On reference to the non-existent

Everyone recognizes some predicates simply need to be said of certain subjects. These necessary predicates are easier to see when they become more general: we might not see the reason why all lions are placental mammals, but most of us are pretty certain that lions need to be mammals and we see no way that they couldn’t be animals. To clarify the precise elements in play it helps to consider the same sort of predications when said of a dead individual or extinct species. To say that Caesar is a man or the triceratops is a dinosaur is true in one sense but seems false in another, since it seems that subjects must exist to have properties. But we accept Wittgenstein’s claim, repeated and clarified by Geach, that a statement can be true if it has a referent, i.e. something that either exists or has existed. This is not an arbitrary stipulation but follows from the fact that causal powers sometimes exist separately from the subject in which they first existed, in the way that the texts of authors can continue to instruct, amuse, or infuriate us long after the authors themselves have died. So likewise, a referent in the Wittgenstein-Geach sense can continue to tell us what was true of some subject even after the subject ceases existing. We can use this teaching on referents to extend and clarify our sense that a thing must exist to have properties: just as Caesar is a referent that allows for true or false things to be said of him, so too we can only say true or false things about Pegasus or Don Quixote for the same reason. Fictional characters allow for true or false predicates so far as they are instruments devised by some principal agent, that is, the historical author or group of authors who are principal causes allowing for the fictional character to be an instrumental one.

Core belief

Philosophy is well-named and is therefore a sort of friendship. Any way of seeing the whole of things that makes friendship with it impossible, whether we see it as ugly or unintelligible or reducible to the dead, or whether we see our own goodness as persons as irrelevant to how we stand to the whole, is not philosophy.

The metaphor-dilemma of Hellfire

The dilemma: Hellfire is either a metaphor or not. If not, it seems like an arbitrary punishment and so something chosen from a list of possible options. God stoked the fire as opposed to doing something else. Ridding your idea of God as a torturing tyrant becomes very difficult. If not, it is taken as being a metaphor for some sort of spiritual pain, but this conjures up a sort of vagueness that seems contrary to the whole point of having the graphic metaphor in the first place.

Hypothesis: Hellfire has always been a metaphor: Gehenna is the intersection of the fire that the Moabites threw their sacrifices on and the fire that the Jews used to burn trash after they converted the place to a dump. Hellfire is a way of speaking of the liturgy of human garbage. This is in one sense spiritualized, but only in the way any liturgy is. The full horror of the liturgy culminates in a sensible pain for which all the ritual cutting, child burning, filth-wallowing and Aztec temple offering was only a shadow.

But why no ultimate vindication? Why doesn’t “love win in the end” by conquering all this? Because this is not what one does for garbage. It’s not an object of concern or even attention. It is out of sight and out of mind. The most one can think of it is by negation – in the end we are in the clean, well kept place.


The absence of Christ’s human person

As rough-going as Christology can be, the hardest element of it is explaining how Christ can have a complete, individual human nature and yet not be a human person. The logical responses are relatively easy to come by, here I’ll give two reasons for wanting it to be the case, and one response to a common objection.

1.) The lex orandi. To make Christ two persons will change how we pray to him, and what we would expect to find of him in the Scriptures, which would perhaps work their way up to Christ referring to himself as “we” and the disciples falling down before him as y’all. Prayers to Christ would be addressed both to a saint (pray for us) and to a divinity (have mercy on us).

2.) The eschatological. Christ, being “born of the Father before all ages”, was the first to be “born again” into temporal and corruptible life. This allows our own corruptibility to be the mirror image of his own, so that we might be born again so to “become participants in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world”. Just as we will not be a different person who puts on the divine nature, so too Christ cannot be a different person for putting on human nature.

3.) The “like us in all ways”. To say that Christ is “like us in all ways” could never have meant that he is the same person as us. Neither can we speak about “having” a human person, since a person is only something someone can be.

The contraries argument in Phaedo

Thesis: there is place of the soul in separation, an afterlife.

1.) Nature makes material things by cycles. Rain, rocks, seasons, animal-tree respiration, trees-fruit.

2a.) Living things are material things that nature makes.

2b.) There must be a bio-cycle.

3a.) But life is the union of body and soul and death their separation.

3b.) So the union and separation of soul and body must form a cycle: separation from union and union from separation.

4.) There must be some place of the soul in separation.

Hobbsian Representatives

Hobbes’s notion of representative government is one where the representative expresses the will of his constituents in the sense of having power of attorney over their choices. Whatever the representative does is seen as identical to what all of his constituents unanimously decide for themselves. As corollaries:

1.) All former covenants or governments are void. There is no sovereign power to enforce them, and nothing is more vain than a contract with no power to enforce it.

2.) The representative (sovereign) cannot injure a constituent since whatever he does to them is willed by them.

3.) The representative can decide all controversies among his citizens since, whatever he says they will, they do in fact will.

Lessons from when Barbara exploded

The Port-Royal logicians devised a nifty aporetic barbara syllogism:

Who calls you an animal speaks the truth

Who calls you a jackass calls you an animal.

So who calls you a jackass speaks the truth.

Once you get the hang of it, you can prove anything is anything else it shares a genus with:

Whoever says black is a color speaks the truth

Whoever says black is white says it’s a color.

Whoever says black is white speaks the truth.

You can even prove anything is anything. Whoever says being is non-being says you have a word for it, right? Barbara has exploded.

The argument shows that any conclusion is only true so far as its terms are joined per se in a middle term and no further. There are at least two important corollaries to this:

1a.) Since the presence of a middle term allows for the truth of the conclusion only so far as some term joins the truth together per se, where no middle term is given (like in any hypothetical syllogism or even in the truth tables of modern logic, for example) the conclusions drawn are not even formally true.

1b.) Following this, there is something dissatisfying about the validity-soundness definition. Something can follow necessarily from premises without being formally true. If we insist on some account of validity, the best we can do is base it, as Aristotle does, on “what follows necessarily” (see chapter 1).

2.) The middle term of truths now called scientific is the result of a contrived environment (i.e. an experiment). I suppose this is better than nothing, but formally, it’s not an account of nature at all, but of nature-cum-art, with the two fused together in such a way as to cause an in-principle impossibility of determining how much each element is in play.


The order of act and potency

Act and potency are really distinct but not correlative, even in material being. Even where potency is intrinsic to essence, we cannot say that act depends on potency. We usually slip into thinking of act and potency as correlatives through an analogy to accidental forms and artifacts: a shape-in-the-clay clearly depends on clay; without fabric, the quilt pattern is a pure abstraction.

But this is not an insight into act but a feature of accidents. While it is possible to say, as Feser does, that a substantial form is an abstraction apart from its matter, this is only so far as act and potency are taken precisely as a potency that participates in the esse of the substance itself. This esse is logically prior to everything else: as Barry Miller proves in more or less all of his books, the existence-of-Socrates is logically prior to Socrates.

If we do not see act as logically prior to all potency then either the two are strict correlatives or possibility is logically prior to act. The correlative option is only believed by lazy AT theorists – and then only thoughtlessly – and so can be safely ignored. To articulate the position with any clarity would require seeing acts as sorts of potencies and potencies as sorts of acts. Taking matter as logically prior to act is the foundation of all materialism, mechanism, the Analytic doctrine of “possible worlds”, and most other forms of primitive thoughtPotency is seen as the womb of being, as both the solid core of reality to which all things reduce (or from which all things ephemerally ;8″emerge” or “are actualized”) and the term of reduction that we can only reach after most of reality has been boiled off. All there is is a nebulous, flowing, power-and-stuff. The divine fertility of non-being.

But it would make more sense to take the tree as a projection of its shadow, which is not at all a bad way to understand the various attempts  to understand the world of experience as having no logos except the metrical-mathematical (i.e. “scientific“). There is, of course, nothing in the tree that is not in the shadow except subjective “secondary qualities”; it is much easier to measure a shadow of any length than a forty-foot tree; the shadows form a unified, purely quantitative forest of idealized, homogeneous mathematical extension; and, most importantly, there is nothing about the motion of the tree that cannot be predicted from the laws we discover in its shadow! God has written the book of the forest in the mathematical features of shadows! In fact, why believe in God at all when the laws we discover suffice to explain everything?

Ontologically, the material world does not reduce to the material or emerge from it. The material is a projection and participation of actuality. Matter projects from form and participated in it; matter and form as essence projects from and is sustained by esse; angelic essence does so from its angelic esse; and all potency whatsoever comes forth from pure act in a way that, while real, is not an addition to his being any more than the shadow adds mass.


A theology class 100 years from now

A: And that’s my main problem with the Church of a hundred years ago: it’s irrational and lacks all courage of its convictions.

B: You’re talking about the “entrust them to the mercy of God” clause in the catechism of 1993?

A: Exactly. The Church never has the courage of conviction. As soon as there’s the slightest hint of some scary outcome they flee to irrationalism and hand-wringing.

B: But can’t God save whoever he wants, unbaptized babies included?

A: Sure, but what does that have to do with teaching the faith? The whole point is to lay out the system you need to follow. How strongly does anyone believe in a system that they’re willing to abandon as soon as it threatens the happiness of a baby? (sarcastically) “Oh no, some baby isn’t in heaven! Quick, forget everything I said about needing to be baptized! I didn’t really mean it!”

B: Put yourself in their shoes though, in the the late 20th Century mind. I know you’ll just say this sounds like Menges, but compassion is important.

A: Right. Tell that to the 13 million Poles in radiation fields. How is the Church any different? Have Menges come along and they’ll drop their system as soon as someone convinces them it’s not compassionate. Forget the Sacraments! Theoretical babies are crying!

B: Okay okay! Enough of the reductio ad Mengesem. That always comes up.

A: How can it not? You try to save one theoretical baby and give up 13 million live persons. How does that make sense? You don’t see that anywhere in Dante or Augustine or any of the real theologians.

B: You keep calling them “theoretical babies” but don’t you understand the desire to mute the claim that babies go to Hell?

A: Why, because it’s scary and bad?

B: Yeah.

A: No, I don’t get it at all. Sure, babies in Hell is a horrible thing. If you think this is a deal-breaker, then give up on your system. If you don’t think it is a deal-breaker then have the courage to accept what you believe. But either have the courage to leave your system or the courage to stand by it.

B: Well, they did live in a very comfortable time. They’d fight in wars and demand to still eat all the same food.

A: No way!

B: Seriously, they would. They wouldn’t even go to war – they just flew a missile with a camera into a guy’s house and killed everyone there rather than fighting.

A: (eyeroll of contempt)


An clarification of right-to-truth moralities

While researching idolotry, I was struck by an argument STA gave for why one cannot pretend to worship an idol during a time of persecution:

For since outward worship is a sign of the inward worship, just as it is a wicked lie to affirm the contrary of what one holds inwardly of the truefaith so too is it a wicked falsehood to pay outward worship to anything counter to the sentiments of one’s heart.

A right-to-truth morality seems to excuse not just the Nazis-at-the-door but worship of idols in time of persecution, or, for that matter, a public oath of fidelity to any-evil-you please so long as we could save a life by taking it. But it’s hard not to take this as showing that right-to-truth moralities prove too much: your right to lie to the Nazis-at-the-door gets exercised with the same breath that can now take an oath to Baal.

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