The theory of positive transcendence will be presented in three parts: 1) "Conditioned Positive Transcendence," where a transformation in perspective redefines the ontological place of sensation and where pleasure and pain are considered as belonging to the first category of value, albeit one dependent on causal conditions; 2) "Unconditioned Positive Transcendence as Purposive Value," where the ontological basis of the ordinary categories of purposive value is set out along with the attendant modes of cognitive necessity; and 3) "Unconditioned Positive Transcendence as Absolute Transcendence," where the ontological basis of religious value is considered under the subdivisions of the problem of evil and the pseudo-value of numinosity. The basis for this division itself will be considered in turn.


§1 Sensation and the Sensible Plenum

Kant's "Copernican Revolution" put the mind, hitherto the passive, subjective element in perceptual knowledge, into the role of the active originator of the objective forms of knowledge that structure the world. Now the "Revolution" must be carried a step further, so that sensation is converted from a mere subjective epiphenomenon into the very content of existence. This will constitute a return to something in the order of Dr. Johnson's naive common sense, where in the immediacy of the perceived object, which is ontologically independent, sensation belongs to the object and is also a subjective epiphenomenon. We ordinarily see things as themselves being colored or textured in their own right as objects, regardless of the eye that may or may not be there to see them or the hand that may or may not be there to touch them.

The problem of sensation is already familiar from the theory of consciousness. As Kant made what hitherto was regarded as a contribution of the object, the objective forms, a contribution of the subject instead, a continuation of Kant's "Copernican Revolution" means taking what he continued to regard as purely a contribution of the subject and changed its origin also. Thus pure sensation, which is neither a perception nor an exhibitor of any objective structure and which might be regarded as no more than the support of the objective structure of perception, may be taken out of its cognitive limbo between object and knowledge and put back in as the underlying reality of existence itself -- to be assigned indifferently to subject or object as emphasis is placed on one pole or the other in the relation of intentionality. The near meaninglessness to which Kant reduce sensation is especially striking when we consider that sensation was still conceived to have been causally effected by external objects, even when that effect and those objects are all matters that can only be "thought" since they belong to the realm of things in themselves, while sensation must still, in order to prevent an absolutely arbitrary construction of knowledge by the subject, so constrain the application of the forms of objectivity to give a coherent and consistent phenomenal representation. By Kant's own principles the former is a speculative liberty that hardly should be a basic principle of a theory of knowledge and the latter is absolutely impossible once pure sensation has been properly defined.

Pure sensation, as something separate from all the forms of objectivity, is left by carrying Kant's system to its logical extreme with no cognitive content or structure whatsoever. If sensation is to mean anything cognitively, it cannot be as pure sensation; and this will be true even when we want to say that positive transcendence, of which this conception of sensation is an approximation, has cognitive significance. The factual structure of object and sensation, the content of the immediate object of perception, may be said with equal truth to be contributed by the subject or imposed by the object -- when we take with sufficient seriousness the relation of intentionality and consider that both poles of the relation are equally primitive and irreducible. The virtue of pure sensation, having suffered the humiliation of our abstracting from it all the forms and relations of knowledge, is precisely that we now may see it standing outside the relation of knowledge: and the only thing that stands outside intentionality is existence. The material aspect of sensation, over the above its factually cognitive content of form and structure, comes into its own once we recognize its ontological status. Pure sensation, cognitively empty and relegated to a peculiar non-status, really stands for far more than factual cognition.

Pure sensation as an entirely subjective epiphenomenon can easily be maneuvered into a common sense content to our existence. The emptiness of our own internal existence, its "transparency," has seemed formally due to the relation of intentionality that empties all material content onto external objects. In our naive regard for perception, pure sensation unquestionably belongs to external objects; but if we then regard these apparently external qualities as in fact internal and subjective, we have actually returned a material content to our own transparent existence. Our conclusion should be that color, texture, etc. put us in immediate relation to our own existence, or better yet, since the relation is one of identity, that they constitute our existence. This should have a considerably concrete appeal to it; there is an emotional sense to the notion that my sensations constitute a direct access to my own existence.

Other theories also return sensation to objects, though not necessarily as their existence. Armstrong, whom we have previously considered, although a materialist who identifies mind and brain, himself holds that secondary qualities belong to the external objects that they seem to [125]. But with such a move, Armstrong wishes to erase the subjective status and internality of secondary qualities altogether. Closer to the viewpoint here is Whitehead, who wished strongly to preserve both our naive and sophisticated senses that the sensible secondary qualities belong both to external objects and to the body of the subject. His solution, as he says, is that, "everything is everywhere at all times" [126]. Like Leibniz, Whitehead has postulated a plurality of real entities that mirror, in different ways, the real entities beyond them. Distinct things, although separate, have a real presence in the representation of all other things. Thus sensation, while existing by virtue of its subject, is also a genuine part of the existence of the represented object.

The problem of internal and external here, however, is approached without the same sort of ontological pluralism. The principle of ontological undecidability suspended judgment on the question altogether, and that was sufficient to provide separate fields for the problems, like space and time, separately germane either to internal or external perspectives. The revolution of positive transcendence does not alter that situation. Sensation still does not belong more to one pole of intentionality than the other; instead the dilemma of to which pole of existence sensation really belongs is turned inside out, and the poles themselves are subordinated as projections from the ontologically prior positive transcendence of sensation. In a sense this still does not explain how my "patch of blue" can be both a subjective epiphenomenon and in a real object "out there": the thrust of the solution is that the [erratum corrected] distinction is only an apparent one, part of the consciousness and not part of Being. This is a more through "everything is everywhere" than even Whitehead has, for Whitehead still must distinguish separate spatial locations for real things and the sensations by which they are represented in other things and rely on physical connections to link them up. Here we can see that this ontological pluralism suffers from the problem of an external perspective: in space things do not exist in each other and are only related to each other causally; but in that space as a whole is subordinate to the form of intentionality and secondary to the Being which is neither internal nor external, mental or spatial, we are free to say that the sensation in representation and the existence of represented phenomenal objects really are the same, identically, in positive transcendence. With the viewpoint, we need not burden our theory of space, as Whitehead must, with the paradox of multiple presences.

With the duality of perspectives still in mind, we can even so say that the answer to the question of the "stuff" that fills the plenum of Being, for which the whole history of philosophy and science has been able to provide only the thinnest of abstract descriptions and explanations, is quite simply the sensible, concrete plenum that we continually perceive in ordinary experience. Table thumping, while innocent of metaphysical commentary, is intuitively the precisely correct answer to the idealism of Berkeley, for the sensible solidity of the table is just as much the stuff of material substance as it is the stuff of soul. Gaining this perspective on the plenum truly completes Kant's "Copernican Revolution," which had left sensation as a pathetic and paradoxical non-entity. Confidence in the independent structure of the world, such as characterizes even Descartes, allowed a clear and consistent belief in the nature of sensation as an epiphenomenal and causal product, private and subjective. Kant's move of taking the objective structure of the world and placing it in the subject should have meant that sensation also lost its simple traditional place. That aspect of the matter, however, was overlooked. As Kant had made what was objective subjective, it would only have been reasonable to make what was subjective objective; but Kant's beliefs about thought and reason, that they actually do have a Dialectical connection to external reality, prevented that.

The most difficult task here is to overcome the weight of a tradition of centuries in philosophy that by now has made the subjective epiphenomenal nature of sensation nearly self-evident. All that self-evidence, however, does not prevent our naive impressions from continuing to attribute colors and textures and odors to objects themselves, just as no amount of skepticism in epistemology seems to prevent philosophers from living their lives in such an otherwise ordinary way as would seem to imply tacit acceptance of the reality of the world as it appears. I see that the objects I perceive are themselves colored, etc., and I suppose that in breaking them open I shall discover that they are through and through colored, etc. in the same way. This is to say that our naive impression is not just that phenomenal objects are covered by sensation but that they are a plenum with respect to sensation.

The sense of solidity that we give to the stuff of Parmenidean Being is not just the abstract fullness, virtually equivalent to emptiness, that we give to all conceptions of negative transcendence; it is fleshed out, we might say, by the sensation of fullness which we do literally find in the perception of our own flesh and which we do find consistently however we break apart any solid object. We are never deceived that the stuff of sensation in objects belongs merely to the surface. Now, by this theory, in feeling the solidity of things around me, there is no horror in the revelation of science that the universe is emptiness; for we see naively what science cannot see in its sophistication, that Being is present in its own absolute fullness and solidity. The coldness and the solitude of the atoms and the void is banished and the common richness of my daily observations of the world becomes the genuine revelation of the thing in itself.

§2 Caused Value

For all the "Copernican Revolution" above, sensation is still nothing that we are able to inspect in isolation. The theory continues to deal with an abstraction. At this point, however, we may consider a species of feeling which is akin both to sensation and to the following categories of purposive value. That is the species of pleasure and pain. What is characteristic of pleasure and pain for our purpose is that they are part of the causal order, i.e. dependent on external causes, states of the body, etc. They are thus as epiphenomenal as sensation but without the same cognitive dimension in perception. Instead they have a dimension of value, and that value is supremely one of our own physical existence. The thesis here is that pleasure and pain are value, but in a qualified sense: they are one manifestation of positive transcendence, one ontological perspective on the content of existence. Following Nelson [127], pleasure and pain will be called "intuitive value" in that they are present to consciousness without the mediation of thought or reflection. There is no cognitive dimension to intuitive value, however, apart from phenomenal objects, and there is thus no special mode of necessity to be associated with their ontological ground.

Unlike the theoretical abstraction of sensation as such, pleasure and pain do not need any special analysis to be identified. According to our theoretical analysis of sensation, however, pleasure and pain can, as sensations, be identified as manifestations of positive transcendence. That they are also manifestations of value is another matter; and this conclusion rests wholly on their own intuitive character as value. Why this connection or coincidence between positive transcendence and value should occur is a question that can only be answered in the following section. What we can deal with here is the ontological status of pleasure and pain, and in that sense we can recognize that they are the substance of my existence in so far as I am existentially at risk from external objects and states of affairs in nature: although they qualify as sensation to be considered matters of positive transcendence, they also share with sensation the quality of being causally effected and causally dependent on external objects. Pleasure and pain can be said to represent the positive transcendence of that fragment of external existence, my body in whole or part, that corresponds to my internal existence. Pleasure and pain are free of the form of intentionality in the sense that they are in no way cognitive sensation; and like a pure and non-cognitive sensation, they are isolated and opaque causal products from which no inference of knowledge is made to the establishment of an external object with the character of "pleasure" and "pain." The most that we say, knowing through our theoretical cognitive means the causes of pleasure and pain, is that such and such objects are "causes of pleasure and pain." A not very informative inference.

What we infer about our own existence is more important: pleasure is a good (prima facie) existence which furthers our existence, both to its character and to its very reality. But then we must say that pleasure and pain may be deceptive in these senses, for it is no entirely unusual condition that pleasure may attend causes that can actually kill, while pain may attend causes that can actually save life. This merely reflects the opaque character of causal change: introspectively opaque but at the same time entirely open to scientific inquiry. Thus we come to experimentally understand how heroin, for instance, deceives the body by mimicking the structure of native chemicals of the brain, inducing pathological states of intense pleasure -- pleasure, indeed, so intense that addiction and the ruin of what would otherwise be every ordinary and desirable aspect of the good life seem a reasonable trade-off. Our judgment always continues, however, that unless something is wrong in external conditions, pleasure should uniformly and properly indicate the good and pain the bad. Because of its occasional deceptiveness, and because of a metaphysical belief that immanent reality or matter is tainted with evil or imperfection, pleasure has often been taken as altogether evil, regardless of true conditions. Here, however, pleasure and pain in each case of their occurrence can only be taken to be good or evil according as we see through the true, non-intuitive good and evil of the situation.

While pleasure and pain would seem to constitute internal existence in the sense of being private and individual, their place in terms of the alternatives of the ground of change is firmly external. To say that pleasure and pain are causal products and subject to the conditions of external transcendence is the same as to say that they arise out of the potential of the external imperfect aspect. One approach to purposive value will be to say that such value is the occasion of will; but pleasure and pain are not occasions of will, which is internal potential, but effects of causes, which is external potential. The intimacy of pleasure and pain to our existence is the strongest sign, from within, that we are not disembodied spirits in the world.

Considered as the unique category of value for our fragment of external existence, pleasure and pain may be taken, in this qualified way, as the ultimate good and evil of our lives. Disregarding for the moment the largest issues of "true" good and evil that must be considered under the theory of purposive value, there is no simpler criterion of the "good life" than that pain should be avoided and pleasure maximized. One needn't be an Epicurean to accept that strategy. We know too well that some pain, perhaps even very great pains, are unavoidable in human life. That is the nature of causal existence. Living our lives is itself a protest and struggle against the inevitable pain, and the inevitable death. When the horror of that situation is felt sufficiently strongly, we are liable to see pronounced the doctrines that take pleasure and pain and even the whole physical world as inessential, meaningless, illusion, or evil. This whole problem of the presence of evil and our vulnerability to it will be considered in its turn; at this point it is sufficient to note that the problem of the presence of evil belongs as much to purposive value as to pleasure and pain. Furthermore, by the doctrine presented here, pleasure and pain are far from being something that we can ontologically slough off; they are as much a part of Being as the purposive categories of value -- the causal, physical world is as much a part of the transcendent as any "spiritual" values or realities. So the task is not to pretend that our disembodied spirits are indifferent to pleasure and pain; it is to labor with all our might to create the good conditions that minimize pain and engender the natural and worthy pleasures that are so familiar to everyone. As a matter of fact, most people of good will and good sense pursue such a course.

In religion and philosophy the traditional distrust of pleasure and pain is understandable and unfortunate. It is understandable because it is a deep and universal human grievance to be at the mercy of natural causes. The Socratic principles that it is better to suffer evil than to do it and that nothing can truly harm the good person, a notion adopted by the Stoics and then Christianity, reflect this grievance. Because pleasure and pain so often are arbitrary matters of fortune, they are subject to being condemned together as equally amoral and so immoral and positively evil, a snare and deception for the good. One step beyond that is to accept pain as a good in itself, as a proper lesson in disillusionment with physical existence. In contrast to such sad doctrines is the simple hedonism of elevating pleasure to the sole good and pain to the sole evil. As evidenced by the serious qualifications of Epicurean doctrine, however, no hedonism can really be kept as a completely simple system. Hedonism does reflect our intuitive grasp, however, that, despite the tricks that nature plays on us, pleasure is a good in itself which, in the proper order of things, should only be caused by good.

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Copyright (c) 1985 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved