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Roots of the Human Condition

Roots of the Human Condition

by Frithjof Schuon

Applies the principle of universal and perennial metaphysics to spiritual and moral life.


Applies the principle of universal and perennial metaphysics to spiritual and moral life.

Product Details

World Wisdom
Publication date:
The Library of Perennial Philosophy
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

The following excerpt is taken from the beginning of the first chapter of Roots of the Human Condition:

On Intelligence

Intelligence is the perception of a reality, and a fortiori the perception of the Real as such. It is ipso facto discernment between the Real and the unreal—or the less real—first in the principial, absolute or "vertical" sense, and then in the existential, relative or "horizontal" sense. More specifically, the "horizontal" or cosmic dimension is the domain of reason and of the temptation of rationalism, whereas the "vertical" or metacosmic dimension is that of the intellect, of intellection and of unitive contemplation. And let us recall that among all earthly creatures man alone possesses a vertical posture, which indicates the "vertical" potentiality of the spirit and thereby man's reason for being.

It is necessary to distinguish in the human spirit between functions and aptitudes: in the first category, which is the more fundamental, we shall distinguish between discrimination and contemplation, and then between analysis and synthesis; in the second category, we shall distinguish between an intelligence that is theoretical and another that is practical, and then between one that is spontaneous and another that is reactive, or again between an intelligence that is constructive and another that is critical. From an entirely different standpoint, it is necessary to distinguish between a cognitive faculty that is merely potential, another that is virtual and a third that is effective: the first pertains to all men, thus also to the most limited; the second concerns men who are uninformed but capable of learning; the third coincides with knowledge.

It is only too evident that mental effort does not automatically give rise to the perception of the real; the most capable mind may be the vehicle of the grossest error. The paradoxical phenomenon of even a "brilliant" intelligence being the vehicle of error is explained first of all by the possibility of a mental operation that is exclusively "horizontal," hence lacking all awareness of "vertical" relationships; however, the definition "intelligence" still applies, because there is still a discernment between something essential and something secondary, or between a cause and an effect. A decisive factor in the phenomenon of "intelligent error" is plainly the intervention of an extra intellectual element, such as sentimentality or passion; the exclusivism of "horizontality" creates a void that the irrational necessarily comes to fill. It should be noted that "horizontality" is not always the negation of the supernatural; it may also be the case of a believer whose intellectual intuition remains latent, this being precisely what constitutes the "obscure merit of faith"; in such a case one may, without absurdity, speak of devotional and moral "verticality."

Transformist evolutionism offers a patent example of "horizontality" in the domain of the natural sciences, owing to the fact that it puts a biological evolution of "ascending" degrees in place of a cosmogonic emanation of "descending" degrees. Similarly, modern philosophers —mutatis mutandis—replace metaphysical causality with "physical" and empirical causalities, which no doubt demands intelligence, but one that is purely cerebral.

It is a paradoxical fact that an understanding which is equal to "vertical" truths does not always guarantee the integrity of "horizontal" intelligence or of the corresponding moral qualities; in such cases we are presented either with a unilateral development of speculative gifts to the detriment of operative gifts, or with an anomaly comprising a kind of scission of personality; but these are contingencies having nothing absolute about them in the face of the miracle of the intellect and of the truth. Nevertheless, metaphysical intelligence is integral and efficient only on condition that the speculative and operative dimensions be kept in balance.

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