The Divine Processions and creation

St. Thomas says that the revelation of the Trinity destroys certain errors about creation, most of all the error that creation was necessary. What does this mean?

Without the revelation of processions in the divine nature, as far as we know the first procession is the procession of creatures from God. This procession would have to be either necessary or not. If necessary, creation would have a certain equality to God (for creation would be just as eternal, imperishable, subsistent, and permanent as God himself); but if free, it could not be an imitation or participation in any prior procession, and so it would be absolutely arbitrary. The first position was that of the Latin Averroists, the second seems very much like the common Islamic position about creation.

Shakespeare’s early sonnets are all appeals to a beautiful person to have kids, as opposed to being shut up in the personal love of their own beauty.

The clarity of Shakespeare’s vision! He saw all the way through beauty, containing the apparent level of the human body and face within the eternal and superabundant good of the self as opposed to the peculiar, corruptible good of the self. The first sonnets strike us as bizarre because we can’t see the beauty of the human form with the same universal clarity that he did. All we can read is a series of what seem to be odd (embarrassing) sonnets about how some guy should stop looking at himself and have kids. Eew! Icky! Lighten up!

The early sonnets are the guarantee and proof of the perfection of Shakespeare’s art. He proves to us that he sees exactly what beauty is. He will never be a dupe for mere superficial sentiment or the drunken urges of youth or a cheap emotional gimmick.

One might look at the world and be convinced that God exists, but all he sees is the world. What he looks at remains still, block like, and silent. We are the only ones speaking or thinking or being convinced. God must be! Silence.

Still, for all of this we are still some aspect of the world. The stones cannot speak, and perhaps we cannot speak for them, but we can speak for ourselves. We are natural too. Why explain the world in such a way as to leave oneself out of it? That we can so easily explain the world and forget that we are in it tells something too.

Abstraction of form, pt. I

Abstraction from matter is too often sullied by the idea of extraction- that there should be a lump over here we know, and a lump over there we leave aside.It is better to imagine form as essentially communicative in two directions: it commuicates itself to matter by producing an existent material thing, it communicates itself to mind by producing knowledge of that same thing. Form mediates the double total emptiness of matter on the one hand, and the human mind on the other. It communicates to them one and the same existence, but the existence is not had in the same way.

But if the existence is not had in the same way, how can we know the thing? Do we not necessarily know it differently than it is? Here we see a crucial first premise in knowledge: truth does not require that the way we know things be the same as the way they exist. This is clear even from sensation. One and the saem roundness, or number, or change can be known by many senses. One existence is known in different ways by different senses.

“Evidence” in the most common sense of the word is more narrow than “what proves something”. “Evidence” pull the mind toward the kind of proof given in courtrooms and the hypothetical experimental sciences.

Can one give no evidence for claims in metaphysics and geometry? Again, yes and no, but it is better to say no because of the various overtones in the word “evidence”. Not all evidence is evidence just as the best things in life are not things.

Evidence and Metaphysics, part II

The English word “evidence” pulls the mind toward courtroom evidence, and the scientific sense of the word is close to this. But this means that evidence is a very particular thing, generally hard to come by, and hidden in a larger background. One must dust for fingerprints, search for little bits of hair or bullet fragments, dig up fossils, look through microscopes, discover key traces in line with a theory, etc. Good evidence is a special item. Given awareness of the theory, good evidence for something has a voila character… look, the bloody glove! the proof he took out a million dollar life insurance policy! The missing link! Here it is!

In this dominant sense of the word evidence, it is silly to ask for metaphysical evidence. No one walks onto a crime scene and says “look, existence!” or “look, potency and act!” Existence and motion and causes are there to be looked at and studied, but by a different mode of proof and analysis. Evidence belongs to another kind of argument than metaphysics or the philosophy of nature give. For what its worth, evidence isn’t given in Geometry either. Though there are rigorous proofs, it would be strange to say that the line drawn parallel to a side of a trinagle is the evidence that its interior angles equal two rights.

Evidence for God

The word “evidence” seems most of all to speak to that item that one points to which proves their case. It is strange to speak of the evidence for the existence of God, since the item one points to (at least for St. Thomas) is an existent thing, a moving thing, something causing or contingent or better than another, etc.

What is your evidence?!?!! Imagine the reaction if you simply waved your hand back and forth, then pointed to it and said “this”. But that is in fact the evidence we introduce as proof. The evidence, we might say, is a banal thing, but the aspect under which we see the thing (its nature as from another) is a very difficult thing to see.

We might pretend that the word “evidence” means simply “argument” except it simply doesn’t. Evidence is more restrictive than “proof”. There are striking proofs for God, but the evidence is everyday things.

Modernism and Universal Laws

So far as postmodernism means abandoning the ideas of reason that characterized the modern age, I’m more for it than against it, and at any rate it’s the world I live in.

The centerpiece of modern thought seems to be the system: a systematic and complete explanation of all reality (or almost all) from a small group of universal laws. Briefly, it is the reduction (leading all back) to universal laws. Even if we wanted this age back it seems gone forever. No one in any field would be taken seriously who proposed some general law of anything. No one much bothers to look for the universal laws of things any more, but are more sympathetic to the idea that all ideas are merely provisional hypotheses  that must do their work for the time being. all things are hard. They are past finding out by words (Eccles. 1:8). Our peculiar postmodern pessimism perhaps goes too far- and in fact it is more of a holdover from the old modern age in the sense that provisional things (things we will never know if we’ve found out about) are most of all what the scientific method is geared to dealing with. The method must deal with the sorts of things that we cannot form a complete universal about, but only a universal for now (universale ut nunc, as the Medievals would say).

St. Thomas makes a system in a very real sense, but it is not a system that attempts to reduce all to universal laws and so it is certainly not modern. Its systematic order is not of this kind. At times I wonder if the strong reaction against him (and against reason in general) is more directed at a view of reason that reaches its high water mark in the period after Hegel and finally crashes to an end with the irreducible opposition between relativity and quantum theory on the one hand, and the carnage of World War I on the other. St. Thomas isn’t claiming to give the universal laws of nature, grace, or human conduct. People might be struck to find this out.


And I saw another vanity under the sun,

A wise man built a school around himself,

And showed to all the secrets of the world,

and secrets hidden from the hand and eye.

His children grew in strength and subtlety,

and took delight in being learned men.

Following delight, they turned their words

Against the one who taught them in his school.

At first a crowd would gather, listening,

but soon they grumbled, saying “who can know?”

and one man turned to pictures, one to fields,

one to sword and one to lonely reasoning.

This too is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Notes on Philosophy of Mind and the Philosophia Perennis

-Modern philosophy of mind can neither critique nor benefit from what Plato, Aristotle, or St. Thomas say about mind until it recognizes an object of thought and sensation. It is very frustrating to read book after book of philosophy of mind without anyone actually bothering even to ask what sort of thing mind knows. Aristotle stayed on this level for a very long time, and with good reason, since our experience with what we know- as known- is direct, immediate, irrefutable, and requires no specialized experience.

-To know that one knows is easy, what he knows is a great deal harder, but is still based on interior experience- but to get to knowledge as such is extremely difficult.

-The awareness of knowledge is an immanent action. Immanent actions as such are not metrical, even when they presuppose something metrical. Measurement simply is a transitive activity. No one can say he has measured while he is measuring; but thought consists in having thought while someone is thinking. On this point, there is an abyss between the scientific method (which is essentially of the metrical) and a philosophy of mind that recognizes immanence as such.

–Much of the philosophy of mind I read (especially the neurological stuff) is extremely good. St. Thomas could only say that knowledge is always abstracted from “the phantasm”, but these neurobiologists can describe the phantasm in immense detail (which is a more perfect account, by the way- and one which the thomistic account is ordered to.)

-A note on the above. “The immateriality of the intellect” often seems to be taken as meaning “a thought for which a PET scan does not light up”. One could find an exhaustive refutation of such “immateriality” in Aristotle and St. Thomas. For that matter, even Plato could deny such immateriality. We at least need something to start the recollection, don’t we? Isn’t lighting up a PET scan, for Plato, confirmation that you are using your body to know?

-To come full circle, the whole proof for the immateriality of the human mind is based on beginning with the object of thought- which is known in a way that prescinds from the determination of time and individual mutable existence- regardless of the truth or falsity of our belief or the existence of the object.

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 144 other followers