Apokatastasis in Acts 3 : 21

The USCCB Mass readings for the fifth day of Easter translate Peter’s sermon at Solomon’s Portico:

Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away,
and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment
and send you the Christ already appointed for you, Jesus,
whom heaven must receive until the times of universal restoration
of which God spoke through the mouth
of his holy prophets from of old.
For Moses said:

A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you.
Everyone who does not listen to that prophet
will be cut off from the people.    

“Moreover, all the prophets who spoke,
from Samuel and those afterwards, also announced these days.
You are the children of the prophets
and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors
when he said to Abraham,
In your offspring all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

The “times of universal restoration” are χρόνων ἀποκαταστάσεως πάντων, which Stong’s lists as the only use of apokatastasis in Scripture (the verbal form is used more often). Peter’s concluding quotation also clearly harmonizes with the paradigm universalist text in Romans 5: as in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive. 

One impediment to a universalist reading of the Peter’s sermon, however, is that his first proof text speaks of all those who do not accept Christ as “cut off from the people”, which in turn problematizes a universalist reading of apokatastasis and Romans 5.

Of course, Peter’s sermon doesn’t rule out Universalism: one straightforward reading is that the branches that are cut off will remain so until the time of universal restoration, at which point they will (to use Paul’s metaphor in Romans 11) be grafted back onto the tree of life.

De anima III c. 5

While there is some sense in which A. is speaking about potential intellect in C.4 and agent intellect in c. 5, it’s easy to make too much of this. The point of the chapter is for A. to address the problem he’s just told the reader he needs to address: He’s just given a theory of the human intellect that predicts humans couldn’t exist without thinking about themselves, but it’s pretty clear we can. How?

In response A. explains that III c. 4 explained intellect entirely under the hypothesis that intellect was receptive, but receptivity as such doesn’t suffice to explain anything actual, and so the existence of actual knowledge means that A. can begin c. 5 by arguing we require another element in the soul, which he describes by two analogies (1) it stands to receptive intellect like artistic know-how (tekne) stands to its materials and (2) like light stands to colors. While the commentary tradition stressed the analogy between intellect in this active sense and light, the analogy of artistic know-how is given first and the light analogy more serves to clarify it. In other words, A. is speaking about an actualizing principle that is most of all makes intellect what it is.

A. ties off his argumentation in c. 5 by invoking an axiom he uses everywhere about the order between active and passive principles, sc. that the active is prior absolutely even if the passive is sometimes prior in time.

The argument that takes us to a separate intellect in the agent sense is straightforward:

1.) A. has examined intellect under the hypothesis of its being receptive.

2.) Considered in this way, intellect is seen to be unmixed, separate, and even in some sense non-receptive (apathes)

3.) Intellect thus described also requires that it be thinking about itself so long as it exists, while clearly is does not.

4.) But this is fine because actual knowledge also requires an additional active, interior principle of intellect within us.

5.) But whenever there is an active principle in anything it is, absolutely speaking, prior to the passive absolutely, even when the passive principle might be prior in time.

6.) Therefore, there is is intellect in an absolute sense as active in the soul, even if passive intellect is prior in time.

7.) That we are not always thinking when we exist is attributed to our being now in a time of intellect in the passive sense.

Put briefly, what A. discovers about intellect in c. 4 is true first of all about intellect taken actively even c. 4 proves the existence of intellect taken passively. As passive, intellect is incompletely described and generates an aporia and requires a further account of what in the intellectual soul is first of all separate, unmixed, and non-receptive.

A. does not specify when intellect as active is actually separated from intellect as passive, but it’s safe to assume that he is thinking about its post mortem existence. So intellect as we now enjoy it is an anticipation of and participation in intellection as such but it is not the activity of what has intellect in us first of all.

The long and unbroken commentary tradition since Averrhoes that saw intellect in the active sense as divine or “one in all persons” has an important truth but it is a gross simplification of something more interesting and more Aristotelian. Passive intellection is a participation in our own intellection. Our mind is most of all something other than our mind so far as our present experience of thought passively participates is another activity, but the activity in which it participates is itself most of all what our intellect is. This is exactly the sort of anthropology that A. is setting forth in Nic. Eth. X. c. 7 when describing the fullest sense of what it is to exist as a person.

III. c. 4 (end).

So how can a discussion of the mind as receptive draw conclusions about mind as an object? In the first sense its object is another, in the second its object is itself.

A’s answer is that in things without matter, the known and the knower are the same, because in theoretical knowledge the knower and the thing known are the same. Latter sameness consists in the two ways we can consider an abstract object: on the one hand it is just a concrete particular at a lower level of designation (“cat” really is one of the ways you can consider Tibbles or Garfield) and on the other hand the abstraction is itself the indifferent unity of all the cats. In the first sense, the abstraction is as real as the cat; in the second sense it exists only in the mind.

If we assume the reason why Garfield and Tibbles exist at a higher level of designation than their ideas is because the matter of one is not the matter of the other, then a particular non-material entity wouldn’t differ from its idea even by existing at a higher level of designation but would, while maintaining the perfection it has as a particular, be identical to an entity that preserved its perfection as an abstraction. It could, for example, be both an object of scientific knowledge and a partner in friendship, both an eternal reality and a dynamically living person. What A. focuses on is that for such an entity it would be the same thing for it to be itself and be thinking about itself, and so the last question he raises in III c.4 is how his theory of the intellect can be true in the face of the fact that human beings can exist without thinking about themselves.




429b 30- 430a 2

A. refutes the interaction problem to his satisfaction in 3 sentences and 39 words. The bulk of the refutation is his analogy of mind to a blank slate, which took on a life of its own in subsequent literature but which means something very different in De Anima.

The analogy is that objects of thought : mind :: letters : blank slate. Compare this to an analogy A. doesn’t give, like

objects of thought : mind :: objects in a mirror : mirror, or

objects of thought : mind :: arrow aimed at a target : target with no arrow.

What is the difference? Precisely this: objects in a mirror exist apart from their reflection and arrows exist apart from hitting targets, but letters only exist on slates or something like them. And so A. is denying the interaction problem by denying any need for mind and world to interact, just as letters are not on slates by the letter acting on the slate. As thought, mind is world, or as A. puts it: dunamei pos esti ta noeta ho nous, which I take as “in a certain sense, [namely] relative to the power [of mind], the thing known is the mind.”

¶ 2: 429b 10 – 25

11-15) Having discussed the way intellect is separate, he now speaks of other sorts of separations that the intellect makes. One can separate any time he thinks about one thing without thinking about something else (what later gets called “abstraction”). Sense does this when it knows heat and not cold, or looks at white and not black. A higher order abstraction is the one A always draws between a sense object “X” and “to be X”. In 11, Aristotle mentions “magnitude” and “water” vs. “to be magnitude” and “to be water”.

A’s interest in making these distinctions is to conclude that the ability to know the difference between “X” and “to be X” does not as such require that intellect be separate from body, since on the side of the object there is, by definition, a physical object. The same can be said for mathematical objects, though there are definitions of mathematicals that do not reference the sense world as such. As opposed to intellect, both physical and mathematical objects have some reference to sentience as such and therefore do not require intellect to be separate in the manner proven in the first paragraph about nous itself.

In sum, while knowing “To be X” as opposed to “X” is proper to intellect as opposed to sense, the “as opposed to” is not the same as the way intellect was opposed to sense in sentences 1-10. The intellect knowing itself, which is explained in sentence 10, is a knowledge different in kind from either physical or mathematical abstraction.

16-17.) A. lays out an interaction problem, which consists in the aporia Aristotle forms between two of his beliefs and an axiom from Anaxagoras:

a.) Thinking is being acted upon (paskein). (The main hypothesis of III 4)

b.) Thinking and what is thought upon do not share a common genus (the proof of III 4)

c.) What acts upon and is acted upon share a common genus (An axiom from Anaxagoras)

In one sense, Aristotle has already set up the solution from the whole discourse till now: so far as (c) is true, the common element is taken on the side of the object, and therefore (b) will also not be true simpliciter. So far as sense objects are integral to the noetic act it is also not separable, and so far as it is wholly separable it has objects like intellect itself, or, as we argued in the commentary, objects that cannot share in the relativity of sensation.

More simply, we might assert that the whole point of 1-10 was to show that (c) has a truth limited to the physical domain while the paskein of (a) is non-univocal with this domain. But A’s response to the question is better. More later.

The other problem arises from a tension between A’s initial hypothesis and the conclusion he draws from it. How can A begin with the hypothesis that intellect is passive to an object that is other and conclude to it being able to know itself?

Commentary on De Anima III 4 ¶ 1

(429a 10 – 429b 10.  My numbers are the sentences in Greek Text.)

1.) The central thesis under consideration about intellect (which A has stated from the first moment intellect is mentioned till now) is whether it is “separate” or not, and if so, how. The “separate” means “separate from matter”, and it can occur either in the way that mathematical things are separate (which A. calls ‘in thought but not in reality’) or in reality. This paragraph establishes that intellect, under the hypothesis that it is passive, is a part of soul which, like all soul, is a sort of energia, but it is not the energia of a body.

2.) In III 4. A. is trying to understand the separability of intellect under the hypothesis that is at least analogous to sensation in being passive to its object.

3.) A. immediately insists that intellect is non-passive (the first word of the sentence is απαθες) making it clear that the comparison to sensation is purely analogous. He then makes the analogy explicit: sense objects : sense organs :: intelligible objects : intellect.

4.) The conclusions are clearly stated: (a) intellect is unmixed (a synonym for separate in reality, or, in another context, it means “simple” as opposed to “complex”, i.e. the sense of simplicity we appeal to in discussions of divine simplicity) and that its nature is a power (dunamis). The reasoning occurs in a clause whose subject is unspecified and which curiously lacks key Aristotelian terms where one expects to find them, and which often are inserted by translators. Where one expects to find “form” or “actuality” one only finds the claim that “when there is intruding (paremphainomenon) it hinders and blocks what is other than itself (allotrion) and so it is not itself anything except that power”

A crucial element to explain is A.’s curious appropriation of Anaxagoras claim that Mind is simple that it might rule A. glosses this saying “to rule, that is, to know”.

5.) Here we get the energia that is the opposite of nous’s dunamisNous is “not the energia of some being/ substance before thinking”. Notice Aristotle is not claiming it is not an energia, but not the energia of a substance, where “of” is a material genitive like “The shape of the dough” or “the position of the switch”. This is simply what he means by saying mind is simple/unmixed/non-composite.

Briefly, nous is dunamis as opposed to the energia of a body, not as opposed to energia. If soul were a non-energia simply speaking, it could not be a part of soul and so A would have no reason to speak of it in this treatise.

6.) Intelligence does not become “cold or hot”, and in fact has no organ. “Cold and hot” are chemical properties for A, and so should be updated with new examples. The sense is that the noetic experience, being entirely of the object, is not partially constituted by a physical subject or its characteristic physical properties.  The sense object as in the sentient being is partially constituted by the properties and structure of a physical cognitive structure and so is not entirely objective. Descriptions like “cold” and “red” differ from descriptions like “true” and “exists” in that the former are tied up with the structure of an organ while the latter refer entirely to an object. This accounts for a relativity of sense experience that is absent from noetic experience: things can be really cold or red to some that are not cold or red to others, but things cannot be really true/ real / false / fictional to some and not to others. Polar bears or killer whales are not mistaken in sensing the arctic waters as temperate and refreshing while I do not, but if two of us have contradictory beliefs about the arctic, one of us is mistaken. This is the sense in which intellection does not “intrude” on the object it knows (cf. ¶ 4), that is, it does not partially constitute the object in a way that allows for a relativity of perspectives on its truth, reality, falsehood, objectivity, etc. A sense organ intrudes on the sense object and makes for an essential difference between the sensible in potency and the sensible in act whereas there can be no such difference between the intelligible in potency and the intelligible in act. Whether my hunting vest is the same color as the leaves depends on whether you ask me or the deer, but whether it is real or imaginary, a substance or an accidental form is not open to the same relativity of perspective.

7.) I’ve written about the soul as “topos eidos” before and won’t repeat it here. I’m more interested in deflating the next clause, sc. “it is not the energia of the ideas but their dunamis.” This is because the energia of the idea is the intelligible object, i.e. the act of the true idea, for example, is the thing that is true, and the act of the idea of the fictional character is the fictional character. As just said, the sensible in act is not the same as the sensible in potency (which is why there are different acts of different organs for the same thing sensible in potency), but the intelligible in act is the same as the intelligible in potency.

While A does discover a sense in which intellect is literally passive, his purpose in III 4. is to see what he can discover under the assumption that it is receptive, which is different from an attempt to discourse on “the passive intellect”. If A. had started by assuming the intellect were a machine, he could then have shown, with many of the same premises he uses in III. 4 that it was not a machine with a finite structure or definite program, but this would not be his attempt to describe “the machine intellect”.

8.) The difference between comparing the intellect to a machine and comparing it to a receptive organ is that the machine is a metaphor while calling nous “receptive” or “unchanging” is analogous to how it is said of sensation. While A says first mentions “impassivity” as non-univocal (homonia) “energia” and “dunamis” are also not univocal when said of intellect and sense, and A.’s subsequent arguments more touch on the difference between sense and intellect as dunamis.

9.) Powers are effects of objects, and the extreme intensity of noetic and sensible objects has different effects and so require non-univocal powers. Bright lights, loud sounds, overpowering odors, are to senses of many persons what self-evident claims or objects are to the minds of many persons,* but the former impede our ability to sense other things as intensely as the latter are presupposed to knowing them. What we just said about things self-evident to all is just as true of what is self-evident to the wise. Newton’s three laws were self-evident to him and the implications of the primacy of act to potency were self-evident to Aristotle and Thomas, but these proved superabundant sources of knowing things for all them in a way that listening to a jackhammer, jet or rock concert never proves a principle of knowing more and more sounds.

10.) Much of what is said here is standard first-act/second act A talk, but the note at the end that the first act of intellect makes it knowable to itself is important for what he will say later.


*While something right in front of me might be more self-evident to me, this would not make it relevantly analogous to, say, the principle of contradiction or 2+2=4, which are not just evident to me, but to all.


Appraisals of sin

Historically, Jeremiah 2:20 described the apostasy of Israel but has long been used to describe the fall of Satan, and so it might be taken as a paradigm account of every sin:

Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve!’

The yoke, bonds, and non serviam have two very different interpretations.

Seen though Satan’s eyes, the yoke was an instrument meant to degrade him to the level of the beast, perhaps in rebellion against the prospect of having to worship divinity in an animal. The bonds he tore off were the restrictions on his power – having granted Satan these powers in the first place, God now feared them; having promised him glory he now asked something that looked irrational. The concluding non serviam is thus Satan’s glorious declaration of liberation.

Seen through God’s eyes, the yoke was not a tool of subjugation but of sharing labor: yokes as such are tools for distributing loads and co-operating for the good of all involved (the harvest feeds both the oxen and the farmer). Bonds are not necessarily restraints: Paul uses the verb δουλόω or “under a bond” to describe marriage in 1 Cor 7 : 15, and even if fetters are bonds there are also bonds of kinship, friendship and affection. The final “non serviam” is sheer quotation that in no way described the sinner’s real situation but only his distorted appraisal of it.

So yokes are either tools of subjugation or of shared activity; bonds are either restrictions or the full exercise of charity, and “being God’s servant” is either a correct appraisal of our situation or one more appropriate to describing someone who has already fundamentally misunderstood his relation to divinity.



Experiencing death

Only humans experience death. On the one hand we do this by anticipating it and recognizing it where it occurs, on the other hand only humans go through it. Beetles, bears, and corn die but it is not something they have the capacity to worry over, and they do not meet death as something to pass through. The presence of the object denies it’s ability to be known.

Human beings, like animals, can have the privation of sense experience. A dreamless sleep, being under anesthesia, being in a coma are all privations. But humans can also experience the negation of sense experience while this would be a contradictio in adjecto for a merely sentient being.

If a human being were literally brought back from death, he could not explain what he had seen as an event in his own life, that is, while knowing “something was seen” he would just as easily describe it as the experience of another man. This is probably what Paul stammers to explain in 2 Corinthians:

 Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

(C. 12 : 1-7)

I quote the passage at length to show that Paul is clearly talking about himself throughout the whole passage since if it were not he who had the revelation, he also would not have gotten the thorn in the flesh to humble him. At the same time, Paul describes the experience as though it were happening to someone else. Death is clearly negating any simple continuity of experience, and the one remembering the experience does not do so from a single unbroken line of first-person narrative, e.g “I was alive, then I was dead and in heaven seeing X, then I came back to earth to tell you about it”.

Death vs. clinical death

Clinical death = a significant and verifiable loss of vital function which, once confirmed, allows us to reasonably assume death has occurred.

Death = the irreversible loss of vital function.

Clearly, clinical death differs from death in that people return from clinical death all the time, sometimes through spontaneous healing and other times through medical interventions. death, however, rules out the possibility of any such revival.

The reason for this is that medicine does not infuse vital powers but channels them or fans them back to flame, and so any successful medical intervention presupposes some level of vital power. Just how far we can forestall the complete loss of vital power is not known (cold seems to help) but any hope for pushing the limit beyond a few hours is storytelling, and after a certain point even the stories become implausible – even if we could clone Lincoln’s DNA the resulting person would not develop the conviction that he should be elected the 16th President, and if you put my consciousness on a computer, why would I care what he thought?




Accidental and substantial forms

So what is the difference between accidental and substantial forms? 

1.) Much of what one says about substance is said of artificial things. The chair I’m sitting on or the car I drive seem to count as substances : “My car” is, as Categories would put it, neither said of nor present in another.

2.) On the other hand, if we insist that the car is an accidental whole it seems hard to distinguish from a living substance. Assemble the right parts in the right positions and you get a car, a house, a dog a boy. The contemporary mind balks at the idea that the difference between assembling a house and assembling a boy is anything more than a technical problem. Chairs are atoms arranged chairwise, dogs are atoms arranged dogwise.

3.) How is the difference between life and death be anything more than a technical problem? Whether I can break apart and reassemble a car or a cuttlefish is just a matter of skill, right?

4.) But even if assembling a chair, a dog, a car and a cuttlefish were just different possible termini of human skill, not all termini of skills arise in the same way. The piano and the radio both play the sonata – and it’s true that getting the sonata to play on either is just a matter of our technical skill of putting parts in the right positions. Just being responsible for some form coming about does not determine whether you worked as a productive cause (like the musician playing the song) or a dispositive cause (like the one in control of the radio playing the song).

5.)  There is a presumption against the dispositive causes, since to invoke them requires a productive agency to explain the form which a productive cause does not. The musician needs no additional agency to explain the sonata but the one in control of the radio does.

6.) When a skill produces a form it is accidental since the production is to be wholly responsible for the existence of something, and (leaving aside creation) when the whole existence of something depends on one another it is accidental.

7.) Not every gain or loss of form is accidental. Tibbles being alive and then dead are not different dispositions of one and the same Tibbles.

8.)  If Tibbles alive / dead is a substantial change, isn’t it just as substantial of a change to have a car, melt it down, and make a flower pot? If the only reason for positing substantial change between a living and dead cat is because a live cat is a cat and a dead cat isn’t, then isn’t a car a substance because a carwise – car is a car but a flowerpot-wise car is not?

9.) The substantiality of things is not seen in looking at them as subjects, but in considering their proper activities. The proper activity of cars and flower pots as such is driving and holding flowers, and in the absence of this proper activity (the car in the garage or the flower pot on a rack at the store) one has both cars and flower pots. But the proper act of the living being as such is to be alive, and absent this activity it is not living at all. It is in this sense that substantial forms are intrinsic to subjects in a way that accidental forms are not. In the living, this intrinsic form is an immanent activity, but there are bona fide substances that lack immanent activity. The orbiting of electrons in shells is not immanent action, but it does seem to be intrinsic to each of the elements, meaning that to change from one element to another would be a substantial change (as any chemist would also insist). One of the main points of the sciences is to get a clear look at what activities are intrinsic to natural things and which are merely contingent and therefore accidental.

10.) That which is merely intrinsic in the inanimate and intrinsic by immanence in the living is what Aristotle called nature, and it arises chiefly from form. The substantiality of the artistic device is from its material, while the form is derivative in being. So in the artificial thing material is substance and form is accidental but in natural things the form is substantial and the matter is, while not accidental, is like an accident so far as it is receptive-of-being from substantial form.

11.) The cost of denying substantiality is to do away with what is intrinsic to things, and so to do away with natures or object of science altogether.

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