The first concept of our intellect

Our knowledge becomes more perfect by learning, and so the more imperfect an idea is, the more prior it is in our knowing. At the limit of this imperfection is a concept that St. Thomas calls being.

This concept is drawn from sense experience and so it is tied up with the actuality of bodily existence, so much so that our understanding of immaterial beings- of God or of the very mind with which we are thinking the concept-involves a negation of this first idea of being. But even in its negation it remains a referent for the negation. What remains on the other side of the negation is also called “a being” (what else could we call it?), although the word clearly has a new sense which cannot be understood part from its order to the old sense. This is one sense in which being is analogous. The other ways being is said analogously will also have reference to this first meaning.

Again, the being that is first in conception is tied up with bodily existence, and yet is no distinct body in particular. The imagination, in fact, sees it as it sees nothing. The blackness of the nothing indicates nothing, the latent dimensions of the nothing indicates being.

notes on judgment

-Deceptive imagination! Making us think creation from nothing is creation from a vast blackness, or an explosion into a space. Space and blackness are the stain of the imagination. Mind alone can understand nothing and everything. How? In a judgment.

-Our understanding of both nothing and God are dependent on a judgment. The division of all being into act and potency does too. We do not see these things by pulling them out of things (abstraction). It is a subsequent judgment on the abstracted, which mostly denies something of it.

-The analytic and English tradition tends to focus on the third act of the mind, or reasoning. The continental tradition tends to focus on the initial grasp of things in the first act of the mind. But for the thomist, the second act of the mind is the absolutely crucial one for getting to what is most fully philosophical.   

FQI- holiness and the Church

Socrates shows in the Euthyphro that if God loves something because it is holy, then one would not need to include “God” in the account of what is holy. I might love something because it’s holy too, but you don’t have to include me in the definition of holiness. But we simply come to holiness knowing that it has something to do with God. We simply can’t define it without some reference to God. The very idea of holiness, then, requires that things are holy because God loves them.

What does God cause when he causes holiness? Primarily, he must cause the human will to do certain things. If he did not do this, then we could not call some human actions holy. Now there are some morbid sects of christianity that assume that man can do nothing holy- but this is a message that is against the fundamentals of the Gospel. The Gospel is holy, and so to do what it says is holy.

But the human will is a source of action, and so to cause the human will to do certain things means to cause a source of action to do certain things. So holiness can be considered either as caused by God, or as flowing from a human source.

But holiness characterizes human action not only insofar as we act towards our own desires and pleasures, it also characterizes how human beings must act towards others, and therefore is a characteristic of a society. In this sense it is opposed to virtues like temperance and fortitude, which govern how we act with respect to our own pleasures and fears. Therefore the desire to make human action holy involves making making some holy society to start existing. We call this holy society the Church.

But societies are formed, at the very least, to exist as long as the benefit from what they uniquely provide remains. As holiness is always beneficial, the Church is perpetual. From the moment it is formed by covenant, therefore, the Church is a holy and perpetual society, which can never be justly dissolved or refounded by the desires of men, nor a fortiori is it forsaken by the will of God who formed it. In this sense the bridal metaphor for the Church is particularly apt- it speaks to perpetuity.


Small note on analogy

Both analogy and metaphor presuppose some likeness, so this does not distinguish them. The analogy adds to this likeness the notion of order between the two like things. God and creation have both likeness and order through causality; Achilles and a lion have a likeness, but not an order of one to the other.

I changed my mind on Paley.

(This post presumes some familiarity with Paley’s Watchmaker argument. Read the first paragraph here)

Mark Shea gives a very good defense of William Paley:

 When I see a watch I *do* think “This was a product of Mind.” Why is that bad? How is that different from Thomas’ argument from Design? I don’t think it follows that because I see Mind especially manifest in some work of nature that Mind is not manifest in the rest of Nature. If I go into Leonardo’s workshop I will see, in addition to the Mona Lisa, a lot of junk laying around. I would not conclude that Leonardo had nothing to do with the rest of the workshop.

Living things seem to me to be especially transparent illustrations, not merely that Mind is at work in creating living thing, but that Mind lies behind everything. I don’t see that Paley is saying much more than that, which is why I’ve never understood the hostility to him.

I have always heard Paley’s argument presented as a rival to Darwinian Theory, and as I am a role-the-tape Darwinist, I am habituated to disagree with Paley, By a “role-the-tape” Darwinist mean that if someone rolled a tape of the last few million years, my bets would be on seeing various evolution scenarios generating various new species. We’d see something like temperatures rising in some jungle, making some chimps leave trees and develop upright posture, etc.  To the extent that Paley’s argument is seen as incompatible with role-the-tape Darwinism, I still disagree with it. I’m not even necessarily with Dawin for verified sceintific reasons, but from a general understanding of nature. As one blogger pointed out, the only rival to role-the-tape Darwinism is “poof theory”, where things come to be with a great poof from nowhere. When put like this, we’re all Darwinians in one way or another. We all know nature doesn’t act this way. In fact, my guess is that the only reason Darwinian theory wasn’t discovered earlier was because the study of nature was stymied on the question of whether the world- that is the very same world we see around us today in all significant details- was eternal or not. But as soon as one realizes that new species arise in history, the easiest solution is to say they arise from other species.

At the same time, everyone can vaguely realize that Paley’s argument, or even all teleological arguments in general, isn’t the same kind of argument as the argument one finds in role the tape Darwinism. Design arguments generally say something like this: 

 1.) Art and nature follow like processes (an ordered progression of steps beginning with something and concluding to something. This is why we can study both nature and art.)

2.) So art and nature are processes with a common kind of beginning (taking a part from the above whole process).

3.) But the beginning of an artifact requires mind, so the beginning of a natural thing requires mind.

I would defend this argument as true, and I’m going back and forth now about whether this is Paley’s argument. I originally thought that Paley thought one inferred an artifact from its design, but as I read it again, he is saying that one simply sees design clearly in artifacts. I’m starting to think the argument works. But why does it not conflict with my imaginary movie of Darwinism unfolding? It’s clear to me that the argument is woking on a different level of explanation than the Darwinian argument, but can we flesh this out a bit?

But what kind of argument is a design argument? In fifty-cent words, what level of analysis does the design argument operate on, as distinguished from the Darwinian argument I favor? Based on the reason I gave for the first premise, it seems we are arguing from a premise concerning the possibility of natural science. But since no science answers questions about its own possibility, since sciences are not even competent to answer questions about their own possibility. In this sense, the argument cannot belong to natural science. At the same time, this argument is clearly about natural things, and comes to know something about them. And so the subject and the conclusion is firmly within the science of nature, but the means we are using to prove it are borrowed from somewhere else. This sort of borrowing from other sciences happens all the time in science, and in fact was the very reason for the success of what we now call science. Galileo and his contemporaries showed us a new way to more fully borrow from mathematics to explain the mobile things on earth (Astronomy and Music had always been physico- mathematical, but the method was not applied to motion as such before Galileo). In addition to this, modern science continued to borrow premises from other places: Newton’s axiom that “similar things have similar causes” which was essential to his science is not a premise that one proves in physics.    

 This mixed character of design arguments explains why scientists are in one way right and in another way wrong to claim that design arguments are not scientific. What we mean by natural science these days is science the study of nature that borrows primarily from mathematics, and the design argument is not scientific in this sense. But it does have the same subject as what we now call science, which is more decisive in determining what is scientific or not. Sciences are more determined by their subjects than by what they borrow to explain their subjects: the mathematical study of nature seeks to understand nature, not math.   Neither can we limit the borrowing of science to merely mathematical principles, as we showed above with Newton’s axiom of like causes.  

Since design arguments borrow axioms that are causes of natural science, their conclusions are not testable within the science. Again, the scientist is right to object that design is not a testable theory- for science itself is generated from the truth of the premise that the design argument is based on. It is untestable for the same reason that “nature does not multiply causes beyond necessity” is untestable. For that matter, physico-mathematical science can’t test the law of cosines, precisely because it is borrows sines and cosines from another science.  


Scholasticism and science

Scientists who see no rigorous and systematic truth outside of science commit the same error as the priests who refused to look up Galileo’s telescope. Both saw all rigorous and systematic truth as exhausted by a single method.

The methods we now call “scholasticism” and “science” are both indispensible for the study of nature. Each is good at answering certain questions and terrible at answering others. At the same time, each has a way of saying very silly things when it wanders outside of its proper domain. Each has its own unique way of ridiculing the other. Each has the power to destroy and uplift whole nations. The Germans considered from the 13th, 16th,  19th, and 20th centuries will pretty much show you all the alternatives.  

Act and Potency- notes

-We objectify mind, and see it in the dark without body; we objectify brains, and see them laid out before us in color without mind. We commit the same mistake when we objectify a word’s meaning and see it apart from the word, or objectify the word and see it apart from its meaning. They are utterly an irreducibly distinct, and yet cannot be separated. The human soul is a different matter, but still soul cannot be imagined, and yet can only be of the imaginable.

-The main obstacle is the imagination, which veils the unity that can be achieved by act and potency. Imagination actualizes potency, thereby freezing the universe in a single, immobile, Parmenidean block of ice and objectivity.

-The distinction between act ad potency as principles of what is real is so absolutely fundamental that the failure to see its primacy guarantees a serious and fatal error on something very significant- like God, man, soul, language, mind, being, unity, etc.  

The problem of “word life” is a problem of “life” first.

Every sign by itself seems dead. What gives it life?-  in use it is alive. Is life breathed into it there?- Or is the use its life?

Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part 1, 432

Body by itself seems dead too. Res Extensa.

So how do we picture the living? We put shadows and ghosts in the already perfect res extensa.

But this picture is silly. What is the conclusion? Life is not a picture, pictures show only the dead.

But life moves! here is life, in moving around!

But what is the difference? An arm moves a hand like the wind blows the sand. Pushes and pulls. One res extensa is replaced by two. A single dead thing is now two dead things.

Ah! but we use the hand! Wind does not use the sand.  You ask “what is life?” Look to the use. Look at the tool box- there is a hammer, a glue pot, nails. Look at the animal you have a hand, eyes and mouth.

How do we keep from animating everything we touch? We draw a man with a hands. Why not with a pool cue?

(all use is the same)

A community of tools. Various larger communities of tools work together to form a what I call a life game. The hands, a pool cue, billiard balls, and scorekeeping form billiards. A desk, pencils, blackboards and buildings form education.



The Divine in Man

Thales said all things are water. The predicate is irrelevant. We find ourselves already searching for the principle of all things. The science itself is a realization of the divine character of the human mind. We have said all things, and so lay claim to omniscience. Philosophy reveals a vision of man that seems both frightening and absurd. We lay claim to know all things- won’t the gods become angry at this? How can anything as stupid as a man claim to know all things? By the time we ask the question, however, it has already been answered. We’ve already noticed all things, and in this sense we have known them. The question is only in what way we will understand and route this divine element in us.

Philosophy and quantum leaps

Quine’s understanding of the significance of the quantum mechanics is common:

No statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics.

You’d think that quantum mechanics gave us the first paradoxes on the face of the earth.

Matter has always been an odd thing.  Aristotle defined it in one sense by a series of negations: neither substance nor quantity nor quality, nor any of the other categories that render something particular, nor the negation of these things. Defined positively, matter is a kind of potency, and potency is real without being actual.

What is more to our purpose, Aristotle saw matter as only being knowable by analogy. We had to get at it by comparing it to things we know best. One such way of doing this- the way modern science prefers- is by making models. We use these models as exemplars of various things we know about the atom, without ever needing to identify the atom with any model. We don’t even need to settle on one model. Right now physics has a Bohr model and a quantum model, which live side by side and don’t lead anyone to question the law of the excluded middle.

Things like quantum leaps are odd and hard to understand, but they are made morbid and silly by people who think that matter is every bit as real and proportionate to our understating as the bodily things which we know best. We must never confuse the model with the thing, and the thing with the sorts of things we know best and first call “things”. We are knowing the atom by analogy or comparison to the things we know. Every now and again we will find paradoxical things in the model that aren’t grave enough to call for a revision of the model. Big deal. People will seize on the oddity and try to win tenure, be witty, or sell books by announcing that at long last there is something new under the sun. It will pass.

These same sorts of paradoxes also occur with the things that exceed our understanding and which are also only known by analogy: God, the angels and (fittingly) the essence of our own spiritual nature which is most fully what we are.

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