From the Greek, philosophy means the love of or desire for wisdom. So when you think about it, philosophy is a pretty romantic gig. Like dating someone you actually like and want to know better. Except in this instance, it’s Truth whose eyes you meet across the crowded room. If you have glanced at one of his books, you might argue that Hegel takes romance out of the game. And I’m not just talking about his somewhat impenetrable writing style. Hegel’s goal is to make all of philosophy a science such that the truth no longer has to be desired or sought. Instead, it is fully known and possessed. Once wisdom has been achieved, you are no longer dating her. The rose- coloured days of early romance are over and instead , someone might say, the long days of marriage begin. Way to kill the vibe, dude.
But just because you have gained the love of your beloved, and achieved what you desired, does not mean that you no longer love and continue to desire it. Even knowledge, once attained has to be continuously recollected and in remembrance, what you thought you knew is deepened. Like a good marriage, Hegel’s love affair with wisdom never ended.
And like all good lovers, he wrote poetry about his beloved. For instance, here is an excerpt of a poem he wrote in 1796, entitled, Eleusis:
For the initiate, the fullness of lofty doctrine and the depths of ineffable feeling, were much too holy for him to honour dry signs with them. For thought cannot grasp the soul which itself plunges out of spce and time into a presentment of infinity, and now reawakens. Whoever wanted to speak this to others, though he spoke with the the tongue of angels, would feel the poverty of his words.
Eleusis is in reference to the Eleusian mysteries, religious rites of Ancient Greece, open only to those who had been initiated into the cult of Demeter and Persephone. The story goes that when Persephone was abducted by Hades, god of the underworld (could be a midweek television movie), her mother Demter, goddess of fertility, was so saddened that, that the earth became barren. Reaching a deal with Hades, it was agreed that Persephone would return above ground and thus to life for six months of the year, spending the other six with and in Hades. The myth is clearly a way of speaking about the changing of the seasons. Yet, before you are tempted to conclude that it was a way for an earlier and thus less rational culture to understand the seasons, read Hegel’s poem again. For Hegel and for the Greeks, this myth and, indeed, even the changing of the seasons spoke to the possibility of resurrection, of descending to Hades and thus to death, only to reascend.
In broader terms, the physical changing of the seasons is understood to speak to a metaphysical truth–the immortality of the soul and the nature of the infinite itself. Reflecting on human history, Hegel tells us, can reveal broad patterns, which themselves reveal the nature of the infinite. In simpler terms, by means of studying particular things, like history, beauty, even the seasons, we can come to know the nature of that which is universally true. By attending to particular things or people, we too might be plunged out of space and time into a presentment of infinity. This means that things and people we interact with must be infused with an essential integrity and autonomy and should be recognized as such. Think about it this way, if my dog Tim, can lead to me to apprehend the nature of the absolute, then I should treat him as if he were somehow absolute himself (which of course you would want to anyway). One romances the Truth by romancing the world.
Sometimes at my house, we tease each other by saying, “remind me again why I love you?” But these reminders, it turns out should be everywhere. In our memories, in the beauty of the natural order, in my goofy Tim.
Originally published at sara-macdonald.com