Almost all of the philosophical arguments I get in with intellectual-types are characterized by restlessness. As soon as anything gets proposed, people start immediately looking for counter- examples. I haven’t lived long enough to know how much of this is simply human nature and how much of it is a habit that modern schools, culture, TV, etc. have actively fostered. I suspect, however, that a large part of this is new- since other forms of education, the classical Liberal Arts, and the Greek Paideia, boasted that they would teach the student the sort of things he could rest in as certain, and the things he could not rest in as certain. The modern system seems to regard the educated man as the one who does not rest at all, but who rather can “see through” everyones pretense to knowledge: he is the debunker, the muckraker, the “author of the revolutionary new study that turns everything upside down…”, the “one who re-invents the whole discipline”, etc.

The irony of extreme criticism is that it is so extremely easy to critique: it can suffer a devastating refutation from the mouth of almost anyone who can speak. A smart ten year old can refute the liar paradox involved in “doubting everything”- and a high schooler can understand what C.S. Lewis is refuting when he points out that “to see through everything is the same as not to see”. But as soon as we refute the mode of thought so typical of modern times, we are left with the Greek Paideia or the Classical liberal arts: for from that point, the whole purpose of education is to distinguish what we know, and can rest in, from what we do not know, and therefore cannot rest in.

The World “Before” Creation

Genesis 1:2 does a masterful job at describing the world “before” creation. What we mean is that it attempts to speak of what the status of the world is apart from the divine activity. This is, ontologically, an absurd statement, similar to speaking about “how thick is a one sided door?” There is a deception involved in even asking the question, as though we were implying that is was meaningful to talk about a one-sided door, or the world apart from the divine activity.

Given this caveat, what is the world like before the divine activity?

“and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep”

Form: The Hebrew word mimics the ancient usage- it means “type” or “species” (1sa. 28:14, Eze 8:10) This sense of “form” has fallen out of use in modern English- as in “what form of animals live there?”

Void: A term used most often in a legal context: marriages are declared void, for example, but it seems more often to mean “lacking” as a sort of thing. “Men void of understanding” are sorts of men that are characterized by ignorance, as opposed to a student or learner, who is also ignorant, but does not have ignorance as a permanent trait.

Deep: The word first means the depths of the ocean, but it comes to mean those things that are beyond comprehension: Job 12:22, Psalms 36:6.

For what all think

for what all think to be good, that, we assert, is good- he that subverts our opinion is the belief of all mankind will hardly pursuade us to believe his own either.

Nic. Eth, 10, chap ii

Our most intimate connection to the opinion of all mankind is through the language we speak. Our words are artifacts of billions of individual lives and minds. These words, our tools of thought, are in many cases older even than history, and can be traced to a time that left us nothing but root stems like “erg” or “ad” or “gno” or “len”.

True things I heard last week, etc.

-Typical male sins are impersonal: drinking, reckless behavior, pornography, and the whole filthy heap of dehumanizing sexual sins.

Typical female sins are personal: manipulation, brutally destructive gossip, and sentimentality in the face of evil persons. Sexual sins tend to be sentimental.

-Modern political science has a curious influence from both John Calhoun and modern advertising practices. In different ways, this seems to make it a science influenced by a love of slavery.

-Christ as eucharistic is the union between the two great commandments- we cannot love God, i.e we cannot make the perfect loving communion with God, without at the same time making a communion with all who receive.

-We can’t market sex except by marketing persons- which involves treating a person in exactly the same way one would treat, say, pork bellies or kleenex. The offense here not so much the lack of some distinction (it is not evil for a scale to make no distinction between a 50 pound hog and a 50 pound person) rather it is the confounding the good in itself with the good per accidens. Man is the good for which products exist, not a product that exists for man.

-The human mind, considered as a passive power, knows absolutely everything, without exception. The mind is intrinsically aware of its own absence of limitations even in the mere act of counting, but in the same way, it can relate to “perfection”, “cause”, “existence”. This awareness of the infinity of which we are unable to know in actuality allows us in a certain sense to know what we do not know. Every number that the human mind actually knows is finite, but it does not follow that we need thing of all numbers as being finite- we can in fact know that they have no intrinsic limit. So too with perfections. Every one we know is finite and related to a subject- but we still can be aware that some perfection has no intrinsic limitation. We can even know that it is necessary. I am aware that the two cases of number and perfection are not perfectly equivalent, and I do not propose them as being so. I only mean to indicate the way in which the mind, by being aware of its passive infinity, can in a certain sense “know what it does not know”, or as the mystics say “to know God as unknown”.

One essential beginning

One essential beginning of metaphysics is seeing Parmenides as a problem that needs to be addressed- as opposed to ignored or dismissed.


The life of philosophy: Georgias 526d

What is…

What is the thing in us that we seal with a word?

Everyone, and by this I mean everyone– from the crudest materialist to the most spiritualized Platonist, from Marxists to disciples of Berkeley- agree that knowledge involves “having something in mind”. We all agree that when we know- by reason or imagination- certain things are “in” us. We are left to explain what this thing is within us, and how is it in us (there it is again, that phrase “what this thing is…” ousia).

The Good

The good is communicative of itself.

St. Thomas agrees, but goes further: it is the nature of act- that is, of being– that it communicate itself as much as possible. One of the easiest thomistic axioms to misunderstand is “everything acts inasmuch as it is in act”. St. Thomas wants us to take the axiom with the emphasis on the word acts: i.e he wants us to read the axiom as “everything, insofar as it is in act, is acting.” see the below, but more importantly, De Potentia, Q. II, art. 1. Where he simply says outright that it is the nature of act to communicate itself, for everything acts inasmuch as it is in act.


It makes perfect sense when you think about it:

SCG, I, c. 45:

Every substance exists for the sake of its operation

…so just as matter exists for the sake of form, so form, which is [being] in first act, exists for the sake of operation, which is [being] in second act. Operation is thus the end of a created thing.

ST, I q.105, a 5

Man exists for the sake of Science and moral virtue. In a virtuous man, one encounters the fullness of a man.

In itself and not in itself

The Categories distinguishes all things into those that are in a subject, and those that are not in a subject. To be in a subject means to really depend upon the subject for its existence. Whatever is not in a subject is a substance (ousia, see below), either primarily (John) or secondarily (man, animal).

One of the characteristic marks of perennial philosophy is this irreducible and primary division between derived existence and existence not being derived. This allows for a certain order, or even a hierarchy among beings. Since there is no common genus between derived beings and beings not derived, but at the same time the mind is naturally carried from the idea of the one to the other, we approximate a genus by a sort of incomplete thought, like “_______ of existence” where certain terms can be placed in the blank. The relation between the various results are said to be “named analogously”.

Satire Draft

What if one leveled the same arguments that philosophy has to deal with against, say, Chemistry?

1.) Chemistry, during the time of Dalton and Lavossier, was free and unfettered. But in the times after that, chemistry hardened into dogmatism. Students were forced to memorize the names of the elements; they were taught outdated models of thinking about “atoms as little balls”; students had to learn the ways of balancing chemical equations by rote; anyone who doubted the canonical status of anything in the popular theory was marginalized…

2.) We really should read the writings of the 13th century chemists- there’s a lot of good things that we can learn from Madrigon of Chalon, and Rodger of Oxford. Both of them showed some things about the relative densities of things, which is the grounding of modern chemistry. And besides, even if we disagree with what they are saying, we need to know how to respond to people who believe the sorts of arguments they give.

3.) Chemistry is more about the questions we ask about matter. Why should we be killing the spirit of questioning about matter?

4.) Why Should chemistry study matter? There are many other ways of understanding chemistry.

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