At a 1980 synod of bishops, some African bishops argued that among some African tribes the role played by consummation in western marriage was played by having a child, i.e. the marriage was viewed as incomplete and even able to be declared null until the birth of the child. There is a great deal of logic to the position – if procreation is the end of marriage, a complete marriage should be in completed procreation; and it would agree more closely with the idea that the sacrament of marriage is found most fully in the family (the parents alone are more principles of the family than a family itself.) That said, the position does seem to underestimate the unity that is affected by sexual activity.
June 11, 2013 at 10:06 am (Uncategorized)
It’s hard to know where to start with a philosophy of time – even very basic questions seem intractable. If we stress the physical aspect of time, it’s not at all clear what relation it has to motion; if we turn to the psychological account of time it’s also hard to get a foothold. Thoughts take time, I guess, but only up to a point – how much time is there between the premises and the conclusion or the problem and the solution? For that matter, how much time is between one premise and another? Even if we gave some answer to this, we are still left with the problem that whatever time its takes is not essential to the solution itself. Another class of psychological-time problems are vaguely sci-fi: we simply don’t know what monkeying-around with time does since we’re incapable of doing so. Take Augustine’s account of time as the past being the remembered, the present the experienced and the future the anticipated. What does time travel do to this? What would it mean to anticipate going to the past, to remember the future, or to experience either the future or the past? What if we sent people to the past, but found they couldn’t remember anything about the future when we send them there, including the fact that they were sent back? What if the result of sending a person back was not two of the same person at one time, but a trip back to a world where they never existed? Once one gets in a grove of imagining possibilities for the relation between a conscious subject and time travel, he can knock out a dozen intriguing possibilities in minutes, all of which are logically possible.
But the sort of logical possibility in play here is a report on our inability to rule something out. It’s a report on our inability to exercise the principle of contradiction about some predicate (maybe it’s true of a subject, and maybe it isn’t). This sort of logical possibility is really pre-logical in the sense that it’s a report about our inability to take the first step towards understanding something. Not every sort of logical possibility is like this (a real thing also logically possible), but this is exactly where the problem arises – logical possibility presents us with a series of scenarios that, for all we know, are only “possible” in the sense that we are too dim, or without enough information to see an inherent contradiction in them. The logically possible includes things that are inherently contradictory, but which are not yet understood as such.
But can we weave a sense of psychological time out of the very logical possibilities that we confront in understanding time? Logical possibility seems to involve succession since it describes the condition of an intelligence that cannot rest with the awareness that it has. For us, logical possibility includes ignorance, though logical possibility as such (that is, the state of not being impossible). On this account, psychological time is the result of a being that desires to know and yet, as a concrete fact, is in a state where ignorance and knowledge are mixed together indiscernibly. Time is thus the act of the potentially knowable as potential. The present is not experience so much as it is learning or, if one includes its privation, forgetfulness or willed ignorance.
June 6, 2013 at 10:22 pm (Uncategorized)
Gelernter: A machine is a man-made structure that converts energy into value… it is a meeting place of physics and society… energy has a precise physical definition, value doesn’t. Value is whatever you say it is.
Mirror Worlds, c. 3
Imagine walking into a room with a large, spinning electro-mechanical contraption. Then assume that you are told that it produces nothing of value – not because it is out of order or because its original product/activity is no longer valued, but that it simply makes nothing of value at all. At that moment you cease to experience it as a machine and have to see it as… what exactly? A sort of po-mo absurdist artwork? The concretion of insanity?
But then the machine presupposes the will/convention/ society in a far more intimate way than it might first appear. It is ontologically posterior to the activity of will, mind, and human life – not just because it is produced by human beings as by an extrinsic cause (since useful structures also get produced by chance) but because value is part of the intrinsic constitution of the machine, and so cannot be absent from even a machine made by chance. So what sort doctrine of mechanism would this lead to?
June 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm (Uncategorized)
We do so subconsciously and spontaneously. But why?
a.) Loftiness – though this simply posits another metaphor. Why is it fitting for God to be the loftiest thing?
b.) Control and source of life. All vegetation -that is, the environment – withers and dies in the shadows.
c.) Drives out terror and fear. Night is the natural habitat of our predators.
d.) Ability to overwhelm and terrify. To have the sun single oneself out for attention would be a terrifying thing.
e.) Its mysterious duration. We can see the sun had to come before everything, but the “everything” appears to have always been here. The sun, like the burning bush, keeps burning but is never consumed.
-Light related reasons.
a.) Its suggestion of immateriality. Light has no obvious weight or density.
b.) Its power. One can’t hold onto light or bind it to make it stand still.
c.) Its reach. We are tied to the stars by it.
June 4, 2013 at 4:57 pm (Uncategorized)
A: To be honest, I don’t know if Christianity is for me, but you know more about it.
B: What are you thinking?
A: I don’t understand Christ’s fascination with the poor. What’s so great about the poor?
B: You’re saying you don’t see anything about them that would make them of any particular interest to God.
A: Exactly. Take that panhandler that’s always in the lobby of the library. He’s poor – but he’s also a dirty, boozy, strung out mess who lies through his teeth to get more booze and dope. Why should God have a mystical soft spot in his heart for that sort of sinner and not for, say, an investment banker who lives in on the Gold Coast and runs through porn, wives and pills?
B: But sin doesn’t come into it at all, does it? God just loves the poor, and not because of some moral quality in poverty.
A: But that’s what makes no sense. Why not love the blue-eyed, or people who learn sign language, or guys who are irritated by knuckle cracking? If poverty has no moral component, why afford any special love to the poor? I’ll be honest – I have no special love of the poor at all. I might love some and find others loathsome – same with the rich. But when Christ speaks of loving the poor all I can imagine is having to love that panhandler in the library. What would that even mean? Give him money so he can drink himself to death? Spend time with him? Ha! As if either of us would want the other around!
B: If I ask you something, do you promise to be sincere?
A: Sure, why not.
B: And what if the person in the lobby were rich? Better yet, what if the one asking you for help were an incredibly attractive woman?
A: … yyyyyyes. You’ve got a point.
B: You probably wouldn’t be so quick to avoid the conversation and scurry past him. An attractive woman might only want money for booze too, and you might refrain from giving it to her too for all the right reasons, but the note of contempt wouldn’t be there, would it?
A: That’s right. God just loves, and not because he is flattered by the attention. That’s why Christ loved the poor, even of there wasn’t any particular moral perfection to poverty. This proves he just loved, and not because of anything he could get out of it. I’ve loved my self and my own. I haven’t gotten to the point of loving a complete other yet.
June 2, 2013 at 1:21 pm (Uncategorized)
My first thought:
Metaphysics has no sacraments i.e. something manifest to sensation that exists in a way that only God can exist, and acts by a power only God can have. This becomes a problem for spirits like ourselves that can think only with some activity of the nervous system, since we are constantly imposing on divine things the conditions of sensible existence. The prime mover is visualized as “above” a “chain” of causes; as behind a thing, pushing it along by an airless wind; the “First efficient cause” is seen as “abstract” or cold and distant, which is, again, just another protest against his not being present under physical conditions. We metaphysicians are continually visualizing phony sacraments: for example, God pushing something along by exerting some measurable energy upon it, or a first efficient cause that interacts with the universe. If any of these things happened, we could point to it and say – look! that’s an action that is properly divine, right there! That first gust of airless wind in the black void (which was afterwards continued by a purely natural action) would be something sacramental, for the moving power would at once be visible in its effect and beyond what nature could do.
That’s not quite right. Divine miracles happen by a power that is proper to God, but they are not sacraments. Sacraments do not just manifest to sensation a power or energy that is proper to God but also confer this energy upon human beings, and, when considered in its dual account as both properly divine and given to human beings, this energy is called grace. A miracle confers knowledge but not grace – for all their splendor a miracles leave divine power entirely extrinsic to the one who sees them. So it is better to say that metaphysics continually imagines miracles – and perhaps can even prove some must happen – but, like all miracles, there is no necessity that they make God enter into human life. This is another reason why the God of metaphysics seems so distant.
But while miracles and sacraments both sensibly manifest a power proper to God, only sacraments give the sensible thing itself a properly divine power. Miracles are not only extrinsic to the life of the one who sees them, the divine power they manifest remains extrinsic to the sensible thing that manifests. But in sacraments, matter enters into a unity of being with God himself. Taken in this sense, the first account is more right than it just appeared, since only sacraments manifest to sensation a sensible thing that has entered into a unity with the divine being.
June 1, 2013 at 12:24 pm (Uncategorized)
We’ve always known that barbarian plundering destroyed the Roman-Hellenic civilization, but we tend to visualize this plundering in a crude and rudimentary way, thereby missing its fundamental character. The opening sequence of this program, though almost comically overblown (one doesn’t know whether to groan, giggle or choke through lines like ‘dirty, sweaty, smelly barbarians’), is a good case in point. The sack of Rome is seen as nothing more than a smash and grab job - a fraternity riot done by bearded guys in animal skins. But even if the plundering were like this, it could not explain the very thing one is seeking to explain, namely why Rome was destroyed by it. The barbarian’s plundering really consisted in this: that they not only conquered but also migrated into cities because they were, as Theodore Mackin puts it, ”seeking the amenities of of the higher civilization but changing it as they came and returning it to a primitive form of itself.” The barbarians did not destroy Rome because broke and burned it (Rome was burned many times and rebuilt itself just fine) but because they took control of the benefits and pleasures of a Roman life but were unable to preserve the very civilization which, even in its decadence and corruption, made those benefits and pleasures possible. The barbarians could take the eggs of the golden goose but they had no idea how to feed it, care for it, or keep it alive.
May 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm (Uncategorized)
There must be some necessity of the Church being apostolic – the Nicene creed insists on it, and Scriptural books are canonical only when apostolic. But why insist on “coming from the Apostles” as a necessary trait? Why not just say it comes from Christ and leave it at that? IOW, “Christian” seems to make “apostolic” superfluous.
But not if one considers the Church as successive. In the Catholic tradition, for example, we speak of the pope as the “successor of Peter” and the other bishops and Patriarchs as successors of the other Apostles. They are emphatically not successors of Christ – for you have only succeeded someone who has lost the power and authority you now have, and no Christian claims that Christ can lose any of the authority he once had (cf. especially the cross-references). Whether one is Catholic or not, the Church only seems to be necessarily apostolic if it has some power or charism from Christ that must be passed on, that is, to be held by one person who loses it and is replaced by another. Such power is essentially historic, which seems to be the sole reason why it must be apostolic – it must date to the first set of followers Christ gave it to.
May 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm (Uncategorized)
Robert George and Michael Hannon revisit the perennial modern question of political society and the common good. For George, government is a instrumental good that is entirely ordered to individual ends; for Hannon political life (and therefore some government) is a common good which transcends the particular good of any individual and, in so doing, provides a more lofty good than any that is peculiar to him.
One factor that continually gets overlooked in these debates is that the size and degree of complexity of the thing you call “government” has an essential role to play in the question, since governments – at least those that are political common goods – are of a fixed size. For Aristotle and St. Thomas, a political society was something made of a few thousand citizens, but with the advent of the modern nation state and the extension of suffrage, a political society started to be measured in units that were larger than a polis by several orders of magnitude, at which point Aristotle says they can no longer be considered political societies. They’re just too big. One can’t scale up the polis forever and keep it as a common good, since when it becomes too big it can no longer facilitate the political life of the citizens. This happens for three reasons:
1.) The action of any citizen is so disproportionate to the whole that it is not experienced as meaningful political action. An Athenian citizen in a 500 person assembly could have a positive sense of contributing to a verdict or a law; and he could know that he could persuade enough persons to have a real effect on the outcome of the vote. No one who knows his vote counts as one out of a hundred million – or even one out of a hundred thousand, which is the size of a smallish American county – can experience the same thing.
2.) The government itself becomes so labyrinthine and complex that no individual citizen knows how to live a political life within it. As a consequence, government falls to specialists as opposed to citizens since to figure out how government works in the concrete case is a full time job. In fact, it is doubtful to me that even the small groups at the top of representative governments know enough about the workings of the Leviathan to live a genuinely political life within it. What senator understands the budget? Does anyone?
3.) The number of well-intentioned regulations reaches a point where a reasonable man is no longer a standard for what should be done, at which point he is replaced by consultants and court scribes. In response to many of the significant organizational problems of social life, we no longer think “what would a reasonable person do?” but “We ought to check with our lawyers to see whether this is okay”. But as soon as political life ceases to cultivate the standard of the reasonable man, it ceases to be an expression of genuine human flourishing.
Though there is no bright yellow line marking where it happens, at some point the size of the government hits a tipping point where it no longer is the action of us but an of an It; and we can no longer look to it as an institution within which we exercise political life but only as a Leviathan that we must appease with tax-offerings and paperwork and exploit for whatever resources it might offer us. If, after it has reached such a tipping point, we still insist on calling it a “government” then Robert George is right that it seems to play only an instrumental role in human happiness. But if we insist with Hannon (and, famously, Dekoninck) that government is a real common good, then it seems to me we ought to agree with Aristotle that it is impossible for it to have as many citizens as the things we now call governments. We will not so much look to what we call governments to give us a political life, but more to a Church parish, a platoon, a company, etc..
May 28, 2013 at 6:57 pm (Uncategorized)
Empiricism – at least the non-Berkeleian or Aristotelian kind – tends to overlook or minimize the extent to which ideas are causes of things in the world. All art reduces to an idea, and to understand any form or pattern is to get the idea behind it.
But it’s not exactly empiricism that misses the causality of ideas – not all empiricists miss this and some non-empiricists do. Plantinga’s claim that abstract entities are not causes, for example, is hard to square with a robust awareness of the causality of ideas. If anything, we seem to be dealing with different personality types: the idea tends to be missed by what Jung or Myers-Briggs called the “sensation” types, and accorded primacy by those they call “intuitive” types.