Idealist notes

Eating and the idealist self. In both cases something is taken as cut off, appropriated to the self,  and purely subjective. Would it be a parsimonious view of eating to imagine the food was simply part of us?

All we are certain of is our own immediate perceptions. True, just as the only things I’m sure of eating are already within my body and so can be taken as given parts of it, just as a full tank is taken as a given part of any working engine. But in both cases don’t we have nothing but the other-than-self in the self? Does Idealism conflate what is in the self with the subjective?

Virus vs. knowledge. Both are things remain other-than-self within a self, but the first remains so by destroying the self, the second by perfecting it. The first is an impediment to life, the second a fulness of it.

-If the chair is the same height as the measuring rod, it is not parsimony to assume that all one needs is the chair. Some things – like being measured – can only be what they are by relation.

-Descartes is the last great Franciscan, but his epistemology arises downstream from Ockham denying the extra-mental reality of relations.  If relations are not real, one thing can be one with another only by constituting it: So either matter is fundamentally mind or vice versa.

-Aristotle is not off the hook either. Knowledge cannot unify act and potency as hylomorphic. All act-potency composites are physical and not noetic, the action arising from their nexus necessarily transitive and not immanent.

The God of fine tuning and of the Five Ways (2)

Both a physicist making a fine tuning argument and a cleric researching a canonization miracle for a saint want to show the existence of some being in excelsis responsible for an action inexplicable by natural causes, but the cleric’s research is much older than the claim of the physicist, so either the former is responsible for the latter’s idea of divinity or both are drawing from a similar source that the cleric developed first.

The idea in fact had many different developments, used not just to argue for saints’s causes but to make judgments about private revelations and to decide whether to send a person to a physician or an exorcist. This gave rise to a skeptical critique of Catholicism itself – if the cleric devised criteria to divide divine action from ‘merely natural’ causes, perhaps we could give a criterion showing Catholicism itself arises from ‘merely natural’ causes. But why be so modest? Maybe we could give arguments that Christianity or religion or even theism have ‘merely natural’ causes! And so we come to our present situation, were both Christians and their cultured despisers agree that “God” means whatever one can’t explain by natural causes.

This suggests the need to go back and look at the matter from the beginning. Maybe after the audit we’ll agree with where we ended up, but I doubt it.

The basic problem is the asymmetry between the Church’s claim to judge what is merely natural and the rational attempt to judge the Church. On the Church’s own terms, they are a higher intellective power judging a lower one, a greater certitude judging a more fallible and uncertain one. This makes sense in the way it can’t when the roles are reversed: either the natural mind has to assume a priori the possibility of a greater certitude than its own or not, but on the first assumption the judgment of the natural mind about the supernatural is irrational and on the second it begs the question. This is part of what Paul has in mind in I Corinthians c. 2, with an argument that concludes he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.



Wandering metaphor

Assume you had a complete sense-awareness of your own body and nothing else. Chewing would become bite resistance or mandible tension, and so what we now experience as the pleasure of eating would be associated with having proper mandible tension, and hunger would feel like the jaw being too loose for too long.

Now add to your experience an awareness of others like yourself. You would then make proper mandible tension a social problem with a history and political significance.

It’s a metaphor for something, but I don’t know what.

1.) It started as a metaphor for the nutritive soul, which is so enclosed on itself it cannot even see its own food as other. It is subjectivity as a limit to life.

2.) This suggests a criticism of consciousness as a Cartesian theater or Berkeleyan esse est percipi, as a failure to distinguish cognition from feeding. The idealist “turn to the subject” a degradation of intellection to the level of plants.

3.) Or not. For Berkeley the cognitive world is co-extensive with perception but perception is still self-evidently suffered. Since the cognitive world is the totality of possible experience (i.e. the universe) but it given to us from another, the universe becomes supernatural food. The plant experiences the same totality in itself that we experience in looking at the heavens, and to both of us it is a given constituting the contents of life. The contents of perception and a complete physics become panis angelicus. 

4.) Imagine the plant’s response to hunger. The plant has no hope of ever knowing why some things starve and others don’t. From the plant’s perspective, this results from sheer chance. Whatever reason actually caused hunger: a drought in the land, a tree that springs up next to it blocking its sunlight, the diversion of a river that takes away a water source, etc are all, for the tree either utterly random or supernatural, i.e. arising from causes it has no ability at all to understand or from causes outside of the plant’s subjectivity and therefore outside its known universe of possible experience.

5.) For all that, there is still a difference between the random and the supernatural, even if both are somehow beyond the universe of possible experience. The plant wouldn’t need to explain its feeding or starvation by an unmoved mover.


Four levels of actuality

Operatio sequitur esse. Esse is here not actus essendi or ultimate act, but a synonym for natura as the source of operation. Nothing is without some work of its own. Thomas expressed the same idea as omne agit secundum quod in actu, meaning both everything acts so far as it is actual and so far as anything is actual, it is acting. 

Action has four hierarchical, analogous meanings:

1.) Passive response to exterior action. This is the level proper to the inorganic, the knowledge of which is concretized in physics and chemistry, studying the reactions that diverse substances have to being variously acted on. If you run an electric charge through water or pour acid on a base both the water and base respond in determinate ways for determinate reasons. More broadly, anything known by an experiment will be a reaction or response, since the initial action in the experiment is  performed by the experimenter.

The inorganic as such acts only so far as an exterior action is presupposed, and so is essentially derivative or secondary. A purely inorganic system must be therefore conceived of as both infinite and deterministic to the extent that it is intelligible, since any action it exhibits must be a set response to a previous cause considered as given.

2.) Active assimilation of the exterior world, but not as world. This is proper to the feeding and growing animate organism. While there are many passive type (1) reactions in trees reacting to water, these reactions do not exhaust the account of what the tree is doing. No mere result of a chemical reaction, for example, can be called a waste product; considered purely as a physical system, a tree produces sugars just as much as oxygen, the animal produces fur as much as carbon dioxide.

The food source as exterior is not actual but only potential food. This is true a fortiori of food so far as it is a source of actual growth. We might visualize the ‘consciousness’ of a plant as believing that all it consumes begins to exist within its own mouth. If the plant could form a belief, it would be of its entire self sufficiency.

3.) Assimilation of the exterior world as interior. While an animate organism as feeding and growing  does not take in the exterior world as exterior, a sentient organism does. The wolf’s food is a part of its life by sensation before it is part of it by feeding, so it makes sense to talk about an animal seeing actual food before it eats it.

Sentience assimilates the exterior world only so far as it affects an organ and therefore is made interior to the organism. This is why the sensation is not just objective but also pleasant, painful, frightful, perspectival, etc, all of which are results of the constitution of the animal. Both Plato and Berkeley made careers out of proving the ways in which sense objects are not entirely constituted by the nature of the thing sensed.

4.) Assimilation of the exterior world as such. This is the domain of intellection, which exists in its minimal state in human cognition. We can at least know that there are features of the exterior world  entirely peculiar to the exterior world: it is exterior to us, it exists, it divides into categories, it has an action expressive of its nature etc.


The God of fine tuning and the God of the Five Ways

I’ve written a lot about why the being proved by the Five Ways is “what all call God”, but there doesn’t seem to be much need to write about why the being proved by fine tuning argument is what all call God.  For example,  Sean Carroll, though critical of the fine tuning argument, concedes if a fine tuner existed (a) it would be God and (b) we could know him as God by scientific knowledge. A fine tuning being is thus implicitly, presumptively, and even somehow unconsciously the sort of being that science calls God, and in excavating our ideas of the fine tuner we come into contact with our ideas of divinity.

But God is not essentially a fine tuner, i.e. fine tuning is not a properly divine attribute, nor is it an analogical development of the notion of attunement. Analogous names in theology, at least as Thomas explained them, are terms we first understand to belong to one thing, but which we come to learn are more fully realized in something else, e.g. kids call candy the best good in life but eventually learn that goodness is more fully realized in something categorically different from candy. The Five Ways all involve this sort of analogous learning about terms like mover, act, agent, necessary, true, good, dignified, director, etc, but the fine tuning argument makes no similar claim about the tuner. It seems like God tunes the universe the same way the guitarist tunes his the strings, by providing some precision that they cannot provide for themselves.

Or is there some analogue after all? Presumably, the argument is that a fine tuning God provides something to nature in a way that transcends physical causality, so what we first understand by “tuning” (an interactive process of fingers pushing and pulling on tuning pegs) is analogous to a non-interactive cause imparting a precision to the universe.

Then again, it’s hard to see Sean Carroll conceding even the possibility of an analogous, non-interactive causality, whether of fine tuning or anything else. Suppose I raised the possibility with him. The best-case-scenario dialogue would be pretty short:

Carroll: Sure, non-interactive causality is as good a hypothesis as any. What’s your evidence?

Me: Well, look at these examples of fine tuning in the universe. They’re evidence of a sort of causality outside of any known law.

C: Okay, I’ll grant that they count as examples outside of any known theory, but all sorts of things are like this. In 1800 the perihelion of Mercury counted as evidence of a causality outside of any known law; before Bohr, spectral lines counted as evidence for the same thing. How are you concluding that your examples are not just outside of a known theory, but are instances of non-interactive causality?

M: I guess I don’t have any evidence of that at all.

C: Well, come back when you have some.

Thomas’s answer to this question is entirely different. Physicists seek explanations for things, and no infinite regress is explanatory, e.g. one can’t explain the stability of the earth by resting it on a turtle. But explaining motion through moved movers generates just this sort of infinite regress, and interactive movers are moved movers.

Assuming with Carroll that interactive movers are natural, Thomas’s argument concludes that limiting the domain of ultimate explanation of the physical to the interactive is correct so far as we consider the explanation qua physical and not qua explanation. To sharpen this, qua physical the ultimate explanation of physical phenomena must be interactive, qua explanation it cannot be. As physicist, Carroll rejects a priori the possibility of non-interactive causality, but things change dramatically when one sees himself as a seeker of explanations.






PNTs (pt. 2)

Matter and form are PNTs because they are neither substances nor accidents. Aristotle carves out an ontological niche for them in Categories as parts of substance. 

Parts properly speaking compose a whole and so cause its existence. In accidental wholes, the parts exist as substances before the whole and cause it to exist by taking on accidental forms, but not all wholes are like this. Like an accidental whole, a cat exists because its parts cohere together, but none of the proper parts of the cat: its bones, flesh, nerves, etc existed as substances before the cat did.

The parts didn’t come from nowhere, of course, and so both organic or inorganic wholes came from parts once outside themselves. Living beings actively seek out the parts that compose them while inorganic compounds contribute to their structure passively, in virtue of the ‘laws’ within them that allow one substance to be changed into another. In both cases the extrinsic component that comes to be a part of some whole is matter while the active-living source or passive non-living law within things is form. 


Principles not things

-Forms are only principles and not things (PNT). If forms were things, they would either move or not and so fail to escape the problem of Parmenides, which is the only reason we were forced into them in the first place.

-We solve the problem of Parmenides just as much by dividing PNT’s from things as dividing form and matter as principles. The latter is just the concrete articulation of the former.

-Forms are distorted when imagined as substances, but the more common and more dangerous distortion is to make the same mistake about matter. The first mistake is angelism, but the second is straight materialism.

-Form is a PNT with no contradiction in being a thing; matter is a PNT with a contradiction in being a thing.

-Intellective soul relative to the person is a PNT, in itself it is ~PNT.


Christ repeatedly told those he cured miraculously not to tell anyone about it, and we see why he issued the prohibition if we look at the typical popular response to a miracle. Start with the multiplication of the loaves, since it was obviously impossible for Christ to tamp down a popular response to the feeding of a crowd large enough to have 5,000 adult men. You can’t hide an event from the population when the majority of the population witnessed it.

The popular response is an attempt to make Christ king. The desire is easy to appreciate since Christ had just proven himself a massively impressive piece of bread-multiplication technology.

No doubt many persons had cynical or avaricious motives for making the bread-multiplier king, but they were probably a relatively small part of the crowd, and it’s least interesting part. Many more would want to make him king because of the truly good applications of Christ-technology. Just imagine the economic opportunities provided by a technology that increases food supplies by so many orders of magnitude! More to the point, it could solve poverty and hunger, and wasn’t care for the poor an antiphon of Christ’s preaching? Who knows how many in that crowd had gone hungry in the last week? While limitless bread supply solves a lot more problems than just hunger, even if it didn’t we would still be amazed at the wizardry that could supply it. Technology is self self-justifying, and none of us need to be told of our thrill at an amazing new display of it. We’ve idolized engineers for accomplishing far less than Christ.

Who wouldn’t want want to make Christ king, prime minister, president? Why not?

Technology is essentially and exclusively a means – the thrill we take in it is from its being a power that is entirely at our service and demands nothing. The thrill of the Nineteenth Century was the almost infinite increase of muscle and the speed of moving bodies, the thrill of the Twentieth was the increase in moving information, and both are raw, undemanding power entirely at the service of whatever goals we set. The apotheosis of technology is omnipotence and perfect apathy. We are weak, it is strong; but it’s only desires are from us. Christ can never be this. He might be omnipotent, but certainly can’t be evacuated of his desires. Technology offers means and has nothing to say about our goals while Christ is very clearly offering us, non-negotiably, a set of goals. In fact, we have to push the opposition further: technology fascinates us with the goals about which it has nothing to say, but Christ sets himself as the only goal we can “use” him to achieve.




Angels with bodies for pets

The sexual revolution begins with the Pill or other acts of sterilization, which are neither acts of grooming nor do they fix something diseased but are the assertion of the sort of control over the body we exert over animals. If I can kill a bull a fortiori I can castrate it; if my dog is my pet I can neuter it. Why not render my self sterile, whether by surgery or chemicals?

The reason our control over animals is not moral and just because we are stronger or cleverer than they, but because their existence is subordinate to our own. Unless we transcend them our control over them is unjust. But our bodies are not ordered to our existence- they are our existence or at least are comprised by it. We are not sexless, pseudo-angelic persons with bodies for pets.

The sexual revolution is the progression of the logic of viewing the person as an inherently sexless angel transcending an inhuman self. That we would eventually feel trapped in a body other than ourselves is unavoidable.

While the liberal tradition is proud of having figured out that persons cannot be possessions in the domain of labor relations (slavery) it repeated the error in our embodied sexual identity. In fact, that there are human non-persons is a recurrent theme in the sexual revolution.

Much of the tu quoque argumentation over human sexuality needs to be put to rest: Who cares if those of us against contraception have no problem with infertile persons copulating? The copulation of the infertile doesn’t have anything to do with a commitment to a view of human bodies as possessions-not-persons or a view of the person as a sexless being commanding a pet body. There is something like this view of the person in the idea of the soul commanding the body, but it is a denial of the usual way of understanding soul-body composition, namely as giving rise to an awareness that one must both train himself and endure the pains of doing so, i.e. temperance.

Note on the death penalty redaction

While Francis’s redaction of Catechism ¶2267 on the death penalty caused a stir, he is arguably bringing the teaching in line with the paragraph that immediately follows it:

Intentional homicide

2268 The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful.

Obviously, an execution is a direct and intentional killing.


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