The heart (3)

1.) No teleological system can operate in the face of indifference, and rationality is the paradigmatic teleological system. This is the point of Buridan’s ass.

2.) There are times when we confront indifference: we want one Oreo and there are forty to choose from on the tray, we could serve any tennis ball and the bucket is full, a Libet experimenter tells us to flex our wrist whenever we feel like it, etc. If we ask why we chose this as opposed to that, the correct answer is that there was no (conscious) reason. There is no reason why some particular individual as particular individual was chosen.

3.) We know some non-conscious reasons why particular individuals are chosen in the face of indifference. For example, in the face of two equal options, some research shows we will prefer the one on the right hand side, and Kahneman’s heuristics can all be applied any time we see no more reason to go one way or another (Kahneman got famous for noting the times when an unseen reason would have led to a different outcome than the non-conscious heuristic).

Advertisers are exploiting these non-conscious heuristics all the time – tobacco companies discovered many of the things that cognitive science took decades more research to figure out. These heuristics are themselves teleological systems, and they suggest the experimental possibility that teleology goes all the way down. Whether this is true or not has to be separated from the question whether some descriptions of reality are per accidens in a manner that has no sufficient reason. In the room I’m sitting there is (I’m looking around at random) a broom between a fourth staircase riser and a brown object with at least three legs, but I doubt that reality under that description has any sufficient reason, except in the deeply mysterious sense in which God is the per se cause of even per accidens existence.

That last clause suggests that in the face of indifference we demand divinity, which helps to explain the connection drawn between chance and divine action.

4.) All this is to divide freedom of indifference from free rational choice, i.e. free will. Freedom of indifference can never characterize rational choice, or even any teleological system (like the preference of an animal). For that matter, freedom of indifference cannot even characterize a system that gives intelligible outcomes, whether they are intelligible by an absolute or probablilistic law.

5.) The Late-Fransciscan/ Enlightenment theory of the indifference of free will is a contradictio in adjecto. Where there is really indifference there is no rationality, an investigation into choices made in the face of indifference reveals at least some teleological – i.e. non-indifferent – structures, and even the sheerly indifferent and per accidens traces back to a per se cause of being.

6.) If the will cannot be a priori indifferent it is necessarily a priori committed, and that to which it is committed is what we call the heart.

7.) The basic question of human action is therefore whether it is faithful to that to which it is committed a priori, which requires knowing

(a) What X = the heart’s a priori committent

(b) What action is faithful to X.



The heart (2)

1.) Axiom. To be experienced. Human life requires an object that we look to for consolation. This object is the pole star of our daily experience with other things being time apart from it or time leading up to it. The good is structural to experience and the thought of being without it is – at least – unbearable.

2.) This object is older than choice, language, or even coherent sense experience. Children literally just out of the womb (cord still attached!) seek the breast like this and will crawl towards it. They continue relating to a breast like this for years.

3.) So while it was first introduced as “looked to for consolation” this object is central to life even before we need to be consoled. Sure, we look for consolation, but we also celebrate with it when we are happy, look forward to it when we are feeling nothing in particular, etc. This object is both experienced and structural to experience, in the way that a drug addict both wants to get high and looks to the experience to structure the actions of his day.

4.) The object is in the self, the self is made for the object, and the object is the self. All these are different ways of describing its role as structural to experience, but it’s truest to say the object is the self since the self is that part of us that first demands what we will do, and we experience this as first coming from the object with choices being a response to this. Saying the object is the heart or the heart desires the object are equivalent.

5.) Our account of the heart makes it absolute but one account of free will denies any object can be absolute. Such is the hypothesis that we have a sheer indifference to everything, which was the Late-Franciscan account of free will that later played an immense role in Enlightenment thought. This seems plausible because the object of the heart can change. Nursing at the breast is the heart of newborns but won’t be so for life. If the object changes it is contingent and not structural and so absolutely all objects are contingent.

6.) Changes in the heart must be more robust than those that arise from different stages in life. We  are not shocked by adults desiring more than nursing for the same reason that we are not shocked by frogs not wanting to breathe like tadpoles. Any substance existing in time has stages of life which allow for changes like this. The Franciscan-Enlightenment theory of free will demands, beyond this, that the objects of desire be per se contingent.

The heart

The heart is any object we seek as consolation in life, that we look forward to, that brightens and gives structure to our day and our free time, that we couldn’t bear the thought of losing, etc. The heart is shown dramatically in addiction, with the addict seeking all consolation and structuring all waking moments on a single object, but a typical human heart is food; receiving signs of dignity, respect, and love; possessing and spending money.

Obviously food, love, money, pleasure, physical consolation, etc are good and necessary, but being good and necessary does not require being the heart. To recognize the necessary goodness of all these does not affect the truth that the heart is God alone.

I don’t object to saying the heart contains or desires these things rather than that it is them, but the is predicate is truer. In the same way that the intellect draws objects into itself, heart is a way in which an object draws selves into it. Mind is to is being what a writing tablet is to letters – the letters have no being outside of a tablet or something like it. But being is to the heart in the same analogy, with heart having no existence outside the objects of its consolation. Mind and heart are two dimensions of the immateriality of the highest part of soul, which, in the case of nous, is nothing actual before it thinks (De anima III. 4)

So how is it truer to say that the heart is God rather than that it was made for God? The is has to be taken normatively, the way a Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful but also participatively, the way any instrument is credited with the work of a primary cause. For all that, for a heart to be  only God and not food, alcohol, peer respect, etc is the window and pure reflection of divinity.

I don’t say this as one who achieved it. My heart is more occasional burritos, drinking on weekends, writing philosophy in quiet, being respected by my students… But a moral system that described me as perfect wouldn’t be worth a moment’s thought.

The form of the mobile

1.) Since the late Middle Ages there’s been a temptation to see motion as possessing a form or determination. This started in the explanation of projectile motion by hypothesizing an impetus imparted to the projectile, which later became a Newtonian vis impressa accounting for the initiation of motion, and was later made part of a more general theory of energy.

One difficulty with all these hypotheses is that forms and determinations have some first moment in which they are possessed but moving things have no first moment of motion. There are obviously things that weren’t moving then which are moving now, but anything that is moving has been moving while having a form or determination isn’t like this. A thing can be white without having been white or be living or dead without having been either, but whatever is moving has been moving.

So motion is neither a determination nor its absence. Things are living or dead, sentient or blind, hot or cold or whatever from some first moment forward, but even if we could make sense of “the first moment of motion”, it would not be a motion.

Aristotle started physics by seeing motion as the possession of form, but he insisted it was a form perfectly possessed only at the end. The “act” in his “act of the potency as potency” was not an impetus or force or energy but the determination toward which the mobile was tending. This is true regardless whether the end of the action was the the action itself (like swimming or performing) or something other than the action (like walking to the store or building a house or a leg).

Ancient and classical physics thus differed by their understanding of motion being the form of a mobile. For Aristotle, this form was an imperfectly realized extrinsic form of an end, for classical physics and for us this form is a perfectly realized intrinsic form of impetus, force, energy, etc. Grammatically, when Aristotle spoke of the perfect form of the mobile he was using an objective genitive (like “misers are desirous of money”) whereas for us the perfect form of the mobile is possessive (the “miser’s money”). Said another way, Aristotle understood the form of the mobile as involving a possessive genitive only when the form was imperfect; we understand the possessive as involving a perfect form.

2.) Since the beginning of physics infinite motions – ones with no end – have played a fundamental role. For Aristotle and the Medievals planetary orbits were of infinite duration, for Newton inertial motions were inherently infinite and make for the first axiom of motion. Both were subordinate to something else: the motion of the heavens to the eternity of generation and corruption and inertial motions to a presupposed acceleration. The subordination of the infinite thus happens in different ways: for Aristotle it is in the order of finality, for Newton it is in the material order with inertial parts of the motion coming after accelerated parts, or in the formal order if one distinguishes acceleration from uniformity, or in the order of agency if one speaks of the vis impressa necessary for acceleration.

Newton thought no final causality is necessary to account for the motion since force was a sufficient cause of motion. But this is exactly what Aristotle is denying since the form of the mobile is not intrinsic to it – a force, energy, impetus, etc – but has the imperfect existence of an extrinsic form existing in a potential. This ontological account makes no difference to how the motion is measured, but it makes all the difference in the world to what we take to be primary and derivative in the world of sensation.

Marketing, art, and argument

I get asked with some regularity which argument for X I find most convincing, and I probably wonder about it a lot myself, but the question demands an immediate qualification since if one wants to convince or persuade others he’s far better off dropping arguments altogether and using internet memes, peer pressure, research from marketing focus groups, catchy jingles, appeals to consensus, attractive celebrity promoters, documentaries that tell compelling stories and omit all facts that would lead the audience away from a desired belief, and the whole bevy of tools provided by what we now call marketing and the Greeks called rhetoric or sophistry.

Our desire to be convinced in this way is natural but conditional since we want the conviction underwritten by argumentation. There’s no thrill in leaping over reasons unless we believe they are there. We wouldn’t be convinced by the slogan without believing that God could fill out the details.

The various tools of marketing fit into a larger sphere of tools by which humans mimic the speed of divine intuition. The joy we take in art has the same source.

Divine shrugs

-Human beings find themselves in the position of Buridan’s ass all the time: standing in front of a tray of Oreos you take that one and not this one, all the seats you would choose are open and you sit in that one and not one next to it, you could just as well wear this shirt as that one but you wear the one you wear… etc.

-Leibniz understood the PSR to mean that God is never confronted with Buridan’s ass decisions, telling Newton that if his account of space were true that God would have no reason to make the universe here rather than there.

Pro Leibniz: the desire for the beatific vision is to know the ultimate reasons for things, but if God makes Buridan’s ass decisions then the beatific vision is, at least sometimes, only of a divine “because I said so”.

But why couldn’t one insight into the universe be that it made no difference whether it was one way or another, and that it must sometimes have no reason beyond “because I said so”, which would mean the same thing as a divine shrug?

What view of divinity would this require? My own Buridan’s ass decisions seem to be made by subconscious mechanisms, as the Libet experiments (and all other experiments with “free will”) showed. If God finds himself in the position of someone in a Libet experiment, indifferent to making the universe here or there just as I might move my wrist now or then, what breaks the indifference for divinity?

Leibniz’s real reason, of course, is that to say there is no reason for being X rather than Y is the same as to say something wouldn’t be X rather than Y. But lo, it is X so there must be a reason. This re-raises the question whether a divine “because I said so”, which counts as the same thing as a divine shrug in the face of the question, can count as a reason.

Proclus’s First Axiom

Counting something requires deciding what to count and then enumerating the first instance. I decide to count cows and get four, pigs and get one, farm animals and get five.

Making involves the same process of deciding on what will count as a first instance and then setting about making it.

In truly creative making as opposed to the execution of a rote process, the endpoint might be vague and one negotiates the path towards it, often ending up in a very different place from where he initially thought he would go. For all that, the whole process still requires an original logos that might be tacit until close to the end, but without which we can neither get started nor know when to stop.

The logos behind the things made is the unified source of their existence. A multitude of lamps is unified by the knowledge that allows us either to count lamps or to make them. Given that nature is as countable as art, and makes individuals by a stepwise process that works with materials at hand, there is a logos of the pig as much as a logos of the lamp.

That said, this only explains a multitude of lamps or of pigs but not multitude or the enumerable as such. What explains the enumerable is known by analogy: what a lamp is to the knowledge needed to count one or make one, and a pig is to whatever logos is necessary to count or make pigs, so the enumerable as such is to The One. 

So we get Proclus’s first axiom Every multitude participates in The One. 

The One is the logos of the enumerable and so cannot be enumerable. A cognitive power repeats The One only out of its ignorance of an implicit contradiction.

The One is convertible with The Good since both are first absolutely and the one cannot be multiplied. The Good is first absolutely because any good that results from existence is not good absolutely. Oil changes are good for cars given the sort of things they are, but an oil change is not the sort of good that can account for why one would make a car in the first place. The logos of something is a source explaining existence and so it is either good absolutely or not good at all. If the latter, we have no explanation of what would motivate one to take its existence as a goal. So the logos of things is good primarily, and a fortiori The Good is convertible with The One.

The Good and The One do not explain the existence of things apart from power and agency and so a First Power and First Agency is either convertible with them or causally secondary to them. If secondary, there is an agency before the first agency, and so we can add to Proclus’s axiom ad say that Every multitude participates in The One, The Good, and The Power. 


Our Father, with terms replaced with definitions

Father who dwells where your glory is full, may your power shared with us make holy what deserves to be holy.

May you fully hand over what you seek to hand over to your son and your children.

May your will be done perfectly, though we now understand it perfectly only in general and rarely in particular (outside the voice of conscience).

May you give us this day what suffices for daily existence, is above existence, and will be enjoyed in the age of the fullness of existence.

May our forgiveness of others dilate us widely enough to receive all the forgiveness we need from you.

And may neither pleasure nor fear entice us to leave you,

but save us from whatever so perverts pleasure and fear.



Scripture as technology

Assume someone declared in 1964 that Scripture could only be interpreted by those who had computers. This would cede interpretation to government agencies and fairly large corporations, and so would hardly be populist. It would even be an elitist position today, although those in the first world might not recognize it as such.

Writing is as much a technology as computing is, and so sola scriptura would have been an elitist position until well after the printing press reduced the cost of texts by massively incrising their supply. This leads to the paradox that to advance sola scriptura in the time when Scripture was actually written would have required sola ecclesia or solo magisterio, and so even under the hypothesis that Scripture was written to have sole authority the authority would be as corporately vested as any technology that can now be only owned by a business.

I don’t say this to solve the claim of sola scriptura – presumably those who favor the modern form could see the drop in the cost of writing technology as providential and demanding just the major reform in the Church that occurred. But I am interested in the hypothesis of sola scriptura as a cost-of-technology problem, which shifts the question to something like What did the authors of Scripture think about the fact that writing was a corporately owned technology? Was this a bug or a feature? 

The Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God is central to Christ’s preaching and is fixed in the heart of all Christians through the second petition of the Lord’s prayer, but interpretations rarely focus on what exactly makes it a kingdom. God is, one assumes, one who deserves to rule alone, but to leave it at this would not explain why he ruled in a kingdom. Christ knew very well that not all autocratic regimes are kingdoms, since the Caesars or dictators or bandit chieftans all exercised monarchy without being kings.

The difference is not in the rule but in how the rule diffuses to others. Kings hand over power to their sons, who in turn hand over power to sons of their own. The occasion for handing over power is death, though in worldly kingdoms the power is handed over upon the death of the Father while in the kingdom of God it is handed over upon the death of the Son. Those born of the Son also only come into their inheritance though death, both literally (through the waters of baptism and dying in grace conformed to the Son) and figuratively (though mortification).

So Christ’s announcement of a kingdom does not announce a centralization of power wielded absolutely over subjects- it is not the empire of God or the dictatorship of God or the submission to God. It is also not the presidency of God, to which we would presumably elect God but then not share in the power we gave him. Christ announces the kingdom of God to speak to a diffusion of power from the Father to the Son, and then to those who were made sons by adoption.

« Older entries