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Frithjof Schuon and Rationalism

... Rationalism admits as true only what can be proven, without taking into account on the one hand that truth is independent of our willingness to admit it or not, and on the other hand that a proof is always in proportion to a need for causality, so that there are truths that cannot be proven to everybody; strictly speaking, rationalist thought admits something not because it is true, but because it can be proven--or appear to be proven--which amounts to saying that for rationalism dialectic outweighs truth, in fact, if not in theory.

Specifically rationalist thought, moreover, readily overlooks the fact that there are mental needs due only to a deviation or a hypertrophy and which are consequently unable to provide legitimate points of departure for axiomatic formulations: if blind men could see light they would not dream of asking for proofs of its existence.

It is worth pausing over this question of doctrinal proofs a little longer: firstly, a distinction must be made between rational or logical proof and intellectual or symbolic proof; the first is fallible to the extent that the propositions of the syllogism may be false, and the likelihood of this will increase with the loftiness of the order of reality; the second on the contrary depends on premises which cannot but be exact, since they identify with the very nature of things, or, to put it more clearly, since they are not other than the realities whose "proof" will be like a reflection and which therefore can reveal their evidence, precisely.

The spiritual or symbolic proof-- which we may also term "ontological" so as to distinguish it from the simply "logical" proof--thus depends on a direct knowledge which, as such, is exact by definition, and it serves not to conclude from the known to the unknown, but to become aware of the unknown with the help of the known: consequently the link between the two will not be a rational operation, but intellectual intuition, even though reasoning, being natural to man, may obviously play a role of provisional support of occasional cause.

As a result, the "symbolic proof"--we term it thus because its cogency lies in the analogy between the communicating symbol and the truth to be communicated, and not in the logical combination of the two propositions--the symbolic proof, then, serves to actualize a knowledge that is not somehow added from without but virtually contained in intelligence itself.

One may even go further and say that the symbolic proof is identified with that which is to be proven, in the sense that it "is" that thing at a lesser level of reality, as for example water proves universal Substance by the fact that it "is" it on the plane of bodily existence. What matters is not to confuse the "materiality" of the symbol with its ontological essence; which is why Hindu doctrine, when it extols the worship of the Deity through a sacramental image, forbids the worshiper to think of the material substance of this image; and it is for the same reason that the North American Indians--those who take the sun as a vehicle of worship--specify that it is not the sun they worship, but the "Father" or "Ancestor" who dwells there invisibly. All the phenomena of nature are proofs of God, as the sacred Scriptures tirelessly attest, and this is so for the common man as well as for the sage--although for very different reasons--but not necessarily so for the philosopher who may have neither the eyes of Faith nor those of Knowledge, and who in this case struggles vainly with the antilogies of a sterile conceptualism.

In this order of ideas, we must add that the starting point of a doctrine is either definitive, static or dogmatic or else a contradiction pure and simple: consequently, the starting point of a doctrine that places everything in the future and admits no stable truth is either definitively valid, in which case its reason for being, namely the theory of the indefinite evolution of truth, is false; or else the starting point attributes to itself the right to "evolve" and hence to change, in which case it is false by definition and could not be the premise of anything whatsoever.

Analogously, absolute subjectivism falls before its initial contradiction: its starting point is either objective, in which case the evident necessity of its own objectivity only proves the falsity of subjectivism, or else it is subjective, in which case it obviously has no objective value, and it is reduced to a meaningless monologue. It is assuredly absurd to affirm that no affirmation is true; similarly it is senseless to speak to others to tell them that one does not believe in their existence; all that is being done in such cases is to deny the essential aspects of intelligence and truth, namely objective value on the one hand and intellectual evidence on the other, both being inseparable in intellection.

The error of rationalism is not to prove that which reason can perfectly well grasp, namely the facts or laws of nature, but to wish to prove that of which reason by its own means can gain no certitude; everything that can be said about rationalism applies a fortiori to the more or less recent systems such as "intuitionism," the "philosophy of values" and "existentialism" which, far from going beyond the plane of reason, represent, and cannot do other than represent, merely the decomposition of rationalism at the end of its resources.

Thus the only thing we shall retain in this order of ideas is that the prejudice of enclosing intelligence within reason leads practically to the denial of reason itself. It goes without saying that the so-called "realism" which results from this--and which is merely nihilist "mysticism" assuming by preference a psycho-logistical style--can only envisage the "real" from a properly infra-human perspective.

The current use of the term "abstractions" to designate principial realities is quite characteristic of this mentality: far from revealing a "concrete" vision of things, this term too often constitutes but one criterion among others of the incapacity to think posing as arbitrator of every possible thought.

In proportion to the loftiness of its aspects, Truth wishes to be "seen" and not simply "thought"; when it is a question of transcendent truths, the mental operation can have only two functions, which are rather the positive and negative modes of one function: to contribute to the individual's assimilation of the intellectual vision, and to eliminate the mental obstacles that interfere with this vision, or in other words, that veil "the Eye of the Heart."

The means of expression of metaphysical knowledge is a dialectic either logical or symbolistic in character, with various degrees of accentuation and combination; this is what distinguishes, for example, Vedantism from Taoism, but this question of dialectic or expression cannot separate them or oppose them from the point of view of pure truth, which is their common content.

Most rationalists disdain doctrines symbolical in form, but assign the Vedanta or Neoplatonism to their category of "philosophy," that is to say namely of profane logic, while asserting that these speculations have not succeeded in solving the "great problems" of "the human mind." Other rationalists, on the contrary, deny these same doctrines along with those symbolical in form on the pretext that they are "dogmatisms" unworthy of "philosophy."

Nothing indeed is more convenient or consoling, when one finds oneself in a vicious circle, than to claim either that the others are in the same predicament or that they are not capable of finding themselves there; and some will go so far as to shift the responsibility for their own helplessness onto the intelligence itself, the end result of such an attitude being that grossly imaginative philosophy--allegedly "concrete" or "existential," and readily psychologistic--which dominates the mentality of our time. (Preface to Eye of the Heart)