Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. Wetmore No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without permission For information, address: Sophia Perennis, P. Box Hillsdale NY sophiaperennis. Materialism — Miscellanea. Civilization, Modern — Philosophy - Miscellanea. G His works are char- acterized by a foundational critique of the modern world coupled with a call for intellectual reform; a renewed examination of meta- physics, the traditional sciences, and symbolism, with special refer- ence to the ultimate unanimity of all spiritual traditions; and finally, a call to the work of spiritual realization.
The Sophia Perennis edition is intended to fill the urgent need to present them in a more authoritative and systematic form. To avoid clutter, single quotation marks have been used throughout. As for transliterations, Guenon was more concerned with phonetic fidelity than academic usage. Wherever possible, references have been up- dated, and English editions substituted.
A special debt of thanks is owed to Cecil Bethell, who revised and proofread the text at several stages and provided the index. Thus, whereas the modern world considered in itself is an anomaly and even a sort of monstrosity, it is no less true that, when viewed in relation to the whole historical cycle of which it is a part, it corresponds exactly to the conditions pertaining to a certain phase of that cycle, the phase that the Hindu tradition speci- fies as the final period of the Kali-Yuga.
Nonetheless, it is evident that if disorder is to be seen as an element of order, or if error is to be reduced to a par- tial and distorted aspect of some truth, it is necessary to place one- self above the level of the contingencies of the domain to which that disorder and those errors as such belong; similarly, in order to grasp the true significance of the modern world in the light of the cyclical laws governing the development of the present terrestrial humanity, it is necessary to be entirely detached from the mentality that is its special characteristic and to avoid being affected by it in the least degree.
This is the more evident in that the said mentality implies of necessity, and as it were by definition, a complete ignorance of the laws in question, as well as of all other truths which, being more or less directly derived from transcendent principles, are essentially part of traditional knowledge; all characteristically modern concep- tions are, consciously or unconsciously, a direct and unqualified denial of that knowledge. Various circumstances have delayed the realization of that project up till now, but this is beside the point for anyone who is sure that everything that must happen necessarily happens in its due time, and often in ways both unforeseen and completely independent of our will.
Among the features characteristic of the modern mentality, the tendency to bring everything down to an exclusively quantitative point of view will be taken from now on as the central theme of this study. However that may be, it is particularly desirable before going any further to apply the principle outlined above to a more limited sphere than that to which it has just been applied. It must serve to dispel any confusion between the point of view of traditional sci- ence and that of profane science, especially as certain outward simi- larities may appear to lend themselves to such confusion.
It is easy to understand that this kind of symbolism can give rise to an indefinite multiplicity of applica- tions; and it should be equally clear that such a geometry, very far from being related only to pure quantity, is on the contrary essen- tially qualitative. The present study is designed to provide a further and more complete demonstration of what, in a very general sense, is the true nature of these traditional sciences, thus bringing into prominence the abyss separating them from the profane sciences, which are something like a caricature or parody of them.
This in turn will make it possible to measure the extent of the decadence undergone by the modern mentality in passing from one to the other; it will also indicate, by correctly situating the objects taken into account by each science, how this decadence follows strictly the downward movement of the cycle now being passed through by our humanity.
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Thus, from whatever side one looks at things, one is always brought back to the same considerations and constantly sees them verified in all possible applications. The multiplicity of the lower order is by definition purely quantitative, it could be said to be quantity itself, deprived of all quality; on the other hand the multiplicity of the higher order, or that which can be called so analogically, is really a qualitative multiplicity, that is to say the integrality of the qualities or attributes that constitute the essence of beings and of things.
So it can be said that the descent referred to tends away from pure quality toward pure quantity, both the one and the other being limits situ- ated outside manifestation, the one above it and the other beneath. This is a point that must be explained more fully before going any further, for it provides an indispensable key to the better understanding of the considerations to be developed later in this study.
The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times : Rene Guenon :
Its two terms must be envisaged as universal principles, and as being the two poles of all manifestation; but, at another level, or rather at a number of differ- ent levels for there are many levels, corresponding to the more or less particularized domains that can be envisaged in the interior of universal manifestation , these two terms can also be used analogi- cally and in a relative sense to designate that which corresponds to the two principles, or most directly represents them with reference to a particular more or less limited mode of manifestation. Thus it is that essence and substance can be spoken of in relation either to a world, that is to say to a state of existence determined by certain special conditions, or in relation to a being considered as a separate entity, or even to each of the states of that being, that is to say, to its manifestation in each of the degrees of existence; in this last case, there is naturally a correspondence between what essence and sub- stance represent in the microcosm and what they represent, consid- ered from a macrocosmic point of view, in the world in which the 12 THE REIGN OF QUANTITY manifestation of the being is situated; in other words, they are then only particularizations of the relative principles that are the deter- minations of universal essence and substance in relation to the con- ditions of the world in question.
These words translate in a rather unsatisfactory way the Greek terms eifxx; and uXr employed in the same sense by Aristotle. These terms will be referred to again later.
Provided that this is clearly understood, it is possible to speak of the Essence and of the Substance of our world, that is, of the world that is the domain of the individual human being, and it can be said that in conformity with the particular conditions that define this world as such, these two principles appear in it under the aspects of quality and of quantity respectively.
This may appear evident at first sight so far as quality is concerned, since essence is the principial synthesis of all the attributes that belong to a being and make that being what it is, and since attributes and qualities are really synony- mous: and it may be observed that quality, considered as the con- tent of Essence, if such an expression be allowable, is not exclusively confined to our world, but is susceptible of a transposition that uni- versalizes its significance.
There is nothing remarkable in this, since Essence represents the superior principle; but in any such universal- ization quality ceases to be the correlative of quantity, for quantity, unlike quality, is strictly linked up with the special conditions of our world; furthermore, from a theological point of view, is not quality in some way brought into relation with God himself when his attributes are spoken of, whereas it would be manifestly inconceiv- able to pretend to assign to him any sort of corresponding quantita- tive determination.
Furthermore, the Platonic ideas, under another name and by direct filiation, are the same thing as the Pythagorean numbers; and this shows clearly that although the Pythagorean numbers are, as already indicated, called numbers analogically, they are in no way numbers in the ordinary quantitative sense of the word; they are on the contrary purely qualitative, corresponding inversely on the side of essence to what the quantitative numbers are on the side of substance.
The word 3. It may be observed that the name of a being, insofar as it is an expression of its essence, is properly speaking a number understood in this qualitative sense; and this establishes a close link between the -conception of the Pythagorean numbers — and consequently that of the Platonic ideas — and the use of the Sanskrit word nama to denote the essential side of a being. The primary meaning of the word uA.
The scholastics, following Aristotle, distinguish these two mean- ings by speaking of materia prima and materia secunda, so that it can be said that their materia prima is universal substance and their materia secunda is substance in the relative sense; but, since terms become susceptible of multiple applications at different levels as soon as the relative is considered, what is materia at a certain level can become forma at another, and inversely, according to the more or less particularized hierarchy of the degrees of manifested exist- ence under consideration. Therefore the explana- tion of things must not be sought on the substantial side, but on the contrary it must be sought on the essential side; translated into terms of spatial symbolism, this is equivalent to saying that every explanation must proceed from above downward and not from below upward; and this observation has a special relevance at this which does in fact plunge its roots into that which constitutes the obscure support of our world, substance indeed being in a way the tenebrous pole of existence, as will appear more clearly later on.
The nature of this determination must then be specified, and this is what Saint Thomas Aquinas does when he defines this particular materia secunda as materia signata quantitate ; quality is therefore not inher- ent in it and is not that which makes it what it is, even if quality is considered only in relation to the sensible order; its place is taken by quantity, which thus really is ex parte materice. Quantity is one of the very conditions of existence in the sensible or corporeal world; it is the condition that belongs most exclusively of all to that world; therefore, as might have been expected, the definition of the materia secunda in question cannot concern anything other than this world, but it must concern this world as a whole, for everything that exists in this world is necessarily subject to quantity.
The foundation of a building must not be confused with its superstructure: while there is only a foundation there is still no building, although the foundation is indispensable to the building; in the same way, while there is only 20 THE REIGN OF QUANTITY quantity there is still no sensible manifestation, although sensible manifestation has its very root in quantity.
One further question presents itself: we meet with quantity under diverse modes, and in particular as discontinuous quantity, which is nothing but number , 2 and as continuous quantity, which is princi- pally represented by spatial and temporal magnitudes; among all these modes, which is the one that can most accurately be called pure quantity? It should be 2. There is therefore rea- son to suspect that there may be some error or confusion in the Cartesian definition of matter, and that some element not of a purely quantitative order must have slipped into it at that stage, per- haps unsuspected by its originator: the nature of his error will be made clear in chapter 4, where we shall see that extension, although it is obviously quantitative in character, like everything else belong- ing to the sensible world, cannot be regarded as pure quantity.
But number, like materia secunda, is never perceived directly and in a pure state in the corporeal world, and it is number that must without doubt be considered primarily as constituting the fundamental mode in the domain of quantity; the other modes of quantity are only derived from number, that is to say they are so to speak only quantity by virtue of their participa- tion in number: and this is implicitly recognized whenever it is maintained, as in fact it always is, that everything quantitative must be expressible in terms of number.
The idea in question, as we have seen, is not met with in any tradi- tional doctrine whether it be Eastern or Western; this indicates at least that, even to the extent that it might legitimately be admitted after clearing it of certain incongruous and even flatly contradictory elements, it contains nothing that is really essential and is related only to one highly particularized way of looking at things.
At the T same time, since the idea is very recent, it cannot be implicit in the word itself, which is far older, so that the original meaning of the word must be quite independent of its modern meaning. Ananda K. Measure, understood in the literal sense, is principally concerned with the domain of continuous quantity, that is to say, it is con- cerned most directly with things that have a spatial character for time, though no less continuous than space, can only be measured indirectly, by as it were attaching it to space through movement as intermediary, thus establishing a relation between the two.
We are at this point, as was foreseen, a long way from the materia prima , which in its absolute indistinction, can neither be measured in any way nor be used as a measure of anything else; but it is necessary to enquire whether the notion of measure be not more or less closely linked with whatever it is that constitutes the materia secunda of our world, and it turns out that a linkage exists through the fact that the materia secunda is signata quantitate.
Indeed, if measure directly concerns extension and what is contained therein, it is only by the quantitative aspect of this extension that measure is made possible; 26 THE REIGN OF QUANTITY but continuous quantity as such is, as explained, only a derived mode of quantity, that is to say it is only quantity by virtue of its participation in pure quantity, which in its turn is inherent in the materia secunda of the corporeal world; and besides, just because continuity is not pure quantity, measure always carries a certain degree of imperfection in its numerical expression, as the disconti- nuity of number makes a fully adequate application of number to the determination of continuous magnitudes impossible.
Number is indeed the basis of all measurement, but, so long as number is considered by itself there can be no question of measurement, for measurement is the application of number to something else. Only — and here the idea expressed by Coomar- aswamy recurs — it must be most carefully noted that, despite cer- tain prevalent misuses of ordinary language, quantity is never really that which is measured, it is on the contrary that by which things are measured; and furthermore, it can be said that the relation of measure to number corresponds, in an inversely analogical sense, to the relation of manifestation to its essential principle.
It is evident that in order to carry the idea of measure beyond the limits of the corporeal world, it must be analogically transposed. Coomaraswamy, ibid. Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta, chap. The Symbolism of the Cross, chap. Omnia in mensura, nutnero et pondere disposuisti Wisd. The first thing to be noticed in this connection is that if space were purely quantitative it would have to be entirely homogeneous, and its parts would have to be indistinguishable one from another by any characteristic other than their respective sizes; this would amount to conceiving it as no more than a container without content, that is to say as something which cannot have an independent existence in manifestation, for the relation of container to content necessarily presupposes, by its very nature as a correlation, the simultaneous presence of both of its terms.
The question may be put, at least with some appearance of reason, as to whether geometrical space can be conceived as endowed with some such homogeneity, but whatever may be the answer to that question no such conception of homogeneity is com- patible with physical space, with the space that contains bodies, for the presence of those bodies suffices to determine qualitative differ- ences between the parts of space they occupy— and Descartes was undoubtedly thinking of physical space, for otherwise his theory would not mean anything, since it would then not be applicable in 32 THE REIGN OF QUANTITY any real sense to the world of which it claims to provide the expla- nation.
Indeed the diverse properties of bodies are no more in his eyes than mere modifica- tions of extension; but if that be so, whence can these properties come, unless they are in some way inherent in extension itself, and how can they be so inherent if the nature of extension is lacking in any qualitative elements? It is true that Descartes, at the beginning of his physics, only claims to con- struct a hypothetical world on the basis of certain assumptions, which can be reduced to extension and movement; but, since he is at pains to demonstrate later that the phenomena that would be produced in such a world are precisely those of which we are aware in our own, it is clear that, in spite of his purely verbal precau- tion, he intends to conclude that our world is in fact constituted like the world he began by imagining.
This argument is equally applicable against atomism, which by definition admits no positive existence other than that of atoms and their combinations, and is thus necessarily led to posit a void between the atoms for them to move about in. But at this point the following observation becomes pertinent: among the corporeal determinations which are undeniably of a purely spatial order, and which can therefore rightly be regarded as modifications of exten- sion, there is not only the size of bodies, but also their situation; is situation itself therefore also purely quantitative?
The partisans of a reduction to quantity will doubtless reply that the situation of a plu- rality of bodies is defined by their distances, and that distance is cer- tainly a quantity— the quantity of extension that lies between them, just as their size is the quantity of extension that they occupy; but is distance sufficient by itself to define the situation of bodies in space? There is something else that cannot possibly be left out of account, and that is the direction along which distance must be measured; but, from a quantitative point of view, direction cannot but be a matter of indifference, because space cannot be considered as other than homogeneous in this respect, and this implies that particular directions in space are in no way distinguished one from another; so if direction is an effective element in situation, and if it is a purely spatial element, as it evidently is, and no less so than distance, then there must be something qualitative in the very nature of space.
In order to leave no room for doubt, physical space and bodies can be left out of the picture, nothing then remaining to be consid- ered but a space that is in the strict sense purely geometrical, and this surely does represent what may be called space reduced to it- self alone; in studying such a space, does geometry really take noth- ing into account but strictly quantitative conceptions? Let it be clearly understood that only the profane geometry of the moderns is now under consideration; and the question may at once be asked whether, if there proves to be anything in profane geometry that cannot be reduced to quantity, does it not immediately follow that it is even less possible and less legitimate to claim to reduce every- thing in the domain of the physical sciences to quantity?
Even the 34 the reign of quantity question of situation can be left out here, because it only plays a really conspicuous part in certain special branches of geometry, which might perhaps be regarded as not constituting a strictly inte- gral part of pure geometry : 3 but in the most elementary geometry, not only has the size of figures to be taken into account, but also their shape; and would any geometrician, however deeply imbued with modern conceptions, dare to maintain for example that a tri- angle and a square of equal area are one and the same thing?
But this is not all: for there is a whole section of elementary geometry to which quantitative considerations are strange, namely the theory of similar figures; similarity is in fact defined exclusively by shape and is wholly independent of the size of figures, and this amounts to saying that it is of a purely qualitative order. In three-dimensional geometry the same is true of surfaces, straight line tangents being replaced by plane tan- gents; it is moreover evident that the shape of all bodies, as well as that of simple geometrical figures, can be similarly defined, for the shape of a body is the shape of the surface by which its volume is delimited.
The conclusion toward which all this leads could be fore- seen when the situation of bodies was being discussed, namely, that it is the notion of direction that without doubt represents the real qualitative element inherent in the very nature of space, just as the 3.see
The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times
Such are, for instance, descriptive geometry, and the geometry to which cer- tain mathematicians have given the name of analysis situs. This is just what Leibnitz expressed by the formula: Aequalia sunt ejusdem quantitatis; similia sunt ejusdem qualitatis. In order that it may be measured — and this means, according to the explanations given, in order to be effectively realized — space must necessarily be related to an assemblage of defined directions.
These directions moreover present themselves to us as radii emanating from a center, which thus becomes the center of a three-dimensional cross, and it is unnecessary again to call attention to the important part played by these radii in the symbol- ism of all traditional forms.
For a full treatment of this theme, reference may be made to the consider- ations set out, and fully developed, in The Symbolism of the Cross. Space cannot possibly extend beyond the world in order to contain it, because an empty space would then be in ques- tion, and emptiness cannot contain anything: on the contrary, it is space that is in the world, that is to say, in manifestation, and if con- sideration be confined to the domain of corporeal manifestation alone, it can be said that space is coextensive with this world, because it is one of its conditions; but this world is no more infinite than is space itself, for, like space, it does not contain every possibil- ity, but only represents a certain particular order of possibilities, and it is limited by the determinations that constitute its very nature.
But the world is not therefore eternal, for there are beginnings outside time; the world is not eternal because it is contingent, in other words, it has a begin- ning as well as an end because it is not itself its own principle, or because it does not contain its principle in itself, that principle being necessarily transcendent with respect to it. There is no diffi- culty whatever in all this, but it implies that a considerable part of the speculations of modern philosophers arises out of questions wrongly posed and therefore insoluble and liable to give rise to indefinite discussion; the questions themselves evaporate entirely the moment they are examined without prejudice, and so are reduced to what they really are— mere products of the confusion characteristic of the mentality of today.
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What is mea- sured is never really a duration, it is the space covered in a certain length of time in the course of a movement of which the law is known; and as any such law expresses a relation between time and space, it is possible, when the amount of the space covered is known, to deduce therefrom the amount of time occupied in cov- ering it; and whatever may be the artifices employed, there is actu- ally no other way than this whereby temporal magnitudes can be determined.
In certain respects there is something like a symmetry between space and time, so that they can often be alluded to in terms that are more or less parallel; but this symmetry, which is not found with respect to the other conditions of corporeal existence, arises rather on the qualitative than on the quantitative side, as is indicated by the difference already pointed out between the determination of spatial magnitudes and temporal magnitudes, as well as by the absence, in the case of time, of a quan- titative science of an order comparable to that of the geometry of space.
Moreover, on the qualitative side symmetry is conspicuously 40 THE REIGN OF QUANTITY apparent in the correspondence existing between spatial symbolism and temporal symbolism, of which many examples have been given elsewhere; in fact it goes without saying that whenever symbolism is in question the essential part is played by considerations of quality and not of quantity.
It is evident that periods of time are qualitatively differentiated by the events unfolded within them, just as the parts of space are differ- entiated by the bodies they contain; it is not therefore in any way justifiable to regard as being really equivalent durations of time that are quantitatively equal when they are filled by totally different sequences of events; it is indeed a matter of current observation that quantitative equality disappears completely from the mental appre- ciation of duration in the face of qualitative difference.
Someone may perhaps argue that qualitative difference is not inherent in duration itself, but only in what happens within it; it therefore becomes necessary to enquire whether there be not something in the qualitative determination of events that originates from time itself; and it seems that such is recognized to be the case, at least implicitly, when, as constantly happens in ordinary speech, the par- ticular conditions of this or that period are referred to.
A correlation can in fact be found: in the case of space, these deter- minations consist essentially in the directions; and the cyclical figu- ration effectively establishes a correspondence between the phases of a temporal cycle and the directions of space. In order to satisfy one- self of this, it is enough to consider an example chosen from among those that are simplest and most immediately accessible, that of the annual cycle, which, as is well enough known, plays a very impor- tant part in traditional symbolism , 1 wherein the four seasons are made to correspond with the four cardinal points.
It will suffice at this point to call attention, on the one hand, to the extent of the use of the symbolism of the zodiac, especially from a strictly initiatic point of view, and on the other hand, to the direct applications in the field of ritual to which the unfolding of the annual cycle gives rise in most traditional forms. Michel, ]. The first of these observations is as fol- lows: not only has each phase of a temporal cycle, of whatever kind it may be, its peculiar quality that influences the determination of events, but the speed with which events are unfolded also depends on these phases, and is therefore of a qualitative rather than of a quantitative order.
Therefore, in speaking of the speed of events in time, by analogy with the speed of displacement of a body in space, a certain transposition of the notion of speed has to be effected, for speed in time cannot be reduced to quantitative expression, as can be done in mechanics when speed properly so called is in question. What this means is that, according to the different phases of the cycle, sequences of events comparable one to another do not occupy quantitatively equal durations; this is particularly evident in the case of the great cycles, applicable both to the cosmic and to the human orders, the most notable example being furnished by the decreasing lengths of the respective durations of the four Yugas that together make up a Manvantara?
The second observation is connected with the descending direc- tion of the cyclical movement, insofar as this movement is regarded as the chronological expression of a process of manifestation that 3. The decrease is known to be proportionate to the numbers 4, 3, 2, 1, their total, 10, comprising the entire cycle; human life itself is moreover well known to be considered as growing shorter from one age to another, which amounts to saying that life passes by with ever-increasing rapidity from the beginning to the end of a cycle.