No accidental ideas (2)

(Yesterday I claimed we fail to understand either intelligence or intelligent desire – free choice – because we visualize it as the accident of a substance. Here is my translation of St. Albert’s argument against knowledge being either an accident or hylomorphic composite. Original is here, p. 498.)

Albertus Magnus

De intellectu et intelligibili 

Liber Unus, Tractatus III, Caput 1.

How is the Intelligible in the Intellect?

…Since every act of understanding arises from an assimilation of the intellect and the intelligible, both must become one, but this unity is not entirely like subject and accident, nor is the unity like the the unity of matter and form, as is shown in De anima III. So we now turn to showing what exactly the unity is.

The best explanation is to look at how light is one with the colors that are drawn from it (abstrahuntur),  since among all corporeal beings there are none in which the likeness to the incorporeal is clearer than light, which is why the agent intellect is said to be like light in De anima III. There are three things in light: the light, the lighting, and the luminous (lux, lucere, lumen). Considered in themselves, they seem to have either no difference, or very little, but if we consider them relative to each other they have tremendous differences between them. Light is the form of the luminous in a body giving light, lighting is the radiation of the form to something else, and the luminous is that form received by that which first illumines. Insofar as the color is drawn forth (abstractur) from the body and made spiritual in its nature (secundum esse spirituale) in the transparent medium it is not entirely like an accident in a subject, since an accident does not have the form and essence of an accident from the subject, but merely exists because of it (sed est tantummodo). Color, on the other hand, has its essence and form as a color from light, as is set down in De sensu et sensato. 

Color is also not in light like a form in matter, because form is drawn out of matter (educitur) by the alteration of matter, and results in the generation of a composite thing. But color is not drawn out of the transparent medium in this way but is drawn out of the colored surface by a formal abstraction (abstractione formali) like a shape from a signet ring.

Again, form has material existence in the matter in which it is, but color in the transparent medium has a spiritual nature and not a material one, because the change of the transparent medium is immediate, as is true of [the light, the lighting and the illumined].  If we say the intellect is a light which exists in itself, then the intellect, the intelligible, and its own self-intelligibility do not differ from each other. In understanding that which receives its own intellectual light it understands its own act of knowing, and in understanding anything intelligible, it understands both itself and its proper action.

We need to visualize the known and the intelligible in the same way, because it exists in itself and it is abstracted from things, and when it exists in the light of the intellect it exists in that which gives it an actual intelligible form, and not as an accident in a subject or as a form in matter. It befits its spiritual nature that when abstracted from things it is neither an accident, nor a substance according to the fullest sense of the term (verissimas acceptiones) nor is it a difference or species of being, unless we take being in an extended sense (secundum quid). Intentions are, rather, certain intentions of beings taken from the power of their own agent causes: for just as it is in the power of light to confer existence to colors it is in the power of the intellect to confer existence to intelligible things taken according to the act of understanding.

It should be clear from this that the intellect understands its act of understanding by no operation or action other than understanding its own intelligible things, and that it understands itself by understanding any intelligible. The cause of this is what was already said, that the intellect pours forth (sonat) the incorporeal light of the intellectual nature, and it has the same form in itself whether it is received in some nature to be known, or remains in itself, or is received or terminated above the intelligible. That said, if any of these is referred to each other, they differ according to the things to which they are referred.



Divine moral obligation

I don’t think God has moral obligations, but as long as everybody else takes his “moral perfection” or “omni-benevolence” for granted, I’ll assume that there is some sense to a divine moral obligation and see what follows.

Moral obligations fall within our power and knowledge. Given omniscience and omnipotence, it looks like God has infinitely binding moral obligations, i.e. he seems bound to do anything a moral agent would do if he had the power and ability to bring some good about. So it looks like the Argument from Evil is self-evidently true, since it’s obvious there are evil situations that would be very different if some being with perfect goodness and know-how were in the room. As Rowe put it, it’s just obvious that evils happened that a god would have been morally obliged to prevent.

But this putative self-evidence comes from conceiving omniscience halfway and not as a bona fide view from eternity. If moral obligation extends as far as vision and power then God’s decisions are made with an eye to the totality of all time and throughout the whole universe. Accurately describing God’s moral obligations can only be done from an exhaustive knowledge of what is, for us, the totality of future consequences, which means that the definition of divine moral obligation commits us to being unable to confirm whether such obligations are fulfilled or not.

If God exists and has moral obligations, all we can say is that this results in whatever the universe happens to look like. The desire for anything more, like the Pauline promise of Rm. 8:28, is purely revealed and confirmable only in the eschaton. If you take this to mean that it is meaningless to talk about divine moral obligation I’m fine with that too. I didn’t believe in it in the first place.



No accidental ideas

If you visualize choice as a little imperative popping into the head, you might then fight over whether it was put there by a spirit or as the term of some physical process.

You might visualize an idea popping into existence in the same way, though the same sort of problems don’t arise. Those who put ideas in spirits can keep them there, those who put ideas in neurons can keep them there, but the idea doesn’t need to do anything else. Still, as soon as we want ideas to do anything – to will – we are back to step 1.

But what if the problem is with the belief that ideas pop into existence as an accident of some subject? Accidents, after all, don’t act qua substance, and so if the idea is an accident of spirits or brains, then neither minds or brains think, any more than hot water or fire might heat, but not so far as either is water or fire, but so far as each is hot.

The death of justice

In response to the 1993 murder of the black Londoner Stephen Lawrence, the British Home Office issued a report that defined racism as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.” While it’s nice for someone to go on record with what seems to be the default definition of racism in the contemporary world, the embarrassment of saying the definition out loud explains why few ever go on the record.

The definition requires either that we’ve ceased to define racism as injustice or that any sincere accusation is decisive evidence of injustice. Justice is dead either way, and this is heartbreaking.




On squaring the circle

Squaring the circle is not the impossibility as such, it’s constructing a straight line and a curved line rational to one another, e.g. a curved line = straight one. We have no way of constructing the equivalent of dipping the circle in ink and rolling it out on a sheet of paper.

If you impose the real numbers or irrational numbers on figures, of course, any seventh-grader can do it.

The prefix auto-

The car becomes auto-mobile when it needs nothing else added to it in order to move, that is, when you no longer have to hitch it to a horse. The process becomes auto-matic when it needs nothing else to look after it (the “-matic” stem is from μέμονα meaning “to look after”).

Auto-X indicates that that X

(a) needs nothing else to be a complete instance of the type and

(b) is the paradigm by which less complete instances are measured.

Plato first recognized the value of auto, and you could explain most of his philosophy as a meditation on it. What is auto-just, for example (usually translated as “the just itself”)? It can’t be punishment, or the judicial process, or laws or judges, since all of these can be just or not. So what do these processes have if they are just? The minimal answer, which Plato himself gives in Phaedo, is that they are justice-having. The answer seems harmlessly-tautological until one starts drawing conclusions with it, or until one recognizes how central the rejection of the claim was to the system of William of Ockham. If all things “subsist by subsistence”, as Ockham seemed to joke, then esse is God, and one can form a valid cosmological argument from the fact that anything at all exists.

Aristotle’s generalization of the auto came by treating it as a prepositional phrase, the kath’ auto, which passed into Latin as per se. 

Eckhart on Esse est deus

Meister Eckhart’s first argument for the thesis “Esse is God”

(The translation is dynamic, and I leave “esse” untranslated because it is too clumsy to say “The form by which the existent exists”)

If esse is something different from God, either God does not exist or he is not God. How would anything exist or be something when esse is apart or foreign or cut off from it? And if God exists and his esse were other, then he he would surely be from another. It follows that God and esse are the same, since otherwise God would have esse from another and so would not be God…

Si esse est aliud ab ipso deo, deus nec est nec deus est. Quomodo enim est aut aliquid est, a quo esse aliud, alienum et distinctum est? Aut si est deus, alio ubique est, cum esse sit alio ab ipso. Deus igitur esse idem, aut deus ab alio habet esse. Et hic non ipse deus…


Notes on the new moral system

-Is secular morality a one-source account of moral authority? If your only authority is reason, then you’ve ipso facto ruled out all spiritual-temporal divisions of moral authority, whether Medieval integrationalism or the Enlightenment separation of Church and State. So is the idea to be rational like Calvin’s Geneva was Scriptural? But it’s just this sort of mono-authority that proved unsustainable. The Reformation was, in retrospect, a brief transition from Medieval integralism to our contemporary Church-State separation.

-Church-State separation is largely over and it’s unclear what we are going to replace it with. The old separation doctrine was something like the State telling religion “You stop excommunicating us or putting us under interdict, and start preaching how everyone should love their nation and see prosperity as a sign of God’s favor, and we’ll use the power of the sword to enforce a 10 Commandments morality, keep commerce flowing, and never act like the 1523 Zurich city council, The English Monarchs from Mary to Charles, or Louis revoking the edict of Nantes. Okay?”

This balance of Church-State power dates at least to the Dutch in the late 16th Century, but it’s been severely weakened the US since the late 60’s and in Europe since 1945. As a consequence, both religious and secular power have lost credibility and prestige.

-Both religion and state in their old sense have vanished into ceremony and sentimentality. We can be Spaniards for the World Cup or the Olympics or Catholics for Saint Patrick’s Day, but neither identity is allowed to inform the world of our daily life.

-“The Church needs to listen to the voice of the Laity!” Well, isn’t state power wielded by lay persons who can summon grand juries, sue and fine the Church, or throw Churchmen in prison? “No, I don’t mean those lay persons, but the ones without state power!” Oh, you mean those that have no access to networks of spiritual or temporal power. We used to call them peasants. Don’t be surprised when they’re never around when the power gets handed out. Scroll through this list with an eye at the outcomes, especially in the Western world.

-If you define religion as irrational and make reason your principle of order, or if you make naturalism a principle of social order and define it (as most do) as the rejection of the supernatural, it’s hard to see how religion falls under some sort of toleration. We might tolerate a lot of different parties or state-structures in the USA, but not an anti-republican or monarchist party, and a Methodist university might tolerate some number of non-Methodists, but it would be irrational for them to tolerate anti-Methodists.

-So how will Secular morality divide itself into different spheres of authority? Is the idea that we won’t need any dynamic tension of powers if everyone agrees to seek happiness in consumer goods? But isn’t that agreement irrational

-If history is any guide sola scientia will be no more successful than the sola scriptura.  Haven’t we been proposing rational moralities as alternatives to religious ones since the Stoic revival of the 16th Century, though the Rationalists, Empiricists, Kantians, the Economic theories from Smith to Marx, Utilitarians, Post-Modernists, etc? Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, or Stefan Molyneux might be thrilled at the idea of science giving us the definitive, believable morality, but (a) we don’t know what this means and (b) as soon as we make it clear, the claim will be the same sort of thing as late 19th Century Protestants thinking that the Social Gospel will be the definitive exegesis of sola scriptura. Maybe so, but I’m not holding my breath.




Metaphysics of the Porphyrian tree (2)

1.) If A transcends B as C, then it has the full logos of C. If the friendship of virtue transcends the friendship and utility as friendship, then it has the fill logos of friendship.

2.) Mind transcends all things on the Porphyrian tree as existent, since it’s precisely when existence is added to the PT, so that the lowest level exists in reality and the higher levels in mind, that mind transcends it.

3.) So the full logos of existence when we say “the material world exists” and “mind exists” is in the immateriality of mind.

4.) What has the full logos of C is what an ideal mind would rightly describe as first among all that is called C.

5.) So an ideal mind would rightly describe mind as first in existence before the things in the material world.

6.) When X is rightly described as first in existence before Y, X causes the existence of Y.

It’s impossible for either Y to be uncaused or for Y to cause X, since ex hypothesi Y is secondary in being and X is prior in being to Y. If X and Y are both caused by something else, then as such they are both secondary. Therefore, X causes Y. 

7.) Therefore mind causes the existence of the material world.



The metaphysics of the Porphyrian tree

(A meditation on Being and essence c. 1-4)

1.) Whatever is, either is

a.) in truth, or only because a true proposition can be formed of it. This is true of privations, impossibilities, fictions.

b.) in essence, or, because it is in some category or transcends a category.

Being “in a category” or “said categorically” includes both a categorical individual substance and the species and genera of which it is a part. 

2.) Beings in categories are the first sort of beings we know and should be studied first.

3.) Categorical being is the totality of what is said of it categorically.

4.) The totality of what can be said of something categorically arranges itself on a Porpyrian tree.

5.) A categorical being is the whole of its PT.

6.) Given #5, the PT as such cannot be divided into a part that exists and a part that does not. Said another way, the PT is a single reality described at greater and lesser degrees of designation or specification, and so “existent” and “non-existent” cannot describe different parts of it. Nevertheless, this single reality is categorical being as it is in itself. 

7.) The PT therefore provides no information about whether an object on it exists, and so all objects on PT’s are existentially contingent. Even if we include “being” at the highest node of a PT, we must mean being with an essence (from 1b) distinct from its existence.

8.) To consider a PT apart from existence is called the absolute consideration. So taken, nothing on a PT exists or does not or is one or many. Nevertheless, the absolute consideration truly is the thing as it is in itself (cf. #5).

9.) If we choose to add existence to the PT, then things at the lowest level exist in reality while things above it exist (only) in mind.

10.) All ideas, or the mind thinking of itself, exist in reality and in the mind. Since “ideas” are just the mind being mind in the same way that writing is a writer being a writer, we can shift to speaking of mind.

11.) Therefore mind does not exist on a PT.

12.) Mind is not a categorical being.

13.) Mind is not categorical by simply being other but by transcending, i.e. it contains all the perfections of things on a PT without being on one. Mind exists while being intelligible – not because I can define my mind qua mine but because the act of my mind is whatever I think, even if it is some general idea or set of ideas, like Biology.

14.) What transcends the PT is either existentially contingent or not.

15.) What is existentially contingent by having matter is on a PT.

16.) What transcends the PT is not existentially contingent by having matter, must be created without matter.

17.) If mind is existentially contingent, it is created ex nihilo; if it is not existentially contingent, it is uncreated.





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