Note on Brothers K

The definitive speeches of Ivan and Alyosha are both discourses on children who have just died. Ivan uses a child who he never knew to make a philosophical point whereas Alyosha eulogizes a once broken, rotten and spiteful child who was redeemed by someone who loved him in his rottenness.

Against the axiom of nature’s infinite precision

Working at any art gives us an experience of what might be called the stubbornness of matter: you have an idea in your head for a picture or a melody or a paragraph, then in trying to make it work you find the materials have a mind of their own. Those who make things end up expecting some divergence between what they set out to make and what gets made, and whether this is a disappointment or a pleasant surprise involves a changing ratio of luck and skill. I’m literally having this experience right now in trying to get this paragraph to work.

From Galileo until now, we’ve taken it as an axiom that the totality of natural causes does not have to deal with the stubbornness of matter since they are infinitely precise. If I am trying to cut a straight line but get a crooked one, we assume this is because there were competing forces that account for these slight deviations. My line is crooked because I only account for a part of the forces that gave rise to it. The total forces are infinitely precise and perfectly mathematical since any deviation from absolute precision requires us to posit another force to explain what caused the deviation. At this point we are supposed to humbly say we can never know all these forces and so science does the best it can with degrees of approximation.

But even total awareness of forces would not suffice to explain the end result since even an infinite intelligence would not suffice to make nature a math problem. Forces act only so far as they are given mathematically, and math is non-temporal. You can imagine formal or mathematical quantities taking time to execute a process, but they don’t take time as mathematical: how long does it take to sum all the parts of an integral? How long does it take to add 2 and 2? For that matter, how long is a yardstick as mathematical? One doesn’t need three feet of space to use the “yard” that gets used in an equation.

Trying to sufficiently explain either time or distance by purely mathematical considerations ends up leaving off the very motion and time we are trying to explain in the first place. Actual motion can’t be just an instance or concretion of mathematical “motions”. There is a non-formal element in them making them temporal, mobile, and therefore unintelligible to us. Some theory of hylomorphism or participation seems inevitable.



-Science is the world so far as it is willing to submit to our questioning, our standards of evidence, our demands for consistency, predictability, behavior according to a model, etc..

-Is there  anything rational about an event that couldn’t be entered into evidence? About a business relationship that couldn’t be put in a contract?

-Is everything visible tangible? Leaving off outlier cases, the answer is either (obviously) yes since the same things we see are things that could be touched or (obviously) no since it’s not as if blind men can’t feel or the anaesthetized go blind. All modes of knowledge are like this. From within the mode, nothing is left out, and everything can be reduced to an explanation in that mode (the visible can be wholly reduced to a tangible shape, like a wave.) So far as this goes, any mode of knowledge is the only or the best means we have of attaining reality.

-Tradition is hear-say: we heard from someone who heard from someone who heard, etc.


Definition of the universe

If we focus on the moment of causing, we couldn’t get the idea of causes being in prior in time. So why is temporal priority taken as essential to causing? Because we start seeing the cause as the initiator. But even this isn’t enough – we need to see the cause as working though subordinates, so that “the effect” is either at the end of the action of subordinate causes (like ringing the bell in the carnival strong-man game)  or the cumulative effect of subordinate causes making a whole (like a burning house being the sum of all its parts catching on fire).

Time is integral not to causality as such but to subordinate or secondary causes. Time is required when the primary agent is trying to act on one part after another either to reach an end or to form a whole. Do away with the secondary causes, and any temporal interval between cause an effect vanishes. Looking for it is like trying to find some time between pushing Joe and Joe being pushed.

We can consider the necessity of time not just through subordinate causes but though the substance of imperfect being.  By “imperfect being” I mean one that has incompossible perfections.  A person can have either the innocence of childhood, the beauty of youth, the authority of maturity or the wisdom of age, but these are incompossible, which can only be whole over an interval of time. Here again, however, we run into the subordinate causality of parts forming a whole. Time allows beings with incompossible perfections unite those perfections in a whole.

And so the domain of all time – the universe – is the totality of all incompossible perfections possessed by secondary causes.

Cosmological argument from time

A: I’m open to cosmological arguments, but not to ones that argue to a necessary being.

B: What’s wrong with those?

A: The universe is as necessary as any being can get, as far as I can tell.

B: Why so?

A: Because if something is not necessary, it can be otherwise.

B: Yes. So?

A: But then it can only be otherwise at some time?

B: Yes.

A: But there’s no time at which the universe cannot exist. Even Augustine figured this out. No universe, no time. Augustine even thought this included angels.

B: You are missing what possibility means. When I say “it can be otherwise at some time” I mean it can be otherwise than it is at the same time when it is. You don’t need some other, later time for it to be otherwise.

A: That’s just not true. A thing can’t be other than it is when it is. That would it require that it could be simultaneously what it is and something else.

B: Oh. I get it. So it needs some other time.

A: But there’s no other time for the universe. So it can’t be otherwise. So it’s a necessary being. Q.E.D.

A: Let me regroup. Do you agree with this? If the universe stopped existing,  it would not be necessary?

B: That seems hard to argue with. Even if it took all time with it, I’d still call the whole thing contingent.

A: But then a thing can contingently exist, even if there is no other time for its non-existence.

B: So I have to choose which I premise I want to keep: (a) a real possibility needs some other time and (b) if the universe stopped existing, it would be contingent. I guess I choose (b).

A: So then your argument won’t work to show the universe is necessary. I want to say more though. Let’s start with Aristotle’s claim that if the universe existed for an infinite time from now, then it must be necessary.

B: Why did he say that?

A: Because if it existed to the end of the infinite time, there would be no other time for it to collapse into non-existence.

B: But he seemed to make the mistake that the universe needs another time in order to be contingent.

A: I want to suggest that that it’s just this “going to the infinite” that a necessary universe would have to accomplish. But how could it get to some point infinitely far off? Any point it got to would be one that was a finite distance from now.

B: So you want to claim the universe can’t be necessary. It either (a) exists to some infinite time or (b) not. If (b) is true, it’s clearly contingent, but (a) is impossible, since all “infinite” means is that there will always be some next moment. In neither case is the universe necessary. What will not exist for an infinite time from now is not necessary, but it is impossible to exist for an infinite time from now.

A: Right. It’s contingent whether it gets to some last time or not.

B: But then we get a cosmological argument from the experience of things in time.


Theism in the key of irony

Natural selection shows how life arises by a sort of lottery where things survive if the environment is their lucky number. This proves that nature was not set up intentionally. Y’know, like lotteries weren’t.

Cogito spirituality

Descartes first development of his cogito is this:

If my existence could be given to sensation, it could be doubted.

It is impossible to doubt I exist.

If my existence could not be given to sensation, it cannot be physical.

A more elegant argument for the spirituality of the self is hard to imagine.

Higher and Lower Goods

The asymmetry of higher and lower goods: while both higher and lower goods can be desired, you can want higher goods as higher but not lower goods as lower, and lower goods need not be desired out of ignorance. And the desirable is the good.

It is not always evil to choose lesser goods.


The logic of the Problem of Universals

1.) Some things we know are abstract

2.) We know things as they are in reality.

3.) No thing in reality is abstract.

If any two are true, the other is false.

I.) Platonism takes 1 and 2 as true and denies 3. Not only is 3 false, it is contrary to the truth: all reality is abstract. Things are particular only as doxa, or in a way we now call “subjective”. We say that something is particular by the same sort of predication as we say that the dental drill is painful. Particularity is as much a feature of how we are relating to an object as pain is a feature of the drill.

It’s not at all clear what “an existent self” would mean on this opinion.

II.) Aristotle takes 1 and 3 as true, but 2 as false. We don’t know things as they are in the same way that we know them as abstract. The way of knowing does not have to be the same as the way it exists, e.g. we know Bemiji on the map as a small dot, but it is not a dot in reality,  The letters C, A and T are not a small furry mammal with a tail on one end and a meow on the other.

This is a decent and moderate opinion until one asks how one is supposed to abstract this universal from the particulars without already having it as a criterion for their likeness.

III.) Nominalism takes 2 and 3 as true and 1 as false. This is clear in Berkeley, and Hume both takes his arguments and adds to them. We have no abstract ideas and we can’t imagine what it would be to have one.

When one pushes at this opinion it turns into an appeal for agnosticism: we simply form universals from some power we are completely incapable of describing.

Christianity’s valuing of celibacy over marriage

1.) Exclusive loves are lower than non-exclusive ones. The limited diffusion of an interpersonal good arises from imperfection. Loves are to goods, and goods as such are diffusive. While marital and celibate loves are at least comparable, a love that excludes other persons is lower than one that doesn’t. This is Plato’s case for why eros must ultimately transcend itself in the love of greater common goods, ultimately to the good itself. In the Christian dispensation, love of God gives rise to a love that cannot be true to itself if it excludes any others, love of another in eros cannot be true to itself if it includes any others.

2.) Love of children makes it difficult to want to fly from the world. There will always be some tension between what we want to do in the world and our desire to leave it, but it would be heartless to unequivocally want to widow and orphan a family so as to join the Lord in the Eschaton. This element of detachment has a strong an unavoidable conflict with one’s role as spouse and provider.

3.) The sacramental is ordered to the non-sacramental. Sacraments are for those in via, even where they leave an indelible mark. This follows from their role as signs, as sensible mysteries, etc.

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