‘The Expressible and The Inexpressible’: John O’Neill

This post is the sixth in a series of responses to papers delivered at the Biennial Conference on Philosophy, Religion and Culture at the Catholic Institute of Sydney, 5th-7th October 2012.

Towards the Whole: Exploring Raimon Panikhar’s Cosmotheandric and Ken Wilber’s Integral Visions.

by John O’Neil

Raimon Panikkar and Ken Wilber are more often marginalised in the disciplines of theology and philosophy, criticised for their ‘spiritual’ approaches.  In this conference paper John O’Neill presented their work as they both themselves see it: an expansive project of philosophy that considers knowledge in all it’s forms, not just logical and/or empirical, which is what much Western Philosophy continues to demand.  Here are two quotes John gave us:

“The heart of integral philosophy is primarily a mental activity of co-ordinating elucidating and conceptually integrating all the various modes of being and knowing.  It fully acknowledged the higher modes and is open to the practices and modes of contemplation.  It both includes and is critical of less encompassing approaches eg. in philosophy, psychology, religion and social theory.  it is a theory inseparable from practice, on all levels and all quadrants.”  (Ken Wilber, Eye of the Spirit, p. 309)

“Authentic philosophy is not a speciality, it is the intellectual and contemplative activity of humanity, a conscious involvement in the life of reality, which makes humanity co-responsible with reality itself.  It can be found in basic research as well as in contemplative thinking; it may be cultivated in solitude and in conversation and with both the sciences and humanities.” (Raimon Panikkar, Rhythm of Being, p.20)

Both Panikkar and Wilber present a challenge to mainstream Western thinking.  They draw on resources across cultures, religions and academic disciplines.  It’s difficult not to read their material as reductionistic, though that is quite contrary to their intention.  Panikkar uses Christian language (plus Hindu, plus Buddhist) to draw his vision, outlining a vision for the Trinity that includes the whole of reality without the dualistic distinction between human and divine.  (Read more at his official website: www.raimon-panikkar.org)  Wilber’s project reads to me more anthropological or maybe it’s just that he is most well known for his evolutionary theory of human development.  (Visit Ken’s website to find out more about him: www.kenwilber.com)

I am by no means well informed about either writer, though Wilber is more familiar to me and I have engaged a little with the Integral Psychology movement.  Both of them differ from my theological project in the way that they engage the ‘particular’ within the universal.  That is, I am seeking a way of affirming my certain knowledge in the uniqueness of Christ, whilst simultaneously affirming my certain knowledge that I do not need to condemn, belittle or even ignore other knowledge which might at first seem to be in competition with the ‘proposition’ that Christ is all.  I have no time for imperialistic Christologies which subsume all other perspectives within my own (eg. Rahner’s ‘anonymous’ Christians’ or the less sophisticated ‘it’s all the same God’).  Nor do I have patience for the arrogant assumption that my knowledge is greater than anyone else.  So, the only ‘logical’ option left to me is some kind of sophisticated pluralism.  Sophisticated, because it is nonsense to speak of a plurality of truths if the only form of knowledge we are willing to consider is propositional.  I want to be able to say that I know myself to be right, whilst being open to the possibility that you also might be right.  This is what my ‘hermeneutic of love’ is trying to achieve – but it only works if there is more than one type of knowledge!

Panikkar and Wilber dabble in the mystical tradition, as do many philosophers who are searching beyond Enlightenment thinking for resources to answer this question.  I find it very interesting, but am not yet sure of how to manage the growing plethora of agnostic mystical approaches to knowledge.  More reading required – at some stage I’ll need to come up with a definition of mysticism for my thesis.

2 thoughts on “‘The Expressible and The Inexpressible’: John O’Neill

  1. I am doing a blog post on Raimon Pannikar, too , and was looking to find a picture of him in the public domain and came upon your blog. Did you get permission to use the picture you have above (if so, who would I contact about that?) or do you know that it’s OK to use it without permission?
    Thanks for any help you can give,

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