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Logocentric Gentile

Saturday, 28 Mar 2020

Giovanni Gentile on Dr John Dunn. The spirit is everything. Man must aspire to be human by becoming a creator rather than a contemplator. I felt even closer to the long-sought answer to my ‘what am I?’ question. And yet, if spirit is everything, if man is spirit and if thinking is truth, then where does this leave man? Is not the ‘I’ that Giovanni Gentile (pictured left) was so determined to save from the Spinozists lost in all this spirit?

Logos is truth in the deepest sense of the word, the generative principle of everything. It is variously translated as ‘word,’ ‘speech,’ ‘principle,’ or ‘thought’. In Greek philosophy, it also referred to a universal, divine reason, the mind of God, or the deep underlying truth of the cosmos. If you make the truth the search not for what is (i.e. externally and in the abstract) but for what ought to be, then thinking =reality = truth = Logos. If the truth for which we strive is considered to be the Logos, then might not Gentile’s doctrine be not so much egocentric as logocentric? I noted above that what horrified Gentile was the degradation of the will, and the compulsion to conform to any presupposition. So, if not in presupposed thoughts, which are abstract, the certainty of truth must be found in active thinking, which is concrete. This is where the Concrete Logos is found, i.e. in active thinking.

The outstanding characteristic of Gentile’s Actualism is its attempt to develop a metaphysics (a system of morality) without the use of presuppositions. In such an attempt, the resultant metaphysics must be based upon a Logos, which is not previous to thinking but is within the act of thinking itself.

And yet, by starting with the ‘I’ that thinks, Gentile did in fact allow a presupposition. This was surely inconsistent. But if he had started with the act of thinking, he would have lost the very ‘I’ that he and Fichte and Coleridge had endeavoured to protect from the all-consuming Spinozist Substance.

It is clear that Gentile had reached the outer limits of philosophical idealism. If he extended the logic of his own argument, thinking would take place without the thinker. If this were the case, no man as an individual, not even Gentile, is real. It is only the act of thinking which is real, and as such it cannot be attached to an unreal thinker. Hence to speak of my thought or of Gentile’s thought or of anyone's thought is to refer to abstract entities.

So where has Gentile led us? If truth is to be found in thinking only, and if this criterion of truth is the Logos, then we are left with pure Logos. Is this the answer to the 'what am I' question? But surely truth would never ask of itself - what is truth?

Gentile’s Actualism is unable to account for the universally recognised fact that thinking is attached to the human individual, in fact, uniquely attached. Remember Ilyenkov’s conception of man as ‘substance that thinks’?

Does this mean that thinking adopts the individual in order to think? And if thinking is pure Logos, that must make me as an individual Logos incarnated. Could this really be the answer to the ‘what am I’ question?

Are we not relating to some core Christian truth here, foreshadowed by Prometheus and Zarathustra and echoed in Dante and Coleridge?

© John Dunn.

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