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.

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.

Notes on existence

Existence is known in the mode of an action: John runs, John sees, John exists. Why do we conceive it in this way, even though it clearly is not something one does?

All actions in one way or another reduce to the principles of the nature of the thing, existence does not. A thing can do what it does or suffer what it suffers in virtue of what it is. At the same time, action and suffering does have a real relation to existence. A proper cause is known to exist when the effect is known, even if the nature of the cause is not known.

The difficulty with studying existence and being in the thought of St. Thomas is that not all that is real is actual, and the principles of things in one sense exist, but not in the same sense as the thing that comes from them. Potency and principle are both real things, but they are not properly speaking what we call “being” or “things” like cats and motion and purple elephants.

There is a second difficulty in what to do with the knowledge of privations: nothing exists; blindness exists. These are less of a problem.


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