Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson

I have been listening to a bunch of Jordan Peterson’s podcasts recently and asking myself, “How is it possible that I can encounter in this man such profound insights that harmonize with everything I know about reality while at the same time I encounter profound disagreements that reflect a chasm between my worldview and his?” For one thing, he is not an ideologue. His intellectual honesty leads him to reflect deeply upon the actual data of human experience and this cannot but lead to genuine insight. At another level, however, I think that both the contact and the gap between his understanding of the world and my own comes from a difference in the way we understand the idea of λόγος.

From what I gather (I welcome anyone who knows Peterson’s work better than I to correct me), Peterson thinks of the λόγος as an idealization of human consciousness. In one lecture he likens the relationship between the λόγος and being to that between a spotlight and what it shines on. The catch is that he seems to think the spotlight somehow brings into reality (at least a certain kind of reality) the coutures of what it reveals. I take the idea to be something like that of the German idealists: structures like temporality and causality arise as the necessary conditions of conscious experience. The organization of the world we inhabit does not emerge independent of the organizing activity of our own consciousness.

By contrast, I understand the λόγος not at intelligence but as intelligibility. By this I mean that the λόγος represents the structure of order and pattern in the world which both exists independent of human consciousness and makes intelligent human consciousness of the world possible in the first place. Human consciousness is not the λόγος but it is λογικός, that is, receptive to the λόγος.

I see this difference as related to the difference between realist phenomenology (e.g. the work of Dietrich von Hildebrand or Karol Wojtyła) and the various forms of phenomenology that are ultimately idealist or constructivist. Both take the structures of lived experience seriously, and this is why I think that I find so much congenial in Peterson’s work. By starting with the datum that things do have meaning for us we stand on one side against flat-footed empiricism or cynical nihilism. Since we are both taking seriously the structures that we encounter in experience and since his experience cannot be all that different from my own, it is not surprising that we believe many of the same things about life and that he gains insights that blow me away as deeply correct. The difference comes because I believe that the structures revealed in human consciousness are capable of disclosing to us something about the structures of the world independent of human consciousness. Furthermore, this relationship is not accidental because I believe that the transcendent Λόγος himself both creates the world with its structures of intelligibility and created us so that we would be (at least partially) receptive to these structures.