One of the games I play with my son as I drive him to school is “Twenty Questions.” It struck me the other day while we were playing this game how necessary it is to be able to think in terms of “kind” when playing. I’m having to teach him to ask scholastic questions first to narrow things down: “Does it exist (An sit?),” “What is it (Quid sit?),” and, “Of what sort is it (Qualis sit?).”
I was having a bit of trouble early on, because he insisted on using all his question to guess particulars: “Is it our dog?” (No.) “Is it my sister?” (No.) And so on. In order for the game to work, you have to move from the general to the particular…you can’t start at the level of the particular and win. There are just way more than twenty possible particulars. (There was just that one time when I was trying to make it easy on him and guessed it on the first try.)
This experience speaks to the necessity of human thinking in terms of genus, species, and so on, defined by something along the lines of Aristotle’s Ten Categories. It doesn’t on its own answer the debates about the reality (or lack thereof) of immanent forms, of course.
But at least one way of reading the Genesis account of human existence before the Fall indicates that not only must we think in these kinds of ways, but also that this manner of thinking corresponds to the way things really are. As Abraham Kuyper writes in his essays on common grace in science and art:
In our current situation we can arrive at the knowledge of things only by observation and analysis. But that is not how it was in paradise. For we read that God brought the animals to Adam, and that when he first saw them, Adam immediately perceived the nature of these animals in such a way that he immediately gave them names (Gen. 2:18-20). Naturally this cannot mean that when each animal paraded past him, Adam simply uttered a sound that had no sense or meaning. Imagine that someone carried two- or three-hundred suitcases past you, and that when you saw each of these suitcases, one after the other, you invented a sound, without purpose or sense. Long before the hundredth suitcase came by, you would have forgotten the name you had given the first one.
What purpose was served by Adam naming the animals? Eve was not there yet. No one heard him. This story makes sense, then, only if you realize that Adam immediately perceived the nature of each animal, and expressed his insight into the animal’s nature by giving it a name corresponding to its nature.
Kuyper goes on to explore the implications of the Fall and what that means for human pursuit of knowledge via science. But I find his explanation of that episode in Genesis 2 rather compelling, and it speaks to the inherent realism of the created order. Or as Kuyper puts it elsewhere in the essays, “A thought of God constitutes the core of the essence of things, and it was primarily this thought of God that prescribes for created things their manner of existence, their form, their principle of life, their destiny, and their progress.”
Consider the delicious implications for understanding of theology as “thinking God’s thoughts after him”!