rough outlines of a history

What if we saw speculative wisdom as the height of wisdom, as opposed to practical wisdom and power over nature, what would our account of history look like?

Pre-History- Judaism begins to incorporate Greek wisdom into it’s canonical understanding of itself. Greeks who encounter the Jews are struck by how they have believed in “Greek” ideas for so long. The Jews, for whatever reason, lose this vibrancy they drew from Greek thought, and eventually corrupt into ritualism- and then lost even their rituals. The Greeks themselves become hesitant in their own philosophy after a strong start- the philosophy, which was at its best a daring and muscular knowledge of God, science, and the immortality of the soul, degrades into skepticism.

Christianity comes on to the scene. From the very beginning the religion is by nature philosophical- it calls its God “the logos” or “the logos of God”. It writes in Greek, and uses Greek modes of discourse. The first formally trained philosopher dates from the Apostolic age. Appeals to the order of nature and the universe are commonplaces from the very beginning of the religion. Its first leader calls the aim of the religion to make its faithful “partakers in the divine nature”. Evangelization to Athens is almost immediate. The religion sees itself as “a wisdom”, as opposed to a mere religion. The authorities agree, who see the new group not as a religion, but as atheism. This is because Christianity does not worship the “gods of religion” but rather the God of the philosophers.

Christianity later fractures and loses its cultural strength. The speculative height of the wisdom takes one step down and becomes a practical wisdom that seeks to understand nature only that it might control it. Instead of participating in the good of speculative thought, culture now sees its greatest perfection as participating in the good of practical wisdom.

Laws, 892c

Plato proves that the first cause of motion must be a living thing:

Life is self motion (this is the definition of life)

What is moving first is not being moved by another (evident from the terms)

What moves first must be alive.

On the basis of this proof, as soon as we conclude that there is one first unmoved mover of the universe, we can straightaway conclude that this unmoved mover is alive, and even that he has the highest life. We know that his mind is all knowing and his will is all loving. The act of no will could be greater than his, just as the act of no mind could be greater than his. It is absolutely impossible to know something more than the Prime Mover knows it, or to love something more than the Prime Mover loves it.

Verification and Evidence- UPDATED

Verification and evidence are essential but cannot give us principles, for a principle is known first, and evidence must be known before the thing proven. We can qualify what we mean here, but we can’t qualify ourselves out of this: everything we know is based on something known in itself.

What is known first is in the soul alone. Without this internal word we cannot affirm or deny wisdom. Verbal articulation of the principle in the soul is essential but not sufficient. What does it matter if we say the principle of contradiction to a five-year-old, a tree, or certain contemporary philosophers, or even if they say it themselves? To have the words is not to have the interior word. We cannot make the interior word in another by our power alone, just as a doctor can’t make someone be healthy by his power alone. The doctor can provide conditions under which injuries can heal, but the healing must be done from a principle within. The patient must heal himself by voluntary co-operation and co-operation though his nature.

Failures at Transcendence

The most common way of falling short of transcendence is ignoring it altogether. People can talk about knowledge, epistemology, the mind, consciousness, etc. for years without ever noticing the transcendental character of the objects known to mind.

The second most common falling short of transcendence is to deny one of the terms of transcendence. It is difficult to see how a sort of thing and a particular can be in a real sense one. It is far easier to simply deny that one of terms exists. Nominalism denies the term “sort of thing” which it calls, usually, “an abstract idea”. That nominalism is false is plain even from speech- a rose is a sort of thing, and one sort of thing is a rose. Transcendence is also denied by extreme realism, which denies that the particular exists and gives all existence to the “sort of thing”. This is the position usually attributed to Plato.

The third falling short of transcendence is to make the “what it is” exist “within” the particular, as though the particular thing was made out of a “what it is” and a particular mixed together. This seems to be the way most people understand Aristotle’s doctrine: the universal is “taken out of” or “abstracted” from the particular in the same way that a man might be pulled out of a well, or salt evaporated out of salt water.

All of these ways fall short of transcendence by trying to understand it in a way that is too materialistic. When confronted with the paradox of transcendence, it is easy to deny one of the terms, or to try to mix together the terms as though they were paint colors or cooking ingredients. Transcendence confronts us with the radical new way that mind can “read the interiors” of things. The “what it is” and the particular thing are not like two blocks, or two ingredients that are mixed with each other.

This transcendence, though it is known through sense, and it is about sensible things, is in an essentially different order of knowledge from sensation. Since we know insofar as we can relate to sense, much of what we say about transcendence is negative. We can, however, critique materialistic or naively spiritualistic accounts of transcendence- accounts that try to deny the verity of our internal word.

Transcendence, part II

Every individual is both a sort of thing, and yet the two are not identical in every way. The sort of thing, taken as such, cannot perish, and yet it is true that every individual is the sort of thing it is.

This is the first sense of transcendence- the “what of a thing”. It cannot be viewed materially or according to a simple “inside the thing or outside the thing” view. The transcendence of the “what” is in one sense wholly within, and in another sense wholly outside the particular.

But there is another transcendence beyond the particular and what the particular is. There is also a transcendence which stands to the genera of all things as though they were the particulars. Call this “transcendental per se“. To understand this:

particular: what it is:: what it is (genus): transcendental per se

This analogy can only be taken so far- the transcendental is also wholly found within the particular, in the same way as “what it is” is. The transcendental is not a genus- for then it would have no difference from the genus or the “what it is”. The basis for this difference in the transcendentals is our understanding of all things as all.

The transcendental per se, called “the transcendentals”, are arranged in five orders: unity, thing, true, good, beautiful.

Unity negates division in the self.
Thing negates unity with another.
Truth affirms order to intellect.
Good affirms order to will.
Beauty needs to be dealt with later.

Words and Transcendence

When I say “a rose” I can mean both the thing I’m looking at now, and a sort of thing. And so the particular thing is the same as a sort of thing.

The particular is also different from the sort of thing. All roses don’t grow when mine grows, nor do all roses die when mine dies.

When we say, “the man forms a word”: we imply that the mind illuminates the particular, allowing us to see it as a sort of thing. This whatness that we know is both truly and fully in the particular, and yet it is not limited to the particular. This property is called “transcendence”.

Cognitive studies.

I’ve had to read a good deal of cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind. I have yet to see a single theory start with (or even get to) the proper object of human thought- the whatness of material things, i.e. being known in matter. The formal object of the mind- being- is also never spoken of.

Without a consideration of the mind’s proper object- which is eternal and imperishable, the study of the mind cannot give us knowledge of our full dignity as an immortal being, likewise immortal and imperishable. If Cog. Psy. and consciousness studies are taken to give the the fundamental account of mind and consciousness, they will degrade human life though sophistries about how man’s thought ceases at death.

I am aware that there is a school of thought called “substance dualism” that asserts that mind is a non-physical reality. But insistence on non- physical reality in human life is not sufficient. Without a consideration of the formal object of the mind- being, we are not able to distinguish our sensitive knowledge from our intellectual knowledge. Intentionality will not do it. Animals have intentionality too- their sensations are certainly about something.

There is a possibility of establishing immortality by an argument taken from outside the science of mind, by using an argument given by many thinkers, most famously Kant:

A morality demands eternal life.
Morality exists.

This argument can only go so far, though, since the root of human morality is the definition of man, and the definition of man is rooted in his being the spiritual form of a living natural body with tools.

An Hypothesis on Twentieth- Century Music- UPDATED

After Beethoven, musicians began to define genius as the ability to conjure tempests and earthquakes in the soul. Hence, the “Romantic era”, the era of tempest, sentiment, and the search for the thunderous and sublime.

This teaches man to identify music with getting outside of one’s mind. Over time, musicians find an easier way to give this ecstasy. Beating drums and pulsating rhythms move the body irresistibly- which is why drums are beaten in galleys or on forced marches. A new kind of music arises that gives primacy to rhythm, and this extreme rhythm causes extreme motion in the body, which in turn gives the feeling of extreme life- for life in animals is motion. This feeling of extreme life is caused apart from the spirit (which is most appealed to by harmony) or the mind (most appealed to by melody). According primacy to rhythm is the distinctive feature of twentieth century music: Dixieland, jazz, blues, gospel, rock, and rap. This music draws its root inspiration from slave music- music that was sung to keep bodies moving, while keeping minds and spirits empty (who wants to think about life under such circumstances?)

We, however, use this music as though it were for our leisure- when in fact it is only useful to keep us numb while living the life of a slave. This use, moreover, only applies when the structure of the music is not intrinsically perverse. This music was, at best, designed for the times when we want our brains and spirits to go numb, and our bodies to keep moving. It therefore has no place in the leisured, contemplative, emotional, or spiritual life. In fact, it only has a place in life when we would rather not be living.

My hypothesis, summarized, is this: Romantic era music strove for a divine emotional experience, beyond all reason in a swell of passion and ecstasy. Modern music keeps this fundamental kernel of the irrational, but strives to find it in things that are bodily. We sought to become gods apart from reason and ended up- as always- like beasts.

Kosmos and Beauty

The world is encountered as one. We see the sun determine day and night, blooming and closing. We set our watches to the motions of nature. This unity of the world is at the same time its harmony- i.e. the co- operative co- existence of all things. This harmony is also striking in its clarity- we can see all the way to the stars, and we relate to the sun and the moon as one with us in operation- determining times and tides. This clarity reveals the splendor of the world- if the world is not filled with splendor, nor the whole system of the planets and the stars, what possible thing could the word “splendor” refer to?

The world reveals itself as beautiful. In fact, it even seems necessary to include the idea of beauty as essentially a part of the world, as the Greeks did with the word “kosmos” or the Romans did with their word “mundus”.

“People of the Book” jottings

-Christianity sees itself as related to the Old Testament, and bases its truth on the inerrancy of that Scripture. Islam sees itself as related to the Scripture as well, and bases its truth on the errancy- even putative errors- in the document.

-Any genius can found a religion on a book.

- Only a fool would count on getting consensus over a book. A very vocal and influential group of present scolars can’t even agree that St. Thomas is Aristotelian. Why should we expect them to agree on whether there is, say, a Trinity or a Church in the New Testament?

- I understand people praising the beauty of the Koran, if they are speaking about it as a literary work. It makes little sense, however, to praise its beauty as a religious work. If God spoke to us, it would be a little shallow to focus on his sentence structure, paragraph unity, and avoidance of the passive voice.

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