Creative Piety and Neo-Utopianism

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* Essay: Creative Piety and Neo-Utopianism: Cultivating Our Global Garden. Robert Hanna and Otto Paans. Cosmos & History, 18,1 [2022]: 1-82)



"This essay is the third in a trilogy. In the first two essays,

  • ‘This Is The Way The World Ends: A Philosophy of Civilization Since 1900, and A Philosophy of the Future’, Cosmos & History, 16, 2, 2020, 1-53, and
  • ‘Thought-Shapers’, Cosmos & History , 17, 1, 2021, 1-72,

we outlined a broadly and radically Kantian neo-organicist thought-shaping, world-shaping, and life-shaping philosophy of the future. But precisely how can this neo-organicist project be realized?


In section 1, we present a compact synopsis of our basic philosophical commitments, so that they’re sitting in plain view on the analytical table for critical examination, and also so that we’ll be able to use them as working assumptions or presuppositions that we’ll need as we go forward in our argument.

In section 2, we characterize the notion of creative piety more precisely. Our core thesis is that our individually and collectively practicing

creative piety, wholeheartedly and with self-discipline, radically re-orients and re-shapes our essentially embodied processes of first-personal human thinking, caring, and acting. Thus creative piety radically re-orients and re-shapes our lives so that , in turn, we can radically re-orient and re-shape our manifestly real, thoroughly non-ideal natural and social-institutional world itself, thereby turning it into an organic, broadly and radically Kantian dignitarian anarchist process toward the peaceful, renewable, and sustainable cultivation of our global garden, Earth. The absolutely unacceptable alternative is our current downward-spiralling, decision-theoretic, neoliberal, mechanical lockstep-march into a permanent static equilibrium state that’s at once the physical heat-death of Earth and also the existential-spiritual huis clos  or ‘no exit’ for humankind.

In section 3, we look analytically, critically, and constructively at some significant earlier attempts to envision utopias—not only classical but also 20th century—in order to ground our neo-utopian project.

And finally, in section 4, we attempt to give all these broadly and radically Kantian dignitarian neo-organicist insights actual friction, purchase, and testability, by providing a concrete, real-world, and particularized neo-utopian action-plan for simultaneously devolving-&-exiting the State, creating-&-sustaining the Cosmopolis, and permanently cultivating our global garden."


What is Creative Piety ?

By Robert Hanna and Otto Paans:

"In a closely related way, in the late 18th and 19th century, Goethe (especially in The Metamorphosis of Plants), the British Romantic poets, Henry David Thoreau, and the Impressionists all made the excellent point that being truly able to see what already lies right before one’s eyes in the fundamentally organic cosmos requires a special kind of cognitive humility, cognitive openness, and cognitive self-discipline: for example, resolving to live self-reliantly and simply, in the woods beside Walden Pond. Wordsworth, Shelley, and the early 20th century British philosopher Samuel Alexander aptly call that special cognitive attitude or standpoint natural piety.


There’s an analogous, parallel phenomenon in the formal sciences — exemplified, for example, by Cantor’s mathematics of transfinite or ‘transcendental’ numbers, which bears witness to higher-dimensional infinities, by Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which bear witness to the inherently non-logical character of mathematical truth, and by Tarski’s semantic conception of truth, which bears witness to Gödel-incompleteness and the Liar Paradox alike — that we’ll call formal piety.

Again, there’s another analogous, parallel phenomenon in the social sciences and political anthropology — exemplified, for example, by Wilhelm Dilthey’s notion of Verstehen, by what Wittgenstein calls ‘agreement (Übereinstimmung) ... in form of life (Lebensform) ’, and by what James C. Scott calls metis — that we’ll call social piety.

Similarly, there’s another analogous, parallel phenomenon in moral theory and ethics — exemplified by Kant’s notion of respect for human dignity — that we’ll call moral piety.

And finally, the correlate of all these in organicist metaphysics is what we’ll call metaphysical piety. For convenience, and to distinguish all these modes of piety sharply from religious piety — which (to mix metaphors) is a horse of a different color and a different kettle of fish — we’ll group them under the general term creative piety.

Creative piety is bearing witness to the essentially rich structures of organic formal systems, organic cosmological systems, organic social systems, organic moral and ethical systems, and organic metaphysical systems.

An essential feature of creative piety, in every one of its modes, is that it inherently involves taking a critical, reflective standpoint on some or another determinate domain of content, a standpoint that’s at once

(i) higher-dimensional—for example, generating a ‘transcendental’ third-dimensional point-of-view out of an array or spreadsheet of that content that’s otherwise merely ‘flat’ or two-dimensional,

(ii) synoptic with respect to the entire determinate domain of content—for example, seeing a landscape as a dynamic three-dimensional contour map from the vantage point of an airplane flying over it, and also

(iii) fully critical cognizant of the inherent boundaries or limits of that determinate domain of content — for example, its Gödel-incompleteness or Tarski-irreflexivity with respect to logico-mathematical truth, truth-definitions, or alethic self.


Just to give this standpoint a handy label, let’s call it organic meta-cognition. An important emergent feature of organic meta-cognition is that even though, as per element (iii), it always involves a critical recognition of the inherent boundaries or limits of some determinate domain of content, nevertheless, in view of elements (i) and (ii), it also yields a new kind of creatively unbounded or unlimited cognition of that bounded or limited determinate domain.


For these reasons, organic meta-cognition via creative piety should be sharply distinguished from the merely Turing-computable, recursive, rote generation of higher-order levels of content from lower-order levels of content, that we’ll call mechanical meta-cognition—for example, Russell’s theory of types..

All in all, therefore, achieving the special organic meta-cognitive attitude or standpoint of creative piety is a cognitive revolution. So in this way, for genuine progress in human thinking to occur, in any domain non-formal-scientific or natural-scientific, applied-artistic or fine-artistic, philosophical, moral, or sociopolitical — we must emancipate ourselves from the mechanistic worldview.