Transcendence (philosophy)

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In philosophy, the adjective transcendental and the noun transcendence convey the basic ground concept from the word's literal meaning (from Latin), of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages. This article covers the topic from a Western and Islamic perspective by epoch: Ancient, Medieval, and modern, primarily Continental philosophy.

Original definition[edit]

The first meaning, as part of the concept pair transcendence/immanence, is used primarily with reference to God's relation to the world and is particularly important in theology. Here transcendent means that God is completely outside of and beyond the world, as contrasted with the notion that God is manifested in the world. This meaning originates both in the Aristotelian view of God as the prime mover, a non-material self-consciousness that is outside of the world. Philosophies and philosophers of immanence such as stoicism or pantheism, Spinoza or Deleuze maintain that God is manifested in and fully present in the world and the things in the world.

Medieval usage[edit]

In the second meaning, which originated in Medieval philosophy, concepts are transcendental if they are broader than what falls within the Aristotelian categories that were used to organize reality conceptually. The prevailing notion of transcendental is that of a quality of being which can be predicated on any actually existing thing insofar as it exists. Primary examples of the transcendental are the existent (ens) and the characteristics, designated transcendentals, of unity, truth, and goodness.

Kant (and modern philosophy)[edit]

In modern philosophy, Kant introduced a new term - transcendental, thus instituting a new, third meaning. In his theory of knowledge, this concept is concerned with the conditions of possibility of knowledge itself. He also opposed the term transcendental to the term transcendent, the latter meaning "that, which goes beyond" (transcends) any possible knowledge of a human being.[1] For him transcendental meant knowledge about our cognitive faculty with regard to how objects are possible a priori. "I call all knowledge transcendental if it is occupied, not with objects, but with the way that we can possibly know objects even before we experience them."[2] He also equated transcendental with that which is "...in respect of the subject's faculty of cognition."[3] Something is transcendental if it plays a role in the way in which the mind "constitutes" objects and makes it possible for us to experience them as objects in the first place. Ordinary knowledge is knowledge of objects; transcendental knowledge is knowledge of how it is possible for us to experience those objects as objects. This is based on Kant's acceptance of David Hume's argument that certain general features of objects (e.g. persistence, causal relationships) cannot derive from the sense impressions we have of them. Kant argues that the mind must contribute those features and make it possible for us to experience objects as objects. In the central part of his Critique of Pure Reason, the "Transcendental Deduction of the Categories", Kant argues for a deep interconnection between the ability to have self-consciousness and the ability to experience a world of objects. Through a process of synthesis, the mind generates both the structure of objects and its own unity.

A metaphilosophical question discussed by many Kantian scholars is how transcendental reflection is itself possible. Stephen Palmquist interprets Kant's appeal to faith as his most effective solution to this problem.[4]

For Kant, the "transcendent", as opposed to the "transcendental", is that which lies beyond what our faculty of knowledge can legitimately know. Hegel's counter-argument to Kant was that to know a boundary is also to be aware of what it bounds and as such what lies beyond it – in other words, to have already transcended it.

In phenomenology, the "transcendent" is that which transcends our own consciousness - that which is objective rather than only a phenomenon of consciousness. Noema is employed in phenomenology to refer to the terminus of an intention as given for consciousness.

Jean-Paul Sartre also speaks of transcendence in his works. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre utilizes transcendence to describe the relation of the self to the object oriented world, as well as our concrete relations with others. For Sartre, the for-itself is sometimes called a transcendence. Additionally if the other is viewed strictly as an object, much like any other object, then the other is, for the for-itself, a transcendence-transcended. When the for-itself grasps the other in the others world, and grasps the subjectivity that the other has, it is referred to as transcending-transcendence. Thus, Sartre defines relations with others in terms of transcendence.[5]

Colloquial usage[edit]

In everyday language, "transcendence" means "going beyond", and "self-transcendence" means going beyond a prior form or state of oneself. Mystical experience is thought of as a particularly advanced state of self-transcendence, in which the sense of a separate self is abandoned. "Self-transcendence" is believed to be psychometrically measurable, and (at least partially) inherited, and has been incorporated as a personality dimension in the Temperament and Character Inventory.[6] The discovery of this is described in the book "The God Gene" by Dean Hamer, although this has been criticized by commentators such as Carl Zimmer.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ cf. Critique of Pure Reason or Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
  2. ^ Critique of Pure Reason, A12
  3. ^ Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Judgment, Introduction, V
  4. ^ Stephen Palmquist, "Faith as Kant's Key to the Justification of Transcendental Reflection", The Heythrop Journal 25:4 (October 1984), pp.442-455. A revised version of this paper appeared as Chapter V in Palmquist's book, Kant's System of Perspectives (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993).
  5. ^ Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. New York: Washington Square Press, 1956.
  6. ^ Cloninger, C.R.; Svrakic, DM; Przybeck, TR (December 1993). "A psychobiological model of temperament and character". Archives of General Psychiatry 50 (12): 975–90. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1993.01820240059008. PMID 8250684. 

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