Logic as opposed to the physical

From the second and third acts of reason: 

We can give an account of how long it takes a neuron to fire or an oak tree to grow or a weasel to run up a drainpipe, but not how long modus tollens or the Pythagorean theorem takes.

If we isolate discrete steps of a physical process, at the moment of an earlier one we can always stop a later one. There are infinite ways to keep a conclusion from being printed after one’s printed the premises. But what applies to printing cannot be said of the logic, even though we can clearly isolate discrete steps in it.

From the first act of reason/ intelligence, (and maybe) sensation 

What is physically present within us cannot be physically outside of us. But some things in our consciousness are physically outside of us. Therefore,* some things in our consciousness are not physically present within us.

I include the “and maybe” because Early Modern philosophy discovered many problems with trying to extend this last claim to sensation. The sense object is always to some extent subjective, and we have no way of knowing to what extent this is so. Intelligence transcends this problem at least with its notion of being and object, which are necessarily other from subjects even if we go so far as to deny them anything but a purely formal content.

To the extent that our knowledge is implicated in sensation, we will be hard pressed to identify any non-materiality in it, and the better research program will always take its point of departure from the study of physical processes. No one has ever said that man was more than a first step outside of materiality.


*Look kids, a FESTINO in the wild!



2.11.16 (b)

-Malebranche and Eddington’s two tables.

-We want to explain reality as it is given. We want to move from a truth to its explanation.

-Explanation requires that the reality of things is not given. If reality were just there, who would need reasoning, discourse, investigation?

– For Aristotle, an elephant was a pretty good example of an individual physical substance. But this committed him to finding sensible particulars all the way down. Except for matter and form.


2.11.16 (a)

Luke 8: 45.

[She] came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?”…When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him. 

cf. Genesis 3:9

Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And the man said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid.”


Malebranche, Meditation 1

1.) A substance is what can be thought of without thinking about something else.

2.) Definition: the extended is the uniform, undifferentiated, infinite and spacial. It has parts outside of parts, is divisible, etc.

3.) We cannot think of roundness, elephants, particles, etc. without thinking about the extended, but we can think about the extended without any of these.

4.) Therefore, the extended is substance, all else in the physical world is not a substance.

5.) Therefore, in looking at the world by sense, we do not see its substance.

6a.) The relations between ideas are not the relations of extension (like left-right, up-down, inertial-accelerating)

7a.) Ideas are not of the physical world.

8a.) Ideas must exist in God. This is true of nothing in the world, even its substance.

9a.) Ideas are therefore necessary and eternal whereas the physical are not.

6b.) The substance of the world is invisible in itself. It is not what we look at when we open our eyes and see differentiation of color, texture, density, etc.

7b.) We would see the same beauties if they were produced within us without any realities outside of us. Thus beauty can be conceived of without the material world. Beauty is thus more substantial than the physical world.

8b.) Beauty is not of the substance of the world.

9b.) The intelligible world is more substantial than the physical world, as all of its reality can be present in ideas apart from the reality of the world.


Energy as a fiat currency

If an immaterial being moves a material object, is there more energy in the universe?

There can be no energy where there is not something that can be conserved, and something can be conserved so far as it is exchangeable between things, but for the immaterial to act on a material object is not an exchange. The immaterial does not lose something that it had before, nor is there an equal and opposite reaction going backward upon it.

Even if we say that the action of the immaterial ends up adding to the total amount of energy in the universe, this is not a violation of the conservation of energy, since energy is conserved so far as it is exchangeable. For material things, energy is a sort of currency that can be exchanged according to prearranged rules, but the action of immaterial things is not another buyer or seller in this pool of exchanges. Consider the difference between making a fiat currency and exchanging it. Every exchange of the currency will always maintain the same total value, but this does not mean that new currency cannot be introduced by another process. We can have a complete conservation of dollars if we mean that dollars are never lost in any exchange and that any exchange comes to be from pre-existent dollars, but this does not rule out the action of the Fed.

Nevertheless, comparing fed : currency users :: action of immaterial : action of the material does critique the hypothesis that if energy is always conserved that the total energy in the universe never changes. The hypothesis is either a tautology or a non-sequitur: if “total energy” means “energy that is exchangeable”, then we simply mean that there is nothing exchanged that is not exchagable; if “total energy” means energy arising from anything whatsoever, then it does not follow from the conservation of energy in exchanges that energy can only arise out of exchange. In fact, it’s entirely possible to argue that conserved energy must arise from fiat energy. The First Way can be taken as arguing for exactly this, so far as energy as a moved mover is intrinsically dependent on the “energy” of the unmoved mover.

A political belief

Almost everything we call politics is superficial compared to the well-known political principle Kant lays out in Perpetual Peace: 

The problem of organizing a state, however hard it may seem, can be solved even for a race of devils, if only they are intelligent. The problem is: “Given a multitude of rational beings requiring universal laws for their preservation, but each of whom is secretly inclined to exempt himself from them, to establish a constitution in such a way that, although their private intentions conflict, they check each other, with the result that their public conduct is the same as if they had no such intentions.”

Or, as Mandeville put it: private vices [are] public benefits. Not only do we not need virtuous persons to make a healthy state, we count on them being intemperate, irrationally self-absorbed, always desiring to consume more, etc. How else can we have an economy of perpetual growth without perpetually increasing consumption?

True, Kant, Smith and other liberal thinkers thought the system would create moral and temperate citizens. But morality was no longer foundational to politics or economics, but was produced by a purely scientific system. Politics and economics stopped being developments of the cardinal virtues and became pure developments of intellectual virtues. It becomes irrelevant whether an economist or political theorist is good, we want one that is scientific.

The two great responses to this liberal theory were Marxism and Catholic Social Teaching. The first doubles down on the scientific character of politics and economics, identifying intrinsic contradictions in liberal thought that it claims will work themselves out in an organic development towards a communist utopia. CST appears to want to triangulate both the scientific system and the moral foundationalism of the ancien régime. This leaves CST with, by definition, less scientific systematic consistency. It can’t be another system, but will always be to some extent the rejection of systems.


One element in the harmony of faith and reason is that it is sometimes right and sometimes wrong to seek reasons for faith. One sense of reason is to verify for ourselves, the primary sense of faith is trust in another, and faith that we only seek to verify is not faith at all. This sense of faith is one that will pass away in the eschaton.

But even this involves qualification. Beatitude is better understood as an overcoming of the opposition between self and other. The blessed do not see God by having an idea of him but by having God himself. If physics sufficed for human happiness, beatitude would consist in becoming the laws of nature while remaining oneself.

The trinity as the measure of intimacy

 Intimacy is the indwelling of one substance in another. Because of our corporiety, we can never perfectly achieve this. We can share something of our substance though its operation, though this only occurs though the material medium of signs and so is always to some extent extrinsic. We are impeded from intimacy by differences and ambiguities of language, the limitation and inferiority of signs and media of expression, the corruptibility of our cognitive organs, etc.. The private character of our subjectivity arises from its imperfection.

Angels and blessed souls overcome this imperfection of subjectivity by immediately illuminating others with their thoughts, desires, and works of art. They cannot be divided from each other by diverse languages, the ambiguities of one language, or the limitations of a medium. They create art immediately in others without having to manipulate paint, tones, words, or other material. Nevertheless, no angel is the source of the existence of another. If, per impossibile, one angel were to cease to exist, no other one would do so (which is also true of human beings – my son does not die because I do). The angel and the blessed soul* does not depend on things lower than himself to make himself known, and the activity of his subjectivity is can be entirely intimate to another. Nevertheless, his proper existence is always isolated from the existence of another.

It is only the trinity that definitively overcomes all impediments to intimacy. The spirituality of God removes the impediment of corporiety; and the procession of persons in divinity is such that if, per impossibile, one person were to cease to exist all other persons would also immediately cease. Each person exists within the other by a mutual and complete indwelling, in the same way that the will is both entirely contained within the intellect (as its power of desire) and entirely contains it (by being able to move it to act).


*The damned angels and souls are such precisely because they have rejected the intimacy of mutual indwelling, as laid out in the two highest commandments.

Descartes and substance

The paradigm of substance is the human self since we can verify its existence immediately. After Descartes, however, this self is understood as immaterial, thus making the material world insubstantial.* The material world became perfectly homogeneous since there was no longer any foundation in it by which things might differ.  All distinction was introduced into it from outside, and thus from immaterial substance. But the introduction of distinction into homogeneity gives us first of all numbers and shapes. Whammo – physics becomes math.

What can we say about this? It’s true that if we are the paradigm of substance that we have to decide whether we are more like or more dissimilar from the other things of sense. Is the self-reflection of human thought an insight into all natural things, or something that is better taken as dividing persons from nature?


*The Cartesian hypothesis of animals and plants as sort of machines is a logical extension of this, for they must perform complex operations without being substances.

All this is a different perspective on the modern critique of Scholastic occult ideas, the chief of which is substance. Substance, in the Cartesian view, seems to be a way of taking about what is unique to the immaterial, and therefore has no place in physics. Given human nature, we can expect the insubstantiality of nature to be accepted long after the theoretical basis of this (the immateriality of substance) is forgotten.

Two accounts of the material

In his Eschatology, Ratzinger several times quotes approvingly the claim that matter cannot be perfected. For Aristotle and the Greeks, the claim was not only wrong but confusingly wrong – how could anyone ever say something so obviously stupid? For them, things were material because they are ontological precursors to some other, more complete state. This meaning remains for us as well: call something building materials because we need to do something to make them complete; or course materials because they need to be worked over, written on, assimilated into consciousness, etc. Good grief, not only is material existence completable, completing it is the only reason you call it material. 

But the quotation makes perfect sense if matter is viewed not as an ontological precursor but as an eternal, foundational substance. There was a way in which things were material like this for the Greeks too – the heavenly bodies were eternal, fundamental substances that one could not make anything else out of, and so they could never be viewed as stuff that could be worked on to make some later, complete substance. One way to understand modern accounts of matter in ancient categories is to see all reality as being the fundamental particles, which were as eternal, substantial, and unchageable as the the heavenly bodies, while all other things (men, trees, and planets, etc) are no more substantial than the constellations, and for exactly the same reason.

This bivalence is implicit in the nature of matter itself. Matter remains through change and so is both the precursor to some later state and a reality that underlies any of the entities that arise from it and so has a bona fide eternity and foundational character.

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