can survey the things that in “life” we call evil with serenity (that is not without appreciating their [evil] quality, but without any disturbance of our spiritual equilibrium. Not in the same way, but in some such way, we shall all doubtless survey our own story when we know it (and a great deal more of the Whole Story) (Letters, no. 94, pp. 106-7).

Let us first look at the philosophy of Life Seen as a Pilgrimage (the view that there is a planned road in history), and hereafter look at how the other philosophy (the view that there is no planned history of all). This can be seen in my concept of The Mythology of Authenticity. These two philosophies will hereafter be seen in the light of the cycles of nature, Christian history and evolutionism. Hereafter we will end this chapter with the question of whether we should be optimists or pessimists concerning history.

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