Aristotle says that happiness lies in contemplationi. Contemplation is for man the highest possible activity. It allows him to reach an otherwise unreachable level of consciousness, by fully mobilizing the resources of his own « noos ».
Greek philosophy places the « noos » or “noûs” (νοῦς ) well above the « logos » (λόγος), just as it privileges intuition over reason.
The νοῦς represents the faculty of vision, contemplation, – of the mind.
The word contemplation comes from the Latin templum, which originally means « the square space delimited by the augur in the sky and on earth, within which he collects and interprets omens ».ii
By extension, the templum can mean the entire sky (templa caeli, literally: « the temples of the sky »), but also the infernal regions, or the plains of the sea.
« To contemplate » initially means, therefore, « to look at the sky », — in order to watch for signs of the divine will.
Christianity has not hesitated to value the idea of contemplation, even though it is borrowed from Greek and Latin « paganism ». S. Augustine proposed a classification of the degrees of growth and consciousness of the soul. In a scale of seven levels, he places contemplation at the pinnacleiii.
Degree 1: The soul « animates » (plants).
Degree 2 : The soul « feels and perceives » (animals).
Degree 3 : The soul produces « knowledge, reason and the arts » (men).
Degree 4: The soul gains access to the « Virtus » (virtue, moral sense).
Degree 5: The soul obtains « Tranquillitas » (a state of consciousness in which death is no longer feared).
Degree 6: The soul reaches the « Ingressio » (« the approach »).
Degree 7 : The soul surrenders to the « Contemplatio » (the final « vision »).
Ingressio implies an appetite for knowledge and understanding of higher realities. The soul directs its gaze upwards, and from then on, nothing agitates it or distracts it from this search. It is taken by an appetite to understand what is true and sublime (Appetitio intellegendi ea quae vere summeque sunt).
At the very top of this ladder of consciousness is « contemplation », that is, the « vision of the divine ».
Modern thought is rather incapable of accounting for this « contemplation » or « vision ». But this does not prevent some “modern” thinkers from being somewhat titillated by the general idea of contemplation.
For example, Gilles Deleuze said a few words about contemplation in one of his courses, -though in a rather clumsy style, which I am rendering here as faithfully as possible: « This is exactly what Plotinus tells us: everything rejoices, everything rejoices in itself, and it rejoices in itself because it contemplates the other. You see, – not because it rejoices in itself. Everything rejoices because it contemplates the other. Everything is a contemplation, and that is what makes everything happy. That is to say, joy is full contemplation. Joy rejoices in itself as its contemplation is filled. And of course it is not itself that joy contemplates. As joy contemplates the other thing, it fills itself up. The thing fills with itself as it contemplates the other thing. And he [Plotinus] says: and not only animals, not only souls, but you and I, we are self-filled contemplations. We are small joys.”iv
“Self-filled contemplations »? Small joys »? Is that it?
Deleuze is far more modest in his ambition than any past auguries, or Augustine! Quite shy of ever contemplating the divine!
From this, I infer that ´modernity´ is not well equipped, no doubt, to take up the thread of a meditation that has continuously obsessed seers since the dawn of humanity.
The shamans of the Palaeolithic, in the cave of the Pont d’Arc, known as the Chauvet cave, painted inspired metaphors by the glow of trembling torches. From which imagined vision, from which cervical lobe, did their inspiration come from?
The prophets of the Aurignacian « contemplated » under their fingers the appearance of « ideas » with a life of their own… They also saw the power that they had received, – to create worlds, and to share them, beyond tenths of millennia.
These ideas, these worlds, come now to move us, forty thousand years later.
How many “images” our own “modernity”, how many contemporary “ideas”, I ask, will still « move » humanity in forty thousand years from now?
iAristotle. Nichomachean Ethics, X.
iiA. Ernout, A. Meillet. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine.
iiiS. Augustine. De Quantitate Animae, §72-76