The Failure of Immanentist Metaphysics-Pt 2 – Human Nature is not merely Immanent

Nevertheless, there remained in Aristotle the fundamental hesitation that distinguished the Hellenic from the Christian idea of man, that is, the hesitation to recognize the formation of the human soul through grace; there was missing the experience of faith, the fides caritate formata in the Thomistic sense. In the case of Aristotle, the most poignant symptom of this hesitation is his insistence that friendship ( philia ) between God and man is impossible. Equality is for him an essential element of friendship; philia between unequals is difficult, if not impossible; and it becomes quite impossible if one partner to the friendship is as remote from the other as God through his preeminence of qualities is from man (N.E.1158b35 ff.). This is the Hellenic position, in contrast with the Christian experience of the amicitia between God and man.

The Aristotelian position does not allow for a forma supranaturalis , for the heightening of the immanent nature of man through the supernaturally forming love of God. It is true, the Aristotelian gods also love man (N.E. 1179a23 ff.), but their love does not reach into the soul and form it toward its destiny. The Aristotelian nature of man remains an immanent essence like the form of an organic being; its actualization is a problem within the world. Although the noetic self is the theiotaton in man, and although its actualization is conceived as an immortalization, human nature finds its fulfillment immanently. Transcendence does not transform the soul in such a manner that it will find fulfillment in transfiguration through Grace in death.

The metaphysical construction of human nature as an immanent form is technically inadequate because it is supposed to cover structures of the soul that are formed by transcendence. From the conflict between the reality of experiences and metaphysical construction stem the aporiai of Aristotelian philosophizing that occupy us at present. The experience of transcendence, on the one hand, is differentiated to the point where the supranatural fulfillment of human potentiality has come into clear view; for the bios theoretikos is, within the Hellenic limitations, a sanctification of life leading toward the immortalization of the soul, toward the beatitudo in the Christian sense. The metaphysics of immanent form, on the other hand, requires the immanent actualization of human potentiality. From this conflict results the construction of an immanent actualization of the supranatural potentiality of the soul. 1

We shall meet with a similar theoretical situation at the end of the Middle Ages when, with the disintegration of Christianity and the new wave of immanentism, political thinkers began to evoke the idea of an intramundane realization of perfect human existence. The immanentization of transcendental fulfillment resulted at that time in the development of political "ideals," and ultimately in the political chiliasm of transforming society into a terrestrial paradise by means of organization and violence. The modern, immanentist possessors of Truth do not hesitate to extend its blessedness to everybody whom it does not concern.

A similar movement of political idealism and chiliasm would have lain in the logic of Aristotelian metaphysics. The spiritual sensitiveness and the magnificent realism, both of Plato and Aristotle, however, preserved them from the catastrophic derailment that characterizes modern politics—although in our study of Plato we had occasion to note the danger point of a breakdown into a theocratic tyranny. The conflict between transcendental spiritualism and immanentist metaphysics worked its confusion only at the theoretical stage.

The immanentist construction of the best polis, to be sure, compelled Aristotle to classify all empirical constitutions as perversions, but it did not induce him to make war on the perversions in the name of Truth. On the contrary, his careful attention to the manifold of political reality led to the problems that we characterized as a political sociology. It led to the theory of a cycle of political forms, and above all, it led to the problem of the "characters" whose autonomy of historical existence must be respected by the possessor of the Truth.

From the complex of problems just adumbrated we see emerging a genuinely "natural" study of man and of his existence in society and history—"natural" not in a biological sense but in the sense of those components in the essence of man that determine the structure of intramundane, human existence. "Nature" in this sense, however, is not an independent essence; for the notion of this "nature" is formed on the experiential occasion that historically brings the supernatural formation of the spiritual soul into view.

With the differentiation of the Socratic-Platonic experiences, immanent nature begins to differentiate as its correlative. In Aristotle's philosophical anthropology and politics this correlative differentiation is the all-pervasive problem. It expresses itself in the differentiation of a bios theoretikos , which no longer can be integrated properly into the supposedly all-embracing immanent political order, and of an immanent political and historical order, to be judged by the critical standards of the philosopher as a "perversion" but to be left in its perverted state nevertheless. We see prefigured a differentiation that later will develop into the temporal and spiritual order of a Christian society.

1. For the problems of the present section, see chap. 9, §2.

CW VOL 16,
Chapter 10
On Types of Character and Skepticism,
§ 2 The Failure of Immanentist Metaphysics
pp 419-421.