mercredi 23 mai 2018

Dooyeweerd: Hellenistic origins of 'body-soul' dichotomy

"Thermae Boxer" c 330 BC (Photo Wiki)
Herman Dooyeweerd on the Hellenistic origins of the 'body-soul' dichotomy.
(Excerpt from chapter "Philosophy and Theology III" of "In the Twilight of Western Thought")

The Thomistic view of human nature as a composite of an immortal, rational soul and a perishable material body united as form and matter as one substance, had no more in common with the biblical revelation about man than the Cartesian conception. Both of them were metaphysical theories ruled by un-biblical religious basic motives.
The whole idea that a philosophical knowledge of human nature would be possible by the natural light of human reason alone, i.e., independent of religious presuppositions, testified to a fundamental apostasy from the biblical starting-point. And the very fact that scholastic theology sought to corroborate the Thomistic-Aristotelian view by texts of the Scripture showed how much theological exegesis itself had come into the grip of un-biblical basic motives.
Let us consider this situation a little more in detail. The nature-grace motive did not enter Christian thought before the end of the 12th century, during the renaissance of the Aristotelian philosophy. It aimed originally at a religious compromise between the Aristotelian view of nature and the ecclesiastical doctrine of fall into sin, and redemption by Jesus Christ.
The Aristotelian view of nature was no more independent of religious presuppositions than any other philosophical view. It was completely ruled by the dualistic religious basic motive of Greek thought, namely, that of form and matter. Though this terminological denomination is of Aristotelian origin, the central motive designed by it was by no means of Aristotelian invention.
It originated from the meeting between two antagonistic Greek religions, namely, the older nature religion of life and death, and the younger cultural religion of the Olympian gods. Nietzsche and his friend Rhode, were the first to discover the conflict between these religions in the Greek tragedies. Nietzsche spoke of the contest between the Dionysian and the Apollonian spirit in these tragedies. But in fact here was at issue a conflict in the religious basic motive of the whole Greek life and thought.
The pre-Olympian religion of life and death deified the ever-flowing stream of organic life which originates from mother earth and cannot be fixed or restricted by any corporeal form. It is from this formless stream of life that, in the order of time, the generations of beings separate themselves and appear in an individual bodily shape. The corporeal form can only be maintained at the cost of other living beings, so that the life of the one is the death of the other. So there is an injustice in any fixed form of life which for this reason must be repaid to the horrible fate of death, designated by the Greek terms anangkè and heimarmenè tuché . This is the meaning of the mysterious words of the Ionian philosopher of nature, Anaximander: "The divine origin of all things is the apeiron (i.e., that which lacks restricting form). The things return to that from which they originate in conformity to the law of justice. For they pay to each other penalty and retribution for their injustice in the order of time."

Here the central motive of the archaic religion of life and death has found a clear expression in Anaximander's philosophical view of physis, or nature. It is the motive of the formless stream of life, ever-flowing throughout the process of becoming and passing away, and pertaining to all perishable things which are born in a corporeal form, and subjected to anangké. This is the original sense of the Greek matter-motive. It originated from a deification of the biotic aspect of our temporal horizon of experience and found its most spectacular expression in the cult of Dionysius, imported from Thrace.

The religious form-motive, on the other hand, is the central motive of the younger Olympian religion, the religion of form, measure and harmony, wherein the cultural aspect of the Greek polis was deified. It found its most pregnant expression in the Delphian Apollo, the legislator. The Olympian gods are personified cultural powers. They have left mother earth with its ever-flowing stream of life and its ever-threatening fate of death, and have acquired the Olympus as their residence. They have a divine and immortal, personal form, invisible to the eye of sense, an ideal form of splendid beauty, the genuine prototype of the Platonic notion of of the metaphysical eidos, or idea. But these immortal gods had no power over the anangké, the fate of death of mortals. That is why the new religion was only accepted as the public religion of the Greek polis. But in their private life the Greek people held to the the old formless deities of life and death, doubtless more crude and incalculable than the Olympians, but more efficient as to the existential needs of man.
Thus the Greek form-matter motive gave expression to a fundamental dualism in the Greek religious consciousness. As the central starting-point of Greek philosophy, it was not dependent upon the mythical forms and representations of the popular belief. By claiming autonomy over against the latter, Greek philosophy certainly did not mean to break with the dualistic basic motive of the Greek religious consciousness. Much rather this motive was the common starting-point of the different philosophical tendencies and schools. But because of its intrinsically dualistic character, it drove Greek philosophical thought into polarly opposed directions. Since a real synthesis between the opposite motives of form and matter was not possible, there remained no other recourse than that of attributing the religious primacy to one of them with the result that the other was depreciated. Whereas in the Ionian nature-philosophy the formless and ever-flowing stream of life was deified, the Aristotelian god is conceived as pure form and the matter-principle is depreciated in the Aristotelian metaphysics as the principle of imperfection.
In the state of apostasy the religious impulse, innate in the human heart, turns away from the living God and is directed towards the temporal horizon of modal aspects. This gives rise to the formation of idols originating in the deification of one of these aspects, i.e., in absolutizing what is only relative. But what is relative can only reveal its meaning in coherence with its correlates. This means that the absolutization of one aspect of our temporal world calls forth, with an inner necessity, correlates of this aspect which now, in the religious consciousness, claim an opposite absoluteness. In other words, every idol gives rise to a counter-idol.
Thus in the Greek religious consciousness the form-motive was bound to the matter-motive as its counterpart. The inner dualism caused in the central starting-point of Greek thought by these two opposite motives gave rise to the dichotomistic view of human nature as a composite of a perishable material body and an immortal, rational soul. It should be noticed that this view originated in the Orphic religious movement. This movement had made the Dionysian religion of life and death into the infra-structure of a higher religion of the celestial sphere, i.e., the starry sky, and interpreted the Olympian religion in this naturalistic sense. In consequence the central motive of form, measure and harmony was now transferred to the supra-terrestrial sphere of the starry sky. Man was supposed to have a double origin. His rational soul corresponding to the perfect form and harmony of the starry sphere originates in the latter, but his material body originates from the dark and imperfect sphere of mother earth, with its ever-flowing stream of life and its anangkē, its inescapable fate of death. As long as the immortal rational soul is bound to the terrestrial sphere it is obliged to accept a material body as its prison and grave and it must transmigrate from body to body in the everlasting process of becoming, decline, and rebirth.
It is only by means of an ascetic life that the rational soul can purify itself from the contamination with the material body, so that at the end of a long period it may return to its proper home, the celestial sphere of form, measure and harmony.
The great influence of this dualistic Orphic view of human nature upon the Pythagorean school, Empedocles, Parmenides, and Plato, is generally known. Since Parmenides, the founder of Greek metaphysics, this dichotomistic view was combined with the metaphysical opposition between the realm of eternal being, presenting itself in the the ideal spherical form of the heaven, and the phenomenal terrestrial world of coming to be and passing away, subjected to the anangkē. Plato purified his metaphysics from Parmenides' naturalistic conception of form, and he conceived the eternal forms of being as eide, or ideas, respectively. In Plato's dialogue, Phaedo, the proof of the immortality of the rational soul is consequently unbreakably bound to the metaphysical doctrine of the eternal ideas as the ideal forms of being. The latter are sharply opposed to the visible world, subjected as it is to the matter-principle of becoming and decay. It was supposed that the metaphysical forms of being are only accessible to logico-theoretical thought, viewed as the center of the immortal soul. The logical function of theoretical thought was considered to be completely independent of the material body since it is directed upon the eternal forms of being and must consequently be of the same nature as these imperishable forms. Henceforth the thesis that the logical function of the theoretical act of thought is independent of the material body became a steady argument in the metaphysical proof of the immortality of the rational soul.
But this argument originated in an absolutization of the antithetical relation which is characteristic of the theoretical attitude of thought. We have seen that in this theoretical attitude the logical aspect of our thought is opposed to the non-logical aspects of experience in order to make the latter accessible to a conceptual analysis. In this way we can make the non-logical aspects of our body into the object of our logico-theoretical enquiry. But we have also established that this anti-thetical relation between the logical and the non-logical aspects of our temporal experiential horizon does not correspond to reality. It is only the result of a theoretical abstraction of our logical aspect of thought from its unbreakable bond of coherence with all the other aspects of our experience.
Under the influence of the dualistic religious form-matter motive, however, Greek metaphysics ascribed to this merely theoretical opposition a metaphysical significance, to the effect that the logico-theoretical function of thought was viewed as an independent substance. In this way there arose the idol of the immortal and rational human soul which was identified with the logical function of our act of theoretical thought. In Plato's dialogue, Phaedo, this identification is clearly proclaimed. But it should be noticed that it dated from the first appearance in Greek philosophy of the metaphysical opposition between the eternal form of being and the material world of coming into being and passing away. It was the founder of Greek metaphysics, Parmenides, who was the first to identify theoretical thought with eternal being. In a later phase of his thought, Plato replaced his original view of the simplicity of the human soul by the conception that this soul is composed of two mortal material parts and an immortal spiritual one; nevertheless, he maintained the identification of the latter with the logico-theoretical function of thought. According to him, the latter is the pure form of the soul, viewed apart from its incarnation in the impure material body.
Aristotle, who initially completely accepted both Plato's doctrine of ideas and his dualistic view of soul and body, tried later on to overcome this dualism. He abandoned the Platonic separation between the world of the ideal forms and the visible world of perishable material things. He made the ideal forms into the immanent principles of being in the perishable substances, which are according to him composed of matter and form. He sought to overcome the central conflict between the matter-motive and the form-motive in the Greek religious consciousness, by reducing it to the complementary relation of a material and a form given to it, in the sense in which this relation is found in the cultural aspect of experience. As the principle of coming into being and passing away, matter has, according to him, no actual but only potential being. It is only by a substantial form that it can have actual existence. Form and matter are united in the natural things to one natural substance, and this natural substance would be the absolute reference point of all properties we ascribe to the thing.

This metaphysical view was also applied to man as natural substance. Thus the rational soul was conceived as the substantial form of the perishable material body. Since, however, the soul is only the substantial form of the body without being itself a substance, it cannot exist apart from the material body and lacks, in consequence, immortality. What, according to Aristotle, is really an immortal substance is only the active theoretical intellect which, in his opinion, does not stem from human nature, but comes from the outside into the soul. This active theoretical thought, however, lacks any individuality, since individuality stems from matter, and active theoretical thought remains completely separated from the material body. It is the pure and actual form of thinking, and, as such, it has a general character.
Here the fundamental dualism in the form-matter motive, which at first sight seemed to be overcome by Aristotle, clearly reappears. In fact, it could not be overcome since it ruled the central starting-point of Greek theoretical thought.
Thomas Aquinas tried to accommodate the Aristotelean view of human nature to the doctrine of the Church. First he adapted it to the doctrine of divine creation, which, as such, was incompatible with the Greek form-matter motive. According to Thomas, God created man as a natural substance composed of matter and form. Second, he interpreted the Aristotelean view in such a way that the rational soul was conceived of both as the form of the material body and as an immortal substance which can exist apart from the body. He accepted the Aristotelean view that matter is the principle of individuation and that form as such lacks individuality. The Aristotelean view that the active theoretical intellect does not originate from the natural process of development, but comes from the outside, was interpreted in a so-called psycho-creationist sense. God creates every immortal rational soul apart. But the result of this scholastic accommodation was a complex of insoluble contradictions.

In the first place, the psycho-creationist doctrine contradicts the emphatic biblical statement (Genesis 2:2), that God had finished all his works of creation. Thus a whole complex of theological pseudo-problems was introduced. If God continues to create rational souls after the fall of man, does he create sinful souls, or should we assume that sin does only originate from the material body? The traditional solution of this problem to the effect that God creates souls deprived of the original state of communion with him, but not sinful in themselves, is unbiblical to such a degree that it does not need any further argumentation. For what else is the fall into sin than breaking the communion with God, i.e., what else than the state of apostasy from Him? Secondly, if the immortal soul is individualized only by the material body, how can it retain its individuality after its separation from the body?
I shall not go into a more detailed discussion of these scholastic problems. The vitium originis of this psycho-creationist theory is its un-biblical starting-point, which cannot be made innocuous by any scholastic accommodation to the Church's doctrine and by an appeal to texts of Scripture. For the theological exegesis of these texts is in this case itself infected by this un-biblical starting-point. It lacks the key of knowledge which alone can open to us the radical sense of the divine Word-revelation. For, let me end with words of Calvin in the beginning of the first chapter of his Institutio Religionis Christianae , "The true knowledge of ourselves is dependent upon the true knowledge of God."

(Herman Dooyeweerd, of In the Twilight of Western Thought (published by Paideia Press, 2012, circum pp 162-172)

See also opening chapters of Dooyeweerd's Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options. Also find free pdf of book (earlier text edition) download here