Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wright on Various Types of Duality

One very helpful feature of The New Testament and the People of God begins on page 252 where Wright discusses the idea of 'dualism.' I have noticed that in popular theological and philosophical circles, dualism seems to be the plague du jour that must be avoided at all cost. What is generally meant by the word is the opposition of two concepts which might otherwise occur together in nature. Some common dualities might include body-soul, good-evil, light-dark, and so forth.

The danger of thinking dualistically about a thing is that, in doing so, one runs the risk of perceiving a dual opposition that simply is not there, thus undermining any hope of truly understanding a normally holistic entity. This is a valid concern and one which Wright takes to heart at a number of places in his works. However, I have noticed - and I am sure that I am not the only one - a sort of dualism-phobia wherein all dualisms are treated equally as false, simply on the grounds that they are dualistic. This is, of course, a dreadfully simplistic way of thinking about things. And this is one place where I have found Wright to be enormously helpful (though, really, what he does is not that extraordinary).

On pages 253-4, he enumerates ten types of duality and describes them thusly:
The New Testament and the People of God
  1. Theological/ontological duality. The postulation of heavenly beings other than the one god, even if these beings exist at his behest and to do his will. This belief is called 'dualism' in some recent scholarship.
  2. Theological/cosmological duality. If pantheism is a classic form of monism, the differentiation between the creator god and the created order is often seen as itself a sort of 'dualism'.
  3. Moral duality. The positing of a firm distinction between good and evil, e.g. in the realm of human behaviour. Most religions maintain some such distinction, but some forms of pantheism have tried to remove it, not least by labelling it 'dualism' and associating with it other dualisms that are deemed to be unwelcome.
  4. Eschatological duality. The distinction between the present age and the age to come, usually reckoning the present age as evil and the age to come as good.
  5. Theological/moral duality. Expressed classically in Zoroastrianism and some forms of Gnosticism, this view postulates that there are two ultimate sources of all that is: a good god and a bad god. In 'hard' versions, the two are locked in struggle for ever; in 'soft' versions, the good one will eventually win.
  6. Cosmological duality. The classic position of Plato: the world of material things is the secondary copy or shadow of the 'real' world of the Forms, which filtered down as a mainline belief of the Greco-Roman (and the modern Western) world: that which can be observed in the physical world is secondary and shabby compared with that which can be experienced by the mind or spirit. (In some modern versions the order is reversed, putting the material first and the spiritual second.)
  7. Anthropological duality. The human-centred version of cosmological dualism. Humans are bipartite creatures, a combination of body and soul, which are arranged in a hierarchy: soul ahead of body in many religions and philosophies, body ahead of soul in many political agendas.
  8. Epistemological duality. The attempt to differentiate sharply between that which can be known by means of human observation and/or reason and that which can be known only through divine revelation.
  9. Sectarian duality. The clear division of those who belong to one socio-cultural-religious group from those who belong to another.
  10. Psychological duality. Humans have two inclinations, a good one and a bad one; these are locked in combat, and the human must choose the good and resist the evil.

This list is helpful in the way that all definition is helpful: it concretizes the often numinous concepts which we always already (and often unconsciously) use. Seeing, for example, that it is possible to presuppose Wright's 'epistemological duality' raises the questions "Do I presuppose a dichotomy between revelation and reason?" and "Should I?"

Much more, having these well-defined categories allow us to examine the thoughts of others and identify the presence of some dualities as well as the absence of others, rather than merely labeling a whole corpus 'dualistic'. Wright immediately puts these categories to use, showing how one might begin to talk about 'dualism' in early Jewish thought. The following table (taken from p. 256) summarizes his own suggestions as to the shape of Second Temple Jewish thought:

Ten Types of Duality in Second Temple Judaism
regularly acceptedpossiblemarginal
1. theological/ontological5. theological/moral
2. theological/cosmological6. cosmological
3. moral7. anthropological
4. eschatological
8. epistemological
9. sectarian
10. psychological