Inertia as sorcerer’s pail

The sorcerer’s apprentice or The Red Shoes both turn on the idea that self-motion or self-initiative is just as much the ability to stop a process as to begin it; or that causing rest is just as essential to agency as causing action.

In light of this inertia is the absence of self-motion/ agency in physical beings. You hit a golf ball in space like the apprentice sets the pail in motion to get water: both never cease not because of they have some infinite reservoir of action or agency but because of the inability of either one to control itself or cause its action. The pail and the golf ball both move forever only because they are being moved forever and there is nothing they can do about it. They never stop moving precisely because they are not agents. For our own part, that we can’t control many processes we start in motion is true for the same reason it is for the pail or the golf ball, namely, the absence of knowledge which alone constitutes a thing as an agent in itself. Things self-cause as they are knowers: what does not know at all is caused by another, what knows imperfectly is imperfectly a cause of another, and what knows perfectly is perfectly the cause of another. Knowledge as self-agency, even as sensation, is immateriality as opposed to the physicality properly studied in natural sciences. Physical : created immaterial : uncreated immaterial :: pail : apprentice : Sorcerer.

What is true about inertia is also true about other physical processes as physical, sc. radioactive decay, the motion of fields, the orbitals of electrons, or any form of a conserved quantity.

Christus Medicus

The basic description of Christ’s public ministry is him being continually approached by sick persons he heals.

Who else has ever been approached this way? What would someone have to be like for it to make sense to me to approach him this way?

As a one-off event in a larger biography it might happen now and again to others (?) but it is the swamps the account of Christ’s public ministry. The world has known great men and even very charismatic ones, but none who get immediately approached as soon as they step off the boat by people asking him to come to a house and heal, say, the dying simply by being present to them. The fundamental account we get of Christ is a panacea working by benign radiation: Get close to him and you’ll get better, whether you’re leprous, guilty, paralyzed, demon-possessed, self-loathing, feverous, or dead.

One can of course focus on what this means, but it not at the expense of overlooking that it happened. Part of the measure of how close we are to Christ certainly has to be how well we experience him exactly as he was experienced in the flesh.

Facts and cosmological arguments

-Science for us reduces to facts and laws while for Aristotle it reduced to axioms or the self evident.

-“Brute fact” is redundant or perhaps just a clarification. Fact is contingent givenness taken as a first cause in an explanation.

-If some fact is necessary and the universe is any given totality of facts then the universe is necessary. So fact-based science rules out proving the existence of God from contingency, where contingency is understood broadly to include any cosmological argument from potency, having an agent cause, contingency properly, participated being, causal subordination.

-Fact-based science reduces to sensation, which is proper to natural science. So a properly natural science can’t prove the existence of God.

-But cosmological arguments do take facts as principles! They start with the givenness of motion, for example. But a fact in a cosmological argument is explanandum and not explanans. What is a given to sensation is not a given to the intellect.

-“Givenness” is whatever a cognitive power takes as immediately the case, but for sensation as such this is not rational, i.e. brute since sense givens are inherently contingent in one way or another, and often in more than one way. If nothing else, there was a time when we did not sense them and a time when we will no longer. Human beings can recognize this about sensation and even presuppose it, but the very act of doing so has already transcended limitation to bruteness. To recognize fact at all requires the possibility of at least two different kinds of sciences.

Repentance and Love

Christianity is based on repentance, or the recognition of one’s own wrongness and God’s righteousness. How does this fit with an account of Christianity where God accepts us as we are or loves us unconditionally?

In one sense the answer is easy: God’s unconditional love is his righteousness and our wrongness is our failure to magnify it to the world. God’s unconditional love, in pouring out blessings on the just and the wicked and ordering the evils in history to the redemption of even those who commit them far exceeds anything that we do for others, to say nothing of what we do even for our enemies. We interpret a world where God gives blessings to the just and unjust as one where he not only does not love but cannot even exist, which shows the gap between our own ideas of love and those of the Gospel.

In another sense we have to acknowledge the danger that unconditional love can be perverted into spiritual anaesthesia, which has been recognized from the first days of the Church:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Rm. 2:4

The kindness of God does not “lead to repentance” by being a sort of sweet consolation that braces us for the bitterness of repentance, but rather it’s God’s own kindness, forbearance and patience that forms one pole of meditation that contrasts so sharply with our own self-interest, self-concern, short-temperedness, and holding others to standards we either excuse ourselves from or cannot bear to live under. We see that we need God present as a friend to strengthen us in the face of ur weakness. The spiritual dwelling with Christ, toward the Father and by the Holy Spirit obliquely condemns us but it directly strengthens us in the same way that those of weak habits will always feed off the stronger and more solid habits of those they dwell with, whether for good or ill. Love transforms one into what he loves, not in the way eating transforms food (which requires that the subject destroy its object and the principle of eating build up something other than itself) but in a way that preserves the identity of the subject transforming into the object. If the question is how something can be both transformed and preserved in its identity I say this is just how spiritual transformation differs from material transformation, and that the seeming contradiction arises from our tendency to conflate the assimilation proper to the nutritive soul or inanimate objects with the immaterial assimilation of cognition both in itself and as a principle of love.

We need God as a friend in the same way that any akratic or dutiful person needs his virtuous friend to strengthen his resolve and show him the joy of the virtuous life. God’s unconditional love consists in his willingness to dwell with us in the spiritual life and be that friend to us. This lasts literally to the end of time, i.e. to the end of our time in history as both individuals and as a race, after which our conscience will be perfectly illumined so that we might manifest of ourselves the truth of what we’ve done with divine love. Death, then judgment. In history, though, he stands and knocks with the offering to dwell with us.

Christ is not offering God-technology or magic. Technology and magic leave the heart just as it is and offer themselves as extensions and servants to whatever we happen to now want, and as such they are fundamentally sorts of self-love and not the love of a friend. This is one sense of unconditional love that God has nothing to do with and which is repugnant to his presence. So long as we pray for what is just magic or technology the prayer will never be answered as it is prayer to something that does not exist. God offers us friendship with himself, and the presence of a friend empowers, but not in the way technology does; it gives us what the heart desires, but not like magic does.

Sins and virtues

Cajetan’s insight into Thomas’s theory of knowledge was that it affected a union with objects more intimate than matter to form. Knowers were immaterial because, even if receptive, they do not receive as matter does. In his Mystica Theologia Thomas of Vallgonera applies this to the spiritual life which I’d interpret like this: all degrees of immaterial existence, starting at sentience, exist to bring about unities between themselves and others more intimate than the union of matter to form. The soul by cognition is more one with its object than with the body it animates.

This union is either cognitive by proportioning the object to the knower or affective by proportioning the one loving to the object. Taken in the second way, one loves his supreme good and so proportions and even transforms himself into it. One can define sin as whatever damages this proportioning or transformation and virtue as the action or habit intrinsically cultivating it. In Christianity the supreme good is God, and so the virtues that immediately attain to him are the supreme virtues while the habits that damage affective union by either cooling it or destroying it altogether are sins. Any rival to Christianity denies its affective transformation, and perhaps the most agreeable and therefore popular way to do so is to insist that affections must be accepted and even celebrated simply as we find them and never be transformed. So taken our own desires become by default the supreme good and so sin becomes whatever damages self-acceptance and virtue whatever promotes greater self-celebration of our desires exactly as we find them.

Faith and knowledge of knowledge

Knowledge is either (a) known to be in oneself or (b) imputed to another. Knowledge is thus a quasi-genus with subset (a) being knowledge and (b) being faith or trust. Examples of (b) are asking someone where the bathroom is and believing he knows what he’s talking about or trusting that your algebra teacher knows who to cancel.

So faith is in one sense opposed to knowledge as its contrary and in another sense it is a subset or species of it. This sort of thing happens all the time: dog is sometimes used as the opposite of puppy even while we say that a puppy is a dog; by coffee we usually mean something other than the beans even while we call the beans coffee. The distinction in play here seems to be that faith is what we might call knowledge secundum quid and knowledge (a) is what we call knowledge simpliciter. The difference between the simpliciter and secundum quid being usually the difference between the perfect and the less perfect rationes of something.

Both (a) and (b) have criteria and gradations of certitude. One can come to know things more clearly, more deeply, and with greater precision and he can also grow in trust that another knows something. Given their order, (a) will always have more perfectly the character of knowledge than knowledge, which is why it gets the name as a quasi-species. In this sense (a) is always more certain or precise (or any other perfection of knowledge) than (b.) Nevertheless, this does not rule out a greater certitude in (b) than (a) so long as we believe that the one to whom we are imputing knowledge is more in a position to know something than we are or ever could be.


Let him take up his cross and follow me.

Christ here speaks formally and the meaning of any evil is to exist in relation to Christ in his passion. Evil, or at least all evil suffered in history, is the event in Jerusalem diversified in different matter and so experienced by different persons with different intensities at different times. Said another way, evil is Christocentric, i.e. its point is to participate in Christ’s passion.

This sort of participation demands profound transformation of heart. In general, evil has a way of dominating our focus and intense focus on anything impedes our ability to see its order to something else, which by its nature demands seeing it in another context. In the concrete we can consider the evils of injustice, pain, or our own mistakes since each involves peculiar difficulties in our unifying them to Christ’s passion. In the face of injustice it is extremely hard to get past the completely justified desire for vengeance even though this is what following Christ demands. Seeing those who have wronged you suffer torment and loss is easily the hardest pleasure to resist, and a perfectly good and justified pleasure at that. It is very hard not to see pain and sickness as purely physical or medical problems and not spiritual realities. Even those with strong habits of the spiritual life can forget that physical pain is a spiritual reality, as happens in the life of Asa who begins his reign doing right in the eyes of the Lord but dies of a sickness with the last words the sacred author says of him being that in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians. Finally, It’s hard to see the pain caused by our own mistakes as something that needs to be offered. The idea that one could offer his self-inflicted guilt, shame, punishment or sadness to the Lord feels like one is letting himself off the hook.

Laplacian tautology

Laplacian demons are not arguments for determinism but concrete expressions of what determinism means or entails. When one says that an intellect with knowledge of the positions of the particles and of all physical laws would know all future states, he of course assumes the laws that intellect will know are deterministic and not heuristic, probable, dialectical or subordinate.

Heuristic: By “heuristic” I’ll here mean any rule understood to work up to a point, which requires prudence and/or experience to apply well, and is known more clearly when known with its exceptions. Spelling rules are heuristic in this sense (especially in English), as are legal axioms, tax law, canon law, etc.* As we go up from physics to chemistry to biology to life science the laws get more and more heuristic. This increase is often assumed to be nothing but an index of our ignorance of “the real law” or the prohibitive complexity of applying physics to anything more complex than a hydrogen atom, but it’s an assumption all the same.

Probable: This is perhaps the point at which Laplacian demons are most vulnerable to attacks within their own domain of physical science.** Physical laws are frequently probable as opposed to determinist and how to understand this probability – i.e. whether it arises only from ignorance or whether it is a feature of nature – is a very high-level philosophical problem demanding more precisions and deeper theories of matter and change than are usually on offer.

Dialectical: Dialectical discourse is a mix of different domains. Physical law clearly does this by imposing algebra and conventional measures on physical action which exaggerates the degree of simplicity, precision, and controllability physical events can have since physical action can’t have algebraic precision and we can’t control it like an apparatus or convention we will into existence.

Subordinate: Physical laws reduce to immaterial action as to something more true, casual and scientific. Physical law only applies simpliciter to the inanimate world and outside of this it explains activity as an instrumental cause. Like any instrument its causality requires the preservation of its nature, and so physical law can only be a value to life if it preserves, say, conservation laws, the electrical structure of matter, and the interactive activity of physical systems, but as instruments the physical is subordinate to higher orders of causality.

*In fact, this whole last sentence and all its clauses are heuristic.

**NB The laplacian demon as such is not a finding of physical science or even a conclusion or axiom within it but a metaphysical entity, using metaphysics in the broad sense to include both ontology and epistemology.

Where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.

2 Cor. 3 : 17

He who is free is a cause of himself, as opposed to a slave who is caused by his Lord, so whoever acts by himself acts freely while whoever is moved by another does not act freely. The one who avoids evil not because it is evil but because it is commanded by the Lord is not free while the one who avoids evil because it is evil is free. But this is what the Holy Spirit does, who perfects the mind from within by good habits so that it might be led by love wherever the divine law might be looked for, not that it might be subject to the divine law but because it is inclined to doing out of good habit what the divine law ordains.

Super II Cor., cap. 3 l. 3

ubi spiritus domini, ibi libertas, intelligitur, quia liber est, qui est causa sui: servus autem est causa domini; quicumque ergo agit ex seipso, libere agit; qui vero ex alio motus, non agit libere. Ille ergo, qui vitat mala, non quia mala, sed propter mandatum domini, non est liber; sed qui vitat mala, quia mala, est liber. Hoc autem facit spiritus sanctus, qui mentem interius perficit per bonum habitum, ut sic ex amore caveat, ac si praeciperet lex divina; et ideo dicitur liber, non quin subdatur legi divinae, sed quia ex bono habitu inclinatur ad hoc faciendum, quod lex divina ordinat.

Truth and reductionism

Sciences seek what Thomas called principia quae sunt semper or principles that always exist (PAE.) Thomas was working from a hypothesis that the PAE were the super-lunar bodies, though since Newton we’ve given the role over to particles enacting algebraic laws. But the point of the science is to reduce the variable and changeable to the PAE.

Science reduces precisely because it seeks truth and the PAE are more true than what they explain.

He (Aristotle) concludes that the PAE, sc. celestial bodies, are necessarily more true since

(1) because they are not sometimes true and sometimes not. and through this they exceed in truth the generable and corruptible, which sometimes are and sometimes are not. (2) because nothing is a cause for them but they cause the being of others, and by this [the PAE] even exceed in truth and being the the celestial bodies which, even if they are incorruptible, neverthless not only have a cause of their being moved (as some believed) but even of their act of existence, as Aristotle expressly says here.

Ex quo ulterius concludit quod principia eorum, quae sunt semper, scilicet corporum caelestium, necesse est esse verissima. Et hoc duplici ratione. Primo quidem, quia non sunt quandoque vera et quandoque non, et per hoc transcendunt in veritate generabilia et corruptibilia, quae quandoque sunt et quandoque non sunt. Secundo, quia nihil est eis causa, sed ipsa sunt causa essendi aliis. Et per hoc transcendunt in veritate et entitate corpora caelestia: quae etsi sint incorruptibilia, tamen habent causam non solum quantum ad suum moveri, ut quidam opinati sunt, sed etiam quantum ad suum esse, ut hic philosophus expresse dicit.

Sententia Metaphysicae, lib. 2 l. 2 n. 7

Science clarifies truths by articulating their more or less primary causal order therefore seeks in the same act what is more causal and more true. Reductionism is a tag for this reduction to the more true. Again, science moves from what is knowable to us to what is knowable in itself, or what is most productive of knowledge merely for us (secundum quid) to what is more productive of knowledge simpliciter. But truth as such is what is productive of knowledge, and so the goal of science is to move to what is more true, where “more and less” = the simpliciter and secundum quid.

So while the common criticism of Naturalism is that it is reductionist for Thomas it is truer to say that it isn’t sufficiently reductionist – it reduces the less true to the more true but it stops midstream at a cause of motion and being that itself is in motion. The reason for doing so is clear enough since the celestial bodies/ subatomic particles are maximally true among the concrete things that are true to us. There is an order among things that are true secundum quid, and the celestial bodies/subatomic-particles-cum-natural-laws are the truest simpliciter.

If we understand Naturalism as “nothing buttery” or the idea that the celestial bodies/ subatomic etc is all there really is then this too would not be so harmful if it were drawn into its larger context. Physical laws can be all there is to the exclusion of all phenomena so long as these laws and particles themselves are mere phenomena or sorts of nothingness when contrasted to the immobile first mover.

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