Angels and the new cosmology

Aristotle proves the immateriality of the first mover like so:

1.) Some motion has been occuring for an infinite time.
2.) It requires an infinite power to move something in an infinite time.
3.) No infinite power can exist in a magnitude.

St. Thomas shows that Aritotle’s argument for #1 is circular, and yet he still assent to the conclusion, for he claims the same conclusion can be reached not only from the eternity of some motion, but also from the uniformity of any motion (#3 is true also, but I pass over the proof here). Any motion that is by nature uniform (continuing evenly with the parts before it, and only slowing down per accidens) is by nature without terms and therefore infinite. The similarity with inertial motion is difficult to miss. The difference is that on the old cosmology, only the planets and stars were being moved by separated substances joined to an infinite power. On our new cosmology of Newton and Einstein, Seprated substances are joined to anything moving on earth, for all motion rests on local motion, and all local motion rests on inertial motion.

Two Notes on the Trinity

-The Trinity, in a word: real relations in the divine nature.

Proof: relations follow upon processions, and processions are given by Scipture.

As relations in the divine nature: they are present in the mode all is present in the divine nature, absolutely unified and subsistent (even if they are accidents for us, just as wisdom and mercy are).

As real relations in the divine nature: they denote real distinction.

As real relations in God they are subsistent relations, and are called persons.

-As each nature becomes more actual in the cosmos, it becomes more communicative. Here let “communicative” mean “self expressive”. Among the lowest things, rocks, minerals, etc. there seems to be no self to express at all. Among the lowest living things, self makes a first faint appearance: we know at least that plants heal themselves, etc. Among the animals, greater development coincides with a fuller communication: a more human looking range of emotions and signals and even sounds that signify their interior life. Among men, there is the fullest communication and self expression- no other animal can compare to the one that speaks.

At the same time, the emergence of self is the emergence of the incommunicable, for self as such is what is most incommunicable in nature, having the greatest unity and interior activity. And so we get an axiom both paradoxical and obvious: the more incommunicable a nature becomes, the more it becomes a principle of communication.

-The simplicity of God is such that there is a single intelligible form in him, and this single intelligible form contains all perfections in an eminent and unified way. This unity and simplicity accounts for why there is one and only one interior procession of the divine mind. If in the divine mind there were, say, seven distinct formalities in the divine mind, we would expect seven processions of the divine mind and not one. A similar argument applies to the interior processions of the will.

-Art is in one sense the product, and in another sense the skill; for art is both a thing we make and a thing we know. Taken in this second sense, art belongs preeminently to the intelligible exemplar which moves and guides all art. Taken in this sense, God himself is the preeminent art over all arts, and the divine being is a certain exemplar from the imitation of which all other arts arise and come forth.

-In things that come to be, the final cause is the first in intention, but the last in generation. At the term of generation, the final cause is the form, having been educed from the potency of matter. And so the efficient cause serves two purposes: it is both the source of existence and the source of motion, and in being the source of motion it is distinct from the immobile final cause. In things that come to be without motion, the agent cause will therefore coincide with the final cause, for the principle of distinction will fall.

-God is pure act- the word “pure” is opposed to “mixed”; an act that is not existing with any passive potency whatsoever. for this reason, it is fitting to understand him as a certain operation, and an operation of the best kind- sc. an immanent operation of mind, although we do not say that his operation is of something (unless we mean to indicte its subsistence or perfection) but that he is the operation. If we start with this truth, though, we would probably conclude with Kant that the human mind is lead to unintelligible antinomies, for one cannot think what it would possibly mean for there to be a subsistent operation. But this is the product of starting halfway, as though we could start with the idea of pure act. If we go in the right order, we will come to the idea of pure act through seeing its necessary relation to the things around us: pure act is necessary in order that anything around us be actual at all.

It’s easy to fall away from virtues to things that are good, but become wicked as soon as they seek to substitute for virtues as opposed to supplementing them: prudence replaced by science; justice replaced by rights; temperance replaced romantic or sincere feelings; fortitude replaced by self esteem or therapy.

Justice and Rights/Duties

Justice is the virtue that governs our relations to others. In our own time, we are more familiar with understanding our relations to others in terms of rights, and (begrudgingly) duties. There is a certain equivalence between justice on the one hand and rights/ duties on the other, for inasmuch as justice is a relation of what is owed between, say, myself and another, I can view “rights” as what is owed to me, and “duties” as what I owe to others.

But we can never replace justice with rights/ duties, for there is an essential difference between them: having justice makes a man good, but having rights or duties do not. When we try to speak of rights or duties apart from the virtue justice we will ultimately not be able to account for why either rights or duties are good.

the dilemma of justice

One the one hand it seems all justice is a product of the human will, for what is considered just in one time or place is considered unjust in another. On the other hand, it seems that no justice is the product of the human will, for then some human will could never be unjust (whether we are speaking about a single person or a group here makes no difference).

This is the dilemma of justice. At present we tend to get hung up on the first horn of the dilemma, but we can also put too much stress on the other horn of the dilemma, which can undermine the necessary reverence one must have for the customs and conventions of his particular place and time.

Aristotle and modern sciences, part I

One of the passages that sheds a great amount of light on the success of Modern science is from Posterior Analytics, where Aristotle, after showing that science is not possible through an act of sensation, qualifies his statement by saying:

There are cases when an act of vision would terminate our inquiry, not because in seeing we would be knowing, but because we would illicit the universal from seeing; if, for example, we saw pores in the magnifying glass and the light passing through, the reason for the burning would be clear to us, because we would know what must be so in all cases as soon as we saw one instance.

APo 1: 31, 88a. 11

Aristotle here eludes to an optical hypothesis held in his day; sc. that light focused by being channeled through pores in the magnifying glass (like happens with fiber optics). If the pores could simply be seen, then science- even in Aristotle’s strict sense of science- would be had immediately.

Much of the great success of modern sciences is from this kind of augmenting of sense power allowing us to see the middle term immediately: the telescope shows that there is a stellar parallax and that all the planets are rough and bumpy and breakable; the microscope shows that living things are made of cells, and that all animals come to be from eggs; perfectly milled machines show that light moves and that its speed does not increase when the light source moves, and that a change in a gas can be understood by change in either temperature, pressure, or volume. None of these things are hypothetical, even though many started out as hypotheses, nor do they fall short of even Aristotle’s rigorous standard of scientific knowledge, for we can simply see that they are true. All we have to do is look- or at least, in most cases, believe the one who has actually looked.

Analogical naming and the human soul

A reader of St. Thomas will first encounter analogical naming as a way to account for how some names can be applied to the divine substance. Later on, it becomes apparent that we need to use analogy even to understand ourselves, for insofar as we are spiritual substances, we can only understand ourselves by comparison to sense objects. St. Augustine would remark once that if you can imagine something, it is not God- but for different reasons it is also true to say that if you can imagine someone or something, it is not yourself. Can you imagine what a universal is, or the power and substance that gives rise to it? To say yes only means you have understood neither the universal nor yourself.

The old myths about the gods were in part only attempts to articulate the nature of man. It was idolotry and error to worship the Olympians because we are the Olympians- we are the immortals so beset by folly, vice, infighting, and occasionally greatness.

Philosophy as a preparation for death.

Plato famously called philosophy a preparation for death. We can see the goal of this preparation in the dialogue Phaedo, which depicts Socrates at the day and hour of his execution. This approaching death, therefore, is the most significant and formidible of Socrates’ interlocutors, and the one he has been preparing to meet for his entire life: Plato, after all, did not call philosophy a “preparation for Callicles” or even a preparation for sophistical arguments”, but a preparation for death. Socrates meets death- which he compares to meeting the Minataur in the Labyrinth- and using argument, he prevails.

As soon as we take Plato’s definition of philosophy seriously, much of what styles itself philosophy becomes vain and worthless, for it could no more prepare us for death than some other body of knowledge chosen as random. When we judge philosophies in light of Plato’s definition (or even when we decide to read Plato himself in light of his definition!) philosophy takes on a new urgency and a greater focus, for so many of our arguments, complaints, papers, seminars, pet theories and conferences prove themselves as so much wasted time, and we don’t have much time. Sooner or later we will turn a corner and the Minataur will be upon us, voiceless, real, and promising to take away everything.

The logos, or something said

The significance of our saying something is easy to miss. Notice the deep mystery in the commonplace of saying one thing of many. This one cannot be understood like anything in the world: it cannot be a picture, for no picture is said of many. It cannot even be any particular thing, for no particular thing is said of many, and the universal is contrary to the particular. We can use symbols- Venn diagrams, say- to represent the one thing said of many, but no one could be naive enough to think that these are what universals are: universals are not circles. The minute we try to account for what universals are, all the symbols, pictures and physical things need to be viewed in a different way. All things existing in a merely sensible or imaginable mode need to go dark, and we need to see what is revealed about ourselves through our saying one thing of many.

« Older entries