Knowing existence

1.) Thomism 101. Esse is the act of all acts and perfection of all perfections. But this means it cannot be maximally abstract, i.e. the term of a Porphyrian ascent from cat —> animal—> living —> substance, since this ascent is to what is less formal and not more so.

2.) Being is not a genus because it is not even given by the cognitive act sufficing to produce genera.

3.) The manuals taught that existence or esse is known by an “imperfect abstraction” because all abstraction leaves aside existence. This seems to assume that esse is given by some sort of Porphyrian ascent.

4.) Kant taught that predicates are formal. So far as he did, existence is maximally predicate in the modus essendi. Note that this is the same reason why existence cannot be a predicate if this is taken to mean making an addition to a concept. Things are conceived by form, so what adds to a given concept adds to a given form. But what is maximally formal cannot add to a given form.

 

 

Akrasia in Augustine

Augustine personifies the bad habits of his life before conversion:

My old mistresses still enthralled me; they tugged at my flesh and whispered softly, will you part with us shall we no more be with you forever? Do you want it to be unlawful for you forever? And what did they suggest to me in the words this or that? [They were] muttering, as it were, behind my back, and furtively plucking me as I was departing, to make me look back upon them. Yet they did delay me, so that I hesitated to shake myself free from them, [since] an unruly habit was saying to me, Do you think you can live without them?

The stress is on the loss of the object of desire forever, explicitly said twice and integral to his closing fear of having to “live without them.” We can pass on any one pleasure but to give up a lifetime of them is beyond our strength.

The same thing happens with pains or fears: dealing with any one might be trivially easy, but what about all the ones coming?

All this is irrational. As we have no access to future pleasures we can neither enjoy or renounce them.  We likewise can’t seccumb to or resist a future temptation, or endure or be overcome by future evils. Whatever brownies you might run into six months from now (who knows if there will be any?) can’t be now gorged on, abstained from, or moderately consumed.

We change too: giving up X forever doesn’t mean wanting X forever. Desires, which are fickle and inconstant anyway, tend to die when left unfed. So “living without something forever” turns out to be a phantom twice over: the object can’t be enjoyed or renounced and the subject can’t be sure of his wanting to enjoy or renounce it.

Time and Aeviternity

Aeviternity (or “the aevum”) is like time: 

1.) Aeviternal things are created and so transition from not existing to existing. Setting aside whether it is a real possibility, annihilation is a logical possibility in the aevum.

2.)  Something in the aevum corresponds to the future contingents in time. If not, all time would exist in a single present moment in the aevum, making it eternity. For the same reason, something in the aevum corresponds to things past in time.

Aeviternity is unlike time:

1.) Time measures what has an intrinsic ability to be another substance, aevum measures what has no such intrinsic ability. Though creation and annihilation are possible in the aevum, things are not made from what had an ability to become them, nor could an aeviternal substance be repurposed to make another substance or organism like we make trees into lumber or cows into protein sources.

2.) Time and the aevum have no common measure. All things in time are measured by a single uniform motion, once thought to be sidereal motion (and which we still use for practical purposes of measuring time) but now thought to be whatever moves at the speed of light, which is a better and more uniform measure allowing for universal translation of all motions. Things in the aevum are not measured by sidereal motion or light, while things in the aevum do X now and Y later, asking how many seconds pass between these is like trying to figure out what age  Hamlet is when he dies by measuring the run time of the play.

All measure is to something uniform, so things in the aevum are measured by whatever is most uniform among them. For immaterial things, this is the the nature understanding by the most unified concept, giving rise to a will most firmly rooted in the ultimate good.

3.) Though there is something permanent in time, it is not aeviternal. Among things in time, the measure of time is most like the aeviternal because the measure is the most permanent and unchanging. This is why the older cosmology saw the stars as permanent and unchageable, and why it is circular to ask how fast a thing is moving when moving at the speed of light.* We haven’t updated eschatology to cosmology yet, but just as Thomas once taught that the blessed souls would exist as heavenly bodies, we should now teach the blessed exist like whatever-it-is-that-moves-at-‘c’ (WITMAC?). The blessed are bodies of light while the damned are bound to matter, and matter at its most inconstant, unstable, and distant from its proper place** (i.e. fire)

In another sense, any conserved quantity is a measure of motion and this status as measure is precisely why it must be conserved, though we set aside those measures which measure only by potency.

4.) Though the measure of things in time is permanent and therefore most like the aeviternal, all that is aeviternal lacks matter as an intrinsic principle and therefore is intellectual. Even when permanent, material receives form as subjective, physical, and composite while intellect receives form as objective, supra-physical and simple.

In ancient-medieval cosmology the pure spirits are united to the universe at the point where the universe is measured. This once made them as distant as the stars but it now crowds them in as close as WITMAC. Immanent angelic activity is a sort of underwriting of the nature that measures all things.

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*C : 300,000km/sec :: meter : 100 centimeters, i.e. Both tell us something true, but in both the second term is only intelligible if the first is taken as given. Of itself, the measure is not measured.

**Fire was seen as a heavenly element due to its motion upwards. In the older cosmology, the damned were in a fire at the furthest possible distance from the heaven, sc. the center of the earth. The sense is clear: though made with a desire for the highest, they are bound in place to the lowest.

 

 

God and the will (2)

There’s no danger of losing sight of the evils engineering and science can fix. Any sickness, famine, or medical emergency reminds us, and we can be proud of the fixes we’ve come up with, especially in the last two hundred years.

Such fixes leave another domain of evils untouched. While there’s little disagreement over when our bodies or possessions aren’t functioning properly, e.g. when our legs or cars or thermostats are broken, there is considerable disagreement over when human actions and behaviors are similarly dysfunctional. Even when we can all agree that some behavior is wicked (and if we all agreed, who would find it worth doing?) we still have very little idea how to fix it, even in principle.

While the human need for God arises in the face of either sort of evil, the mystery of the second sort of evil is more proportioned to the mystery of divinity. We know what to do when an object is obedient to our will – and all of engineering deals with things that predictably respond to how we treat them and stay where we put them. But the will itself isn’t like this – the will demands inspiration, affective knowledge, light, and strength that we have very little idea how to generate and which all tend to be experienced as coming from another.

God and will

The difference God makes is not principally in being some power under our will, as if he were a technology we wield through prayer to accomplish goals, and whose success rate could be compared alongside medical interventions or science or whatever.  Were God this, we would have used him to destroy ourselves long ago.

God relates to will as measure and illumination without whom the exercise of power destroys us, and so much the quicker the more innocent, ennobling, wonderful and necessary it is to exercise the power.

The God of the Second Way

The Second Way demands that every first efficient cause is divine, but it’s not obvious why this is so. If the murderer isn’t the first efficient cause of the murder, why does the investigation stop when we find him?

One response is to argue that efficient causes bring about what cannot arise from the essence of something, and given the real distinction the first such thing is existence. So a first efficient cause is a cause of existence, i.e. a creator. Cf. Gilson and Feser (who also gives this as a reason for the divinity of the God of the First Way.)

Another response is related to this but does not assume the real distinction. Agency as such is not a mode of dependence, but any agent producing effects from a given actuality or potency is dependent on it. A first agent therefore does not depend on potential or actual being, which is creatio ex nihilo. Since the Second Way proves that some first agent exists, therefore he is creator.

To the objection: the murderer is the first cause of the murder in the same way that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. Just as being the first man on the moon doesn’t make Armstrong the first man, so too being a murderer doesn’t make one the first cause, considered formally as “first cause”. The objection conflates first causes per se with first causes secundum quid, i.e. under a certain description.

Immanent causing transitive action

Agents act for ends. 

If not no one would do one thing rather than another.

Acting for ends makes the end a principle.

Per se nota.

Ends are principles for immanent actions.

a.) A actual principle is that from which anything arises first in act. But a transitive action ceases with its end being in act: Building ceases when the structure is built, cooking ceases when the food is made, growing ceases at maturity, etc.

b.) If an end is present at the beginning of an action (as it must be to determine it to one thing rather than another) then it is present throughout the action. But an end present throughout an action is present as life in the living or an object to a knower.

Therefore, immanent action makes transitive action. 

 

 

The Rosary and house of God

For the first two Joyous Mysteries Christ is in the Virgin and for the last two he is in the Temple. He thus passes from the house of his mother to the house of his Father (Lk. 2: 49) by way of Bethlehem, i.e the house of bread.

In passing from the Joyous to Sorrowful Mysteries we see Christ move from the Old Temple to building the New: destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it (Jn 2: 19.) and therefore we see his entering into the new temple in the Glorious Mysteries.

The first two Glorious Mysteries are Christ’s rising to life and rising to the Kingdom, the last two are Mary’s being raised to the Kingdom and raised to the dignity of its queen. Between these is the descent of the Spirit on the Church.

 

God and soul

0.) Both God and the human soul are spirits conferring substantial existence on another.

1.) By creation, God confers substantial existence on another, presupposing nothing. By animating, the soul confers substantial existence, presupposing potential being properly disposed.

2.) The soul is part of the substance on which it confers substantial existence but God is not a part of the universe of substances on which he confers substantial existence (conflating God and soul in this sense is a commonly undiagnosed source of theological error.) Any relation of parts and wholes is called being proportionate. 

3.) The substantial existence conferred by God is other than his own, since creation is not proportionate to him. The substantial existence conferred by soul is proportionate to properly disposed matter, making the substantiality conferred male or female, of one evolutionary history or another, high or low in extraversion or IQ or any other phenotypical trait. The matter is essentially historical, making the soul proportionate not just to biological features but historical existence.

4.) Neither God nor the soul have a real relation to the that on which they confer substantial existence, since A has a real relation to B iff neither A nor B can exist separately.  God has neither proportion nor real relation to creation; the soul has proportion but not real relation to potency.

5.) God, an artisan, and nature are artisans in different orders of being. God depends on nothing in creating, an artisan depends on an actuality already conferred, nature depends on potentials not yet actual.

6.) The artisan makes an accident in a substance,* and so brings about what subsists by its inherence. Nature can make accidental forms but is not limited to doing so. Soul is natural and confers substantiality by inhering but either inherence is not necessary for its subsistence (the human soul) or it is (everything else.)


*Leaving aside the question of making styrofoam or plastics, which is neither the assistance in a natural process, like producing artificial diamonds, nor an obvious accidental form.

 

 

 

The order of actions

Contra Gentiles, lib. 3 cap. 89 n. 8 (the division is mine)

(a) In Eudemian Ethics VII, Aristotle argues that what one understands, takes advice about, chooses and wants needs some cause since everything that arises (novum) needs a cause. If its cause is another piece of advice taken or previous act of the will then, since these cannot proceed without end, it needs to arise from something first.

(b) But the first thing needs to be something greater than reason (melior ratione)

(c) nothing is greater than understanding (intellectu) and reasoning than God.

So God is the first principle of our taking of advice and willing.

(cf. also ST 1. 19. 8 and 1-2. 9. 4.)

The standard objection against free choice agrees with Thomas on (a) and (b) but posits something other than God as greater than reason, namely the cosmos as a makeshift network of non-intelligent causes, culminating in the three pounds of electric meat in one’s skull. There is no dispute over whether our thoughts and choices require something higher than thought or choice but only what is required of something that is higher in this way.

For Thomas, an action higher than intellection could not be a transitive since any action higher than intellection would have to be a more perfect sort of action, and transitive action is not more perfect than the immanent action of intellection. Action as such is the act of an agent, so an act of the agent in the agent itself (the immanent) is more an action, and thus more completely or perfectly an action, than an act of the agent in another (the transitive).

The alternative to Thomas works from a homogeneous account of action that divides the finite action from the eternal or infinite action of some conserved quantity. Thomas, of course, has no objection to reducing the action of the finite to the eternal, but he would see it as a subset of reducing the complex to the simple, and in this sense transitive action reduces to immanent action, not vice-versa. This is the basis of the Fifth Way, which argues from any distention between action and end to an underlying need for the immanent action of intelligence and love.

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