Temperance and the filthy

Temperance is the virtue dealing with intoxicants, food, sex, etc. What all these things have in common is not obvious – they’re all pleasant but not all pleasures fall under temperance; Aristotle will argue they are all pleasures of touch but it’s not obvious how intoxication or eating is essentially tactile; all are addictive, but so is gambling.

One uncontroversial commonality is that all three, when they go wrong, give a peculiar sort of shame. Shame is preceded by giving into passion, but we have irascible and concupiscible passions. We lose control over the first with excessive anger or getting swept up in the fury of crowds or political movements, but this is not the sort of shame that temperance tries to avoid, but the shame that is dirty or defiling. No amount of anger makes one “dirty” (as can happen with sex) or “trashed” (as can happen with intoxicants) nor does anger give one the embarrassed shame that makes one want to hide how much junk food they just ate.

So taken, temperance deals with things that go bad by making us filthy. So why is it appropriate for the same word  to bridge from an overturned dumpster or a six-year-old’s room to watching pornography or drinking half a bottle of cheap vodka? Why call them all dirty or trashed?

The dirty or trashed is filled with the discarded; it’s an abundant display of items for which no one has care. But this can only describe a state of moral evil if we see ourselves as a place deserving to be replete with careAgain, dirty (and clean) describes not just how something is but how it looks, and to look some way is to somehow be seen.

So the dirty and trashed is a way of experiencing ourselves as looked at while filled with the discarded or uncared for, while “purity” or cleanliness is a way of being looked upon as worthy to be lived in. Maybe this sense of being seen is what charge intoxication or sex with a sense of the sacred. Why call something filthy unless it repulses one who looks on us with an eye to be at home within us?

There are lots of ways in which sex and/or alcohol are sacred: the tantric, the matrimonial, Bacchic, Dionysian, eucharistic, etc. and so there is still a lot of moral thought left after we tie the things of temperance to the sacred. For all that, getting this far is a critique of the idea that temperance could be entirely secularized. Secular temperance in fact replaces temperance with a concern for it merely periphery and intersectional parts, like the places where it intersects with justice (sexual consent) or where it affects our health (addiction, obesity, STD’s).

A confusion in sexual morality

I teach classes on confusions in sexual morality, and having just taught one I read this paradigm example from James Martin,* commenting on a gay woman who was denied communion:

Why are parishes focusing only on issues of sexual morality? Are there no other issues in the moral life? Are those who refuse to pay a living wage to employees denied Communion? How about those who do not give to the poor? Those who do not care for the environment?

Wait… so you’re equating being a gay woman with the denial of a living wage? Or the way that Dives treated Lazarus? Or to corporations that knowingly destroy the environment?

Or is that not what you’re saying? Given that Martin is on record saying insisting that homosexuality is differently ordered (as opposed to intrinsically disordered)** does it follow that Dives’s treatment of Lazarus was just a different justice?

On one logically possible construal of his remark Martin is calling for parishes to widen their tolerance of evil, which is a deeply respectable practice with a venerable history. But Martin obviously would be horrified if anyone took him to be saying homosexuality is evil.

Sure, Martin is clearly going for some kind of tu quoque or hypocrisy charge, but his basic beliefs about sexual morality are so confused and incoherent that one can neither agree or disagree with what follows from them.

*Though this example is can be understood as (broadly) part of the liberalizing trend in sexual morality, there are no shortage of examples from the traditional authors.

**This repeats Martin’s incoherence: what exactly is the difference are we speaking about? Either it is a moral difference or not: if so, then either homosex (or heterosex) is evil; if not, then his description would be irrelevant to the sentence he wanted to redact.


Notes: 12.6

-Unknowingly, you think from your principles of thought constantly and with ease. You discover them only with difficulty, and are forced into them.

-In this sense, the problem of universals is a distraction: the relation between a goat in a pen and the idea of goat, or the concrete this and the abstract this distracts from the more urgent and fundamental problem whether the sentient experience is an image, reflection, or participation of something else. Who cares if there are no abstract goats if the whole cosmos is, in fact, a taking part in some other domain of existence?

-Plato cares nothing about setting up some museum of intelligible forms, but about confronting death and non-being of both the objects in the world and the nous which knows them.

-Plato’s good is simply the fulness of existence, i.e. it is the good that is opposed to mere existence or that which exists without being good; but it is identified with existence in the sense of being nothing other than its fullness.

-If existence is not the height, not the Platonic good, the universe is one grand contradiction of something out of nothing at all.


Cognition after embodiment (2)

The Platonic afterlife is an inseparable feature of Christianity and scriptural religion that grows from it organically and is not some Greek imposition or distortion of it. Scripture described the cosmos as an image of a distinct and separate divine realm, and human life and history is structured by the desire to behold this realm in itself and not merely in its image.

That said, scripture adds to the platonic conception a radical disorder in history,* that is, to the progressive social, cognitive, and moral story proper to the human species. This disorder requires that the attainment of the fulness of life – salvation – cannot be limited to our vision of the divine archetype separate from the world, but must also mean fixing the fundamental disorder introduced into history.

*There is no history in the natural world but only cycles or the evolutionary replacement of one population of living beings  with another, with no one of those populations itself having a history.

Cognition without embodiment

Believers in the afterlife or the immortality of soul can be reasonably be accused of insufficiently developing the obvious fact that embodied cognition ends at death. It’s too easy to give some argument for immortality and then let the imagination take over with ideas that dead men  experience colors, sounds, the perspective of a bipedal animal standing 4-7 feet off the ground, etc. Imagination even makes the experience ghostly, which seems to consist in making it gaseous, or making the world something that can be seen but not touched. Speaking like this gives metaphors of varying quality and light, but before one interprets them they conceal and distort more than they reveal.

Philosophy is a preparation for death (Phaedo 67e). Plato’s philosophy is wholly (though not exhaustively) concerned with describing a world in which the ceasing of embodied cognition is compatible with the philosopher’s continuing life. Embodied cognition never knows the things themselves, but only a variable, diffused and impermanent participation of something permanent, concentrated, and eternal. In one sense, Plato understands this as meaning that your sight of cows in a field is a sort of reminder or poetic presentation of the science of cows, animals, life, etc. In another sense he means that the world is a symbolic description – one of perhaps infinite such descriptions – of the good itself or the beautiful itself.




On the sexes

What are we looking for when we look to describe the feminine or masculine? 

1.) We aren’t looking for something that, say, he woman chooses, for which she could be praised or blamed, which she has to work to achieve, etc. In a word, feminine and masculine are not moral descriptions.

2.) We aren’t looking for something that reduces to the difference between having and privation, good or evil. No accounts of women as defective males or men as oppressors/ subordinators.

3.) We aren’t looking for a division between active and passive. The active and passive are different genera while male and female are divisions within a genus.

4.) We aren’t looking for the biological. The purely objective stance of the biological does not allow for a sphere of the interpersonal which is essential to the masculine and feminine.

5.) If we are dealing with an interpersonal reality that is not moral and arises from the genus of the living and not the human, it makes sense to look for it first within desire, since desire also belongs to life and subtends the moral life.

6.) So taken, the feminine is the one aware of being desired, the one who lets in (or not) the one who desires her. There is something absurd and pathologically narcissistic in the man who took for granted all the pleasure he could give women or had to think over the ones he would let in or keep out. The male porn-dream of a world full of women eagerly burning with desire for him would, far from making him an alpha male, be a negation of his masculinity.

7.) But if the feminine is the one desired, how does the masculine fulfill his desire? Making himself desirable will clearly play some role, but the properly masculine role can’t consist in this. So what are we left with? Cunning and conquest? Violence and rape? If his role isn’t to be the one desired, then what are we left with?



A distinction in presence

Presence is a fundamental both to theology, anthropology, and to the manifold discourses of how both relate. How is an uncreated God present in created things, whether in nature or grace? How is  God present in sacraments, the Church, the Saints, the damned? How are humans present to in the cosmos, in heaven, in eschatological realities? How is the whole soul present in all the parts of a body?

On one axis, presence divides into agent and action and on another axis into total and exhaustive presence. In the latter, there are two senses in which there can be nothing of the agent or action outside of his presence, since something can be present totally without being present exhaustively. In common sense terms, I can be totally present either physically or by focused attention without being present in all possible ways in which I could be present.

The division between the total and the exhaustive seems to follow from one’s mode of existence. Humans can be wholly present in one time and then again at another, souls can be wholly present in one part and yet present in another. The interesting questions are how this distinction holds up when applied to (a) eternity or to (b) the relation between God and the world.

The distinction works best when applied to (b). God is totally present in nature or by grace or judgment without being exhausted by any one presence. Here it seems that it is precisely God’s presence in time that makes the difference.  It gets more puzzling with (a). It works all right as describing the relation of God and the blessed, but it seems strained when applied to God himself: can we say that God is totally present in the Father and the Son while not being exhaustively present? Obviously, not if this is taken as some sort of modalism or as implying a failure of, say, the Father to comprehend the infinity of the Son. Perhaps divinity, even as triune, marks the point where the real distinction between the total and the exhaustive is overcome.


Note on the end of the EF Mass

The Extraordinary Form of the Mass ends with the Priest facing north and reading John 1 : 1-14. The north symbolizes the lands of those yet to hear the revelation of God, and John 1 is the chronological and ontological beginning of that revelation, namely the procession of the Logos from the Father and his becoming flesh for the salvation of the world. Having finished the definitive and final act of making God present, one announces the beginning of that presence to the world before marching forth into it.


Evidence for Hebrews 11:19

Hebrews 11 sees Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac as expressing Abraham’s belief in a resurrection, since a resurrection is the only way all three of these claims could be true:

1.) God promised Abraham a multitude of descendants though Isaac.

2.) God commanded Abraham to kill Isaac before Isaac had any descendants.

3.) God is always faithful to his promises.

I take this as decisive for Hebrews’ interpretation, but there is another piece of evidence for it – if Abraham was willing to argue with God for the lives of those in Sodom in Genesis 18, why doesn’t he argue for the life of Isaac in Genesis 22? If the possible innocence of those in Sodom was enough to make Abraham argue with God, the evident innocence of his own son would be far more of a motive for argument, and yet Abraham never says a word. So Abraham saw the death of possibly innocent persons in Sodom as involving an evil that could not befall Isaac, and it’s hard to see what he was thinking unless he believed that the death of Isaac would be reversed.

The first five speeches in Symposium

There are five speeches in Symposium before Socrates speaks, following a logic trapped in an aporetic cycle.

1.) Phaedrus. Love is good in itself and leads us away from what is shameful. In other words, when someone acts out of love they are ipso facto doing something honorable.

This idealization of love runs from orthodox Christianity to pop culture to justifications for gay marriage, though not without significant differences of meaning.

2.) Pausanias. Loves can be both destructive and shameful precisely because this idealization of love can mean so many different things. If my love of Christianity is good or bad (pick one), your love for gay marriage is (pick opposite). Loves of themselves seem to just be strong devotions or attachments, not goods of themselves.

3.) Eryximachus. If love of itself is neither shameful or honorable, then it is of itself indifferent. This is because love is a sort of attraction which, like gravitational or magnetic attraction, is a merely physical pull or affinity, tying the universe together as a fundamental power.

4.) Aristophanes. Love is neither shameful nor honorable, but it is not some cosmic force but a plaything and a farce, a joke played on us by the gods.

As is made clear in the dialogue itself,* one can just as easily go from 2 to 4 as 2 to 3. But this is just what makes the order of the speeches fitting, since to infer cosmic meaning as easily as cosmic absurdity is itself an absurdity.

The fundamental absurdity seems to be the problem of love’s connection to the good. If it has an essential connection it seems love cannot be shameful; if if has none then love seems indifferent. The first seems contrary to experience that some loves destroy, but love could only be indifferent if it were possible to love an indifferent thing. It isn’t.

5.) Agathon. Love is not a plaything or farce but one of the greatest goods. In fact, it is the highest blessing of the gods and always leads to something honorable.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

*It is a sheer accident that Eryximachus speaks before Aristophanes, who was scheduled to speak but was struck with a case of the hiccups.

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