Republic 1. 349 etc.

After Thrasymachus abandons his claim that justice is nothing but the will of the stronger (that is, the ruler), he shifts to claiming that injustice is virtuous and wise, where he takes wisdom to mean cleverness or insight about the right thing to do. Thrasymachus’s initial sense is clear enough: justice is a ghost story that we tell people to keep them in line, but those with real daring and courage will brush aside silly conventions and do whatever it takes to succeed in the real world.

The just man, says Socrates, seeks to set himself above or surpass (πλεονεκτέω) those that are unjust, but not those who are unjust; but the unjust man wants to set himself above or surpass everybody – and so seeks to set himself above both the just and unjust. But those with skill, like doctors or musicians, seek to surpass non-musicians and not musicians, and so the just man appears to be like the one with skill and know-how, not the unjust man. The obvious objection here is doctors strive to surpass other doctors all the time, just as athletes and scientists do. To avoid the problem, it seems enough to say that Socrates is considering “the just” and the “unjust” as groups and not as individuals – and so his claim is that the just man wants to integrate himself into the group of just men and participate more fully with them, while he wants the whole class of unjust persons brought under the law and righteousness; but the  unjust man wants to put every group of persons underneath him, whether just or not.


Luke 20: 38 pt. III

Again, Christ argues:

…that the dead rise again, Moses also showed at the bush, when he called the Lord: The God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live to him.

If we put the logical order of the argument into sequential order (that is, we order the premises from the most general to least general), we get:

All that are of God live to God

(therefore) God is a God of the living, not of the dead

But since some are of God, namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

(therefore) there is a resurrection from the dead.

Now any preacher can say that communion with God is life, and a philosopher might spin this idea out into an idea that life has no meaning apart from communion with God (or, perhaps, that God is the ultimate source of biological life), but only Christ is so brazenly logical as to insist that communion with God reverses the biological and historical death of all persons. Christ’s mysticism is not relegated to an abstract world that is cut off from the concrete world of history and experience, nor is it the dreamy, sentimental mysticism of (certain) allegorical interpretations or hymn-singing. No – communion with God is life,  and therefore physical, biological death must be reversed.  Notice that it also follows from Christ’s argument that Abraham is living with God now, even up to the resurrection, since God is the God of Abraham even up to this event, and in this sense Christ is also establishing the immortality of the soul with lives with God in some middle state, though Christ only speaks to the question of the resurrection, and he had three good reasons for doing so 1.) it was all he was asked about 2.) Christ’s argument for the resurrection establishes immortality a fortiori, since if communion with God is so powerful as to reverse death then it is powerful enough to keep death from merely stopping communion and 3.) Most importantly, to say that God is the God of Abraham means first of all that he is the God of Abraham, that is, the whole person and not merely the soul of the person. This is why the truth of the resurrection follows immediately from Christ’s premises, and immortality follows as a consequence.

And so while “purely rational” eschatology can conclude only to immortality before it turns to despair, agnosticism or myth, Judeo-Christian eschatology starts from the premise that communion with God is life, then (through the idea that it is a person who communes with God) concludes immediately that death must be overcome by a reestablishment of the whole man by resurrection, and then to the necessity that death cannot destroy communion with God even up to the historical event of resurrection.

Could sensation make an essential division in physical theory?

Many have argued that the division between our two physical accounts of the universe is unsatisfactory. It seems one universe should have one theory, and it also seems that the division between the “very small” and “classical sized” objects is untenable. Such a division is purely relative, and so cannot be a relevant feature of the things themselves.

On the one hand, we simply have to wait and see what happens, but on the other there seems to be a good reason why there should be two radically different sets of physical theory: physics is given to the senses, and the “very small” is not sensible in a way that “classically sized” things are. Sensation is not a diaphanous window to reality: it involves physical interaction and so to the extent that this interaction is not possible neither is sense knowledge possible. Sight depends on bouncing photons off things, and for “very small things” this will at least cause some interference and change, if not being impossible. If we saw things not by bouncing photons back but by using little bouncy rubber balls, there would a threshold of things that we would only “see” by changing or even destroying, and any number of things we couldn’t see at all. We would have a very different physics for trees than we would have for eggs. For that matter, we would have a different physics for the chicken and the egg, and wonder how anything could ever hatch from a broken egg. Chickens obviously lay some broken eggs. Just look at them!

Seen from this angle, the purely relative difference between the very small and the classically sized takes on an absolute value. Sensation uses physical interaction, and the relative distinctions of large and small make essential differences in physical interaction. Hitting a bug with your car is not the same thing as hitting a tree.

Note on the divine hiddenness

The first argument that Carrier gives in his essay on why he is not a Christian is that

The logically inevitable fact is, if the Christian God existed, we would all hear from God himself the same message of salvation, and we would all hear, straight from God, all the same answers to all the same questions…. Sure, maybe some of us would still balk or reject that message. But we would still have the information. Because the only way to make an informed choice is to have the required information. So a God who wanted us to make an informed choice would give us all the information we needed, and not entrust fallible, sinful, contradictory agents to convey a confused mess of ambiguous, poorly supported claims. Therefore, the fact that God hasn’t spoken to us directly, and hasn’t given us all the same, clear message, and the same, clear answers, is enough to prove Christianity false.

Just look at what Christians are saying. They routinely claim that God is your father and best friend. Yet if that were true, we would observe all the same behaviors from God that we observe from our fathers and friends. But we don’t observe this.

The argument touches on a real truth about God, but I don’t see it as leading to the same conclusion. That said, I have no interest in refuting the argument, but only in setting the truth it points to in another context. To see this, start by taking the author’s advice to “just look at what the Christians are saying”:

Truly you are a hidden God, the God of Israel, Savior. Is. 45:15

And there arose no more a prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face Dt. 34: 10.

No man has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the Bosom of the Father, he has declared him. Jn. 1: 18.

And so the Scripture in fact does claim that someone has received exactly the sort of revelation that Carrier’s argument says should be given to all: Adam, Moses, and Jesus all received it, and, as the argument puts it, some of them did ‘balk at it and reject it’. More significantly, all three of these men ended up giving what they had received to all, even if, as is the case with Adam, we wish he didn’t. What is striking is that Scripture seems to insist on the point that the argument finds so damning: for it insists that God is hidden, that no one arose like Moses who saw God face to face, and in fact that no one has seen God at any time. If this is such a damning point, it’s strange that Scripture underlines it to boldly by making it the last word we hear Moses, the greatest prophet in Israel, and the emphatic closing words of the prologue to John’s gospel, which are clearly meant as a new beginning for the whole Scripture.

While the Scriptures relate times of miraculous wonder where God speaks directly to human beings, they seem to be an exception to the rule. Miracles are strikingly rare, and theophanies even more so. They happen, to be sure, but the Scripture does not appear to seek them out. Their main purpose is to provide initial credibility to some witness (that is, a prophet) but the proofs do not seem to get the prophets very far. As a rule, they are treated as dangerous and crazy and killed by their contemporaries. One suspects that a large part of this is because the miracles are such a striking exception to life as it always is. Elijah, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul are all violent disruptors of our routine. Killing them is a small price to pay to get back to the comfortable groove of  “the real world”.

And so the absence of theophany from the normal course of things appears integral to Christian revelation. On Carrier’s account, this is because it is all a lie – the absence of universal theophany is in his opinion the perfect refutation of Christian revelation, and when revelation insists on it, it is only insisting on something in clear contradiction with its own principles. But the more one tries to flesh out the claim the more far-fetched it seems. Christianity does not just casually mention the absence of universal theophany, it insists upon it as the heart of the message. The prophet is someone called to go out into “the world” who does not know him and will reject him. Even when ninety-something percent of the people attend some Church or say that they’re Christian on a phone survey, the world will always find away to be the world, and those who speak the words of Christ to it will always find that the world finds them odd, crazy, dangerous, stupid, dogmatic, or evil. If a Christian is going to be conformed to the life of Christ, he needs to be treated as Christ was treated. This, at least, provides one way in which to understand the hiddeness of God or the absence of universal and widespread theophany. One could know God in such a world, but one would not be like Jesus. In a world of universal theophany, we could not put on Christ or be another Christ in the world. We would be equal to Christ in a perfectly homogeneous way, neither getting anything through him nor passing anything on to others (they would not need our gift, but would have their own). Whatever one thinks about such a state of affairs, it is certainly not Christianity or the conformity to Christ.

Ratzinger on the division between truth and fact

From Gaudium et Spes:

In her loyal devotion to God and men, the Church has already repudiated and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone man from his native excellence.

Ratzinger, who was involved in the writing of the text, focuses on the controversy over “common experience” and gives a gloss on it, which, whether apt to the text or not, points to a crucial difference between truth and fact:

Mere fact decides nothing with respect to truth. In that respect the the commission’s answer complicates rather than solves the question. The experience of history leads only to the “factum” and not to the “veritas”. That is the real reason why theology, shifting from arguments from reason to experience has fallen into discredit, however much this might correspond to the general movement of thought. But is of course precisely this movement of withdrawl to experience and mere fact that has led man into crisis in the question of truth and the question of God.

Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, p. 154.

Ratzinger ends the text with a reference to the themes he develops in the first chapter of his Introduction to Christianity.


Note on nature

Nature is an intrinsic principle of action, and so is a dynamic source, but we can be tricked by the imagination into placing this principle within something static and stable which is visualized by a cutting out a shape in space. Nature is thus vizualized as coming to some static existing reality. To think this is to bungle the difference between nature, since art actually is an accident. Nature is in things in such a way as to constitute them in being.

Luke 20:38 (preamble to Christ’s argument)

Even a cursory view of the status questionis of the Resurrection is unbloggable, but one element that continually arises is the need to sharply differentiate the doctrines of resurrection and the immortality of the soul. Their differences can be overstated, and I’d argue that it is an intellectual dead end to divide the “Christian View” and a “Hellenic View” in such a way that fidelity to the former requires rejection of the latter. Still, it is only the opposite mistake to think that a doctrine of immortality of the soul all by itself could substitute for a teaching about the resurrection, as though psychic immortality was a sufficient eschatology all by itself. The appropriate Thomist contribution to the problem is to explain the insufficiency of physic immortality, even while insisting on our ability to know that it is true.

The doctrine of psychic immortality can be of some comfort so far as it saves us from the despair of oblivion, that is, from the fear that our life might be completely overcome by the necessity of death or that death might destroy any possibility of transcending the homogeneity of temporal existence. Even the sense in which death might give comfort cannot be fulfilled by a belief that death is sheer oblivion – since all who seek comfort are certainly seeking to experience it.

But this comfort is relative – simply to be saved from evil is not the same thing as to be given something good. In fact, the doctrine of psychic immortality saves us from one evil only by immediately presenting us with another. A proof for psychic immortality simply transforms death from an annihilation to a gateway or tunnel to an unknown place. We do not get something absolutely desirable when we go from thinking that death reduces us to nothing to thinking that death is a journey into some dark valley from which no traveler returns. Death is not oblivion. Good. But this only makes death a journey or gateway. To where? To someplace I want to be? Once the relief of escaping oblivion wears off, the old dread and horror returns by way of a new question and a new unknown.

No adequate eschatology can be made by reason alone. The reality of death shows the inadequacy of reason even better than the thorny and difficult questions of natural theology or the aporia of contemporary physics. We can only boast in the accomplishments of our rational powers to the extent that we make ourselves stupid and forgetful about death. There is no human science or art that is adequate to deal with the problem we face in death. But this is to put the reality negatively – put positively, our situation is this: we must seek some adequate understanding of death, and since we cannot find it in reason we must seek it in something transcending this. By death we are forced into relation to another. The only other option is the cultivated stupidity or forgetfulness of an inauthentic existence- which would be the only ways to stay within the limits of reason and yet reconcile ourselves to the inadequacy of our eschatology.

Thus the proofs for the immortality of the rational soul are only a gateway or middle step in eschatology. They point beyond themselves to the rational soul itself needing to transcend reason in order to have a truly authentic existence in the face of personal death. But to transcend reason cannot happen by coming into relation with some reality that is beneath what is living,  intelligent,  personal, and capable of love.

Luke 20: 38 pt. 1

I’ve been baffled for years at Christ’s proof for the resurrection of the dead:

Now that the dead rise again, Moses also showed at the bush, when he called the Lord: The God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live to him.

If you let the logic of the argument play itself out,  the argument proves itself as significant as the sun.

Without even looking into how the argument itself works, its striking to see that Christ reads the resurrection as revealed in the call of Moses: that is, in the very act by which Israel will first be called as a nation.  The Old Testament is the story and work of a nation called by God, and in the first call of God to the one who will form this nation with political freedom, a land of its own, a legal system, and a recorded history, Christ finds the revelation of the resurrection. The usual way of explaining why Christ chose to argue from Exodus – because he was arguing with the Sadducees and therefore was arguing within the Scriptures they considered canonical – can of course not explain why Christ actually found his proof there, still less does it allow us to marvel at locating the resurrection where he does: in the place where, in a book that treats of a revealed law given to Israel, we read of the first revelation to the law giver. Placing the revelation of resurrection here in fact shows that the people of Israel were really just something like guardians of the truth of resurrection, and that their very condition as a people was tied up with the truth of the resurrection. This is the apple of gold for which the Nation of Israel was the frame.

Note on sensation

Aristotle said that one cannot err about the proper sensibles. It is not exactly clear what he meant, but St. Thomas took him to mean that one cannot err about the sensible so far as it is sensed. If I walk into a room and see a blue sheet of paper on the table, then I’ve seen blue and that’s all there is to it. Even if there was a blacklight in the room and the paper was in fact as white as snow, it remains that blue was in my consciousness. End of story.

I’ve always found something spooky or radical about the explanation since as a result of it the proper sensible itself becomes not just the object but also the contributions of the organ to the experience. The sense object is a melange of a thing in the world and the subjective and personal dispositions of the one sensing. One is hard pressed to see a difference between this account of sensation and the Kantian account of knowledge. It was strange that St. Thomas would take this line of explanation since easier and less radical ones easily suggest themselves (he could have said that we are less likely to err about proper sensibles than about common sensibles like size or number, or that the error in the organ is only from its corruption and so can never be attributed to the organ as such.) Instead, he took the opportunity to deny perfect objectivity to sensation. In fact, a perfectly objective sense experience involves a contradiction, since it would require a sensible that was not constituted by some subjective element. The objectivity of sense can only be taken from one element in it, but that element is absolutely inseparable from the subjective element. We can say that there is a difference between the subjective and objective elements or aspects of sensation, but we cannot say, and it is impossible that we ever could say, what the difference between these two elements of a sensation is.

Aspects of the free act

The three aspects of our experience of our own freedom: dominus, determinatus, derilictus.

1.) On the one hand, the experience is of determining oneself, of being responsible, of experiencing the choice in ones own power. The whole universe seems to fall silent in the face of such a decision. Man is fundamentally, as St. Thomas would put it, dominus sui actus. I am the Lord!

2.) All this positive power expresses itself across a lattice of various determinations. I find myself in a certain situation, thinking in a certain language, with various sets proclivities, iron habits, needs to be satisfied, interests, aversions and talents, and all this points to a  thousand more determinations than I’d ever be able to see. Twins separated at birth found that they shared a long list of common pursuits and interests that they probably never suspected were simply the silent proddings of their genetic code, and one doesn’t need to see himself in a twin to see that there is a fair amount that seems spontaneous to him that is in large part due to somatic factors.

3.) A third element is the lack or imperfect possession of the perfection or good that I choose and/ or am driven to. The path of dereliction left open to me. Failure, mistakes, loss and wickedness are always an option.

The second trait is usually distinguished from freedom, although it is also a principle of freedom.  If freedom is the action of some nature, it has some determination from another. All nature is some mode of being open to the divine activity.

The first and third are differing aspects of the free act for us; the first expresses its perfection and completion, the other expressing its imperfection and incompletion. It is no easy task to untangle the aspect of lordship in the free action from the freedom or indetermination of it, though they are contrary elements. Freedom as possessed by the one that is most perfectly Lord is not open to mistake, failure or wickedness as an object of choice, and yet is not determined for being so.

The two great dangers in understanding freedom are (a.) to confound the first and third, the dominus and derilictus, and (b.) to overstate the significance of the second factor as a conditioning factor; though this factor is not entirely contrary to freedom and is even necessary for its exercise. No philosophy that reduces its concepts to being as actuality will fall into the first one, since perfection is precisely what divides the dominus and derilictus, and which shows us the path of perfection on which we find the perfect Dominus who is in no way a derilictus.

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