Being already immortal.

The arguments for the immortality of the soul show that the soul is already immortal; not only will the psychic operation  continue eternally, but its operation should be ordered even now to eternal things. What is present to mind is both without time and motion, and so mind should always strive to be present with what is immobile, changeless, timeless, necessary and immortal.

The need for self control

The desire for virtue is natural, and so if men cannot control themselves by virtues, they will seek to control themselves by dictators.

the generation of a likeness

To cause denotes a certain influx of one thing into another; or a certain giving of one thing to another. Said another way, every cause makes a likeness to itself, for what is of one thing becomes of another.

The generation of a likeness extends even beyond causality, however, for all communication consists in a communication of a likeness, and the very nature of actuality consists in communication. In lower things, one actuality is a comminication into what is potential, though there are several ascending grades of communication; and at the extreme limit of existence, pure actuality communicates itself as a plurality of persons.  

Notes on Plato’s cave

-Socrates gives the cave metaphor in order to explain human nature with regards to coming to know. Man begins with artistic representations of things, seen in artificial light, moves on to seeing lesser lights and images of the sun, and concludes by being able to stare directly at the sun. To conclude by a man staring at the sun is in a certain sense to break the metaphor, for every metaphor must be clearer and better understood than the thing it is an image of, but no one understands what it would mean to stare directly at the sun. The metaphor posits something beyond our power, and even unimaginable to us as the term of the metaphor. The whole purpose of the myth, then, is to tell man that his life is ordered to something immanently knowable which he can only know if his natural powers are heightened.

-Artistic representations of things are not as easy to dismiss as an easy reading of the metaphor might suggest. The modern sciences achieved all of their overwhelming power and utility by understanding nature as a certain artifact or machine, and approaching it through artistic means (notice again, as pointed out below, modern sciences are essentially creative, in that they construct models and test them. The greatest tool of science, modern mathematics, gets its whole nature from imposing numerals and symbolic constructions on all quantities, and even reduces all quantity to some thing that can be the result of doing an equations).

What is it to say all of this? Only this: the cure for cancer is in the cave, as are all modern drugs and medical treatments; this computer is in there, and all of its attendant gadgetry, genius, and wealth; all of the modern sciences insofar as they are fabricative are in there- modern engineering, and the more impressive parts of modern Physics and Chemistry and statistics etc. Man must construct a model in order to understand the natural things so far as he cannot penetrate the essence of them, and man cannot penetrate into the essence of anything deeply enough to get any of the technology he discovered after, say, 900 A.D. Most of the knowledge learned after 1350 becomes impossible too.

Mozart is in the cave too, as are Homer and Shakespeare and the Cathedral at Chartes.

Speculative objectivity

One of the most concise statements about the the sort of objectivity required for wisdom is the beginning of the Tao Te Ching “The Tao that is Tao [is] not Tao“. The sense is that the Tao ceases to be Tao as soon as it is seen as a thing or an artifact, i.e. a mere system among other systems like so many books on the shelf. When this happens, The Tao is treated as a model of the world, perhaps a well constructed model with much to teach us, but a model none the less.

Models are absolutely antithetical to speculative wisdom. So long as one relates to systems of wisdom as models and artifacts, he is not only unable to become speculatively wise, he is completely incapable of understanding why he can’t understand wisdom, for wisdom involves penetration into the subject matter, but a model leaves us extrinsic to the subject we experience in the world. While this model is necessary in other contexts, when used in philosophy or theology it constitutes a failure of the mind.

This failure of understanding can often occur in people of extremely high intelligence and razor-sharp discernment, and since models can be easily packaged and understood, this failure to understand can easily be sold as a popular philosophy for the millions.

The word special

Catholics, Unitarians, Evangelicals, and most non-religious institutions charged with educating children insist that one of the first moral principles a child should learn is that he is “special”. The difficulty with insisting on this is that “special” denotes distinction from others by superiority. To insist that ones greatness comes from being special, then, will end up meaning that one cannot be great or virtuous except to the extent that he separates himself from others. This will mean that one must place his whole greatness in the particular and sensible good, as opposed to seeing it in the intelligible, spiritual, superabundant, communicable good. The fascination with the merely private good opposed to others will also lead to the love of any base or low aspect of character, so long as it makes us distinct from others. To insist on being special, therefore, will make virtues out of mere personality quirks or even vices, and divide us from our greatest good.

St. Thomas on mathematical infinity as a sign of the divine existence

A student asked me today whether the infinity of numbers constitutes a certain proof for the existence of God. My initial answer was no, since mathematical infinity is characterized by imperfection and lack. Later I remembered that St. Thomas disagreed:

When our intellect understands something, it extends infinitely. A sign of this is that when any finite quantity is given, our intellect can think a greater one. But there would be no reason for this this order of our intellect to an infinite unless there were some infinitely intelligible thing. And so it is necessary that some infinite intelligible thing exists, which must be the greatest of things: and this we call God. (Summa Contra Gentiles, 1:43)

(n.b. I translated “frustra esset” as “there would be no reason for”. This is a slightly novel traslation, but I think it’s the right one. The Latin 101 suggestion would probably be to translate “frustra” as “vain”, but Modern English simply doesn’t say “vain” as in “It would be in vain”, and so we are alienated from what St. Thomas was saying. I think this translation should be kept in mind when we encounter the common Ancient and Medieval understanding of what it means to be “in vain”, since for them to call something “in vain” should immediately lead to the conclusion that it couldn’t happen.)

St. Thomas on religion and morality

The Maverick Philosopher discusses whether religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, i.e can one consistently affirm good morals and deny the existence of God? Mr. Vallicella made a distinction in the question and left it unanswered, which left me thinking how St. Thomas would respond to the question.

St. Thomas argues something far more radical than the said proposition, because for him the denial of the existence of God would involve not only a denial of morality, but also of motion, causality, contingency, any degree of any perfection or goodness or truth, any determination of natural motions, and even the real existence of anything– from the galaxy to the billionth part of a hydrogen electron.

St. Thomas also understands the union between God and the moral life in a more profound way, because for St. Thomas God does more than ground the moral life: union with God himself is the ultimate end and goal of human life. Aristotle would agree with inasmuch as union with God is that for the sake of which all things do whatever is possible or them to do (De Anima, 415b).

Forgotten and important words in Thomism

Perfection is the end of every motion; beatitude/ blessedness  or the blessed life (beatitudo and beatus) is the end of every intellect. Each of the words is taken in its English sense.

Two Notes

-The divine blessedness is the necessary end of every operation (whether the operation is of God or a stone) but nothing outside of God is necessary to the divine blesseness, and in this sense all is contingent and imperfect. But this contingency is only known though the order of all the parts of the universe to the whole, and the more profound order of all to God.

-Creation is not a historical question. When we ask about creation we are asking about the source of existence, and to ask about the source of existence does not require us to discuss whether the world came to be some time ago. The question of creation is very much about, for example, your hand. What source is in it making it exist? If there is more than one source, what is the unity between the many sources?

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