Soul as substance (pt. 3)

Soul is substantial order. The puzzle is that order is a relation, relations are accidents, and accidents aren’t substantial. Any Thomist already sees the false premise: relations as relations aren’t accidents. This was the lynchpin of trinitarian theory even before Augustine.

As substantial order, soul is substantial relation. So regardless of whatever physical account we give of subsistent relation intersecting with the flow of non-living matter (as opposed to simply existing forever and arising on Earth by panspermia) the sacramental or mystical account is obvious: life itself, even in the biological sense, is the subsistent relation of the logos of life becoming incarnate into the world of the dead. And of course the tree of life started as a microbe in some warm little pond. It’s the mustard seed.

Soul as substance (pt. 2)

After a book length molecular biological account of life and a grudging acknowledgement of abiogenesis, Franklin Harold sets his cards on the table:

I cannot bring myself to believe that rudimentary organisms of any kind came about by the association of prefabricated molecules, born of completely chemical processes in the environment. Did life begin as a molecular collage? To my taste, the idea smacks of the reconstitution of life as we know it rather than its genesis ab initio. It overestimates what Harold Horowitz called the munificence of nature, her generosity in providing the building blocks for free. It makes cellular organization an afterthought of molecular structure, and offers no foothold for autopoesis. And it largely omits what I believe to be the ultimate wellspring of life, the thermodynamic drive of energy dissipation, creating mounting levels of structural order for natural selection to winnow. If it is true that life resides in organization rather than substance, then what is left out of account is the heart of the mystery: the origin of biological order.

The Way of the Cell. p. 250.

Did life begin as a molecular collage? To my taste, the idea smacks of the reconstitution of life as we know it rather than its genesis ab initio.

Explanatory accounts are normally expected to appeal to something more substantial than catching a lucky break, but other than England’s thermodynamic account of life, abiogenesis accounts are very careful descriptions of the natures of things made with an eye to explaining that, given nature is such-and-such, all we would need for life is to catch a lucky break.

offers no foothold for autopoesis.

Cells are from cells, and life is a line of descent. True, lines of descent might converge on a simpler form (though this isn’t totally clear) but to take this as making them converge to the simplicity of the non-living is at least a non sequitur, and is perhaps the closest we can come to judging an empirical truth impossible. We have lots of experience of where life comes from, and even of life arising from very simple things, with no experience of it arising naturally except from life. The scandal is that the only way to imagine life as having always existed requires buying into crackpot theories like panspermia. We can’t admit that a real being came to exist with no being before it – that would be creation ex nihilo!

If it is true that life resides in organization rather than substance, then what is left out of account is the heart of the mystery: the origin of biological order. 

“Substance” is (I think) being taken in the sense opposed to “organism”. It’s not totally clear that Harold can quite say what he wants: any account of abiogenesis will account for an organization – what he has to mean is that the mystery of living things is that order itself is substantial. The organism is not something one gets for free once all the molecular and functional parts have acted of their own. Anyone can understand order (it’s an accident that we make all the time. I’m doing it right now while typing) and anyone can understand substance (the fundamentally real and foundational) the whole mystery is order being substantial. 

This is exactly what Aristotle means by soul. 

Soul as substance

Aristotle defined the soul as a form in matter and has been condemned and misunderstood ever since. The problem is that we understand accidental forms in matter really well, so much so that we lost sight that he was calling soul a substantial form.

Accidental forms result from a substance as unformed, unworked or material. They are the stuff of art. The form in question is organization, which is properly in the genus relation. As an accident, organization is easy: take some set of objects and give them a pattern, structure, order, whatever. The accident is a result of the arrangement, and if it is complex enough it can even be one of those “emergent properties” we hear so much about.

But Aristotle’s whole claim is that life is not a property* following from substances at all, emergent or otherwise, even if it is necessarily true that if you put parts in just the right order they will in fact be alive. Soul, after all, is counting on the fact that if parts are in the right order they will be alive, but it is not resulting or emerging from the parts but is substantial order ordering matter to be alive.

The attempt to describe life as an emergent property is simply the latest installment in the battle of Plato-Aristotle contra mundum, where the latter are trying to find some way to call life accidental form, as part of the general campaign to advance the idea that all fundamental things are non-living.


*We can call soul “a property of matter” only by ambiguity: “property of” can mean either “accident” or “something true about” (Analytic philosophy takes it in the second way). Soul-presence is, for A, certainly something true about matter, but it is not an accident of it. There wouldn’t even be anything wrong about calling it “emergent” in this second sense, since all it would mean is “at some order of complexity, it is true to call something living”.


Matter in the sciences

All the physical sciences need “matter” to be is something in principle controllable, which is why fields, energy and entropy are just as material as sticks and stones. So is even intelligence is ‘matter’ so far as it has self-control? Or does matter have to do what it’s told rather than doing what it wants? In this sense any desire or measure of self-direction is immaterial.

I hit the billiard ball. I can either view the ensuing action as something I did or something it does. In the first way it is controllable by my action, but to change the second requires chasing the nature of the ball, which in turn will divide into this “what I did and what it does” distinction. Nothing given in the action, as given, is controllable and so nothing given is material. The materialist impulse in this sense just is science, since it is the attempt to dissolve plural givens by unification into one.

Having no will or self direction and being ultimately given are “brute”.  Matter thus is anything “brutish”, and in this sense the materialist impulse is to reduce everything to some untimate stupid and shovable resource. But why? Because then we would have that ultimate stuff of all stuff, the pan-philosopher’s stone from which we could spin out gold, life, cures for cancer, and intelligence. And then lots of sex dolls.

On the non-conflict between faith and reason

Hypothesis: Understand the claim “faith and reason never contradict” as a case of the claim that a reconstructive model and the thing that it is modeling can never contradict. You become fascinated by clocks and, without being able to open one, you try to reconstruct one. A lot of physics and chemistry involves just this sort of modeling.

1.) They “never conflict” by definition. If your reconstruction doesn’t get the same outcomes as the thing you’re trying to explain you throw it out. So of course faith and reason never conflict if success of reasoning consists in coming to the same conclusions as the faith.

2.) They never conflict because one is the measure of the other. Faith is knowledge of God and men viewed as having attained the end of all human life, including its reasoning powers. The thing you are modeling is the measure of your whole attempt to reconstruct it. This is the reason why #1 is not purely arbitrary.

3.) Faith is idealized reason. The ideal reconstruction would involve the one thing impossible to open up the clock and look in, to squint down to the atomic level and just see what is really happening. But to do so destroys the point of reasoning as it exists now, and so it is only an ideal of the reasoning. There is a sense in which ideals and the things that look to them can never conflict. This too is why #1 is not purely arbitrary.

The value in the comparison is that it allows for a sense in which reasoning will necessarily never conflict with faith while explaining why theology might be ridiculously and permanently inadequate to the thing it is describing. The claim that they never conflict is not the apotheosis of reason, nor does it assume that reason conducts itself without cognizance of faith, as though it is supposed to look back to it and be surprised to see it has come to the same conclusion.

Reverential Naturalism

Reverential Naturalism is a version of methodological naturalism, stating that we should not expect divine causality to be appropriate until the inquiry into secondary causes has been more or less completely exhausted, and that it is unreasonable to assume that we are anywhere close to this point yet. It’s altogether possible, and to some extent suggested both by nature and theology, that nature is bottomless and inexhaustible in the way that an inductive-hypothetical account of it would need it to be in order to make the hypothesis of divine causality appropriate. Animal bodies will give way to cells, cells to DNA, DNA to new suggestions of order and organization to which DNA is only an instrument, this order and organization will in turn be a subset of some more fundamental order, and so on ad infinitum. Human powers of inductive, model-based embodied cognition will fail out before nature does.

A theology of creation must make it the exterior procession of divinity, something that ex-ists (stands apart) because it ab-sists (stands by the power of another). Penetration into created existence will always be ambivalent: either limited to the ab-sistence or as wanting to cross over in to ex-istence simply.


After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 

moral: they should have asked for more.

Gospel notes

Christ’s account of the spiritual state of the world: “the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few”

-“Lord, we have been out all night and caught nothing”. Peter speaks from his expertise, from his informed grasp of reality. He knew the odds and exactly what to expect, ceteris paribus.

-“Nothing is covered that will not be revealed”. The promise means something different for the damned and those in beatitude.

-“I send you out as sheep, so be wise as serpents.”

-“Out of the abundance of the heart”. Communication is the proper action of the heart. Joining with, sharing with, (com-unio) persons as persons.

-“When an unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places”. Of itself, he is the spirit of loneliness, seeking to lead the person there while hating it himself.

-Christ speaks plainly about his death to his apostles “and they did not understand him”. Knowing Christ personally makes the thought that someone would hate him unintelligible.

-If the builders rejected it, how did it become part of the structure at all? God does not dwell in a temple made with human hands (2 Samuel 7:5)

Virtue notes

-One reason why temperance is more pleasant than its privation is that it seeks pleasures that remain pleasant in memory.

-The virtuous person can suffer as a person or by what is material to the virtue, but not as virtuous.

Socrates’s prayer in Phaedrus: Addressed to the gods who dwell in this place; count no one rich who is not wise; seek no more money than would be carried by one with temperance.

-A variant of Anscombe’s claim: having lost the ancient teleology of the person or the Christian law as ordered to heavenly bliss, we’re left with no idea of what would make everyone happy. Should we turn to psychology? Or does that leave us with nothing but a question: what do you want? 

The psychological: The whole enterprise is built not on a vision of the person, but to remediate the behaviors that clash with the society in which he finds himself. As far as psychology is concerned, homosexuality was really a disorder before the 70’s and now it is not. There need be no duplicity here: societies change and so what will count as a psychological disorder will also. The psychology of Inquisitorial Spain would have been right to classify a Heretical Church Disorder. One really couldn’t flourish in that time and place so long as he had it.

Know your Rudis

Erudition is, etymologically, the state of having the rudis taken out of you (ex or e). So what’s a rudis? Large parts of it are constant: being young, inexperienced, unpolished, etc. But a crucial element in the idea exhibits significant shifts – a rudis is someone whom it is okay to see as less than yourself. Their ignorance has a whiff of moral inferiority, or it at least justifies our condescension (think of our use of the word hillbilly or bumpkin or rube). For the Church fathers, the pagans were all rudes as believers in fantastic and obviously ridiculous superstitions who are rightly condemned, at best, to a higher place in Hell (Paganos is a synonym for rudes). In our own time civic education is close to turning this around: the Christians are enemies of science who preach hatred of the oppressed and whose priests can’t be trusted with young boys. Orthogonal to this is the depiction of the American Southern man as a rudis, like in the hilariously over-earnest ham-fistedness of, say, Mississippi Burning or Neil Young’s Southern Man. Our program of erudition was more successful negatively: the minstrel show has been wiped out, as was all public use of words or jokes about blacks that describe them as rudes. The Right has made its own attempts to define rudes too, with welfare queens or egghead professors or limousine Liberals. A transition state to this contemporary one was the Enlightenment attempt to depict everyone between Marcus Aurelius and Galileo as a rudis, which is probably the best short description one can give of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, which set the tone for much of the history between the French revolution till about 50 years ago.



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