My previous two substantive posts, on Thomas Kasulis’s intimacy/integrity distinction, went in opposite directions from one another. Two weeks ago I noted how the intimacy/integrity distinction seems to divide into two separate distinctions – an ontological one of internal vs. external relation between things, and an epistemological one of affective somatic “dark” knowledge vs. public self-reflective knowledge. Kasulis writes as if internal relation and affective somatic knowledge are all part of the same complex and vice versa, but Hegel and the Pali Buddhist texts seem to cross these divides, such that the Pali literature places external relation with affective somatic knowledge and Hegel the opposite.
Last week, though, I aimed to show that the connection Kasulis assumes between these aspects is a real one. What I pointed out was that an internal relation between existent things implies an internal relation between knower and known, and that this implies an affective somatic kind of knowledge – as an external relation between things implies an external relation between knower and known, and therefore a public and self-reflective kind of knowledge.
But if this is so, what do we do with the exceptional cases of Hegel and the Pali literature, which seem to involve one but not the other? It’s a question of some importance to me, since the sharp distinction between Hegel and the Pali literature is in many respects the one that set me on my philosophical quest fifteen years ago.
Let us begin with Hegel. It remains clear to me that Hegel is firmly an intimacy thinker on the ontology side. His thought is, I would argue, all about internal relation – about seeing everything as part of a larger whole, in relation to something else rather than in isolation. As Kasulis’s model suggests, this applies practically as well as theoretically: his ethics and politics are all about setting the individual within the context of a larger state, community and history.
So what about his epistemology? Hegel’s thought is logocentric, based all in concepts and reasoning. This thought is available to the mind irrespective of the body. And yet this knowledge is not as integrity-oriented as one might first suspect. For Hegel’s knowledge is not quite as public as one might suspect – and its sheer difficulty may be the first tipoff in this respect. Those who have studied Hegel often tend to note that it took months or years for him to make any sense – but when it did, it was the whole that came to make sense. To really understand Hegel is to find some sort of transformation going on within one’s mind, where one’s way of thinking is subtly changed.
To put it another way: you could not put anything Hegelian in a knowledge base. If for some reason an organization wanted to make sure its members knew Hegel, his thought would frustrate those keeping track of the ITIL framework or other management frameworks that insist knowledge be publicly available to all, separate from the individual. Hegel’s thought needs to be instantiated in individuals who understand it or – far better – a community of such individuals. The knowledge is not publicly accessible short of that understanding. It is in that respect the kind of “dark”, esoteric knowledge that Kasulis associates with the intimacy approach.
True, Hegel’s logocentrism means that his knowledge is not somatic. It is therefore not a purely intimacy philosophy, and goes some ways toward the integrity model. But that is to be expected, since intimacy and integrity are ideal types. The key is that Hegel’s thought is mostly intimacy with some integrity elements, rather than being an extreme of intimacy in one respect and an extreme of integrity in the other (as it first appeared). The latter is what should cause one to question an ideal type – when the social phenomena one observes do not merely exhibit less of the type itself, but do not exhibit the logical relations that constitute the type. And we do not see that with Hegel, so his work does not pose the problem for the intimacy/integrity categories that I thought it did. His work generally approximates the intimacy-dominant type, with a few integrity dimensions – just what we should expect to see if these ideal types are properly constructed.
What about the Pali texts? Where knowledge seems to involve an affective dimension even though relations are entirely external?
The basic point in these texts is the way the self is relentlessly broken down into aggregates. This changes our very idea of what a relationship between knower and known even means, because the knower no longer is an individual human person. Rather, in any given act of knowing, the knower is a single cognition or set of cognitions, or a similarly isolated mental phenomenon. This knowledge is as impersonal as anything in the ITIL framework; it does not take place within a person, for there are no persons for it to take place within. It is publicly available because there is no such thing as the private.
So far, we have integrity knowledge But what about the affective element in knowledge? That was the problem I identified before in thinking of the Pali texts as integrity texts. Proper knowledge in the Pali seems to involve emotion or affect, which Kasulis characterizes as part of an intimacy approach.
But what exactly does it mean for knowledge to involve emotion? Kasulis’s examples of this turn to empathy: to an emotive identification between the knower and the known, an identification between the self and what it knows. But that’s exactly what the Pali sources warn us against. When the Buddha is asked what non-self means in the suttas, he do so by telling us the things that we might know and we might associate the self with–the five aggregates–and telling us it is none of those: “form (rūpa) is not the self, sensations (vedanā) are not the self, cognitions (saññā) are not the self, mental formations (saṅkhāra) are not the self, consciousness (viññāna) is not the self.” (Majjhima Nikāya III.196 and elsewhere)
The affective element in this knowledge is something quite different from empathy: it is part of the model of causation that early Buddhist texts view as central to reality, where one thing triggers another thing in a causal chain, just as they might in atomic physics. This is usually expressed in the chain known as “dependent co-arising” (paṭicca samuppāda), but the dependence expressed here is a causal dependence, one thing producing another but not necessarily remaining in it. “When this is, that is. From the arising of this comes the arising of that. When this isn’t, that isn’t. From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.” (Saṃyutta Nikāya II.94)
In this twelvefold chain, ignorance (avijjā) triggers emotional elements like craving (taṇhā); and in turn, whatever is subject to origination is subject to cessation, and the cessation of ignorance will also trigger the cessation of craving. The relation among these elements of knowledge is external, a cause-and-effect triggering no different from billiard balls or the atoms of modern physics. So early Buddhism (contrary to Kasulis’s claims about the tradition as a whole) remains above all an integrity view. As before, Kasulis’s ideal-typical model holds up extremely well, though his application of it to Buddhism does not.
So the problem I posed at first turns out not on reflection not to be a real problem. Hegel is by and large an intimacy thinker, the Pali texts integrity texts, and intimacy and integrity hold up well as a model of contrasting ideal types. Now given that this problem turns out not to be a real problem, a reader may well wonder at this point why I bothered posing it problem in the first place. The reason is I found it instructive to go through the process of clarification, as a way of understanding the intimacy/integrity dichotomy better – and for that matter Hegel and the Pali texts as well. I thought some of my readers might find it helpful to follow my thought process on the matter.