Eros: initial and continuing

Shelley’s notion of marriage is that it lasts as long as love does. It’s easy to be offended by conclusion but agree to the premise, namely that love is something that strikes one at the beginning , and that staying in love therefore requires keeping the force of this strike alive.

It would be stupid to deny that love really does strike at the beginning, for example by saying that the initial crush of love was just “infatuation” or “feelings” or some ersatz love. It would be better to take it at face value as what love is at the beginning, with all the thrills of any initial adventure. In fact, lots of beginnings come with the thrill of novelty and the intoxication of maximal possibilities. It doesn’t just happen with eros but with the first stages of political revolutions, or after your favorite candidate wins an election, or after your NFL team drafts new players.

These guys could really be the answer we are looking for! Yay!

Assume that the guy/ political revolution/ football player really turns out to be exactly what you are looking for. In what sense is this a continuation of your original feeling? None of them would continue the original feelings of anticipation and promise: The original revolution continues by settling down to widespread acceptance, enshrinement in law, children taught from formal textbooks about the glories of the early years, etc; the promising candidate continues his initial promise settling down to work, being wildly successful and being remembered fondly.

So why would Shelley think love is simply the initial thrill of novelty and maximal possibility? Part of this belief requires holding that this initial thrill isn’t for anything, i.e. it cannot be fulfilled or carried on. It can only last as a single dissipating tone, not as the first note of a larger melody.

This is in one sense right: love is the fulfillment promised, not a promise of fulfillment. It is what human beings are for, not some appetizer that gets us ready for the main course. The error comes in thinking that the whole of love could be given in any one experience or stage of experience, and therefore would be finite.

Mockeries and trials of God

The most well-known mockery of Christ is the third sorrowful mystery or crowning with thorns, but Herod’s mockery is described at greater length and gives us an insight into the dynamic at work:

And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.

Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.

10 And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.

11 And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.

12 And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.

The same dynamic gets a more compact description later:

36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,

37 And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.

In both cases the mockery of divinity is connected to the unfulfilled desire to see divine things, and is therefore a distortion of a desire human beings cannot help having – who wouldn’t want clear proof of God’s existence, if any proof could be given? Bertrand Russell certainly demanded it, and died and atheist  convinced he didn’t get it. It’s cliché in Naturalism to insist that God might exist, for all we know, but we simply see no evidence of this in the natural world.

And doesn’t the truth of the faith demand that the whole point of human existence is to one day get a clear vision of God’s power? Faith isn’t permanent but will pass away in knowledge. What can be wrong with the desire that God show himself to us and make himself more evident? Isn’t this just the Maranatha prayer?

But it’s clear in both passages quoted above that the desire for a revelation of divine power has made a subtle but decisive shift to a desire that God perform at our command. Herod has heard about Christ for a long time and desired to see him – but why didn’t he go out to see him? Almost certainly because if Herod went out he would have to become an audience member or one in the crowd. Herod “was exceedingly glad” because now he has Christ in his own court. Now Herod can have his performance without the humiliation of having to go out and stand with the riffraff or having to sit at the feet of some master. The soldiers have Christ on their court in an even more forceful way – they’ve just nailed him to a board and hung him to die.

The mockery of Christ is therefore our natural response to wanting knowledge of the divine without first taking him as master. God will show himself, but not to one who places himself in the emperor’s box and demands that God perform like a gladiator.

The skeptical objection is easy to form – oh, so God’s existence and power will be clearly seen after we’ve already submitted ourselves to it. But this is not how evidence works! Anyone can delude himself into seeing something as divine evidence after he’s imagined himself a student of a divinity!

The objection has important strands of truth but ultimately gets everything backwards. It is impossible to see something as God when demanding he perform in a court where we stand as emperors or judges. We couldn’t take anything that was beholden to us or who performed on demand as God and so to demand that something perform for us is already to assume it isn’t God. Neither is this sort of stance detached and objective. The question whether God is live or dead is far more significant than whether a power line or lion in the bush is alive or dead, and a detached and objective way of treating a downed power line or a very still lion is with care, deference, and extreme respect.

The demand that God perform is therefore inherently absurd, and the mockery is some reflection of this inherent absurdity.


Short rant on possible worlds

My first introduction to possible worlds came after a question I raised that, boiled down to its essentials, made the following claim.

Contingent events are those that can be otherwise.

Past events, as past, cannot be otherwise.

Past events, as past, are not contingent.

The immediate response came from someone who objected “but every past event can be otherwise, and it in fact is otherwise, in another possible world!”

This is where, as the kids say, I got off the bus.

My responder thought I made an obvious oversight or was stuck in a hopeless aporia that could only be set right by the recognizing possible worlds; but from the moment he spoke until now possible worlds have struck me as fetishism, superstition, and the madness of crowds.

So is possibility temporal? I say it is, PW analysis says it isn’t. One can have a PW analysis that changed by the temporal progress of the real world, but I’m pretty sure there would be a problem with this.* For the moment, what I’m critiquing is any PW analysis that sees, for example, past events as permanently possible in some PW. I’ve got three arguments:

1.)  If you ask me whether raw cookies can be baked, there is no answer to this that doesn’t relate them to time. There is an obvious contradiction in saying that raw cookies can be baked now or at one and the same time since this would mean “to be raw” could be “to be cooked”. I also can’t act on the past – say by throwing something there in the oven –  and if a state requires something impossible then the state itself is impossible. Thus, raw cookies can be baked only relative to their future. But possible worlds analysis does not allow for these temporal qualifications.

2.) If there are PW’s,  all possibilities are true at once. But of what are they all true? They can’t all be true of this same thing in the real world, since, as just shown, this changes throughout time. So they must be true of a different thing from what is in the real world. But then what use are they for describing the possibilities of the real world? It’s nonsense to claim that when we say “this dough can be baked” we mean that “something else is baked.”

3.) If there are possible worlds, possibilities are actual. But the possible and the actual are contraries, and so the claim “the possible is actual” is the same as saying the straight is the curved – an impossibility that doesn’t become more palatable by saying it occurs in some other world. It is true that the straight is possibly curved, but if we use this to explain the statement that is true in another possible world then we introduce another possible world on top of the one we’ve already posited – a turtle on top of a turtle on top of a turtle forever.

*If one saw PW’s as just modalities of the real world, and as continually updated by the progress of the real world this would evade everything I’m saying here. But under such a description the possible worlds would be constantly changing, and so a PW would itself be relative to another PW, ad infinitum. 

Life slogans

-If you want to specify the object of respect, make the slogan “From conception to judgment”. It’s more elegant and accurate than the present slogan and it specifies the only moment after which we have to reevaluate whether respect needs to continue.

-There’s no point in addressing a claim like “pro-life is all life” or “pro-life is anti-death penalty”. Slogans aren’t claims. There might, for all I know, be some sort of logic to propositional slogans, but no one knows what in the world it would be. If Coke is it, is it Coke? If it is Coke and I just do it, should I just do Coke?

-All penalties presuppose we value the thing we deprive the criminal of. Fines are only a penalty because we are pro-money.



Notes on Genesis 4

Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground…

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

The word “keeper” in the passages is two different Hebrew words, and scripture often uses them separately but sometimes synonymously. We can consider them both as synonyms and not.

As synonyms. 

In this sense, Cain is asking whether Abel is his sheep. The sense here is double: on the one hand it is either a dehumanization of Abel or an exaltation of himself; on the other hand it is a mocking jab at God, since if we read Cain’s resentment at God as tracing back to God’s favoring Abel’s sacrifice, his comment reads as “So is Abel one of those sheep that you like so much?”  This is a particularly diabolic jab to make after what Cain had done to this “sheep”.

Again, Abel was killed out of envy of his religious practice and so died as a martyr. In a triumph of theodicy, death is allowed to enter the world only as martyrdom. Seen from this angle, when the Eucharistic prayer asks God to “accept [our sacrifice] as once you accepted the gifts of Abel the just” it is speaking both of the sacrifice of his sheep and of Abel himself.  Abel was thus the first agnus dei. 

As distinct.

Both terms denote being mindful of something or tending it, but the second tends to be more abstract, and can mean something like “to watch”. In this sense Cain misses that he should be one who cares and defends his brother and turns into one who watches for him, i.e. he has taken the character of the sin that “lieth at the [your] door, and his desire is for you”.

In other words, the whole problem turns on whether we watch out for others as those who care about them or as hunters and prey watch out for each other. Cain even seems to feign the first way of watching out for others in order to prey on them: “Cain talked with Abel his brother [i.e. feigned friendliness or intimacy]: and it came to pass, when they were in the field [i.e. the place they needed both for shepherding and tilling], that Cain rose up* against Abel his brother, and slew him.”


*The word for “to rise up” seems idiomatic here – it usually means “to establish” and is the normal way of speaking of making covenants. Cain thus set himself or even covenanted himself to the murder.


Punnett square on the three stages of salvation

Will exist in the eschaton Will not exist in the eschaton
Existed before the fall Man Marriage  
Did not exist before the fall Incarnation,  Church  Nations, Sacraments


Immigration and Catholic Social Theory

The best arguments for allowing mass immigration treat it as giving access to labor markets but not necessarily citizenship. I’m skeptical that the two can be kept separate* but I’ll leave this concern aside  and focus on mass immigration as simply increased market access. Though the argument linked to above is not religious, my argument here is exclusively drown from Catholic social theory and will not be of much interest for those who do not believe in the creation, fall, and restoration of the human family.

If immigration is simply market access it is about property relationships among nations, and the first principle of these is, according to the CCC:


2402 In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits.187 The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial

The doctrine sets up a three-stage account of nations with property distinct from others:

1.) In the beginning. In the original dispensation of things, all things were common to all persons

2.) After the fall. With the introduction of sin, poverty and the threat of violence required the division of persons to ensure their security. The separation of states begins with Cain and is definitive in Babel.

3.) At the end of history. Here we get a reëstablishment of the primordial order of how things were in the beginning. Nations are abolished and Christ is all things to all men.

There is a dialectical tension in stage 2: on the one hand this division of property between individuals and nations is necessary for freedom and dignity as persons, on the other hand it is supposed to be a principle for building up ties of solidarity.

There is also a dialectical tension in stage 3: on the one hand the human race is certainly not at the end of history, on the other hand the history of salvation is complete with the end of the apostolic age. All revelation has ended, humanity has entered the eschaton in the resurrected body of Christ, and the division of Babel has been overcome with the great commission to give a single body of belief to all nations and by the miracle of Pentecost.

To put both tensions in a single sentence, the division of nations is necessary so long as sin reigns and sin has been definitively overcome in one sense and in another sense not.

So what do we do?

The people of God is essentially internationalist, and so Christians are members of an international movement that cannot be isolated from any domain of life, but to pretend that Christian duties are exclusively internationalist ignores the reality of sin and the work that remains to be done in building up the kingdom. Ockham’s razor solves the problem by saying that before the final judgment the Christian is a member of two distinct societies. Like all societies, each has a spiritual component and a physical component, and so it is meaningless to divide them into the earthly and spiritual (cf. 1880). Rather, one society is of the present age – the saeculum – and exercises a secular power, though this power even as secular must place a primacy on spiritual goods (cf. 1886-1887). and the other society partially realizes stage 3. Human beings have a strong tendency to monism and so will tend to collapse one society into another.


* One of the clichés of the immigration debate is getting people “out of the shadows” but it’s hard to see how a mass labor force without citizenship avoids being some sort of shadow labor force.



One comment on Sean Carroll’s argument

(Carroll’s argument)


The general structure of most naturalistic accounts:
(1) We know naturalism is true by clairvoyance.
(2) Everything else follows.

Freedom and self-creation

As Plato explains in Symposium, all love is creative and so self-love is self-creative. One source of self-creation is free will.

Since the distortion of self-love is pride, pride leads to distorted notions of self-creation and therefore of free will.

The distortion of pride consists in missing the measure of reason, and so one distortion of free will is the denial of reason as the measure of one’s self-creation. When so distorted, self-creation is seen as demanding nothing beyond assertion. Philippa Foot and Chesterton already figured out the problem with this: a self-assertion that was not measured by some extra-subjective reason would not be a Nietzschean creation of new values but simply mental illness.

Freedom is therefore necessarily conditioned or measured by extra-subjective reasons that convey real and not merely illusory benefits, i.e. goods. Goods are sought either for the sake of something else or for themselves, and since all cannot be the former some good is necessarily sought.

Any good that is necessarily sought is in one sense sought freely and in another sense not. So far as the free is opposed to the necessary, it is not freely chosen; but so far as freedom wills (assents to) all that is necessary for self-creation and this self-creation requires some necessarily sought good, then we freely seek the necessary good. This is why good habits, even if they are no less compulsive than bad ones, are simply are not experienced as compulsions or addictions, even if we sometimes speak of them this way. This is what Paul is driving at in Romans 6:

18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

When one is “a slave to sin” the slavery is literal, when one is “slave to righteousness” this is only said “after the manner of men” or according to the “flesh” and not the spirit. Said another way, one is a slave to sin but a “slave” to righteousness. Why? Because slavery consists not in the the necessity of what one wills, but in compulsive and destructive outcomes: the end of those things is death. 

The “slavery” of righteousness is a choice of means that can attain a necessarily willed last end, the slavery of sin is the compulsive or addictive choice for means that cannot. In fact, compulsion and addiction is not necessary from the necessarily willed end, it is only made destructive by its inability to achieve it. Addiction or compulsive behavior formally consists in its opposition to the necessarily willed good.

But if free will is the choice of some means to a necessarily willed end, then how is the will free? If its alternatives are rationally equal, then reason cannot decide between them, and if they are not equal then reason must choose one and not the other. But the argument is like assuming that if art is the skill at painting pictures it therefore necessarily must paint one. Reality simply isn’t like this. Neither lives nor possible pictures are given in advance like buffet options. Our experience of creating things is of a negotiation between unconscious reasons and deliberate choice – I wrote this with a general idea of where it should go, but the topic itself also made its own contributions. The idea from which we create does not make something be ex nihilo, but is a form we are trying to realize among other forms, and those other forms contribute a good deal to the final outcome.


Sean Carroll explained, without comment.

Sean Carroll:

We can now turn to the question proper: why is there something rather than nothing? The first issue to be addressed is whether physical reality requires something external to itself to account for its existence: either something to sustain it, if the universe exists eternally, or something to bring it into existence, if the universe had a beginning. We can consider each scenario in turn.

For definiteness let’s imagine that some form of quantum mechanics is the correct description of the physical world at its most fundamental level…. then the dynamics of the theory are described by Schrödinger’s equation:

H |Ψ⟩ = i ∂ |Ψ⟩. (1) ∂t

This equation applies to the dynamics of any isolated quantum system, including relativistic quantum field theories and presumably quantum gravity; all one has to do is specify the right Hilbert space and Hamiltonian. (We assume the universe is isolated, or else we should be including whatever influences it as part of the universe.)

Thus, Carroll will prove

physical reality [does not] require something external to itself to account for its existence,

from the assumption that

the universe is isolated, or else we should be including whatever influences it as part of the universe.


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