Self-clarification on pastoral problems

A: …The whole thing is a hot mess that makes me despair for the possibility of rational dialogue.

B: It’s not that bad, is it? It’s the usual slogan-swapping that we get with everything.

A: No, in this case there seems like a pathological inability to mention what we’re actually fighting over.

B: Seems pretty obvious to me: admit them or don’t.

A: No, That’s where the problem starts. All this talk about “admitting them to communion” makes it seem like we issue tickets and have turnstiles. It conjures up the image of everyone having to apply for a communion license, and the only question the clerk asks is “so, are you divorced and remarried”?

B: You’re looking for too much logic in what is a pastoral problem.

A: Okay, so what’s that problem? I suppose there’s some canon that specifically singles out the divorced and remarried in a special way, and we want to get rid of it?

B: I don’t know. I’ve never heard of such a thing.

A: If some canon singles out the divorced and remarried, and this canon makes all the divorced and remarried “feel singled out”, then I suppose we could just “stop singling them out”. Maybe we could write more canons about who was “not admitted” to communion so the divorced and remarried wouldn’t feel so isolated. Or maybe we could stop referring to the divorced and remarried under that description and just refer to “those who are not ‘admitted’ to communion”. If all one means by a “pastoral” response is the use of more sensitive language with no change in the facts of who is “admitted” to communion, then a pastoral response is something so hollow that it’s hard to see why anyone would bother to make it.

B: You’re belittling pastoral care. The whole point of Vatican II was to stop the language of condemnation and exclusion and promote a religion of spiritual power and beauty. “Sensitive language” has to be a part of that, even under your tendentious description.

A: So we change descriptions of things without changing the facts described? Do we try to re-frame the issue so that the facts, while not changing, are described in a different way?

B: The issue is over framing and presentation, yes. There does seem to be a smaller group that says that, if divorce and remarriage is a sin, it’s only a single sin of getting remarried. Future acts of intercourse are not sins. Hence Thomas Reese SJ:

The problem is that conservatives do not see divorce and remarriage as simply one sin, which can be confessed and forgiven. They see it as a continuing sin each time the couple has sex.

A: Well, that’s at least a proposition that can be debated, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the “con” side. Has it really come to this, that while conceding that it’s a sin to consummate a marriage, the future sex acts fall under a completely different moral description?

B: You cut off what he says later, though: “Some have portrayed this as a conflict between truth and mercy. Should the church emphasize the teaching or the mercy of Jesus?”

A: No doubt the passive voice protects those too embarrassed to admit what they just said. The account of “truth” in the first sentence is Nietzschean – as though truth were just the ugliness of raw power and exploitation, and was opposed to the sort of “mercy from the bowels” that strikes the good Samaritan. The “mercy” is just as Nietzschean – an absence of truth, a failure to face up to reality.

B: But who’s in conflict with himself now? I know for a fact how much you value Nietzsche, but here you are trying to portray his thought as embarrassing. And isn’t your example at odds with itself? The whole point of the good Samaritan is that out attempts to rationally divide our neighbors from the outsiders is exactly what needs to be overcome by Christ. We need to move past an idea of charity as “he is my neighbor” (in a “state of grace”) and “he is an outsider” (not in “a state of grace”) and get to an account of charity as one who breaks open in mercy for another, and so makes that other a neighbor. 

A: So that is our Catholic Nietzscheanism, eh? Given we have to choose between a “charity of rules” and a “charity of the bowels”, we need to choose the latter?

B: Right. You can see why those who want the latter are at a dialectical disadvantage, since they refuse to give rational criteria the decisive role. You started off in despair of rational argument. You probably should. That’s exactly what can’t be the rule any more. That’s the charity of the Levite and the Priest. How much real charity has come out of centuries of Scholastic wrangling about “mortal sin” and “the state of grace”?

A: That’s a lot of different claims. It’s bizzare that you’re trying to convince me of them.

B: But that’s the usual demonic voice of reason: “How can you live without me? You try to talk yourself out of me, but you’re only using me to do so!” Reason simply works out the inspirations of the bowels.

A: At the end of the day, both of us probably find the voice of the other Satanic.

Self-clarification on a problem of history

A: I suspect that a lot of the moral stories we tell about history need to be critiqued.

B: Why’s that?

A: I was just reading a history of the Medievals and I was struck how I read the various accounts of their laws as intolerant, or in need of being justified as tolerant. The author seemed to be writing that way as well.

B: What’s so bad about that? Was he unfair?

A: No, all the facts were basically right, and his account was nuanced and balanced and in line with most of the scholarship.

B: Okay – so where’s the problem?

A: I don’t think the Medievals cared about tolerance one way or another.

B: That’s probably going way too far. Tolerance is just putting up with things, and putting up with things is just part of being human.

A: That’s exactly wrong! That’s an apologia for tolerance – but somewhere along the way it became a virtue, applied in a definite set of cases and denied to others. More importantly, somewhere along the line it became a taboo, but it was in no way a taboo for the Medievals.

B: So what? Maybe it should have been.

A: Okay, but isn’t this important to an account of history? Assume that a hundred years from now the word decisive  is the virtue of having definite and emphatic opinions on the moral value of everything. So Richard Dawkins and Archbishop Levebre are seen as models of decisiveness, and everyone else (and presumably most of the tolerant) are seen as running afoul of a taboo and lacking clear-minded virtue. On this account, most of our skepticism and tolerance is (boo!) indecisive. But isn’t this to judge us by a game we aren’t playing? What would you understand about our virtue of tolerance by describing it as violating the self-evident goodness of decisiveness?

B: Maybe we could avoid the problem by focusing on the goods people sought and not the standards we think they fall short of.

A: Right, but I want to go further: don’t describe people relative to future states or developments. We describe the life of cavemen as brutal and short, but the Olympians have just as much reason to describe the life of a wealthy 90 year old in his first bout of declining health in the same way. Both descriptions are a failure to understand the actual life that is lived in history. Both introduce a comparison that did not enter into the life at all. We think we’re getting a history when in fact we’re getting something that has never and can never exist- the “brutal and short” caveman life that was lived neither by him nor by us.

B: Describing people relative to the future is what history does.

A: I thought what it did was describe them as they are.

B: Okay, but people really do exist relative to the future.

A: I don’t exist like that, except where “future” is so vague and undefined as to explain nothing worth knowing about my life.

B: But aren’t there hidden perfections and faults in things that become manifest over time?

A: Maybe there are: but are we trying to understand persons or some grand sweep of history which, since it was unknown to them, must be by the same token unknown to us?

B: Okay, try saying that same tendentious thing in reverse: are we trying to understand the true character of persons, which can only be manifest over time, or are we going to pretend that everyone’s goals are as valid as anyone else’s and that history doesn’t let us see who the real winners and losers are?

Pascal’s Wager goes underappreciated as a rational justification for the God of faith as such. Stripped to the basics, we get:

A good bet is rational

The God of faith is a good bet.

Some commentators try to make the bet a sure deal (the “infinite payouts” / “infinite punishments” and all that) but a sure deal seems more like a fix than a bet.

The First Way

1a.) Whatever is in motion is indifferent to two terms, A and B, but is going to B

1b.) The indifferent requires some other mover to cause its going to B.

1c.) Therefore, whatever is in motion is being moved by another.

2a.) But force, energy, mass-energy, and any other physical mover is also itself in motion.

2b.) Every physical mover is being moved by a non-physical (and so supernatural) other.

Self-clarification on the First Way

A: The First Way concludes to a God that is the energy of energy, or the force of force.

B: But who needs that? How can you give a vector to a vector? Or give a source of work to what is, all by itself, a source of work? It’s like you’re speaking about something that heats up fire or changes five to a prime number.

A: But motion is when some X goes from A to B. So you need an X that is, of itself, indifferent to A or B, and then somethign determined to be. It’s the conjunction of the indeterminate and determinate.

B: Fine.

A: So any X in motion (indeterminate) is being moved by another (determinate other).

B: By its force, its energy, mass-energy, whatever.

A: And you speak of its force because it’s in it, and in motion along with it. The energy is just another X.

B: Which is why you think we need a force of force, an energy of energy.

A: How else can we get something that causes motion without moving with? We need something present in one sense everywhere so far as it is of the mobile without being limited to it; and in another sense present nowhere since motion can’t consist in moving from one part of it to another.

B: So then you didn’t want something that heated up fire or made five prime, but something behind the first thing that causes motion but is itself in motion.

A: It might just be like Newtonian absolute space, which had no location and was not extended but allowed for definite location in any given extension.

B: Why say that Absolute Space had no extension?

A: Because you can’t mark off points in it, or you can only mark off points in it.

B: Light-speed-constancy seems to do that now, providing a location here and now without moving with something.

A: Right, as a sort of context or backdrop. But motion needs movers too.

B: Energy, or whatever is foundational to it in nature, is not so much the first mover as the primum mobile. 

A: Right. It plays exactly the role that Aristotle attributed to the heavens, which both move by nature and are moved by another.

Correspondence theory or copy theory?

The “correspondence theory” of truth seems like the copy theory of truth: if there is a duck in the pond, truth means drawing a head with a picture of a duck in it. But since it doesn’t matter whether one draws the head of a man or a wolf, anything that can process information has the true. But then why do the “correspondence theorists” deny this?

The true means the equality of the intellect and thing. A thing, however, is not equal to itself since equality is of diverse things, and so truth is found primarily in an intellect which starts to have something of its own that the thing outside the soul does not have, but which nevertheless both corresponds to it and can be equal to it. Now while an intellect merely conscious of what things are has only the similitude of what things are outside the soul (in the same way that a sense power has a sensible species) when the intellect starts to make judgments about what it apprehends, that judgment is something of its own, which is not found outside of it in reality.*

Veri enim ratio consistit in adaequatione rei et intellectus; idem autem non adaequatur sibi ipsi, sed aequalitas diversorum est; unde ibi primo invenitur ratio veritatis in intellectu ubi primo intellectus incipit aliquid proprium habere quod res extra animam non habet, sed aliquid ei correspondens, inter quae adaequatio attendi potest. Intellectus autem formans quiditatem rerum, non habet nisi similitudinem rei existentis extra animam, sicut et sensus in quantum accipit speciem sensibilis; sed quando incipit iudicare de re apprehensa, tunc ipsum iudicium intellectus est quoddam proprium ei, quod non invenitur extra in re.

QDV 1.3 co

This is literally a “correspondence theory”, but it is not a copy theory, as if truth were reduplication. Truth belongs only to those things for whom knowledge itself is an object of knowledge, as opposed to things that have knowledge of colors, shapes, scents, motion, or even the natures of things.

Truth on correspondence theory is essentially a copy within the self aware as such. The theory makes self-reflection integral to truth. If we have good reasons to take immateriality as necessary for self reflection, then immateriality enters our account of knowledge so far as truth is self-reflective, as opposed to the way in which truth is a copy.

While it’s easy to imagine coming up with algorithms generating all sorts of things: the perfect novel, the perfect diagnosis, perhaps even the perfect philosophical argument, there is a straightforward contradiction in having an algorithm generate itself – not copy itself, mind you, or an algorithm of a similar kind, but itself. But that’s what would be required of a truth algorithm. Likewise, organic cognitive powers need to be transparent to their objects, and so it’s hard to see what it would mean for an organic cognitive power to be aware of itself.


*Behold, St. Thomas in “living translation.” Original included for the amusement of the latinate.

Creation and us

-Eventually we’ll have to resolve the tension between believing our lives are insignificant relative to the universe and believing that the universe itself is meaningless, and so without significance.

-In one sense, there is nothing depressing or even interesting in saying that the universe doesn’t care about us. Who has ever been depressed because the weather doesn’t care about him? Sure, I’m sad that the rain killed my bonfire, but it’s not as if something let me down.

-That God creates by his word:

a.) The work of the hands or of the reproductive organs continues existing after the act that brings it forth, but the work of the mouth does not.

b.) Speech is the act of reason (logos) in the breath (spirit).

c.) The fiat is the expression we use both to call something forth and to leave it to itself.

d.) Speech requires time in a way no other art does: even more than music. Meaning is impossible without the verb consignifying time.

e.) If the world is not spoken by another, it is only projected by us. All is subconscious mental paint, brushed over reality/ the abyss.

f.) Who creates: God, the Spirit on the waters, or the word?


Applause is appropriate because it sounds like rainfall.

Arius refused to believe in an unbegotten Son. God was unbegotten, sons were not It’s hard to fault him for this, since “unbegotten” means “without father”.

The unbegotten son born from the Virgin, and so without Father.

As the one Begotten though the Virgin was equal to the very God who begot with her, so too the one begotten though the father is equal to the God who begets him.

Nyssa makes God’s ousia beyond all naming. But then either the Trinity is not God’s ousia, or it is not revealed.

If “mystery” = “stuff you shouldn’t think about”, then “revealed mystery” is a mistake. If it means “Stuff you can’t think about” then a revealed mystery is impossible.

mystery is the act of the (eschatologically) potential as potential.

The truth of (the intrinsically false) “don’t try to figure out mysteries” is “be prepared to wait”.

To wait in frustration is contrary to hope.

From A Christological Catechism “How Much, In Fact, can we claim to know about the historical Jesus?”

Translation: To what extent can we assimilate the Gospels to a larger textual field where a miracle is considered beyond the minimum necessary to believe?

What sort of discourse values the least that can be believed? How important is the difference between the fundamental and the least necessary? There seems to be a likeness here to the difference between the axiomatic (which all explanations strive to be based on) and the “brute fact” (which no one ever bases explanations on, but only invokes to ward off cosmological arguments).

Brentano’s refutation of the Ontological Argument

Start with the argument in simplest form

TTWNGCBT is something that must exist in reality and not just the mind


So God must exist in reality and not just the mind.

Brentano claims the argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. Normally this would occur in the middle term, but Brentano sees it as occurring in the word “is”. There are two senses if the word, call them a and b:

a.) In a sentence like “A shoemaker is a person who makes shoes” or “a cheetah is a large cat” the sentence can be re-written by replacing “is” with “means”.

b.) In a sentence like “the car is on the freeway” cannot be re-written in the same way, but involves a claim beyond what means about what is real.

Now either the premises are both a, both b, or we have one of each. If both are a, then the conclusion only explains what the word means, and is not a proof that God exists; if both are b, then the minor premise begs the question. But if we have one of each, then the argument involves an equivocation on “is”. Since Brentano takes it as self-evident that the first premise is a (b) and the second is an (a), he takes it as an obvious equivocation.

Brentano explains further that if one is allowed to mix a and b senses of “is” he can prove anything, e.g.

a shoemaker is a person who makes shoes

But you can’t make shoes if you don’t exist, can you?

Therefore a shoemaker exists.


A unicorn is a horse with a single horn

But in order to have any horn at all you need to exist

Therefore a unicorn exists.

One response to Brentano is that he seems to prove too much: Proving the existence of anything, would seem to require both senses of “is”, e.g.

A black swan is (means) something that looks like a swan, but is black

Oh look, there is something that looks like a swan, but is black.

Objection to Hume

Hume: Just because the universe came from a mind does not mean it came from an infinite mind.

Objection: A finite mind could account for the universe as a fiction but not as real; but the universe is real, therefore, etc.

Ad minorem: Even an omnipotent mind cannot determine any information that falls outside of the text or script or shot. No degree of textual insight, for example, can tell us on what day of the week Othello killed Desdamona, how many plants they had in their house, whether the floor was covered or with what, whether the killer was right or left handed, ad infinitum. But any detail that a finite mind can know is present to someone who sees a real husband kill his wife. And so if the real proceeds from a mind, it proceeds from one that can determine every possible way that every possible finite mind could consider the details outside of any one account or story. But any mind capable of producing, and therefore accounting for all that can be known by any possible finite mind is not itself finite, therefore, etc.

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