Saturday, February 10, 2018

(1) Philosophy and the richness of creation (continued)

So, the example of a children's party, a fairly ordinary and practical event which can provide our first step towards a philosophical exploration of the richness of creation.  To the child, their birthday party is a very simple thing; it means presents, friends, food and fun. For the poor parents, however, there is much more going on!  First, there will be the decision as to who, and how many, will be invited. Invitations will need to be designed and sent out. Then, where to hold the party; a space is needed big enough to contain the number of children invited. Since the children will be doing a lot of running around the space will need to be big! How big, and what entertainment to put on, old-fashioned party games, or a hired magician, will depend in part on what the parents view as a reasonable cost for such a party. However, there will also be social expectations, perhaps very high and pressuring, that the parents will feel more keenly than the children. With games come prizes; how will they be distributed, and what happens when boisterous play upsets one of the little guests? Food is also an important component, and thought will need to go into when this is given to the children and how they might be encouraged to eat some healthy food rather than going straight for the crisps and cake! The timing for what happens at the party may also be important; for how long will each activity hold the attention of the kids; when is the appropriate time to bring in the cake and sing happy birthday?

In reformational philosophy it is standard to give expression to the richness of creation by recognising that in reality we experience a number of different dimensions or ‘aspects’.  Much more will be said about these later; for now we start by listing the 15 ‘modal aspects’ that, give or take a few, all reformational philosophers have come to recognise.  Questions have been added to help see how recognising these aspects will help us explore the variety of ways created things can function.

Table 1(adapted from Arthur Jones 1998, 18-19)

Key Questions
How many?
How big?
How fast?
How reactive?
How productive?
How stimulating?
How intelligible?
How creative/skilful?
How imaginative?
How clear?
How sociable?
How valuable?
How just?
How loving?
How trustworthy?

 Have a look back at what was said about planning a child’s birthday party.  With a bit of effort you should be able to see that most, if not all, of the 15 aspects are present.  You may want to try and imagine a children’s party that completely avoids one of the aspects.  In trying this you may be surprised at how hard it actually is. 

So we now have an example of recognising the richness of creation.  Its practical use is that a good children’s party will need to consider all of these factors and ensure that they are all in order.  However, it also raises a problem.  What looked simple now looks too complicated and we might wonder what has happened to the simplicity of having fun while celebrating a child’s birthday.  This problem is actually a very significant and long-standing philosophical one: the problem of unity and diversity.

Without trying to solve this philosophical problem right now, we can say that it is common for one aspect to take the lead, so to speak, in specific contexts.  In the context of a children’s party it is the social element of friends having fun together and marking an important point in a child’s life. This means that the social element is the leading aspect which should provide focus for the parents in their planning and all the other elements that are part of the party should serve this one.  If the parents considered only the health and safety of the children, or only worried about getting all the numbers right, then the chance of a good birthday party would be significantly reduced.

You might like to try this exercise on other planned events, projects or communities you are involved in. Do you discover that there are always many factors involved in a successful outcome even if many of these seem minor and often go unnoticed? Have you experienced events where the little things became so important that the main purpose was lost sight of?

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