A puzzle and division of knowledge

Let’s say we take the division between subject and object as the fundamental division in an explanation of knowledge.  So taken, we commit ourselves to

a.) subject and object are contraries (for they are divided against each other)  and

b.) knowledge is some unity of subject and object.

The immediate problem is that knowledge seems to be a contradiction. Knowledge, on such an account, is as impossible as “hotcoldness” or “sickhealthyness” or a square circle. Contraries can’t be contrary and one. (This is the sort of problem that the Greeks picked up on quicker than we usually do.)

Aristotle  responds to the dilemma by noting that there is one pair of contraries that can be one: the perfectible and the perfection; the X-able and the X. On this account, the world around us is seen as “knower-perfecting”.  The eye makes the world, in addition to being “something”, be “visible”. What kind of addition is this? When we look out, do we see the world that is something, or that is visible? How do we understand the statement “this is the world that would exist, even if it were not visible”? The simplest response is to say that there would be something, even if no eyeballs ever evolved, and our experience of being in the dark gives some evidence for this. But there is no such solution when we consider the power of reason, for while we can distinguish “something” from “the visible”,  “something” is itself an object of intellect. What can we divide against the “something” that the intellect knows?

Without so much explaining the division, we can at least describe the state of affairs that which corresponds to it. There is a “something” which arises from intellect and a something that is prior to it. Just as something about the world was “visible” before eyes evolved, but it was only actually visible after they did so, so too… there was something before intellect, but it was only actually something after intellect. But this can’t be so- it’s contrary to what we wanted to say. Better to say that the world is an actual something in two ways, one prio to intellect and another concomitant with intellect. This principle divides the ens rationis from ens reale.

The paradox of “what is”

“What is” can be considered either on the side of the what or the is.

So far as we ask “what”, the line of questions moves towards division, separation, and setting a limiting hedge around something. We want to divide a thing off from a larger community. “To know what” is the same as to define, and this means to find the endpoints that cut something off from others. The platonic dialogues are perfect examples of this, as are any attempts to clarify exactly what we are speaking about.

So far as we ask about “is”,  the line of questions moves towards trying to establish that a thing is a part of a larger community. We want to come to see that “just as these other things exist, so this thing we have just discovered also exists”. When scientists finally get definitive confirmation that some X exists- which was before just a hypothetical entity- there is a sense of joy that involves realizing “Thing X is a fact just like other facts! It exists just as much as a tree or a stone!”

So “what” divides from a larger community and “is” unites to a larger community. “What” looks for some source of finite limitation, “is” looks for some infinite source. There is something remarkable about both sources belonging to what is. What business do “whats” have “is-ing”? (or “being”, as English says). Why is “being” a “what”? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to say that being is simply one, because it is unlimited in itself, and a source of all communion? Isn’t this necessary? So what if we see “many things”. We can simply say this is a feature that being has from our experience of it. If the scientist doesn’t balk in denying that color is real, why balk at denying that the division of one thing from another real? (The Eliminative Materialist crowd has a long way to go to catch up to Parmenides).

Alas, Aristotle and St. Thomas rejected this Parmenidean account because they were empiricists. Knowledge arises from and is conditioned by sense experience. Somewhere along the way, empiricism  picked up several odd and alienating rider-premises about the impossibility of metaphysics. But in the beginning it was not so.

Aristotle and “unchangeable essence”

Aristotle did not use the word “essence”, but a clunky relative pronoun with a neuter article: “the what”. In one sense this doesn’t matter. We can just stipulate that “the what” means “essence” sapiens non curat de nominibus. In another sense, this matters a great deal, especially when the question of “the unchangability of essence” comes up. Even after we agree that Aristotle spoke of “essence”, this essence was not unchangeable simply, but only so far as it was formal.  Essence requires matter too. At the end of Book Seven of his Metaphysics, Aristotle speaks of an essence that just is form- and he saw that such an essence would be a unchageable without qualification, and therefore would not be natural.

If “essentialism” means the doctrine that there are unchangeable essences to natural things, Aristotle can take this in two ways. If you mean that all essence has form, and so far as it has form it has stability and immutability in some way, then fine. But if you mean that essence can be simply identified with this unchangeable aspect, then you are advocating a sort of bizarre opinion that all things are God and angels- you are in fact, in Aristotle’s mind, denying the very reality of nature. Nature is essentially chageable- this is the very reason why no one before Aristotle though that there could be any real knowledge of it. Aristotle’s solution is not without scandal even today. Consider that he is the first and only person to advocate that truly knowing something does not require that the way we know things be the way they are (all others either deny this, or they learned it from him).

Aristotle was a victim of his own success. He so thoroughly convinced the West that nature was intelligible and could give rise to science that we stopped even questioning whether it could, and simply took the Aristotelian view for granted. This hides the magnitude of what Aristotle did, and the great number of presuppositions and corollaries that are attached to the notion that there can be natural science. Aristotle had to do nothing less than both refute and synthesize all the insights of all his predecessors in order to establish this.

Interior dialogue on fame, respect, and recognition.

Mr. N: I want to be respected by those in my field, and I want my contributions recognized.

Mr. I: You want to be recognized for being great?

N: Yes

I: And so you think you are great?

N: In the way I want to be recognized, yes.

I: And who do you want to recognize and praise you? A great man or a fool?

N: A great one. Who cares what a fool thinks about you!

I: So you want to be praised by a great man for being a great man?

N: Yes, exactly.

I: Then why don’t you just praise yourself and be done with it?

The feast of St. Jude

-Without thinking about it, we tend to imagine the Apostles as a pretty homogeneous group, but this simply was not so: Bartholomew (called “Nathaniel” in John 3, “the man in whom there is no guile”, and the one to whom Christ reveals his famous “mini-Gospel” sc. John 3:16) appears to believe that Christ is God from the first moment of his call; other Apostles are said to have “doubted” up to and even after the Resurrection. They also had very striking political differences. Jude was a Zealot, or an “ultra-conservative” in today’s language, who believed with religious fervor that the Romans must be expelled from the Holy Land; but Matthew was a tax collector who collected revenues that ensured the continued Roman occupation. Their modern equivalents would be an ultra-Zionist and a fundraiser for the Palestinian government. To say the least, this is hardy homogeneity. Christ appears to have been a “creator of dialogue” and an “ecumenical bridge builder” without peer. That he got all those persons to do anything, much less begin an institution that is by all appearances eternal, required a power and influence that humans are not expected to have or be able to exercise.

-Jude, by some accounts, became the patron saint of lost causes because it was thought that few would pray to him, since he had the same name as Judas Iscariot. People reasoned from this that when you prayed to St. Jude, you had his undivided attention since there was no one else around. This is a silly and/or ironic line of reasoning, but not without charm. At any rate, it probably would not have caught on if it didn’t work- even if it didn’t work for the silly reasons given.

-Jude is perhaps the most overlooked author of a New Testament book. This is sad, for the book is a unique gem: with a reference to the apocryphal literature; an interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah in light of the generation of the giants in Genesis, and more.

“Intuition” is a derogatory term by which philosophers demean and degrade the reality of something that everyone knows.

Interior dialogue: What does reason mean when it says “God exists”?

C: There is some meaning of “exists” that is common to God and creatures. When we say “God exists”, we either are speaking of an existence proper to God, or proper to creatures, or common to both. If the first, we are saying God exists in the way God exists, which says nothing; if the second, we are saying that God exists as creatures do, which is a contradiction, so it must be the last.

D: Why does it say nothing to say that God exists as he does? I understand God through an argument like

A exists

A is being caused by B

B exists.

But a cause need not have what the effect has in the same way, it can also have it in a more eminent way. So there is no need for “exists” to mean the same thing in the premise and the conclusion.

C: But then why conclude God exists at all? How do you avoid your argument resting on an illicit inference? How is it different from

Fire is hot

Fire is caused by air

Air is hot

That’s simply untrue.

D: Your argument in the line of material causes, and in this line air actually is hot with respect to fire; but it’s hot in the way that is proper to matter: in potency.

C: But how is it different in the line of agent causes?

This painting is beautiful

The painting is caused by Van Gogh

Van Gogh is beautiful

The same is true about parents and their offspring.

D: Just as before you looked at material causes and failed to understand them in the way that is proper to matter, now you are looking at agent causes and failing to understand them as agents. Effects that come to be from agents are not in agents according to their real existence, but in intention. There is a difference between a form that belongs to an agent, and a form that belongs to the agent as agent. Van Gogh only needed to have beauty the way an agent needs to have it- in the line of the relevant intention. Who doubts he had it in this way? In this sense, the picture counts as the evidence.

C: So to return to the argument, you are saying that God, the agent cause, has existence in the line of intention.

D: Yes. In proofs for God’s existence, we only show there is some agent who causes existence, but so far as he is an agent cause of existence he need only exist as Van Gogh is beautiful.

C: what does the proof for the divine existence conclude to?

D: To return to the original argument: when we say “God exists” the word “exists” is in one sense a concept said of creatures, and is present in God in the line of intention; in another sense it is said of God, as speaking to whatever mode of existence this intention has (is it a “subsistent intention”? A “property of a subject”? an “Intention that is subsumed in a subsistent relation”? Any possibility is open). There is no need for a common concept of existence in God and creatures. No transition from effect to cause as such allows us to posit any such thing.

C: Isn’t this denying that we say anythign of God substantially?

D: No, it simply says that the answer to this question is not given by proofs that conclude to God’s existence.

C: Look, a proof concludes to God existing. If this is only the way that concludes that Van Gogh is beautiful, then how is it a proof or the existence of God as such?

D: I can’t be responsible for people thinking they understand a divine proof when they don’t. If you think that a proof or God’s existence tells you something about God in his own particular nature, then you’re just wrong. Whether we say somethign about the substance of God when we say he exists is a matter or further argument.

While reading this article about a dominican Nun working at an abortion clinic, (ht) I thought nothing of one of the protesters of the clinic pointing to the men who were dropping off their girlfriends for abortions yell ‘Look at these men, telling these women what to do with their bodies!’ The comment was unremarkable. It made perfect sense to me. In concrete terms, that’s often if not usually how it works. Forcible coercion is probably not required in most circumstances: hints, looking disappointed, pretending to be sensitive and caring for a few days while telling her it is the right thing to do, making it clear that you would not be interested in her if she had a child, pretending you would love her less with a child, etc. is probably all that is necessary. Woman can take a hint, and they’re pretty good at knowing what you’re telling them to do with their bodies.

I misread the quotation (I was tired when I read it, and daydreamed the guys in their cars dropping off their girlfriends). It was, of course, yelled at the protesters as a standard piece of abortion cant. I thought it was an illuminating misread, however. You can be for abortion or not, and it can be either legal or not, but either way men are going to tell women what to do with their bodies; and you’d have to be pretty naive to think that an abortion clinic, on balance, doesn’t provide just another forum in which they do so.

An analysis of language will explain everything about thought in the same way that an exhaustive knowledge of any tool will explain everything about the product. We will understand everything about the car by looking at the assembly line, foundry, etc (the laborers can be seen as part of the machinery, as far as the example is concerned)

« Older entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156 other followers