Unrepeatable

Principle of unrepeatable existents. What exists cannot be repeated. E.g. I exist and another I is impossible, since whatever would be I is me. One can have many cats since “cat” as a unified whole or singular nature exists only in mind and not in reality. Again, we can’t have many things that are this particular white thing, but we can have many white things since “white” as opposed to “this particular white thing” has its singular unity only in mind and not in reality.

Though just explained using a conceptualist account of universals, it is also true on a platonic account. One of the motives for platonism was to explain, say, many cats as all partaking in the unrepeatable unity of felinity, the auto-cat or cat itself. Here again, the existent felinity cannot be multiplied.

Some corollaries:

1.) Existence is proportional to uniqueness and vice versa.  Haecceitas is superfluous to explaining singularity since it is properly and formally explained by existence as such, even while existence is also seen as a common property of all existent things.

2.) Leibniz’s axiom has a simpler, less paradoxical formulation. It’s not that identical things are indiscernible but that the existent is unique. Things are identical, or even alike, only in virtue of something other than existence, whether this is an idea that exists only in mind (Conceptualism) or a relation to a thing-in-itself that cannot be multiplied (Platonism) or an instinctual association of the mind with no intelligible basis (Nominalism). We don’t need to puzzle over the problem of how things can be identical if they are indiscernible.

3.) Simpler account of the real distinction. Multiplicable things can be multiplied, but an existent as such cannot be, so multiplicable things are something other than their existence.

4.) Trinity is an instance of divine simplicity. If “God” is a divine person and “god” is divinity, then simplicity is the claim that god exists. Leaving aside Platonism, this is unique to divinity: “cat” does not exist but “god” does; and so it follows that there can be more than one cat but not more than one god. Simplicity demands that God (say, the Father) is god; but this is true irrespective whether the proper name “God” is used once or more than once. In each case, God is god – not god but literally god. 

Simplicity demands God is god. Trinity only specifies that “God” like “Bill” or “Joe” is a proper name that can mean more than one individual.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Media knowledge

Modern media makes it easy to chortle at its cliche claim to be the “watchdog of democracy”, but they might have rights to a far more ambitious description. Media is the nation, since the nation is an imagined community whose primary unity is being on the front page of some paper, the lead story in the news, the social media post with the most links, etc. If you did a DNA test on most of our ideas of the nation we live in, most of it would be the last ten news stories we heard.

Any polity larger than a Medieval town probably becomes a mediated and therefore imagined community. In the Medieval town your society is given in immediate experience, just as our family events aren’t usually known through newspapers. Scaling up a little, the place where I work has a newsletter, but it doesn’t play much of a function beyond reminding us of upcoming events. You don’t know what is happening in our community by reading newsletters but by living and working in it.

News media rests on the assumption that one cannot know what is going on by experience but only by mediation. It presupposes that knowing by experience is a better way to know (why else would we trust the reporter?) but it claims that such an experience is impossible for most and so that the many have to get it from the few. The need for intermediaries might be unavoidable, but there is a good case to be made for seeking to limit their influence, and if this requires limiting the importance of things that can only be known by media, so be it.

1.) Mediate knowing is less perfect than experience.  As said, this is presupposed by both the media and its consumers. If there is a presumption in favor of what is better ceteris paribus, there is a presumption in favor of experiential knowing.

2.) Media are structurally dependent on goods opposed to informing about what is significant. Given the nature of their revenue stream, the relevant cannot be the sole criterion of newsworthiness. Stories also have to hold attention for advertisers and so need to be novel, striking, sensational, entertaining. If, as said, experiential information is the better than media information it’s striking to compare the amount of novel and sensational information in news stories to the amount in experiential knowledge.

The upshot is that media knowledge trains us to see relevance in the shocking and novel, which allows those with power to get away with doing anything, so long as it’s boring or difficult to explain.

3.) Media often speaks about problems demanding action but rarely gives actionable knowledge.  All sorts of things should be done in response to congressional overspending, hurricane response, the princess’s new baby, etc but a vanishingly small portion of media consumers are in any position to do anything about it. Media thus becomes an education in mass impotence in the face of the significant. Sure, anyone watching the news story might be able to do something, but this criterion is so absurdly low it couldn’t justify anything.

 

 

 

 

Accounts of truth

Correspondence theory of truth is not that truth is having a tree in your head and a tree in the world, since if it did then any animal that saw an object would also know truth, but “truth” is superfluous to the experience of cats or birds or elephants. Correspondence theory means that mind knows its own ideas and so raises the question of how they stand to reality.

Even on this account it’s puzzling to ask what mathematical or logical truth is. Granted we are aware of our ideas, what is the “reality” to which they relate? We might explain triangles as idealized abstractions from triangular objects, but what about hypercubes? Even physical truths are sometime relative to ideal entities that can’t exist in reality, and if moral truths are grounded in nature they are still relative to normative ideals.

In light of this sort of complexity the temptation is to see truth as simple conformity to an axiom, though this only gives us truth where it there is no ultimate conformity to contradiction, since otherwise all we don’t have truth but refutation. But what’s ultimately unsatisfying in the idea is that  loses sight of truth as discovery. The mathematical, logical, dialectical and real corresponds to the real at least so far as to be right about any of them for the first time is to discover something new.

That the real is the discovered suggests Heidegger’s claim of truth as a-leithia or the dis-covered, but just what is this “discovery” advancing into? If we take a cue from math the truths we discover at the lower and more intelligible levels (say, the Euclidean) prove to be about relationships that are more universal and abstract. Truth in the Euclidean, representational world is a participation in the per se relations that are non-representational. Physics also advances from sensible to imaginable to purely intelligible relationships.

On this account, truth is the dis-covery of subsistent mind, whether this happens piecemeal (which is how it happens now) or is given all at once (which is the promise).

 

Education in existence

A cosmological argument is a very different thing from, say, discovering some new mammal or proving that dark matter exists. Finding a new mammal means applying the word mammal to some new instance, discovering dark matter exists is to add to your list of entities. Discovering that God exists is to simultaneously discover a new sense of the word existence, though it usually takes a good long while to realize what you’ve found.

This is true of any entity so far as it transcends matter and so is true of intelligence. The sum that follows Descartes’ cogito is a new sense of existence, which Descartes himself figured out in making it a new sort of substance.

So our notion of existence extends not just with things that are self-evident to us (the cogito) but also with things that aren’t, and it has to extend for life and consciousness (sensation). It is an accident from physics’ point of view that life exists in addition to material activity, and it is superfluous from biology’s point of view that an animal is conscious in addition to having reproductively successful behaviors.

The unity of the great multitude

The motto of the United States, which traces back to its founding, is E pluribus unum or “One thing [made] from the great multitude”. Pluribus is the superlative of “many”, and so carries the sense of an immense multitude. The sense is that one is surveying all nations and races and seeing them draw together into one thing.

The motto purports have a solution to one version of the ancient conflict between the one and the many – if anything it amplifies this tension by placing “many” in the superlative.

One version of the problem is to ask how anything is a multitude, since if it is not many it is not a multitude, and if it is not one it is not one multitude. Said another way, when you ask “is that a multitude” on the one had you take it as one (by using “is” and not “are” and “that” and not “those”) and on the other hand you are taking it as many. So is it a multitude or not?

The solution of the Platonic tradition was to say that any multitude participates in the many, that is, the reality of the multitude is derivative. The Aristotelian tradition dovetails with this by making matter the principle of numerical plurality, and matter has a real but derivative existence from form. On both accounts the problem of the one and the many resolves into a view of the nature of the thing being richer than any one instance, and so needing to be multiplied among in various individuals in order to express its own fulness. For example, all the perfections of many animal can’t be present in one sex and so animals are sexually dimorphous, and among personality types there are many incompossible perfections: extroversion, introversion and (the recently discovered) ambiversion, neuroticism and emotional stability, etc. This multitude of types is real, but they trace back to a more fundamental unity of which they are expressions.

In politics, the claim that one can effect e pluribus unum is that one has discovered and brought to reality a unified political structure of which all the diversity of peoples is an expression. Because of this, e pluribus unum is a critique of both of the dominant ideologies of the contemporary United States. On the one hand it’s a clear critique of Kirk’s idea that the United States is essentially about preserving the rights of Englishmen, and of the nationalist idea that the US must be somehow monocultural, on the other hand it also rejects the neo-progressive account of human relationships that makes a celebration of common humanity impossible, since neo-progressivism divides social structures into the active-evil agency of an oppressor class and the passive-goodness of the oppressed class, where the first is irredeemably predatory, self-serving, and and with nothing worthy of praise and the second is beyond all criticism and must be believed at all costs.

Our contemporary ideologies are both renunciations of e pluribus unum. It’s not clear what one is to make of this, since the motto was always an ideal, and perhaps a utopian one. Americans have been divided from the beginning over just how many could become one and what the concrete expression of this unity should be. Christianity has shown that e pluribus unum is really possible, but it’s not clear how or if one can scale down something achieved by divine power to the power of rational politics.

On winning or losing a culture war (2)

There’s more to the culture war than the sexual revolution, but not much. Racial concerns were more central in the past, but even if there is some racial injustice left to eradicate it’s hard to see how any new policy could get rid of it. In contrast there is a whole lot of policy left to decide in the conflict between the new sexual ethic and the ways it conflicts with religious convictions, or even with those who, though not particularly religious, think the new sexual ethic is weird or damaging or moving too fast or inappropriate to teach to someone or other.

Or maybe the energy for new policies will peter out. Stalemates happen, and in the United States many of the Sexual Revolution’s trophies came from having favorable Supreme Court justices, and that it had them for at least half its history was an accident. Conservative presidents were 0-3 in appointing O’Connor, Souter and Kennedy, and if even one of the appointments turned out otherwise much of the last 30 years of the Sexual Revolution would not have happened (cf. Casey, Lawrence v. Texas, Stenberg v. Carhart, Obergefell).  Anthony Kennedy alone is arguably as important to the advance of the Sexual Revolution as Hugh Hefner, and to reflect on him being Regan’s alternative to Robert Bork is to recognize how contingent, fragile and unpredictable the great movements of history are.

Even if the Revolution stalls out or loses some of its gains we’ll find ourselves at a loss for a plausible sexual ethic. Much of what we say about sex is tied up with obvious stupidity: that consent could suffice to establish justice, that erotic desire isn’t importantly conditioned by whether men or women are in love and with whom, or that “love is love” with no important statistical differences we can observe in desire for fidelity, love of monogamy, desire for children, sexual interest, and a good many other traits that, when altered, end up profoundly altering what one ends up calling a marriage. The pervasiveness of this nonsense suggests that there is a deeper problem that no one knows how to address, which might consist in our desire as a technological people to become post-familial while being completely unwilling to give up family life.

 

On losing or winning a culture war

I graduated from a very traditionalist small Catholic college about twenty years ago and since then I’ve worked in different Catholic schools across the country teaching a bevy of subjects to pretty traditionalist students from traditionalist families. Vocations from the schools I work at are high, Masses and sacraments have been plentiful, well-celebrated, and appreciated by those I’ve associated with. I’ve had lots of friends with common interests, and I can keep up with them in lots of different ways. The places I work scrape together enough funds for me to live a decent life with a wife and six kids, and the schools that I teach in now and the liturgies I now attend are significantly better than the ones on offer from the late 70’s to early 90’s.

My experience makes it hard for me to understand what I’ve lost in supposedly losing the culture war or transitioning from a religious to secular world. My adult life has been immersed in religion, and as far as I can tell, this is the only time in history I could have lived a life like this. Laypersons were forbidden from teaching theology until pretty recently (the first lay intellectual in the Church was probably Jacques Maritain) School teachers didn’t make enough money to support families like mine until recently, and while I’m dissatisfied with elements of the modern liturgy and Catholic life I’m convinced that there was just as much in need of reform in the pre-modern liturgy and hierarchy.

Sure, I know all the statistics that can be trotted out showing decline in all areas of religious practice, and all of these can be taken as data disproving my merely anecdotal life. Even if statistics on devotion weren’t of limited value and tend to smuggle interpretations that they can’t merit by themselves, I don’t see how any of the statistics require me to say that everyone else lives in a world where my sort of religious life was impossible, or even very difficult to find.

A lot of the anxiety over losing the culture war doesn’t come from the world we actually live in, but from the world that might arise if present trends continue or if the logic of certain laws or movements is taken to its conclusion. But our attempts to predict the future work better if we pick possible outcomes at random than if we try to think out what will happen, and for every dire prediction pointing to our apocalyptically catastrophic failure there are experts on the other side predicting that the worst thing that the future holds is the very likely prospects of our success. Hilary will win and brainwash our children! George Bush will win and impose a theocracy! Approaching religious intolerance requires us to run to the hills and become martyrs! The new Supreme Court and the Trump presidency will deport all immigrants and destroy feminism! It’s a coming civil war! No no, we’re really serious this time! Just read his/her book, listen to this speech fragment, look at this statistic!

That none of this is knowable is not an apologetic for optimism. Our inability to interpret statistics or predict the future this does not make anything cheerful or rosy. If there really is something different about the modern world is that most of us live in imagined communities that are so large and so intertwined with other communities that none of us has any reasonable ability to predict how such a complex system will evolve. That said, it’s always been a part of prudence to divide the small and modest class of things we can count on or reasonably predict from the vast and much more glamorous group of things that we have no ability to predict at all.

 

Spirituality of knowledge

1.) Accidents do not constitute their subjects* in act.

Knowledge, ideas, concepts, intentions etc constitute intellect in act.

Knowledge, ideas, concepts, intentions are not accidents of intellect.

2.) The thinking mind is its idea, its knowledge, its concept, etc. In contemporary terms, the act of consciousness (being aware or having qualia or whatever) is actual consciousness.

To have a sense of how strange that is, compare the thinking mind to a hot pan or a running deer. The actuality of the hot pan is heat and running is the actuality of a running deer, but a hot pan isn’t its heat and the running deer isn’t (the action of) running.

This is an intensification of life, where the operation of life is the existence of the living. But the life of the body is localized in the body whereas the experience of the cognitive is in the world of experience.

3.) Look at the various motions and transformations of the digestive tract or the beating of the heart and you see what each contributes to life. Look at the motions of the eardrum and you don’t see what the eardrum contributes to life. Eardrum motions are just instruments to get awareness of some object in the world. What the heart offers life is happening in the actions of the organ and exists nowhere outside of it; what cognitive organs offer life is formally the things outside of it.


*A subject can be either accident or substance.

 

Double predestination (2)

The heart of double predestination is this: one is just as helpless to go to hell as heaven. 

So taken, DP has two versions:

1.) Double decree. On this account, to go to heaven one needs one divine decree and to go to hell one needs another one. Hell will presumably turn people away who cannot show proof of a divine sentence. What piety for hell to insist so scrupulously on a divine decision!

2.) Hell-by-omission. On this account, those with some divine gift need to go to heaven and those without it are helpless to go to hell.

I distinguish the ways in which something is necessary from the ways in which a person is helpless, and I’d only insist that DP requires to view persons as equally helpless.

Again, DP distorts the real predicament that we find ourselves in, which is precisely over whether we allow anything to trump our control over our last end. Even desiring a heaven as totally in our power to attain is just another desire for hell.

Hell is at its most attractive for exactly the reasons scripture sets forth: better to be your own master at all costs than to have no ultimate control over your destiny. How pathetic would you feel if you begged and pleaded with God for your whole life and did everything right, only to have him deny you paradise? If that’s even possible, why bother with God? Aren’t we better off with a hell under our control than a heaven that isn’t? This is non serviam at its most persuasive.

I visualise Christ’s speech to the goats at the end of time being delivered while they are already walking away from him, or perhaps to a crowd that is chatting among themselves and can’t be bothered with what that strange person is raving about. One can get into eternal fire whether Christ decrees it or not, and the damned already decided to follow the path entirely in their power, even if there is only one such path. There is a kind of necessity that arises because there is only one path open to those who must be entirely masters of their destiny, but, by definition, this has nothing to do with the necessity of being blindly and helplessly pushed by decrees or omissions.

 

Against double predestination

STA can be read as defining predestination as divine providence in human life, helping it to attain its last end, namely beatitude, that it cannot achieve without help. 

So defined, there can be no double predestination for two decisive reasons:

1.) Hell is not an end simpliciter.

2.) Hell is the last end in some way only so far as we see it as a final end we can attain entirely by ourselves.

Double predestination makes the mistake of assuming we need just as much help to go to Hell as to Heaven, and so God has to pitch us in one bin or another. This misses our actual predicament of having to decide whether we will assert a complete existential control over our life at all costs, including perdition, or, as Augustine put it, whether we will allow love of God to cut even into love of self, or not.

 

« Older entries