Thursday, March 28, 2013

Heidegger's "Teleology in Reverse" Part I: Intentionality and Scholastic Idea-logy

Gadamer once made the pedagogical gesture of characterizing the historical dimension of Heidegger's thought as a "teleology in reverse". Like all such gestures, this one carries with it the self-conscious necessity of distorting the matter to which it is supposed to lead. With Gadamer's characterization we are invited to glimpse how deliberately different Heidegger is from Hegel, but it takes only  the brief moment of focusing in on what we have glimpsed to lose what is really being gestured toward; if we pin Gadamer's words down to a formulation and lose the subtlety of its intentional evanescence, then it quickly becomes clear that the reversal of which it speaks is futile, or as Heidegger so famously wrote of Sartre in his letter to Jean Beaufret, "the inversion of a metaphysical statement remains a metaphysical statement". But how can we receive and preserve the intended benefit of Gadamer's gesture? We must follow where it points, i.e. to what is intended in "a teleology". And since it points to "a teleology in reverse", we must ask not about any end of teleology, as if the historical dimension of thinking could be characterized as a history of thought that culminated in the thought of its own teleologically achieved end. No, this teleology has a twist. It's order and movement is attracted by the force of something different--precisely, it is teleology reversed, a teleology belonging to the beginning. The question therefore presses upon us as to just how this teleology may affect the way we must think of it. In other words, there arises the question of how the Greek τέλος is to be understood at all. Consider the following typical remark made by Heidegger in one of his retrievals of Aristotle’s four causes:
“But there remains yet a third that is above all responsible for the sacrificial vessel. It is that which in advance confines the chalice within the realm of consecration and bestowal. Through this the chalice is circumscribed as sacrificial vessel. Circum-scribing gives bounds to the thing. With the bounds the thing does not stop; rather from out of them it begins to be what, after production, it will be. That which gives bounds, that which completes, in this sense is called in Greek telos, which is all too often translated as “aim” or “purpose’ and so misinterpreted.The telos is responsible for what as matter and for what as aspect are together co-responsible for the sacrificial vessel. ”
The Greek τέλος, Heidegger forewarns, must not be misinterpreted as “aim or purpose.” When we so misinterpret it, τέλος is an idea, that is to say a being of intentionality, a being referring to but lacking substance. Such an idea, as an intentional being, can also be thought of in a more substantive sense, namely, as a thing’s “nature,” e.g. the nature of things as the target aimed for in their development, the perfect species to which each individual thing strives –or in other words, the scholastic “Ideas in the Divine Mind.” Even so considered, these Ideas are in an interesting way properly intentional, not only because real individuals strive toward them (as in the way the form or outward look of a Greek statue gives us the enbodied form of man, of the "ideal" man ---of what Rainscape has, in talking about Achilles' heroic drive, insightfully called  the "drive to be beautifully, to fill out the limits of his form"), but also because, as Aquinas would have it, essentia is potentia to esse as the actus essendi. The primacy of esse over the Ideas unto and through which it is conferred allows those Ideas to still hold the trace of τέλος as “aim or purpose” which Heidegger wishes to avoid.This can be brought to greater schematic clarity in terms of a threefold concept of intentionality. When τέλος is thought as aim it is understood as a “possible” which may be perfected, that is, which may be actualized. This is true of the explicitly intentional aims of men (ideas of intention), the implicitly intentional aims of all natural beings (“drives” and natural movements or tendencies), and even those divine Ideas which serve to give the former (ideas of intention, drives) their teleological ground, in so far as even these divine Ideas are, if not possible, then yet potentia to the act of existence (they are, as it were, intended-to-be in a preeminent sense. The marks of this interpretation of τέλος may be summed up thusly: A.)τέλος as aim presupposes the priority of actuality over potentiality, and B.)τέλος as aim requires the grounding of mind, i.e. the aspiring intentionality of the human subject or the creative intentionality of the divine subject (the implicit intentionality of nature being grounded by both subjects, since aspiring intentionality is in some measure endowed with freedom). 
        It is with respect to the peculiar problem of  divine intentionality that the author of Just Thomism recalls a debate between the Averroists and Aquinas:
The Averroists, following a very probable reading of Aristotle, argued that God could not know anything other than himself – and certainly could not know individual things. Both arguments appeal to the idea that because God is the most excellent object of thought, he would only think of himself, and so would not have the diversity of rationes of created things in his mind.  St. Thomas, on the other hand, not only argued for a multiplicity of ideas of created intelligible natures in the divine mind, he claimed that these divine ideas reached even to the very concretion of the particular things.
 What is here carefully called "a very probable reading of Aristotle" may also be taken to stress the powerful discrepancy of Aquinas's reinterpretation --a reinterpretation which is among other things concerned with saving the worth, so to speak, of what is individuated, regardless of the sphere or gradation of existence that it enjoys. The Thomist reinterpretation, while countering a "very probable reading or Aristotle," raises many scholastic questions regarding its own reading. How, for instance, does the 'presence' of these Ideas in the divine mind not infringe upon the necessity of god being perfect esse, that is, pure act? One way to obviate the difficulty is to understand the divine Ideas as much different than the alleged divine intentionality I have somewhat crudely characterized above --a route that Just Thomism's author seems to advise: 
Thus the ideas or intelligible natures of things, which are similitudes of things in the mind of God, are most perfectly the similitudes of things not only because the knowledge of God is unable to err or be ignorant, but also because the divine mode of knowing, in a way that infinitely transcends the human intellectual power, can attain to a positive, intellectual apprehension of the concrete particular. The idea of a self within the divine mind is not an abstraction, a generalization, or an inadequate, subordinate representation of the concrete reality. It would not be going to far to say that, in a way that is comparable to how God can be said to be more present to the creature than the creature is to itself, so too the self – the that is me in the concrete existential situation of my life – more exists in the divine mind than it does in itself. 
The solution seems to have many interesting aspects --not the least of which is a metaphysico-theological account of the peculiar phenomenon that Heideggger himself made central to his preparatory Dasein Analytik, namely, that we precede our very own selves from the beginning -- a phenomenon not unrelated to what is being indicated in "a teleology in reverse." But this enticing aspect must also be confronted with other aspects of Thomistic thought that seem to temper it or even contradict it. For instance, if it is correct to affirm that the doctrine of the primacy of esse is distinctively Thomistic or, at least, that it lies at the center of Thomistic metaphysics, then it would seem difficult to simultaneously affirm that the divine Ideas actually exist more perfectly than those actual things of which they are Ideas. The difficulty lies in the relation between esse and essentia; if the former is always the act of the latter, god would have to actually create a second (or first) even more perfect totality of beings. The Divine Ideas would be a quasi-alternate universe. Not only would all-that-is be created through them by the conferring of esse; they would also, problematically, be more than a principle of creation: they would be anotherseparate creation. Even the separate substances would not just be essentia and esse, since there would have to actually exist a more perfect divine Idea which created them. And again, if this more perfect Idea existed, it would, as an ens, have to be other than god. One might even say that with this othering, yet another Idea mediating the creation of a divine Idea would be necessary ---ad infinitum. Of course, Aquinas, simply being a thinker of such a stature as he is, would not likely have maintained any position that held such implications. But I honestly don't know how he maintained a  multiplicity of actually existent divine Ideas in the mind of a god himself characterized by perfect act (comments emphatically welcome). My own initial inclination (and I admittedly have not done my homework on this debate with the Averroists) is to think of the scholastic concept of divine knowledge along lines not too different from the manner in which Kant inherited the problem in his concept of intuitis originalis, as it is distinguished from intuitis derivativus (and of course I am entirely bracketing the very different way Kant made use of this distinction). In other words, god's knowledge of a thing effects its existence, or, put another way, the existent thing (ens) is per se the object of god's knowledge. In this case, however, if we further posit Ideas in the mind of god, then they cannot exist ---rather god's Idea is the existing thing. And this returns me back to my rough notion of the divine intention as an instance of τέλος as aim.
         If through scholasticism the primary sense of τέλος first becomes definitively grounded in Mind, then this tendency becomes radicalized in modernity, especially in its most extreme and self-mirroring version in Hegel. It is this version that Heidegger is predominantly invested in freeing thought from.  Hegel is the most extreme representative of this interpretation of τέλος, since he proposes that all three different intentionalities (the implicit intention of nature, the explicit intention of finite mind, and the creative intention of divine Mind) are themselves teleologically directed to the insight that they are in actuality only one intentionality, one subjectivity or Mind comprehended in its own Concept. Importantly, for Hegel, this actual unity of the different intentionalities is not simply the case, but must be teleologically achieved, i.e. brought from the potentiality of an abstract Idea to the actuality of a concrete Concept --a Concept which grasps precisely the teleological necessity of this achievement.