April 23, 2020
Eric Voegelin and the Metaphysics of History
A seminar led by Matt Bowman and Sarah Thomas ’19 (Zephyr Institute)
Time & Location
April 23, 2020
Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) was one of the 20th-century’s greatest thinkers. Most remembered for his theory of politics in The New Science of Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1951), and for his five-volume philosophy of history, Order and History (Louisiana State University Press, 1956-1987), his work is notable for its reception of ancient Greek philosophy, its attentiveness to the historical dimension of human existence, and its incorporation of noetic experience in analyses of world and polity.
A German émigré who experienced firsthand the political disorder of the 20th-century, Voegelin devoted much of his work to a search for the source of order in history. In the first three volumes of Order and History, published prior to Voegelin’s turn to the philosophy of consciousness, and prior to his consequent reassessment of the meaning of historical time, he studies the efforts of civilizations to articulate experiences of order through cosmological myth, scriptural revelation, and philosophy. His argument is that this movement of symbolic forms—from compactness to differentiation—was accompanied by greater insight into the structure of the community of being. According to Voegelin, this awareness, and its attuning effects on the soul, are crucial for a genuine renewal of political order.
This seminar led by Matt Bowman and Sarah Thomas ’19 (Zephyr Institute) focused on Voegelin’s philosophy of history in Order and History. Ms. Thomas gave an overview of Voegelin’s intellectual biography, the main trajectories in his work and its interpretation, and the central points of the readings. The evening’s discussion, which included scholars well-versed in Voegelin’s thought, focused on four issues in particular:
How the classical symbols of nous and psyche inform Voegelin’s understanding of the tension of existence
How Voegelin’s concept of essential ignorance affects the possibility of consciousness of the truth of existence
Whether attunement to the ground of being would require an ontological awakening alone, or also religious faith
Whether the seemingly inexorable guiding power of art—and, therefore, of aesthetic reason—challenges Voegelin’s critique of reason in modernity as immanentized
Eric Voegelin, “Introduction: The Symbolization of Order,” Order and History, Vol. 1: Israel and Revelation (Louisiana State University Press, 1956), reprinted in Maurice P. Hogan, ed., The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 14 (University of Missouri Press, 2001), pages 39-50
Eric Voegelin, “In Search of the Ground,” 1965 lecture, originally printed in R. Eric O'Connor, ed., Conversations with Eric Voegelin (Thomas More Institute, 1980), reprinted in Ellis Sandoz, ed., The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 11 (University of Missouri Press, 2000), pages 224-239 (excerpt)