invisible, indivisible

Have been reading a couple books by Borden P. Bowne lately (Metaphysics, and Personalism).  Bowne was a professor of philosophy at Boston University a little over 100 years ago.  Involved (I believe) with the philosophical circle known as "Boston Personalism".  Apparently the group and the school of thought influenced the young Martin Luther King.

Not easy reading for me.  I'm not well-versed in philosophy.  The mind tends to wander.  But Bowne's perspective seems to chime with my own vague hunches about the nature of things.  I've always thought of poetry as a counter-force against positivism, materialism, determinism - the supposedly "objective" dehumanization and disenchantment of reality.

In fact Bowne provides a pretty forceful rational and philosophical defense of theism and "personhood".  I'm a little surprised his writings are not better known today.  He's not merely a Berkeleyan idealist.  Nor is he some kind of American pragmatist.  Rather he finds a middle way between "common sense" pragmatism (ie. all our knowledge ultimately derives from - and involves a rational abstraction from - ordinary experience) and Kantian idealism (ie. human consciousness orders & thereby interprets any and all experience whatsoever - the mind's insight is what we know).

Experience is not merely a phantasm of consciousness (as in Berkeley).  Things are real, things have concrete reality.  But mind is not a "thing" : and mind provides the only continuity, freedom, and truth that we know.  Bowne posits a sharp (a "metaphysical") divide between invisible mind (or soul, or spirit, or personhood) and the phenomenal world of things.  And yet he doesn't presume to define or theorize how "things" came into being.  His Occam's razor shreds (satirically) a lot of pretentious theorizing about "being" and "phenomena" etc.  He posits a strict difference between the finite and the infinite.  And yet he proposes a kinship between limited, finite human mind (consciousness, spirit) and the infinite creative personhood (consciousness, spirit) which must be the creative origin of things.  Nothing else will do.

Bowne is not a tendentious apologist for theism : instead, he slowly explores the origins of determinism, positivism, and materialism in our "common sense" response to the apparent "thickness", the substantiality, of things.  We are sensualists.  We extrapolate from physical, material, bodily experience, and leap to universals and generalizations about how "things must be".  We tend to evade the difficult (and very ancient) question about how anything exists at all - how things happen to be (from nothing).

Again, Bowne doesn't presume to answer this question.  He just finds a rational way to propose that an infinite creative Mind or Spirit is the only plausible source of what we call reality.

Philosophy can get you thinking, musing.  Perhaps we tend to avoid God because she's actually so close to us.  There's no "space" between the roots of our own personhood (our "soul", let's say) and the infinite person - except that dividing line (and it's a thick one) between finite and infinite.  But the primal analogy is there, the imago Dei.  Bowne demonstrates how what we understand by "personality" or personhood is really invisible, immeasurable - our core identity, our rational, emotional, actively volitional personhood, is an invisible intelligence - a soul, a spirit, a heart & mind.  & then Bowne demonstrates how the most rational description of the source or "world-ground" of reality as a whole is none other than some infinite (immeasurable, unlimited) form of this invisible intelligence (heart & mind).

Think of the eloquent poetry of Martin Luther King's analogies (between the spirit of divine Agape and the troubled spirits of an earthly people).

This text from the Book of Joel (2:28) seems apropos : "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions..."

We're close here to the fusion of a very archaic vision of reality (eg. we are all children & beneficiaries of Manitou, the "Great Spirit"), with the most contemporary understanding of the same.

Maybe we're at the beginning of a new cultural sense, or common understanding, of reality - which is not that different from a very old sense.

None of this "proves" (philosophically) the specifically Christian declaration (the "good news" of "Father & Son & Spirit").  The Christian declaration is more radical than philosophical argument per se can propound : ie. Jesus is the personal manifestation of God.  This is rather an article of faith.  But Bowne is one of those thinkers and writers who provides a general, philosophical framework or ground for an approach to (or rational evaluation of) the obscure "witness" of religious (theological) expression.

(p.s. I know I'm not being completely fair to George Berkeley here.  This is Bowne's critique and distinction, not mine.  Berkeley, to my mind, seems actually very close to Bowne in his "metaphysics".)

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