One of my favorite thinkers makes the astute observation that “[y]ou can never prove a horizon. You arrive at it from a different horizon, by going beyond the previous one. [You go] beyond a previous [horizon] because [you have] found something that makes the previous horizon [either] illegitimate [or unsatisfying]” (B. Lonergan, Philosophy of God, and Theology).
First, what is a horizon? Well, there’s the dictionary definition of a line or circle that forms the boundary between earth and sky. This picturesque understanding of a natural phenomenon is often applied to human experience, as in the quotation above. A horizon of meaning now, it describes our basic orientation in the world. In looking at what’s before us, we see a horizon but rarely attend to it. We take for granted, too, all the contents for which a horizon serves as a horizon. It literally grounds us in a way we come to appreciate when vertigo hits, when we become unseated, as it were, in our usual commerce with the world, when we suddenly loose our footing for whatever reason. A synonym is ‘worldview’, a fortunate translation of the German original “looking-at-the-world” (Weltanschauung). And yet horizon strikes me as something more fundamental, more implicit than worldview as a “system” of beliefs seems to suggest.
A horizon is what rivets us to the world. It orients how we connect with others, with ourselves, with our very surroundings, providing for the sensibility that keeps us from feeling unhinged. That’s some serious shit right there! In the commerce of life we move in and out of horizons sparingly—it’s that fundamental! But hopefully when rather than if we do, some adjustment takes place. The things that used to move us now give us pause. A child moving out of a world where money grows on trees into one that comes with the responsibility of earning her keep is quite the game changer and representative. Philosopher Paul Feyerabend (in Fairwell to Reason) puts it in these terms: “The events that surround a forest ranger differ from the events that surround a city dweller lost in a wood … The Greek gods were a living presence; ‘they were there.’ Today they are nowhere to be found.” Horizons filter our worldviews. They breathe life into our beliefs, flushing our world with vibrancy and color separating us from the zombie.
Nice. But what about that whole vertigo thing that awakes us to transition? Thank heavens that happens sparingly! Still, it’s a great reminder that authenticity is built on movement, not stagnation. Recall our initial quotation: “[You go] beyond a previous [horizon] because [you have] found something that makes the previous horizon [either] illegitimate [or unsatisfying].” In the movement from one horizon to another, we feel as though in limbo, not quite the deathlife of zombies … ok not even close. Let’s try again. The uncomfortable squeeze of uncertainty that overtakes us as we shift horizons makes us feel zombie-like. It’s care, combined with reasoning, which keeps our foot in life. In this new horizon underway time is required to reinvigorate a newfound sensibility in which our sense of connectedness, in partial vertigo, develops into a worldview that feels authentic, real, true. The Greek gods may not be resuscitated there but what allowed them to manifest resuscitates us. Horizon collides with worldview and a new Adam, a new Eve, is born!