Notes 12:28

1.) A close but not immediate family member recently decided to gender transition, which forced me to form specific and concrete beliefs about transgenderism before I was confident of being able to do so.

2.) Transgenderism is new and so we get little direct help from the saints or holy doctors. Because of this I’m bothered that all responses to the question will have at least a large dollop of extremism. As always, the problem is that we don’t have enough saints.

3.) I don’t know how many things transgenderism is, and it’s difficult to find any sex-related topic that has a uniform description for both men and women, viz. we leave out a lot if we try to understand sexual liberation, consent, commitment, or divorce as affecting men and women uniformly or if we try to understand homosexuality abstracting from the difference between gays and lesbians.

4a.) General moral axiom #1. If you speak in contradiction to all known physical evidence about a physical fact you’re lying, and lying is always wrong. Whatever else sexuality is (and this is a lot) it is also a physical fact. If I say I’m a woman despite my masculine genitals, skeletal structure, fetal development, hand strength, amount of striated muscle, different life expectancy, different healthy BMI, my risk of testicular cancer, creation of small, fast gametes, the presence of a Y-chromosome in trillions of cells of my body… then I’m mistaken, and if I insist otherwise in speech I’m lying. If I demand you agree with me in speech even though you have the same evidence I do, I’m demanding that you lie.

4b.) I’m open to discussing the possibility of disparities between chromosomal, gonadal and brain-developmental sexuality, but we can set all these aside – and in the case of my family member they aren’t relevant- and still have a massive amount of transgender cases left on the table.

4c.) I’m open to some standard of “being male” or “being female” that can work in defiance of manifest physical evidence, but I have yet to see how it can work. There is no non-physical account of masculinity any more than there is a non-physical account of having a 48″ vertical jump or a cancerous tumor, i.e. if you’re convinced you have either of these in spite of never jumping four feet or having no tumor show up on a full-body scan, then your conviction is mistaken, and if you insist on it in speech it’s a lie.

4d.) A lie is speaking falsely with the intent to deceive, and one can object that even if transgendered person is mistaken he need not intend to deceive. No doubt the transgendered persons wants you not to be deceived about who they are. But we intend not just what we know but even what we ought to know, and if there is anything one ought to know it’s that there is no account of sexual identity that can contradict physical evidence. The lie remains.

At any rate, this is not relevant in my own case. If I am convinced there is no account of masculinity in contradiction of physical facts, then I would lie by agreeing with someone who denied this.

5.) Not all lies are mortal sins, but it’s hard to see how this sort of lie avoids being one:

If, however, the [lie] be about something the knowledge of which affects a man’s good, for instance, if it pertain to the perfection of science or to moral conduct, a lie of this description inflicts an injury on one’s neighbor, since it causes him to have a false opinion, wherefore it is contrary to charity, as regards the love of our neighbor, and consequently is a mortal sin.

ST II-II q. 110 a. 4

6.) Moral axiom #2: If your disapproval of my doing X puts me at greater risk of suicide or self-harm, it is not evidence your disapproval is wrong. Whether your approval is right or wrong is determined before I decide whether to harm myself in response. If in disapproving of X you disapprove of something good then your action is evil whether I harm myself or not; if approving of X means approving something evil then your action is evil no matter what my response is.

Though I can’t figure out how to put it as an axiom, there is something fishy about approving of someone’s actions to keep him from harming himself. To be sure, to bully and berate others is always wrong, but no reasonable account of bullying allows every case of disapproval to be an instance of it. At any rate, it is also wrong to demand others approve of evil, doubly so if you extort the approval them by threatening to harm what they love, even if this happens to be yourself.

7.) I don’t know how often #2 is relevant to transgenderism, but it’s relevant in my own case, and it is an argument I’ve seen pop up before among sexual minorities.

December 26, Consumer Culture

1.) Christmas things were out for… what, two months? but vanished overnight for Valentine’s Day candy, signs, throw pillows. One of the great sorrows of consumer culture is that it can only look forward to times it never gets to enjoy. Like kids, we get dopamine-pumped for weeks and months to open a present which the anticipation cannot show us how to enjoy.

2.) The Catholic approach was to anticipate the feast with self-denial, but self-denial seems an exception to the rule that consumer culture can monetize anything.

3.) Consumerism coldly tolerates enjoyments, as they are a states where persons aren’t seeking to acquire things. It allows enjoyment only as a means to desire, even while desire is intrinsically a means.

4.) It’s not that consumerism is open minded, tolerant, or even necessarily greedy (though it might be all these) it’s that the prospect of a final end to be enjoyed is something is can’t tolerate.

Disputed Question on Cognitive non-materiality

Whether a subject is cognitive because non-material?

It seems not, because

Objection 1: Some material things have cognition, sc. the sentient.

Objection 2: Some immaterial powers are not cognitive, sc. the will.

Objection 3: Non-materiality either bespeaks privation or negation. If the first, it means a defect is the cause of cognition, which is clearly untrue viz. the eye doesn’t see because it is defective. If the second, however, it is just as true of what does not exist, since, qua negation, things that do not exist are also not material things.

Sed Contra: The authority of Thomas suffices.

Response. The root and foundation of the thesis is the contrariety between what is formal to material and cognitive subjects. On all accounts of matter, ancient and modern, it is the subject of different forms at different times, and so to take any form X as a terminus ad quem of matter means taking the matter as perfected by receiving X in itself. The perfection of a cognitive subject, however, is the object of knowledge, i.e. the terminus ad quem of a cognitive act is an object of the knowing subject. Now the first object of a cognitive subject* is his whole world, and so the subject is other by being a whole within which the subject is a part and from which diverse objects (this possible food source, that obstacle, that possible mate, this science, that moral act) arise against the backdrop of a whole world by the animal’s diverse positions or acts of attention or the person’s or angel’s diverse acts of will.

So the terminus ad quem of a material subject is particular, limited to one entity by matter, and separate from a larger totality of possible forms while the terminus ad quem of a cognitive subject is a whole world, not limited to one entity at a time, and as containing the totality of forms making up its world. So it is clear that no material subject as material is cognitive and a cognitive subject as cognitive is not a material one.

Reply Objection 1: Sentient beings are material and cognitive as a terminus a quo (i.e. the organ) whereas the the difference between cognitive and material subjects is from their termini ad quem. Nevertheless, knowers and known objects are proportioned to one another, and so if some known object cannot be realized materially, then the cognitive subject knowing it can also not be realized materially. It is in this sense that a power knowing, say, colors or smells differs from one knowing universals or that spirits exist.

Reply Objection 2: The will in cognitive subjects is non-material, but arises because every operation of a subject* arises from a good that is necessarily distinct from the subject. Because it exists in part to direct the act of knowledge, it itself cannot formally be a cognitive subject in need of direction, since this would lead to an infinite regress and so explain nothing. It also cannot be cognitive since a cognitive power is perfected by what is interior to it, while will exists because the whole good of a cognitive subject is not of this kind. Will therefore is intellective not formally but by participation.

Reply Objection 3: The intellect is non-material negatively, but this negation is founded on a positive account of how it differs in its terminus ad quem from material subjects.


*I.e. by a subject I mean a knower whose knowledge is in some way potential. That not all knowers can be of this kind is clear from the First Way, and if all cognitive entities were subjects then they would have to be moved by the non-cognitive, and to to so would destroy cognition altogether. Direction to truth cannot belong primo and per se to what does not know truth at all.

Notes on Romans

1.) Paul declares he is the slave of Jesus Christ, who was from

  • the seed of David according to the flesh,
  • predestined Son of God according to the spirit of sanctification from the resurrection from the dead.

So from the opening sentence of Romans, Paul has already placed Christ at the center, and describes him as arising somehow through the spirit and the flesh.

2.) The power of God is both the Gospel (1.16) and the power of predestination, sanctification, and resurrection from the dead (1.4) given to us through grace (1.5) unto the obedience of faith.

3.) If the Gospel is the revelation spoken and faith is the revelation received, the object is the justice of God which in turn makes one just The justice of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith (1.17)

4.) The negation of divine justice is the impiety and injustice of all nations, which have refused to give due worship to God even so far as he can be known by reason according to the eternal power that brings forth creation and the divinity separates him from it (1.20). As a logical consequence which is simultaneously a divine judgment, humans first identify God with something within creation (idolatry) and then stop up and sterilize the power to bring forth new life (though the sin contra naturam.) The changing of divine glory into the idol is done from those professing wisdom (1.22) but it is a wisdom proceeding from those whose hearts became obscured and darkened (1.21). The center of their life was cut off from the true standard for judging their own actions, but this is not experienced as a sorrow at the loss of light but as an exciting new vision of what is highest and best, again, as a bona fide wisdom.

Adoration and worship is fundamentally to recognize and respond appropriately to the source of our being. Idolatry recognizes this source within ourselves while simultaneously submitting us to it, which is a sheer contradiction within our created powers. One perverted faculty thus leads to another.

Divine justice is both decree and logical consequence, and principally concerns piety and acts of religion, but through both collective and personal violations of this we’ve been led to all that is unbecoming (1.28).

…every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;  they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

1: 29-31

5.) The justice of God condemns all though each one’s judgment of others for in what you judge another, you yourself are condemned (2.1) especially in light of the catalogue of faults in v. 29-31. One can’t hope to flee from the judgment of God and forgiveness only comes through penance (2.4) meaning that the heart is often cold in the face of the one path out of judgment. Nevertheless, divine justice still carves out two paths out of the predicament: the way of life and the way of wrath (2. 7-11.)

6.) Paul begins a lengthy discussion of the Law in the Torah at 2.12, with the claim that those who sin without the law perish without the law, those who sin with the law are judged by the law. The basis of the claim is what we’ve already seen about divine justice, that its decrees are simultaneously logical consequences so that when the Gentiles, not having the law, do what is of the law naturally…they are a law to themselves (2.14) The law or Torah is written on the heart and is only an outward expression of what is already inwardly necessary by the logical structure of human life. Paul’s point is emphatically not that there are are loads of Gentiles walking around following the Torah written on the heart since this flatly contradicts everything in c. 1 and 2. He is arguing the universal character of law, sc. that it sets out the path on which all flourish and not simply Jews.

The theology of victimhood

God’s justice to wrongdoers is clear: the offense itself merits pain and loss, it disorders our life and so disposes us to further sins, and hell lies open not only with torments for sins committed but for the wrongdoing we continue committing in hell ad infinitum.

But many kinds of wrongdoing harm others and create victims. How do victims fit into divine justice? What exactly is the theology of victimhood?

In the physical order the victim suffers pain or loss by the wrongdoer, and physical pain and loss have a remote cause in the loss of special protection against physical evils by original sin. It’s more interesting, however, to consider the moral relation from victim to wrongdoer, where wrongdoers render themselves the servants of their victim by incurring a debt they might not even be able to repay. In the moral order the victim is thus superior to his wrongdoers and master over them.

As superior, the victim is a sort of magistrate over wrongdoers and his moral relation to them is judged relative to how any superior treats his inferiors.

Victims fall into four moral perversions:

1.) Refusal or denial of one’s authority. Victims might imagine their state imposes no moral demands, as though their absence of agency in the physical order deprives them of agency in the moral order. But not only are victims not deprived of agency, they becomes masters or lords over wrongdoers and will be judged as anyone with authority over another.

2.) Perverse or misguided understandings of one’s authority. A victim might understand his authority in a garbed way by imagining, for example, that he is somehow responsible for the wrongdoers action. This gives him a sort of control over what happened to him, but it is an abandonment of the actual power that the victim has, which is not over what wrongdoers did but over what wrongdoers now owe him and how they will repay it.

3.) Overly lax responses to wrongdoers. Wrongdoers as such deserve pain and loss and victims have every right to extract it both for themselves, for the common good, and even (though not necessarily) for the good of the wrongdoer. The victim obviously can’t use any means of satisfaction he wants, but for the commonwealth to deprive him of any just means of satisfaction (and there are many so deprived by the evils that states not only tolerate but promote) is for the commonwealth to victimize the victim all over again.

4.) Overly severe responses to wrongdoers. Christian doctrine appears to see this as the greatest danger that victims are prone to, and Christ’s prioritization of mercy to wrongdoers is clear, consistent, and emphatically lived out in his action. The moral authority of the victim is most perfectly lived out in the one who forgives, and this forgiveness seems to be essential to salvation even while remaining compatible with the infliction of some temporal punishments on wrongdoers. We can see in the primacy of forgiveness the Christ’s clearest and most remarkable revelations of divine authority, which serves as the paradigm for the moral authority and superiority of the victim.

Periodic Continence, Brevissime

One cannot make one act good by performing a separate act at a different time.

In other words, if you just did act Y it is either good or evil and you can’t make it good by performing another, separate act at a different time. If I beat my wife I can’t make the beating itself good by giving her flowers. No one ever bothered to name the principle, probably because it’s obvious. I’ll call it Q.

Low let’s talk periodic continence (NFP).

Assume a married Catholic couple knows when they are fertile. Even the most extreme natalists would not object to them having sex every day of the cycle. Now assume over the same month that the couple limits themselves to just infertile days. If the act is evil,* it is either because (a) having sex at all on those days is evil or because (b) sex during the infertile time must be made good by having sex at another time. But even the most extreme natalist denies (a) and (b) is contrary to Q.

*We leave aside an examination of their prudential motives and stick with just the morality of the act itself. Obviously, if they were, say, performing the act out of devotion to Osiris there would be problems in assimilating it to Catholic sexual ethics.

Recipe experiences contra physicalism

1.) All operational definitions, testable or reproducible facts are recipe experiences or recipe facts since you provide instructions on how to produce them.

2.) Physics is either entirely or paradigmatically a collection of recipe experiences. Strevens argues in The Knowledge Machine that these testable/reproducible/empirical recipe facts just are science, but even if one doesn’t go this far it’s hard to deny they are essential to it.

3.) Seen in this respect consciousness is impossible to reduce to science not as qualia-bearing or subjective or as thing-Zombies-lack but as the source of recipe facts to which the facts themselves are subordinated in their existence. Consciousness doesn’t emerge from realities formally described by physical facts any more than chefs emerge from cookies or Paganini emerged from the sound of his violin.

4.) Recipes are teleological and so get their character from their end. As the ultimate end of the recipe experience is to understand the world as it is and not as constructed by us, we end up knowing the world in itself and not as constructed. But in prescinding from the construction we prescind from something essential to the fact itself, which is even integral to the certitude of the experience and its status as “empirical”.

5.) Even if we could reproduce a consciousness – I mean, reproduce it in a more sciency way than we are reproducing consciousnesses all the time by sex and pregnancy – we couldn’t make it subordinate to consciousness. It would simply be our equal, realized perhaps in another medium. In the face of an equal all the dominance of consciousness over facts is gone, and we see just another enigma like ourselves – most likely one that should never be brought into existence.

6.) Arguendo, if there were true artificial consciousness constructed from nothing but recipe-facts it would still not be another instance of those facts. That this or that consciousness arises temporally after some ordering of recipe facts changes nothing at all about their ontological subordination to constructing consciousnesses.

Recipe experiences

A fact or data is often any recipe for an experience, roughly, if you follow this procedure you will observe this result. This is definitely what a fact is if it’s testable or reproducible.

The units of the facts and data are recipes too. A gram is a cubic centimeter of water at sea level, a second is the time it takes a light beam to travel X meters or a fraction of the sun’s orbit.

Recipes are teleological and so pegged to goods. These goods don’t just owe their existence to us (like a child owes his existence to his parents) but are subordinate to us and so exist for our sake. Little red hen baked the bread so it’s hers do use as she wants.

With recipe-facts, however, we follow or write the recipe not to understand things-with-order-to-us but things absolutely or in themselves. The ontological connection from the fact to us is irrelevant to what we want to do with it. This very irrelevance follows from the axiom that we are not responsible for the existence of the world and certainly not the world we seek to understand scientifically.

But that something is ignored or irrelevant in some contexts doesn’t make it cease to exist. The nature of the fact itself requires that no sum of them can be the totality of all things known or true, and this for three reasons:

1.) Recipe facts stand to human persons as means to end or subordinated to principle, and it is impossible for the totality of things to be means without ends or subordinated while not being subordinated to something else. We overlook this means-end relation because it is irrelevant to what we seeks to understand, but this leads us to…

2.) The very reason why we ignore the ontology of the fact is because of the axiom that the world does not owe its existence to us. In other words, believing that recipe-facts could give a complete account of the world destroys even our ability to construct them. If all there was were recipe facts, then the world really would owe its existence to us, and so we wouldn’t need to prescind from this feature of the fact at all. But if this is true then…

3.) Conclusions (2) and (1) contradict each other. IOW, we can’t even coherently account for a world as a totality of recipe facts. It’s not just false but unthinkable.

Summary of Gonet on Thomas on Immateriality

Disputant: Knowers differ from non-knowers in that the former receive the form of another.

Gonet: and what do you say to the objection that even water receives the form of heat, which is other than water; and air receives the form of sensed species which are other than air?

D: Air and water receive forms as esse entitative (EE), while knowers receive them as esse intentionale (EI). EI is an identity with the thing known according to EI, but EE is not an identity with the form according to EE. The heat known by the knower is the same as the heat in the heat source, but the heat in the water is a different quantity of heat than is in the fire that heated it.

G: You say EI is an intentional identity with the thing. I disagree for four reasons:

1a.) What is identical is inseparable, i.e cannot exist without it.

1b.) The intellect knowing a species can exist without a species being known in any way.

1c.) Therefore, the intellect is not identical to the species known in any way, even according to EI.

Or again:

2a.) Where there is distinction there is not identity

2b.) But where the principle of a distinction remains the distinction does as well

2c.) And the knower and known are the principles of the distinction between knower and known even in EI, and remain in knowledge.

2d.) Therefore there is not identity between knower and known in EI.

OR again:

3a.) If A produces or co-produces B, then A and B are not identical.

3b.) But the intellect produces or co-produces its species in EI.

3c.) Therefore, the intellect is not identical to its species in EI.

OR by reductio:

4a.) There is an identity between the knower and the known.

4b.) In the beatific vision, God himself is the species known and not a likeness.

4c.) Therefore, the beatific vision requires the identity of created and uncreated. (c) is false and (b) is the common opinion of theologians, so (a) is false.

Disputant: The identity between knower and known is in EI and not EE, therefore no contradiction follows.

Gonet: Identity between God and creature is impossible both in EI and EE for the same reason: the infinite disproportion between God and man whether entitative or intelligible.

(Point argued at greater length)

Gonet: I argue that the unity of knower and known in EI is not identity but composition:

5a.) Knower and known are one just as body and soul are one

5b.) Body and soul are one by composition, not identity.


6a.) The known in act is the knower in act by the former being the formal principle or part of the latter.

6b.) Formal principles or parts make composites, not identities.

(N.B. this is simply to abandon objectivity altogether. The value of Gonet is to show that knowledge can’t be be either composition or identity. The quicker argument against identity is that knowledge is a principle of identity, it’s not as if real things are identical with anything, only diverse rationes or logoi can be so -ed.)

Objection to Hellfire from freedom


1.) Free beings choose either of two contraries.

2.) Contrition and impenitence are contraries.

3.) The damned are free beings.

Response: Freedom is both an indetermination and energy. As indeterminate, any two choices are open to it, which suffices for free choice and is what most mean by the term. But indetermination is distinct from the energy to efficaciously will some good in accordance with one’s ultimate end. In the absence of this energy, we only at best wish such a means, since wishes are desires for goods that are compatible with the impossibility of their realization.

The damned by nature are free and so undetermined to contrition and impenitence, but they lack the energy of will to efficaciously perform an act of contrition, and the longer they stay in Hell the more they reinforce the vice occluding the energy of the will, in the same way that any repetition of a vice leads deeper into addiction and any sin disposes to more sin. This is one of many reasons why Hell can’t be purgative.

So I concede premise (2) and distinguish (1) and (3): if we’re speaking of the indifference of the will in (3) it’s true; if its energy to efficaciously will its good and a means in accord with its natural end it’s false, and the reverse is true of (1).

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