The structure of freedom

1.) Freedom gets distinguished into freedom from and freedom for, e.g. the Israelites were freed from Pharaoh so that (or “for”) they could worship God in the wilderness. One point of the distinction is to push us outside outside the sense that it is enough to simply remove impediments, restrictions or restraints. We also, and more fundamentally, need some sense of what goods persons should be pursuing when the restraints or taboos or unjust laws are removed.

2.) Freedom is the absence of impediments to something desirable, but impediments are of two kinds. If I want to play the violin one set of impediments would be, say, being imprisoned or being too poor to buy one; but a more significant set of impediments would be lacking the skill to play. The first sort of freedom might be called extrinsic freedom and the second an intrinsic freedom or freedom by skill.

3.) Freedom from seems indistinguishable from extrinsic freedom, which gives it three dimensions, all of which belong to it by definition. Given freedom is the absence of impediments to something you want you can consider either its extrinsic impediments (chains, circumstances) its intrinsic impediments (lack of skill, ignorance, vice) or its raison d’être from the thing one wants (worshipping God in the wilderness, having autonomy over one’s life, etc)

4.) There is a third morally relevant distinction of freedom from the two ways in which impediments to a goal might be absent. In one sense they are absent in that the road to the goal is open but not travelled; in another sense they are absent because the goal is totally obtained. The first sort of freedom is freedom in via, or the freedom that anything enjoys so far as it is separate from its ultimate good. The second sort of freedom is freedom in patria, or the freedom which consists in even the possibility of impediments to the goal being ruled out as logically impossible. Non-human animals seem to enjoy freedom in patria simply by being mature; human beings and angels enjoy it only in the beatific vision. God has only freedom in patria without ever having had freedom in via. This last distinction is essential to avoid various aporia about “God’s freedom to sin” or “whether the blessed are free to be evil” or about the relationship between freedom and evil in general. The aporia arise because if we include evil in the definition of freedom then God and the blessed are not free (and therefore no more worth praising than the result of an equation) but if we don’t include evil in the account of freedom then freedom does not seem to explain evil.


Notes on perverted faculty arguments

-If faculty is taken broadly to include any part of a person that does something like sweating, circulating blood, growing hair, powering cells, etc then most faculties can’t be perverted. Taking the class of pervertable faculties, relatively few of their actions are perverse. In other words, perverted faculty arguments (PFA) are targeting a very narrow band of human activity relative to the activities does by faculties.

-For the purposes of PFA’s a faculty is any definite physical or mental part of a person that he immediately wills to use, whether by exercise or by anticipation. It is precisely by being subject to will that we get a faculty in the relevant sense.

-There are relatively few faculties that we immediately will to use. The only sense in which I can will to sweat, release histamine, listen to a jackhammer when they are trying to sleep, etc is indirect, if at all. I suppose you could say I will to sweat if I will to run on a treadmill or will to release histamine if I stuff pollen up my nose, but both are obviously mediated acts of will. PFA’s thus have nothing to do with using antiperspirants, antihistamines, earplugs, etc.

-We’re interested in the will because PFA’s are moral arguments, morality is formally about goods, and nothing is good except to the extent it is willed.  Only virtuous actions are entirely willed or voluntary. If this were not so, then someone could eternally have everything he wants and nothing he doesn’t want while nevertheless not being happy or fulfilled as a person.

-Faculties are definite things in themselves and so have definite goods in themselves. Having a definite structure means that you are destroyed by a particular things and not by others,  preserved in existence by some actions and not by others, and that your operation is impeded or facilitated by some things and not others.  Call any such good E.

– To use a faculty while frustrating E is to will and not will the same thing simultaneously. The action is therefore partially involuntary and therefore incompatible with virtue.

-PFA’s therefore show formally that the perverted use of a faculty cannot be a part of virtue. This does not of itself show what degree of disorder is present in the use of such a faculty. To borrow a Catholic distinction, mortal sins, venial sins, and even non-culpable imperfections are incompossible parts of virtue.

-To put the PFA weakly, it shows that any frustrated use of a faculty is at least as bad as a non-culpable imperfection. To put it more strongly, they show that such use is incompatible with virtue and therefore with happiness.



1.) God knows all things distinctly in himself, we know it only by infinite abstractions, angels know by some number, and therefore are different species in virtue of different numbers.

2.) The perfection of the universe requires all possible species and each angel is his own species, so the number of angels is infinite. The universe is thus overwhelmingly angelic. If one saw the whole of creation he would not even know where to find its last part – the cosmos/human being (CH) – among the angels.

3.) CH is the limit of the multiplication of the angels. Like all limits, it is both different in kind (the way a curve is the limit of the straight) while somehow allowing for comparison.

4.) The least angel has more life, complexity, intelligibility, reality and dignity than CH. CH is like the last angel.

5.) CH is analogous to an angel turned inside out. We look out at the universe and try to gather it into ourselves, but the light that we have to gather it is so weak that it would take infinite time to assemble the whole together again.

6.)  Scattered intelligibility gives rise to matter.  The form needed some way to exist so as to be unintelligible in itself.

7.) The “fall of man” is the fall of CH, and the redemption is the redemption of CH. This redemption is spiritual to the extent that the CH is spiritual, physical to the extent that it is physical. The same is true of the heaven of the CH.


Angelic hierarchy

1.) Intelligences know being and thus know all things.

2.) God knows all things distinctly in his single thought of himself, since a failure to know something distinctly, or to stop thinking about one thing to think about another, would have an immediate result that the being itself would cease to exist.

3.) A human being knows all things distinctly only by an indefinite multiplication of abstractions, each one being its own idea.

4.) The fullness of intellectual existence requires beings that know all things distinctly by some definite number of ideas.

5.) The same fullness of existence also requires that the number of angels be equal to the natural numbers.

6.) As each number is its own species of quantity, with “four” being specifically the same among four ducks, thoughts, wheels, etc, so also each angel is his own species, resulting from whatever difference accounts for the number of thoughts required for him to know all of reality distinctly. It is no more possible not have a number of angels of one species than it is to have a number of  solutions to a set of equations all equal to seven.

7.) The number of universal causes is finite, since to be infinite is proper to causes within a genus that are therefore secondary.

8.) Because angels and material things are some finite number of genera and each genus has its own universal cause, there is some multitude of universal causes in the created universe that is less than the totality of the angelic species. Let the multitude be M.

9.) Angels who understand all things distinctly by a number of thoughts comparable to M have minds proportionate to the universal causes of all things. Those who know by a number far fewer than M exceed all proportion to the universal causes of the universe and know these causes in God himself, those whose number of thoughts far exceed the number of universal causes are disproportioned to those causes and are closer to human beings and material creation, even while being categorically different from it.

10.) Those who exceed all proportion to universal causes are either immediate to the God. The Seraphs are either identical to these or are the highest among those exceeding all proportion to the universal causes. They are angels seen as somehow around the divinity, announcing him as holy, holy, holy.

11.) Those immediately beneath the seraphs are immediate to the divine presence by being immediately under him. These are the Thrones spoken of in Col. 1:6 as the throne or mercy seat above the Ark.

12.) The Thrones are carried by the the cherubim, and so are seen as giving direction and power to the throne, which is why the ark is called by the name of the LORD who sits enthroned above the cherubim (1 Cr. 13: 6).

13.) The Seraphs, Cherubs and Thrones are thus the three genera of angels exceeding all proportion to the universal causes and seeing all things immediately in God.

14.) It’s not clear to me what or how many genera are beneath the Seraphs, Cherubs and Thrones. By the theory just given its possible that there can only be a higher and lower order of angels and not three choirs.


The first atonement theology

The disciples on the road to Emmaus give an account of the crucifixion:

[Jesus] was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.

It’s clear that they have already assimilated Jesus’s story to the prophets. Christ was a mighty prophet deserving canonical status, and whose story is in keeping with Elijah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Habakuk, Micah, etc. Like any figure in the Hebrew scriptures his story is about great promise and several significant works leading to the eventual fizzle. Adam names the animals, discovers women, and crashes; Abraham raises up the patriarchs and they collapse into infighting, intrigues, and eventual slavery; Moses sets the people free and they grumble and sin in the desert before Moses himself dies in exile; Joshua leads people into the land but they collapse into the kingship of Saul; Saul is conquered by David who seduces the wife of a subordinate before murdering him and handing the kingship to the child of the adultery; Solomon rebuilds the temple before falling into idolatry; the prophets replace the kings but usually die in exile or by violence. Now Jesus came and was another prophet great in power, but he died in a failed attempt to purify the temple and drive out the Romans. Maybe we can look forward to another prophet who will drive out the Romans and perhaps even give us a period of peace before it too collapses into ruin and defeat; and maybe after that God will raise another prophet who will bring peace to Israel before becoming fascinated with Ba’al worship at the end of his life.

Against this, Jesus:

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Christ rejects any attempt to make his story just one more link in the Scripture, so Scripture is over. The last book in the Bible was already written and any further writing can only announce the fact that the goal of the project is accomplished. In keeping with this, the summary of Christ’s discourse on the road stresses universality and totality: beginning with the Pentateuch [through] all the prophets (i.e. starting at the beginning of the Hebrew scripture and going to what is now its end) He explained what all the prophets (not just some) said in all the scriptures (not just some) concerning himself. The unmistakable point is that we now have “all the prophets” and all the books of Scripture. The depressed disciples thought they had just one more familiar scroll to add to the collection when in fact they saw the end of history and the beginning of the kingdom of God. 

And so atonement theology is not a theory foisted on the gospels or developed after we have put them aside. Christ gives the first theory of atonement, and the disciples going to Emmaus had no clue that this was coming. They would have been happy to record his sermons and deeds in “The Book of Jesus”, and they certainly would have concluded with his resurrection and ascension, just as the story of Elijah ends with a similar ascension. What Christ’s disciples wrote instead was the good news that all time had ended and a new time had begun. In defense of their claims one can notice that no more books were added to the prophets, the idols that enthralled the world were broken, Israel’s God was worshipped to the ends of the earth, the faith of Abraham was adopted in all the nations, and an international monarchy arose for the succession of the apostles.

All atonement theology – and in some sense all christianity – is a footnote to Lk. 24: 27 and an attempt to reconstruct Christ’s speech. Luke gives no details of the speech even if one assumes it would have been easy enough for him to give a sketch of it. The sermons of the resurrected Christ seem to be beyond one’s ability to reconstruct in words, but the Emmaus story ends with the amazement of the disciples at what they took as incomparably good news: Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Bible to us?

Objection to “Against Heterosexuality”

We just argued that hetero-homo essentialism should be replaced with the view sexual preferences like other habits: virtue, alcoholism, smoking, studiousness, etc. The obvious objection to all this is that

(1) We have strong preference for sexual partners even when we have no sexual experience at all, but

(2) No one has the alcoholic’s preference for alcohol before he starts drinking.

The basic response is that (1) conflates sexual experience with sexual intercourse, the first being a necessary consequence of embodiment while the second is not.

Erotic desire is not limited to, and is probably not even primarily about the desire to have orgasms in a certain manner (say, in the presence of just any same-sex person) but to be related to and connected to another person. It takes no experience or even awareness of orgasm to understand unconditional connection or domination or submission or to be fascinated by the Edenic state of being naked and unashamed in the presence of another.

In other words, an innate hetero-homo program is not necessary to explain the determination of desire before intercourse because sexual experience is already substantially present before intercourse. Non-drinkers can’t be alcoholics because we need something more than our own bodies and social existence to experience intoxication, but virgins can have strong sexual preferences because simply being embodied and social is a sort of sexual experience. To be embodied at all is to already understand the thrill/terror of nakedness in ourselves and others and to be social is already to know there are taboos placing limits and fascinating and forbidden activities, knowledge, and kinds of touch. Children become aware of these limits and possibilities years before they have any concept of the mechanics of human reproduction, much less any experience of it.

One of the stultifying effects of hetero-homo essentialism is that it screens out all these pre-intercourse elements of sexual experience, attributing our desires not to an extensive experience an interpretation of  embodiment and its possibilities but to an overly-simple pre-programming like “love boys” or “love girls”. The essentialism is best replaced with a more interesting set of stories – note the plural – of the experiences and interpretations that led to whatever sexual habits formed from them. Calling them “interesting” doesn’t mean that all are equal: all might have beautiful and at least understandable parts but will also have a good deal of pathological unconscious motives and sheer naughtiness and vice.

On “Against Heterosexuality”

I revisited Michael Hannon’s Against Heterosexuality last week and followed his references to Foucault and this piece by Hugh Barbour.  The thesis is that sexual orientations are historical constructions.

To clarify, no one doubts that persons experience strong and habitual desires to have intercourse with persons of a definite sex, but we have all sorts of strong and habitual desires for definite things that aren’t traced back to something analogous to being “heterosexual” or “homosexual”. We don’t assume that persons who experience strong desires to steal iPhones are born with an interesting strain of klepro-orientation or explain the difference between Ray Charles and Scarface as heroin-orientation as opposed to cocaine-orientation. There are probably a thousand ways one can get into an activity and thereafter develop passionate attachments whose satisfaction becomes integral to our sense of self.

Briefly, Hetero-Homo essentialism violates parsimony by explaining sexual desires through first nature when second nature would do. Even those of us who are sold on traditionalist sexual ethics don’t have to think that men-wanting-women is natural in the sense that “heterosexuality” demands, since for us it is natural in the sense of being normative or ideal and not because sexual desire is subjectively experienced with a clear and definite object from the first moment it enters consciousness. The first stirrings of eros are probably not definite enough even to have persons as objects, and if they did they would probably be for a family member (who else is around?) for all that, we’re not born with an incest-orientation.

Like all innate desires our sexual ones are more or less vague urges growing over a trellis of environmental conditions, healthy or pathological desires, interpreted experience, historical-cultural values, and any number of things that will never arise again after the person who experiences them is dead. Given the intensity and near-universality of sexual desire it makes sense that satisfying sexual habits is more integral to our sense of self, but this is not because we suffer from some innate or naturally-developing orientation.

A socratic morality

1.) Morality is an explanation of how to be happy.

2.) Being happy means getting and doing what you want.

3.) The word “want” gets used in two ways. If you’re the only one who knows that the bridge to a free ice cream cone will collapse under my weight and make me fall to my death, we might have the following exchange:

You: James, you don’t want to take the bridge.

Me: Of course I want to. Look, ice cream!

In the exchange you’re not denying the sense in which I want to go over the bridge, in fact, you probably said what you said because you assumed I wanted to cross it. So we have two meanings of “want”, viz:

You: James, you don’t want1 to take the bridge.

Me: Of course I want2 to. Look, ice cream!

Want2 exists from ignorance of something relevant to the decision in question and so is a privation of want1.  But privations of an action are alienans modifiers of the action, so want2 is not a kind of want. As Aristotle explains in Nic Eth. III.1,  in the measure that we’re ignorant our actions are involuntary, and so far as something is involuntary it is also unwanted.

4.) Being happy means getting and doing what you want, but privation of wants are not wants. Figuring out what we want is therefore a problem, and one that requires a good deal more work taking an inventory of what we want to do, even if we really, really want to do it, or even if we are convinced we were born wanting to do it.


Short argument for penal substitution

Many theologians are critical of penal substitution (I’m thinking of Stump, Charles Taylor, Tim Staples, i.a.)  but it’s probably too late in the game to say it plays no role at all in the theory of atonement. Better to display a face of the theory that avoids the common criticism that it gives no place to divine charity in work of atonement. Here’s a suggestion.

Penal substitution means the guilt of our sin is transferred to Christ, and the most familiar case of the transfer of guilt to one who did nothing wrong is a parent being responsible for the actions of his child. When I pay the price for my daughter throwing a rock through my neighbor’s window it’s not because I’m negligent or encouraged her action – I’m responsible by the same connection that allows me to decide what language she’ll speak, what school she’ll attend, whether she’ll be raised a Buddhist or atheist or vegan or given technical education. As STA put it, Filius est aliquid patris,  and under that description I both set some very important details of her life and have the guilt of what she does transferred to me even when I am personally morally guiltless.

On this account, our sin is transferred to Christ because Christ is God, God is the father of the human race, and the guilt of children can be transferred to the father. So taken, penal substitution can be made into a way of foregrounding the fact that the human race is the family of God.

On unconditional commitments

Humans have a basic need for unconditional commitment (UC) with others.

Marriage vows are a paradigm articulation of UC. One simply denies a long list of conditions that might nullify commitment. Familial relationships are also UC, and so if someone asks you why you deal with difficult family members it’s enough to respond that “They’re family”.

People have varying needs for UC just like they have varying needs for food, but both needs are basic. To find out that someone has no UC’s at all – no spouse or family or others to whom he is bound by vows – is as much of a tragedy as to find out he has no house or food to eat. Extreme privation of food and of UCs destroy life in different ways, but both are necessary.

Any relation that rests only on the ongoing choice of the members to associate is conditioned and therefore not-UC. UC is therefore only perfect to the extent that it is fixed by something exterior. Whenever this is fixed by choice, it is called a vow or oath.

UC’s are distinct from friendship and what is usually meant by love for three reasons:

(1.) Everyone needs UC’s but many have impediments to forming friendships. Babies and toddlers are obvious cases.

(2.) UC’s are used for reasons beyond friendship, like property claims, inheritance, deciding who gets to visit a hospitalized patient, etc. Even if friendship is an ideal for spouses it is something they can work toward and therefore need not have ab initio.

(3.) We needs UC’s among groups which are too large for everyone to be friends. Soldiers need them to their nation and army, citizens to their state, the religious to their Church, etc. Vows and oaths of unconditional commitment are usually necessary when one has to be willing to die for something.

At the limit of extending and valuing UC’s we find the Christian ideal of charity for all human beings in imitation of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. The Fatherhood and fraternity of God is understood to extend not just a UC but also friendship to the whole human race.



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