Physics 1 c. 9

1.) Nature is any principle of motion (cf. axiom #2) and is two sets of principles. The first set of principles is the term of becoming and its negation, the second a principle tending to being and not negation which Aristotle calls the underlying or matter.

2.) Matter can be considered as indifferent to diverse outcomes, e.g. flour can become bread, cake, or paste; and nitrogen and hydrogen might make ammonia, and we might take the ammonia and make hydrogen and nitrogen again. Though matter is indifferent to consider it as indifferent is not to consider it as a principle of nature, since nature is a principle of motion and no subject moves qua indifferent. Thus matter is (a) inherently a tendency to perfection and away from defect or privation and (b) this goodness is inherently manifold or realizable in ways that exclude each other. Aristotle is not just speaking metaphorically in saying that form is divine, for matter tends to form precisely as a good not limited to this or that good. While matter must be realized as this good A and not that good B, matter doesn’t tend to good A qua excluding good B. The good that matter tends to is therefore in a certain sense infinite and divine, matter tends to good and not as this finite good in opposition to that one. Failure to recognize the divine character of this good is one reason why we fail to see that nature is tending to a good: if, after all, nitrogen and hydrogen make ammonia as easily as ammonia makes nitrogen and hydrogen, what is the point of saying that either process is for a good and away from an evil? Which is the privation and which is the perfection? But this conflates the good to which matter tends with the finite goods considered precisely in their finitude or opposition to one another.

3.) Aristotle is solving the riddle of Parmenides and not side-stepping it. Aristotle does not shift the terms of motion from being as such to this or that being – that would be to side-step Parmenides – rather he puts a tendency to being as such in matter, and explains how matter is in one way being and in another way not even according to Parmenides’s own account of being. Matter is other than privation but it is also other than the intelligible in itself as it is only intelligible by analogy or comparison to another. Parmenides’s account of being therefore conflates the intelligible or true secundum quid with anything not intelligible or true simpliciter. Matter is not intelligible in itself or good in itself and so is not being in itself, but it is the intrinsic tendency to good and intelligibility and repugnance to non-being, unintelligibility, and evil.

4.) Aristotle closes book 1 by noting that it would take another discourse to get clear on just what sense matter seeks being as such. The discourse was what we call metaphysics but which Aristotle described better as divine science or theology. Just how much being does matter seek? How close to the divine is it trying to get? These are questions that Christianity will build on top of Aristotle: in what sense does matter seek even matter as it would have been in Aristotle’s heavenly bodies or in our light or resurrected body? Is matter inherently a tendency for union with immateriality (i.e. for the human person?) This was Dekoninck’s thesis, so much so that he said one can infallibly predict from the first moment of cosmic inflation that man must necessarily arise. Questions about the Blessed Mother are also hard to avoid, as we see in her a tendency of matter even toward a divine person, though of course not a tendency simpliciter but so far as matter is hypostatically united to a divine person.


One principle of (strong/sci-fi) AI seems to be that what can replicate the effects of intelligence is intelligence, e.g. the Turing test, or the present claim by some philosophers that a Chinese room would be intelligence.

So imagine you rig up a track and trolley to accelerate at 9.8 m/s2.  This perfectly replicates the effects of falling, and so is artificial falling. It deserves the name too: you could strap a helmet to the front of your train and drive at a wall 10 feet away, and it will tell you what the helmet would look like if dropped from 10 feet. But for all that the helmet at the front of your train is obviously being pushed and not falling – falling is something bodies do by themselves and being pushed isn’t. The difference is relevant to AI, for just as falling is to being pushed so thinking for oneself is to being a tool, instrument or machine. Both latter are acted on by others, and have the form by which they act in a transient way and not as a principal agent.

Notes on Aristotle’s Physics I c. 5-7

1.) All fundamental natural theories resolve the intrinsic principles of nature to contraries. The most recent instance of this is to resolve nature into matter (fermions) and force (bosons.) This is just the latest development of the classical-Newtonian division of nature into (inert) bodies and vis impressa, which are the contraries of active and passive.

2.) Note that the classical tradition is incomplete now in much the same way as it was for Newton. We can’t explain the ways in which matter or bodies are active, whether in their attracting others (gravity) or by the resistance they give to force (mass/ inertia). Note also it’s the active component of matter gives rise to dark matter or dark energy – since we clearly aren’t observing how things act on it!

3.) Here’s axiom #1: everything is either a principle (principium) or from a principle (principitatum.) Could we have just one intrinsic principium of all things in the universe? This was Parmenides’s claim, but all sides agreed it made motion impossible or only apparent, and motion is what natural theory explains as inductively known (call this axiom #2). Given #2, motion requires resolution to many principles, and given #1 no principle can arise from another. Therefore the principles must be the first contraries since these do not arise from one another.

4.) Axiom #3 is that one thing arises from something, but not just anything, e.g. it’s not green that becomes cold, (except as a schizophrenic way of describing snow falling on one’s lawn) but the warmer that becomes so. All motion or coming to be X, whether X is being a substance or having a quality or location, requires this sort of contrariety even though we often don’t name both contrary states.

5.) But there must be some principle of there than the contraries since contrary principles explain the terms of motion but they can’t explain its subject. When something warm becomes cold we don’t mean that warmth becomes cold; and the raw doesn’t become cooked by the one state becoming the other. Motion requires that the contrary states in 5 remain forever opposed, but that numerically one subject can be in both states successively. Again, given that the subject is a principle (since it is prior to the contrary said of it) then from axiom #1 we know that it cannot be from the contraries. Again, if the contraries are the only principles there are, then a substance has to come from a contrary, but substance has no contrary (NB: Quantity also has no contrary, but to admit of contraries while being unchanged is one of the most distinctive facts of substance.)

6.) Aristotle has a peculiar genius for picking examples, and his explanation of motion as “non-musical man becomes musical man” is no exception. Remember that he wants to explain nature, and the closest thing to this is the second nature of an acquired habit. There was also a peculiar genius in picking musicality over all other acquired habits since music as in the soul as itself it penetrates our sub-rational parts directly while in the soul as art it is an intellectual virtue, just as nature in itself is not rational but can do what reason does and depends on the rational order.

7.) So change is either described as the non-musical becomes musical, the man becomes musical, or the non-musical man becomes musical man. This allows us to say that the principles of motion are either two or three.

8.) Aristotle closes by raising a crucial question of what will count as substance on this account. We already saw above that substance can’t be one of the contraries simpliciter, and if we make it the underlying subject we posit a substance as principium and so, from axiom #1, we can’t explain a substance principitatum. If some substance is generated, therefore, the fundamental principles of nature aren’t substances, even ungenerated ones. Fundamental particles certainly have vast explanatory power, but they are not the fundamental principles of nature, and to imagine them as such degrades nature by depriving it of the power to generate substance.

*The Idealist/dialectical tradition in the 19th Century would be another interesting case in point, but perhaps only of the conflation of contradictories and contraries

Notes on JOST on the ultimate end of one sinning mortally

(CT on I-II q. 1 De ultimo fine hominis Disp. 1 a. 7 para. 12 and 16)

12.) The ultimate end in the sinner is the man himself, not considered purely as an individual subject desiring for himself something forbidden (sc. as a finis cui), but as having a certain excellence, and desiring himself to be the end for whose sake he desires all commutable goods (sc. as a finis cuius gratia). This can be gathered from I-II q. 84 a. 2: “The end that man has in acquiring all temporal things is that he might have a personal perfection and excellence, and so pride considered in this way is the beginning of every sin” cf. also II-II q. 162 a. 2 “The sins other than pride are ordered to it as an end, as pride is one’s own proper excellence, to which all things can be ordered for one with disordered desires.”

Thomas here explains whom is the ultimate end realized in all the particular goods or ends which are sought by disordered desire. Since the man takes himself to have some remarkable excellence or perfection, and since this belongs to the formality or condition of beatitude, but since he has this by not placing himself under the rule and law of God that restricts and limits him, but rather desires to hold what is peculiarly agreeable to himself (suam propriam convenientiam) and to make his will the rule that he might extend to all things as he sees fit (pro libito). Thus the man as the person for whom the goods are desired becomes the end for whose sake he wills them, so far as he considers himself as having an excellence and perfection that he regards as deserving to be rested in, due to an acquired perfection adequate to draw together and unify all particular goods.

16.) [What makes the materially diverse acts of a sinner formally one is] that something is taken as agreeable or satisfying to the will without subordination to the rules of reason but [merely] to one’s own choice.

Science the Antichrist

1.) To deny that science has any intrinsic connection to God’s existence and providential order makes it an Antichrist, or, said better, it makes science proper to the city of man (PCOM).

2.) Science is taken either narrowly as the physical sciences (viz. “The sciences as opposed to the humanities”) or more broadly as idealized rationality so as to include subjects like modern historiography, psychology, or practices like data-based policing. Any of these ways of taking science can be Antichrist or PCOM.

3.) We deny that sciences have an intrinsic connection to God when we say they are naturalist. I see no difference between ontological or methodological naturalism, as either one takes it as rational to be non-cognizant of an intrinsic connection between nature, history, etc and God’s existence and providential order. While I recognize the difference between the denial of God and the mere non-cognizance of him, I think that if this non-cognizance is to be rational it is either (a) being confused with something else that isn’t naturalism or (b) it is just ontological naturalism. 4 and 5 describe times I think (a) happens.

4.) We easily confuse scientific naturalism with the truth of logic that any discourse seeks to explain things through proper causes, which requires a preference for natural causes until we know there is a divine one. For example, as far as we know as of 2021, life as such could arise either from a natural process of abiogenesis or though a purely divine cause and, given we don’t know, we should prefer natural causes since, if one exists, it would be more proximate and proper to the natural effect. This preference, however, is not because science has no intrinsic connection to divine causes or because we are in some sort of position to know that non-divine causes have been so successful up until now* but because if we don’t know if something has a natural or divine proper cause, we need to seek the natural one first since if it existed it would be more proper and proximate cause. But we do posit some divine proper causes of natural things: for example, the proper cause of motion as such is God and any natural entity that is in fact fundamental – and it is not easy to know what these are even though it is easy to show that they must be – arises from the creator as its proper cause. Knowing that some natural event does have a supernatural proper cause, moreover,  doesn’t magically transform one’s knowledge from “science” to “philosophy” or “faith” even while it does demonstrate a new subject genus.

5.) We also confuse scientific naturalism with the explanation of (i) relative or (ii) dialectical subject genera.

(i) If one’s subject is the physics of clouds he might, for all I know, never hit on a phenomenon with a properly divine cause since his subject matter is considerably downstream from where we tend to see God as a proper cause of nature. Likewise, it’s one thing to have no need to appeal to God as a proper cause in explaining some periods of history (say you were a historian of the sawmills in Duluth) and quite another to say that history as science never appeals to God as a proper cause of some effect. The truth of the matter is simpler and makes naturalism superfluous: give God as a cause when he is the proper and proximate one, and nature when nature is.

(ii) Defining natural science dialectically through quantitative methods demands a homogeneity in explanations analogous to the homogeneity of quantity, and God can only be a proper cause of an effect heterogeneous with himself. Nevertheless, one cannot identify science, whether broadly or narrowly, as in every way relative or dialectical. As necessary as the division of labor in relative fields may be, nothing is relative to a relative ad infinitum, and dialectical mathematization is a tool for understanding nature as such, not nature qua mathematized.

6.) Scientific naturalism – again, whether ontological or methodological – imagines nature as a whole where it is rational not to take God as a proper cause. The first problem is that this is false, and a second is that it creates muddle-headed thinking about fundamental questions. When we refuse to appeal to divine causality fundamental physical entities easily become contradictory, e.g. gravity becomes something in nothing and yet doing things, rather than just being the heaviness belonging to bodies, and energy becomes simultaneously cause and effect of change. Again, there is the tendentious muddle that imagines that explaining the life of Christ in the mode of an agnostic is scientific history while explaining it as divine is religious apologetics.

7.) Those who attempt to show the compatibility of faith and reason often concede too much to the science PCOM. The compatibility of faith and science is not a between one domain that appeals to divine causes and another which doesn’t, nor is “faith” assumed to give divine causes as some sort of completing insight to a “science” which is assumed to have no intrinsic relation to God at all.


*To claim the success of non-divine causes as proof for naturalism is the fallacy of the accident, much like it would have been to say to Galileo around 1630 that the success of non-mathematical causes was proof that physics should be methodologically or ontologically non-mathematical. Galileo could point out that just because the physics that had succeeded as non-mathematical until him was not a proof that it succeeded qua non-mathematical. What we call the “success of non-divine causes” could just as easily be a proof for the relative underdevelopment of physics – and so our putative proof for naturalism might just be a manifesto for the retarding of physics.

Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot vs. The Christ Child

Carl Sagan comments on Earth photographed from 4 billion miles away

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam…

Sagan tellingly leaves out every scientist, every correct theory in physics, every brilliant insight into the nature of the universe, etc. We could push this further, since there is little to nothing in this litany of insignificance that Sagan would have taken as a description of himself. To be sure, the he’s included in the generalities at the beginning, but when he drills down to the details starting with “thousands of confident religions,” his own life and interests are left off the list.

But so what? Should we just update the paragraph to include a description of Sagan and his interests? Should we throw out the whole argument as his subconscious memoir of everything he deems unimportant or prone to overestimate itself?

No. Everything Sagan said is true as far as it goes, but it needs to be balanced against the truths he left out. Sagan’s silence arises from his own awareness that the summum bonum is intrinsically and infinitely meaningful, and human love participates in it, notwithstanding the evident insignificance of human life. When we preserve both the truths that he says and leaves unsaid, therefore, what we get is not Sagan but Pascal. Human life is the paradoxical union of utter insignificance and infinite meaning, and our basic stance to life is both abject humility grounded in a true awareness of our nothingness and confidence that we exist to possess a good greater than the common good of the whole physical and angelic natural order. This is all Christiany-stuff that Sagan would politely and confidently dismiss, but one would hope that to see himself in relation to Pascal would at least give him pause, since Pascal didn’t just think more deeply than Sagan about God and religion but was also a much better scientist. And what if we wanted to draw a theory about that?

Assume the pale blue dot gives one of Sagan’s fundamental beliefs about the universe. We’ve already seen the problem: while the speech locates an unmistakable perspective in which human life is insignificant and in need of profound humility, it leaves out his own life and everything he did in search of happiness. The center of Pascal’s beliefs about the universe, by contrast, is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, which provides a far clearer perspective into the insignificance of human life while simultaneously accounting for its infinite meaning. There is at least a proportion between the vast expanse of space and the extension of our planet, but there is no proportion at all between the divine nature and the human nature assumed; but that that this nature is assumed at all, of course, makes it divine. While it’s easier for us to see the pale blue dot against the cosmic backdrop than to see the Christ child in Bethlehem against the backdrop of the divine nature, the latter is far more insignificant against its backdrop than the former, even while the humanity being in the divinity gives it an infinite dignity that has no analogue when we shift to considering the pale blue dot being in the cosmos.

Left and Right

1.) The choice between the ideological Left or Right is over whether to replace Christ with Marx or Nietzsche.

2.) Let Marx start with the Jacobins, run through Marx himself, and develop through the Leninist, Parisian, and Frankfurt (or Critical) schools. By Nietzsche we mean the most alluring response to Marx, developing through Spengler and Evola and getting a popular American treatment by Ayn Rand, The Bronze Age Pervert and Steve Sailer.

The assumption is that Nietzsche and Marx have a sort of logical coherence, totality, and absence of superfluity that is lacking from forms of Left and Right that don’t suggest either author, viz. the Right of National Review or the Left of The Economist. 

3.) Marx and Nietzsche agree that political order is divided between (a) a powerful minority of rulers and (b) a much larger mass of the ruled. Marx idealizes and is quick to defend (b) while he caricatures or is more realist about the faults of (a) while Nietzsche idealizes and is quick to defend (a) and caricatures or is more realist about the faults of (b.) The fundamental political picture therefore either divides the oppressive false-consciousness of (a) degrading the innocent mass of (b) or the powerful, lofty, value- creating or meritocratic class (a) being continually pestered by the resentful, lazy, and envious class (b.)

4.) The zero-sum political good offered by both sides replaces the common good insisted upon by Christ, who describes a minority class of heroically noble persons, but defines their nobility by a love of the poor. Christ’s love of the poor is not an idealization – they too are called to repentance along with everyone else – but arises from a love of the common good that cannot be zero-sum between classes (a) and (b.)

5.) Because they are not ordered to the common good of diverse classes, disagreements between Marx and Nietzsche presuppose disagreements over who should be eliminated from the regime or marginalized within it. For Marx, peace will come as soon as we eliminate the false consciousness of traditional Christian rule with its superstitious oppression-justifying pomp and soothing pie-in-the-sky stories, while for Nietzsche peace will come as soon as the great meaning-creating superhero refuses to get duped by resentful and effeminate Christianized masses who insist that the stupid and untalented should be given a preferential option in the political order.

6.) What happens historically is that Marx and Nietzsche get tried, lead to short-lived regimes characterized by elephantine aspirations made at the expense of the common good, and are continually mocked by theoretical purists as unfaithful to the true spirit of Marx or Nietzsche. So Christ was replaced in theory, but Marxist and Nietzschean purists have had none of the success replicating the communities that grew out of Christian purists seeking and realizing the true spirit of the founder: Marx and Nietzsche have no vast networks of desert monastics, Benedictine monasteries, mendicant orders, or hospitalers; no Carolingian dynasties, Eastern Roman Empires, Republics of Venice, Capetian kings, or New World North American protestants. Marx and Nietzsche take over institutions, to be sure, but they never manage to transform them into regimes delivering the peace or excellence promised by the founders, which seems always, alas, to be one more revolution away.

The subject of causal power

Artists don’t just actualize artwork but also the powers and actions making the art, viz. painting makes both pictures and brushstrokes happen, and playing classical guitar makes both notes and rest strokes happen. So the art needs (a) a subject of the product and (b) a subject for the power and action that makes it, even though if we could have (a) without (b) the result would still be art.

For God to create requires (a), but (b) is both unnecessary and impossible. It’s unnecessary since it suffices for God to create that he bring about (a) even without (b), and it is impossible since both (a) and (b) would stand to God as creatures and one creature cannot create another.

So while we explain the difference in paintings in part by pointing to the (b) differences that produced them, viz. one was made with a brush and the other with a knife, we explain the difference between created things entirely by the created things themselves. So even a divine choice or divine intention, if we see it as a something God actualizes to make things, is nothing but one way of considering a created thing chosen or intended. So God’s choice to make a horse just is a created horse, and God’s non-choice to make unicorns is that there are no created unicorns, at least so far as one takes “God’s choice” or “God’s intention” as something indifferent to one thing or another (or to one possible world or another) and needing to be brought into being by God himself.

Thomas will compare divine choices to the left and right of a ship, since what is left or right is just a way of talking about someone who is standing on the boat and looking at the bow or stern (it’s just this sort of relativity that gives rise to terms like “port” and “starboard”) Just as “the left side of the ship” isn’t intrinsic to it but only a way a someone gestures now-to-this-side-now-to-that depending on whether he is looking at the bow or the stern, a “divine choice” as an intrinsic indifference is a way of talking about how a creature with intrinsic indifferences stands to God who has none.

By creatures we here mean those that are existent or actual, and so the account will have to modify if we want to talk about at least some sorts of defect.

The saint’s love of suffering (3)

After the first stages of the illuminative way, though well before its end, one begins to habitually be in the presence of God during the lived day. The lived day comes at minimum with some number of pains and inconveniences that are petty to write down or read about but a good deal more substantial when present, like waking up promptly with an alarm, walking to your car in the cold, having a coffee made not to one’s liking, having an itch one can’t reach while driving. Though these seem too petty when written down to call sufferings, nevertheless the unity of the soul is such that any one suffering effects the whole, and so even if they are not the worst sufferings one can suffer, we are nonetheless suffering them in our whole being and so find ourselves in a state where we enjoy no created good. The saints begin to discern in this the opportunity to love God in himself and not for his gifts. The mind reflects on the body in the state where created goods are ruled out (even if they are often only seconds away) and sees in it a moment when one knows he loves the giver more than the gift. For those of us who are not saints this looks like kowtowing or masochism, but it only seems so for us since our life has no experienced reality beyond the enjoyment of small goods and the suffering under small annoyances.

The illuminative stage is marked by a greater certitude of the presence of grace, i.e. of a reality that one uses and enjoys beyond the created order, and the saint’s love of suffering is a significant development of this greater degree of moral certitude. The duties of our state of life that we once found burdensome or even unendurable become no big deal, and sometimes even enjoyable, and in such moments the presence of grace is particularly clear.

Permission of Sin

Augustine Contra Faustum Bk. XXII no. 70: 

[T]hough Moses slew the Egyptian, without being commanded by God, the action was divinely permitted, as, from the prophetic character of Moses, it prefigured something in the future. 

And so divine permission of sin is (a) opposed to commandment and (b) ordered to some good. 

So is it that command and permission agree in some order to a good, but the difference is that command orders the divine causality to an end while permission orders the negation of his causality? Thus if the genus is “God’s ordering human action to an end” it divides into two species: namely command whenever there is a divine causal influx into the person and permission whenever there is the absence of that influx. Permission on this account is nothing but a sort of divine non-action. 

The only interesting question is whether this non-action is to be understood as omission or innocence,* which is just the question whether God owes an action to creatures as their debtor. 

*Note that innocence is etymologically and formally non-action, an in-nocere or non-harm.

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