Conditions of Corporeal Manifestation

In 1912, when Guenon was in his mid-twenties, he published a densely argued article on the conditions of corporeal manifestation. It abruptly ends; apparently a Part 2 was planned to conclude the essay, but never appeared. Rather than trying to extrapolate the second half (which would be difficult without knowing his source material), I’d rather use what is available and then apply it in a way to understand the natural or human order.

Guenon is one-pointedly focused on the cosmic or metaphysical order; when he does talk about the human order, it is usually to criticize various aspects of it. Nevertheless, beyond the Brahmanic type of spirituality that he undoubtedly represents, there are many more whose earthly task brings them into the areas of administration or economic activity. There certainly is a spirituality appropriate for them. Guenon does indeed point out that the human order and the cosmic order are not really separated, since they continuously react on each other (“Solidification of the World”, Reign of Quantity).

Guenon writes that there are five conditions which corporeal existence is subject to: space, time, matter, form, and life. He summarizes: “A body is a material form living in time and space.” Space and time are clearly necessary for there to be any consciousness of material objects. They are not discovered through observation, but rather are necessary conditions for there to be observations at all.

By including matter and form, Guenon reaffirms the hylomorphism of the Western Tradition. Taking some cues from Guenon and applying them to Plato’s divided line, understood ontologically rather than epistemologically, we can attempt to understand the conditions of material existence. Plato makes a distinction between philosophical ideas and mathematical ideas both because of their forms of knowledge and that the latter are closer to the material world. Guenon claims the Point, without dimension, generates all the other dimensions. So we already start with a mathematicization of the world.

The two branches of maths, arithmetic and geometry, then correspond to time and space, respectively. Since time is more subtle (for example, a thought exists in time but not in space), it is ontologically prior to space. These are the conditions for the appearance of things. The actuality of things is then based on form and matter, which we can consider as two opposing poles.

For God, form and matter are identical, but not so for the world. The two attributes of God, the Absolute and the Infinite correspond to form and matter. The Absolute is the Point, and the Infinite relates to all the possibilities of matter. In separating those two aspects, there is a clearing for the world to appear. Every corporeal being partakes, then, in both form and matter.

Now, I want to move beyond Guenon and regard the two poles as the endpoints of a spectrum. Guenon next considers these conditions in relation to the five elements: ether, air, fire, water, earth. Hence, this spectrum can also represent stages in the solidification of the world … which brings me to the point.

In order to understand the worldview of Charles Maurras, it is first necessary to understand Auguste Comte. Comte, as is well known, rejected any metaphysical understanding of the world; to his credit, he also rejects the false metaphysics of later positivists: materialism, determinism, and so on. His philosophy claimed to be based solely on facts. From those facts, he developed a scale of the sciences. There are several sciences because facts can be of different orders, requiring different methods of study. Again, to his credit and unlike his subsequent imitators, Comte was generous in defining a fact; in particular, thinking, willing, and feeling are also “facts”. Since there is a metaphysical principle, “there is no disputing facts,” we can accept that as far as it goes. The following list is adapted from Comte and corresponds to profane sciences from the more subtle to the more dense. As such, it represents both the human and cosmic order.

  • Law. This is the understanding of divine and natural law. As Guenon points out, the Medieval Tradition did not have a “law” like other Traditions. For example, in them there are divine laws regulating the time or method of prayer, dietary restrictions, the rules for ritual cleanliness, and so on. Westerners who have not lived with these types of laws often fail to grasp their power. For example, F. M. Cornford points out that the ancient pagans experienced their laws as a “must”; just as a rolling stone must move downward, a man must follow the divine law.
    Nevertheless, the Medieval Tradition did recognize a natural law, binding on everyone; this will have to be a topic for another time. The Brahman caste is responsible for this science.
  • Sociology. This is the study of man in his social activities and groupings. It, too, can be subdivided. The highest subdivision is political science since it produces the positive law which should be, at its best, adaptations of divine and natural law to particular circumstances. Next comes economic activity which is bound both to divine and positive law. Note that these subdivisions relate to the next two castes.
  • Biology. This is the study of life, a basic condition of the corporeal world.
  • Chemistry. This is the study of the elements and their interactions in their corporeal manifestations. The five elements are transcendental, that is, they never appear as such, but manifest through other bodies.
  • Physics. This is the study of matter itself. Interestingly, it recapitulates the metaphysical order. For physics, space and time are unified in a higher principle (Guenon deals with this). Also, the deeper into matter physics goes, the less it finds other than energy fields and mathematical abstractions, but this is too large a topic for right now.

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