Being as true, being as real

0.) Visualize each true proposition P as having its own location. Make God write a book of all P’s, or have him write each one on a card, put it on a stake, and pound it into the ground.

1.) Either we know some P is irrefutable or not. If so, we have run over all possible locations for a true ~P and found none. If not then, for all we know, among all possible locations for a true ~P there  might actually be one.

2.) It follows that we know all possible locations for any proposition, though we disagree over the way in which we know them. Maybe we know them only as a great “out there” beyond our knowledge (like the infinite ocean beyond a slowly growing island of knowns, or like the task of distinguishing green emeralds from grue ones). Maybe we know them sufficiently to know that some ~P’s cannot be found, as certainly seems to be the case with certain logical axioms or with any sufficiently general or very concrete P like “Something exists” or “I exist” or (I’m checking) “At the moment I have two hands”.

More likely, some claims are refutable and others aren’t, but we know all possible locations either way. Let the state of being a P location be called being. 

3.) Being in this sense is the truth of propositions. This includes negative claims, claims about fictional characters, compound claims made of impossibles (if wishes were horses then beggars would ride), some claims made with alienans modifiers (Socrates is dead, my car can’t drive)…

4.) We’re using propositions only as a way of getting to the metaphysics, so replace P with whatever its ontological equivalent is. I assume we all know what this is for “I exist” or “at the moment I have two hands”, and I assume we’ll have to work out some differences about “Don Quixote dies in his home village” or “Pluto is not a planet” or “There are no weasels in my shirt”. But how do we get from being as truth being ontologically?

5.) Being in an ontological sense is also being as true, and so is intelligible. While both accidents and substances are beings, accidents have less intelligibility than substances, since the accident strictly both includes its proper substance and is said of it. As a result, if only noses are snub, then speaking of a snub nose is either to say the same thing twice or to fall into the infinite regress of snub nose = snub-nose nose = snub-nose-nose nose… Thus, being in an ontological sense will first be substances as opposed to accidents.

6.) Intelligibility both shows that substance is more a being than an accident and that the causes of substances are more being than substance itself.  If you ask why something a ship you explain why it has the properties it has and is used for that reason, both of which are causes of the ship.

While the matter out of which something is made is a cause it is clearly less of a cause than the form, agent, or goal.

To conclude: because being in an ontological sense is intelligible, it is least of all true of accidents, more true of substances, and most of all true of causes of substances; among causes, it is less true of matter than of the other causes, even though it is often the case that the matter is the first thing we can understand. So even while we learn more about life by knowing it is carbon-based or cellular this description is subordinate to other orders of causality. Knowledge moves slowly though, so it can take a very long time even to get a clear view of matter.

 

 

 

 

The US Catholic norm for fasting

The norm of Friday fasting and abstinence for American Catholics is articulated in this 1966 Bishop’s letter:

24. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.

There are three criticisms to make here, going from more to less evident:

1.) It’s very difficult to argue that the Bishop’s hope came to pass. Abstinence and penance is not typical even among many of the devout, and it’s hard to believe this was unforeseeable.

2.) The norm is ambiguous and can be read either as

a.) The bishops are removing the necessity under pain of sin from Friday abstinence (broad reading).

b.) The bishops are removing the necessity under pain of sin from abstention from meat but keeping such necessity of Friday penance. (narrow reading).

The insistence on voluntary as opposed to imposed penance suggests (a), but the assumption that  the qualifications of the first sentence are necessary suggests (b). No matter how many times I read the norm it shifts iridescently between (a) and (b).

3.) While it’s easy to criticize the Bishops naïvety-suggesting confidence, the devout have to also accept some blame for not voluntarily doing more mortifications. The faithful are now, within broad parameters, to decide for themselves how they will exercise mortification and penance in their lives, but a self-examination is likely to show that we haven’t made serious efforts to think this out. Sure, no plan of fasting is imposed on me, but what plan am I imposing on myself?

 

On finding love insipid

Hypothesis: what we find insipid in so many sermons and eulogies about love is that they are conflating the love of X with making X comfortable.

What makes the conflation easy are the many times when love is making someone comfortable: a mother’s care for an infant, care for the elderly and infirm, many kinds of hospitality, the beaten man helped by the Good Samaritan, etc. We first feel love as maternal care and pampering and the desire to sink back into a divine ocean of it is archetypal.

While this is a real dimension of divine love that needs to be proclaimed, limiting love to this is a horror beyond words. Here’s a short list of what would be lost:

1.) Love that perseveres. The love we experience as wanting to get something done, in, say, getting hooked on a hobby, a pursuit, a project, a game, etc where love is the joy of absorption in the flow of the task or the events. Here comfort often inverts its role, in that that the love is most of all shown in our insensitivity to whatever absence of comfort the task might involve.

2.) Love that rejoices in one’s smallness. I work with teenagers, and one of their more charming traits are their frequent convictions that one of their peers is a god or goddess. Call it a crush if you want, I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of the experience that there is some person in the world upon which all the refulgence of the good shines forth. Dante obviously felt this for Beatrice and we got The Comedy out of it.  Love in this sense is almost opposed to comfort.

3.) Love that hopes. Love brightens moods and gives the conviction – or better, the insight – that good will win out somehow. There are notes of comfort in this idea of love, but comfort makes one want to stay where he is at whereas hope makes him strive for something he doesn’t possess.

4.) Love that protects. Even if our first notion of love is the comfort of maternal care, that care makes mother grizzly bears. The maternal archetype isn’t all cuddles and comfort – it starts with pregnancy and labor, and is found as much in claw as much as the breast. The paternal dimension of protective love is no less obvious, and it is also manifestly opposed to comfort.

All of these share with comfort-giving love an absorption in the object, and in this sense love is fundamentally what one can lose oneself in.

Knowledge

-If you want to understand the angel or separated soul, imagine the whole universe in all of its details, totality, and history, then add to this being known. 

-Sensation knows so far as objects effect physical action like light or sound reflection, giving off scent molecules, etc. Intelligence is not a way of being acted upon but of lighting up another from within so as to share existence with it.

-A thing cannot be without being a window to the whole angelic host.

-Being is a kernel of divine action, witnessed by intelligences with declining clarity, down to embodied persons who only see what they see in saying “being”.

-Death is a transition out of knowing the universe from a perspective, though organs with an accidental evolutionary history, with a limited capacity to retain information.

-Like all physics, Relativity is limited by interactive activity. The unidirectionality of intelligence demands that the theory be taken as a theory of the universe considered as if there were no intelligence.

-Any attaining of the things in themselves demands some action of the will, whether creative or created.

 

Levels of being as effecting unity

Reality is distinguished into levels by diverse forms overcoming multiplicity.

1.) Non-living. Forms in non-living beings don’t give rise to distinct individuals. By dividing this mass of granite or water you get more of the same. While dividing things at the molecular or atomic level makes a difference, and non-living being does at least require this minimal degree of overcoming multiplicity, the non-living never forms a this ontologically distinct from a what.

2.) Living non-cognitive. This level was once clearly defined as plant life, but we’ve become more aware of the ways in which plants assimilate information from their environment and so the lines between plant and animal life have become less sharp than they were in the past. Perhaps LNC’s are a logical impossibility, and if so skip to level 3.

An LNC is a form that at least gathers its own subjective and physical parts into a ontological unity, and so has a this really distinct from a what. This allows the LNC to act as a unique individual.

3.) The physically cognitive. Physical cognition occurs when the object known is a mix of an exterior object and the disposition of an organ. What colors animals see are a matter of both the reflective surfaces of the world and of the rods and cones of different animals’ eyes, what sounds they hear are a matter both of the vibrations physically in the air and the structures of different ears. This is also true of common sensibles: whether you sense something as moving depends on whether your organs are in motion relative to it, whether something is large or small depends on the size of the organism sensing it, etc.

Because physical cognition is a mix of subjective and objective factors it is not simply objective. The sense organ is incapable of teasing apart what is objective and subjective in its object. Because its object is constituted out of itself, all desire arising from physical cognition is concupiscent, meaning there is no rising above “me and mine”. This includes at least some of the lower levels of common goods like kin relations and co-operation, but any action rising above this cannot arise from physical cognition as such.

To the extent that physical cognition contains an element outside of the organism, the form of that organism unifies not just the physical parts of itself but also things outside of itself. Nevertheless, physical cognition does this in the minimal possible way, by having an objective part that is inextricably bound up with the physical dispositions – the subjectivity – of an organ.

4.) Cognition properly speaking. Cognition as such is objective, but this requires that the physical world be known without physical interaction. Simple objectivity of the world and spirituality are thus co-implicative, since on this line of analysis spirituality arises only as the term describing a knower with simple objectivity, or which knows objects simply speaking.

Human cognition is spiritual in the minimal possible way. Because we can meaningfully understand being and objects, we recognize at least some truths and goods not just for “me and mine” but for all things at all times and we can choose to act benevolently and sacrifice even when we can expect no benefits to kin.  All the same, the clearer we try to make objective knowledge the more it becomes dizzying and disorienting. We can know that one can divide knowledge from sense information, but the more we try to flesh out what this means the more we stare into the sun of a knowledge with no perspective, no distance from objects, which knows real existence by a concept (and not just an abstract nature) and which has no location in time or space.

Still, cognition unifies all being in themselves and so effects a fuller unity than physical cognition does.

5.) Disembodied cognition. Just as the eye sees all visible + the organ as positioned, structured, operative, etc, so disembodied cognition knows all existent things and unifies them in their concrete existence within itself. It is aware at once of the whole universe and all of its parts, along with all revealed to it by other intelligences. This does not give rise to information overload first because this condition is proper to physical structures, and next because anything aware of all being has the resources to deal with it.

In any given thought, disembodied cognition either knows all that it can know or not. If not, then its knowledge is temporal, not in the way that physical cognition is continuously temporal but in the way that the premises of an argument are distinct. Because of this division in thoughts, disembodied cognition can know something it is not thinking about, and so must choose between good and evil. The question of fixity in this state is one that raises questions of the nature of grace.

Disembodied cognition can know all that is given in being. It is not clear how much of the temporal order this includes. Relativity theory argues that there is always given perspective in which any two events are simultaneous, and if so any disembodied knower would know all events at all times. Nevertheless, it can know them only as given. While possible existence has being it can only be known to these intellects as inferred from a pre-known actuality, and it can know the thoughts of other intelligences only to the extent that they are revealed to it.

6.) Creative cognition. An intelligence that has all that it can know at once knows all that is knowable in a single thought. Because of this, it (a) unifies all things in itself like any intelligence but (b) unlike any other intelligence, it is incapable of failing to think of something it knows and so is incapable of evil. This intelligence alone is good first of all and per se. Because of this, the goodness of this being is the source of all other goods and so is the source of being as such.

 

A Phaedo aporia

In Phaedo Plato proves personal immortality – literally the immortality of Socrates – by appealing to the immortality of form. The forms are of course Platonic forms which are, even in Phaedo itself, things which individuals participate in for their being and intelligibility. This is clear from the first recollection argument (equality vs. equal sticks) to the last argument about things being taller by tallness.

Put as an aporia:

1. ) A form is participated in by different individuals.

2.) The soul of Socrates is a form.

3.) The soul of Socrates is not participated in by many individuals.

Liturgical reform

Sacrosanctum Concilium demands that the Roman liturgy be reformed into a characteristically Latin and chant-filled liturgy that made fruitful use of vernacular, and in which the laity were no longer silent spectators. What resulted was two liturgies with glaring failures to meet the council’s demands, both of which have taught their denizens to be horrified by the demanded reform.

 

 

 

 

 

Immortality of soul as a category mistake

Arguments for immortality of soul are all valuable and nothing I say here is meant to detract from them, but on a close read it’s clear that for the Aristotelian or Naturalist, speaking of immortality or mortality of soul is a category mistake. That said, Aristotelianism allows for one sense in which activity continues after the death of the subject while Platonism gives an account of the immortality of soul as such.

“Soul” is a synonym for “life”, and so is something that can be had or lost. In the most ancient and convincing forms of Naturalism, soul is an accidental form of order among non-living substances, and is therefore the accident of relation. Though atoms can have or lose order X, order X cannot, and so soul (or life) as the Naturalist understands it can neither be mortal or immortal. That said, accidental forms cease to be all the time, and so the Naturalist can make sense of life ceasing to be, even if it is not true to say that the soul dies. There are still however problems, because while it looks like the body can live and die,  if life is an accidental form then coming to be alive or dead does not change the subject in question, since accidental changes occur only in one and the same subject. A living elk would be just as much an elk as a dead one, whatever this might mean.

Aristotle agrees with the Naturalist that life is a form, but not one making an accident but a substance. Like other forms, soul can come to and depart from a subject, meaning that a living substance can come to be alive and die. Still, the form that constitutes life cannot live or die. On the one hand, Aristotle argues extensively that this form is eternal and neither comes to be nor passes away, but on the other hand this eternal form is not a substance, and so one cannot say that a living substance survives death or pre-exists to it.

Aristotle argues for the eternity of substantial form in a way that also argues for an eternity of accidental form, saying that when one makes a bronze ring neither the bronze nor the circularity comes to be, but the bronze circle. The form no more comes to be, and is no more a mere “idea” than the matter. In this sense Aristotle and Naturalism both agree that life and therefore soul is eternal, though this belief as such is compatible with believing that no living substance survives death.

Unlike Aristotle, Plato makes life a basic feature of the universe that is neither created nor destroyed. Formally, the opposite of life is not non-being but death, and so life and death are a fundamental set of contraries where one gives rise to the other. Plato concretizes this in his myth of metempsychosis and an underworld into which souls die and from which they are born, but a narrative of each soul being created ex nihilo and dying into a transcendent realm would work just as well. On this account soul and life are conserved like any conserved quantity in physics, only changing states from embodied to disembodied.

It is not clear in Platonism whether soul is a substantial form, but it could be one. It is formally soul that is alive, and embodiment is the sharing in this life. So Aristotle gives a clear account of life arising but is a bit more hazy on whether soul is sometimes itself alive while Plato defines soul as alive but is a bit more hazy on whether life comes to be or only embodiment.

So the breakdown seems to be this: all soul is form, but this form is either definitely not alive as one’s theory accounts for it (Naturalism) definitely alive by the theory that accounts for it (Platonism) or perhaps alive or not in light of the theory that accounts for it (Aristotle). We can also distinguish the forms as definitely not a substantial form (Naturalism)* definitely a substantial form (Aristotle) and maybe a substantial form or not (Platonism).


*There is a possible naturalism that makes the soul a substantial form, but it would not be the oldest and most intelligible form of this idea.

Ontology of components

Knowledge of elements has always suggested an ontology of ordinary objects as mere combinations of elements, but atomic theory suggests this a bit more forcefully by making substance a particle surrounded by a vast nothingness. While such an ontology is easy on the imagination it breaks down when put in light of theory, much like Euclidean points or lines are easy to imagine until theory makes clear that the science can’t be treating of something visualizable.

Start with a simple equation like 2+4=6. The activity involved is addition, and the result or effect is a 6. The analogues to atoms are the 2 and the 4, and as such they might give us 6 or -2 or 8 or 0.5 depending on whether we add, subtract, multiply or divide. The effect that actually occurred, namely the sum-of-six, arises formally from addition, but the 2 and 4 are not formal to the result, but only enter into the equation as being as instances of numbers adequate to bring the sum about. That six is a sum requires addition as addition, but 4 and 2 are not required as four and two but only as selected out of the infinite-member class of things-adequate-to-add-to-six. The result thus arises per se from the concrete operation but not from the concrete components.

In artifacts, it’s clear that the operation bringing about the result is exterior to the components used, and so what is per se to an artifact will never be intrinsic to that artifact. In natural things it the concrete operation is intrinsic to the components that come together, but this doesn’t change the character of components as such, but only means that natural items of the universe are resolvable into component parts and distinct operators that act on these components, not in virtue of what the components are concretely and in fact, but only so far as they are things that the operator can use to attain the goals it tries to achieve.

 

 

 

 

Meekness

Few names leave out more and are less satisfying than names for virtues, and this is particularly true of the biblical virtue of meekness. The English suggests being mousy, cowering, and timidly being dominated by exterior aggression, but this can’t be what Scripture holds out as the virtue for which Moses was the paradigm case (Numbers 12:3). No one ever called Moses timid and mousy, and even if they had it wouldn’t be a virtue.

Meekness is equanimity and control in the face of vexation. The most conspicuous opposite of meekness is what English calls “losing it”, i.e. yelling at, berating and/or becoming violent with persons or events that annoy and vex us. Lesser responses than losing it are still of the same kind: eyerolling, mockery, defiant cockiness and stinkfacing, etc. Meekness is therefore a crucial virtue of the irascible appetite that often intersects crucially with justice in governing how we will express our anger to others.

Virtues also have opposites that are closer to the virtue, and for meekness these opposites are depression and timidity. Both meekness and depression are in the irascible appetite and often involve an absence of response to things that vex us. Timidity also has an absence of response, though its flaccidity of will can be distinguished from the way this occurs in depression. Like many other virtues meekness is often confused with the corruption with the most superficial likenesses to it.

 

 

 

« Older entries