re: a critique or re-restructuring of apologetics: If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. 

Contemporary apologetics is right that resurrection is the resurrection is the definitive miracle, but this is not because of it taking the greatest amount of power but because it is where we get the clearest view of the divine plan.

“Apologetics” is a defense. It wards off attacks. It is valuable here it can create conditions for faith to work, but it does not plant seeds, water, or cause growth.

What about Alexis Carrel? The conversion of Mexico by the Tilma? These two are defenses: a greenhouse is a defensive structure, even where a thing only grew after being taken into it. Reason can be a greenhouse of faith, it is not the battering ram against the gates of hell (cf. Mt. 16:18).

Objection: Who can follow this muddle of miracle, reason, apologetics?


A first move on a theory of annihilation

-This is probably the first time theologians have been asked to develop a theory of annihilation. Before now there was a vague sense that annihilation is possible but that, for whatever reason, it would not happen. But we run into a conflict even here: the “would not” includes all times, and what will not happen in all time is also not possible. “All time” negates the possibility of another time, but what is not the case can only be possible at another time.

-The demand for a closer look at annihilation arises from one version of the problem of evil. Why allow eternal punishment if annihilation is possible?

-The traditional doctrine of annihilation was developed as a corollary to the contingency of created things: material things were intrinsically contingent, finite immaterial things were extrinsically contingent on the divine power, and this extrinsic contingency was nothing but the possibility of annihilation. Again, whatever did not have its act of existence distinct from its essence is (at least) extrinsically contingent, and this contingency is nothing but the possibility of annihilation. As the contingency is real, the possibility of annihilation is real.

-The act of creation gives us being and so what cannot not be. If you don’t agree, I’ll restrict the discussion to souls, which most agree have no intrinsic possibility of non-existence. But if we say that X has no intrinsic possibility of being otherwise but only an extrinsic possibility, it seems that X is most comparable to a logical abstraction, say a syllogistic form or a mathematical theorem. It is here that we find no intrinsic possibility of what is the case being otherwise, even though these things are, by definition, abstractions and so have an extrinsic dependence on an abstractive (and therefore human) mind.

-So, presumably it is being willed that makes the extrinsic contingency of the universe allow for the possibility of annihilation. While the objectivity of our abstractions is contingent only on the existence of finite minds and not on their choices, the objective existence of the created world is contingent not just on God’s existence but his willing. This act of will is not necessary, and so annihilation is possible. That said, we’ve gone to a place where the conceptual air is pretty thin, and we don’t know exactly what to think. Who can make sense of a math theorem that we could will to be otherwise? If that’s what creation as such is most comparable to, what are we supposed to think about it?





Function = machine

Wanting a machine to give you sensation is like wanting a function to give you a specific output. In one sense, it obviously does: how else do I get a specific output from a given? In a more important sense, however, the machine and function are pure mediation and we can no more get inputs and outputs out of machines than we can get 4.0169 out of nothing but f(x) = x3. You might as well ask your TV to make the power come out of the wall.

If you want to say that sensation is nothing but an act of the central nervous system I don’t know that I’d object, but it is only true in a way that allows for it to be just as true that the nervous system mediates sensation. Thinking that sensation can be just a machine is like thinking that entrance into Athens can be just the gate: in one way it certainly is – there is no other way in. But this is not true in a way that would allow us to remove the gate, ship it off to the desert somewhere, and have it work just as well as an entrance to Athens.

On the Mill argument

In his otherwise very excellent (and I should say indispensable) commentary on Monadology, Lloyd Strickland claims that Leibniz’s Mill it is an argument from inconceivability, viz: If there is no conceivable way perception is mechanical, then it is not. Strickland himself points out that the crucial term “conceivability” never occurs in the text:

Supposing that there were a machine whose structure produced thought, sensation, and perception, we could conceive of it as increased in size with the same proportions until one was able to enter into its interior, as he would into a mill. Now, on going into it he would find only pieces working upon one another, but never would he find anything to explain perception. It is accordingly in the simple substance, and not in the compound nor in a machine that the perception is to be sought.

But Leibniz gives us a middle term: the Mill has only pieces working/pushing upon one another. The mill as such starts when some part is pushed by the outside (a river, the wind, whatever) and it ends when it no longer pushes on something. Therefore the mill as such mediates a force. All machines mediate, covert, etc. They are pure conduits that, as Newton would put it, trade velocity for force. The mill argument therefore seems to be:

A mechanical action is of itself intermediary and not final.

Perception an action that is final and not of itself an intermediary.


Leibniz: there are things existing by their parts.

If such things are all that exist, then that by which they exist does not exist. Therefore, something exists without parts, and is the cause of what exists by parts.

Take “man”

a.) Considered as existing from its letters, it is m, a, and n, none of which are composed of letters

b.) Considered as word, it is as simple as it can be, not composed of simpler words.

c.) Considered as a species, it is composed of a genus, a difference, and the genera and differences contained by these.

Question: What about a man as quantified or extended? Quantity exists by its parts, but it cannot be resolved to some simplest extended part. The letter “M” does not admit some smallest brick out of which the whole is piled up. True, if we divide it into grams or millimeters or in some other quantifiable way there will be a final unit, but no one takes this as simply indivisible quantity. Quantity must be therefore be subtended by some non-quantified reality.

Granting that only the quantitative character of the physical world simply objective, this objectivity rests on some foundation that is non-extended.  Let these non-extended reality or realities that subtend the objective, quantified world be called monads. 


The bad guy problem

After serving their prison sentences, the more dangerous criminal sex offenders in Minnesota are remanded to a prison-hospital and cannot be released until a psychiatrist certifies that they do not pose a threat to society. None ever leave. I know this because my father is the psychiatrist they have to talk to. A crucial part this argument is that my father is a still-convinced 1960’s anti-war blue-dog Catholic Yankee liberal who is about as far away from a punitive hard-ass as you are ever likely to find. About ten years ago, he was even happy to be made a part of a task force that was set up explicitly to release more sex offenders into society. They have released one in that time: an eighty-year-old, wheelchair-bound old man.

We have no reasonable hope of some persons ceasing from being serious physical threats. Call them (unimaginatively) “bad guys” Before about a hundred years ago, the answer to the problem of bad guys seems to have been self-evident: execute them. But following news stories about botched executions, fears about racial injustice, and a century of sensationalized wars, we’ve become more cautious or peevish about the manifest exercise of bloody state-violence. Executions ceased being public early on, then were done late at night if at all. Where they continued we wanted them more hygienic, scientific, and painless and much less kinetic (neither blades nor bodies could drop). The soul had to noiselessly leave a strapped-still body by electricity, gas, or poison (sorry, drugs) as opposed to being forced out by shooting, hanging, or the guillotine.

Limiting state power is far from being always wrong, and taking away powers of execution can be optimistically understood as a more compassionate stance towards evil. But any evil that you refuse to put an end to you must to some extent tolerate, and so  the problem of the bad guy where execution is forbidden is that (1) we must tolerate an essentially limitless amount of evil. At the same time (2) evil becomes at once limitless while losing existential depth, since it is never seen as reaching a point of putting one’s very existence at risk. Again (3) incarceration becomes strictly punitive since its rehabilitative character is ruled out by our tacit acknowledgement that some non-zero number of prisoners have no reasonable hope of ever being anything but serious physical threats to anyone they are capable of acting on – including the prisoners, guards, and prison personnel who have the same rights to personal safety as any of us do. It’s not as if we avoid injustice by putting only prisoners at risk of harm from bad guys and not a suburban population.

I can’t wave my hand and do away with the deep seated causes that gave rise to our caution in the face of state executions, but I do want to balance it against a real good that was lost. Even if execution is not the answer, this is not because lifelong incarceration is an honest confrontation of the problem.




The generalized interaction problem

While the interaction problem now is taken as a soul-body problem, in the rationalist authors it’s clear that it is a part of a much larger question about the whether extension is substantial, and if it is, in what way it is.

Descartes: The substance of things in the physical world is their extension. There are many substances and so many extensions. Minds are non-extended, but the relationship between mind and extension is undefined and problematic. The interaction problem is arises here.

Malebranche: There are not many, but only one substance of the physical world:  extension. Thus, the lines dividing the finite extended things Descartes’s world disappear and we get one substance: infinite, uniform, mathematical. Mind is ontologically prior to extension, to the extent of being able to preserve its properties even if God annihilated the physical world. The substance of the physical world is seen in God, though M. takes great pains to articulate the causal relation from God to this extended substance that is seen in him. All minds are prior to extension, and the divine mind is that in virtue of which the extended both is and is known by finite minds.

Leibniz: The extended cannot be substance but can only proceed from some unextended substance – the monad. As in Descartes world, we have many substances again, but extension is not their substance. As in Malebranche’s world, extension is projected into the world from non-extended realities, but it loses its substantial character.


D: Many extended substances, many unextended substances; M: One physical substance, extension, which is seen in the unextended; L: there is no extended substance, only a projection from many unextended substances.

Dual Dualisms

Dualism is a failure to get to the fundamental truth of things, but it also requires that one actually posits two things, that is, that he posits multiple principles or explanatory schemes in the same genus.

There is, for example, a real dualism in our explaining one sort of phenomena by Relativity and another sort by QM, or in having more than one physical law or theory, or in positing a good and evil god or a good and evil will to account for natural or human actions. We know a priori from the mere duality of these things that they cannot be final but point to some ultimate unification.

But positing matter and form as principles or material and immaterial agents as sources of action lacks this defining characteristic of dualism. Aristotle came up with the idea of matter and form while also denying there was any common genus for the active and passive, and his category “substance” does not include material and immaterial agents. Complaints about so-called Cartesian dualism therefore confuse the sort of dualism which needs to be transcended or compressed with an ontological division that is not a bona fide dualism at all, but only a trick of the imagination that there is some homogeneous category for matter and form, the physical and spiritual, or the creature and creator.

Briefly, there can be no dualism in principles of being because being cannot be dual. It has no genus, nor can beings or existents be counted, still less be two. You can count the books or shades of blue on your desk, but not the beings.

Chesterton’s critique of feminism

(From chapter IV of What’s Wrong with the World)

Chesterton does not critique feminism as a desire for female equality or justice for women or even as a movement to extend the voting franchise (though this last point is made problematic by his referring to feminists as “suffragettes”) but so far as it treats domestic life and motherhood as a second-class or failed life. His actual critique will take me two paragraphs of set-up, so wait for it.

Human excellence is finite and so involves trade-offs and the need to compensate one excellence with another. One basic division in human excellence is between the specialized and the integrated. Some minds specialize in certain tasks. This allows them to deepen and sharpen skills, but only at the cost of isolating a skill from a larger whole and so losing its context. Those who integrate have a very broad knowledge of things, but this comes at the expense of depth in any field. The first sort of excellence treats human perfection like a 20-square foot area that is twenty feet deep but only one foot wide, the second treats it as an area that is twenty feet wide but only one foot deep. The first sort of excellence is taught in grad schools and vocational schools, the second kind is taught in liberal arts schools. The liberal arts are continually critiqued as “Not preparing students for (insert specialized task here)” while grad schools and tracked-curricula of themselves produce persons who (at best) stare at anything outside their field with bovine incomprehension or (at worst) scoff out an arrogant dismissal.

Three great domains of the integrated life are the liberal arts, domestic life, and religion, and each is critiqued (correctly but inappropriately) for not being specialized. Religions, for example, teach a little cosmology, a little ethics, a bit of law, a bit of pleasant story-telling, poetry, and myth, a bit of philosophy, etc. but they often don’t achieve anywhere near the depth or precision that one can achieve when he isolates each of these things into its own discourse. Nevertheless, this isolation comes at a cost. Outside of religion, law loses its transcendent or cosmological dimension, ethics loses the dimension of depth that myth can contribute, poetry ceases to be a vehicle of the divine speech, and philosophy becomes purely academic formal discourse. Our discourses get deeper and sharper only by becoming narrower. This desire to shove all human excellence into specialization is a desire that Chesterton always critiques as leading to madness – his classic statement of the thesis is Chapter II of Orthodoxy that describes the madman as trapped in the infinitely narrow scope of a single overly-developed idea.

And it is in this context that Chesterton sees feminism as part of a larger contemporary error that sees excellence only in specialization. The domestic life with children requires a certain ability to diagnose diseases, but not one that is as specialized as the doctor’s; it requires some ability to scare up meals, but not an ability as specialized as the chef; it requires an ability to entertain and teach, but not a professional-grade ability, etc. Each of these traits is in some way underdeveloped, but only as a side-effect of the perfection it has from broad integration. One of my married friends used to joke that her husband couldn’t afford not to get married: it was the only way he ever got fed, cleaned up, civilized, put on a decent schedule, made healthy, had any order put to his finances, became a home-owner, etc. These are all virtues of domestic life, and they can’t be imposed by an army of specialists but only by one benevolent dictator.

Chesterton explicitly denies that the division of male and female gender roles is required by nature, but he is (again) against any critique of the domestic life that treats it as second-class or a failure to develop bona fide human perfection. There is certainly a good deal of feminism to promote outside of this critique, even if it is not always easy for us non-specialists in women’s studies to identify a feminism that is not beholden to it.

A free-will experiment

Say you can detect my body preparing to move before I’m conscious of my decision to move it, and you take it to prove that I have no free choice. If you’re right, you should be able to tell me when I was going to move without affecting the outcome. If my consciousness is not a cause of the what happens, nothing should change by making me conscious of what will happen.

So how about we run that experiment. Hook a bunch of persons who are convinced that they have free choice* up to an apparatus and tell them we’ll hit a light every time we know they will move. I predict the persons can give you any set of compliance/non-compliance ratios you want. And what would that tell us?

Notice that this is different from Libet’s “free-won’t” experiment, because there is nothing in it that says you have to not move when the light says you will. If you want a compliance/ non-compliance rate of .5, the guy you hook up can ask for 15 trials and comply on five. You could even ask for a total compliance ratio – but what would it mean to get it?

*We have to pick these sorts of people because otherwise our peers could critique any positive results by saying that the participants chose to give us the results we were looking for out of solidarity with us to prove free choice is a sham. Oh wait…

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