Outdated Praise of the System
Note to the Reader
Stefano Fontana, “La filosofia cristiana”, Fede & Cultura”, Verona 2021, pp. 301, euro 24,00
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This book presents the system of philosophical knowledge. Nowadays, the word ‘system’ is denigrated, instills fear and has been banned. The system is compared to a rigid and artificial ideology built to cage existence and freedom. Today people love complexity, articulation, the multiplicity of paths and perspectives. People love doubt, problems and novelty. All these are fluid things that – so people think – would feel very tight in the system.
In order to oppose the system, however, it is necessary to engage in systematic discourse, with its own internal coherence. Systematicity means coherence of meaning and flight from contradiction. In order to know there is a certain multiplicity, it is necessary to be cognizant of it as such, and to do this it is necessary to adopt a view that is unitary and not multiple. If I say: this is a multiplicity, the multiplicity is no longer multiple, but becomes one: precisely the multiplicity. The multiple requires the unitary; it is not distinguished in order to unite, but unites in order to distinguish. If multiplicity is a set of parts, it presupposes the whole, precisely the whole. Vice versa, it is impossible to consider it a multiplicity. If it were pure dispersion it would not even be knowable.
The same thing can be said about doubt or a new problem that arises before us. For this to be possible it is necessary to start from a system to be doubted, in contrast to which the doubt emerges as having a sense. The system being doubted gives meaning to the doubt. On the other hand, doubt arises when there is a new system that gives the doubt a plausibility that is not occasional, not contingent, not accidental: one does not doubt by chance, nor by whim, nor by unmotivated interest, one doubts because one thinks in a certain way, that is, in the light of a new system. Whoever doubts a system already has a new alternative system in mind.
It is not that the metaphysician is systematic and the historicist is not, that the theologian is systematic and the atheist or the nihilist is not, that those who appeal to nature are systematic and those who appeal to experience are not. Kant was no less systematic than Aristotle, and Heidegger is no less systematic than Kant. Systematicity, as internal coherence between the parts of the discourse, as a framework of meaning, is also necessary in order to say there is no meaning. Nor is there any point in saying that the a-systematic expresses itself only through action and not through discourse. Action also responds to a sense, has a cause and responds to an end, unless one acts at random, but then we would be on another level.
Systematicity cannot be ignored; conflicts and disputes are always between systems, between frameworks, between coherent traditions, between visions of the whole. Whoever denies this state of necessity usually becomes even more systematic than those who strive to argue a system. Today the accusation of being systematic turns out to be an infamous offense, a kind of condemnation for heresy. In order to condemn the heretic, however, it is necessary to have a system to defend that the heretic wanted to disarticulate. The heretic, for his part, does not simply deny a point of the system, but the entire system that is being challenged, so that even in every struggle between orthodoxy and heresy there is a dispute between systems.
The rebel who, as Ernst Jünger says, takes the “way of the woods” to escape the scientific and well proven system of oppression, does so because he has another system in mind and, to use his jargon, the way of the woods systematically pits it against “staying on the ship”. Rebellion is never just from, it is also for. It is for one world as opposed to another world. It is a struggle between worlds, that is, between systems.
When Descartes wanted to overcome the Aristotelian system, escaping from it through doubt, he ended up building another system based on the cogito. And when he cast doubts on the Aristotelian system, he already had in mind the new system based on the cogito. When Robespierre fled the system of the ancien régime he created another system that was much more systematic. The systematic nature of the Summae was hated by the humanists, but Leon Battista Alberti’s manual of architecture was much more rigid. Even history, so continually diverse and therefore anti-systematic in principle, was systematized by Hegel, who was very critical of the system of Protestant theology prior to him. Nothing is more anti-systematic than the Hegelian system and nothing more systematic than it.
The problem, then, is not the system, since even those who want to get rid of it do so by creating other systems. The decisive problem is whether the system arises from reality or from the artificiality of the human mind. The medieval city was a system with a sense that arose from reality and the necessities of experience, while the Renaissance city designed at a drawing board bent natural necessity to the systematic mind of the architect. Utopias want to escape from the systematicity of reality, but then they cage reality in their paranoid systematicity, including – sorry to say this, out of respect for the author – Thomas More’s Utopia. The system that arises from being is not functionalist, while all systems that arise from its negation are functionalist, i.e. motivated not by the need for truth but for suiting functional roles. Issuing forth from technology is not liberation from the system, but the worst system. The system of real economy is overcome by finance that, wanting to overcome it, comes up with a much more constrictive and dangerous system. The system “of the family” was considered all too narrow by those who built the system “of families”, which however proves to be oppressive and violent.
The being and nature of things have a systematic character, otherwise they would just be a bunch of randomly scattered objects. Corresponding to the absence of a sense in things is not an absence of sense in its own right, but the sense someone places there. If there is no nature, there is artifice. One cannot free oneself from the system, and one can go down the road of a liberating system or an oppressive system. Truth, like being, is systematic in the liberating sense of the term. Subjective opinion and consciousness understood to be infallible give rise to oppressive systems. Classical philosophy is a liberating system, while modern philosophy, understood as a category and not as a historical period, ends up being – more or less – an oppressive system.
These brief reflections explain the choice of this book which is systematic. In a simple way and with introductory and propaedeutic intent suited for everyone, it sets out the system of knowledge divided into ontology, gnoseology, theology, anthropology, morals and politics. These are six modules of a single overview. The modules support each other and refer to each other to form a coherent scaffolding. The reader is thus supported in thinking that there is a sense. A sense that has value first of all because it does not depend on him but lies in things, and then because it is a complete sense, not of this or that fragment but of a whole. In this way, the reader understands that one can also make mistakes, or rather that in many cases one is certainly wrong, but if there is an order, one can also recover. On the other hand, if the system is artificial, one is never wrong and the conscience that gives birth to the truth is infallible. In this case the sense is lost, because there is not even a criterion for knowing when the sense is wrong. The prisoner of his own conscience painfully recognizes this.
The system, according to this realistic meaning, must be there from the very beginning. Not as a series of propositions evident in themselves, an encyclopedia opened before our eyes. But in the sense that the whole cannot arise from the progressive sum of the parts. It must already be present at the beginning, even if in a confused and, to use a beautiful word dear to philosophers and poets, auroral way. To know that a part is a part, one needs the whole of which it is a part. The gaze does not open up to the whole little by little; it is already open to the whole from the very first moment and, thus, can welcome and know all that it is. It is enough for a thing to be and immediately it can be known. It is for this reason that without the metaphysical gaze originally open to the whole, that is, to being in the universal, the system is impossible. More precisely, the system based on reality is impossible, while the possibility of the system based on our mental paranoia is immediately open. Games are always played from the beginning, and the first move is the one that marks the path in a definitive way. Therefore, it goes without saying that this entire book is metaphysical in nature. This is the glue that holds the six modules together, this is the frame of the picture. Or rather: of the system.