, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 89–123 | Cite as

Transcendence in theism and pantheism

  • Michael P. Levine


Religious Life Theistic View Metaphysical Principle Spatial Predicate Cognitive Closure 
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  1. 1.
    H. P. Owen,Concepts of Deity, (London: Macmillan, 1971), p. 65.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ninian Smart, ‘God’s Body’,Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 37 (1981–82).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Alasdair MacIntrye, ‘Pantheism’,Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillian and Free Press), 1967, vol. 5, p. 34. Also see John MacQuarrie,In Search of Deity (London: SCM Press, 1984), pp. 51–2. For a discussion of various interpretations of the meaning of pantheism, and especially of the idea of ‘unity’, see Michael P. Levine, ‘Pantheism, Substance and Unity’,International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 26, (1991), pp. 1–23; ‘Divine Unity and Superfluous Synonymity’,Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 4, (1990), pp. 211–236.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, Grace Jantzen,God’s World, God’s Body (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984); Ninian Smart, ‘Myth and Transcendence’,Monist, 50 (1966), pp. 475–487; William Wainwright, ‘God’s Body’,Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 42 (1974), pp. 470–481; J.J. Lipner, ‘The World As God’s “Body”: In Pursuit of Dialogue With Ramanuja’,Religious Studies, 20 (1984), pp. 145–161.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Relative to the omni-predicates (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience etc.) the notion of transcendence has been the subject of little attention in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. This is despite the fact that transcendence as an aspect of God’s nature is arguably more central than those other allegedly divine properties.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    SeeEthics, V, Prop. XXIV–XXVII and Demonstrations.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Theists who do not think that evil presents a serious problem for theism, or who offer facile free will defences which seek to show merely the logical compatibility of God’s existence with evil do not, I think, appreciate the significance of, for example, the story of Job.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The idea of pantheism’s ‘God’ (i.e. the divine Unity) as immanent has various implications for religious practice. It is not true that the idea of an immanent God (i.e., a pantheistic conception of God) undermines the possibility of religious practice. The following critic of Spinoza is therefore mistaken when he says: ‘There are two and only two systems of philosophy that can be offered. The one posits God as the transcendent cause of things; the other makes God the immanent cause. The former carefully distinguishes and separates God from the world; the latter shamefully confounds God with the universe … The former establishes a foundation for every religious devotion and for all piety, and this the latter fundamentally overturns and takes away.’ Christoph. Wittichii,Anti-Spinoza sive Examen Ethices Benedicti de Spinoza (Amstelaedami, 1690), Praefatio. The quotation is taken from Thomas McFarland,Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 53–54.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See, Chin-Tai Kim, ‘Transcendence and Immanence’,Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 55 (1987), pp. 537–549. ‘The ideas of transcendence and immanence are not mutually exclusive but mutually determinative’ (p. 537).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    W. D. Hudson, ‘The Concept of Divine Transcendence’,Religious Studies, 15 (1979), p. 197. Page numbers in text citing Hudson refer to this article.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    I take it that this means it cannot be adequately defined or described and that it eludesordinary conceptualization. Taken literally the claim that certain experiences are ‘ineffable’ runs up against formidable logical difficulties. Those who claim that certain experiences are ineffable do not, I think, mean it literally. Among other things ‘ineffable’ is an honorific title. It is no less of an interesting or significant claim when taken non-literally.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    One way of looking at the ‘beyond description’ analysis of transcendence is in terms of ‘cognitive closure’. It may be in principle beyond our capacity to understand certain properties belonging to God or how, for example, God can create the universe or cause other things to occur in virtue of these properties. This may be a fact about human understanding given the way human beings intellectual capacities are constituted. Since I think the distinction between the ‘beyond knowledge’ and ‘beyond description’ analysis of transcendence breaks down at a point, both analysis could be looked at in terms of cognitive closure. The closure would be inherently more radical on the latter analysis as described by Hudson than in the former—though in practical terms (i.e. what we can know as a matter of fact given our experience and capacities) might be the same. See {au{gnColin} {fnMcGinn’s}} discussion of what he terms, following Chomsky and Fodor, ‘cognitive closure’ as applied to the mindbody problem. ‘{ctCan We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?}’, in {btThe Problem of Consciousness}, {plOxford}: {pmBasil Blackwell}, {dy1991}), pp. {pp1-22}) He argues that there is a sense in which the problem may not be solvable. ‘…we are cut off by our very cognitive constitution from achieving a conception of that natural property of the brain (or of consciousness) that accounts for the psychophysical link’ (pp. 2–3).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See John Stuart Mill, ‘Mr. Mansel on the Limits of Religious Thought’, in Nelson Pike, ed.God and Evil Readings on the Theologica Problem of Evil (New Jersey Prentice Hall, 1964). ‘… when we mean different things we have no right to call them by the same name, and to apply to them the same predicates, moral and intellectual. Language has no meaning for the words Just, Merciful. Benevolent, save in that which we predicate them of our fellow-creatures …’ (p. 42).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See Hudsons discussion of the doctrine of analogy and ‘affirmation and attitude interpretations’ (pp. 204–5). Such interpretations claim that when one is, for example, reciting the Creed one is actually ‘affirming intentions or expressing attitudes’ rather than ‘s tating descriptions’.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    On Hudson’s account the transcendence of God (understood as ‘beyond knowledge’) can be overcome in part by a ‘deepening experience of God’ while others may be overcome ‘through clearer thinking’ (p. 208). ‘Given such a conception … philosophers who believe in God should take it as their aim to remove any limitations on our knowledge of him which may be due to confused conceptualisation’ (p. 210).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    I argue this in ‘Pantheism, Substance and Unity’,International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 26, (1991), pp. 1–23; ‘Divine Unity and Superfluous Synonymity’,Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 4, (1990), pp. 211–236.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ninian Smart, ‘Myth and Transcendence’, Monist, 50 (1966), pp. 475–487.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See Smart,, p. 479, note 5, for the supporting quotation from Tillich.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Interpreting Tillich’s view of God as basically a pantheistic one is not without basis, See Nels F.S. Ferre,The Living God of Nowhere and Nothing (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), p. 9. ‘Whitehead and Tillich have both told me at times that they would prefer, in contradistinction from theism, to be called pantheists. In our latest talk in 1965, however, Tillich disclaimed the term, calling pantheism a “swear word”’. Aside from the fact he saw pantheism as a term of theological abuse, the difficulty in attributing pantheism to Tillich is that he never operated with any kind of sophisticated notion of what-is meant by pantheism. Certainly Tillich’s view of God is a non-personal one. In the context of his analysis of the term ‘God’ this suggests more in common with pantheism than with theism. Although Tillich may have tried, one cannot be a theist and maintain that God is not a person or like a person (i.e. personal).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Mill’s remarks on the application of predicates to God are applicable here. See John Stuart Mill, ‘Mr. Mansel on the Limits of Religious Thought’, in Nelson Pike, ed.God and Evil: Readings on the Theological Problem of Evil. Nothing of significance hinges on this analogy with God’s goodness and it can be overlooked if for some reason it fails.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    For a very different account of ‘transcendence’ see Clyde Nabe, ‘Transcendence and An Other World’,Sophia, 26 (1987), pp. 2–12. He rejects the idea that a religiously useful notion of transcendence is to be explained in terms of ‘an other world’.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Shu-Hsien Liu, ‘The Confucian Approach to the Problem of Transcendence and Immanence’,Philosophy East and West, 22 (1972), pp. 45–52. Liu agrees with Mou Tsung-san in claiming that theChung Yung ‘belongs to the central tradition of Confucianism’ (p. 45n1). The translation ofChung Yung Liu follows-is in Wing-tsit Chan,A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), pp. 95–114. In his introduction Chan says, … theDoctrine of the Mean is a philosophical work, perhaps the most philosophical in the whole body of ancient Confucian literature … In theAnalects [Confucious]chung-yung, often translated the ‘Mean’, denotes moderation but herechung means what is central and yung means what is universal and harmonious. The former refers to human nature, the latter to its relation with the universe. Taken together, it means there is harmony in human nature and that this harmony underlies our moral being and prevails throughout the universe. In short, man and Nature form a unity. Here is an early expression of the theory that was to dominate Chinese thought throughout its history [p. 96].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    It should not unduly concern one that some scholars of Confucianism would deny that it is pantheistic. Knowing about Confucianism does not entail knowing about pantheism. What exactly is being denied? Combine this with one or more of the following contentious (mistaken in my view) suppositions and one gets a rationale for denying that Confucianism is pantheistic. (i) Pantheism is conceived of in deprecating terms; (ii) Confucianism is not a religion; (iii) there are no ‘supernatural’ elements in Confucianism, or no speculative metaphysic that can be religiously interpreted. Like psychiatrists or forensic specialists in a witness box, experts in various traditions vary on some very fundamental points of interpretation and fact.Google Scholar

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© Springer SBM B.V. 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael P. Levine
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Western AustraliaNedlands

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