Thursday, 5 February 2015

Michael Harrington: Maximus Confessor on the Category of Relation

The seventh-century Byzantine monk Maximus the Confessor has an ambiguous understanding of the Aristotelian category of relation (schesis). On the one hand, he understands one thing’s relation to another as binding them so closely that they cannot function independently of each other. This understanding appears frequently in his ascetic works to describe human beings and the passions. When human beings have a relation to the passions, they are unable to exercise their minds independently. On the other hand, Maximus also speaks of relation as separating two things, so that one is unable to have direct experience of the other. This understanding appears more frequently in his more theoretical works: the Questions to Thalassius and the Ambigua. In the Questions to Thalassius in particular, Maximus identifies relative knowledge as separated from its object. These two different uses of “relation” are not in fact incompatible. The independent use of the intellect described in the ascetic works is nothing other than the direct experience of the divine, as described in the theoretical works. Union with the divine is not a relation, and in fact requires the breaking off of all relation, whether it is a relation to the passions or a relation to the divine. How a relation to the passions differs from a relation to the divine, and the degree to which these relations may still be described as Aristotelian, are questions that deserve further exploration.

No comments:

Post a Comment