Notes on the basics of analogy

The phrase “analogia entis” does not occur once in the whole Thomistic corpus- but to the extent that St. Thomas does talk about analogy with respect to the word “be” he speaks to the plain fact of experience that some words have many meanings such that one cannot be understood except in relation to another. The crucial note in analogy is the order between meanings- or, a real inability to understand a second analogue without relating it to a first analogue. The multitude of meanings (the equivocation) is the material and subordinate principle in analogy- since not all words that have many meanings are analogous.

Analogy is particularly important in speaking about God because all the names we say if him are carried over from the non-divine reality that we know first, and can only be known so long as we preserve an order to a meaning we know. This starts from the beginning of our knowledge of God- from the moment we establish God “is” by causal arguments. St. Thomas would have been happy to just say- as some did- that when we say God “is” we only mean that he is the cause of existence, but that idea ran into impossible difficulties. Now since a.) he was forced by causal arguments to say that God existed, but b.) he had to say that this meant more than that God was the cause of existence, and c.) the relation of cause to effect guarantees only likeness, not a identity in nature, St. Thomas concluded that “is” or “exists” could only be said of God and creatures proportionately. The claim is that just as we (and other created beings) have an affirmative relation to creaturely existence, so God has an affirmative relation to his divine existence. The constant temptation in all of this is to make the word “is” have one meaning, which, if we could do so, would do away with the need for the proportion altogether, and would draw more than was warranted out of a causal relation.

The spiritual causality of material substance

The conclusion to the last two arguments is that there is a reality distinct from matter, which is yet unified to matter. This reality is first known as substance- making, and so it is the source by which matter is a part of our substance. It therefore primarily acts upon matter as opposed to being acted upon.

But where does the substance maker come from? Any matter that was placed within its orbit was something it first acted upon, not something that first acted upon it. (We say “first” because given that the matter and the substance maker are unified, the matter can have a secondary effect on the substance maker it is yolked with. This action can only be secondary, though, or we collapse into the self- denying absurdities of materialism.) Even when the substance maker can only exist in matter, it still cannot be the result of matter, or the action of matter. We are therefore constrained to posit a cause of the substance maker that is neither matter nor acting by material instruments. A spirit.

The spiritual causality of substance is not such that physical things cease to be real causes. All that is necessary is that the physical cause is not the sole cause of the substance that comes to be. Neither is it the case that since the physical cause is notthe sole cause that it is therefore a merely partial cause, or a cause of only a part of the effect. All that is necessary is that there are different orders of causality which have different accounts of what constitutes a sufficient cause. A physical cause can be adequate to the becoming of an effect, or for the union of parts considered as given; while the spiritual cause is sufficient for the existence of the effect simply. These orders of causality are not merely distinct as though to be unrelated- we can discern am intelligible relation and co-operation between them, which does not reduce them to a single order.

All this is a consequence of our being material selves who came to be. In the case of man, in fact, there are other concerns which need to be addressed- but even on the level of purely material substances which cease to exist at death we find a need to invoke an order of causality that is purely spiritual.

Materialism part II

If an ice sculpture in the shape of a swan came to know its interior nature, it would know itself as ice or water, not a swan.

But I know myself as human.

Materialism and the denial of man

Materialism is necessarily multiplism- anything that appears to be a whole is really the multitude of its basic parts. When confronted with some apparent whole, materialism demands that we say that only the multitude of parts is there. On such a supposition, the one thing about which we have an absolute assurance of reality must be considered unreal- my own existence as a person. Materialism requires that the conviction I have of a real existence must be dismissed as unreal, or at least less real than the true, veritable, substantial existence of, say, an atom in a cloud of atoms. The materialist might try to admit some reality to the self arising from matter, but it could only be a secondary reality. The primary and fullest sense of the word “real” can never be verified of a person.

Or not? why mpt just say that the self is real because it is an effect of the real? When parts come together in such and such a way, a person is a necessary effect. The necessary effects of the real are real, so the materialist can consider persons real. The force of a baseball bat is real enough, isn’t it?

The objection misses the point. The experience I have of being myself is precisely an experience of being a subject or substance. This sort of existence cannot be admitted by materialism, and in fact it is explicitly denied by saying persons are effects cast off from other substances. The heat a fire casts off is not a substance, nor is the motion of a falling rock, nor is the straighness in a row of straight chairs, nor is the force in a swinging bat we spoke of above.

It is hard to imagine an easier doctrine to refute than one which requires me to convince myself that I’m not really here, or that if I am, I am not a self or a single substance. If my own substantiality were an illusion that I could be confused about, how could I have any confidence in the substantiality of an atom? How is materialism anything other than an attempt to refute the one of the few things about which we can be absolutely certain?

We need not admit of any “spiritual” existence because of this argument- the opposite of materialism (or naturalism, which is what it calls itself for purposes of public relations) is not necessarily spiritualism. All that is required by thisa is that there be a real cause distinct from matter.

The world of forms, the god of man

Our basic experience of knowing is that we see what things are. We notice things that are essential. Experience also shows that we are often wildly wrong about what is essential and what it not, and that we are dependably right only on very superficial judgments about the essences of things- but we could not even be wrong about what is essential unless noticing essences was one of the things we do. 

So the essence of something is an object of knowledge. Plato drew from this a straightforward conclusion: essences are objects. Since essences have a unity and unchangeability that the many individuals to not, they must exist (somehow) separately from individuals. These conclusions are so straightforward it is better to talk about how they are true, since they are either wholly or mostly correct. The fundamentals of Plato’s observation, it seems to me, get mixed up with later additions placed on top of its basic truth.

Seen in this light, it is better to speak of Aristotle’s refinement of Plato’s doctrine. It was a refinement that gave to the individual human soul the incomparable dignity of bringing forth the universe of forms from within itself. Every individual soul was the source of the eternal, unchanging, separate intelligible world which transcended the whole cosmos. There was no need for a doctrine of reincarnation or of the previous life of the soul, for the soul itself brought forth the entire universe which Plato thought could come forth from God alone (see the Republic’s discussion of the three couches).

-Our concept “dog” is the negative emptiness of an actual dog, because the multitude of truths that our concept contains in potency– the totality of truths that could be learned in a canine science- are all contained actuality in the animal itself. Again, our concept of anything is like a giant hole that is exactly as deep as the thing itself is high. When we take one step past anything that can be imaged negatively by the infinity of mind, we come to our mind itself. Stepping even beyond this truth that lies beyond this second infinity, we come to the universe of the angels.

Sex, Science, and Godlikeness

Science is a middle state between the emptiness of the nature of the human mind and the fullness of  the divinization which constitutes beatitude. In one sense this is evident- what else could science be, given the nature of beatitude? In another sense, it is easy to overlook that this is the  true cause working at the heart of science and the desire to know generally. Aristotle will make the striking claim that reproduction and sexual desire is also a kind of middle state- for sex is essentially a desire to be like the divinity (see de Anima, Bk. II chap 4). In having such a powerful likeness to the divine, there is always a danger that we might take it as a replacement. The same danger is in science. By being essentially a middle state between ourselves and beatitude, it always threatens to take the place of beatitude. Isn’t one of the most ancient objections to the existence of God to say that natural science can explain all that God could possibly explain? Who needs God when we have science? (and sex too, of course)

The fall of man is narrated in such a way as to bring these two together. We desire to know in a godlike way, fall short of this, and aquire a new corruption that tends to divinize sex, from a previous desire to divinize our own knowledge. Lust follows the pride in our own intellect.

Follow up

If reality has a double procession into angels and into things, the first procession happens in such a way that it can be interacted with, acted upon, supplemented, and receive action. The angelic influx of reality opens the possibility that the angel might act upon the reality which inflows into him. By inflowing into him, it becomes a principle both of speculative and of practical knowledgem, just reality is to us (though we receive the real from things and not from influx)

Anggelic activity, therefore, is not some comical picture of an angel chasing down electrons, planets, or what have you. It is the real, inflowing into the angel, considered so far as it is a principel or source of practical avtivity for the angel. The angel need not “change place”, as it were, to act upon the world. Nor need he act on it in such a way as to violate the naturallness of nature. His activity is within, in one sense prior to things, in another sense posterior.

Rough idea on angelic causality

One of the key premises that St. Thomas takes from St. Augustine about angelic knowledge is that forms flow from the divine mind in one way into things, and in another way into the angelic mind.

In so inflowing, however, they are inflowing into the angel as a willing and free individual, and so they can inflow in such a way as to allow for the causality of the angel on the things themselves. The forms inflow into the angel not mechanically, as though the angel were merely a picture or mirror of the forms, but in such a way that the angel becomes involved in the form itself by a kind of governance. Angelic causality can be a consequence of the inflowing of forms into his mind, in such a way that he can turn his will upon them to determine them.

How do mathematical things exist? IV

Mathematical existence, while it has a foundation in nature as having parts outside of parts, so abstracts from nature that the term of the abstraction cannot be verified in the natural world by the proper criterion by which we determine natural existence. The abstraction, however, does yield something which preserves what is most proper to our judgments about whether something exists or not: i.e. it has particularity and individuation and sseparability from other things- to say nothing of our ability to treat the abstracted quantity in a science and form objective judgments about it which are true and false (in fact, mathematical truths are the clearest kinds of truths we know.

Mathematical existence forces us to recognize the differing standards we use to determine natural existence and existence simply. It forces us to see that our standards for even empirical judgments differ in such a way that the objective cannot be made to coincide with the sensible in the proper meaning of the terms “objective” and “sensible”.

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