Peace with thy neighbor’s devil

Anthony Esolen wrote a critique of what he called “nice fornication”. One critical comment on the thread did a particularly good job at expressing a common sentiment that we contemporary persons have towards using words like “fornication”:

This reasoned approach, particularly its accurate but harsh language, is not, in my opinion, going to be effective…

…If we are to have any hope of re-inspiring this generation (which has been deprived of its cultural and spiritual inheritance), we will have to find words and images that help them to understand the beauty and the grace of love’s imperatives (faithfulness, refusal to subject the beloved to exploitation) while destroying the false images they have been so very carefully taught.

The language of love and beauty has been co-opted by those who value sexual attraction and its temporary pleasures over the beauty and nobility of commitment and marriage. Those of us who believe otherwise are left with “fornication” and “abstinence,” words which will be resented or ignored by young people in love, a condition which does not encourage clarity of thought.

The comment provoked indignation and led to irritated responses. I’m conflicted on what to think about it. On the one hand, the comment is perfectly tuned to the kind of rhetoric that contemporary culture demands that we use to express our disapproval of things:  one must go to exorbitant lengths to show that they have compassion and understanding for the other;  any condemnation must be played down, qualified, and expressed with hesitation; and the general atmosphere of critique must approximate the therapist’s couch. (this happens not just with moral disapproval – the same rhetoric must be used when a teacher explains a low grade given to a student, or when a boss critiques a worker’s performance). On the other hand, who doesn’t resent having to express himself in this way?

Part of the reason for the resentment is that those who have to use this rhetoric are aware that they do not argue from a position of power, since those with power can express disapproval outside the company of their peers. Everyone else kowtows, even if they have a title that appears to grant them power (teacher, boss, etc.) But this does not capture the whole reason for the resentment. There is also a peculiar indignity to this therapeutic rhetoric, which Nietzsche captures quite well in the second chapter of Zarathustra: 

PEOPLE commended unto Zarathustra a wise man, as one who could discourse well about sleep and virtue: greatly was he honoured and rewarded for it, and all the youths sat before his chair. To him went Zarathustra, and sat among the youths before his chair. And thus spake the wise man: Respect and modesty in presence of sleep! That is the first thing! And to go out of the way of all who sleep badly and keep awake at night!…

And even if one have all the virtues, there is still one thing needful: to send the virtues themselves to sleep at the right time, that they may not quarrel with one another, the good females! And about thee, thou unhappy one! Peace with God and thy neighbour: so desireth good sleep. And peace also with thy neighbour’s devil! Otherwise it will haunt thee in the night.

Honour to the government, and obedience, and also to the crooked government! So desireth good sleep. How can I help it, if power liketh to walk on crooked legs?

Irrespective of any particular point Nietzsche was trying to make, this is a spot-on criticism of the idea that one should avoid polemic and controversy with those in a position of power for the sake of peace outside of ones peer group. The commenter is right that this sort of discourse is the most effective, but its effectiveness seems largely to come from putting everyone to sleep, and of inducing an opium-fog where critique can only express itself in a dream: Peace with God and thy neighbour… And peace also with thy neighbour’s devil!

Real and logical relations in divine causality

James Anderson expresses an opinion that he disagrees with:

William Lane Craig… argues that God is timeless apart from a creation but temporal with a creation. Craig maintains that God considered alone (so to speak) is a timeless being; there’s no intrinsic need for him to experience the passing of time. But if God chooses to create a temporal universe, God’s relationship with that universe entails that he must also be temporal along with the universe.

Dale Tuggy responds:

I’m with Craig. I don’t think his position implies any change in God. Rather: if God hadn’t created, he’d be timeless. But given that God has created, he’s “in time.” It seems to me that if there is time, there’s no where else to be. Our spatial metaphors (“outside” time, “above” time) are wrongheaded. So are the trapping metaphors (e.g. “bound by” time). If God freely chose to create, then he freely chose to operate “in time” and he’s not been “trapped” by anything other than logical consistency.

Tuggy’s response can be read in more than one way, and the scare quotes around the phrase in time (which seem to mean that he takes it as a metaphor) commit him to almost nothing, since if this is all metaphorical speech then it is just as true to say God is in time as to say Christ has the wings of a hen. At any rate, I too think God is not  trapped by anything other than logical consistency, but I suspect that I don’t mean the same thing Dale means; and if Dale means what Anderson said Craig meant then I disagree with everyone.

The question of how God relates to the world, or how he relates to it before and after creation is obviously a question about relation. depending on what one wants to know about relation there are limitless ways of dividing it and accounting for it, but Aristotle’s account highlights a division that is relevant to the problem here. In his account of relation in book VI of the Categories, Aristotle first says that a relative thing is whatever we speak of as of or to another. This account, however, ends up collapsing on him. One reason for the collapse is that it would do away with relations of dependence or causality. If being of or to another sufficed to show that something’s existence was relative to another, then (since causes are obviously causes of effects) then causes exist relatively to effects, which is the same as saying that a cause, even qua cause, is a sort of effect. Now if you’ve got a theory that identifies one thing with its contrary, there’s a problem in your theory, and the easiest solution is to divide things that are understood relatively to others with things that exist or are dependent on another. When there is a difference between the two, St. Thomas tends to call the latter a real relation and the former a relation only on thought or a logical relation. The naming does not translate well. For example, when St. Thomas says that God has no real relation to the world, or even that there is no real relation between Mary and Christ (he says both) all he is claiming is that God does not depend on the creature in order to exist – which is so self- evident that it doesn’t seem much worth mentioning; but to us the same claim sounds as though STA is arguing that God is aloof from the universe or that the Incarnation is a sham. But this is a PR problem and not a theological one.

Still, if it is necessary that we divide some reality from the way we must understand it, there is a mystery of some sort or another. Though we can see that causality is not a sort of effect, our examination of particular causes will show some sort causality moving from the effect to the cause: the gun will recoil against the shooter; the load we press forward presses backwards on our hands; and we even depend on some sort of resistant force to force something forward. All these experiences are easily generalized to a general statement of causality being a sort of effect… of one thing being its contrary.

Aristotle, to be sure, took a more basic approach to this problem: if you don’t distinguish what is necessary for our understanding for what is necessary for existence, then you end up concluding that that the reason my son is crying is because I hear him. It’s true, however, that the problem of relation makes this harder to see, and we really are tempted to see a dependence of causes on effects, which is due to the homogeneity of the sort of causes we can understand. Nevertheless, when we say that God is non-temporal because he acts in the temporal universe as simply a cause. God is a cause pure and simple – even if this causality is viewed in the temporal order, for causality is divided from dependence on another. To say God is non-temporal even while acting in time is to say that he most of all satisfies the notion that we have of a cause acting in time, and that he satisfies this notion in a way that nothing else can satisfy.

This doesn’t touch on Dale’s main argument in his post, but at the exact sense of “real” relation and its contrary need to be set down first before we can touch upon the biblical issues of how one seems to affect God, change the order of providence, have prayer be really causal of things, etc.

Dialogue on Platonic forms

Platonist: Keeping in mind that the case for or against the forms will certainly be a cumulative one and not a matter of any one knock-down argument, what do do you regard as the best or most representative argument against the existence of separated forms?

Anti- Platonist: You’d agree that a form is something is said of many, even if it is not merely this?

P: Yes,I’d agree to that.

A: If we can agree on this, then I would argue that there can’t be any separate forms since the whole point in affirming one thing of another is to express an identity between things only divided in thought. A separate form, however, is obviously not identical with the thing it is said of. In other words, when I say Socrates is a man I want to express an identity between the subject and predicate, not a division, but the theory of forms says the two things are really divided.

P: And what would you say to the claim that “is” means “participates in some form”? In other words, there is no reason that an analysis of the reality behind our speech will require that the reality be speech-like. We can’t assume that our unreflective accounts of what is or is not will stand up upon analysis.

A: True, but if this is where the analysis leads, then how could we express the conclusion? If you change “A is B” for “A participates in form B” then how do we express your supposed basic insight that “Everything is a participation in a form”? This “is” too gets substituted for “is a participation in” language, and so on to infinity.

P: I don’t see why this is necessary. The insight is that what we first say “is” only “participates in”. This doesn’t commit us to some machine-like response to every instance of the word “is”. But I want to return to your original argument about the predication. To repeat your own words, you mean something like this: you see Socrates, and while seeing that very same person, you can speak about is power of sensation and movement, and you express this identity with a statement like “Socrates is an animal”. But this is clearly two different ways of looking at one subject, though they are distinct in thought, but the one who believes in separate forms thinks that “animal” is not identical with Socrates, but distinct.

A: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

P: Now to get a clearer sense of what you mean when you say something “is”. Without getting too intricate, I suppose you mean things like tables, chairs, a man, a tree, or some other thing like this?

A: Yes.

P: Fine. But take a closer look at what you meant by the original statement about Socrates being an animal. You don’t just mean facts like Socrates having sensation but also facts like this: he was conceived from an egg, passed tough various stages of fetal development, grew into maturity, developed various motor-coordination habits, gradually declined in vigor from various causes or failure of causality, etc. Isn’t this true?

A: That’s exactly right.

P: But all this is a process or a development over time, that is, a change from one thing to another. And so when you call Socrates an animal it seems that he is more like a story or a play than like a table or a chair.

A: This seems right.

P: Considered in this line, he is not what you would called a  “being”. It’s true that you can freeze Socrates at one moment, and see him as a static entity, but this is more a statement about your own peculiar powers of abstraction than a statement about Socrates. And notice that even this attempt to freeze him implodes as soon as you recognize that the thing you are saying of him is inseparable from a process. Your claims to identity thus end up proving that Socrates is a continual difference and change.

A: Yes, but there is something that remains the same, and doesn’t change.

P: Really, some thing? There is some thing about every changeable thing that exists outside of change? But doesn’t this give us an eternal Socrates and a temporal one? Which one did you call an “animal” above?

A: He certainly looked like the temporal one, with a history and process of development.

P: That’s how it seems to me too. I don’t see how one introduces real changelessness into the world, except by abstracting from the story of the existence of something; but even this abstraction ends up being essentially related to a story.

A: Right, but the story is just as much related to something that stays the same. How could you have “one motion” except with one thing moving?

P: But how can you have one thing moving unless one thing passes away and another thing arises? This is what motion means. The fact that something stays the same doesn’t tell me anythign about motion. But I want to press this further – if I say this is one motion, don’t I have to remember things not existing anymore, and compare them to things that do exist?

A: Yes – motion is to some extent dependent on memory.

P: But here again you are placing the source of stability and unity outside of the thing you are calling stable and unified. Why isn’t  a doctrine of participation the best way to express this?

Diversity and homogeneity in explanations

The question why something and not nothing? has both an atheist and theist answer: on the one hand to give a reason for existence as such is by definition to posit a creator; on the other hand you can’t explain something by positing another something. The responses to each argument are pretty easy to come by and so I’ll pass them over.  What I’m interested in is the general principle in the atheist response “you can’t explain X by positing X”. This can be taken in more than one way, and a consideration of the particulars soon gets dizzying. Still, explanation is a way of going from what came after to what came before, even if this motion is only from the appearance to the reality that gave rise to it (the explanation for “why is there an eclipse” is simply a statement of what the eclipse is) and we need some sort of diversity to avoid falling into mere repetition or tautology. At the same time, causality involves imparting something, even if nothing more than the factors that give rise to an appearance, and so all causality involves explaining X by positing a previous X. This is not a contradiction or even a paradox: the modes of diversity and homogeneity are so vague and qualified here to come into direct conflict. But there is an invitation in this problem to consider the ways in which causality or explanation requires diversity and homogeneity, and to what extent either in necessary in any given explanation.

 

Timaeus 49e. – 53a

For Plato, the physical world is at bottom an unreality, and the “eternal space” (which we cannot help imagining all real things to be in) is a dream, and even a veil that keeps us from seeing the true reality behind it. Plato even says that this world taken of itself and in the original phases of its development is what one would expect to find if God were absent, and that its initial phases are more in control of some passionate goddess that simply throws everything together, shakes it up, and sees what falls out.  When God becomes involved with the world, the chaos develops along a mathematical pattern, and this mathematics becomes the real intelligible structure of the world. Considered in this line, contemporary science is more at home in a Platonic conception of the universe than an Aristotelian one.

Vallicella’s challenge to hylemorphic “dualism”, part II

Bill Vallicella repeats his charge against hylemorphic “dualism“, saying that Ed Feser’s response fails to give him a reason to decide between the following arguments (I’ll label the premises):

Argument A:  (minor) The human soul can exist apart from its body; (major) the human soul is the form of the human body; therefore, there are forms that can exist apart from the matter they inform.

Argument B: (minor) The human soul can exist apart from its body; (major) no form can exist apart from the matter it informs; therefore, the human soul is not the form of the human body.

The major of argument B is simply false, and when true, is true only accidentally and not in virtue of form.

The doctrine of hylemorphism is that all changeable things resolve into a form giving existence to matter. Just how form relates to existence is a dispute that still continues, but all sides agree that form gives existence to matter and not vice versa, and so if we define “real relation” or “categorical relation” as Aristotle did (when one relative depends on the other for its very existence and not merely for its being known) then there is a real relation from matter to form but no real relation from form to matter. So the major in argument B therefore mistakes a logical relation for a real one.

Form, as Aristotle says in Physics 1, is divine, and one aspect of this divinity is that it lacks an intrinsic dependence on matter, and the consequent real relation that arises from such dependence. Example: the creator does not need creation in order to exist (for this is a pure contradiction, and would remain one even if there were no God) but one cannot understand creation except as a relation to a creator. In Aristotle’s language, there is a categorical (real) relation from creation to creator, and a logical relation going the other way.

This does not mean that all forms are indestructible, but only that the reason for their ceasing to be cannot be taken from the fact of their separation from matter. While it is self-evident that matter cannot exist actually as some X after the decomposition of the thing X, it is not self-evident that the same is true of form. These various degrees of destructibility of form required a  doctrine like St. Thomas’s “immersion in matter” as a necessary development of hylemorphism, though little work was done by subsequent Thomists to work out exactly what this immersion consists in.

(On a side note, one of the ways in which Platonism gives a better look at form than Aristotelianism is in this clear presentation of the independence of form from matter. Aristotle has a harder time making this independence clear, and it’s fair to say that he overemphasized the concrete physical thing to such an extent that this independence of form was obscured, though not entirely suppressed. Nevertheless, his doctrine becomes incoherent if one says that there is a relation of dependence from form to matter.)

I’m aware that I’m giving a novel opinion here, and that it gives rise to any number of new problems for hylemorphism. But its high time to face the problems and see where they leave us. History has shown that disciples have rarely been faithful enough to their teacher in trying to be as critical of the theory as the master was.

Attempts to articulate some experiences of nihilism

– Philosophers always tend to succeed like this: find one extreme, find another, then locate your own thought between them. Behold, Moderation!  The mark of truth!  My opponents are extremists! Has there ever been a more subtle ad hominem?

-The pretense of the moderation: truth is between. The moderate never considers the possibility that truth is beyond, since he works from the silent premise that truth is boring, and that the proper response to “extremes” is to stay on the same level as the extremes while ignoring everything that makes them vibrant, intelligible, striking, human

-Moderation, or the casting of oneself in the role of the reflective judge when one is only a parasite. Moderation consists in indecision.

The System. One always works out a system after he is convinced, in virtue of what he has been convinced of. Truth is the desire to be before conviction: to “verify” or “ground” conviction in something.

-The cleverness of the scientific system: to pretend that hypothesis expresses no conviction. “We must wait and see”. This is not a triumph of method, but of forgetfulness – that is, the forgetfulness of all experience outside the method. We could easily prove that a coffin was the universe, if we only forget that we nailed the lid shut from the inside.

-We quickly begin to suspect that all this is false because it is morbid. But this is not a problem of method, but of marketing. We could say this all with the calm voice of moderation too. But that would take too long.

– Kant: metaphysics has never advanced because it never critiqued its organ. No. It never advanced because it is too hard. Trying to unify what we know about being – or even trying to figure out whether we need to unify at all – quickly becomes blocked by contradiction. We want to express the infinite and are forced to do it with finites that exclude each other.

– So I dissolve myself, or make myself impossible. So what?  Nature – my nature – will still push forward, like a child is born. Nihilism is natural law at its most creative, when it is working of itself to give birth to the new environment in which the self can find meaning.

-We object to “relativism” since it does away with the absolute. But what if the absolute must express itself within the finite, and the finites (since they are finite) must exclude and, in one way or another, contradict one another? Our situation then becomes one where no finite state contradicts the absolute, but all finite states (historical eras, social beliefs, moral systems etc.) to some extent contradict each other. Relativism thus becomes a consequence of the absolute working in history.

The death wish in the contemporary west

Americans have been through any number of “this is the end” worries over the last few years from both the Left and the Right. The Left spent years selling books and making copy that warned of an impending theocratic, illiberal police state with intolerant citizens, and now the Right warns of an impending bureaucratic police state with impoverished citizens. I’m not interested in the relative merits of the warnings: I’m all thumbs with the subtleties of political discourse; and an honest view of both claims would probably show them both to be a mix of insight into real danger, misplaced but correct concern, and pure hype.

The truth of the claims doesn’t interest me, but a psychological fact that comes along with hearing them. There is a clear desire on all sides, and I can feel it also in myself, to just let the crisis come. In all of the endless cycles of NEWS CRISIS SPECIAL REPORT there is an undercurrent of the death wish. In our honest moments, we fear more that the cataclysm won’t come. The Right has its own way of venting this death wish (the appeal to moral hazard in the face of economic crisis, fantasies about guns and rugged living) and the Left has another (media and movies that fantasize about corporate conspiracy, whitechristianguy intolerance, a pristine environment without people, and the Big-Brother federal surveillance state) but both involve a venting of the pressure built up by the death wish (notice I don’t say they are this venting – it’s just an aspect of them) and living, by anticipation, in the world that comes after death.

But to call it a death wish is to name it after what is most dramatic in and not what is most real. Nature doesn’t think about death, and our desire doesn’t terminate in it. We want the new birth on the other side of the collapse. This desire for a new birth has been building at least for the last century, and it is most apparent in our contemporary art. We have spent the last century trying to destroy the very idea of art. Warhol’s soup can or Duchamp’s urinal are brilliant pieces of art, if reckoned according to their goal, which was to infect the popular imagination with the idea that art was anything you called art – in other words, that there was no art. Taken as pure nihilism, both are trite and pointless, but they are more than that, which is why they fascinate. The desire is to kill art altogether, all the way down to its foundations, so that we might come out on the other side with a clean slate and a pristine consciousness.   The civilization has grown tired. Let’s burn down the forest to clear the path and fertilize the earth. Philosophy has run on a path similar to art – we have destroyed all the systems by critique, and we strive to deconstruct and complicate thought to the point where the life of the mind stops altogether. All the sciences and humanities strive to complicate, to befuddle, to leave anyone who wanders into them in a complete state of bewilderment. The degree of truth in all fields is measured by the degree of specialization, and the degree of specialization by the extent to which no one can understand what you are saying – including yourself. It would be one thing to say that all of this just happens – there would be nothing confusing in that. But we want this to happen, and are horrified that the whole thing might not hit its consummation. Why?

In treating of the question why there are many different things in the universe, St. Thomas answered that God was infinite, and that matter could only imitate this infinity by giving rise to a multiplicity of forms. One such imitation is “static”, that is, we can consider the multiplicity of forms at one given time. But the changes in matter also give rise to time, and so there should also a temporal multiplicity of one form following upon the next. Death does this in one way, and factors like natural selection and genetic drift do it in another (this latter way is a more perfect way of bringing about the telos of multiplicity over the whole of time).  But man is an infinite spirit too, and so there is an identical impulse for multiplicity in the things that owe their existence to his will: art, culture, society, governments, etc.  This impulse arises from the nature of the infinite giving rise to a finite good, and so there is some necessity of death – and even of the goodness of the death itself. Anyone can see in music or architecture that one style goes from freeing in one generation to being a straitjacket in the next, even if it is always beautiful. Mozart and Chartres will always be beautiful, but it would be insipid to simply imitate them forever – or even for more than a generation or so (various styles last more or less, but it is a matter of when and not whether they should die.)

Culture or government, in their concrete expressions, are styles too. Like all art, they also have a natural and timeless element, but this is not what the death wish works on. There are signs that we want a change in a rather far-reaching style – given the thought of the last 100 years, it looks like we want a death of the West. This desire is obvious in the university, but it has had great popular success and has been widely adopted in elementary and secondary schools; and we must always remember that ideas do not catch on like an infection, but because they are persuasive. The multi-culti desire to liquidate the West speaks to a need in Western persons. It had to come sooner or later, and by “had to” I mean it is good that the death of all our artifacts come at some time or another, even if the artifacts themselves have permanent value. This does not make apathy some sort of wisdom – as though we can content ourselves smugly to wait for this all to come crashing down. One is not heroic for abandoning a lost cause (just ask the soldiers at Thermopylae).

Practical science and prudence, and another objection to metaphysics

My wife has read all the baby books (I don’t know the authors – though I can remember Dr. Sears and Dr. Sax). She isn’t weird about it, she just likes kid lit. One of the most striking take-aways from the kid lit is that there is a difference in kind between knowing kids and knowing my kid. It’s striking to notice just how different the two bodies of knowledge are: they have utterly different methods of discovery, require different pre-recs for excellence, use very different tools, require different sort of persons, are explored in very different communities of people, can frequently come to contradictory findings of what is true or probable or good, etc. The two sorts of knowledge certainly have contrary dispositions toward the value of considering a particular person in his unique set of circumstances.  When the two spheres of knowledge overlap in the consideration of a particular case, the dynamic is far less one-sided than the usual doctor/patient relationship. While it is easy to visualize the moments when a mom is ignorant and needs the expertise of the doctor or expert to figure out some medical or pedagogical fact about her child, the reverse is also very common; and at any rate in each sphere of knowledge there is very little overlap between what makes for expertise or ignorance.

One the one hand, this manifests the great difference between science (even a practical science) and prudence. While there is no name for exactly the practical knowledge of a mom, it has some likeness to science (it’s an intellectual virtue and not a moral one) and to prudence (it concerns the particular as particular). But it illustrates the point: prudence is not simply “the application of general rules to particulars”, as though prudence were nothing but science applied in a particular case. If even practical science properly cannot replace a more particularized practical knowledge, the idea that a speculative science could take the place of prudence stretches this absurdity by several orders of magnitude.

Aristotle, however, raises a deeper problem, which he calls the hardest problem in metaphysics (and in any consideration of science as such):

There is a difficulty connected with these, the hardest of all and the most necessary to examine…. If, on the one hand, there is nothing apart from individual things, and the individuals are infinite in number, how then is it possible to get knowledge of the infinite individuals? For all things that we come to know, we come to know in so far as they have some unity and identity, and in so far as some attribute belongs to them universally.

Metaphysics, III c. 4.

“But if this is necessary, and there must be something apart from the individuals, it will be necessary that the genera exist apart from the individuals, either the lowest or the highest genera; but we found by discussion just now that this is impossible.

Applied to the above example, we have “child” considered in his concretion (the mom) or considered apart from it (Dr. Sears). The concrete case attains to the existent thing, but there is an obvious infinity of cases (possible and not actual cases, though the difference in practical terms is perhaps unimportant); but if we abstract from this infinity, we lose the very existence – which is the very thing we are trying to attain to.

Notice how, in making the univocal concept, we sacrifice existence in the concrete for a certain set of goals. The mom attains to existence, but such knowledge does not give her the perfection of science, and she cannot construct from her knowledge a univocal concept of the child (she doesn’t have a broad enough group to give rise to a proper universal). This is in one way the repugnance between of existence and the univocal, in another way the peculiar problem of metaphysics, which seeks to attain to the existence of things in a scientific manner. How can there be a science of existence if science must prescind from existence for the sake of its peculiar goals?

Objections to the possibility of Thomistic metaphysics

(The following is an impenetrable ramble with occasional flashes of clarity.)

Start with this argument:

Our concepts of being, cause, goodness, truth, one, etc. are only be distinguished from the physical by a logical possibility.

Logical possibility can never establish real possibility

It cannot be known if being, goodness, truth, etc. are really distinguished from the physical.

The sense of the major is that , though we can see that the idea of, say, goodness does not contain reference to limitation or physical existence (the way that, say, dog necessarily involves some relation to having a skeleton, a beating heart, etc.) this lack of reference can be due either to there being no reference, or to our failure to see it. Thus one can never conclude from the existence of what Thomists have called “transcendental concepts” to the real possibility of transcendental existence (I stress the word possible since no Thomist has ever said that such concepts could establish the actual existence of such things.)

Clearly, the fulcrum of the claim is the word “only”. If we were really counting on transcendental concepts to establish real possibility (which happens in some versions of the ontological argument – Hartshorne’s , for example) then we have a problem. But the claim would be that the St. Thomas’s arguments for immaterial things involve an illicit move from the logical to the real at least with the notion of cause. What reason do we have for thinking that cause can be transcendent in the real order? Don’t we need to appeal to its very ratio, which is a dead end?

Thomists could avoid this if they said that we do not merely prescind from the limited when we consider causes, but rather that we see a repugnance to the physical or limited as such in causes. This would require, I think, a new mode of knowing St. Thomas did not explain.

But we don’t see it, we prove it!! The Thomist thunders back (he has been wanting to say this from the beginning). There is nothing odd about not being able to see whether something is possible before you prove it is so – this is the usual way human beings proceed! All sorts of things can only be shown to be possible after someone has proved them actual, goes the response.

A problem with this response is that, in the case of metaphysics, we are talking about establishing the existence, not of this or that thing in a given science, but of the entire science as such. Whatever we establish in a natural science (say, black holes) will always have real possibility so far as the thing is given to sensation and mobile; but the Thomist line is that there is no self-evidence of anything metaphysical prior to proof – there is not even any insight concerning the real possibility of the metaphysical prior to proof. This would require that we could prove something to exist prior to knowing knowing if it belonged in any way to a really possible domain of discourse. At the very least, this seems like something that needs to be proven. But proven with what?

How could there be a proof for the existence of something made by a science that claims not to treat of or even be about the thing proven? This is bootstrapping ones way out of a science. Perhaps a Thomist could give this  argument:

If nature is an effect of another, the one who knows nature can know it as an effect of another

Therefore, there is a real possibility that the natural scientist could discover nature as an effect of another.

The consequence is ambiguous: the natural  scientist is not simply “one who knows nature” – the putative metaphysician would know nature too, if metaphysics exists. But if metaphysics is a distinct science, how does the natural scientist prove anything in it, and if it is not, then it is simply a vaguely expressed natural science. And how can one establish that it is “partly natural science, partly not” (like a “limit of natural science”) without showing something outside of natural science, which is exactly the problem at hand? How can we avoid any postulate establishing something outside of natural science being anything other than special pleading, or begging the question?

« Older entries Newer entries »