A Consideration of the First

A Consideration of the First Principle of Progressivism

Progressivism is the belief that human perfection continually increases- i.e. the men of former times were not as perfect as we are. There is some truth to this: the word “primitive” for example, means both “historically first” and “undeveloped” or “unrefined”. Progressivism even seems to admit of a strict proof: all men seek the good, but the good is only attained by a process of learning andexperiment which can often take several ages or generations. The clearest examples for progressivism in history are taken from the mechanical arts- we can observe how tools and weapons gradually progressed from sharpened stones to chainsaws and cruise missiles; we can observe even more clearly- even visually- the progression from the Wright flyer to the Space shuttle.

Certain other arts are clearly not progressive: Cicero’s prose is every bit as polished as Thackeray or Cardinal Newman; the insights into human nature are just as shrewd in Solomon or in Shakespeare or in Dostoyevsky; the epics or Homer and Virgil- or Greek and Roman poetry in general- has not been improved upon, nor will it be; and the L.A. Cathedral did not develop any primitive notions of beauty in, say, the Parthenon, the Temple at Delphi or the Gardens of Babylon.

In general, those arts are not progressive if their product is something valuable in itself, because of its own intrinsic goodness or beauty; and they are progressive if they aim at a certain power or control over something. The clearest example of the progressive arts are the tool making arts, and a tool clearly has its whole good in a power it gives us. Medicine is a sort of middle case, for it is clearly progressive and it is ordered to something good in itself- but inasmuch as we see medicine as a progressive discovery of medicines and techniques, then we can see it as a sort of tool making art.

Certain progressive arts are also necessary for philosophy. Man comes to know nature both though an analogy to art, and through an awareness of his own inner life, which makes it fitting that he needs to understand nature through an art that treats of his own life as such- the art of medicine. This is what happened historically- Socrates based much of his moral philosophy on various analogies to the medical art; Aristotle famously claimed that the clearest example of what nature is is a doctor healing himself; and the fundamental doctrine of analogy is best understood through the word “healthy” as it is said of a healthy body, a healthy color, and a healthy diet.

There is another sense in which philosophy can be seen as progressive, as St. Thomas displays here.

In another sense, since man learns by experience, his learning is always progressive.

But there is more to the idea of progressivism than the sort of progressive learning that the above examples speak of. Were there not, there would be no opposition between progressivism and conservatism. The difference between the two seems to be a matter not of absolute exclusion, but of emphasis. The progressive mind is the one that places the greatest emphasis on the sorts of things that progress, whereas the conservative places less emphasis on these things. The Conservative tends to emphasize the ways in which past ideas measure present ones, and the progressive tends to draw out the ways in which present things measure or judge past ones.

Human Immortality, Part NineA preamble

Human Immortality, Part Nine

A preamble to a discussion on knowledge in the state of separation

The things which pre-exist in the Word of God, flow out from him in two ways: 1.) into the angelic mind, 2.) into their proper natures. They proceed into the angelic mind, moreover, from the fact that God infuses (impressit) the similitudes of things on the mind of the angels which he makes to be in nature.

Summa I Q.56 a.2 . also Contra Gent. II, c. 100.

To know is to have another. This is obvious from a little meditation: What is knowledge? Knowing something. What is it to know something? to have something known. This something known, this “other” is wholly causative of knowledge in act: take away the other, the object, and we have no actual knowledge, just as there would be no difference in actual vision between taking away all the objects of sight and taking away the power to see.

The problem of what knowledge is like in the state of separation is understood through knowledge in the state of union. The difference seems to bethat in the state of union, we receive the natures processing from the divine mind through the mediation of the very natures themselves as they are subsistent, whereas other intelligences receive the natures of things directly from the divine mind, without having to know the individual subsistent natures first as they are produced. The difference seems to be similar to the difference between being able to be within the soul of a lover, and or simply reading their letters. It is the difference between being in Mozart’s mind, and passively listening to his music.

What is the reason for the state of union? Two thoughts:

-the weakness of our intelligence. God knows all through one intelligible species, we need to make a separate intelligible species for everything known. The individual natures of things are like aids to us, they are sorts of examples that are meant to lead us to the mind of God.

-Matter is the aptitude of form, and in this sense the desire for it. But there can be no fullness of this aptitude or desire until matter is united to that which constitutes its limit. But Spirit is the limit of matter, in the sense that it is the first thing that the aptitude of matter cannot reach. In man, all matter finds its fulfillment by the joining in one essence of matter and spirit.

In the first sense, we understand man as unified to body because he is the lowest thing in the spiritual universe. In the second way, we see him as the highest thing in the material cosmos.


Jottings-The thing I know, as


-The thing I know, as known, and my act of knowing are the same. The thing as known is immaterial, because as known it does not and cannot change.

– Matter/material cannot be understood apart from what exists to become something, and as such is undetermined. But all knowledge is of a determined thing- so much so that it cannot change, as known.

– Apologetics and polemics are necessary starts to any philosophical life, but if they don’t lead to contemplation, they will lead to burnout. The point is to do this activity simply for its own sake.

-The human mind comes to its deepest awareness of a truth when it has to defend a truth against attack. This requires that the human mind hold some truth as worthy of defense, even though it is not fully understood why it is defensible. Hence, discipleship is necessary to come to the deepest awareness of truth.

-think of a word, then try to define it as well as the dictionary does. Try “green”. I failed utterly.

-Read a thing like you wrote it. Imagine yourself saying it. People don’t do this enough.

-Augustine distinguishes between the superior and inferior intellect. The first looks to eternal things and seeks to be counseled by them. The inferior looks to temporal things.

-St. Thomas quotes Augustine favorably often. Augustinians quote Aristotle favorably rarely or never. Ditto for the Plato/ platonists.

On the Necessity of Syllogisms

On the Necessity of Syllogisms To Attain Reasoned Truth

Description: a Syllogism is a set of propositions that prove a conclusion by means of a middle term.

THESIS: The truth of all reasoning is caused by a proposition known to be true.

M: Truth as known reduces to the proposition
m: All reasoning is the attainment of truth from a truth already known

(con. becomes minor) So reasoning is reduces to a known proposition.
M: But everything that reduces to something is ultimitely caused by that same something.

So the truth of all reasoning is caused by some proposition known as true.

THESIS: The propositions that cause the truth of the conclusion contain a middle term.

M: Propositions reduce to simple propositions.
m: Truth as known reduces to the proposition.

So a truth as known reduces to a simple proposition.

But every known truth is either self-evident or proveable
definition: A self evident proposition means that the subject and the predicate have no intrinsic middle term
proveable means that the subject and the predicate have an intrinsic middle term

But the conclusion of a line of reasoning is clearly proveable.
So the conclusion of a line of reasoning reduces to a simple proposition(s) with an intrinsic middle term(s).

But the truth of a line of reasoning is being caused by another proposition (above)
So the truth of a line of reasoning is being caused by a middle term contained in another proposition.


Human Immortality, Part EightObjections and

Human Immortality, Part Eight

Objections and responses

1.) M: Whatever is damaged by damage to the body, does not have an operation that rises above the body
m: But the operation of the human soul is damaged by damage to the body.

To the minor

If the premise is said of the soul in the state of union, I concede
If the premise is said of the soul in the state of separation, I deny

The life of the human soul can be understood in two ways: first, inasmuch as the soul is a part of a complete person, and in this way the soul is giving life to a man; and second, inasmuch as the soul is itself alive, and capable of operation apart from being a complete human person. So long as the complete person exists, then the soul is a part, and as such can be affected or damaged by damage to the whole. This state-where a complete person exists- is called the state of union, a state in which all the soul’s activities have some relation to the state of the body. The state after death is called the state of separation, where an incomplete human subject exists, which can be called a person only in an extended sense of the term.

2.) No incomplete person can have the operation of a complete person.
Knowledge is an operation of a complete person.

To the major:

No incomplete person can have the operation of a complete person in the same way that the complete person has it- I concede.
No incomplete person can have the operation of a complete person in a different way- I deny.

To know is to possess the form of another. In the state of union, the form of the other is recieved through the senses. If this were the only way of knowing, then it would be impossible for any purely spiritual being to be a knower. But not only is it possible for a purely spiritual being to know, but a purely spiritual being is a more perfect knower than a knower inmeshed in matter (as those who know by sensation alone.)

3.) No knower is conscious of a knowing operation apart from the body.
All knowers are conscious of their operations of knowing.

To the Major:

No knower is so conscious in the state of union- I pass over
No knower is conscious of of an operation apart from the body in the state of separation- I deny

The fact of human death creates the fact that man has a double existence as a knower and as a willer. Given that all men have such a difficult time understanding any state of life until they experience it, it should not be surprising that we have such a difficult time understanding, or even accepting the existence of the state of separation. A cocky twelve year old can have a far better understanding of what it means to be a mature, wise, reflective grandfather than the average person understands what it means to be a soul in the state of separation.


Human Immortality Part SevenTHESIS: The

Human Immortality Part Seven

THESIS: The form/soul of a man has perpetual life

M: Whatever has an operation that rises wholly above matter, has a perpetual life
m: the form/soul of a man has an operation that rises wholly above matter.

Proof Major

M-a: What cannot change in itself cannot die
m-a: What is separate from matter cannot change in itself.

Proof m-a

given from the very notion of matter- which is that which can be other, and that which can be other, as such, is matter.

Proof m:

see below.

Human Immortality Part SixUnderstanding

Human Immortality Part Six

Understanding the division of matter and form in man

(an excerpt from “The Meaning Of Nature” By Sheilah O’Flynn Brennan)

…Nature is a principle of movement in that which is. It is therefore a principle of motion in the mobile…

A mobile thing implies potency. It does not necessarily imply activity; this is the mark of the mover. Nature then is intimitely related to matter- even though form is nature more perfectly than matter is, since

a.) matter would not be a principle of movement without its relation to form, and
b.) no being would be a natural being in act except through its form

nevertheless, form is nature only insofar as it determines matter, for otherwise it would not be a principle of movement at all.

Where there is no matter, there is no nature.

In the measure that form rises above matter it rises beyond nature, it becomes

first a principle not only of being moved but of moving, and
then a principle not only of moving but of operations that are not strictly speaking motions at all.
(n.b. in living things, the words “form” and “soul” are synonymous and can be used interchangeably– Shulamite.)

…a more perfect soul, the rational, can be the principle of intellection which, since it does not require an organ, does not involve movement at all… the rational soul as its principle, considered precisely in this way, is nature only in an improper or extended sense.

(but the soul can also be considered natural for three reasons:

1.) The proportionate object for the human soul, in the state of union, is a material quiddity, attained through the senses, and the senses are dependent on material organs
2.) Some motions / changes are properly human, and therefore proper to the soul in the state of union, e.g. laughing, talking.
3.) The human soul is the act of a human body, essentially ordered to being in the body for its perfection– me again)

Hence, as the form emerges from matter, the thing which it determines rises above passivity, and then above movement, and therefore above mere nature also. Not that it loses what belongs to nature, it has all this and something more.


Human Immortality, Part Four.To understand

Human Immortality, Part Four.

To understand human immortality, we need to understand four things.

Life: Immortality means nothing other than perpetual life, but we must also account for the fact that human beings die. We must carefully distinguish the sense in which a man can both die and yet not die; the sense in which he can both cease to exist, and not cease to exist.

Knowledge: From intellectual knowledge, which is the effect, one can reason to a spiritual being, which is the cause. This sort of being must have perpetual life. Said another way, the perpetuity of human knowledge is a certain perpetuity of human life, because for rational animals, to exist is to be rational and animal (In my experience, much of the speculative error about human life proceeds from an insufficient meditation on what it means to be a rational animal. When we lose the definition as the first principle, all our reasoning is in vain.)

Matter and Form: These principles are necessary to explain both the living human subject and human knowledge. Life in man is a composite of form and matter, and what exists as composed ceases to exist when not composed. But the form of man is intellect, and intellectual activity is the immaterial possession of another’s form. It is through matter and form, then, that we come to understand both human life and human knowledge, and through these we come to understand what it means for man to be mortal, and yet immortal; perpetually living and yet soon to die.


More thoughts on the two

More thoughts on the two kinds of new things learned.

-When we appreciate that knowledge involves coming to a deeper understanding of what is already known, it becomes evident how the arts are causes of learning. Art can become a substitute for experience- we can learn from Raskalnikov or Hamlet without having to live like either of them.

-The Greeks called anyone who was very skilled “wise”, which makes sense when one thinks about how a skilled person understands their craft “from the inside”. A skilled person is skilled not because he has a set of propositions that could be memorized by anyone, but because a skill is alive in him.

-Latin understands the second kind of knowledge, i.e. wisdom, in relation to the sense of taste: sapiens “a wise man” is from sapere “to taste”. This is a beautiful way to understand wisdom, for taste discerns the goodness of those things that are to become a part of our being. This is to see wisdom as a more intimate knowledge than knowledge understood in relation to vision.

To learn means to

To learn means to come to know something new, but but a known thing can be new in two ways. The first way is when we learn a new fact, another way is when we come to appreciate more deeply a fact we already knew. In the first way, we might learn that Helena is the Capitol of Montana, the Pythagorean theorem is so-and- so, that Plato believed all knowledge was recollection, or that all knowledge comes to be from the senses. In the second way, we might understand that having a baby changes your life in the way that a parent of a 18 month-old understands it; or we might understand how the Pythagorean theorem proceeds out of the first things of geometry; or we might understand how crime doesn’t pay in the way a cop understands it.

A few observations about these different kinds of knowledge

-The first kind of knowledge can be understood as “extrinsic”, while the second kind has more the character of something known “from the inside”.

-The second kind has more the character of wisdom than the first does, for it is more characterized by depth. It is also a character of knowledge that should characterize what is called science, for science should be ordered to wisdom.

-Some facts are able to be understood more deeply, while others are not. It’s hard to imagine how in can come to a deeper understanding of the fact that Helena is the Capitol of Montana.

-What is needed most often is not a search for new facts, but a deeper appreciation of the things we already know. There is more fruit in a mediation on the truth that all men are created equal than there is in memorizing a thousand different treatises of political theory.

-What is deeper is dependent on what is shallow- a guy can’t come to appreciate the depth of something unless he holds it before himself long enough to peel away the layers it contains. We get these first things by discipleship, and we develop them by meditation.

-Something like this deepening of knowledge is seen in very good books- we value them for one reason when we read them the first time, and we come to see more in them everytime we read them. The opposite of this are books that, when we read them again, we wonder what we ever saw in them.

-One of the saddest traits of human reason is its resistance to discipleship. There’s nothing as depressing as seeing someone about to make exactly the same mistake you once made, and know that it’ll do do good to tell them they should’t do it. It the frustration of the parent who can’t for the life of him get his kid to believe that he has rules for the sake of the kid. It’s one of the many ways we can confront the weakness and deformity of human reason.

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