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The Idea of the Cosmos According To Eric Voegelin

Bill McClain and Jack Elliot:

""In Voegelin's usage, the whole of ordered reality including animate and inanimate nature and the gods. (Not to be confused with the modern conception of `cosmos' as the astrophysical universe.) Encompasses all of reality, including the full range of the tension of existence toward the transcendental. Noetic and pneumatic differentiations of consciousness separate this cosmos into the immanent `world' and the transcendent `divine ground.'" [Webb 1981:279]

"...what Voegelin refers to as the 'cosmos' of the primary experience was not itself an object of cosmological mythic thought, and it does not represent simply another entity. It is indeed a mythic symbol, but one arising only from philosophical reflection on the primary experience. The Greek kosmos means 'the ordered Whole of reality,' which is rather a recondite concern: the common matrix assumed 'behind' the variegated things of experience. The conception cosmos thematizes 'the background of reality against which all existent things exist,' and as such it is an image created by philosophers articulating their 'trust in the underlying oneness of reality, its coherence, lastingness, constancy of structure, order, and intelligibility...'; it specifies the unifying depth from which all specific things stand out as foreground. Describing it in this fashion, we can identify it as an early, semimythical, and semiphilosophical figuration of the ground that is recognized, in more differentiated consciousness, to be beyond all finite, existing things. In other words, cosmos, in Voegelin's use, is a consciously anachronistic but exegetically necessary symbol representing what, for the primary experience of reality, is an originating ground of things as yet known and felt only in, or among, the diverse field of spatiotemporal things." [Hughes 1993 47-48]

"When, in the Ecumenic Age, the cosmological order of empire disintegrated, the truth of revelation and philosophy was to become fatal to the intracosmic gods. Their disappearance from the cosmos `set a de-divinized nature free to be explored by science' (4:8). Science so thoroughly isolated `nature' that the terms `cosmos' and `universe' have become synonyms. The only cosmos we know is the astrophysical universe with all that is in it. Our dictionaries define `cosmos' as `the universe as an ordered whole or system.' This fits the original Greek meaning of `cosmos' as `order' and especially `world order,' but the modern conception lacks what the ancient one had: the view that this order is divine and divinely created. For us, the presence of the universe is a fact, no more. Only some philosophers still ask why there is anything at all and not rather nothing, why things have to be the way they are and not different. Leibniz was the first to make the question explicitly, but the problem is as old as myth, if `a myth is an intracosmic story that explains why things are as they are' (4:224). "One does not bother to explain unless there is something that needs explaining. What needs explaining is the sheer fact of existence, since existence is embedded in nonexistence. Things come into existence and must go out of existence; their lasting is a passing. To exist in passing lastingness is `the primary experience of reality as a tension between existence and non-existence,' `the tension of existence out of non-existence (4:73-74). The problem thus has two aspects. One is the aspect of existence, and the question is why things are as they are. The other aspect is that of the coming into existence, and the question is why and how things came to be in the first place, in the Beginning." [Gregor Sebba, "Prelude and Variations on the Theme of Eric Voegelin" in Sandoz 1982:56-57]

"In the Timaeus, Plato developed the differentiated context of experience and symbolization into which the Hesiodian and Parmenidean concern with the being things, with ta eonta, has to be placed. The dominant symbol expressing the experience of reality now shifts from to eon to to pan, to the All (27C). As synonyms are admitted 'the whole (pas) Cosmos or Uranos'--or 'any other name by which it prefers to be called' (28 B). This All is a 'Living Being' (zoon), comprising all other living beings, including gods and men, within it. As a Living Being it consists of an intelligible structure, the Nous, formatively invested in a life force, the Psyche, which in its turn is embodied in materials accessible to sense perception, in the Soma. The complex of Nous-in Psyche-in Soma symbolizes the structure of cosmic reality, regarding the comprehending All as well as its parts (30 B).

"The quest for truth is concerned with the genesis and structure of the All, and above all with the question whether it is created or uncreated (28 C). The change in the dominant symbol, thus, is accompanied by a transition from Hesiod's biologically successive generations to a demiurgic, creational act. Plato experiences his Cosmos, the All, as an imposition of order (taxis) on a state of primordial disorder (ataxia), as an intelligible work of ordering craftsmanship operating on disorderly materials (30A). Accordingly, the Cosmos, to pan, can neither be a biological unfolding of compact ta eonta, nor a radically differentiated to eon, but has to consist of something that is always being (to on aei) and never has genesis together with a something else that is always becoming (to gignomenon aei) and never has being (27D-28A). It is a composite of nongenetic being and nonbeing genesis, both components characterized by the adverb aei as lasting or everlasting. [Voegelin OH 5:88]: "