The Spiritual View of Reality

Keith Ward on Materialism, 3     1  2

I will, of course, leave out some parts of Ward’s text, like the last part of the first sentence where he mentions Nietzsche. The discussion of Nietzsche (and Schopenhauer) in The God Conclusion is of interest but not central enough to the case for idealism and personalism to be commented on here, so I will leave out the few references to it in this last chapter. Ward goes on to say: “I have shown how the great majority of these philosophers have expounded a basically spiritual view of reality.”

This is a wonderfully simple truth. Bracket for a moment all considerations of history, contexts, motives, speech acts, paradigms, epistemes, power-relations etc. that come to mind. Disregard the differences between the classical philosophers on other, less basic levels of issues. Just let the basic truth here expressed sink in. There is consensus, agreement, among the great majority of ”these philosophers”, i.e., according to the preceding sentence, among the great majority of ”some of the classical philosophers of the European tradition”, that reality is basically spiritual.

Most people have some understanding of the  concept ”spiritual”, and the language here easily and obviously conveys sufficient meaning and also quite satisfactory clarity and precision of meaning. Properly read, the metaphysical meaning of the sentence, despite the fact that it is merely written, is present in a way that could be described as in a certain sense logocentric.

Again, the great majority of some of the classical philosophers refer to something similar or even, conceived in the general way that is conveyed by the choice of the term ”spiritual”, identical. The ”reality” intended in this formulation of the shared view is conceived to be the basic reality, which can also be understood to mean the ultimate or highest reality. As such, it is also universal and independent of history, contexts etc., i.e. of phenomenal relativity. This in turn implies that all truths regarding phenomenal relativity, except the general truth of phenomenal relativity as being precisely phenomenal relativity, are relative, subordinate truths which do not affect or change the basic reality agreed to be spiritual.

The use of the term spiritual of course points directly, past idealism, to spirituality. The simplicity is beautiful. By this term, the depths and heights are already indicated – the horizon of real life. The spiritually highly developed and mature reader, whether learned or not, may go directly from here to guru, the genuine spiritual teacher. Guru is situated beyond philosophy. Guru is heavy, weighty (this is part of the etymology of the Sanskrit term), because he is present with what in the West could be conceived as logocentric truth and reality. Guru gives or shares that truth and that reality, the spiritual reality that is the basic reality. Guru will show the reader concretely, directly, experientially, what spirituality is, what the referent of the concept is. Guru will take him into the spiritual life. Everything else may rightly fade into relative insignificance and unreality. Heidegger knew nothing about this, let alone Nietzsche.

The spiritual life is the life that ideally begins where philosophy, successfully pursued, ends. It can be said in one respect to be wisdom, the love of and search for which is what philosophy is or at least what it originally was. Or rather, it can be said to be the goal of wisdom, since wisdom may also exist on the conceptual, ethical, humanistic level only, without developing and blossoming also on the spiritual level.

These considerations go beyond the case for idealism and personalism in terms of the specific discipline of Western philosophy. But they are included here in order to relate that case to the broader concerns of my writing.

Keeping to the philosophical case, we note that the classical philosophers in the European tradition referred to by Ward have conceptually expounded and conveyed the basic spiritual reality to some extent, and the goal and end of the highest wisdom, the attainment of this reality, can be said to be implicitly anticipated in the substance of their consensus and in Ward’s simple summary of it.

While spirituality proper goes beyond idealism as a product or manifestation of Western philosophy, it also includes it. Idealism, as understood by Ward and by me, is the terminological designation of the position or view which conceptually represents the basically spiritual view of the world (there are other, more limited definitions in modern philosophy). But it can also comprise in its signification at least large parts of the esoteric traditions of the West which, ever since antiquity, are to a considerable extent spiritual traditions which transcend philosophy yet sometimes overlap or merge with idealist philosophy. And the term can be used, as I sometimes do, to describe the spiritual teachings of the East. But it is then often important to keep in mind the distinct Western meanings and uses not only of the term idealism but also of the term spiritual. Ward has no reason to enter here into such distinctions, however. For his purposes, his usage is not just legitimately but constructively and fruitfully ”loose”.

Like the predominant idealism of the East which the comparative study of the global heritage of thought brings to light (for Westerners who might still not be aware of it), this consensus of the classical European philosophers is in itself highly significant. The number and stature of the thinkers speak in favour of the basically spiritual view of reality, and is thus part of the case for idealism and in some respects indirectly of the case for personalism, which is in those respects the same case. Each of the philosophers referred to possesses a real degree of authority, and the shared general position has a real degree of authority both because of the authority of the individual philosophers and due to the fact of its being shared by them. The case therefore includes the account of this authority and a legitimate appeal to it.

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"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi