International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 114 14 February 2006


I. 'Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment' by Alfredo Lucero-Montano

II. 'An Emergent Eschatology' by Dr A. B. Kelly

III. Guerrilla Radio Show



In his fourth article for Philosophy Pathways, Alfredo Lucero-Montano gets to grips with Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, providing a thoughtful and illuminating introduction to this difficult work. A concept becomes 'dialectical' when we discover that it fails to apply to itself, or when that concept taken to the extreme reveals a flip side which is the opposite of what the original concept intended. The historic root of the term 'dialectic' is the question and answer method of Socrates. To see a problem dialectically is to question the question, and then question that, and so on, indefinitely.

One of my all-time favourite works of 20th century philosophy is Space, Time and Deity by Samuel Alexander. In his article Dr Anthony Kelly develops the framework for an 'emergent' view of creation which is strongly influenced by Alexander's metaphysics. Born in Australia, Alexander came to the Philosophy Department of Manchester University in 1893, eventually becoming Professor and Head of Department. In his day, he was one of the most celebrated British figures in academic philosophy but is little talked about today.

The Guerrilla Radio Show, based in Santa Barbara California, first went on the air in November 2005 and has been stirring the air waves with a series of provocative broadcasts on philosophical themes. You can catch their shows on Tuesdays at 7pm Pacific Standard Time by logging on to their web site. Full details below. This week in a rerun episode, Nathan Salmon is talking about the Philosophy of Language.

Geoffrey Klempner



1. Enlightenment bursts into history raising the flag of disenchantment and demythologization. All could and must be submitted in the court of reason, all could and must be arranged according to reason: politics and ethics, aesthetics and science. But something seems to have gone wrong with the initial plan. The proof? The re-enchantment of the world. The myths and the gods, that enlightened reason let for dead and buried, are rising from their graves and coming back. They are coming back because man needs them subjectively to set the ends and values that reason cannot objectively define. Enlightened reason has specialized in wining battles, but it does not know anything about the war. The development of Enlightenment has failed with reason's universal vocation: there is no common reason as a practical horizon for the diversity of human activities. The extraordinary developing and differentiation of the cultural spheres (science and technology, economics and politics, etc.) has exhausted and collapsed a substantive reason.

Today we speak of the return of myths without any sorrow. Max Weber warned us with sorrow and fear that the ancient, disenchanted gods could stand up from their graves, but now we celebrate them. But it is not that the new philosophers are fools. They surely would be if they were to have thrown overboard mankind's achievements of freedom. Because they don't want to do it, they distinguish between good and bad myths. The bad myths are the monomyths: Reason, Man, Reality, Social Class, Humanity, Race, Free Market. There is no Enlightenment in a singular mode. The enlightenment achievement par excellence, freedom, is only guaranteed with the plurality of myths. Freedom is plurality.

Everything is plural, many gods, diverse reasons, numerous opinions, but certainly that pluralism is not a guarantee of freedom. Each daimon, each particular logic, strives to take over the entire scene. In 'liberal' societies, the economy tends to suffocate politics; in 'authoritarian' societies, politics interferes with social action. And over all, science has achieved its specific logic as the main analogy of rationality. What is left, then, for philosophy?

The sensitivity that depicts the consciousness of the crisis of reason has a name: Dialectic of Enlightenment (DE).[1] What other thing does 'dialectic' express, but the consciousness of a failure -- the insufficiency of enlightenment -- as well as the hope in the liberating force of enlightenment?

The 'dialectic of Enlightenment' expresses the consciousness of the complexity of the processes that produced Modernity, and now these processes are at the point of overcoming it or maybe they already overcame it. This means that the processes, and the situation into which them have forced us, are marked by a basic ambiguity: these processes can realize the Enlightenment, but it also can destroy it. The latter happens when we ignore or forget the dialectic -- that is Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno's central claim.

The aim of this work is to review critically at Horkheimer and Adorno's conceptualization of the process of Enlightenment, to offer an analysis of the concept of enlightened reason that is in the core of the issue. The concept of reason (rationality) is closely linked to values of great interest to mankind: freedom, justice and solidarity. For Horkheimer and Adorno, these values are definitely at stake, and that is their main interest to write the DE: 'Save the Enlightenment.'[2]

We have already started to take position in the clash of ideas regarding the DE. If this first reading of DE were clear and distinct, the DE would not imply any other thing but the renewed self-critique of Enlightenment, but the present situation is much more complicated. Since the late seventies this work has contributed to the make up of opposite trends in the contemporary philosophical world: on one side, a neoconservative counterenlightened position, and on the other, a postmodern -- non dialectical -- trend. For Horkheimer and Adorno, the critique of Enlightenment by any means implies its negation, but with a more full and comprehensive realization of it. There is no other way to save the Enlightenment and the values it assumes, except by being aware of its dialectic, that is, to enlighten Enlightenment about itself. But the dilemma that Horkheimer and Adorno faced is 'the self-destruction of the Enlightenment.' (DE, xiii) The Enlightenment cannot forget its own dialectic, for 'if enlightenment does not accommodate reflection on this recidivist element, then it seals its own fate.' (Loc. cit.)

We could depict the character of the crisis of reason by taking a glance at the dawn of twenty-first century. We find taking place the combination of four convictions: a) the claim that the analogy of reason is science, b) the identification of the enlightened reason with the universal reason, c) the close relation between knowledge and ethics, and d) the effectiveness of ideas.[3] Here the pertinent question is: What does enlightened rationality involve?

2. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno's starting point is a dramatic experience: mankind has not advanced toward freedom, but it moves backward and it 'is sinking into a new kind of barbarism.' (DE, xi) They set themselves to understand the causes of this drama, of this dark 'reversal,' that means 'the indefatigable self-destructiveness of enlightenment.' (DE, xi) Their analysis results in a paradox: 'Myth is already enlightenment; and enlightenment reverts to mythology,' (DE, xvi) and this claim turns out to be the DE's main thesis. In Jurgen Habermas's words, they put forward the claim of 'a secret complicity to challenge this opposition'[4] between Enlightenment and myth.

We can find a key to understand this first thesis in Horkheimer's claim: 'Reason's disease lies in its own origin, in the effort of man to have dominion over nature.'[5] Enlightenment rises under the sign of domination. Since the beginning, it 'has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty,' (DE, 3) and its program was 'the disenchantment of the world; the dissolution of myths.' (Loc. cit.) In other words, Enlightenment has been understood as an opposition and counterforce to myth: Enlightenment contradicts myth. Therefore, Enlightenment entrenches the knowledge of science that does not work any more 'by the fortunate insight,' but for the exploitation and dominion over a disenchanted nature. In the process of Enlightenment knowledge turns into power, and nature becomes reduced to 'a substratum of domination.' (DE, 9) The Enlightenment functions according to the principle of identity: it cannot stand the different and the unknown: 'What was different is equalized.' (DE, 12) 'When there is no longer anything unknown. That determines the course of demythologization, of enlightenment' which reduces all to 'pure immanence.' (DE, 16) 'Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men,' (DE, 9) and it knows them in so far as it can manipulate them. In this process, 'mimesis'[6] is displaced by power, which now turns into the 'principle of all relations.' (DE, 9)

But this reason's disease -- Enlightenment's inclination for power -- which has determined the development of Western civilization, it is already present in the myth itself. In the myth, there is a moment of Enlightenment; moreover, the myth is the first stage of Enlightenment: 'Yet the myths which fell victim to the Enlightenment were its own products.' (DE, 8) The myths, in fact, wanted to 'report, naming, the narration of the Beginning,' but they also wanted to offer an 'explanation,' that is, they wanted to control and dominate, as it is explicit in the step from myth to mythology, from narration to theory, from contemplation to rationalization. In the myth there is a desire of power. At the end, 'myth turns into enlightenment, and nature into mere objectivity.' (DE, 9) As Habermas points out: 'The permanent sign of enlightenment is domination over an objectified external nature and a repressed internal nature.'[7]

The Enlightenment, then, is a process of demythologization, which develops as a progressive rationalization, abstraction, and reduction of the whole reality by the subject -- under the signal of dominion. This process, that hoped to be a liberating process, has historically developed as a process of alienation: 'Enlightenment is more than enlightenment -- the distinct representation of nature in its alienation.' (DE, 39) The latter thesis seems to contradict the former, but it is just the other face of the same coin. The process of Enlightenment reveals a Janus-face: the domination of external nature is done at the cost of repressing man's internal nature.

     Man's domination over himself, which grounds his selfhood,
     is almost always the destruction of the subject in whose
     service it is undertaken; for the substance which is
     dominated, suppressed, and dissolved by virtue of
     self-preservation is none other than that very life as a
     functions of which the achievements of self-preservation
     find their sole definition and determination: it is, in
     fact, what is to be preserved. (DE, 54-55)
According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the enlightenment process of self-destruction is the result of a self-preservation drive, which mutilates reason; reason itself destroys the humanity it first made possible. This process of self-destruction follows, as the Enlightenment itself, an inexorable logic which ends turning against the subject, reducing its own internal nature as a mere substratum of domination. That is, the process of emancipation from external nature reveals itself, at the same time, as a process of subjection of man's own internal nature: 'The fallen nature of modern man' ends up as a process of regression to the old bondage under nature:

     The decline, the forfeiture, of nature consists in the
     subjugation of nature without which spirit does not exist.
     Through the decision in which spirit acknowledges itself to
     be domination and retreats into nature, it abandons the
     claim to domination which makes it a vassal of nature.
     (DE, 39-40)

The domination of man over nature paradoxically carries with it the domination of nature over man. For Horkheimer and Adorno, the representation of this paradox is Odysseus's fate. Here the conflict is radical and original, and it takes place between man and nature, between the 'domination of nature' and the 'domination of man.'

The Enlightenment started by the sign of dominion and the reductio ad hominen of the world historical processes to its principles, it has not just eliminated the myth, but also the 'meaning' that transcends the bare facts:

     On the road to modern science, men renounce any claim to
     meaning. (DE, 5) What is abandoned is the whole claim and
     approach of knowledge: to comprehend the given as such; not
     merely to determine the abstract spatiotemporal relations of
     the facts which allow them just to be grasped, but on the
     contrary to conceive them as the superficies, as mediated
     conceptual moments which come to fulfillment only in the
     development of their social, historical, and human
     significance. (DE, 26-27)

This means that the Enlightenment itself has fallen victim of its own reductionist logic and returned to mythology, that is, to the necessity that this logic hoped to liberate man. In Horkheimer and Adorno's words:

     Mythology itself set off the unending process of
     enlightenment in which ever and again, with the
     inevitability of necessity, every specific theoretic view
     succumbs to the destructive criticism that it is only a
     belief -- until even the very notions of spirit, of truth
     and, indeed, enlightenment itself, have become animistic
     magic [...] Just as the myths already realize
     enlightenment, so enlightenment with every step becomes
     more deeply engulfed in mythology. (DE, 11-12)

In Habermas's words, 'the modern fully rationalized world is only seemingly disenchanted.'[8] In other words, the demythologization seems to dispel the enchantment of religious-metaphysical thinking, but it really appears to us as confusion between nature and culture. 'The process of enlightenment leads to the desocialization of nature and the denaturalization of the human world.'[9]

Enlightenment's relapse into mythology means the fall of the spirit -- which arose with it -- under the blind dominion of nature. The latter thus takes revenge against man exploitation, to whom it has been externally subjected, and the repression that has internally taken place in the subject itself -- all this formed according to the principle of self-conservation and dominion. Nature rebels this way because the spirit in the process of Enlightenment has forgotten it. In fact, at the beginning of this process, there took place a 'loss of memory,' which precisely made this process possible; Horkheimer and Adorno basically conclude that 'all objectification is a forgetting,' (DE, 230) all objectification is a 'loss of meaning.'

What is the scope of Horkheimer and Adorno's critique of Enlightenment? Can we still talk about the dialectic of Enlightenment or we must consider the paradox of Enlightenment? Horkheimer and Adorno's critical interpretation of the world-historical process of Enlightenment agrees with Max Weber's diagnosis: the Enlightenment is a progressive and irreversible process of rationalization of all the spheres of social life; a process that at the same time is the progressive functionalization and instrumentalization of reason, with the consequent loss of meaning and freedom. However, the process of Enlightenment was leading to a final catastrophe. Here Horkheimer and Adorno enter in the field of the radical critique of enlightened reason.

What does this radicalization of the critique of Enlightenment mean? The authors of the DE extended and radicalized Luckacs' concept of reification and, with it, Weber's concept of rationalization, beyond the mode of capitalist production, to the whole history of Western civilization. The radicalization that the critique of Enlightenment experiences here is paradoxical: the criticism turns so radical that it undermines its own basis, its own condition of possibility. In fact, if the history of Western rationality is at the same time a process of collapse and returning to myth, then the ideology critique loses its utopian dimension: 'the rational potential of bourgeois culture,'[10] with which it faced up to reality and criticized it, demands and makes possible its realization. This radical critique, then, excluded the possibility to enlighten the Enlightenment about itself, that is, the possibility to realize it as such.

Obviously, this paradox is present in the mind of Horkheimer and Adorno. It was the enlightened-emancipator impetus at stake which motivated their thought: 'We are wholly convinced -- and therein lies our petitio principii -- that social freedom is inseparable from enlightened thought.' (DE, xiii) Their position was not to avoid the paradox, but to abide in it without fleeing toward irrational solutions.

In fact, the process of demythologization, which is suspended between myth and Enlightenment, leads man a confusion between nature and culture, where the external world is differentiated into the objective world of entities and the social world of norms, and they both stand in contrast to the subject's internal world of experience. This is the place where the procedure of ideology critique can be examined. When contexts of meaning and reality, that is, when internal and external relationships have been unmixed and differentiated only then can the suspicion of ideology arises. The process of Enlightenment shows that the autonomy of validity claimed by a theory, when it follows its specific logic and is cleansed of all mythological dross, is an illusion because secret interests and power are hidden.

Horkheimer and Adorno's critique, which is inspired by such suspicion, becomes ideology critique when it attempts to show that the validity of a theory has not been adequately dissociated from the context in which it emerged (reality) and the context of justification (meaning). Precisely, the ideology critique wants to show that these internal and external relationships are confused and that they are confused because validity claims are determined by relationships of power.

Enlightenment, through this critique, becomes reflective and it is performed to its own products. But when ideology critique 'itself' comes under suspicion, then, the doubt reaches out to include reason. Habermas claims that the DE takes precisely this step: 'So what enlightenment has perpetrated on myth, they apply to the process of enlightenment as a whole. Inasmuch as it turns against reason as the foundation of its own validity, critique becomes total.'[11] Thus, the radicalization of ideology critique does not have anything in reserve to which it might appeal. Did the paradox with which Horkheimer and Adorno confronted themselves leave no way out?

The DE suggests, nevertheless, that in the Enlightenment's process of self-destruction, because reason is not itself a completely dominant reason, there is within a hidden moment of truth which arises in certain historical events. This 'secret utopia in the concept of reason' (DE, 84) is the last resort that holds the DE's liberating hope, which transcends the contradiction and makes possible the aim 'to prepare the way for a positive notion of enlightenment.' (DE, xvi) However, this moment of truth in the concept of reason is only invoked in the DE. What does it involve? The DE does not explicitly have an answer. Dialectic of Enlightenment holds scarcely any prospect for an escape from the myth.

We can draw lines, though, that the critique of Enlightenment does not involve the 'subjugation' of nature, but its perversion into an instrumental -- homogenizing and reifying -- reason. Here the perversion is located in the origin itself of the Enlightenment process, and it arises from an original forgetfulness at the dawn of Western rationality. Because reason forgot its original unity with nature and myth, it was formed then according to the principle of power, and with it the seeds of its own destruction. That criticism does not mean a withdrawal of reason in favor of nature nor a nostalgic return to nature, but the overcoming of the Enlightenment's perversion through Enlightenment itself. The overcoming of the process of alienation of reason/nature is not in the margins of reason itself.[12]

3. From Horkheimer and Adorno's approach we must confront a dilemma: either we welcome the turning back of the myths and the gods or we do not resign ourselves to the failure of Enlightenment. Something was wrong in the initial plan, something happened between the project and what has really taken place. What went wrong? It seems that our time lost the path of its horizon of meaning. Western rationality is dying of success, but it is already finding itself in rigor mortis. Western rationality is construing the cage for a new servitude. What resumes modern rationality is its 'reification' which is the virus incubated in its first moments.

It seems that the design of modern rationality was hanging by a thread: the equilibrium between the substantive reason and the particular logics was ready to break. This thread is now broken. We are witnessing the extraordinary developing of the specific rationalities, and at the same time, the vanishing of the substantive reason. Here substantive reason means a common horizon of meaning for the diversity of human activities. That function of reason is the one that transcends the claims of universality of modern reason -- that it is plural. In Weber's terms, the 'rationality of choice'[13] was separated in particular rationalities (politics, economics, culture, etc.), each one with its own legitimate logic (logic of power, logic of money, logic of knowledge, etc.). Certainly, these specific logics are the result of the disenchantment of the modern world, separated from the common horizon of the substantive reason.

The consequences of this split are of two types:[14] a) When each particular rationality separates from the common horizon which pretends to give a total meaning to action, the outcome is a deficit of rationality. Despite the extraordinary developing of science, it advances without direction. Science investigates by investigating, it does not know why it investigates, and it is indifferent to the meaning of its own research. Finally, nothing prevents science that even man would be the object of its research, that is, to subject the whole man to a process of objectification. b) Concomitantly, the outcome is also an excess of rationality. Without a common horizon that regulates the limits of each specific logic, each particular rationality would have a tendency to colonize the rest. Science -- the analogy of the rationality of choice -- binds all the spheres of knowledge to conform to its particular methodology.

In sum, the enlightened reason had disenchanted the world by throwing off the myths and the gods, but now they are rising from their graves and coming back. They are coming back because man subjectively needs them to set the ends and values that instrumental reason cannot objectively define. For Horkheimer and Adorno, the 're-enchantment of the world' can be overcome by enlightened reason itself.


1. Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1998). Horkheimer and Adorno's book was first published in Amsterdam (1947) and is the starting point of the discussion on Modernity.

2. Horkheimer and Adorno, cited in Juan Jose Sanchez, 'Introduccion,' Dialectica de la Ilustracion, trans. Juan Jose Sanchez (Madrid: Trotta, 1998) 10. (My translation).

3. See Reyes Mate, Memoria de Occcidente (Barcelona: Anthropos, 1997) 32ff. (My translation).

4. Habermas, Jurgen, 'The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno,' in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT, 1996) 107.

5. Horkheimer, cited in J. J. Sanchez, op. cit., 12. (My translation).

6. For the authors, mimesis is a primordial reason that recalls the model of exchange between the subject and nature that is free of violence, and whose position has been usurped by power.

7. Habermas (1996), op. cit., 110.

8. Loc. cit.

9. Ibidem, 115.

10. Habermas (1996), op. cit., 118.

11. Ibidem, 118-119.

12. 'The only way -- Horkheimer writes -- to help nature consists in liberating its seeming opposite: autonomous thinking,' quoted in J. J. Sanchez, op. cit., 31. (My translation).

13. For Weber, the rationality of choice precisely expresses the modern rationality, which he defines as follows: 'Action is purposive-rational when it is oriented to ends, means and secondary results. This involves rationally weighing the relations of means to ends, the relations of ends to secondary consequences, and finally the relative importance of different possible ends. Determination of action either in affectual or traditional terms is thus incompatible with this type.' Quoted in Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 1, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon, 1984), 168.

14. See Reyes Mate, op. cit., 52-53.


Habermas, Jurgen. The Theory of Communicative Action. Vol. 1. Trans. Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon, 1984.

Habermas, Jurgen. 'The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno,' in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Trans. Frederick G. Lawrence. Cambridge: MIT, 1996.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. John Cumming. New York: Continuum, 1998.

Reyes Mate. Memoria de Occcidente. Barcelona: Anthropos, 1997.

Sanchez, Juan Jose, 'Introduccion,' in Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectica de la Ilustracion. Trans. Juan Jose Sanchez. Madrid: Trotta, 1998.

Alfredo Lucero-Montano holds a Masters degree in Philosophy from San Diego State University.  

(c) Alfredo Lucero-Montano 2006





In this paper I adopt the concept of eschatology suggested by Richard Schain. (Philosophy Pathways Issue 101) He says: 'The non-philosopher has only a vague interest in the abstractions of universal ideas, what he really wants is to apprehend the meaning of his own life. This inevitably becomes a matter of eschatology.'

I also take account of Samuel Alexander's recognition that each new Emergent stage of being has its roots in a lower level of existence, but it does not belong to that lower level as it constitutes 'a new order of existent with its special laws of behaviour'. (Space Time and Deity 1920 II,46). Each Emergent Stage is distinguished by its own sphere of law. I identify these spheres of law as the Physical and Chemical laws of Matter, the Genetic laws of Life, and the Moral laws of Human Moral-cultural life.


Science is based on the application of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which holds that everything has a reason for being, and for being as it is. Science pursues empirical reasons for events. Detectives and Philosophers consider the available empirical facts, and seek the insights needed to discover the meaning of those facts.

Attempts to find meaning in the world, without taking facts into account, have little chance of success. Most such attempts have been heavily influenced by Myth or Religion, rather than by science. Science cannot provide meaning directly. But Hercule Poirot is able to derive meaning from the empirical facts he discovers. Meaning can be derived from sufficient facts.

Cosmology only became a science in the Twentieth Century. It has now provided a mass of evidence of the way the Cosmos has developed since the Big Bang. The Cosmos began some 13.7 Billion years ago with the Big Bang. Before the Big Bang there was nothing, not even a 'before'.

Time, Space and Energy all began with the Big Bang. Matter began to develop immediately, producing all the elements of the Periodic Table in a succession of exploding Stars. Some 4.5 Billion years ago Planet Earth developed. By about 4 Billion years ago, life had emerged on Earth. Life evolved in complexity, producing vegetative, instinctive, and conscious animal forms, which latter form included the Hominids. An advanced Hominid, Homo sapiens, evolved some 160,000 years ago as a new animal species. The Big Bang was thus the beginning of an ongoing process that has operated to date through a series of Emergent Stages.

The Big Bang could not just happen. Nothing 'just happens'. Everything has a cause. Such a cause would need to be powerful, intelligent and creative. I will call this entity the Creator. I avoid the word God because of the mythical and other baggage that the idea of God carries.


Can the Cosmic process make sense? Does the evidence indicate a possible purpose? Motive becomes important here. What motive could the Creator have for initiating the complex process that began with the Big Bang and continues to the present?

Aristotle was the first Philosopher to consider the question of the motive for Creation. He was able to reason from the contingent nature of the world to the necessity of a Creator, but he was unable to reason his way back from the Creator to the world. Aristotle's Creator was perfect, but the world was obviously imperfect. Why would a perfect Creator make an imperfect world?

Was Aristotle unable to resolve the question of motive because his only perception of process was based on the circular, repetitive processes of nature, and he lived in an otherwise static world? The category of a linear developmental process through time had to await Hegel. Modern Science and Philosophy can take development through time into account.


The Big Bang was the beginning of Time. It provided all the Energy needed for the process of Emergence, resulting in all the Emergent Stages that have developed to date. These Emergent Stages are Matter, Life and Human Moral-cultural life. Each of these stages has its own sphere of law. The essential difference between the Emergent Stages is related to the Information that operates within each stage and that gives rise to the law of the stage. The Big Bang was not only the initiation of Time and Energy. It also provided the Information that distinguishes the different Emergent Stages.

Each Emergent Stage is built upon the previous stage. The new Emergent Stage incorporates the previous stage, but transcends it, introducing a new sphere of natural law. While the law of the new stage transcends the law of the previous stage, the law of the previous stage remains in operation. It is the new sphere of law that distinguishes each new Emergent Stage from the earlier Emergent stage upon which it is built. The laws of Physics and Chemistry apply to the Emergent Stage of Matter, the Genetic laws of life to the Emergent Stage of Life, and the Moral Law to the Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage.

Matter is the first Emergent. Life appears to have emerged as soon as matter had developed a potentially life-friendly environment. Life evolves on Earth, eventually producing a series of Hominids, including Homo sapiens. The third Emergent stage, Human moral-cultural life, is very recent. It began to emerge among Homo sapiens less than 3,000 years ago. There were human cultures prior to that emergence, but no human moral cultures. Homo sapiens took a long time to develop from simply being an advanced animal species to begin to become human, and then begin to become moral.


Time and Energy are important to the process of Emergence, but Information is even more important. It is Information that makes each new Emergent stage different from the previous stage, and provides the law of the new stage. New Emergent stages do not come into being as a result of some pre-existing Law of Nature. Laws of Nature are simply statements of the regularities that are to be found at the Emergent Stages of Matter and Life, based on the Information embedded in each stage, and of the moral activity that emerges at the beginning of the Human Moral-cultural Stage.

The laws of Physics and the laws of Life are embedded in the first two Emergent stages. The moral law, however, is not embedded in the Human moral-cultural stage. The moral law only comes into effect through the activities of individual humans, as it is perceived and conveyed by those individuals.

Each new Emergent Stage operates with greater freedom than the previous stage. The laws of matter are deterministic, material novelty arising from the interaction of these deterministic laws. The laws of life provide greater freedom than the laws of matter. Life is opportunistic rather than deterministic. The Moral Law allows complete moral freedom. As Nicolai Hartmann notes 'The Moral Law commands, but cannot compel.'


Bernard Lonergan argues that the growth in complexity within the Emergent stages of Matter and Life occurs through the process of Emergent Probability. In this process simple components form higher integrations by self-organisation. He maintains that the formation of these higher integrations is not pre-determined, nor is it simply a matter of chance. The higher integrations are considered to be the result of a series of freely operating processes, involving a succession of probable realisations of possibilities. (Insight, 1958, Chapter IV)


As distinct from developments within an Emergent Stage, a new Emergent Stage is not the result of higher integrations of existing components. Each new stage requires further Information in order to operate in a new way. A new Emergent Stage only emerges when the Information needed to initiate it becomes effective. This Information brings the new stage, and its new sphere of law, into operation,

In the beginning of the Emergent Process, Energy and Information combine to provide the Emergent stage of Physical Matter. The laws of Physics and Chemistry express the Information that forms, or in-forms, this first Emergent stage. Matter is informed Energy. We know a lot about the processes by which matter develops from very simple to more complex forms, but we do not yet know how energy is informed to produce matter. We can however deconstruct some matter to produce energy.

Life is the next Emergent Stage. Just as energy is informed to produce Matter, Matter is further informed to produce Life. The laws of Genetics express the Information that forms, or in-forms Life. Again we know a lot about the processes by which Life develops from simple to more complex forms, but we do not yet know how matter is informed to produce life.

Life evolves through a number of distinct sub-stages, including Bacterial life, Vegetative life, Instinctive Animal life and finally Conscious Animal Life. Each sub-stage is subject to the same sphere of law, the Genetic laws of life.

The laws of the Physical Emergent stage are deterministic, but the interactions of various physical laws make for a diversity of physical outcomes. At some time, in some part of the material Cosmos, at least one planet that is capable of supporting life will develop through the process of Emergent Probability.

Earth, a complex life-friendly planet, eventually develops. Life emerges on Earth. Life exercises greater freedom in its self-organisation than does Physical Matter. Life on Earth freely evolves new forms in order to fill every available environmental niche. More complex life-forms develop by the self-organisation of existing Genetic elements.

Conscious Animal Life enjoys more freedom in its range of possible activities than does Instinctive Animal life. Homo sapiens originally evolves as a new species of Conscious Animal life. At some stage Homo sapiens begins to develop cultures. This development of culture is the beginning of self-creation, as distinct from earlier forms of self-organisation.


The early Emergent stages, Matter and Life, both develop through self-organization. Self-organisation is the re-organisation of already existing elements. Self-creation goes further and initiates a new element, such as culture, rather than simply re-organising existing elements. Humans create their own human-ness, both culturally and existentially, as they develop themselves and their cultures. Cultures are processes of human self-creation.

Homo sapiens have been around for some 160,000 years. The species has changed slowly, but significantly, since it first evolved. The first members of this new species were not people, as we now consider ourselves. They were highly evolved animals, but they were simply animals, nothing more.

The gradual development of Homo sapiens, from an animal species to human, took a long time. This development was mankind's own doing. As Bernard Lonergan points out in his 'Second Collection': 'Man's development is a matter of getting beyond himself, of transcending himself, of ceasing to be an animal in a habitat and of becoming a genuine person in a community'. (1974,144)


We are still engaged in this process of becoming more human. As a species, Homo sapiens began the long process of self-creation, from animal to human, by forming and developing cultures, as some other Hominids had also begun to do. Self-creation began with the Hominids. It began while they were simply conscious animals. Every Hominid culture is a potential process of self-creation. Cultures are made by the 'people' of the culture, and cultures, to a significant extent, make the 'people' of the culture.

Homo sapiens gradually developed the capacity to access information from the environment, to a greater extent than had other hominid species. The new species developed a knowledge base, and individual members developed their intellectual ability in the construction of knowledge and in the pursuit of understanding.

Human intellectual development was painfully slow. Apart from the development of language, the first significant cultural change after the evolution of the species occurred in the Palaeolithic revolution of some 40,000 years ago, with the construction of symbolic representations of concepts. That was 120,000 years after the species first evolved. An even more significant change, the beginning of critical thought and of moral sensibility, took a further 37,000 years to develop. The capacity for principled moral perception appears to still be in the process of development. The majority of people today still lack the capacity to make principled moral decisions.


When the intellectual abilities of some cultural groups had become well developed, some of the people of those cultures began to perceive that human situations had a moral dimension. Having first developed the capacity to access and apply information from the natural environment, some individuals began to be able to access moral Information directly. They also sought to apply moral concepts within their cultures. This was the beginning of the Human Moral-cultural revolution.

The transition from pre-moral human cultures to morally influenced cultures is necessarily a slow and irregular process. It appears to be at least partly dependent upon the intellectual self-development and the level of critical rationality achieved by the people of each culture. It is only within the last millennium BC that any significant intellectual and moral development becomes evident in any human culture. Before that time most people appear to have lacked both critical rationality and moral sensibility. All cultures had Laws, but these were simply mores, or cultural rules. They did not stem from a moral sensibility. In his 'The Discovery of the Mind' (1953) Bruno Snell traces the gradual development of both critical rationality and morality, particularly in Greece.

Snell shows how Greek literature provides evidence of the gradual development of a moral perspective in Greece. Homer's stories are ancient and are pre-moral. In Homer, what is declared good is what is successful, not what is moral. 'Good' does not signify a moral dimension in Homer. Some time after Homer, Hesiod (c.750 BC) rationalises the genealogies of the Olympian Gods, but he does not concern himself with their lack of morality. Two Centuries after Hesiod, Xenophanes (c.570 BC) one of the pre-Socratics, declares that the Olympian Deities cannot be Gods, because of their immorality. Moral sensibility has emerged in Greece.

The Hebrew developed a moral perspective earlier than the Greeks. The critical focus of Hebrew thought was primarily directed to moral action. Amos and Hosea, Hebrew Prophets who were vitally concerned with moral action, were approximate contemporaries of the Greek writer, Hesiod, who failed to exhibit any moral concern when he rationally recast the genealogies of the Olympian Gods.

The Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage is anomalous in two ways. It depends upon self-creation, as distinct from the self-organisation of the earlier stages of Matter and Life. Secondly, the law of the Moral-cultural Stage, the Moral Law, is not embedded in the stage, as is the law of the two earlier Emergent Stages.

In the human Moral-cultural stage Information is accessed in a new way. Moral individuals, those capable of Kohlberg's 'principled morality', appear to have some direct access to moral Information. This access enables them to perceive the moral aspects of human situations.

Such direct access to moral Information is still rare. As Kohlberg has shown, only a very small percentage of people are capable of making principled moral decisions. The development of moral cultures appears to be primarily dependent upon the influence that people with a principled moral perception are able to have within the culture. The 'morality' of the vast majority of people does not rely on principled moral perceptions. It is simply the adoption of societal norms.


What meaning or purpose can we derive from the Evidence of the development from the Big Bang until the present day, including the emergence of matter, of life, and of human Moral-cultural life? Unlike the suggested analogy to a Detective investigating a criminal act, we do not have all the evidence. The Cosmic process does not yet appear to be complete. The human Moral-cultural stage is still developing. It is still anything but perfect.

The vast size of the Cosmos, and the time that has elapsed since the Big Bang, are often invoked to imply that humanity is insignificant in the overall scheme of things. But if we are looking at a freely operating process rather than a directed process, the age and size of the Cosmos may be a necessary factor in that process. It took a long time for a life-friendly planet to develop, and further time for life to emerge and evolve.

It could well have taken even longer, but it could well have occurred at some other place and time, given sufficient places and sufficient time. Lonergan suggests that 'No matter how slight the probability of the realisation of the most developed and most conditioned schemes, the emergence of those schemes can be assured by sufficiently increasing absolute numbers and sufficiently prolonging intervals of time.' (Insight, 1958 Ch.4)

Lonergan does not propose an answer to the question of the purpose of the Cosmic process. I would also prefer to leave it to readers to consider the evidence and reach their own conclusion, which I would be happy to discuss.

(c) Anthony Kelly 2005




This Week on the Guerrilla Radio Show! (Tuesday, 02.14.06)

Live Webcast GMT 12:00 am on Wednesday, 02.15.06

Philosophy of Language 101 (ReRun Episode)

What is the philosophy of language? How does the philosophy of language differ from linguistics, or from other branches of philosophy? Why do philosophers study language? What is the purpose of language? How does language relate to the mind, both of the speaker and the interpreter? How does language relate to the world? What is the nature of meaning? What is the relation between meaning and reference? How are sentences composed into a meaningful whole, and what are the meanings of the parts of sentences? Why do expressions have the meanings they have? How do words and sentences acquire meanings? Be sure and join the GRS crew and special guest Nathan Salmon, Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara) for an important discussion about the Philosophy of Language and the upcoming Steven Humphrey Excellence in Philosophy Conference entitled *Advances in the Theory of Meaning* (February 17-20, 2006).

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Committed to Waging War Against Idiocy and Bringing Philosophy to the Masses, the Guerrilla Radio Show offers listeners a fresh, no-nonsense perspective on life and the world we live in. The show is educational, exciting, cutting-edge and jam-packed with controversial issues, expert guest opinions, live caller interviews and enough wit and sarcasm to kill a horse! With a format like that, the Guerrilla Radio Show is sure to make a forceful impact on the fragile radio airwaves of America.

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