Gratia vere et mere sufficiens

1.) I divide free will from imperfect will. The will is free so far as its necessary orientation to the transcendental good can be realized in an indefinite number of concrete goods, the will is imperfect so far as it can choose moral evils as well as moral goods.

2.) All wills that do not enjoy an immediate union with God are both free and imperfect.

3.) Grace is given to those who do not enjoy an immediate union with God.

4.) Grace that did not suffice to achieve union with God would be pointless and ineffectual.

5.) Therefore, from (4) all grace suffices to attain immediate union with God, and from (3) goes to one that can choose the evil of rejecting grace. This is what Ott calls gratia mere et vere sufficiens. 

6.) Briefly, sufficient grace goes to imperfect willsThe objection that if sufficient grace can be rejected, how is it sufficient? misses that its sufficiency is precisely what suffices to an imperfect will as imperfect. If sufficient grace can be given to imperfect wills at all, it must be given in a way that can be rejected.

7.) Adding efficacious grace to sufficient grace either does away with the imperfection of the will or it doesn’t. If it does, then “efficacious grace” simply means “bestowing the beatific vision”; if it doesn’t then the efficacious grace is as rejectable as sufficient grace.

(So yes, I’m rejecting most of the Reformation-era accounts of sufficient vs. efficacious grace, including the Thomistic one.)


Causality and the non-physical

1.) The word cause gets used so promiscuously and is tied to so many different concerns that it’s hopeless to look for an any-and-all definition of the term. Better to start by setting out what sense of cause one wants to explain.

2.) I’m interested in causes that are (a) explanations and (b) active.

3.) To the extent that something is explained by what is causally prior, it is passive to it.

4.) At the end of Phaedo Plato is looking for causes in the sense I’m looking for, and he concludes that no physical explanation is such. Physical changes bottom out in conserved quantities – matter, energy, mass, momentum, etc – and so are by definition explained by the causally prior, making them passive (cf. #3). The energy of the massive rogue wave that destroys the ship at 3:15 AM is not lost but simply imparted to the parts of the ship in a way that is incompatible with their cohesion, and the energy is nothing more than energy that existed at 3:14 AM, 3AM, 2AM… and so back ad infinitum. 

5.) Obviously, the wave causes the destruction of the ship, and it’s stupid to correct anyone who says so. Let’s give it an entry in the lexicon: “the wave caused1 the destruction of the ship”. This is fine, but we’re looking for cause2. From the argument in (4) cause1 is itself caused2 by a cause2 since passivity as such is a relation to active power.

6.) Causality2 is non-physical, i.e. something that does not bottom out in attribution to conserved quantities. But Plato also spoke of the thing in itself as a non-physical thing having an actuating  power.

7.) The different senses of form in Plato are unclear, since he takes life, for example, as both the form common to all living things and the form that, while had by a soul, is had in a way that cannot be lost, just as a fire has heat in a way that cannot be lost and a spoonful of sugar is sweet in a way that can’t be taken out of it while still leaving sugar.

8.) The passivity of the physical in one sense is its reduction to conserved quantities and in another is the intrinsic passivity, existing even within conserved quantities, to the form or thing-in-itself. This gives two senses of passivity and therefore of matter with two corresponding kinds of immateriality. Both kinds of immateriality have causality2 but in different ways.

9.) So causalityascends through four degrees of being:

i.) Intrinsic form. This is life in the sense of soul or heat as had by moving molecules, i.e. the form possessed so that it cannot be separated while leaving the same thing. This is the source of all that belongs per se to a thing. In physical things, however, there is always more to a reality than that which belongs to it per se.

ii.) Intelligible form.  This is the Platonic thing-in-itself or one-over-many. The relation between this form and intrinsic form is unclear. The basic question one needs to resolve is whether the two are separable in reality or only in thought.

iii.) Animate form. Form always makes a thing determinate, but determinate action can be either active or passive. The line between these is the line between the animate and the non-living.

iv.) Intelligent form. While all form gives being and activity, but the activity exercised upon the passive either really separate from the passive component or not. If so, the form is not only animate since it has action of itself but also spirit. 

Relation theory of divine persons

1.) Relations taken formally are neither accidents nor substances. This allows for the logical possibility of subsistent relations = an entity that is a relation alone and in no way also an accident or substance.

2.) While logically possible, we cannot point to any examples of subsistent relations. My right and left hands are not just right and left but also hands, flesh, male, living, etc.

3.) Trinitarian persons are subsistent relations.

4.) Trinitarianism is not polytheism since polytheism is multiple divine substances of one divine nature and relations are not substances.

5.) Trinitarianism is not three parts of one divine substance since parts are imperfect substances and relations are not substances of any kind.

6.) Trinitarianism is not modalist since modes are distinguished as different actions of God, but actions are accidents and subsistent relations are not.

7.) Trinitarianism is not Arian since in Arianism the Father could exist without the Son or Holy Spirit but no one correlative can exist without the other.

8.) Trinitarianism is monotheist, inter alia, because it is a claim precisely about God as classically known, i.e. as a claim about that which is omnipotent, omniscient, one with its nature and act of existence, that than which nothing greater can be thought, that which is absolutely simple.

9.) Trinitarianism is a theory of an absolutely simple being since no one person can be separated from the others even in thought. One who tries to think about any one person while not thinking of the others is not thinking of God correctly. Again, no person stands to another as potency to act or vice versa.


Justice and philia

[W]hen men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality.

Nic. Eth. VIII c. 1

Mere justice in the sense of an impersonal system of giving what is rationally due to persons often leads leaves a growing mass of resentments from those who feel shortchanged and which threaten to undermine the esteem for those who impose justice. Without such esteem, however, one can’t have justice at all. Even an ideal and rational system of justice therefore is inherently unstable.

One weakness of political discussions is assuming that justice has a sufficiency which it cannot have. To read Hobbes or Locke easily leaves one with the impression that a just regime is simply a matter of getting the system of justice right, and as a teacher of political theory I usually spend most of my time trying to explain what various systems of impersonal interaction – sovereignty, property rights, hedges against government encroachment – should look like. But politics can’t be an impersonal system, and what looks like such a working system in theory will be unlivable in practice.

The truest justice is friendship, where debts are never fully paid but serve as sources of unity among persons. One always owes his friends something and is happy that he does. The “system” of justice is the opposite of this: the goal is often to dispense the debt between persons and so to dissolve any need they have to deal with each other.

Philia and Trinity

Aristotle dryly explains that, having spoken of virtue, he should now speak of philia, which can be passably translated “friendship” but which includes any warm bonds of affection or regard. His argument is particularly strong:

Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends?

Nic. Eth. VIII. c. 1

Paradoxically, the more self-sufficient one becomes the more he needs equals as objects of philia. The more perfect and free the will becomes in its power to determine itself without dependence on others, the more the very same perfection of the will demands others as objects of an ever-increasing ecstasy of love.

While no premise could prove God is triune, a belief in a multiplicity of divine hypostases is in a better position to explain this paradoxical character of the will. Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods – in fact, it’s precisely having “all other goods” that demands friends. Infinite perfection should not be visualized as the solitary dwelling within oneself but as the mutual indwelling of perichoresis.


The ground of the mechanical view

Chomsky often argued that the mechanistic view of nature failed soon after it was inaugurated when Newton abandoned the attempt to account for nature in terms of simple machines and the push-pull principle. This only became more right with every era after Newton, where advances increasingly came from what the pioneers of mechanism would have called occult forces (energy, fields, entropy, molecular stability) and it eventually made for a view of nature that was nothing like a set of exquisite watch complications but more like a subsistent math problem.

So why is mechanism still around?

Nature is not a machine because it reduces to simple machines but because we control what it does. Sure, entropy or magnetic fields would have struck Seventeenth Century natural philosophers as magick woo-woo, but you can refute his skepticism by using the principles to build a fridge or an electric motor.

So we can see how modern natural philosophy could allow so many “occult forces” but still had to insist that final causality is nowhere in nature. In part this was because final causality has always been hard to see in the non-organic realm, but the more important reason was that final causality in nature was a rival to the final causality we imposed on nature by controlling it. Nature has no final causes for the same reason slaves are not persons. Slaves have powers, but all these powers are ordered to the execution of the master’s wishes. To riff off Roger Taney’s famous and pithy account of slavery, the mechanical view of nature means nature has no life of its own – no rightsthat man is bound to respect.

As a result, actions are morally wrong only by impinging on human desire and intention. In the mechanical view, it is impossible for any action upon the natural world, the animal kingdom, or the human body to trigger a moral problem. All these things are “biological”, i.e. objectified entities that are nothing but the raw material for consumption, dissection, and self-expression.

Plurality and unity of form (2)

Both matter and inchoate form participate in form. Inchoate forms are proximate and remote genera.

Inchoate form is not matter but, in material things, they are not separate as res ex re. The limit of inchoate forms is first matter, but it is not an attainable limit. Any notion of a structure within prime matter, which might be suggested by the inability of any substance to become just anything, is a feature not of prime matter but of inchoate form.

Ascending though inchoate forms yields the more and more general, making the sciences that deal with each genus more and more universal. A perfectly inclusive science in this sense would, however, have to attain to first matter, and so is a contradiction. Though we call whatever deals with the most remote genus “Physics”, this only means that the explanatory universality of physics approaches an unreachable limit.

Prime matter is the limit of participatory being and is nothing except its participation in form. So we see the stupidity of limiting “being” to the top of the Porphyrian tree or to a status as the most universal of universals, since, taken formally, this is what excludes it from being. To be to to be for oneself, which is not the case at the limit of universality.

Economic Trinity

The economic Trinity is the work of the persons in the spiritual life of the devout.

1.) In one sense, God is present objectively in creation, sacred history, sacrifice, sacrament, the temple, the ecclesial hierarchy, etc. In this sense, God is Logos or Son, which is why Christ, speaking as a First Century Jew, identified himself with the Temple.

2.) Since all the objective presence in the world would not suffice to make God seen as God, God is also present subjectively, as that which allows the Son or Logos to be manifested in the world or in the soul. This is why the creed says that Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and Paul says no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, except by the Holy Ghost (1 Cor 12: 3)The believer sees the same object as the unbeliever, but not in the same Spirit.

3.) No matter what is seen of God and through God, he must also be known as one that cannot be known unless and until this present world passes away and all things are brought to their summit. In this sense, God is Father, which is why Christ’s prayer to the Father asks may your kingdom come and your will come to pass on earth as it does in heaven and why the eschatological desire is to go to the house of the Father. 

Seeing evil

If anyone correctly articulated what he wanted in doing anything, it would be a real good that all right-thinking persons should want for him. Persons infallibly want real goods and never apparent ones, just as we infallibly see colors and never sounds.

That said, most of what we do has at least some whiff of evil about it. How to see it? In light of the claims so far, we’ll have to see it outside of what we desire. It will show up, at least in part, from a perspective outside of one familiar to us, appearing as alien, off-putting, irrelevant, fastidious, and perhaps even irrational or absurd.

Moral growth along this axis consists in the assimilation into the self of what starts off as alien to it, and so becoming a self that was, at a lower stage of development, not who one was at all.

Perverted Faulties

Perverted faculty arguments are a common theme in historically Christian morality, with its absolute prohibitions of lying, suicide, contraception, psychedelic drug use, and drunkenness.

Of themselves, perverted faculty arguments only show that there is some disorder and so evil in an action, but not how much there is. Nevertheless, they get some bite through the axiom that one can never commit an evil that good might come. Even if, qua perverted faculty, the evil of each of the prohibita were relatively minor, they could not be done even for the sake of some very great good.

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