A logic by which the imagination might illumine what the intellect is doing in a categorical syllogism

In speaking about categorical syllogisms, we too easily get tricked by imagination into seeing them as arrangements of terms in space.  Such arrangement is an accident of language, and not a particularly helpful one. The trickery of imagination is inevitable, so we might as well try to exploit it to our advantage, and arrange the terms in space in such a way as to better illuminate what is going on in a categorical syllogism.

Since categorical syllogisms express certain relationships of universality among terms, it would be more illuminating to arrange the terms in a way that reflected this universality, and to call the syllogism whatever order we make in space. The argument that all men are mortal, and all Greeks are men, could be arranged with the most universal terms on top, the least universal on the bottom, and so the syllogism would look like this:




or, following the convention of reading left to right

Mortal, Men, Greeks.

 On this sort of logic, the first figure would be a syllogism pure and simple, since it is the only figure were what is called “most” [universal] (major) and “least” [universal] (minor) is really such. A simple order of the terms would be taken as a first figure Barbara syllogism. Other syllogisms would be makde by adding marks to this: “some” could be indicated in some way or another of the last term (I’d like an asterisk), and some way of indicating whether someone was affirming or denying. No adverbs, copulae, or adjectives of quantity (all, every, some, no) would be used.

The second figure would, following this, put the middle term on the top or on the left, and then find some way of placing the major term closer to it. The third figure would reverse this (major on top, middle on bottom). Any other figure would be self-evidently impossible.

On this arrangement, the term on the top or left could not have an asterisk, indicating that the mind always moves from something unqualified and universal as opposed to particular. We would distinguish affirmation and negation (indicated in speech by is… is not… and in a sense by “all” and “no”) from universality and particularity (indicated by “some” as opposed to “all” or “no”).

Pluralism of human experience

The things and events in the universe come neither with name tags nor instruction manuals. The experience simply occurs and we are left to supply the mode by which we will understand it and the intelligible aspect that we will consider in the thing. The intelligible aspect follows the various unities and divisions we make among experiences or within them, the mode of consideration follows the sort of universal we make.  

Said another way, reason is essentially gathering and separating, though one and the same thing can be gathered together with countless different things and by countless different tools for gathering. At every turn, we can give rise to an entirely new science or doctrine. Poets, scientists, politicians, novelists, and half a dozen others can consider Napoleon’s conquests or the cedars of Lebanon, but it makes no sense to speak of one getting hold of some truth about them that could exhaustively explain or reconstruct the results of the others. The same is true within any one discourse: War and Peace and the second movement of the Eroica symphony are both about the Napoleonic wars (along with  Les Misérables and Bronte’s Shirley) but no one has ever thought that the information given in one could exhaust, replace, or even ground the others. The account of the wars as French history is not the same as the account of them as military history, nor does the general does see the same thing in them as the economist. For someone who were to simply see the wars take place, which of all these ways of considering them is the “right” or exhaustive way that could explain all others? The question itself is ridiculous. The event doesn’t come with some magical name tag that favors one construction of reason over another. Notice that, even if one said that wars were entirely caused by economic realities, it would not follow that even a complete economics would make one a prudent general, or even a competent one. By the same token, even if all political decisions were nothing but physical interactions, it would not follow that an exhaustive knowledge of physics would make one a competent statesman.

The desire for one doctrine or method, the development of which could exhaustively account for everything, is an attempt to lay claim to a kind of knowledge that human beings cannot have (the primacy that Aristotle gives to metaphysics is not such that all other sciences are merely a development of it, as though novels and biology could be simply derived from thinking hard enough about being.) God is infinitely greater than even an “ideal knower” that we might posit of a human science. There is an irreducible pluralism to human experience, such that it cannot be reduced to a single product of human intelligence.

Note on grace

St. Thomas defines life in opposition to nature, though nature in the sense of determination to one. In all creatures, nature serves as the limit of life.

The action of a human life is either in accord with nature or not. Actions in accord with nature give rise to happiness, but actions not in accord with it promise even more than happiness, since life as such consists in rising above nature. The transgression of natural limits thus gives a sense of reaching to the sublime and of attaining to infinite life. It is a way in which a limited creature appropriates to himself a divine life. Those who live in accord with nature see this life as sheer unhappiness; those who try to appropriate the divine life see the other life as servile, subordinate, and only imperfectly alive. Both are right. The Christian doctrine of grace is an attempt to remedy the deficiencies in both critiques. On the one hand it builds on nature and so empowers one for happiness;  on the other hand it makes a servant or slave into a friend and son of God.

An interview with an old friar

The rectory was in village at the base of the mountains, though it was set apart several hundred feet from any other buildings in the villiage. It had a large full-wall window in the living room that faced the approach to the house, and today when I walked up to it I could see the friar sitting in a chair, holding what looked like a pair of balled-up socks in his hand that he was squeezing in pulses, as though he were inspecting his fingernails while doing some sort of hand-grip exercise. He didn’t know I was coming. I knocked and he let me in, still holding the balled-up thing in his hand. I could see it was a dish-towel crumpled to the size of a baseball. He led me into the kitchen (it was where he always took visitors) and folded the dish towel over a bar in front of the sink.

“So what was that?” I asked him, half waving my index finger at the towel.

“What was what?” The friar said through his smile. He smiled at everyone, as though he were continually thanking you for being the most wonderful person he had ever met.

“The towel” I said. He looked at me as though he were waiting for me to explain why I was asking what a dish towel was.

“It’s just that I…” and suddenly I figured out I had to tell him that I was watching him through the window “… I thought you were using a stress ball or something.” And I squeezed my hand in a grip motion like the one I saw him doing through the window.

“Oh…You saw me…  I was still doing that at the door?” Even when he asked innocent questions, he still spoke as if he were convinced that you had given him a unique and irreplacable joy. I paused at the question, not wanting to say ‘yes’, since it was impossible to lie to him.  He broke the silence, “that was nothing, just some thought on the First Way”. He waved his hand as though he were dismissing the whole thought.

“But that’s my field, Father.” I said, perking up at the mention of the First Way – “so what’s with the dish towel?”

“I don’t know that it’s all that interesting, or that if I could explain it in a way that won’t seem terribly dull or silly.” He half shrugged.

“What’s that?” I kept asking.

He picked up the towel again and crumpled it into the palm of his hand. “Just this” he said  “God is the source of all motion, and all things in motion stand to him as his instruments. As I was thinking about this it hit me that my heartbeat was just God doing this.” And squeezed the towel in pulses.

We were both silent for a moment, but I looked at him like I wanted him to continue. He understood.

“I was thinking about some Moltmann and some of the other contemporary theologians who find it so offensive that God would be immovable- he calls it the apathy of God. But this strikes me as exactly wrong. It’s better to say that the first way shows the intimate concern that God has for all things. All I could think about while I was looking at that towel was about how I had spent so much of my day not thinking about God at all, not in some evil way, but just because I was thinking about what was immediately at hand, or even about nothing at all. But all that time God was holding my heart like this, being so careful that the beats should be paced exactly right. All I could think was how ungrateful I was! What ingratitude!” You could tell he was genuinely sorry and that he thought no one could possibly be more of a thoughtless wretch than he was. I wanted  to respond to this, but I more wanted him to continue on.

“All of nature is like this.” He said, sitting down, making a more general point. “They are instruments. Now all instruments contribute something to the action, but nature is an instrument by contributing its own interiority to the action of God. The motion they contribute is uniquely their own, coming forth from within – from the heart of their being. Nature is the point of contact where the action of God touches the action of the universe.”

He explained one insight that led him to this: “I can remember how once, after I read the First Way and became convinced that a series of movers could not be infinite, that I thought ‘then why don’t we simply take any motion and peel back the causes until we see the face of God?’ I asked this to my teacher and he told me ‘as soon as you reach to the activity of nature, then God is the next step… nature is simply a way of taking part in the activity of God’. I thought about what he said for many years. It seems to me now that nature takes part by contributing its own interority. The contribution is more intimate, even while the dependency is much more profound.”

I didn’t understand all of this at the time, and I don’t know how accurately I’ve spoken of what he actually said. But this has struck me for a long time as being a crucial insight as to how one should read the Five Ways.

Moral change or instruction

Prudence, then, involves the intellect so far as it is moved and subordinate to the action of the will, and according to this the intellect knows moral truth so far as it follows upon and is being caused by the goods sought by the will. Seen in this way, there is no “problem of obligation”, that is, no difficulty that arises from how one gets from knowing some moral truth to actually willing it. Moral truth itself is simply a consequence of what we are actually willing and seeking after as good. This does not mean that we will with infallible rectitude but that the cognitive element of morality follows upon the actual goods we are seeking.  

Because everyone actually wills goods for a very long time without making any attempt to judge whether they are consistent or even essentially loveable, and because human beings have a very difficult time discerning authentically human goods, every human life has some necessity of moral correction. But how is this correction made? Moral truth follows upon goods actually sought, so much so that, if someone were attached immovably to something as good, it is not possible for him to see his beliefs about this thing as false. Moral certitude follows the degree of attachment or determination we have to some good, and changes only when new goods force their way upon us.

On this account, the proper agent of the moral change of another is the one who actively wills the good of that other. Teaching the other is only necessary so far as it is subsumed under this willing of a good.

Tolstoy and Prudence

There is a tension between saying a.) moral axioms must be rational and b.) moral action is not performed by the power of reason, but the will. The simplest sense of a.) is to see morality as a scientific matter of determining principles and arriving at conclusions; the simplest sense of b.) is that moral matters should be distinguished from the sort of work that reason does. Again, a.) makes one see will as a mere extension or passive power of reason; b.) makes the moral acts of the will autonomous from what reason is doing. The simplest senses don’t work. So what are the other options?

Tolstoy gives one good point of departure in considering the relation between intellect and will in his novel Resurrection   

It is usually imagined that a thief, a murderer, a spy, a prostitute, acknowledging his or her profession as evil, is ashamed of it. But the contrary is true. People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. In order to keep up their view of life, these people instinctively keep to the circle of those people who share their views of life and their own place in it. …

And in this manner Maslova had formed her views of life and of her own position. She was a prostitute condemned to Siberia, and yet she had a conception of life which made it possible for her to be satisfied with herself, and even to pride herself on her position before others 

According to this conception, the highest good for all men without exception–old, young, schoolboys, generals, educated and uneducated, was connected with the relation of the sexes; therefore, all men, even when they pretended to be occupied with other things, in reality took this view. She was an attractive woman, and therefore she was an important and necessary person. The whole of her former and present life was a confirmation of the correctness of this conception.

With such a view of life, she was by no means the lowest, but a very important person. And Maslova prized this view of life more than anything; she could not but prize it, for, if she lost the importance that such a view of life gave her among men, she would lose the meaning of her life. And, in order not to lose the meaning of her life, she instinctively clung to the set that looked at life in the same way as she did.

It is accidental that Tolstoy describes a life of vice, since the description given here is of any one who seeks to have a meaningful life, which is everyone without exception. Notice that ones doctrine of life follows upon what is good and meaningful. Not just this: it is altogether right and good that it should do so. The only other option is that one allows for an essential disharmony of truth and goodness. There can be false judgments about what is good, but it is not an error to teach that one can conclude from goods to truths.

The mode in which goodness causes truth is the way in which the will moves reason and causes it to act. This motion, when habitual and productive of a good person, is prudence.

To reveal

Revelation is to manifest something to another, which demands revealing within the historical, social, and developmental contraints of that other. To ignore these contraints and restrictions is not to reveal, but simply to talk to oneself in the presence of another. Now some of these contraints are obvious – the other might speak Hebrew or Coptic, and the revelation would respect this. But other contraints are no less true, but quite significant – what if the hearer prefers mythical accounts of things? What if he’s a geocentrist? What if his notions of causation are such that anything that happens in X’s domain, and in view of X, is seen as caused by X? Wouldnt’ we then get myths, geocentric language, and repeated assertions that God caused any event that happened in history?

Matter (4)

Matter moves, and therefore makes up a body. Body, as known in this way, is simply the indefinite multitude of parts that allow a part of the mobile to be in the next place, then in the next place, etc.. Matter is inseparable from multitude, though not a multitude that is a multiplication of a unit, but the sheer indefinite multitude of the potential parts of body. To actualize these parts gives rise to the individual among physical things. The individuation of physical things thus reduces to matter, though not in the sense that the unity of the individual is from this source, but the sheer indefinite multiplication of the physical. This indefinite multiplication arises from the first notions of matter as well – matter simply is the initial stage of what is to arise from the action of universal nature. All things are matter like lamp oil is to a flame. But this progression caused by universal nature is of an indefinite number of individuals. Matter just is this capacity to give rise to a multitude of individuals.

Evidence, Rhetorical Style, and Testimony

To the question “what would you do if you died and found yourself in front of God”, Bertrand Russell answered “I’d say there wasn’t enough evidence.” John Loftus  develops this line of argument with more than one evidentialist objection, but I was struck by this one:

Someone could’ve made a monument to Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden that still exists and is scientifically dated to the dawn of time. There would be overwhelming evidence for a universal flood covering “all” mountains. Noah’s ark would be found exactly where the Bible says, and it would be exactly as described in the Bible. The location of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt, would still be miraculously preserved and known by scientific testing to have traces of human DNA in it. There would be non-controversial evidence that the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, conclusive evidence that they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and convincing evidence that they conquered the land of Canaan exactly as the Bible depicts…

Reading this, I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s great early objection to Christianity, namely, he couldn’t believe scriptures that were written in a low and vulgar style. Surely if God were the author of these things he could have spoken more like Cicero. Augustine treats his objection with great respect, and he resolves it only when Ambrose explains to him that the scriptures have a (hidden) genius through their allegorical meanings. Those who read Augustine usually dispense with his objection far more quickly and with far less care. It simply doesn’t strike us as reasonable (whether theists or atheists) that the style of the scripture is crucial to its claims to inspiration. But when your culture values rhetorical style to an extreme degree and has achieved truly immortal feats of rhetorical excellence, it counts against the Scriptures that they do not speak with eloquence.

Our culture, however, doesn’t value rhetoric but scientific discourse, and so our version of Augustine’s objection is that we can’t believe scriptures that show such little interest for scientific method. Scripture, if it were really divine, would carefully catalogue evidence for its claims, take affidavits, leave monuments, etc. all with an eye to being able to present the best possible evidentialist case for all times and forever.

Some good apologetics might come out of a response to all this, but I wonder if it isn’t also reasonable just  to say “But the author of scripture isn’t an evidentialist!” Collecting evidence is one thing, setting down an evidence based case is another, and scripture doesn’t strike anyone as the single-minded attempt to construct an evidence based case.

So what is scripture trying to construct? It seems more of a testimony – a testimony of a priestly people who are giving witness to divine things that were shown to their community. Testimony is like evidence (and like rhetorical persuasion, FWIW)  but it is clearly not the same. One hearing the testimony might sift through it, reject it, accept it, question it, etc. but the one testifying simply wants to give his witness. Christ, for one, was chiefly interested in making sure that he would have continual witnesses on earth, not that there would be any careful documentation of what he did or incontrovertible evidence that he did it.  He wanted to build an institution and people, and not a case or even a flawless rhetorical masterpiece. True, all these things are compatible, but only one of them can be the foundation and primary motive of belief, and Christ wanted to place personal testimony as the primary motive of belief: Faith cometh by hearing. Our faith is always founded on a living witness – on a person who traces his mission back to the first ones that Christ sent forth as witnesses. It is not obvious that founding everything on a monument, a DNA finding, a more meticulous Hebrew census-taking, etc. would be a better way to go.

Matter (3)

So how long can one speak about matter before speaking about body and three dimensions? Isn’t matter “solid stuff”, or something like it? Even now, our imagination insists that matter is little billiard balls. Why wait so long to speak of magnitude and body?

Aristotle waited too; and all those who followed him point out how much philosophy of nature one does before he gets around to raising the  question whether physical things are bodily. Motion and physical extension are indisputable data, but extension is not exactly the same thing as body, and advances in physics can raise the question whether there are bodies in nature as they are in the imagination. In a word, whether bodies are more or less what they are when we do solid geometry is not given. Like all questions in physics, it is the sort of thing we need to judge in terms of sense experience and not imagination.

Body is not extension but the subject or substance of the accident of extension. Attention! this is a metaphysical judgment, and so is not necessarily verifiable by empirical means (metaphysics judges experience in light of intellect, empirical judgment in light of sensation.) This leaves a great many empirical questions undecided. For example, to understand body as “the subject of extension” does not of itself decide the empirical question of whether void or space can be such a subject.

For Aristotle, the necessity of body is proven by a consideration of motion. Moving requires getting to some next place (irrespective of whether the motion stops there or not) but what has no parts cannot move to the next place. Partless things can’t overlap since they have no parts; nor can they touch since touching requires contact of parts. A mobile with extended parts is thus necessary for motion as given in experience and judged in the light of the intellect.

Again, we come to see the necessity of matter being body by a consideration of matter as the subject of motion or becoming; and so the former does not carry the same conviction or certitude as the latter. Notice that “body” involves an abstraction: for it is the subject of extension, but while “extension” is uniform across some distance, there is no necessity that there be a single body across that same distance. Space has a uniformity or homogeneity that is not shared by the bodies that give rise to the space.

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