Ontological data.

Nothing can divide being like vertebrate and invertebrate divide animal, or triangle and square divide figure. Yet we can only understand all that is by using negation; that is, by dividing something against it.

On the one hand, “be” is the most general concept/thing we are aware of, and so is the most potential; on the other hand it admits of no difference, and difference is allowed by potency.

Where “concept” means “grasp” (which is exactly what it means in Latin: “a grabbed with”), and grasp means to contain (or to hedge something with a limit that divides it from others) we have no concept of being. It is known by a negation of concept. But it is also known first, so all concepts are formed in light of it. It is both known in negation of a concept, and is known before any concept.

Being seems like a contradiction, and yet it is the foundation of our understanding of contradiction at all. Who can articulate the principle without “is” and “is not”; what is able to be to not able to be?

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Why does the division of God and nature make a “dualism”? The division of the blacksmith and his hammer doesn’t make blacksmith dualism. From what perspective do a blacksmith and his hammer become two distinct principles, and are we sure that from that perspective, God does not remain precisely as God, even though a blacksmith will most likely not remain as blacksmith?

Everyone seems to assume that nature runs according to laws and executes its activities by blind forces. By everyone I mean pretty much that- the naturalists and the “argument from reason” guys; the Darwinians and the ID’ers; the physicalists and the dualists; etc. Nature is supposed to be anonymous, independent and blind; and the activity of mind must be alien and external to this. Enter Aristotle, who claims that nature is a certain way of being moved by another- even though he was well aware of living beings, fire, steam, the heaviness of bodies, and various purely random physical events. Doesn’t this mean that Aristotle thought that nature was in itself inert, and that it needed some outside intelligence (it turns out that it is an intelligence) to move it around? Isn’t this a sort of Intelligent Design idea? A dualism? An “argument by reason” for something transcending nature?

No. Though nature is a certain way of being moved by another, it is also essentially distinct from art by its interiority. Nature moves from within.

Nature is the action of an exterior agent generating an action that the natural being executes from within, by itself. We judge this contradictory because out art is essentially posterior to some given natural being. Our activity can only take some nature for granted. We do not generate ex nihilo, and so we cannot produce anything absolutely interior, that is, nature.

Nature is therefore both autonomous and dependent; moved according to its own law and moved exteriorly by intelligence; blind (in the sense of executing its motions without its own intention) and the instrument of a living being. St. Thomas captured the sense of this best when he said that the final definition of nature is a ratio given within by the divine art, that the things themselves might move themselves to an end.

Trinity and creation

Trinitarian doctrine forces us to distinguish between “what comes forth from God, and is God (the Word, the Spirit)” and “what comes forth from God, and is not God (creation)”. The concept shared between the two is “coming forth”, that is, some sort of activity giving rise to another. There are two ways this activity happens: in such a way as to presuppose another and therefore depend on it (transitive), and in such a way that the other is activity remains within the self (immanent). The former sort of activity can only come after the activity of another, and so cannot be first. So far as the divine activity is first it is the sort that it remains within the self- and this even with respect to creation. Creation is not like the transitive so far as it does not depend on another; and it is like the transitive so far as it comes forth in such a way as to be not a perfection of the agent. Creation is like immanent activity so far as it is not the sort of activity that perfects a receptacle, but it is unlike it so far as it is not a perfection of the agent. Some comparison to the speculative and practical intellect might be in order.

Two approaches to explaining knowledge

There are two pairs of concepts that any descent theory of knowledge has to treat, even if it ends up explaining parts of them away:

1.) The subject (or consciousness/ knower) and the object

2.) The being of reason (or mental being) and real being.

The modern way to approach these concepts is to start with 1 and try to explain 2 in terms of it. The being of reason then becomes self-evidently in a subject; while real being, if it is allowed, is “objective”. On this mode of analysis, we visualize the whole cognitive world as “being in” a subject, and in this sense circumscribed and contained in it. All discussions of epistemology after this are questions of whether something is inside or outside the limit of the subject.

Another way of explaining the problem would be to start with 2 and explain 1 in terms of it. On this account, we would divide our experience into a world that either is the perfection of a human knower (the being of reason), or of itself (real being) . On this account, the being of reason is essentially open ended, for it is properly the world as perfecting a knower, and there is no obvious or intrinsic limit on how a world might so perfect something. On this account, the subject is simply the means by which the unlimited might in some way localized. The subject does not so much “contain” the being of reason as it facilitates its essentially unlimited existence. There is no question of getting to a subject or thing in itself or real world, or of questioning whether something is subjective or objective, since we do not begin with the limitation of the subject, but with the unlimited and open-ended character of the ens rations and the ens reale. We have simply the world (which contains both subject and object) considered in its two modes of existence.

-The old idealist arguments (Late 19th century stuff) really conclude to the ens rationis. The idealists were right that the mind was generative of something truly deserving the name ens, but they oversimplified and vitiated experience by imagining that they could use it as a substitute for ens reale.

-“The Modern Turn” is, let’s say, to start with consciousness as the basis on which to explain knowledge. But if we place consciousness before the ens rationis, then ER is seen as limited by consciousness. This is, at best, a derivative and secondary account. Consciousness is essentially restricted to the person, whereas the ER is the universe so far as its perfection informs mind as opposed to perfecting the universe. The famous “problem of consciousness” i.e. “how do I get to the object/ thing-in-itself?” can never arise if we divide our experience into the ens reale and ens rationis.  Consciousness should be seen as a limiting addition to the ER that arises after it. It is the ER so far as we consider it as informing our mind as ours.

Dialogue on Kant

Mr. Q

1.) X is all I know, and what is non-X is an empty concept

2.) I must judge that X is absolute.

1.) does not require 2.)

If I know things, I know them as they are- or even as they appear. So what if they are/ appear as moved, secondary, contingent on another, imperfect, led, etc.

Mr. Z: But if all I know is X, then if it were relative, it would be relative to another; which requires me to know non-X, which is contrary to the hypothesis 1.). So I cannot know it as relative. But I also can’t know it as positively absolute either.

Q:  but this is simply saying that something about X is unknowable because X is all I know. You can’t insist both that  that X is “what I know” and that I can’t know what it is, even in principle, which is what you are saying.

Z: Fine. What we know is Y, which is X minus the ability to determine whether X is relative or absolute.

Q: But this is just saying that we know whatever it is that we don’t fail to know!

In the course of answering a question about whether God knows himself, St. Thomas decides to give a definition of knowledge. It begins with a division: res aliqua invenitur perfecta dupliciter “A thing is found perfect in two ways”. There is the perfection of its specific existence, which possesses the perfection of this and not that (salty flavor perfects the chip, bitter the coffee) on the other hand both perfections perfect the same (both actualize taste).

Look at something. Is it something or seen? One answer to this makes them the same, another makes them very different; but the basic experience on which to speak about knowledge is that double perfection of all that is given to a cognitive power.

Ramble on analogy

Analogy in concrete terms: we take labels off of things we see first and paste them on something else. St. Thomas claims the “something else” has a habitudo to the other. What is this? “Habitudo” is itself a label that Latin speakers have moved to many different places. We find that we are already finished the process we thought to explain.

If we place the same label on two different things, do we have one word label or two? The question is immediately problematic since the tag with “w-o-r-d” on it has been placed on far more than one thing. The reference point which we thought was fixed is itself moving- with the very motion we are trying to explain in reference to some fixed point.

Say the analogates are like. Univocals are like too, however. Is this a like that is opposed to same? So like is in one sense the same as same, and in another sense not.We want one word “like”, but is there one? How is it one? Is one one?

One difficulty with this “label placed on things” view of the difference between an analogous and univocal name (notice that there is no question of explaining language here. Wittgenstein’s “five red apples” are not an issue.) is that it leaves out the knower. This is one of those dangers that Kierkegaard warned us about- to try to explain the world perfectly in a way the leaves out ourselves. The attempt to reduce metaphysics to language is one such attempt.

Letting opponents dictate your terms

In any controversy, there is a difficulty in letting your opponent dictate the terms of discourse. One example of this is the approach to the Europe’s Seventeenth century religious wars. Some take the wars as examples that religion leads to fanaticism and should therefore be excluded from civil society. One response to this criticism- see this column by George Weigel– is to say that the wars were not over religion as such but over some secular motive. This is an argument of sorts, to be sure, but both sides seem to tacitly accept that wars over religion are simply unjust. The secularist argument has most of its force only to those who beg the question and assume that religion is not worth fighting over to begin with. The Thirty Years War proves secularism is good in much the same way that the World War II proves that letting fascism do whatever it wants is good. There is some sort of proof going on here, but both sides seem to be assuming that religion- even a religion that was as tied as intimately to ones way of life as Christianity was to a 17th Century European- is not worth going to war over.

Yes yes yes…I know that the Thirty Years War was exceedingly bloody. But “how bloody a war is” is a separate point from whether it ought to be fought at all- and should be discussed after one decides whether it was right to fight it. We clearly went too far in World War II (Dresden, Tokyo), but this is not a condemnation of the war as such.

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