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Posting 130, Word Count: 1,368.

If we think of Aristotle as depicted in the fresco The School of Athens (by Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, painted between 1509 and 1511 in the Vatican, Apostolic Palace, and now widely reproduced) we have to say that his hand gesturing downward toward the familiar world is not a denial of metaphysics, not an assertion of scientific materialism as understood now. The gesture would have to mean that metaphysical reality is located, is at home, in ordinary objects and bodies, not only in the bodies we observe in the sky; and perhaps it might mean also that the distant skyward heights are not the Platonic heaven of free-floating (unanchored in things themselves) immaterial prototypes of the image-things that furnish and fashion our experience.

For Aristotle, the visible motions of skyward phenomena revealed nested layers of heavenly spheres in motion around the Earth, each sphere moving from a purposive will internal to itself, bearing into eternal futurity, and so alive, sensitive and teleological, a mothership senior intelligence, a being of ideality and personality. It was specifically this agency from an interiority of willing, the living ideality of personality placed at the top of the cosmic structure, that seemed to confer meaning on the world and the lives of individuals. Personality placed in that way seemed to give the skyward spheres transcendent purpose and creative power so that aligning a human individual’s bearing with them expressed the sense of a kinship or commonality between the purposive ideality of the individual and that of a sovereign aliveness.

Plato famously claimed to separate ideality from personality, but it can’t really be done. In Plato, Ideas retain a creativity that can only be understood as a borrowing from the creative will of personality, a purposive push or bearing, but in Plato’s work, with ideas presented under the aspect of eternity, there is a removal of all other vestiges of personality. That removal was meant to deify ideality by moving it from temporality to eternity. However, metaphysically, personality and ideality are inseparable. As soon as bits of ideality (such as immateriality or creativity) are separated off from personality of the ordinary embodied sort then the conception of reality gets weird and twisted, assembled from mismatched shards like the monster of a certain Dr. Frankenstein. Many people prefer such a conception of the world.

The Two Principles of Reality

The two fundamental principles of reality are the principle of falling, inertial and entropic nature; and the principle of creative teleology or purpose, creating shapes within actuality through personal agency, enacting intentions from the ideality of a particularly conceived future. These principles are sometimes called objectivity and subjectivity. Subjectivity is personality. In the crucial sense these principles are precise opposites of each other. The principle of falling is a single vast continuity in some sense. The principle of purposive agency is a multiplicity of separately localized (embodied) individuals. There is no freedom in the principle of falling but ideality has freedom and creativity. Purpose is inconceivable as anything other than ideality because futurity, where purposes have their places, is categorically not an actuality. Purpose is temporal and temporality is necessarily a quality of ideality since it reaches beyond brute actuality. Purpose is willing, a movement of personality. Purposive bearing requires ideality, and ideality is always personality.

A purposive will includes caring and freedom, aspects of spiritual ideality, which is to say, the subjective consciousness of personality. Rocks and rivers do not care, but merely fall. The World that Doesn’t Matter highlights the incongruity between the presence of subjective ideality and that of objective actuality. These are different modes of existence. The question is: what kind of existence can subjective ideality, purposive consciousness, have that is so not objective actuality? That is a core metaphysical issue, somehow locating (or maybe just denying) ideality. Perhaps the most long-enduring description of ideality has been as a personal interiority, as already mentioned above, but not an interiority that can be specified strictly as a location in space. This idea of spirituality as an interiority goes back (at least) to Aristotelian essences and final causes. Aristotle seems to have thought that everything that exists has, as part of its form, a metaphysical interiority, an essence, in addition to a strictly spacial or material interior. On that view, every object has an essence that contains and drives crucial features of its arc of existence and destiny, changes it has undergone and will undergo, just as the ‘interior’ ideality of an embodied person bears the memory and future intentions of that person. (Compare Leibniz’ monads.) The analogy at work is clear since every person knows from the most immediate experience a personal interiority of non-perceivable intentions and their context of reasons-why from a personal no-longer, all an interior ideality. That is our direct acquaintance with the existence of spiritual ideality.

Part of the reconceptualization of the objective world made by Descartes and others of his historical period involved rejecting the Aristotelian idea that inanimate objects are driven by an essential metaphysical interiority. On the modern view, an object’s changes are caused by strictly external forces. The fact that bodies that breathe and have voices generally display and utter expressions of an individual caring and freedom was crucial in ancient times, and the interiority of ideality was sometimes described specifically as a kind of breath. The breath analogy is unsustainable as an illumination of ideality, but as we discard the idea of bodies having a metaphysical interiority, we have to stop at bodies that breathe and have voices because, as one such body, every one of us has immediate knowledge of our personal interiority of intentions and reasons-why: our subjective ideality or purposive consciousness.

Does this analogy, a special interiority, help with the question of what kind of existence is to be attributed to ideality? In the Aristotelian sense, ‘interiority’ means that ideality is effective in the world, an indispensable part of reality, without being tangible or having an appearance, without being an actuality. The Aristotelian idea of final causes gives us more, invoking the idea of willing, and has much in common with Brentano’s description of intentionality as presented in Brentano’s Gift. It is a reaching, but not merely a reaching toward objects, instead a purposive reaching toward the future of an embodied life-in-the-world in the context of what has already been lived and is actual no more. There is also a tilting or instability in actuality, a continuous falling in the mode of mass, momentum, inertia, and entropy, but the tilting of the willing of ideality is very different from that instability, the tilting of ideality is not a falling but a creative leap (Luther), a flight or bearing. It is tempting to think of ideality as images, but that isn’t sustainable either. Ideas are not images but structural features of a person’s bearing into the future, of a framework of specifically oriented agency.

It is also crucial that ideality, personality, as an aspect of its freedom, exists precisely by evading final particularity, just as time does. (Sartre’s existence before essence.) Ideality has the same mode of existence as time in that sense: an always newness and incompleteness. Caring requires futurity and possibility, the flight of time. Caring is possible and conceivable with the experience of engagement in creating a mutable future world and a life in that world, with freedom and creative power. Living is, first of all, ecstatic caring within the context of freedom. The reality of caring and freedom is self-evident, but neither could be possible on materialist assumptions. They become conceptually possible with the recognition of transcendent ideality at the level of the embodied individual. And it isn’t just the existence of an immediate caring encounter between a person and the surroundings, but also the learned ideological framework that any ideality applies to every moment of that encounter, an ideological framework anchored in history and the history of languages and authorship and inseparably connected to a great historical stew of ideas. Again, that stew of ideas must not be shattered off from the ideality of ordinary embodied personality. It has its existence in the living of people.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.