Five Ways

The Five Ways argue that God is the per se, proximate, and proper cause of motion, agent causes with agent causes, things caused by another (whether contingent or necessary,) the more and less good, true, dignified, etc, and what act for ends without knowledge (what has “blind determination” to an end.)

The abuse of free choice

1.) Again, sin is not an exercise of free will but an abuse. The will is responsible for both, and both can be proper to free will, but to abuse a faculty is not to exercise it or put it to work.

2a.) I went to college with some of the flight instructors who trained the September 11th attackers. That those who flew those planes were attackers and not pilots – regardless of how one feels about their action – is already instructive. Only those who knew how to fly could be responsible for such an attack, but what they did was not an exercise of flight training nor the act of pilots as pilots. Flight training exists for the safety of passengers and as a means to facilitate travel, but the attackers did neither and contradicted both. The attack was an abuse of flight training.

2b.) Not every abuse is evil. If I drive my car into a pond in order to train persons how to escape from submerged wrecks then I am not acting qua driver any more than the attackers were acting qua pilots, but this would be a good act of abuse.

3.) One problem with free will theodicies or defences for hell is that they treat sin as an exercise of free choice, as though the power as such was just as much ordered to virtue as to sin. Free choice can explain the responsibility one has for sin, but sin is not reduced to the power but to the abuse of power. Abuse is a defect of action, and so the question of theodicy or hell shifts to why God created defectable creatures. Here, however, the answer is self-evident: creation just is the coming into existence of an order beneath absolute perfection. Creation makes fallible things, so letting them fail is simply letting them be what they are, which is presumably one of his primary motives for making them in the first place. Seen in this light, allowing sin is present in the first act of creation, and so can perfectly well be allowed in creation’s eschatological fulfillment.

4.) But if not every abuse is evil, why is the abuse of free choice a moral evil? Abuse is justified only over property, i.e. over things that owe their existence to us and exist on a lower level than ourselves. This is why it’s no abuse for me to destroy my own car in a safety video while it certainly would be one to destroy yours without your permission. But if either (a) humans are the highest beings that exist or (b) all things exist on the same level, then the abuse of free will would not be a sin. So humanism and reductive ontologies -which are very much like ontological democracies – both justify the abuse of free will.

5.) The reductive ontology will ultimately rule out even the possibility of property or a justification for eating even plants, so the justification of sin will have to occur on the humanist axis, i.e with what is traditionally called pride.

The vanity of evil

Thomas argues God cannot cause sin but he causes the act of the sin, and he compares the difference to a limping walk, which is explained qua walk by the vital or motive power of the body and qua limp through a defect in the leg. Within a sin, the defect in question is lack of an order to the highest good absolutely, and God can’t will the lack of such an order. Anything wills its own good in anything it wills (even if only virtually, and usually along with willing other things) and God’s good is the highest good absolutely.

How are we to understand this willing evil as an act but not under the formality of evil? Say we list of all the possible formalities of Christ’s crucifixion like…

▢ 1.) Give into irrational mob

▢ 2.) Command Soldiers to pound nails into man you think is innocent

▢ 3.) Deviate from order to ultimate end.


Is it that, while both God and Pilate thought Christ was innocent and commanded the soldiers to act, Pilate’s checking of #2 logically implied him checking #3 while this is not so for God? Thomas seems to say something like this when he says that God is like a pilate who allows a ship to sink, though in his particular circumstances the pilate was under no obligation to keep it afloat (perhaps the pilate is a spy or was otherwise commanded to scuttle the boat, say by Cortés.)

Still, we can’t mean that God’s will and the sinner’s are identical except for God stopping short of choosing the one formality that deviates from the ultimate end. It’s better to start by saying that one and the same action allows for different total descriptions. The selling of Joseph into slavery might be a helpful example since Joseph himself says that his brothers “willed it for evil, but God willed it for good” i.e. one and the same sequence of events was both the brothers taking vengeance on Joseph out of envy and degrading him to the life of servitude and exile and God’s manifestation of the excellence of Joseph that ultimately saves even his own brothers from death. Notice the total description of the action from the brother’s perspective is ultimately in vain: in seeking to degrade Joseph they only create the sine qua non of his glorification; in seeking vengeance against him for a slight way in which they were inferior to him they end up depending on him to escape starvation.

If this account of evil universalizes, the description of an action qua evil will always be in vain. Evils in a crucial sense can only exist in finite minds acting in ignorance, not in the sense that finite minds are innocent of causing pain and injustice but in the sense that the evil can only allure because some causes are acting beyond the limits of our understanding, with much of this causality occurring within the realm of future contingents and free actions. The providential order is such that, though we know enough to make ourselves guilty, if we knew as much as God does when were contemplating whether to choose an evil, we would see, like Joseph’s brothers would have, that a fuller perspective on the causes of things would rule out the course we were choosing, even if our desires remained vicious. Assuming Joseph’s brothers were made omniscient but still desired to degrade Joseph, they would never choose to sell him into slavery, as this would mean initiating a sequence of events that glorify him.

So if Joseph’s brothers were omniscient, would they have just chosen another way of degrading him? No, since evil itself would lose it’s allure and and all motive power over the will, even assuming (perhaps per impossibile) that their will remained perverse. To believe that the source of being necessarily desires his own goodness means that we always find ourselves within a providential order where the allure of evil can exist only within the limited mind of the one doing it, in the sense that his choice depends crucially on the belief that he can achieve something that, as plausible as it looks from within the limits of his understanding, is ultimately impossible within the causal order of things. This is one account of a phrase so frequent in the Wisdom Literature as to almost count as a refrain: he diggeth a pit [to catch the just man], and he himself falls into it (Ps. 7:15; 9:15; 141:10 Prov. 26:27; 28:10 Eccles: 10:8). This also helps to explain the tight connection scripture draws between evil and the lie (cf. the identity between the origin of created evil and the Father of lies) Evil is crucially like the lie in that it is an order which exists only in reason and not in reality. Lies can be causes and they certainly have effects, but they don’t have these in virtue of being an order which exists in reality.

Unlimited Goods

From Get Religion 

The underlying assumption… is the gospel of the Sexual Revolution — people have a right to sex whenever, however, wherever and with whomever. This right is a modern invention. Most societies attempted to chaperone their teens and encouraged their offspring married young. They also punished adultery quite severely. One’s ‘right’ to sex was hedged in enormously.

Today, the thought of limiting one’s desires is equal to an obscenity in our culture

The Sexual Revolution divides from the Sexual Ancien Régime by removing all limits on sexual behavior, which is to treat it as an unlimited or infinite good. We can all feel the possibility of participating in such an unlimited life: We can easily name dozens of persons who live this way (celebrities and rockstars alone…) we know neighborhoods and locations dedicated to living like this, we’ve consumed hundreds of hours of music and art that glorifies sexual freedom, and we have access to the tech that can flout taboo. We could break ten taboos before lunchtime if we wanted. Through sexual freedom (née transgression) one can experience breaking through limitation, and so participate in infinite life.

So taken, acts of sexual revolution range from devotional practices to public liturgies, since they seek to achieve exactly what (say) Catholicism seeks to achieve by prayer: to praise infinite life, to give oneself over to it, to recognize the ways in which one is unworthy of it, and to rededicate oneself to trusting in its power to liberate us from evil. To be sure, the Sexual Revolution is other things too: anti-bullying programs, empathy with people struggling with impulses beyond their control, women seeking economic justice, etc but our judgment about these things can’t be separated from our judgment about participating unlimited life as the Sexual Revolution understands it. As someone who is against both bullying and the Sexual Revolution, I’d prefer to deal with bullying through the resources of the Sexual Ancien Régime (like charity for outcasts) but I recognize that this might only be possible up to a point, since what counts as bullying can’t be entirely separated from what one thinks about the Sexual Revolution.

Since subordination to a higher good is a limit, any unlimited good is an ultimate end. Sexual freedom is thus an ultimate end of human life: on one axis this makes it happiness and virtue, on another this makes it beatitude and divinity. Like any divinity it is always new, always old, and the antiquity of cults of sexual excess is well attested. For contingent historical reasons our present cult of sexual freedom/transgression arose in liberal society and therefore expresses its sacrality though rights and science (née reason) and after a Protestant epoch destroyed our ability to publically kneel before statues. This destroys some accidental sources of continuity with older cults, but the mechanism is the same.

Spirit and energy

If an immaterial cause acts on matter, energy is produced without previously existing

If energy is produced with none previously existing, conservation laws are violated.

The fundamental problem with this argument is that it conflates causes (like God, angels or human souls) with energy, which is neither an efficient or a formal cause, but a symbol for the algorithmic relations between measurements (at most, it is a quasi-formal cause in the way that all mathematicals are formal.) If by energy we mean work, energy is nothing but the product of the measures of force and displacement; if we mean kinetic energy then all we mean is 1/2mv² etc. Energy isn’t some magic fluid that leaps from pool cues to billiard balls but a term expressing equivalences and functions of measurements. This is definitely not what one means by God, angels or souls, and to conflate the two is a category mistake. Thinking that energy pushes things is like thinking cars do division since they move in miles/hour, or thinking lightbulbs can multiply because they use electricity in kilowatt hours.

So if God moves a log, then I suppose one can call this “producing new energy”, though all this means is, e.g. that he moved some mass in the product of the square of its velocity. Well, duh. We all know if a natural thing wanted to do this, it would already have to be moving or have some other form of energy, but God is not a natural thing.

Cartesian spirituality

Descartes argues that every experiential truth rests on a prior act of divine love. We trust experience because systematic deception is incompatible with the divine mercy. On this account of things the action of divine love is more intimate to us than our awareness of even basic truths about the world.

Thomas prefers to argue for divine intimacy on the ground of his creative act. The existence of anything at all, whether as a principle (matter or form) or a substance or an accident (like operation) presupposes a divine act already complete, and so there is a divine act already within something before it exists at all, and by “within” we don’t mean that something exists that contains it, but the exact opposite; namely that whatever exists is not some given to which God must act from without but rather if there is anything interior a divine action must be conceived as even more interior.

A 17th Century Jesuit account of knowledge

Nazarius critiques the Jesuits as holding that knowledge is the mind having an idea, in the sense of a certain subject having an accident that is the likeness of some external thing. Nazarius claims this won’t do as an account of knowledge since it can’t explain the union of the knower and the known. Just as anything is what it is by having its own form, a knower is what it is by having the form of another.

Descartes might have picked up on this Jesuit idea and made a similar critique: if all my mind has are its own forms or experiences, how can one call this knowledge or “truth”? On this account, external world skepticism just is the problem of how the known object is a different sort of entity than a quality in a subject mind. So far as most contemporary philosophy of mind sees itself as responding to Descartes, this fundamentally scholastic puzzle is the unrecognized knot at its center. Since Descartes we’ve had a tendency to see ourselves as beginning with the judgment that ideas are properties in the soul or in the head, and then raise the question of how one gets out of his head or whether he needs to.

Nazarius agrees that one has to start with the notion of entitative information or with substances and accidents, but they serve to understand knowledge only as points of departure for ways of negation and eminence; i.e. knowledge is a union of form to subject in a manner utterly different and more one than a quality can modify a subject. This seems to be the lesson that Descartes should have taken from his own arguments. Let me take a paragraph to expand that last claim:

Descartes does not think that he knows unless he knows what exists even apart from mind, but he never takes the next step of recognizing what this means for the definition of knowledge. If the knower has only his own qualities or accidents – “his ideas”  – then he is indeed trapped inside a Cartesian theater and does not know anything, and so the knower, by definition, must have forms of another. Descartes account of how the knower gets this (i.e. the goodness of God would not allow him to be deceived) is in fact less important than what his own insights are saying about what knowledge is. Descartes had a harder time seeing that knowledge was the form of another since the first objects he discovers are mathematicals and himself – the first being a little recognized discovery within his dream argument and the second is his famous cogito. Still, when one knows his intellect the form making one exist is not causing knowledge under that description, and in fact Descartes thrills over just this point – what he rejoices to find in the cogito is something whose existence is above and beyond any information that it makes in his intellect. If the “I” of the cogito were not other than himself, he would not rejoice to find it. Still, this otherness of this “I” is the same subject as Descartes. This otherness of a knowing subject and its object becomes more extensive as knowers become more immaterial –  separated souls, angels and God know all objects in the way we know our self as object, and this allows them to know all things objectively far better than we can.

Sympathy with Protestants

At its most sympathetic, protestantism is maximally conservative. It’s paradoxical to claim this since it’s been connected to liberalism as everything from a necessary principle to almost an identity, but what I have in mind is a protestantism that takes an argument like this as its point of departure:

The deposit of faith was completely revealed by Christ and the Apostles.

The deposit of faith does not contain the Tridentine Mass, doctrines like the Immaculate Conception, Assumption, transubstantiation, or papal infallibility, institutions like monasticism, a clear and defined sacramental system, clerical garb and ritual pomp, formalized prayers like rosaries, novenas, indulgence prayers, saint pilgrimages, candles in front of statues, stations of the cross. It also has no cults of saints, relics, etc.

Sola Scriptura in this sense means to see the gospel as overgrown with centuries of superfluity and weeds, and the task of reform as clearing out everything beyond Christ entering into a world totally without him. We throw out the statues and leave the Mass in search of unmediated connection with Christ. Everything else is the traditions of men, or the well-intentioned but ultimately pharisaical burdening of the gospel under additions which, even if once formed in good faith, tend to corrupt into mindless and heartless practices  that distort revelation rather than manifesting it more clearly. This tendency to corruption is clearly visible in the original deposit of faith itself in more or less all of Christ’s interactions with the Pharisees, e.g. when he heals a paralytic at the pool of Bethesda but the pharisees are unable to get past his command to pick up a mat on the sabbath, which did not contradict the letter of the sabbatical laws but their later development by custom.

True, protestantism normally allows for some sort of development of doctrine: a formalization of a canon, a small number of crucial technical terms, etc. and Catholicism has pounced on this for years as a foundation for its ecclesiology. Protestants seem to smell the danger in allowing any kind of ecclesiology, but at their most sympathetic they might just say this: the Church is apostolic in the sense of following the words said by the apostles, whose college is limited to the 12-15 persons listed in NT documents and whose doctrine is limited to what can be gleaned from their writings, to which there is no further court of appeal. Where the writings are ambiguous or silent or allow for diverse sects, Christianity itself is ambiguous, silent, and allows for sects. Seen from this angle, to object to protestant sectarianism is to object to Christianity itself. It’s hard to see how protestantism can be non sectarian when the very word “protestant” is a portmanteau term for diverse sects, which reflects a sectarianism as old as the movement itself.

The difficulty in this is that the apostolic testimony rejects sectarianism altogether. There can’t be many Christian communities because there can’t be many Christs. The Church is the one people of God united around Jesus, and anything else is not faithful to what was revealed. A tolerance of sectarianism would require a Gospel that presented us with multiple incarnations, all “mysteriously” connected, to be sure, but living and worshipping in ways incompatible. The attempts to make Christianity look like this are almost as old as the religion itself, but none of them can be squared either with the explicit teaching of the Apostles (say, Paul’s condemnation of sectarianism in 1 Cor. 1 : 10-16) or with the plain fact that we only have one Christ.

So the Reformation has a permanent value in showing us just how much about Christianity is contingent and dispensable, and even if it is reasonable to allow for doctrinal development and the stability of custom, these have only heuristic value and can’t be taken as utterly ruling out the possibility of very extensive change over a very short period of time (say, in a liturgy.) The difficulty with the Reformation is that its ecclesiology allows for a toleration of sectarianism that belies the basis of the reform itself.

The causality of immaterial on material beings

Assume an immaterial being – God, and angel, a human soul – causes a material one to move. How does this relate to the causality of energy, momentum, or some other conserved quantity?

1a.) Physical causes are essentially instrumental and interactive while immaterial causes act by themselves and are simply active. The immaterial being does not increase the total energy in the universe because it does not introduce another instrument or interaction into it.

1b.) But isn’t the activity of body on soul an interaction? NO! Interactions are between two partial efficient causes, and the body and soul relate as a lower mode of being elevated to a higher mode of being. Just as the reactants in a chemical change don’t stand to the product as its efficient cause (that role gets played by e.g. some chemist) body and soul aren’t partial efficient causes acting on each other but a single efficient cause arising from a lower order of being (mere body) being elevated to a higher order (ensouled body.) In grabbing my arm you don’t act on my body so as to initiate some string of causes that eventually interacts with my soul, but you act on a single soul/body composite, and this composite responds in a way appropriate to its being. Given the sort of being I am, I both am active and interactive in different ways. What usually gets called substance dualism is not actually a dualism of substances at all, but a solid interacting body (the “body”) visualized as interacting with a gaseous interacting body (the “soul”.) But there are no “souls” as so described, and it’s hard to decide if they are merely superfluous or not also contradictory. But there are also no bodies described like this either, at least not active ones.

2.) Energy is conserved insofar as it is not initiated. Just as inertia does not initiate motion or rest but only conserves a motion or rest already initiated, energy does not initiate motion or change but conserves one already initiated. Physics, on this account, takes motion or changes as evident and given, so much so that to answer the question of how motion is given qua motion is to step into another science.

3.) Physics takes energy as conserved because it it defined my taking motion as given, and so accounts for any one motion by a previous one. Just as cell theory takes life as given in saying all cells come from previously existing cells, physical theory takes all motions as arising from pre-existing motions; and just as cell theory is not a denial of the possibility of abiogenesis, physical theory is not a denial of, say, a cosmological argument or some other non-physical cause.

Theodicy of Proverbs 27:6

The wounds of a friend are objects of trust; the kisses of the enemy deceive.

The Douay captures the sense very well with Better are the wounds of a friend, than the deceitful kisses of an enemy. We are invited to compare are an immediate experience of pain (a wound) and an immediate experience of pleasure and delight (a kiss) and recognize how both are defined by context: to find out that the kiss was faked as a part of an enemy plot is to be disgusted at the thought of taking pleasure in it; and to have a friend as friend wound us by telling us how we are harming ourselves or others is a moment of deep intimacy, and is among the most transformative experiences one can go through.

We all know that pleasures and pains can be redefined by context in this way, but the objection to making this a theodicy is our sense that we can articulate well-enough a class of pains that cannot be providential (or, on a different axis, what sorts of pleasures could only be from God and not deceitful.) The lives of the saints challenge this, as there aren’t any pains or losses they did not see as the wound of the divine friend. One can assert they are crazy, of course, and that some evils are just obviously gratuitous, but this demands forming judgments about what even omnipotence cannot order to goodness.

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