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John J. Connolly is a retired Senior Research Clinician from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has also written Critique of the Centrality of Meaning in Psychoanalysis, published in Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, (International Universities Press, Inc.). He now lives in Hawaii.

(W)Hole Being

The Subject of (Non-)Duality,
Brahman and the Signifier

John J. Connolly

The title of this essay enunciates tension between polar characterizations of the subject as (1) a fullness of being and as (2) a lack of being. The traditional Indian philosophy of Advaita Vedanta exemplifies a doctrine of non-duality that asserts the self as plenum. This ancient teaching posits that the apparent subject-object distinction predicating all experience dissolves when proper knowledge of ultimate reality is attained—that is, knowledge of the oneness of Being as the unconditioned Absolute (Brahman). Meanwhile an astonishing wealth of contemporary philosophy, particularly Continental philosophy, suggests a contesting view of subject as void: Kant's noumenal self as Ding und sich, Heidegger's Dasein as Lichtung, Sartre's pour-soi-en-soi, Derrida's differance, Merleau-Ponty's negintuition, and Lacan's divided or barred subject portray, each in their own way, subjectivity as a lack or hole in being. Are we plenums or are we vacuums? This modern contrast of view-points enriches an understanding of how reason breaks down when faced with what is immediate, over-proximate, and consequently, primordially inaccessible to human experience. This essay critically analyses the notion of the cosmic oneness of consciousness and elucidates the abstract element implicit in all perceptual-cognitive systems. A modern examination of the monistic tenets of Advaita Vedanta demonstrates how the function of the linguistic signifier serves thought's native impulse towards totality, unity, and identity, but precludes the mystical possibility of ever directly experiencing self-identical whole-Being or absolute oneness (unio mystica).

In modern Western philosophy, the 'subject of duality' is a term of art associated with Cartesian psycho-physical dualism, which characterizes the conscious subject as de-materialized spiritual substance that remains categorially distinct from the extended material substance of the physical world. This subject is characterized as empty insofar as all materiality lies outside it. In brief, the subject of thought (cogito) is posited as an immaterial thinking substance that exists beyond the content of the sensible world. Let us first briefly examine how Advaita Vedanta and Continental philosophy begin with this distinction in their respective doctrines of subjectivity.

Advaita Vedantin analysis of experience invokes a distinction between self and non-self when it negatively characterizes the subject through the employment of the Sanskrit phrase "neti neti"'— meaning "not this, not this”. The image invoked is that of someone going about the world looking for itself, pointing at an endless series of objects, and never finding itself there. Both contesting views under examination agree that when a subject experiences something as other, it at once affirms itself as not being that other. This negative relation not only applies to the physico-perceptual world of material objects but also includes a menagerie of immaterial intentional objects such as thoughts, beliefs, ideas, moods, and pains. The modern phenomenologist draws two conclusions: (1) Subjectivity assumes the position of an interstitial division that prevents determinate things from merging into amorphous primordial union. And (2) in the absence of any experiential distinction between self, qua subject, and object, qua other, all relation must collapse and blind immediacy prevail. Although Advaita Vedanta agrees with the first item, the assertion that immediacy must be blind appears heretical. According to their doctrine, an original undivided conscious totality remains with this immediacy. 'Brahman' names this cosmic totality characterized as an eternal plenum of 'existence-consciousness-bliss' (saccidananda).[1]

If Advaita Vedanta and Continental philosophy start with the same neti neti principle of analysis, why do they end at diametrically opposed understandings of the subject, the former as plenum, and the later as void? Before answering this question, we must first clarify the principal terms utilized in this discussion.

'Brahman' is the traditional name for the unconditioned absolute. Throughout this essay it is used interchangeably with the technical term 'subject of non-duality'. These terms are strictly homologous in that both acknowledge the primordial ground from which the subject of duality and the plurality of objects are subsequently figured. The second key term, 'Atman', has two distinct uses. For the sake of precision, this essay proffers the following definitions: 'Atman-1' refers to the subject of non-duality insofar as Atman is considered in its supreme identity with Brahman, that is, as one without second. 'Atman-2' refers to the subject of duality only insofar as Atman is considered in negative terms (neti neti) that suggest its ideal aloofness from, and constant witness to, the external welter of changing worldly relations. 'Atman-1' thus signifies the non-relational immediacy of identity (Atman is Brahman); 'Atman-2', in contrast, depends implicitly upon a posited world to which Atman negatively relates as not being it. This distinction of the two uses of Atman offers a clue to the central difference between the opposed views under discussion.

In traditional philosophical terms, the two stipulated uses of the term 'Atman' contrast a non-intentional model of consciousness with an intentional model of consciousness. The notion of the subject of duality posits an intentional model of consciousness insofar as it claims that all consciousness is necessarily a consciousness-of something. Advaita Vedanta, however, argues that all intentional consciousness (Atman-2) ultimately depends upon a more primordial, non-intentional, pure consciousness (Atman-1). Advaita Vedanta claims that Atman in-itself is one without a second (Atman is Brahman); it has no need for an object in order to be what it is, namely, pure conscious awareness.

According to Advaita Vedanta, the subject only experiences duality insofar as knowledge of otherness and ignorance of cosmic oneness prevail. When one attains absolute knowledge (Brahmavidya), the apparent subject of duality is no longer judged to be the real subject, because it is always experienced as impurely yoked to some object or another. The claim is that Atman-1 (non-dual non-intentional consciousness-in-itself) is ontologically privileged while intentional consciousness (i.e., consciousness-of) is relegated to derivative status. Pure consciousness is posited as primordially present at the heart of every conscious act and is only subsequently directed toward supplemental otherness. This assessment allows Nikhilananda (1.292) to portray Brahman as the pure conscious kernel at the core of all individual experience. He writes, "[Brahman], the all-pervading and omniscient Lord, knows all collectively and understands everything individually."[2] Also (2.97), "Whenever Brahman wants to hear or see, touch or feel, He does so spontaneously, using the organs of living beings."

These mythopoeic illustrations are key to understanding how the contesting views, of subject as plenum and subject as void, spring from the same formal root of linguistic signification. We will examine how the former view is based on a primitive linguistic impulse that fosters a great metaphysical misunderstanding regarding just where the oneness of consciousness lies.

So what is happening in our aforementioned illustrations? First, the concept of 'consciousness' formally groups together 'all conscious events' (i.e., all seeing, all hearing, all touching) with a single signifier (the name 'Brahman'). Second, the collection itself (Brahman) is imbued with the distinguishing feature that actually belongs to its extensional/denotative elements. It is as if the logical unity of the instances was an instance of itself! Clearly, the logical category that formally groups all conscious acts is not itself conscious. A category is no more conscious than the black-inked brackets that enclose an algebraic formula. What belongs singly to the elements in the extensional class does not belong to the class itself. A 'flock' of birds is not itself a bird. If one holds otherwise then one commits the error of reasoning (paralogism) Kant calls "the subreption of the hypostatized consciousness". 'Hypostatization' is defined as treating or regarding a concept or idea as a distinct substance or reality.[3] The Upanishads' mystical notion of the cosmic oneness of consciousness represents a prime example of this error. William James demonstrates its absurdity when he writes, “Take a sentence of a dozen words, take twelve men, and to each one word. Then stand the men in a row or jam them in a bunch, and let each think of his word as intently as he will; nowhere will there be a consciousness of the whole sentence.”[4]

The general term, 'consciousness', does not name an actual individual being (in Vedanta, Brahman, Virat as the World Soul). This (mis)understanding, once again following Kant, is based upon a transcendental amphiboly, which confounds an object of pure understanding (a signified unity) with an actual thing of appearance.[5] That this represents a case against Advaita Vedanta is not easily appreciated. Does not their doctrine insist that consciousness is neither 'thing' nor characteristically perceptual? The subtle point here is that the term 'consciousness' is nonetheless counted as a single substance/being that subtends all sentient beings. Being conscious is more than a possession of sentient creatures. According to Advaita Vedanta, consciousness is the very being of subjectivity. Beneath the multiplicity of individually conscious subjects lies the single being of consciousness. Brahman looks out from my eyes just as from your eyes. All experience belongs to Brahman alone. That is why, as the playful story goes, whenever someone asks, “Who is there?” the answer is always the same, “It is I”.

Advaita Vedanta subtly confuses conceptual identity with perceptual identity. Conceptual identity refers to a single essential nature distributed and multiply counted among many entities. A qualitative unity subsumes a quantitative diversity. Perceptual identity refers to the process of recognizing or counting a single 'thing' throughout a multiplicity of circumstances. Let's break it down: a particular gold ring has a unique provenance; it may be passed down from generation to generation. The oneness of its identity is counted as the same throughout changing historical circumstances. Gold's qualitative oneness, on the other hand, is categorial and it can establish no such provenance. The oneness of its abstract identity is distributed among countable perceptual objects. In like manner, the proposition that Jack and Jill share a single essential nature, in that they are both conscious individuals, does not imply that they warrant being counted as an identical conscious being. If they participate in the oneness of numerical identity at all, it must be at the abstract register of a single unifying category signified in the term 'consciousness'.

At this point it should be quiet clear that the signified totality named 'all conscious experience' is merely a conceptual oneness (ens rationis) that has no existence independent of thought. In his discussion of sets, Schaaf writes, "The unity lies entirely in the concept and not in the things themselves." Quine adds that the singular term purports to name one and only one object, while the general term does not purport to name at all, though it may 'be true of' each of many things.[6]

The formal or abstract element in experience engenders a schematic portrait of the Subject —> Object relation. At this level of conceptualization, Subject and Object are signifiers representing empty formal categories devoid of specific content. When consciousness occupies the first position (S) it indifferently refers to a nominally conscious animalcule, the responsive tropism of plants, an omniscient God, a sensible instance of searing pain, or an intellectual awareness of the Pythagorean theorem. The assimilative term 'consciousness' formally marks the site of indifference. It applies to each denoted element, which instantiates the identical general concept. [7]

It is important to note, in its usage the key signifier (e.g., 'consciousness') structurally relies more upon an empty universalizing function, than it relies on any particular hegemonic content that determines its meaning. Terms such as 'truth', 'democracy', 'human rights', 'God', 'love', 'mother nature', etc., are all obvious examples of key signifiers in that they remain mysteriously empty in their indefiniteness and yet forcefully function in ideological discourse as if absolutely positively full.[8]

Categorical formalism plays the central role in structuring concrete experience; it establishes a computational basis for counting diversity as a single signified unity. Lacan writes,

In my day we used to teach children that they must not add, for instance, microphones with dictionaries or as Lewis Carroll says, cabbages with kings. The sameness is [however] not in things but in the mark which makes it possible to add things with no consideration as to their differences. The mark has the effect of rubbing out the difference… [9]

As Lacan notes, the most important feature of a signified conceptual unity is not that its universality is derived from contingent particular content, but that it frames a set that makes countable instances possible.[10]

Following our schema, individual conscious acts (s —> o, s —> o, s —> o…) are in principle countable insofar as they are numerically distinct elements that fall beneath an identical universal (S —> O). Sameness of kind and sameness of numerical identity are distinguished in the single stroke that pivots at the site of the signifier. All individual acts of consciousness (s —> o, s —> o, s —> o, etc.) may be counted as the same in kind (S —> O) and yet are individually distinct each from the other. Reid writes, "The same kind or species of operation may be in different men, or in the same man at different times; but it is impossible that the same [numerically identical] individual operation should be in different men, or in the same man at different times.[11]

There are two registers under consideration here, one of abstract form (the counter) and one of concrete content (the counted). At the highest abstraction we consider only the signifiers of the universal set (S —> O). In this formula there is only one Subject, consciousness, and one Object, the world. At the level of individual events (s —> o, s —> o, s —> o, etc.), there are a proliferation of subjects and experiential objects. Cognition mixes these registers in two characteristic ways: S —> o and s —> O. In each instance, the uppercase letter indicates the unique stability of the signifying element while the lowercase represents concrete objects of experience. In the first instance, 'consciousness' occupies the formal position of S, indicating the existence of a single subject with o standing for the multiplicity of intentional objects. This is the ideal schema that models how objects of experience march before the signified unity of a single witnessing consciousness (S —> o,o,o,o…). In the obverse (s,s,s,s… —> O), one counts the object-world as the stable signified unity, which affirms innumerable individual conscious acts as a concrete plurality. In this case, there is only one object of experience (O), namely the world, and a multiplicity of subjective perspectives regarding it (s).

The intentional model of consciousness follows the schema of S —> O. The arrow of intentionality implies that every act of consciousness is necessarily yoked to an object of experience. The non-intentional model of consciousness, to which Advaita Vedanta subscribes, portrays consciousness (S) as a primordial reality that exists prior to and independent of any experience. From what has been said so far, the latter model appears to represent an indefensible confusion between formal signifying terms and concrete experiential content. Later, we will consider how this criticism may not be fatal to the non-intentional model of consciousness. First, however, let us examine how the above confusion appears to foster a hopeless mystification.

The important thing to notice in the following excerpts from Nikhilananda's exegesis on the Upanishads, is how 'consciousness', qua signifier, remains empty of meaning and yet formally functions at a level beyond meaningful content: Nikhilananda writes (3.74), "When—as in deep sleep or profound mediation—the Atman apparently does not see, nevertheless It is seeing, since for the Seer, who is imperishable, there is no cessation of seeing. There exists, however, no second thing besides this Seer, nothing distinct from It for It to see." The proposition that a 'seer' does not require an object in order to see, represents an abstraction beyond all content. It abuses the notion of 'seeing' by stripping away the ordinary use and significance of the term that binds a seer to an object seen. Every meaningful distinction between 'seeing' and 'not-seeing' is consequently lost. Nikhilananda further writes (3.276-280), "The absence of consciousness is due to the realization of oneness. In deep sleep there is an absence of specific consciousness. It is not that the self in deep sleep is unconscious; for it is consciousness itself." These examples demonstrate how a term, namely 'consciousness', functions as a pure (empty) signifier. It is pure in the sense of being purely formal. Consciousness that is not conscious of anything is merely a ghostly shell, a token that circulates within an ideally structured economy of symbolic order.

When a thing is stipulated as being only what it is, it serves as a vehicle that takes the understanding for a tautological ride. The proposition that asserts the immediate identity of Atman with conscious subjectivity, strips the term 'consciousness' of meaning while the token of a pure signifier ('consciousness' aware of nothing and belonging to nobody) formally circulates in defiance of ordinary lexical meaning. This is prima facie evidence that pure consciousness, i.e., 'consciousness without intentional object', must be considered a formal abstraction wrought through signification.

Let us examine a specific case where the Upanishads portray the signified unity (O) named in the 'totality of Being', as a spatio-perceptual unity, rather than merely a formal aspect of thought. Furthermore, this totality is considered an object of absolute knowledge, at least for Brahman (S). The Katha Upanishad (1.165) states, "What is here, the same is there, and what is there, the same is here." This statement mischaracterizes what are actually two distinct logical unities brought about through signification ('I' and 'not-I'). Whereas neti neti ([I am] not this, not this...) represents a logical exercise of negation, tattvamasi ('that thou art') claims a spatial unity. Many illustrations found in the Upanishads likewise dance between logical and spatio-perceptual distinctions, which make these depictions both superficially compelling and critically suspect.

The Upanishads, for example, employ a spatial simile when it claims that the subject of duality (pre-)exists like a river yet in union within an ocean. "These Rivers, my dear," says the Chhandogya Upanishad (4.312), "flow—the eastern toward the east, and the western toward the west. They arise from the sea and flow into the sea. Just as these rivers, while they are in the sea, do not know: 'I am this river' or 'I am that river'." Advaita Vedanta teaches here that prior to apparent separation Atman exists like a river in immediate local union with the ocean of Being (Atman/Brahman).

There is an unnoticed temporal aspect suppressed in this simile of spatial union. The logic of immediacy, in contradistinction to the perceptual analogy of local union, must be understood temporally, that is, in terms of an always-already past relation that was never present. The so-called 'river in the ocean' is not yet a river. Only after it has become a river does it retroactively find its source in the boundless sea. The apparent subject of duality's relation to immediacy is like the river's relation to the ocean in this respect: predication of original union is a retroactive judgment—a reflective determination following the river's recognized individuation. This means that reflection is necessary, no matter how brief or intermittent, in order to precipitate a determinate act of conscious experience. The reflective act produces temporal separation between the trace of sensation and its cognitive/symbolic registration. Advaita Vedanta disputes this point and maintains that although there is no individual consciousness prior to reflection, consciousness nevertheless pre-exist its acts. It is argued that stripping away the intentional arrow of consciousness and affirming S without other is justified because the separation that gives rise to individual conscious experience is, according to doctrine, ultimately unreal and only ever apparent. The claim is that when one looks deeply enough, the apparent individual subject of duality (Atman-2) is actually the absolute subject of non-duality (Atman is Brahman).

It should be noticed that the illustrative focus shifts from a spatio-perceptual depiction of local unity (that with thou or river with ocean) to the logical unity of signification. The perceptual distinction between river and ocean is now considered as merely superimposed upon the unique nature of water, which is universally, categorically, everywhere, always the same. The essence or univocal nature of consciousness, like that of water, is indifferent to the distinction of all individuating differences. The discourse begins with the local depiction of union (river within ocean) before it implicitly shifts registers and characterizes these two perceptual objects as two ideal unities of signification that find a shared union in the broader more abstract unity expressed in the consolidating term 'water'. The original local feature that perceptually distinguished river from ocean is supplanted with a logical distinction that gets rubbed out or sublated in the higher abstract signified unity ('water').

Universal pure consciousness is, as we have shown, an abstraction signifying a unity that exists nowhere but in thought. Pure consciousness in itself cannot be the essence of the separated subject because each conscious act is bound, joined in a negative relation (neti neti) to its intentional object. The only consciousness that is not bound in this way is the isolated abstract idea. Similarly, tangible water is always spatially determinate, limited, factually bound and circumscribed by its container, whether riverbank, ocean shore, surface of the earth, drinking glass, etc. The only water that is not spatially limited in this way is the abstract idea of water, which is never drunk, swum, or fished.

The fleeting subject of duality does not pre-exist the conscious act, which at once separates and yokes the subject to its intentional object. Prior to the act of separation there is no subject; there is only blind immediacy. In the reflective act the subject discovers itself as always-already there. The essential point here is as important to notice as it is obscure and difficult to grasp. A conscious act is impossible in the immediate relation (union). Consciousness is therefore already self-consciousness. This means that the only immediacy that ever comes to light in a conscious act, comes to light as lost. In other words, the subject 'comes to be' correlative to the disappearance of blind immediacy, which hypothetically characterizes pre-ontological non-duality. This is a peculiar disappearance because it is the evanishment of that which was never actually present. Immediacy only appears elusively in retrospect as something missed. In the words of Hegel, "It only comes to be through being left behind." [12]

It follows from what has been said thus far that the possibility of a complete transparent self-presence is merely a perspective illusion. The residue of immediacy that clings to reflection never catches itself in its own act. As soon as one catches a thought, one has already moved from that thought to another thought. In 'Descartes' Conversation with Burman', the latter says, “But how can the mind be conscious, since being conscious is thinking? When you think that you are conscious you already pass to another thought, and so no longer think about what you were thinking about before; so you are not conscious that you are thinking, but that you have been thinking.”[13]

Lacan cites Brentano's agreement with St. Thomas Aquinas in this matter and further notes, "Being cannot be grasped as thought except in an alternating fashion. It is in a succession of alternating moments that he thinks, that his memory appropriates its thinking reality without this thinking being at any moment able to join up with itself in its own certainty."[14] This obscure aspect of experience announces, as it were, an excessive proximity of the subject to itself, making the subject purblind to itself and marking the limiting threshold between unconscious being and knowing (thetic) consciousness.

The impasse of immediacy remains an epistemological blind spot that structurally resists illumination and produces a perspective void at the core of subjectivity. This evacuation of being is a function of representative thought that drives a wedge between being and knowing. The subject only grasps itself as other in the mediation of eccentric representations. This is why both Sartre and Heidegger call Man "a being of distances" and describe human reality as "remote from itself."[15] The crucial issue here is that what lies closest to the subject is the very thing least known and unknowable. This theme is emphasized in Heidegger's early philosophy where in Being and Time, he writes, "Dasein is ontically [by immediate fact] 'closest' to itself and ontologically [by reflective theory] farthest."[16] In other words, Being, which is closest to the subject, so immanent as to be it, is epistemologically farthest away.

The place from which the subject reflects remains a locus that is not contained in the reflection itself. Knowledge requires a gap—a subject—that is nothing more than the movement away from self-immediacy. The errant belief that a total reflection is possible is based upon the experience of partial reflections. Believing that one can do better suggests comparison with a snake that believes it can swallow its whole tail; the early assessment, "Things are going well so far," is too optimistic. Zizek writes,

There is a subject only insofar as there is some material stain/leftover that resists subjectivization, a surplus in which, precisely, the subject cannot recognize itself. In other words, the paradox of the subject is that it exists only through a 'bone in the throat' that forever prevents it (the subject) from achieving its full ontological identity.[17]

Sartre further suggests how the promise of full ontological consistency appears as a perspective illusion to the fleeting subject of duality and how this illusion actually marks the threshold of a subject's disappearance as it asymptotically approaches immediacy. He writes,

The very meaning of knowledge is what it is not and not what it is; for in order to know being such as it is, it would be necessary to be that being. But there is this "such as it is" [object/otherness] only because I am not the being [object] which I know; and if I should become it, then the "such as it is" [as otherness] would vanish and could no longer even be thought.[18]

In summary, the intentional model of consciousness requires otherness while the alternative non-intentional model appears as a reckless abstraction.[19] The subject of non-duality (Brahman) cannot be a knowing subject insofar as it is considered a plenum in immediate relation to and eternally identical with itself. The metaphysical proposition that the subject of non-duality (Brahman) is identical with pure consciousness, without alloy of otherness, seems an utter impossibility or is, as Kierkegaard once quipped, " least as baffling as trying to depict an elf wearing a hat that makes him invisible."[20]

Kierkegaard 's incidental words actually formulate a self-foiling proposition that threatens to undermine confidence in the correctness of our tidy schematic model of intentional consciousness. In the contest of views, of subject as either plenum or void, we can access Advaita Vedanta's possible redemption through the deconstructive voice of Derrida. Consider how Derrida maintains the impossibility of immediate perception. Dillon explains Derrida's point this way:

All consciousness is consciousness of a re-presentation, and that which is re-presented can never have been present to consciousness, but presupposes repetition in its original path-breaking or tracing. Every re-presentation, then, might be said to draw upon 'a kind of original past, a past which has never been present.[21]

Is the notion of pure consciousness, then, really any less intelligible than Derrida's notion of 'trace', which denies the possibility of presence; or any less intelligible than the nature of immediacy, which only appears as disappearance? Each proposition possesses a similar paradoxical or self-foiling quality. Kamuf writes, "If [Derrida's] notion of trace seems difficult to grasp, it is precisely because it concerns that which disappears as soon as one tries to hold onto it."[22] Does not Atman, as pure consciousness, elude the grasp of comprehension and intelligibility in a similar manner? Let us briefly examine Advaita Vedanta's recourse to this potentially rehabilitating rejoinder; and how it also ultimately fails.

It may be argued that the subject of non-duality can only be (mis)represented. That is, it is impossible to present it in its brute pre-ontological immediacy. This means that any indirect or mediated experience of non-duality is, alas, not it. Since Advaita Vedanta subscribes to a non-intentional model of consciousness, they may argue that any inability to appreciate whole being as non-dual conscious subject is simply a prejudicial artifact of our typical intentional experience of consciousness. In other words, perhaps the contra argument presented thus far does not preclude the possibility of the existence of the conscious subject of non-duality (Brahman), but rather merely asserts the impossibility of ever representing something that has no other. In other words, perhaps the conscious subject of non-duality remains possible, even when representing it is not. This strongly suggests that as soon as Atman/Brahman is represented, it is misrepresented as object and thereby disappears behind the delusive veil of maya. Atman's disappearance thus coincides with any moment that would grasp it as appearance or representation.[23] The subject never appears except through the vanishing virtue of neti neti—that is, through the negative judgment that acknowledges all determinate appearance as 'not it'. In this way, the immediacy of pure consciousness (Atman) remains a limit to thought because any representation implies mediation and, consequently, only signifies lost immediacy and the absolute impossibility of immediate presentation.

Immediacy is impossible to directly comprehend; only its reconstruction is understood through the mediation of reflective thought. When Heidegger notes, "As soon as we inquire at all into immediate knowledge and its essence, we are already beyond immediacy," he squarely faces the futility of any attempt at grasping immediacy. Merleau-Ponty also explicitly underscores this issue when he writes in his posthumous work, The Visible and the Invisible,

A lost immediate, arduous to restore, will, if we do restore it, bear within itself the sediment of the critical procedures through which we will have found it anew; it will therefore not be the immediate. If it is to be the immediate, if it is Being itself, this means that there is no route from us to it and that it is inaccessible by principle.[24]

Immediacy thus marks the intransigent limit to experience that both founds and confounds reason with the certain loss of that which was never possessed in experience. Immediacy is the abstract non-relational mode of identity that is synonymous with numerical identity (numerica identitas). As one without another, it purports to be something that coincides with itself. In this manner, we have returned to our tautology. Whatever something is, it is itself only. This notion of identity is represented in the following equation:


The tautological relation emerges as a ghostly double representing numerical identity as a unary doppelganger that occupies the same place at the same time; the same place at different times; different places at different times; but never occupies different places at the same time.[25] Curiously enough, the manner in which tautology is represented in an identity statement of the form A=A, suggests that the only way to represent identity is to misrepresent A as being in two places at once. However, when the temporal aspect is noticed in the successive left to right reading of the equation, we understand that identity is actually an ideal function of time that annuls time and gives rise to the eternal universal.

Tautology guarantees analytic certainty when knowledge is explicitly form-ulated in the identity statement: 'I am I' (or, "Whatever I am, I am"). Such a logical assertion, as Kierkegaard once observed, does no more than make 'am' an abstract equal sign stand mutely between two unknown qualities. Tautology is a formal abstraction; it does not extend knowledge. An act of consciousness necessarily moves away from immediacy and leaves supplemental otherness in its wake. The subject discovers otherness through diremptive temporal difference, which supports articulate predication within the order of 'S is P', and where P represents the appending other of S as a treasure trove of sensibilities distinctly parceled in signified qualities and relations.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.26, 3.312) queries, "For where there is duality, as it were, then one sees another; but when only the Self is all this, how should one see another?" Pure consciousness, when taken seriously, is paradoxically unconscious insofar as it stands in immediate relation to itself as one without another.[26] At this level of analysis, however, the being of consciousness is not the consciousness of being; it is the consciousness of nothing, which is the nothing of consciousness, or nothing itself.[27] This 'consciousness without otherness' is safe from analysis. It remains beyond both experience and rational scrutiny and, as the unseen root of experience, it is believed to antecede all subsequent terms. The mystical twist identifies this ideal lack of heterogeneity with Brahman, which is homologous to the Hegelian Absolute in which “all cows are black” or Novalis' Hymnen an die Nacht, the night in which all polarities are reconciled. Bowie explains, “The absolute is the 'night in which all cows are black', because it swallows all differentiated knowledge in the assertion that everything is ultimately the same, namely an absolute which excludes all relativity from itself and thus becomes inarticulable.”[28]

The subject can neither know itself in-itself nor experience itself as absolute subject (Atman-1), because all coincidence annuls the distinction between self and other, which founds knowledge and experience. In other words, where something coincides with itself, no knowledge exists.[29] Being A and knowing A are incommensurables. The subject's represented self (ego) is always posited at the site of otherness, at an ideal distance from any immanent relation to itself. In this way, the self avoids dissolution that the union of complete self-identity implies. The finite subject, or what Advaita Vedanta calls jiva, escapes the erasure implied in the immediate relation that makes a unity of 'that' and 'thou'. In other words, the subject evades evanishment through a spontaneous positing of a representative-self as an ideal unity. Zezik however suggests, "Subject and subjectivization are to be opposed: we 'subjectivize' ourselves when we recognize ourselves in a determinate content of the Master Signifier [that is, of otherness], in the latter's fullness, whereas the subject is the void correlative to the empty signifier."[30] Here the subject of duality is what it is not and is not what it is.

For the sake of a suggestive analogy, consider what happens when white light illumines a red object. Every color in the spectrum that constitutes white light is absorbed into the object with the exception of red, which the object characteristically reflects. In a manner of speaking, the object is in actuality every color except the one it turns away and appears to be. This object might be described as being (for us) what it is not and not being what it is. In an analogous manner, the subject (Atman-2/consciousness) drops out of the existing order and discovers what it is in the mode of not being it. The aloof witness is thus born of the reflective act. The otiose subject, Atman-2, the subject that defines itself in opposition to its other, remains the perceiver and aloof knower of only what is other or non-self. Advaita Vedanta follows the furthering difference of neti neti, the logical alembic that both distills the conceptual purity of the conscious subject and proliferates predicates and relations. The subject (Atman-2) is the exception that lies beyond all positive predication; it is the empty site of inscription. The empty subject is the constitutive exception that totalizes the predicated oneness of the object world and constitutes Being as always full. Sartre writes, "But this nothingness [that is, consciousness] is not anything except human reality apprehending itself as excluded from being and perpetually beyond being, in commerce with nothing...human reality is that which causes there to be nothing outside of being." Zizek suggests, "Every Whole is founded on a constitutive exception: what we can never obtain is a complete set without exception. The very gesture of completion entails an exclusion." [31]

The most important thing to notice is that the exclusion under discussion has only fleeting existence as conscious act. Here we return to our notion of the fleeting subject that constitutes the concrete conscious act. The 'I' only appears to possess continuous being insofar as each conscious act establishes an excluded subject represented by its empty signifier. The fleeting subject of duality in the conscious act is not a general nothingness but, rather, by the virtue of neti neti, is a determinate nothingness. Meleau-Ponty correctly refuses the welcoming abstraction that Advaita Vedanta finds intellectually inviting. He implicitly follows the doctrine of neti neti but, unlike Advaita Vedanta, he pursues it to its proper Kantian conclusion of finite transcendence when he writes, "[A]s I have this before myself I am not an absolute nothing, I am a determined nothing: not this glass, nor this table, nor this room; my emptiness is not indefinite…”[32] The essential point here posits that each act is a fleeting determination, a passing act that only acquires ontological consistency with the supplemental fiction of a perdurable transcendental ego that witnesses the march of experience (S —> o). When one follows Advaita Vedantin reasoning in this manner, one mistakenly moves away from the concrete act and into the abstract idea, qua hypostatized concept (from s —> o, s —> o, s —> o, etc., to S —> o,o,o…). For example, the Kena Upanishad (1.236) subtly hypostatizes consciousness as persistent 'knower' when it states, "The knower can know all such objects as are capable, by their very nature, of being known by him; but he can never know, in a like manner, his own self." Kant's treatment of this very issue only superficially agrees with the Kena when he writes, "I cannot know as an object that which I must presuppose in order to know any object."[33] The distinction to notice here is that whereas Kant sees the fleeting subject as a logical necessity in each individual conscious act, Advaita Vedanta sees an ontological permanence.

The conscious act constitutes a fleeting, yet logically/structurally persistent, locus of predication that escapes predication. Atman-2, as intentional pole of the empirical conscious subject, is considered in terms that posit a world to which it negatively relates as not being it. Here the subject, as it were, hovers unbound over a field of possible experience. The subject is an empty and meaningless suspension of being that discloses Being, not as meaningless, but as a plenitude of significance and intelligibility. The subject is the site of inscription that enframes experience's meaning-filled manifold. A subject, for example, is not Irish as soon as it represents or otherwise predicates itself as Irish. The negative notion of subjectivity, defined through neti neti ([I am] not this and not this...), is purified as contingent predicates are recognized as incidental to the frame of the logical subject. In the claim that I am Irish, I ideally consider myself as a pure subject carrying an external distinguishing mark, 'Irish'. In other words, insofar as all terms are fungible predicates circulating more or less freely, each is deemed an unnecessary supplement that remains incidental to the pure nature of my posited ideal subjectivity. Here all predicates are contingent because, at the level of pure subjectivity, one easily reflects how each state of affairs might have been otherwise. I, for instance, might have been born German, Italian, French, etc. An abstract, or intellectually purified, notion of the subject functions here as empty signifier or placeholder. Advaita Vedantin analysis thus, as in all monadic theories of soul, results in an empty term, a master signifier, an inexplicable a priori definiendum. After all, being born or reincarnated French does not disturb the ideal notion of my pure subjectivity any more than does being reincarnated as a grasshopper. In this way, the doctrine of metempsychosis is the language of a subtle shell game that relies upon the ideal (formal) functioning of the empty signifier.

The empty signifier signifies ideal subjectivity that binds fleeting conscious acts. Only the abstract network of symbolic order can sustain the intermittencies of sensibility and prop-up a perdurable subject that exists unchanged throughout time, an illusion, even if a very stubborn and necessary one. As is often the case, knowledge of the conditions that give rise to this illusion cannot remove it.

Advaita Vedanta proposes subtracting the intentional arrow of consciousness and remaindering S as pure awareness without other. The teaching method known as Drgdrsyaviveka purports to progressively separate the seer from the seen. Whitfield writes,

If I exclude from the nature of the conscious being all objects of consciousness, including those which I had previously identified with myself, I am left with the Self as pure consciousness which is distinct from and, therefore, not qualified by the objects of consciousness. This being so, the conscious entity must necessarily be only one, because the differentiating elements of the objective world do not belong to it. (Whitfield, The Jungian Myth and Advaita Vedanta, (Unpublished doctoral dissertation, 1992), 151.

Mohanty, a modern Phenomenology and Vedantin scholar, also claims that consciousness is intentional in its empirical/sensual/epistemological employment, yet, in-itself, it is non-intentional pure consciousness. He writes,

One may distinguish, within any particular state of consciousness, between the aspect of awareness (which must be... present in all states of consciousness) and the aspect of intentionality (which varies from state to state, depending upon the object, the knowing person, time, and the mode of intention).[34]

The fact, however, that one may abstractly distinguish particular objects and aspects of intentionality within the conscious act, does not imply that a conscious act exists independent of all objects and of every aspect of intentionality whatsoever. Lacan offers a clue that helps elucidate our advocates' mistaken bias toward understanding consciousness as existing independently of intentional objects. Lacan writes, “The universal, once examined... may be grounded only by way of aggregation, and that particular, alone in finding its existence therein, thereby appears as contingent.”[35] The essential point here is that consciousness must be grounded in the succession of particulars (acts/objects) and although each alone appears unnecessary, some representative of the class nevertheless remains essential.

Interestingly enough, when one believes that consciousness actually exists independent of objects, intentional objects appear as obstacles, things that block the subject's access to pure consciousness and the oceanic experience of unio mystica. The counterpart to this notion poses consciousness itself as the hindrance to an absolute union with nature. For example, Zen Buddhism suggests the possibility of living a pre-reflective existence as no-mind or no-self. In the former instance, an impasse is reached as the impossible nature of an objectless reality is examined. In the later case, the impossibility of paradoxically seeking the pre-reflective moment is itself the impasse. Both positions fail to realize that that which is portrayed as an obstacle or a hindrance to its ultimate realization is precisely the very condition of the goals notional existence.

When Advaita Vedanta postulates an analytic identity of subject (Atman) with consciousness, it fixedly specifies awareness in every use of the term 'subject' even in the absence of any content individuating that awareness. What this obscurantism fails to appreciate is how the ideality of the signifier lends its formal permanence to the concrete conscious act. In other words, all permanence belongs to ideality and not to these individual conscious acts.[36]

'Subject' as an isolated signifier has no meaning. Kant writes, “For if this condition [sensibility] be removed, all meaning, that is, relation to the object, falls away; and we cannot through any example make comprehensible to ourselves what sort of a thing is to be meant by such a concept”.[37] In common and less persnickety discourse, the term 'subject' is notoriously ambiguous. It plays on both external and internal denotative sides of the fence. The conventional meaning of the term 'subject' is bandied back and forth like a shuttlecock between two battledores of thoughts (res cogito) and things (res extensa). There remains some sense in which 'subject' exists independently of objects; it exists as a signifier naming an abstract category that remains logically independent of and indifferent to its external/internal uses. Thanks to the signifier, the empty ideal subject remains numerically singular while it is counted twice, once as physical object and once more as conscious subject. In contradistinction, when Brahman is considered the conscious subject of all experience, it represents a totality rendered as a unit that is never counted more than once in Advaita Vedanta.[38]

The timelessness of logic is structural, and perceptual identity depends upon this structure. Identity relies upon the regulative universal constancy of the signifier that signifies the Concept through time.[39] As ideal designator the Concept is rigid, numerically identical. Lending its eternality to the schema of time, the Concept remains identically the same as it fixes the significance of experience with persistent particulars that hold together raw experience. Repetition, sameness, and identity are possible only through conceptual cognition, while sensation offers only a successive flux of unrepeated impressions. The flux of sense and the formal nature of the Concept form a logical non-dialectical chiasmus between concrete empiricism and abstract formalism.

Universals, numbers, signifiers, and Concepts, all belong to Plato's eternal empyrean, existing metaphorically above and beyond the flux of the concrete sensible and the imaginable world. While eternality remains unchanging because it is atemporal, what empirically changes does so in time against the timeless backdrop of logical structure. The work of the signifier supports the Concept's numerical identity across time, which is not at all to say that conceptual terms have unchanging meaning. What is at stake here has nothing to do with an unchanging nature of conceptual content but rather with the immutable rule of a Concept's logical construction. It is the essential nature of the Concept itself that allows contingent meaning to change beneath the mark of the stable signifier.

The Concept, formally understood as beyond meaning, is where universality operates, making countable instances distinctly possible. This ideal unity (unity of signification) has its notational cipher in the signifier. In medieval Europe, Abailard notices this when he writes, "We understand nothing other than that those individuals are men, and in this they do not differ in the least, in this, I say, that they are men, although we appeal to no essence." Pierce also voices agreement in the twentieth century when he writes, "It can by no means be admitted that the two real men have really anything in common, for to say that they are both men is only to say that the one mental term or thought-sign [signifier] 'man' stands indifferently for either of the sensible objects caused by the two external realities."[40]

Numerical identity is the result of the ideal functioning of the signifier that serves as a placeholder in formal structure. When applied to the flux of sensible experience it serves to individuate particulars. For example, over a span of many decades an old ship may have had each nail and every fiber of wood replaced and yet it remains counted as the same ship due to the ideal functioning of the signifier. Even if the ship is incinerated, its ashes compressed and packed into an urn and then placed on a mantle, it subsists as the same ship, albeit radically altered. In this way the signifier remains independent of the thing signified. Every cell in a human body is replaced every seven years and yet the body is counted as the same. "Each of us was once an embryo," protest the pro-life/anti-embryonic stem-cell-research fanatics. And of course they are correct! The empirical subject in extremis undergoes all manner of protean physical alteration, suffers significant personality changes and disturbances in intellectual functioning due to trauma, toxins, degeneration and disease. But the establishment of an identity throughout change, an identity in difference, does not indicate some lasting and unchanging physical, psychological, or spiritual substance; it suggests, rather, the work of ideality through the imperishable signifier. What remains unchanged is the signifier that ideally designates the subject while the signified materially changes beneath its mark. Hegel writes,

Taken abstractly as such, “I” is pure relation to itself, in which abstraction is made from representation and sensation, from every state as well as from every peculiarity of nature, of talent, of experience, and so on. To this extent, 'I' is the existence of the entirely abstract universality, the abstractly free. Therefore, “I” is thinking as the subject, and since I am at the same time in all my sensations, notions, states, etc., thought is present everywhere and pervades all these determinations as [their] category.[41]

When the unity of a logical totality (omnitudo realitatis) is brought about through signification, the signifier is, of course, not the thing it signifies. The appearance of something, similarly, is never an actual totality of the thing itself in all its wondrous properties and relations, but is, rather, a unity in representative appearance. It is a phenomenal or perceptual representation of the thing that indifferently summates all its expected and unexpected co-extensionality. When both these considerations converge, it is somehow true to say, for example, "I see the earth beneath my feet." But do I really see the entire earth in all its various and sundry relations? Do I see its totality when I look from the porthole of a space shuttle? Signified unities, formal unities, are logically independent of the reality they designate. The essential point is that there is no way of seeing the totality of the earth, nor is there a way to experience whole being (omnitudo realitatis), because each is merely an idea, a conceptual totality. But just as it is in practice only necessary to kick a small part of a football in order to kick the whole football, it is quite accurate to say, "The whole earth exists beneath my feet."

Totality is a useful fiction; a heuristic cognitive schema that summates sensation into particular units of thought (unary features) and, thereby, constitutes the quantized (signifier-ized) effectiveness of thought, judgment, and perception.[42] We experience the distinct otherness of our world through concepts that re-cognize and order perception and judgment into structured understanding and knowledge. Both the actual fleeting subject of duality and the factitious pure conscious subject of non-duality are figured through the same signifying function that structures symbolic order, conditions reflection, and constitutes, coordinates, and regulates every aspect of experience including the subject's unity and consistency. Consciousness, as well as whole Being, becomes a totality in conceptual thought only, produced through spontaneous reflective acts that temporalize the alienated tension between the flux of concrete sensibility and the fixed atemporal ideality of formal concepts. In the absence of this duality there is no conscious subject. The fleeting subject of duality is on the side of flux and is only fixed and made perdurable by the ideality of signs.


The chimerical subject of non-duality only appears within a reflexive token economy (signifying system) of symbolic order. In other words, duality is actually the very condition for non-duality's elusive horizonal possibility. A coordinate structure is essential in order that a subject may situate acts of constituting reflection. Although experience is constituted through a chiasm of formal abstraction and concrete sensibility, it is a mistake to consider that their logical independence announces any real independence. The existence of a perdurable subject of non-duality is a perspective illusion of the fleeting subject of duality. Pure consciousness is the invention of the separated subject that eccentrically identifies itself at the stable empty site of inscription, which in turn supports the march of passing determinate experience.

There is neither a real hole in Being, nor is there a whole Being without exception. The breach between being and knowing necessarily denies all claims of perfect/complete knowledge and exposes the fantasmatic nature that the possible closing of this breach incites (unio mystica). The subject is not a persistent hole in Being but is rather an exceptional act that constitutes both the conceptual wholeness of Being and the unified empirical self.


[1] Swami Satprakashananda collects the four Vedic great sayings (mahavakya) that proclaim the “sole reality of non-dual, non-relational pure consciousness that Brahman is”:

  1. 'Consciousness is Brahman', as stated in the Aitareya Upanisad of the Rg-Veda.
  2. 'I am Brahman,' as stated in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad of the Yajur-Veda.
  3. 'Thou art That,' as stated in the Chandogya Upanisad of the Sama-Veda.

'This atman is Brahman,' as stated in the Mandukya Upanisad of the Atharva-Veda. (Methods of Knowledge According to Advaita Vedanta, 200)

[2] The Upanishads. Four volumes, with notes and explanations based on commentary of Sri Sankaracharya, Nikhilananda (tr.), (New York vol. 1, fourth edition 1977; vol. 2 and 3, second edition, 1975; vol. 4, second edition 1979). All references to this collection are here abbreviated with volume and page number.

[3] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Norman Kemp Smith (tr.), (New York 1965), 365. Hypostatize. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: January 20, 2008).

[4] William James, Principles of Psychology (London 1891), vol. 1, 160.

[5] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 282.

[6] William Leonard Schaaf, Basic Concepts of Elementary Mathematics (New York 1960), 11. After quoting Quine, Strawson much later writes, "The subject-expression introducing a particular, carries a presupposition of definite empirical fact; the predicate-expression, introducing a universal, does not. (Peter Fredrick Strawson, Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (New York 1963), 155, 246.

[7] This is the level at which Kant believes the Leibnizian theory of the identity of indiscernibles actually operates. While Lacan, in his seminar on identification, refers to this simply as "the repetition of the apparently identical." (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 289; Jacques Lacan, Seminar 9, Wednesday 28 February 1962, xi 10).

[8] Zizek writes, “Human rights” always functions as an empty signifier: one can never fully enumerate them; that is, it is part of the very notion of human rights that they are never “complete…”. Friedrich Schelling, Die Weltalter (second draft, 1812), The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World, 51. William James also notes the formal function of the empty signifier when he writes, “There are concepts, however, the image-part of which is so faint that their whole value seems to be functional. 'God,' 'cause,' number,' 'substance,' 'soul,' for example, suggest no definite picture; and their significance seems to consist entirely in their tendency, in the further turn which they may give to our thought.” (The Writings of William James, ed. John J. McDermott, (Chicago: London: University of Chicago Press, Phoenix Edition, copyright Random House Inc., 1977), 237).

[9] Jacques Lacan, 'Of Structure as the Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to any Subject whatever', (1997/2003), [http: //].

[10]The term 'Uni-versal' literally means 'turning to one' and represents the site of indifference to concrete particulars, i.e., where each instance counts equally as one. In a letter to Christopher Goldbach (April 17, 1712), Leibniz alludes to a theory of cognition AI researchers might heartily endorse: “Exerscitium arithemeticae occultum nescientis se numerare animi.” [The secret practice of arithmetic on the part of a mind that does not know it is counting.]

[11] Thomas Reid, in: 'Of Mr. Locke's Account of Our Personal Identity' in Personal Identity, John Perry (ed.), (Los Angeles 1975), 117.

[12] G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel's Science of Logic, A. V. Miller (tr.), (Atlantic Highlands 1989), 802.

[13] E.M. Curley, Descartes Against the Skeptics, (Cambridge 1978), 183.

[14] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book IX: Identification, 1961-1962, [Seminar 9], Cormac Gallaguer (tr.), (Dublin 1996), Seminar 2: Wednesday 22 November 1961, 6.

[15] John-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, Hazel E. Barnes (tr.), (New York 1978), 51, 52.

[16] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (tr.), (London 1962), 37.

[17] Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for? (London; New York 2000), 28.

[18] Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 297.

[19] There can be no conscious act without otherness for purely formal reasons. In Lacan's ninth Seminar on identification, he follows Saussure (p. 117) in the assertion that the function of the signifier excludes the signifier being able to signify itself (vide, Wed. 9 May 62). In summary, an immediate signifier, in and of itself, signifies nothing and requires another signifier in order to produce meaning. S1, as a lone signifier, signifies nothing; it has no meaning until the arrival of an S2. Since S2 is also a signifier it cannot represent itself but it can represent S1. When S2 signifies the signified (S1) the condition for meaningful signification is met. A pure signifier is merely an imaginary possibility of an S1 existing in isolation. In actuality, there is never S1 without S2. The arrival of S2 retroactively bestows meaning on previous signifiers and demonstrates how S1 represents a past that was never actually present in experience. Strictly speaking, because the signifier cannot signify itself, three phases are required to articulate the signifier and to produce a subject: S1, then S2, which represents S1, and finally S3, which represents the return of S1 for S2. According to Lacan, “This pulsation [is] of what only appears in order to disappear and reappears in order to disappear anew, which is the mark of the subject as such.” (Jacques Lacan, Seminar 9, Wednesday 24 January 1962, ix 4.)

[20] Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony with Constant Reference to Socrates, Lee M. Capel (tr.) (Bloomington 1968), 50. Since the issue here implies taking away an object that consciousness appears to require, it may be more apt to rephrase Kierkegaard and say, " baffling as trying to depict an elf not wearing the only hat that makes him visible."

[21] M.C. Dillon, Semiological Reductionism: A critique of the deconstructionist movement in postmodern thought, (Albany 1995), 109.

[22] Jacques Derrida, in: 'Speech and Phenomena: And Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs', David B. Allison (tr.), (Evanston 1973), passim; Peggy Kamuf, in: 'A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds', Peggy Kamuf (ed.), (New York 1991), xxxiv.

[23] The Judeo-Christian tradition similarly characterizes Yahweh as One who brooks no graven images representing Him. Kamuf writes, “God's jealousy moves to subtract His name and face from the substitutions of metaphor, but in forbidding substitution, it commands that there must be (only) substitution.” Peggy Kamuf, ed., A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds, xxiii.

[24] Martin Heidegger, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (tr.), J.M. Edie (ed.), (Bloomington; Indianapolis 1994), 72. Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, Claude Lefort, (ed.), Alponso Lingis (tr.), (Evanston 1968), 122.

[25] Space and time must be considered in its occupying unary feature here, that is, as a singular unit. Because if one considers that a body occupies, for example, two places at once, one unit above the body's central meridian and one unit below the central meridian, then one could say that a body does indeed occupy two places at once. But by this very argument, any body also occupies infinite units of divided space. This leads to the reductio absurda of Zeno's paradoxes.

[26] Melville (1851) wonderfully illustrates the diacritical movement of the conscious act: “There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable…then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if…in bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm” (1956, p.61).

[27] According to Vedanta, consciousness that experiences deep sleep is called prajna. Prajna is characterized as prior to any subject-object distinction and as a mass of undifferentiated consciousness that precedes the conditions of dreaming or waking consciousness. Vide, Nikhilananda, 2: 230, 236.

[28] Andrew Bowie, "Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta, ed.,

[29] This is also the locus of the Freudian ethic: Wo es war soll Ich werden, "Where Id was, there, Ego must come to be" or "Where It was, there I must come to be." The unconscious may be characterized as the repository of what one does not know one is. In other words, the divided subject of psychoanalysis is predicated on the unconscious site where one is something one knows not; or where one unconsciously knows what one does not know consciously. (Cf., Jaques Lacan's analysis in Ecrits: A Selection (New York 1977), 128-9.

[30] Slavoj Zizek, 'An Essay by Slavoj Zizek with the text of Schelling's Die Weltalter (second draft, 1812)' in: The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World, Judith Norman (tr.), (Ann Arbor 1997), 42.

[31] Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 251. Slavoj Zizek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (phronesis), (New York 1996), 111.

[32] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, 53. Sartre similarly writes, "The For-itself [consciousness] is not nothingness in general but a particular privation; it constitutes itself as the privation of this being" (Being and Nothingness, 786).

[33] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 365.

[34] J. N. Mohanty, Essays on Indian Philosophy: Traditional and Modern, Purushottama Bilimoria (ed.), (Delhi 1993), 61.

[35] Jacques Lacan, in: Television, Joan Copjec (ed.), Denis Holier, Rosalind Krauss, and Annette Michelson (tr.); A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, Jeffrey Mehlman (tr.), (New York 1990), 83.

[36] The notion that a conscious act has no concrete permanence but rather flickers in an out of existence correlative to a logical function, highlights the flux of concrete experience beneath the stable abstract schema. In a sense, however, there can be no flow without the stable referent. The fact that there are determinate/countable intentional acts and objects in experience, is already founded on an abstraction. Nevertheless, s —> o symbolically attempts to render the Heraclitean flux of experience insofar as the lower-case formula sides with the elements and not with the enframing set, the counted and not that which counts.

[37] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, (A241).

[38] An example of how the subject is only ever counted once is illustrated in a poem to Ramanatha (Shiva) written by the 10th century Indian saint, Devara Dasimayya. Clearly, ideality is mistaken for an actual existent third term that singularly mediates the other two.

If they see breast and long hair coming they call it woman,
If beard and whiskers they call it man:
But look, the Self that hovers in between is neither man nor woman.
Devara Dasimayya, 'O Ramanatha', in: Speaking of Shiva, A.K. Ramanujan (tr.), (Middlesex 1973), 110.

[39] 'Concept', with a capital 'c', is used here to accent the logical functioning of the universal concept beyond meaning. Lower case 'c' in 'concept' refers to the meaningful aspect, the content of the concept.

[40] Abailard, in: Selections from Medieval Philosophers, R. McKeon (ed.), (New York 1929), vol. 1, 237; C. S. Pierce, Pierce on Signs, J. Hoopes (ed.), (Chapel Hill 1991), 122.

[41] Hegel, The Encyclopaedia Logic, T.F. Geraets, W.A. Suchting, H.S. Harris (trs.), (Indianapolis, 1991), 51.

[42] Sartre writes in Being and Nothingness (251), "[The] fact of revealing being as a totality does not touch being any more than the fact of counting two cups on the table touches the existence or nature of either of them." Also (Ibid, 262): "My negative upsurge into being is parceled out into independent negations which have no connection other than that they are negations which I have to be; that is, they derive their inner unity from me and not from being."


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