Plato, Aristotle -
and Sexual Communism
NOTE BY DOOYEWEERD REGARDING "GROUND-MOTIVES"
'The religious [ultimate] ground-motives in the development of Western civilization are basically the following:
1. The "form-matter" ground-motive of Greek antiquity in alliance with the Roman power motive (imperium).
2. The Scriptural ground-motive of the Christian religion: creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ in communion with the Holy Spirit.
3. The Roman Catholic [Thomistic] ground-motive of "nature-grace", which seeks to combine the two mentioned above.
4. The modern humanistic ground motive of "nature-freedom", in which an attempt is made to bring the three previous motives to a religious synthesis concentrated upon the value of human personality.'
(Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options, Paideia Press, 2012, p15)
Extract from ‘A New Study of Aristotle’s Concept of Justice’, from “TIME, LAW, and HISTORY: Selected Essays [by Herman Dooyeweerd]: Collected Works Series B – Vol 14, Paideia Press, 2017, pp 228-233.
It is clear what the intention of our author [Peter Trude] is. Apparently, Christian philosophy is for him Thomist scholasticism. Thomas [Aquinas] accepted the Aristotelian views of ethics and the state as the natural substrate for the supernatural Christian ethics and church doctrine, and in his natural ethics he adopted the late-Aristotelian conception of general justice as justitia legalis.
But once again it is a sign of lack of insight into the central significance of the religious ground-motives in Western philosophy when Trude foists upon Aristotle the typical scholastic distinction between “a natural and a supernatural” virtue, similarly to the way we saw him assume, in another context, that the Kantian distinction between “nature” and “freedom” is also found already in Aristotle. This merely shows to what extent the lack of a transcendental critique of Western thought, which reveals the diverse religious ground-motives as the ultimate hidden starting-points, leads the interpretation of Greek conceptions into scholarly aberrations.
But in the thought of Trude this typical scholastic tendency toward accommodation, which itself starts from the synthesis motive of nature and grace, assumes a most questionable form when he attempts to show that the Bible already contains – in the apostle Paul, at Rom. 6:18 and Col. 3:14, and in Eccles. 12:13 – a conception of general justice and its connection with love that is related to the Aristotelian view. By ascribing to the biblical conception of love and justice, in their radical religious sense, an association with the Aristotelian conception of friendship and general justice, the biblical view is utterly denatured and in fact interpreted in terms of the Greek motive of form and matter.
When biblical conceptions are viewed in isolation from the radical ground-motive of creation, fall and redemption, one gets lost in a superficial play on words which completely eliminates the radical appeal of the Word-revelation to man’s heart, the root of human existence.
In contemporary theology, both in Protestantism and in the Roman Catholic nouvelle théologie, the insight that there is a deep gulf between the biblical thought-world of the Old and New Testaments and that of Greek philosophy is more and more gaining ground. Interpretations of Scripture in a Platonic or Aristotelian sense, as was done in the spirit of earlier scholasticism, are now emphatically rejected. But one cannot say that this kind of biblical exegesis is definitely a thing of the past – as is evident from the above criticism of Trude’s line of reasoning.
[…] But the claim that the Platonic idea of justice in its application to human society in the form of law would be capable of erecting a morally sound State is a statement that can hardly pass the test of criticism. Does the author really consider the Platonic design of the ideal State that is fully oriented to the idea of justice in a moral sense a wholesome design for the State?
The unbridled State absolutism evident in state-regulated sexual communism for the two highest political estates, the elimination of private property and of a private marital and family life for these estates, the assignment to the State of children born from their sexual relationships, including a detailed system of education regulating the life of these children, and the total stripping of all political rights from the lower third estate of peasants and partisans – do they indeed, according to Trude, meet the requirement of a morally sound order for the State?
Yet all this derives from the hierarchical value-ordering entailed in the Platonic theory of justice. Aristotle undoubtedly rejected these communistic ideas of Plato, while Plato himself, in his later dialogue on the Laws, abandoned these ideas since they did not fit empirical human nature with its imperfections.
But that Plato’s subsequent project of the “State with Laws” as well as Aristotle’s own project for the best form of government essentially does not, on principle, know a single limitation of the jural power of the polis is immediately clear once attention is paid to these two views. That Trude does not realize that here we find the original defect in the Platonic and Aristotelian concept of justice is amply seen from the praise contained in his statement quoted above.
[…] Aristotle views the State as the perfect community in which all other communities can have the role of service components only – all parts of lower value. The classical Greek view of the different societal spheres does not look at their inner nature, their internal structural principle that is anchored in the divine order of creation, but at the goal they serve, as defined by Greek thought. Therefore their mutual relations are conceived in terms of the means-end scheme in which a value hierarchy is assumed that clashes fundamentally with the creation order. Hence it fails to acknowledge any limits to the competence of the State, grounded in the inner nature and structural principles of the spheres of society.
Thomas’s acceptance of the Aristotelian view of the State as the “perfect community” therefore entailed a fundamental denaturing of the biblical ground-motive of creation, fall and redemption, even though he naturally attempted, in line with scholasticism, to accommodate the Greek form-matter motive to the biblical idea of creation.
[…] A strange impression is also left by the application of the Aristotelian conception of general justice to the trials of war criminals since 1945. If, so Trude argues, a person for the sake of the state community obeyed laws promulgated with an evil or criminal purpose, under the mistaken but exculpatory supposition that they were good, then such a person not only did not commit a crime but even acted in a virtuous way insofar as he practised general justice. He remarks:
“Consequently, this distinction flowing from the Aristotelian concept of general justice is throughout justified and fruitful and is of notable significance and great topical interest for reversing the values that state-forms and state-laws aim toward, particularly also for the ethical and jural treatment of the post-war trials regarding the problems that emerged, for example, in connection with the wartime behaviour of soldiers between 1939 and 1945.”This is a highly questionable line of reasoning. It could excuse multiple war crimes and even make them praiseworthy insofar as they were committed by convinced national socialist soldiers for whom the command of the Führer after all was always good and unassailable and in accordance with the well-being of the Third Reich! That views like these are still [c1958] defended in all seriousness at a German university is undoubtedly remarkable and does not contribute to our peace of mind.
Extract from ‘A New Study of Aristotle’s Concept of Justice’, from “TIME, LAW, and HISTORY: Selected Essays [by Herman Dooyeweerd]: Collected Works Series B – Vol 14, Paideia Press, 2017, pp 228-233. The full article was translated by D.F.M. Strauss from the original Dutch ‘Een Nieuwe studie over het Aristotelisch begrip der gerechtigheit’, Rechtsgeleerd Magazijn Themis 77 (1958). This essay is a critique of the book ‘Der Begriff der Gerechtigheit in der aristotelischen Rechts- und Staatsphilosophie’ [The concept of justice in the Aristotelian legal and political philosophy] by Peter Trude.
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