Notes

The Father alone is God, for he is the sole and sufficient source of both Son and Spirit.

The Son alone is God, for there is nothing outside his idea that can known about God, and this “nothing outside” must include existence.

The Spirit alone is God, for there is no reason for either the Son or Father to exist except as expressed in him.

I’ve argued before that we have no idea of that which transcends both the abstract and the concrete. We may perhaps have no such word, but what else is the abstract idea itself, or consciousness so far as it makes the abstract idea? A more exact grammar would put mental items in a transcendent class.

We can get Kant out of Aristotle by omitting the agent intellect. For A, the object of the intellect is not wholly received but also made, and so not wholly conditioned by possible experience.

Objection: agent intellect acts on experience, and so presupposes it. Response: as agent, it suffices to make it. Otherwise: intellected objects are not the same as sensed ones (as any dog suffices to prove).

So if the world were in a wholly natural state for Aristotle, it would be a perfectly static four-layer cake (from earth up to fire) that was being orbited by stars.

What, on this picture, are we to make of the idea that the stars are orbiting for the sake of generation? Does the orbiting make it impossible that the layer cake ever form?

The lesson: Nature has both what is perpetual and what tends to stasis and dissipation.

Advertisements

The Forms

-Plato’s forms are an account of insight,. i.e. of the thing we see when we have an insight. What did Newton see in the apple? The same thing Archimedes saw in the bath, or Augustine saw in his sin before his conversion.  What do you see whenever you “get it”?

-I can remember having a mental block for months over what an indirect question is. I actually kept asking things like “I want to know what an indirect question is.” At some point I just got it. This is the thing itself.

Platonic forms aren’t ghosts of things in some heavenly museum. They’re what you see when, after some time with mere examples, names, mechanical manipulations of things, diverse appearances whose unity is hidden, little formulae that you know how to use, etc. you suddenly see what the thing is.

-This insight is compatible with error. Newton did see the Platonic form of all bodies in the heaviness (gravitatis) of the apple. So what if gravity later got redefined?

-The form is not an ideal, except so far as the ideal is particularly good at making what the thing is known.

-The form is not the mind of God, except so far as insight often seems like revelation.

-Saying platonic form is an account of insight is an attempt to speak of the platonic form of platonic form. Before insight, we have any number of things: a word that one repeats, an idea you try to explain to students reading the Phaedo, an idea that the commentators never seem to quite “get” but which they always speak about, a subject people talk about in college or a class that no one knows quite what to do with, an object we train an animal, machine, child or student to react to. It’s often an idea you try to refute.

-Plato posits forms to account for why we have more than doxa, that is, something that, even if true, is a prejudice. It is literally pre-judgment, since we judgment is of what things are. Judgment is also form. 

-Negations can take part in form. It is also a revelation to see that something are not others and never can be. Repentance or metanoia is an insight into a form, though a privation of one.

-Soul is the place of forms. The reasoning is largely an algorithm that could be better executed by the inhuman.

Scientific vs. logical stuff

We have to be patient with the neuroscience and give it time to figure out consciousness. 

So what about consciousness or the mind makes it putatively a scientific problem?  The simplest answer is the inductive one: we’ve gone a long way in explaining things like memory, the differing brain regions of differing experiences, the biological basis of some personality traits, the chemical treatment of depression and metal disorder, the neurological account of seizures, behavior disorders, learning disabilities, etc. Call all problems like this “science stuff”

All this contrasts to the the fact that we don’t expect the sciences to solve mathematical or logical problems. What new discovery will resolve the Riemann hypothesis or Cantor’s continuum problem? Which experiment will give a clear resolution to the paradox of entailment or the problem of explosion?*  Call this “logical-mathematical stuff” (L-M).

So we’ve got some problems that we expect sciences to solve, and others we don’t. So is consciousness or the mind entirely like the science-stuff, as the induction would suggest, or is it also like the L-M stuff?

Answer: It’s like science stuff, because it exists.

Objection: But the opposite of “exists” in that statement is not what fails to be in any way at all but what exists only in the mind. This sticks us with the burden of a hopeless tetrad:

1.) Mind is entirely contained by the existent.

2.) L-M things are entirely contained by the mind.

3.) L-M things are not entirely contained in the existent.

You can make the containment operator either existential or logical, either way we have to reject some limb of the problem. But so long as it makes sense to divide existence in the mind from real existence we’re stuck having to reject (1).

—-

*Pace Sam Harris, moral problems are probably this sort of thing too, though I won’t insist on this point. I also won’t insist in the same point that could be made about the dispute between Russell and Moore on idealism/realism or between VanInwagen and Bill Vallicella on the thin theory of existence.

Options

Lucretius speaks of a worm in all pleasures that sits at the ovule of the blossom and poisons the whole flower.

The worm at the heart of things is their finitude. We can love finite goods but not as finite, i.e. we can love that they are perfected but not that they end, we can love what they can do but not what they are incapable of, we can love their existence but not their looming inexistence. Part of loving the finite is hating this limitation – loving life and hating death are simply two aspects of the same thing. In the finite, however, these two aspects are integral to the very good you’re attracted to. Every love of the finite for its own sake is a deeper commitment to the pain that comes in losing them.

One response is to love nothing for its own sake but to use things for what we can make of them or the pleasure they afford us. This makes one good just as good as another, and so after using up any one of them we can move on to a fresh one. Hedonism or libertinism or do-what-thou-wilt is, most profoundly, our first rational response in the face of death. This response is both shallow and impossible: shallow since it would deprive us of friendship or the love of anyone in themselves; and impossible since even use and pleasure rest upon our loving ourselves for our own sake, and we have the worm just as much as anything else. We can flee from this fact too by fantasizing that we will kill ourselves when we can no longer enjoy life, but this too is an illusion of a solution which pushes the self back behind bodily life. We flee from love of the finite for its own sake, but find no coherent place to stand.

Lucretius might meet this all with a shrug. There is a worm in things, you flee from it by nature, and that’s all there is to it. There is no point to retreat back to: you just flee to nowhere, from a disgust that cannot be escaped. If this is right, it seems we have two options:

1.) It is absurd to love finite goods.

2.) The love of finite goods is made possible by a non-finite good.

Updated Monadology (1)

1.) There is a manifold, therefore something is one.

2.) Thus, something is atomic.

3.) Whether there is some physical atom is an empirical (and therefore contingent) matter, but whether something is atomic is not. Therefore, there is some non-physical atom.

4.) Whatever has quantifiable parts in space or time – whether in magnitude, time, or force – is physical, so the non-physical atom is not spatio-temporal, though it can enter into composition with it.

5.) This composition cannot be as another part, but as a source of unity. We cannot understand this except as the one overseeing the multiple, but with an oversight making the spatio-temporal parts really one. Our oversight makes twelve stones in a bag a single flock of sheep, a row of beads the powers of 10 on an abacus, and a series of holes in a card a cannon trajectory on an artillery computer from 1940. This accidental unity is the paradigm for substantial unity.

6.) There is no self-consciousness in the oversight characterizing the source of unity, not even when this oversight gives rise to self-consciousness, as it does in us. Mind is aware of mind, but mind is not the source upstream that gives rise to it.

7.) The atomic source of things cannot arise from the material of the spatio-temporal world, nor from the indefinite and infinite backdrop of quantity that gives us the mathematicals.  Considering the whole of the universe, if the atomic source does not exist, it is impossible; if it does exist, it is necessary.

8.) We call creation that action that can account for how something at time T can be impossible, and at T + 1 can be necessary. The thing is viewed as impossible in relation to causes that the creator is not limited to. Nevertheless, what we call “causes” are not considered as incomplete apart from the creator. Failure to account for the author is not a plot hole in the novel.

Social teaching

In the midst of a unit on justice and property rights I had to teach Catholic social teaching. The Catechism made my jaw drop with:

The social doctrine of the Church developed in the nineteenth century when the Gospel encountered modern industrial society with its new structures for the production of consumer goods, its new concept of society, the state and authority, and its new forms of labor and ownership

sec III, 2421

The Nineteenth Century?!? You mean the Church basically built Europe and vast tracts of the Americas without developing a social policy?

For everyone who didn’t get the hint about the “new structures” that the passage is speaking of, the text later gets explicit:

The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.

In other words, it rejects both Adam Smith and Karl Marx; both individualism and collectivism. In explaining this to the class, it became clear that this was, in effect, to reject the ideals of the left, right and center. The class ended with no one in the room having any idea what the Church thought a just regime would look like.

Grace

Grace is God so far as he is the believer’s own possession.

Substance

THEORY ONE

-Person is a substance. The Porphyrian tree thus has substance at both ends.

-Among real things, the order of logic is the inverse of the order of being. Descent down the Porphyrian tree is an approach toward the light of existence, ascent is toward the shadow.

-The tree leading down to the person is the shadow cast by the person.

-The person generates the nature, i.e. its intelligible aspect.

-Among created things, the nature is not the perfect image of the individual substance that generates it. This is why individual substances are unknowable to us by their natures.

-Hypothesis: the Hellenic-Medieval attempts to make nature or the communicable primary failed. They could never quite keep the story straight. Aristotle’s system never came to terms with the contradiction of making both form and the individual primary.

-Substance : nature :: The One : Mind

-Nature in created things is the primary duality; in the creator it is, in different ways, The Second Person and divinity.

THEORY TWO

-Substance is nature in its absolute consideration.

-Substance is not the logical atom, but that which generates both the atom and the most general category. Substance is no more particular than it is universal. The sense of “is” I just used is logical.

-The particular can be used as a placeholder for a substance we cannot know, but so can the universal. Used the second way, we speak of the individual so far as it is intelligible to us, spoken of in the first way, so far as it is the unapproachable limit of understanding.

-Particular : Universal :: Substance as unreachable limit of intelligibility : substance as approachable limit of intelligibility. Note that the same limit is approachable and unreachable.

-Reality limits logic at two extremes. The limits are not homogeneous with the limited. Our logic cannot think reality into existence.

-We cannot think reality into existence, but we can approach it infinitely. In this sense our thought does give rise to the real. So far as thus us the case the Copernican turn is justified, and nature just is dialectical.

THEORY THREE

-Dreams teach us that we must separate the substance of things from any analyzable element in them. This is that familiar dream experience of any thing being anything else.

-We can distinguish substance from appearance, but appearance must be understood as both the revealing and veiling of substance.

-One of the most common critiques of Kant is that he could not decide whether the phenomena revealed substance or veiled it. But it’s obvious that the only reason to call it an appearance is because it does both.

-Substance : appearance :: the wedding cake we’ll make : everything one can observe happening in the bakery.

– Note carefully the “we’ll make”. Future tense said of something just as much in a present tense. Substance acts on bakers, ingredients, delivery trucks, farmers growing wheat and sugar cane, etc. From an entire world, it manages to congeal into that single drop that is itself, ready to be shipped to the wedding.

-Science rejects teleology because it wants the analyzable order. This rejection is an unattainable ideal.

-Substance writes itself backwards into the present and the past. It causes mixing ingredients, delivering them, growing them, tilling land for them, clearing forests for them, giving us the idea of agriculture for them, generating humans for them…

-The whole world is being backwritten from the substance of the eschaton. So far as this is true, Leibniz was right

-But the further one falls back from any one substance, the more that substance must combine with others to cause itself. A wedding cake might suffice to explain the baker’s actions, but we need more than this to explain deliveries, more than that to explain the clearing of land, more than that to explain the idea of agriculture. No one result, no one substance, is of itself necessary in the sweep of things. Contingency – both negatively in indeterminism and positively in freedom – are both elements of this retrodiction of substance.

-We call this “an idea” of the wedding cake only as a metaphor. Ideas depend on us to exist. Here we are gesturing at what our ideas depend on. The recipe does not depend on us the way our child’s name depended on us. My child’s name is “an idea” simpliciter, the recipe is a discerning something latent in the world of possibility.

Spiritual body

Robert George claimed that the whole basis of his sexual theory is that we are not personal spirits dwelling within and using impersonal bodies. Thomists agree with this, though it is admittedly a point where STA admits of difficulties of interpretation and perhaps a small number of competing commitments.

George’s claim allows one to explain what was traditionally called sexual deviancy as a desire for a fuller life, i.e. as the life of an angel or god. If the body is simply a tool or a resource that I use as I see fit, then my “I” is a pure spirit.

I have to confess being extremely attracted to the doctrine of the I as pure spirit. I’m saddened by the thought that George’s theory is true, and I would much prefer to live in a world where it wasn’t. I’d prefer this world to be a pure object set in front of me as opposed to entering into my very subjectivity. I’m scandalized by a world that lives in the face of death. I don’t belong in this place where nothing else – dogs, trees, meadow grass, the sun, whatever –  is bothered by death or the reality of its non-existence. Let the body live there, have no business with things that exist like that.

I can get so worked up about this as to suspect George is a nihilist – what is the insistence on the bodily nature of the human person if not an insistence on the annihilation of persons? Give me sodomy! Contraception is our only hope of life!

But when you hit the point of arguing that the good of masturbation grounds your hope of eternity, you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. But to look back at your other option shows it with all the downsides and disgust that it ever had. So what now?

Christianity seeks to transcend both options with a doctrine of spiritual bodies, though one suspects we no more have a category for “spiritual body” than we have for category for a noun with a single meaning that is both abstract and concrete. The gospels seem to testify to such a thing being out of joint with experience – hence we find John saying of the resurrected Christ that “no one asked if it was him, for they knew that it was he”. Imagine having any experience of recognition for which this would be the appropriate description! Again, Christians have puzzled over the chronology of the Easter story for a very long time, and it is usually exhibit A for any critical scholar seeking to show the incoherence of the Gospel. My own sense is that it reflects the actual confusion of where Christ was and what he was doing. Existing among his disciples seems like an option for Christ, as though space-time was just something he checked-in on, whenever, wherever, and in as many places as he felt like.

Analogous to the Vestigial

Edward Feser has a fantastic defense of the perverted faculty argument. He intentionally leaves off a defense of his underlying metaphysics, so here’s my attempt to frame what I take as the central objection to that underlying metaphysics.

Consider vestigial organs. For us moderns, these organs are relatively easy to account for: maybe they were made as a genetic fluke, maybe they went along as free riders on a reproductive advantage, but more likely they were once useful adaptations to an environment now gone. Aristotle had no sense of vestigial organs, or if he did it didn’t make much of an impression on his thought, but had he recognized their existence, he would have had no problem impeding their function or removing them altogether.

Thus a partial objection to the perverted faculty argument is to claim that our reproductive system is relevantly analogous to a vestigial organ. I say “relevantly analogous” since it is nonsense to claim that the organs themselves are vestigial. The analogy seems to be that they were adapted to conditions that no longer exist, that is, to a world where human middle age started at about 20 and the replacement fertility rate was around six children per woman. Note we’re assuming (as Feser does also) that our sexual function is more than just the power to reproduce but also the intensity and continuance of the desire and our age on its first onset. Outside the context in which we lived for almost all of our evolutionary history, human sexual functions lose their orientation to the good of survival and can even become contrary to it. Therefore (and this is the point on which the whole objection stands or falls) sexual function can lose its orientation to the practical good of the animal and so cease to be “natural” in the relevant sense in which functions count as natural in the perverted faculty argument.

Another way to put the argument is as a variant of the principle of totality. Just as we would impede the natural function of any organ which would threaten to destroy an individual if we did not impede it, so too we can impede and frustrate natural functions of organs so far as they threaten to destroy us as a species. This seems to be exactly the sort of argument that Paul Ehrlich was making for contraception back in the late 70’s. That said, the irony of arguing that we have to frustrate the very thing that allows for our continuance as a species in order to ensure it is not lost on anyone.

The heart of the objection is the claim that nature does all sorts of things in vain, i.e. we can have all sorts of natural functions (things with an intrinsic teleology) that are nevertheless unconnected to the practical good of the animal. Evolutionary psychology insists on thousands of them, contemporary psychologists have a voluminous literature on them (Stuart Sutherland did a lit review of them in his book Irrationality) and the possibility that functions can be maladaptive follows a priori out of the basic principles of evolutionary thought.

« Older entries