Ontology is the study of being. Epistemology is the study of knowing. They are studies that are basic to understanding the act of understanding. They are so basic that it is impossible to think at all without making ontological and epistemological assumptions. Those assumptions are so abstract that they are difficult to verbalize, so most people simply assume them before beginning to think and never think precisely about what it is that they are assuming. Therefore, I will try to make clear what the ontological and epistemological issues are before pointing out the ontological and epistemological assumptions that underlie all the theological ideas in Swedenborg's works.
I think the best way to focus on these two topics is to convert them to questions. That is the way they first came into focus, back at the beginnings of rational thought. The ontological question is, "What is?" The epistemological question is, "How do I know?" Those two questions probably are the toughest questions—as well as the most stimulating and productive questions—that human beings have ever asked. It is hard to think for long about one without asking the other, but let's start with them one at a time.
What is? Try to stick with that simplest form of the question, because most of the paraphrases that seem to clarify it turn out to change the question in a way that leads to a lot of others. For instance, if you change it to, "What is real?" or "What is included in reality?" you set up polarities, such as between reality and imagination. Then you have to ask, are there contents to your imagination? Unless you say that things you imagine are, then what are you imagining? If you do say that anything you imagine is—in the sense that it can be included in the list of what is real—can you say that an imaginary object is, in the same way, or with the same meaning, that you say that the paper this is printed on is? (Forms of the verb "to be," are in boldface here, to remind you to stop at them, focus on them. We are so used to using it as a copula between subject and predicate that it takes a special effort to think of being in its absolute sense—the opposite of not-being.)
Getting back to the question "What is?": Would you say that the paper that these words are printed on is? If you do, then you probably would say that the ink on it is, too. The ink is printed in patterns or shapes that we call letters, and the letters are grouped into what are called words. But if you say that letters are, in the same way that inkmarks are, then you're led to saying that words are, also. If there are such things as words, they were before they were printed, and they still would be if you erased them off the page. The paper and the ink and the patterns of inkmarks can be seen or touched, or both. However, words, to be words instead of inkmarks, must be thought. Now, if you say that there are words on this paper (and the paper is, and the ink-marks are), you say that things are which may be seen, but need not be; and things are which are thought, whether they are seen or not. So in just saying that there are words on this paper, you've said that there are two kinds of things—sensible things (things which senses perceive), and mental things (words, meanings, ideas, which the mind perceives). In fact, you've said even more. You have said that the two kinds of things that are, are interconnected, or inter-related: inkmarks are, and inkmarks are words; words are, and words are ideas; and ideas are. Even though inkmarks are not ideas, inkmarks and ideas meet and relate in words. New ideas cause new patterns of inkmarks to be made and new patterns of inkmarks cause new ideas to be thought.
There are two kinds of things, both real (imagination produces ideas and ideas are real) and both capable of affecting or influencing the other. "Two kinds of things are" is one answer to the ontological question.
Is it a good answer? One way to judge that is to compare it with some of the other answers that have been proposed. One of the first was that earth, air, fire, and water are all that really are everything else is some combination of those four elements. This paper, for instance, isn't air, because it doesn't evaporate; isn't water, because it doesn't dissolve (it may come apart into pulp, but you can still find it in the water); but it is partly fire, because part of it will burn ("go back into" fire), and it is partly earth, because the ashes left after burning it will go back into earth. Things like ideas must be mostly air, because when you quit breathing, you don't have any more, so they must have returned to their original state.
Another man noticed that things keep changing into other things, and concluded that the only thing that really is, is change. Everything else is a temporary appearance that exists for a time but doesn't have the permanent quality of being. That answer to the ontological question is some two-dozen centuries old, but you may recall from Chapter 11 that it is still important.
After people had been trying for just a few centuries to answer the ontological question, two types of answers appeared, and for several centuries, everybody's answer was some variation on one of them. One type of answer was that ideas are real—that is, ideas really are—and everything that the senses perceive is actually a projection or manifestation of an idea. The idea that you're holding a piece of paper in your hand is so real that your idea of a hand can feel it. This concept asserts that ideas are, while your hand and the paper only occur in your mind. Most varieties of this "ideal" answer admitted that things like hands and paper are real in some sense, but not as real as the ideas. In its most extreme form, though, this answer had to struggle with such problems as what happens to the furniture in your house when you go outside and don't think about it? (One answer to that: the furniture stays there because it is an idea in the mind of God, even if you are careless enough to forget it.)
The other type of answer was the opposite extreme of that idealism. It was that material things are—which is obvious from the fact that your senses perceive them. You can't deny the testimony of your senses but you can wonder about the reality of ideas and the reality of imaginary objects. After all, you can't see, touch, hear, taste, or smell them. They occur only in the material substance of your body (the idea of thinking being located in the head took time to get established). This materialistic answer had to face some pretty difficult counter-questions, too. How about God? Is a human being really nothing but a soul-less skinful of matter? And what about the idea of a statue: doesn't it really exist before the sculptor starts chipping away at his rock?
After a while, a third type of answer began to be developed. It acknowledged that sensible objects really are, and ideas really are. The first class of things takes up space and the second class doesn't. This third alternative, the dualistic kind of answer to the ontological question, would seem to exhaust the possibilities. Either material things are, and ideas are not; or ideas are, and material things are not; or both ideas and material things are. The third alternative was more commonly accepted, after it was proposed, than either of the other two. However, it also had a problem, usually labeled as the "mind-body problem." The body is extended in space (that is, has mass, or dimensions and weight) and the mind, with its furniture of ideas, is not extended, has no mass. The problem is, since these two kinds of reality totally exclude each other, just where and how do they meet? Some said they do not meet, and human life is an experience of two unconnected kinds of reality.
That view was not very popular, however. Two solutions to the mind-body problem that did achieve wide acceptance were occasionalism and pre-established harmony. A Frenchman, Rene Descartes, said that the extended body's encounter with an extended object (as when your eyes see this paper and inkmarks) provide the occasion for the mind to have an idea. This was less an explanation of mind-body interaction than it was a mere labeling of the process, but it satisfied a lot of people. Alternatively, a German named Gottfried von Leibniz came up with the notion that your unextended thoughts harmonize with the extended realities you encounter (you think the words I wrote at about the same time you hold the paper in front of your eyes) because he reasoned, if an infallible clockmaker made two perfect clocks, wound them up and started them synchronously, why be surprised if they both strike at the same time? Analogously, why try to explain how the extended paper and inkmarks affect your unextended ideas, when pre-established harmony explains it so easily? (A teacher once told me that Leibniz wrote somewhere that pre-established harmony is not the same as predestination; which is nice to know, because it could have fooled me!)
If you've read Soul-Body Interaction, you know that a spiritual experience displayed the superiority of a variation on Descartes' occasionalism, in which the soul and body interacted by the soul influencing the body. But that isn't Descartes' original dualism because the two kinds of reality interact. One affects the other. Swedenborg perceived the idea as Cartesian, but it more closely resembles an answer to the ontological question that was characteristically (and originally) Swedenborgian.
Remember the pattern of the created order of things that Swedenborg described, a pattern with distinctly separate levels of reality that are connected by inherent relationships called correspondence? That is the fourth possibility in types of answers to the question, What is? It is an alternative that had not occurred to anyone before. Both physical (material) things and mental or spiritual things are (as in dualism), but they are interrelated and they interact. Consequently, there is no mind-body "problem." This answer to the ontological problem makes it possible to acknowledge that all the kinds of things that seem to be real are real. Simultaneously, it confirms the appearance that both kinds of reality that we experience are part of a single, interrelated whole (which is why we can experience them both at the same time). That is the kind of answer to the ontological question that makes it possible to say both that this paper and inkmarks are, and that the words, meanings and ideas indicated by the inkmarks are; and to say at the same time that ideas in my mind influence the patterns of inkmarks on the paper, and the inkmarks influence your thinking. That may seem obvious (it does to me), but neither idealism, materialism, nor dualism can admit the possibility of all those things being true.
It is because Swedenborg answers the ontological question in this way that he could say that human beings are both spiritual and physical, that the Word is both literal and spiritual, that we develop our character and our ruling love in the tension between material and spiritual influences, and that the world was created by God, out of God, without at the same time being nothing but God. It is the most comprehensive view of reality that I know.
"Know." That is the other key word. The epistemological question is, "How do I know?" Obviously, this question is conditioned by ontology; I can't know anything that is not. While there may be things that I do not know to be, I do not know what they are, so my ontology is conditioned by my epistemology. Just as ontology could be considered up to a point as a separate question, the source and means of knowledge can be discussed separately....
Taken together, Swedenborg's ontology and epistemology are expressed in what is certainly the most comprehensive single concept in Swedenborg's theological system and may well be the most difficult: the idea of the Maximus Homo. (The familiar English translation "Grand Man" does not express the superlative of Swedenborg's adjective and taints the noun with implications of gender that he did not intend. I follow George Dole in reading "universal human"). The notion appeared in the assigned reading for Chapter 9 and is fully developed in a series of inter-chapter articles in Secrets of Heaven, two of which are assigned for this chapter (see note, below). Swedenborg called his teaching concerning the universal human a mysterium magnum ("great mystery"), and it is indeed both vast and mysteriously deep. It is a topic that almost defies summarization and risks distortion in any abbreviation. Nevertheless, it cannot be omitted in an overview of Swedenborg's theology. I recommend that sometime after this course you read Swedenborg's full account of it. For now, I will make a few comments that may make that reading easier.
To begin with, look at Swedenborg's first statement of that mysterium magnum: the universal heaven is so formed as to correspond to the Lord, to his divine human, and human beings are so formed as to correspond to heaven in regard to each and all things in themselves, and through heaven to correspond to the Lord (Secrets of Heaven 3624).
The first thing to notice is that Swedenborg is talking about the form of the universal heaven, not its shape. Shape involves dimensions, extension in space. The universal human, being spiritual, has no dimensions, size or shape. Its form is the interrelationship of its parts. A schematic design of a radio circuit, for example, shows the form of the circuitry (how the parts are connected to each other) without giving any clear clue as to the size or shape the circuitry will have when it is built. If we say that the universal human is organized in such a way as to correspond to the divine human, we would not be far from the sense.
The importance of this form, organization, or pattern of relationships is suggested in part by a passage from Sacred Scripture 100: "All Divine Good and Divine Truth is in its form a man." I have asked students to make an outline, organizational chart, or schematic diagram of Swedenborg's theology, and most have found it a frustrating assignment. This system does not fit easily (if at all) into the linear organization of an outline. It would be easier, perhaps, to forget about trying to find a single first principle to begin an outline. Instead, take a couple of primary principles, love and wisdom, for instance, or good and truth, and place them at the center of a three-dimensional structure, as the heart and lungs are placed in relation to the other parts of the body. As a matter of fact, that is the way divine good and divine truth are organized; everything that is true and good is organized in the same form, with the same organizational structure. There is no better way to say it: the best diagram of Swedenborg's theology would be a schematic diagram of the human form.
Next, notice the use of the concept of correspondence here. It is perhaps the supreme example of the meaning of the conception. An individual human corresponds to a community (as a cell corresponds to an organ) and all human communities together correspond to the universal heaven (as an organ corresponds to the body). The universal heaven corresponds to the divine human (as the human body is in the image of, and according to, the likeness of God). Although each level in this hierarchical series is distinctly different and distinguishable from all the others, each is an image or reflection of the form of each (and all) of the others. Correspondence is the pattern of relationships that unites distinctly separate parts into a single whole.
Because of these implications of form and correspondence, it follows (thirdly) that the more you know about the human body, the more you know about heaven; and the more you know about heaven, the more you know about the Lord. The more you know about the Lord, the more you know about what it is to be human—a spirit enveloped in a body that is shaped according to the form of its spirit, which spirit corresponds to the form of heaven, which heaven corresponds to the divine human, etc. There is no necessary end to that sentence, because the reality it describes is infinitely interdependent and interrelated!
If you read on in the description of the universal human and see the correspondential details that develop out of the analysis of particular limbs, organs, and other parts of the human body, you may think of the providential preparation by which Swedenborg was led to his calling as the conveyor of revelation to modern man. His most exhaustive studies during the pre-theological period of his life were in physiology!
Indeed, the concept of the universal human is a summary of Swedenborg's whole theological system and, consequently, it is a summary of this course. As a conclusion to the course, therefore, I refer you to the discussion of that concept in the following note:
NOTE: Swedenborg's most complete discussion of correspondence (and best
summary of his theology in systematic form) appears in a series of
inter-chapter articles on correspondences (beginning with
Secrets of Heaven 3624) and the universal human. These are found in
Heaven, 2987-3003, 3213-3227, 3337-3352, 3472-3485, 3624-3649,
3741-3750, 3883-3896, 4039-4055, 4218-4228, 4318-4331, 4403-4421,
4523-4534, 4622-4634, 4652-4660, 4791-4806, 4931-4953, 5050-5062,
5171-5190, 5377-5396, 5552-5573, 5711-5727.
Ontology; Epistemology; Conclusion
The correspondence of all the organs and members of a human being with the Universal Human, which is Heaven.
I am permitted to report and describe some amazing things. So far as I know, they have never been known by anyone, nor even crossed anyone's mind. The entire heaven is formed in such a way that it is parallel in structure—it corresponds—to the Lord (that is, to the divine–human One, himself). Furthermore, every human being is so formed as to correspond in every detail to heaven and, through heaven, to the Lord....
This is why I can say, as I have in various passages dealing with heaven and angelic communities, that they belong to a certain region of the body—to the region of the head, for instance, or the region of the chest or abdomen, or to the region of some one or another member or organ within them. I can speak this way because of this correspondence.
Familiarity with this kind of correspondence is commonplace in the other life, not only with angels, but with spirits as well—even evil spirits. That is why angels know people's deepest secrets and know the most obscure things in the world and the whole natural order. I have seen this plainly, many times, from the fact that when I talked about some human part, they knew all about the way it is structured, how it functions, and the use it serves. They also knew all kinds of other things about it—more than people are able to discover or even understand. They knew the design and sequence of all these things from an insight into heavenly design, which they perceived, and the pattern to which that part corresponded. They knew all about the consequences of first principles because they were involved in first principles themselves.
It is a general principle that nothing can come to be and continue to exist except from something else or, better, through something else. Also, it is a general principle that nothing can be held together in a form except from (or through) something else, as is shown by everything in the natural order. Everyone knows that the human body is kept in its form from the outside by the pressure of the atmospheres; and, if it were not held together by some active or living force from within, it would collapse in an instant. Anything that is not connected to something prior to itself—and connected to a first thing through prior things—does perish instantly. The universal human, or what flows from it, is that prior thing through which each human being (and each particular part of each human being) is connected with its First, that is, with the Lord.
....Specific viscera and limbs and particular motor and sensory organs correspond to communities in heaven exactly as though they were distinct heavens. From those heavens (or from the Lord through them), heavenly and spiritual influences flow into people. They flow into adequate and suitable forms, so that they produce the results we observe. To us, these appear to be entirely matters of nature: that is, we see them in a different form and another guise, so different that we cannot recognize them as coming from a spiritual source.
....Everyone who enters heaven is an organ or limb of the universal human. Heaven is never closed: rather, the more people there are in heaven the stronger is the endeavor, the stronger is the force, the more powerful the action.... The Lord's heaven is so vast that it exceeds belief. The inhabitants of this planet are few indeed in comparison—almost like a lake compared to an ocean.
The divine design and, consequently, the heavenly design, reaches its
limit for us in our bodies—that is, in our bodies' motions, actions,
facial expressions, speech, outward sensations, and pleasures derived
from all of them. These are the outward limits of the design and of the
influence, both of which terminate here. However, the inner things which
are flowing in are not in themselves what they appear to be in external
things. They have a totally different face, a different expression, a
different sensation, and a different pleasure. The correspondences and
representations we have been discussing here teach what they are like.
The fact that they are different is clear from actions that flow from
intent and words that flow from thought. Physical actions are not the
same as intentions, and verbal expressions are not the same as thoughts.
This also shows that natural acts flow from spiritual ones, since things
in our intentions and thoughts are spiritual. In a correspondential way,
spiritual things present a likeness of themselves in natural things,
even though the original and the likeness are quite different.
To themselves, all spirits and angels look like people, having the same kind of faces and bodies, organs, and limbs, as men and women do: their inmost being tends toward such forms. Similarly, the primitive cell of the human being, originating in the soul of the parents, strives in the ovum and the womb to form a complete human being—even though this first cell possesses a form, not of a body, but another most perfect form known only to the Lord. Because the inmost being of every spirit and angel strives to produce such a form, all in the spiritual world consequently look to themselves like people.
Beyond this, it is the nature of heaven as a whole that each individual seems the focal point of everything, so that an image of heaven is reflected in each individual, making that individual like itself—that is, a person. This is because the character of the general whole determines that of every part, since the parts must be like the general whole to be a part of it.
A person who is in correspondence—that is, a person who is in love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor, and thus in faith—is in heaven as to spirit, and the world as to body. By accordingly acting as one with the angels, such a person is also an image of heaven. Since everything, or the inclusive whole, flows (as has been said) into the details or parts, the individual is also a minimal heaven in human form. It is from what is good and true in them that people are human and distinguished from animals.
In the human body there are two organs that are the mainsprings of the
entire movement and every action, every external or purely physical
sensation. These two are the heart and the lungs. The two of them
correspond to the universal human, the Lord's heaven, in a certain
way—matched to the fact that heavenly angels there constitute one
kingdom and spiritual angels another. The Lord's kingdom is heavenly and
spiritual (the heavenly kingdom consists of angels who are governed by
love to the Lord, while the spiritual kingdom consists of those who are
governed by charity toward the neighbor)....The heart and its kingdom
in the human being correspond to heavenly angels, the lungs and their
kingdom to spiritual ones. These angels flow into elements of the heart
and lungs in such a way that these elements come to be, and continue to
exist, by means of that inflow....
The most universal principle of all is that the Lord is heaven's sun and the source of all light in the other life. To angels and spirits, that is, to all in the other life, none of the world's light is visible in any way (the world's light—light from the sun—is nothing but darkness to angels). Not only light, but also warmth, comes from heaven's sun, or the Lord; but these are spiritual light and spiritual warmth. In the eyes of spiritual beings, the light appears as light, but it contains intelligence and wisdom. Also, the heat feels warm to their senses, but there is love within it, since it is the outward manifestation of that love. For this reason, love is called spiritual warmth and is the origin of the warmth which human life possesses. Intelligence is called spiritual light and also is the producer of the light which our life possesses. All other correspondences are derived from this all-inclusive correspondence: each and every reality answers to the good derived from love and to the truth derived from intelligence.
From a human perspective, the universal human is the Lord's entire heaven. From the highest perspective, however, the universal human is the Lord himself. Heaven actually comes from him and everything there corresponds to him.
Since a life of evil and consequent false convictions had completely corrupted the human race, and since the lower aspects of human nature were beginning to control the higher, to such an extent that Jehovah (or the Lord) could no longer flow in through the universal human (or heaven) and restore things to order, it was necessary for the Lord to come into the world, clothe himself in human nature, and make that nature divine. By means of the human-made-divine, he restored order so that the whole heaven might be oriented toward him as the one and only human, corresponding to him alone. This became possible after those who were under the influence of evil, and so of falsity, had been beaten down and cast beneath the feet—that is, outside the universal human. The result of all this is that those who are in heaven are said to be "in the Lord" (for the Lord is all of heaven). Every single angel there is assigned a region and function in the Lord.
Everyone—those in heaven and those in hell—appears erect, with head in the air and feet on the ground. In themselves, however (and in the eyes of angels), the body positions in heaven are different from those in hell. People in heaven appear with their heads pointing up toward the Lord (who is the sun there, and so the common center and source of all direction and location). Those who are in hell appear to the eyes of angels to be oppositely oriented—head down and feet up—or bent. What is above for those in heaven is below to those in hell; what appears below in heaven is above in hell. From this, we can begin to see to some degree how heaven and hell can make one, that is, how they can resemble an entity with a single structure of location and direction.
More about the universal human and correspondences with it
There is only one life. This life flows only from the Lord. Angels, spirits, and mortals are recipients of that one life. These truths have been shown me through so much experience that there is not any doubt remaining. The perception that these things are true involves heaven itself: angels openly see the inflow. They see how it is happening and the amount and quality they are receiving. When their state of reception is more complete, they enjoy their proper peace and happiness. Otherwise they are in an uneasy condition, with some anxiety. But they make the Lord's life their own to such an extent that they perceive themselves living as if of themselves, even while they know that they do not live of themselves. They make the Lord's life their own because that is the desire of the Lord's love and mercy toward the whole human race. The Lord's intention is to give himself and what is his to everyone (and, beyond intending, actually giving to the extent that an individual accepts). The Lord gives to us to the extent that we become a likeness and image of him, living a life of doing good, and loving what is true. This kind of divine effort from the Lord is constant, so we can say that his life is appropriated.
On the other hand, if people do not have love for the Lord and are not
caring toward their neighbors—therefore, not in a life of doing good and
seeking the true—they cannot recognize that there is a single life
flowing in. Still less can they recognize that that life comes from the
Lord. Indeed, people like that feel insulted and are actually repelled
by any suggestion that they are not living on their own. Self-love is
what causes this. Further—and surprisingly—in the next life when such
people are shown by actual experience that they do not live on their own
(and at those times say that they are convinced it is true), later they
still maintain the same opinion. They imagine that if they did live from
another source and not from themselves that every joy of life would fade
away. They are unaware that the opposite is the actual truth.
Even so, evil people—even hellish people—are forms that receive life from the Lord. However, they are forms that either reject, stifle, or corrupt what is good and true. So the good and the true coming from the Lord's life become evil and false within them. It is like sunlight: despite its unity and purity, when it strikes or flows into different objects it produces some lovely and pleasing colors and some ugly and unpleasant ones.
This allows us to see what heaven is like and why it is called the universal human. In heaven, the various forms of a life of goodness and truth are countless. Each variation is determined by the way in which life from the Lord is received. Those variations are interrelated in exactly the same way as the organs, members, and viscera of the human body are related. All of them are ever-varying forms receiving life from their soul—rather, through their soul from the Lord. Yet for all their variety, they still constitute a single human being.
How far that variety extends, and the nature of it, can be seen from the variety present in the human body. Obviously, no one organ or member is like another. For example, the organ of sight is unlike the organ of hearing, likewise unlike the organs of smell, taste and touch (the last of which is distributed throughout the entire body). The same applies to members, such as the arms, hands, lower limbs, feet, and soles of the feet. It also is true of inner viscera, such as those in the head—namely the cerebrum, cerebellum, medulla oblongata, and spinal chord, together with all the viscera, vessels, and fibers which comprise them—and those of the body beneath the head, such as the heart, lungs, stomach, liver, pancreas, spleen, intestines, mesentery, and kidneys; and also the reproductive organs in both sexes. It is obvious that every single one has a different form and function from the rest— so different that they are quite unlike. The same holds true for the forms within these forms, which also are so unlike that no form or individual part is like another. Not one can take the place of another without some alteration, however small it may be. Every single one of these corresponds to heaven, but they correspond in such a way that the physical and material parts of the human body are spiritual and heavenly in the heavens. Also, they correspond in such a way that the natural comes to be, and continues to exist, from the spiritual.
There are three opinions, traditions, or hypotheses that explain the interaction of soul and body—how one of them functions in and with the other. I call the first one "Physical Influence,"[33. Notes] another "Spiritual Influence,"[34. Notes] and the third one "Pre-Established Harmony."[35. Notes]
The first one, physical influence, comes from sense impressions and the fallacies they produce. It looks as if visible objects, which affect the eyes, flow into thought and produce it. Similarly, it seems as though words, which stimulate the ears, flow into the mind and produce ideas there. It is much the same with smell, taste, and touch. Because the organs of these senses receive the first contacts with the world as it washes against them, and because it looks as though the mind thinks—and even wills—according to feelings related to those contacts, early philosophers and scholastics believed that some influence from such contacts was diverted to the soul. This led them to argue for a hypothesis of physical (or natural) influence.
The second tradition, spiritual influence (also known as occasional
influence, grows out of order and order's laws.[36.
Notes] The soul is spiritual
substance and, therefore, more pure, superior and interior. The body, on
the other hand, is material and, therefore, more course, inferior and
exterior. For these reasons, it is according to order that the pure
influences the coarse, the superior influences the inferior and the
interior influences the exterior. That is, the spiritual influences the
material and not the other way around. This means that the thinking mind
influences sight, subject to the conditions imposed on the eyes by the
visible objects—conditions that the mind arranges at will. Similarly,
the perceiving mind influences the hearing, subject to the conditions
the words impose on the ears.