Separated hylomorphic souls

Hylomorphism solves the interaction problem by denying that mind thinks. Mind is a part, and parts aren’t credited with the action of the whole. The car drives, not the wheels; the broom sweeps, not the stick. The mind doesn’t perform any actions of the human qua human, and since the human moves his body around the mind does not. Q.E.D.

Sometimes a part of the whole is credited with the action of the whole, but it’s pretty clear that the term is used equivocally. We say the brush sweeps, but it clearly isn’t doing so sense that the broom does. On hylomorphism, mind : thinking :: brush : sweeping.

If hylomorphic souls don’t think, how can there be separated hylomorphic souls (SHS)? I wan to defend the idea that there is both a robust sense in which death is annihilation and that there is an immortal SHS.

What we now call thought is essentially embodied, so much so that death could not be an accidental change in experience, like a shift to a ghost-like (floating? flying about?) perspective on the world. Perspectives belong to situated things, and only physical things are situated. A perspective is a way of being near or far from things, and asking what objects are near or far an SHS is like asking how far London bridge is from the Hodge conjecture. We might think we can grok perspectiveless knowledge in our experience of scientific understanding, but someone with no perspective on the world cannot be doing science, and a science that cannot be done isn’t the one that we now understand.

We can push this further, though. The traditional arguments against SHS’s prove that an embodied hylomorphic soul is intrinsically constituted by its subjective conditions, which is why its knowledge (and hence desire and love) is affected by drugs or brain disease. If anything the arguments are not ambitious enough. The subjective component of knowledge isn’t just revealed in getting buzzed or getting Alzheimer’s but also in having personality or IQ, which are both spontaneous, subjective, non-conscious responses to stimuli.

So an SHS would have no IQ, personality, moods, perspectives, etc. How is this even a recognizable mental life at all?

I want to keep a robust sense in which it isn’t, while still pointing to a need to accept SHS’s on the basis of the formal different between sensation and the human experience of objectivity.

Sense objects are a mix of object and organ. Whether it’s warm is not simply a fact about the world, but also about whether you are a desert lizard or a polar bear. The “primary sensibles” are are more objective, but are still constituted in part by the organ, though they are ways in which more than one organ must be affected. What is known by intellection, on the other hand, just is the thing itself. What we mean by mind is that whose object is not partially constituted by the one knowing. This is why the cessation of organic life annihilates all knowledge-as-subjectively conditioned, but objectivity as such remains exactly what it was. Pure objectivity (and hence pure desire) is nothing but the presence of the object as it is and the desire for the thing as it ought to be.

The absence of subjective conditions is the formal difference between sense and intellection, and while these subjective conditions are intrinsically constitutive of our knowing act (i.e. our knowledge is an act of a soul-body composite) the formal distinction between intellection and sense remains, and thereby grounds the existence of SHS’s. For all that, however, the absence of subjective conditions is not something we can understand in a way that preserves those conditions, i.e that remains contextualized in the mode of thought we have before death. Death remains annihilation in the sense that any attempt to assimilate life after death to the categories of present experience as such involves a contradiction.*

*This is a philosophical objection to the belief that NDE’s are intuitions of post-mortem existence.



In support of counterfactual causation theories

Counterfactual accounts of causation say A causes B iff non-A necessarily entails non-B. The main objection to this is that it proves too much, since it is also true of things that are conditions but not causes. If my mother hadn’t met my father this would not be typed, but her meeting him didn’t cause the typing.

We could save the theory by adding any qualification that divided conditions from causes, and Aristotle gives us exactly that in his distinctions of perseity. So A causes B iff non-A per se causes non-B  per se. There are degrees of perseity, ranging from the strictest sense (per se and primo) through mere perseity to the loose sense of “said of all”. One wrinkle here is that intelligence can make a per se unity between things that are in themselves per accidens, which costs as perseity and not accidental connection.


Expecting definite natural outcomes

Let chance or luck be a sort of event that your model or theory could not have expected. At least some such events exist: You might be able to expect someone winning the lottery twice, but no possible statistical model could have expected Lhbomir Richvalsky to be the the guy.  This is just as true of non-probabilistic theories, since all theories have limited precision and simplify (i.e. disregard) some causal factors, allowing for unexpected outcomes.

Leave aside luck and chance, which gives us the object that constitutes the sciences, and without which they cannot draw a conclusion about anything. The expected outcomes in nature result either from a rational plan or not, i.e. the laws are either the work of intelligence or are a purely  non-intelligent/ non-personal order. The first is some version of theism, the second some version of naturalism. So naturalism is more rational than theism iff assuming no rational plan makes natural outcomes more likely than assuming one.

So far this isn’t controversial: it looks like the next move is either a design argument or some sort of anti-design argument, where we point either to the order or the evil of the universe as decisive for theism or naturalism. This dilemma, however, rests on the unquestioned assumption that both theism and naturalism allow us expect some definite outcome. They don’t.

Saying there is no rational plan for the universe is either privative or negative. If privative, we mean that nature is supposed to have a rational plan but God did not give it one; if negative we mean that what we call nature is simply non-rationally- or non-personally planned. Naturalism clearly means the second and not the first. But that’s a problem, since merely negative terms don’t allow us to expect anything definite, even evil. What definite actions do you expect from a non-butterfly? As negative, the term applies just as well to Tinkerbell as your left shoe, to the mass of your last grapefruit as the height of your second-grade teacher. The negation of a plan leaves us no more likely to expect evil than good, regularity or chaos, or even any “this” as opposed to “that”. Thinking that it leads to one of these over the other (and especially to the ‘evil’ ones) is to confuse the privation of a plan with the negation of a plan, which is the same as to confuse what one can conclude from the absence of a kindergarten teacher from the classroom with what one can conclude from the absence of a kindergarten teacher from a factory floor, a DMV line, or the dark side of the moon.

This doesn’t mean that assuming some rational plan for the universe makes our expectations all that definite. If the rational plan is from a being with infinite intelligence he might have had all sorts of plans, but to call the plan rational requires expecting at least something definite from it.

We can, of course, frame our expectations of what to expect on a rational plan and find they do not obtain. So maybe we insist that if there was a rational plan there would be no seagulls but, lo, there are some. This is fine, but given the above argument this result is also incompatible with being a naturalist. Naturalism demands taking the sciences as rational, which means taking it as reasonable to form definite expectations of what the universe will do. If theism dies we have to simply cease taking it as reasonable to expect anything from the universe at all. There are accounts of the world like this, e.g. Camus and Nietzsche, but they have had a hard time gaining traction or any kind of popular following. While I like Camus, there are few dilemmas easier than whether to throw him or the sciences under the bus.  And that’s our epistemic predicament.

One objection to this is that, at best, it only shows that we cannot expect anything definite from nature considered as non-intelligent or non-personal, but perhaps we could  come to expect something definite from a particular scientific theory, like, say, evolution. But this is to badly miss the level of analysis on which the argument is occurring. There is no possibility of forming a theory of evolution without already taking it as rational to expect definite outcomes from nature. Neither will it work to say that expectation is a hypothesis that is confirmed by evolution or the success of the sciences. If the success of some theory demanded that we abandon the idea that it is rational to expect definite outcomes for nature, it would be taken as a refutation of the theory, since it would undermine the possibility of natural theories altogether.

When what and who are only logical

I want to talk about what happens when the distinction between the logical what and the logical who is only in ratio 

Knowing what is opposed to knowing who, bearing in mind that we’re understanding the difference logically, where both “What is the capital of Nevada?” and “Who is the president of India?” count as the same “who” question, even though different grammatically.

The medievals called this logical what “quidditative” or knowledge of quiddity. The term is the word “what” (quid) turned into an abstract noun, making its English equivalent “whatness”, “whathood” or “Whuddity”  Whathood placed something in a genus or species, with the genus being the easiest and first thing we understand.

Knowing what therefore means knowing quiddity in opposition to individuality. When there is an actual, existing difference between an individual and its quiddity the distinction in our knowing reflects a distinction in being, but where there is no difference the distinction in our knowing is called logical or in ratio. 

Distinctions in ratio are familiar enough: the stairs up are not the stairs down, the convex line is not the concave one, etc. When applied to concrete entities this is clear enough, but when “who” and “what” are seen as only distinct in ratio we cannot be saying that there is some individual that is both a who (individual) and a what (non-individual). The human mind has no logical category for beings with what-who distinctions only in ratio. This is not because we fail to have a category that some alien might have, but because “that for which the who-what distinction is only in ratio” is not categorical, nor could it be. A category describes what.

That for which the who-what distinction is only in ratio is known to us first in our own thoughts.  My abstraction is the abstraction, just as the size that I measure is the size of the thing, and so the distinction between my abstraction and the abstraction itself is only in ratio. Since this abstraction is only the mind in actuality, all that was just said applies to the difference between my mind and yours.  This doesn’t mean we are one individual seen in two different ways, but it also doesn’t mean that the what-who distinction between our minds is between a “what” existing logically and a “who” existing really.

What is true of us qua mind is true for the angels as persons, though of course “person” in this sense has to be understood as “that for which the who-what distinction is only in ratio“. Such a name is not a quidditative insight nor an intuition of the individual to which it applies, since to make it one would make it contradictory.

The limit case of that for which the who-what distinction is only in ratio is the divine nature, whether considered in its unity or its trinity.

Philosophy as opposed to religion

Worship spotlights the division between the God of the philosophers and the God of religion. The God of religion is essentially the object of traditions of worship while the God of the philosophers is generally not an object of worship, and even if philosophers recognized the need for this they would have no idea what to do.

A theistic argument be developed to show God as the supreme good and source of providence, but worship demands more than intellectual recognition of goodness. Philosophy can’t develop on its own into religion but needs at least four other components:

1.) Sacrifice. Religion goes beyond intellectual recognition or divine supremacy by demanding that we act as if the God we pray to is truly supreme, and the proof of this is our willingness to hand over something of our substance. One can be as cynical as he wants about the handing over of wealth that religions demand, but even if they were perfectly free of greed they would still have to demand it.

2.) Tradition. Religious practice might be new, but only if it sees itself as reforming, reviving, or perfecting something ancient. There is something absurd in thinking you could declare your own cult and start sacrificing next Monday. Religious worship, like language, is something that both defines the individual and is essentially communal, and communities exist within a lived history of mutual belonging.

3.) Charisma and the Aesthetic. Worship demands sacralizing space, and this requires a symbology, a set of reverencing practices, and the power to induce a sense of solemnity by speech, action and environment.

4.) The holy. The whole point of worship is to present and cultivate the holy, which is a dimension of existence that is not reducible to other virtues or any collection of them.


Justice vs. specialized expertise

One of the first puzzles that Republic raises about justice is that it seems to vanish whenever one specifies what its object is. If justice is “knowing what one ought to do” then justice when doing an algebra problem is nothing beyond knowing algebra, justice is cooking is nothing beyond being a chef, and justice in pricing is knowing what the thing costs. The justice that looked like one thing dissolves into an indefinite localized modes of expertise.

Republic solves the problem by saying that justice is what plays the architectonic role in coordinating diverse modes of expertise to the perfection of human life in both its collective and idiosyncratic existence. The just man does turn out to have an area of expertise, sc. the cultivation and development of the human persons as person, who develop poorly or well over time due to factors like genetics, education, family life, etc. The long discussions of education, eugenics, sexual relations, public school curriculum, the triple-structure of the person, etc. are not digressions from the problem of justice but are what the just man knows. Each of these areas might allow for expertise too, but this is not what makes them part of justice.

This helps to spotlight the way in which justice might be lost by overspecialization or the forgetfulness of the question of how diverse areas of expertise can be subordinated to the service of the perfecting of the human person. One mode of injustice is to see all knowledge as having no intrinsic connection to what the person should look like, collectively and individually.

There is no more intensely charged third-rail than justice rightly understood. To give any substantive answer to the question of what an person is means to touch upon the deepest beliefs that we have, and the intensity of the feelings this generates is such as to make everyone want to wash their hands of the problem and say that everyone gets to decide justice for themselves. This gives us moral relativism, and we all know it is incoherent, but solving the problem means touching the third rail, and it takes a godlike man to do that in a way that will be more constructive than destructive.

What we called “the third rail” is what Scripture calls the heart, or the source or totality of all our deepest, most non-negotiable convictions. The Platonic just man therefore coincides with the Hebrew notion of the “upright in heart”.

The problem of a physical causal history

The causal closure principle states that once the physical causal history of a physical effect is given there is nothing more to explain about it. I want to problematize the idea of a history within the physical order and point to some solutions to the problem.

Like any history a history within the physical world has to start somewhere, but physics since Aristotle explains things not by histories but by conserved quantities. Aristotle considered motion, time, and body to be the relevant conserved quantities and he drew different proportions of comparison between them (or what we now call laws). The sorts of proportion he was interested in were different from the ones familiar to us :  Physics Bk. VI and VIII looked at possible proportions between finite or infinite quantities while we’re more interested in specifying numerical values of variability as expressed on Cartesian co-ordinates, like when we ask how many foot-pounds of pressure drop would correspond to a drop in degrees Fahrenheit.

Conserved quantities are not historical since it’s essential to histories to start somewhere and develop into something while this is impossible for conserved quantities as such. There is no story to tell about motion or energy or time or angular momentum since any point at which you could start would take for granted the full existence of the thing whose ‘story’ you seek to tell and would allow for no further development. Whatever you want to call the account of something that must start in medias res and which never changes to anything else, you can’t call it a narrative, story, or history.

Aristotle saw that this committed him to an infinite motive power, and he denied that such a thing could be physically realized. The claim received a tepid response from Christians, who thought they were committed to denying an infinite universe. There was more to this than the Genesis myth. The finitude of the universe was part of a deeper, unspoken understanding that the universe is essentially narrative since there is an account of where it was from and where it is going. This seems to be where Christianity saw more deeply into the problem than Aristotle did, since a universe with no narrative structure is essentially meaningless, and a meaningless universe cannot be the domain of a meaningful life. The Preacher hammers this point home in Ecclesiastes, and resolves it by turning directing our search for structure and context away from the universe and to the law of the Lord, i.e. the God’s revelation of himself in his relation to his chosen ones.

STA is unwilling to throw the universe under the bus for the sake of human meaning, but he is also unwilling to allow human reason to discover whether the universe itself is capable of a narrative structure that would allow for meaning. This introduces the problem of how our beliefs about meaning can be reasonable. What could the point or the story of the universe be if at any point in time its fundamental structure is identical and complete?

One response to this is to deny that meaning can scale. Maybe things in the universe have purpose or meaning but the universe as a whole does not. Such an account could not be a physical one since physics doesn’t allow for this sort of partitioning of the action of the part from the activity of the whole. It does, however, allow for a subordination of the whole to one of its parts, or the infinitude of the universe to the desire of the nutritive/reproductive soul.





On the Cullman hypothesis

-Cullman claimed that belief in immortality was in opposition to the Christian hope in resurrection. His main argument was highlighting the difference between Socrates in Phaedo and Christ in the Passion accounts.

-The hypothesis is in keeping with the Hebrew-good, Hellenic-bad theme in contemporary theology, and is still an important argument in that context. It also dovetails with contemporary theologies of death, which tend to foreground its horrors (what else would one do after 1914-45?)

-It’s hard for the argument to get past Ratzinger’s objection that it is incompatible with belief in the communion of the saints. If every modality of human immortality is to be anti-Christian then the intercession of the saints is anti-Christian too. Cullman wasn’t Catholic so this objection was less probative, but there all credal Christianity is committed to the communion of saints, and you can’t be in communion with the unconscious.

-Much of the difference between Christ and Socrates is in personality. Socrates was playful and ironic, Christ was far more severe; Socrates was elitist, Christ actively engaged all levels of society; Socrates was dialectical and prone to abstraction, Christ taught aphoristically and never strayed far from concrete, lived experience. On these differences alone one would expect very different accounts of death.

-Christ’s teaching on death is a development of the complex existential tangle of the Old Testament teaching on death, above all in the Psalms, where death is (a) both a punishment for the wicked from which God will deliver the righteous and something that even the righteous will suffer (b) both a land of shadows in which none praise God and yet allowing for the righteous to enjoy the continued presence of God. Keeping with this, (c) death is seen as making man’s life finite all the way down, and nevertheless the person is capable of enjoying the presence of God forever.

-Paul calls death sleep. This is either a metaphor or a euphemism. If it’s a euphemism, nothing follows. What can we conclude about our own beliefs about death by noticing that we say that a person has “passed”? Do we think they actually passed something or somewhere? Or could we reconstruct a Corleone theology of death from the fact that they speak of it as sleeping with the fishes? If it’s a metaphor, it’s not clear what follows. Is death sleep because the dead are non-conscious and awaiting resurrection or because they appear to be dead (non-conscious) but are actually beholding the presence of the Lord? Is it a metaphor for the absence of awareness or for the merely apparent loss of the activities of life? It works equally well as either, and is probably used alternately to express both. If Paul agreed with Cullman, why would he say “We… would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8)” or “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better indeed (Phil. 1:23)”?

-Resurrection is not reincarnation because it is not a return to a status quo ante but an elevation and transformation to a state that, based on our evidence from the stories of the resurrected Christ, is equal parts material and spiritual. Christ eats fish and has location, but he isn’t restricted by location and appears able, like the angels, to be wherever he thinks of being and to appear to others not by doing away with physical impediments but by willing to be seen. Taken in this way, resurrection is the transcendent third term of a Hegelian synthesis, to which embodiment and separated existence are the thesis and antithesis.

-I’m not Hegelian, but to view embodiment-separation-resurrection as a thesis-antithesis and synthesis fits the facts better than seeing resurrection as merely restoring embodiment. Resurrection is the “restoration of the whole person”, and this does mean the restoration of the body, but it is also the elevation and restoration of separated existence.

-The finality of death is not from its annihilation, but from judgment. If it were annihilation, would it necessarily be an object of dread? The Epicureans didn’t think so, and Scripture seems aware that annihilationism is as much a doctrine of nihilism as it could be for theism, or, in the language of the Psalms, it is both the idea of the fool/wicked as the righteous.

Collectivism and sexual liberation (2)

1.) Assume monogamy and other forms of private property were developed from aboriginal communitarianism and sexual freedom. I don’t know, and I’d bet the actual anthropology is messier, but I’ve seen enough evidence to suggest it.

2.) Marriage and property rights are therefore technologies, or the application of learning and experience to create structures to deal with practical problems.

3.) Marriage and private property are natural in a way that arises from myth in Barthes’s sense, sc. that which transforms history into nature. This is not meant to cast aspersions on it. This transformation requires hitting upon a deep resonance between the person and nature.

4.) All of us have the experience of a technology that becomes so integral to life we wonder how anyone ever lived without it, or whose mere existence justifies the culture or knowledge that generated it. This is the minimal sense of the sort of history/technology that myth could transform into nature.

5.) If the technology survives long enough for even its history to be forgotten then myth can transform it into nature in the fullest sense, and the myth can be revealed as a work of the god. Farming, wine, hearths, marriage.

6.) Most technologies never survive long enough to become mythical in this fullest sense. Our own age allows for more than the average number of examples of this. We also dethrone things that were mythical for millennia. Farming and hearths are now hobbies and lifestyle choices. The idea that these would be of the gods is unintelligible to us. If the gods gave us a gift, it would be air-conditioning or The Pill, right?

7.) Telling the history of monogamy or private property is now an attempt to diffuse and untie the myth that transformed them from mere history to nature. No one needed to do this with hearths, they simply got replaced with furnaces. Monogamy and private property appear to be more resilient, which is not to deny that they’ve been holed beneath the waterline.

8.) We had furnaces to replace hearths, but no structure to replace monogamy. One has to presumably will their way into the sort of sexual construction that will maximize both personal and collective happiness. It is nonsensical to think everyone could figure this out for themselves. Our solutions will be one part truth and ninety-nine parts dismissing that the horrible consequences of our actions matter.

9.) In fact, all we want out of the dissolution of monogamy is the thrill of dissolution and anti-structure. The problem is that anti-structure needs to be contextualized by structure. You can only blow off steam if the boiler is in good working order. If you blow off steam by punching a hole in it, you only get to do it once, and no matter how long it lasts it’s not sustainable. It’s one thing if your relief from monogamy is prostitution outside the city walls, it’s quite another if it’s a sex-ed curriculum that you formally train the young in as healthy, scientific, and essential to human happiness.

10.) The dissolution of private property is in some ways the reverse of this. We are trying to replace a loose, breathable and imprecise structure with infinitely precise one. Market forces will be conquered by infinitely precise data, layers of regulation, control by experts, centralized planning, etc.

Three modes of the order of nature to intelligence

Paracelsean: Nature has a semiotic order to intelligences. This order gives it the borrowed but intrinsic meaning of a word. Created intelligence imitates creating intelligence by the production of its own signs in narrative and a hierarchical order of knowledge.

Mechanical: Nature has an order to intelligences as a source of control. To know nature is to know how one would reproduce what it does. Created intelligence imitates creating intelligence by control and by the maximization of homogeneity and minimization of hierarchy.

Creatio-ex-nihilo: Nature is the limit of intelligence, not in the way that a limit constitutes what it limits (like the border of a shape to its area) but in the way that non-being is a limit of being. Created intelligence imitates creating intelligence to the extent that what it acts on is furthest from being: the generation of substances from fundamental matter; the rectification of disorder being brought to right order.


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