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The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 14.1 (2000) 1-6

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The Speculative

William T. Harris

"We need what Genius is unconsciously seeking, and, by some daring generalization of the universe, shall assuredly discover, a spiritual calculus, a Novum Organon, whereby nature shall be divined in the soul, the soul in God, matter in spirit, polarity resolved into unity; and that power which pulsates in all life, animates and builds all organizations, shall manifest itself as one universal deific energy, present alike at the outskirts and centre of the universe, whose centre and circumference are one; omniscient, omnipotent, self-subsisting, uncontained, yet containing all things in the unbroken synthesis of its being."

--("Calculus," one of Alcott's "Orphic Sayings.")

At the end of the sixth book of Plato's Republic, after a characterization of the two grades of sensuous knowing and the grade of the understanding, "which is obliged to set out from hypotheses, for the reason that it does not deal with principles but only with results," we find the speculative grade of knowing characterized as "that in which the soul, setting out from an hypothesis, proceeds to an unhypothetical principle, and makes its way without the aid of [sensuous] images, but solely through ideas themselves." The mathematical procedure which begins by hypothecating definitions, axioms, postulates, and the like, which it never examines nor attempts to deduce or prove, is the example given by Plato of the method of the Understanding, while he makes the speculative Reason "to posit hypotheses by the Dialectic, not as fixed principles, but only as starting points, in order that, by removing them, it may arrive at the unhypothetical--the principle of the universe."

This most admirable description is fully endorsed by Aristotle, and firmly established in a two-fold manner: [End Page 1]

1. In the Metaphysics (xi. 7) he shows ontologically, starting with motion as an hypothesis, that the self-moved is the first principle; and this he identifies with the speculative, and the being of God.

2. In the De Anima (iii. 5-8) he distinguishes psychologically the "active intellect" as the highest form of knowing, as that which is its own object, (subject and object,) and hence as containing its own end and aim in itself--as being infinite. He identifies this with the Speculative result, which he found ontologically as the Absolute.

Spinoza in his Ethics (Prop. xl. Schol. ii., and Prop. xliv., Cor. ii. of Part II.) has well described the Speculative, which he names "Scientia intuitiva," as the thinking of things under the form of eternity, (De natura rationis est res sub quadam specie æternitatis percipere.)

Though great diversity is found in respect to form and systematic exposition among the great philosophers, yet there is the most complete unanimity, not only with respect to the transcendency of the Speculative, but also with reference to the content of its knowing. If the reader of different systems of Philosophy has in himself achieved some degree of Speculative culture, he will at every step be delighted and confirmed at the agreement of what, to the ordinary reader, seem irreconcilable statements.

Not only do speculative writers agree among themselves as to the nature of things, and the destiny of man and the world, but their results furnish us in the form of pure thought what the artist has wrought out in the form of beauty. Whether one tests architecture, sculpture, painting, music or poetry, it is all the same. Goethe has said:

"As all Nature's thousand changes
     But one changeless God proclaim;
So in Art's wide kingdoms ranges
    One sole meaning, still the same:
This is Truth, eternal Reason,
    Which from Beauty takes its dress,
And serene, through time and season,
    Stands for aye in loveliness."

While Art presents this content to the senses, Religion offers it to the conception in the form of a dogma to be held by faith; the deepest Speculative truth is allegorically typified in a historical form, so that it acts upon the mind partly through fantasy and partly through the understanding. Thus Religion presents the same content as Art...


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