Physical defined by the mental

The physical is testable, and so is defined by a mental act.

The testable (control vs. experimental) is a system where pre-arranged human action and inaction is the decisive difference, and so is defined by free choice.

To build a system for the sake of knowing assumes a commodious subordination of the physical to the mental, and a way in which knowledge is subordinate to physical things for the sake of its own ends.

Reason and choice both exist within a structure of non-rational drives, but this is beside the point. The success of the sciences has come from rejecting mental or supernatural causation of one kind while intensifying the connection between the mental and the physical on another axis. Mental causation will never be found within the explanation because we have made it the decisive factor allowing for an explanation of a scientific kind.

The gods of irony have therefore blessed us with nations of philosophers justifying the causal closure principle by an account of the physical that defines it intrinsically as “whatever is a possible object of science”, i.e. of a mental act.


Plato’s opposites argument

1.) If A and B are opposites, then coming to be A is from B, and vice-versa

If something tastes better it once tasted worse, if taller once shorter, if happier once sadder.

2.) Life and death are opposites, so just as (uncontroversially) death can only arise out of something once living, so… life can only arise from something once dead.

Objection: death is simply non-existence. So all the argument proves is that what comes to exist did not exist before. Big deal.

Response: But things don’t pass from life to non-existence. Ideal gasses, Don Quixote, square circles, etc. are all non-existent without being dead. The objection thus shifts from the scandal of a claim about a kind of non-existence to the blasé, but very different claim about non-existence generally –  which is clearly an ignoratio elenchi. 

3.) If things now living were once dead, one or more of these visions of the universe are true:

a.) There is an underworld for persons existing disincarnately and later incarnately.

b.) There is a wheel of life and karma turning infinitely and giving rise to multiple re-incarnations.

c.) Some version of Wisdom of Solomon 8:20 “being good, I entered into an undefiled body”. Souls are at least prior in causality to bodies, though they enter into them once and then do not return. Plato’s death-life staircase only allows one appearance in the world.

d.) Life is not reducible to mere physics but is somehow a subsistent or substantial order. It is therefore not exhausted by physical processes but is prior to them.

Romantic Naturalism

No one would confuse me with someone sympathetic to Naturalism, but I have deep sympathy with a Kantian or Romantic Naturalism.

For Kant, the phenomenological world was objective for being at least in part a result of the world as it is, though the limits of understanding are fixed by the phenomenological world. Kant and the post-kantians were then left to explain how a world could play an integral part in the explanation of the phenomenological world and yet be unknowable. The Romantic answer is that the world-in-itself was scientifically unknowable and yet given by aesthetic experience, which breaks beyond phenomenological experience by its awareness of the sublime. So every sort of ecstasy, whether through enthusiasm or pathos or rejoicing or despair were all supra-rational awareness of the world as it is in itself. This is why this sort of experience is the highest form of life. We systematize the cultivation of ecstasy through music, poetry, fine art, religion, literature, or, in general, though the “humanities” in opposition to the sciences. Philosophy and theology will always be an awkward fit in this science-humanities binary, but they are perhaps humanities that attempt to give some fundamental orientation to the world, though without ever being able to appeal to facts or universal laws.

If “knowledge” means consensus about and power over the known then it is knowledge over an object that is constituted by forms we make and put into it, and under such a description knowledge is science, though it is not of the world as such but of the world as made or fact. Getting beyond this phenomenological given means going beyond facts, but at least some modes of this involve an ecstasy which is experienced as seeing the world as it really is. Isn’t this the fulness of energia or entelikia that is actuality and operation? To put it in its ultimate 19th century form, isn’t the fulness of truth the fulness of life? But the fulness of life is the ecstasy of going beyond the phenomenological to the sublime, therefore etc. Truth is emotional in the original sense of the term, i.e. going out of oneself and beyond the phenomenological.

There was something worth keeping in all this, but the dualism was probably too fragile to sustain. The sublime is probably over-dependent on the merely novel, and so is not so much a meta-object as another phenomenological experience. Many actual meta-objects (definitions, abstractions, mathematicals, relations etc.) are not marked off by being either sublime or novel.


John 1, a literalish translation

The Logos has always been (ἦν) in the Origin (ἀρχῇ), and so both proceeds from (πρὸς) God, and is God.

All else is generated because the Logos has always proceeded from the Origin.

The Life was also present, and the Life is the one who now enlightens the human race, though this enlightenment occurs in an obscurity that cannot be dispelled.


-Euthyphro does not bring his father to trial out of a love of human equality or because he sees slaves as persons, but because he is working from a the rule that every murder causes a ritual or religious impurity that needs to be propitiated. The point of Euthyphro’s story is that he is a religious fanatic and scrupler who, for all that, has no idea what constitutes piety.

-Piety cannot consist in the pious man standing to the gods as a giver of gifts, whether they are gifts gods want or need. If gifts are essential to piety, then piety is essentially thanksgiving and rejoicing in what has been given. A sacrifice of praise is not an altering, but a deepening. It is easy to see prayers as gifts to the gods.

Mercy and not sacrifice. Flattery is only sincere by imitation.

-What theory of love allows one to follow Christ’s first commandment and yet have something left over with which to love one’s self or neighbor? Even self-love is instrumental.

Rationalism: you have a self, but the world is unknowable. Empiricism: the world of sense impressions is all that is knowable, but you have no self since it cannot be given in that way. Kant: you have an apparent world that arises as the conjunction of the world in itself and the conditions of your cognition, i.e. an umwelt. But now I have two worlds, and a self that is not in or a part of either.

A minimum condition of philosophy would be one self in one world, but we haven’t had it since the Middle Ages.

-The fight against Plato is that he sees knowledge as insight whereas they would rather see it as some process or order. Knowledge can’t be fundamentally insight but must be pulling something out of sensation, or gathering up many different things and naming them, or the coherence of propositions, or the application of an a priori category, or the application of a system, or relating the justified to a justification etc.

-The world is intelligible just as it is visible or auditory. No agent intellect is required, unless one means that we take part in – and to some extent produce – the light by which all things are intelligible in the same way that we do so for the light that is visible.

Aristotle’s point in de anima III: 4-5 is that what is not actual before it acts now works on things that are actual before they act (c. 4) but its peculiar work cannot consist in this, and it will not always be the case (c. 5).

Being actual before action is the distinctive feature or matter, and is what keeps it from being pure energia. This pure energia in an unqualified sense is the divine, but anything without matter is pure energia secundum quid.

-Okay, so mind is some sort of substance and the idea is act. This only works if we divide it from the substance that must be actual before it acts: eyes, animals, fishing rods. Operatio sequitur esse cannot be understood to apply to cognitive and non-cognitive substances in the same way.

Trinitarianism and philosophy

STA’s refusal to allow for a proof of the Trinity needs to be balanced against his claim that it functions as an explanatory hypothesis, with the former being as pointless and harmful as the latter is fruitful and necessary. The indemonstrability of the Trinity does not imply it has no explanatory role to play in metaphysics. While Trinitarianism is fundamentally liturgical and sacramental and we could never come up with the idea on our own, it is also the definitive light and revelation into personality, relation, community, common goods, transcendence, the reality vs. logical character of natures, knowledge, societal bonds, degrees of procession, paternity, friendship, the difference between principle and cause, the free-choice of creation, the simultaneous substance-relation character of creation, the fundamental character of love, the division and coordination of governmental power, the limits of categorical thought, etc.

Philosophy is independent of theology only in the way that science is now independent of producing technology. Rational thought went from an orientation of assimilating oneself to the transcendent to one of exploiting our transcendence of nature and our consequent power to control it. I don’t bring this up to critique either approach – these are the two wings of human knowledge – but to point out how human knowledge “in itself” will always have some extrinsic justification either in what transcends it or in what it transcends, which is how trinitarianism justifies reason in the same way that nukes justified atomic theory.

Standing out from the homogeneous

Etymologically, existence is to stand out or stand apart, which preserves the core of the notion as what is set apart or separate (cf. Aristotle’s χωρίς).

In placing existence as first substance in its opposition to second substance, standing apart means to be more than and other than the logos or nature of the thing. And so this background constitutes us intrinsically while never being itself something that can stand apart, since as soon as we make our nature stand apart we take it as a logical abstraction.

The “Form itself” is not the same thing as this logical abstraction or predicated reality, though Aristotle mistakenly took it this way. Forms themselves are the nature so far as it transcends and unifies any of the incompossible ways in which it can be concretely realized.

In this way, existence means something different for creation and God, persons and non-persons. If we consider our homogeneous background as non-existent, the divine background exists; if we take it as homogeneous, it does not constitute divinity intrinsically. A person names a tertium quid that corresponds neither to a type-name (dog, man, city) nor a proper name (fido, Bill, Minneapolis).

Secondary causes and transcendence

Any account of human choice as a secondary cause will raise the question whether it is free. The Second Way does this, as do questions of providence, scientific law, and the discovery of non-conscious motives and drives.

Taken abstractly, any account of something as an instrument or moved mover presupposes that it is contributing something of its own, since otherwise there would be no difference between acting with it or without it. In this sense, free choice as a secondary cause contributes the self as self.

Taken concretely, to contribute the self as self is probably best approached though the way in which choice is a secondary cause to given or natural desire. The desires as given means they are things to be dealt with, which presupposes both an indefiniteness while still making them an origin and source of the choice.  I choose to eat because I am hungry, I choose to eat something new because I am an extravert; I suffer though buying the same thing in order to notify myself as extravert, etc. These choices might in turn divide into other drives, and those drives into drives without limit while still leaving the drive as to be dealt with. 

Drives thus enter into the description of a human self while still being other than the self. Personality characteristics, intellectual ability, common human drives, etc. are all given to the self while still constituting it. They constitute it according to the axiom of transcendence, where things that are higher by transcendence elevate the natures they transcend. For all that, they do not elevate them by making them homogenous, and so any such description of the world will fit into the template description of “Y enters into the description of X and Y is other than X”. The so the Son and the Father, Holy Spirit and Father-Son,* The beatific vision and the Trinity, Creation and God’s extrinsic activity… and then non-living matter and soul, subject and object, soul and intellect, etc.

*The intra-divine processions are not transcendent but the principles of transcendence.

Critical notes on Harris’s “End of Faith”

-Fidelity does not specify defeater criteria in advance, but it is against experience to think that it never falls to defeaters. Divorces happen without prenuptial agreements.

-Note what happens when you shift from faith to fidelity. Faith is seen as a belief, and so is aimed at a proposition while fidelity is aimed at a person, country, family, platoon, etc. Should a shift from noun to abstract adjective make that much difference, or does one never believe in a proposition but only with one?

-Note the shift in what justification means when we shift from belief to fidelity. There’s a justification for why you don’t leave your platoon or spouse, but it’s not evidence but a vow.

-If “evidence” is whatever reasonably motivates belief, then there is both proof, doctrine and abstraction on one side and practice on the other. We clearly know many things by practice. If you have ten years’ worth of experience doing something you can’t just hand a book to a rookie to get him up to speed. Not all – perhaps very few – reasonable motives for action are amenable to didactic exposition.

-Many learn to be good teachers, but we don’t have a very good didactic exposition of what good teaching consists in. No one knows how to rate it with questionnaires or how to check off good teacher traits like features of show-horses.

-Why can’t we know at least some ultimates by practice? I actually thought Harris would be open to this since he clearly values meditation.


The line between good and evil runs through the heart, but this is too much of a burden and so we seek to displace it somewhere else. The displacement is the nature of ideology, but children spontaneously attempt the displacement even without it. That all those evils would be not yet ruled out and all those goods would be left unaccomplished is unbearable, i.e. that total depravity or sainthood is a possibility is both too humiliating and too demanding, and so we look for reasons to fall asleep in the assurance that all the bad guys are Nazis or Jews or elitist politicians or cops or modernists or cabals of privileged men. Before falling asleep, one mumbles out some version of what Christ gives us as the perfect anti-prayerI thank you Lord that I am not like other men. 

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