The real distinction


(a) Falcons fly

(b) Things that use differential pressures on an airfoil to produce lift fly.

The predicate fly is per se to both, but it is per se and first only of (b), that is, (a) has the predicate first of all because it is a (b). This is the same relationship between

(a) The universe exists

(b) God exists.

But then aren’t we saying that the universe exists so far as it is God? In fact, since the predicate in the first (b) is clearly commensurate, one gets a Barbara syllogism:

(a) Falcons fly

(b) What flies uses differential pressures on an airfoil to produce lift.

(c) Therefore, falcons use differential pressures, etc…

And mutatis mutandis, we’d get

(1) the universe exists

(2) what exists primo and per se is God

(3) The universe is God.

But (1-3) is a case of the fallacy of the secundum quid and simpliciter whereas (a-c) is not.

Start with the fact that the subject term in (a) has something other than what the predicate expresses. This “something other” stands to the predicate as a receiving something from it, i.e. whatever is in (subject of a) that is other than (predicate in a and b) receives (predicate in a and b) from (subject in b) But what we just said about the subject of (a) can’t be said about the subject of (b), since b is a subject only semantically and in the mode of understanding. This is the same reason a definition is not a predicate of the defined word, but only a clarification or distinct apprehension of it.

Taken concretely, a falcon is an ontological and not merely semantic subject with many properties to which flight modidies, like being warm blooded, having feathers, being carnivorous, etc. Analogously, the universe has more to it than what exists simpliciter. The universe obviously does not have “more than existence” by containing more existent things, but because there is something other than what exists simpliciter. This “something other” is an indetermination allowing for different things in the same order, or essence. In the case of the universe, this indetermination is either the logical possibility of another universe (i.e. the non-contradiction of a multiverse) or, what would be truer to say, that “universe” not a substance but the order (i.e. the set of relations) of a multitude of substances in one created order.

So the reason conclusion (3) above is false is because “exists” in (1) is used in a way that is open to composition with what exists secundum quid while “exists” in (2) is used as only existing simpliciter in a way that is repugnant to any composition with what exists secundum quid. This intrinsic repugnance to composition is what Thomas means by saying God is ipsum esse subsistens.

We hit the same conclusion with more Platonic ideas if we see that “one” is a transcendental predicate of being simpliciter, meaning the many is not being simpliciter. Essence-distinct-from-existence allows for “this thing that is not that thing” in one and the same order. Seen from this angle, the real distinction is simply Thomas’s answer to the problem of the one and the many.


Loving God more than self

1.) The greater love is what we more prefer to enjoy, and we’d prefer to enjoy an infinite good than even in our own finite good.

Obj: Isn’t God loved here precisely as enjoyed, and therefore as for oneself? 

Resp: No, because God is not to us as a means to an end, since no friend is loved this way. What one enjoys in a friend is the friend’s own excellence. Not all that is enjoyed is enjoyed for the self since the friend is enjoyed as oneself through the unity of the common good.

2.) But the common good of friends is a shared reality of the friends and not any one person. But if this is so, then how is God the common good and not the shared union of God and man? The common good of a team can’t be any one individual, so how can God be the common good of all men?

This might have been the problem Plato raised in Euthyphro –  how can there be justice between God and man unless they participate in some form transcending both, and how can divine beings be supreme if transcended?

Thomas develops Aristotle’s response to Plato by saying that the problem conflates what is necessary for our understanding and semantics with what is necessary in reality. Though justice taken ex parte creatures is not identical in thought or reality to a particular just person or act, taken ex parte God it is identical in reality to God and divine action, while remaining distinct in our thought. Though there is a sense in which this means we understand creatures as they are but not God as he is in himself, it’s truer to say that we use the division between the abstract and concrete to understand the composition of creatures and the simplicity of the divine. Divine simplicity in turn explains how God himself, as opposed to some form common to God and creature and transcending both, is the common good of creatures.

The team player as such loves the team more than his own action, but the team is not any one subsistent being due to the composition of finite beings. The creature for the same reason loves the common good more than his own proper action, but the common good is a subsistent being due to the simplicity of uncreated being.


Christ’s first mission to the pagans

1.) In his public ministry Christ first enters pagan lands by going to the country of the Gergesenes (cf. Mark c. 5). He goes to a lot of trouble to get there, rowing about six miles at night through a squall that almost sinks his ship.

2.) The scene in Gergesa starts in a graveyard with a demoniac who lives there, howling and cutting himself. He’s drawn to the tombs as to his natural place.

3.) The Gergesenes tried many times to deal with the demoniac by chaining him but he broke all his shackles. Though afflicted and forced to deal with the demonic, the pagan world can only respond to it with violence, and no amount of violence is ever enough.

4.) The demon demands that Christ take an oath not to cast him out, that is, that sacred power take it as sacred not to interfere with the workings of the demonic. The demonic desire in the face of Christian power is that the Christian power should see it as belonging to Christianity not to interfere in the world of secular power, that is, that the separation of Church and state be understood in its most extreme form.

5.) The demon’s name is legion, i.e. the supreme locus of pagan power. His understanding of this power is that it arises from sheer numbers or multiplication of force: because we are many. In fact the goodness of a legion is not from multitude but its unity of order and purpose between the commanders and subordinates, though hell can never have this sort of unity. The power of hell is the sheer multiplication of selves hating each other and divided in the absence of a common good.

6.) Just as the demons led the possessed man to the graveyard they led the pigs to throw themselves off a cliff. The demonic is a lust to abide in death.

7.) The pagan world chained the demoniac and asks Christ to leave town after he cures him. The world apart from Christ seems in a permanent (if more and less realized) state that Livy describes: nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus. We can endure neither our vices nor their cure.

8.) Once cured, the demoniac is the first evangelist commissioned after the apostles and the first evangelist absolutely to the pagan world.


The 1950’s as a Boomer Era

It’s axiomatic that the sexual revolution of the 60’s that continued into the 70’s was driven in large part by the Baby Boomers coming of age. The same population becomes Yuppies in the 1980’s and early 90’s, and the concern over housing prices and securing investments around the turn of the century. So the story of at least the last 60 years has been the Baby Boom, as Christopher Caldwell recently argued in The Age of Entitlement. 

Missing from this analysis is that the 1950’s is just as much a story of the Baby Boom, though the way it was part of it also makes clear why the era of the 1960’s was seen as such a break from it. If the paradigm (stereotype?) of the 60’s was Watts, Woodstock, Hippies and the idealism of civil rights the paradigm for the 50’s is Leave to to Beaver, Fulton Sheen on primetime TV, boys with twice-a-month berl creamed haircuts, and modestly dressed, polite and virginal girls.

The 50’s ideal is just as much demographically driven by the Baby Boom, just not a vision of the world chosen by them in the Sixties but one chosen for them by their parents. The Sixties’ ideal stands to the Fifties’ ideal  as what human beings choose as an ideal for themselves as they encounter the world for the first time and the ideal they would choose for themselves when they are more concerned with the care and safety of vulnerable others over whom they have loving authority.

The Sixties’ ideal is what we would expect from the energy of youth set lose to follow its passions, not just in its erotic and dionysian drives but the irascible drive to strike back against injustice and strive for heroic ideals (getting to the Moon, ending global communism, eliminating decades of Jim Crow, the aggiornamento of the Church etc.*) This was a morally mixed bag, but it is clearly a regime where familial centrality is at least backgrounded and sometimes flouted – as we’ve known the incompatibility between the familial and the Dionysian since Euripides.

Just as the hedonism and moral reform of the 60’s was idealized and in some ways oppressive the paternalism of the 1950’s probably shared in the same. My point here is that the ideals are being drawn from the same demographic reality, but existing in two ways: the 60’s till now give us Baby Boomers choosing how they would live for themselves, but the brief decade of the 50’s is how they would live if their world was made by those who had not just care for them but a great deal of experience in the world. If the 60’s and 70’s were about a world created to be experienced for the first time the 50’s were a world first created by those with experience.

*Not that the Baby Boomers got to the Moon – though they were soldiers in Vietnam and missionaries for civil rights – but youthful energy can be tapped into by power for both good and evil.

Two trajectories of the sexual revolution

I’ve heard reductio ad absurdum arguments against parts of the sexual revolution for almost 30 years, and there have been well-known examples of them for at least 50 (Anscombe’s Contraception and Chastity dates from 1975.) “If you accept contraception you’ll have to accept homosexuality!” If you accept homosexuality you’ll have to accept same sex marriage!” “If you accept same sex marriage you’ll have to ban Christian adoption services!” All these conditionals went from fantastic logical overreaches made by isolated cranks drawing tenuous connections between an obvious good and a repugnant consequence to axiomatic truths, or at least an uncontroversial assertions of two self-evident goods.

In the wake of this logical march arose a growing awareness that sexual activity was often a nexus for grave injustices that leave lasting wounds. Fears over the sexual abuse of children came first in the national moral panic over satanic day care centers in the 1980’s, but the sphere of harm gradually crept up the age brackets: the priest scandal was overwhelmingly not a matter of pedophilia but ephebophilia, and the concern over college campuses being hotbeds of sexual exploitation goes back to at least the early 1990’s, though they didn’t receive widespread national attention until later.

So contemporary sexual mores show two trajectories, the first being a sense of dissolving all limits, where nothing sexual is a matter of justice; and the second being a demand for limits in the face grave violations of justice that occur though sexual acts. Obviously, the concept that is supposed to bear the weight of keeping these trajectories distinct is consent, and it is able to do this up to a point. Consent is presumably the firewall that keeps children safe from pedophiles or college girls safe from an alpha male who likes making a tough sale in the game of getting girls to say yes.

One of the main themes of the advance of the second trajectory is that consent is itself tied up with a knot of complicating factors, the most conspicuous of which is imbalance of power. The degrading exploitation of prostitutes, the harassment of women who sleep with bosses in the hope of getting promoted, the abuse and disposal of women in pornography, the millions of untold stories of women pressured into abortions, and the resentment of girls whose emotional desires were flouted and ignored to their permanent harm are all unjust, but not because those involved in them fail to check the “consent” box they are all dutifully asked to check.

What both trajectories share is that neither have a sufficient grasp of what sexual morality would require, the first because it recognizes no limiting feature at all and the second because it places the whole burden of morality on consent, even though consent no more necessarily makes an action just than consent to a sales pitch necessarily makes the pitch or the product not a scam. Consent to a sexual act is only good if the act itself is good. And what kind of act is that?

Christ in Mark 1

Mark Chapter 1 introduces an astonishing Christ, not just because any one of his characteristics is astonishing but because he does one thing only to have its sequelae be the last thing you would have predicted. Examples:

v. 11 : the heavens open above the baptized Christ and the Father says he is well pleased in him

v. 12-13 The Spirit drives him into the wilderness and he is tempted by Satan.

Who responds to a statement of God’s love by driving his beloved into the wilderness to be tempted by devils?

v. 15 Christ preaches a message of repentance and his authority in a Kingdom.

v. 17-18 Disciples immediately drop what they are doing to follow him.

A message demanding repentance, from the mouth of someone who claims to speak for a Kingdom in spite of having no visible possessions, but immediately makes persons leave their livelihood to follow him? The story is a testimony to an unfathomable charisma.

v. 22 – 34: the people hear him preach and are as astonished by it as seeing him cast out a devil. Christ goes on to heal the sick. He becomes famous in Galilee.

35-38: Christ leave town to pray. His disciples follow him telling him he is sought by everyone. Christ responds by telling them he will leave town.

Christ’s astonishment-inducing charisma and power continue, but he proves utterly averse to the natural human reaction to it. For the rest of the chapter, puts everyone he heals under an absolute ban of silence and requires they strictly obey the Mosaic law (v 43-44). For him, the appropriate reaction to miraculous healing and exorcism is to renew one’s observance of the Torah.






-The call to beatitude and the vanity of the world are two aspects of one reality. If our satisfaction is in the creator it cannot be in creation. Mortification is an immediate consequence of the vanity of the world.

-The Thomist division of ends into natural and supernatural becomes more sober in recognizing that the natural end, limited to its own resources, has its own supernatural destiny: hell.

-The natural end, by being virtuous in its own order, has real sublimity and real vice (City of God 19.25)

Luisa Piccarreta: To do the divine will vs. to live in the divine will. To submit and obey vs. to appropriate and take as one’s own.

-Prayer has to be experienced as anticipating and taking part in beatitude.

-AC Grayling: If God acts on the world it must be testable. There is something disorienting in reading this after experiencing God as anticipated beatitude or being lost in the peace of a chant. It’s hard to conceive of what the path from the claim to the experience is. They aren’t mapped on the same terrain. They aren’t opposing divisions of a common genus. For that matter, it’s disorienting to read the claim after reading the Summa – like someone demanding that you plug Valentine’s Day into a 220 outlet.

-The openness of the mind to being includes also the sheerly random and individual, unintelligible to us.


The Infallible and the non-infallible

A good deal of Catholic discourse in the last Century begins by trying to sift out the degree of authority some document or teaching enjoys. This can get a refined, multi-grade declension (cf. Ott) but it usually just involves dividing infallible from non-infallible teaching.

The problem for Catholics is that the division is asymmetrical: a Catholic gets a lot of light from finding out that a teaching is infallible but very little from finding out that it is not. Once you determine a teaching is non-infallible you don’t yet know whether it’s possible to hold it since it’s impossible to hold something unreasonable and a teaching can be both non-infallible and the only (or most) reasonable one. A Catholic who knows X is infallible doesn’t have to do any more work to determine whether to believe X, but if he knows Y is non-infallible he knows nothing substantial about Y. Y might be equiprobable with ~Y, it might be reasonable to hold or not, it might be nonsense or future dogma. That Y is non-infallible doesn’t tell you that you are free to believe or act as if ~Y is true.

Part of the problem is verbal: “non-infallible” appears to be logically equivalent to “fallible”, but in fact all it means is the negation of one authority accepted by Catholics, though they accept many other authorities both qua Catholic and qua human.

Notes, 8.13.20

-Thought goes from the confused to distinct by making actual what was implicit in the confused. This happens in two ways (1) dividing the confused into to actualities by opposed formal differences and (2) dividing the confused in a way that doesn’t require formal differences. In (1) the confused concept is univocal, as animals are divided into the vertebrates and invertebrates, but in (2) the confused concept is said analogously of what is divided, as when we divide being into the simpliciter and the secundum quid (or according to an unqualified or qualified sense) so as to explain being as positive and negative/privative, actual and potential, in its causes and in re, substantial and accidental, divine and created.

As demonstration is properly from the confused to the distinct, demonstration can proceed either form univocal or analogous confused wholes.

-For runs or lives to be true requires they describe what runs or lives in fact. “Is” is just a verb like this, requiring for its truth that it describe what exists in fact. This is true of privations too in the sense that one has to speak of real blindness in a subject.

But can’t “is” just mean “means”? When we say “A luthier is someone who makes guitars” isn’t the point of the copula just to say what the word means? No – what are the citizens of Rhodesia or South Vietnam called?

-We would not desire anything as good unless qua existent, so “nothing can be desired except being; and consequently nothing is good except being. (ST 1. 5. 2. ad 4). If we desired things as owned by Elvis then we would desire nothing but the Elvis-owned even if there was more to the things materially, but in fact we desire all things as actual, even if there is more to them materially.

-How do we understand the heroic penances of the saints? One path is to see the more extravagant ones as proof of many years’ advance. It’s not as if John Vianney started out eating one potato a week or scourging himself bloody – he started out doing whatever small penance anyone would start out with, but the law of all human actions is to increase whatever activity we interpret as successful, whether it’s doing penance or cocaine. It seems like the whole point of the brain is to fast-track seek out any sufficiently difficult good that raises us out of default, mundane existence.

Technocratic vs. moral

The technocratic and managerial is perhaps the only unquestioned problem-solving common idiom we have, and in it we experience the world as put in order by us and therefore manipulable.

In morality we experience the world as binding desire and announcing an order to which we must be conformed. This order is not as a factual given like “we only have so much money to finish the study”, since I can desire my monetary constraints weren’t there and work to eliminate them, but part of being a moral constraint is to the need to accept it and to never work against it. The technocratic is in the service of desire while the moral is a constraint upon desire. Outside heaven, what good is a morality that only commands what everyone was already doing and wanted to do?

It’s easy enough to see why we are in love with what extends our will and fulfills it more perfectly, but the flip side of this is recognizing the aversion we have to what restricts will and put it under constraint. The first sort of fact will get praised forever for all its wonders and benefits, and how it has thrown the light on all the plain facts of the world. But all the praise we heap on it should alert us to a temptation we have to ignore, downplay, or dismiss as subjective the facts which are just as plain but which push back against desire and deny it something it wants.


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