Disjointed argument

(This is a disjointed argument where people talk past each other) 

We don’t need morality

But then it would be right to do any terrible thing. 

I don’t see why that would follow. I don’t see why I need any moral mechanism to throw criminals in jail, or to write laws and enforce them. 

Before you said “morality” now it’s “moral mechanism. You are fudging words.

I don’t think so. “Morality” is like a function machine where you throw in actions and out pops “moral” or “immoral”

Okay, but even the law needs such a thing.

I don’t think so. Say you throw in an action and out pops “immoral”. Either there is a consensus about it being immoral already, in which case the machine is superfluous; or there is no consensus: then you either let people decide for themselves, or (if everybody is against it) you can’t do anything about it. Say you throw in “divorce” or “usury” and out pops “immoral”. What then? What good is that? 

You could use it to work towards what is right. You could use it to guide your own life. 

Assuming you’re right. Another option is to assume that the morality function machine you made is faulty. And there’s the problem. The only reason you need morality is to make the tough choices that are somehow repugnant to what you want. But when something is repugnant to what you want, it counts as evidence that the machine got the wrong results. You could even get the best of both worlds and assume that the result that pops out is perfectly true, except in your particular case. 

Then you would know you were kidding yourself. 

I doubt it. Look, no human machine or process is so good that it can take into account all possible circumstances, so the only rational way to take morality is as admitting many exceptions. But what good is a morality that admits exceptions? How would you decide among the exceptions anyway? You need another morality function machine to throw the exceptions into, ad infinitum. 

Well, I guess we just muddle along as best we can. 

No we don’t! That’s the one thing we never do! Whatever account of morality you have, most people are wicked. We’re not mediocre, we’re numb! That might be the one moral fact we actually know!

Multiple choice on Beckett’s famous line

Yesterday, in silence, I heard someone say the line from Waiting for Godot: “Nothing happens. Nothing comes, nothing goes. It’s awful.” The line saw something, but I don’t know what. There are a few options: 

1.) The line is a dated period piece. It was an insightful look at 1950’s boredom. Civilized man had more free time than he ever had and it succeeded in only making him bored and depressed. Life has always been basically the same for those with too much free time on their hands, and people wrote about it for a few years in the ’50’s before we all got sick of it. 

2.) No, the line marks something new. Some awful event was consummated some time before the ’50’s, and Beckett is speaking about it. The world around him became incoherent and could only be represented by gibberish. Occasionally, a moment of clarity breaks out. The awful event is World Wars I and II, nationalist movements, basic historical stuff.

3.) No, the war was as much a response to the event Beckett wrote about as the play itself.  We went from an incoherent world where people carpet bombed each other to an incoherent world where they were too bored to carpet bomb.

4.) Enough about boredom already! It’s like an old man complaining about all the pills he has to take. Yuck! 

5.) No, the 1950’s was the last moment where people let themselves be bothered by absurdity. Our present romp is just as absurd, but we took the absurdity to its logical conclusion. They called life empty and meaningless. We countered: if its empty and meaningless, then there’s no reason to be bothered about it. Nietzsche looked at absurdity (or something like it) and called it “the abyss”. But why bother giving it such a dramatic name? Put it in a kid’s film. Put a roller coaster next to it. Sell tickets. Put a billboard for toothpaste or mufflers next to it. Call it “my sweet abyss-ee-poo” and put it in a pop song. Make it the sort of thing the cool kids talk about in high school. If life is really absurd, then let’s make a buck off of it. And stop complaining that the art is low. Life is absurd, remember? 

6.) Other. 

7.) All of the above.

Fourth Way, IV

Is the Fourth Way really as simple as it looks? There are actual things better and worse. Therefore there is something actually best- a highest actual good. 

Objection: a possible good could be higher. 

Response: It is not higher as possible. More simply, actual things are better than possible ones. More importantlywe are only considering actual, existing goods. 

Objection: There is no reason why more and less are said with respect to some most. 

Response: The proof only requires that this be verified of things like good, true, dignified, etc. We will take goodness, since truth and dignity can be seen as kinds of goods.

If more and less good are not said with respect to some most, then more and less good are nothing other than relatives. But if relations change, it is because of the change of something other than the relation. But things can become more or less good. Therefore more and less good is said with respect to some most.

If all goods are relative to a higher and lower, then they all are essentially midpoints. But good is essentially an end or goal.  

The simple answer is more plain: “wholly relative” is a contradiction- unless the relations are utterly changeless (Thomists and Augustinians wink at each other now).

Objection: There could be many highest actual goods. 

Response: Right. It is irrational to expect the proof for the existence of something to tell you how many there are. Why does everyone assume that theology ends with existence? Theistic proofs prove something divine exists, and “highest good” is a divine thing. Give the theologian some time.

Objectivity and subjectivity, II

The best arguments for the subjectivity of knowledge are really arguments for the order of objects to appetite as opposed to understanding. Since knowing is different from desiring, knowledge as knowledge is objective.

So long as objectivity and subjectivity were thought of as equal divisions of knowledge as such, the notion of objectivity was seen as accidental to knowledge, and epistemology assumed that it has to explain knowledge in such a way that did not make it objective. The very idea of an object vanished, and knowledge became either a purely transitive action, like a machine, or an immanent action that was totally spiritualized. But when we recover the idea of  knowledge as essentially objective (which presupposes a subject but another principle also) these old dichotomies vanish, and the truths that they gave us along the way can be set in their proper context. 

Philosophy’s response to those who would encroach on its field to explain knowledge should be that knowledge is essentially objective. This means the act of the knowing faculty is another, so far as it is another. Wax becomes like the seal impressed on it in a subjective manner; the knower becomes like the ring in an objective manner.

What is the division between the objective and the subjective?

The division of the objective and subjective is not as clear as as the easy use of the terms would suggest. The terms are adjectives, after all, but its not entirely clear what they modify. The subjective and the objective don’t appear to be two different kinds of knowledge, since objective knowledge seems redundant and subjective knowledge impossible. They are not two different kinds of belief for the opposite reason. Are they two kinds of “mental acts” perhaps? On this account, since a mental act is clearly of a subject, then to call it “objective” would be an addition to its subjectivity. Objectivity then becomes subjectivity plus something else, that is, objectivity becomes a kind of subjectivity, the way horses are kinds of animals. But so defined, the very opposition between the objective and subjective vanishes, which is exactly what we are trying to explain.

Nominally, the objective is what is “of the object” and the subjective is what is “of the subject”. The distinction arises from some difficulty in analyzing sensation. I walk in a room and think its warm, you walk in and think it’s cold. So is the room warm or cold? The difference depends on the subject, we say. It is not a feature of the object. Viola, subjective knowledge.

But is it as easy as all that? Both of us are making statements about the room, after all, and specifically about its temperature. Differences in judgment don’t suffice to say knowledge is subjective anyway: if you think the room is terribly cold and I think it’s fine, but you have a fever, then we both think that the room is actually fine. Likewise, if some human being didn’t think 140 degrees F was hot, or -40 degrees F was cold, this would be a failure to understand their environment well. This seems most of all where the subjective arises. The polar bear wouldn’t find -40F too cold. Some temperature fatal to us is healthy for polar bears, so temperature is subjective. On this account, “subjective” is brought into explain a discernment of harmfulness. The thing is not harmful in itself, but  in relation to us: as Augustine would say, if poison is destructive in itself, it would kill the snake first. And so it seems what we mean by “subjective” is good or evil for a given nature or subject. Similar considerations apply to taste, and in some way to the sense of smell. Presumably, dung beetles are attracted to the smell of poo, and even if they weren’t, it would be an advantage to them to like the scent.

Subjective vision is something different. Deer don’t see a difference between orange and green. Why do we have to invoke the subjective to explain this? Why not simply say that we see things deer can’t?

If this is right, than the division between the objective and subjective is not between two kinds of knowledge or belief or mental act, but between knowledge as of the known, and as of the known so far as it befits the nature (the right temperature, pleasant scent, appealing taste). The first are knowledge as objective, the second as subjective. So considered, subjectivity is more in the order to appetite than knowledge, and so would be secondary to objectivity.

The State of Discourse on Theist Proofs

In the present state of cultural discourse, proofs for the existence of God are seen as supporting religion- Christianity in particular. That the culture should see them in this way is rational, but also not necessary. Toward the end of the 18th century, proofs for the existence of God seemed to be viewed, at least by some, as arguments against Christianity. After all, if God’s existence can be proven, isn’t it backward and oppressive to insist that he must be believed in? Why not worship God so far as we can know him and not so far as he is, say, Triune or Incarnate or sacramentally present?

I don’t know much about how cultural states of discourse change, but I wouldn’t necessarily see the theistic proofs being accepted as signs of improvement. If they are seen as tools to beat up faith they would present challanges in much the same way that the last two fads of atheism and gnosticism have done (remember the DaVinci Code?)

The thing considered and the aspect under which it is considered

The first principle of Kant’s whole critique of metaphysics is that our idea of necessity and universality cannot be gathered from experience. Who sees “all” or “will be tomorrow”?

No one, of course. But we do see an apple. Which one? When? Anyone, anywhere, or maybe just this one. Even if all the apples you see are “this” one there’s no law that you have to consider any one as this. The experience of X does not determine the aspect under which you must consider X. When you look at a circle or a cat, you can consider it as circle or as cat, and in this way you consider all of each. Can you err about what belongs to all? Sure. Where’s the problem? You can err about what belongs to the particular too.

This distinction between the thing experienced and the aspect under which it is experienced is the foundation of all science. Note that both are “given” and “objective”. You you look at this post and see a font you hate, and someone else – who doesnt’ know English and opened the page by accident- looks at it and sees “a foreign language”, both are given in the experience. Both are real interactions with the object. But they are not identical aspects under which the object is considered.

In one sense, the thing is richer than the aspect under which it is considered, in another way the aspect under which is richer than the thing. The thing clearly can give rise to many aspects: one and the same thing (say, John) can be considered under the aspect of man, mammal, massive object, collection of atoms, citizen, creature, something feared, someone loved, etc. In another way, the aspect under which can be richer, for it can be developed into a science.

Is there a problem of induction?

At the heart of the problem of induction is the question of how we can get from particular things to universals. Why not just deny the problem exists? We don’t go from particulars to universals, but we see both simultaneously, the first more distinctly than the second. Even if we only see one thing of a kind, we can still relate to it as able to be studied, such that we kow that by understanding this one we will understand all of the same kind. There is often the risk of identifying particular traits with common ones, and this problem can be more or less, but even to recognize it as a problem requires some grasp of the universal. To my mind, experience teaches that there are some things (like numbers, human beings, more general considerations of things) which are easier to get to the universal with than other things. Other things do not allow us to form a clear universal, so we need to make one up for the moment (not arbitrarily, though) and we keep in mind that the universal we form is always falsifiable (these are properly scientific things.)

The difference between scholastic and modern theology

The main transition from scholastic to modern theology (which took a few centuries) was the shift from speculative philosophy to history as the field in which one encounters God. The scholastic did not need elaborate, critical, and highly advanced systems of historical analysis in order to do what he understood as theology; just as a modern theologian does not need elaborate logical and disputative systems to do what he understands as theology. All the benefits/ maddening idiosyncrasies/ controversies/ that one raises to the scholastic method will have a perfect parallel in the modern method of theology. You think that the theologians have a really amazing grasp of divine things? (it was said of both) You think that theologians get bogged down in meaningless controversies that draw one away from the faith? (ditto) Think that you can’t see any relation between what the theologian sees as the faith and what the faithful person sees as the faith? (ditto).

Proofs for God’s existence

For natural science, to prove the existence of something means to manifest it to sensation. Regardless of whether one is trying to prove the existence of black swans or black holes, the proof is basically the same: you introduce something into sensation that wasn’t there before. You can point to a black swan for the first time, or point to some not yet seen effect of a black hole in a picture taken by a telescope, and viola, you have proved the existence of something.

In proofs for God’s existence, nothing new is introduced into sensation. The universe viewed as a “thing” and a universe viewed as as a “creature” yield identical pictures, experimental results, relations between events, etc. If  it is obvious that “to prove the existence of X” means “to manifest X to sensation” then it is obvious that there are no proofs for the existence of God. When I hear people speak of it being simply obvious that there is no God, and that there is simply no evidence for him, I suppose they are thinking something like this. For what it’s worth, no one who claimed to prove the existence of God claims to have that kind of evidence. Along with St. Augustine, everyone insists that nothing giving that kind of evidence is the divine nature. If you can imagine something, it is not God- at least not as the theistic proofs speak of the divine nature.

Proofs for God’s existence are based on sensation, but not in such a way that the difference between proving something and not proving it means being able to catch it on film or not- the way we can film a black swan or the trace on a metal plate that proved there were sub-atomic particles (there was a good deal of theory involved in showing that a sub-atomic particle would leave “trace X on a metal plate”, but the moment of truth is the trace on the plate, not the theory).

What the theistic proofs have in in common with the other kinds of proofs for existence is they are all necessary because of some weakness of our intellect. No one needs to prove the existence of trees since they’re just there. For the same reason, no one needed to prove the existence of black swans to Australians; and no one would need to prove the existence of black holes to a civilization which (somehow) could just look up and see one in the sky (like the passengers on the Disney movie The Black Hole). The difference is that the standards of what counts as proof are different in the case of natural science and in metaphysics. 

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