Hobbsian Representatives

Hobbes’s notion of representative government is one where the representative expresses the will of his constituents in the sense of having power of attorney over their choices. Whatever the representative does is seen as identical to what all of his constituents unanimously decide for themselves. As corollaries:

1.) All former covenants or governments are void. There is no sovereign power to enforce them, and nothing is more vain than a contract with no power to enforce it.

2.) The representative (sovereign) cannot injure a constituent since whatever he does to them is willed by them.

3.) The representative can decide all controversies among his citizens since, whatever he says they will, they do in fact will.

Lessons from when Barbara exploded

The Port-Royal logicians devised a nifty aporetic barbara syllogism:

Who calls you an animal speaks the truth

Who calls you a jackass calls you an animal.

So who calls you a jackass speaks the truth.

Once you get the hang of it, you can prove anything is anything else it shares a genus with:

Whoever says black is a color speaks the truth

Whoever says black is white says it’s a color.

Whoever says black is white speaks the truth.

You can even prove anything is anything. Whoever says being is non-being says you have a word for it, right? Barbara has exploded.

The argument shows that any conclusion is only true so far as its terms are joined per se in a middle term and no further. There are at least two important corollaries to this:

1a.) Since the presence of a middle term allows for the truth of the conclusion only so far as some term joins the truth together per se, where no middle term is given (like in any hypothetical syllogism or even in the truth tables of modern logic, for example) the conclusions drawn are not even formally true.

1b.) Following this, there is something dissatisfying about the validity-soundness definition. Something can follow necessarily from premises without being formally true. If we insist on some account of validity, the best we can do is base it, as Aristotle does, on “what follows necessarily” (see chapter 1).

2.) The middle term of truths now called scientific is the result of a contrived environment (i.e. an experiment). I suppose this is better than nothing, but formally, it’s not an account of nature at all, but of nature-cum-art, with the two fused together in such a way as to cause an in-principle impossibility of determining how much each element is in play.


The order of act and potency

Act and potency are really distinct but not correlative, even in material being. Even where potency is intrinsic to essence, we cannot say that act depends on potency. We usually slip into thinking of act and potency as correlatives through an analogy to accidental forms and artifacts: a shape-in-the-clay clearly depends on clay; without fabric, the quilt pattern is a pure abstraction.

But this is not an insight into act but a feature of accidents. While it is possible to say, as Feser does, that a substantial form is an abstraction apart from its matter, this is only so far as act and potency are taken precisely as a potency that participates in the esse of the substance itself. This esse is logically prior to everything else: as Barry Miller proves in more or less all of his books, the existence-of-Socrates is logically prior to Socrates.

If we do not see act as logically prior to all potency then either the two are strict correlatives or possibility is logically prior to act. The correlative option is only believed by lazy AT theorists – and then only thoughtlessly – and so can be safely ignored. To articulate the position with any clarity would require seeing acts as sorts of potencies and potencies as sorts of acts. Taking matter as logically prior to act is the foundation of all materialism, mechanism, the Analytic doctrine of “possible worlds”, and most other forms of primitive thoughtPotency is seen as the womb of being, as both the solid core of reality to which all things reduce (or from which all things ephemerally ;8″emerge” or “are actualized”) and the term of reduction that we can only reach after most of reality has been boiled off. All there is is a nebulous, flowing, power-and-stuff. The divine fertility of non-being.

But it would make more sense to take the tree as a projection of its shadow, which is not at all a bad way to understand the various attempts  to understand the world of experience as having no logos except the metrical-mathematical (i.e. “scientific“). There is, of course, nothing in the tree that is not in the shadow except subjective “secondary qualities”; it is much easier to measure a shadow of any length than a forty-foot tree; the shadows form a unified, purely quantitative forest of idealized, homogeneous mathematical extension; and, most importantly, there is nothing about the motion of the tree that cannot be predicted from the laws we discover in its shadow! God has written the book of the forest in the mathematical features of shadows! In fact, why believe in God at all when the laws we discover suffice to explain everything?

Ontologically, the material world does not reduce to the material or emerge from it. The material is a projection and participation of actuality. Matter projects from form and participated in it; matter and form as essence projects from and is sustained by esse; angelic essence does so from its angelic esse; and all potency whatsoever comes forth from pure act in a way that, while real, is not an addition to his being any more than the shadow adds mass.


A theology class 100 years from now

A: And that’s my main problem with the Church of a hundred years ago: it’s irrational and lacks all courage of its convictions.

B: You’re talking about the “entrust them to the mercy of God” clause in the catechism of 1993?

A: Exactly. The Church never has the courage of conviction. As soon as there’s the slightest hint of some scary outcome they flee to irrationalism and hand-wringing.

B: But can’t God save whoever he wants, unbaptized babies included?

A: Sure, but what does that have to do with teaching the faith? The whole point is to lay out the system you need to follow. How strongly does anyone believe in a system that they’re willing to abandon as soon as it threatens the happiness of a baby? (sarcastically) “Oh no, some baby isn’t in heaven! Quick, forget everything I said about needing to be baptized! I didn’t really mean it!”

B: Put yourself in their shoes though, in the the late 20th Century mind. I know you’ll just say this sounds like Menges, but compassion is important.

A: Right. Tell that to the 13 million Poles in radiation fields. How is the Church any different? Have Menges come along and they’ll drop their system as soon as someone convinces them it’s not compassionate. Forget the Sacraments! Theoretical babies are crying!

B: Okay okay! Enough of the reductio ad Mengesem. That always comes up.

A: How can it not? You try to save one theoretical baby and give up 13 million live persons. How does that make sense? You don’t see that anywhere in Dante or Augustine or any of the real theologians.

B: You keep calling them “theoretical babies” but don’t you understand the desire to mute the claim that babies go to Hell?

A: Why, because it’s scary and bad?

B: Yeah.

A: No, I don’t get it at all. Sure, babies in Hell is a horrible thing. If you think this is a deal-breaker, then give up on your system. If you don’t think it is a deal-breaker then have the courage to accept what you believe. But either have the courage to leave your system or the courage to stand by it.

B: Well, they did live in a very comfortable time. They’d fight in wars and demand to still eat all the same food.

A: No way!

B: Seriously, they would. They wouldn’t even go to war – they just flew a missile with a camera into a guy’s house and killed everyone there rather than fighting.

A: (eyeroll of contempt)


An clarification of right-to-truth moralities

While researching idolotry, I was struck by an argument STA gave for why one cannot pretend to worship an idol during a time of persecution:

For since outward worship is a sign of the inward worship, just as it is a wicked lie to affirm the contrary of what one holds inwardly of the truefaith so too is it a wicked falsehood to pay outward worship to anything counter to the sentiments of one’s heart.

A right-to-truth morality seems to excuse not just the Nazis-at-the-door but worship of idols in time of persecution, or, for that matter, a public oath of fidelity to any-evil-you please so long as we could save a life by taking it. But it’s hard not to take this as showing that right-to-truth moralities prove too much: your right to lie to the Nazis-at-the-door gets exercised with the same breath that can now take an oath to Baal.

Freedom. Notes

Free will is the faculty dealing with superabundant goods.

If this is right, the Libet experiments were testing fishing equipment in the desert.

The will finds far more that can fulfill it in the world than it can possibly conform itself to. But it does not coin-flip to choose.

Freedom would be necessary if only to co-ordinate personal history, subconscious life, natural talent, providence.

The computer program seems to do what freedom does: consider the probabilities of possible outcomes and choose the highest or, if there are equiprobable outcomes, flip a coin as a tiebreaker. For us to acquire experience and choose on the basis of this experience, so the argument goes, is just to do sloppily and imperfectly what the computer does in its undistracted retrieval of probable outcomes.  But all this requires no freedom or even consciousness.

the Actual Euthyphro Dilemma

It’s impossible to read Euthyphro without being struck at how utterly off-track the Euthyphro dilemma is.  The dilemma arises in the process of Socrates investigating Euthyphro’s claim that “Piety is what the gods love”. Socrates takes this as the equivalent of “A thing is pious because the gods love it”, then questions how love can work that way, leading to the dilemma.

If you list of why a pet is lovable you get, say: fluffy, big eyes, well-trained, fun to be with, etc. No one lists “because I love them”, for the very good reason that this makes no sense. Love is a response to lovable qualities and not a cause of them.

One of the themes of Euthyphro, however, is Euthyphro’s inability to stay on a point. In a conversation that lasts less than an hour he cycles through no fewer than five different accounts of the topic under discussion, and appears completely powerless in the face of any challenge to what he believes. The “Euthyphro Dilemma” as it actually occurs in the dialogue is really just an aporetic tension of two conflicting beliefs:

1.) Something is lovable because the gods love it (or, conversely, something is evil because the gods hate it)

2.) Love is always a response to lovable qualities of an object.

While this suggests the modern Euthyphro dilemma it is a very different thing, if for no other reason than exceptions to #2 are suggested even by human loves. Loving others does have transformative power and is not just a passive response. Ideas become actual out of our dedication to them, and a whole slough of entities owe their existence to our care for them. Creation stands at the far limit of this – one sense of ex nihilo is to describe the character of the love at the basis of things as a cause and not a response.

But even if God qua creator has a love that is in no way responsive, given creation, i.e. considered hypothetically, the love is responsive. God’s unchangibility and pure actuality belong to him considered absolutely or so far as he is taken as relating to creation as ex nihilo, but taking creation as given is not to consider God in this way. Given creation, God’s love is both transformitive and responsive in such a way that it can both be taken as transforming evil and as responding to it, as elevating the imperfections of things and yet still working within the parameters of what is possible to the imperfect.

The divine debtor theory

The divine debtor theory of atonement is a variant on penal substitution without the horror of a vengeful god getting out his aggression by beating up Jesus.

The human race, though its renunciation of an aboriginal and necessary gift, is a failed project that now dies out in justice. Christ dies instead of human beings, not because human beings need not die, but because they no longer die to satisfy justice.*

Here comes the metaphor: if you owe me a fine and someone else pays it for you, then your giving me money is no longer something owed in justice but something that makes me your debtor.

Here’s the cash value of the metaphor: If death is no longer a punishment (i.e. a sort of good) then it is an evil that is incompatible with God’s existence and so must ultimately be done away with (the argument from evil is sound but simply fails to appreciate that the evils of the universe must be justified when its whole story is told). If the penalty has been paid then my death is an injustice for which God must make some ultimate remedy. The death of Christ is an act done in mercy that allows for the resurrection of the human race in justice.

*Except in the the sense that all unrepented actual sin can require death as a matter of justice. Those dying in such a state have special, extrinsic circumstances excluding them from the intrinsically universal scope of the redemptive act.

Hobbes 101

1.) Hobbes has both a philosophy of the person and of political relations. They are tightly connected and cross-justify each other, but if you only have time to learn one, learn the political philosophy, the success of which is much easier to see and much harder to contest.

2.) Human Equality. For us, human equality is a great point of pride and source of dignity. If all are equal, so we think, we can all be friends and no one has a right to exploit or subjugate anyone. Hobbes agrees with our vision of equality but sees it as much more problematic than we do.

Equality is the absence of greater and lesser, or of natural hierarchies. Bees and termites have natural hierarchies and so are not born equal. Human beings have nothing like this: some are born drones, others workers, others the queen. But government consists in hierarchy, and so human persons by nature have no government. We might have families and even small tribes with recognizable hierarchies, but nothing much beyond this.

3.) The State of War. The absence of hierarchy or rule gives everyone by nature the powers that a king has during war. While there are some limits even here, they are so broad and expansive as to be basically infinite. Kings in time of war do things that, for a citizen in a time of peace, would be called murder, fraud, kidnapping, unjust imprisonment. Notice the problem of what we usually take to be so ennobling and dignifying about free democracy: “Every man a king”.

4.) SPNBH. Every man a king, however, leaves us with an obvious lack of social stability. Contracts need not be honored, long-term planning and co-operation becomes largely a wasted effort, and no one can count on the sort of social mechanisms that are indispensable to have utilities, trade, stable institutions like universities, stores, road-building crews, engineering… In other words, anything recognizably social, ennobling, and beneficial to life disappears. By nature, in Hobbes’s lapidary conclusion, human life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish. and short.

5.) The Solution. the political solution consists in man abandoning natural right or in having it taken from him. It is renounced birthright, and so a solution that is inherently unstable and even what a scholastic would call violent, i.e. contrary to a natural impulse.

Athanasius’s Argument from Evil

1.) The human race is a failed project. “If you eat it, you will die” was addressed to the whole race. He ate. In one of the darker points of agreement between faith and reason, theology and biology agree that the human race is just one more species waiting for its extinction event. This is why natural catastrophes and the madness of war (floods, genocides, sieges, earthquakes, and even our own sicknesses) foreshadow the unavoidable natural extinction event, and are interpreted by prophets as anticipations of it, in the way that peak moments in the firework show all make us wonder if we’re looking at the grand finale.

2.) But, says Athanasius, this leads to a divine dilemma:

a.) Dishonor of an image dishonors the model, but man is the image of God. The fall is not just a human catastrophe but a divine dishonor.

b.) If we can do something to help a loved one but do not do so, this is usually understood as making us either unable to help or just negligent. It “argues for limitation” as Athanasius puts it.

c.) Everyone is a natural enemy of what is opposed to its nature and mission, but the corruption of the logos in man is opposed to the nature of the incorruptible Logos and its mission to give this to human persons.

3.) But all of these concede the key premises of the Argument from Evil, the only difference being that Athanasius sees evil as occurring within a historical project that takes the extinction of the human race and its many anticipations as given, and yet as allowing for a double value. Death and the evil that anticipates it are both paths on a historical arc to a pointless annihilation and ways to become conformed to the image of the incorruptible God. This historical arc toward incorruptible existence does not negate but completely presupposes death and extinction and is impossible without it.

4.) Evil is thus an ontological grue-bleen. To turn it into an argument from evil is to see evil as ahistorical and not part of a larger story of fall and recreation, one where our being “like all other species” is presupposed. This likeness to all other species is, though the Incarnation, a means by which the corrupted logos of the human person can be conformed to the image of the incorruptible logos of the Son.

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