On the Metaphysics of Human Formation

May 3, 2023

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

I am pleased to offer a follow up to last week’s reflection On the Metaphysics of the Human Person by Monty De La Torre, Ph.D. I greatly appreciate how Dr. De La Torre integrates his background in metaphysics with parts work informed by Internal Family Systems approaches to human formation, and his reflection generated so much interest and appreciation from our subscribers.

Last week, we worked together to understand who we are; this week, we will explore together what we truly need in order to grow and change for the better, to embrace a wholesome human formation that better enables us to love God, neighbor, and ourselves.

At Souls and Hearts, we are committed to bringing you the best of human formation resources grounded in an authentic, Catholic understanding of the human person. Thank you, Dr. De La Torre, for moving us closer to a deeper, richer understanding of the metaphysics of human formation, focusing on our needs as human beings and how best to meet them. Just a reminder that it can be difficult to grasp all these concepts at first glance (or second, or third…), so take what is helpful for you and no worries if some of it escapes your understanding for now.


On The Metaphysics of Human Formation (Part II)

by Monty De La Torre, Ph.D.

In my previous reflection, we began to address the metaphysical foundations of the human person. The point of that article was to help us understand what a person is on the most fundamental and non-negotiable level. If we understand the critical philosophical basics about the human person correctly, then we have a better opportunity to pursue our human formation successfully.

The purpose of this article is to begin addressing the question of human formation by building upon the foundation set by the previous article. We move from the question, “What is a person?” to “What does a person need?” Stated in hylomorphic terms, “What are the goods of the body and soul that are needed to flourish in life?” or “What are the goods of the body and soul that we are naturally directed toward?” It becomes difficult to embark on a project of human formation without knowledge of what we need and want.

This investigation proceeds from an Aristotelian-Thomistic anthropology. Along the way, we will be identifying, wherever possible, how our arguments and conclusions about human formation interact with the contributions and conceptualizations of Internal Family Systems in both theory and method.

The Importance of Formal and Final Causality

If you recall from the previous reflection, formal causality is the metaphysical principle responsible for the identity of a thing. Formal causality makes a thing what it is. Formal causality determines a thing’s “definition and classification” according to the Catholic philosopher David S. Oderberg in his book Real Essentialism. This doctrine also goes by the name of essentialism, i.e., the doctrine that natural substances have a fixed essence or nature. Final causality is the metaphysical principle responsible for the purposes or ends that a thing has. Again, everything that a thing can do or have done to it is a final cause, end, purpose, etc.

These two principles, formal causality and final causality, are central to our question of human formation. Why?

Because by reflecting upon our essence and its ends we discover what is objectively good for us. Knowledge of those goods is a key component of human formation. These facts about human goods help us answer fundamental questions such as,

1) “What do I need and want?”

2) “What fulfills me?”

3) “How do I secure these objective goods for myself?”

Reflecting upon our nature is the beginning of wisdom and the beginning of human formation. Recognition of what truly fulfills us is an essential prerequisite for ordered human formation.

What Do We Need?

Because of our nature/essence as rational animals (i.e., body + rational soul), we are intended for natural fulfillment through the acquisition of certain basic goods. Oderberg provides an overview of some of these goods in his 2000 book Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach. What follows are some lengthy quotes from that work, but worth every word.

Basic Goods

At Souls and Hearts, we contend that the overarching goal of human formation and IFS is integration. Part of integration entails our pursuit of these basic goods. The more integrated we become, the more freedom we have in pursuit of these goods. Let us explore Oderberg’s list of basic goods: life, truth, friendship, work and play, beauty, and religious belief and practice, considering each one in turn.

Life: “…For it is not simply existence that we tend towards, but healthy and integrated existence, and numerous physiological processes and operations are continually taking place, or capable of taking place, to maintain or restore the body to optimal functioning. Hence the good of life encompasses such sub-goods as proper diet, exercise, fresh air, and rest. Loss of bodily parts is bad for the individual, as is disease, too much stress, overwork, loss of energy, and so on…” (p. 41).

The good of life is an end that touches upon both body and soul. Human formation must be holistic in its approach; keeping in mind those sub-goods that are conducive to our flourishing. Given the hylomorphic composition of the human person, demise in the good of life inevitably affects the soul.

Truth: “Being rational creatures, having an intellect, we naturally have a tendency to use it. More exactly, from the moment we can use our intellect we do use it in the pursuit of one thing – truth. Human beings are enquiring creatures, naturally curious, always looking for new and better ways to solve problems, to understand themselves and the world around them. None of us can know everything, just as none of us can attain perfect health…

But we want to know as much as we can, within the limits imposed on us by ability and environment, including all the other matters that require our daily attention. The pursuit of truth, then, or the acquisition of knowledge, is one of the goods that contribute to our happiness. It must be emphasized that there is nothing necessarily academic, pretentious or high-flown in the concept of this good. Even a person whose occupation, surroundings, interests, and the like require very little knowledge of the world around him, and little in the way of lofty intellectual pursuits, still has to know very much, both in quantity and quality, in order to be able to get on even minimally…

Again, it is not knowledge merely in the sense of acquired information, but understanding which the pursuit of truth encompasses: we want to know how and why things are as they are, not merely whether, what, when or where…

Further, among the objects of knowledge is knowledge of the good itself. Without knowledge of the good, the good life as a whole could not even begin to be lived.

But there is no reflexive paradox here: just as the mind can reflect upon itself and try to understand itself (one of the marks of self-consciousness), so too the mind, in knowing the good, can know that this act of knowing is itself good. In short, just as life and health are what perfect our bodies (and fulfill us thereby), so knowledge and understanding perfect our minds.” (pp. 41-42).

Human formation must also be directed toward the proper formation of the mind. The good of truth is a spiritual good because it deals primarily with our intellectual power as rational animals. This means that we must constantly be directing ourselves toward the truth, and, by extension, so too our parts. Both the unblending of our parts from our innermost self and the unburdening of our parts attempts to reorient them to the truth of what is good for us.

Friendship: “Everywhere and at all times people have come together and stayed together in groups, united by one or more features: mutual protection, assistance or prosperity; commonness of background or origin, be it ethnic, national or cultural; similarity of outlook or belief, be it religious or political; similarity of interests, occupation, socio-economic status…

More generally, we can identify a good sometimes called the good of friendship, since it focuses primarily on those wanted interactions that involve fellow-feeling, sympathy, kindness, love and care. But it subsumes also friendship in the broader sense of social living, in particular living in a self-governing community, or perhaps state, whose sole purpose is to promote the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of its members…

On the smaller scale, the distinctive social grouping that contributes to flourishing is the family, which, provides a natural locus for the promotion of other goods, such as life (via procreation and physical and economic sustenance) and knowledge (via education of children).” (pp. 42-43).

If our parts want the good for us, then, in one respect, they are our friends; this is much more likely when our parts are in an ordered, right relationship with our innermost self. Parts that disconnect from the innermost self have very limited vision and can desire lower goods rather than higher goods; they can mistakenly impel us toward perceived goods that seem subjectively desirable but are objectively bad for us.

One way to understand IFS is as a means of reorienting and strengthening the good of friendship within us. When our parts work with us and not against us, then they follow the lead of our innermost self not as servants, but as friends, joining in the collaborative and cooperative search for the highest goods. As Christ said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14).

Work and Play: Work and “…what we might term play (in the broad sense encompassing leisure and relaxation) have their own intrinsic value. They occupy and exercise our minds and bodies, engage us in enjoyable endeavors, and bring their own special satisfactions. In this sense work and play are but two aspects of a single component of the happy life and are plausibly distinguished from other goods, with work at its best a form of play and vice versa, although they both serve, of course, in the promotion of other goods such as life, knowledge and friendship.” (p. 43).

Work makes use of our gifts and talents by putting them at the service of others. Part of human formation is to understand a person’s particular gifts and talents and how they might serve the common good and not simply one’s own good. The good of play offers us the opportunity for rest, creativity, communion, and curiosity. There is a reason why we look forward to coming home from work, or the weekend, or a three-day weekend! Some parts of us may be naturally inclined toward play and can help us engage in healthy play, leisure, and recreation.

Beauty: “Mankind has at all times and places appreciated beauty, both in nature and in the products of human activity. The appreciation of beauty also brings its own special pleasures and satisfactions and satisfies the highest appetites of the mind. It does not appear reducible to any other good, though again it contributes to their promotion and often overlaps them – for the professional artist, to take an obvious case, work and aesthetic experience go hand in hand. We can then identify the appreciation of beauty as another in the list of goods that satisfy man’s nature.” (pp. 43-44).

Beauty captivates us. Beautiful things soften our hardened hearts in a deeply spiritual way. Beauty brings peace and awe, and it lifts the mind to the upper realms of our imagination and reality. If we need beauty, so do our parts. Formation must entail a study of beauty or aesthetics.

Religious Belief and Practice: “Religion is as old as humanity itself and has been practiced by the overwhelming number of people in all places and at all times. Even now, despite the virtual collapse of religion in the West, the vast majority of people alive are religious believers and practitioners. Moreover, many who would call themselves atheists nevertheless readily testify to an appreciation of some sublime principle of the cosmos that surpasses understanding, but is real, and dwells behind everything that happens.

Much of modern popular science, for example, though written by self-professed non-believers, testifies to a mysterious and irreducibly transcendent aspect of reality to which even the most hardened materialist is drawn, the more he appreciates the awe-inspiring complexity of the universe. It would be wrong simply to class this sort of apprehension as aesthetic, though an appreciation of the beauty of nature overlaps it.

It is, then, reasonable to regard such an experience as truly spiritual or religious, and the practice that follows from it as distinctive, as rooted in all cultures at all times, and as thereby reflecting an innate and special tendency of the human being. And when this religious tendency is taken together with man’s quest for truth mentioned earlier, we can see that what perfects human nature is not mere religious belief and practice of one sort or other, but only true belief and the practice which best expresses it.” (p. 44).

Human formation within a Catholic context includes the practice and living of our faith. We have a desire within us for the divine and transcendent. The highest truth of philosophy is God as Pure Act or First Cause. The highest truth of theology is God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is crucial for our formation and integration that we remain in union with God and the Church. This includes our parts. Some of our parts are phenomenologically young – they can help us with a deep sense of awe and wonder at the glory and majesty, the goodness and beauty of God. As our Lord said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14). These phenomenologically young parts can help us to be more childlike.

In addition, our parts are offered the opportunity to encounter Christ, then their burdens become light, as Christ intended: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Human Formation

Because of Original Sin and the trauma that enters the world from that point forward, our ability to know and pursue what is good becomes impaired. In IFS language, we become burdened and blended. Human formation is meant to form or shape us into what our nature or essence guides us to be. This entails proper training of our intellect, will, and passions. The result of which yields an ordered pursuit of the basic goods mentioned above.

Further, from a psychological perspective, we are directed toward psychological goods such as our attachment and attunement needs which are crucial for developing proper interior integration from an early age. Any lack of these psychological needs will interfere with the development of virtue (see here for a brief video exposition) as Aristotle noted in his Nicomachean Ethics long ago: “It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.”

We hope this article provides a deeper and more insightful understanding of the presuppositions that guide the question of human formation. Again, any appropriate program of formation will need to know the metaphysical foundations of the human person and its implications. Once these are hammered out as evenly as possible, then we can move from the natural realm to the supernatural. If we get human formation right on the natural level, then we gain better insight into man’s final destiny as the Imago Dei.


Thank you, Dr. De La Torre, for sharing your insights into the metaphysics of human formation with us.

Interior Integration for Catholics podcast

Join me for this 75-minute episode titled Assuaging Raging Hearts and Parts: Managing Anger with IFS as we take a close look at an alternative way to manage, work through, and let go of anger – a way informed by Internal Family Systems (IFS), and especially by Jay Earley. After a brief review of the major tenets of IFS, we discuss how to work with the different ways that manager parts, firefighter parts and exiled parts hold and manage anger. We look at the functions of anger in the internal system and especially at the process, the steps of working through anger held by parts in different roles. Then I offer an opportunity for you to get to know my parts better as I discuss how parts of me hold and respond to anger in a particular subsystem of my parts about a particular issue that troubles me.

Be With the Word for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Join Dr. Gerry and me for our 43-minute Be With the Word episode titled Psychological Barriers to Recognizing Jesus for the Fifth Week of Easter. We often have a failure of our faculty of the imagination. We are not open to possibilities that are beyond our limited vision.

We need to be able to let go of the filters that block our clear vision of who Christ is. Join us and learn how to identify and remove things such as grudges, old assumptions, and memories that tend to distort how we see and understand Jesus.

Dr. Gerry and I share the Mass readings out loud here.

The Resilient Catholics Community

I founded the Resilient Catholics Community (the RCC) for Catholics who are committed to going to the deepest natural levels within themselves to working through unmet attachment and integrity needs, learning the three loves our Lord commands in the two great commandments: to love God, one’s neighbor, and one’s own self.

The RCC provides a very structured year-long human formation program with many resources and the support of other Catholics in small companies, all making a pilgrimage toward better human formation with individualized human formation plans.  The camaraderie and connection in the companies and with your companions are essential on the pilgrimage.

Conversation hours with Dr. Peter – every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern time

If you’d like to talk with me about whether the RCC is right for you, give me a call on my cell – 317.567.9594 – any Tuesday and Thursday this May from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern time. Or we can discuss any other themes from the IIC podcast or these weekly reflections. I cannot provide clinical consultations about your personal situation (I am only licensed in Indiana and Souls and Hearts doesn’t offer clinical services), but we can connect about so many other things.

Warm regards in the Risen Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

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