Humility and Accusation

I have heard a number of times that to claim that knowledge is certain is incompatible with humility. A truly humble person, the argument goes, would never claim to be certain about anything (some call this getting “big T” truth, or “being a 100% certain” or “totally certain”). Now I agree that there is a way in which humility is connected with a certain admission of ignorance, but it doesn’t happen like this. Let me explain.

Humility grows primarily in those moments when we say “I was wrong” or “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”. I would find it hard to accept any man as an adult until he had admitted to being an ignorant screw-up, and pledged himself to never do it again.

But to say “we can’t be certain” or “Human beings cannot get knowledge” requires no humility at all. It is not even a statement of humility, but an accusation. To admit to one’s own ignorance is one thing; the skeptic also insists that no one else is smarter than he is. What masquerades as humility is in fact destroying the possibility of humility- for it destroys the ability of a man to admit that he alone was a failure; or that he alone is low and in need of knowledge and virtue.

Knowledge, as I keep insisting, is a quality in the soul. If nothing in your soul shows itself as certain, fine. But our response to this should be to search for certainty, or at least for the most certain thing, not to soothe our secret pride with belly- aching stories about how nothing is certain.

Ecclesiasticus, 1:1 (Sirach)

All wisdom comes from the Lord

and is with him forever.

(Imagine writing that line, as opposed to quoting it.)

The writing style of the Canonized

I’ve been struggling on and off all day about how to describe the writing style of canonized saints. As a rule, it is clear, bold, and powerful. I can’t imagine the prose of a Saint sounding like Hegel or the average contemporary Academic.

At any rate, there does seem to be some common notes of style in the Doctors of The Church, just as there is also a certain style and tone that one comes to expect from contemporary Academics. The style is no doubt adapted to the purpose of the writing. So what can the style tell us about the purpose?

-A similar point: skepticism is a philosophical belief as old as philosophy. Idealism is at least five hundred years old now. The critical method has lingered on through the life span of many saints. So where are the Skeptical, or Histotical- Critical, or Idealist, or Empiricist Saints?

-My hypothesis there’s something to those philosophies that is opposed to the wisdom of the Gospel. These philosophies are self-centered. They have no confidence in what it is asserting. They cannot love their object. What is not self- absorption is negation. Each sets itself in opposition to nature, science, and wisdom.

Self- Evidence

(A briefer argument of what was argued below.)

To say “nothing is self-evident” is to deny that any word means something, or that anything can be known to be in a genus. A short experiment:

1.) say a word (x).
2.) say what it means, or give a genus of the word (y).
3.) now ask “why is x a y?”

The answer is “because that’s what ‘x’ means! Don’t you remember why you said it?”

This is what we mean when we say “something is known through itself”. It is statements like this that we say are self evident, and which form the basis of what the ancients called scientia or episteme: certain knowledge through causes.

The Attempts To Refute the Principle of Contradiction- UPDATED x 2

Attempts to refute the principle of contradiction involve the same error as saying nothing is self-evident or known in itself (per se): Such supposed refutations leave us saying that all things are known through another; i.e. that all things are said per accidens. The classical attempt to refute the principle of contradiction was this:

White is not a man (it’s a color)
Some men are white

Some men are not men.

This argument- though valid in form*- exploits the per accidens, for it is accidental to white that it be “not a man”, and its accidental to men that they be white. If one tries to make a syllogism like this one using terms that are said per se (like “rational animal” or “animal”), it is impossible to get to the conclusion that “some man is not a man”. One will end with a logical fallacy; like in:

Not every animal is a man
All men are animals
not every man is a man

Which is a glaring case of an undistributed middle.

Another species of argument involves the following inference:

Man can come to mean “not man”, so if we compare the two meanings (perhaps developing over history), then “man is not man”.

We only ask: “does the word’s meaning change per se or per accidens?” If the first, it is not the same word, if the second, it is not an essentially different word. Either way, the word did not change per se. Once again, the sophistical trick of treating everything as if it were accidental is clear.

All denials of the Principle of Contradiction- and in general, any self evident principle- end in this way. The only further objection after this is if one were to say “fine, you set forth the difference between the per se and the per accidens, but no one can tell the difference between the two in any actual case.” If this is his claim it is certainly true of himself. Fair enough. If he has never seen the difference between the per se and the per accidens in anything, then I in fact have nothing left to say to him. Until he admits or sees this I can’t speak with him.


* it’s a first figure EI, or “ferio”, for all you lovers of the old names.

Reading Plato

We are indebted to Plato for his changing the word “sophist” to a term of contempt. As soon as we see a sophist enter a dialogue, we know he’s the one in a black hat, soon to be tangled in contradiction and an airtight refutation. This expectation detracts from our ability to learn from Plato. Maybe we should translate “sophist” as “Ph.D” or “professor”.

(…and then Professor Trasymachus, unable to contain himelf any longer, threw himself into the discussion…)

That would give us a better idea of what philosophy is all about.

Developments in Bible- Based Sexual Ethics

1930: “When it comes to contraception, I’m sticking with what the Bible says.”

1960: “When it comes to divorce, I’m sticking with what the Bible says.”

2006: “When it comes to homosexuality, I’m sticking with what the Bible says.”

The Argument From Evil

If evil and suffering disproves the existence of God, then there is no greater proof against the existence of God than the passion of Jesus Christ.

The Goal of Perennial Philosophy

The goal of philosophy is prayer, because prayer is the conscious union of the heart and the mind to God, and the goal of philosophy is the actual holding of God in knowledge, and the love of God as the highest good.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,
Through Your power and your majesty,
You delivered us from the hands of wicked men-
Even from men whose killing fires burned
For years on end, and did not cease to burn.

Lord, let every heart be grieved when it remembers
What we did with the freedom you entrusted us.
For we offered, and are offering even now
Our children to the idols of Canaan.

Your wrath is heavy upon us Lord, your wrath is heavy-
For you have divided our tongues;
And now every scholar and every man
Speaks in his own language.
Neither does any man understand another.

Your living word has left us, Lord-
And in its place we stuff our inky paper.
The lamp within our eyes has been snuffed out.
The furnace in our chest is cold and black.

Do not grant us what we truly deserve.
We hate you, Lord. Have mercy on us.
We have murdered all your Prophets. Send us more.
We have butchered your children. Make us innocent again.
We have held your truth beneath us. Speak it again.

Blessed is he who is not scandalized in the Lord
For as high as his throne is above the earth,
So also is his mercy.

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