What’s “fundamental”?

“That man is a ‘body’ belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female.” So says John Paul II in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body (157). How does he know? Because Adam was first created body, and then differentiated into male and female.

There appears to be something to this line of reasoning. Paul, after all, says that the order of male and female in the church is rooted in the order of creation, the man first and then the woman (1 Timothy 2:13). But Paul is talking function and authority, not ontology. Adam is not more human because he is first.

The assumption behind John Paul’s claim seems to be the tragic one that earlier is better, earlier is more fundamental. But the error of this sort of tragic metaphysics or anthropology becomes evident if we press the question. If body is more fundamental than sexually differentiated body, then doesn’t that mean that Adam is more fundamentally dust than he is body? And doesn’t that mean that Adam is somehow more fundamentally not-being than being? It’s an odd consequence to say that the most important thing someone is is that he isn’t.

This is the nihilism that is end point for all tragic metaphysics. It won’t do to call an arbitrary halt to the metaphysical regression toward nothing. Protology is not adequate as fundamental ontology, because there is always a protos beyond the protology. Instead, we have to at least include telos a dimension of basic ontology, even if we don’t tilt everything eschatologically.

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