A Thanksgiving Post We must

A Thanksgiving Post

We must posit the existence of incorporeal creatures; because what God chiefly intended in making things was the good that consists in the assimilation to God. But the perfect assimilation of an effect to a cause happens when the effect imitates the cause in the same way that the cause produced the effect, just as heat makes heat. And God made all things by intellect and will.

…The ancients, ignoring the power of what can be known, and not distinguishing between sense and intellect, thought nothing existed in the world except what could be apprehended by sense and imagination…

S. Theo. Q 50 a.1.

What assimilation is:

“To assimilate” someone means to draw them into a shared life. We assimilate immigrants into American culture, for example, when we make them Americans more or less like everyone else. St. Thomas’ proof here begins with the proposition that God intended chiefly that his creation should be assimilated to his life. What does this mean?

Why assimilation was intended in creation

For God to create meant that he wanted some assimilation to himself. Every act of making means that the thing you make has its existence from you, and it cannot exist or be understood apart from you. To exist as an artifact is to exist because of the mind of an artisan. There would be no “Starry Night” without Van Gogh, and the very painting owes its existence to him (so much so that we can refer to the painting as “a Van Gogh”). Every artifact is assimilated to its artisan from the moment of its existence, for its very existence is tied to its sharing in the life of the artisan.

Why assimilation was intended chiefly

Though every making involves some making of a thing that shares in the life of the maker, this is not always the chief thing that the artist intends to do. Those who found states or write books, if they do it well, are not primarily interested in making something that is assimilated to their own life (though this surely happens) but rather in making something that confers on others a good that is higher than themselves. But with God there is no such higher good. All other goods that God could give are subordinate and dependent on the good of assimilation to himself- i.e. that good that comes from a sharing in his own life.

What perfect assimilation is

Assimilation means to cause something to have a shared or common existence. But not everything is equally capable of sharing in a common existence. Van Gogh’s paintings knew nothing about Van Gogh, or about anything else. They could not praise him or even like him. There is an impenetrable wall between our minds and our artifacts at least in this respect- our minds are immaterial and all that necessarily relates to them are not. Our mind as such exists in an entirely different world from the things it creates: inasmuch as it is immaterial, it is measured by eternity; but our artifacts are corporeal, and are measured by time. To perfectly assimilate would mean, for anything making with a mind, to overcome the gulf between the eternal and the temporal, to make another immaterial thing.

Why perfect assimilation was intended by God

The “why” in this question is a why of choice, and not of necessity. There is the further difference that the “why” of our own choices is not precisely the same as the why of the divine choice. In our own choices, the why relates to some good that is separate from ourselves in its existence, for by our choice we are moved by some object, but God is never moved by some good that is extraneous to himself, though he move by choice. When speaking of the divine choices, we can point out why they were fitting, though.

One reason that it was fitting to create a being capable of assimilation by mind was that if this did not happen, then creation would manifest in one sense no greater power than we have ourselves. We can create things that cannot overcome the gulf between time and eternity, and it was only fitting that we expect a higher artisan to do more than this. If God did not make eternal things, it would be something like Michelangelo contenting himself with drawing stick figures. We expect greater artists to make greater works.

Another reason it was fitting is that it allowed for the completion of the universe. I have spoken of this before in another post and also here.


[Because of the plague] People

[Because of the plague] People began openly to venture upon acts of self indulgence which before then they used to keep in the dark… as for what is called honor, no one showed himself willing to abide by its laws, so doubtful it was that he would survive to get a name for it… No fear of God or law of man had any restraining influence. As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing whether one worshipped them or not.

The Peloponnesian War.

Book Two pp. 53.

It is difficult to read these passages and think that any man values good things simply in themselves. When deprived praise as an incentive, all abandon honor. When deprived of good things from the gods, it “is the same thing whether we worship them or not.” Hobbes, having read Thucydides so faithfully that his translation of him still sells, is clearly deeply affected by these sorts of passages. When we confront passages like these, the teaching of Hobbes seem to gather great force. Men by nature are small, ravenous, dirty, mean, smug, impious, self centered, shallow, and vain. All “virtues” are mere tropes on these features that make life more tolerable to spend among others.

Thucydides’ passage does not commit us to this drastic interpretation that Hobbes brings to it. We could, for example, say that all human goodness requires some external force to keep it in check, while at the same time there is some profound interior desire of men to be honorable and pious. Something like this opinion is made necessary by the simple fact of men writing the sort of laws that get disregarded in times of trouble. Why did me feel it necessary to reward honor if they did not have some natural appreciation of honor being honorable? Even if this honor was only posited in law to make civil society more commodious, why should we desire to have a civil society at all, except by some natural impulse?

But this response is open to objection. Could we not desire civil society for vicious reasons? Perhaps we want to band together so that we can conquer others, or exploit others more efficiently. This seems to be the idea that many have of a civil society- that it is a group of thieves that want more power. Powerlust, avarice and vainglory are the bedrock of human desire, they say. All else is concession, fear, and force.

But even given all of this, does not the idea of a virtue still remain? Even if we could find definitively that man is vicious to the core, why is it that this vicious nature could still be judged as “un-virtuous” or perhaps even “wicked”? We will never be able to shake the conviction that if man is fundamentally selfish, backbiting, covetous, and irrational then man is simply fundamentally evil. But to call all men evil is to condemn them. Something must remain in us- some conscience, some voice that we cannot escape, that tells us that there is something better than what we are- that some life is at least thinkable that is more worth living than our own.

It is in attempting to answer this question that the arguers must definitively part ways. If we attempt to object to the natural understanding of virtue as laid out above, then we must at last plunge headlong into an abyss that we must regard as no abyss at all. Virtue must become the very exultation of what we might call “depravity” and all other thoughts to the contrary must be torn out root and branch. We must get beyond thinking our depravity to be depraved, and start to embrace it, live it, and seek its fullest development. We must view any hint of the old “virtue” as a vice, and swallow down all the consequences of the new “virtue” of rapacity. The terms of both this life, an its contrary (virtue in the old sense) are absolute and admit no final middle. Look at them. Now decide: which do you want? Which can you do? What do you need?


My First Sophistry When I

My First Sophistry

When I was in sixth grade a librarian told me that if I didn’t now how to spell a word I should look it up in a dictionary. I told her that her idea was absurd: because no one can look up a word in the dictionary unless they know how to spell it. After all, if I didn’t know how to spell it, how would I even know where to look?

An Overview In response

An Overview

In response to a request, here’s an overview of the sort of things that have been written at this site:

Works of Short Fiction: the best ones are here and here

Philosophical Posts and Paper fragments: here or here or here or here or here

Theological/Liturgical Posts: here or here or here

Most of the comments that were previously posted have vanished (blogger only preserves them for a few months) but feel free to object to anything. I will respond.


Things that No One Expects

Things that No One Expects a Modern Psychologist to Say

Your marriage is falling apart because of your addiction to pornography.

You want to get a divorce. This should never be done for any reason.

You need to spank your kids more often.

A home with a mother and father is better than any other possible home.

Your first priority should be having children and raising them well.

Prayer and fasting can help someone in your situation.

Why is it that no one expects any modern psychologist to say these sorts of things, even though it is given that they do relate to the sorts of things that Psychologists and marriage counselors are concerned with? (i.e. a good marriage, and child raising.)

(pick one or more)

1.) All the things said above are simply false, which modern psychology has proven to the satisfaction of educated men. Some of the things may be false all the time, or perhaps they are false in all but a few exceptions that prove the rule, but all the above opinions have been in some way considered and refuted. (option: this is only the case for some of the above, and the others are explained by some other reason.)

[then any group or sect that advocates any one of these as true must be false and harmful to mental health. Given that a good number of these positions are advocated by many people, and have been in the past all but universal, why is it that so few of these people have, or had, serious mental illness?]

2.) These opinions were rejected because they were not helpful. Perhaps they’re true, or perhaps they’re not, but we cannot ask anyone to do them because they would either be too difficult to do, or they would in some way end up causing more harm than good.

[but isn’t the very idea of therapy to help people to do things they would find too difficult to do without help?]

3.) No, the problem with these opinions is that they don’t sound scientific. Any one who says things like that sounds like a stogy old traditionalist or a religious kook. But neither of these people sound scientific, and the modern psychologist derives all of his authority from sounding like a scientist.

[but then how is psychology anything more than witch-doctoring? Who cares how something sounds if it is not true, or what something true might sound like?]

4.) No, the problem with these opinions is that they are too absolutist. None of them are the sorts of things that work in all or most cases.

[this is just a polite way of calling them false, or a way of avoiding an answer as to whether the positions are true or false.]

5.) No, the real problem is that no man can live according to the truth of the above propositions, or do them well, without the help of God. But psychology is entirely about what man can do by his own power.

[A plausible opinion. When Christ told the apostles that divorce, for example, was always wrong, they responded that if a man couldn’t get divorced, he should never marry in the first place- they saw divorce as all but inevitable. Christ does not deny this, but does give a qualification “All men cannot accept this, except those to whom it is given.” Without grace, in other words, the apostles are right. Mt 19: 9-12 This reading of the text also help us understand what Christ meant when he said “Moses allowed divorce, because of your hardness of heart” (i.e. the law before the law of grace)

6.) No, the real problem is that all these things sound like religious or traditionalist positions, and psychology hates religion and tradition. It would rather be modern than right, even if the positions above are correct. God and tradition are an albatross around the neck of anyone who is trying to live a good modern life and enjoy all the goodies of sexual liberation, fantasy world construction, infinite rights, and eternal adolescence. Psychology is nothing other than the science that sprung up to obfuscate the problems that pop up when someone lives an immoral life- to paper the problems over with platitudes and hollow nostrums about self fulfillment and self esteem.

[Then why is it that so many people become psychologists because they want to help people? Is our world so messed up that a person can delude himself into thinking that he is helping someone, when in fact he is simply avoiding the real problems that they have?]