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The universe: desire for thought.

NATURE REALIZES ITS PRIMORDIAL and definitive trajectory in human intelligence. Creatures, we have shown, cannot find their explicit return to God, their first cause, except in thought. (1) If God creates, necessarily he creates in order to manifest his glory exteriorly and not to manifest himself to himself, as if, by creating, he could better himself in his own sight. Creation is essentially a communication. Creatures must be able to understand the free gift of this communication, and creation must terminate in an intelligent creature who can glorify its Source. Thus, God could not create a universe that was not essentially ordered to an intelligent creature within that universe. (2) We have shown elsewhere in what way creation is totally ordered to spirit: either as nature and inclination to man, or as subject of a spiritual form, or as essential constituent of the proper object of human knowledge, knowledge so impoverished that it cannot attain immaterial things directly. (3)

Only in the human mind does the universe become universe in the fullest sense. Note, therefore, that a thing is perfect in two ways. First, it is perfect with respect to the perfection of its act of existence, which belongs to it according to its own species. But since the specific act of existence of one thing is distinct from the specific act of existence of another, in every created thing of this kind, the perfection falls short of absolute perfection to the extent that that perfection is found in other species. Consequently, the perfection of each individual thing considered in itself is imperfect, being a part of the perfection of the entire universe, which arises from the sum total of the perfections of all individual things.

In order that there might be some remedy for this imperfection, another kind of perfection is to be found in created things. It consists in this, that the perfection belonging to one thing is found in another. This is the perfection of a knower in so far as he knows; for something is known by a knower by reason of the fact that the thing known is, in some fashion, in the possession of the knower. Hence, it is said in The Soul that the soul is, "in some manner, all things," since its nature is such that it can know all things. In this way it is possible for the perfection of the entire universe to exist in one thing. The ultimate perfection which the soul can attain, therefore, is, according to the philosophers, to have delineated in it the entire order and causes of the universe. This they held to be the ultimate end of man. We, however, hold that it consists in the vision of God; for, as Gregory says: "What is there that they do not see who see Him who sees all things?" (4)

Furthermore, it is evident that all parts are ordered to the perfection of the whole, since a whole does not exist for the sake of its parts, but, rather, the parts are for the whole. Now, intellectual natures have a closer relationship to a whole than do other natures; indeed, each intellectual substance is, in a way, all things. For it may comprehend the entirety of being through its intellect; on the other hand, every other substance has only a particular share in being. Therefore,
  other substances may fittingly be providentially cared for by God for
  the sake of intellectual substances. (5)

In order for the world to have a raison d'etre, to be one and a universe [one of many] it is not only necessary that it be composed of parts forming physically a whole, in addition, all these individual parts must be ordered to those parts where all can exist together; each of these principal parts of the world must be the whole world, each of these universes must be, in a manner, all the others.

In what sense is the soul all things? Shouldn't one rather say that we have our intelligence to verify how obscure and impenetrable things are? Our knowledge is so impoverished that we do not know to what extent we are ignorant. If we really knew how ignorant we are we would be omniscient, for we would know what we do not know. This is why only God knows the extent of our ignorance, for he knows all.

However, to know that one does not know everything is a way, however impoverished, of knowing everything. When I say I do not know anything, I am saying I am ignorant of everything. But how could I know that I'm ignorant of all if I did not know, in some way, all I know that beyond all that is knowable there is nothing to know. Thus, there is a way to know nothing at all while at the same time knowing everything. This is the peculiarity of intelligence! It can say: nothing, nothingness, impossible. This would be impossible if the intelligence did not, in some way, know all things, if being were not knowable by reason. Even though this knowledge and being is infinitely indeterminate, confused, and implicit, it is, nevertheless, knowledge of all things as beings. Progress in knowledge consists in a growing explicitation of this confused and implicit knowledge of being. It is sufficient to have shown in what way thought is necessarily open to all things and thus unlimited. We have also shown in what way intelligence is made to live all things. (p. 2, n. 1)

Thus we can consider the development of the universe as a tending toward thought in which all of its parts are united and lived. In this way, the universe tends toward com-penetration, to come into contact with itself in human intelligence, and in this latter the universe can effect an explicit return to its source, God.

The beginning of the universe was pure exteriority. The world was separated from itself, imprisoned in itself and its obscurity. It is dead, empty, an abyss of division. However, it is necessary that it reach intelligence. This necessity is inscribed in it from the start. [Every effect returns, in some way, to its cause.] Because intelligence is a kind of compenetration it must be the case that the universe returns upon itself, that it shrinks and becomes interior to itself. And it is this interiorization that permits the universe to open itself to itself.

According to the theory of the expanding universe, physics shows us a world in which an immense primitive atom, in which all the energy actually dispersed existed, exploded. We are in a universe that is expanding and in which the fragments are more and more dispersed. In the law of entropy this same physics shows us an aging universe; its energy, while remaining quantitatively the same, is more and more irreversibly rundown. The world tends toward complete exhaustion, thermodynamic equilibrium.

According to the biological theory of mutation, life also advances by successive explosions. But contrary to the tendency toward impoverishment of the physical world in maximum entropy, life is born by a kind of spontaneous opening; it is always richer. A flower is progress over a bud. The chick that breaks its shell by pushing from inside is an image of the way in which life arises in the universe. The physical is like the egg shell.

If we look at these two opposed phenomena from the point of view of the philosophy of science, we can say that it is the growth of life that unwinds the physical universe: life uses up the universe and enlarges space. Concentration, from a physical point of view, is separation from a biological one. Although life moves toward more and more intense organization, physical disorganization is only cosmic waste absorbed by life.

By this contraction the biosphere lifts itself above the fragmentation of space and beyond the disappearance of time, which are only the smoke and ashes of a world that includes life. Absolutely speaking, it is life that, in an effort to contact itself in consciousness--in a center of pure density--scatters space-time like the bow of a ship that separates the waves.

Life moves in reverse compared to time; it is a kind of triumph over the scattering of physical time. As we said, the knowledge of animals and man is the clearest sign of this, especially memory. Insofar as an animal is alive it rises above the condition of space and time, that is, separation. A conscious being is present to himself and assimilates his environment intentionally. But wherever space reigns things are separated and confused in darkness.

The universe, expanding physically, turns back on itself in the living and thus constructs in this return upon itself centers ever denser, because more and more heterogeneous. Ultimately, in man, the universe finds all the grades of beings united, and in man's knowledge the universe touches and penetrates itself. The universe tends to join, in man, its extremities that are separated by space and time. For example, nature produces the hierarchy of species studied by paleontology, a part of biology.

It isn't simply a metaphor to say that the biosphere rises more and more beyond time. Beings are more perfect to the extent that they are atemporal; transcendence of the diffusion of time is a condition of life, of knowledge, of thought. If plants are ordered according to their proximity to animals and these latter according to their proximity to man, one must say the vital thrust with which the universe is animated from the outside in the beginning extracts from the power of matter those natural composite things whose form escapes more and more from matter, that is, those natural substances that are more and more simple and one. Quanto forma magis vincit materiam, tanto ex ea et materia magis efficitur unum. [To the extent that a form dominates matter, to that extent it and matter produce something one.] Now, because existence is proportioned to essence, the duration of beings along the cosmic scale is simpler and less temporal. As has been said, they are specifically ordered in their existence as well as in their essence. Animals are less temporal than plants.

This may appear strange since from the point of view of the experimental sciences we use the same clock to measure the duration of all the specifically different beings. But these are inverse points of view.

It is true that the diverse durations of natural things are all truly temporal, that is, successive and continuous. But some are less so than others. When we look at this hierarchy of durations from its lower limit where it becomes measurable we see that there is no longer any distinction between the things themselves, their durations having become identical with their time, so to speak. If the conservation of energy is true and the mass of the universe is constant, then physical time is absolutely one. From this point of view, which abstracts from the real divisions among individuals, the diverse physical times peculiar to things--a cat's life, for example--are only local concentrations of one time that goes back to the beginning. But if we consider these local concentrations of time according to what they really are, we see that, bound together by a transformation of energy, they are centers that eat into and consume the universe. Then, the development of the universe occurs (implying for the physical universe, a degradation of energy) and gives birth to physical time and makes it expand; life, by dispersing the physical world whose disintegration is the reverse of biological organization, makes time. A singular paradox. It is life that makes time, time from which life separates itself. To cover a certain distance is, for the one who does it, to do away with that distance. If the inorganic world's the starting point (A) of the evolution of life (V) and if immaterial form is its terminus (B), then the distance AV increases to the extent that the distance BV decreases.

Isn't the inorganic world more ancient and durable? Isn't it absurd to say that the duration of the living is richer than that of the imperishable nonliving?

One must distinguish between the purely natural aspect of this duration and its physico-mathematical aspect. The quantity of time is a sign of impoverished existence. Although quantitatively the longest, the duration of the inorganic world is really the poorest. In itself, the world takes time to make the little it makes--it wastes time. This duration is diffuse because it has so little consistency. Homogenous diffusion is the condition for quantitative measure. A living organism that existed but an instant would have a duration infinitely richer than that of a star, albeit infinitely shorter. The living is infinitely closer to eternity than the aging inorganic world. It is the notion of physical time, first in our experiences, that makes us think that the amount [of it] is an essential property of duration. But, simpler duration does not mean a lesser one.

In the order of homogenous time, spread out and quantitatively measured, where the imperfect precedes the perfect, the simpler durations come after the more diffuse ones. From that perspective of progression through time, the universe tends to reduce the quantitative measurability of things, not by shortening duration but by extending it. Concentration of duration comes from the absence of quantification. Death is necessarily a function of life; it is the impetus of life that is the cause of death.

We said above that the universe tends toward an immobile being that does not need to pursue its existence; and, if that existence is successive because it is composed of matter and form, this being is nevertheless beyond time by reason of its incorruptible form. If evolution could be finished in a single leap it would produce a natural being that is immortal, whose duration would be at one and the same time quantitatively indefinite and really simple. Because it is material, the universe reaches that end by producing a hierarchy of composite beings in which the equivalence of the quantity and intensity [concentration] of its duration has not been realized. The subhuman species can be considered as ever increasingly daring attempts of the universe to detach itself from the dispersion of time; they can be seen as attempts to dominate time from outside instead of being carried off by time. This ascent is made by sacrificing time from a quantitative point of view, as when someone heroically sacrificing his life gains immortality. Evolution is a struggle against death, by death if necessary.

Our whole universe is marked by an implacable desire for immortality, a cosmic desire which has terrible proportions. The terrible which is essential to evolution is death. (6)

Coming into existence always implies destruction, generation implies corruption. Elementary living things that multiply by division die by that birth. Unicellular organisms do not divide themselves into two parts, they give birth to two new individuals and their birth is its death. The struggle for life implies death.

And life is maintained by death. Animals eat living things. The biosphere feeds on itself in order to grow; it must destroy itself to be enriched. Thus death becomes essential to life in the universe. The desire to arrive at man is without mercy. To the extent that life becomes nobler and more intensely organized death becomes more terrible and the fear of death becomes more and more frightening.

The expansion of space [in the universe] and the dispersing of energy are the inverse of the contraction in natural substances. In its tendency to produce beings ever more heterogenous, nature tries to overcome the homogeneity of space. The increased differentiation of the parts of living organisms is a sign of this.

By assimilating the other in sense knowledge, animal life overcomes the barriers of space--space that separates; thus animals extend themselves to what they are not, they live the other. To the extent that an animal is more perfect, the field of its knowledge is vaster; in other words, in it the universe penetrates itself more and becomes more and more present to itself, more and more interior. (7) This increasing introversion shows itself in true simplicity in the human soul whose intelligence contains and transcends space without being in space, not, however, as a pure spirit who contemplates the universe from the outside can penetrate and envelope space. For, accidentally at least, the human mind is bound to a small corner of space, as is a tree, but with this profound difference: man moves about. The immobility of human thought is thus intermediate between that of pure spirits and that of a tree, joined in man thanks to local motion. And it is here that one finds the profound meaning of the locomotive ability of knowers: this capacity liberates knowers from the confines of space and ultimately is at the service of an intelligence that explores. For, such an intelligence, immobile and transcending all places in itself, must nevertheless roam the whole universe in order to assimilate it [in knowledge]. The locomotion of the living is an inclination to ubiquity, to an omnipresence of an intentional sort and therefore a kind of immensity.

From a physical point of view, change of place necessitates totally abandoning the previous place. But, a conscious being, by its deplacement, gathers to itself and enriches itself by living all its preceding positions all at once in that place in which it finds itself at the moment. Man is a "microcosm" not only because in his being as a natural entity he contains all the grades of natural beings, but more especially because in the intentional order [of knowledge] he is potentially all things. Man uses the resources of art [techne] to draw to himself all the riches of the world, dispersed in space and time. The progress of the means of transportation and distance-communication are all conquests for the intelligence. The ultimate goal of all of these accomplishments, of this exploration of the world in order to bring it all together in one point--the ultimate goal of all this is contemplation. (8)

Evolution is an effort by the universe to communicate itself to itself, and thus to imitate its Source--thought thinking itself. In our conception of evolution infra-human beings are transient and for man. These entities are thus partially open to each other and constitute in their ascent to man a thrust increasingly determinate and powerful. However, one should not conclude from this that this function [of evolution] can be reduced to a mere channeling of potentiality [matter] to spirit with which the universe is endowed from its beginning. That would be too simplistic. Necessarily, any work of nature is a self- giving, and thus evolution is a self-giving precisely to the extent that it is a work of nature; otherwise the notion of nature would be reduced exclusively to that of a passive principle.

It is true that the inorganic, considered as passive, cannot actively do anything (se donner). But this creationist way of isolating nature as passive is artificial and unnatural. Inorganic nature is form and matter even though this form is not a soul. It is precisely this essential poverty [of inorganic form] that calls the inorganic world, as inorganic, to life and spirit, without which the inorganic would be without a natural term and would be contradictory.

And so, taking into account the cause of this necessity, a cause inscribed in the inorganic world by the ordination to life that is its raison d'etre, the nonliving wants to give: it gives by its desire to be given, by its natural appetite. In this way nature's generosity is achieved. The nonliving does not move except by being moved, but it touches life at both its extremes like the paintbrush through which the artist's idea flows.

Even though in the first explosion of life from the inorganic the nonliving achieves the gift of self by means of the activity of a transcosmic agent, a plant is, on the contrary, a certain self that affirms itself, that assimilates the nonliving, that communicates its own life in the generation of similar beings thereby restoring to nature more than it received. In the plant there is already gift of self by self, that is, life.

When we look at plants from the perspective of their ultimate goal--a pure interiority--they look like a shallow vase whose small capacity quickly makes it overflow. All fruit of a plant's mature development detaches itself from the plant; without consciousness a plant cannot communicate its own life, it lives in darkness; it exhausts itself in generating.

In his Summa Contra Gentiles IV, chapter 11, St. Thomas describes the diverse grades of interiority and communication that are found in nature. Basically, he says this: the manner of emanation varies for things according to their natures; the more elevated a nature is the more that that which emanates from it is intimate to it. After inorganic bodies, that is, ones without instruments, come plants. In plants the emanation proceeds from within insofar as plants form within themselves the seeds that, falling to the ground, grow another plant. This is a first grade of life, for living things are those that move themselves to act. Inanimate things, on the contrary, can only move what is exterior to themselves. It is an indication of life in plants that they are moved from within. However, plant life is imperfect because, although its emanation proceeds from an internal principle, nevertheless that which emanates from it exits little by little and finally is completely exterior to it. Thus, for example, the bud comes out and opens into a flower; then comes the fruit, which although attached to the plant is nonetheless distinct from it. When the fruit is ripe it detaches itself from the plant and falls to the ground in order to produce another plant. One can even say that au fond the first source of this emanation comes from outside for, the sap, intrinsic to the plant, comes from the ground via the roots, and the sap is what nourishes the plant. Notice also that plants cannot assimilate the exterior except by destroying it; eating destroys the food assimilated. Thus, plants cannot become the other objectively, that is, as other. This reminds one of certain idealisms that fail to distinguish vegetative assimilation from poetic assimilation.

Beyond plant life is a more elevated grade of living, animal life where the emanation peculiar to it, although it begins from the exterior, terminates within the organism. Furthermore, the more elevated and advanced the emanation becomes the more intimate and interiorized it becomes. The exterior sense trait impresses its form on the external sense from whence it passes to the imagination and then to memory. But in this case [sense knowledge] the source and the term of the emanation belong to different capacities, for no sense capacity is able to reflect upon itself. This grade of life is superior to that of the plant insofar as the operation proper to this kind of life is more intimate. However, it is not a perfect life since the emanation flows from one capacity into another.

Animals have knowledge, but they do not know that they know. That requires a complete turning back upon oneself. Animals cannot "say" anything to themselves for they do not penetrate themselves with a self-consciousness. The supreme and perfect grade of life is therefore the life of the intelligence. For intelligence is able to reflect upon itself and can know itself. But, human intelligence, although able to know itself, has the source of its knowledge in things exterior to it. For it depends on the senses, which are capacities requiring bodily organs.

Of course human intelligence only knows itself in knowing an object other than itself, an object furthest away from spirit. Nevertheless, it is consciousness in the fullest sense of the word since it is fully present to itself and thus touches itself. Man says to himself "I think" and to God "I know and adore you."

In human intelligence the corporeal universe not only becomes present to itself; in addition that presence opens it to all being and thus man can effect an explicitly lived return to the Source of being, God--God who draws the universe to himself in order to be "said" by it and who in this way prepares an abyss where the divinity can live.


This article was originally published as "Le Cosmos comme Tendence vers la Pensee" in Itineraires 66 (1962): 168-88. A portion of this article also appears in similar (but not identical) form as Part 2, section 3 of "Le Cosmos," in Laval Theologique et Philosophique 50 (1994): 137-43 under the title "Le Cosmos comme elan vers la Pensee." This English translation was prepared for Logos by J. Macoubrey Hubbard. A translation of the complete "The Cosmos" appears in the recently released first volume of the three-volume set, The Writings of Charles De Koninck, edited and translated by Ralph McInerny (University of Notre Dame, 2008). Permission to use the original text was given by Thomas De Koninck.

Thanks to R. J. Connell, friend, colleague, and teacher, who read and corrected the translation. Any defects are mine alone.

(1.) Translator's note: in Le Cosmos (1936), part 2, sections 1 and 2, in Laval Theologique et Philosophique 50 (1994): 128-37.

(2.) There are, without doubt, authors who would not admit the absolute impossibility of a cosmos not essentially ordered to man, nor that of infra-human beings finally intelligible only in their relation to man, even though such a creation would seem to them to be repugnant to divine wisdom. Viewed in this way, the distinction between omnipotence and divine wisdom is vain.

(3.) Translator's note: see note 1.

(4.) Aquinas, DeVeritate, II, a. 2, c.

(5.) Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, c. 112.

(6.) I take the term "terrible" in an Aristotelian andThomistic sense. The object of courage is the terrible, and among them death is the most frightening. "The most terrible of bodily evils is death; it takes away all goods, as Augustine said" (Aquinas, 2-2, 124, 4, c). This note from Summa theologica 2a2a3.123,4 is truncated. I have an inquiry out to the author.

(7.) Aquinas, DeVeritate, 1.9.c. "Illaquae sunt, perfectissimie raditione completa."

(8.) To overcome the suspicion that this is merely an idle dream of philosophy, permit me to cite this passage drawn from a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator, North to the Orient (NewYork: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1935):

One could sit still and look at life from the air; that was it. And I was conscious again of the fundamental magic of flying,... a miracle that has nothing to do with any of its practical purposes and will not change as they change. It is a magic that has more kinship with what one experiences standing in front of serene madonnas or listening to cool chorales, or even reading one of those clear passages in a book--so clear and so illuminating that one feels the writer has given the reader a glass-bottomed bucket with which to look through the ruffled surface of life far down to that still permanent world below (137).
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Author:Ubbard, J.M.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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