dimanche 30 juillet 2017

Dooyeweerd: Aquinas and "substance"

Thomas Aquinas (1224/25 - 1274)
(Painting attributed to Sandro Botticelli, 15th century)
Dear P,

I must clarify with regards to Aquinas that Dooyeweerd was entirely against his concept of metaphysical "substance". A massive amount of Dooyeweerd's writings are given over to addressing that issue, whether it is "substance" as conceived by Hellenistic thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle, medieval thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, humanist thinkers such as Kant, and so on. Kant of course talks of "noumena" and "phenomena". The "noumena" is the impenetrable "Ding an sich" - "Thing in itself" -  a "substance" beyond human access. The "phenomena" are in effect the "secondary" qualities which our senses can perceive, and which science can investigate.

Dooyeweerd rejects all this. For Dooyeweerd, "substance" is an absolutisation (reification) of something purely conceptual. In other words, in no way is "substance" really "out there". It is simply a mental projection. Moreover, believing that it IS out there invariably skews our perspective on reality towards an insuperable pernicious dualism.

Dooyeweerd in fact repudiates the description of temporal reality in terms of "being" altogether. He views that also as a Greek metaphysical substance-related misreading of the actual "state of affairs". For Dooyeweerd, strictly speaking, only God has "being". Everything created is properly defined not by "being" but by "meaning". And meaning is never self-referential. In other words meaning, by definition, must refer beyond itself. So Creation has no autonomous, intrinsic, "meaning in itself". It must refer "beyond" itself to the only Source of Meaning, ie God. And the only conduit of meaning is Christ as the corporate Head of redeemed humanity, ie of that humanity whose deepest supratemporal selfhood ("heart") is "in Christ". Although, having said that, Dooyeweerd also strongly holds to the doctrine of "common grace" which holds that God uses even anti-Christian thinkers and civilisations to move truth forward.

There is a sense in which the Cosmos has no "being in itself" when detached from humankind, as the image of God. The Cosmos fell through our first corporate head, Adam. The Cosmos is structurally and directionally rescued through our new corporate head, the Second Adam, the True Man, Christ, via his Cross and Resurrection. That is the Gospel. The Good News. So our remit is to pass on that message, to live out and enact that testimony as part of the process of cosmic redemption. Not to take flight into personal "spiritual" mysticism, but to seek to partake of the structural "heavy lifting" of fallen reality, wherever we find ourselves.

The Hellenistic irreconcilable dualism is between "Form" and "Matter". The medieval dualism is between "Nature" and "Grace". The modern humanist dualism is between "Nature" and "Freedom". These three dichotomies, which built on each other, are for Dooyeweerd the historical "ground-motives" of Western thought. They are deeper than philosophy, and distort the philosophy of those who (usually unwittingly) premise their thinking on them as "religious" [ultimate] "givens" or "a prioris". The entire mission of Dooyeweerd is to deliver our thought and life from the apostate grip of such ground-motives and to help us experience an integrated existence which is only possible when founded on the Christ-centred Biblical ground-motive of "Creation, Fall, Redemption in Christ in Communion with the Holy Spirit".

The foregoing Christian ground-motive involves for Dooyeweerd the insight that all temporal reality is focussed on Christ via the human "heart" ("selfhood") as concentration point. And in that human core-selfhood alone does temporal reality rise above time unto God as source of meaning. Yet even the human selfhood ("heart") itself is meaningless and "nothing in itself". Only in focussing on Christ does it find itself truly filled with meaning.

All distortions of reality involve the "absolutisation" ("deification") of something temporal. The notion of "substance" absolutises (reifies) that which is in fact only conceptual (or "intentional", to use a Dooyeweerd term). "Substance" is imaginary.

Volume One of 'Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy' critiques Hellenistic dualism. Volume Two, Thomistic dualism. Volume Three, which as I said I have yet to read, talks us through an anthropology based on what Dooyeweerd considers the "true integrated state of affairs" of temporal reality, involving no dualism or dichotomies.

(Hopefully further adding to clarification) I will finish this post mainly with a sequence of "substance"-related excerpts from Volume Two which I am currently reading:

"And so this substance-concept is indeed entirely based on a dichotomy beween "matter" and "spirit" within the horizon of time, between "material" and "spiritual" substantial forms.

"That this substance-concept is based on the fact that theoretical thinking is given primary independence becomes abundantly clear in the Aristotelian and Thomist metaphysical doctrine of the soul. Both make the thought-activity in its logical aspect (the nous poiētikos or intellectus agens) completely independent of the "material body", and with that they lift the logical thought-aspect out of the horizon of temporal reality with its inseparable reciprocal relationship of the aspects.

"Aristotle conceives of the active nous as ousia ("substance"), and Thomas conceives of the anima rationalis [rational soul] as purely substance (separable from the material body) (albeit as substantia incompleta). Both views are inseparably tied to making the theoretical-logical aspect of thinking into an absolute (in the sense of "detaching" this aspect [ie the analytical-logical law-sphere] from the cosmic order of time, which is its presupposition)."

In rejecting "substance" as a description of reality, Dooyeweerd argues instead for "individuality-structures". You will recall in a previous email I tried to summarise in my own words what he means by the latter (excuse my reiteration):

"OK, a "modal aspect" is simply any one of the fifteen law-spheres. A "qualifying function" is what, in the order of the law-spheres, defines any entity. Examples: The 'qualifying function" of a rock is within the Physical-energy aspect; that of a plant is within the Biotic aspect; an animal is "qualified" by the Sensory aspect.

Of course, although a plant is qualified by the Biotic law-sphere, that sphere presupposes the earlier Physical-energy sphere also. In Dooyeweerd's terminology, the plant is therefore an "enkaptic" interweaving of two "individuality structures": the physico-chemical and the biotic. The animal is an enkaptic interlacement of three individuality-structures, the "physico-chemical", the "biotic", plus the "sensory".

Now, here's the thing. The human being in Dooyeweerd's anthropology is an enkaptic interlacement of FOUR individuality-structures, ie the earlier three plus the "Act-structure". The latter transcends time because the act of thought or deed is that of an entity (a human) who by definition transcends time."

My last paragraph there is key for understanding Dooyeweerd.

All of this does in fact relate back to your current preoccupation with the nature of "Time". I will close with a few quotes from "Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy" Vol 2, to try to make the link. The word "duration" is important. Also, "typical laws" are like templates for different types of created entities - including social etc entities such as governments. Each template ALWAYS involves all fifteen temporal law-spheres / aspects, with variations of which law-sphere has dominance, or "qualifies" the given entity. (I note that Dooyeweerd actually uses the term "being" here, but in context he is distancing its import from timeless "substance" and relating it instead to temporal "individuality structures"):

"And so every individuality structure is by implication a typical order of time for the individual duration of the subjective thing or being, prescribing a typical law for its individual existence.

"Thus the subjective duration of a plant's existence is subject to the time-order of its individuality structure, which in a typical way ties the existence of this being to the function of organic life. For this is the modal function that plays the role of qualifying or leading function in the typical structural whole of the plant body.

"On the other hand, for instance in the case of a radio-active element, the individuality structure ties the duration of its individual existence to the physico-chemical function in a typical manner (time is meant here in the subjective sense of duration). For this is the modal function that acquires the typical role of qualifying or leading function in the individuality structure of such an element.

'And in the same way the individuality structure of a work of art such as the "Hermes" of Praxiteles (350-340 BC) ties the duration of its individual existence in typical fashion to the aesthetically qualified function of its form in the modal historical aspect [law-sphere] of culture. As long as this cultural form of the sculptured marble can maintain itself in its aesthetic qualification, so long does the work of art continue to exist as an individual whole. (p339)

"In this way the relationship between the individuality structure and individuality itself becomes altogether clear. The former is a typical law for the individual subject; the latter is subjected to this law as subject.

"This whole philosophical conception of the individuality structure as an intrinsic real-life temporal figure fundamentally agrees with what is presented in naive [everyday non-theoretical] experience regarding the relative durability of individual things as their component parts and sensory qualities vary over time. For relative durability is only possible in time. By contrast, the Aristotelian-Thomistic substance-concept only allows time as an entirely external measure of "movement", a category which [as itself a law-sphere/ aspect] does not inhere in "substances" in any "absolute sense".

"[...] Thus every individuality structure spans the entire modal horizon of time in all its distinct aspects [law-spheres]. For this horizon forms an integral, indissoluble coherence of modal aspects that tolerates no dichotomy. The fundamental difference between the individuality structures is only to be found in the typical manner in which its modal aspects [law-spheres] are arranged into a whole."

"[...] Starting with the religious ground-motive of Nature and Grace, Thomist scholasticism took over the Aristotelian view regarding the principle of individuation. This could not but lead to a patent antinomy between Greek metaphysics and the church's doctrine regarding the individual survival of the human soul after the death of the body. This antinomy caused scholastic theology - insofar as it followed Thomas' conception - no small embarrassment.

"[...] Aquinas extricated himself from this difficulty, where Aristotle could not help him, through a line of reasoning that may be called more ingenious than convincing. If Aristotle viewed the active nous [mind, faculty of reason] as implanted in human nature from the outside, Thomas first of all accommodated this view, as we already observed, to the church's scholastic view regarding the "anima rationalis" ["rational soul"] as a "simple substance" as well as to the church's doctrine of creation. (p344)

"The result of this was the psycho-creationist theory, which had already been zealously debated among the church fathers. This theory, which bore the mark of the impossible on its forehead, attempted to achieve a synthesis between the Scriptural motive of creation and the Greek form-motive. It argued that since theoretical thought is an activity of the "rational soul", and that this activity is "independent of the material body", therefore the soul can exist by itself as a "spiritual", albeit "incomplete", substance. Consequently God must have created it separately, and it must still be created separately in the body. As well, since the rational soul by its very nature is the substantial form of the material body, God must have created it within a body suited to it." (p344)

"[...] The Thomist construction implicitly acquired its official sanction from the church at the Fifth Lateron Council chaired by Pope Leo X (c. 1513-17). Earlier, the Council of Vienne (1312) had already adopted the Aristotelian-Thomist doctrine of the soul as the substantial form of the body! ... We witness here a process of church doctrine's increasing entanglement in scholastic philosophy with its form-matter motive as ground-motive for the understanding of human nature." (p345)
(Herman Dooyeweerd, 'Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy' Volume 2)

Best wishes,