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From the Latin manere, meaning to remain within as distinct from to go beyond or outside of; a term used generally to designate the self-sufficiency and interiority of being. Immanence is opposed to transcendence, although it is sometimes used as complementary to it. If it excludes transcendence, it ignores extrinsic causality and an external referent for knowledge; if it recognizes transcendence, it emphasizes the inner dynamism and self-perfecting character of being or the awareness of self in the knowing act.

History. When the problem of immanence presents itself in history, it is usually stated in relation to that of transcendence. Philosophers have sought to solve the problems raised by the notions of being and the self by alternately emphasizing immanence to the exclusion of transcendence or transcendence to the exclusion of immanence. The immanentism of the pre-Socratics and the Stoics, who posited the unfolding of the physical universe from a material principle, has thus been balanced by the transcendentalism of others, such as the Platonists and the Augustinians, who located the fullness of reality in the world of spirit. Intermediate between these are philosophies such as those of socrates, plato, aris totle, and St. thomas aquinas, which recognize the mutual complementarity of immanence and transcendence.

The earliest concept of immanence is that associated with units that are self-perfecting in their being and operation. The Greek naturalists saw the universe as composed of such units, which develop organically and possess within themselves their own perfective principle. Thus they tended to solve the problem of the one and the many in terms other than those of extrinsic causality. Concern with the living and self-sufficiency of the organism led to the immanentist philosophy of hylozoism, formulated by the pre-Socratics and the Stoics and later developed more systematically by vitalists and creative evolutionists. A similar concern with animal life prompted the emergence of panpsychism, as exemplified in the philosophies of G. bruno, R. H. lotze, and E. H. Haeckel.

Aquinas's treatment of immanence associated it with the activity of the agent. He implicitly distinguished between transient activities, which pass outside the agent and produce an effect in the patient, and immanent activities, which remain within the agent and contribute to its own perfecting (Summa theologiae 1a, 18.3 ad 1); this distinction was made explicitly by later scholastics such as T. de Vio cajetan and john of st. thomas. The scholastic tradition recognized also various degrees of immanent activity, which was associated with the degree of immateriality on the part of the agent. The ultimate of interiority, autonomy, and independence was attributed to Goda type of immanence Aristotle earlier had seen in divinity when he described it as Thought Thinking Itself (Meta. 1074b 34).

The scholastic conception of immanence was gradually rejected with the development of modern philosophy. At one extreme, the mechanistic conception of the universe fostered by thinkers such as R. descartes and I. Newton accented the determinism imposed on matter from without, with a consequent deemphasis on intrinsic principles of operation (see mechanism). At the other extreme, the monistic theory of cosmological immanence proposed by B. spinoza placed great stress on substance as embodying the principles of its own activity and development. It prepared the way for other monistic philosophies of an idealistic, materialistic, or pantheistic turn, all of which developed the concept of immanence in an absolute and exclusive sense; typical thinkers were J. G. fichte, F. W. J. schelling, and G. W. F. hegel. In reaction to these extremes, existentialist and personalist philosophers have stressed the inadequacy of the concept of self and its perfecting without some acknowledgment of exteriority and dependence on others.

Kinds. The various meanings of immanence, usually discernible from the context in which the term is used, may be reduced to five, viz, cosmological, psychological, epistemological, ontological, and apologetical.

Cosmological Immanence. This type of immanence stresses the autodetermination and the self-sufficiency of the universe, and in so doing excludes the influence of a transcendent being. Evolution or an inner dynamism of some type is used to replace transcendent causality. God is either eliminated in favor of some type of energy principle, or the universe itself is absorbed in Absolute Substance (Spinoza) or Absolute Spirit (Hegel). Because of the monistic attitude it fosters, cosmological immanence is the key concept in philosophies of absolute immanentism, among which may be enumerated atheism, evolutionism, materialism, vitalism, and secular humanism.

Psychological Immanence. This term is used to describe the attributes of living and knowing beings whose activities originate within themselves and also are self-perfecting. It recognizes a distinction between such activities and those that pass outside the subject, otherwise known as transient actions. While stressing interiority in vital and cognitional activities, psychological immanence admits a plurality of entities in the universe and does not exclude transcendence, as does cosmological immanence. Usually psychological immanence is regarded as present in different types of being in varying degrees, ranging from the lowest level, that of vegetative life, to the highest level, that of pure spirit. When applied to God, psychological immanence takes on an absolute character in the sense that God's being is absolute perfection and His knowledge is all-embracing, uncaused, and immutable.

Epistemological Immanence. In some theories of knowledge the immanent activity involved in knowing is so stressed as to exclude everything extrinsic to the knowing subject. Insistence on immanence in this sense gives rise to theories variously designated as immanentism, solipsism, idealism, phenomenalism, and subjectivism. Their proponents affirm a principle of immanence, which they state in either absolute or relative fashion. The absolute principle of immanence maintains that anything beyond thought is unthinkable, that the human mind can know only what is already contained within it (E. le roy). According to this principle, it is impossible to know anything existing outside one's self in any way whatsoever. The relative principle of immanence maintains that man cannot know anything unless he has somehow an inward preparation or need, either intellectual or moral, to assimilate it to himself (M. blondel). This principle is at the basis of the so-called method of immanence, whereby man prepares himself to enter into relation with the truth on the theory that nothing radically foreign to his thought can be assimilated by him.

In the Kantian theory of knowledge, immanence is used to designate what remains within the domain of experience. For I. kant, the "transcendental illusion" consists in regarding principles of immanence as having transcendental applications, i.e., to conclude that what is valid within man's experience is valid also for the thing-in-itself.

Ontological Immanence. From the viewpoint of metaphysics, one meaning of ontological immanence is that everything is intrinsic to everything else, that all elements of the real rigorously imply all other elements and actually constitute only one reality. Carried to its logical extreme, such a concept of ontological immanence leads to pantheism or panentheism. Another meaning of ontological immanence allows for God's presence within the world while maintaining His transcendence. God's relative immanence in the universe, in this understanding, is explained by the doctrine of the participation of being and by God's causal influence on creatures (see casuality, divine).

Apologetical Immanence. The term immanence is given prominence also by some apologetes who propose a method of immanence as the way to discover God from a study of man's consciousness. According to their method, the discovery of the insufficiency of the self and the obvious implications of human activity call man's attention to God as a transcendent Absolute Being without whom man cannot attain his fulfillment. There are various ways of proposing apologetical or religious immanentism, some of which are condemned by the Catholic Church. (see immanence apologetics.)

Critique. Immanence and transcendence are pivotal notions for explaining the relationships between the universe and God and between man and the universe. Thinkers through the ages have been tempted to choose between universe and God, and between self and nonself. Thus some have maintained that the universe alone exists and that there is no God, whereas others have made God or Spirit the supreme reality and the universe only a mode of the Divine Being; similarly, some center on the self to the exclusion of the nonself in their concern over the problem of knowledge. Too great a stress on immanence accents interiority and self-sufficiency, but it also impoverishes the universe and the self by closing both in upon themselves. The more balanced view of immanence accents its polarity with transcendence. While admitting the existence and reality of the universe, it affirms a transcendent God above and beyond the universe as its first cause and ultimate explanation. While admitting the immanence involved in knowledge, it admits the knower's ability to attain the universe, other selves, and ultimately God, and thus to transcend knowledge of self.

The extreme notions of absolute immanence proposed in the history of thought, when viewed comparatively, effectively counterbalance each other. Thus cosmological immanence, which stresses a universe without a transcending God, is at the opposite polarity from ontological immanence, which stresses the absolute being of God and underemphasizes His creatures. Similarly, epistemological immanence, which places such stress on the thinking subject as to neglect the object of his thought, is offset by apologetical immanence, which stresses to an extreme the insufficiency of the human person and his exigency for God as the Transcendent Being.

A correct understanding of the concepts of relative immanence and relative transcendence, on the other hand, provides a natural basis for man's appreciation of the supernatural order. These concepts need not entail the reduction of the supernatural to the natural or the identification of the order of grace with that of nature. Rather, they serve to focus man's attention on the means whereby he, through an appreciation of his own immanent activity, can rise to a knowledge of the entities that transcend his limited mode of being and are ultimately most meaningful for him.

See Also: god; knowledge; intentionality; modernism.

Bibliography: j. de tonquÉdec, Immanence (3d ed. Paris 1933); Dictionnaire apologétique de la foi catholique 2:579612. a. and a. valensin, ibid. 2:569579, doctrine. h. leclÈre, Catholicisme 5:12951303. a. c. mcgiffert, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings 7:167172. e. coreth, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 5:629631. j. b. lotz, "Immanenz und Transzendenz," Scholastik 13 (1938) 121, 161172. g. di napoli, Enciclopedia filosofica 2: 127780.

[b. a. gendreau]


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im·ma·nent / ˈimənənt/ • adj. existing or operating within; inherent: the protection of liberties is immanent in constitutional arrangements. ∎  (of God) permanently pervading and sustaining the universe. Often contrasted with transcendent.DERIVATIVES: im·ma·nence·ma·nen·cy·ma·nent·ism / -ˌtizəm/·ma·nent·ist / -tist/ n.


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In theological discourse, immanence refers to the presence of God in the world. Conventionally, immanence contrasts with the term transcendence, which emphasizes God's separateness and superiority to the world. The two terms, however, are not exclusive opposites, and many theologians balance doctrines of God's transcendence with God's immanence. Historically, theologians have tended to emphasize God's transcendence over God's immanence. In the past two centuries, however, this emphasis has shifted, and many theologians now give more weight to God's immanence. Advocates of panentheism such as Arthur Peacocke (1924) argue that a theology emphasizing God's immanence is most compatible with modern science.

See also God; Panentheism; Transcendence


peacocke, arthur. theology for a scientific age: being and becomingnatural, divine, and human, enlarged edition. minneapolis, minn.: fortress press, 1993.

gregory r. peterson


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Immanence (Lat., immanere, ‘to inhabit’). The presence of actions, or of God, in the world, usually in such a way that the source of the action or presence remains distinct. At an extreme, the created order is understood to be the mode of God's self-manifestation, and thus to be the body of God. See also PANTHEISM; PROCESS THEOLOGY.


views updated May 23 2018

immanent XVI. — prp. of late L. immanēre, f. IM-1 + manēre remain, dwell; see -ENT.
So immanence XIX;, -ency XVII.


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