The Seventh Degree of Wisdom — Part One

‘… he drink up words, scilicet, tomorrow till recover will not, all too many much illusions through photoprismic velamina of hueful panepiphanal world spectacurum of Lord Joss, the of which zoantholitic furniture, from mineral through vegetal to animal, not appear to full up together fallen man than under but one photoreflection of the several iridals gradations of solar light, that one which that part of it (furnit of heupanepi world) had shown itself (part of fur of huepanwor) unable to absorbere, whereas for numpa one puraduxed seer in seventh degree of wisdom of Entis-Onton he savvy inside true inwardness of reality, the Ding hvad in idself id est, all objects (of panepiwor) allside showed themselves in trues coloribis resplendent with sextuple gloria of light actually retained, untisintus, inside them (obs of epiwo)’.

- James Joyce, ‘Finnegans Wake’, 1939.

With the ever shifting allusions, the perspectival dislocations, the syntactical ambiguities, it is of course no straightforward matter to attempt to paraphrase the points pidgin fellow George Berkeley, (1685–1753), Archbishop of the Anglo-Irish Church in Jesus, is making here for the benefit of Saint Patrick, (fifth century), patron saint of Ireland, but we get the drift, that only an exceptional seer will perceive a reality that is not expended entirely in the exterior realm of sense impressions. Berkeley, patching together from old materials a new theory of perception and of the rainbow via the data of sense impressions, is explaining to Patrick that since no man is free he swallows up words, to wit, scilicet, the innumerable illusions engendered by the rainbow-coloured veneer, (velamen, the outer covering or membrane of the aerial roots of orchids) of the panepiphanal universal spectrum of Lord Joss, that is, Lord Jesus. And the entirety of this spectrum will not be perceived until the afterlife, tomorrow, while the primal furniture of earth, (agapanthus, the name of a genus whose elemental constituents are configured in sixes), mineral, vegetable, and animal, do not offer up a complete picture of fallen man; for one segment of the eternal photo-reflection of the several rainbow, iridal, gradations of solar light cannot be perceived in this life; and only an outstanding paradoxical, puraduxed, seer possessing wisdom of the Einsteinian-Newtonian (Entis-Onton) kind to the seventh degree will sense inwardly, to behold interiorly, the true reality, its quidditas, the thing which in itself it is; only to such a one would every object disclose itself unsparingly resplendent in a six-fold panoply of light, obscured from the epiphanal world.

Such a seer will perceive reality in the manner of that outstanding thinker Albert Einstein, (1879–1955), who developed his theory of relativity from the ground breaking work of Isaac Newton, (1642–1726), concerning the nature and colours of light, and since Newton’s time, and Berkeley was a contemporary albeit a younger one of Newton, the rainbow had been commonly considered as having seven principal colours, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet; whereas Newton imbued the seventh colour with mysterious qualities, and investigations into the nature of light in the early twentieth century did reveal a host of colours that are indeed invisible to the naked eye, such as ultra-violet, infra-red, gamma rays and so on; in effect lending justification to Newton’s instinctual demurring with regard to any closed definition of light that may be proposed. And Einstein’s analysis of the nature of light may have been somewhat metaphorical, though certainly a supreme achievement of conceptual physics, it nevertheless worked itself out just perfectly, thereby guiding him onward and upward towards the formulation of his special, general, and unified theories of relativity, and thus delivering a picture of the nature of the universe quite unlike anything previously proposed.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, ‘Spirit of the Rainbow’, c. 1886

Such historic formulations, the first emerging in 1905, were presented to the world within Joyce’s own lifetime; mayhap prompting him to the thought that there is a literary realm to parallel such formulations, and of an even surpassing magnitude, and for which its discovery also awaits; for one can discern in Berkeley’s words that, analogically speaking, whomever is graced with singular powers of inward perception can penetrate straight into the heart of life. The narrative of the Wake amuses us somewhat adroitly with the numbers six and seven; for having once been presented sevencoloured a compound word is thereupon advanced that delivers only six colours and which peters out with -an (and) to suggest the mystery that the seventh has assumed; and similarly Joyce utilises alternative words like prism, spectrum, and iridal to maintain the image of the seven-coloured rainbow as predominant while at the same time implying that the picture is deficient; for there is a reference to a genus whose components are configured into sixes (zoantholitic from oanthus) thereby suggesting that we do not perceive a seventh unknown part of the material universe; and hence the remarkable seer must have not merely the sixth but also the seventh degree of wisdom, and thus be able to apprehend the mystery of the rainbow’s mysterious seventh colour, and hence the unknown dimensions of light.

And yet the seer of the real nature of a thing, (the Ding hvad in idself), of the quidditas of reality, observes objects in a sextuple gloria of light; for the seer is no scientist; he rather perceives ‘interiorlv’ even as the philosopher Berkeley supposedly did (though in fact he drew a veil over the interior); from which we may presume that the perception of the seer is broader than, and indeed subsumes within it, perception of the Einsteinian-Newtonian sort; and the light with which we are here concerned is not simply the light of physics alone but also of understanding; attained, we may further presume, through the five senses, plus the mysterious sixth sense that transcends them; a sixth sense that is by no means only a privilege granted to a divine being but is also professedly accessible also to some humans; perhaps the suggestion is that the seer here evoked in the Wake can ape God in apprehending the whole picture.

Giorgio de Chirico, ‘The Seer’, 1914/15

But Ding hvad in idself, the thing-in-itself, puts us in mind of Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804); it is certainly a Kantian term; and maybe he even qualifies as the outstanding paradoxical seer; he is after all frequently cited as the greatest philosopher of all time; and who managed to make most of the philosophy that preceded him seem superficial by comparison to his own; and he is certainly a paradoxical seer, for far from beholding interiorily and grasping the complete picture he introduces the concept of things-in-themselves, objects as they are independent of observation, objects that are unknowable, in other words, which is to say, the complete picture, reality as a whole, is forever beyond the grasp of even by the most outstanding seer of all time.

Similarly, Berkeley is a puraduxed seer given his dictum esse is percipi, to be is to be perceived; that is to say, the word colour necessarily implies something seen, the word sound implies something heard, the word shape implies something seen or touched, but it would not be logical to regard objects as existing prior to, or independent of the mind; for to posit a reality beyond what was so apprehended is to contend for ‘an unknown somewhat (if indeed it may be termed somewhat) which is quite stripped of all sensible qualities, and can neither be perceived by sense nor apprehended by the mind’. The complete picture is thereby veiled to us as it is with Kant; though it is not to claim that the material world exists only as sense impressions received by the mind; the idea is rather to limit the realm of discourse to what can consistently be discoursed about; which is to say, Berkeley’s philosophy implicates a particular theory of language, and he even has the chutzpah to claim that an appeal to commonsense can quite adequately defend his idealism, as he exhorts you, the perceiver, to ‘sound your own thoughts’; and enjoins you to ‘be not deceived by words’, or you would be led to definitions that are ‘entirely made up of negatives’; which is to say, language should be limited to descriptions of completely perceivable reality, and it has no role to play beyond that. But does this not lead us into solipsism instead? Well, there is an external reality, in the divine mind at least; and later advocates of phenomenalism (not to be confused with phenomenology) did stretch this theory of perception to incorporate hypothetical propositions in addition to categorical ones; the discourse then becomes about not only actual sensations but possible ones if an observer should happen to be present, the hope thereby being to deliver a more comprehensive description of reality; but whichever version you opt for it remains the case that our knowledge of each object is a bundle of sensations or ideas about it, intermittently collected together through experience, or compounded by the mind in accordance with its own mode of operating.

René Magritte, ‘The Seducer’, 1953.

Berkeley’s objective was, of course, to reconcile his religion with his theory of perception, the latter somewhat patched together and then it is simply declared to be self-evident that the reality that is unperceived by human observers is nonetheless perceived by a divine mind, and therefore, though unknown to humans, exists anyway: ‘Some truths there are so near and obvious to the mind, that a man need only open his eyes to see them. Such I take this important one to be, to wit, that all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind, that their being is to be perceived or known; that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some external spirit. We may allow the theory to be consistent, but it must be looked into further; for the modern rationalist tradition that grew out of the subjective idealism of Berkley, and the transcendental idealism of Kant, as well as out of the radical empiricism of John Locke, (1632–1704), and of David Hume, (1711–1776), has been marked by a series of decrees restricting the range and quality of linguistic expressiveness; a fact that could not fail to capture the attention of the author of the Wake.

I therefore propose to demonstrate in this series of articles that for numpa one puraduxed seer in seventh degree of wisdom we need look no further than Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831); not exactly what Joyce had in mind, but this philosopher successfully argues that the idealisms of Berkeley and Kant are bad idealisms; they do not deliver what idealism is supposed to deliver, that is, a total picture of reality; whereas objective idealism, that is, Hegel’s idealism, does just that. For what is proclaimed in the above passage from the Wake is that, pace Berkeley, a seer may indeed obtain the full picture of reality in this life, with no need to wait for the afterlife so to do; though the Wake employs Berkeley’s ideas of perception even while rejecting their human limitations; this is noticeable in the substratal picture of a camera film consuming impressions; for according to Berkeley ideas are imprinted upon the senses, but essential impressions are lacking given that humans are incapable of taking in the complete picture (one photoreflection) that is perceived by God.

But now if we think of this in a completely different way albeit back to front we can take it to mean that as for these missing impressions we merely have not the words for them, but once the word for a thing is discovered then that thing exists; and we do possess the words for the material reality that surrounds us by the very fact that we have the sense impressions of it; what we perceive exists, and through absorbing sense impressions we are lapping up words as the impressions of a reality that presents us with epiphanic phenomena and that find their way into our consciousness; for language does not picture reality as the younger Ludwig Wittgenstein, (1889–1951), supposed, there is no simple one-to-one correspondence between words and reality, they are on the contrary quite near to being just one thing, from which we may conclude that the divine mind possesses a replete stockpile of words for the total and for the eternal reality, material as well as metaphysical, which it alone observes, the one photoreflection of all the gradations of solar light.

Sunrise in Asgardstrand, 1893/94, Edvard Munch

And this perception is in addition accessible to our outstanding seer, and thus such a one possesses a lexicon enhanced beyond the merely human; or perhaps, were we to allow ourselves to be guided by Berkeley, the perception operates in much the same way that ideas are compounded with other ideas or divided even further and in alternate ways to contribute to an ever finer perception whereby the seer has the instinctive capacity to produce innumerable new compounds from the existing human stockpile of words, not simply from the English language but from every language, in order to represent the complete reality; and an elementary occurrence of the outcome of such a process is the series hueful panepiphanal world, heupanepi world, huepanwor, panepiwor, epiwo. And so the idealist Berkeley draped in colours of the rainbow elucidates for the practical minded Patrick draped in black and white upon the matter of epiphanies; for the veil of illusion, Berkeley asserts, conceals the hueful panepiphanal world of Lord Joss from those of unrefined perception; for every object within the heupanepi world, absorbing six of the seven colours of solar light, reflects the evident seventh.

For our speculative and investigative seer, on the other hand, who prompts us into a like understanding, the absorbed colours are manifest; gazing interiorily and beneath appearances, the seer sees the thing in itself, the sextuple gloria retained inside the object that Patrick with his crude vision either overlooks or discounts; for the theologically-minded Berkeley naturally evinces a repulsion towards the material world, his vision is enveloped in a heptachromatic photoprismic velamina the better to shut out an exterior world that is now bursting open the shutters, and permitting him to ponder upon the inner seeing that confines the Ding hvad in idself id est, that noumenal reality which intertwines Berkeley with Kant and with Sigmund Freud, (1856–1939). But the battle is not at all going his way and defeat is on the horizon; the sunlight outside is breaking in, (remember in the context of the dream narrative of the Wake at this point it is morning and the dreamer is awakening); later in the text Berkeley is reduced to sticking his head up his arse; no doubt far from what he had in mind once he embarked upon his seeking out the true interiority of reality … ‘as he shuck his thumping fore features apt the hoyhop of His Ards’.

Our outstanding seer may be compared to a filí, a member of an elite class of poets in Ireland, up until about the 14th century, for the seven degrees of wisdom also refer to the Bardic schools, the course of which extended over twelve years, and the highest grade of which acquired the title ollave. The word file perhaps derives from the proto-Celtic word widluios, meaning seer, one who sees; from the verb widlu-, to see; for the filí were not merely poets but, in addition to historians and composers of panegyrics, they were prophetic poets who foretold the future either in the form of verse or in the form of riddles. And the ollave, the anglicised form of ollam, (ollam fodhla = great teacher), was a member of the highest rank of filí; possibly of the rank of druid; that is to say, much the same as a professor, or person of great learning. And, significantly for this passage from the Wake, the ollav was endowed with a distinction equal to that of a king, and could therefore wear six colours.

Sunrise in Asgardstrand, 1893/94, Edvard Munch

Hegel, in the section ‘Observing Reason’ in ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, explains how observing reason comes to be certain that it is all reality, that it is to be found everywhere, in empirical things, as well as in consciousness; observing reason apprehends the world around as real and to possess continuing, independent existence; a relation to the world that is a form of reason for it sees itself in the world; in effect, observing reason is that of a seer falling short of the seventh degree of wisdom, and Hegel will put forward a totally different kind of idealism whereby the world outside and the world within are in consciousness and not radically other, and hence, the world is knowable.

Hegel establishes as much through his phenomenology (not to be confused with phenomenalism), thereby attaining to a kind of rationalism whereby consciousness comes to look upon the world as a place in which it can be at home: ‘Now that self-consciousness is Reason, its hitherto negative relation to otherness turns round into a positive relation’. Whereas reason holds that the world is rational, and thereby proceeds to find itself in this otherness, such rationalism becomes irrational, if I may so put it, or most certainly perverted, if it fails to assume its proper form; and Hegel therefore discusses different kinds of idealism that collapse the distinction between the subject and the world, and so take thoughts and things to coincide immediately. Hegel endorses idealism of a particular kind, of course, but it is essential for him to guarantee that such unity ‘does not again fall back into inert simplicity, and does not depict actuality itself in a non-actual manner’. Kantian idealists contravene such a circumscription, and Berkeleyan idealists do so too, with the consequence that the emptiness of the subject necessitates in the reintroduction of another kind of negation, for example, in the form of Kant’s unknowable thing-in-itself, so that their rationalism ends up being compromised by an underlying scepticism. Hegel our numpa one puraduxed seer in seventh degree of wisdom sees further with this particular great insight: ideas are realities too; ideas have a kind of power; ideas can be unfolded into reality not merely through the application of thought upon reality, for our thinking is itself a reality; ideas are part of the furniture of the world and not in opposition to the world; nor do they merely provide a somewhat fuzzy image of the world; ideas have reality in themselves; consciousness contains (if I may be allowed the container metaphor though I know of the problems associated with that) reality itself.

I intend therefore, in what follows, to look into Kant’s transcendental idealism as presented in the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, and into Hegel’s answer to it; to be followed by Berkeley’s subjective idealism as presented in ‘A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’; again with Hegel’s response.

‘The Seer — 1’, Oscar Dominguez, (1906–1957).

Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ may be summarised as follows:

1. To establish the possibility of metaphysics as a science it must be shown that synthetic a priori truths are possible.

2. Synthetic a priori truths are universally and necessarily true (hence, a priori), but their necessity cannot be derived by analysis of the meanings of such truths (hence, they are synthetic).

3. The two sources of knowledge are sensibility and understanding.

4. Space and time are the a priori forms of sensibility (intuition); we are so constituted that we cannot perceive anything at all except by casting it into the forms of space and time.

5. The a priori conditions of our understanding are called the categories of our understanding; the categories of quantity are unity, plurality, and totality; of quality: reality, negation, and limitation; of relation: substance and accident, cause and effect, and reciprocity between agent and patient; of modality: possibility-impossibility, existence-non-existence, and necessity-contingency.

6. The principles of science which serve as presuppositions are synthetic a priori; the possibility of such principles is based upon the use of a priori forms of intuition together with the categories of the understanding.

Immanuel Kant endeavours to conciliate two conflicting theories of knowledge current at his time, British empiricism as represented by Locke, Berkeley, and Hume; and Continental rationalism as represented by René Descartes, (1596–1650), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, (1646–1716), and Christian Wolff, (1679–1754). The latter theory maintained that important truths about the natural and the supernatural world are knowable by pure reason alone, independently of perceptual experience, whereas the former held that perceptual experience is the source of all our legitimate concepts and truths of the world. Kant believed that both these doctrines were mistaken, and he thus embarked upon an attempt to correct the pretensions of each while saving what was sound in each; how far he succeeded may be ascertained by reviewing his main arguments.

Kant begins his inquiry by asking why metaphysics had not kept pace with mathematics and natural science in the discovery of facts about our world; for celestial mechanics had been developed by Johannes Kepler, (1571–1630), at the beginning of the seventeenth century and terrestrial mechanics by Galileo Galilei, (1564–1642), later in the same century, and the two theories were soon united into one by Newton. These developments represented astonishing progress in natural science, but Kant could detect no parallel progress in metaphysics; indeed, in metaphysics he discerned merely interminable squabbling with no apparent method for settling differences; and so naturally enough he asked: is it at all possible for science to be metaphysics.

Metaphysics can be a science, Kant reasoned, only if there exists a class of truths different in kind either from the straightforward synthetic truths of nature discoverable through sense-experience or from the straightforward analytic truths which owe their validity to the fact that the predicate term is contained in the subject term of such judgements, that is to say, to the fact that they are true by virtue of the meanings of their terms, true by definition. This distinction is illustrated by the statements ‘Peaceful resistance is effective’ (synthetic) and ‘Peaceful resistance shuns violence’ (analytic). This distinction had been recognised by Hume, who regarded it as exhausting the kinds of statements that can be true or false, but Kant believed that there are statements neither empirical nor analytic in character, synthetic a priori statements; statements that are true neither by definition nor because of facts discoverable through sense-experience, but rather, they can be seen to be true independently of sense-experience; and in this sense they are a priori and necessarily true since no sense experience can possibly confute them. Kant so happened to believe that all mathematical propositions are of this kind (which is highly contentious); for example, 7 + 5 = 12. And he further believed that synthetic a priori truths constitute the framework of Newtonian science; (Onton he savvy ….. ).

But if such truths exist, how are they possible?

To be continued…..

Man Ray, ‘L’Incompris’ (‘Misunderstood’), 1962

Notes to ‘Finnegans Wake’ quotation:

1. scilicet = to wit, that is to say, namely; used ironically: forsooth.

2. illusions = illusione (Italian), illusion.

3. photoprismic = photoprismos (Greek), gripping light tightly; and photoprismatikos (Greek), light-prismatic.

4. velamina = membrane, velum, veil; and velamina (pl.) (Latin), coverings, robes, garments, veils.

5. panepiphanal = epiphany, manifestation, especially an appearance of a divinity (in N.T. applied to the advent or ‘appearing’ of Christ) [‘Remember your epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria?’ (‘Ulysses’)]; and panepiphanes (Greek), all-visible, completely manifest.

6. spectacurum = spectaculum (Latin), sight, spectacle, scene; and spectrum, the coloured band into which a beam of light is decomposed by means of a prism or diffraction grating.

7. zoantholitic = zo- , animal; and anthos (Greek), flower; lithos (Greek), stone.

8. furniture = Berkeley used phrase ‘furniture of earth’ to refer to totality of material objects.

9. iridal (rare.) = of or belonging to the rainbow.

10. gradations = gradationes (pl.) (Latin), series of steps, flights of stairs,

11. absorbere (Latin) = to suck up, swallow; and the ‘colour’ of an object is that part of the spectrum which it reflects and does not absorb.

12. numpa = number.

13. puraduxed = paradox (rare.), to affect with a paradox, to cause to show a paradox or contradiction; and dux (Latin), leader.

14. seven degrees of wisdom’ = the highest grade was known as an ‘Ollave’… In the Bardic schools the course extended over twelve years.

15. ens (Latin) = being; and entis (Latin), of a being; and Newton, Sir Isaac (1642–1727), English natural philosopher, author of the ‘Principia and Universal Arithmetic’; and Einstein.

16. ontos (Greek), = being, creature; reality; and ontôn (Greek), of beings.

17. savvy = to understand, comprehend.

18. inwardness = fundamental nature, essence.

19. ding = an imitation of the ringing sound of a heavy bell, or of metal when struck; and Ding (German), thing; Ding an sich (German), thing in itself.

20. hvad (Danish) = what.

21, id est (Latin), = that is.

22. in coloribus (Latin), = in colours.

23. resplendent = shining, brilliant, splendid.

24. sextuple = sixfold; six times as great or numerous; consisting of six parts or things.

25. gloria = dazzling light bursting from opened heavens; gloria (Latin), glory, pride.

26. retained = kept on, preserved.

27. intus (Latin), = within; and ‘Entis-Onton’.

Man Ray, ‘Noire et Blanche’, 1926

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David Proud

David Proud

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David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.