Morals and the Instant

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 2/15/2016

Jankelevitch recognizes three different forms of knowledge: perception, intellection, and intuition. Perception corresponds to the empirical and pertains to appearance; intellection corresponds to the meta-empirical and pertains to essences and necessary principles; and intuition corresponds to the meta-logical and pertains to foundation and creation. Each order is separated qualitatively and categorically, not gradually, and yet each is in relation to the others.

The Empirical Plane

Experience is always finite and perception necessarily partial. Perception is composed of differentiation; it is a mixture of negative and positive. The difference is that which one can perceive. The empirical does not thus lead to the beyond; it leads only to other relations, relativity, and finitude.

The Meta-empirical Plane

The transcendence from the empirical domain to the meta-empirical thus occurs through a sudden and global disinterest with respect to the questions where? and when? To the how?.

The meta-empirical, according to Jankelevitch, involves the plane of essences, ideas, and ideals—the plane of the logos. It includes eternal truths, the principle of identity, and the ideas of universality and necessity. This intelligible plane renders understandable and knowable the empirical and can be verified in the world of things. The empirical world is thus made intelligible. Jankelevitch thus establishes two planes of truth: the truth of perception and essential truth. In accordance with tradition, he maintains that these two orders of truth relate to each other hierarchically: The essential order corrects, verifies, or sometimes contradicts the order of perception. As a result, the order of reason is "truer" than that of perception because it honors rational principles and axioms the negation of which would make thought impossible. The a priori condition, in short, functions to govern thought. It does not stand in a synthetic and natural relation but is the analytic condition sine qua non, the general condition without which thought is impossible and through which every thought is possible, but only possible.

Although the intelligible gives meaning to that which alone as mere inchoate sense experience cannot have meaning, it does not give being to existents. The intelligible plane has to do with thought only, not being. Thought and being remain categorically separated, although in relation.

The Meta-logical Plane

The reasonable human finds everything that there is to know, conforms to the meta-empirical wisdom. The knowledge we can have prevents us from inquiring into or seeking the beyond-truth. We have no need of the beyond. . . . Nothing is missing . . . and yet something is missing, a something that is nothing. What is missing from this complete and incomplete truth? It is missing an inexplicable, unjustifiable, and impalpable thing, that is the principle itself of metaphysical question: the meta-logical human burns with an infinite desire to achieve what appears incomplete to him what-ever he does.

The desire is infinite because the object of desire is that which is absolutely and necessarily missing—the wholly other. The meta-logic wholly other is neither being nor nothing—it is almost-nothing; the wholly other, is the source of creation, is act without being, it will never be rendered an object of knowledge; it will only be glimpsed in the insubstantial instant of intuition. And it is, on the other hand, simultaneously infinitely rich because it gives value and existence to everything. There is not an absolute beginning or an absolute end but grounds of reason, which are eternal: eternal grounds of reason. Necessity and truth are in-stalled as eternally already there and as self-evident. But that which makes the truth the truth is prior to and beyond the dichotomy of true and false. It is not a more profound truth but that which founds truth; it does not serve as the foundation of truth like an ontological plat-form on which the many truths may be constructed but is rather solely the founding of truth itself.

Jankelevitch's distinction between the meta-empirical and the meta-logical planes can be understood in part through Kant's distinction between the transcendental (a priori) and the transcendent. Whereas the transcendental concerns that which enables us to experience objects and which plays a role in the way our mind constitutes objects as the conditions of the possibility of knowledge in general, the transcendent is that which is beyond the categories of reason. The meta-empirical plane begins with itself; it is self-evident to thought and eternal, or, rather, timeless: It is what is always already there, and the meta-logical cannot be thought.

Intuition and the instant

"I can never determine the punctual point of the now." Jankelevitch names this punctual point the instant and says that it is "almost-nothing", given and taken, born and died in an instant. The instant is not nothing and yet is not something, not even the shortest possible duration; it is in between nonbeing and being, including and excluding both. It is a spark that alights as it goes out and that appears in disappearing. The almost-nothing has no tomorrow and no next moment that would make it empirically measurable. Intuition is the mode of consciousness of the instant. Since intuition corresponds to the instant without duration, it, too, is fleeting to the point that it is a thought that dies in arising: Without even flickering it alights and is extinguished. This spark leaves no time for its apprehension. In poetic terms, he explains that "the intuition is a becoming conscious that is loss of consciousness, an awakening that is blacking out, a flash tearing the night; consciousness awakens in the same instant that it blacks out, is resurrected in the instant it dies. The instant is dying rebirth, a death that is a life."

As a relative and finite being, the human has no privileged access to the meta-empirical except in the mystery of the instant. At this finest and most subtle of points there is a coincidence of the absolute and the relative, the infinite and the finite, the divine and the human. Jankelevitch assumes that intuition offers a glimpse of that which one cannot know. Intuition awakens us to the beyond in the form of inquietude, inspiration, desire, and eros. Jankelevitch characterizes the instant of intuition as an imperceptible wink of the absolute. The instant of intuition is at the limits of human strength. Jankelevitch recognizes the paradox of the limit: Human consciousness, on the one hand, is irreconcilable with the unconditional and the absolute, and yet, on the other hand, the human is most truly human in the instant of tangency with the principle of creation. The instant of the coincidence of opposites simultaneously demonstrates the self-transcendence of the individual and the establishment of finite human boundaries. It is a contact with the absolute that he describes as tangential, not nothing but on the threshold to nothing as on the threshold to being, the almost nothing.

He writes that "in the tangency of the instant a wholly drastic evidence is revealed: The tangency with the wholly other generates a certain pneumatic, invisible, and inexpressible transfiguration of being. After the tangential, the person is not the carrier of a secret message; he or she cannot discursively communicate what happened, for it is incommunicable and unverifiable." Rather, he or she is this message. In other words, the lived experience of the moment that escapes our understanding engenders in us a desire to understand what we cannot grasp but only intimate. Jankelevitch establishes a kind of immanent transcendence in which humans have something in them that is greater than themselves even if they do not know what it is. It is something in them but also something that is radically other than them, which remains irreducible to them . The creature, he asserts, is a mixture of supernatural operation and of constituted reality.

Morality in an instant

Jankelevitch rejects the idea that any formula or system can substitute for the moral responsibility demanded by the instant. In the instant, one is compelled to respond immediately but without assurance to the question, "What is the good?" This constant re-creation through action and choice in the instant is the basis of Jankelevitch’s morality. Morality does not consist of theoretical knowledge that allows one to know the good in order to subsequently do the good on the basis of that knowledge. Rather, one must continually choose the good in the rupture of the moment. Offering no laurels or plateaus, moral choice is ever upon us. The moral task is to be endlessly begun again in vigilance and responsibility. "As soon as one wants to seize virtue, it becomes a caricature. Virtue exists only in escaping us."

Whether in his analyses of charm, charity (charnel, love, or forgiveness). Each of these values, which are difficult to locate and thus identify, represents "an animating and mobilizing principle". They are never an idle thing, they are always an operation, a movement, a transitive relation . They do not have an essence, are not phenomena, or potential objects of cognition. They move us; they awaken, quicken, and enlighten concrete human life. In other words, they are almost nothing, but they are not nothing. They are in between being and nothingness. "Goodness is nothing if it is not charity . . . purity is impure if it is not purifying. And conversely, a goodness that improves nothing, a quiescent and idle goodness, is like a flame that does not shine, it does not illuminate anybody, it does not warm anything: this inactive goodness contradicts itself."


Vladimir Jankélévitch: The Time of Forgiveness By Aaron T. Looney - Chapter one - First PhilosophyPhilosophie première: introduction à une philosophie du "presque" by Vladimir Jankélévitch

Comments (0)

Post a Comment