Kant criticized earlier metaphysics, after awakening from his so-called “dogmatic sleep” and before proposing what he thought all later metaphysics should be1.2.

It was all very well to deny him his “critical sleep”, i.e., the impossible critique of reason by itself; it was all very well to believe that Kant had already been abandoned in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century3; Madiran, following in Poulat’s footsteps, has recently rightly denounced the fact that today’s Western generations are still “all Kantians”4. And yet, even before Émile Poulat, Jean Borella and others, Kantianism was rejected by Maurras and Péguy, refuted by Gilson, criticized by Maritain, etc., even though they were all members of “the category of ‘normally constituted’ humans”5! Let’s add that Claudel was publicly delighted “that Aristotle had rid him of Kantianism”6. Long before all these authors, and shortly after Kant’s death (1804), Tchaadaev (1794-1856), “after reading the Critique of Pure Reason, called it Apologet adamitischer Vernunft, doctrine of fallen and perverted reason”7. More recently, speaking to scientists, Claude Tresmontant again spoke of paleo- and neo-positivisms, a unique and “sinister refrain […] which in fact derives from Kantianism”8.

And indeed, the dictatorship of reason: rationalism, like Dixneuvièmist scientism, endures in today’s secularized minds, which no longer seem to perceive either what governs reason, or what goes beyond it9.

We therefore feel it appropriate to remind you why metaphysics can never be dogmatic and, on the other hand, how rationalism and criticalism are – psychology having since shown that we easily attribute to others the faults we dare not denounce in ourselves.

Dogmatics and Dogmatism

We must briefly set aside the recent conflation of dogmatism and dogmatics. Dogmatics, which is typical if not exclusive to Christianity, is the “most transparent possible formulation of the Christian mysteries”10. Inserted between revelation, which formulates, and theologies, which interpret, gnosis presents itself on the side of simple formulation to fix and transmit the Christian mysteries to be meditated upon. The aim is to fix them against any “anecdotally” interpretative drift, and it is thanks to this dogmatics that they have been transmitted for two thousand years and for “centuries and centuries”.

“Dogmatism” has been borrowed from the Christian Latin dogmatismus (“teaching of the faith”, dogma meaning “teaching”); hence the confusion with dogmatics that has been made by some. Initially, from the end of the 16th century, “dogmatism” characterized a philosophical doctrine “which starts from the affirmation of a certainty or claims to lead to it”11, as opposed to scepticism: “doctrine, sentiment of philosophers whose main dogma is to doubt”12. By extension, a person’s dogmatism will consist in his “disposition to give his opinions […] an affirmative, imperious character”13. It’s easy to see the absurdity, the perfect contradiction, of such a comparison between the expression of an opinion and the formulation of a revelation, despite the easy temptation to equate the adjective with the noun and call dogmatics dogmatic.

We’ve just seen that dogmatic doctrines are opposed to skeptical doctrines, whose dogma is skepticism! Wouldn’t they both be dogmatic, asserting absolute certainties for some and irreducible uncertainty for others?

It’s easy, then, to see metaphysics as antidogmatic and nonsystematic, whether viewed as a science or as a path.

Metaphysics as Science

If we call “science” (scientia from scire: to know) any “approach to knowledge”, then metaphysics is undeniably one of the sciences. The sciences (in the generic sense), depending on whether they are concerned with the more particular or the more general, can be classified crescendo as follows: sciences (in the modern sense), philosophies, metaphysics.

More precisely, a science comprises a material object and a formal object: the plant, for example, is the material object of both botany and pharmacology, but it is its structures that are studied by the former, while it is its curative virtues that are considered by the latter, which thus constitute two quite distinct formal objects. As the same reality can be considered under several aspects, only the formal object can ultimately serve as a principle for specifying a science14.

Metaphysics: the Science of Sciences

Since the material object of metaphysics is “all that is”, it is concerned not only with the material objects of all the other sciences, but also with their formal objects themselves. In the past, this preoccupation with the formal objects of the other sciences was known as the “critique of knowledge”, a branch of philosophy. Contemporary epistemology, whether the scientific study of knowledge by the sciences or the philosophical study of scientific knowledge, remains itself one of the material objects of metaphysics.

So, whatever the object studied, including, for example, one’s own emotions, feelings or thoughts – and whether these concern material or formal objects – it is metaphysics that will be its ultimate thought. If, for example, we feel the emotion of anger, we may, with psychology, interpret this anger as the symptom of an unconscious Oedipus complex; but we may also question the mere possibility of anger, the possibility of psychological interpretation in general, the possibility of all interpretation, right down to the foundation of analogy, presupposed by all interpretation.

Metaphysics: the Extralinguistic Science

Whatever the object of thought, the consciousness of that thought will be formulated using language. But if “a well-treated science is only a well-made language”15, but thought is not reduced to the language that expresses it; it is first and foremost the thought of something! While language is subject to logic through the principle of non-contradiction, thought is only subject to logic when it reasons. But thought is first and foremost a vision of the thing, or an understanding that this thing cannot be other than it is. Only then can it formulate that the concept of a thing cannot be identical to the concept of its opposite16.

The formal coherence of language, moreover impregnable17, can even prove to be a trap (a rigorous syllogism is false if its premises are). Conversely, the more thought is intuitive of reality, the less certain it is of the relevance of its discourse, and the more inadequate it appears. This is because thought is first and foremost an “openness to being”: the real gives itself to the intuition of the mind, while the concept merely accompanies this intuition of the real18.

Metaphysics: the End of the Concept

The scientific approach consists in reducing the intuitions of things to their concepts, unable to operate in the indeterminacy implied by the openness of thought to being. Borella refers to this process, which is constitutive of all science, as the “epistemic closure of the concept”19, by which it renounces the “ontological openness of the concept”, participatory knowledge of the essence of things.

On the other hand, in metaphysics, to open the concept to being – or not to reduce a being to its concept – is, for thought, to recognize that it is a “persevering expectation of the real” and to accept that there is a beyond to the concept; that what it thinks of the real, through the concept, does not exhaust the real; that there is, for it, a “hidden face of being”. This intuition of the real is then no longer quite thought (which is movement), for it is immediate and “contemplative” vision20.

Clearly, then, the end of metaphysics is the overcoming of conceptual knowledge. The end of the concept: both its goal and its end, is the real! A metaphysics – even a dogmatic metaphysics – aims to go beyond all concepts; how can we then dogmatize beyond concepts?

Metaphysics: from Science to Nescience

If metaphysics renounces science, in terms of conceptual knowledge, it is because such knowledge is only mediate and indirect, “in enigma and in a mirror”21. This is why metaphysics, however much some of its students may have wished it, can never be dogmatic, nor can it be established according to a system, which would then necessarily be conceptual. If the concept makes science, the end of the concept, its beyond, could even be called a nescience. Pascal puts it this way

The sciences have two extremities which touch each other: the first is the pure natural ignorance in which all men find themselves at birth; the other extremity is that to which great souls arrive, who, having gone through all that men can know, find that they know nothing, and find themselves in the same ignorance from which they started.22

And so the few attempts at systems will have disappeared. Spinozism, Cartesianism and Hegelianism are no more, the monadology of a Leibniz is no longer studied, and the categorical or peremptory (dogmatic) aspects of the work of a Guénon have become obsolete23 – even though Descartes, Leibniz and Guénon remain true metaphysicians. On the other hand, among other metaphysicians, Pascal left no system, nor did Malebranche, and Plato’s essential legacy is illustrated by a symbol: the symbol of the Cave24.

If metaphysics achieves nescience and stands there as if in a vacuum – as Taoism, Buddhism or mystical theology would say – what can we say of rationalism, which takes refuge in the comfort of the certainties of a reason formally subjected to logic, a reason that is reasoning, ratiocinante or, as Sartre would say, stunted? Its system closed, locked, demonstrable on itself; what dogmatism, what illusion!

Metaphysics as a Path

Metaphysics, a science that leads to “non-knowledge”, may come as a surprise. We may suspect something when we discover that Aristotle, the inventor of logic and the scientific method, was just as much a formidable metaphysician. This is not in the sense that a category of human beings falls within it, but in the sense that man, every human being, is necessarily at the center of the question: who am I? or why is there something rather than nothing? As we are no longer dealing with knowledge, but with “flavors”, we are led to consider metaphysics as a path.

Metaphysics: the End of Objective Illusion

Aristotle himself formulated, as a play on words, that it is a question of pathein rather than mathein25, of experiencing rather than knowing. On the contrary, when Kant criticized the Cartesian argument (after St. Anselm’s one) for the existence of God, he confused “proof” with “test”26. The metaphysician, who renounces conceptual knowledge in order to “contemplate” the essence of things, knows, moreover, that there is no metaphysical question that does not involve him – as we have seen, even in Heidegger. De facto, what quantum physics has taught physicists (indeterminacy, modification of observation by the observer, etc.), metaphysics has always confronted: the limit of the thinkable, formal undecidability, the foundation of logic (non-contradiction), the coexistence of apparent opposites, formal and existential paradoxes…

If some physicists, having reached the limits of their science, have verged on the metaphysical (Mach, for example), undeniably, physics is the perfect illustration of a science, perhaps the most positive of all, but coming up against its limit. And only one physicist, to our knowledge, has explained quantum physics, or even astrophysics, in the light of metaphysics27.

So, the end of objective illusion is not to stop believing in the positive laws that make it possible to send a man into space or manufacture gasoline-powered cars, but to stop believing in the objectivity of a finite universe with no edge, of an evolution that starts only after the beginning (Planck’s wall). If, like Kantianism, this Dixneuvièmist objectivism persists in people’s minds, it’s not for want of having been denounced by both physics and phenomenology. In any case, in the face of the dogma of objectivism, metaphysics remains aloof from both objectivism and dogmatism.

Metaphysics: the Discovery of Revelation

This “hidden face of being”, for which the concept must be sacrificed, is not really unknowable; simply, “its knowledge requires a transformation of the knowing subject, a radical conversion of his speculative intention”, so we go beyond “the ordinary plane of philosophy and thought to reach that of a true ‘gnosis'”. This gnosis, “the perfection of any cognitive aim”28, consists in the “transforming absorption of the conceptual form in its own transcendent content”; the concept, philosophically, still belongs to the order of knowledge, but it disappears in its own completion: the revelation of essence29.

Is metaphysics a religion, then? If this question arises, it’s because some twentieth-century metaphysicians thought they saw a single, universal metaphysics, overarching all religions (Guénon, Schuon). Blinded by the tremendous progress made in the comparative study of religions – themselves then reduced to conceptualized systems – they were tempted to develop the system of systems, even if it meant rectifying this or that revelation that no longer fitted into the constructed framework or decreed categories30.

It’s true that, since religions propose ultimate formulations about the essence of things, almost all theologians are, at the same time, metaphysicians. These formulations are often positive, but ultimately always negative, as in the apophaticism of Buddhism or the negative theology of Christianity. In other words, here too, to access the “contemplation” of essences, we must deny concepts – which “create idols of God”31. But this common area, or air, between metaphysics and religion does not make them equivalent, nor does it make metaphysics their crowning achievement.

Indeed, it is simply by the nature of things that metaphysics cannot be situated beyond religion. Firstly, because it is not, in fine, a discourse capable of topping all others, being itself necessarily a renunciation of all discourse. Secondly, and perhaps above all, because, realizing its own limits and those of the questioner himself, it discovers something beyond itself, and can therefore no longer claim to be its own brilliant inventor, unless this transcendent discovered is reduced to a construction or abstraction. From then on, the metaphysician is condemned to realize the revelation, to recognize, behind the illusion of his own light, that which is truly given to him. He discovers that the power to know comes only from the liberality of a God who is “Father of lights” (Jc, 1:17), and that this metaphysician is precisely the Logos, the divine Word itself: “True light that enlightens every man coming into this world” (Jn I, 9)32.

Acknowledging what is beyond you – an authority, if you like – is not dogmatism; on the contrary, it is the most drastic form of humility.

Incidentally, since we’ve just moved on from metaphysics to Christian revelation, let’s remember that the dogmatics of this religion recognize S. Paul as one of the founding authorities of the Christian faith. Paul among the founding authorities of Revelation – he is one of the “pillars of the Church” – even though he never “knew Christ in the flesh” but “received the revelation of the Gospel directly from the Lord” (I Cor., 11:23). Christian dogmatics therefore admits that there can be at least one revelation that comes not only from the “historical” Christ, but also from the indwelling Son whom God, as St. Paul tells us, “revealed in myself” (Galatians, 1:17). In other words, it accepts that there can be a “spiritual experience” of revelation, a mode of knowledge in which the pneumatized intellect participates in God’s knowledge of Himself in His Word. “This experience, the norm and doctrinal reference of the Christian faith, without constituting a ‘second revelation’, is this mode of knowledge, this spiritual state, which realizes the perfection of faith and to which Saint Paul gives the name of gnosis”33. Here, we see how dogma itself is not dogmatic.

Metaphysics: the Quest for a Grail Already Found

Ultimately, metaphysics is not a path as such; at the very most, after first enabling an understanding of revelation, it then leads to the mode, conscious or otherwise, according to which intelligence buries itself in faith.

Admittedly, the intellective receptivity appropriate to revelation is taught and communicated through language; it is therefore an act of knowledge that is, moreover, necessarily speculative. For all that, it is not simply an exercise of natural reason, but “the actualization of those theomorphic possibilities implicit in the creation of man ‘in the image of God'”: the logoi spermatikoi or Forms of the Divine Word inseminated into every intelligence, and thus “a kind of inner, congenital ‘revelation’, through immanence in the soul of those intellective icons that are the metaphysical Ideas”34.

Once the intelligence has fulfilled its function, which is to make the message of faith intelligible so that human beings can freely adhere to it, we then enter a docta ignorantia (Nicolas de Cues): that passage where the intelligence closes its eyes (S. Dionysius the Areopagite, Mystical Theology, 997 B.) to that which, in any case, is “beyond the eye” (Malebranche, On the Search for Truth, II, II, 3.), a direct acceptance of one’s creaturely “ontological ignorance”.

If to enter into “superknowledge”, the Pauline “epignosis”, one must “have renounced all knowledge, even the very knowledge of the Ideas”35, which means that “the metaphysician intelligence must commit itself concretely to faith in the revealed God: without revelation, there is no divine Object”; “and without a divine Object […], no deliverance is possible, since any pilgrimage towards a light that is absent is forbidden. The intellect must perform a kind of sacrificium intellectus, it must bury itself in faith as in the death of Christ Logos, but it is to be reborn with him”36.

This metaphysical program is almost always already realized: “you wouldn’t be looking for me, if you hadn’t [already] found me”, writes Pascal37; the same is true of the quest for the Grail: it’s only after encountering it through grace that we set off in search of it (cf. Chrétien de Troyes).


  1. “I confess it frankly; it was David Hume’s warning that interrupted […] my dogmatic sleep and gave to my researches in speculative philosophy a quite different direction”; Kant, Prolégomènes à toutes métaphysique future qui pourra se présenter comme science, trans. Gibelin, Paris: Vrin, 1941, p. 13. In a nutshell: after naively believing that our mind could dogmatize, i.e. pronounce with certainty on being, the world, the self, God, the philosopher wakes up from his dogmatic slumber and asks himself the question: on what condition is the affirmation of a metaphysical “dogma” on God, the world and the self possible? Kant answers that this condition is that we are given knowledge of it, that we have a faculty for perceiving being, God, the world and the self, in the same way as we perceive through the senses the existential reality or presence of the things of nature. Posed thus: “Posed thus: ‘in the same way’, Kant can easily – but falsely, we think – conclude that we do not have this faculty of seeing metaphysical realities”.[]
  2. Jean Borella, La crise du symbolisme religieux, republished in Paris: l’Harmattan, 2008).[]
  3. This is what Abbé Studach told Montalembert in 1828; Lecanuet, Montalembert, t. I, p. 58.[]
  4. “Tous kantiens”, in Émile Poulat’s phrase, is the title of an article by Jean Madiran (Présent, April 3, 2009), marking the fact that being born a Kantian – or modernist – was not always the quasi-fatalism “that the 20th century has bequeathed to the 21st.”[]
  5. Madiran, ibid.[]
  6. Interview from the 50s, broadcast on France Culture on 25 VII 2005.[]
  7. Paul Evdokimov, Le Christ dans la pensée russe, Paris: Cerf, 1970, p. 40.[]
  8. Les métaphysiques principales, Paris: O.E.I.L., 1989, p. 4. Kant is thus undoubtedly the pivotal philosopher of all Western philosophy; there is before Kant, and after Kant. Even some Buddhist thinkers like to refer to him, but this is, in our view, out of dogmatic apophaticism – a dogmatism not found in Tibetan Buddhism, for example.[]
  9. See, for example, our article “Jean Borella, Distinguer entre intelligence et raison”, Contrelittérature n° 22, Paris : l’Harmattan, 2010, pp. 105-124. In Pascalian language, we would say that “the last step of reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things that surpasses it”; Pascal, Les Pensées, section V, our translation.[]
  10. Cf. Jean Borella, Problèmes de gnose, Paris: l’Harmattan, 2007, chap. VII; Problems of Gnosis, Angelico Press, 2023.[]
  11. Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 9th ed.[]
  12. Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 8th ed., we underlined “dogma”![]
  13. Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 8th ed., emphasis added.[]
  14. These elements are taken from François Chenique, Éléments de Logique Classique, reed. Paris: l’Harmattan, 2006.[]
  15. Condillac, Œuvres, Paris: Arnoux et Mousnier, 1798, t. XXIII, p. 7. Of course, Condillac has mathematics in mind first and foremost, his next sentence being: “Mathematics is a well-treated science, whose language is algebra” (ibid.).[]
  16. Borella, Le mystère du signe, Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1989, p. 97.[]
  17. If the corollary of Gödel’s theorem proves that formal non-contradiction is unprovable, it is because this non-contradiction belongs in fine to the order of intuition; Borella, ibid., p. 98.[]
  18. We follow Borella, op. cit.[]
  19. “Closure”, because the concept is stripped of anything that might prevent an exhaustive definition; “epistemic”, because this closure is specific to scientific knowledge. Borella, op. cit., p. 100.[]
  20. We still follow Borella, op. cit.[]
  21. St. Paul, 1 Co XIII, 12; or “in a mirror in enigma (per speculum in aenigmate)”[]
  22. Pascal, Pensées, ed. Havet, III, 18.[]
  23. For example, Borella, Ésotérisme guénonien et mystère chrétien, Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 1997, or Problème de gnose, op. cit., chap. VI.[]
  24. Borella wisely changed the confusing term “myth of the cave”; Penser l’analogie, Genève: ad solem, 2000, pp. 162-183. Also: La crise du symbolisme religieux, republished Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008, where we read that it is the “conversion of the intelligence that Plato teaches us in the symbolism of the Cave: he teaches us that true philosophy is something quite different from a conceptual game or the simple exercise of thinking activity, since it engages the whole being in an ascent towards realities that are properly supernatural”, p. 297.[]
  25. Cf. Fragment 15 preserved by Synésius of Cyrène (Dion, 48a); Turchi, Fontes Historiae Mysteriorum Aevi Hellenistici, Roma, 1930, no. 83, p. 53; Borella, Ésotérisme guénonien et mystère chrétien, Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 1997, p. 170.[]
  26. Borella, La crise du symbolisme religieux, op. cit., p. 332. In so doing, he not only deceived himself, but also insidiously deceived many after him, right up to Comte-Sponville, who recently called this argument “ontological proof”, only to be surprised by the weakness of the proof! L’Esprit de l’athéisme, Albin Michel, 2006, p. 87.[]
  27. Wolfgang Smith, The Quantum Enigma, 4th ed., Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2023. See also, translated into French, Sagesse de la cosmologie ancienne, Paris: l’Harmattan, 2008, whose English subtitle is explicit: “Contemporary Science in Light of Tradition”.[]
  28. Borella, “Gnose et gnosticisme chez René Guénon”, Les Dossiers H : René Guénon, Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 1984, p. 99.[]
  29. Borella, Le mystère du signe, pp. 98, 100.[]
  30. Such as the Trinitarian dogma as a reduction “to the absurd”, but inevitable given the Christian mentality (sic), as denounced by Schuon ; or the desacralization of sacraments that have become exoteric, a pot-aux-roses “revealed” by Guénon! These remarks do not affect the importance of the contributions of these two authors to the knowledge of religions or to the codification of esotericism.[]
  31. S. Gregory of Nyssa, De vita Moysis, PG44, 377B.[]
  32. Borella, Lumières de la théologie mystique, Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme, 2002, p. 61.[]
  33. Borella, “Gnose et gnosticisme chez René Guénon”, op. cit., pp. 98-99.[]
  34. Jean Borella, “La gnose au vrai nom”, III, 7, revue Krisis n° 3, September 1989.[]
  35. Borella, Penser l’analogie, op. cit., p. 189.[]
  36. Borella, Lumières de la théologie mystique, op. cit., p. 189, n. 25.[]
  37. Pensées 553 (Section VII – Morality and Doctrine). Pascal then adds this parenthesis, which tells us where it comes from: (Only he can seek you who has already found you… Yes, one can seek you and find you; but one cannot precede you. – Bernard de Clairvaux).[]