March 7, 2014 at 10:38 am (Uncategorized)
Consider two ways for members of a multitude have the same name predicated of them. One the one hand, they might be members or parts of a class. In this sense, 12, 4, and 6 are even numbers, democracies and oligarchies are governments, lithium and uranium are elements, etc. The defining note of these is equality – each is just as much a a part of the genus as any other. On the other hand, there is the way in which a scholar and an beginner have knowledge or the way in which Aristotle’s friendship of virtue is related to the friendship of pleasure and utility or in general the relation that any paradigm case has to its inferiors and subordinates. In these sets, the first member has all that the other members have but in a higher way; and it has something more beyond this. The virtuoso has all the skills the beginner has, but in a more perfect way and with something in addition.
Call the first the universality of equality and the second the universality of transcendence. Thomists should recognize in this an application of St. Thomas’s idea of universality of predication and causality applied to formal causality. When the form in question is the act of existence, it gives rise to the division between creature and creator, and among creatures to the division of sorts of life: the angelic, human, animal/plant, etc. This dovetails with Augustine’s argument in the Confessions that ascent through the levels of being is characterized not by leaving behind what one transcends, but finding it in a higher and more perfect way with more besides.
This idea is usually tacitly overlooked and causes serious damage. The idea that “heaven” involves leaving behind the earth, or the desire to escape the world is, at best, a very defective half-truth. Thinking heaven leaves behind earth is like thinking that a friendship of virtue would have to be unpleasant or thinking that a piano virtuoso would be unable to play Chopsticks or Hot Crossed Buns. How the immaterial can relate to the material in this way is no easy feat of imagination, but it’s true all the same.
March 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm (Uncategorized)
Realism is the idea that the known exists apart from the knower. Two possible realisms are (1.) the world could exist even if human beings could not. And (2) such a world is impossible, even though the world did in fact exist before human beings. I favor the second account, and I’ll call it realism 2.
According to realism 2, the world is different and exists apart from human beings, but is nevertheless essentially the proper object of a human mind. A world where human beings were impossible could not exist for the same reason that a nail or a screw made out of Jello could not exist. Nails could exist before a building, but only if they are made out of the sort of stuff that could hold a building together; and in the same way a material universe could exist before animals and men, but only if it could be known by them. I stress that this possibility is intrinsically constitutive of the universe itself (otherwise, we have merely option 1).
This last opinion is one way to steer a middle course between idealism and realism. With the idealists, we insist that the world could not exist without a human mind to know it; with the realists we insist that it is separate in being from the human mind.
One argument for the truth of realism 2 is that what we call the world admits of a unity among things that have only an accidental relation to each other. I look out and see in a single glace a snow pile, a parking lot, a car, a patch of sky, and a blanched-out star. There is no per se relation between all these things, and yet they are just given as a single world to me. From the point of view of clear analysis, all this is just thrown together at random, and yet it is a single real whole. It is therefore real in relation to something that creates a unity among things that have only an accidental unity. But this is the work of an intellect.
March 4, 2014 at 11:05 am (Uncategorized)
I know how to drive a car or form the Latin subjunctive, but an embryo knows how to grow arms, build a trillion neuronal connections, etc. The desire or fear with the second sense of know is that it’s just a metaphor, and that there is nothing deserving to be called knowledge at all – but what do we replace it with? A mechanical account would do nicely, because it makes the action just a push or a pull of a structure already set down in advance. But this seems only to shift the goal posts – how would it know to pump energy into the structure now as opposed to at some other time? We usually seek to address this problem by saying the mechanism must be supplemented by determinism or randomness – i.e. the change is either absolutely necessary or happens for no reason at all (though the repeated instances of randomness can forms patterns of probability). We haven’t shifted the goal posts here, but we’ve done something worse: we’ve shifted from a causal account of something to a modal account of it. But modes aren’t causes: to tell me something happened of necessity or with mere probability doesn’t tell me anything about the disposition of the cause: both an intelligent and a non-intelligent being use necessary and probable modalities all the time. A detective isn’t any closer to solving his case if, after figuring out that the couple dies because they were suffocated by gas, that the suffocation happened necessarily. Solving the case requires whether this modal necessity has an intentional cause (like some clever assassin, or negligent handiman) or whether it was just bad luck (wrong place at the wrong time).
And so giving a modal account of a mechanism doesn’t give us any help in unpacking what we mean when we talk about non-conscious or merely physical systems “knowing” what to do. Our own experience is ambiguous, and testifies to a sort of knowledge that is pre-rational and automatic. We have to allow a sense to non-conscious, automatic motives, and these motives are incoherent unless based on real knowledge. It also makes no sense to base these motives on higher levels of rationality, since even the non-rational have them.
March 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm (Uncategorized)
Hypothesis: it becomes more difficult to divide the putative God of the philosophers from the God of faith after we unpack the scriptural metaphor of “heaven” as God’s dwelling place.
Arguably, the human authors of the scripture took “heaven” in a geographical sense. But all this means is that they were mistaken about the literal sense of what they wrote. What is now just atmosphere, ball-of-gas fusion reactions, and so much empty space contains phenomenological elements and parts of old theory that point to the truth of God. So what are they?
1.) The blending of the evident and the obscure. On the one hand, nothing is more universally manifest and obvious than the sun, moon or stars. The objects of the sky are the only objects that everyone on Earth sees – in fact they can’t be missed. On the other hand, we have absolutely no contact with them. By naked eye observation, we can’t tell whether they are made of things we have experienced or of something utterly different, whether they are made anew everyday or not, or even whether they are bodies or open gates to a luminous world. In the same way, God is both known by the consensus gentium, and can be known by arguments that do not require specialized observations, and yet he still remains utterly distant and unknown.
2.) The cause of being, action, and safety. It’s hard to express to anyone who grows up with electric lights how dependent one’s energy and safety is on the light coming from the sky. Without electric lights, we can feel our energy flagging soon after sundown, and the world becomes a colder and more threatening place. The lights of the sky also govern the seasons and therefore the growth of food in an obvious way. Heaven in this sense is a metaphor for God being both the one who imparts being, gives it energy, and provides for it.
3.) Being timeless and unchangeable. The clock is always viewed as separate from the temporal system, and the master clock – one which we still use – is the motion of the heavens. Even the hyper-accurate motion of a quartz crystal or a cesium atom is counted so far as it measures some fraction of this movement. Beyond this, the heavenly bodies don’t change so far as naked-eye observation is concerned. They remain what they are while all else changes. Closer observation proves this false, but the naked-eye judgment is the one used in the metaphor.
And so if we unpack the metaphor of heaven or even above as specifying God’s “location”, we get a view of God that directly links up with the account of God given by classical theism.
February 28, 2014 at 3:17 pm (Uncategorized)
Keith Parsons asks:
Why would, say, an electron or a quark (considered fundamental particles in the Standard Model) need any help in remaining in existence?
The bare fact that he listed two existent things makes the response clear: if something “remained in existence” because it was an electron, then there could be no such thing as quarks. But if some X can’t exist because it is an electron, but there is nevertheless an instance of it, then we need something other than electrons if we’re going to account for existence. Electrons explain a good number of things, like spectral lines or the fact that every electric charge is a multiple of 1.6 x 10^-19 Coulombs, but no one in the history of the world has proposed them as an explanation for existence. Again, we stress the reason: if something existed because it was an electron, there could be no quarks; in fact, if something existed because it was this electron, there could not be that one. And so the first criterion of what would explain existence is that it be totally unique and unrepeatable. It follows from this immediately that it could never be the object of scientific law, which require repeated observations of things of the same sort.
Since that which explains existence is unique an unrepeatable, the various existent things it explains cannot exist in the same way that it does. If they did, this would be the same as saying that its existence was repeated in them. And so this explanation of existence is separate from all which is repeatable, or which exists as a result of this. It can be none of the particles of the standard model, or the totality of the universe.
And so an explanation for existence is something totally unique and unrepeatable, divided from the universe, but not in such a way as to make two co-equal beings. And so the explanation of existence commits us, minimally, to an intellectual assent to a Neoplatonic One. We need, moreover, to understand this mode of explanation in a way other than the mode that looks for regularities among symmetrical and therefore repeatable systems. Scientific knowledge is a flat-head screwdriver to this Philips- head problem.
February 26, 2014 at 12:19 pm (Uncategorized)
In response to Ed Feser’s critique of New Atheist argumentation, J.J. Lowder responds:
[T]hat [sort of argument - ed.] is not what atheists who specialize in the philosophy of religion say. In fact, not one of the best and most capable atheist philosophers of religion in the history of philosophy ever gave this Courtier’s Reply — not Mackie, not Rowe, not Schellenberg, not Q. Smith, not Draper, not Martin, not Oppy, not Phillipse, not Sobel, not Salmon, not Grunbaum…
I found this deeply ironic when put next to Sam Harris’s claim (given, for example, in his debate with Deepak Chopra) that he had no time for esoteric or philosophical accounts of God since this is not what the majority of persons meant by God. Whatever his motivation for this, it does have the benefit of allowing one to treat God as, by definition, the product of an unreflective and unsophisticated mind that never developed its conceptions of the divine with an eye to having to defend them from attack. A dose of gandersauce, however, lets us treat atheism in the same way, and so judge it according to its most popular and least academic formulation, which, judging by Lowder’s list, includes Sam Harris.
To be fair to Harris, unreflective Christianity has a good deal more political power which his popular brand of atheism lacks. But this seems to be a mere historical and geographical contingency. A whole society of atheists would provide just as much embarrassment for reflective atheists as a society of Christians provides for reflective Christians. Most people don’t have a rigorous or systematic account of God for the same reason that most people don’t have a systematic account of their pipes or their nervous system.
That said, the problem is deeper than this since both reflective atheists and Christians depend on their the mass of persons who are either atheist or Christian. I’m embarrassed by creation museums, end-of-the-world Anti-Christ miniseries, campus preachers, and the occasional Jack Chick pamphlet, but it’s still comforting to have enough of the populus in general agreement with you to make a political difference.
February 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm (Uncategorized)
Since we account for changes by appeals to governing factors or laws, there is a logical necessity to base the accounts of changeable things on something unchangeable. This leads physical theory to conclude to the existence of some unchangeable being that explains all physical reality with absolute determination. This has led to the belief in various cruel gods, i.e. beings that are both physical and yet unobservable and non-interactive, and which make free action and (ultimately) an adequate account of the physical impossible.
For the ancients, the heavenly bodies played the part of these cruel gods, determining behavior and making astrology seem possible and scientific. Even St. Thomas had to take this seriously, allowing that the heavenly bodies were dispositive causes of human action. Later on, we grew less optimistic about being able to identify exactly what the deterministic causes were, but the success of mathematical law convinced us that the causes were either mathematical or shared in the logical necessity of mathematics, and so now the laws themselves became the cruel gods that determine all behavior. All this culminated in Einstein’s block universe, where all things are already accomplished and given in advance. We’ve moved beyond the necessary efficient causality of the Ancient world to an intrinsic necessity of formal causality. The universe itself is the cruel, deterministic ice-god.
But physical law, or whatever it is that physical law is describing, is an instrumental cause. It presupposes initial conditions which can be engineered to achieve desired outcomes. The law or whatever-it-is is therefore open at both ends and so is just as much an instrument as a pair of tongs or a grocery cart.
Seen from this angle, the trans-physical or immaterial is thus what sets initial conditions to achieve outcomes, and so it prior to and impossible to describe by law. The iron- necessity of the law is of the same order as the actual iron making a pair of tongs: it serves as a dependable conduit to the intentional causality of the end.
The cruel god of the physical theory arises from a desire to place absolute necessity in something physical. Any attempt to do so not only makes free choice impossible but makes the physical world also impossible. We will posit some physical thing which at once interacts with the changeable and yet does not itself change, which gives rise to the observable and yet cannot be observed. Any account we give of the physical will become incoherent, having to allow both for things that do not interact, change, or be observed.
The conclusion is to let God be god of the universe and stop trying to conclude to strange physical gods. Let the universe remain just what it looks like: a place of interaction, the observable, and change, and let the God be the unchangeable reality that we are led to by the logic of scientific explanation.
February 24, 2014 at 2:29 pm (Uncategorized)
-It is “this is my body” not “this becomes my body” because nothing makes the transition from the earthly to the heavenly. The heavenly is not added to some earthly foundation.
-The Eucharist only makes sense in a cosmos that needs to be transformed. It’s materiality has no place where the reality of the material is exhausted by the mechanical.
-God is person and is absolute, and so the personhood of man is somehow contingent and/or secondary. If we find goodness in finding God we find what a person is too. In this sense our personality is decentered.
-The sacramental is a scandal to metaphysics as much as to physics.
-What would be true of place or time for there to be a Eucharist? “This is my body” said of Galilee, the cloud of ascension, the right hand of the father, the presence at Calvary.
-If it is real, I don’t even remember what I thought was true once.
-The modern doctrine of appearance vs. reality applied to Eucharist. A noumenal/phenomenal account.
February 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm (Uncategorized)
The heart of St. Thomas’s doctrine of the Trinity is that relation, considered formally, is not in another. This allowed him to identify the persons with relations without making them derivative or accidental beings (while at the same time dividing them from the absolute being of God).
I was thrilled to find an argument from John of St. Thomas that appealed to the same fact to explain (non negative) beings of reason, understood broadly to include anything that intrinsically depends on an act of reason to exist (as opposed to art, which depends extrinsically on reason to exist). This broad class includes fictional characters, scientific idealizations, imagined possibilities, counterfactuals, Russellian teapots etc.
What is incapable of existence is either something positive or nonpositive. If it is nonpositive, then it is a negation; if positive it can only be a relation, because every positive and absolute being is understood not in relation to something else but as having its own independent being, and whatever has independent being is either a substance or an accident… [R]elation alone is not repugnant to being conceived without reality, for it expresses not only the concept of “being in” but also the concept of “being to”. As a consequence, when taken precisely, relation does not express existence in the thing itself, but the extrinsic order to a term. And so relation can be a being of reason, understood as neither in something else or in itself, but as a pure “to another” without any existence in a subject in any way.
Cursus Philosophicus V. 1 On the nature and division of the being of reason, a. 1.
February 22, 2014 at 8:39 am (Uncategorized)
-What makes the difference between something known to us as known and as outside knowledge.
-That by which something is intelligible to us without being intelligible to us.
-That which, in ficta, is purely relational. Ontologically, a unicorn is a relation, not a substance. The termini of the relation exist, but are not unicorns.
-What all has per se but which God alone has first.
-The one thing that cannot be conveyed by any piece of information in a definition.
-What cannot be isolated by abstraction.
-The principle of a definition ex parte the defined. The intellect is the principle of the definition ex parte the definition. Again , we divide “principle of knowledge” explicitly from “thing known”.
-That which, by being left out, makes every definition of a finite thing.
-That which, being absent, makes a universal explanation which is perfectly intelligible to us an imperfect god. A law of nature is a lovely thing, and perfectly intelligible to us, but no god. Because the intelligible to us leaves off existence, it will make the universe either absolutely static (in fact, a pure equation) or absolutely dynamic (where even the laws of logic are contingent).