The Epistemology of Illumination in Meister Eckhart

Philosophy and Theology 13 (2):275-286 (2001)
Abstract
How is experience possible if the one who experiences is ‘forgotten’ and transcended? In his book Meister Eckhart: Mystic and Philosopher Reiner Schürmann explores two lines of thought in Eckhart’s philosophy of mind—Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic. The first of these, he observes, leads to the idea that being is revealed in the “birth of the Son”—that is, in God acting in place of the active intellect. The second leads to the idea that being is revealed in an unrepresentable Unity. These two lines of thought are, on their face, inconsistent. While the idea of the “birth of the Son” permits a division between ‘illuminator’ (universal) and ‘illuminated’ (particular), and so preserves the possibility of experience, the idea of an unrepresentable Unity does not. The resulting aporia, Schürmann argues, is resolved through Eckhart’s concept of detachment. But if, as Eckhart suggests, detachment is fundamentally atemporal, then it is not clear how, when one ‘lives in detachment,’ the process of becoming, through which an object appears to a subject, can be sustained. Hence, Schürmann’s resolution is problematic. In his Defense to charges of heresy, however, Eckhart takes positive steps towards explaining how something can simultaneously be a Unity and a multiplicity. In so doing, he offers us a window into both the nature of detachment and the nature of mind
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