The Cartesian Argument, simplified further

The dream argument suggests that mathematical things are more known than particular sensible things, and the piece of wax argument is that all intelligibles – the self or math – are so also. Starting with methodological doubt, Meditations I-III can be read as arguing that, rightly understood, the order of knowing is the order of being. If he’s right, then that God exists does not even need to be proven, but is the most evident of all claims.



-STA’s account of knowledge differs from the Cartesian one by starting with the object. Given that object X is not Y, X perfections exclude Y perfections. Knowledge overcomes this exclusion, so that X and Y become components of one world. When you walk though the woods there are only distant and tenuous causal connections between footfalls and birdsongs, brown dirt and red robins, smells here and smells there, or any of the objects of one sense to another, but in knowledge they are vividly and immediately given as one world. 

-Having discovered the one world though cognitive and not causal connections we cannot turn around and say that it is only subjectively there. To the extent that the subject constitutes the world it isn’t known. Claiming that things are only red or smelly to us is the same as to say they aren’t red or smelly, and what isn’t red can’t be known to be red. 

-The standard “the world isn’t red” argument would appeal to how red is not a universal feature of all ocular experience. Where I see a hunter in an orange suit, the deer sees a vast field of leaf-colored objects. But it doesn’t follow that the orange isn’t there any more than if an idea doesn’t exist if it can be expressed in one language and not another. As objects, things communicate themselves as though by a multiple languages, and whatever one says or does not say he really does say or not say. Likewise, one and the same word can be encouraging to one person and repulsive to another. If it’s announced that Joe and not Moe wins a close boxing match we don’t have to assume the announcement isn’t really disappointing and exciting in different respects. It’s the same way when one and the same object communicates itself to dung beetles and to us.

-Things form one world to ticks and another to cows, but these worlds are emanating whether there are ticks or cows to hear them. Cognition is a sort of awareness and not a sort of mental paint that one hurls into a void, whatever that would mean. Even if we assumed that we constituted a world, the assumption could not explain how we knew it. If I stamp the form “red” on all fire trucks, how do I then detect it? 

-What Plato and Aristotle called form or actuality is a single reality that both gives being and communicates itself in multiple languages, irrespective of whether anyone is listening. As giving being the form exists entitatively, as communicating it exists representationally. In its entitative existence it is in principle restricted to one and only one thing, as communicated it is in principle common to many, but the difference between these two is the difference between the stairs up and the stairs down or the convex and concave. 

Still, one has to refine the last point since the form can both exist without being known and be known without existing. Art is only possible where forms are known before existing. Nature likewise does the same sort of thing as art whenever it brings form about, and any natural change or kinesis involves doing so.

-Epistemology and ontology are different points of departure from the one reality of form. 

-Sensible and intelligible forms differ in that whatever detects with a finite structure cannot detect being as such, but only one modality of its appearance. One could use a lens to detect colors but not scents as scents. What detects being in its opposition to the possible has no finite structure, and anything whose judgments are ranged under the principle of contradiction detects being as being. The finite structure of sentience shares in the contingency of what it detects, so the nose is as contingent as any class of scents it smells. But being as such is and cannot not be. 

-The contingency of sentience is temporal, and the finite structure it has arises out of previous non-sentient finite structures. Noses get built in embryogenesis from parts that were not once noses. Intellection about the sensible world will share in this sort of contingency though intellection even as a particular act of intellection in opposition to others does not arise in history from previous non-intellective reality. Aristotle’s attempt to make intellection arise in this way is the one permanent blight on his system, and the one point of ineliminable value that he should have preserved from Plato.  Ideas are conserved realities even more than matter or energy are. 

-All metaphysics takes its point of departure from physics, and all metaphysics bootstraps to the spiritual world though the different orders of material reality. In the Aristotelian world these different orders were the sublunar and superlunar, but we’ve since replaced them with the macroscopically immediately given world of contingent substances and the would of fundamental realities like energy, light, fundamental particles. To be honest, these serve as better analogues for the spiritual (in some ways they have always been better analogues: think of light). 

-The advance of science has shown the different ways in which the world of immediately given reality (the updated sublunar realm) must rely on the fundamental conserved quantities like energy, light, fundamental particles. Light structures space and time while itself having no value within this domain, particles are in immediate contact with an implicate order where unity is physical while occurring in a way that does not need the local restrictions of physical causality, and energy is a unified source of action for which the activity of the observable is only one manifestation. All this analogizes to the spiritual realm of intellection. The Medieval controversies over the unity of the intellect are failures to understand how the material world analogizes to the spiritual one. 

-As weird as the physical world gets, it will never be as weird as intellection and the intellect. The weirdness of the world and the various incompatible models we use to understand it are only the faint analogue to what has been long known about intellection. 



John of St. Thomas: Responses to objections ¶ 4-7a.

Response to objections in ¶ 4

14.) In response to the first difficulty, we say that DT neither begs the question nor assumes something false, but that he simply teaches that cognitive beings have the form of another, that is, a form with representative existence drawn into themselves in virtue of its intentional existence in spite of being entitatively in another, since there is no representative existence except in cognitive beings. For even if one puts an image on a blackboard or the intentional species travels through the air, nothing is represented to a subject even if a form is given to one. Moreover, DT proves this from the fact that the known species in in the knower, rather than fallaciously supposing it. DT takes this as self evident from the nature of an intentional species (as we previously explained in the thirteenth disputation on article 1) since the species, taken formally and essentially, does not so much grant form by inhering in something, but more represents the object, making cognitive beings be informed by objects just as much as non-cognitive things are [given being] by their forms… So DT does not beg the question but proves from the very nature and innermost essence of the cognitive being, as is explained more thoroughly in the citation from De veritate given above.

15.) This is the solution to the examples we brought forth in the objections above, for though all those subjects took on a different or exterior form they took it in by an inherence that made it their own, giving them form entitatively and not the form of another that would make them cognitive beings, these latter which receive form according to an intentional or representational modality, where it exists not just in itself but also so that it might represent to another. When air receives sensible species it does so as an entitative accident inherent in it, but nothing  represented to the air so as to bestow an object on it.

Response to ¶ 5. 

16.) To the objection against the consequence, we respond that DT is not inferring the greater amplitude and lack of limitation in the nature from the fact that it receives more forms, but from the fact that it receives or is informed by them in a different way, sc. not by receiving them entitatively or by inherence but as objects with representational existence, which is an entirely different modality of granting form or of reception. This modality is not mysterious, nor does DT skip over explaining it, for he says that the species of the known is in the knower, and thus the species not only informs the being that is of that species but [also the cognitive being] by the object represented intentionally and objectively, as he explains more broadly in De veritate a. 2. Because this modality of representational and objective existence is higher than the general modality of receiving the form entitatively and materially, it is called immaterial or intentional, and one does well to infer a broader nature that is less restricted, having as it does less of the common modality of reception that arises from material causality, making the thing more to belong to a spiritual nature. Even thought it is true that there is among corporeal beings an immaterial or intentional mode of getting form, it is still a higher mode of getting a form than matter itself is capable of getting a form.

DT does not beg the question by assuming there is a representational mode of having a form in addition to an entitative one since this is manifest from the nature of cognitive beings. For an object is required together with a power in order that knowledge might arise, and the object can’t be material or entitatively in the power. A stone isn’t physically in the eye, and so it needs to be in another separately from its materiality, which is called intentional or immaterial, i.e. representational.

17.) But suppose one objects further that it has not been proven that the union of a power and an object is required, but that it would suffice for the object for an object to terminate the operation and be exterior, and that the knower tend toward it.

But this claim would be contrary to the place of intelligible species, which every rational discourse  (tota philosophia) sets down as arising from an object and a power. If it arises in this way it has [the object] as not just a terminus but a principle, and if it arises within the power the object needs to be within the power, not entitatively and therefore representationally. DT takes these species as given simply from rational discourse (philosophia) as we explained above (disp. 13 of a. 1 and in lib. de anima q. 5)

18.) (further objection, here omitted- ed.)

Responses to ¶ 6

19.) To the second objection we say that DT does give a proper and sufficient (adequatio) account of knowledge from immateriality. To the question whether immateriality in this argument is taken as purely negative or for something positive we say that it is taken as something positive that grounds the negation of material and material conditions, sc. for that which can receive something else, not just as its own form but as the form of another. This belongs paradigmatically (principialius) when they are more spiritual, since spirituality makes a nature more able to receive a perfection without the imperfect conditions of matter. Spirituality does not consist in just the negation of corporeal matter but in something positive explained by that negation: spiritual perfection is not just real but more real than corporeality. Even if the negation and exclusion of corporeal matter is true of all spiritual beings both absolutely and in fact, and taken in this sense it does not allow of more and less, nevertheless there are diverse degrees and extents to which the conditions of material reception are excluded, all these being, as they are, potentiality. To the degree that some nature more perfectly excludes these degrees, so also it more participates in that pure actuality which is totally contrary to potentiality, and as a consequence it grounds a more perfect power to know from the greater immateriality that it has.

Responses to ¶ 7

20.) So when it was said that immateriality was not a sufficient (adequatio) account of knowledge because sensation is material but not cognitive, we say that although sensation is corporeal, nevertheless it rises above material conditions and the modality of receiving materially and entitatively to the extent that it can receive the form of another, i.e. another thing in its representational existence and not just in its proper entitative existence. Still, they do this imperfectly and in dependence on a material organ so that their immateriality – and consequently their cognitive power – is imperfect.

21.) If you ask how sentience is dependent and unified to matter while still not being immersed in it but to some extent rises above the conditions of matter, we respond that something can be unified to matter either by communicating rational life to it or, as is the case with sentient life, by also being dependent on it,  but in either case the operation of the things is elevated above matter in the sense that its operation does not depend only on the qualities that are material dispositions for substantial form, even if they depend on these for their inherence. DT explains this with great clarity in II Contra Gent. c. 68 where he teaches that the lower forms are entirely immersed in matter, which are only unified to matter so as to have being in it, but with no operation that can go beyond qualities that are dispositions of matter like hot cold, etc. These are the forms of the elements. Beyond these are the forms of mixed bodies, which sometimes act in higher ways than the cold and the hot, like those that can attract iron by some power of the heavenly bodies – the magnets. Still beyond this is plant life which, though largely subject to elemental qualities, still have the power of life that rises above this. Beyond this still is sentient life whose power of hearing or vision are not simply subject to heating and cooling, as is the case among vegetative life, even if the organs of sense in which these powers act have their dispositions from those sorts of qualities. These sentient life forms can know and have immateriality, though one that is material in its being though elevated above the dispositive qualities of matter in its operation….

22.) As to the part of the argument that claims that there are some immaterial beings that are not cognitive, we respond that although they are not cognitive formally and primarily they are nevertheless cognitive radically and by connection (radicaliter et consecutive) because they are so rooted in, or connected to, or ordered to knowledge. Even if the will and charity are not cognitive forms they are nevertheless inclinations connected to understanding. Grace is also a form that elevates one to supernatural knowledge. DT need not be taken as giving an argument for knowledge by any sort of immateriality but from that which is primary and principle (prima et radicalem) and not what is secondary or connected to it, as, for example, is the way the will relates to  intellect. There is no reason to argue over whether some spiritual nature might be non-cognitive. Whatever might be the case, for us it is enough that there is no imaginable nature that is capable of of receiving the form of another that is not also cognitive.

John of St. Thomas: The respondeo

10.) For all that, DT’s argument is tremendously profound and effective at getting to the basis of the nature of knowledge. He treats the argument more broadly in De veritate a. 2, and we will explain what he says here in light of that. In the context of the argument DT understands immateriality not just as the elimination of matter as being the negation or absence of it, but as the elevation above the way in which matter receives things other than itself. Matter receives forms when it is really and entitatively composed with them, either when this results in a substantial or accidental composite. This kind of reception isn’t just found in material things but also in spiritual ones, which is clear from the substance of the soul having powers and the powers receiving habits, both of which are in the same genus of receptive or material causality typical of corporeal things receiving accidents or forms. A cognitive being – whether corporeally sentient or spiritually intelligent – is elevated beyond this kind of reception, being endowed with another kind of receptivity by which it can unify and join to itself even things that are exterior to itself while still remaining entitatively outside of them in itself. This cannot happen in virtue of the entitative or material existence that those things have in themselves but in a formal existence that is representative or intentional, and is called immaterial so as to distinguish it from the entitative existence that the things have in themselves. Immateriality is called the source of cognition because a cognitive being needs to have this peculiar kind of receptivity, making it be other things outside of itself. It is elevated above the common mode of receptivity in which a subject or material receives forms, which is to have the requisite condition for being cognitive. This is comparable to proving that if something is living it needs not just to have a power of moving things other than itself but also of moving itself, for something that has the power of receiving not just forms in itself but forms outside of itself (which do not just give it form but also represent things to it, thereby making that those others inform it intentionally or representationally) is constituted into a cognitive being.

11.)  DT gives an exemplary articulation of this argument concerning the difference between the cognitive and the non-cognitive in De veritate Q. 2 a. 2:

Things are perfect in two ways:

(1) When the perfections of the being belong to it by its proper species. That said, because the peculiar being is distinct from that of another, the perfection had by created things falls away from perfection simply speaking in the measure that they exist in their own peculiar being. As a remedy to this sort of imperfection, there is another kind of perfection:

(2) When the perfection had by one thing is found in another. This is the perfection of the knower as knower, because something is known by a knower because the very thing known is with the knower, which is why De anima III says that the soul is in a way all things because it knows all things, by which it is possible for the whole perfection of the universe to be in one thing….

And later

The perfection of one thing cannot be in another by the determinate being that it has in that other, and so that which by nature can be in another needs to be taken without that which makes it determinate. Because matter determines forms and perfections, knowable things are separate from matter. So what has perfection in this way must be immaterial – if it were material the received perfection would be in it in the way it is in matter, i.e. according to its determinate being.

12.) This discourse proves that cognitive things are elevated above the non-cognitive in their special way of receiving things other than themselves. This is a way of receiving immaterially or of representing to oneself and not just being given a form. The Holy Doctor makes this clear at the close of the quotation in saying that something is “in another insofar as it is knowable, as the perfection of one thing is by nature existing in another.” By the common sort of reception forms exist entitatively in some subject, whether spiritual or material, and in this way they exist only in that thing into which they are received. So far as they are received so as to make entitative being, they are limited to that subject or material, which DT says is to have the determinate being of just being a limited receiving subject, and to receive in this way is a restriction of the form which is possessed. But it is peculiar to knowers as knowers that a thing or perfection be existing in a thing outside of itself, which can’t happen by receiving the thing by a material or entitative modality of reception, but must be in the more elevated manner of intentional or representational existence.

Note that in our initial text DT doesn’t say that cognitive beings are elevated above non-cognitive things by receiving another form, but by having the form of another thing. Having another form is different from having the form of another, for “another form” is the same as a form coming to the thing from the outside. This sort of form informs the thing entitatively by joining to the subject and being possessed by it as its own form. The form of another thing, by contrast, is the very form in the other thing, maintaining its distinctiveness while being drawn to and joined with the cognitive being. This cannot happen entitatively, since this would either destroy or change the other thing, but must happen though intentional or representational existence. This is the same as to say that a thing will be cognitive which is capable of representing another to itself. It is certainly true that no non-cognitive being can have the representational existence of another thing, even though forms can come to it that give it entitative existence.

Further, DT is also quite right that when something is represented to another, and comes to have a representational existence for it a kind of immateriality is required, meaning an elevation above the way of receiving only materially or entitatively, for cognitive beings do not become something outside of themselves entitatively or materially when things are given representational existence to them. “Matter” is not taken as restricted to simply corporeal matter, but is any mode of entitative reception in the line of material causality in either corporeal or spiritual beings, whenever there is a principle restricting and limiting form. It doesn’t matter if one speaks of specific or individual limitation (which is not relevant to the argument here) but of any determination or making a being incommunicable outside of itself entitatively and incapable of informing another subject. One restricts or limits form simply by making it and not allowing it to be in something other than itself. This separation from and elevation over any sort of materiality is called immaterial, and it empowers the form that exists in one thing by entitative existence to exist in another by representational existence. This is what is peculiar to cognitive beings.

From immateriality understood in this way is the best way of showing what it is to be cognitive. Even if this is the case both for corporeal and spiritual things, spiritual things are nevertheless more capable of receiving intentional or representational existence to the degree that they are spiritual and lack corporeal matter. It is not precisely because they lack matter, but because it is fitting to them to lack matter that the measure of their spirituality is the measure in which they distance themselves from only being entitative and material and are made more capable of receiving intentional existence, and forms existing in other beings become their own not entitatively but by representational existence.


John of St Thomas on ST 14 a. 1

John of St. Thomas writes what amounts to an extended disputed question on the following text:

[I]ntelligent beings are distinguished from non-intelligent beings in that the latter possess only their own form; whereas the intelligent being is naturally adapted to have also the form of some other thing; for the idea of the thing known is in the knower. Hence it is manifest that the nature of a non-intelligent being is more contracted and limited; whereas the nature of intelligent beings has a greater amplitude and extension; therefore the Philosopher says (De Anima iii) that “the soul is in a sense all things.” Now the contraction of the form comes from the matter. Hence, as we have said above (I:7:1) forms according as they are the more immaterial, approach more nearly to a kind of infinity. Therefore it is clear that the immateriality of a thing is the reason why it is cognitive; and according to the mode of immateriality is the mode of knowledge.

ST. I.14.1 co.

What follows are JOST’s OBJECTIONS from Cursus Theologicus in Questionem XIV disp. 1 ¶ 4-9. His respondeo and responses to the objections will be posted after I’m done with them. Translation is dynamic, though JOST habitually calls Thomas “The divine Thomas (divus)” which, though typical for his era,  is still too remarkable not to render literally. 

4.) The first proposition that the holy doctor assumes seems to have a serious problem, or even to beg the question. When he says that non-cognitive entities only have their own form while a cognitive entity has the form of another he is either talking about a way of “having one’s own form and that of another” in a general sense that also belongs to the way beings have forms entitatively, or in a more restricted sense said only of intentional and cognitive reception. If said in the first sense, the claim is false since non-cognitive entities receive many forms other than their own. A stone becomes cold, dry, colored, etc. For that matter, even intentions species themselves are in the air, though the air is non-cognitive. If said in the second sense, Thomas clearly begs the question, because he would only be saying that cognitive beings are higher than non-cogitative ones because they receive the form of another not only entitatively and in reality but intentionally and cognitively, which is exactly the matter under dispute, sc. what it means to receive a form in a cognitive manner. He would simply be positing the difference between the cognitive and the non-cognitive in the fact that the cognitive receives forms cognitively, and so that knowers differ from non-knowers in being cognitive.

5.) The consequence that The divine Thomas (DT) draws, namely that the nature of a cognitive being is less restricted than a non-cognitive being has the same problem. From the fact that one form has only its own while another has its own form and the form of another, all that follows is that the latter receives more forms than the former, from which the only consequence is that the one is more receptive than the other, which argues for its greater potentiality. If DT is talking about a way of having form other than by reception, not much remains to explain such something so peculiar and unknown as having a form while not receiving it. He also begs the question since the problem at hand is whether there is a way of having a form that is not by means of reception.

6.) The second problem in DT’s argument is that he takes immateriality as the source (radix) of knowledge, since the argument gives neither an adequate or proper source of knowledge. First of all, immateriality in the present case can’t mean just the negation of matter or of material and elemental accidents which confer an elevated nature on the cognitive nature since this belongs just as much to God and the angels and any other spiritual nature, all of which lack matter and material conditions, though they are all cognitive in different ways and by different sorts of perfections even though one does not more completely exclude corporeal matter or accidents, given that all of them lack this by lacking them their very being (in facto esse) and none more than the other as DT says in I-II q. 73 a. 2. But if “immateriality” is understood in some  way other than the denial of matter and material conditions, one could scarcely understand what was meant, and if he could explain the matter, it would not be by something distinct from and prior to simply understanding and knowing.

7.) Still, one could not give either an adequate or proper account of knowledge even if he were to explain immateriality by something positive and not just the negation of matter. No adequate cause would be given because there are many material beings that are cognitive, like sentient being that rely on corporeal organs. There are also many non-cognitive immaterial beings like the will, grace, charity, and other spiritual qualities. By implication it’s not very clear, nor is it easy to assign a reason why a spiritual substance might be produced that lacked intelligence.

This also can’t be a proper account of knowledge because God’s intellectuality is what first constitutes his nature and is the source of all his attributes, as we will explain in the following article, and so intellectuality can’t have a source that is prior to it, since this would constitute the nature and intellectuality would follow (esset passio) from it. Whatever might be the case with God, the following line of reasoning seems to apply to creatures: either immateriality is something prior to intellectuality as a higher genus, or as something proper and equal to it. If the first, intellectuality can’t be inferred from immateriality any more than anything can be inferred from what is more general, e.g. rationality from being alive. If the second, it would follow that intellectuality would not be a degree constituted by the nature but only a consequence (passio) Immateriality would be by definition a prior degree of the same sort of thing (prior in ipsa ratione graduali et in eadem linea) as intellectuality, so immateriality and not intellectuality would constitute the nature. Neither could it be said that intellectuality and immateriality concurrently and equally constitute the intellectual nature, because then intellectuality could no more be inferred from immateriality than the reverse, so DT’s proof, showing as it does intellectuality from immateriality, would not be very strong.

8.) There is also an argument against DT proving that because immateriality is the source of intellectuality, because immateriality is the cause of greater amplitude, just as matter is the cause of restriction and limitation of form. Even allowing that matter is the cause of limitation of form, it does not follow that the negation of matter would be the negation of all limitation. It has not been proven that matter is the sufficient cause (causa adaequata) of the limitation of form and that another cause might be given in addition, and so the negation of all limitation does not follow from the negation of the limitation of matter. Thomists, for example, don’t take the limitation of species from matter, but only the limitation of the individual, as Sylvester notes in Contra Gentes 1. c.44. So from the negation of matter all that follows is the greater lack of limitation of an individual, and not a greater lack of limitation absolutely and simply, which would destroy an inference to any foundation of cognition, since this requires the reception of other specific forms and not just of other individuals.

9.) A confirmation of this is that many material things receive intentional form without becoming cognitive beings. The air, for example receives the the species that are carried to the senses. One cannot object that the air receives these forms only in esse and not in intentionale because to receive something in intentionale is to receive something capable of producing a sensation, and to receive something in esse is to receive in a way that does not have this power, and so the definition of sentience or understanding can’t be taken either from material or immaterial reception but from the power of producing a sensation, and so the immateriality of receiving something in intentione is not something prior and distinct, or forming a foundation for understanding. For the species gives a form to the air with the whole of its power no less than it informs the sense, so there is no distinction between the air and the sense in the mode of reception but only from the fact that sense has a cognitive power that the air does not.


Fixing corruption with incompetence

Take my word for it: I have no idea how to do software engineering for the Wells Fargo overseas call center. I only know about the job because my cousin Rob does it, but I haven’t spent a day in my life doing what he does. For all that, assume you gave me Rob’s job and recorded my performance. The resulting story would be one awkward, cringe-worthy act of clumsiness after another, and in order for me to do anything I’d be totally dependent on the people who were already there and had some experience running the operation. Though you hired me to run it you could have no rational expectation that I’d end up as anything but a flunky for established call-center elites, and so to the extent that I didn’t make things worse I’d end up running the place in the way it had always been run.

Obviously, this is an analogy.

After the 2016 election I found myself living under the third political regime run by a celebrity political outsider. As a native Minnesotan I experienced the Jesse Ventura regime in 1998 and I was living in California when Schwarzenegger got elected in 2003 and 2006. All these elections had the same narrative: in response to the clueless indifference of political elites and the perception of widespread political corruption the people cast protest votes electing someone with no political experience* but who spoke with bravado and channelled the people’s frustration over not being heard.

Nothing systematic changed. What else could we expect? Governments are a lot more complicated than call centers, and the only way to learn how it actually works is to trust the opinions of the very people that the outsider was supposed to replace.  One can sloganize about “draining the swamp”, but it turns out that only the swamp creatures know how to do it. Don’t be surprised when the swamp sticks around.

I get that incompetence is sometimes better than corruption, and as a critic of the sexual revolution, I can’t ignore that one fruit of the 2016 election was that one of its most significant figures (Anthony Kennedy) was not replaced by someone who would predictably carry the revolution forward. But when we find ourselves having to choose between corruption and incompetence it might be a good time to reflect on what our long-term game is. The status quo is not sustainable.

*In fairness, Ventura had previously served as mayor of a Minneapolis suburb.

Temperance and the shameful

Temperance deals with things that can be shameful or not, but when not shameful they tend to be very strong principles of intimate interpersonal connection. This is pretty clear with sexual arousal: to show sexual arousal in an inappropriate or unwelcome context would be a shame that the person could never live down, but to show no arousal among some intimates would be just as swiftly destroy interpersonal connections.

What is obvious with sexual desire is also true of the lesser shames. It’s embarrassing and degrading to lose all control in the face of food, but proper use is not just eating appropriate amounts but eating meals and feasts with others. Alcohol at its best is not just the amount drank but the extent to which it facilitates conversation and cheer, or at least warm feelings toward others. The social character of alcohol is one of its main advantages over other sorts of intoxicants, though it doesn’t have this character entirely apart from social convention (much about temperance is keyed to social convention).

Temperance has a special connection to the mouth, not as the organ of speech but as the organ of ingestion. This is clear in food an alcohol but it is just as true of sexual desire. We kiss because to put anything to the mouth is to want it to become a part of one’s being.



Materialism vs. hylomorphism

Any principle that explains parts through wholes is formal and any principle reducing or explaining wholes through parts is material. Analyzing the actions of the organism through cells or smaller parts makes the latter material, to explain the actions of a cell through some principle that preserves or stabilizes the whole by selecting or arranging certain parts is formal. Materialism is the claim that the only legitimate account of things is to analyze the action of wholes into parts, making “the whole” nothing beyond the sum or its parts, and certainly lacking any holistic principle. Hylomorphism allows for the truth of all material accounts but does not limit itself to them, and so cannot be a materialist theory. While Naturalist hylomorphism is possible, most versions are not.

Atomic theory since Bohr starts from a notion of the atom as intrinsically stable and therefore from a formal and not material account. So far as Chem. 101 has electron shells, stable orbitals, the octet rule, etc it gives formal and not material accounts.

In light of this, materialism proved too limited and is no longer plausible. The attempt to preserve some of the ethical parts of the theory was replaced by physicalism or Naturalism, but (non-Naturalist) hylomorphism by definition includes all scientific data consistent with Naturalism, and differs only in the philosophical arguments that attempt to limit explanatory possibilities to the Naturalist domain.

Any holism makes the stability of the whole an explanatory principle subordinating the actions of material and is therefore teleological. We spontaneously object to teleological accounts from a sense that nature isn’t conscious, the response to this acknowledges the core of the objection by noting that even human art at its most goal-oriented is also not conscious. Dancers and musicians have to get to the point where their actions are non-conscious. It’s precisely the expertise of nature that makes its teleology non-conscious (cf. the critique of consciousness in the name of life here)

The self-reflective cogito

Both Plato and Aristotle made actuality the measure of knowability, so a systematic inquiry into being-as-doubtable would be a vision of the possibility of things. This is, in fact, exactly where Descartes’s methodological doubt takes him, culminating in a vision of the world as entirely contingent beneath divine omnipotence, and the apparent reality of all things as controllable by a cognitive manipulator stronger than ourselves.

Descartes escapes the possibility of doubt through self-reflection. The precision here is important: Descartes misses an opportunity when he defines himself as “A thinking thing” and not a self-reflective one. Reflection occurs when any action has a numerical* identity of origin and terminus, e.g. the face in a mirror is both the source of the image and the object of sight, but mind is not just reflective but self-reflective since it is not both origin and terminus in something else, like a reflective surface. Had he focused on what was formal to the cogito, he might have divided mind from body by the intensive and the extensive, where the intensive character was given in the mind’s unity of principle and terminus. While extension doubles by going outside of itself, mind doubles by its source becoming its own terminus.

The terminus of mind is thought, considered both as object and as awareness of one’s own thinking. Like sensation, thought is an immanent act, but it differs from sensation because it is not just awareness of an object but also of itself. Sight is an awareness of visibles but not of vision while thought is an awareness both of the thinkable and thought. It’s only because thought is both of these that we can compare thought to object to see who they measure up, giving rise to truth and falsity.

*Any cycle has an identity of origin and terminus, e.g. in semi-automatics, shooting the bullet also causes the next cartridge to load. Reflection differs from a cycle in that numerically the same thing repeats or comes back: the same sound echoes, the same light bounces off the surface, etc.

Faith making whole

Christ continually preaches faith as a kind of power. Sometimes, but by no means all the time, the accounts of the power of faith read like we now call placebo cures, like the story of the widow touching the hem of his garment (Mt. 9: 20) the curing of the blind men in Mt. 9: 29 or Lk 18: 42, or the curing of the ten lepers (Lk. 17: 19). In all of these, Christ stresses that the power of the healing was from the faith of those healed.

I call these placebo cures not to give them a modernist explaining-away but as the first step toward imagining the actual presence of Christ. Everyone has some experience with a presence that has power to alleviate sorrows, like mothers kissing bruises. Most of our sorrows are at a level where the line between mental and physical causes are blurry, so that a dramatic-enough presence or change of events would make the pain disappear. But we have to extrapolate far beyond our normal experience of this sort of healing presence before hitting one that would be equal to Christ’s, even after conceding that he might have lived in a time that was more willing to allow for this sort of healing.

The healing presence is holiness, which we can only dependably make present at lower levels of resolution. We know how to make spaces and things holy by building them on the site of some epiphany, dividing them from the profane, requiring some sort of purification to enter them, singing music of certain kinds, etc. The success of pilgrimages shows that this sort of holiness is strong enough to have healing power.  That said, it’s persons that are holy simpliciter, and we have a harder time delivering these to the world.

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