In the chapter "Atheism as a Purification" in Gravity and Grace (Routledge 1995, tr. Emma Craufurd from the French, first pub. in 1947), the first entry reads as follows:
A case of contradictories which are true. God exists: God does not exist. Where is the problem? I am quite sure that there is a God in the sense that I am quite sure that my love is not illusory. I am quite sure that there is not a God in the sense that I am quite sure nothing real can be anything like what I am able to conceive when I pronounce this word. But that which I cannot conceive is not an illusion. (103)
What are we to make of writing like this? Contradictories cannot both be true and they cannot both be false. By their surface structure, God exists and God does not exist are contradictories. So, obviously, they cannot both be true if taken at face value.
Faced with an apparent contradiction, the time-tested method for relieving the tension is by making a distinction, thereby showing that the apparent contradiction is merely apparent. Suppose we distinguish, as we must in any case, between the concept God and God. Obviously, God is not a concept. This is true even if God does not exist. Interestingly, the truth that God is not a concept is itself a conceptual truth, one that we can know to be true by mere analysis of the concept God. For what we mean by 'God' is precisely a being that does not, like a concept, depend on the possibility or actuality of our mental operations, a being that exists in sublime independence of finite mind.
Now consider these translations:
God does not exist: Nothing in reality falls under the concept God.
God exists: There is an inconceivable reality, God, and it is the target of non-illusory love.
These translations seem to dispose of the contradiction. One is not saying of one and the same thing, God, that he both exists and does not exist; one is saying of a concept that it is not instantiated and of a non-concept that it is inconceivable. That is not a contradiction, or at least not an explicit contradiction. Weil's thesis is that there is a divine reality, but it is inconceivable by us. She is saying that access to the divine reality is possible through love, but not via the discursive intellect. There is an inconceivable reality.
Analogy: just as there are nonsensible realities, there are inconceivable realities. Just as there are realities beyond the reach of the outer senses (however extended via microscopes, etc.), there is a reality beyond the reach of the discursive intellect. Why not?
An objection readily suggests itself:
If you say that God is inconceivable, then you are conceiving God as inconceivable. If you say that nothing can be said about him, then you say something about him, namely, that nothing can be said about him. If you say that there exists an inconceivable reality, then that is different from saying that there does not exist such a reality; hence you are conceiving the inconceivable reality as included in what there is. If you say that God is real, then you are conceiving him as real as opposed to illusory. Long story short, you are contradicting yourself when you claim that there is an inconceivable reality or that God is an inconceivable reality, or that God is utterly beyond all of our concepts, or that no predications of him are true, or that he exists but has no attributes, or that he is real but inconceivable.
The gist of the objection is that my translation defense of Weil is itself contradictory: I defuse the initial contradiction but only by embracing others.
Should we concede defeat and conclude that Weil's position is incoherent and to be rejected because it is incoherent?
Not so fast. The objection is made on the discursive plane and presupposes the non-negotiable and ultimate validity of discursive reason. The objection is valid only if discursive reason is 'valid' as the ultimate approach to reality. So there is a sense in which the objection begs the question, the question of the ultimate validity of the discursive intellect. Weil's intention, however, is to break through the discursive plane. It is therefore no surprise that 'There is an inconceivable reality' is self-contradictory. It is -- but that is no objection to it unless one presupposes the ultimate validity of discursive reason and the Law of Non-Contradiction.
Mystic and logician seem to be at loggerheads.
Mystic: "There is a transdiscursive, inconceivable reality."
Logician: "To claim as much is to embroil yourself in various contradictions."
Mystic: "Yes, but so what?"
Logician: "So what?! That which is or entails a contradiction cannot exist! Absolutely everything is subject to LNC."
Mystic: "You're begging the question against me. You are simply denying what I am asserting, namely, that there is something that is not subject to LNC. Besides, how do you know that LNC is a law of all reality and not merely a law of your discursive thinking? What makes your thinking legislative as to the real and the unreal?"
Logician: "But doesn't it bother you that the very assertions you make, and must make if you are verbally to communicate your view, entail logical contradictions?"
Mystic: "No. That bothers you because you assume the ultimate and non-negotiable validity of the discursive intellect. It doesn't both me because, while I respect the discursive intellect when confined to its proper sphere, I do not imperialistically proclaim it to be legislative for the whole of reality. You go beyond logic proper when you make the metaphysical claim that all of reality is subject to LNC. How are you going to justify that metaphysical leap in a non-circular way?"
Logician: "It looks like we are at an impasse."
Mystic: "Indeed we are. To proceed further you must stop thinking and see!"
How then interpret the Weilian sayings? What Weil is saying is logically nonsense, but important nonsense. It is nonsense in the way that a Zen koan is nonsense. One does not solve a koan by making distinctions, distinctions that presuppose the validity of the Faculty of Distinctions, the discursive intellect; one solves a koan by "breaking through to the other side." Mystical experience is the solution to a koan. Visio intellectualis, not more ratiocination.
A telling phrase from GG 210: "The void which we grasp with the pincers of contradiction . . . ."
But of course my writing and thinking is an operating upon the discursive plane. Mystical philosophy is not mysticism. It is, at best, the discursive propadeutic thereto. One question is whether one can maintain logical coherence by the canons of the discursive plane while introducing the possibility of its transcendence.
Or looking at it the other way round: can the committed and dogmatic discursivist secure his position without simply assuming, groundlessly, its ultimate and non-negotiable validity -- in which event he has not secured it? And if he has not secured it, why is it binding upon us -- by his own lights?