Entelekia and fundamental philosophy

1.) Entelekia = in goal abiding = fixed in target

2.) In one sense entelekia is opposed to motion as fixity in target to what is going to it. In a subsequent sense, motion is nothing other than the potential fixity in the target, or entelekia in potency as potency.

3.) Entelekia is first is being but not first in time. The primacy in being is proportionate to its primacy in causality. Ultimately, existence is the principle both of intelligibility and causality.

4.) A person’s primary ontology or account of existence concerns what he believes about the relation between causality and time. In the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions what is first in time is last in causality, and so all physical actions ultimately have only hypothetical necessity from an agent capable of acting for future goals, though the action of this agent generates a subsequent physical determinism. Again, the fixity and predictability of physical action is entirely subsequent to the fixity of the fixity of an agent’s goals.

Physicalism or Naturalism* takes this physical determination as ultimate (it makes no difference if this determination is from an absolute or only probable law so long as one denies ultimate causal primacy to entelekia). In Platonic-Aristotelian lingo, the “causal closure of the physical” is nothing but the claim that what is first in causality, and therefore first in being, is first in time; or that physical determination is primary and not subsequent to the intentional causality of entelekia.

Because of the interrelation of physical actions, the question of the entelekia of all of them was either intractable or too general to be useful. We could know that there was some agent acting for future goals, but we had no way of knowing exactly what these future goals were except to the extent that (a) our own intentions gave us some insight into the agent’s or (b) the agent himself told us.

For all that, there was a cheerier story about our own causality: to the extent that things anticipate the future and/or formulate intentional goals, they have access to the fount of physical causality. This allows them to construct physical histories of their own. Since physical action as such is subsequent to intentional action, there is no causal closure of the physical either eliminating the action of divinity or any other intelligence on causal physical histories.

5.) To the extent that we undermine the the primacy of entelekia nature becomes at once utterly determined and purely by chance, and we predict the future as surely as an eclipse from an initial condition that is purely unintelligible from the law itself.

*Or, in the ancient world, the wildly popular philosophy of Epicureanism.

Metaphors for man as the image of God

One metaphor for man’s being an image of God is how a portrait or statue is an image, another is how the mirror is an image of an object. The first metaphor speaks to the way in which the image is invariant or absolute, and so can be taken as describing humans as rational, spiritual, persons, or communal beings. The second metaphor describes the image as relational and variant. Being in God’s image in this sense involves the orientation of one’s life and action toward or away from God.

Both metaphors describe different ways in which man might live according to the spirit or the flesh, i.e. either according to God or according to man. By the first metaphor, living according to God is to see the person as a reminder of a highest good but not as the highest good himself, which is the same distinction as between venerating a statue and worshiping an idol. Again, if we understand the image as an image on currency (as Christ does) man is an image in the sense of having value only from the authority of the one who issues him and sends him forth, the way the value of currencies is relative to the strength of the regime that issues them.

According to the mirror metaphor, man lives according to himself when he is bent in upon himself, like a U-shaped funhouse mirror receiving its own reflection. In this sense the metaphor illustrates three things:

1.) The distortion of the world. The funhouse morror makes the beautiful look absurd and grotesque, and the repulsive look attractive. Rather than taking in the world as it is, it only takes it in according to its own distortion. To look at the funhouse-mirror image as such is only to learn about how the mirror is bent, not about how reality looks in itself.

2.) The infinitization of the finite. When one reflective surface faces another, any image that reflects off of one surface is becomes infinite and increasingly smaller. When man lives according to himself he will chase after a finite good that becomes smaller and smaller every time he finds another image of it, though he chases after these images ad infinitum. 

3.) Turning light into fire. When light hits a curved reflective surface it can’t escape, but concentrates in toward a burning focus. A man who lives according to himself turns divine light into a divine fire that burns and consumes.


Existence, principle of intelligibility

Kant can be right that

(1) Existence makes no addition to the concept of something, and that

(2) Logical predicates make no addition to a concept,

but of course no conclusion follows from that. This raises the question whether (1) is true of existence even while existence is not merely logical. One way this would be true is if existence is the real principle of intelligibility, since concepts are intelligible and so cannot be presupposed to the principle making them such.

Still, the Kantian response to this is clear: if existence is the principle of intelligibility, then what doesn’t exist is not intelligible, and all sorts of non-existents are intelligible. Only the intrinsically contradictory is unintelligible, so the intelligible as such is possibilia logica (PL) and not actuality, especially existence.

This argument, however, only works if PL is intelligible in itself apart from any relation to existence. But a PL is possibilia simul contradictionis* and so presupposes a domain in which contradictories exist at once, i.e. intellect. Now PL’s are either considered as existent or as merely possible. If existent, they are relative to an existent intellect; if possible, then we are saying the possible is relative to a possible intellect, whose possibility is again explained relative to a possible intellect ad infinitum, and we’re explaining turtles by turtles. Absent an existent intellect, PL’s are impossible, and so even by the terms of the argument in the previous paragraph, PL’s are not intelligible of themselves apart from a real relation to existence.

So PLs, and therefore all concepts, have an intrinsic relation to real existence, though not a real relation to the thing conceived but to an existing intellect. But this requires that existence be a real principle of the intelligibility of the concept, making existence (a) not an addition to or determination of the concept while nevertheless being (b) not merely logical, but real.

*This is part of Kant’s argument. The concept is that which is indifferent to existence and so can be or not be. This is precisely the possibilia simul contradictionis. 

A justification for transexualism

Transexualism has differing and not always compatible justifications. On the one hand it can argue that transition surgery is corrective of some sort of an inconsistency between chromosomal and gonadal sex or, more simply, that nature makes beings of all sorts of different sexes; on the other hand it can argue that sex fixity as such is oppressive and that being a man or woman is whatever one says it is.

The justification that seems most common is closest to the second: the transgender person appeals to, say, feeling like being a female though being biologically male. While sympathizing with the condition, it’s hard to see how believing one is male while demonstrably not is any different from believing one is sick while being demonstrably not. One might passionately believe he has cancer or diabetes, but both have clinical criteria and biological markers, irrespective of our self-diagnostic conviction.

Being firmly convinced one is something he is demonstrably not is, in fact, a pretty common human condition. Many young believers are tortured by moral scruples, believing they are damned or in the state of sin while knowing it it is irrational to believe they actually are, and the hypochondriacs mentioned in the last paragraph are common enough to have been a running joke for years (Woody Allen has been telling hypochondriac jokes for thirty years now). None of this specifies what the appropriate moral response to any of these behaviors is – I honestly don’t know what I would do if my mother kept going on about her tumor after an x-ray clearly showed there wasn’t one there. Politeness is certainly a concern, but so is the morality of lying. My suspicion is that the second criteria is the decisive one.

Matter and resurrection

If the question is What difference does the life and death of Christ make to your life? the overwhelming response of believing Christians is now we can go to heaven. The response is true up to a point, but one hits that point as soon as he raises the question of the resurrection. Christ could “open the gates of heaven” just fine while remaining dead – After all, the saints don’t need to resurrect to go to heaven, and if some saint came back to life we’d take it as proof that he wasn’t there.

So why was it never possible to center Christianity around the bones of Christ? As a Catholic I’m as sure that St. Thomas is in heaven as that I’ve kissed the relic of his femur at Sopra Minerva, but this could never have been a devotion to Christ. Why not?

As animated by the human soul and making the human species, matter is not just a source of repeated generations but of history. History is the plurality and procession of different eras and so no single species other than humans is a history. Lion behavior now is what it has ever been and ever will be until they go extinct, but because human behavior realizes the transcendental and infinite good within finite limits it must diversify both in time through different eras and through space in different cultures, nations, empires and tribes.

The Christian story begins with a catastrophe that renders us unable to realize the transcendental good within time or space in a way that preserves its purity. What later gets called original sin is this wound within the matter precisely as animated by soul and therefore as giving rise not just to time but to history. We continue attempting to realize the transcendental good in diverse ways – this is the definition of “free will” – but the realizations culminate in funhouse-mirror distortions of the face of God. This is the problem that Christ comes to correct, and so it requires a redemption of matter as subject to the human soul. Being “without original sin” belongs first to Christ, but  Christ has this characteristic as generated, and so from the same foundation that gives rise to the natural piety by which he extends this gift to Mary.

It is therefore through the matter of Christ and his Mother that humanity has a second history simultaneously within the history of material affected by original sin while in another sense outside of it. As affected by sin material is destined to extinction, and the corpses we leave by death are, even now, citizens of that extinct species.  The resurrection of Christ and the dormition of his mother are the first fruits of a new citizenship and the fount of a second history, and the power of Christ necessarily extends to and is lived out by the salvation of matter, i.e. by sacramental presence.

From this perspective even the relics of the saints can’t be viewed simply as corpses but as somehow charged with the energy that overcomes death. Saintly action literally redeems the time by the action of soul transferring resurrection power to sin-affected matter: not just to the body of the saint (the “first class relic”) but to all that enters the aura of his life.





Only humans are moral, because morality arises at a uniquely human level of existence.

1.) All natural things have automatic responses to stimuli and effects, but not all of them can be trained. Hit a rock with a bat and it will respond differently from a sponge, but one can’t repeat the action as a part of some sort of training. As Aristotle put it, you can’t train a rock to fly by throwing it in the air.

2.) In addition to automatic responses, some higher animals can also be trained. If dogs experience pains from certain stimuli, whether by the conscious action of a trainer or by the random action of the environment, they will avoid things associated with those stimuli in the future.

3.) Humans have not just automatic responses and the effects of being trained, but can also train themselves. Learning French in a class is neither an automatic response or a conditioned response arising purely from a trainer or the environment but is, at least in part, an action one asserts on himself to create habits by his own initiative.

4.) Angels have neither automatic responses, the effects of training, nor the need to train automatic responses in themselves. An angel knows all it will ever naturally know (in first act) from the first moment of his existence, and all that will ever be revealed to it in the next moment of his existence. His choices aren’t made against a backdrop of automatic responses or environmental and/ or hereditary factors, nor do his free choices lead to ingrained habits.

Human beings are thus uniquely self-trainers. To visualize our basic moral state, think of a dog trainer who, even while training the dog, also feels the yank of his own choke chain. We don’t just issue the command but feel the physical effects of deprivation or pleasure. The angel just commands with no part of him to rebel or enjoy; the dog feels just the pain or joy with no power to command it to happen and not happen, only humans in statu unione corporis have an experience arising from both founts.


Identity and sexuality (2)

1.) Whatever the number of human sexes, they are contraries in one species.

2.) If sex contraries are said of the human species as such, only humans have sexual difference.

3.) If sex differences are accidental, sexual difference has no value in describing any species.

4.) The consequent of (3) is obviously false: sexual dimorphism or uniformity is a primary and essential description of many species.

5.) The sexes are neither said of the species nor are accidental. Therefore they are differences within the genus as genus. The genus is clearly not restricted to any biological kingdom but is said properly of life.

6.) Any account of sexual difference has to appeal to an essential feature belonging to life as life. The account we give of sexual contrariety must be essential to even rudimentary forms of life. Sexuality is tied to identity at an ur-level that is subtends any formal difference, even one constituting the kingdoms.

7.) Sexual difference is complex enough to develop in stages, but the end result of this complexity has to also be explicable in terms of life as such.

8.) Life generates, i.e. it is (a) capable of a division giving rise to one and the same organism (b) existing in a more and less mature state. The more mature state is called parent and the less mature offspring. There are times when only (a) occurs, e.g. when an embryo divides into identical twins, but this is not generation since it happens without (b).


Sexuality and Identity

1.) We know that identity is somehow tied up with sexuality. We were known as sexed before we were even named (“It’s a boy!”).

2.) But to tie identity to sexuality only bundles one mystery to another. Our most dependable account of traits (the Big-5) are “first impression” traits, and they only gained wide acceptance in the early ’90’s. No one claims they capture the depths of identity, to say nothing of the many ways individuals and their behaviors are diverse or non-typical. Our grasp of sex differences is even fainter and more controversial.

3.) There is the additional problem that spirit is not a definite structure but a unity proportioned solely to the diversity of things. Sense organs and the whole of the central nervous system give a definite cast to exterior stimuli and also come with inherent responses to it – natures – but reason is not a nature in this sense. This is the basis of what downstream becomes the “nature-nurture” controversy, now seen as largely unsatisfactory.

4.) If we only accept science as authoritative and the science of identity and sexuality is so rudimentary and primitive, our own sense of identity will be incoherent and bewildered, and more so the more urgently we strive to understand identity. These are the only universal characteristics one can discern in discussions of transsexuality, irrespective of what one’s judgments of it are. I honestly have no idea what my opinions on it are supposed to be. Am I supposed to believe that nature generates n-number of genders or sexes, or that gender or sex is inherently a matter of decision? In either case, what is the account of “sex” that specifies the palate of options? Can we even agree it is binary?

5.) But have we ever had clear notions of identity? Isn’t this the familiar bewilderment about whether genius or criminality or character is born or made? Only a pure spirit could be entirely the result of its decision, only an animal has entirely innate behaviors.

6.) There is an Apollonian-Dionysian aporia to the yoking of identity and sexuality. Identity is  stable, substantive, narrative-based, underlying and solitary while sexuality points to an operation that is ecstatic, frenzied, communal, etc. “Sexual identity” is inherently bewildering on this axis of description.





Incarnation and the Divine Dilemma

Human evil is the consequence of the Fall. The Fall culminates in death but includes what anticipates it: sickness, pain, anxiety, victimization by others, etc. In a fallen world, all that any of these things prove is one’s alienation from God, and so all they promise is an eventual end in perpetual darkness and desolation of Sheol, Gehenna, the Underworld, etc.

The Fall and its consequences introduce a contradiction into God’s hesed, i.e. the Hebrew term that captures his faithful, steadfast, paternal love. As faithful, God must be true to his word in allowing the consequences of the Fall to continue, as paternal and loving he can’t endure to lose the whole human race to damnation.

How does the Incarnation solve the divine dilemma?

The Incarnation and death of Christ is God’s suffering the consequences of the Fall, which means that these consequences not only remain just what they are but also now are means of making someone like God. Again, without Christ, death, suffering, pain or sickness only prove our alienation from God, and this alienation can only culminate in Sheol or Hell, but given Christ’s passion these same pains now establish a likeness to God and therefore carry the promise of eventual complete assimilation into the communion of the people of God.

Seen from this angle Athanasius’s denial of Arianism is clear: if Christ is not God, then our sufferings do not re-establish a likeness to God but prove only our alienation from him. The Arian Christ is less of a scandal to the intellect considering the immutable God of the philosophers but the same Arian Christ is pointless and superfluous to one who considers God primarily as the faithful and loving father confronting the deliberate human choice to be evil.



Impressions of the divine dilemma

Divine dilemma, first impression. The value of the dilemma is that theodicy is not something that comes to an axial religion after it is fully formed, as if it now has to deal with the objection of evil in the universe. The response of a benevolent and all-powerful being is structuring the question of the Incarnation from the beginning. It’s what (a) assures that the human race became evil by the malice of some human (b) what assures that God cannot simply let the human race be damned.

Divine dilemma, second impression. No, it’s not that theodicy is part of Christianity from the beginning, but that the problem of evil is a garbled Christianity. It takes the Christian view of a paternal, omnipotent divinity but cuts out the logical development that leads to the Incarnation and redemptive death of Christ. “Theodicy” is a sort of forgetfulness that Christian orthodoxy is the revelation of God’s fatherly love in the midst of our proclivity to evil.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer genius of evil. God’s most interior reality is what scripture calls hesed, or fidelity and mercy (as RSV puts it, hesed is steadfast love). But for God to do away with the consequences of the fall would violate his steadfastness or fidelity while to allow those consequences to stand would violate his love and mercy. An insoluble contradiction is introduced into the heart of divinity.


« Older entries