Notes

1.) I doubt anyone comes here looking for conspiracy theory, but here’s one: The internet is both the medium for the businesses that stand to profit by the lockdown and the medium we use to get information about the value of lockdowns – or information about anything, for that matter.

2.) If we dial back from conspiracy theory we still might notice a straightforward conflict of interest. This conflict is larger than the one posed by the present pandemic. The media (née “the press”) only deserves to be free to the extent that it is independent, and independence requires making one’s interests manifest.

3.) The media seeks to be a view from nowhere only as a self-delusion or marketing ploy. To announce one’s affiliations is to limit his appeal, and limiting one’s appeal is usually contrary to anyone who wants to make money.

4.) The intrinsic problem with any media is the temptation to conflate useful information with what holds attention: the first is an auxiliary to prudence and focuses on what is typical or good for making law, the second is the bizarre, novel, cute, lurid, shocking, and focuses on the hard cases.

JOST on divine premotion

(Translation is hasty and slapdash.)

Objection: If God denies prevenient assistance to a creature he withholds something necessary to do the work, and without which one cannot bring a potency into act. Assuming the absence of prevenient assistance, therefore, the creature cannot be held responsible for failing to do the act.

(JOST) We briefly respond: God’s antecedent efficacious inclination, if entirely suspended by him, without doubt deprives creatures of something necessary for action, and, so taken, man cannot be held responsible for not doing the action. Yet, if the efficacious power is lacking from action A, nevertheless it is not lacking that he perform action B, and he is held responsible for not doing B because… he voluntarily omits to do B and diverts himself from it.

Since our will is not a power confined and determined to one object, but is able to do many things toward which it stands contingently, its nature is not so restricted so that a determinate concursus is always given to one species or part of action… but is voluntarily inclined to determine itself and [consequently] omit to do the opposite of the action. The concursus works so that one voluntarily wills that which is granted to him to will, and if what is granted is an act with the permission of some sin, from that very permission he will voluntarily defectively will. So a concursus is not granted to action A and denied to B except with the voluntary inclination to A and omission of B. What is required to act is, therefore, never lacking simpliciter.

Personal identity

Let X be some part of my life that I can’t imagine being otherwise, maybe because the thought of removing it from my life would be unbearable, maybe because I can’t form any picture of my life without it. It’s hard to see how anyone’s personal history, relation to his parents, or sexual attractions isn’t an X, and what could be an X are innumerable: cigarettes, a college, brownies, a sports team, hating the Séléka coalition, playing Boggle, revering Nasib Yusifbeyli, getting tattoos…

The Xs of life might = personal identity, but they are at least integral to it. If Joe can’t imagine life without brownies (and if you want someone fitting this description I can provide more than one) then brownies are a part of Joe’s identity. If something isn’t or has never been X to you, you might be baffled about how it could be to anyone else. This is one of the main sources of why the lives of others are opaque to us.

The etiology of our Xs might be obvious or not. I doubt I could give any causal account of how I came to like women or Latin or Catholicism or alcohol, especially in a world where millions of persons are indifferent to or even disgusted at the same things. I suspect our Xs are overdetermined, and are sufficiently caused by any one of the twenty causes that gave rise to them. The deep resonance required for things to enter into our identity probably makes them all in some way things we were “born with”, e.g. if I was attracted to Latin from the moment I ran into it then there is almost certainly some way I was born to like it.

Morality separates good from evil Xs and insists that the evil ones are all contingent intruders, no matter what it looks like to us. To give the Catholic account, we can enter heaven with the good Xs but we either have to be damned with the evil ones or have them torn out in this life or the next. Human life being what it is, many of the wicked parts of our identity are beyond the reach of therapy or the normal dispensation of grace and can only be rooted out in the higher stages of mystical prayer or the fires of Purgatory. The sight of these wicked Xs, which were so clear to St. Augustine, is one thing that belies the Pelagian idea that free choice is all we need to make ourselves holy. What good is free choice in the face of a renunciation that threatens our identity? We can’t give up something for the sake of a better life when we can’t imagine our life without it at all. The wicked parts of our identity challenge any desire for repentance by demanding what it will profit us to gain the whole world and lose our self.

True, many of these wicked desires are not culpable, and we would not expect them to damn us merely for being parts of our identity. Still, all of them have to go, in this life or the next. No one knows what culpability we have for our addictions, personality disorders, destructive loves, disordered desires etc, but you won’t enter heaven with any of them.

Church Talk

My wife Jessica and I spoke at our Church. Here’s the talk.

Order to outcomes

Whenever there is a connection or order between initial conditions and outcomes it cannot arise by chance.

To the extent that there is a connection or order between me buying this Bingo card and me winning the prize, I didn’t win by chance. Maybe I rigged the game, maybe I picked a card by my super-secret Bingo probability calculus, but in the first case I won by cheating and in the second by science. I only won by chance if I was ignorant of any connection or order between the card I bought and the numbers that came up.

So there is something opposed to chance, and it isn’t necessity as such. Negating necessity doesn’t give chance but the contingent, and the contingent is compatible with both chance and intentional outcomes. This was Aristotle’s insight, that chance is not opposed to necessity but to teleology.

Necessity, in fact, is compatible both with teleology and and its absence. Willing happiness is teleological but necessary; and natural science converges on the fulness of what is implied in what is teleological and necessary.

Statues, idols, Christ’s body

The Church divides religious art from idols by saying that the art is a symbol while the idol is taken as divine, but the same distinction can’t explain the difference that Christ’s body has from an idol. In this case we have to divide what a divinity physical by nature – Athena, the idol, etc – from the divinity that is physical by choice for the sake of salvation.

Agents and Goals

1.) You want to explain why something moved, so you posit a force or energy. Violà – a system composed of active and passive powers.

2.) The active and passive powers have determinations to goals and goals are unrealized physical states, so where goals are causal the not yet physically realized exercises causal influence.

3.) The agent is paradigmatically physically realized and is as real as banging your fist on the table. But even banging the table has as its goal to give an example, and this goal activity is by definition not physically realized.

4.) We have no difficulty staying on the level of the physically realized agents, discovering and postulating more and more universal and subtle sorts of causality in the physically realized order: Vis impressa, energy, bosons, etc.

5.) Orthogonal to this is the causality of goals and so of what is not physically realized.

6.) Objection: Physical processes are mostly determined and predictable while a cognitive process is free. Therefore physical processes are not cognitive.

7.) Response: Cognition is not opposed to determination but presupposes it, not only in humans but even in God. The freedom of human action is always with respect to a means to a happiness that we will of necessity; and God’s freedom is with respect to what is subordinated to his own goodness that is necessarily willed.

5.) Ortogonal to this is the

Catholicism and drug use

1.) Though recreational and religious use of drugs is much older and universal than Christianity, there has never been a saint praised for his moderate recreational or religious use of them.

2.) We find altered consciousness pleasant and desirable so far as it suggests super-mundane insight or tranquility, but only God and the holy angels can justly give us this. Our desire to ape it for ourselves is, even if it could be effective, a usurpation of what can only be received from another. Briefly, we want out of drugs what is proper to prayer, in its ascent from consolation to mystical contemplation to the prayers of union.

Christ’s physical evidence

In Against the Heathen Athanasius proves at great length that God cannot be a physical being, and he then writes a sequel book On the Incarnation which argues both scandalously and logically that God is a physical being. He makes the saving distinction in the first paragraphs of the book, pointing out that pagan idolatry believes that God is physical by nature whereas Christians believe God is spiritual by nature and physical by a free choice made out of love for the salvation of human beings.

Both Athena and Christ are physical, but the Athena’s being so isn’t evidence of anything: She is physical because she was made from Zeus-head-parts, and Zeus’s head is a physical object even if an exalted one. But Christ’s being physical is evidence that God loves the human race and desires to save it. The ongoing theophany of Christ in his mystical body and sacramental manifestation proves the same thing.

Christianity loses its meaning when decoupled from a refined theology of spiritual being that takes God as purely non-physical. Unless we separate God from the world by nature we cannot take his mere presence in nature as proof of a desire to save. Christ becomes just another idol, maye a loving one, but an idol all the same.

Repentance after death

Cajetan apparently argued that one’s eternal destiny was determined not by the last state one chooses in this life but the first moment one chooses in the next. The attractions of the theory are obvious: all make a choice in the face of Christ, with full knowledge of the immortality of soul and the revelation of God in Christ without violating the central Christian tenets of universal judgment and the redemptive necessity of Christ.

I’m sympathetic to the teaching but it predicts a scriptural witness that we don’t find. Scripture gives us post-mortem theophanies of God as judge and not as one demanding a choice. Christ doesn’t ask the sheep and the goats to choose sides, and the death of the wicked is never presented as a chance to see things clearly and finally get their act together.

The theory also seems to appeal to one of the worst temptations of human life, namely our irrepressible belief that the ideal time to get one’s act together will come later. Even if that magical time for repentance never comes on earth, it will finally come – at last! – in the great hereafter. We know that when we say this we are kidding ourselves, and the scriptural witness to the contrary is clear and consistent that now is the time of salvation.

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