The Cognitive Void Post-Metaphysical Mediation

Quentin Meillassoux has aptly shown how fideistic religion has covertly emerged in the “appalling vacuum” left by the withdrawal of metaphysical mediation which previously accounted for what was real and desirable. It was shown that when the correlation between objects and subjects becomes absolute there is no longer any criterion for eliminating possible discourses that rush in to fill this “cognitive void”. John Milbank and Radical Orthodoxy however offer a renewed metaphysics that avoids the double danger of hermeneutic despair and hermeneutic arrogance. In The Future of Love Milbank argues that finite reality is a gift of creation and, as such, all created things “participate in the divine creative power” in fashioning our own world. Contemporary philosophy is generally associated with a despairing attitude that “anything goes” because nothing is illegitimate. But Milbank argues that the flux or void beneath our life meanings is not a challenge to the transcendent due to the theological axiom that creatures have been gifted the creativity to create their own “complex and always relatively stable” world.

The issue then is to understand just how the process of temporal becoming participates in the eternal procession of the creation from the divine Trinity, which is itself a kind of eternal and perfected process of emanation and yet equally a process of internal ‘becoming’ (p. 330)

Milbank names this participation in creativity imagination. As such, imagination is “the threshold between matter and spirit” and a “fusion of sensation and thought”. That is, the mind is capable of a primary imagination that is able to rationally reflect upon and understand existence while simultaneously employing a secondary function of imagination that is able to contemplate its modification.

For a greater sense of our reliance upon the primary imagination grounds thought back in sensation and image, and makes us realize that our thinking is inseparable from our corporeal living and from all that has really happened to us. On the other hand, the further release of the secondary imagination (escaping from ecclesiastical, political, and sexual censorship), reveals to us the fluidity of physical nature as such and the way that form and image is far more intrinsically spectral than even rational speculation (p. 332)

In this mode of theology, Milbank is inhabiting a rationally informed faith that might avoid Meillasoux’s double-bind of dogmatism or relativism. For Milbank imagination is the “between” of contemplating historical events and visualizing alternative pictures or symbols. Even if these fictions may never be fully enacted, such as we find in literature, they nonetheless serve as reminders that our given reality is not ontologically necessary. The blend of (1) understanding and (2) transforming our world that Milbank calls imagination is, in fact, theology.


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