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  • Neville’s “Wild God” and the Depths of Nature
  • Robert S. Corrington (bio)

Neville has cautioned me against self-labeling my philosophy, feeling that that is the job for others, hence I should refrain from calling myself an ecstatic or an aesthetic naturalist and let the chips of designation fall where they may after the fact. This could well be sage advice. On the flip side, of course, is the implied freedom to do just the opposite with other philosophies or theologies; namely, to label them as part of a general topology of conceptual and experiential frameworks. The victim of such labeling may accept or reject such designations, may bristle at the hubris or laugh at the ineptness of an imposition of a genus inscription that tramples on or even crushes the uniqueness of the worldview under analysis. On the other hand, a carefully crafted and sensitive label can open up prospects for query that enrich the discourse on matters fundamental. With this last prospect as my hope, I want to give Neville not one but two labels, trusting that they reveal the depth and scope of his unique categorial array as expressed above all in Ultimates, volume 1 of his Philosophical Theology.

So throwing all caution to the wind, I want to call Neville both a deep pantheist and a panentheist but in different orders of being. In his brilliant and oftimes stunning analyses of indeterminate being, he is a deep pantheist, whereas in his cosmology, he is a fairly classical process panentheist, but with some very important non-Whiteheadian components.

Deep pantheism is a perspective that affirms that nature is all that there is and that nature has no Prior or a principle of sufficient reason for its sheer prevalence. Neville’s very radical concept of the ontological creative act is a pure expression of pantheism, but with the dimension of depth added insofar as it penetrates, or becomes permeable to, the mysterious abyss that can never be fathomed by the finite process that we are. We live in the heart of the finite/infinite contrast and struggle to find harmonies within the forms, existential fields of relations, and values that we encounter and are. Underneath our trafficking within the world of finite experience are traces of ultimacy that reach right down into the unconscious of nature.

Neville’s ontology of the great creative act and his process cosmology of determinate being run along the parallel tracks of the most basic distinction one can make in metaphysics; namely that between nature naturing and nature natured. He refers to this distinction, as it is used by Spinoza, only once in Ultimates, and only to reject it. What I propose is to read the distinction through [End Page 5] the lens of Schopenhauer and then reconfigure it to illuminate Neville’s implied deep pantheism. First I quote from Neville’s Ultimates:

Some similarity exists between this conception of the determinate world as the terminus of the ontological creative act and Spinoza’s conception of natura naturans giving rise to natura naturata. For Spinoza, God is the only substance and, having no peer, is indeterminate with respect to anything else. But God does have an infinite number of attributes that are determinate with respect to one another, of which we know only mind and body. Yet God’s being these attributes, natura naturans, “nature naturing,” achieves determinateness only in natura naturata, “nature natured.” The similarity between Spinoza’s conception and the conception of the ontological act of creation does not go too far however. He would say that natura naturans does not make anything new, only that it expresses the divine attributes in determinate form as natura naturata.1

Contrast this Spinozistic formulation of the distinction with that of Schopenhauer from his 1851 anthology Parerga and Paralipomena:

However, naturing nature is still far from being God. Rather, its concept contains the realization that behind the ever so fleeting and restlessly changing appearances of natured nature an everlasting and indefatigable power must be hidden, in virtue of which those appearances constantly renew themselves, while this power itself would not be affected by their extinction. Just as natured nature is the subject of...

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