Short ReductionIf a person is

Short Reduction

If a person is primarily intellect then we would call a person good primarily because they have a good intellect.

The good of intellect is knowledge.

Therefore every knower would be a good person.

They are obviously not.

(for intellect, insert any of the other pop terms: consciousness, etc.)


On Perennial Philosophy(blogger ate the

On Perennial Philosophy
(blogger ate the first one, and it took time to re-type)

I was recently asked to give an account of what I mean by “perennial philosophy”, and in particular to say which authors are examples of perennial philosophy. My response here has three parts: 1.) an account of what it means to call a philosophy “perennial”; 2.) what the fundamental basis of this philosophy is; and 3.) What fundamental demand this philosophy makes of a person.

1.) “Perennial” denotes being long lasting, and as such it is a synonym of “sempiternal” and “everlasting”. The etymology of the word, however, reveals several connotations that set the word apart from any of its synonyms. The word first means, in Latin, “lasting throughout the year (per+ annos)”; but it next becomes the name, in English, of a kind of flower bulb that blooms in an unusually large number of growing seasons. Though these two meanings are distinct, together they are a lovely teaching tool to explain what the perennial philosophy is. The perennial philosophy is made to last throughout many seasons, and it continually recurs even after it has vanished for a time. It does not, moreover, come back like weeds come back, but as a flower.

2.) Nothing is capable of being more sound and lasting than the foundation upon which it is built, and so the everlasting character of perennial philosophy requires an everlasting foundation. This everlasting foundation is formed by self evident propositions, and therefore the distinctive mark of perennial philosophy is a continual attention to the self evident, either by articulating it perfectly, or by meditating on it, or by firmly tethering all propositions to it.

By “self evident” I mean a proposition that is known as soon as all of its parts are known. Since we come to know things over time, and anything can be known more or less perfectly, we should not expect all self evident propositions to be known by everyone perfectly, or even by all at the same time. In some such propositions, we can expect the parts to be known by all almost immediately, like “the whole is greater than its part” or “some words have more than one meaning” or “nothing can both be and not be, (at the same time and in the same respect, etc.)”. There are other self evident propositions whose parts can be known only after dialectic, clarification, and qualification have cleared away some of the underbrush that obscures the ability of the mind to see the parts of the proposition. There is not always a bright yellow line between these propositions and the first ones, since the same amount of dialectic etc. is not necessary to manifest them. In this camp of propositions are, in general, a whole raft of definitions that are essential to perennial philosophy: “material is what things are made out of” or “Every agent acts for an end” or “man is a rational animal”*. Besides these, there is another class of self evident propositions whose parts cannot be known except to the degree that we have good moral habits; like “the force of evil desires diminishes if they are resisted” or “Each kind of habit has its particular pleasure”. Generally speaking, very little can be known abut morality except to one who is already living a moral life.

3.) Because perennial philosophy is founded on the self evident, but the self evident is not always known to us immediately, and because we come to understand philosophy most often through the teachings of someone else, this perennial philosophy requires that we follow some master with a reasonable trust. This condition of reasonable trust is called discipleship. A disciple is one who, on the basis of being shown certain truths that he knows are certain, trusts a master by always giving him the strong benefit of the doubt. By “strong benefit of the doubt” I mean that he will not disagree with his master unless he can appeal to something even more self evident than the master’s teaching.

If it is objected that we should trust no one in philosophy, but only accept certain doctrines as we come to know them, I answer that this makes philosophy impossible. The truth of certain propositions can only manifest itself over time with meditation, and unless we trust certain masters, we will not put in the time to meditate on what they say, even if we end up disagreeing with it. We are simply incapable of pursuing something unless we see it as a good, and since we cannot always immediately see the proper goodness in what some philosopher says (in the case of philosophy, the proper goodness is truth), we must either be motivated to see it by the goodness found in trust, or not at all.

But where does one find this master that is worthy of discipleship? Here we reach the point where I must give either a very long defense, or a personal testimonial. I choose the personal testimonial. St. Thomas has never let me down in an argument, and I have always found that his arguments reduce to the self evident. And yes, when I speak of St. Thomas I also see him as a disciple of Aristotle, and Aristotle of Plato; and again yes, I accept both Charles DeKoninck and Marcus Berquist as faithful expositors of what both Aristotle and St. Thomas say. I am a disciple of all the men listed above, and their doctrine is, by my lights, perennial philosophy for all the reasons I have noted above. Since all of these men have gone on record as saying that they would deny anything in their philosophy if it contradicted something more known and certain (there again, the principle of contradiction) then I, as their disciple, make the same pronouncement also. All of us defer to the truth that is found in the nature of things, a truth which proceeds from the mind of God.
*It was the genius of Socrates, and of Plato, that they saw dialectic as the essential starting point of any philosophy that would last, not because it was essential to the prove the starting point of a science (since no starting point, by definition, is capable of being proven- but rather because it was essential for us to see the starting point in the first place) . I see Plato’s method as essential, so much so that if someone doesn’t love Plato, they have next to no chance of ever being a philosopher.


If Hume were A Pre-

If Hume were A Pre- Socratic…
(a fictional thought experiment)

…The All is what man sees, and its copy.

…there is no seeing except in seeing, no hearing except in hearing, though madmen boast of this…

…I spoke to the madman above the city gates* “two boats met each other in a storm. How many oars were moving?”

*The place above the gates was reserved for the goddess Athena. The sentence gives no indication as to whether Hume, the madman, or both were in that place.


Intellectual Humility as A Categorical

Intellectual Humility as A Categorical Imparative

A categorical imparative is a moral maxim whose denial involves contradiction.

1.) Intellectual humility involves giving primacy to the object (as opposed to the subject’s ideas of it, formulations of it, opinions of it, or possession of it.)
2.) The good of the intellect is caused by goodness of the object it possesses (a man is not made good in this way, but an intellect is.)
3.) So the rejection of humility is the rejection of the primacy of what makes the intellect good.
4.) If we reject the primacy of one thing, something other becomes primary.
5.) the corruption of humility involves giving primacy to something non-primary.

In a shorter form:
The object is the primary cause of the intellect’s goodness.
Humility is the acceptance of the primacy of an object.


Part XVI: The End.I have

Part XVI: The End.

I have considered many ways to treat of what should come next in this discussion of beatitude, but nothing I can write is adequate. The short list of ideas was:

1.) I considered an account of the beatific vision that radically negated all of our present knowledge in this life- at one time I considered putting it like this: if God had given us the senses of a bloodhound, we would speak of “the beatific scent”. Although this seemed like one of the better ways I could express the force of “eye has not seen…”, it was problematic (to say the least) and, of course, it sounded silly. Nevertheless, It is absolutely necessary to point out that when we speak of the beatific vision we are extending the meaning of the word vision so that it no longer means any experience we have with our bodily eyes- and yet we too often imagine the experience in terms of something seen this way, and we end up making “beatitude” banal. I sometimes fall into a rut of imagining the beatific vision as a bright light; or a static staring at God; or a frightful, unblinking stare that we must hold interminably.

2.) I considered an account of beatitude that focused on the definition of “eternity“. The definition is notable for, again, being mostly characterized by negation.We can better contemplate beatitude by remembering what it is not.

3.) I considered a long discussion of the transcendentals: goodness, truth, beauty. I thought that by discussing these we would have the best bridge from the things we know in this world to the things we hope for in the next.

4.) I considered a long discussion about the resurrection of the body.

5.) I considered a sort of inward journey to God like the kind that Augustine relates that he had while discussing beatitude with his mother. The experience is recorded toward the end of the Confessions. This is a rapturous text. Read well, it will give almost anyone a mystical experience.

6.) I thought about a discussion of the hierarchy of beauty related in speech Socrates gives at the end of Plato’s Symposium.

In the end, the ideas simply crowded each other out. There was also the fatigue of focusing on the same point for some five weeks. The whole series also either caused, or coincided with an all but total loss of generated comments, and it doesn’t take long before total comment silence, like every prolonged silence, ends up playing tricks with your mind.

The most promising idea I had for ending these posts was the one that treated beatitude as the extension of our present experience of beauty. I would have borrowed most of my ideas from the philosopher who wrote this. The article linked to is moral philosophy, but the author has also won some recognition for his treatment of the question of beauty; a treatment which- since it was a well ordered and thorough exposition of perennial philosophy- was the last word on the “conflict” between art and science, mysticism an theology, Plato and Aristotle. His ideas, however, proved immune to the brevity that blogposting demands, since they were firmly grounded in many of the profound particulars of theology, both natural and revealed. But this man, at the conclusion of his own work, saw in one quotation a perfect expression of the relation between beauty and beatitude- and I think it best to end my discussion with that same quotation. The words of the quoted Author have the benefit of being both familiar to all, and of never losing their refulgence by repetition:

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.

Psalms 27 (26) v. 4


Part XIV: The Gospel of

Part XIV: The Gospel of Beatitude

The gospel* of beatitude is the bodily presence of Jesus Christ, who is both the promise of beatitude and the first born of all the blessed. From this first gospel, the Gospel- i.e. a written account of Christ’s life- is made possible. Since human beings name things as they know them, and they know the written account of Christ first, the written accounts of Christ’s life are the first things named Gospels. But it is obvious that the written accounts are secondary to the primary reality that they narrate- sc. God’s taking of a human soul and body.

These written accounts of Christ’s life, in addition to telling the story of Christ, also have marked similarities to Christ himself. Both the scriptures and the incarnation are revelations of God, manifestations of his inner life. Both are singularities: just as Christ is the only man who one can point to and say “he is God”, so also the Gospels (and the sacred scriptures that relate to them) are the only books which one can point to and say “God wrote these”. Both manifest mysterious instrumentality: just as the Incarnation involves God working through the instrumantality of a real human body and soul, the Bible involves God working through the instrumentality of real human authors.

Through the written Gospels, we are led to the awareness that the primary gospel- the body of Christ- is present to all men even now, and will be forever. This written gospel takes its name from being “the good news”, but “news” has a hierarchy of meanings, and we are called to go from hearing the news of the event to seeing the event that is the news. The written accounts of Christ’s life do not promise that we will always have written accounts of Christ’s life, but they do promise that we will always have access to his body, for Christ himself commanded that we be in the presence of his body as a remembrance of him (Luke 22:19.) Our relation to Christ is not merely the relation of a reader to the subject of a book, but a relation to the very bodily presence of Christ. It is this body that is the fundamental gospel, the revelation of the good news that God desires to grant to man a beatitude he naturally desires but cannot naturally attain.

*”Gospel”, is a kind of news. “News” is one of those lovely English words with a pile of meanings going back to the fourteenth century. The primary sense in which I use it here is more recent (from the OED):

c. A person, thing, or place regarded as worthy of discussion or of
reporting by the media. Freq. to be news.

1912 R. KIPLING Diversity of Creatures (1917) 192 The great Baron
Reuter himself..flashed that letter in full to the front, back, and both
wings of this scene of our labours. For Huckley was News. 1946 E. WAUGH When Going was Good v. 260 Abyssinia was News.
Everyone with any claims to African experience was cashing in. 1965 Listener 23 Sept. 452/2 The reading boom..has made
poets news, and it has made them think about being news. 1974 V. GIELGUD In Such a Night vii. 58, I am not what is
commonly called ‘news’. wife is ‘news’ in the biggest possible

I would include some less documented cases that may be more familiar to our
contemporary ear, like “Journalists with integrity don’t make the
news, they report it.”


Part XIII: That The Incarnation

Part XIII: That The Incarnation Is Necessary for Beatitude.

The Incarnation inasmuch as it relates to the present discussion of beatitude is God’s taking of a human body and a human soul, that, through the instrumentality of the same, he might manifest to man his desire to completely share his life with every single human being. This Incarnate God, Jesus, is the first of all men to enjoy the beatitude that man seeks by nature but lacks the power to attain, and so it is through him first that we hope to attain beatitude.

This man Jesus is both the promise and fulfillment of human beatitude. He is the promise because through him we first see that God desires to share his life with men, and he is the fulfillment of human beatitude because he is the first of all men to actually enjoy the beatitude. Because beatitude is the ultimate end for man, and it is from the end that anything derives it’s reason for existence, then, without Christ man has no reason to exist. This is one reason why this man Jesus is the firstborn of all creation and that all things were created through him and for him.

Again, Jesus Christ is himself God and the revelation of God’s desire to fulfill the natural purpose of human life. It is Christ himself that is the Gospel- the good news that human life has a reason to exist. Without the Gospel that is Jesus Christ, there is no other Gospel, and it is only to the extent that Christ himself is present to us that the Gospel can be present to us also. But since God’s first Gospel and revelation is nothing other manifestation of himself through his body, and since God wished to make this revelation known in all nations, even to the end of the world, it follows that God’s very revelation of man’s beatitude is the body of Christ- even to this day.

Part XII: On The Faith

Part XII: On The Faith Necessary for Beatitude

We hope for things that we desire and have no power to attain, so man by nature hopes for God to perform the action in which his beatitude consists. He waits for God to reveal himself in such a way that he might have a new hope- namely the confident expectation of beatitude based upon an acceptance of God’s revelation that he desires to share his life with man. This revelation- since it would be nothing other than a revealing of the inner plan and desire of God, hidden from all creation- if it exits, requires faith, or rather the very acceptance of the revelation in this life is faith. We do not know that God desires to grant himself to us, that we might satisfy our irrevocable and congenital desire for union with the highest good. We do not know this because it does not follow of necessity from any premise, nor is it necessary in itself; it comes rather from the free choice of God himself. If he has chosen to grant this, our life has some purpose; if he has not chosen to grant this, there is no standard by which we can accuse God of dealing wrongly with us. We are the subjects and servants of God simply and always, in this life or any other. We are his lovers- if we are- only through accepting by faith God’s revelation of his own love for us.


Part XI: That Natural Desire

Part XI: That Natural Desire Seeks What is Beyond Natural Power.

Read here

and here

(And secondly)

Man has a natural desire for what he cannot naturally attain. He can know that there is a greatest good, but he cannot naturally lay claim to it; he can know that this greatest good is an intelligent being, and yet no intelligent being can be forced to befriend a man; and further, since this greatest good is also the highest ruler, no man can appeal to some higher law if he feels the greatest good has wronged him*. Every accusation or disdain for God reduces to a disgust that he made us the way he did- said another way, all disdain for God is founded on self loathing.

Again, man naturally desires an absolute uncreated mystery, which he understands through creatures. At times, man understands God by negating something of creatures (as when he calls God immaterial, unmoved, etc) at other times, man understands God by seeing a created thing in relation to him (as when we call God first cause, or creator) and at other times we extend the meaning of a term that applies to creatures in order to apply it to God. But at no time can our reason look to any creature and see something that exists in God. We see intelligence, but intelligence is not in God like that, we see existence, but existence is not in God like that, we even see love, but love is not in God like that. The intelligence of man is certainly able to say true things about God- both in affirming and negating- and yet one of the most fundamental of these is that God is the absolute uncreated mystery.

But if man naturally desires what he cannot naturally attain, both because he simply cannot demand the friendship of anyone, and because by his created natural powers he cannot overcome the whole infinite distance that separates the contingent and relative from the absolute; then, again, it remains for him only to hope that God himself will overcome the whole vast distance between himself and man, and join himself to man. Before this union happens we can only, like all lovers, hope for it. So long as we love God so, we will also hope, but both our love and our hope rest-for now- on faith.

* The argument from evil, whenever it has any emotional force, involves a claim that God is being unjust or immoral in his relations to man. I have no idea what this could possibly mean. Looking for some standard by which to judge God is like looking for the part of a book beyond the cover, or a part of a steeple above the cross. We cannot deny God out of some claim that he is immoral or unjust, since every immoral being is under an authority, and is therefore neither the first authority nor divine.


On Beatitude Part X: What

On Beatitude Part X: What is Necessary for Human Beatitude

When we say that the creature has an absolute dependence, “creature” means anything that has being, not simply substances, but any part of a substance, any action of the substance, and anything that relates to substance. We oppose “creature” to both God and non-being. When we call God a creator, we can mean both that he made what was different from himself, and other, and that he made something opposed to non-being, and in this sense like himself.

The creature, then, is opposed in different ways to the creator and to non being. It stands opposed to the creator because it has no source of existence from itself (and in this sense it is in itself non-being); but it stands opposed to non-being because it has existence. The creature can also be said to have a likeness to both the creator and to non-being, for it both is and yet is nothing in itself.

The creature is infinitely removed from both non-being and the creator. No creature can be non-being, nor can it be the creator, and “to become” either would amount to annihilation of itself. In this sense, every creature- every man, angel, mind, thought- is infinitely far from God. Yet in another sense, every man, angel, thought and being has a sort of likeness to God, and one may certainly have more of a likeness than another, though all creatures- again- are infinitely removed from the divinity.

But if every creature is infinitely removed from God, then what of the knowing creature’s desire for friendship with God himself, a desire that cannot be extracted from the knower (part IX)? What are the consequences of creating something with a desire for something that it is infinitely removed from, and therefore has no ability to attain by itself? Friendship can only be proportionate to intimacy, but every creature is of itself infinitely removed from God. This infinite distance cannot be crossed by a creature any more than a creature can cross the infinite distance between non-being and being, for the creature cannot create. And yet that creatures exist at all proves that God in fact does, by his own power, overcome the infinite distance between non-being and being by his act of creation. This leaves open the possibility that God himself could cross the infinite distance between creature and creator. If this crossing as not happened, or will not happen, then human life is futile and frustrated; with neither an attainable purpose, nor the hope of one.



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