Working through a text with the Franciscan group Canticles Campus, I’m led back to the work of Duns Scotus, and his concept of an unknowable “true self” that Thomas Merton took up. (See The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, by Daniel Horan, pp. 101-105) There is certainly a problem here in my method of investigation. I’m attracted to a philosophical concept developed by one man (Scotus), taken up for another (Merton), explained by a third (Horan).
And what does this have to do with Kenny? Probably nothing. Kenny’s big point is not about death, that has no long-term meaning for him (and maybe not for us – think reincarnation, “born again”, “life everlasting”, if not Kenny, or Scotus). His complaint is about dying – that if “fucking hurts”. That’s the main point: dying has meaning, but death? not so much.
Of course, I need to go back to the original sources, but before I do that (and it might take me years) let me just say that the attraction here for me is the claim that we cannot know our true selves, set out in formal logical terms by Scotus and in poetry by Merton. That seems intuitively correct, whereas up to now I’ve only approached it phenomenologically (i.e. as with our ‘felt-world’).
It is in the experience itself that we find meaning, and that is what we cannot know: To the things themselves! was Husserl’s call, away from logic and he was a master of logic, no slouch on that score. We make this encounter with anything, even death, in the experience and only after in reflection, performing the “phenomenological reduction” – a term that just now finally makes sense to me because I do finally see it as reduced. However, we can’t encounter that which is making the encounter. We will always be strangers to ourselves then, and then also God will always be a stranger as we are the image, but there is the word. We can know that much.
(Here, try this: we might consider phenomenology as God’s own method, at least one method. Some have seen God’s eternal perfection in numbers, so beautiful the way they always and necessarily work. It is an eternal truth that two plus two always equals four. But life isn’t about necessary truths; it’s an experience. In the logic of life, could God experience God-ness as a dynamic image – and a stagnant image is mere idolatry – experience life as lived until God became the created as well as the creator? Sorry if this is obvious to everyone, and has been answered satisfactorily, and I’m just catching up here…)
To throw in yet another author (and metaphor), James Finley: “Here methods, techniques, ideas, and spiritualities of themselves are of little use. We must not stand in the burning house with a dictionary thinking we are safe because we are frantically looking up the definition for a fire distinguisher!” (Horan, 114)
True, but I don’t see the urgency. Try the metaphor of contemplating a flame or a campfire that will burn itself out in time.