After the Ontological Argument

Everyone knows the Ontological Argument, far fewer about what Anselm does with it. Having proved to his satisfaction that if we cannot think something better than X, that X is true of God, he points out that X = the supreme good. Other divine attributes follow by conjunction: is the supreme good better with _____ or with non-_____? If with _____, then it is clearly better to have it with no limitation. The blanks then get filled with power (and then omnipotence) knowledge (and then omniscience) blessedness (and then intrinsic and utterly non-contingent blessedness) self existence (and so simplicity, eternity, unity…) etc.

Even if one proved God’s existence another way, it’s hard to beat the fertility of viewing God as that-than-which.

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Ontological Argument

1.) If we can think of something better than X, then X is not God.

(The can indicates logical possibility for a informed knower. Said another way, our assertion of “greater” is assumed not to result from our ignorance. “Greater” is on any scale of greatness.)

2.) So God is that than which a better cannot be thought. (by contraposition)

“Can” keeps same meaning.

3.) If God had no existence outside our idea, in thinking of an existent God we would think of something better.

The argument assumes an ideal knower, that is, a being who knows his judgments about what can or cannot be the case are not the result of ignorance.

Principle of Identity

First off, what is it?

It can’t be reduplication or a generalization of saying an apple is an apple. This makes it a mechanical act which hits no term. You might as well say an apple is an apple is an apple is an apple is….

We need something stronger than “is”, since the principle is uninteresting as a matter of fact (oh look, that apple is still an apple! Let’s check again in twenty minutes, ‘kay?) It only becomes interesting for reasoning as indicating necessity, e.g.

The same thing must be itself. 

(Where “same” has the same scope as in the principle of contradiction, sc. when it refers to the same time, in the same part, in the same respect, etc.)

So taken, we avoid mechanical repetition of predicates and get a principle that does real work, like in this the last sentence of this argument from St. Thomas:

[W]hen I say, “What the soul understands is immaterial,” this is to be understood that it is immaterial as it is in the intellect, not as it is in itself. Likewise if I say, “If God knew anything, it will be,” the consequent must be understood as it is subject to the divine knowledge, i.e. as it is in the present time when it is happening (presentalitas). And thus it is necessary, as also is the antecedent: “For everything that is, while it is, must be necessarily be,” as the Philosopher says in Peri Herm. i.

ST. 1. 14. 13 ad. 2

Whenever a thing is, when it is, must be. That is, the same thing must be itself. To say that is not a vacuous repetition, but an interesting statement about what it is to be at all. It turns out that same is contrary to contingency. There is a whole theology in that.

The TBBT

(a lame joke-post that I don’t have the time to improve at the moment.)

The Totally Blind Brain Theory (TBBT) is that the “brain”, which is universally assumed to be an organic cognitive power (OCO), has no information whatsoever about itself. There isn’t a small trickle of the “brain’s” activity that it is aware of, but none at all. This includes not only information about supposed “brain” states, but even information that could justify the folk belief in “brains”.

TBBT is consistent with all findings about organic cognitive organs. Research into OCO’s other than “brains” has been incapable of finding one that can establish its own activity or even its own existence by the activity it is assumed to perform. Despite reporting that their tongue detected “taste sensations”, 96.7  of respondents could not determine what their tongue tastes like (and the majority of the remainder had colds). Comparative percentages were unable to hear the sounds of their own ears, despite the verifiable pulsing sounds within these organs from the auricular and external carotid arteries. Furthermore, all reports of persons “smelling their noses” were confirmed to be caused by objects lodged in the nose.

There was a mathematically significant finding of respondents who claimed to see their own eyes, but this turned out to involve the fallacy of equivocation. Most meant that they saw their eyes in a mirror or picture, though these are representations of eyes and not eyes. A smaller but still significant sub-group reported seeing the effects of their cataracts, but these were judged to not be eyes as such but corruptions of the ocular organ. Those reporting to “feel their skin” could not distinguish how this is different from feeling a condition induced into that organ, and so their reports are dismissed as either spurious or confused.

Though Folk Brain Theory (FBT) attributes thought to an OCO called “the brain”, research is incapable of establishing the existence of an OCO that can detect its activity from the information it is assumed to gather from the world. It appears that FBT is an illicit extrapolation from (i) the apparent unity of diverse senses i.e. our belief that honey is both sticky and sweet and (ii) our awareness that we have distinct sense organs, like eyes and ears. Both of these, however, are not sense intuitions but “meta-sense-intuitions” that detect not only sensation but their own act of sensing. But all research into OCO’s has determined that they are incapable of a self-referential intuition, and so what is called “the brain” can have no basis in scientific research.

Gospel of flow

It’s easy to under appreciate that Scripture describes the activity of the faith though states of joy: exalt, rejoice, praise, give thanks, bless, blessed, alleluia, etc. If taken as a stage direction or a public performance, this is a matter of personality and taste. Some folks enjoy public enthusiasm and others don’t. The universal scope of the faith therefore demands it means something other than this. It has to mean what is now called flow or being in the zone, i.e. those states which, though we can repeat them daily and without guilt, time flies by. If I could do anything, I’d probably teach Plato to interested students while sitting in the wilderness of Ontario. Give me that, and I’d find even sleeping or weekends a burden. The faith claims to be that, but for everybody. 

The whole religious claim of the Church rests on the assertion that we were made to do what she proposes, and one can’t do what he’s made for without experiencing the joy of finding himself and his niche in the cosmos. Even after we allow for setbacks, bad days, periods of ennui, the distorting character of bad habits that need to be purged out, and the difficulty in forming new habits, the Church must be claiming to provide a fundamental fulfillment, and not just from a pie-in-the-sky promise.

Bird nests: artificial or natural?

If nature and art are divided as what arises from a source in matter and what doesn’t, then bird nests, beaver dams, hornet bikes, etc. are all artificial. This makes our account of art too broad, especially in light of Chesterton’s defense of art as the signature of the person in Everlasting Man. If nature and art are first approach to dividing substantial and artificial form, then we’re arguing with Edward Feser that cubic zirconia, Styrofoam, stainless steel, etc. are natural. Though this is awkward at first it is very defensible, first because raw materials have never been thought of as having the distinctive character of art, and then because making these things seems to involve a facilitation of natural processes, no matter how contrived the environment is that we make for them to occur in. One can explain zirconia by pointing to what chemicals do in the right crucible; one can’t explain the novelty ring one makes with it in the same way. That said, this sort of division is a way of critiquing or brushing aside the difference between art and nature, in effect saying that there is nothing distinctive about art. But there is. So what is it?

Unlike bird nests or beaver dams, art is not explained by an organism finding its niche in an environment. Establishing niches is a matter of working and rearranging the things around you, and it might make sense to describe anything that does this as an extension of nature, even if it is a combine tractor or a sugar refinery. What we call art properly speaking breaks from this so far as its goal is an object that exists for itself. The knife might be just an extension of a claw, but a decorative embossing on the handle isn’t.

The extent to which a thing we make exists for itself can be unclear. A beauty that seems to exist for itself might be just a signalling of fitness, and as such it is an attempt to carve out a niche in an environment. Any attempt to reduce all art to this is ad hoc, and so we’re left with a distinctively artistic element that differs from a natural one. Art is a human striving to make something that exists on its own and for itself. In this sense Pygmalion or Pinocchio are attempts to specify the ultimate goal of art, but which exists for the artist as an unreachable limit.

Art therefore requires knowledge of what it is to exist for oneself. It makes sense that as soon as one recognizes that he exists for himself, he strives to make this arise in another as much as possible. The Trinity and creation are different ways we might see this happening.

Dialogue (2)

One of the best dialogues between the Left and the Right is between Foucault and Noam Chomsky. Chomsky might be horrified to be told that he’s defending the Right, but I wouldn’t be the first to point out that while his politics is dependably of the Left it is grounded on an anthropology that is of the Right.

Foucault defends a vision of the person as fundamentally indeterminate, as manifest in his doctrine of La créativité or the indefinite possibilities of human life. The person, so the thinking goes, is fundamentally social, and the social is fundamentally indefinite and constructed. Utopia becomes possible and therefore imperative. True, in the short term there are fixed proclivities and limitations of various genetic groups or personality types, but all of these are social constructions from an indefinite set of possibilities. The violence of the Left is therefore revolutionary or transformative..

(but what sense can there being in perfecting what is essentially indefinite?)

Chomsky, on the other hand, has never wavered from a belief that a human being is a biological organism, and it is impossible for a definite organism to be without definite limitations. Positing an indefinite scope of créativité under all human life denies that human beings are alive at all. This fixed character of life is the basis for the pessimism or tragic view of the Right, which causes its uses violence to be either punitive or realist. Unlike the Left, there is no revolutionary uprising or “_____ -Spring”  or “great leap forward” but only gunboat diplomacy, realpolitik, and Final Solution.

(but it is either naive or ad hoc to imagine a complete assimilation of the person to other biological organisms.)

Scholastic philosophers might recognize in this opposition the (still unsolved) problem of how man can be both a sort of spirit and a sort of animal.

Dialogue

After scandalizing his advisors by reaching out to dialogue with Richard Nixon, Mao countered that he rather liked talking to leaders from the Right since they always just tell you exactly what they think while leaders from the Left rarely tell you what they are planning to do. The comment might well have been said with a wicked irony – this is the same Mao of “let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred different schools contend”, i.e. Mao made what we now call a plea for “dialogue”, but then used it to identify his rivals and promptly kill them all.

All the pleas for dialogue I have heard came from the Left, and all of them beggar belief. However sincere the Leftist might be – and I’m not a mind-reader in any position to decide the question – I can’t get beyond the fact that the Leftist himself never follows his own advice by just giving the reasons of his opponents. Why give a speech that “calls for dialogue” when you could give a speech that presents, without comment or judgment, both your own reasons and those of your opponents? Why are calls for dialectic so reliably non-dialectical?

So you want dialogue? Great. You first. Explain the arguments of the other side without continually relating to them as things to be refuted. I can’t do this, even after many years of criticizing my own thoughts and trying to find real insights in opponents (each of whom are sure believe, with some justification, that my thoughts are far more narrow than they seem to me.)

Active and receptive (3)

Aristotle defined nature through motion and motion as act or action imperfectly present in the potential (or passive). This tied together nature as a whole from both the top down and the bottom up: the higher movers imparted actuality, operation, vitality, etc on the lower and the lower were not merely inert or indifferent but desiring the higher reality of actuality.

The transcendental good

(a distillation of ST. 1.5.1)

The good is whatever a thing desires or tends to or seeks to preserve

(Since we desire, tend to, or seek to preserve either a real or apparent good, but no one tends to the apparent good as apparent. Therefore, taken precisely, the good is the whatever one desires, tends to, etc.)

But whatever exists desires or tends to or seeks to preserve its own existence. 

(This is evident in the living and the organic. In the non-living it is clear from the stability of atomic structure, or at least in what is elemental in what is called the elements, since what is simplest in the inorganic world must be conserved though all change. That said, this does not require that everything that exists seeks to preserve itself in every circumstance, only that the exceptions are confirmations of transcendental goodness. See the corollary.)

Therefore the existence of whatever exists is good. 

Cor. 1: Since there are higher and lower sorts of existence, then if a thing is not the highest thing it is not the highest good. This opens the possibility that it might have to give up its life for the sake of something greater (the lower always carries the possibility of being ennobled through sacrifice.)

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