Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two Kinds of Dualities

Among the many dualities philosophy and ordinary speech present, some are highly time-dependent, others are, you might say, are timeless, sub specie aeternitatis. To pick two on each side, potency-and-act and being-and-becoming are of the time-dependent kind. The living-and-the-dead and phenomenon-and-noumenon, belong to the timeless category. Let’s deal with these last first.

A person might think that living-and-dead are most definitely time-dependent, arguing that everything living dies and does so within time. But the odd thing is, we can’t be sure. Bodies most certainly die, but what are bodies made of? They’re made of elements. Elements do not die. What constitutes a living being is something more than organic elements, characterized by having carbon as a constituent. A corpse still has all those elements the dying person had a moment before dying. Life has fled, as we say, but until we know just what it is, we can’t say that it has disappeared. If life is a transcending force, living-and-dead are permanently here. Only the forms change.

Phenomenon-and-noumenon, the Kantian categories, meaning that which is capable of being perceived and that, behind it, which cannot, the thing-in-itself, are more obviously independent of time. They co-exist. Thus they point at a basic definition of reality.

Turning to the other side, potency-and-act, the Aristotelian categories, are embedded in time. Potency is a capacity to change. It’s a sleeping power and, when it is unfolding, becoming actual, it is transformed from invisibility to manifestation. Becoming-and-being are equivalent categories. But becoming is impossible to picture without time. Aristotle’s word for potential was dunamis, thus “capacity, possibility.” As it unfolds into act, we have dynamism, a word we derive from dunamis. We’re really dealing here with change, very much a here and now sort of thing, arising from philosophical attempts at explaining motions of sundry kinds. They do not tell us anything about the cosmos, which is always in motion too.

For me the timeless dualities produce more food for thought—because I sense that there is something beyond the here and now. The very abstract, modern formulation I most value is the duality offered by David Bohm, the physicist.† In attempts to make room for intelligence in the Cosmic Whole—but it can be extended to include life and spirit—he suggested two orders in the universe. One is conditioned, the other unconditioned. Call this duality necessity-and-freedom. Intelligence—and life, and spirit—belong to the latter. And these may be thought of as existent within the time flow as well as without.
†I never tire of trying to sell Bohm’s wonderful book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge, 1996, wherein the relevant passage on this subject is on pages 50-53.

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