“Whenever a man desires something inordinately” says the Imitation “he is presently disquieted within himself”. The ground for a better categorical imparative than Kant’s.

Cause as prior to relation

The difficulty in seeing cause as a relation is that a real cause need not have a real relation to the caused.

At the same time, a cause is clearly and even primarily towards something. It is inseparable from the effect. How can one imagine a cause as anything other than a term relative to “caused”?

The resolution is probably that the cause, as a cause, is responsible for the existence of the effect, and so it also it produces also any relatives that follow from this existence. The cause therefore produces both the effect and its standing toward it, and so it must be seen as prior to relation just as it is prior to the effect.

Causality and likeness

St. Thomas makes frequent use of the axiom “every cause makes a likeness to itself”. The axiom is easy to lampoon if we fail to notice that he meant a very modest thing: something hot, when it is a cause, makes something else hot; something cold, when it is a cause, makes something cold. The axiom can easily seem to dissolve into a mere truism: in the face of an objection that ice makes things not only cold, but it also makes roads slippery, we can say that one and the same thing has two different effects in virtue of its having two different aspects, as a slippery thing, it makes things slip, as a cold thing it makes things cold. But all this seems to reduce causality to a mere word game of the passive and the active voice- bees don’t cause pain, but an allergic chemical (in the sting) produces an allergic reaction (manifested in pain). The cutting tool makes a cut. So what!?! Such causes are easy to discover.

Now in truth, it is not easy to discover these causes precisely, even when they are obvious to everyone on the general and confused level. Anyone can see that the bat somehow moves the ball, but it can be an amazingly difficult thing to discover precisely what intelligible aspect of the bat moves precisely what intelligible aspect of the ball. Bees cause pain, but this doesn’t mean we immediately see the reality of allergic reactions when we get stung.

In fact, if we look closely at the axiom of causality, it even seems like it is too weak. If heat causes hot things, if animals cause other animals, if allergic chemicals produce allergic reactions, if force in the bat educes a force in a ball, doesn’t it seem that every cause makes a certain identity to itself? The force in the bat is the force in the ball, after all. The chemical in the bees tail is the chemical we are reacting to. The real question is not why St. Thomas says what he says, but why he didn’t say more.

St. Thomas speaks of the likeness of a cause and effect as a way of denying an identity between them. The idea of a house is the cause of a house in an obvious and proper way, he would say- but there is also an obvious lack of identity between the idea of a house and the house itself. There is a certain likeness between the two, and this likeness is presupposed in order for the cause to cause the house at all, but there can never be the sort of identity that one finds between the force in a bat and the force in a ball, or in any two purely physical causes. So long as causality is grounded on mere change of place- on someone thing being here and then there, one might be able to say a cause makes an identity to itself. But St. Thomas would insist that causality as such only justifies speaking of likeness.

Because causality, precisely as causality, only justifies speaking of a likeness between cause and effect, and likeness is explicitly opposed to identity or equality, causality only justifies speaking of a a relation of proportion between a cause and effect. This is why St. Thomas is forced to say we can only speak of God by an analogy of proportion in natural philosophy, for what we know of him is grounded on his causality of creatures.

I’d be less cynical about atheism if accepting it meant you had to, say, stop living with your girlfriend.

Questions on the givenness of subjects

Sciences are systematic accounts of some subject matter. The subject matter is gathered from experience and its existence is given from the outset. Experience is not infallible, of course, and so the question arises of how one is to know whether their subject exists, since it is certainly not the business of the science itself to prove it.

This has long been a very vexing problem for the study of religion. Religion is based on an experience just as much as physics is based on an experience of things changing place, but  the experience is certainly not given in the same way. There have been attempts to explain religion and motion by experiences other than an a true religious experience or motion, but neither the religious man nor the physicist needs to respond to the challenge.  A science is no less rigorous and systematic for dealing with a subject that doesn’t happen to exist. It is true that the one who does a science is not indifferent to whether his subject exists, but it doesn’t belong to him to prove that what he studies is there.

If it is true that religion is based on an interior experience, or at least it involves an interior, non-public experience, what are we to make of it? Either we have the experience or we do not, and if we don’t it seems of little value to complain that it is impossible. We might wish that all experience be public and verifiable in one way or another, but our wishing cannot make it so. I doubt that it even has much to do with religion as such anyway. If someone doesn’t have a sense for metaphysics, then in my experience metaphysical talk will strike them as a bunch of gibberish. All one can do is shrug.

One could perhaps object that thoughts like this open the door to any old lunacy- if you don’t see the secret good in stealing purses, why bother to convince you! Someone might object that just as I have a religious experience, he has an experience that all religions are false. Very well. Most of the time it simply seems to come down to this anyway.

The descent of man

Man ascended from the beasts, but this is only half the story. He is not only a term of an ascent from chimps, but a term of a descent from the divine.

Suppose that an intelligence by nature illumines something beneath it. Assume further that there is a  finite hierarchy of intelligences. It follows that the bottom  one must illumine something which is not an intelligence. This requires that it be bound up with or unified to what is not intelligent, not merely as an object, but in a way that the object can be given to it. Assume further that the cause on intelligence as such is separation from matter. This lowest intelligence, therefore, must illumine matter and be joined to it. Since it will be the very definition of this intelligence to so illumine matter, he must be bound to the body by definition. This bodily component, in itself contrary to intelligence but presupposed to this sort of intelligence, will constitute a knower which has an element in itself contrary to knowledge.

“Knowing subject” and “cold stove” are both facts, but just as the stove acts by driving out cold, so the act of the knower drives out a subject. We are knowing subjects because of the imperfection of our knowledge.

Hegel opposes subject and object, and then overcomes the opposition in the act of thinking. This is  much like St. Thomas, but there is a crucial difference. The act of thinking is the union of the knower and the known.  There is a proportion between the two that is lost in subject and object.

The act of thinking is not opposed to what is called the subject, for it is a tool of what is called the subject. It is the activity by which a man overcomes the distinction between the utter absece of objects and their presence. Taken in this sense (which might be better) subjectivity is opposed to beign a knower. A stone has a perfect subjectivity, an animal less so, a man even less. Subjectivity is matter,

Simplicity of existence is shown through abstract terms, but as a term is abstract, so it speaks to communicability. And so as some existence becomes more simple, so too it becomes more and more communicable. This simplicity can never be reached by moving toward matter, for matter is essentially dependent existence, so much so that what is first in matter is absolutely inseparable in any way from some one form. Simplicity can only follow the ascent over matter, and the gradual separation from it.

As some nature more rises above matter, it becomes more and more a source of the existence of a self, and at the same time a principle of communicating to others. At the limit of this ascent is that nature which man must understand as subsistent abstraction. The nature of God admits of absolutely no division- and more than goodness or justice- even when it is communicated to diverse persons, and has its whole subsistence, in fact, within them. Nature is not in any way alienated from self- it is not a principle of limiting the self. it is in fact identified with the self in such a way that there is some triplicity of selves with no division of the nature.

This identity of nature and self in procession becomes the ground of the procession of creatures- a procession which we can now completely deny is necessary in any way (for this would be to make the procession of creatures like the procession of a person in the divinity) In this procession there is of necessity a likeness to the triplicity of the Creator since the Creator is beginning and end to the creatures which are as a middle. Yet the creatures which process from the Creator are absolutely incapable of returning to him by their own power- for they cannot rise to cover the whole distance of the infinite. This requires, if a complete return should be made, that God himself Join with creation and provide a principle or font by which creation gains access to divinity. Again, just as creation was not necessary, neither is this necessary. It can only be given as a fact which would be in history and revealed, by definition, by the choice of God himself.

Abstract terms and the communicability of God.

St. Thomas argues uses concrete words (just, good, merciful) to speak to the existence of God, and abstract terms (like justice, goodness, truth) to speak to his simplicity. The abstract terms also speak to God’s communicability to many- in wishing our enemies to come to know God, we wish them to come to know mercy and justice. Because of this communicability, we can even wish for our enemies to know God out of our own self interest. It is true that God is a person, but he is a person in such a way as to still be as communicable and sharable as “goodness” taken in all of its universality.

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