Friday, April 27, 2007

Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Answers to Thomisticguy: 2 of 6, Doughnuts and Metaphysics

This is the second post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.

B. My trying to help you understand where I’m at.

B. 1. You said: “I hate to seem dense, but, I literally do not know what ‘metaphysics of absence’ means. Therefore, it becomes an impossibility for me to connect it to free-market theory. Let me share with you one of the reasons why I find it so hard to grasp what you are trying to communicate. For instance, the terms ‘metaphysics of absence’ seem odd to me.” First of all, I would have a hard time believing that you are less “dense” than myself. My profile name is partially an indication of my stubborn immobility.

Secondly, let me see if I can help you understand a bit what I mean, if I can. Imagine a man sitting in his dining room thinking about something, anything. We will go through a number of different scenarios of what he might be thinking about in order to hopefully get at what I mean.

So, first of all, imagine him thinking about the empty plate that was just a few minutes ago filled with food. Imagine him thinking about the color of the plate, how it might have been made, how the light shines on it, and even his judgment on whether he thinks it’s a good plate or not, and what it is on which he decides to base his judgment. First of all, the plate itself is “present”, as is the man himself thinking about the plate. This means that he is actually PERCIEVING the plate, as well as “thinking about it,” since he’s decided to “con-centrate” on it. In his thinking about it (con-centrating his being on it), as well, there is a lot of things involved in his thinking that are NOT “present”, so things which are absent (as least absent in relation to what is there present). The plant where it was made, the machines that went into making it, the sun itself that he cannot see that’s causing the light to shine in a certain way in the certain way that he can see, the food that he could see but now can only feel in his belly (so the food that he is still perceiving, but in a different way – as visual beings we would actually think of the food itself as “absent” once its no longer on the plate, which in itself is interesting).

We could go through the same exercise with an object of his longing that is NOT “present” to his sensible perception in the actual here and now. Imagine that he’s thinking about his wife, and not even in any “dirty” way. He just loves her and wants to be with her, and so finds her “with” him, so to speak – but at that moment she is with him “merely” in his mind – and I say“merely,” because he’d rather have her with him.

And we could go through that same exercise as well if we consider the very same man sitting in the very same place, but rather thinking simply “about” a sequence of words, placing a series of words that have a relationship to each other in time that gives them some sort of meaning, whatever the meaning happens to be of whatever words happen to be the object of his thought at that time. I don’t here like the term “thinking about”, because in reality he is actually thinking something, but there is also an “aboutness” in regards to the words as “objects” in his mind. Nonetheless…that’s not critical now, because that’s not what we are talking about. What we are talking about is absence and presence.

So what my concern here is what is actually present and what is actually absent to this man at this moment. Or, to say that anything is “absent to him” and “present to him” is in reality sort of just a figure of speech. Because in reality they are present in his mind or absent from his mind. Or there, as with the plate, there may be things that are absent but that lend meaning or substance to what it is that does happen to be present in his mind, which therefore in a sense actually ARE part of what is present.

Example. Lets say he is thinking: “Man, that doughnut was really good this morning.” The complexity of the dynamics there in the various relationships between what is actually present and what is actually absent is astounding, but in this case it is all only present in his mind. Neither the doughnut nor the morning is actually present to his senses at that moment. The goodness could be said to be present, but at the same time it is only through the memory of the absent doughnut that he ate in the absent morning.

Now if you consider all the interrelationships between what was actually present and absent in the moment when he was actually sensually perceiving the doughnut (including the hole in the middle of the doughnut :)…holy crap that’s a boatload of complexity – especially in light of the absence of the doughnut right this moment when he sits at his dining room table! The question is, did he eat the doughnut at his dining room table, or at Dunkin’ Doughnuts!? And was the night that partially defines his morning one of warmth, coziness and good sleep or one of coldness, alienation, restlessness and a broken central heating system in his apartment (all of which involve things beyond just his own experience…for example we all “experience” alienation and separation from God, which is a truth in itself beyond one’s “experience” of it)!?

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