vendredi, avril 22, 2011

Dooyeweerd: The Crisis in Humanist Political Theory

Extracts from pp 13-31:     
     In all its countless variations, humanist philosophy is in the first place immanence philosophy. That is to say, it chooses the absolute, Archimedean point from which it wishes to understand our reality as a unity and coherence within time itself, namely in the law-side and subject-side of reality.
     The humanist worldview began its triumphal march at the time of the Renaissance by proclaiming the sovereignty of reason over the belief in revelation. This signified a relapse into paganism insofar as it began to look for what is beyond time within time itself.
     Human reason is nothing but a complex of spiritual [normative] meaning-functions, which are interwoven with all other meaning-functions of cosmic reality in time. When one or more of these meaning-functions, for example, the logical or the moral, are absolutized, that is to say, are declared to subsist "in and of themselves," independent and sovereign, then these functions can themselves no longer be seen as temporal. They must then transcend time. With this, the problem of reality and the problem of time together become the crux of all immanence philosophy.
     Already in ancient Greek philosophy the absolutization of reason (nous) was of necessity accompanied by a tearing apart of full temporal reality into a timeless noumenon, which was said to constitute the true being of temporal reality, and a merely subjective temporal phenomenon, based upon the psychic nature of sensory appearances.
     The noumenon, as the absolute, true reality, was taken to be a substantial thing, according to the definition of Descartes: "quae nulla re indiget ad existendum." [General editor's note: Descartes writes in his Principles of Philosophy 1.51: "By substance we can conceive of nothing other than a thing that exists in such a way as to stand in need of nothing beyond itself in order to exist"]. Thus, in Plato's objective idealism the ideas, the rational concepts, the noumena, are reified into supra-temporal substances. The noumena are assigned to the rational functions of our consciousness; the phenomena on the other hand are correlated to the sensory-psychic function, which cannot discover true reality.
     In the humanist view of reality and epistemology this concept of substance acquires an entirely new meaning of its own. This time, the proclamation of the sovereignty of reason issues from the modern humanist ideal of the personality, which in a Faustian desire for power wishes to subject all of reality to itself. After the birth of modern mathematical natural science, this personality ideal was initially concentrated entirely within the typical humanist science ideal, which acknowledged as true reality only that which mathematical, natural-scientific thought had produced on its own in a seemingly free construction. In this fashion the concept of substance became the primary metaphysical basis of this science ideal. Thus Descartes grasped the function of matter in mathematical fashion, essentially reducing it to static space and reifying it as res extensiva, a timeless substance behind the temporal sensory functions of nature. Similarly, Hobbes reified as timeless substance the mathematically comprehended kinematic function: the body in motion.
     The personality ideal, by contrast, arose as the idea of self-sufficiency, of sovereign freedom for the human personality. When in order to confirm its sovereignty the personality ideal called forth the science ideal, it was doomed to perish under the natural necessity of all reality as demonstrated by this very science ideal.
     In order to avoid exposing the rational function to dissolution by the science ideal, the personality ideal initially had no alternative but to adopt a second substance next to the first. This second substance (in fact the substance of the personality ideal) could, in the period preceding Kant, only be found in thought itself. And so Descartes presented his res cogitans as a spiritual substance next to the res extensiva as the natural substance and separated the two basic denominators by an unbridgeable chasm. Hence "to view nature as if no spirit exists, and spirit as if there is no nature" became the self-contradictory task.
     A poignant antinomy indeed! For as an abstraction from full temporal reality, nature as a substance existed only by the grace of synthetic thought. The Cartesian and Leibniz-Wolffian metaphysical schools labored without success at resolving this antinomy.
     In the meantime the razor-sharp intellect of David Hume unraveled the concept of substance epistemologically. Following John Locke, he chose the synthetically conceived psychical function as the basic denominator for empirical reality and demonstrated that a natural substance independent of our consciousness, assuming it exists, in any case transcends our ability to know it.
     In keeping with association psychology (which, by the way, is no less grounded in the science ideal) the concept of substance as the embodiment of all reification was rent asunder into a copy of a bundle of psychic impressions. In accordance with the laws of association psychology Hume explained the whole concept of substance in terms of a synthesis that may be psychologically necessary yet for all that is an untenable illusion insofar as it refers to the things-in-themselves. Ideas, after all, are mere copies of original impressions; the criterion of truth is to be found simply in the correct connection of the ideas with the corresponding impressions. Now the impression on which the idea of substance rests is that of a constant connection between sensory impressions, of a constant uniformity therefore in the impressing activity itself. And whenever one fails to relate the idea of substance to this constant connection between impressions and relates it instead to some metaphysical identity of the contents of these impressions, the idea becomes false.
     By means of a psychologistically distorted science ideal, Hume's psychologistic critique of knowledge undermined the metaphysical foundations not only of the science ideal but also of the personality ideal. For Hume's critique also struck the Cartesian concept of substance in the personality ideal, that is, the absolute reality of the res cogitans. In the light of Hume's critique of knowledge the "I" is merely a collective term for a series of impressions that are constantly being ordered according to the laws of association.
     It is obvious that this entire critique rested on a simple transfer of immanence philosophy's Archimedean point from physical thought to psychological thought. In point of fact, Hume was no less guilty of reification than the rationalists he attacked; only, in his case it was the psychical function of temporal reality that was reified. All thinking that posits things "in themselves," all reification, regardless of whether one dresses it up as the concept of a thing or as the concept of a function, is based on [inter-functional] synthetic thought. It is a meaning-synthesis on the one hand of the deepened analytical (logical) thought-function and on the other of the a-logical functions of reality abstracted from full reality. With that, the reification of the psychic function collapses, since it only exists by the grace of the logical function. In Hume's so-called empiricism, the whole of empirical reality turns into phenomena in the sense of the reified objective-psychic meaning-function of temporal reality.
     We know that Kant, impressed by Hume's critique of knowledge which ended up in skepticism, tried to emancipate the personality ideal from the science ideal. By a "Copernican revolution" he reduced empirical reality (as reality of nature) to a phenomenon possessing merely transcendental objectivity. Kant forcefully maintained the science ideal against Hume but limited it to psychic sensibility and detached it from the metaphysical concept of substance. The noumenon was transferred wholesale to the supra-sensory realm of normative ideas of reason, a realm in which the personality ideal revealed its deepest tendencies by proclaiming the absolute sovereignty of moral freedom.
     As soon as the personality ideal began to emancipate itself from the science ideal and, as with Kant, claimed primacy, it could no longer recognize a substance peculiar to nature. For such a natural substance would contradict the continuity postulate of freedom. Eventually it would have to ground nature itself in the rational idea of the free personality, and in turn liberate this personality in its reified function from the materialization into a substance (to which Kant still clung) by conceiving it as absolute subjective actuality. The post-Kantian ethical idealism of Fichte in his first period had already drawn this consequence from Kant's moralistic personality ideal. Kant himself halted at the analytical separation of the two realms of the phenomenal reality of nature and the normative freedom that is noumenal and therefore only realized by an a priori rational faith. Not even his Critique of Judgment really succeeded in bridging the divide.
     Kant's entire view of reality and critique of knowledge was grounded in a typically dualistic cosmonomic idea [law-idea] which allowed the antagonistic continuity postulates of the science ideal and the personality-ideal to balance each other out. Ideally, though, primacy was assigned to the personality ideal. Criticistic epistemology shared this functionalist position with all its humanist predecessors. 
     The historical direction indicated by the mathematical rationalism of natural science and by psychologistic empiricism allowed our cognitive ability to resolve into two functions of consciousness: the psychic [ie sensory] and the logical. Behind this functionalist duality lay hidden the dogmatic prejudice of immanence philosophy's metaphysics: the rending asunder of full temporal reality into a noumenon and a phenomenon. The noumenon was assigned to the analytical function of thought, the phenomenon to the psychic [sensory] function of observation or representation.This dogmatic position also governed Kant's epistemology.
     ln deviation from what Kant taught and for the sake of extending the boundaries of the mathematical science ideal, the Neokantian doctrine of law and the state applied the criticistic form-matter scheme as epistemic scheme to the world of norms by conceiving law as a thought category. Yet even then, the total disparity of norms and natural laws had to be maintained if a relapse into the naturalism of the pre-Kantian empiricism was be to avoided, since the latter would once again completely dissolve the personality ideal. What resulted was fundamentally a trilemma: the naturalistic-monistic view of the state of natural-scientific sociology, the dualistic political theory of the two-sides theory, and the logicistic-monistic theory of pure norm-logic (reine-Normlogik).
     Theoretically, individuality is the central problem of temporal reality. As given in pre-theoretical experience, individuality is the ultimate refutation of all rationalism. It is the proof that it is simply not possible to dissolve the subject-side of our temporal cosmos into its law-side and at the same time to detach the subject-side from the law-side. Temporal reality, as we shall see later, reveals that this individuality is inseparably connected with the structure of things. And in the Christian view it finds its supra-temporal, transcendent foundation in the religious root of our cosmos.
     On the functionalist viewpoint of immanence philosophy, the problem of individuality becomes a hopeless crux. Rationalism has really only a law-idea, but no subject-idea... Conversely, irrationalism really possesses only a subject-idea and no law-idea.
     To the humanist science ideal, the absolutized individual is the isomorphic exemplar of conformity to a mathematical law of nature. This individualism-devoid-of-individuality carried the day in the natural-law constructions of humanism. Not until the Age of Sturm und Drang did the humanist view of individuality begin to align itself with humanism's personality ideal. But in that move it quite easily reverted to an irrationalist philosophy of life which reified individuality at the expense of conformity to the law.
     The crisis of humanist political theory reveals not just a crisis of the humanist science ideal. Its deepest cause is to be found in the immense crisis at the root of the humanist worldview: its personality ideal.
     So long as the personality ideal was still concentrated in the mathematical science ideal itself, humanist legal and political theory were borne up by a rock-solid faith in the eternal practical truths of reason, which for natural-law theory were embodied in the natural order. The state and its authority were accounted for in terms of mathematical thought and men had an optimistic view of the possibility to shape all of life in conformity with the eternal truths of reason. 
     With his epistemology Kant rejected once for all the claims of the science ideal as applied to the domain of practical normativity. The logical mathematical function of reason (the intellect) he declared to be incompetent for proving the scientific truth of normative ideas. And yet in his Critique of Practical Reason he started out by allowing an a priori and universally valid rational faith to take the place of the mathematical science ideal. And proceeding from the starting-point of this rational faith he erected a complete political and legal theory, proclaiming the infallibility of its constructions and conclusions - proclaiming it with even greater assurance, if possible, than his predecessors.
     This rational faith in eternal truths of reason, on which both state and law were supposed to be founded, has been drastically upset since the nineteenth century by the tidal wave of historicism and positivism. Neokantianism could not turn back this wave with its logicistic world of "forms". To be sure, the idea of the people's sovereignty as the basis for state authority has been solemnly confirmed in many constitutions that have come into being since the [First] World War. Yet both science and practice have lost faith in this idea, along with faith in the state as an organized community.
     The idea of modern democracy itself is no more than the idea of a skeptical relativism which no longer dares to stand fully committed behind absolute truths. Consequently one is content to demand equal rights for all political viewpoints.

(Herman Dooyeweerd: The Crisis in Humanist Political Theory, Collected Works Series B, Volume 7, Paedeia Press 2010, Ed. D.F.M Strauss, Co-ed. Harry van Dyke. 214 pages. Paperback €7,10/ £7.00/ $9.00. ISBN 978-0-88815-212-1)