Anyone can doubt

Anyone can doubt or question whether he can know “the metaphysical essence of nature”

Aristotle claims only to know what some things are. So does everyone. You know what language this is.

The Categories and Ousia — Update —

It’s interesting to follow the word “ousia” though the Categories. Ousia first means “what something is”, but it is also the name for the first category of things (usually called “substance”).

The word first appears in the opening sentence of the book: “things are said equivocally when… the logos of ousia is different… things are univocal when the logos of ousia is the same.” Here “logos” seems to be “account” and “ousia” means “what something is”. Another acceptable translation of ousia here would be “essence”.

In chapter five of the Categories we read that “ousia, in the truest, strictest, and primary sense of the term is what is neither said of a subject, nor in a subject.” By “said of”, he means “explained in reference to” and “in” means “deriving existence from”. We spoke of this distinction between “of”and “in” a subject below.

The central term in ousia is “what”. When we understand ousia as primarily the “what” of a thing, i.e. “what a thing is” it becomes easier to undersand what is commonly called secondary substance. Secondary substance is an absurd sounding concept in English, but if we understand it as meaning “what a thing is secondarily” then it makes more sense. If I point to John Smith, it makes sense to say he is John Smith “primarily” and man “secondarily” or even more generally, he is an animal.

If we call ousia “what” then we can also more easily see the relation that all the other categories have to it. This is how Aristotle initially accounts for the categories, although, as Neoteronous points out, there is no pronoun for “what” in the last four Categories:

How large (quantity)

what sort (quality)

to what (relation)

when (what time)

where (what place)

to lie (what position)

to have (what circumstance)

to act (what doing)

to suffer (what suffering)

It’s striking

It’s striking to notice the number of similarities there are between leveling a few insults at people and eating junk food: we do it to relieve stress, we get a small charge of good feeling, we don’t cause any desirable growth, we easily get hooked on doing it, etc.

Something like this is indicated in the Psalms, where one who sins is described as having “a heart that is as fat as grease”

Ammonius on the Categories

At the beginning of the Categories, Aristotle divides all uncombined words into four groups:

What is said of a subject, not in a subject (kath‘ and en hupokeimen__)

What is not of, but is in.

What is of, and in.

What is not of, nor in.

Examples of these, respectively


a particular white, or a particular piece of knowledge


Joe, or “this horse”

Ammonius arranges these in a square of opposition: he says that all is either substance, or accident, and either universal or particular, therefore, there is, in order:

Universal substance

particular accident

universal accident

particular substance.

Having taught Latin for several

Having taught Latin for several years, I’ve heard a fair number of kids whine about how useless it is.

The fact of the matter, though, is that there is simply no comparison between the literature of the ancients and anything composed in a romance language. To complain that Latin is a dead language can only be a part of a proof of the fact that dead men are the only ones worth listening to. The sort of thing that Virgil does with words simply cannot be done in English, and the craftsmanship of what he does can no more be done by a modern writer than an ancient doctor could perform interuterine surgery or build the space shuttle. One can certainly talk about “beautiful modern poetry”, but this means about the same thing as “cutting edge- 13th century chemistry”.

And even if I might be willing to concede a little bit about poetry, I’d hold more firm on the status of philosophy. There is something to comparing Tennyson or Rimbaud to Cutullus, for example, but it would be utterly meaningless to try to compare, say, Wittgenstein to Plato, as though the two could be measured by a common unit.

I don’t think that the ancients were sprinked with some kind of magic pixie dust that made them better poets- I don’t even really want to live in the sort of world that makes for ancient poetry. A large part of the reason that the ancients produced better poets (and by extension, literature) is because they treated poets like gods. A great poet could be afforded the same respect as the writers of the Gospels are afforded today, or scientists who heal diseases and produce technology. Such renown is a powerful incentive- the sort of incentive that doesn’t exist anymore for poets. Poets write now only because they like too.

One Way To Understand Temporal Being

One way we can understand what it means for all material beings to be temporal beings is to see that in all material things, a sort of clock proceeds from their very nature. Even in matter which seems to be simply “sitting there” we can still know that it is decomposing at a certain rate, being affected by the things that are surrounding it at a given rate, pressing down on the world around it with a certain intensity that is understood with time units, etc. Even inorganic elements are a swarm of activity down to the last electron, an activity that is every bit as regular as a clock, as is seen in radioactive dating of things.

Light as an Equivocal Cause

Light as an Equivocal Cause -UPDATED

Light, like mind, unifies contraries in its power of causality: particles and waves, color and whiteness.

Light causes all these things above, though they are exclusive of each other. People often throw up their hands and think that light, because it causes mutually exclusive propeties, must be some kind of contradiction. Empedocles thought something similar to this too (though in a different context)- he said that if smoke comes from fire, then wood must be made out of smoke. More exactly though, thinking that light must be a contradiction because it causes both a particle and a wave is like thinking that the mind is a contradiction because it causes both black paint and white paint.

This sort of overly materialistic thinking with regard to light is only cleared up when we understand the doctrine that the Medievals had about equivocal causes- an equivocal cause is an agent that contains its effects in a higher way than they are present in the effect- like mind does, or like the Medievals thought the sun did. Calculation of sums, for example, is a mechanical operation in a calculator, but it is a spiritual operation in man, i.e. the operation exists in a higher way in a man. In a similar way, night and day can never exist together, but they are known together in the mind- even necessarily so since “night” contains “day” in its definition. So too with “sight” and “blindness” or any other contraries or exclusive things.


As far as modern physics

As far as modern physics is concerned, a human being (or anything with a body) simply is time, for time is what is from a clock, and a human body- with its heartbeats, developments, menstrual cycles, terms of pregnancy, rates of decomposition after death etc. is a clock just as much as a swinging pendulum. We are sometimes less ideal for measuring purposes, but we are clocks nonetheless. As far as time is concerned, we are the same sort of thing as an electrical pulse going through a quartz crystal at 32,768 waves per second (this is how the average quartz watch measures time, it counts to 32,768 and then ticks another second).

Different sciences have different ways

Different sciences have different ways of defining what they study: some define hypothetically, others define according to the proper meaning of the word, others define things in order to make them more apt to be measured well. Each science demonstrates according to these definitions: metrical sciences demonstrate through measurements, hypothetical sciences by confirmation of hypothesis (hypotheses are essentially experimental, since by nature they are predictive- if ______, then this will happen.)

For example, physics and chemistry define “matter” as “whatever takes up space and has mass” a definition that allows for easy measurement by a meter stick and a scale. The Philosophy of nature defines matter according to what the word means: “that out of which something is made”. Another science, or part of a science, might define matter according to a particular hypothesis, say that it is reducible to energy in a certain way. Each science gives us an understanding of matter, but according to a particular kind of middle term.


The Signs for the DamnedIn

The Signs for the Damned

In the demonic religions of the Aztecs and Maya, the gods were shown with large protruding tongues. The large tongues were signs for something- it is believed that they were symbols of a large thirst needing to be continually slaked.

In our own time, I can think of no better sign for the life of the damned than an abortion machine. It works by inducing a vacuum- a non being; it swallows and gorges itself on death; and by nature it can never be filled (the machine would not work if it were full).

When you think about it, of course modern man had to symbolize his covenant with the damned with a machine. Does anyone think we could have done it with sculpture?

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