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The Xavier Zubiri Review, Volume 1, 1998, pp. 23-29

The Idea of Dynamism in The Dynamic Structure of Reality [1]

Nelson R. Orringer

Department of Modern and Classical Languages
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269 USA


Though apparently straightforward, possibly even more so than On Essence, the book Zubiri intended it to clarify, Dynamic Structure of Reality itself presents a singular problem of interpretation. In the presentation preceding this book, Diego Gracia Guillén merely repeats what Zubiri confesses himself: that when On Essence appeared in December 1962, critics acclaimed it as novel and exceptional, but as too "static," more Aristotelian than Hegelian. Dynamic Structure of Reality, offered as a course of eleven lessons between mid-November and late December 1968, constituted Zubiri’s response to those critics. Diego Gracia defines Dynamic Structure of Reality as the "natural prolongation" of On Essence.[2] At the close of the latter work,[3] Zubiri writes that reality conceived as essence means a constitutive structure. The moments and ingredients of that structure have the property of activity, dynamism. Hence the staticism attributed to the earlier book strikes Zubiri as capricious. Dynamism belongs to form and essence as described by Zubiri in On Essence. However, if Dynamic Structure of Reality is simply On Essence presented from a different angle, how can the reader, as Gracia hints, discover a "new Zubiri" by reading Dynamic Structure of Reality?[4]

Gracia defines the general thesis of On Essence as the conception of reality not as "in itself" nor "for itself," nor "in me," but "in and of itself" (de suyo).[5] The thesis of Dynamic Structure of Reality, in Gracia’s opinion, complements the thesis of the other work. In his book on dynamism, Zubiri asserts that reality "gives of itself." Zubiri’s problem lies in putting together the two doctrines. His solution consists of equating the two terms, "in and of itself" and "giving of itself," through a relationship of "substantivity" and "respectivity".[6]

Nevertheless, we can argue that this equation already appears in On Essence: there, Zubiri plainly states that reality, by virtue of the notes which it possesses "in and of itself," acquires the character of an ™rgon, a dynamic work, acting upon other realities and bringing about determined results.[7] What is more, according to On Essence,[8] the relationship between the acting reality and all it acts upon is respectivity." In this same writing, Zubiri names the "radical structure" of all reality "substantivity".[9] It follows that substantivity is to respectivity as the "in and of itself" of that structure is to its "giving of itself." The concept of "giving oneself" stems from Heidegger. On speaking of the comprehension of being, Heidegger remarks that "being gives itself in the comprehension of being." The "giving oneself," explains Zubiri, means a being what one is, an unfolding of one’s essential notes.[10] Apply this notion of "giving oneself" to substantivity, and it hardly appears that Zubiri in Dynamic Structure of Reality has advanced beyond On Essence. Substantivity means substance set into its essential activity. This activity is a yielding up of the wealth of properties constituting that open being. Yet, wherein lies the innovation of Dynamic Structure of Reality? To find this novelty is tantamount to discovering the essence of the work, that which it is "in and of itself." The discovery and description of that essence is the purpose of the present paper.

Zubiri divides his work Dynamic Structure of Reality into three parts. The first defines the "dynamic structure of reality"; the second specifies which are the dynamic [24] structures of reality—a "talitative" consideration of the world of particulars—; and the third provides a transcendental reflection on reality in its dynamism.[11] In the first part, Zubiri deals with what Aristotle and scientific positivism mean by dynamism, and in his discrepancies displays thinking previously unseen in his writing. In the Metaphysics Aristotle wishes to understand becoming. In a general sense becoming means change, within which he finds a composition of potential and act. Potential, capability, in Aristotle’s Greek is dÝnamij, for Zubiri one of the genial concepts produced in history of philosophy.[12] Its geniality lies in its purpose of illumining great metaphysical dimensions of reality.[13] However, it does not accomplish this purpose: Aristotle’s dÝnamij confuses as Zubiri understands it because of its ambivalence. On the one hand, it means the "capability of moving something else or of being moved by something else" (Metaphysics, XI, 6, 1063 a 18-22); otherness is always present here in Aristotle as an echo of non-being already appearing in his teacher Plato’s dialogue the Sophist, 241.[14] On the other hand, dÝnamij signifies in Aristotle having a potential for being something, as for instance, a piece of wood has a potential for being a statue of Hermes. Everything else, he says, is ťnžrgeia, or activity, which Aristotle seems to Zubiri to confuse with act. In defining becoming, the Stagirite uses two formulas: one, that it is imperfect movement or ťnžrgeia, unfinished act, two, that it is in a state of acting as potential, of being capable, without finishing the production of its full effect. Change from potential into act emerges from the capacities or dÝnamij of a substance, endowed with form and matter, from which those capabilities emerge. For Zubiri’s Aristotle, the act is the antecedent of the potential. What, then, sets in movement that which is moved? Aristotle simply responds, the interaction with other substances. The whole universe forms a system or t§xij of substances.[15] However, Zubiri argues that Aristotle equivocates about the distinction between potential and substance. Moreover, Zubiri affirms that Aristotle takes for granted that becoming is change, yet not all movement is change in the same way. Finally, Zubiri holds that Aristotle appeals to the "taxic" structure of the universe, yet finds it necessary to submit neither structure nor substances to proof.[16]

When Zubiri undertakes the critique of the positivistic conception of becoming, he finds its point of departure in the t§xij, the universe or system of connections. The physical universe, he writes, is such a system with a substantivity, exemplified by an electromagnetic field in physics. This field is governed by laws said to be dynamic in themselves. The world amounts to a dynamic process unfolding in accordance with certain laws within which objects serve as points of application. The dynamism is the quality of being a process.[17] However, Zubiri criticizes this conception on the ground of the ambivalence of the points of application: Einstein’s equation e=mc2 shows that energy and mass differ from one another only quantitatively. Further, the concept of field is ambivalent: does wave or particle theory apply? The laws do not remain constant, but in contemporary physics, cosmology, and cosmogony, those laws change and evolve.[18] It follows that the conception of the world as a dynamic process is problematic. Instead of process, structure strikes Zubiri as the proper focus for the dynamism of reality.

Structurally, he maintains that every reality is constitutively respective, that is, a function of all the others.[19] Every substantive system with respect to every other holds for Zubiri in its physical respectivity a character of action.[20] The notes of every substantivity are formally active in and of themselves. Because realities are "in and of themselves," they possess, as we have already seen, an active moment consisting of giving of themselves. Giving of themselves, states Zubiri, is the expression of their activity. Revising Aristotle, he holds [25] that potential, dÝnamij, is not something springing from reality, but is the constitution of reality as such, with every reality being active in and of itself formally because of its reality. Dynamism, redefined by Zubiri, amounts to reality in its constitutive giving of itself. This dynamism signifies dynamic structure in a formal sense.[21] Now dynamism and becoming, formally understood as a giving of oneself, do not necessarily constitute change. Certainly, Zubiri admits that in all things every dynamism internally involves a moment of change, but this change is not the dynamism itself: it is simply the concrete structure whereby that dynamism gives of itself.

Zubiri conceives change as something whereby, and in the form whereby, a reality gives of itself. He adds that something can become not in itself but in something else. Love, for instance, is a dynamism, but the individual who becomes is not one in himself, but one of someone else, the beloved. Dynamism is nothing but reality in its giving of itself.[22] Dynamism, moreover, understood as a giving of oneself, for Zubiri cannot be tantamount to becoming in generation or corruption, as Aristotle says, nor is it a process. Reality, by virtue of its reality, is constitutively dynamism. Dynamism is not a process, something which one has, but is dynamic for itself. The world is formally in its own reality something consisting of giving of itself, and this is dynamism as conceived by Zubiri.[23] Dynamism has precise structures of its own. The structures are structures of activity.

In inquiring into the essence of such structures, Zubiri first affirms the philosophical standpoint from which he examines dynamic structures of reality. In its dynamism, reality, according to Zubiri, is perspectivally causal.[24] Reality is respective, formally a part of everything else; everything real is active by itself; and only in the measure in which it is activity can it be called causal. Causality is a moment of activity, not the reverse. Causality is for Zubiri a unitary function of cause and effect, simultaneously inhabiting the function that the cause serves and the effect.[25] In summary, giving of oneself as functionality of the real insofar as it is real is causality.[26] Since giving of oneself is dynamism, so is causality in a formal sense.

Zubiri sees dynamism as the way of being-in-the-world. This vision brings him squarely face-to-face with the knotty problem of time, vis-à-vis Heidegger, for whom being-in-the-world has its essence in its temporality. If giving of oneself describes reality, then Zubiri can describe reality as ever emergent by virtue of its dynamism. All things emerge in their moment, their time. Zubiri presents the general form of dynamism as time. Things emerge now, beforehand, and afterwards.[27] Tracing an analogy with mathematics, Zubiri attributes to time topological structures which are dynamic. These structures are at least three: [1.] temporal continuity, comprised of duration—parts (before, now, after); and union between the parts, which makes time unlimited in its direction and dynamically linear, never turning back on itself—; [2.] ordering between the parts; and [3.] flow, whereby only the present exists, but the past potentiates itself into it. Besides topology, time as conceived by Zubiri has directional structure, irreversibly passing from past to future. Apart from topology and directionality, time has measurable structures, is quantifiable, allows chronometry.[28] On attempting to define time, Zubiri returns to the basic phenomenon of giving of oneself. In this dynamism he inscribes the problem of time. Time, as a structural moment of giving of oneself, necessarily belongs to a reality in its respectivity to other realities. Time itself is a respectivity of reality as such. Time constitutively affects giving of oneself in its moment of respectivity, that is, in its being-in-the-world.

However, Zubiri takes care to distinguish time formally from a giving of oneself and from a flow. With respect to the world, [26] time lies within that flow and giving of oneself. Time, Zubiri thinks, is gerundive: it is not giving of oneself, but being-in-a state of giving of oneself; not flowing, time is being-in-a-state of flowing. Being-in-a-state means actuality of the real in the world. Actuality of the real in the world is for Zubiri the equivalent of being. The dynamism of giving of oneself, as actual in the world as such, defines the being of giving of oneself. In sum, Zubiri defines time as the actuality of all things, of their giving of themselves in the world. Time, thus, is formally a way of being. For this reason, Zubiri calls Heidegger to task for grounding being on time, when Zubiri finds time grounded on being. So grounded, time forms the being of dynamism.[29]

Since, as we have seen, Zubiri describes this mode of being as gerundive, time consists of being-in-a-state of giving of oneself, of flowing. Hence Zubiri distinguishes time from flow by calling it gerundiveness, a state of giving of oneself. In this respect time forms the gerundive unity of past, present, and future, irreducible to any of the three as philosophical tradition would have it.[30] Modifying Unamuno,[31] guided by Henri-Frédéric Amiel,[32] for whom the essence of time is eternity, Zubiri holds that the essence of time is the forever. Change must have stability in the transcendental realm of being. This stability of change in being is what he designates as forever. He denotes the unity of stability of past, present, and future as the de-lay ("demora") in the being of being-in-a-state of giving of oneself. "De-mora" means an in-dwelling in Zubiri’s Spanish. In other words, while reality is in a state of giving of itself, it is always gerundively coming to pass, moving into the present, and coming to the future.[33] Zubiri divides time into four modes of being, four modalities whereby things give of themselves in the world: duration, endurance, flowing duration, and duration in effort. Duration signifies stability, a certain way of being-in-a-state of being within a kind of stability. Endurance refers to persistence through changes occurring in the world. Flowing duration alludes to temporal gerundiveness. Duration in effort points to a folding back over oneself to achieve identity.[34]

Every dynamism, writes Zubiri biblically, has its season for emerging. Its time is intrinsic and essential to it. However, the unity of all time is for Zubiri the actuality of the dynamic unity of the world, that is, of respectivity as such.[35] Since time as conceived by Zubiri amounts to the actuality of giving of oneself of every object in the world, Zubiri can pose the question of how one stands in time and in this actuality. Recalling Ortega’s different modalities of living in time as described in What Is Philosophy?,[36] Zubiri holds it possible to stand in time in many different ways. He distinguishes at least three ways: giving of oneself but within the other (love); giving of oneself and flowing within oneself (occupying time); counting on time as a synoptic structure, a totality (human Projectivity). As sentient intelligence, man has a unitary, radical structure of flow and projectivity: he is sentient or perceptually flowing, and intelligent or open to reality as a whole. The unity between flow and projectivity constitutes human time. Human time forms a possibility, a power. Reversing the classical myth of Saturn or time the devourer, Zubiri conceives human reality as devouring time in which that reality is giving of itself. Time is subject to destruction because, as a power, it is referred to reality as a giving of itself, as a dynamism giving of itself.

To synthesize all that I have said until now, being-in-the-world, dynamically, is the universal form of dynamism. Dynamism, Zubiri repeats, means giving of oneself. Things are in a dynamic state in the world by giving of themselves. Being in a state of giving of oneself is the form that dynamism takes in the world. The world, because it is dynamic in its inner structure, institutes within itself time in its respectivity as a moment of that [27] respectivity.[37]

Having devoted the first part of his book to the dynamism of the world and the second part to a descriptive specification of the world’s structures, Zubiri closes by posing the general, transcendental problem of reality as dynamic. Zubiri regards variation as dynamism. Things vary in a way affecting their notes, whether merely adherent or actually constitutional. The dynamism of constitutional change entails dynamics of alteration, whereby synthesis or analysis of old substantivities constitutes new ones. Constitutional change could also entail a dynamism of generation, whereby through spontaneous genetic production, a new substantivity comes into being through reconstitution of an old one. Constitutional change can finally come about through evolution, or constitution of new substantivities through the integration of mutations. Zubiri formally defines the dynamism of such change as selfhood. Only thus can a given substantivity persist. It takes possession of itself. This, for Zubiri, defines life: as a form of dynamism, life consists of the dynamism of selfhood, being oneself through change and evolution. The dynamism of selfhood amounts to the dynamism of personalization. A personal structure built with things and other men means life as appropriation of possibility, or as Zubiri puts it, the dynamism of making possible. However, Zubiri, student of Ortega and Heidegger, recognizes that immersion with other men can depersonalize, bringing us in touch with "People" ("la gente") or "das Man." Dynamism of selfhood can change into dynamism of reality in common, or communization. Dynamism of the social body or the possibilities of life in common constitute what Zubiri understands by history. The dynamism of history means world-making dynamism.

Zubiri concludes his transcendental analysis of dynamism by inquiring into its subject, its whatness, its character, and its structure—the four Aristotelian causes modified by or filtered through his ontology—. Transcendentally speaking, its subject is real objects qua real. Each object as a substantivity is dynamic, and the unity of all substantive realities is a dynamic respectivity. The world, understood as a respectivity, is first in and of itself dynamic.[38] As to the whatness of dynamism, Zubiri denotes it as a becoming, which does not mean change as in Parmenides and Plato. Dynamism is the unfolding of an action, but one emerging from the substantivity. Dynamism is not a consecutive activation, but a constitutive one. Reality as such is active in and of itself. As formally constitutive of reality, dynamism, according to Zubiri, consists of a potential, a power to give of oneself precisely what reality constitutively and fully is.[39] Within this dynamism, the functionality of the real as such takes place. This functionality, we saw, was causality. True causality, according to Zubiri, is that which affects what is the primary subject of dynamism as such—the world,[40] or the dynamic unit in which all substantivities, dynamic in themselves, are in respectivity. The constitutive respectivity of a giving of oneself is what Zubiri calls ecstasy. Every essence gives of itself, and insofar as this self-donation is constitutively referred in respective fashion to the rest of the world, each substantive reality is constitutively ecstatic. Causality is constitutive ecstasy as the structure of giving of oneself in a respective fashion.[41] Zubiri offers the example of human liberty as the supreme form of ecstasy, because an individual is all the more a cause insofar as free.[42] Nicholas of Cusa has defined man as causa sui.

Zubiri ends his study on the dynamic structure of reality, from the transcendental standpoint, by examining the organization of different dynamisms with respect to one another. Some are supported by others like substrata. The most basic, theorizes Zubiri, is the dynamism of variation, giving of itself in such a way that it allows for the remaining dynamisms to give of themselves. The simplest [28] variation consists of a giving of oneself with respect merely to adherent notes. However, a new type of dynamism of variation consists of the dynamism of transformation, whereby synthetic or analytical transformation gives rise to new substantivities. Variation of a different type based on transformation is biological mutation. In these genetic transformations substantivity is constituted as formally selfsame. This is life, seat of the dynamism of selfsameness. Further, more complex than closed essence is open essence. This dynamism begins one’s own-ness ("suidad"), the community, and the worldliness of the real. Such dynamisms, organized in strata to form a unitary dynamism, also display inmensely rich metaphysical unity. These especially illustrate dynamism as giving of oneself ecstatically.

Yet Zubiri distinguishes ecstatic self-donation from passage of potential to act, Aristotle’s two equivocal terms. In the effective unfolding of the real as such, something more radical and unitary occurs. Variation produces the substantivities which it comprises. The dynamism affects not the passage from potency to act, but a development of some properties. In generation and life, a dynamism of a higher order consists of the development of properties known as evolution. Potentiation precedes the properties and all their acts. This potentiation leads to a making possible, producing the possible before the real and lending the action the character of quasi-creation, as when human beings giving of themselves generate new substantivities. Each of these dynamic moments presupposes the other in a taxitive order, both as a talitative or particular function and as a transcendental one.

The transcendental function of giving of oneself is what Zubiri calls innovation. When a reality takes possession of itself through giving of self, this is what Zubiri conceives as the selfhood of the person. Personal self-possession, he adds, must have a moment of reality constituted in common: society on the talitative plane becomes reality in common on the transcendental plane. Zubiri finds this point of view necessary to understand historical dynamism, which he deems the final aspect of dynamism as such.[43] Within the vast unity of the universe of dynamism, according to Zubiri, each reality of a higher type continues to ascend over the substratum of a lower reality. This dynamic ascension is what Zubiri terms a "dynamic subtension." All this dynamism, he holds, does not affect substance, but the structures of substantive reality. The reality of the world has as an inner moment the property of being dynamic. Being dynamic consists of being active in and by oneself. Reality, as Zubiri envisions it, continues forming more reality with the sole limit of the intrinsic exhaustibility of the real as such.[44]

We have seen that Zubiri, as "quasi"-author of the reality of the treatise On Essence, has continued on to "quasi"-create the reality of the course Dynamic Structure of Reality.[45] Both works present different aspects of the system of reality as such, but the later work provides a richer, if more concise, vision of reality in the dynamics of giving of itself, first from the critical-conceptual, next from the "talitative," and last from the transcendental viewpoint. In addition, the course Dynamic Structure of Reality points to even richer future works with which it would coexist in a relationship of subtension. These works would deal with society and history. To my knowledge, a philosophy of history exists among Zubiri’s writings,[46] but not a sociology. Yet perhaps in the course of the dynamics of philosophical history, one could eventually emerge from the richness of the reality of Zubiri’s metaphysics, ever giving of itself.



[1] Estructura Dinámica de la Realidad, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Fundación Xavier Zubiri, 1989. (hereafter, EDR).^

[2] EDR, ii.^

[3] EDR, 327.^

[4] EDR, v.^

[5] EDR, iv.^

[6] EDR, v.^

[7] Sobre la esencia, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Fundación Xavier Zubiri, 1985 (originally published, 1962). (hereafter, SE), 401-2.^

[8] SE, 287.^

[9] SE, 87.^

[10] SE, 442.^

[11] EDR, 314.^

[12] EDR, 48.^

[13] EDR, 17.^

[14] EDR, 14-15.^

[15] EDR 47.^

[16] EDR 50.^

[17] EDR 53.^

[18] EDR 54.^

[19] EDR 56; Realitas III, 41.^

[20] EDR 59.^

[21] EDR, 61.^

[22] EDR, 62-63.^

[23] EDR, 63-64.^

[24] EDR, 65-66.^

[25] EDR, 89.^

[26] EDR, 97.^

[27] EDR, 280.^

[28] EDR, 287-288.^

[29] EDR, 296.^

[30] EDR, 297.^

[31] Miguel de Unamuno, En torno al casticismo, in Obras completas, I: Paisajes y ensayos. Madrid: Escelicer, 1968, pp. 735-772, 794.^

[32] Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Fragments d’un journal intime, Geneva: Georg & Co., 1908, Vol. I, p. 190.^

[33] EDR, 299.^

[34] EDR, 300-301.^

[35] EDR, 303.^

[36] José Ortega y Gasset, "żQué es filosofía? in Obras completas, 2nd edition, Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1964, Vol. VII, p. 428-435^

[37] EDR, 310.^

[38] EDR, 314.^

[39] EDR, 316.^

[40] EDR, 317.^

[41] EDR, 318.^

[42] EDR, 319.^

[43] EDR, 323-325.^

[44] EDR, 326-327.^

[45] Cf Naturaleza, Historia, Dios, 9th edition, Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1987, p. 380.^

[46] Cf. El problema filosófico de la historia de las religiones , Madrid: Alianza Editorial/Fundación Xavier Zubiri, 1993, p. 185-195^



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