Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Changing of the Natural World

The Old Order of Nature

· The Forms: The Old Order believed all of nature was comprised of ‘forms-at-work’ (132). All of nature is comprised of certain instantiations of forms (we have the form Human Being) and these forms impose order upon things. For example, a ‘bouncy ball’ without form is just a heap of matter, the form of bouncy ball orders that matter (in an Aristotelian-Thomist understanding). The form gives the bouncy ball its bounciness, shape, etc. (potentiality/actuality distinction). There is also a notion of teleology present in things. Things bear their own teleology; it is not imposed on things from ‘outside.’

· This notion is also applied to human beings. The form human being imposes order on a person (including the will) (130-131). There is a way human beings should be that is imposed on them and must be actualized. This order is not something outside of things, but something already existent within things.

· Our passions are signposts pointing to an end. Our experiences of limited happiness point forward to true happiness.

· What is important to Taylor about this view is that there is an order and purpose within all things (130).

· The Four Causes[1]:

o Material: the underlying stuff of things.

o Formal: the form of a thing.

o Efficient: ‘that which actualizes a potency and brings something into being.’

o Final: the end or purpose of a thing.

The New Order of Nature: Taylor believes there is a remarkably different picture of things and nature beginning around the 1500’s that leads to the ‘buffered-self.’

These differences are seen especially well in Descartes and are as follows:

· A person imposes order upon nature. Our will imposes form on the world (leading to a mechanistic view of teleology – the will imposes purpose) (130-131). The only cause left is a ‘type’ of efficient causation.

o The separation of the mind and the body. The mind gives ‘life’ to the outside world (131). This is the buffered-self, there is no form ordering a person’s life (whether from oneself or from the world). Nature is not in any way realizing a form; human beings/minds are imposing form upon things (instead of actualizing the latent potentialities already within things).

· The passions are not potentialities pointing to an end or purpose. They are instruments that must be controlled by reason (131, 135-136). Passion corrupt a person’s rationality.*

o Purpose in life is no longer about being ‘in tune with nature, our own and/or that in the cosmos. It is something more like the sense of our own intrinsic worth; something clearly self-referential’ (134).

· A new Natural Law theory that believes there are ways things fit together rationally, which is the binding norm (126). A mechanistic view, like how a clock ‘fits’ together to work (the ‘world-machine’).


1. How widespread was this notion of forms (Platonic or Aristotelian-Thomist) in the medieval world and before? Was this understanding as common as Taylor seems to portray it to be?

2. How much is the ‘Old Order of Nature’ dependent on Platonic or Aristotelian metaphysics? Can it in any way be separated from them?

3. Is Taylor too harsh on natural law theory and does he paint it more negatively than it is? Were there other natural law theories during this time that took a less mechanistic view of the world?

[1] See Edward Feser, Aquinas, (Oneworld Publications, 2009), pg. 16-23

No comments:

Post a Comment