Separated souls

-The blessed are impeccable because there is no time for them to sin; the damned are impenitent because there is no time for them to repent. Where the duration of the substance is as a moment there can be a grace that elevates or an absence of it that degrades, but there cannot be this moment in one state and then that moment a contrary state.

-All authorities agree that the pain of loss is greater than the pain of sense, but the teaching is so scandalous that it often doesn’t get foregrounded when speaking of infernal or purgatorial pain. We know, after all, what the pain of lacking grace feels like and few of us would rate it on a list of our most terrifying pains.

Pain is a frustration of a natural state: the belly is made for food and suffers without it; the organs of our body want right functioning and integrity and cause us extreme pain when this is lost, lungs need to breathe and are in agony when we can’t take the next breath, etc. In the pain of loss we see the dignity of the spiritual substance that is made for God like lungs for breath. The pain of loss the sort of pain described in the Sicut cervus, or in Psalm 63.

This might throw some light on the objection, since the soul in union with the body was made proportioned to a body and so tends to draw its pleasures from bodily pleasures. The soul by itself, however, has no offsets and can feel only its own hungers or fulfillments, and when it is raised with a body proportioned to that state it will only feel these more acutely.

Set: univocal and analogous

Cantor’s defines a set: a many that allows itself to be thought of as one. 

Things have unity from the same source as being, so this would reduce to a multitude with logical being or existing as ens rationis.

So say we point to something and say “that’s a set.” The term is either univocal or analogous, and if analogous it will be like a representation is an analogue of the real thing, e.g. “Joe Biden is on the wall of the FBI office.” If it’s univocal, then the thing we are pointing at is literally a mind, which is impossible. So the set one can point to is not the set as such or simply speaking, just a two dimensional print in a frame is not the president, or even a living being.

Non-fungibility of transcendence

Transcendence is an order a greater being has to a lesser, such that the greater has all the good of the lesser in a higher and more unified way, but the higher and more unified way is a higher order of being, so that no multiplication of the lower good ever equals or exceeds the higher good. So even though there is a sense in which the $100 bill has all the good of the $20 and more, it does not transcend it since multiplication of the lower good approaches the goodness of the higher. But there is no multiplication of the goods sought in vices that equal the good of the virtue which contains both of them, no multiplication of goods other than friendship that equal or exceed the value of friendship, no multiplication of creatures that equals or even approaches the goodness of the creator.

Hell and the Aevum

Assuming we have a nominal definition (and even this will often have to change) he first principle of understanding Hell is to get clear on its duration.

For our purposes, a duration is any way in which a variable being can relate to a more uniform measure.

The easiest duration for us to understand is time, where both substances and actions are measured by a more uniform substance (like a star) and a more uniform action (like the rotation or orbit of the earth.)

Eternity is the duration of unchanging an unchanging substance and an invariant intellectual action, and such an action would have to know all being at once. This is the duration of the blessed, who have this vision relative to the more uniform measure of God’s knowledge of himself.

Aeviternity is the duration of an unchanging substance but, because it has does not have the beatific vision it has more than one thought. Those with more thoughts are measured by the one with fewest.

The duration of Hell is aeviternity and not time, neither is Hell eternal as a duration.

1.) Punishments in time are proportionate to the time of the punishment, so a punishment for an unending time would exceed proportion to any finite fault. But aeviternity is not an unending time.

2a.) Grace is in the essence of the being receiving it. The essence of what is in eternity is unchanging, and so what occurs in time must be able to occur as it were in a moment. Now either an act of turning to or turning away from God can happen in a moment, but not a turning away and then a turning toward. Repentance, however, requires both acts, so repentance is not possible in aeviternity. God does not save those in the aevum because he can’t, and he can’t because it involves contradiction. If we’re going to convert, it has to happen now; and if an angel falls, that was his last chance.

2b.) Those in Hell have free choice, and a being with free choice can always choose a salvific act of charity, but any act of charity presupposes grace. So a damned being has free choice and cannot make a salvific act of charity.

3.) Though our lazy understanding of eternity makes it an unending time, there is no unending time. Time began with the creation of the cosmos and it will end after the eschaton. Even after the general resurrection the body will be proportioned to either the participated eternity of the blessed or the aeviternity of the damned. The temporal itself is finite, and even if not in its terminus a quo it is in its eschatological terminus ad quem. 

4.) The aevum is intrinsically permanent, unlike time which is intrinsically impermanent. An everlasting time would have to be imposed from outside by a continual divine action; an everlasting aevum is simply the duration of the things existing there. One isn’t sentenced to a permanent punishment in the aevum – he is a permanent being with a punishment.

5.) One complicating factor is that the damned are bound to a (somehow) temporal fire. They aren’t bound in a manner that makes them a temporal essence in the way that the soul and body are one essence in a person, but in an extrinsic manner appropriate to the punishment of a free being.

Transcendence in the Nicomachean Ethics

A good X transcends goods A,B,C, if X has all the goods in A,B,C plus more, and in a more unified way.

1.) A virtue transcends the goods one seeks in the vices opposed to it. Aristotle’s teaching on virtues as middles between two vices does not mean that virtue is a sort of mediocrity but that it contains all the goods one seeks from the vices in a better and more unified way. Temperance with respect to food is a middle between anorexia and gluttony because one experiences both the self-control that the anorexic seeks and the pleasure that the glutton seeks, but in a manner that harmonizes both in a unity, and in a manner that makes the person themselves good. Fortitude with respect to dangers is a middle between the self-abandonment and glory one seeks in rash bravado and the self-awareness of one’s limitations and love of one’s own good that are foremost in the mind of the coward.

2.) All human goods other than friendship < friendship, since friendship transcends them. If one were offered all goods other than friendship at the expense of having friends, he wouldn’t take the deal. To have a genie give you all goods other than friendship and then place you with them alone on a desert island is an insight into the value of all goods other than friendship.

3.) Friendship transcends justice, the chief virtue. A regime that governs all human relations by mere justice could never begin (since regimes are founded on families, which exist as friendships and create them) and would quickly collapse even if it did (since justice by itself has some resentments as an inevitable by-product, and these can only be relieved by public friendship.)

4.) Within friendships, the friendship of virtue transcends the friendship of pleasure and use, being both pleasant and good intrinsically, and based on a more certain foundation.

5.) The ultimate end of human life transcends the goods one gets from all ways of life that cut out a part of the ultimate end to the exclusion of its transcendent totality. The highest life is more pleasant than the life of pleasure; more honorable than the life of honor; and places one in a greater society than the search for society life and unconditional love, though Aristotle lacked an explanation for how those last two conditions were met.

NB: As extended and appropriated by Thomas, friendship qua charity transcends all other goods since the love of God is friendship, and without charity nothing else can count as a properly human excellence at all. In other words, charity transcends any other good since, absent charity, the other goods cease to be desirable at all. More to the point, the friendship with God gives one God himself, who transcends all goods other than himself.

A sexual liberation paradox

On the one hand, we have a deep and growing sense that sexual activity and expression is deeply tied to our happiness and personal well-being since, e.g. our sexual identity is fundamental to who we are and to suppress any modality of it is a tremendous injustice. On the other hand, we want consent to be a sufficient justification for sexual activity. The paradox is that consent does not suffice for happiness. All sorts of condemned men have consented to a gallows escort, and in general one consents to all sorts of distasteful, unpleasant and merely instrumental acts, to say nothing of what he consents to under duress, when surprised or deceived, drunk or impaired, socially pressured, badgered, excited, worn down, in an unfamiliar situation, or acting with grossly limited information. So we consent to all sorts of things we largely don’t want; but happiness is what we entirely want, so consent is not a sufficient rule to bring about the happiness, whether from sex or anything else. So either we stick with mere consent and overlook the large numbers of persons who are sexually unhappy (say, the pressured and abandoned women of the pre#MeToo era) or we need a set of rules more robust than consent (say, like the one we scuttled to inaugurate the era of sexual liberation.)

Joe Rogan’s Pagan Attractions

I have no reason to suspect Joe Rogan is actually pagan. As far as I can tell, he has the common religious status of a raised-Catholic None. But a significant part of his appeal comes from his dedication to what are, from the viewpoint of the Catholicism he left, distinctly pagan themes.

1.) Fascination and promotion of physical cruelty. Belloc identifies the most salient characteristic of the pre-Christian world as systematic cruelty, and the bloodsport  that Rogan celebrates and promotes draws on this lost glory of the pagan world. While MMA isn’t the only sport to reliably induce permanent disability and dementia, it’s the one that does so in the most theatrically cruel way, with combatants pummeling and strangling eachother each other while fighting in cages, forcing the other to submit out of fear of lasting disability or death.

For the Catholicism that Rogan left, all this is a Fifth Commandment violation against human dignity and the goodness of the body, and it’s just the sort of systematic and theatrical cruelty – like of crucifixion or gladiatorial combat – that the Church has condemned since the beginning.

2.) The cult of bodily glory: While much of Rogan’s love of fitness and bodily health is laudable and a very necessary corrective against a modern tendency to gluttony and dissipation, there are clear ways in which he pushes this beyond healthy limits to a “neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body (CCC. 2289.)” A case in point is his celebration of professional bodybuilding and endurance sports, both of which are Fifth Commandment violations in the same way that MMA is.

3.) The continual promotion of pharmakeiaI choose the word that the King James translates as sorcery (Gal. 5:20 cf. also Rev. 9:21 and 18: 23) since in the ancient world there was a clear link between (to give the first and third definitions of the term in Strong’s)

I.) The use and administering of drugs, and

III.) Sorcery, magical arts, often found in connection with idolatry and fostered by it.

Rogan enthusiastically promotes psychedelics as psychological therapeutics. i.e. as having what Catholicism calls spiritual value. It’s the rare conversation that Rogan can’t turn to the praises of MDMA or LSD or any number of other hallucinogens, and many of the conversations are done while he and his guests are visibly consuming cannabis. He’s doing exactly what the New Testament condemns the pharmakeus for doing.

4.) His strong anti-Catholicism. While not unique to paganism it is integral to it, since in its conflicts with various forms of Paganism the Church has a worldwide, centuries-long track record of destroying and transforming them healing the wounds they cause. Rogan has little to say about the Church that isn’t dismissal or contempt.

Substance dualisms

Materialist or naturalist theories of life can’t deny we infer the substance of something from how it acts, since such inference is the basic act of understanding anything about the world. So they either have to invoke a fundamental physical vs. biological substance dualism or they have to say that the inference from vital activities to a vital substance is mistaken. The latter option seems like the default, and it is certainly easier to understand and more parsimonious, but also more wrong. That said, it is closer to the truth than what we understand as substance dualism, which contrasts strikingly to what the term would mean if said of an Aristotelian theory.

Aristotle argued for an (unfamiliar to us) substance dualism between the physical and biological, claiming that the living and the non-living were only analogously beings since the biological transcends the physical, i.e. it contains all its perfections plus others in a higher and more unified synthesis. On his account the physical and biological are two analogous senses of the term “substance,” and even if a substance exists in se in its whole species and parts as opposed to existing in another as modifying it, the crucial terms are all analogues.

I labor the point of Aristotle’s supposed substance dualism because our own account of dualism is very much not like this. What we call substance dualism doesn’t require ideas like analogy or transcendence – it seems to be just an interactive monism between solid substances and more gaseous ones. This is why Sean Carroll thinks it’s enough to refute dualism to point to a Dirac equation and say that the existence of a soul would require a new term in it – some additional interactive force or particle. An animon or psychyon or whatever. Such a thing could never be found and wouldn’t explain life anyway: what we need is something that explains why something moves itself as opposed to simply acting by our removing what impedes it or pushing it from behind. A bowling ball rolling down the lane isn’t using energy to achieve its goals but simply channeling a force it received a tergo. This is the difference between the bowler and his ball, or, in general, the transcendence of what lives over what doesn’t.

The puzzle of 1.75.1

I was puzzled for years by the main argument of Prima Pars 75.1:

Now, though a body may be a principle of life, or to be a living thing, as the heart is a principle of life in an animal, yet nothing corporeal can be the first principle of life. For it is clear that to be a principle of life, or to be a living thing, does not belong to a body as such; since, if that were the case, every body would be a living thing, or a principle of life.


The head-scratcher was that no one would say that it was body that was the principle of life, but a body with order X. The resolution is from three claims Thomas takes as self-evident: (i) order is a multitude of relations and thus an accident, (ii) accidents can’t be the first principle of a substance, and (iii) the substance of living things is alive.

A body is at least a substance, but it is crazy to understand it as the first principle of life, for exactly the reason Thomas gives.

Soul as substantial principle

A principle of life has to explain vital motion: heartbeats, digestion, etc.

An accident of a body (like right order of parts) cannot explain vital motion.

What explains life cannot be an accident of a body.

Only the second premise is controversial. What is the sense? What impediment is there to thinking that to put the parts in the right place suffices to make them alive? Arrange some molecules me-wise and you’d have all my actions, right?

But the question that interests Aristotle is not whether living-wise arranged parts would be the living thing, but whether the accident of arrangement is a sufficient principle to explain the vital activity.  If so, vital activity cannot arise from the substance of the thing, and so there is no essential difference between the living and non-living. This means either that the substance of everything is non-living, living, or is something transcending their difference. No one entertains the last option and the second is unpalatable, but the first is contradictory, i.e. to assert that the substance of a living thing is non-living (NB that this contradiction would remain even if one saw life as emerging from non-living matter.) Common sense and modus tollens gives us the claim that vital activity belongs to the substance of the thing, and that therefore no accident suffices to explain it. While it is true that if you had the accident of me-arranged atoms you would have me, all this means is that if you had something ontologically consequent it would require its ontological antecedent, which is self-evident anyway.

Aristotle’s point goes deeper, however, since he seems to deny that the principle of any natural motion can be entirely in the accidental order. If so, we couldn’t infer from the natural action of a thing to the sort of substance it was, e.g. we could learn nothing about the nature of fire by knowing it was hot, or about water by knowing it froze at 0°C. The attempt to avoid what Aristotle means by a soul in the name of a science unified with physics, and which therefore claims all differences between the living and the non-living are accidental, ends up cutting off one of the essential principles of a realist physics, namely the ability to conclude from the action of any entity to a fact about its substance.

« Older entries