Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Unintelligibility of It All

Scott Bradley

I have previously made reference to Ziporyn's assertion (Ironies of Oneness and Difference) that the very idea of coherence, oneness, entails a ceaseless quest for greater coherence. [I also stated that my use of Ziporyn is not intended to accurately represent his arguments, since they are, quite frankly, a bit beyond me.] If coherence is the inclusion of one thing into a group, then that new group (new coherence) will seek its own new coherence with yet another group. Thus, from the side of reason, the pursuit of coherence entails an infinite regress. The act of seeking coherence (oneness) negates the possibility of an ultimate coherence. The act of existing negates the possibility of oneness, for to exist is to be a becoming, and a becoming is a ceaseless quest for greater, ultimate coherence.

This is largely an intellectual exercise that has nothing to do with the way things "really are", but it does have the virtue of showing that reason cannot arrive at an all-inclusive coherence. And with this Ziporyn makes his next point, namely that "the ultimate intelligibility of any definite identity must be questioned, for the identities of the individual parts were originally conceived as dependent on their relation to the whole; if the whole is unintelligible, there is a sense in which the intelligibly of the parts is also threatened" (p. 85). With this he segues into the opening line of the Daodejing: "A name [dao] that can be named [dao-ed] is not the constant name [dao]." If the Whole (metaphysical Dao) cannot be identified, then every other apparent identity is similarly in reality also unidentified and unidentifiable. This is “the ironic Dao” that can only result in “ironic meanings” and “ironic coherence”. These are “ironic” because they self-negate (dao that is no dao, self that is no-self, knowing that is not-knowing, doing that is not-doing).

I take a more intellectually fuzzy approach: If the Whole is Mystery — if Dao cannot be named — then nothing can truly be named, everything is also mystery, as much mystery as Mystery. There is only Mystery. That we think things have an identity, that we have identity, is a most helpful means of navigating ourselves through our intellectually constructed interface with 'reality', but should not be mistaken for an actual, "constant" identity.

But this, of course, is precisely what we do; my sense of 'me' is taken for something substantial and 'real' and thus something I must attempt to substantiate (do and be stuff that perpetuates the illusion), defend against what might diminish it, and fear its ultimate loss. It is this that Zhuangzi's sage has transcended such that he "has no fixed identity, no particular merit, and no name." He has, in a sense, simply acknowledged and released himself into his own utter mystery.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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