November 30, 2006 at 6:59 pm (Default Category)
As soon as we say that an action was determined beforehand, we invoke the activity of mind in the action. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a man determining himself to speak, a wolf being determined to chase sheep, pressurized air being determined to rush out of an opened door, or a photon being determined to be emmitted from a galaxy on the other side of the universe.
Any other answer fails to account for why the result was determined beforehand: to say it happened by chance is the same as to say that what was determined beforehand was not determined beforehand; to say it happens necessarily is the same as to say that the result was determined because it was determined. Mind is over all and in all, and one of the first words said about nature still deserves to be a last word said about nature: “all things are full of gods, for the magnet moves iron.”
November 29, 2006 at 11:42 am (Default Category)
A certain king had two ministers. One day he brought them before him and said: “I am giving you each ten thousand acres of my best soil. You must seed it in this way: I will leave open the gates of my own small orchard and garden for three years, and you must come and eat from it, and seed your own crops from the fruits you have eaten. To help you gather and eat, I will give you each one hundred servants. Now go and do these things.”
The first minister went forth and did as the king commanded. He took from the orchard of the king and ate from it, and planed the seeds in his fields; first one, then another. Over time, he went forth less and less to the orchard, until finally he ate almost all from his own fields.
But the second minister did not do so. And the servants which the king had appointed to him came to him during the first year and said: “sir, let us gather the seeds from the orchard with you”. And he said to them “what worth could a days worth of seed collecting give? And there are many years left to gather the seeds- today we shall just eat the fruit”.
And so the year went and the next year followed. Still the minister did not collect the seeds. And the servants came to him again and said “sir, let us build a barn with you to collect the seeds”. And he said to them “We built no barn the first year, and all went well.”
And so the year went, and the next year followed. Still the minister did not collect the seeds. And the servants came to him and said “sir, clearly it is difficult for us all to collect. Come with us at least to the king to ask that he might give us more help to collect the seeds” But the minister answered “What help do I need from the king? The orchard will provide for all my needs.”
And so the year went, and the next year followed, and the minister, going forth to eat from the orchards, saw only stumps of trees, for the king had cut down the orchards to build a palace for himself. And he called the good minister to live with him in the palace, but the evil minister was left in his empty fields, still with contempt for the king.
November 28, 2006 at 12:50 am (Default Category)
If we understand motion to be anything that can be described as going from something to something, or turning from something to something, then motion appaers to be the most distinctive and essential trait of all the things we see around us: it is at least as distinctive as extension or mass, and perhaps even more so.
Motion in the sense of going or turning is over all: it is involved in every generation and decay and every going from one state or form to another. Everything that seems to rest on earth in truth moves with it, and the sun along with the galaxy, and time is over all and in all (modern advancements have shown that almost anything is a sort of clock: quartz crystals, the decay of carbon atoms, the rings of trees, ice in the arctic). The first physical principle of all things has always been held to be some mobile thing, even to this day, when we call it energy (a source of motion by definition- but is it clearly a mass or a volume?)
For those who would seek to know what the world is, the place to begin would be in seeking to find out what motion is. How, for example, is motion possible? What principles are necessary to account for motion?
November 27, 2006 at 4:21 pm (Default Category)
Light is a single act that can be divided in two by the mind: the resplendence, and the illumination. The resplendence belongs to the light itself, and the illumination in the communication of the nature of light to another. The case is similar with fire. This is an exemplar of the communicability of act: for the more some nature is in act, the greater its communication to another. The limiting case of this, both in thought and in reality, the the procession of persons in the Trinity; beneath this, there is the angelic communication, where one angel illuminates another by sharing the very light of his mind; and beneath this, there are men, who illuminate others only by some physical medium, by moving their bodies in some way and making physical symbols.
November 26, 2006 at 12:35 pm (Default Category)
I’ve given my life over to discipleship to St. Thomas: I read him habitually every morning, I make cards trying to memorize his words and arguments, I own almost everything he’s written and have ready access to what I don’t have, almost all my love of Latin is propped up by love of him, everything I read is in one way or another related to understanding him better. I named my own son after him, and plan to so name all the future ones. And after all this, what? Should I see him in heaven, he would walk right past me to speak to anyone who loved Christ more.
This is no argument against being a scholar: the plain fact is St. Thomas is a certain way of devotion for scholar-types. Devotion to the teaching of St. Thomas is the best way I know of for academic types to grow in love of Christ, and the Church has encouraged seeing him in this way. I only write all this to point out that thomism is essentially a way of devotion to Christ for academics. If we loose sight of this then thomism- like any other work of mercy- can just as easily become a road to perdition.
Just to add a clarification: any activity can be allied to the Christian life- cleaning streets, providing food to people, being a lawyer, being a politician, and so also being a scholar. But just as Christians being lawyers doesn’t make “Christian law”, so too philosophers being Christians doesn’t make “Christian philosophy”. A Christian philosopher is recognized as a Christian in the same way that any other person is: by his love, joy, kindness, mercifulness, self-control.
November 25, 2006 at 5:41 pm (Default Category)
Everyone is familiar with “Occam’s Razor”- the axiom that explanitory principles must not be multiplied beyond necessity- but almost no one is familiar with how Occam himself used the principle. The particular principles that Occam deemed unnecessary were intelligible/ specific forms like whiteness or beauty: e.g. he thought it was unnecessary to say that a white thing is white by its whiteness, a good thing was good by its goodness, or that man had the form of humanity. Occam says all this entails that:
God creates by his creation, is good by his goodness, mighty by his might… that an accident inheres by its inherence, a subject is sujected by its subjection, the apt is by its aptitude… and so on for innumerable cases.
Summa Logicae, vol 1. p.1, c.51
Occam, of course, has a point: the talk of whiteness or goodness, etc. sounds absurd if we merely multiply out the examples of it, and it would take little wit to parody. One simply has to get the hang of using suffixes like “-ness” and “-iety” and he could bring the table to a roar. But were St. Thomas, Aristotle, and Plato really as silly as all this? All three indeed insist that that any X is what it is by having the form of X- what could they have possibly meant?
The idea only seems absurd when we try to understand it by starting halfway. The ancients and Medievals saw the need for forms becuse they got to the roots of things, and were able in particular to see potency as a real principle of changeable and mobile things. So long as we recognize potency as a real principle of a real thing, it is evident from the terms that the real thing will be what it actually is through some act (call it “form”), which its potential participates in. The form is that by which something is actual, but it is not identical in everyway to the actual thing. To take an example that has been used many times: man (the composite of potency and form) is a man by humanity (the form) even though no man is humanity. But to say all this is to go too quickly: all this talk of principle and form and humanity can take on a sort of jibber-jabber quality unless we start with what is trully first.
November 24, 2006 at 5:33 pm (Default Category)
The human intellect receives its knowledge from things, and so it can only know insofar as things act upon it. But something cannot act on our senses unless actual, so we can only come to know the potential, as such, from an analogy to what is actual.
But even though potential being can only be known indirectly to us, whether our metaphysics divides being into the actual and the potential makes such a difference that it is impossible to overstate its importance. As soon as we divide being into potency and act, we are committed to some kind of discipleship to Aristotle. But to the extent that we fail to make this distinction, we simply don’t know where to start.
The distinction of things into potency and act makes all the things around us not mere facts or things, but composites by their very nature. The unity of things, in other words, becomes a unity of two principles, one of which is potential.
November 23, 2006 at 11:23 am (Default Category)
whatever account we give of the the soul or self need to be able to account for the self and soul we experience. We experience this thing as an active source, and a source of activity. It acts by thinking and by moving hands, speaking, giving advice to others.
November 22, 2006 at 10:58 pm (Default Category)
There are two parts to the idea of nature acting for an end: the first concludes that nature acts for the sake of something at all, and the second sees the something as a good. The first can be established of any nature in itself: it suffices to say that the natural action is determinite- i.e. to say that a thing or an action has a nature at all suffices to show that it is determinite.
But there is no necessity that there should be an clear good for the thing that acts for an end, in itself. The motion in act might be cyclic, like the hydrological cycle (rain, pools, evaporation, rain…). The hydrolic cycle doesn’t seem to be for the good of water that evaporates, but it seems pretty clear how it does help in a larger order or the world-the “ecosystem”. It makes sense that these actions have no clear good for the thing itself that undersgoes the change, for the very thing seems to have very little self at all. Is a particular water droplet or a particular quantum of heat energy even the sort of thing that can have a good for itself? In this case, even though the action of any water droplet has its own natural order to a term, the good that it is ordered to (at least clearly so) is the good of the ecosystem.
November 21, 2006 at 8:04 pm (Default Category)
We understand existence first through our experience with our own existence: and in this sense our existence is most full, vivid, and obvious in our immanent activity- the activity of thought, say, or of loving. Every other encounter with our existence is less clear and inferred from those moments in which we are fully alive and in action. This is one way to see the scholastic axiom “everything, insofar as it is actual, is acting”.