NEUTRALITY OF BEING
ANIL MITRA, © APRIL 2014—June 2014
The discussion derives from the template where the highest of the following headings is ‘level 3’. However, the bulk of this material in the template may be removed and so I have promoted every heading by two levels.
The essential power of the concept of being is its neutrality which prevents prejudice that arises from commitment to the nature of things, of knowledge and its means and so on. Neutrality implies avoiding attachment to such categories. It allows understanding to emerge without prejudice. On the other hand because we are limited we need judgment which is intellectual commitment and action which is enhanced by commitment to goals. In metaphysics, however, we must be committed to neutrality for a sometime goal is perfection. Even here, however, commitment allows experiment on the way to perfection or the discovery of where perfection is possible and where impossible. Clearly then we do not want to be heavy handed with our neutrality. The only kind that being respects is existence. However, in the spirit of neutrality we may even admit empirically non existent being and logically impossible being or being that has or will but does not currently exist; what we would find is that while these are interesting and useful cases to consider they do not fundamentally enhance the notion of being.
The idea of neutrality has a number of sources. A general source is in seeking understanding and explanation. These begin as guesswork and may proceed to relative certainty and so it is effective to question received knowledge and one’s guesses and estimates of certainty for we find—and history has found—these to be revisable. Thus neutrality is effective. But we do not know what the outcome may be. We find that knowledge is often associated with approximation, uncertainty, and metaphor. Can we generalize and say all knowledge is so? Have we experienced all knowledge and method? When we think we have it is often because we extend what we know to what there is. Perhaps, then, four centuries of critical philosophy notwithstanding, there are realms of positive knowledge and certainty.
Thus it is good to be neutral to positive knowledge but also to have neutrality to this neutrality—to not make a sweeping generalization from early success as in the enlightenment but also to not do the same when we find rationality itself wanting.
Another source of neutrality is the study of being? Why being rather than substance? It is because substance is prejudicial—that there are substances and that our favored substances are generalization from the particular and may be subject to error and incompleteness. Being is not thus prejudicial for it is ‘what exists’ and does not commit to kinds but still allows them if or where they may obtain. In developing the universal metaphysics, being has been found to be potent—it is pivotal to the development of the perfect, ultimate, and universal metaphysics.
In realization of being a neutrality-with-commitment is optimal as it is also for knowledge.
When conducted with an appropriate attitude, neutrality, as seen above, is empowering of understanding and action.
Neutrality can be carried to unnecessary extreme. As seen above there is a time to commit.
However, neutrality to neutrality also refers to the nature or concept of neutrality. Particularly, ‘neutrality’ does not mean passivity. It is active. It actively seeks to be neutral and, reflexively, to be committed. It is always evaluating itself. It is not necessarily as explicit as this account may seem. It is also carried on at an intuitive level. However, the education of the intuition in this regard benefits from times when neutrality is overtly pursued.
Elsewhere I have written ‘every critical theory should be applied to itself.’ However, not all theories are in their object domain. Even though metaphysics and physics are metaphysical objects neither of them are physical objects. So we can take this principle of reflexivity too far. On the other hand we may end up not taking it far enough. We could build a matrix whose rows and columns are modes of thought or theory. We might then consider each mode for examination in light of all modes.
Being is initially neutral to the fact of experience and its relation to the world. This neutral quickly empowers rational commitment. The relation between experience and being is thereby illuminated but remains open. Therefore being remains neutral to this issue which is also a question regarding what is real.
In what follows the phrase ‘being is neutral to this’ may be omitted.
Issues of reality are significant—one reality and different senses of reality or multiple realities. This is important for if the phenomena are real—as in some thought and therefore we ought at times to approach this issue with neutrality—then what is the significance of the fact that we do not have identical ‘perception’ of the phenomena (brackets because the percept is the phenomenon). Issue of spirituality—one reality and many realizations versus distinct planes.
Issue of possibility—whether the universe realizes all possibility or is limited with regard to what is realized. There is also a question of the meaning of possibility.
The neutrality of being may be confused with flaccid non commitment. However this is not so. The extreme neutrality is conducive to all endeavor including that of commitment and non commitment. Is this not paradoxical? It is not, for (1) neutrality encourages whatever is appropriate to occasion and (2) non neutrality and commitment may be placed in / assigned to other concepts—to particular categories.
This concerns, especially, the question of substance. Is being ‘matter’? It is, in its conception, neither matter nor not matter; if there is matter then matter is a case of being and it is open in the concept of being that all being is matter, that some being is matter, or that no being is matter; this illustrates the notion of neutrality to kind. Similarly, being is neutral to other kinds such as mind or idea, whether being is a mix of matter and mind and other possible kinds (dualism) or whether being has no kind whatsoever beyond ‘existence’ (non-essentialism or ‘voidism’). Are there, with Spinoza, the two apparent attributes of extension and thought and a further infinity of attributes of ‘God’—and is there a God or gods? Being is neutral to this (but a little careful thought will later offer much illumination).
Is the essence of being or universe good or evil, consciousness or mere blind mechanism, love or hate, deity or mere space and time? Being is neutral to this (but emphatically, while the notion of being does not include love it does not exclude it either). There are philosophies and religions that regard the universe as pure light of consciousness and love and so on. The neutrality of being stands neither for nor against this nor for or against commitment to or against this; but nor is it for or against commitment as such. If the essence of the universe is found to be ‘all possibility’ then how can that essence be love? The conclusion regarding love—or whatever category is found most liberating—may seem to be disempowering to the value of these categories. However it is not. For surely, relative to emptiness—the void—the categories of positive value come into being via adaptation. Thus generally the good has no upper bound. On the other hand ‘evil’ has no purchase on the void; it can only operate where there is already good. Evil has an effective upper bound: it is constrained by the good so far achieved. This is apparently contrary to the also view that the work of evil is easier than that of the good. ‘Destruction’ required as neutral dissipation is always ‘easy’; but that the categories of the good require adaptation is positive for it allows us to be not only passive recipients of the good but also to have the great enjoyment of being agents of its creation. Meanwhile, evil must lurk in the dark waiting for creation whether blind and from the void or the conscious volition of a creative agency.
Is the essence of being that of thing (entity) or process or interaction; is it concrete or abstract; are there only particulars or are there also universals; are there ‘tropes’ which are instances of properties? Must there be manifestation or is the manifest universe an ‘accident’. Being is neutral to this. Is being a flaccid or empty concept on account of this neutrality? It ought even to be neutral to emptiness but also to the point is the fact that in being neutral it allows and encourages the emergence of truth so that if the universe is matter or if it is love and so on then when truth emerges it will be so much more powerful than if it were posited, believed even with passion (truth need not destroy passion or wonder or mystery), or postulated.
The briefest description of neutrality is to simply define being as that which is and add a reminder to avoid all connotation whatsoever.
Being is neutral to depth—that which exists with out regard to mystery or essence or ‘higher or lower being’, or divinity or deity or personhood. That is, for example, being does not have to do with mystery but whatever mystery there is, lies in being.
In being neutral to depth, being is also neutral to the question of foundation—traditionally and even in modernity: non relative as in the case of substance or relative as in the case of an unfounded level or of infinite regress. But substance itself is unfounded and therefore we receive from culture that there are no foundations. Being is neutral to substance, infinite regress, and the issue of whether these exhaust the alternatives.
What has being? I.e. to what concepts do there correspond objects? What is the variety of objects? We often think that this is defined by our cosmos and our explanations and theories regarding our cosmos. Being is neutral to identification of the cosmos (or whatever our experience has revealed) or our theories of it with the universe.
Issue of identity and perception of identity—its nature; nature of same and other; nature of difference. For personal identity replace ‘same’ by its personal equivalent that is ‘self’.
The nature and pervasion of extension (space) and (time)—what they are in more fundamental terms of being, same-other, and difference; whether they are absolute or immanent in being and whether they are the only measures of extensivity (note some repetition from the discussion of identity). Whether the universe is linear or cyclic in its whole or parts such as ‘cosmological systems’.
Issue of causality, determinism, and law-like behavior—whether the universe is causal, deterministic, and law-like, or whether these are occasional and local (adaptive and for ‘normal’ purposes) behaviors. The nature of causality, determinism, and law: immanent or imposed.
Nature of the psyche—what mind is and what its relation to body is (whether there is a relation or whether mind and body are but aspects of an organism—in which case ‘relation’ is too weak a word though ‘identity’ too strong unless demonstrated).
Phenomenology or aspects of psyche and experience and their varieties—perception, feeling, thought and conception, emotion, action, and their integrations and change over time (personality) are some categories but non western cultures have other categories; whether there are two or more centers such as thought and emotion which are separate with one being privileged over the other.
What is the appropriate attitude to neutrality regarding the phenomenology of psyche? What is a human being—what do human beings want, and is what they want what is good or what they need? To be neutral means (1) that we do not decide on the categories of ‘being human’ in advance and we do not decide that one set of them is privileged over others in advance (2) that we look to human being for the categories (3) that we have the attitude that there is some relation between these categories, the form of human being, and the form of the environment, (4) that there are principles of thought regarding these issues but that the principles do not of necessity stand prior to the subject(s) to which they apply.
Epistemology or nature and grounding of knowledge—what knowledge is: faithfulness as representation versus pragmatic or instrumental or adaptation versus being-in-the-world; how knowledge is acquired: innate versus acquired in experience versus acquired in thought; and in the case of experience and thought whether it is conceived or received; how it is expressed: literal-analytic versus mythic-holist; and how it is justified: in literalism (empirical-rational, positive verification versus ongoing hypothesis, criticism, and success) and in mythic-oral traditions (multiple voice, egalitarianism, selection of the culture but not absence of reason or experiment).
We often begin with commitment to some position taken from the above or other such as an ideal of life. The idea of being suggests neutrality toward such commitment. In fact that suggests that process is enhanced by variation and mosaic in commitment to neutrality. Note the analogy to Hegel’s paradigm of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis (and note paradoxically that avoidance of neutrality in the history of ideas has led, regarding the widest perspective, to wild oscillations of thesis and antithesis without overcoming to a new level of understanding in synthesis).
Neutrality to separation of and commitment to past-present-future (single or multiple valued, constant or variable, the same for every concern or not).
Issue of duration and eternity—whether the individual is eternal or whether death is real or unreal, absolute or not (we will conclude that it is real but not absolute); whether there is a time horizon to destiny and civilization, whether the universe is limitless in duration (or extension or variety).
A summation of the issue of neutrality itself—perhaps we cannot live at all without commitment. My survival requires some attention to my ‘nature’ as does living well. I cannot be perfectly neutral but what I mean here is that perhaps neutrality can be pushed too far. What is being faced here is ‘absolutism’. Everything must be neutral or everything must be committed and so on. I can be committed in my life while I am neutral in my ontology. But, further, what is neutrality in ontology and what is its point? I begin with some naïve ontology. A purpose to neutrality is to retreat from some possibly erroneous position so that I can arrive at a better position. Thus real practical neutrality is not bland neutrality but varies between commitment and neutrality and also concerns the attitude of our commitments and neutrality—it is not about attachment vs. detachment but about the right strength and flexibility which is not predetermined but in process and responsive to experience.