But when two perspectives clash, often there is no point of reconciliation. So no real discussion can take place, only contention. We seek grounds for real discussion.
When a debate is based on perspective, then meaning or purpose often lies at the root. This is the case here: which is the more 'meaningful' - the human or the gene? We note that, as part of our own survival, our genes also survive. But the question Dawkins has raised is: Which survives for the other? The word 'for' implies meaning and purpose.
To answer this, we need to be able to do two things. First we need to be able to discuss the meaning of each, second to account for one meaning within the other in a satisfactory manner. We do the first by recourse to a stream of philosophy that is centred on Meaning. We do the second by reference to the innovative concept of enkapsis found within that stream of philosophy.
But Dooyeweerd (1955) questioned this and started with another presupposition: that the most fundamental property is Meaning. He showed how Existence can derive from Meaning, even though Meaning cannot derive from Existence.
Meaning, he said, is not one single thing, nor is it arbitrary. There is a diversity of Meaning - and he identified fifteen aspects each of which has a distinct kernel meaning. But, he continued, Meaning is not fragmented; there is a coherence among the aspects, borne by the inter-aspectual relationships of dependency and analogy, by which each aspect contains analogical echoes of all the others. Each aspect has its own laws - and these can be determinative laws (as in the quantitative or physical aspects, or normative, as in the social or juridical aspects).
All 'things' (whether things with physical bodies, or concepts, or events, etc.) can function in all aspects, either as subject or as object. When functioning as object in an aspect, then a 'thing' receives the results of that functioning. When functioning as subject, then the 'thing' makes its own response to the laws of the aspect. For example a sheep can function as subject in the sensitive and biotic aspects, such as when it finds and digests food. But it can only function as object in the economic aspect. So when it is sold it has no grasp of the notion of selling or buying; all it is aware of is that it must explore new territory to find food, and maybe regrets no longer having nice patch of herbs it used to enjoy. Some 'things' can function as subject only in certain aspects, and their functioning in later aspects can only be as object. So the sheep can function as subject in the physical, biotic and sensitive aspects, but not in the economic, aesthetic or juridical aspects.
[ I could talk about the four Kingdoms (physical things, plants, animals and human beings) here, but that would merely distract. Dooyeweerd would be seen as a stone-age thinker; Dawkins-like geneticists with whom I wish to engage in real debate would simply stop at that point and cease to debate, because they believe that there is only one Kingdom, and especially human beings and animals are the same kingdom. I don't think we need to refer to it. ]
Now, the Meaning of a sheep, of itself, can be found in the aspects in which it can function as subject - physical, biotic or sensitive. But the shepherd functions as subject in a wider range of aspects, including the economic (it (I say 'it' deliberately) can sell the sheep), the aesthetic (it can appreciate harmony), the juridical (it can ensure the sheep receive what is rightly due to it), the ethical (it can lay down its life the sheep if the wolf comes). So the Meaning of the sheep, to the shepherd, can be economic, aesthetic, etc. - as well as biotic and sensitive.
(It might also be found in the biotic aspect, if the gene carries out life functions - but to say the gene carries out life functions of itself could be merely metaphorical, recognising some analogical echo of life functions in the physical aspect as mentioned above. At present we are on firmer ground if we talk about the physical functioning of the gene.)
But the Meaning of the gene to the human being or sheep that has it is biotic: it enables our own human and sheep life functions to be carried out.
So the gene has (at least) two Meanings: the physical meaning that it has of itself, and the biotic meaning that it has for us.
One argument is that the more aspects in which Meaning is found in a perspective, the more meaningful is that meaning. (!) From the perspective of the sheep or human being both the physical and biotic meanings of the gene can be recognised, but from the perspective of the gene only the physical is recognised. Therefore the perspective of the sheep or human must have priority. The perspective of the sheep can include that of the gene, but not the other way round. That is a compelling argument.
But it is not one which Dawkins would accept. And, standing back, we can say that both perspectives are valid. We cannot say that one of them is utterly false and wrong.
Copyright (c) 2013 Andrew Basden but you may use this material under certain conditions.
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