Luke 17 : 5-6

The apostles said to the Lord,“Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord answered, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you

It’s clear Christ is not responding to the immediate request but to something presupposed to it. Presumably the Apostles want their faith increased because they judge they don’t have enough of it to get something done or resist some trial, and Christ is attacking the assumption that any amount of faith would need access to a greater amount of power. One’s faith comes by grace and grace has already transformed the soul into a son of omnipotence. From the moment of baptism, or even from the first moment the soul efficaciously desires baptism, the soul is elevated above all natural goods and has, by grace, its evidence that it is loved by God beyond the love of any lovers, parents or friends. One can make sense of asking for grace but not of asking it to have access to greater power.

While there is clearly a sense in which faith and the life of grace start small and grow, this seems to consist in our recognition of and assimilation to the infinite power and love that has been there from the beginning and not in God, as it were, starting with tiny and feeble gifts before working up to ones that can actually get things done.

From knowledge to truth

Truth is adequatin of intellect and thing, but thing is just the other or object of knowledge, since knowledge is being perfected  just just by one’s own form but the form of another. 

The adaequatio in truth starts as one reality virtually distinguished into intra and extra mental, or one and the same form/object/other outside and inside the intellect. The same is called form so far as it has any reality in itself, other so far as it is outside mindand object so far as it is mind-actualizing. 

Form/object/other/ have the iridescence of one thing now-intra-now-extra mental.  

Truth however adds to this iridescence that the thing is equally well known both inside and outside cognition. In this sensation differs from intellect, since the sense object as such is known extra mentally but is not expressed intra-mentally. Sensation produces no interior word or logos. An animal responds to the exterior world, and might even do so by signifying something to others (like in the dancing of the bees) but he is not expressing himself in doing so, any more than any of us were expressing ourselves by crying as newborns. 

In my earliest memories I was present in a world I was not trying to express myself in. It was as though was just as much an object as everything else I saw, even granting that I would have responded to other persons. I might have done the same thing a thousand times in a row but it never coalesced into an experienced pattern. I know I played peek-a-boo a thousand times with my mother but in my memory it is all the same one game. In the one game I can even see her getting tired of having played it a thousand times. This is knowledge as pre-truth, before the knower expresses the object and so has that which can be compared to or adaquated to the world


Phaedo, the response to Kebes

In Phaedo starting at 96a Socrates explains his intellectual history of fascination with and later moving beyond physical science. His understanding of science was close enough to our own, i.e. he saw it as a physical analysis reducing larger order phenomena to the simple action of uniformly acting elements and physical processes, like the reduction of mind or thought to blood, the elements or the brain. Socrates abandons physical science when he recognizes it can’t account for the goods that he finds in natural things, so even if we perfectly analyzed the physical structure of embryogenesis we would be without an account of why reproduction is good.  

Part of Socrates’s fascination with the good is his fascination with mind, as he shows by enthusiastically responding to Anaxagoras’s claim that mind was the cause of all things since this seemed the most promising way he could think of to explain the causality of the good. When he turns to Anaxagoras, however, he sees that the causal story is taken entirely from physical science, which both widens the gulf between him and science and prompts him to seek harder for an account of the causality of the good. 

Socrates ultimately restricts the scientific explanation to a conditio sine qua non as opposed to the causal story. His causal account focuses on the formal element that is both goal of the physical process and an organizing principle in the material that has reached the goal. He will describe the formal element in ways that seem both naive and circular: a big thing is big by bigness, the double is such by duplicity, etc. The more substantive thesis is one he proposes in Phaedo only as a postulate, sc. that the various forms in things are themselves such by participation in a paradigm instance that is more real than even the various real forms we find in the world. And so the Platonic forms, which seem in the last analysis to be pointing to a doctrine of perseity – the αὐτὸ καλὸν that translators call everything from absolute beauty to beauty itself to (most confusedly) Big-B-Beauty, seems to be just the kath’ auto that will fall into Latin as per se. 

Plato discovered perseity and it arguably turned out more complicated than he thought. While he seems to want to locate perseity in form, and he sees science as alienated from form, perseity will turn out to be a crucial logical concept in any systematic and precise investigation. Just ask, for example, what the per se cause of weight gain is (Carbs? Calories? The intake-burning ratio? Fat storage? Insulin?) Each is inarguably a conditio sine qua non, but the science as such demands locating the cause of weight gain per se. But Plato was right that form relates to perseity and that both are abstract wholes and unifying principles to the parts given by physical analysis. 

Catholic morality and pronouns

Randal Rauser argues for the morality of transgender pronoun use:

[I]t seems to me that the only thing at stake here is hospitality. To illustrate, imagine that Pastor Jones’ son Paul converts to Islam in university. When he returns home for Christmas he tells his dad, “My new name is Muhammad.” Pastor Jones believes that his son has made a terrible mistake and that his soul is now imperiled. But acceding to the request by calling his son “Muhammad” is not blasphemy against God or Jesus. Rather, it is simply accommodating to his son by extending hospitality.

Rauser’s Muhammad hypo refutes the following claim: Whenever I morally disagree with your reason for having a new name I must refuse to use the new name. It’s certainly true that if this claim in all its generality were the reason for refusing to use transgender pronouns then refusal is doomed, since parents might have all sorts of evil reasons for the names they give their kids but it would be odd to take such reasons as justifications for refusing to utter the child’s name. I’ve personally known a couple that labored for days to think of the most notorious anti-Christian namesake they could for their newborn before settling on “Christopher”… after Hitchens. So is it just prejudice that makes it seem self-evident for some Christian to unproblematically call the atheist’s child “Christopher” while wondering about the morality of using the same name for a trans man?

Maybe not. If A is hesitant about B’s trans pronouns it is probably not just because he disagrees with B’s reasons for using them but because he doesn’t want to cooperate with B’s intentions. The cooperation that Rauser suggests isn’t formal, but there is an immediate material cooperation in the use of transgender pronouns that one doesn’t find in Rauser’s Muhammad hypo since it would be taken as a failure of transgender ideology for people to refuse transgender pronouns but it would not be taken as a failure of Islamic ideology if a pastor refused to call his son Mohammed. In fact, none of the Five Pillars of Islam would be contradicted by the refusal to name children Muhammad while key political goals of contemporary transgenderism would be denied by refusals to cooperate with preferred pronouns or by deadnaming transitioners.

In fact, to deny that using preferred pronouns is cooperation with transgenderism is belied by transgenderism itself. If I asked an Imam what I could do to support Islam I doubt that he’d tell me to refer to Muslims by their names, but I’m pretty sure if I asked a transgender advocate what I could do to support transgenderism that he’d tell me to use preferred pronouns and encourage others to do so.  So if one believes the intentions of transgender advocates are evil he can’t use their pronouns as a courtesy, since this only means courteously giving immediate material cooperation to what one believes is an evil.

Theses on truth

1.) Theories of truth follow theories of knowledge

2.) Theories of knowledge begin with the object of knowledge and not the power or subject, e.g. consciousness or a Cartesian theater. A fortiori, they cannot begin with the products of knowledge: propositions, etc.

3.) The object of knowledge is actuality.

4a.) The same actuality exists in itself and is known to another.

4b.) The axiom of the communicability of act is that act by its nature or of itself shares or communicates itself.

5a.) Actuality in itself is said simpliciter and secundum quid to another so far as it is the foundation of a relation, cf. (2.)

5b.) This distinction of simplicter and secundum quid is not into a more and less perfect as it formally belongs to actuality or perfection as such.

6.) Postulating the existence of the triune God as transcending the distinction between being in himself and to another, and therefore of containing both virtually, is of irreplaceable value in explaining the nature of knowledge. The trinity is seen as a whole so far as we run this same argument through, mutatis mutandis, for a theory of goodness or knowledge as a principle of desire.

Aristotelian Standpoint Epistemology

Contemporary standpoint epistemologies trace back to Marxist theory, which claimed that while anyone can understand the viewpoint of their own life, the proletariat had in virtue of their suffering a privileged position to understand the viewpoint of the bourgeois while the bourgeois themselves had no similar experience of proletarian life. Being oppressed, so the story goes, gives one an insight into the whole social situation that the oppressor does not have. The theory is now applied to sexual and racial minorities.

Standpoint epistemologies rub many the wrong way even while few are comfortable contradicting them outright. Criticism can be elliptical, by insisting on the objectivity of inquiry and the existence of plain facts that anyone can see whether oppressed or not. The criticism fails to convince and it is often belied by the universal deference people give to some form of standpoint epistemology, if only in their being far more willing to publicly accept criticism of minorities than to give it. This leaves many in limbo, unable to give full-throttle acceptance to one side of the question or the other. What to do?

The truth of the matter is that standpoint epistemology is true but the privileged standpoint is not that of an oppressed class, race or sexual minority but of the virtuous life. As a man is, so the end seems to him, i.e. the good see reality well and the wicked see it poorly. The marxist take on this gets the general principle correct but fails to conclude due to the fallacy of the accident: oppressors do have a restricted viewpoint and even a false consciousness, but this arises because oppression is evil and the wicked cannot see reality as it is. While an oppressed class as such doesn’t have this impediment, an oppressed person has a clearer view of reality only qua virtuous and not qua oppressed. Neither oppressors nor oppressed as such see reality as it is, while the first never see it well because they are wicked and the second might see it well provided they are good.

No matter what our moral theory is it rates few as perfect, and so to give deference to any large class, racial group or sexual minority – or any majority group for that matter – guarantees that we’ll esteem an opinion closer to vice than to virtue, and therefore less attuned to reality. Our deference needs to be to those who temperately deal with pleasure and pain, courageously deal with fear, anxiety and evil, justly deal with others and prudently deal with uncertainty. That is what gives someone privileged access to how things are and what should be done, and it’s everyone other than that who needs to shut up and listen.

Nature / nurture

The distinction between nature and nurture seems as impossible to justify as it is to let go. It rarely holds up in controversial cases but we keep appealing to it anyway. 

Nature-nurture suggests something of the old distinction between nature and art, though Aristotle divided them primarily so that  what we knew about art could illumine things that arose from nature. We, however, don’t want art to illumine nature but to be sharply contrasted to it out of a determinist account of nature that makes it the irresistible or “hard-wired” in opposition to the social or chosen area of causes under our control. The older distinction between nature and art didn’t see nature in this determinist way nor did it see free choices – even for God – as entirely independent from the determined or necessary. 

In the face of what we want to say about nature (as opposed to nurture) Aristotle and his tradition would have just spoken of a hexis or a disposition differing from other dispositions by its relative fixity. Latin Aristotelianism called this a habitus, which is within calling distance of the English habit, though a habitus includes any stable disposition to some activity, e.g. rocks have the habitus of falling, falcons of flying, drunks to drinking, extroverts to positive feelings, etc. The stability of the habit is its relevant note and not the principle of the habit in nature or nurture. Oddly, this stability seems to be what we’re driving at in the “nature-nurture” distinction, though it would be clearer and more exact for us to stop trying end the trial of nature v. nurture and just speak of a habitus. What we call a sexual orientation, for example, is clearly a habitus while the question of its principle in nature or nurture is probably both unanswerable and not-universal. In general, any habitus could also be our identity

But if all we can agree on is that something is a habitus this leaves it an open question whether it is good or bad, which is, one supposes, what we really want to talk about in the first place.

Gender as Principle vs. Criterion for Gender

In disputes over sex and gender we get confused by wanting to resolve a principle to an observable criterion or fact, even when attempts to do this belie the whole process. We want man or woman, male or female to consist in some anatomical or genetic part in all cases and get puzzled by the often very rare exceptions to whatever rule we come up with. 

A principle, however, is defined by its order to an outcome and not to its success at attaining it, and male and female are principles of the common good of the human species according to its continued existence. The supposed discovery of “other sexes” would have to mean a new sort of principle of this continued genetic existence, but of course this isn’t what anyone has meant by new genders. What we mean is that when we look to outcomes of the principles in search of criteria for a sex we don’t always find them. What new principle of generation comes to be in an XXY male or XXXX female? If chromosomal and gonadal sex aren’t aligned, how do we get another principle of familial formation or new generations? 

Whenever we turn away from principles and towards the outcomes of principles we have to accept imperfection in concrete cases or definitions that work more or less depending on context. There is a process from any principle to its outcome and it is irrational to expect any material process never to fail, since a material process must at some point fail. Depending on just how actual we take the principle of human existence we might end up seeing only a few persons as male and female, and then for only a very short period of their lives. Women, for example, can only reproduce for a few decades of their lives and for a few days in their cycle, and at any rate are only actually reproducing for a small percentage of the time, so there is only a comparatively brief time when the principle of femininity is in full actuality. Nothing about this picture changes much if we include temporary or permanent infertility, whether by choice, accident, genetic bad luck, or anything else. 

More to the point, when we say there are more sexes than one, what exactly is counting as a sex? What do we have 50% more of when we go from noticing there are XX and XY humans to noticing there are XXY ones too? Nothing gets added to our original reason for dividing the group into two, a division that was made eons before we knew about chromosomes at all, and which we presupposed in our understanding of XX and XY in the first place. 


Two faces of the sinful will in Augustine

In Book II of Confessions Augustine describes the sinner as energetic and defiant. The point of his pear tree narrative is that sin is a desire for transgression and a defiant assertion of one’s autonomy in the face of restriction and morality. The sinner loves freedom and the infinity of his will. 

In Book VIII sin becomes the state of the crippled and palsied will. Augustine knows good things but finds himself unable to choose them. He finds his sin grotesque and wants to be released from it, but his mental and moral lassitude make him unable to enjoy either his vices or their cure. He can see a better life but can’t choose it. In light of this Augustine’s fundamental experience of grace is the empowerment of will allowing him to love what he disliked only moments ago – an account of grace that will come to be called victorious delectation. 

The two accounts of sin parallel to the account of the fall, which starts in the desire to become God only to quickly transform into an immediate shame at finding one’s desires beyond his control.  

It’s not easy to see both of these states as two faces of the same sinful will. 

Hypotheses about exemplar causes

One and the same reality is the act both of the agent and the subject of change; to the subject it is the end which will become the form of the subject, to the agent it is the exemplar.

The desire for an end belongs not to the agent but the subject, since desire belongs to potency and agents as such are in act. If agents as such are actual, however, how is the exemplar its act? Exemplarity is an immanence presupposed to transitive action, and so where this eminence belongs to the agent himself the agent has knowledge and where it doesn’t the agent works in virtue of this.

The agent is not a desire for exemplarity as though it were a potency actualized by it, which is why exemplarity to divine agents. Nevertheless, finite agents take the species of their action from the outside and so their exemplars have a sort of exteriority to the agent.

The exemplar is the measure of an agent’s action and has all the actuality in its order and so is maximal in perfection. Effects that are better or worse in relation to their exemplar.

There is exemplarity properly only so far as there is agency. Human beings are not the agent causes of being and so do not have exemplarity for it.

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