The hermeneutic of the Holy Spirit

When it came to liturgical reform, one group of Catholics read Vatican II as a invitation to see what they could get away with and the other read it as a mistake that needed to be ignored, explained away, or interpreted as human and fallible words. The first group took no notice of the calls for balance, e.g. work in the vernacular and preserve Latin as the norm; experiment with new styles of music and ensure a pride of place to Gregorian chant; reform all elements of sacred architecture and set up schools of sacred art, etc. The second group does not make the slightest effort to suggest or impliment any reforms in the Tridentine liturgy, even extremely minimal ones: a greater promotion of the Missa cum populo (or merely encouraging the people to respond with the altar servers), petitioning to have the readings read in the vernacular, maybe even (gasp!) a simplification of the Kyrie or Domine non sum dignus. The problem is not that the liturgical manual is what it is, but that there is an extreme hardness of heart on the part of traditionalists to suggest even minimal attempts to be faithful to the demands of the Council.

What is needed is – and how would we even start? – to read Vatican II as the work of the Holy Spirit. We’re probably still too close to it for this to happen – some Council fathers are still alive and have a hard time relating to the documents except as the works of men and the world. As much as I like Ratzinger, for example, he usually seems to speak of the Council in this way.

Two critiques of Chomsky

1.) Chomsky claims both that “the physical” has a purely honorific meaning with no content, even within the physical sciences, and that it’s a matter of obvious logic that we are biological organisms with a definite structure, scope and limits. So… biological but not physical – even as defined by physical science?

2.) Chomsky claims that “real” is also an honorific adjective with no content. He always supports this with the same example, sc. the vacuity of speaking of “the real truth”. But this is so obviously a special case that you could literally pick any noun out of the dictionary at random to refute it. Here, let me prove it…

…I couldn’t find a dictionary so I pointed to a random page in Shakespeare and got…


So is it purely honorific to speak of “real death” as opposed to, say, apparent death (hibernation, stasis, lack of breathing with some brain activity) or fake death (playing possum, acting on stage, setting up scenarios to fool your creditors or your insurance company, etc.) or metaphorical death (sleep, extreme shock, renunciation of the world) or analogous death (sin, damnation, banishment)?

It is not even honorific to speak of “the real truth” but simply pleonastic.  Real gold = true gold.

Relationality in nature and out

It’s too early to know what lessons about reality we should draw from Quantum Mechanics, but one that intrigues me is Van Fraassen’s defense of relationality, or the claim that nature is nothing [actual] before interacting. I bracket “actual” since this is my own addition to the theory, the assumption being that interaction does not arise from the pure nihil, but is an actualization of a latent reality. Contrary to Aristotle’s belief, however, this latent reality is not present as an accident in the power of some pre-actual substance.

There is an analogue to relationally in Aristotle’s account of mind, which, on my reading, is defined as being nothing actual before it thinks (De Anima III. 4)Unlike an eye or a neuron which first has to be assembled into an actual structure before it can go on to function, mind is the source of operations without needing to be first assembled or made actual. On the relationality account of nature neither mind nor matter are anything actual before they perform the actions proper to themselves. Thinking-activity does not need soul as some pre-actual subject to support it in being, but nature also does not need atoms or fields as pre-assembled structures that can later go on to leave trails in cloud chambers or act on eyeballs.

One hypothesis is that nature is nothing before it interacts and mind is nothing before it acts. Action in nature never arises from a self except as a part of some collective; mind always acts as a self. The Democratean hypothesis that nature needs some unconscious self to be actual before its action is false: all one ever actually has are interactive systems. He confused natural parts with the parts of a city formed by minds engaging in collective action, and had to invent a zombie self (the atom) as an explanation.

Braine on sensation

David Braine points to the long history of defining sense knowledge through its fallibility (Plato in Theatetus, almost the whole modern Rationalist tradition, turn of the century British thought, etc.) this tradition in turns leads to accounts of sensation that make it purely interior. STA seems to confirm this when he argues that Aristotle’s claim that sensation is inerrant describes sensations as subjective reports: we are in a position to infallibly report that we see the water as blue or that the food tastes sweet, but not to report on the objective status of  either.

Braine’s critique of this is that it isolates the person as observer from the person as a someone wandering through the world, exploring it, trying to accomplish tasks in it, etc. Pure observation cut off from its larger context in the life of the organism gives rise to the appearance-reality problem in sensation, though arguably this tells us only that we can’t determine the objectivity of sense from considering it qua observer.

Braine also critiques the idea that the fallibility of sense is established though pointing to bent-paddles, the way things taste to the sick, phantom limb phenomena, etc. All seem to be cases of seeing privations of X as types of X, though this is arguably a confusion between how we speak and how we know things are. Calling Homer a blind man doesn’t make blindness a formal or specific difference. In knowing what things are we’re trying to get a hold of their complete reality, and privations can’t play a role in this effort. This last premise is one I’m very sympathetic to – much of Catholic sexual teaching is explained by realizing that privations can’t function as elements in the account of the reality of something.


Temporal modalities and B-theory

1.) Take Aristotle’s sea battle. Either there is one (S) or not (~S)

2.) Restricting ourselves to the present moment, the conditional is necessary and, necessarily, one option is necessary and the other impossible.

3.) In a moment considered as later, the conditional is necessary but, necessarilyboth options are contingent.

4.) The present can be considered either within itself (2) or as a moment later than the past (3). Similar things occur with the past considered in itself (2) or relative to what is even more remote in the past (3).

This breaks down in the relation between the future and future-perfect, where there are earlier-later relationships but all parts of the conditional are contingent.  It is true that a sea battle will either have happened or not by the time you count to ten, but reaching ten or not is the same sort of thing as the sea battle. All we are doing is taking a future thing as given, not discovering it as necessary.

6.) So the temporal definition of modalities is incompatible with B-theory, since earlier-later divisions do not suffice to account for modality defined temporally. The incompatibility is particularly strong: assuming the adequacy of B-theory, we have no idea what to say about the contingency or necessity of past, present, or future events.

7.) But this seems to require that, if I see a sea battle happening now then, for all I know, it is just as possible that it is not a sea battle. B-Theory goes and time is real.



Divine simplicity vs. possible worlds


BV shows the following are inconsistent:

1. God is simple: there is nothing intrinsic to God that is distinct from God.

2. God knows some contingent truths.

3. Necessarily, if God knows some truth t, then (i) there an item intrinsic to God such as a mental act or a belief state (ii) whereby God knows t.

4. God exists necessarily.


 Suppose God… knows some contingent truth t.  He knows, for example, that I have two cats.  It follows from (3) that there is some item intrinsic to God such as a belief state whereby God knows t.  Given (1), this state, as intrinsic to God, is not distinct from God.  Given (4), the state whereby God knows t exists necessarily.  For, necessarily, if x = y, and x is a necessary being, then y is a necessary being. But then t is necessarily true.  This contradicts (2) according to which t is contingent.

I think I know the response STA would give, but it will be unacceptable to anyone who sees possibility as a feature of possible worlds.

For STA real possibility is a feature of what can be otherwise, which assumes some later time in which it can be otherwise. So long as we consider a thing as within a “now” that prescinds from any later state, we consider it in a way that cuts it off from what it requires to be contingent, thereby making it necessary. This is why STA claims that “Socrates sits” is necessary when he is sitting. So if God sees all things in an eternal now he sees them in a way in which the contingent and necessary are not opposed. Vallicella’s t is therefore both a necessary and contingent truth,* making the tetrad is consistent.

This account of real possibility requires that we see it as a modality of time, and the PW account of possibility will not allow for this. There is no clock for all possible worlds that can allow ‘Socrates sits” to be present in all of them at the moment he is sitting. Whether it’s more reasonable to take this as a critique of PW’s or as a critique of classical theism is something I don’t know enough about PW’s to argue to any conclusion.

*Specifically, it’s a contingent truth known in a mode that makes it necessary, and part of inerrancy would be the ability to distinguish what belonged to the claim as temporally located from what belonged to it from the mode of knowing; just as for those of us who see possibility as a temporal modality assert the same thing about the claim “Socrates sits” when we consider it in a certain way, i.e. as prescinding from any later time.

God is not omni-modal.

The various “omni” prefixes attached to divine X’s do not apply to the diverse modes of X. When we say God is omniscient we don’t mean he knows all things in all ways they can be known: he doesn’t know the color of blood by sensing it or my private thoughts by being me. When we say God is omnipotent we don’t mean that God has to lift stones with crowbars if I do.

One place to discover the value, uniqueness, and justification of creatures is their mode of operation. We don’t need creatures to have knowledge or power or goodness or whatever. But to know objects by hearing them or move them by interacting or be good by arriving at the right time are all ways of existing that would not be with divinity alone. The same applies when we try to bootstrap from our mode of action to God’s: if I conserved something in existence by thinking about it I would have to think one thing, then another, but this is for the same reason that I would have to physically interact (or sweat) if I wanted to move a sufficiently large rock.

I was reminded of this by reading Jimmy Akin’s Catholic defense of Parmenides. As someone who’s read both Jimmy and Parmenides with great profit I liked the series, but many of the arguments would not remain if we distinguish the way in which the universe is known by God from both the way it is known by us and the way in which the it exists in itself.


An order in creation, Trinity, Divine Self.

The distinction between act and potency/ form and matter was first developed to explain natures as generated or mobile or evolving, but when Medieval Christians got a hold of it they tried to use it to answer two questions that they were very interested in: (a) How do things exist dependently on a creator? and (b) how are things individuals of some common nature (e.g. how are intelligent beings – whether human or divine – persons?) The relation that these have to catechetical instruction is obvious, with (a) being the opening chapter of any catechism on creation and (b) being the follow up chapters on the Trinity and Incarnation.

One response to (a) is that esse actualizes the union of form and matter that together constitute essentia.  But how can this account preserve the distinction between finite and infinite esse? Creation can’t take part in infinite esse as infinite, and created things can’t participate in the infinite so far as the infinite is finite. This is an auxiliary reason why STA says that esse is neither infinite or finite (In octo libros Physicorum VIII l. 21) which fits into the larger context of his doctrine that esse can never be a conceptual quidditas since existence is unique and peculiar to whatever has it. Mine is not yours is not God’s. I’ve expressed this same thought by saying that esse is the unreachable limit at both ends of the Porpyrian tree: it can be approached but never reached by ascending in abstraction (since it is not a highest genus) and approached but never reached by descent to the particular (since no species divides by differences into it’s indefinite # of particulars).

The reality of existence at the downward unreachable limit to particularization is why I accept the modern Thomist idea that esse is the principle of what we call individuation while “matter signed by quantity” is simply the principle of enumeration or being countable (pace Reichmann, who swims against the tide). Aristotle’s discussion of individuation only sought to explain what we call multiplication and not the positive perfection of existing in a particular nature or of being a self, which is exactly what we are targeting in (b).  This is also the reason why the Trinity shows up as the ultimate perfection of esse as such: if esse is both the upward and the downward limit of our conceptualization, then one and the same esse can exist both as a universal said of many and as its ultimate concrete particulars. In fact, we might even go further: if the act of existence and essence are the same in God, then what is intelligible about God (essence/logos/concept) is the same as both the concrete reality of God and that which embraces the Logos/ concept/ essence and the concrete reality of God. Father embraces both Logos and concrete, though as an existent containing both in a way that cannot be contained by a higher; The Son is the logos containing all that is intelligible about God – which includes and does not abstract from God’s existence; and the Holy Spirit is contained by Father and Son while being also the concrete reality of God, beyond which no further reality is possible.


Divine hiddenness and the feminine

The argument from hiddenness is one version of the argument from evil, sc. if God existed he would be more evident or more eager to set up a relationship with individuals. Briefly, if God exists he would prefer to be an object of knowledge.

Christianity concedes this in one sense but denies it in another. God wants to be an object of knowledge eschatologically or at the end of the life of the human individual and species, but short of this he prefers to be an object of faith, i.e. an object of total commitment or assent in the face of uncertainty. Why?

A strong response is that this is logically necessary. God wants to be known as the culminating event of history, and so knowledge is not a possible road to union before this. If this is so, the argument from hiddenness wants to short-circuit history, and perhaps it should be careful what it wishes for, since the knowledge that drives out all doubt comes in the culminating act for both the saved and anyone else.

We might be able to make out the outlines of an epistemological or anthropological reason as well. Perhaps rational accounts need to begin as cases of faith seeking understanding, i.e. a way of fleshing out and articulating beliefs that we have already given total commitment to in the face of uncertainty. I don’t at all think that this means that reason is a wax nose to irrational prejudice – part of being a rational account is to follow from things that you share both with the alike-committed and the uncommitted. But suppose truth is a woman in the nuptial sense: you can only get to see all of her after you take a vow to all of her as unseen. Under this hermeneutic the argument from hiddenness is a certain failure to understand how to woo women – it’s the effeminacy of the man who figures that if the girl likes him she ought to call.

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