Voluntas libera vs. voluntas defecta

The will is in one sense undetermined to this or that concrete participation in the Good itself. This is free will or libera voluntas

Some human wills (at least Christ excepted) are undetermined to good or evil, i.e. to an exercise of will that agrees with or destroys the subject. While this is sometimes called free will, it is formally an indetermination of will as defective: voluntas defecta. 

Sin and fallibility

I know a resort owner who lost a cabin in a fire started by a phone charger. The owner insisted that phone chargers cause fires all the time.

Free will sins like phone chargers cause fires. This is a critique of various free will defenses of evils.

God does not allow evil out of his reverent fear of trespassing on the majesty of the free act. God allows failures – evil – because creatures are fallible. For God to allow anything other than the Son and Holy Spirit meant allowing things that could destroy themselves.

Human beings were uniquely fallible among creatures since they by nature both love The Good itself and know lower goods first, which practically guarantees we’ll become attracted to goods other than the Good Itself. God initially provided humans with supernatural help to overcome this extraordinary fallibility but we lost it through some catastrophe so ancient that we speak about it now only in myths and legends.

Moral evils are the activity of spirit destroying its substance. As spirit contains what we usually call world the result or evil is the creation of a containing-world of destruction and death, which each evil makes more grotesque and horrible. The totality of all these worlds – which are to some extent nested within the supreme fallible spirit who is evil – is Hell.

As spirit cannot die or repair its connection to the Good itself by its own power, Hell is eternal of itself. What will be done about this is up to the Good, who works only freely and by free gift.

The Mystical body and the eternity of Hell

Thomas is not universalist, and it gives rise to puzzles in his account of the mystical body of Christ.

[I]f we take the whole time of the world in general, Christ is the Head of all men, but diversely. For, first and principally, He is the Head of such as are united to Him [actually. This happens in three ways – ed.] fourthly, of those who are united to Him merely in potentiality, which is not yet reduced to act, yet will be reduced to act according to Divine predestination; fifthly, of those who are united to Him in potentiality, which will never be reduced to act; such are those men existing in the world, who are not predestined, who, however, on their departure from this world, wholly cease to be members of Christ, as being no longer in potentiality to be united to Christ.

The puzzles:

1. ) Thomas is arguing for the thesis that Christ is the head of all men. So what about the sixth class of persons who, to quote Thomas, are “no longer in potentiality to be united to Christ”? If there are such persons, Thomas contradicts his thesis; if not, then he’s universalist.

2.) Potentiality is an ability to be at a later time, so there is no such thing as a potential defined as unactualized over the whole of time. The fifth class of persons is thus null. The possibility of universalism rises again.

3.) Thomas seems to be setting up the problem correctly. We aren’t told exactly why he wants to defend Christ’s eschatological headship of all persons, but this would be in keeping with the account of this headship in Colossians 1:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1 : 15-20

Obviously, it is impossible to limit the extent of headship, given its context within so many unlimited things. Thomas extends the headship to all by extending it to actuality and potency, but this is exactly where his non-universalism runs into problems. His context is explicitly the whole of time, but, to repeat (2), one cannot define a potency as unactualized over the whole of time.

One possibility that the potency in question is not natural but obediential, though this distinction would be an anachronism, and even then I’m not sure that it would escape the problem.


A division in free will

1.) The will of persons follows intellect, which is the capacity of knowing being and its transcendental attributes: good, truth, unity, etc.

2.) Being and its transcendentals have indefinite concrete expressions and realizations, and so any intellect deliberating over the concrete deliberates over indefinite goods. This is the first and only proper meaning of the freedom of the will.

3.) The intellect and will are powers and therefore distinct from the subject or person.

4.) Some per accidens exercises of powers destroy their subject. The mouse’s power to run might lead it over a glue trap; the oven’s the power to start fires might burn the house down. Again, cancer grows till it destroys its host; unsustainable farming grows until the power to grow is destroyed. The exercise of a power that destroys its proper subject is the best short definition of evil. 

5.) Call any such evil, per accidens exercise of a power abuse. Because things exist in certain ways, certain evils are possible while others are not. Mice and ant are household pests, but the mouse can get caught in a mousetrap while the ant cannot.

6.) When free will chooses between good and evil, it is not the proper sense specified in (2), but an entirely distinct sense of the indifference between use and abuse. True, moral evil is an abuse proper to intellectual volition, but it is not a proper function of intellection as such for the same reason that burning the house down isn’t a feature of stove design, even if a stove burns the house down.  Baking/ frying is not the same alternative set as baking/ burning the house down, and the stove is responsible for these in different ways.



Augustinian argument, etc. (2)

1.) Sin effects separation from God.

2.) Considered in itself, sin either (a) comes to an end of its own accord or (b) not.

3.) If (a), then it does not come to an end by the life and action of Christ.

4.) So every sin, considered in itself, effects an endless separation from God.

Again, the point is not to deny the possibility of universal salvation, but only to deny that this salvation is morally necessary or that its contrary is morally hideous. It’s not that one is “sentenced to infinity” for committing a finite evil, but simply that of itself sin brings about a state that cannot be remedied except by the free, unmerited, and unnecessary action of another, and so is infinite apart from that action. If you intentionally jumped into a pit you couldn’t get out of, you’ve chosen to be in there forever.

An Augustinian argument for the eternity of Hell

(Assembled from a line of thought in the anti-Pelagian writings)

1.) Let Hell mean unending separation from God. 

2.) The action of Christ overcomes the separation of men from God.

3.) If Hell were a practical impossibility, either by being contradictory or unjust, then either

(a) Christ’s action did nothing or

(b) Christ’s action overcomes a finite separation of men from God.

4.) But a finite separation is one that of its nature comes to an end, and therefore did not need to be overcome by Christ.

5.) So Hell cannot be a practical impossibility, either by being contradictory or unjust.

Idem Aliter

1a.) One cannot be saved from what does not threaten.

2a.) Christ saves all human beings from Hell.

3a.) All human beings are threatened by Hell.

In other words, even if Universalism is true – perhaps even especially if it is – Hell must be a real, practical, moral possibility of human life.

1b.) No one mercifully saves persons from an outcome they did not deserve.

2b.) Christ mercifully saves all persons from Hell.

3b.) Therefore, all persons deserved to go to Hell.

Assume you did nothing wrong but are sentenced to a penalty. My remitting the penalty is not mercy but justice. Even if one allows for apokatastasis in (2), it cannot arise if Hell is inherently unjust or undeserved by all. In this sense, that unborn children deserve Hell is the reverse side of Christ’s (universal?) mercy.


Epistemic and ontological unity

Take sensation: the warmth in the object becomes the warmth in my hand, the air the trumpet shakes is the same air that shakes my eardrum. Two substances cannot be one in number, so the ontological unity that grounds the sentient act is numerically one and the same form shared by distinct physical subjects, and so must be accidental. Contrapositively, if there is an ontological unity grounding intellective knowledge of substantial form it cannot be of physical subjects, and since the substantial forms of our experience are manifestly physical subjects, the intellective power that knows them cannot be.


Dialogue on Apokatastasis

A: So what exactly are our logical options?

B: We both agree to the possibility of suffering after death. So either (a) No self suffers forever or (b) some selves suffer forever or (c) the pain or destruction annihilates the self. I’ll call (a) universalism and (b) infernalism and (c) annihilationism. 

A: And you’re an infernalist?

B: Right, primarily because of Christ’s words in the synoptic Gospels.

A: So we’re talking about the Gehenna references, the narrow gate metaphor, the “Sin against the Holy Spirit” that specifies some will not be forgiven in the world to come, the other parables of exclusion.

B: Yes. I don’t see any way around Christ’s repeated clarity about two very different ultimate states. While I’ll admit that the αἰώνιον κόλασιν of Matthew 25: 46 is not necessarily “eternal punishment”, still, Christ’s exclusion metaphors are unavoidable.

A: But why would they prove infernalism rather than annihilationism? Isn’t the literal reading of some of those passages destruction?

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mt. 10: 28)

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it (Mt. 7:13)

[Lay up] a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Lk 12:33)

See it? Taken literally they all would be annihilationist.

B: Look, I have independent reasons for not being annihilationist. Honestly, for me the only live options are universalism or infernalism, and those passages don’t suggest universalism.

A: Why can’t universalism allow for a destruction of the self?

B: Whatever metaphorical sense there is to destruction, it can’t describe the life of the saved.

A: Not unless the salvation of some would constitute a destruction of their very self.

B: But what would that mean?

A: One sense of self – perhaps even one of the first ones – is the narrative continuity of ones life. Why can’t we construct a narrative so antithetical to salvation that to save us would require complete rupture of this narrative continuity? In fact, isn’t salvation always destruction in this sense? I know that, as I grow in the Christian life, that what I know now would have made no sense to me before I was saved, and my life before I was saved makes less and less sense to me than it did at the time.

Form vs. concept

The concept gets hypostasized as a shadow or outline – the concept “cat” a vague image of some ghostly four-legged thing or, more abstractly, a Venn circle marked “cat”. The concept of some substance, in other words, is seen as itself a substance.

That’s all nonsense, though. Abstraction is to consider one thing without considering another, and “cat” is to consider (i.e. to abstract) the various relations of likeness among cats. The concept of a cat is not a shadowy substance but a real relation, specifically the relation of likeness.

But the principle of this relation is not a relation, but the real source of all likeness. Plato called this the form of a thing or the thing itself, and Aristotle follows him on this point entirely (though they diverge on their accounts of how concrete particulars stand to their forms).

The principle of the concept is named as an abstract noun: catness, existence, humanity, redness, etc. As an abstraction, it is a relation existing only in the mind, and therefore has the minimum possible level of actual being. But as principle it names what is most actual and the principle both of being and intelligibility. To use one and the same word for what is most and least actual was guaranteed to produce bewilderment, as is evidenced by the subsequent conflict over universals.

We know abstractions. Great. Do you mean we see likenesses among things, or that we see the things themselves that are the principles of the likenesses? The first is a job for sensation, the second is sheer intellection. A dog can’t exist without seeing one thing like or different from another, but an awareness of the source of this likeness in the form of the thing or the thing itself plays no role in canine epistemic life. Computers have a much more degraded ability to detect likenesses than dogs while also being utterly oblivious to the source of the likeness.

Intellection, in other words, is not the awareness of a shadowy world of hypostatized things floating above the concrete, but cognitive co-existence with the real principles and forms of things themselves. In this sense Aristotle is of perennial value for insisting that forms are “in things”, i.e. they are the just the things in themselves. But Plato deserves just as much credit for insisting that everything in addition to form is only a potency existing towards it, and so the margin of difference between humanity and this man is only a dimension of reality that exists dependently and as an emanation from humanity or, in Platonic language, as a participation.


“God forsees”

What, like a fortune teller? In a fever-dream of approaching events? Nonsense – sight is causal* simultaneity with the thing seen. “Divine foreknowledge” is a metaphor for something else, like the conjunction that (a) God knows all that is knowable and (b) God’s knowledge cannot increase** or (c) God sees all things when they happen, including his actions in the world and (b) again, his knowledge cannot increase.

Can “God foresees” mean “God scans the possible worlds and decides on the actual one”? No, since the actual world is not a possible world, and creation is not ex possibile but ex nihilo. Possible worlds are a way of describing logical possibility, which in turn is a domain proper to things that know by the principle of contradiction. True, logical possibility is true of whatever lacks contradiction and the actual world is such, but the absence of contradiction is not a substratum from which one could generate a world or anything else.

*Causal simultaneity can be alienated from the substance, which is how writing makes the mind of an author known even after death, or the star can make itself known even after it dies.

**If we only had (a), we might have Open Theism: God knows all that can be known, but the future is not known. Still, any given thing that was once future is obviously known by whoever waits around to see it.

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