The first account of definition

The best first account of definition is to say that it is a kind of name. By saying this, we avoid the most common mistake made about definition, namely that it is a sort of proposition. For example, when asked to give a definition, many say something like “man is a rational animal”, although in this case the definition is only “rational animal”.


Definition adds to the idea of a name the notion of a perfect grasp of a named thing. Said another way, what the name does imperfectly and in ability, the definition does distinctly and in act. The reason for this difference between a name and a definition is that we name things as we know them, and our first grasp of something is indistinct and attains to the thing mostly only in its ability. Our names stand in need of perfection, and the term of this perfection process is the definition. A definition is, as it were, the very name we would give to anything named if we could grasp that named thing all at once and perfectly by the power of our own intellect. Because of this, we are justified in calling the definition the true name of something, in fact, this search for the true names of things seems to be the motivation behind our imposing of scientific names on the various species of animals and plants.


We are now in a better position to see just how grave a mistake it is to see the definition as a kind of proposition. To say that definition is a proposition makes it a judgment on something as opposed to being a grasp of something, which would make definition a completely different process from naming. Unless what we call “definition” is hiding under another name (and one is at a loss to think what that name would be)  this is either to say that our first grasp of something is completely distinct and perfect; or that we can never have a distinct grasp, or even a more distinct grasp of the thing named. All of these options are absurd and contrary to experience.


It is difficult, however, to recognize that definition is doing the same sort of thing that a name does. One reason for this difficulty is that the word name is so tied up with an imperfect first grasp of something. A sign of this is that we usually call our most imperfect understanding of something “a nominal understanding”, just as we call the most imperfect kind of acquaintance someone we know “only by name”. This connotation of an imperfect grasp is so tied up with the word “name” that it may not be possible for an English speaker to speak of a definition as a “name” in a proper sense (as one can do with the Greek word “logos” which can signify analogously both a name and a definition).


But even though English does not permit us to speak of definitions as names in the proper sense, it does allow us to speak of both the name and the definition as different ways the mind can grasp something: for what the mind grasps imperfectly by name it grasps perfectly by definition. This leads us toward first speaking of the definition as the minds perfect grasp of something or the goal and terminus of the action of our mind taking hold of something.


Beginning arguments about whether definition is necessary for all reasoned out knowledge

To prove: definition is necessary for all knowledge that is reasoned out.


We order the proofs for this from what is first known to us, to what is known perfectly, to what is relative to the thing known. The conclusion to all the arguments is a condition that will clearly vitiate reasoned out knowledge about something.


If we take definition broadly, as including even an account of what a word means, then the conclusion is almost immediate. Failure to define is a failure to understand what we are talking about, which will clearly vitiate and knowledge that is reasoned out about it.


Again speaking broadly, definition means to set limits or bounds what we are speaking about. A failure to define, then, makes our discussion unlimited and unbounded in the sense of being formless and grotesque. While we claim to be speaking about one thing, we in fact might wander off into another thing, or even into the contrary of the very thing we mean to discuss.


Speaking more precisely, however, the same point holds. Definition in the proper sense is an articulation of what is to be a thing, and to be this.


Again speaking precisely, definition is an account of what is first and intrinsic to a defined thing. But all knowledge that is reasoned out must come from what is first within.


Again, knowledge that is reasoned out must arise from some beginning. But definition is the articulation of the beginnings of a thing, and so all reasoned out knowledge stands to at least an imperfect definition.


Definitions stand to single definable words as perfect to imperfect. But the imperfect, as such, is deriving its whole intelligibility and existence from the perfect. Definition, therefore, measures all of our discourse, insofar as it is a beginning of existence and intelligibility for the very definable words.


Definitions differ from words because definitions give single articulations for what is many and confused in the word. This manyness is the primary tool used by the sophist, and so a failure to define makes us prey to the wiles of sophistry.


Again, definitions differ from single definable words because definitions speak explicitly of what is per se to the thing, while the single definable word does not. The single definable word, therefore, can easily be dragged into signifying what is per accidens. To signify what is only per accidens, however, is a fallacy often so subtle and pernicious that it can deceive even the wise.


The primacy of definition is clearly attested to by the greatest philosophical authorities. Aristotle claims that even the failure to understand the way something is being defined will make discourse about the sciences “about nothing”. Socrates and his student Plato were so emphatic about definition being that Socrates would generally see a failure to define something as a failure to know it at all.  

What Pascal’s Wager is, considered as a wager.

 To understand Pascal’s wager, we need to understand it as a bet. First of all, a wager does not consist in knowledge of probabilities or likely outcomes. Wagers do not come into being even when every probability is known, and one does not need knowledge of probability to bet. A wager consists in putting something on the table. What does this mean? We take something of our own, which is valued both by ourselves and by another, and we renounce all claims to it, perhaps forever.


What is Pascal’s wager then? A call to action as opposed to knowledge. What kind of action? An action where something is placed outside of our control, perhaps forever, and into the hands of another. Pascal’s wager cannot be a “theistic argument” then, for such arguments consist in making something known, not in doing something. Neither can Pascal’s wager be a call to simply believe in God as belief is commonly understood. The idea of belief does not include the idea of renouncing possession of something, but a wager does. We can believe something and still think to ourselves that we could believe the opposite if we get other evidence. But we cannot wager that way. We have to give up control of something and then wait for the moment of decision.


When is the moment of decision for this wager? After death. I we win, all sides admit that we receive an infinite reward. This infinite reward is usually what captivates the attention of probability theorists, but we pass over the reward itself to ask about a prior question. If we win, then the house gives us an infinite reward. The house here is, of course, God. So our whole wager, therefore, is a wager with God. And here is the all important moment of the argument. We can only wager with something valued by both ourselves and the house, so what can we place on the table that God wants to have?


In one sense, of course, the answer is that we have nothing to place on the table. Even according the premises of the argument so far, God is in possession of an infinite good, and therefore could not stand to gain anything by our wager. In order to solve this problem, we have to remember one of the unique aspects of this particular wager, namely that God is both the one we are wagering with, and the reward of the wager. So to win the bet means to be taken by the house, because we bet with God in the hope that he will grant us to dwell with him. In order to win this bet, therefore, we have to put on the table what we want the house to take up. But we want the house to take our life into eternity. Pascal’s wager, then, is nothing other than a call to give one’s entire life over to God, body and soul, knowledge and affections, renouncing all claims to it both now and forever.

Meanings of terms before science.

There is no difference between saying a wave is moving and saying something is moving in a wave motion. To deny this means to say that something is moving even though nothing is moving. In this sense, we have to posit aether or something like it so long as we are saying that EM waves are waves at all.

This is a problem that can’t be resolved by running more tests or getting better instruments, and so in this sense it is not a scientific problem, in the most well known sense of our modern word science. Nonetheless, the resolution to this problem does directly effect what the scientist has to mean when he says “light moves” or “the frequency of this wave is so-and-so”. The words “motion” and “wave” and “velocity” etc. all have meanings before the scientist uses them, and if he wants to use such terms there are certain requirements and conditions that need to be met first.

And so on the one hand, the scientist needs to undertand the meaning of his terms and how they relate to common usage, and on the other hand, the way “science” is presently defined the whole idea of relating one’s terms to everyday experience is seen as secondary or irrelavent. We can preserve the truth of both positions if we see science as a derivative and secondary to another kind of inquiry.

The disagreement between St. Thomas and St. Augustine on the role of Christ in our knowledge

St. Augustine’s On the Teacher argues that The Second Person of the Trinity is the interior teacher of every man. St. Thomas takes up the argument in his Disputed Questions, where he denies the whole basis of St. Augustine’s teaching.

Any understanding of the dispute needs to be understood in light of the second article of the question concerning the beatific knowledge of Christ, where St. Thomas argues that Christ knows all things in the Word of God because:

 Every created intellect knows in the Word, not simpliciter, but it knows more in proportion to how it knows the Word- even though no created intellect fails to understand all things in the Word which pertain to its own self.  

Et sic dicendum est quod anima Christi in verbo cognoscit omnia. Unusquisque enim intellectus creatus in verbo cognoscit, non quidem omnia simpliciter, sed tanto plura quanto perfectius videt verbum, nulli tamen intellectui beato deest quin cognoscat in verbo omnia quae ad ipsum spectant. 

The major premise is simply startling. Christ knows all things in the Second Person of the Trinity because every intellect in knows in that way. We can no longer see a disagreement between St. Thomas and St. Augustine about the basis of an argument as a disagreement about the conclusion of the argument. We might see the difference as being that St. Augustine seems to think that we understand all things through the Second Person simply speaking, while St. Thomas argues that we do so in some way. Another way to read the disagreement might be to see it as St. Thomas wanting to emphasize that our knowledge through the Second Person is not had in such a way as to replace nature as a principle of knowledge.

The best way to read it is according to St. Thomas’ own reading, though- the first principle of natural knowledge is the naturally known principles of reason, not the meaning of certain terms (Augustine argued from the primacy of the meaning of certain terms). Our understanding of the first principles, in other words, grounds our understanding of the meanings of terms. A sign of the priority of the first principles is that a word cannot have a meaning unless it has this meaning and not that one at the same time and in the same respect.

The way in which metaphysics studies God

According to St. Thomas and Aristotle, the study of God in one sense belongs to metaphysics, and in another sense does not. Metaphysics most properly is the study of being as such, but metaphysics understands God as a principle of being. Now a principle of some subject matter is not part of the subject matter simply speaking: the study of number, for example, is not about one simply speaking because one is not a number without qualification (if you say “I have a number of objections” to some point, people understand that you have more than one. In my experience, the cause of thinking one is a number in exactly the same way as three, four and fifty is a failure to distinguish between numbers and numerals- which reduces to a failure to distinguish the per se from the per accidens.) Because of this peculiar relation between the principle of some genus, and the genus taken properly, we can say that although it belongs per se to the study of being to study what all call God, this is not because God is a being simply speaking (simpliciter) but only with qualification (secundum quid).


To say that God is not a being simply speaking is true even though we rightly prove that God is the most perfect being; in fact, this is true because God is the most perfect being. What we understand as existing simply speaking (like bodies or our own minds) in fact barely exists. If, after all, these things around us are so real, then when do they exist? In the time it takes light or sound to make us aware of anything, the thing itself has already vanished into the past. Our mind overcomes and transcends this imperfection of temporal existence, but only in the most minimal way that one can overcome it: our intellect is still the power of an animal, and so we are ordered to feeding off of things that aren’t actually intelligible.

 Here again we see the importance of distinguishing what is said secundum quid from what is said simpliciter, which involves distinguishing various grades and ways of perfection. If after all, we say God is a being without qualification, then he could not in any way be the cause of being (for then he would have to be before himself). At the same time, we don’t mean this argument to deny that he exists at all, but rather that he exists secundum quid.  

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