Saturday, September 22, 2018

(24) Sensory perception

Dooyeweerd explains the modal subject-object relation as a coordination between a subject-function and object-function within the same law-sphere where the subject-function is the active pole and the object-function the passive pole (NC, II 370).  As an example we can point to the objective sensory image of space given on the retina as a result of the impression made by light.  It is an image which is only two-dimensional.  It becomes three-dimensional only in coherence with our total subjective feeling of space which involves not only the space of sight, but also that of touch, and to a certain extent hearing.  This in turn depends on the organic coherence of our sense organs (NC II 373).  In a similar way the modal functions of number, movement, energy and organic life can become objectified in sensory perception, this possibility is guaranteed by the way the modal spheres cohere together in reality.

It is important to note that what is objectified in sensory perception is not fully given to it, number, space etc. are not sensory in character, further what is perceived is not purely an object but also a subject.  This means that, for example, a plant functions actively in the modes of number, space, movement, energy and organic life, and it does so in its own particular way.  Dooyeweerd also gives the example of a biotic subject-object relation of a mother-bird feeding its young.  He uses this to show how such a biotic subject-object relation can itself become the object of sensory perception and so be involved in a sensory subject-object relation (NC, II 374).

A natural event, such as a flood, cannot function actively in the mode of feeling, it cannot perceive anything, but it can be perceived.  This is what is meant by being an object for sensory perception.  Such events can function as objects in all the later modes, so it can have a historical meaning, it can have an economic meaning and so on.  This meaning does not exist “in itself” but only in relation to possible subjective functioning in the aspect concerned, Dooyeweerd explains, “The objective-sensory perceptual image of a flash of lightening, for instance, only exists in relationship to possible subjective perception.  It has no being “in itself,” in abstraction.” (ESL, I 185).  Traditionally a distinction between primary and secondary qualities has been maintained where the mathematical and physical characteristics of a natural phenomenon are held to be in the thing itself whereas the sensory qualities of colour, smell, taste etc. are supposed to exist only for subjective perception and so lack any true ‘objectivity’ (in the sense of mind independent reality).  Dooyeweerd’s approach rejects this completely.  On his view a natural phenomenon functions actively, and so as a subject, in the mathematical and physical aspects of reality. As a subject, it truly possesses a spatial trajectory, it functions actively as a subject within the physical aspect of movement and energy.  It is the sensory qualities that are instead “objective” because related as an object to the active functioning of a subject.  The origin of the traditional view is the supposition that investigation by the special sciences is able to inform us with regard to the true and full reality of a phenomenon.  However Dooyeweerd holds that “the special sciences must in fact begin by abstracting from the concrete data in order to be able to theoretically study a particular aspect of reality which has been chosen as a field of investigation.  The special sciences should never arrogate to themselves the theory of reality.  This lies in principle outside the limits of their competency” (ESL, I. 186).

There is an important difference between the objective retrocipations and the objective anticipation in sensory perception.  The first are simply and directly given, those with normal vision in enough light cannot help but see these features, in the latter case however the features relate to normative aspects of reality as such they require the opening or deepening of the objective perceptual image.  “The normative anticipations in the objective-sensory form of a thing are dependent upon human disclosure; they are not present as a matter of course in the perceptual image itself … but are, rather, presented to human beings as a hidden realm of meaning to be disclosed.” (ESL. I 193)

Reformational philosophy emphasises the relational nature of all that exists. There are no 'things in themselves'. It is a mistake to see a basic relationship between thinking and being, rather 'thinking' is just one function next to and in relationship with others as the logical aspect is just one aspect in connection with all the others. And all aspects are aspects of coherence, both in terms of subject-subject relations and subject-object relations.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

(23) The Subject-object relation

The distinction between a “reality in itself” opposed to “appearances” is as old as philosophy itself.  This is to be expected since theoretical thinking gives us a view of reality quite different from our ordinary experience.  As soon as theory gets going one has to consider how these two views relate.  We exist within the world as an active participant shaping and being shaped by the relationships given to us and into which we enter.  Our experience is not primarily of isolated objects or dimensions but of an indissoluble coherence of a rich variety of facets which impress themselves on us, or recede from our consciousness depending on our concerns and interests at each moment.  First the ray of sunlight, or the sound of an alarm clock, that wakes us from sleep, our thoughts organizing the priorities of the day, the cost of utilities as we read the latest bill.  While each of these experiences has a certain focus, say the economic dimension of the gas bill, nevertheless each experience displays a coherence of many dimensions.  The bill is in a language we understand, set out spatially at the size appropriate to our perceptual capacities that only function by virtue of the continuing health of our bodies as a living organism and so on.  Our experience of reality then can be described as an integral coherence of a rich diversity of aspects or modes of being.  We do not experience any of these aspects on their own, we have no experience of a purely economic reality for example, but neither do we experience pure space, or pure movement.  It is only in theoretical thought that reality appears split us.  The integral character of reality and our place within it become replaced as the focus of our attention with a deliberately chosen, that is not real, opposition between our act of thought and its object of analysis.

However it might be objected that there seems to be something wrong in this analysis for surely there are many things in this world that lack features that have been identified as part of human experience.  For example moral worth, or economic value, even perception of colour and taste, cannot be seen to inhere in reality.  Such things have a first-person ontology.  This view comes from an understanding of nature that arose from the development of modern science where reality is approached exclusively in terms of its physical aspect of mechanical motion, and later that of energy, so that all natural phenomenon must be understood within these terms.  A classic example is Galileo’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities of a thing.

The subject-object distinction is usually understood as a structural relation where the subject stands opposite the object as two independent elements of reality.  In terms of what we have already said this means that the subject-object distinction takes the opposition between our act of thought and the object of analysis it has chosen, through abstraction, to be a real opposition between two separate entities instead of a deliberately chosen stance or attitude.  So both sides of the relation, the analytic focus of our thinking and the object of analysis, are artificial and not simply given in reality.  We can, however, speak of a natural subject-object relation which crosses over the whole diversity of meaning rather than cutting it in two.  In this sense we should understand the term ‘subjective’ as relating to the active side of a connection while ‘objective’ relates to the passive side.  This distinction refers to concrete reality rather than to the modal aspects so it is not the case that certain aspects are passive whereas others are active, as is the case with Kant’s opposition between the spontaneity of the understanding (Reason) and the passivity of the forms of intuition (senses). The term subject has the meaning of a thing which makes something happen. This means that by its own nature it brings about some possibilities which are available through the functioning of some modal aspect. In this sense objective refers to when such possibilities are actualised in a thing by some other creature. When a rock is crafted into a beautiful diamond and sold human activity realises passive aesthetic and economic functions of the rock making it an aesthetic and economic object. Since many creatures, and not just humans, make things happen, there can therefore be many different kinds of subject-object connections.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

(22) Modal aspects as universal law spheres

All the modes are universal in character, this is important to understand if we are to see how the modal spheres help explain coherence as well as diversity.  If we look back at the diagram we can see this universal character in the way that the modes stretch across things horizontally.  The implication is that all concrete entities function in all the modes.  

This raises an immediate question: surely trees and stones do not function in all the modes?  It is such a question that tempts us to separate the world into two spheres of object and subject.  We could think here of Descartes dualism between the thinking mind as the knowing subject separate from the physical world of matter, or of Locke’s mind filled with sensations caused by the external material world.  Against this reformational philosophy offers an original and unique perspective on the subject-object distinction using the theory of the modal aspects (see the next section).  We can best understand this if we first look at “object-functions”.

When we analyse a tree we can see how it functions actively in the first five modes of being, however we should also notice that we perceive and analyse the tree, we can admire the beauty of the tree, or assess its economic value.  The existence of the tree is therefore not shut off from our perceiving and logical functioning. While it is true that trees do not perceive and reason they can be perceived and reasoned about.  This means that despite not functioning in an active way within the sensitive and analytical aspects, they do function passively in relation to human perception and analysis.  These are what we call the trees object-functions. 

What this shows is that the modal aspects make relations possible; my perceiving relation towards the tree is possible because we both exist within the sensitive modal aspect.  The modal laws therefore constitute relationships of coherence. I as an active perceiving subject relate to the tree as a perceived object.

Rene Descartes' dualist view has shaped the way philosophers think about our knowledge of the world and leads them to ask the question: how can we as knowing subjects come to know the “external world”.  Notice that while reformational philosophy can speak of a coherence between the knowing subject and her environment the common philosophical tendency to speak of the “external world” creates a separation between the two and sets up the classic, and irresolvable, problem of how we can defeat the sceptic and show we can have knowledge of the world.  Such a way of putting the problem clearly does not do justice to the fact that both knower and known exist in the same world and function within the same modal spheres.   We can see that a reformational analysis of the subject-object relations shows the mistaken nature of this way of framing the problem of knowledge.  Rather than a gap that must be bridged from a knowing subject to a known object, we have a genuine relationship between the two through a whole array of irreducible modes.  The passive functions really belong to the nature of the object and are not mere subjective add-ons.  The object does not exist “in itself”, separate from us, as the German philosopher Immanuel Kant thought, but in relations, we can only take an object out of these relations in an act of thought as an abstraction. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

(21) Time and the modal aspects

A number of reformational philosophers, including Dooyeweerd in his early phase, considered the possibility that time is one of the modal aspects. However a number of considerations have persuaded most that this is not a viable option. One is that if time were a separate modality, then the other modal spheres would both presuppose this time modality, and would no longer be thought of as integrally temporal in character. Secondly we would need to understand the specific, irreducible character of time, what is its kernel meaning, what would be the analogies with other modal aspects? A further point is that the close connection between time and reality helps us understand the integral coherence of reality which can be understood to be guaranteed by the continuity of time. A final point is that while it is common to think of time as physical time, or in other words clock time that can be measured, we can instead view time as cosmic and so manifesting itself in all the modal aspects. We now look at how time is expressed in each of the modal aspects.

Numbers have a natural sequential order so that in counting we go “successively” from small to large. Smaller numbers are earlier in this progression, whereas larger numbers come later. All this points to the temporal order of numbers. 

The nucleus of the spatial aspect is continuous extension. Shapes and geometric figures can only exist if all their parts are present at the same time. Here time manifests itself in the notion of simultaneity.

Kinematic: Time linked with motion; no motion exists without physical time. This order of motion is reversible. Here time manifests itself as continuous flow.

Physical: Time in the physical aspect manifests itself as irreversible since it deals with energy transfer.  Here we find the sequential order of cause and effect.

Biotic: Here time is expressed through processes of growth, maturity, decline and death. Whereas in the earlier modal aspects there is a fixed pace to processes, in the biotic aspect these processes can take place over different speeds.  Some animals and plants have a short life span, whereas others much longer. The biotic process is characterised by development and decline, there is a progression of germination, growth, maturation, ageing and dying.

Psychical: The discrepancy with physical time can before even more accentuated in emotional time which depends on our mood, tense, bored, excited, engaged, absorbed etc.. Here time can fly or drag on endlessly.

Logical: Here time is expressed in the starting points, premises and presuppositions of our thinking and arguing. In a logical argument the conclusion must follow from the premises in a logically sound way.

Historical: we measure the generational forming of culture with reference to periods, and to features such as progress and regress. In understanding historical develop we often have need of biotic analogies (maturation, flourishing, decline etc.), however these are always in relation to human formative power and so articulate themselves in terms of reforming or revolutionary, conservative or reactionary and so on. Being ahead of your time, or stuck in the past.

Aesthetic: involves both the changing fashions as well as more lasting styles. Tempo, rhythm and pace of change is important. Is it too slow allow new (imaginative possibilities) or is it too fast to allow nuance and ramifications to disclose themselves.

Symbolic: Grammatical tenses, the use of punctuation.

Social: Priority in social relationships. Who has priority in different social situations, the youngest sibling in a game of cards, the chairman in opening the meeting, old people for seats on the bus and so on.

Economic: The role of interest, periodic increments in wages or salary to express the value of experience.  Efficiency and wasting time, spending time wisely etc.

Juridical time: Prison terms, leases, terms of office.

Ethical: the urgency to put right a relationship before the end of the day as scripture recommends. The time it takes for trust to develop in a friendship.

Faith: the alternation of festival days and ordinary time. Liturgy. Hope and expectation.

In seeing time expressed through all the modal spheres we achieve a view of time close to our experience of time.  The rhythm of day and night is not just physical but tied into our biotic clock and psychological experience as shown in experiments where this rhythm is denied, or in the experience of jet lag.  You visit somewhere quaint on holiday and say “my, hasn’t time stood still here”.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

(20) What is time?

Before we look more at relations it is worth pausing to note that relations always exist in time. This leads us to a perennial philosophical question. “What is time?” asked Augustine, “If nobody asks me I know; but if I want to explain it to somebody who asks, I do not know” (Confessions 11.14). This well-known comment on time points us to an intriguing phenomenon. On the one hand, time is our natural element. We are immersed in time. We experience the passing of hours, days and years, and of the countless changes that take place in them. We remember past times and have a sense of expectancy for what the future holds, all the time dealing with the pressing concerns of the present. Everything that exists in reality, every state of affairs, is involved in a course of events, in a process of be-coming and be-going. We name this coming and going transience and acknowledge its pervasiveness.

On the other hand, when we begin to think theoretically about time, when we seek to grasp it in a concept, the mystery of time highlighted by Augustine returns. We can see this if we start by asking what is the present. Augustine himself raised this issue by asking whether the present is so instantaneous as to be practically non-existent. No sooner have we pointed to this moment now, then it has gone into the past. Andre Troost has helpfully discussed the issues this raises. He writes “[i]n this … approach the present is comparable to a mathematical point without extension, an imaginary point that moves continuously towards the future, but remains always, at least in theory, suspended between past and future. In the moment of the “now” the past perpetually moves up towards the future, which becomes the past in almost the same moment. In this theory, the “now” has in effect become a shadowy nothing, a pure idea and no longer a reality.”  This naturally leads to doubt about the reality of time since if the present does not exist then neither does the past or future. Time is understood as a succession of point-like nothings. And a thousand times nothing is still nothing. This idea of time as a sequence of “nows” also means that time loses both its datability and significance, for how can one ‘now’ be any different from any other? Despite the familiarity we seem to have with time, in this approach it has become detached from my practical activities and concerns.

What should we do, faced with this conundrum? Should we stick to what we experience of the reality of time, or should we follow the argument where it leads and accept that time is unreal? I hope that by now you will be ready to identify that the problem arises from failing to acknowledge and take stock of the fact that in our reasoning we have lifted time out of the context of cosmic reality. By isolating time as something in and of itself, we have turned it into nothing. It is important to repeat that our ability to abstract elements of our experience is very good and helpful, but its limits need to be carefully acknowledged. In particular it is important to be aware of what we are doing. Now in our attempt to understand time better through theoretical abstraction, we discover that it is intimately interwoven with cosmic reality. This is evident in the way that abstraction takes us away from time just as it takes us further from cosmic reality in its fullness. As Troost concludes, “Not a single atom of reality exists apart from time, and literally everything in our concrete experience of reality has a specific duration, is involved in the all-pervasive and all-encompassing “flow” of time, in short: exists in time.”

The cosmos is fundamentally temporal.  That is the position of reformational philosophy. Despite what might seem like an overemphasis on structures in our analysis so far, it would be a mistake to think that reformational philosophy sees reality as static or in structuralistic terms.  Dooyeweerd understood his theory of time to be central to his philosophy and went as far as to say that “The idea of cosmic time constitutes the basis of the philosophical theory of reality in this book.” (NC I.28).   Cosmic reality is fundamentally dynamic and temporal: “all structures of temporal reality,” he wrote, “are structures of cosmic time” (NC I 105).  Such a position places reformational philosophy in a critical relation towards those philosophical positions, dating back to Parmenidies, that view reality in purely structural terms and see time and change as negative characteristics of our experience of the world.

We have seen how the modal aspects, although mutually irreducible, are inter-dependent; they presuppose and refer to each other.  Every modal aspect contains within its modal structure a reference to all other aspects and so cannot be understood outside of this unbreakable coherence of meaning. The coherence of reality is a “temporal order and connection of all the aspects” which is expressed by the anticipations of the earlier aspects to the later aspects and the retrocipations of the later aspects to the earlier (NC II.49-54).  This referring forwards and backwards is indicative of, and expresses, the meaning character of reality.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

(19) Diversity and Coherence between the modes

There is a danger that modal aspects are viewed as parts that make up reality, however this is not accurate.  Reality does not split up into 15 separate sections like a cake.  Here it is important to repeat that the special sciences investigate their object through the perspective of a modal aspect, they do not investigate the modal aspect itself.  We now need to say something about how each aspect is intimately related to all the others.  This can be done by introducing the notion of analogies.  Through analogies each aspect refers to all the others.  

We can distinguish two types of analogies, those modes that are earlier than other modes can refer towards the later modes, this is called anticipations, and the later modes refer back to the earlier modes in retrociptations.

The first modal aspect is that of number whose meaning is found in discrete quantity as expressed in so called rational or natural numbers.  The spatial aspect is irreducible to that of number, nevertheless in irrational numbers we find an anticipation of spatial figures within the numeric modal aspect.  For example π.

In referring to the number of dimensions in space we find an intrinsic element of space that refers back to that of number, this is a retrocipation.  The notion of causality, which finds its origins in the physical aspect, is an analogical concept that has its place in the different modes of experience: we talk of historical causality while resisting a reduction to the physical kind of causality.  Likewise we require a notion of legal causality in order to hold a criminal legally accountable for their crime, a notion of logical ground to move from premises to conclusion and so on.

These analogies are very important when interpreting theories and concepts within the different disciplines.  The religious impulse to find the meaning and coherence of our world from within this world leads inevitably to reductionist views of the nature and character of the diversity we experience.  In their conceptual expression these reductionist views continually distort the analogical character of our concepts which leads to serious theoretical problems and paradoxes.

Examples in modern sociology

Analogies in social aspect
One-sided emphasis
Sign Aspect
Social symbolism and interpretation
Historical Aspect
Social power, control and authority
Logical Aspect
Social identification and distinction
Social consensus and conflict theories
Sensitive-psychical Aspect
Social sensitivity/solidarity
Psychologistic approaches
Biotical Aspect
Social differentiation and integration
Organicistic trends/ Functionalism
Physical Aspect
Social change and dynamics
Physicalistic trends
Kinematical Aspect
Social constancy/persistence
Status quo trends
Spatial Aspect
Social totality/wholes and parts
Universalism/holism – emphasis on systems and sub-systems
Arithmetical Aspect
Social unity in multiplicity
Individualism/society as a collection of individual actors

Source D.F.M. Strauss Reintegrating Social Theory p.11

Sunday, August 12, 2018

(18) Outline of the modal spheres

In this section we will give a brief outline of each of the modal aspects, however it is important to make one final point.  The modal spheres are not just abstract categories of what exists as if what exists lack any intrinsic meaning or value. Modern thought has disenchanted the world into ‘bare facts’. Calvin Seerveld has expressed well that the modal aspects are channels of God’s love and blessing towards us and call us to a loving response. All the modal aspects find their unity in love. Here it is worth quoting Dooyeweerd at length:

“Man, created in the image of God, should direct all the temporal functions and powers of his existence and those of his whole temporal world unto the service of God. This he was to accomplish in the central unity of his ego by loving God above all.  And because, in the order of creation, every human ego in this central religious sense was united with ever other human ego in a central communion of the service of God, the love for the neighbour was included in the love of God.  We cannot love God without loving His image, expressed in the ego of ourselves and that of our fellow-men.  Therefore, the entire divine Law for God’s creation displays its radical unity in the central commandment of love, addressed to the heart … Just as all the aspects of our temporal experience and existence find their central reference point in the human ego, so the commandment of love represents the central unity of all God’s different ordinances for the temporal world” (Dooyeweerd Twilight, 123)

As we have said before a great danger facing Christianity is the view that this world is a passing and insignificant phase before the soul is taken to heaven.  In contrast we must affirm that we cannot live close to God if we deny God’s creation.  We serve God not alongside or apart from creation, our service is here in our everyday lives in all we do (Colossians 3:12-25 esp vv.17 & 23).  The closer we move in genuine love to all God’s creatures, the closer we come to God’s self.  And the closer to God, the more we will be concerned about his world – a world which He loved so much that his own Son died for it to be redeemed.

It is important to be reminded that human beings never act on a modal aspect as such.  Human acts are always concrete acts within relationships and institutions and upon things.  Modal aspects are always only aspects of concrete existents (things, events, and relationships).  This will be especially important later when we come to look at how to understand history and cultural development.

Here are the modal spheres identified by Dooyeweerd with the nuclear moments in brackets.

Numeric (discrete quantity): The numeric aspect is the domain of magnitude and discrete quantity. It involves more or less, and is represented by numbers. When considering number there is no need to assume anything regarding any of the later modal aspects. Once humans take number into account as part of their responsibility we can speak of too much, too little, or the right amount.

Spatial (Continuous extension): This aspect is investigated by geometry. In the number of dimensions and the measurement of them we must presuppose number. Every part of space is connected in principle to every other as part of the whole hence ‘continuous extension’. The notions of ‘whole’, ‘part’ and ‘coherence’ find their home in the spatial aspect. Anticipating human responsibility things may be “out of place” or find their niche.

Kinematic (Movement): It is a dimension we can understand in terms of inertia: the tendency of matter to remain at rest, or, if moving, to keep moving in the same direction, unless affected by some outside force.

Physical (Energy): This involves forces and interaction. It is familiar to us in the phenomenon of mass, force, matter, atomic and molecular structure.

Biotic (Life): The primary dynamic functions of growth, reproduction, metabolism, restoration, birth, maturation. It involves the integration of a whole where all parts work together to generate growth and so continually generates and regenerates all its parts for its own continued development and existence. If the link with human responsibility and the realities of good and evil are less clear in the earlier modes at least here it makes sense to talk of health and disease, flourishing and decay, vigorous and frail.

Psychic/Sensitive (Feeling or Emotion): this is the mode of goal directed behaviour, in animals and humans, that is primarily of a sensitive (feeling, emotional) kind, includes drives, instinct, stimulus-response, and perception. Humans can be sensitive and well disposed, or insensitive and suffering.

Analytic/Logical (Analytic Distinction): [here or after the formative given that animals create artifacts, do they distinguish?] This mode has to do with the ability to distinguish and identify differences in their context, to identify and compare things. Animals are able to distinguish prey and predators, food etc. but they are unable to develop and formulate these distinctions into concepts where formative control and language is necessary. Humans maybe thoughtful and lucid, or scatterbrained and muddled.

Formative/Historical (Mastery or Control): The mode of freely making, crafting, creating, building, producing where choice and responsibility direct the forming. As it points back to the earlier modes it involves skill and mastery over objects. As it opens up to later modes it involves culture and history as the basis for communication and interaction with others. This is the origin of the means-ends relationship. Animals too make things, but only in the restrictive sense. Within the context of human cultural development there is the essential elements of creativity and responsibility. The development of science and technology in particular allow humans to design and make new things in order to better the world in far reaching and unexpected ways. In this way humans transcend the animal kingdom and make possible the disclosure of cultural forms such as language, education, the arts, society, market relations, juridical institution and so on. Skilful or incompetent.

Aesthetic (Harmony): Dooyeweerd placed this modal sphere after the economic and emphasized harmony, however Calvin Seerveld has long argued that the aesthetic dimension is better understood in terms of suggestion-rich, allusivity and imagination. As a consequence of this and a number of other consideration Seerveld places the aesthetic modal aspect after the formative mode and before the lingual mode. Imaginative or unimaginative.

Lingual/Sign (Symbolic Signification): symbolic signification and language. Clear or vague.

Social (Intercourse): Social intercourse where the consciously practiced developed and fostering of relationships is an end in itself. Hospitality and etiquette, politeness etc. Peaceful or quarrelsome.

Economic (Frugality): The stewardship of resources. Often in the context of scarcity where frugal use must be made or in the context of a wealth of possibilities where only a few can be realized. The optimal use of resources and talents, today often requiring a network of relationships providing for the exchange of goods and services. Prosperous or deprived, generous or greedy. 

Jural (retribution): The mode of rightly weighing what is due, the call for justice. Just or unjust.

Ethical/Trothic (Love): the mode of fidelity, loyalty, intimate care and concern. Loyal or disloyal.

Pistic/Faith (Certitude): Mode of faith, trust, certitude and surrender. Faith or unbelief.