Mini dashed- off

(Incomplete thoughts and suggestions. Cum grano salis.)

(Costa) We know that we can’t unring the bell, and the physicist knows this too, but the formula (a law) cannot reflect this.

To move the analysis of kinesis from “motion” to “time”. The latter being closer to us to what Aristotle meant – obvious, irreversible, spread across the universe, inevitable. Here we best confront Parmenides, who reappears as the one arguing “If this is temporal, it is not the same now and then, therefore nothing is temporal.”

Consider the death of God (an epoch, like “the iron age”) as a feature of architecture and city planning. God is clearly seen through the things he has made, but we do not live among such things.  Our world is straight lines, right angles, flat surfaces, imported lights, speech through machines, etc. Nature almost never uses any of these things. Even the Grand Canyon is called a park!

Does Lord Jim lead up to its ending, or is this merely accidental, with some allowances made for the fact that it had to be dramatic (it’s a novel, after all).

Conrad – the sea as the only fitting backdrop against which to see a person.

The novelist as a maker of a universe (Tolkien). The mission fits with describing  a human life.

New Atheists and Analytic Philosophers – the only English intellectuals who write no poetry and appear to have no interest in it. How does this happen? Objection – the contemporary death of poetry. response – This won’t do. English is stronger than that.

The argument from evil as a complaint that the universe does not proceed from God as the Son and the Holy Spirit; that every man – perhaps every being – is not an instance of a hypostatic union.

AFE as a rejection of order so far as order requires subordination. Man is in many ways a slave. A fortiori, animals.

Debussy’s piano sketches make him one of the best contemporary teachers of nature. A musical Dekoninck. This does not mean they agree, but that they both give you a clear look at the thing.

The depressed philosopher: “I don’t want you to reason with me, for crying out loud!”

Given to the irrational,  rational argument is a distortion of reasoning.

When the contemporary atheist/ apologist asks “what would falsify faith?”, this is really a more radical objection against the morality of faith as faith. A falsifiable faith would not be faith but opinion – theology would be dialectics. The dispute about faith is really a dispute about giving an oath – can anyone dedicate themselves to something completely and for life on the basis of imperfect reasons, possible immaturity, and with uncertainty of what the future might hold?

Objections to faith properly speaking are all objections to marriage as well. What would falsify your faith = what would dissolve your marriage.

Objection: If they found the bones of Jesus, if aliens gave video evidence, if there were a foolproof argument for Naturalism,  etc… faith would be false. response. No, faith involves a judgment about all such, namely that they are impossible – even though a consequence can be true with an impossible antecedent. Again, the confusion of faith and dialectic/ opinion; or, better yet, an objection to the intellect taking an oath to something.

An irrational critique given to a friend, and to us. Is this love, or a slavery to a passion? Why can’t we stop thinking about it?

Know the ways in which Christ would have been irritating. The inflexibility, the enigmatic speech, the elitism of choosing Apostles…

Christ’s calls for economic justice are invisible to us.

“Capitalism: it’s not a system, it’s just a free market”. I said it too for a long time. It is utter nonsense. We are systematically blind to certain evils, perceptive of certain goods, etc, and this is reflected and strengthened systematically in law, manners, beliefs, etc.

Usury, credit, leverage. Non being.

The attempt to replace prudence with a system. “Things will never be set right until we are parts in a machine of our own devising!”

The system: a machine with no levers or buttons (no one fit to push them?) no display screens (who needs to read them?) no power switch (who would we trust to turn it off and on?). In other words, a tomb with wires.

Thinking through relativity metaphysically

To count as a being in science, something must be given as a signal, that is, it must be the sort of information that is confirmable in a particular case, and preferably registered on some piece of hardware. From now on, this is what we mean by what “is” – or at least what is knowable in any way

Einstein goes further, saying that confirmability in a particular case is necessary in order for a claim to have any meaning whatsoever, and not just in physics. Without this criteria, we are powerless before crackpot theories. What if, Einstein argues, some crackpot meteorologist claimed that all lightning strikes were simultaneous? There needs to be some sort of agreement about how we will confirm this in a particular case.

Note that this is not the same as to say that physics is only of the “phenomenal” or “the appearances of things to us”. While Einstein had Kantian sympathies, they are superfluous here. One can just as well see this as the most faithful expression of Aristotle’s account of natural science as that which studies what is given in “sensible matter”. To call matter “sensible” is to define it in relation to our own faculties, that is, to denominate being so far as it provides information to us.

Note that information is essentially observer relative, and so rest and motion must be also. It is the same thing to say “information” and “information relative to some person or piece of hardware, at some particular place and time”.

Signals are first known to us through visual observation, that is, by their traveling to us through light. No signal – regardless of how it travels – can come to us faster than c.

What is has a maximum velocity. This is not a new development in physics – Aristotle also posited a maximum velocity (the speed at which the stars traveled in their sphere). But now this maximum velocity is essential to being itself, understood as the physicist understands it. The very intelligibility of things must take into account a maximum possible velocity.

Velocity (so far as it can be given as information, and perhaps absolutely) is essentially a distance and a time, and so what we say about a velocity applies to distance (or space) and time as to its subject.

Velocity makes an essential unity of space and time. It is meaningless to try to explain different velocities only in terms of distance (space) with no reference to time, or only in terms of time without reference to distance. If velocity enters into being, the unity of space and time (spacetime) enters into being.

There is a maximum velocity. Therefore spacetime contracts with the motion of a body.

Send to signals to one observer (that is, let there be two beings to an observer). Let the first be moving towards him, and the other be at rest. If the first one gets to him more quickly, some velocity has been added to c, which is impossible. It would be sheer prejudice to say that space contracts while time stays constant or time contracts while distance says constant. Not just prejudicial but wrong, since velocity is unified in being itself.  Therefore, the unity of distance and time (spacetime) is different for the two signals. Spacetime is therefore relative to the motion or rest of the very bodies in motion or at rest. Notice that this simplifies classical physics and makes it more natural. We no longer need to posit an absolute backdrop – unobserved and unobservable – to which motions and rests relate. Some quantitative space over and above the space generated by the extension of real natural thing is no longer necessary.

All that remains to find is some formula by which we might co-ordinate the information (that is, the existence) of various mobiles that are at rest or in motion. This is given by the Lorentz transformation.

The information of gravity and an acceleration are the same, that is, gravity is a certain increase in velocity.

This is clear from riding in an elevator, braking a car, etc. There is no difference between being pulled “up” with a with a constantly increasing velocity or being in a gravitational field that “pulls” us “downward”.

Said another way, when one is being pulled “up” the inertial mass of their body gives the same information as the gravitational mass pulling “down”.

If velocity makes a difference in spacetime, gravity also makes a difference.

Gravity is a sort of velocity. Taking this into account is the what makes the general theory of relativity as opposed to the special theory, which latter is only true (that is, only attains accurately to being) when we assume there is no gravitational field. But since gravity is inseparable from the very things that move, the special theory must always make some abstraction from the reality of things, that is, from the truth.

A more complete theory of being must take into account not only the motions of things, but the gravitational fields that they give rise to.







Finding a place for Berkeley

Of all philosophers, Berkeley is one of the best at stunning and paralyzing the mind. Boswell (or someone) records a quip that “his philosophy is irrefutable and produces no persuasion”. This is a paradox that says more about his readers than about Berkeley – presumably nothing should be more persuasive than the irrefutable, unless we are speaking about the ravings of lunatics or the utterly stupid, and no one (Boswell included) thinks Berkeley is either of these.

Of all his works, I’m most struck by the Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. The work is first of all a philosophical dialogue, that, is, a work of dialectic with a principal speaker of truth matched against someone articulating a secondary truth. A dialogue is not just a dramatization of a syllogism, as though we could just label all the parts said by Socrates, Job or Philonous as “the truth (according to the author)” and all the other characters as “the false”.  It is amusing to hear the common complaint against the Socratic dialogues that they “reach no resolution”, as though this gave them some sort of skeptical purpose. Dialogues, unless they are hatchet jobs, are not supposed to give resolution, but simply to articulate the elements that the resolution would have to take into account.

To jump to the end (I might get to the details later) one resolution to the first dialogue would be to divide knowledge into perception and judgment, where the two are so radically distinguished that we are forced to say that there is no truth in perception. Taken in this way, the notion of what the sensible is would be radically distinguished between the sensible as perceived and the sensible according to judgment. One resolution to the second dialogue – and to my mind this is the only resolution – is to conclude that so far as knowledge is understood as a physical change, it cannot be in any way objective, where objective is understood to be of some thing that has a being independent of the mind. The objectivity of knowledge, even sensible knowledge, requires that even sensible knowledge is not formally and properly physical.

One response to this, of course, is to say that what Berkeley has Philonous say in the dialogue he himself says in the Principles. If this is true, then it seems to me that Berkeley is closer to the truth in the dialogues than in Principles. It’s not a matter of doctrines that need to be accepted or refuted anyway – refutation is a generally sterile enterprise, and it is certainly out-of-place when we are speaking of any philosopher in the canon. Our job is not so much to refute or accept doctrines as it is to find a place for all of them somewhere. Berkeley has an indispensable place as the thinker who showed us what knowledge is so far as it is a physical or entitative change in a subject.

Notions of the Soul

Sean Carroll sets down a definition of an “immortal soul” (ht)

[W]hen most people think about an immaterial soul that persists after death, they have in mind some sort of blob of spirit energy that takes up residence near our brain, and drives around our body like a soccer mom driving an SUV.

Armed with such a definition as a first principle, Sean makes quick work of the idea of immortality through the standard interaction-problem argument, though I very much liked his way of framing the argument. After giving the Dirac equation for the activity of electrons, he says:

If you believe in an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies, you need to believe that this equation is not right…. There needs to be a new term (at minimum) on the right, representing how the soul interacts with electrons. (If that term doesn’t exist, electrons will just go on their way as if there weren’t any soul at all, and then what’s the point?)

I’ll have to take Sean’s word for it that the equation has been applied, say, to an electron in some guys big toe and has successfully accounted for everything his foot did during the experiment, or to an electron in some guys mouth and has successfully accounted for what he was saying, but Sean is the physicist, so it’s best to assume he knows about this sort of stuff. But back to the argument. Sean’s clever move is that he’s framed the discussion so that he demands that someone answer as a physicist, but an idea like soul has no value in physics. So why did I bother including the snarky quasi definition that Sean is demolishing? Because it is still closer to the truth than the notion of soul that Carroll is working from.

Talking about an immortal soul requires some consensus on what a soul is at all, and the largest, longest lasting, and most diverse tradition on this point claims that a soul is whatever a living body has that a dead body doesn’t. If the older words for “soul” are any indication (anima, pneuma, spirit), we first claimed that this thing was breath. Living bodies breathe. Dead bodies don’t. Such materialism is so earthy it makes even Carroll seem spiritual. Nevertheless, to call this soul misses the point – while breath is a very good sign of life, it’s doubtful that anyone ever considered the passage of air from one side of your nostrils to another as the reason for of life.

The next simplest account, and the first that really touches on what the soul might be, asserts that the soul is the activity of an organ. We can understand breath not as simply the air that is inhaled and exhaled, but the whole working system that breathes in and out. Here, at least, we’ve moved beyond the level of simply noting a sign of life and have given a bona fide operation of life. That said, all the explanation amounts to is that the life of the person depends on the life of their respiratory organs.  Saying I’m alive if my lungs are doesn’t say much.

The first real account we get of what the soul is – which is still firmly materialistic – is that the soul is some arrangement of parts which, of themselves, are not living. The Greeks called this the theory that the soul was a harmony, and it is still the simplest theory of the soul (though we would probably dump “harmony” in favor of something more scienecy- sounding). The theory is continually abandoned for various reasons, the simplest being that arrangement is a feature of position or place, but if all one does is change the position or place of something, it doesn’t cease to be what it is. If all there was to being alive was arrangement, then death wouldn’t change what a thing was – which would mean that a cow doesn’t cease to be a cow when it dies.

To remedy the defect in thinking that the soul is some arrangement of non-living things, it would make sense to introduce a soul that simply lived by nature. Though a body can either live or not, we introduce some thing X which simply lives by nature. On this account, a body lives like water is sweet. Of itself, water isn’t sweet or bitter, but the same can’t be said of a packet of Koolaid mix. In the same way, bodies of themselves aren’t living or non-living, but the same can’t be said of soul. There are materialist versions of this account (where we say that the soul is fire or some material elan vital) but the theory on the whole is repugnant to materialism, since it’s precisely body which we say is neither alive or not. This theory has its own problems too, some of which are similar to what Carroll notices. There are good refutations of the point, and Carroll’s argument might well count as one, but it is still closer to the truth than the arrangement theory.

And there’s the rub. For while Carroll has a point in refuting the sort of substance-dualism that posits different substances as mere quantitative parts (or quasi quantitative parts) of a living thing, his own theory of soul is simply a more primitive arrangement theory. At the heart of his critique is that all there is are clouds of electrons, variously arranged, and dutifully following the Dirac equation. Even if we accept Carroll’s critique (and there is much truth in it), to accept his own position on the matter would still be a regression to a less reflective and less adequate theory. By the logic of his own position, at the next stage we’ll just junk the science altogether and go back to writing poetry about the soul, with shades in the underworld, spirits struggling forth from bodies “when the dark blood ran”…. Hmmm…. Go Sean! Keep it up!

The mode of defining in contemporary physical science

In commenting on the absolute velocity of the speed of light, which is at the basis of Einstein’s relativity, Eddington notes that we need to understand the claim “nothing can go faster than the speed of light” in a particular way. If we build a laser cannon and shine it to Neptune, then spin the cannon around in a circle at even a moderate speed, the tip of the light beam will be moving much faster than the speed of light relative to us. Eddington says that the theory only deals with speeds that are capable of being signals. Einstein himself makes a point that dovetails with this in his discussion of simultaneity in Relativity, when he specifies the peculiar character of physical definitions (that they have to show us how to verify something in a particular case), and then tells the reader “not to read any further until they are firmly convinced of the point.” This is to say we must define the things we study in terms of signals that can be verified and detected in a particular case. This mode of defining runs across all sciences from physics to statistics and poll gathering to chemistry to sociology to psychology. The whole nature of modern science – with all its power and limitations – rests on seeing this peculiar mode of defining.

The thin theory of existence compared to matter as a principle of (material) individuation

Bill Vallicella gives a very thorough and illuminating account of the “thin theory” of existence. He shows how it is fundamental to the divide between Analytic and Continental philosophy, gives an account of where the idea comes from and shows exactly what it consists in. Vallicella explains the essence of the theory starting with a quotation from Van Inwagen:

“The thin conception of being is this: the concept of being is closely allied with the concept of number: to say that there are Xs is to say that the number of Xs is 1 or more — and to say nothing more profound, nothing more interesting, nothing more.” (p. 4) Connoisseurs of this arcana will recognize it as pure Frege:

. . . existence is analogous to number. Affirmation of existence is
in fact nothing but denial of the number nought. (Gottlob Frege,
Foundations of Arithmetic, 65e)

‘Cats exist,’ then, says that the number of cats is one or more. Equivalently, it says that the concept cat has one or more instances.  Existence, as Frege puts it, is “a property of concepts.” It is the property of being instantiated.

Leaving aside the strange Analytic Philosopher commonplace of “instantiated concepts” (a Platonic muddling of the mode of knowing and being… And how does one “instantiate a concept”  anyway? Think about it real hard? Wait to hear a poofing noise?) It’s clear that this account of existence arises from seeing individuals as units “the number of X’s is one or more”… “The denial of the number nought”… The Analytic guys are noticing something real here, and I think it is more or less the same thing St. Thomas explains by the principle that matter is the principle of individuation. This principle in St. Thomas applies only so far as we see the individual in a way that it is seen in the “thin theory” of existence, that is, as a unit for counting. We can indeed see any of the things in nature this way, and to see them in this way is remarkably simple and elegant.

But there is more to the essence of the things around us than their matter, and so we need not merely consider them according to this mode of existence. For example, when I say that I appreciate and value my son as an individual, or when we speak of individual rights or even of an individual plant, the word individual isn’t being used to indicate the sort of existence that we experience when we look at the beads of an abacus, or count the numbers on an odometer. I’m not saying that “there is one or more” of my sons, or that rights belong to one or more persons, etc. Even if this is a fact, it is not what we mean to say. We simply can’t experience units of counting as anything but parts of a larger whole (even if there happens to only be one unit), but these other senses of individuality see the individual as existing for itself, that is, as separated from a larger whole. I speak of my son’s individuality because I want to speak of what sets him apart, what is uniquely his own, what is irreplaceable in him. This is a mode of individuation that is opposed to material individuation, even though it is obvious that my son is (also) essentially individuated materially.

Seen in this way, the “thin theory” of existence arises from the materiality of things, and the fact that their matter gives them a sort of individuation (a sort tied to number).  But this is not the only mode of existence of the things around us, and it is not the only sort of individuality or being that we understand. It is, however, the first sort of existence or individuality that we understand, and is our first account of how things are essentially and universally.


There are many classic statements of the ineffability of God, but fewer accounts of what exactly makes something ineffable. Perhaps everyone thinks that ineffability is something you can’t say much about, but this is to confuse ineffability with the thing that is ineffable; and there is a very great difference between seeing that you can’t describe X and seeing why you can’t do so (I picked the term “describe” carefully, since ineffability is not the same as the inability to say anything at all about something – if it were, the very word “ineffable” would be contradictory.)

One locus classicus of ineffability is Metaphysics VII c. 15. Though Aristotle is giving a critique of the reality of Platonic forms, the reasons have a broader applicability:

For the Idea is, as its supporters say, an individual, and can exist apart; and the formula (account/ description) must consist of words; and he who defines must not invent a word (for it would be unknown), but the established words are common to all the members of a class; these then must apply to something besides the thing defined; e.g. if one were defining you, he would say ‘an animal which is lean’ or ‘pale’, or something else which will apply also to some one other than you…

the impossibility of defining individuals escapes notice in the case of eternal things, especially those which are unique, like the sun or the moon. For people err not only by adding attributes whose removal the sun would survive, e.g. ‘going round the earth’ or ‘night-hidden’ (for from their view it follows that if it stands still or is visible, it will no longer be the sun; but it is strange if this is so; for ‘the sun’ means a certain substance); but also by the mention of attributes which can belong to another subject; e.g. if another thing with the stated attributes comes into existence, clearly it will be a sun; the formula therefore is general. But the sun was supposed to be an individual, like Cleon or Socrates. After all, why does not one of the supporters of the Ideas produce a definition of an Idea?

The individual is ineffable in the sense of being impossible to define. There is no precise description possible, and no way to attain to its individuality in speech, or in thought so far as speech is a reflection of thought. But as Aristotle will explain at the end of book VII, there are two ways of being individuated, and so two modes of this sort of ineffability:

1.) Material ineffability. Things multiplied materially are enumerated by ‘the division of the continuum’ – we’re interested only in facts like one being here and another being there; one being now and the other being then. Since intellectual knowledge prescinds from what is here and now (see pp. 1 of the response) it also prescinds from this sort of individuation. So far as our language reflects out thought, we have no words to describe to the individual in its individuality.

Nevertheless, our thought has a clear orientation to this material singular – it’s not as if when speaking about water we don’t recognize this particular puddle or teardrop in what we are saying. Though the universal mode of our knowledge does not have the concretion of sense, its orientation to the sense particular is such that we have a more profound understanding of the individual by intellect than by sense, even if sense attains the individual as such while intellect does not.  Again, even though we cannot attain the material singular by thought or speech, we can distinguish concrete and abstract modes of speaking about concrete particulars: even if we can’t give a formal description of John Smith we can know the difference between the concrete term “man” and the abstract term “humanity”.

2.) Formal ineffability. Not all things exist with matter. Even though Aristotle denied the existence of forms, his account explain why they cannot be described even though they are not material things, and so is an account of the ineffability of subsistent forms. Here again, ineffability is tied to uniqueness or determination to one – it is precisely because a form is not a repeatable entity that we find ourselves unable to define it, that is, to give a precise desciption. Things that are utterly unique are not sorts of things, and our language is only adequate to the task of descibing something that is a sort of thing. While our intellect can know what “unrepeatability” or “complete uniqueness” means, we can have no concept of some individual that is such – in fact, my having to say “is such” proves the impossibility. Our speech and thought can either describe something as existing or as unable to be multiplied, but not both. We see that “whiteness” cannot be multiplied, but we cannot visualize whiteness as subsisting.

Though our intellect can know neither sort of individuality as such, our mind has an orientation to the material individual that it does not have to the formal individual.The basic orientation of our intellect is to sensible things, and so we understand formal uniqueness and individuality though language and thought that is suited to material uniqueness and individuation. A case can be made that we have some direct vision of formal individuation in our understanding of persons, though this would not change the general orientation of our mind to material things; and at any rate this knowledge appears to be non-conceptual and ineffable.

Material and formal individuation exist on a continuum of more and less; the more materially individuated something is, the less it is formally individuated. This is to say nothing other than that there are degrees of separation from matter, or degrees to which the subsistent individual relates to matter.

The ineffability of God comes from more than one source, but one mode of his ineffability is that he is utterly and completely unique: a nature whose very nature is unrepeatable since it is the same as its act of existence. God is the limiting case of formal individuation and so of the ineffability proper to that sort of existence (which is not, at its limit, properly a sort of existence). One of the best ways of understanding the better strains of modern philosophical atheism (I’m thinking of Heidegger’s, and perhaps some elements in Derrida) is that language is inadequate to explain the utter formal uniqueness of God. All of our descriptions, as Aristotle says ” must consist of words; and he who defines must not invent a word (for it would be unknown), but [use] the established words [that] are common to all the members of a class; these then must apply to something besides the thing defined.” To the extent that we discover the utter uniqueness of God – that is the extent we discover that God is a person – we recognize that not speaking about him is a very appropriate way of comporting ourselves to him.

Interpreting religious statistics

In response to a question about what he thought about the number of Muslims on pace to exceed the number of Christians, John Paul II responded that ultimately, the question was unanswerable since it dealt with values that could not be quantified. It is easy to understand this in a vague, “spiritual” way, as though the Bl. John Paul was saying something like “spiritual values are non-numerical or non empirical”, but I think he meant something far more concrete and empirical. There are a number of insurmountable problems with trying to interpret religious statistics, some which might be avoidable with more subtle tests, and others that seem simply insurmountable.

For example, consider the statistic that people are leaving Christianity in droves, and have done so since the 60’s. Some problems in interpreting this are:

1.) Not having much data older than a lifetime. If there are cycles to religious belief, they appear to move on a much slower table than, say, political beliefs or the economy. If this is right, looking at 50 years of data and trying to get a sense of how to interpret it is like being given 10 square feet of topography and being asked to figure out if you’re on a hill or in a valley. Why not see the post WWII church attendance as inordinately high, and the crash as a return to a norm? For that matter, is this crash a particularly bad one? IS it worse than the last three or four crashes in comparable circumstances? This question, however, at least remains on the level of the quantitative. Deeper problems come in from

2.) The relevant religious facts are not given quantitatively. So people have left churches in droves. This could easily represent a greater sense that church attendance should be tied to truth, which would be a deepening of the spiritual sense in the good sense of “spiritual” – the sense that Christ speaks of when he says that in the days to come God will be worshiped in spirit and in truth.  This is why Fabro raises the possibility that contemporary atheism might represent a spiritual awakening in his God in Exile. If you attend church without ever considering whether the things you are doing are true (which is very easy to do), or continue to attend without even a desire to believe, then truth is not a deciding factor in your actions. It’s hard for me to see how it is not a step up – even a step closer to God – to choose not to go. I remember reading Rodger Ebert explain that he stopped going to church after he recognized that he wouldn’t stop looking at pornography. There is a greater awareness of truth – and something closer to the spirit – in what he did than in the actions of someone who is completely non-cognizant of, or indifferent to, the conflict between God and sin or the spirit and the flesh.

Sherry Weddell, for example, interprets the crash of church attendance among Catholics to “the death of cultural Catholicism”. What do we say to this? Cultural Catholicism is not a rite, it’s not a sacrament, it has no theological significance and – most importantly – it doesn’t save anyone. Having numbers on your side is a good defense against being thrown to the lions, but having a Church full of the lukewarm and the indifferent has its costs as well.

3.) The data collection problem. In church statistics, a “Catholic” means “someone who calls himself Catholic when you ask him what he is over the phone”. This is an irritating definition even if it is unavoidable, since it severs what a Catholic is from any set of criteria. The problems with the definition become more and more problematic the more one tries to speak of behavioral traits or beliefs among Catholics, which is clear if we consider that no one would take a survey of “scientific belief” seriously if we determined who was a scientist in the same way.

The importance of form in the Scholastic theory of intention

The Scholastic theory that there are intentions is well known, both by those who accept it and dispute it; but the general points of the theory that the Scholastics used to explain them are much less well known.

Prior to the idea of intention is the idea of form. Our idea of a form starts off as an idea of a shape, and shapes are best known to us by the shapes that we make ourselves (since such forms take their truth from us), which is why the perennial example of form will always be the shape of a statue. Form determines something to be this or that – the statue starts existing when the sculptor stops forming.

The theory of intention arises in comparison to this: just as the subject of acting (like stone) can come to be this or that, the subject of knowing (a sense organ, an intellect) can come to be this or that. Since form is what determines the first activity, to word extends to mean what determines the second activity.  Both actions are receiving form, but this reception is partly the same and partly different. The first difference between the two is that while the first form makes something be a new thing the second form allows both things to remain what they were before. The first form makes something be while the second doesn’t. This is why the Scholastics (until Suarez, at least) divided the second sort of form from the form that gives being or existence, so the intentional form was opposed to the entitative form (it was perhaps called “intentional” since it was not entitative but was directed to the entitative). The two forms related to different subjects too; and since the subject of the first form was called matter, the subject of the second was called immaterial.

The objections to this theory reduce to the claim that there is no difference between the first form and the second; that is, that knowledge is simply an entitative change. Suarez made this argument popular, and so gave the first version of the modern physicalist argument against intentions (though Suarez was emphatically not a physicalist). The objection is simple: seeing green is simply a more complex entitative change.

The argument about intentions was, for the Scholastics at least, a dispute about whether there was any real difference between knowers and non-knowers. Our modern dispute comes to this too, though contemporary people lack the notion of form that makes this clear.

Mercy and the need for our desire

I was struck today by the times when we need to ask for things even if the other person wants to give them to us. I needed a sitter for a few hours, and knew that grandma had nothing planned for the afternoon. I knew with mathematical certitude that she wanted to help out, and that she would not see it as an imposition. But I still had to ask her if she would take the kids. I couldn’t very well just drop them off and count on her goodwill.

The realization brought to mind an argument that has been doing the rounds in certain atheist circles: “if God wants me to convert, and he really is all-powerful, then he can come and convert me”. Mortimer Adler spent much of his life giving a variant on the argument, namely that he wasn’t a Christian because God hadn’t given him faith. Both arguments presume (heh) that if God really wants us to change, then it’s his job to come and change us, and to do this irrespective of what we ask him to do.  This might make some sense if salvation were a divine duty, the way that fixing the sewer pipes is the duty of the city. Generally, if salvation were a matter of justice it might make sense to get indignant about God not simply showing up and saving everybody, or to wait around for him to show up and save us. But salvation is not a matter of justice.

An argument like this might also have value in showing the reason for the prayer of petition.

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