Philosophy against Misosophy


Nature, Contemplation, and the One


Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From Idealistic Studies, 5, January 1975, 59-69.  This paper complements, as it makes implicit reference to, Deck's St. Thomas Aquinas and the Language of Total Dependence,” available elsewhere on this site.



The Itself: In-Another Pattern and Total Dependence

John N. Deck

Suppose that someone wishes to characterize God as the independent, the creature as the totally dependent.  Or suppose that someone wishes to work out in general the implications of the independent vis-à-vis the totally dependent.  I take total dependence to entail (1) that B is dependent upon A, but that A is independent of B (that there is no reciprocity, no reciprocal action), (2) that B is dependent on nothing else than A, and (3) that there is nothing in B which is independent of A.  Are there other logical patterns which are legitimate renderings of, or at least compatible with, independence: total dependence?

In a previous article, I called attention to a pattern which I consider incompatible with the notion of total dependence.  If the creature is viewed as (a) a recipient which receives (b) something from God, total dependence is compromised, because the recipient-feature cannot but be viewed as somewhat “on its own,” somewhat independent.  And yet the recipient-received composition of creatures seems a “natural” spelling out of such sentences as “the creature receives existence from God,” apparently unimpeachable in many a theistic context.  Its historical expression can be seen in Plotinus and St. Thomas.  With regard to the latter, I argued specifically that the essence-existence composition of creatures is inconsistent with their total dependence on God, since the “essence” must turn out to be uncreated.

Another apparently “natural” way to render total dependence is by what I will call the “itself: in-another pattern.”  God, the independent,[1] is an itself—goodness itself, unity itself, being itself.  (Each of these words has a long history, and much of Christian theology, from the Middle Ages down to Tillich and beyond has seen “being itself” as the most appropriate.)  The being/unity/goodness of a creature is exactly that: being/unity/goodness of or in something [the creature, the essence of the creature, matter, space-time, etc.].  In schematic form,

X: X-in-another.

Or, spelling it out a bit:

X: X-in-the-other-than-X.

It is obvious that the itself: in-another pattern posits at the outset a dual creature, a dual dependent.  Now it may be that the basic fault of the recipient-received picture of the dependent is that it renders the dependent dual in its relation to the independent.  This is fact was agued towards the end of the previous article.  Thus it may be that an examination of the itself: in another pattern many enable us to see, from a new vantage point, that any dual rendering of the dependent cannot succeed.

If it is “natural” to view the independent as an itself, the dependent as an in-another, a certain kind of Platonizing is natural.  The itself: in another pattern can be traced plausibly (though this is not my concern here) to passages like the description of Beauty Itself in the Symposium.  Here Beauty Itself—itself, according-to-itself, one, eternal—simple (μονοειδές) is contrasted to the beauties in or of other things, beauties which are many, coming and going, etc., beauties which “participate, in some fashion” in Beauty Itself.  So if anyone wishes to call the itself: in another pattern Platonic, he is giving it as appropriate an historical parentage as is likely to be found.  I am not dealing here, however, with the historical Plato.  I leave to one side, among other things, the logical (adventitious?) connection in Plato among the eternal, the one, and the itself; the temporal, the many, and the in-another.  I also leave to one side the question of what “participation” means in Plato, and whether it may plausibly be interpreted as, or as involving, dependence.  The question raised in this paper is not one of the interpretation of Plato, but rather whether the for-convenience “Platonic” itself: in-another pattern is or is not compatible with the independent: the totally dependent.

Any pattern which is to be compatible with the independent: dependent must preserve the polarity of the independent: dependent.  Theoretically, it would not be necessary that a pattern compatible with the independent: dependent display the connection between them, but the Z; X-in-another pattern does ostensibly try to do this.  The connection is apparently through the X (or X’s).   By working through the implications of the pattern, we will see that, by trying to display the connection, it loses the polarity, and, conversely, if an attempt is made to retain the pattern while preserving the polarity, the connection is lost.

Suppose the connection in the strongest sense: the X’s are identical.  This is not prima facie impossible according to the formula, because while the two expressions “X” and “X-in-another” are grossly different, it might be that the X’s are the same, that the “second” X is unaffected, as it were, by being in-another.

Here it might be urged immediately that, if the X in-another is identical with X, nothing has been gained by talking about the “another.”  Two X’s have not been established, so that the dependent: independent picture, which was supposed to have been based on a connection through the two X’s, has not been preserved—or as a matter of fact, has not even emerged.

This may actually be the case, but it demands a more thorough explanation because the itself: in-another pattern thrives on the ambiguity of the identity/nonidentity of the “two” X’s.  Or it can even be maintained that the identity of the “two” X’s is precisely the connection between the dependent and the independent.  One thinks of such expressions as “God is not creature, but the being of God is the being of creatures.”

Now if the other-than-X does not affect the X which is said to be in it, does not do anything to this X, this X remains extrinsic to it.  The X which was said to be in the other-than-X proves not to be in it, but coincides with the simple X.  The X-in-another breaks at the seam, because the unaffected X cannot be a part with the other-than-X in a larger whole.

To explain this last: If for the X-in-another, one part (the other-than-X) does not affect another part (the X), in what sense can there be said to be a whole?  Not an organic whole, but only a juxtaposition.  And not even this, because if the spatial consideration (which is only a metaphor here) is abrogated, it is seen that the other-than-X has not eve been brought up against or applied to the X.  There is simply the other-than-X and the X, with no connection between them.

Therefore, if the X in X-in-another is identical with X [“The being of God is the being of creatures,” or “God is the being of creatures”], the X-in-another becomes impossible [there is no creature]. The dependent has disappeared: the dependent: independent polarity has not been preserved.

It is impossible to hold, in the face of these considerations, that the independent is in any way a part of the dependent.  The notion of total dependence, as given at the outset, would have excluded this tentative suggestion anyway, since it was taken to includes “that there is nothing in B which is independent of A.”  But now it ·can be seen that if B as a whole depends on A, there can be no part of B which does not depend on A (but rather is A).  It would not be clear immediately from “B as a whole depends on A” that “every part of B depends on A.”  But if an independent part of B be supposed, it is seen that it must be unaffected by the dependent part(s), or its independence is compromised.  Now a “part” unaffected by other parts is not a part with the other partsit is not in any whole with them.  Thus the independent “part” of B cannot be a part of B at all.

These considerations show that expressions of the form “God is the X [being, unity, goodness] of the creature” cannot be true if the “of’ is construed as “in.”[2] Or in the X-language: the X’s cannot be identical.

These conclusions have been reached on the basis of spelling out the itself: in-another formula as

“X: X-in-the-other-than-X.”

The expanded expression’s second phrase, “X-in-the-other-than-X” has been taken as a whole with two parts, “X” and “the-other-than-X.” Now what if itself: in-another were to be rendered as

“X: other-than-X”?

This rendering could be defended on the ground that, since other-than-X contains, but is not congruent with, X, other-than-X is a possible instance of X-in-another.  X would be represented not as a part with, but as a part of other-than-X.

The simple other-than-X, which has presented itself here as a possible formula for the dependent, can be shown to be a thorough-going inner contradiction.  X must be a constituent of other-than-X because “other” has no content except “other than,” and the “than” must be completed. To say that the “than X” is not part of the “other” is to attempt a retreat into the bare “other,” which is the bare “not,” bare nonbeing, bare nonanything-whatsoeverwhich cannot ultimately be thought or spoken. And yet the other, to be through and through other, must be through and through other- than, through and through other-than-X. So X must enter into the constitution of the through and through other-than-X, and yet the through and through other-than-X is through and through not X, and thus cannot contain X.

It might seem that this contradictory notion could be, or even must be, accepted as the formula for the creature. There would be the other-than-X [the creature] and the X [God]. The dependent: independent polarity would apparently be preserved. The connection would be effected through the X. The X would enter into and yet not enter into, or enter into by not entering into, the other-than-X. God would be the being of the creature by not being the being of the creature. There are minds for whom such conundrums have their attraction.

If we go back, however, to the other-than-X as containing the X (even as “in a way” containing t.he X), it can be shown that it contains nothing but the X: it neither adds to, nor subtracts from, the X.  What it appears to add to the X is the “other than,” but this, taken in detachment from the X, would be no more than the bare other, the bare not. Since the bare not quite simply is not, the only content of the other-than-X is X.  Suppose one says that it subtracts from the X: it subtracts nothing from the X.

These arguments do not automatically show that the use of the word “other” is in all cases a mistake.  What they do show is that the pure form of the other, even if expanded to “other-than-X,” tends to disappear. And therefore that, if God be given as the X, the creature cannot be maintained as bare other-than-X.

Now that the “disappearing” nature of the other has been displayed, it can be seen that the most profound fault of both formulas for the dependent, X-in-the-other-than-X and the simple other-than-X, is not that they provide no connection between the dependent (or one part of the dependent) and the independent, but that they provide too thorough a connectiona connection ,which is no longer a connection, since one of the terms (the dependent) has simply disappeared. Either formula, when ultimately reduced, contains no more than, and no less than, the X.

Neither formula, then, worked when the X’s on its two sides were taken as identical. Now for the formula

X: other-than-X,

the X’s on the two sides pretty well have to be identical. But this does not appear at once to be the case for X: X-in-the-other-than-X. In the God-language: “God is/has being/unity/goodness and there is being/unity/goodness in the creature, but this being/unity/goodness is not God (or the b/u/g of God).”

The connection between the now-definitely-two X’s is no longer identity, and yet they cannot be regarded as completely dissimilar, because then the connection, which is to be effected through the X’s, would be broken. So the X in the X-in-the-other-than-X must be regarded as different, but not completely different. One thinks of Plotinus’ various ways of saying that only an image of the higher is in the lower, or St. Thomas’ remark that the being of a creature is a “similitude” of the being which is God. To work in something of the independent: dependent theme it is likely to be regarded as inferior to, a worsening of, or worse than, the simple X.

All of these expressions run up against the same difficulty: that the bare other, which simply disappears, cannot worsen or even differentiate anything. The bare other, which might have been thought of as the basis of all difference, turns out literally to make no difference.

At this point it would be an obvious move to substitute for the bare other some positive differentiator, some positive worsener (e.g., evil, matter, understood positively). Actually the movement of thought may be more complicated, and less clear, than one of simple substitution.  It may well be that the bare other was originally abstracted in some fashion from the positive differentiator, and a trace of the notion of the positive differentiator has been carried with the notion of the bare other all along, ready to play its role when the bare other as a differentiator runs into difficulties.

In any event, the positive differentiator must at some point appear explicitly on the scene. The another in the original itself: in-another pattern is seen as a positive another.

The positive another has emerged because of the inadequacy of the bare other to modify the X. The positive another is represented; then, as other-than-X, but as being in its very otherness-from-X, a force modifying the X.  It modifies the X through its own non-X resources. The positive another modifies the X (e.g., worsening it) while the X effects the connection between the (simple) X and the positive another by making the positive another dependent on the (simple) X.[3]

If the attempt were not made to allow for this reciprocal action, the X-in-another would once again fall apart” and the positive another would appear at once as a second independent. But even if the reciprocal action is allowed, the positive another cannot be represented successfully as through and through dependent, because this would be to abrogate the character by which it modifies the Xthat is, to take away its power of modifying the X from its own resources. But if it cannot be thoroughly dependent, it is seen as an independent, or partially independent (!) part of the X-in-another.[4] As such it will be subject to the strictures made above on the X as an independent within the dependent. As was shown there, the notion of an independent part of the totally dependent is impossible.

An obviously allied consideration is that, if the itself: in-another pattern is to be compatible with total independence: total dependence, the itself must be viewed as the only independent. So it would appear that the positive another, to do what is expected of it, must be an independentbut it is impossible that it be an independent.

Since, however, the bare other cannot “other” the X (cannot “establish” an X-in-the-other-than-X, a creature distinct from God), the positive another is still needed. It cannot be independent: can it preserve its positive character while being thoroughly dependent?

It has appeared up to now that the connection between the X-in-the-other-than-X and the (simple) X is X.  So here the dependence of the X-in-the-other-than-X upon the (simple) X is effected through X. The other-than-X is dependent upon the (simple) X through the X which is in it, modifying it. Modifying it how? According to the pattern, making it X-ish. It is the presence of the X “quality” in the other-than-X which makes the other-than-X dependent on the (simple) X. Since it will not work to say that the (simple) X is in the other-than-X, the presence of the X “quality” is taken to mean that the other-than-X is, through this quality, like the (simple) X. For Plato, for example, the Good is the cause of being in that being is good-like. The notion is that the other-than-X is dependent upon the (simple) X by being similar to the (simple) Xthat is, by being X-ish.

To make the other-than-X thoroughly dependent, then, would mean to make it thoroughly X-ish. But if it is thoroughly X-ish, all trace of what it was to be, the positive another, has quite disappeared. It is simply X, it is the (simple) X, which, for its part, was X itself, the thoroughly X-ish. Since the positive another disappears if it is thoroughly X-ish, it cannot be thoroughly dependent.

It may appear that this conclusion, reached by reabsorbing the other-than-X into the (simple) X, is too hasty.  Was not the X in the X-in-the-other-than-X afl1rmed to be the connection between the other-than-X and the (simple) X? What if the effect of making the other-than-X thoroughly X-ish was to reabsorb it into this X (the “second” X)? What if the second X is said to be not identical with the first X, but like it?

Here we may observe that the positive another has, at any rate, disappeared, and so the basic pattern has been lost. It is no longer the positive another, which is gone, which is said to be X-like, but rather the second X. But it is just at this point that the pattern is likely to be introduced. The second X is X-like, but it is not X.  Why is it X-like but not X? Because, supposedly, of the presence within it of the other-than-X!

If, however, the other-than-X emerges again here, it is to be subjected to the same dialectic as above, where it was amply shown that it cannot be the bare other, or the positive another, and that it cannot be independent and it cannot be dependent. What the present consideration shows is that if the notion of X-like is to be used at all in the totally dependent: totally independent situation [if the creature is to be said to be “like” God], it cannot be interpreted as X-othered-by-another.  And yet, after all this, there might still seem to be a hope for the positive another. It will be recalled that it had to preserve its positive character and yet be thoroughly dependent-dependent upon the simple X. It came to grief because, if for it to be dependent was to be X-ish, it was absorbed into either the first or the second X.

Although the question seems to be prejudged, let me ask: Could it be thoroughly dependent without being thoroughly X-ish?

It has been shown above that if the positive another depends on the (simple) X through the X that is in it, it collapses into this X and that is the end of it. What if it depends on the (simple) X in another way? At least two possibilities present themselves:

1) It depends upon some other aspect of the (simple) X.

2) It depends directly upon the (simple) X.

“Another aspect of the (simple) X,” which is perhaps already suspect, may be rendered more plausible if it is put into God-talk (it can be translated back later into X-talk). For example: “God is primarily being (or unity) [X], but he is secondarily unity (or being), life, intelligence, etc. The being of the creature imitates the being of God; the unity of the creature imitates the unity of God, etc., etc.” Or: “The being (or unity) of God [X] includes (or super-includes) unity (or being), life, intelligence, etc., etc. Now the being of the creature imitates the being of God, the unity of the creature imitates the unity of God, etc., etc.” These may be regarded as Platonic-Christian ways of saying it. Or, to put it in Thomistic or pseudo-Thomistic terms: “God is his existence [X] which is not distinct from his essence. Now the existence of the creature depends on the existence of God and the essence of the creature depends on the essence of God.” (That existence may be regarded as the “act,” or senior partner here, does not destroy the dualism of the pattern.)

Now to spell this out in X-talk: The basic X: X-in-another pattern seems to be preservedat first. The X in the X-in-another depends on (imitates) the first X. The positive another depends on (imitates) the first X, but not the X of the first X-rather another aspect of the first X (call it Y).

The mention of another aspect of the first X requires an expansion of the pattern, since the “Platonic” itself was μονοειδές, “single-formed.” Two adaptions of the pattern suggest themselves:

(1) XY: XY-in-another;

(2) XY: X-in-another (i.e., Y) and Y-in-another (i.e., X).

In (1) a new (second) another appears. Unless some new way were found to treat this second another, it would have to be regarded at the present stage of the dialectic as an imitation of some further aspect of X, Y, which would then appear as X, Y, Z. X, Y, Z would in turn be imitated by X, Y, Z-in-a-(third)-another, and in this way there would be an endless regress.

Formula (2) takes the independent as containing (being?) X and Y; the dependent as containing (being?) X in Y and Y in X.

It seems to pertain to nothing else than the degree or kind of unity in the independent and in the dependent. Depending on the different forces given to and and in, the formula could be read either as that the independent is more one than the dependent, or that the dependent is more one than the independent.

Now if this formula is being used to display the greater unity of the dependent or of the independent (presumably of the independent), it must be noted that both Y and X remain in each of its sides.  That is to say, it cannot be because Y is other than X that the dependent is said to be less one than the independent, for in the independent also Y is other than X.

It might be urged, however, that Y’s otherness from X admits of degrees, and that the formula displays that Y is more other than X in the dependent than in the independent. But here a new otherness is being introduced, the difference in degree between the two cases. This new otherness, and not the otherness of Y from X, is the mark of the dependent vis-à-vis the independent. So the formula, even if it displays the lesser unity of the dependent, does not display this through the otherness of Y from X (which it was trying to do).  And it need scarcely be said that the new otherness, if it is taken as a positive another, which is the only open possibility at this stage of the dialectic, invites an infinite regress, as above.

Suppose it is said, however, that the otherness of Y from X is the same as the otherness of the dependent from the independent because Y and X are dissociated (or relatively dissociated) in the dependent and are one in the independent, that the dissociation of Y from X constitutes the otherness of the dependent from the independent?  Here the original conditions for the Y, the positive another in the X-in-another, have been altogether lost sight of.  The Y was to maintain its positivity because it would be dependent upon the (simple) X through imitating another (other than X) aspect of the (simple) X.  Now if this other aspect is seen to coincide with the X, the Y has lost its (distinct) basis.  It now simply imitates the (simple) X, and no reason has been shown why it should not coincide with the (second) X.

This is to say that the other-than-X in its last available form, the positive Y, has collapsed at least into the (second) X, so that at best we are left with X: X. The X: X-in-another pattern has not been able to maintain itself, whether the X’s were taken as identical or as nonidentical but similar, and whether the another was taken as the bare other or as the positive another.

Since X: X (with the second X taken as not identical to, but similar to or an imitation of the first X) has been left, a new inquiry is invited, an inquiry into the compatibility of similarity/imitation with total dependence.

In God-and-creature talk, this means that the creature cannot be represented successfully as being/unity/goodness in another.  The another must at any rate disappear; the creature cannot be represented as dual in its respect to· the creator. It might remain that God is being/unity/goodness while the creature is an incomposite likeness to, or imitation of, the being/unity/goodness which is God. But can a likeness or an imitation be incomposite?


[1] There is a persistent philosophic tendency to misread the independent as, or replace it by, the self-dependent.  This is seen, for example, in Plotinus’ occasional expression that the one “makes himself,” in Descartes’ “causa sui,” in the designation of God as the a se, and in the translation of Aristotle’s καθ’ αυτο as self-dependent.”  For the purity of the argument here, it is better that the itself be regarded as the independent.

[2] What of the position that “of” and “in” are not synonyms? God is the X of creatures, and nothing is being said about the X in creatures. This could be held (a) by someone who would hold also that there is no X in creatures. A first and decisive observation would be that these positions could not he held consistently with the itself: in-another pattern. A further observation (which falls outside of my immediate scope in this paper) would be that to abandon any being, goodness or unity (any positive characteristic) for the creature would cause one to wonder if there still was a creature at all. “God is the X ‘of’ creatures and nothing is being said about the X ‘in’ creatures” could be held also (b) by someone who did not commit himself on the question of X “in” creatures. The person here envisioned would not hold positively the itself: in-another pattern. What he said positively wouldunless he claimed a direct knowledge of Godhave no other meaning than “God is the creator of creature.”

[3] The notion presented here is one of present reciprocal influence. If the positive another were to be represented as originally unaffected by the X, then undergoing a change in which it came to be affected, it would be obvious at once that the positive another was, at least originally, a second independent.

[4] The “whole” X-in-another might be viewed as a tension between the X and the positive another.  But this would mean that the X could not subdue the positive another, that it could not make it thoroughly dependent. So the tension would have to be regarded as one between two independents.

Posted February 14, 2007


Deck Page