An Ontology of Human Acting: Person and Community in the Philosophy of Joseph de Finance, S.J.
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
James H. Robb
Throughout the long history of philosophy, philosophers have tended to divide themselves into schools, each school assiduously cultivating its own questions, answers, and methods. And such is the present state of philosophy, there being Thomists, Marxists, Phenomenologists, and Analytical Philosophers for example. While such a plurality of schools has its distinct advantages in that truth is often more easily pursued when refracted into a number of different questions and methods, it also has its disadvantages. For truths thus tend to become orthodoxies and discussion disputes and above all the wholeness of philosophy tends to be forgotten. And so countering this movement of division, there are also movements of rapprochement. Such is the intent of this study of Fr. Joseph de Finance. Fr. de Finance's position is essentially Thomistic; my own position,4.s in the main phenomenological. But-----
For someone who once counted himself among the number of those who were in the Thomistic tradition and who has since moved outside that tradition, to turn back to study again one of his former teachers (and I can count myself one of his students through his writings) is a very ' difficult and sometimes even painful task. Because he has guided one and helped to form one's own philosophy at an important point in one's own career, there is a strong tendency to interpret him even more benignly than one ought. On the other hand, insofar as one has moved away from the tradition, all the arguments that one has had against the tradition become an argument against one's former teacher. And if it is this teacher who above all has opened one up so that his own philosophical growth has taken him out of the tradition, while the teacher has remained within it, then an edge of impatience enters into the argument. And if one conceives one's own philosophical growth as a liberation, sometimes an aspect of exasperated incomprehension enters the argument. What we truly have here is a son's quarrel with his father. Such am I with respect to de Finance.
But what in de Finance's philosophy is that point of contact through which this attempt at rapprochement is possible? It is his method. He describes his method as one of interrogation and reflection; this method of his Sister James John describes as transcendental. Such a characterization is unjustified in her use of the term but is justified in the more usual sense the term is used in. Ordinarily, the term as it is used refers to the kind of enterprise that Kant was engaged in in The Critique of Pure Reason, i.e., a critical view of the limits and scope of reason, an inquiry into the a priori conditions of the possibility of knowledge. It is thus in this sense, for example, that phenomenology goes beyond the mere description of phenomena to inquire into the conditions necessary for the appearance of anything at all (there is among phenomenologists another sense of "transcendental"; the sense given it by Husserl to characterize his later phenomenology). It is in this sense, then, that the kind of inquiry that Merleau-Ponty
is engaged in in The Phenomenology of Perception is transcendental; for in that work the given itself is questioned as to its very givenness in order that one might be able to discern not only what is truly given but also the very conditions of its givenness. Moreover, in order to be able to interrogate the given, it is first necessary to reflect upon it; in other words, the act of reflection is the necessary precondition for questioning. Thus de Finance's method, being one of interrogation
and reflection, is truly transcendental in this sense.
But it would seem even more appropriate to term his method dialectical. There are generally three different methods described as dialectical: that of Plato, that of Hegel, and that of Marx. The notion of dialectics referred to here is the Platonic as above all exemplified in the arguments for the forms Being, Same, and Other in the Sophist (254D-258C); de Finance himself refers us to this passage. In this sense of the dialectical the same and the other, for instance, are not synthesized into some kind of "higher unity"; rather both sameness and otherness are affirmed as co-radical, and otherness entailing sameness. Thus for de Finance subjectivity entails objectivity and objectivity subjectivity; the person entails the other, the other the person. Furthermore, it is out of this dialectic that the notion of person entails the community of persons. And, finally, this very community is this kind of dialectical unity since it is the unity of the person and the other where each is affirmed as co-radical. Thus insofar as interrogation and reflection are co-radical, insofar as his arguments show subject and object, the person and the other to be co-radical, his method is dialectical.
It is not the purpose of this inquiry to treat of de Finance's method directly; rather this method has been exemplified in tracing the origin of de Finance's concept of community in his ontology of acting. After all, the end of every method is not the performance but the a.ch:.1evement of knowledge and the justification of any method in the end is its ability to attain that goal of knowledge or at least to lead one to a better understanding of what is at issue in the questions philosophers raise. And so this inquiry focuses precisely upon the content of de Finance's philosophy. But in order to see why the ontology of acting
entails his notion of community, one must come to understand how he argues. Moreover, to apprehend exactly how he is independent of the tradition in which his philosophy is rooted, one must understand his method. And if in the end a rational critique is to be offered, it will be in terms of the method used: whether it was used consistently and correctly and whether the method itself does not suffer from inherent inconsistencies.