Strauss, Natural Right and Teleology

Leo Strauss, who was the first philosopher I ever considered myself a disciple of, claimed that the difficulty with upholding Aristotle’s natural right is that Aristotle’s teleology has been refuted by modern science.

The difficulty with Strauss saying this is that there is no evidence that he understood a single argument that Aristotle gave for why nature acts for an end.

Let me issue that as a challenge to all the Straussians, or anyone else who is interested: I say that Leo Strauss shows no evidence of understanding Aristotle’s teleology. Aristotle’s arguments are clear- but where are they even hinted at in Strauss?

The arguments, among others that could be given, and put in bare syllogism form are:

1.) What happens always or for the most part happens for the sake of something
Nature acts always or for the most part

2.) art imitates nature
but an artist acts for the sake of something

3.) matter is for the sake of form
matter and form are natural

to which I include

My dog comes in the room because she wants belly-rubs
My dog is natural.

Fragments

A reasonable Inference

If we consider natural causes, species are uncaused, for they evolved by chance.

Therefore, species are directly created by God, since they do not get their order from nature.

-People used to insist that God was not necessary to create life, because life came to be from non- living matter (flies from garbage, etc.) Now they insist that God is not necessary, because living things come to be from other living things. People used to insist that if we proved that the universe was not infinite in time, then it had to be created. Then we proved it was not infinite in time, and people forgot that claim.

Sooner or later you figure we would have figured out that there is no substitute for doing Philosophy.

-The fifth way is often treated as an emotional appeal: “Things are just so ordered and beautiful, there must be a God…” This is to treat the fifth way as though it were the weakest kind of argument. In Fact, the fifth way would work just fine if the only thing in the universe we a leprous pederast sitting on a dung-hill.

Living creatures, movers being moved

All living creatures are simultaneously self movers, and secondary movers- they are self movers as living, and secondary movers as creatures. This makes it a mover which is itself moving. As mover, it is characterized by a fullness, a completion, and act, but as moved it is characterized by a lack, a lack within a potency. All this is implicit in the definition of motion: the act of potency with privation.

It’s easy to forget that science does not exist properly in books- it isn’t in the book anymore than the knowledge of the weather is in the radio- knowledge is in the soul. Science and philosophy are in the soul, and are perfections of soul. Philosophy is alive, for all that exists in the soul exists in life. The soul also has life by nature and cannot loose it. Though the soul might cease to give existence to the man, it need not cease to give existence to the philosophy that is in man. Wisdom is stronger than death.

Places to Find Being

Where does the search for being start? With obvious instances of it: This horse, that man. Where else? with the fact that man names things with an intention of naming what is essential: we don’t call toto a dog because he is small, or because he has at least one ear. Where else? with the principle of contradiction: “all” nothing” “impossible” “is” and “is not”. All these words demonstrate that we come to any discussion already possessing, and even presupposing, a knowledge of all things.

The End Of Nature Acc. to Sense,and Acc. to Sense and Mind

“The end of nature” can be taken in two ways. If we take the phrase to be talking about, for example, what we would see if we just let nature run its course, as though it was unfolding for us on a video screen, then we see a story of sheer vanity. There may be many other generations after this one, but irrespective of how long the affair goes on, the time is coming when the sun either goes dim, or it can no longer hold down its own weight; and the earth either glows and gets burnt up like a cinder or goes as cold as ash. There won’t remain any tale of man- not even one told by an idiot. Nature does not have the power to save the memory of anything from oblivion: Homer’s Iliad, the memory of the battle of Thermopylae, Chartes Cathedral, Euclid’s Elements, The music of Palestrina… all of these things will vanish into the same faceless oblivion which billions have already vanished into, and which promises to claim each of us on any of the few thousand days that are coming. Taken in this sense, “the end of nature” means an event of total vanity.

I described the account just given as one “unfolding on a video screen”. It is nature as it presents itself to us according to mere sensation- wordless and just seen. Looking at nature with the aid of mind tells a different story, and the truer story. Mere sensation is as different from sensation and mind as seeing a persons face is from knowing their character; or as different as saying a word and knowing its definition. As Aquinas points out, intelligence is capable of “reading the interiors (inter/ legere)” and according to mind seeing the interior of what is sensed, we can tell that nature is being moved, being caused, being held in its contingent existence, being caused by some supereminent agent and end, and being ordered and determined by mind. When nature is taken according to sense and mind, “the end of nature” means an end which is outside of nature, and to which nature is both tending and testifying. Taken in this sense “the end of nature” reveals an extrinsic and unifying purpose of nature, which makes it blasphemous to claim that nature is totally without purpose.

Notes and summaries on CDK

Our knowledge is both co-extensive with being, and opposed to it. Our knowledge is co-extensive inasmuch as we speak of “all” and “nothing”; “is” and “is not”; “possible” and “impossible”. There can be nothing outside of thought. At the same time, thought is opposed to being, because the first principle of our knowledge contains “not” and “impossible”, although being does not contain “not” and “impossible”. In other words “impossible” proves both the infinity of human thought, and its opposition to being.

If our knowledge were in no way opposed to being, it would contain all being simply, totally, and with no admixture of non- being: the “not” and “impossible”.

Maurice Dionne solved the problem of how to understand analogy in metaphysics. His doctrine was picked up by Ralph Mc Inerny and enriched over the course of thirty five years, until Mc Inerny wrote his magisterial “Aquinas and Analogy”.

Back to Dionne, though. One of my favorite anecdotes about him is about how one day one of his students came up to him and asked him what he thought of Descartes. “Who is that?” he said. The student proceeded to tell him about Descartes, and about the doctrines of “the father of modern philosophy”. I have been told that Dionne only shrugged and laughed at Descartes. He certainly didn’t know who he was.

To be honest, I had to study Descartes for years- from my very first undergrad philosophy class to a full semester in descartes alone in grad school. Come to think of it, I have not gotten a single positive principle from him. So long as one is interested in learning philosophy in a positive sense- as opposed to learning the exact nature of certain errors- then Descartes can be omitted without consequence.

We call whatever is known an object of thought, and everything that is an object of thought is known. It follows, then, that the contrary of an object, as such, is unknowable. But subject is the contrary of object. So the subject, as such, is unknowable.

Subject, as is clear from both its etymology and its denotation, is a sort of potency, and every potency is a certain subject receiving act. This is why all things are knowable inasmuch as they are in act. The act of the knowable is, moreover, one with the act of the knower. To the extent that something is potential, then, it is not a knower, and to the extent that something is a non-knower, it is potential in some way. It follows from this that the being that is pure act is a knower in an absolutely perfect sense.

We call whatever is known an object of thought, and everything that is an object of thought is known. It follows, then, that the contrary of an object, as such, is unknowable. But subject is the contrary of object. So the subject, as such, is unknowable.

Subject, as is clear from both its etymology and its denotation, is a sort of potency, and every potency is a certain subject receiving act. This is why all things are knowable inasmuch as they are in act. The act of the knowable is, moreover, one with the act of the knower. To the extent that something is potential, then, it is not a knower, and to the extent that something is a non-knower, it is potential in some way. It follows from this that the being that is pure act is a knower in an absolutely perfect sense.

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