The truths grasped by reason and those by belief

-It makes sense to speak of faith and reason if one sees them as unified to a common goal, namely knowing God.

-We cannot fully evaluate whether it is better to know something or to believe it without taking into account the object to be known or believed. It is better to know the basis of the things one learns in a high-school chemistry course than it is to simply believe them on the authority of the textbook and teacher (which is what the overwhelming majority of people must do). But what about things which exceed all proportion to our reasoning power, things that stand to our cognitive power as the sun to the eye of a bat?

-In things that are proportionate to our intellect, it is better to know the truth about them than to believe the same truth about them. In things which exceed all proportion to our intellect, it is better to believe than to know. By belief we can partake in higher truths of the things above us than we can by reason.

-We can know some thing about those beings that exceed all proportion to our knowing power, but only on the basis of some negation of what we know, or by some intention which we prove must leap beyond the things we know.

-When we prove the existence and nature of divine things, we show imperfectly how they exceed our intellect. But when we believe in the very same things we prove, we show how they exceed our intellect in a far more perfect way. This is why it is still profitable and more perfect to believe in those divine things which we prove by reason.

Two (or three) meanings of religion

The word religion can first name an interior personal quality: “he got religion when they sent him to death row”. The word can also name for a collection of institutions: “freedom of religion” means that one is free to belong (or not belong) to any number of a collection of institutions.  Because religion can name an institution, we can also distinguish between the nature of the institution, and this or that particular institution.

The names are all clearly related, but they remain distinct and shouldn’t be muddled together. To confuse a critique of religion as a collection of institutions with a critique of religion as a quality or nature is as disastrous as confusing a critique of the Justice Department with a critique of justice. This is actually easier to do than it seems: if one spends a long time in a corrupt justice system, or even experiences one or two instances of judicial corruption, they can easily think that justice itself is simply a ruse or a myth told by the powerful.

C. S. Lewis and the relation between nature and mind.

(My books are in storage, and my library use is restricted, so I have to write this post from memory. Textual refutations of the following are welcome.)

C. S. Lewis gives two arguments about the relation of nature to mind. In both, he takes the word natural in the restricted sense adopted by the doctrine of Naturalism. In this doctrine, “natural” means whatever comes to be according to the sorts of causes that are studied by modern sciences, like physics or chemistry. In our own day, this doctrine is also called Physicalism. Given this sense of nature, Lewis argues that mind is not natural.

Lewis first argues that if our minds are natural, then we would have no reason to believe they are natural, because the causes of scientific knowledge and the causes of things studied scientifically are different. In the things science studies, the beginning determines the end. This is simply a result of the fact that modern sciences prescind from teleological explanations. In the scientific knowledge itself, however, the ends determine the beginnings, for we cannot say that the hypothesis we start with is true, until the results of the test come back and are confirmed a few times. Naturalism as such demands that the causes of knowledge and of things must be different. If the Naturalist claims that he will one day be able to account for the order of causality that belongs to mind by Naturalist principles, he is only betraying his own ignorance of what Naturalism is.

Okay, so Lewis didn’t put his argument in terms of beginnings and ends. But it is the sense of his argument, which was to point out that on the Naturalist understanding of nature, nature cannot be productive of Naturalism. Putting the argument in terms of beginnings and ends helps to avoid various dead-end objections to Lewis’ main idea. For example, some have argued that Lewis’ idea of Naturalism demanded determinism, and so his argument is refuted by the indeterminacy of Quantum mechanics. This argument strikes me as an obvious equivocation- Lewis was certainly aware that certain things in the world around him were only probable, but mind must be considered as distinct from these things too. A random or probabilistic mind gives no more assurance of truth than a determined one.  

The second argument is that if all were natural as Naturalism understands it, then the mind would feel at home in the world as Naturalism describes it. The thought of a world without purpose or goodness would be a source of great joy for us, and the thought of a world with purpose and meaning would be depressing. When someone like Nietzsche described the cruelty that proceeds from the indifference of nature, he wouldn’t call it “the abyss” but rather “paradise”; and when the Greeks described the harmonious and purposive unity of the whole cosmos, they would do it in morbid, existentialist prose, which truly conveyed the horror of such a place. The cosmological argument or the argument from design would not even be thinkable if all were as Naturalism describes it. Someone who argued for the purposes of things would be giving a version of the argument from evil.  

The backlash to the division of reality into the objective and subjective.

When we say objective, we mean both the height and perfection of reasoning, and an exteriority to the subject. By definition, the interior word of the subject must become sub-rational or at least less rational. Viola, the birth of the interior world of sentiment, feeling, emotion, spirit, etc. This is why the idea of objectivity, which follows on the modern sciences, must produce some sentimentalist/personalist/emotionalist backlash, in which these various interior realities seek their own vindication. The backlash must fail, because its first premise is an ascent to objectivity, which invalidates any rational claim of these interior realities.

Somehow in all of this, we are forget that reason itself is an interior reality, because knowledge and consciousness consist in having another withinus. This interior presence, moreover, produces an absolute degree of certitude in a certain way is the measure for all other certitudes. The judgment that I am alive, thinking, sensing, a single substance, moving myself, etc. is not just certain, but inerrant.

Objectivity/ subjecivity and physics/ life II

Einstein gives an example of inertial motion as a cart being pushed on a smooth road. If one makes the road more and more smooth, and the axles of the wheel more and more frictionless, we can imagine the cart rolling forever. Somehow, everyone forgets the push. Why is the example not an example of how the living sets the non-living in motion? Say we re-tell the example with the wind simply gusting and getting the cart started. How does this change anything, other than appeal to our ignorance of causes? One can posit limitless beings all moved by another, and so construct a limitless physics, but we cannot come to a rest until we strike upon what moves itself by its own initiative, and is therefore by definition  living.

Once initiated the mobile continues in motion. Does it do so as mobile? No, for as a mobile is is indifferent to motion or rest. It is then in relation to another. This is another chain of movers which arrives at the living.

And even if we considered the agent only so far as it gets the mobile started, but thought it not needed after this, we would still see the motion as an instrument of the living, as the arrow is the instrument of the archer. The deist does not understand all his position implies. Living beings do not move things so as to forget about them, for the living acts by itself and also for itself.

Objectivity/ subjecivity and physics/ life

We distinguish between objective and subjective, and the idea of “objective” combines externality- being “in front of us”- and fullness of reality. This fullness of reality is revealed by the fact that we use “objective” as a synonym for real or true.

Understood in this way, the distinction between objective and subjective is contradictory and wrong. Immanent actualities, like our own knowledge and life, are both more certain to us, and simply more real and actual in the order of things.

The idea of the objective is an invention by modern physics, which begins after what is most actual has already acted. Consider Newton’s first law, valid for all basic physics including relativity. What was moved, keeps moving, unless something else moves it. Left out of all this is the source of the motion. Anyone can see that Newton’s law, at best, arrives late at the scene. It can observe that something is in motion, and so it must have had a source of motion that it is said to conserve. But physics comes to the show late and misses the cause of motion itself.

Physics begins with an effect that is caused by another. What is this other? The physicist doesn’t care, and he shouldn’t. The physicist doesn’t even really need to see that he begins with an effect caused by another  (even though seeing this would help him from saying stupid things, like “we can reduce all to physics”- how can one reduce what is primary to what is secondary? Why would we even want to?) But as long as we have noticed that physics begins in an effect caused by another, we might as well just say what the other is. Given that the effect we are interested in is motion, then what is moved “by another” or secondarily, is being caused by what moves primarily, or by itself. Unless we posit this thing that moves itself as primary and causal, we give no cause at all, but just a series of effects infinitely. Such an infinte series does not explain the effects- even as effects- it simply says the same thing over and over again.

What moves itself is alive, as is clear from our experience. What we mean by “moving itself” is not that, when left to itself, it moves- for any electric charge, radioactive particle, or stone with nothing under it seems to do as much. What we mean is that the thing itself initiates its own motions and its own rests. Only the living can move or rest “at the right time” for example- in a way that is befitting to it. Whatever natural motion we might impute to stones and things of that sort is not the sort of motion that will cease if the moving thing is on the path to its own destruction. Living beings alone move by themselves, and even for themselves.

The immanent world of life is the cause underlying the world of physics. When we conceive the world as separated into objective and subjective spheres, however, we cut off life from the objective world. Life, which consists essentially in interiority, is seen as radically divided from the objective world of facts and science. In this objective world, physics is taken as supreme among the sciences, even though it announces itself as secondary by its very own first principle. The first words of physics- as laid down in Newton’s immortal first law- are “SOMEONE ELSE IS CAUSING THIS!”. Over time, however, people became so dazzled by the successes of physics that they made it an idol- attributing to what was only secondary and derivative a power that was primary and causal. They are like the woodcarver in the Book of Wisdom who forgets the use of a tree, and ends up converting what is primarily useful into a divine thing.


Seeing the matter of things, II

In our first vision of matter, or a truly material thing- think of the Indian and the buffalo- we see the thing as for the sake of another which is to come. And so the highest cause, that for the sake of which, reveals itself in our first vision of the lowest, that out of which a thing was made.

Again, in the vision of matter, matter is that whose subsistence is from some thing to come. For this reason, matter is the cause of time, for there is no reason for time to exist without it. Only matter needs the future. For this reason, as a thing sets itself apart from matter, so also it separates itself from temporal existence.

Again, the whole reality of matter is dependent on that which is not yet in reality. This requires that the ground of its existence be in that which can hold future times within the present. But mind alone can do this. Said another way, the same reality that allows us to understand that matter is deriving its existence from a future thing is what matter requires to exist in relation to that future thing.

Seeing the matter of things

In grade school they told us the story of how the Indians made something new out of every part of the buffalo. Forget the political point they were trying to make, and consider having the vision of that Indian. It is the vision of the buffalo as matter. A dead buffalo is the beginning of hundreds of new and distinctive tools, tastes, and sensations. To us, he is just a corpse on a field and a cause for sadness or disgust, but the Indian experiences a feeling like we would get if a store just gave away everything free for an hour. What the shopkeeper can only see as a loss, we see as an opportunity for a bounteous harvest.

This ability to see all things in virtue of what they can become is a vision that higher intellect than our own have. We call our dead bodies “corpses” because we can’t see what nature is going to do with them, or what they can become. The mind of nature can see the death of all things like the Indian sees the buffalo. All things, when compared to some sufficiently future time, vanish into the matter of the thing to come.

body, parts of body, and matter/material.

Sound theology and epistemology demand that we know the difference between matter, body, and the parts of a body. Even if one thought all matter is a body (which is not true) we still need to distinguish matter from body and the parts of body as a principle is distinguished from an act and substance.

Matter is what subsists through change, which cannot be said either of a material body, or the parts of a body considered properly as parts. Matter exists in the body, and in its parts, but considered as matter, it always has an ability to be something else.

Matter is also that out of which things are made, considered as distinct from parts. We make a building out of a bunch of materials, but after we make it, it is made up of its parts. Any salvage operation that wanted to rip parts out of house to make into something else would see the parts of the house not as parts, but as materials.

When St. Thomas or Aristotle speak of immateriality, it is important to see that the are denying a certain principle of body and bodily parts. It is true that by denying the principle they deny the thing made from the principle too, but we need to focus on what exactly is denied.  

St. Thomas, knower of few things.

I once read a paper that Charles DeKoninck corrected. The paper had a throw-off line in it to the effect that “St. Thomas had many great ideas about philosophy”. DeKoninck underlined “many” and then wrote in the margin “it would be truer to say he had fewer ideas: De Veritate, 8:10″.  The passage cited reads:

 Responsio. Dicendum, quod potentia quae ad multa se habet, determinatur ad unum per actum; unde forma et actus invenitur esse principium unionis; sed potentia invenitur esse principium divisionis et multiplicationis. Et quia efficacia rei in operando est ex hoc quod est in actu, inde est quod omnis virtus quanto est magis unita, tanto est efficacior ad operandum; et ideo quanto aliqua virtus est altior, tanto invenitur ex paucioribus operari, quae tamen ad plura se extendunt.

Because potency stands to a multitude of things, it is determined to one thing by act. Because of this, form and act is found to be the principle of union,  but potency is found to be the source of division and multiplication- and because the efficacy of a things operation is from the fact that it is in act, it follows that a thing is efficatious in its activity to the extent that it is more unified, and so by however much a power is higher, it is to that same extent found to work from fewer things, but extend itself to more.

And so the perfection of intellectual operation consists more in penetration into the first things than in a mere knowledge of a multitude of facts. Learning demands meditation and rest in a first principle even more than research and the accumulation of ideas. Though both are essential, the order between them is essential also.  

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