Certitude as determination, II

What makes something certain in mind is not the same thing as what makes it certain in things. Things certain in mind are either naturally known, or demonstrated from what is true, first, immediate, prior, better known and causative (that’s a lot of requirements). Certainty in things is from the causes of things.In both cases, certitude is sysnonymous with necessity.

Though the certitude of things is in one sense simply attaining to what is certain in things, there are criteria by which this certitude is measured in a logical sense. But this is not the same thing as the modern question of criteriology. They are very different ways of asking the question “how do I know that I know?”

Certitude as determination

Certain, sure, and certitude, are said in two ways (though this is not necessarily two senses):

Of things: “The drivers hurdled unaware towards certain death”, “the sure-footed mountain goat negotiated the terrain”, “This storm from is certain to dump three feet of snow”  etc.

Of knowledge: “I’m certain this will fail”; “Are you sure it will work?”

The first sense frequently gets shortened to “it’s certain” or “that’s certain”. The impersonal it’s indicates you are speaking of things.

In the past, I’ve thought that these were two different senses of the word “certain”, said analogously. If pressed, I would have said that the certitude of mind is named first, and the certitude of things is named by a second imposition, the way we speak of the healthy animals and healthy medicine. But this isn’t right. It is true that when we use the word “certitude” without qualification we tend to take it in a cognitive sense, but words can be distinguished by the simpliciter and secundum quid without having a first and second imposition. We don’t call mountain goats sure-footed because they make us certain of their footing, or even because they can do so. Certitude or “being sure” is simply determination to one thing or fixity to some other. There is one sense here. That said, there is still an order of causality between what is sure in things and what is sure in the mind; and the goal of science involves making the former the latter.

When the certain-as-fixed-or-determined falls from view, we tend to see certitude as mere assent, or as a strong form of belief. But the discerning of the determined- the certain- is the certitude of mind. It is not a matter of discerning and then subsequently calibrating certitude- there is simply the discernment of the certitude of things. Since Descartes the question of certitude has been  “what are you willing to commit to? ” or “how do you know that you know?” as opposed to being a question of “is this thing determined to one?” This happened, in part, because Modern philosophers overlooked the significance of saying things like “that much alcohol was sure to kill him” or “trying to replace fuses with paper clips is certain to destroy your electronics”. Mischief ensued, along with some avoidable problems.

2/ 26/ 10

The inside of the ear really vibrates slightly, and thus is modified by the sound it hears- but while the modification of the organ is necessary to sensation, it does not constitute sensation. It is true that, if my ear continually vibrated on its own in exactly the way that it now vibrates when I hear the word “cat” that I would continually “hear” the word “cat”. But this would not be a sensation, but rather an impediment to sensation: it would prevent me from hearing things. While sensation is always a perfection of the sentient being as such, the mere modification of an organ can be an impediment to sensation. Again, it is absurd to think that sensation could be a disease of a sense organ; but the mere modification of the sense organ could be due to some hallucinatory disease. An exaustive account of the physical process of sensation would not suffice to account for what sensation is.

The objectivity of taste-UPDATED

Taste is both one of the senses and, by a second imposition, the name for the perfection of intellectual power (judgment). Now the clearest case of a sense power naming an intellectual power is sight. We have little need to have anyone explain what intellectual vision is. But intellectual taste is more obscure and easier to misunderstand.

Consider the English proverb “there is no arguing in matters of taste”. Given our intellectual climate, this is taken as showing that matters of taste are not objective. But this is not right- and it is not what the proverb is saying either.  One cannot argue about whether pixie sticks are sweet or whether rancid meat is repugnant, but both truths are no less objective because of it. Sugar is sweet, sky is blue; four is equal to two plus two. And yet taste is still something one cannot argue about. Argument involves going from one thing to another, and while sight can show us something like this, taste cannot. We can see something going through a process, but we can’t taste it going through a process in a sense that is analogous to an argument (to taste beer at various stages of brewing, or coffee as we try to get the right amount of sugar in it, is not analogous to seeing an argument go from principles to conclusion).

So there is a certain kind of objectivity that cannot be attained by argument. Given that we can go from having this to not having it, however, we might be able to extend the word argument to name the process that gives us good taste. Now good taste arises not from arguments in the first sense of the term but from role-modeling, social constructions (like manners, etiquette, the holidays of revered figures) and (perhaps above all) the fine arts and advertising. When St. Thomas calls poetry a sort of argument, he is able to explain the way in which the objectivity of taste is developed. Note that as St. Thomas describes poetics, it has always included music and it clearly includes what we now call advertising (sc. to persuade someone about the goodness or evil of something by representing it with a certain image/ pleasing sound).

Socrates’s sharp critique of the poets and rhetoricians of his day was based on their giving bad arguments in this broad sense. Students- and no small number of their teachers- are completely bewildered by the time that Socrates devotes to attacking poets, rhetoricians, and musical modes. But Socrates tasted things more clearly than we do. Arguments that corrupt taste (low and vulgar art, advertising enticing to gluttony) are much more fatal, pernicious, and difficult to remove than any other sorts of argument.

Lost “the objectivity of taste”

I completely lost the post “the objectivity of taste” if someone has it on google reader, etc. can you dump it in the combox? Thanks.

UPDATE: Got it.

2/ 25 /10

If we didn’t do much of any physical science, or give incentives to those who practiced it, or hold up any great scientists as models for admiration, or even so much as envy its power, we’d see science as some strange alien value of another people, having no meaning to our lives. And wouldn’t it be? And isn’t it natural enough to see another’s values as subjective and not rigorously empirical? So what if it was not science we treated this way but moral action?

“Ah!”, we have been trained to say, “but regardless of what you think of  science your whole population will die out at a young age without it!” Very true. Remember that criterion.

2/ 24/ 10

A skeptic and his opponent appeared before Solomon. “Tell us” they said “Is total certitude possible for man?”

Solomon answered “Man can attain total certitude”. The opponent of the skeptic felt vindicated.

Solomon then continued “And this is what one must do to attain it…” and it took him a very long time to finish. Having finished, the skeptic felt vindicated.

Absolute certitude

Set aside the question of whether apodictic or absolute certitude is possible. The Posterior Analytics at least shows us what is necessary for it. Reading the book is to logical demands what reading the lives of the desert fathers is to the demands of sanctity: if it takes that much, I might have to adjust my expectations of how many true demonstrations I can pull off. That said, demonstration remains an essential paradigm, measure, and limit.

What is the phenomenology of an experience of God?

Over at Prosblogion, Robert Gressis is trying  to answer a challenge of what a religious experience (one grounding a “properly basic” experience in Reformed epistemology) is like. Here is my answer.

There is more than one kind of experience, but the clearest examples of religious experience are the transcendent ones.  Transcendence is the unity of things on a higher level that are many on a lower level. The eyes can see but not hear, the ears can hear but not see. Considered on this level, we can speak of the five senses. But the brain has a unified experience of seeing and hearing- it sees and hears the same thing at the same time. The cognitive experience of the brain transcends that of many particular senses. Maturity also involves the formation of various transcendent concepts. I remember knowing, when I was young, that it was impossible and contradictory to love someone and discipline them. At best, I figured that you could love someone at time X, then turn off this feeling to discipline them at time Y. Assume my son now thinks the same thing. As far as he is concerned, any attempt to speak about discipline and love co-existing is simply a bunch of shifty dialectical tricks used to justify ones motives. The only reason I can see the unity of these two, and not dismiss any attempt to show their compatibility as a bunch of hollow language games, is because I have somehow seen a concept that can see all the truth that was in the lower concepts and a greater unity to them besides. In discovering that love includes discipline, I do not destroy my old idea of love (in fact, my later ideas of love were all based on it) rather, I attain to a concept that transcends my older ideas of love and discipline. Things that are seen as opposed on a lower level of development are seen as united on a higher one.

Here are some transcendent concepts from my own tradition which I see as experiences of the union with God.

1.) The awareness of ones life being simultaneously worthless and of infinite worth. Pascal struggled throughout the entire Pensées to give his reader a vision of this transcendent concept (and show how it corresponds to human nature). It is a basic teaching of Christianity and the Scriptures. You are the image of God, purchased with God’s own blood, and the crown of physical creation; and yet you are also sin, dust, vanity, and ashes.  Now as a philosopher I feel the knee-jerk reaction to make a distinction: we are worthless in respect X and worthwhile in sense Y. This is all fine, but it is not the experience of the unity of the two, and it is the experience of unity that we are speaking about here. Tied to this experience are the experiences of being both a terrible sinner and a saint (as every saint as called himself) of being unable to do anything and yet being able to do anything, etc.

2.) A sense of peace, calm, and joy existing at the same time as one sees nothing in himself of value. This is simply a scandal to the world. Who can rejoice when he sees nothing of value in himself, or even hates himself? Isn’t self-esteem essential to a healthy self-image and a sense of joy in one’s life?

But isn’t this going too far? Doesn’t the second commandment demand that we love ourselves? Well, yes. We must despise ourselves too. How is this possible? Taste and see, as the Psalm says. You have to bring Christianity into your  own substance (taste) before you get access to the experience that transcends what is divided at a lower level (see).

3.) The joy of the cross. This is the ultimate stumbling block- even sign of contradiction. What sense can we make of the kind of transcendent concept that allows both for one to experience the beatific vision and to cry out “God! God! Why have you abandoned me!” The whole Christian life is a participation in this ultimate transcendence. I certainly cannot form this ultimate concept, though through the religious experience I can see it as a limiting concept that mine are relating towards, though light-years distant from.

Notice that there is no question here of believing contradictions. Were I convinced that there were a contradiction in the faith, I could not believe it- not simply as a moral matter, but simply because belief is not the sort of thing that one can exercise towards contradictions. That we can say “I could believe a contradiction” only proves that we can say some things that we can’t  think or do- which everyone already knew. For this reason, arguments to establish that there is no contradiction in the faith have a real place. But to establish that there is no contradiction in SP is not the same thing as establishing how SP is possible, still less is it to have an experience of the possibility of SP.

Last of all, the experience of faith is a transcendent concept. We assent with certitude to a proposition that is, of itself, at best only possible. What reason shows us as- again, at best- only possible is seen as one with what is reasonable to assent to. But this is blind assent! Irrational activity! A crime against the necessity of evidence! How can we arbitrate between truth claims! Well, I suppose all this is true, unless you can see that it isn’t.

The basis of Aristotle’s logic

Aristotle’s whole system of logic starts from two premises:

Logic is the direction of the act of reason

The direction of reason is from what is more universal in predication to what is less so.

Aristotle says the major premise everywhere, and at the slightest provocation; the minor is from St. Thomas, and Aristotle simply assumes it everywhere. The conclusion is that logic is the right order from what is more universal to what is less so. This is why Aristotle starts his logic with a study of most universal things (the Categories) Then shows all the ways that one universal thing can relate to another (On Interpretation) and then goes on to speak of arguments as the motion from what is major (or most universal) to what is minor (least universal) through a term of middle universality. The middle only has a middle universality when we speak in a way that follows what is called “the first figure syllogism” and so Aristotle rightly insists that this is the pre-eminent tool for ordering reason, and that all other tools of reasoning are correct so far as they can be reduced to it. Aristotle insists that this is even true of non-categorical reasoning, as Yvan Pellitier proves here (download “PelletierStrategy.pdf”). This is not to say it is the only way that reason can go from one thign to another: there is an ocean of dialectical tools that are used to bring us to the point where we can actually form a valid universal.

We more tend to look at terms like checkers that can be arranged in certain correct ways, and in doing so we can reach conclusions that cannot be reached by the mere categorical method. This is all fine, but it is not logic in the same sense of the term, and it is not clear how we can make one thing called logic relate to the other thing called logic.

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