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Arthur Lovejoy – A bestiary of metaphysical pathos

June 30, 2014

“‘Metaphysical pathos’ is exemplified in any description of the nature of things, any characterization of the world to which one belongs, in terms which, like the words of a poem, awaken through their associations, and through a sort of empathy which they engender, a congenial mood or tone of feeling on the part of the philosopher or his readers…

There is, in the first place, the pathos of sheer obscurity, the loveliness of the incomprehensible, which has, I fear, stood many a philosopher in good stead with his public, even though he was innocent of intending any such effect. … [A]n agreeable feeling at once of awe and of exaltation comes over [the reader] as he contemplates thoughts of so immeasurable a profundity – their profundity being convincingly evidenced to him by the fact that he can see no bottom to them…

Akin to this is the pathos of the esoteric…. [Thus Schelling, Hegel, and Bergson] satisfied the human craving for this experience, by representing the central insight of their philosophy as a thing to be reached, not through a consecutive progress of thought guided by the ordinary logic available to every man, but through a sudden leap whereby one rises to a plane of insight wholly different in its principles from the level of the mere understanding…

A potent variety is the eternalistic pathos – the aesthetic pleasure which the bare abstract idea of immutability gives us…. It is not self-evident that remaining forever unchanged should be regarded as an excellence…

[There is] the monistic or pantheistic pathos. That it should afford so many people a peculiar satisfaction to say that All is One is, as William James once remarked, a rather puzzling thing… [Of course, there is] a welcome sense of freedom, arising from a triumph over, or an absolution from, the troublesome cleavages and disjunctions of things. To recognize that things which we have hitherto kept apart in our minds are somehow the same thing – that, of itself, is normally an agreeable experience for human beings…

Distinct from the monistic pathos is the voluntaristic… Here it is the response of our active and volitional nature, perhaps even, as the phrase goes, of our fighting blood, which is aroused by the character which is ascribed to the total universe with which we feel ourselves consubstantial…

The susceptibility to different sorts of metaphysical pathos plays, I am convinced, a great part, both in the formation of philosophical systems by subtly guiding many a philosopher’s logic, and in partially causing the vogue and influence of different philosophies among groups or generations which they have affected.”

(from The Great Chain of Being [1936])


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