The First Article, First Question,

The First Article, First Question, of the First Part.

1.) Revealed theology has a claim to being the highest of the sciences: both as speculative (it gives us the highest grasp of the highest object- to which all other things are subordinate) and as practical (it reveals to us the greatest good, and makes known the means to attain that thing to which all actions are subordinate)*

2.) In whatever way we take the first principle of the Summa to articulate the first principle of revealed theology, this principle the highest principle of any of the many first principles of the many sciences.

3.) The first principle given in the Summa is that man is called to a beatitude that consists in the knowledge of God.

4.) This call to beatitude is superabundant in two different ways: a.) the beatitude itself exceeds the powers of man?s nature to attain by his own agency; and b.) God desires that this beatitude be given to more than merely a few- at least to many, perhaps to all.

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*the first observation is set forth here not as a first principle, since it is established later in the question. It would be pointless to talk about something that was true about revealed theology before one even gave a reason to believe that revealed theology existed at all, a reason that is given in article one.

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An Important Argument Simplified Every

An Important Argument Simplified

Every science aims to explain what is complex in terms of what is simple.

The simple here is understood in its aspect of being “most fundamental”, and as “the cause in some way of the more complex things dealt with in the science”

Simplicity in science can mean two different things.

For the physical sciences, the most simple things are the simplest parts of matter, and energy. All explanations that the physical sciences give strive to root their conclusions in these simplest parts. For Natural Theology, or Philosophy, the simplest being is God, and all things are explained by reference to this one most fundamental being that is the cause of all other things in the science.

Scientific knowledge can therefore mean two things.

We must stop confounding the two meanings. Common examples of this confounding are a.) the creationist/anti-Darwinian vs. Evolutionist debate; b.) the science (understood as physical science) vs. theism debate; c.) The science vs. Humanities debate (where the humanities are understood to include philosophy and theology).

A great deal of our grief and concern is wrongly spent on debates like (b). They all amount to one side or another blustering about how it is the only kind of science that exists.


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To set the scene: Socrates

To set the scene: Socrates and Phaedrus have both finished listening to a carefully reasoned, perfectly articulate, and completely public speech made by a famous, older, high-society Athenian intellectual. The theme of the speech was on the benefits of what we presently call “sexual liberation”.

Phaedrus: The outstanding feature of this discourse is that it has not overlooked any important aspect of the subject, so making it impossible for anyone else to outdo what he has said with a fuller or more satisfactory oration.

Socrates: …really, it seemed to me that he said the same thing several times over. Maybe he’s not very clever at explaining at length on a single theme, or possibly he has no interest in these topics. In fact, it struck me as an extravagant performance to demonstrate his ability to say the same thing twice, in different words but with equal success.

Those who are newer to philosophy see a full, exaustive, and imposing argument in the same words that the wise see only as a mechanical and drab repetition of the same point.



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Equivocal Causality Agent causes either

Equivocal Causality

Agent causes either produce effects that are of the same species, or they do not. When a tree makes another tree by means of its seeds, or a man makes a man by his own material principle, the effects are obviously in the same species as their agents. When a man makes a calculator, the effect is just as obviously not in the same species as its maker. The first sort of causality is called univocal; the second, equivocal.

Given that equivocal causes are not in the same species of their effect, they must either be a higher sort of thing, or a lower sort of thing. But to be a lower sort of thing means that one lacks the perfection of something higher. But if something lacked a certain perfection, how could it be responsible for giving it to another? Equivocal causes must therefore be higher sorts of things than the effects that they produce.

At the same time, every cause causes some perfection that is similar to itself as cause; for to be dissimilar is to either have a different perfection, or the lack of some perfection. But no agent can give some different perfection than its own, nor can it be a cause of the lack of some perfection. And so the greater perfection of the agent equivocal cause must be in this: the agent causes an effect which that same agent possesses in a more perfect way.

It is necessary to look to equivocal causes when there is something in the nature of the effect that cannot be attributed to the univocal cause as such. Two things in the effect fit this description, first, that it exists with a certain essence; and second, that it has existence at all. No univocal cause, which by definition must produce an effect that is the same sort of thing, can explain why this sort of thing exists at all. If it could, it would have to be the cause of the existence of sort of thing that it is, but then it would have to be the cause of itself, which is impossible.How could I, or you who are reading this, be the cause of human nature? If we were, it would have to have never existed before we were conceived, but this would have destroyed the possibility of us ever being conceived. It would, therefore, not exist. But it obviously does exist- both in me and in you- as one of the givens that philosophy cannot explain away.

So long as we do not simply ignore the question of why our nature, or any nature exists at all, we must look to some equivocal cause. When we describe this cause, we must be careful to attribute to attribute to it all of our own perfections, and yet we must admit that they exist in a higher and more perfect way in the one who caused our nature. We will therefore only speak of this cause analogously, using words that we borrow from the names from our own perfections, always realizing that these perfections exist in a more perfect way in this higher cause. We will negate from our concepts all that belongs to our imperfect existence or being; even negating, when necessary, the imperfections that will attach to our way of speaking about things. With these analogous words, that are appreciated just as much for their negation as for their content, we can hope to approach this equivocal cause that caused our own nature, and the nature of all things.

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Identity and the Per Accidens

Identity and the Per Accidens

We get this identity of the one and the many cropping up everywhere as a result of the sentences we utter, in every single sentence ever uttered… as soon as a young man gets wind of it, …he is beside himself with delight, and loves to try every move in the game. First he rolls the stuff to one side and jumbles it into one, then he undoes it again and takes it to pieces, to the confusion first and foremost of himself, and second to whatever neighbors are by him at the moment… he has no mercy on his father or mother or anyone by him.

Plato

Philebus, 15e.

A sentence is one in meaning, but composed of more than one word. Beyond this there is a sort of manyness in the difference between the thing and the sign of the thing in speech. The young play with this meaning as soon as they find it, playing a game which in our present age is called “deconstruction”, or as Socrates puts it: first he jumbles all things into one, then he undoes it again.

“First he jumbles all things into one”. This is the creation of some false definition, which, since it is a “jumble” is really just a heap of the per accidens. These false definitions are not always false statements (and the best ones are true), but they are always partial or distorted truths that leave out a good deal of the thing one is speaking about, and certainly leave out the thing that is most fundamental*. Hence we get statements like “I think, therefore I am” or “All philosophy is a game of linguistics” or “to be is to be perceived” or “There is nothing known outside the realm of empirical experience”. There is no problem with any of these statements as truths that may find there justification in philosophy. It is inarguable that my thinking proves my existence, or that every statement of or advancement of philosophy will happen with words. Nor is there any problem in saying that all being is perceived by some intelligence, nor with saying that there is no supra-sensible being that we must derive philosophy from. The problem with all of these principles is not that they are false, but rather that they are taken as fundamental. Any one of them would merit some mention in philosophy, but the attempt to found a whole philosophy on them is bound to fail. None of them get to the heart of what it is to exist, do philosophy, to be, or to be known.

The problem is that any part of the many can be confused with the one: the words of a sentence, for example, are in a certain sense “all that there is to a sentence”: certainly the sentence would not exist without the words that compose it. Being, as St. Thomas shows, would not exist without some action of an intelligence, and this action might certainly be called “perception” after a manner. So too with the other opinions. All of them claim to grasp something essential, but they merely grasp the accidental. That they grasp something true is inarguable; that they grasp something fundamental is ultimately ridiculous.

But I have wandered away from the point (again). Why is it that the accidental has such power over the youth? The accidental does have this going for it: it is infinite. Any clever person can find some corner of the per accidens and claim it as uniquely his own. The youth are eternally neurotic about their own identity, and they would prefer just about anything that was their own to something true- if that true thing did not distinguish them from their elders. This is not true of all youth- some prefer the conformity of common of traditional ideas, which are almost all common or traditional because they have gotten to the essence of something- but the aorit o youth, or at least the most vocal of the youth, are not content with the traditional or common. Anything but that! I would have to think just like my parents! And so the per accidens lends its assistance, with its claims to make them independent and unique.The per accidens allows us to have a philosophy that is uniquely our own, even if it has no value outside of our own skulls.

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*We are most familiar with the per accidens principles that have a moral tint: Sex is for people who love each other- drinking is okay under certain circumstances- There’s nothing wrong with dressing so that boys will take an interest in you- People have got to have a good time…etc. All these statements are perfectly true. To take them as fundamental is a recipe for disaster. Please don’t think that I figured this out by reading some book.


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When confronted with the

When confronted with the problem of moral evil, people usually try to explain it by blaming it on free choice. I admit that free choice does make moral evil possible, but how can this explain its existence? What is there in the idea of free choice that requires us to use it for immoral purposes?

All evil is a sort of lack. Moral evil is a sort of deliberately chosen lack- a deliberate rejection of things we know to be good. There is nothing in the idea of free choice that says we must choose poorly. This would be like trying to explain why a certain man walks poorly (say, with a limp) by saying “he limps because he is able to walk”. Everyone knows that there is more to the story. He limps because he is broken and damaged.

Free choice is only free in human beings because it is a rational power, and our reason is capable of understanding contraries. Because our mind is capable of understanding contrary things, we are able to seek contrary ends. But this does not explain moral evil. It is positively irrational to reject what is truly good, while knowing it is so, but such is the very definition of moral evil. We cannot explain this fundamentally irrational act simply by pointing to a rational faculty. We must go further and say that our faculties are broken and damaged.

I bring this up because I have spent the last day reading discussions about what is classically called “the problem of evil” which all argue that there is an incompatibility between omnipotence and evil, and so God must either not exist or must not be omnipotent. What is conspicuously absent in all such discussions is the idea that man is a broken and damaged being, a being that- for all his dignity- can be considered a blight on the cosmos- a corrupted and broken animal that deserves to be blotted out. That we exist at all is not because we deserve to exist- we can make no claims upon the universe or its author. Whatever evils we suffer can justly be seen as punishments, and punishments that have all, as yet, stopped short of the one we truly deserve. Our race is still allowed to exist, by an act of unspeakable mercy and love.

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…As Maimed It is reasonable

…As Maimed

It is reasonable that happiness should be god-given… but this question would perhaps be more appropriate to another inquiry.



Nic. Eth, 1:9

I have no idea whether Aristotle ever gets around to making this “other inquiry”, and I have no suspicion either way. But since what is most formal to happiness is virtue, then the question seems to be whether virtue comes from God.

In the very next sentence, Aristotle says:

All who are not maimed as regards their potentiality for virtue may win it by a certain kind of study and care.

What does it mean to be “maimed” here? Like all terms in Aristotle’s writings, the term can probably mean several things, all of which we can trust him to make clear later. St. Thomas will no doubt pick up the slack if there is any. For the moment, though, I want to forget the book and look at the world for a moment. Is this “maiming” a minor problem, or a major one? Are wounded men the exception, or the rule?

Look to anything the universe that reaches maturity: fish, oak trees, dogs, roses… good grief, look at anything in the plant or animal kingdoms. Now ask yourself, “does any of these _________ have a difficult time living as a _______ should live? The answer will be a resounding “no”. There will be the occasional bizarre exception, the beaver that is exiled from the rest of his clan or the lone wolf that runs alone. There are, arguably, struggles that make certain animal lives difficult- the “survival of the species” and all- but these problems are beside the point. Even if a coyote kills a deer, we all know the deer was living the best deer-life he could under the circumstances up to that point. He didn’t die because he got high on wild hallucinogenic mushrooms and couldn’t run away. He didn’t die because he was killed by the new buck- friend of his last doe. He didn’t die because he hanged himself out of deer melancholy. He didn’t die at the hands of a deer tyrant. Just as he didn’t die for these reasons, he didn’t live a life under any of these conditions either. There are no porno shops, illegitimacy problems, divorces, murders, tyrants, drunks, drug addicts, obese gluttons, liars, disobedient children, whores, sophists, witches, drug dealers, felons, or anything of the kind in the animal or plant kingdom. Dogs in the wild will not eat until they can’t walk, or dull their wits with chemicals until they are in a stupor. If an animal is the sort of animal that mates for life, then we know that they will stay together until one of the spouses dies.

And then there’s us.

It is no objection to blame this all on the fact that we have reason or freedom of choice. How can pointing out that we have freedom explain why this free choice must fail us so often? What is there in the idea of “free choice” that lends it to being the sort of thing that should so often fail, and fail so drastically for so many? It also makes no difference if we point out that the goods that are offered by sensation (which can often go against what is good for us as men) are more vivid to us than the goods that are really good. This is simply to beg the question. Everyone agrees that certain sensible things, which are bad for us but apparently good, are more attractive than what is really good. But why is this the case? This merely re-states a conclusion that we all know as though it were a proof for the conclusion. Why is it that we are the sort of things that are so often deceived by sensible apparent goods? The “argument” above says nothing. That we sometimes do evil because it is more vivid to us does not explain why it is that we so often find actual evils more vivid, and more appealing: or why we are alone among animals in doing so for the most part. What is there in the idea of sensation that it must be stronger than reason? Nothing. Why is it stronger in us?

We must be maimed. We are born maimed. If we look to the faculties that we have, we stand on top of a universe that would not even make sense without us. If we look at the disorder among our faculties, we are the only thing that doesn’t belong in the universe. We are both the crown of the cosmos and its one mistake.

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