Sunday, 25 August 2019

Book Review: In the Sphere of the Personal

August is nearly over and the International Conference on Persons has come and gone for another year, or rather two years. In view of that, I thought I might share with you this review of the first ICP collection, one that James Beauregard and I put together in 2016, following the Boston conference. I do so, purely because the sun is shining, the birds are signing, and we all like to feel appreciated once in a while. Best of all, it has a foreword by one of the great American philosophers, and a very dear friend, Thomas O. Buford. I shall try to post that too, in the near future.
In case anyone is wondering, the book is still very available, both from Vernon Press and Amazon.

by John F. Hofbauer
Review:  In the Sphere of the Personal:  New Perspectives in the Philosophy of Persons (Edited by Simon Smith and James Beauregard)

Simon Smith and James Beauregard had the daunting task of editing and encapsulating the varied spectrum of divergent viewpoints that structure what could be loosely called the “philosophy of persons.”  On the one hand, this book certainly relishes traditional understandings of personhood (e.g., Burgos), with all the consolations that a solid metaphysical grounding brings to these orthodox positions.  On the other hand, the book does well not to flinch from confronting the brave new world of perspectives (e.g., Larrivee’s “Neuroethics and Impersonalism”) that have the potential to eradicate any normalized conception of “person” entirely.  Here, coldly logical conclusions present themselves with frightening clarity and force:  the supplantation of the human person with eugenically designed “enhanced” human specimens hearkens in the specter of an existence where basic human rights have no real metaphysical, epistemological, or ethical grounding in the transcendent.
For the record, Simon Smith’s and James Beauregard’s introduction is, by itself, worth the purchase price of this book.  For it effectively polishes the fine art of balancing a comprehensive synopsis of the book’s contents, while, at the same time, providing a logically compelling critique of any reductionist viewpoints that might eventually lead one to a Socratic absurdity.  The introduction, in an admirably nuanced fashion, bravely pounces upon the blatant, self-refuting, and ironic positions that utilize self-evident, personal capacities (powers) to impotently refute the very existence of these obvious powers, or of any distinguishable, personal experiences that persist over time.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

An enigma, wrapped in a philosophy of persons, wrapped in mythtery… wrapped in two slices of high-quality serrano ham

by Simon Smith
I’ve been watching Don Cupitt’s series Sea of Faith recently. As you will see, if you have sense enough to follow that link, a remarkable individual has had the wisdom, the foresight, the decency to put the whole thing up on YouTube. May the gods bless and keep you, Nigel Verney, whoever you are. Ta very much.
For those unfamiliar with this televisual masterpiece, Sea of Faith was a documentary series, written and presented by the Cambridge philosopher, Don Cupitt. Originally aired on the BBC in the early 1980s, it charted the development of Christian thought from the beginning of the modern period to the mid-twentieth century, starting with Galileo and ending with Wittgenstein; the episodes on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are especially exciting.
It’s an excellent series, the kind you don’t see very often these days, unless it’s presented by David Attenborough. Maybe Chris Packham. It’s genuinely thrilling to watch a programme which assumes its audience are intelligent and well-read. Not only does Cupitt name-drop Hegel, but while discussing Wittgenstein’s pragmatic turn,[1] he actually turns to camera and says something like ‘And what happened next? Well, you’ve probably guessed already.’ Because, of course we can all guess how one of the greatest philosophical minds of the century would proceed.
Everyone was so much cleverer back then, before civilisation ended in 140 characters or less (sad face emoji).
Don Cupitt was, and presumably still is, as cool as a polar bear, standing on an iceberg, dressed as Burt Reynolds from Smokey and the Bandit, and playing the Coltrane solos from Kind of Blue.
Oh yes, he’s that cool.
But I’m not writing a review. Or a bromance. In fact, I bring this excellent documentary to your attention, not only to encourage you – whoever you may be – to go and watch it instanter – which you definitely should – but also because among the many, many interesting things Cupitt says, he said one thing which particularly stuck in my mind.
It comes at the beginning of the last episode, before he gets going on Nietzsche. What he said was this: ‘It’s scarcely surprising that we’ve become an enigma to ourselves. We’re products of the modern age and yet we’re ill at ease in it.’[2] The reason for this uneasiness, this sense of not-quite-belonging, comes down, I think, to what I was thumping on about last week: myths and stories; especially, the ones we tell ourselves about who we are and who we’re meant to be. The trouble is, of course, that those myths and stories are much older than the world we actually live in.
Some of the stories have been updated. Consider, for example, that which passes for philosophy in the world of Sci-Fi/Fantasy Cos Play: viz. Post-and/or Transhumanism. Yes, of course it’s a serious philosophical enquiry. No, it’s not just a chance to brush the Dorito crumbs from your underwear, put on your Jedi costume, and come out of your bedroom.
The fact that the whole ‘discourse’ basically comes down to ‘Everyone who bullied me at school is going to be soooo sorry when I’m a giant robot with a super-hot alien girlfriend! Oh yeah! Role on Armageddon! Ahm gonna git me a girlfriend!’ is neither here nor there.
In reality, of course, post- and transhumanism are reformulations of the same old messianic myths, which have been part of human consciousness and human culture since the dawn of time. Only this time, instead of gods and heroes, technology saves the world; usually, for some reason, either by digitising and uploading or simply killing everyone. Very Nietzschean.
While we’re on the subject, I have a couple of questions about posthumanist techno-fantasies:
Firstly, what is all this technology going to run on while it’s enslaving the human race. You may not have noticed but there seems to be a bit of a problem with earth’s climate. If the scientists are right, the end is very much nigh: eco-Armageddon within twenty years or so. So how are our robot rulers going to power themselves then, with seawater?
Meanwhile, we’ll be too busy eating each other and trying to evolve gills to worry about the Rise of the Machines. (Cannibalism won’t be so bad; better than vegetarianism, anyway.)
Secondly, bearing in mind which species is actually developing this world-dominating AI, are we really sure it’s going to be as I as all that? Have you seen Windows 10?
Thirdly, even if the Machines do Rise, what makes everyone so sure that sheer human stupidity won’t win out in the end? It’s got us this far, after all. And by ‘this far’ I mean, ‘within twenty-odd years of the end of days’ obviously.
Not all the stories have been re-written by and for people who still live with their parents and have Star Wars posters on their bedroom walls, however. Some stories, which we allow to shape our lives and the lives of others, are as they have always been. As such, they’re often simply incompatible with the world we live in. Old, old stories; and yet we will not let them go.
Consider how tribal we still are. It comes in all sorts of flavours: sports teams; religion; rabid nationalism is very popular just now. It always amounts to the same thing: we’re ‘us’ and you’re ‘them’ and that’s plain wrong, pard’ner (noisily spits tobacco juice into a spittoon).
It’s not hard to imagine why fear of strangers made sense once upon a time, but nowadays? Hardly. The world is far too small. We know more about other cultures and other countries than ever before. Many of us have friends and family in those other cultures and countries. Thanks to modern (non-murderous) technology, we can communicate with people on the other side of the world (and call them ‘Nazis,’ if needs be) as easily as we can phone our mothers who live just down the road. We can do that. If we remember.
The world is smaller than ever before and it is more obvious than ever before that, no matter where you go or what you do, with whom you do it, how often, and how vigorously, people are basically the same everywhere.
That’s because we all become people in the same way: we’re nurtured into it by those who have and hold us. Taught to speak, taught to think, taught to like and, sadly, to hate. Others invest themselves in us in order that we might learn how to be a self, to other some other. What’s more, similarity contributes little or nothing to the psychodynamic development of ‘personhood’. We’re not just mythopoeic, we’re dialectical, we need difference to shape us: difference is essential. Simply put, we learn nothing about ourselves or anything else when we agree; it’s only when we disagree that we have to start thinking. That’s why Feuerbach saw the realisation, better still, enactment of divinity in co-operation and, more especially, our attempts to understand ourselves and our world. The sciences, in particular, strive for omniscience and omnipresence, counting ‘the stars in the sky, the ova in the spawn of fish and butterflies, and the colour spots on the wings of insects.’
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again and again): while one person trains their telescope on Venus or Mars, someone somewhere is looking at Uranus.[3]
You’re welcome.
Given all that, modern tribalism, in all its delightfully bigoted forms, makes no sense. Worse, it actually hinders our development.
That’s not to say it’s wrong or foolish to want to belong to a particular group. But the identity-constructs that often go with that sense of belonging do have a tendency to become rather monolithic. They need destabilising occasionally, because we need to be reminded that our way isn’t the ‘right’ way just because it is our way. We need to be reminded that we all have multiple identities, multiple roles we play depending on the social contexts in which we find ourselves. 
To be clear: it’s not normal to be whoever you are; it’s fine, but it’s not normal. This is because normal is an evaluation – as opposed to the matter of fact that some folks imagine. As such, it tends to rule anyone else, anyone who sees things or does things differently, as abnormal, i.e. wrong. Myths about normality, about sex and gender, about ability and disability, nationality and ethnicity; all of which can, of course, apply to the same person in different ways at different times.
That we feel unease at the incompatibility between such myths and the world we live in is really no bad thing. Certainty is the deathbed of creativity; uncertainty and unease, along with the insecurity that come with them, is fertile ground for myths and stories. That’s where old stories are renewed, so they can blossom forth again, and the green shoots of new ones begin to grow and do likewise. A garden, if I may mix a metaphor, built over forty thousand fathoms of doubt.
Always assuming, that is, we survive the coming of Ragnarok and the cannibal holocaust that follows. Or maybe not; even cannibals need myths.

[1] Of course it was pragmatic! Don’t be ridiculous, what else could it have been?
[2] BBC (1984). Sea of Faith. [video], 1:40-6. Available at: [Accessed 17 Aug. 2019].
[3] Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, 17.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Endless Conversations: Meanderings on Myth and the Meaning of 'Personhood'

by Simon Smith

Einstein supposedly defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results.’ I’m not sure. I’ve made pizza dough many, many times and have no intention of stopping, even if everyone begs me, for the love of God, to stop. One could call that ‘insanity’. Or ‘malice’. I prefer to think of it as ‘practising’. And yes, I do hope that one day will see a different result: viz. an edible pizza crust.
I’m exaggerating; technically, it’s always edible.
Another name for lunatic repetition might be ‘philosophy’. Not the sort wherein one reflects upon one’s values and the goals at which one aims. By ‘philosophy’, I mean the sort in which people, in full retreat from real life, abstract and conceptualise concrete relations utterly, while simultaneously over-simplifying and over-complicating everything: i.e. academic philosophy.
Philosophy often seems to be an endless reiteration of the same debates without the least hope of anyone changing their mind. Hence one reviewer’s comment on my book (still available from evil empires and not-so-evil-empires ): the arguments are perfectly sound, but it’s unlikely to convince anybody. Well, of course not. What kind of idiot would be convinced by sound logical argument?
(My favourite response was from the commentator who observed that, ‘nothing could improve this book’. Is that a complement or not?)
Or take the ever-lasting, fart-flavoured gobstopper that is philosophical realism. That realism is logically incoherent and empirically false[1] means nothing; realist philosophers remain committed to this rubbish, not for philosophical reasons, but for theological ones; and a bad theology at that.
Sadly, personalist philosophers don’t buck this trend very hard. This is frustrating because those within the tradition often regard personalism as radical, even revolutionary. When personalists foregather, however, we discuss – endlessly – the nature of ‘personhood’: what persons are or what it means to be a person. Consequently, personalism rarely gets very far or does anything very useful. And when someone does put personalist ideas to work in some concrete way, their efforts fall flat because they’re predicated on a concept of persons that hasn’t been thought through. It’s catch-22 without the funny bits.
That’s the trouble with grounding your philosophy in a single idea: if you can’t agree what the idea means, you’re stuffed.
Not all personalists don’t disagree about everything, of course. Many, for example, resist definition of the term ‘person’ because definitions risk foreclosing on meanings. Instead, they aver, there is a dynamism to ‘personhood’ which definition can’t capture. And they aver this, spite of their hidebound attachment to an antediluvian and unworkably inert metaphysics of substance.
There’s also the idea, borrowed from the late Robert Spaemann, that a person is not something but someone. This does not, I think, help us very much. Very well, we agree what persons are not; the question is, what are they? Moreover, unless we can explain what we mean by ‘thing’ without relying on the as-yet-unexplained notion ‘person’, what have we done but beg the question?
Just here, someone will almost certainly start thumping on about God. We are persons because God made us so. Quite possibly, but what have we actually explained by saying so? Sweet Jemima Crankshaft, that’s what.
And then there’s the tendency to regard ‘person’ as a moral term; that’s my particular error. Simply put, it means, to be a person, one must behave personally, i.e. treat others as persons: participate constructively in their development.[2]
Whether an essentially moral conception of ‘personhood’ explains anything is debatable. What it most assuredly doesn’t do is explain everything we might mean when talking about persons. It does not, for example, explain bad people. It just writes them out of our philosophy. But do we really want to deny that bad people are persons? Possibly, but it’s not a good idea. We don’t really want to say it’s acceptable to treat someone as an object as long as they’ve acted like an arsehole. For one thing, denying others their personhood isn’t a very personal way to behave. For another, give us each our deserts and which of us should ‘scape whipping?
Everyone is selfish or thoughtless sometimes. Who hasn’t ever pushed an old lady in front of a bus, or stolen from a homeless person, or sold drugs to children, or pandered to the fear and ignorance of a privileged majority in the name of political and economic short-termism, or contributed to the slow death of the planet, or ignored the fundamental exploitation at the heart of the global economy, or wished failure on their friends, or thrown away food despite poverty and starvation, or sacrificed a virgin to the old gods by cutting out and eating his or her heart, or deliberately hurt someone’s feelings, or deliberately hurt someone’s body, or systematically undermined the basic human rights of minority populations, or been a bit racist,[3] or punched a guinea pig in the face, or laughed when their mother fell down the stairs, or…?
What were we talking about? Oh right, persons. Again.
Conceive ‘personhood’ as a moral category, as I was wont to do, and there are some serious consequences. For a start, not everyone is a person and none of us are persons all the time. Even if we’re philosophically tough enough to take that on the chin, it still leaves the fundamental question, ‘what are we when we’re not persons?’
While I still believe that ‘personhood’ is actualised in constructive participation – for good philosophical reasons – I no longer do so as insistently as I once did. Clearly, to account for the complexity of real life, we must accept that constructive participation is only one form of ‘personhood’. There are others and they won’t all be nice. 
The trouble with all this talk about persons is that, even if we agree that persons aren’t something, we still seem to be thinking about persons as some ‘thing’. We’re trying to find a way of talking about this – what? Entity? Being? Substance? But aren’t they just different ways of trying not to say thing or ‘thing’ while still very definitely thinking it? They are.
Taking a leaf out of Farrer’s book,[4] the solution to this, and to the broader question of what ‘personhood’ means, is not to solidify the self but to liquidate it. Accept it: there’s no such thing as a person. Not because persons aren’t objects (or ‘objects’) but because, in one philosophically crucial sense, they don’t exist at all. ‘Person’ is a myth; that is, a story that becomes true in the telling and, more importantly, the living of it. You are, in short, the story of your life. No more no less.
Naturally, some stories are better, i.e. healthier, than others. They contribute to our development, our ability to fulfil our potential and become what we may. Such stories will be constructive, participative: they put us in harmony with others and the world, not just interactively but interconstitutively.  Other stories, I’m sure, aren’t constructive or healthy at all. They may be stories of separation and difference, of the other as a threat, something to be feared and hated. Some are about the ossification and isolation of the self. And we don’t always choose what kind of stories we live. We may choose some, but we’re also born into stories, many of which we simply accept as being true. Who we are and who we become depends on the interplay between these two kinds of story: the one’s we create and the ones we accept, often without realising.
But surely that’s another oversimplification. Are there really only two kinds of story at work in any life? Clearly not. The interlacing web of narratives within which we structure our lives is far more complicated. It will, most likely, comprise of healthy bits and unhealthy bits: i.e. bits wherein we strive to fulfil ourselves and support others in doing likewise and bits where we seek to defeat ourselves and others with selfishness and rodent punching. Quite likely there are also long periods where we stand around scratching our arses and picking our noses because we can’t think of anything good to do.
Before anyone starts muttering about how stories need or better still, entail, storytellers, we’ve already been through that back in April, while thumping on about Derrida.
Of this I am certain: there are no storytellers outside of the stories we tell; we are made of myths. The person I am began life as a character in the story of others: viz., my family. The story they told about me was a story about someone who would make up his own story. This, I have attempted to do. Not with any marked success, mind.
We’re made of myths. That’s probably why evidence and reasoned argument don’t change people’s minds, whereas a good, or at least oft repeated, story will.
Is that the end of the conversation? Unlikely, I’m afraid.
One last thought. There’s a theological problem that’s been bugging me for years, almost since I began my studies. It’s this: once we realise that God-talk is, as it absolutely must be, analogical, metaphorical, mythical, is a life of faith still possible? Otherwise put, can one live a life in real, personal relation to metaphors and myths as religious praxis demands? The answer, evidently, is ‘yes, we do it all the time’. Money, power, economics, politics, technology: all these are myths, stories we tell. Gender is a myth; even individuality is a myth: disconnect the individual from the network of physical and social connections which constitutes her environment and what’s left? Nothing at all.
Given that our entire lives are constituted by a matrix of interconnecting myths, conceptual maps wherein we plot the course of our existence, the idea of living one’s life in relation to the myths that we call ‘religion’ poses no difficulty at all.
 In fact, the real question isn’t, ‘can we live our lives in relation to myths and metaphors?’ It’s ‘can we live without them?’

[1] And yes, before anyone points it out, I know perfectly well that this is an oxymoron: a logically incoherent proposition – such as any claim to know mind-independent reals – can’t very well be empirically anything, let alone false. Except, of course, in real life which is frequently much more complicated and more interesting than logic. On the other hand, this is one of the reasons I find expressions like ‘anti-realist’ so irritating. The idea, propagated by philosophers, that any rejection of realism must constitute ‘anti-realism’ is nonsense and very bad philosophy. You, or more precisely, I can’t be against something which doesn’t make any sense. It would be like coming out against square circles!
[2] Yes, that does mean that persons are actualised in action: we are what we do and if you don’t like it, feel free to do one yourself. (It’s a Northern English vernacular expression; Google it).
[3] Being racist about the French is still racist, I’m afraid.
[4] That book being Faith and Speculation (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1967), 167.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

CFP: Inscriptions

Inscriptions, a journal of contemporary thinking on philosophy, psychoanalysis and art, invites contributions to our upcoming issue Outsourced! Mediatisation and rivalry. We are looking for well-crafted and skilfully written scholarly essays, interviews, reviews, short interventions, and opinion pieces that engage the theme of this issue and/or our mandate.
To raise oneself above the fray, to situate oneself at distance, to let someone else act in our stead – these are ways that enable us to take up an analytical, reflective position. When the mind is released from the immediacy of the biological drive, we can enter into a mediate relation to our world, and it is this indirect, contemplative relation that lays the ground for reflection and insight.
The psychoanalyst and philosopher Slavoj Žižek has used the term “outsourcing” to explain this effect: when we allow others to act and react in our place, we let them be active for us. This kind of interpassivity – some agent is active so that we can be passive – allows the observer to take up a mediate relation to his or her world by letting the interpassive relationship articulate the immediacy of the drive. Indeed, in the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan we observe a necessary movement of mediatisation as we become beings of desire: it is through the intervention of language that we can rise above the immediacy of the drive and begin to articulate what it is that we want. Language, in this view, is a vehicle to mediatise desire.
In the philosophy of Wolfgang Schirmacher the active agent of interpassivity takes the shape of a mediated figure, the Homo generator. This is an inaugurator of human reality in the media, and as such it is a stand-in for the observer and consumer. It is in this sense that the mediate figure serves as a clone of our inner desires: in the media we can see generations of new life, and we can begin to determine our biological and spirital future. The interpassive encounter in Schirmacher is decidedly more artful, more social, than Žižek's psychoanalytic approach. The key distinction lies in the medium where our desires are transposed: is it restricted to a psychic and linguistic realm, or does mediatisation take place in a social, and potentially empirical domain?
It was as an amalgamation of these two senses of mediatisation that Rene Girard's theory of mimetic rivalry emerged as a profound and comprehensive explanation of violence half a century ago. The figure of a mediator – or model – of desire enabled Girard to study how it is that what we believe is most intimately ours, our desire, continues to be shaped by our mediators, which, in turn, become our rivals in our quest to satisfy our desires. To Girard it was characteristic of desire itself
that it was shaped by mimesis, governed by attempts to upend our rivals, and culminating in mass-mediated spectacles that stage the elimination of the mediator and model.
Our forthcoming issue of Inscriptions (vol. 3, no. 1) seeks to investigate questions of desire, mediatisation, and rivalry in ways that encompass both psychic and social approaches, and that engage several senses of terms such as medium, model, and rivalry. Key questions include:
  • In what sense is our desire mediated in traditional and contemporary media, and to what effect?
  • What is the relation between media consumption and reflection, and how can philosophy intervene in the debate over social media?
  • How does the process of mediatisation generate social effects such as scapegoating, and in what sense should we take a normative stand on such effects?

Submission instructions
Academic essays should be 3,000 to 4,500 words. We also seek scholarship in the form of interviews, reviews, short interventions, opinion pieces, etc., and in these cases we also seek shorter texts. Inscriptions adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style (footnotes and bibliography). For other instructions, please see our website. We encourage potential authors to submit proposals for review prior to their writing/submitting entire full-length manuscripts. Include title, proposal (150 words),
short biography, and institutional affiliation in your preliminary submission. All academic essays undergo double-blind peer review.
Submit proposals, essays and literary fiction on or before September 15 through our online platform at
Yours sincerely,
Torgeir Fjeld
Editor-in-Chief, Inscriptions

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Part the Fourth. Mirror Images: Philosophy, Feuerbach, and the Dialectics of Consciousness

by Simon Smith

What Things May Come: the Future of a Dialectic 

Well I did say, approximately three parts.

The deconstruction of speculative philosophy and theology marks the end of Feuerbach’s journey, or at least our version of it. It does not, of course, mark the end of his radical critique. Oh no, indeed it does not. We still have one more step we can take and beyond that, who knows? 
Faced with the choice between theology’s fever-dream of Being-just-being-itself-in-plenitude-and-necessity and the ever-more narrow horizons of radical and contingent subjectivity, philosophy chose the latter course. So much is clear from philosophy’s transformation into the modern sciences.

Consciousness strives. Anyone for String Theory?

Step 3: Science
The abstraction of being-concepts from all relation and experience continues unabated. For the dialogue that births the dialectic of religious consciousness, there is no room at the philosophical inn.
Stumbling to a halt on the threshold of pure reason, philosophy finds its conceptual pockets empty. Empiricism and its younger, smarter brother, Logical Positivism, open the door only to bar the way to metaphysical myth and speculative fantasy. Lacking any experiential content, the absolutes and ultimates of onto-theology make no experiencable difference to human knowledge or human action. For “that which has no predicates or qualities has no effect upon me; that which has no effect upon me has no existence for me. To deny all the qualities of a being is equivalent to denying the being himself.”[1] Having no effect, absolute being, sheer noesis, are dismissed as empty abstractions. All that remains is the product of rigorous empirical, i.e. scientific, investigation. Reality as it really is: causally determinate, objective, scrubbed clean of every vestige of subjectivity, stripped of every trace of human consciousness and personality, a universe so utterly unlike us that it is, at base, not even made of stuff or substance, but of rhythmic patterns of energy.
With the detailed mapping of the physical universe well underway, and neither hide nor hair of humanity to be found, one might suppose that the dialectic of consciousness must now finally grind to a halt.

Indeed one might, but one would be wrong. Oh yes indeed.

For Feuerbach, the self-same projects are quite as busily at work in these new modes of thought as ever they were in the old. In some cases, the anthropic content is as poorly disguised as it was in the original religious projection; the moral of Neo-Darwinist dog-eat-dog dogma, for example, is particularly hard to miss. It may well be that “selfish” genes shape the evolution of our species; to Feuerbachian eyes, however, they also represent, metaphorically or mythologically, the development of consciousness and culture in the modern era.
A depressing enough conception of consciousness as a function of biological forces; it is not the only idea or ideal embodied by the modern sciences, however. Even by the 19th Century, when Feuerbach was writing, the physical sciences had made their bid for infinity and omniscience. Through telescope and microscope, he observed, scientists had begun to count “the stars in the sky, the ova in the spawn of fish and butterflies, and the colour spots on the wings of insects.” And while one scientist may fix his gaze upon Venus or Mars, someone somewhere is bound to be looking at Uranus.[2]

And that, dear friends, is the best joke in philosophy.

These “objective” conceptions reflect that other, more primal, more personal one we have already encountered: that participation in the other, which constitutes my own self-construction. In plain Feuerbachian speech, limitation lies in isolation; collectively, as members of a community of knowledge, for example, we may strive for the infinite.
More interesting still, a new kind of speculative cosmology has emerged during the last hundred years or so, one that reflects an older and far healthier image than did its theological ancestor. In scientific cosmology, we find a universe in which human beings play an integral part. Our universe is the universe it is, only because it is the concatenation of interpenetrating forces, which actually does constitute it. That must, in some way, include the very consciousness that explores and explains it; unless we plan to retreat into an untenable Cartesianism, that is. In the words of the great Carl Sagan, “[t]he cosmos is… within us,” in every sense; “we are made of star-stuff.” If religion gives us the social self writ large, scientific cosmology has redone it in a big glittery pen with lots of heavy underlining. How else should the Evolutionary Biologist, Julian Huxley, conclude that “[a]s a result of a thousand million years of evolution the universe is becoming conscious of itself?” Why else might Einstein endow astrophysics with an anthropo-theological flourish by remarking that “the one issue of true religion” is that “optical delusion of… consciousness,” the strange but persistent belief that “our thoughts and feelings are somehow separate from all the rest [of the universe].”

Conclusion: Don’t Panic, There is a Happy Ending
Refined and rarefied it may be, but the social self, our species being, remains at the heart of these cosmic conceptions, transforming the cosmos into a mirror for developing self-consciousness. No “merely theoretical or inert conception,” no literal projection, that is. Presenting the primal connections in which we become, these anthropic images continue to “call us to action, to imitation.” Projections of “perfectibility” reflect actual aspirations: modes of relation worthy of replication: they reflect both what we were and what we yet might be: consciousness engaged in its own cosmological extensions.
No longer a personification of the cosmos; this is a cosmologising of consciousness. And in it we may begin to see the psychodynamic possibilities such evocative constructs hold for human development and for the universe of which it is a part. Images of cosmic consciousness reveal the universe as it is known and the mind that knows it. Echoing Huxley, Sagan reminds us of the real import of Delphi’s Oracle: “[w]e are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
So we come to the crux of Feuerbach’s radical critique, his negation of philosophy. The point here is not, of course, to reduce the sciences to anthropomorphic projection. It is to reveal the dialectic that is and always has been at work within all our explorations and explanations, so initiate the anthropological reconstruction of our cosmological projects. That is the ‘anthropotheistic’ drive of consciousness which philosophy embodies. In other words, it reminds us of the role these conceptual constructs, these maps of reality, play in our own self construction, in the development of consciousness. And in reminding us, Feuerbach’s radical critique awakens us to the transformative potential of these ideas and ideals, allowing us to re-enter them and participate consciously, self-consciously, in our own becoming.

And this is where the story really starts!

[1] Essence of Christianity, 14.
[2] Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, 17.