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.





τοπος ειδως

Having shown that the intellectual soul cannot be organic because it has no finite structure, Aristotle immediately adds that “the soul is well-described as the place (τοπος) of forms.” While “forms” grabs the most attention, the more significant word is place. What is so appropriate about calling soul a place of forms rather than, say, the subject of forms?

Place fundamentally contains, that is, it gives form to what is within it. Aristotle defined place as formally in that which surrounds, which belongs to the thing in place only by being coincident with it. Though the soul is somehow receptive it nevertheless gives form to the forms it knows, conferring on them an additional perfection they do not have in themselves.

Place is thus greater than the thing in place, not only by magnitude but by conferring form.

Place is not subject. It is not placed under, or formed by being pressed upon, etc. A cognitive subject is a sense organ, which Aristotle likens to the wax for a signet ring. Sensation is well described as a knowing subject, but intellection as a place for knowns.

Place is where things belong. The forms of the world are not just informed by soul but belong within it. As intelligence, it is truer to say that the world belongs in the person than the person belongs in the world. Mind is eternal and deathless for the same reason that anything which contains the whole of the temporal and changeable world would be.

Topos in an extended sense is the opening, opportunity, that is, an opening in the universe that elevates and transforms it. The universe seizes upon the human person and crowds into him for its chance to transcend itself.



STA contra Anselm

If we read STA’s response to the Ontological Argument in light of Being and essence, we get something like this:

1.) All OA’s see existence as belonging per se to some concept of God.

Anything that belongs per se to some concept is called “self-evident” in Medieval Aristotelianism, which is why STA reads the OA as involving the claim that God’s existence is self-evident.

2.) But all human concepts are formed by abstraction from what exists,

3.) So it’s impossible for existence to belong per se to any concept.

The account is comparable to Hume’s.

The claims are solid but open to question. The puzzle over (1) is that “that than which nothing greater can be thought” isn’t an obvious instance of a concept. No one claims that the idea is some sort of universal formed from experience, culled from our noticing all the essential traits of the various that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thoughts of our everyday experience. “Concept” can’t mean whatever corresponds to some series of words, and “that than which” has less the feel of a concept and more the feel of an implicit series of judgments about all objects of possible experience.

The puzzle over (2) is that even STA recognizes that we can know the real existence of some things from concepts. For starters, we can know that concepts themselves exist in fact, and STA takes this as the simplest proof that something exists apart from matter.  The OA is the same sort of argument as a claim that there is a contradiction in denying the existence of thought, and it would be very obtuse to say that we can’t conclude thought exists since no concept contains existence.

The problem with (3) is that STA does think we can judge that God exists in the same way that triangles are three-sided, so he has to allow some way in which God’s “concept” contains existence. Again, he would certainly deny that this is unqualifiedly a concept, since we obviously don’t form it by abstracting from an experience of God’s existence.


Being and essence c. 4

1.) If A causes the existence of B, A can exist without B, but not B without A.

2.) Form is the cause of existence of matter.

3.) Therefore, separated forms are possible, not just logically (we see no contradiction) but ontologically, i.e. their possibility is a real feature of the world.

4.) X is an ontological possibility iff X exists or something exists that can make an X

5.) Therefore a form separated from the temporal, material world exists or something exists that can bring it about.

6.) A form separated from matter is created or creator.

7.) Any cause that creates a form separate from matter, by definition, creates without pre-existent matter (ex nihilo).

8.) What creates ex nihilo is a creator.

9.) Necessarily, created spiritual forms exist or a creator does.

10.) Necessarily, a creator exists if created things do.

11.) Necessarily, a creator exists.

Do we seek meaning? Transcendence?

Taylor critiques the idea that we seek meaning since he claims it cannot make sense from the subjective point of view. A persons might die for Christ or their platoon, or dedicate their lives to Saint Anne or live in perfect continence for the celestial flame of Rome, but no one lives or dies for “meaning” or “transcendence” a such.

Or do they? One response to Taylor is that saying “no one craves transcendence” is like saying no one craves calories but pie or candy or steak or whatever he’s used to. Sure, people in different cuisine ecosystems (is there a name for them?) crave different things, but all this seems like a Marxian superstructure placed over an essentially biological drive for calories. Midwesterners like brats and Southerners like brisket; you like Shiva and I like Jesus. Meanings and transcendence are the calories of the religious/ moral life, that is, meaning is what we were unknowingly seeking all this time when you sought the Koran and I sought Jesus.

The snag in the analogy is that if I’m really seeking “transcendence” or something-common-to-all-religions as such then I and most other Christians are seeking it unknowingly, but I can only live or die for things I’m aware of. So what’s left of religion if it is about transcendence or meaning as such? If you tell me I really want calories I can go on loving food, if you tell me I really want something-common-to-all-religions I don’t know what to do with Jesus. No one can identify a goal he would live or die for with one he doesn’t know what to make of, and neither I or anyone else knows what to make of that-which-is-common-to-all-religions.

There are deeper interpretive problems with the division of “religion” into some common desire for meaning/ transcendence and the lived experience of any religious person. What labels are we supposed to put on these different spheres? We might divine them into an “objective” description that includes whatever general feature all things have in common and the “subjective” description of the lived experience, but we might just as well call them the “abstract” and “factual” description or the “external” and “internal” description.

For that matter, why not call them the “worldly” and “true” description of what is happening? Alfarabi knew that all this “transcendence” talk was really a confused search for the sacred Koran just as we know that all the “religions” of the world are part of the natural desire for “transcendence”. All this suggests the familiar Postmodern problem of interpretation, and I don’t bring it up as an apologia for relativism but because it suggests to me the sort of state that prepares the way for the charisma/ grace of some sapiential hero. Westerners talk like “science” (or sometimes “love”) is supposed to be such a hero, but I suspect we’re waiting for someone with more concrete features who can embody the divine power of the merely (but ideally) human, and I’m as repulsed and fascinated by his advent as everybody else.


Against the interaction problem (2)

1.) The interaction problem can only arise from an account of a natural action that is distinct from the action of spirit.

2.) On any account of “spirit” its action is present in art and engineering.

3.) Modern laws of nature and experimental sciences require understanding nature in a way that includes art and engineering since all algebraic formulas describe artificial and natural action indifferently, and an experiment demands that what acts in an artificial process is the same thing as what acts in a natural one.

4.) Therefore, any account of nature based on modern laws of nature or the experimental sciences does not allow for the interaction problem to arise.

5.) But all interaction problems are based on an understanding of nature taken from modern laws of nature and experimental sciences, e.g. the conservation of energy or the ability to make an experimental model of nature.

6.) Therefore, all interaction problems are based on an understanding of nature that does not allow the interaction problem to arise.

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