An Excerpt from Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution

EROS AND THANATOS (pp. 243-244)

That which was dis-membered must be re-membered. This re-membering or recollecting or re-uniting is the Path of Ascent, which, Socrates says, is driven by Eros, by Love, by the finding of greater and greater union—a higher and wider identity, as we have been putting it. By means of Eros, says Socrates, the lovers are taken out of themselves and into a larger union with the beloved, and this Eros continues from the objects of the body to the mind to the soul, until the final Union is re-collected and remembered.

Eros, as Socrates (Plato) uses the term, is essentially what we have been calling selftranscendence, the very motor of Ascent or development or evolution: the finding of ever-higher self -identity with ever-wider embrace of others. And the opposite of that was regression or dissolution, a move downward to less unity, more fragmentation (what we called the self-dissolution factor, tenet 2d).

And here I will give one last comparison: Freud, it is well known, finally came to see all psychic life governed by two opposing "forces"—Eros and Thanatos, which are usually referred to as sex and aggression, although that is not the final way that Freud defined them. In An Outline of Psychoanalysis Freud gives his final statement: "After long hesitancies and vacillations, we have decided to assume the existence of only two basic instincts, Eros and the destructive instinct. The aim of the first of these basic instincts is to establish ever greater unities—in short, to bind together." There is no mistaking the meaning of that: it is pure Eros. "The aim of the second is, on the contrary, to undo connections and so to destroy things. In the case of the destructive instinct we may suppose that its final aim is to lead what is living into an inorganic state [matter]. For this reason we also call it the death instinct.''

Freud, of course, was severely criticized by virtually everybody, including his own followers, for proposing the death instinct (thanatos), but clearly it is exactly what we have in mind with the self-dissolution factor. It is simply the impulse to move to a lower level in the holarchy, and its final aim is therefore insentient matter, exactly as Freud said.

But the only point that I wish to emphasize is that even Freud—one of the West's greatest psychologists, and certainly its archantimystic—found that human misery could be reduced to a battle and disharmony between the Path of Ascent and the Path of Descent, as it appears in each of us. As is well known, Freud found no solution to the discontent, and remained profoundly pessimistic about the human condition.

Precisely because Freud did not, like Plato, carry Ascent to its conclusion in the One, he had no way whatsoever to unite it with a radiant Descent into the Many. No way, that is, to unite Eros and Thanatos—to unite the way up and the way down—to overcome their eternal strife.

Freud clearly and accurately saw Eros; he clearly and accurately saw Thanatos; and perhaps more clearly than anybody in history, he saw that so much human misery is and always will be a battle between the two, and that the only solution to our suffering is a union of Eros and Thanatos—and yet there is precisely nothing Freud could do about it. There he was stranded, and there he left us stranded.

Lacking the unifying Heart, the unspoken One, that joins Ascent and Descent in the everlasting Circle of Redemption and Embrace, Freud simply remained as one of the many, and certainly one of the greatest, of the fractured footnotes to Plato.

SPIRIT-IN-ACTION (pp. 355-361)

Schelling is lecturing to an amazing audience, but amidst so much noise and bustle, whistling, and knocking on the windows by those who cannot get in the door, in such an overcrowded lecture hall, that one is almost tempted to give up listening to him if this is to continue. During the first le ctures it was almost a matter of risking one's life to hear him. However, I have put my trust in Schelling and at the risk of my life I have the courage to hear him once more. It may very well blossom during the lectures, and if so one might gladly risk on e's life—what would one not do to be able to hear Schelling?

I am so happy to have heard Scbelling's second lecture — indescribably. The embryonic child of thought leapt for joy within me when he mentioned the world "actuality" in connection with the relation of philosophy to actuality. I remember almost every word he said after that. Here, perhaps, clarity can be achieved. This one word recalled all my philosophical pains and sufferings.—And so that she, too, might share my joy, how willingly I would return to her, how eagerly I would coax myself to believe that this is the right course—Oh, if only I could!—now I have put all my hope in Schelling.

—SØREN KIERKEGAARD ,  letters from Schelling's Berlin lectures (1841)

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775 - 1854) was born at Leonberg in Wurttemberg, and, always something of a boy wonder, was at age fifteen admitted to the University at Tubingen, where he became friends with Hölderlin and Hegel (both were five years older). He began publishing in his late teens and, though younger than Hegel, was the senior partner in their period of collaboration at Jena (where, in 1798, he was appointed to a chair at the age of twenty -three; his writings had already won commendation from Fichte and Goethe; he had Hegel called there in 1800).


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