Beta Thinking

In sharp contrast to the more prosaic, less self-conscious Alpha-thinking, Beta-thinking is “thinking about thinking,” and in ordinary philosophical terminology is often called “reflection.” Barfield quotes approvingly Coleridge‘s description of “transcendental thinking”—the British Romantic’s own term for Beta-thinking:

There is a philosophic (and inasmuch as it is actualized by an effort of freedom, an artificial) consciousness which lies beneath or (as it were) behind the spontaneous consciousness natural to all reflecting beings. As the elder Romans distinguished their Northern provinces into Cis-Alpine and Trans-Alpine, so may we divide all the objects of human knowledge into those on this side, and those on the other side of the spontaneous consciousness; citra et trans conscientiam communem. The latter is exclusively the domain of pure philosophy, which is therefore properly entitled transcendental, in order to discriminate it at once, both from mere reflection and representation, on the one hand, and on the other from those flights of lawless speculation which, abandoned by all distinct consciousness, because transgressing the bounds and purposes of our intellectual faculties, are justly condemned as transcendent.
(What Coleridge Thought 19, quoting Coleridge)

Under the sway of Beta-thinking, it is “invariably assumed that a very large part of . . . the represented is to be found ‘within’ ourselves” (Saving the Appearances 39). But this common sense is in fact the result of the idolatry characteristic of the consciousness soul.

Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.