A Reflection on the Metaphysical laws of history
In the beginning, there was record. Simple as, this is how history begins. It begins with record. Spoken, written, rendered, it varies. But this is how history begins, it begins with transcendental memory. It begins with one generation inheriting the recollection of the former. Perhaps in a limited, distorted or flawed state, perhaps in a state which must be reconciled and confronted by scientific investigation, but nevertheless, this is how history begins.
So what are the laws of history? Like any other laws, they can either be prescriptive or descriptive. Descriptive laws are like the laws of physics. You don’t need a police officer to reinforce the laws of gravity. Rather, you need a police officer to prevent them from occurring when you’re driving too fast on an icy road. Descriptive laws are based on an a priori legal realism, wherein the value of the law is derived from its demonstrability.
It is a performative imperative. It is a transient property based on our own capacity of evidence and inquiry. Today’s law of gravity might be very different from that of a thousand years. Why? Not because gravity has changed, but because our understanding of gravity has changed.
Prescriptive laws are derived from the a posteriori, a law of consequence. If you attack someone, you go to jail, etc. Prescriptive laws come from an idealistic contemplation of justice. They are inherently flawed and imperfect, they are a wish more than a reality. Ideally, people who are cruel, or selfish, or willfully negligent should be stopped, we have an innate need for justice. And so we set up an idealistic notion of justice. We know there will never be perfect justice, but we can sleep a little bit better at night if at least we try.
The laws of history are fascinating in how they exist in between these two paradigms of law. The laws of history must both produce a naturalistic a priori, as well as that of a metaphysical a posteriori. History demands not only criteria within its scope, but also a means by which to demonstrate this criteria. It is precisely so that the scholar, the recordkeeper, the philosopher and the archeologist find themselves in the same room.
So what then is metaphysical naturalism? Or perhaps naturalistic metaphysics? Can ideals be resolved through scientific realism? Is there indeed a way in which to reconcile these inherently contradictory concepts?
Yes, there is. Because even contradictions have laws. The law of contradiction is, simply put, dialectical in nature. That is the beauty of idealistic realism.
And simply put, it works like this: We desire justice, we make a system of law which forbids one person to be cruel to another. A lot of people are still cruel, but when they are, their cruelty is exposed. Overtime, there is a stigma against hurting people or being mean spirited, and overtime the innocent are protected. It’s not perfect, people are still hurt, but on some level we can reconcile this cruelty through the pursuit of an ideal.
The thesis is justice, and the antithesis is injustice, and the synthesis is civics. Thanks to civic law, millions of people can coexist in honourable and peaceful circumstances. Our current civic law is very primitive, and corruption, collusion and manipulation is very commonplace. But nonetheless, it signifies the idealistic realism of justice, how it is not about the attainment, but about the pursuit. Justice requires constant vigilance, it is technically speaking impossible, and yet relativistically speaking very real.
And this is by no means a new notion, it is simply the observation of Emmanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. I don’t think Kant believed anyone could live absolutely by the categorical imperative, or that it could even be entirely coherent, but the notion of one is very appealing.
Contrast this with Hume’s moral sentimentalism, and we see how once again we witness the same contradiction. Hume proclaims that morality is a kind of algorithmic causality of if and then, like we are autonomous machines. “If you want this, then do that.” That there is a pure reason to morality.
Kant attempts to find a universality, an anchorage. Because even automatons have some kind of firmware. And yet, even this does not approach the geist; the deus ex machina, the spiritual aroma. In fact it tries to tame it, it tries to proclaim that even the geist lives in bondage of the categorical imperative.
But I fear this can’t possibly be true. Because it’s a matter of chicken and egg. If the geist is bound to the categorical imperative, then what produces such an imperative? This is where theosophy only offers answers, and while I try to be pious in my faith, even I won’t resort to such cheap tricks while I am still allotted my mortality.
Rather I must play the game by the rules given to us. I must abandon my own conjecture of faith in order to find an answer. Because in a strange way, this is also to embrace the realism of one’s faith. To study God’s creation is to pursue a divine truth by way of the Jihad; The struggle.
The great stony path which may deliver us from ignorance. The tempest on the horizon. For what is poetry if not beauty through struggle? To produce something which lacks clarity to the acute observer, to produce something that demands to be understood, and investigated, to be seen in the kindest of faiths, as to capture its true sublime sentiment.
The true path to God is one which is gentle and sophisticated, which holds the cold and calculative realities of science in one hand, and yet still maintains a devotion to the unknown, to that strange and impossible geist whose nature grows more mysterious as it is resolved. An epistemological hydra.
To let theosophy cloud the mind with platitudes that silence our radiant questions is to commit a greater heresy. When we pursue science, and inquiry, and divine truth, God rewards us with invention, medicine, electricity and technology. When we embrace ignorance and treat God as though they are a mere genie in a bottle, then we find centuries of war, slavery, illiteracy and despotism. Feudalism was not an age in which God was governing Europe, it was rather an age in which Europe suffered a deficit of the divine truth. Of the geist within history.
And that is precisely the imperative of history, that is precisely the nature of metaphysical laws within history. It is not Hume’s If/Then. It is not Kant’s categorical imperative. It is rather a strange mixture of the two, a synthesis, it is: When/Then.
And this question prompts far greater investigation, it is not an answer, but rather the capacity to formulate the correct question. History in its criteria begins with “when.” When is what produces what is historically exemplary, when is what separates the mundane from the remarkable. When is what proclaims what is the historical aroma. When is what separates a schoolgirl’s diary, from the diary of Anne Frank.
Every single object of history is entirely mundane until when strikes.
And as we observe this peculiarity of time, this peculiarity of history, that is when we begin to grasp the metaphysics of such a history. How it is not simply a linearity of records as time passes, but rather a strange element; A force. History is active and reactive, it is an influence upon our consciousness, it is not merely dry pages of old books, or artefacts in a museum, it is rather a physiological property of humanity.
Because what else could memory possibly be? History is a fascinating extension of our consciousness, wherein we have learned to produce memories that live outside of the corpus. It is a wonderful dance of the geist, as it leaps and jumps and waltzes into our minds, generation by generation, with a totalising and profoundly compounding effect. It turns centuries into millenniums, it turns eternity into epochs, it turns lifetimes into moments and it turns the world into a strange realm of acute and wonderous familiarity.
This is when we see the true property of the geist, how it finds innocence even within the most rueful passages of brutality. The untrained eye, when looking at history, see death, misery, tyranny and cruelty. But the greatest product of history is its lessons, and the geist is a very compassionate teacher. History has an innate and instinctual drive to reveal lessons of hope and justice.
History instructs us not towards condemnation, but redemption. The allegory of war quickly becomes one of peace. The allegory of prejudice quickly becomes one of universality. The allegory of nature becomes one of stewardship. History is an inverse idealism that is produced by its criteria of metaphysical laws.
That is why we read the diary of Anne Frank. That is why Anne Frank has a name, and all the terrible brutes who oppressed her are scarcely recalled as little more than uniforms.
That is the extraordinary work of the geist, and it becomes apparent in all the things which we see as history.