|Philosophy of Religion
Inclusive Infinity and Radical Particularity:
ABSTRACT: God, or in Nishidas case Buddha-nature, is frequently conceptualized as relating to the world by including it within the Infinite. Particular elements within the world are not seen as existing in absolute differentiation or total negation from Spirit, God, or Absolute Non-Being. The Many are not excluded but are, on the contrary, included within the One. The logic by which the One includes the Many is a logic of manifold unity, or, as Hegel quite confidently puts it, true infinity as opposed to spurious infinity. I will argue that such a logic of inclusive infinity is operative in Hartshorne, Hegel and Nishida. Each uses different terminology and writes with different systemic emphases, but as applied to God or the Ultimate, the function and consequences of the logic of inclusivity are strikingly similar for all three philosophers. Although infinite inclusivity provides a way of unifying the chaotic diversity of existence into a rational totality, there are central questions that have remained unanswered in the three metaphysicians. Primary among them is the question that sums up within itself many of the others: the problem of radical particularity. The particular elements of the world which are claimed to be included within the parameters of the Ultimate are just that: particular fragments of reality. I argue that their particular nature makes it impossible for the Infinite to incorporate them within its purview without raising serious difficulties.
God, or in Nishida's case Buddha-nature, is frequently conceptualized as relating to the world by including it within the Infinite. Particular elements within the world are not seen as existing in absolute differentiation or total negation from Spirit, God or Absolute Non-being. The Many are not excluded but are, on the contrary, included within the One, if we can speak coherently of unity including difference in this way. God is not merely the All, but the All and more. Thus, God is not identified with the totality of the cosmos as in pantheism. Rather, God includes the world in a way that is more accurately described as panentheism. The All is not God, but the All is in God.
The logic by which the One includes the Many is a logic of manifold unity, or, as Hegel quite confidently puts it, true infinity as opposed to spurious infinity. I will argue that such a logic of inclusive infinity is operative in Hartshorne, Hegel and Nishida. Each uses different terminology and writes with different systemic emphases but, as applied to God or the Ultimate, the function and consequences of the logic of inclusivity are strikingly similar for all three philosophers. The Apex of Being, or in the case of Buddhism Non-being, is an Ultimate that includes the phenomenal reality of the world within itself.
Although infinite inclusivity provides a way of unifying the chaotic diversity of existence into a rational totality, there are central questions that have remained unanswered in the three metaphysicians before us. Primary among them is a question that sums up within itself many of the others: the problem of radical particularity. The particular elements of the world which are claimed to be included within the parameters of the Ultimate are just that: particular fragments of reality. I argue that their particular nature makes it impossible for the Infinite to incorporate them within its purview without raising serious difficulties. Radically particular things are defined by their differentiation and separation from other radically particular elements of the world. How could entities that are mutually exclusive in their deepest essence be unified by or exist within a being that allegedly captures the essence of each equally well? It is not clear in our three philosophies how the problem of radical particularity could be answered. I conclude that the idea of inclusive Infinity, which is used explicitly or implicitly by a wide range of thinkers, must be re-examined with the problem of radical particularity candidly in mind.
Hartshorne's Divine Relativity
In Hartshorne's theology, divine relativity is the term for God's sympathetic relationship to the world, a relationship that seamlessly relates God to the entirety of the cosmos. Because it asserts that God is completely sympathetic to the cosmos yet also transcendent, Hartshorne's theology is thoroughly dipolar. In distinction from traditional theism, panentheism is, "an appropriate term for the view that deity is in some real aspect distinguishable from and independent of any and all relative items, and yet, taken as an actual whole, includes all relative items" (1948:89-90). The aspect of God which is distinguishable from actuality is the absolute pole; the inclusive aspect is the relative pole. God is not solely pure relativity. God is not pure sympathy with the world and nothing else. God is simultaneously transcendent, an Absolute which is absolved of contact with the world.
The logic Hartshorne employs in his metaphysics is a logic of God as infinite-and-finite. God is absolutely related to all, whereas every other entity is only relatively (or partially) related to others. Yet, the God who is immanent companion and also transcendent telos is an apparent contradiction for thought. How could God be fully immanent in human pain and misery while simultaneously enjoying a blissful transcendence far removed from this veil of tears? Does an apparent contradiction in the concept of an absolute-relative God imply that it is an incoherent idea? As an expression of the intuitions of spiritual experience, the contradiction or paradox of inclusive Infinity may necessitate a higher logic, or so it is claimed.
Hegel's True Infinite
Hegel's philosophical conception of the Absolute is as an Infinite that includes the finite. The idea of God as an Infinite Being that includes finite beings allows Hegel to conceptualize the real as a rational totality. A unified whole that unfolds itself in a series of sublated (annulled and preserved at the same time) oppositions takes the place of the divisive chaos of pluralistic, separate entities. In section 94 of the Logic of the Encyclopedia, Hegel distinguishes "wrong or negative infinity," which is merely the negation of the finite, from the Infinite that is able to absorb the finite (1975:137). Spurious infinity "only expresses the ought-to-be elimination of the finite" but is never able to accomplish this in actuality for the finite keeps arising. There is merely a repetition of the finite, the "infinity of endless progression" (1975:137). One might think of this as the progression of natural numbers: 1, 2, 3 .... No matter how large the candidate for the "largest number" is, it is surpassed by adding an additional 1, 2, 3 ... all over again.
For theology, in which the concept of infinity is naturally different, an application of the principle of true Infinity results in the claim that the finite should not be seen as absolutely different than the finite. An absolute difference between the Infinite and the finite would make any Infinite defined as a negation of the finite a spurious Infinite. As John Findlay explains:
Spurious Infinity is only a partial aspect of the Real for it fails to include the finite. True Infinity is a totality, a whole that includes all. In place of Hegel's arguing for an infinite being who is beyond finitude, Charles Taylor describes Hegel's argument for an infinite whole: "...[I]nfinity, the self-subsistent whole which we are forced to assume once we grasp the mortality of the finite, can only be the whole system of changing determinate beings. There is no foundation for finite things outside the system of the finite" (1975:243). This does not mean that there is no distinction between God and the world, for the universe is the embodiment of God, who is "identical and yet not identical" with the universe (1975:197).
Hegel explicitly applies the notion of true Infinity to God in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, recognizing that, traditionally, God had been thought of as external to and beyond the finite: "...[Spirit] must have this character of finitude within itself that may seem blasphemous. But if it did not have it within itself, and thus if it confronted finitude from the other side, then its infinitude would be a spurious infinitude" (1988:405-6). And even more directly: "If God has the finite only over against himself, then he himself is finite and limited" (1988:406). Almost in the manner of a sum arrived at in calculus, Spirit is the actual infinite of achieved value only partially mediated in a series of sublated differentiations: "To be sure, the series of forms that we have passed through is a succession of stages that follow upon one another; but these forms are encompassed within the infinite absolute form, in absolute subjectivity, and only the spirit so defined as absolute subjectivity is spirit" (1988:410). The finite is not to be identified with the Infinite, nor is the Infinite to be defined as the negation of the finite, rather the finite is sublated as a moment of infinite Spirit (1988:421).
If the true Infinite is thought of as the philosophical counterpart of the theological concept of God, it seems that the true Infinite cannot be "bad;" it cannot include evil. A non-conscious totality that includes evil, sin and pain is, on purely metaphysical grounds, perhaps acceptable. But defining Divinity as inclusive of evil or sin contradicts other attributes of Divinity: goodness, bliss and love. Yet excluding evil, pain, etc., from either God or the Infinite excludes a rather large portion of cosmic events from within the Infinite. This exclusion makes problematic the claim that the Infinite unifies the whole into a rational totality. The issues that cause problems for the true Infinite will be covered in much greater detail when we discuss the problem of radical particularity.
Nishida's Soku Hi or "Contradictory Identity"
Nishida's soku hi or soku literally means "identity" in the sense of an identity of things usually seen as excluding one another: Buddha and sentient beings, God and world, transcendence and immanence. Of particular note in the Buddhist tradition is the identification of form and emptiness in the Heart Sutra: "Whatever is form, that is emptiness, and whatever is emptiness, that is form." To locate a comparable concept in the history of Western thought, one might suggest Spinoza's equation "Deus sive Natura." However, Nishida thinks that the theological implications of the logic of identity, or soku, are panentheistic, not pantheistic even though those who adhere to substance logic would be led inappropriately to interpret him pantheistically (1987:70).
In explanation of soku, or identity, Nishida Kitaro quotes the following stanza:
The distinction, or transcendence, of the Buddha from the world does not prevent an assertion of the lack of separation, which could be interpreted as immanence. The consequence is a paradoxical statement of the "is" and "is not" in which "God" empties the divine essence into immanence within the world (1987:70). Masao Abe agrees with Nishida that there is no "irreversible relationship" between God and humanity: "This is especially clear in Mahäyäna Buddhism, which stresses the relationship of soku as seen in its familiar formula "samsära-soku-nirväna" (samsära as it is, is nirväna)" (1991:155). There is no absolute differentiation that can be made between the realm of this world and Ultimate Reality. They are not irreversible but are, in fact, reciprocal. Hans Waldenfels also notes the importance of the concept of soku: "This reciprocal equation which Japanese expressed [sic] by means of the conjunction soku belongs to the basic statements of the philosophy of the Kyoto School as well and will be met with again and again not only in Nishida but also in Nishitani" (1980:26). Waldenfels interprets the logic of soku as identity-through-negation (1980:123).
Masaaki Honda interprets the logic of soku as a denial of the absolute irreversibility of God and world (1986:219). This means that there is no absolute ontological difference between God and creation. In a very clear passage, Honda states that for Nishida the relationship of God and the world should be thought of "in terms of a unity of opposites in which each term maintains its unique reality precisely because of its relationship with its opposite (1986:220). There is an "identity of opposites" thought of non-dualistically as two elements being "not one, not two" (1986:220). Applied metaphysically, the logic of identity means that, "when the Absolute, whether it is named God or the Buddha, incarnates itself into the finite world, the Absolute becomes a nothing constituting the self-negating ground (no-thing-ness) of the finite individuals comprising the world" (1986:221). This seems to introduce a separation in as much as the Buddha is not the things of the world, but their underlying nothingness. Yet later Honda speaks of everything being "the self-negating manifestation of the Absolute" or Buddha-nature in which there is "identity" as indicated by the soku relationship (1986:222). The use of the language of negation and the Absolute indicates that Hegel is lurking in the background, but more importantly we see that soku sets the stage for an identification of the world and God, not in terms of pantheism but in terms of a unity of opposites. Even though Nishida denies that his logic of soku is identical with Hegel's, but is rather taken more directly from Mahayana Buddhism, I think it is fair to say that Hegel's logic is operative throughout Nishida's ideas even if, in the end, he feels he goes further than Hegel (1987:70).
The Problem of Radical Particularity
We have seen that Hartshorne, Hegel and Nishida oppose the idea of a radically transcendent God divorced from earthly reality. Hartshorne spoke of a divine relativity inclusive of the joy as well as the suffering that exists in the world. Hegel articulated a logic of the true Infinite, an inclusive totality that incorporated the finite as a moment of its reality. Nishida relied on the logic of soku, in which the is-and-is-not of Buddha's relationship to the world was one of transcendence-and-immanence. By unifying the cosmos within an inclusive Infinite, such theories, albeit with provisos of paradox or contradiction, seem to resolve the problem of the One and the Many, the problem of how we can conceptualize one cosmos divided into particular beings.
In spite of the grand metaphysical synthesis and the religious value of theories of infinite inclusivity, there are problems of coherence and metaphysical possibility. Inclusive Infinity implies a world unified as it is in its finitude within divine Absoluteness. However, the finite events to be included within the Infinite are particular; in fact, they are radically particular. Their essence is defined by an exclusion of otherness. They exist as different facets of being; how can their mutually exclusive ontological identities be unified?
Inclusive Infinity, looked at critically, blends particularity into an unmitigated monism denying the plurality evident to our senses and to our inner experience. The true Infinite is like a blacksmith who commits scraps of pig iron, steel and gold into a vast melting pot, stirring and mixing the whole, saying, "It is all one substance." Inclusive Infinity, whether verbalized as divine relativity, the true Infinite or by means a logic of soku, denies the radically particular nature of our lives.
How could the finite or the determinate be apprehended by the Infinite? The finite, the radically individual is set off against several others. To be finite is to have a finis, to be finished, to have limitations. Likewise, to be determinate is to have a terminus, an end. Both finitude and determinacy imply demand limits comprised by otherness. How can God know this finite thing in itself when at the same time God has exact knowledge of the others that make this thing determinate when the first determinate thing remains in ignorance of the others? How can God experience my radical individuality and remain God?
We are radically particular and individual. How can the Infinite relate to us, how can God have empathy with a radically limited being? How can something that sees beyond all boundaries know what it is like, and have an experience of, something that is within boundaries? How can the unbounded assume the mantle of bounded life?
The two-fold thesis we have considered is that the philosophies of Hartshorne, Hegel and Nishida contain a comparable concept of fundamental metaphysical and theological importance, namely inclusive Infinity, and that the radically particular nature of individual events in the world nullifies many of the advantages of such accounts of reality. There are, in spite of my objections, several powerful arguments in support of inclusive Infinity. In the areas of omniscience, theodicy, and in providing a philosophical account of cosmic unity, the notion of the inclusive Infinite proves helpful.
The problem of radical particularity questions how any Infinite could fully appreciate and sympathize with the inherent limitations of finitude. We are all finite individuals and have a radically private experience when considered from the perspective of everybody and everything else. Even the most involved parent does not actually feel the physical pain of a child far away who suffers illness or death. That experience is radically different, totally other. The problem of including the All within the Infinite becomes particularly keen when it is said that evil, sin or ignorance is included. We saw that Hartshorne and Nishida state that the Infinite includes evil even to the point of God's contradictory identity with Satan. However, the inclusion of evil conflicts with divine goodness. The areas of omniscience, theodicy and unity, which were seen to be arguments for inclusive Infinity, are not without perfectly plausible interpretations on the condition that inclusive Infinity is impossible.
The problem of radical particularity is not so much a problem of including evil but of including within God's essence contradictory experiences such as joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure at the same time. Is it really possible that the Ultimate fully experience each element it contains even when there are a myriad number of elements of the opposite type? Yet the problem of radical particularity is even deeper. It is not just a matter of including evil, nor of including contradictory experiences, but of including any finite experience within the Ultimate. The Infinite cannot become finite because finite things are finite. I will concede that there may be a metaphysical solution to the problem of radical particularity that may have eluded the present analysis. I have not proven that inclusive Infinity is impossible, merely that there is a significant problem with its conceptualization that has not been adequately addressed.