One of my basic hypotheses is that Plato’s writings are defective because all of our thinking about the whole of things is necessarily incomplete. We are finite parts of an encompassing being. We must be defective readers if we are ever to reach the level of Platonic thought. The highest approach to the irreducible mystery of things is through thinking and thinking is incomplete by nature; thinking is always oriented towards knowing in full sellf-awareness that it doesn’t yet know. The term Plato gives for this defective position is “metaxy,” i.e . “intermediate.” All of this is merely preparatory to a quote from Eric Voegelin with which I will end:
“All philosophizing about consciousness is an event in the consciousness of philosophizing and presupposes this consciousness itself with its structures. Inasmuch as the consciousness of philosophizing is no ‘pure’ consciousness but rather the consciousness of a human being, all philosophizing is an event in the philosopher’s life history—further an event in the history of the community with its symbolic language; further in the history of mankind, and further in the history of the cosmos. No ‘human’ in his reflection on consciousness and its nature can make consciousness an ‘object’ over against him; the reflection rather is an orientation within the space of consciousness by which he can push to the limit of consciousness but never cross those limits….The philosopher always lives in the context of his own history, the history of a human existence in the community and in the world.” — Eric Voegelin, “On the Theory of Consciousness,” Anamnesis, p.33
10 thoughts on “Thinking within the metaxy”
Excellent post. Thinking presupposes self-knowledge that one’s knowledge is incomplete. What I find paradoxical in this is self-knowledge is typically tacit. In other words, until I began to study philosophy I was not aware that I was tacitly aware of something like the “wholeness” of knowledge.
I’m not sure that self-knowledge is tacit in the same way that other forms of knowledge are. Can you point to an example of tacit self-knowledge that can help me understand your meaning? You may be right, but an example would help.
Thanks for the question. I was responding to your statement that “thinking is always oriented towards knowing in full sellf-awareness that it doesn’t yet know.” I think this may be true for someone who is aware that thinking itself is admission that (a) there is something like knowledge and (b) thinking is in some way an attempt to approach knowledge in its fullness. I think the only example I can point to at the moment is the one mentioned in my original post. In my own life, it wasn’t until I was prompted to inquire into what is presupposed in my questioning and thinking that I became aware that when I am thinking I am anticipating something that I already know in veiled form. The discussion may hinge on how we define “full self-awareness”. Full self-awareness, to me, is knowledge of the metacognition variety.
Oh, I see. But is the tacit awareness that results from self-appropriation (which is not tacit) “self-knowledge” or merely a consequence of self-knowledge? I don’t know, but I’ll definitely think about it.
I believe so. The way I thinking about this is if self-appropriation occurs in the life of the person, tacit self-knowledge is no longer tacit but “full self-knowledge”. Its intelligibility can now be communicated through signs and makes possible discussions like we are having right now.
Maybe it would help if I attempt to flesh out the phenomenology of self-knowledge in thinking. Every doxa is an abstraction, and among the things it abstracts from are the negative feelings that unsettle it. On the other hand, positive feelings are attached to doxa and not distinguished from it; in fact, these give the doxa a self-evident feel. The “self-knowledge” that is essential to thinking is thus two-fold: (1) attentiveness to the negative reactions (like doubt) that are otherwise repressed or tacit such that one can give them flesh in the form of questions; and (2) distinguishing the positive emotions from the doxa as coming from the subject and not the object, so that they are no longer sources of “self- evidence” but merely evidence. This requires the objectification of subjective reactions, a sufficient marker of self-knowledge. The process of thinking seems to me to be an emergence from the tacit rather that an instance of it. Get it?
“The “self-knowledge” that is essential to thinking is thus two-fold: (1) attentiveness to the negative reactions (like doubt) that are otherwise repressed or tacit such that one can give them flesh in the form of questions; and (2) distinguishing the positive emotions from the doxa as coming from the subject and not the object, so that they are no longer sources of “self- evidence” but merely evidence. This requires the objectification of subjective reactions, a sufficient marker of self-knowledge.”
Yes, this makes a lot of sense and I really like the two “dimensions” of self-knowledge proper to thinking. Are these two dimensions of self-knowledge present in people who cannot articulate the two dimensions in words? If these dimensions are essential to thinking, they should be present in all acts of thinking, even in those who do them without being able to say what they are doing, yes? If they can do them without saying what they are doing, what kind of knowledge is this? Just thinking out loud…
Thought I deleted “I believe so”…:)
Tillman, I have mulled over your question about tacit self-knowledge and do agree that the access to self-knowledge in thinking is usually of the tacit, latent variety. Thinking is an activity and, as in any activity, the norms that inform it are implicit at first and only become explicit after much reflection, after much effort and never wholly. One of the norms of thinking is some degree of sensitive avoidance of the biases inherent in all doxa. There is at least a residuum of self-knowledge in this avoidance, even if it is never given voice. Is that close to what you meant? That agrees somewhat with my own experience at least…
Woody, yes that was essentially what I was trying to say. Thanks for the discussion.