The will is “that which can do good or evil” in the same way that a knife is “that which can be sharp or dull”. Both are true statements, and both apply only to wills and knives- for only a will can do evil, and only a knife [or "cutting thing"] can be dull. But to include evil in the definition of the will would be the same as to define a knife through dullness.
February 24, 2009 at 12:49 am (Uncategorized)
February 23, 2009 at 8:44 am (Uncategorized)
The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that everyone who knowingly does a moral evil somehow knows it is against the divine law. The argument is startling:
From the fact that an act is conceived of as morally evil it is conceived of as prohibited. A prohibition is unintelligible without the notion of some one prohibiting. The one prohibiting in this case and binding the conscience of man can be only God, Who alone has power over man’s free will and actions so that from the fact that any act is perceived to be morally bad and prohibited by conscience, God and His law are perceived at least confusedly, and a willful transgression of the dictate of conscience is necessarily also a transgression of God’s law.
February 23, 2009 at 4:05 am (Uncategorized)
A historian- one who was in a position to know what he was talking about- told me that the best works of philosophy in any civilization come at the end. Feeling cynical, I said that this was because at the end of a civilization people have to talk and argue about things which, in any sane and healthy culture, would be treated as obvious.
February 23, 2009 at 3:17 am (Uncategorized)
Predestination is not determinism. Determinism is the doctrine that whatever happens in time is determined by what happened at a previous time. In this view, a free action is only possible at the beginning of time. Predestination makes no claims about the causes of things in time, except those that can be inferred from the actions of the Saints.
Determinism and predestination do not entail each other. There is no contradiction in a believer in predestination insisting that history is really contingent, and that there is no determinate truth value for future events as such. Predestination is not a statement about causes existing in time; a fortiori, it is not a statement about the possibility of real contingency in history. In fact, so far as predestination only applies to the free action of the saints, it seems that the believer in predestination is required to deny determinism
(about a hundred years ago, this would have been a very difficult and stark denial- one would have to deny several hundred years of very well established, very clear Newtonian science, which made the idea of any undetermined action very unreasonable. It’s hard for us to appreciate how difficult this denial would have been. Newtonian science was far more proven in 1900 than any science is proven now.)
To confuse predestination and determinism is easy enough: one starts thinking “what difference does it make whether I am determined in relation to the past or determined in relation to God?” The question, its seems to me, answers itself. Since God is not a temporal cause, any statement about his causality does not speak to the nature of causes in time, whether we are speaking about free act or not. What does predestination tell us about the possibility of free acts or determined acts in history? Little or nothing, and what little it tells us seems to require that one deny determinism.
February 22, 2009 at 3:00 am (Uncategorized)
Any given machine could have been made by another machine, but not all can be such. In the first sense, one can have an infinite regress, for there can be always one more. In the second sense, one one must go immediately from the machine to something else (machines are tools- or secondary things- and tools relate immediately to a cause of another kind). Movers in motion are like this, or any caused cause.
February 21, 2009 at 5:09 am (Uncategorized)
St. Thomas claims in his five ways that an infinite regress of causes is impossible. The word “infinite” is unfortunate for us, since we immediately understand it in numerical terms, and no one has denied that there are limitless numbers. Ever.
The sense is that even if moved movers or caused causes are infinite, all causes cannot be such. Now denying that all in a series can “be such” is one way of saying the series is finite, but it certainly isn’t the claim that there must be some precise number that cannot be exceeded. Numbers, taken as such, obviously have no highest or last- and if one thinks of numerals (as most people do) there isn’t even a first.
February 21, 2009 at 3:08 am (Uncategorized)
Athanasius uses the tool of a “divine dilemma” to explain the motive for the Incarnation. A similar tool might be useful to explain what St. Thomas says about the motive for the very creation of human beings.
Teacher: God decided to create the most perfect universe.
response: but He will be no better off with a universe, perfect or not. What motive could he have?
T: He has decided.
r: All right, creation is given. Still, it is impossible to create the most perfect universe. The divine power is infinite, and so given anything, he could always create something better.
T: I don’t mean “the most perfect possible universe” like that. I mean that all possible grades of existence will actually exist. The universe will be a complete whole with nothing left out.
r: That’s a terrible idea! He will have to make things which exist sometimes, and at other times cease to be! There will be death!
T: That belongs to the perfection of the universe. If A comes to be from B, what do you think this means for B?
r: I can accept this at the lower levels of existence, but the very culmination of the physical world is a terrible idea.
T: How so?
r: Because at the highest point of physical creation, there must be some connecting link between the spiritual and material world. This means at some point making spiritual things that exist with an essential relation to matter. What an awful idea! Such a being will be subject to chance, to things he is not ready for, to his own impenetrable ignorance, and to the collective burden of all the mistakes, errors and sins that arose before him! This practically guarantees that the very thing that we put at the perfection of the physical world will be the ugliest thing in it! The whole cosmos will conclude to a monster!
T: that is true, it is a terrible problem. But they are still necessary for the perfection of the universe. If they end up as monsters, who can they blame but themselves? You are arguing against creation as such- but you said this was a given.
(discussion makes an explicit appeal to revelation)
r: Will anything be done to keep the thing at the top of the universe from being a monster?
T: Yes. When this degree of existence arises, God will offer it a supernatural aid, which will enable it to avoid becoming a monster, and attain natural happiness.
r: And what if this aid is rejected?
(Athanasius’s dilemma takes over at this point)
February 21, 2009 at 1:14 am (Uncategorized)
The theory of abstraction from matter is one thing, but the experience of doing so is a basic and spontaneous aspect of being human. We know that we can point to one thing and understand something about what it is. At the very least, we know it’s a thing.
Even if everything in our consciousness is a “this”, we don’t always consider it as a particular “this”. We are capable of approaching particulars with an indifference to their particularity. More importantly, even in the face of this indifference to a thing’s particularity, we still get a hold of something positive about the thing. This positive thing which shows itself apart from the particularity of a thing is what St. Thomas called “abstracted from matter”.
Since it makes no sense to speak about sensation being indifferent to particularity, Aquinas was forced to posit a knowing power distinct from sensation. This power is not distinct from sense not because it knows another class of things, but because it knows sensible things in a way that sense cannot know them.
When we say this we say this power does not know another class of things from sensible things, we were speaking of only of the objects it knows. The mind clearly has some access to “another class of things” since it can generate a positive thing that is separate from its particularity, while other process of generation can do so. It is unintelligible to speak about birth, or conception, or artistic production, or manufacturing, or any other process of generation disengaging a particular from something positive and separate from the particular. This requires an entirely different sort of agency which St. Thomas called by the utterly straightforward name “agent intellect”. The intellect was the agent of this kind of disengagement, after all. What else would we call it?
February 19, 2009 at 4:55 am (Uncategorized)
Assume that God inspired an author to write the book of Genesis according to whatever theory of the generation of the universe that the natural sciences end up deciding on. Better yet, assume that God waited a few thousand more years to reveal himself, allowing for the revelation to be given not in writing, but in a TV documentary. Let the documentary be a flawless piece of science which proves to be the last word for all physicists. Great. Now what?
This way of proceeding, while initially impressive and useful, is ultimately ridiculous. God goes to all the trouble to reveal himself and he ends up saying that? It would be like someone handing you DVD saying “this is what God himself has revealed about your life”, which, when you watched it, was a short documentary narrating all the basic facts of your life. With revelation like that, who needs revelation? If that were all God did, who needs God?
February 18, 2009 at 6:37 am (Uncategorized)
Teleology isnt a kind of causality, it is causality. Take away the causal activity of the end, and the whole process is completely random: that is, not caused at all. If a cause makes something to exist, it relates essentially to what does not exist. This relation cannot be among two things- for then a cause would not cause a thing. It is a relation that requires foresight, both to be known and to exist at all.