Synthetic Reflection

Synthetic Reflection

In its syncretic form, reflection is inseparable from common activities, and the vision of the world it brings is implicit, built in the products that are not specially intended for conveying any ideas. When reflection becomes a separate activity, with its own product, all kinds of analytical reflection develop from occasional manifestations up to socially delimited professions. The fundamental levels of analytical reflection could be distinguished by the character of the product; we thus distinguish art, science and philosophy, reflecting the world in typical characters, abstract concepts and universal categories, respectively. However, these self-contained reflections would remain mere play until we turn back to practical activity, somehow introducing our creative imagination in palpable things and the modes of their presence in the culture. This is impossible within the analytical level, since the very its definition (and its creative power) comes from our ability to separate an object from its reflection. To transform abstractions into practical guidance, we need yet another level of reflection that would link the products of analytical creativity to our needs and interests, so that our vision of reality would shape our goals and motives. This is what we call synthetic reflection, the unity of comprehension and intention.

The basic entities of the synthetic level implement the active connotation of the word 'idea', whereas syncretic and analytical reflection reveal its alternative connotations: either a predisposition (impressions and preferences), or a subjective representation of an object. That is, synthetic ideas are ideas as such, conscious attitudes to the world based on an integral vision. For instance, we try to arrange things according to our ideas of harmony, we develop an argument following our idea of logic, and we expect other people to esteem certain moral principles. On this reasons, we could refer to this level of reflection as ideology, in the most general sense.

Each synthetic idea may induce different kinds of ideological acts. Thus, in its reflective aspect, it shows up as judgment. Ideology is much like reflection on this level, it binds various cultural events to some reflective forms (borrowed from the analytical level). In this way, we build a kind of context for further operation, outlining a range of relevant situations.

From the opposite, practical side, ideas lead us to all kinds of decisions, taking the form of inner determination, resolution, choice. A decision does not necessarily manifest itself in an evident manner; it may result in apparent passiveness, withdrawal, estrangement, or even a chaos of spontaneous acts. Decisions initiate actions, but they do not shape them.

Finally, the inner integrity of one's judgements and decisions determines one's attitude to the world. In particular, when it comes to common attitudes shared by a relatively wide social group, we speak of an ideological position, or stand. Like any hierarchy, an attitude can turn from one position to another (which is known as hierarchical conversion). This does not imply any lack of consistency or responsibility, as some social partners might observe; solidarity in one respect may (and necessarily will) be complemented by divergence in another.

However subjective, attitudes represent the uniqueness of the subject as a part of the world, and their individuality will always take a variety of cultural forms, such as belief, doubt, rejection, or conviction. These forms interact with each other in different combinations, so that one kind of attitude may (gradually or suddenly) transform into another, in response to practical occurrences.

Though the hierarchy of synthetic reflection can (and eventually must) be unfolded in many ways, there is a historical distinction of primary importance for humans on the current stage of cultural development. Today, we are already aware of the three fundamental modes of synthetic reflection conventionally referred to as esthetics, logic and ethics. However, their role in conscious activity is yet unclear, their specificity is difficult to grasp, and their application remains mostly intuitive and rather basic. In a way, this is a normal effect of the synthetic character of such reflection, as it cannot be adequately represented by any analytical form and thus brought to the eyes as an external object. On the synthetic level, we are not separate from our reflection; the only possibility to "visualize" it is to develop some activity according to our judgment, attitudes and choices, so that the very selectivity of our actions will be a natural indicator of our esthetics, logic and ethics.

In fact, any distinction within the synthetic integrity of an idea can only be virtual, and we speak of the esthetical, logical and ethical aspects of any act rather than of a specifically esthetical, logical or ethical acts. All the three modes are necessarily present in any conscious activity, coming to awareness in different order, in different cultural contexts. The same act can be characterized from one side or another, depending on one's individual preferences, and this assessment may change with time, when the current activity flows into the next. Still, people can feel sometimes the importance of certain type of synthetic reflection and say that they do something for esthetical, logical or ethical reasons. Of course, such statements, however sincere, should be treated as situational and relative.

Unlike the forms of analytical reflection, the synthetic modes cannot develop into separate cultural formations. Art, science and philosophy readily produce individual arts, sciences or philosophies, which often become officially acknowledged branches and even social institutions. However, there are no institutionalized esthetics, logic or ethics; ideology is a common platform for any individual manifestations. In certain cases, ideological work may become a primary motive, but this does not make the corresponding activity specifically ideological. Indeed, to promote a kind of ideology, one has to work in one of the available cultural areas, only developing in an ideologically determined direction. For instance, a politician is primarily engaged in politics (as a special activity, or a profession), but the character of this engagement may well be explained by ideological motives. In particular, ideology can develop on the basis of art, science or philosophy (as culturally distinguished activities); this does not reduce synthetic reflection to the corresponding analytical level. Thus, mathematical theories of logic may represent (and be inspired by) certain levels of logic in general, as a mode of synthetic reflection; no such theory can pretend to be logic as such, they always remain mere science. Similarly, a philosopher may discuss esthetical, logical or ethical problems, and even specialize in developing categories to assist the growth of our synthetic self-recognition; this results in philosophical esthetics, logic and ethics as distinct branches of philosophy, but never synthetic reflection. To "lift", say, philosophical esthetics to the synthetic level, we need a practical necessity in that particular mode of action, which will involve all kinds of other reflective forms, besides philosophy.

Traditionally, esthetics, logic and ethics are taken in a narrow sense, as the areas of analytical reflection, and in particular as philosophical disciplines. This reflects a specific attitude to the world exaggerating the passive aspect, mere perception of natural phenomena (and social phenomena as a level of nature) and adjusting the inner world of the subject to match that objective order. In this abstract picture, reflection is treated as mere replication, losing the connotation of reflexivity, self-action. As the arts consolidated in a separate cultural formation, the artists usurped the right of esthetical judgment, and philosophical esthetics was generally identified with the philosophy of art. Later, science has found its own cultural niche, associating logic with mere cognition and limiting it to formal rationality. Accordingly, philosophical logic has shrunk to mere philosophy of science.

Yes, the institutionalized forms of reflection provide a clearer vision of certain aspects of synthetic reflection. However, in the proper sense, esthetics does not need to apply to the arts, nor to be derived from the arts. This is an aspect of any activity at all, and an aspect of art regarded as a specific activity. Similarly, logic is needed in every conscious act, science being just an (illustrative) instance. In this approach, it is quite obvious, that the arts must follow their own logic, not necessarily resembling the scientific method; conversely, scientific judgment may well be directed by esthetic criteria, as many scientists admit. The synthetic view can therefore be practical even without a clear understanding of the distinctions between the complementary modes of reflection. Moreover, in the synthetic realm, we can never entirely trust any particular conceptualization, only taking it for an approximate expression of an existing cultural reality. There is no absolute differentiation and all-embracing comprehension. Still, we need philosophy of synthetic reflection to explicate our self-awareness, in the same way as we need art and science.

[Philosophy] [Unism]