The One of Parmenides

When read as a description of the universe, Parmenides’ one is absurd on its face, and forces us to distinguish between being per se and being per accidens (to be forced to do this is of inestimable value!) When read as a description of God, or as an account of the divine nature, The One shows that only God is rational, or at least that he is the most rational thing. God alone can verify what man understands about being: i.e. if we attend to what we are speaking of when we speak of being, the word applies best to God alone. For everything else, we need to in some sense qualify its being- when speaking of material things, for example, we distinguish what is real from what is actual, nor  is one material thing one in every sense.

The imperfection of merely being a person

For St. Thomas, first act exists for the sake of second act. This means that a man exists for the sake of his virtue, the mind for the sake of wisdom, the heart for the sake of charity and holiness. Taken as persons we only have a qualified perfection, and exist for the sake of that which we ought to do.

Americans light off fireworks every year in honor of a paragraph of natural theology that formed a people.

Two notes on form

-Wisdom is one thing, a wise man another; the first is a simple form, the second the thing with the form. The first is simple and abstract, but not subsistent; the second is subsistent, but composite and concrete.

Comparing the truths in the five ways with eachother

It is illuminating to compare the various truths that arise when we remember the unity of the one God proven in the the five ways:

 Combine #1 and # 4, and we conclude that all that is in motion, is being moved by beauty; combine 2 and 5, and all causality is rooted in intelligence; combine the fourth way with any of them and we conclude that holiness and goodness are the source of all necessity, causality, governance; all newness and birth is good and in accordance wih the law of the Eternal Mind. Existence itself is a certain participation in luminous and superabundant holiness of the eternal Logos.

Our experience of analogy between some causes and effects.

An analogous name is predicated per se of many things which do not have a common nature, i.e it names a similitude or likeness between things that are essentially diverse. One objection to the existence of analogous names is that if there is some likeness between the analogues, then that likeness must be said univocally said of all of them. One can urge many reasons against this point, but the most important reason to notice is that the objection does not agree with our experience, especially with our experience of certain types of causes. We can recognize some likeness between an idea of something made, and the thing made from the idea while still recognizing that the two share no common, univocal nature, but are wholly and essentially diverse. It is essential, for example, for clay pot to be made of clay, but the idea of it is not made out of clay. The idea that caused the pot is an equivocal cause, and such a cause is presupposed in all makings and comings-to-be, whether they come to be by nature or art.

Analogy as from causality.

St. Thomas usually discusses analogy in relation to our understanding of God, and in this context, we need to understand causality before we understand analogy, for names are said analogously of God and creatures because God is the equivocal cause of the perfections of creatures. On the one hand, every effect has some similitude to its cause, for an effect is constituted by an influx from a cause, and each contains the other in its own mode. But on the other hand, equivocal causes generate effects that are of a lower nature than itself, and which do not exist in according to the same mode or account.

Analogy is a way to account for similitudes between things that do not have a common nature. The similitude does not constitute a common nature between the analogates, nor does the radical difference between the natures destroy the ground of likeness. There is no “house” that is both living in a soul and existing in  boards and planks, but there is some likeness between the two as one being the cause of another.

Modern science and some primary units of measurement

The modern sciences define things as though they derived their existence from the human mind, for all scientific definitions have to account for the measurement of things, and units of measurement are laid down by convention. The most common such units of measurement are numerals, which are distinguished from numbers by the imposition of the base ten measurement system, which measures multitudes according to powers of ten. Another common measurement system is the graph, which divides space into uniform square units. The conjunction of numerals and the graph naturally leads to measuring all motions, shapes,or quantitative relations of any kind as functions. All of these measurement tools are readily adopted by the physical sciences and used as the middle terms for understanding physical things.

To define things as though they derived their existence from our mind means that insofar as we come to understand things, we will come to have power over them also. The extent to which modern sciences have gained this power is obvious. But it is equally obvious that this power is itself measured according to a standard which does not derive its existence from us, and therefore cannot be accounted for for reckoned according to the methods of the modern sciences.

definitions in relation to measurement.

In the modern sciences, mass and energy are defined in relation to measurement: energy is a certain ability to move an object some distance parallel to the vector of the energy, and mass is a measurement on a scale at sea level (which is why one’s mass in kilograms does not change even on, say, the moon, even though a scale would register only a fraction of their weight). If we said that these are the only acceptable definitions of mass and energy, or if we went further said that the only definition of matter matter was one that defined them though mass and energy, we would be forced to say that neither matter, mass, nor energy exist before they are measured- which is self-evidently false. We simply cannot say that such a definition roots all that matter is.

The paradox of the chicken and the egg

The paradox of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” touches on a question at the heart of philosophy. Stated in general terms, the question is “which is first absolutely, the perfect or the imperfect, being or becoming, the eternal or the changeable, the actual or the potential etc.?” A few minutes of contemplation on the paradox will probably leave on thinking that there is a circle of chicken and egg, being and becoming, etc. There is some truth to this, but if we take this solution strictly it is completely unintelligible. What, after all, is this “circle” of chicken and egg, being and becoming? The circle must be something other than a chicken or an egg; and if applied to the transcendental, it must be something other than being or becoming. But the only “thing” other than these is nothing, which means that the circularity account ends up saying that all things randomly come to be from nothing. If we merely have a “chain” or a “circle” of causality, with one thing after another without any absolute distinction of priority, we in fact end up saying that the actual is potential to the potential, which of course is to say that the actual as such is its opposite. What is becomes identified with what is not, which in turn is identified with its opposite ad infinitum.

Aristotle and St. Thomas, seeing the need for distinction, say that while potency can be prior to act in time, actuality is prior to it simply speaking. Most disciples of St. Thomas take the necessary step of memorizing this as an axiom and leave it at that. But it is essential to see that the distinction is not imposed a priori on the chicken and the egg, as though we were simply throwing jargon at a real problem, which is only a more cunning way of trying to get something (an explanation) out of nothing (a piece of mere jargon disjointed from what we know best). on the contrary, St. Thomas’ distinction is based on looking at things like chickens and eggs.

Avoid using the word “egg” for a moment and just consider that white or brown shelled thing that we’re all familiar with. In good logic, we have to say that it is either a chicken, or it is not. Where we choose to “draw the line” between what is a chicken and what isn’t is irrelevant to this consideration- perhaps there is no clear line that can be drawn, or perhaps it isn’t clear in all cases. All we care about is that it either is chicken or it isn’t. Now if the thing in the shell is a chicken, then the paradox disappears. On this account, a chicken doesn’t come “from an egg”, but the very egg itself is a chicken. But what if we say that the shelled thing cannot be considered an actual barnyard animal yet? At this point, we have to consider it a part of an adult chicken’s body, in the same way that a heart or sperm cells are a part of an adult animal’s body. That an egg or a sperm cell is the kind of body part that can leave the body doesn’t change its status as a part, in fact, it would not be the sort of part it is unless it could leave the body. But insofar as a thing is a part, it has its whole existence and definition and goodness in relation to the whole.

And so regardless of whether the white or brown shelled thing is a chicken or not, the actual animal is prior and causative simply speaking, for the shelled thing is either a chicken itself, or- if not- it is a part of a mature adult animal.

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