Thought on Realism

Mankind is not something that exists in addition to nature – mankind is a part of nature. Mankind is part of the world. Mankind is part of reality. Does it make sense, then, to talk about a reality which exists independent of ourselves or our perception of it? I suspect this is a conceptual confusion. Perhaps it can be restated – reality would exist even if mankind was not there. That sounds a bit better to me. Mankind is a part of reality, but not a necessary part. Few people would dispute that fact.

Torrance (as well as Gilson, and a lot of others) stressed the idea of mankind as a personal agent, who act within the world, and achieves a kind of unity with the world. Gilson said that the intellect apprehends existence, apprehends being, forms a unity with being in act. One is not simply a thinking thing in the world. One is a part of the world, and in the act of knowing is tied into an intimate union with being, with existence.

‘If man is considered only as “thinking thing” poised upon himself over against the world out there, then the world can be brought within the knowledge of the detached subject only by way of observing phenomena, accounting for them through determining phenomenal connections, and reproducing them to rational representation. Thus the “world” is that which is constructed out of the states of man’s consciousness, not something with which he interacts as a personal agent: it is merely the subject of his objectivist and objectifying operations.’

‘But it is action, in which we personally behave in accordance with the nature of the things around us, that connects man and the world in a way that overcomes the detatched relation between man and nature. Hence a recovery of the concept of the human being as personal agent, actively related to the world of things and persons around him, erases the radical dualism upon which the old model of thought depended (i.e. the model built up from the concept of man as a detached observer over against intert, determinate being.’ (T.F. Torrance, ‘Reality and Scientific Theology’, p. 57)

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