When we talk about a chair or a poem or a statue or a beaver or a tulip or a family or a gene, what are we talking about? When I introduced Dooyeweerd’s modal aspects, I said that when we talk about the modal aspects, we are talking about he “how” of reality. This post is going to talk about the “what” of reality.
There are lots of questions that we could ask about “things,” but I’m going to focus on a topic that many people throughout history have focused on – the problem of identity. When I see an old friend from highschool, I recognize him as the same person even though he may have put on a few pounds or grown a beard or cut his hair or even something more drastic like having an arm amputated or having a heart transplant. When I go into my parent’s backyard, I recognize a large apple tree as being the same one that was just a sapling when I was a child. There are many other examples of this identity question.
Dooyeweerd said that the “what” of reality is experienced in something he called individuality structures. Kalsbeek defines an individuality structure as “a concrete, whole entity or event which has special qualities distinguishing it from all other individuality structures.” In this paper, Bergvall-Kareborn goes on to say that “the concept individuality structure refers to the structure of a class of entities or activities, not individual entities and activities. Hence, all dogs have the same individuality structure, which is different from that of cars or that of schools, and all individuality structures have a qualifying function.” We might think of an individuality structure as a law for certain types of things. The qualifying function of an individuality structure is the function or modal aspect that most characterizes that individuality structure. For example, the qualifying function of a plant is the biotic aspect and the qualifying function of a rock is the physical aspect. (It get’s more complicated than that for some “things.” We can actually talk about various types of qualifying functions – founding functions, leading functions, etc. For example, a family’s founding function is found in the biotic aspect and its leading function is found in the ethical aspect. Likewise, a book’s founding function is found in the formative aspect and it’s leading function is found in the linguistic aspect.)
So, going back to identity, we can ask why do I experience the same tree today as the tree that I experienced when I was a child? Dooyeweerd’s answer was,
“In general we can establish that the factual temporal duration of a thing as an individual and identical whole is dependent on the preservation of its structure of individuality.” Because the tree of today has the same individuality structure as the tree of my childhood, I experience the same tree. Furthermore, because the biotic aspect is the qualifying function of the tree’s individuality structure, we can account for my experience of “sameness” even though the actual atoms and electrons (which have their own individuality structures) of the tree are constantly changing. How, exactly, this accounts for it will have to wait for my next post on Dooyeweerd’s theory of enkapsis, or whole/whole relationships.
Dooyeweerd’s theory of enkapsis, along with his theory of part/whole relationships, is very unique. I also find it to be a helpful tool in thinking about such diverse things as the relationship between people and communities; the relationship between an organism and genes, cells, atoms, etc.; the relationship between a message and the medium that message is communicated through; and the relationship between a sculpture and the material that sculpture is made out of.
Eventually, I would like this to lead to a response to Richard’s question of whether I am a vitalist or not. The answer is no, I am not a vitalist, but I am not a mechanist, either. Neither do I hold to some sort of organicism. Dooyeweerd’s theory of enkapsis, I believe, eschews all those positions and allows a truly unique approach to the question of “what is life?”