Limit of infinite being

Finite = Anything so far as it excludes the perfection of another.

Infinite = Anything so far as it does not exclude the perfection of another.

So things can be more or less finite and infinite.

The non-conscious world is purely and wholly finite. Perfections are held only by subjects localized in themselves. Among non conscious things there is still a presence of an end or good, but this is only present in them so far as they participate in intelligence.

By sentience the exteriority of the world is incorporated into the life of the animal and so things that exclude one another in themselves do not exclude each other in the life of the animal. In this sense the animal is less finite and more infinite. Nevertheless, the proper object of any one sense wholly excludes the information given by another: sight and smell are of different objects. So taken, every sense is finite and not infinite.

Some animals integrate different sensations in a single common sense. Because of this integration common sense or imagination is more infinite than any individual sense that feeds into it. Nevertheless, the common sense is not a faculty of judgment or of comparing itself to the world, and so it cannot know either truth or any other transcendental, or substance or relation.

Intellect knows all things absolutely and so is more infinite than imagination. Nevertheless, intellects are limited when the very form which makes them know is distinct from the form making another know in act. I can know the same proof that Euclid did, but I can’t know it by the idea that was in Euclid’s mind. The essence of the form is one, but its existence is diverse. In this sense, intellect is finite and not infinite.

A purely infinite intellect, therefore, is one whose essence is the same as its act of existence, as in members of the Trinity, where the exact same act of existence is apt to be in Father, Son and Spirit.

The limit of self-existence

If we know what things are by what they do then the more they act independently of others the more they will exist independently of others.

In the inorganic world action is a response to activity of another as in inertia, which is the tendency of bodies to preserve an action imposed on them previously and is therefore per accidens a resistance to any opposing state one tries to impose on a thing nowHaving action from another corresponds to its having being from another, which is why the inorganic, all the way down, has no self that can be destroyed. Melting ice is not a sort of death, breaking a stone is not dismemberment, and the direction of chemical change is purely accidental and inherently reversible. The conservation of matter is not so much an endurance as a sheer absence of being-in-itself.

Life gives physical processes a definite direction and distinction, dividing, for example, nourishing from waste removal. Nothing counts as waste in a physical reaction as such, but relative to the living individual it can. The living is actively independent of others and so is actively a being.

Consciousness is a form of life that is independent of others not just in being a definite individual but by incorporating the others themselves into one’s own life. As experienced, the exterior world is part of one’s life, though so far as the animal is passive to its object it is also not independent of it.

In lower forms of consciousness the knower takes on not the object in itself but the object so far as it can act upon and therefore relate to another. This is the physical cognition of central nervous systems.

In higher forms of consciousness the knower attains to the object itself. This is the cognition of intellection. So far as it entirely incorporates the reality of the object into itself, the intellect is most of all independent of the object, though, again, it as passive it is clearly dependent upon it and specified by it.

At the limit of independence of existence there is either an intellect of a being transcending intellect whose knowledge is not specified by the object, but either (a) is the object or (b) constitutes the object’s existence as opposed to presupposing it for its activity.

In one sense, (b) is very easy to understand: it’s an intellect whose independence is such that it constitutes the other that is its object rather than taking that other as given. Something suggesting this occurs even in dreams. On the other hand, any notion of how such an intellect constitutes the world has to deprive that act of something that is essential to intellection as it exists in us, namely the specification the object makes to our intellection and our consequent passivity to it and absence of independence. At the same time, we can understand why this essential condition of our intellection would have to drop out at the limit of self-existence.





Solomon’s First Proverb

A wise son makes his father rejoice:

but a foolish son afflicts his mother.

1.) The first proverb turns our attention to our relation to our parents and by extension to our ancestors which, in the matters that the proverbs speak of, are chiefly the saints.

2.) Our ancestry is sexually complementary. The men rejoice at our success (a sort of divine “attaboy!”) and the women are concerned about failure. Like most articulations of sexual complementarity they are paradigmatic and statistical as opposed to exceptionless or straitjacketing, but they cast light on a familiar-enough experience. Mom loses all the sleep over what could go wrong while dad has his typical dad moment in the rare times when everything goes right and is more willing to accept failure as a cost of self-determination. So with the ancestors.

3.) Solomon’s wisdom begins with a demand to locate oneself in a familial history and tradition, comprised of ancestors deeply affected by our actions.

4.) The tradition we start from is the tradition we hope to be made part of, which explains the proverb immediately following:

The treasures of wickedness give no benefit

but righteousness delivers from death

Deliverance from death joins one with the same ancestors he held in mind at the beginning of the journey.


The reality detector

0.) This thought experiment can either stand alone or be added on top of Leibniz’s Mill. It’s similar to the problem of philosophical zombies in the sense that it raises a question in philosophy of mind relative to the conceptual possibility or impossibility of a certain object.

1.) I set out to build a reality detector. I could also call it a detector of existence, esse, being, thinghoodtruth in the ontological sense, etc.

2.) I program a machine to scan the area and record anything that can be put in a box as a thing. The commands for “put” were difficult, but I figured them out.

3.) I put the machine in an empty room, turn it on, and it records nothing. I then triumphantly announce my machine has proven God* does not exist. This of course makes me an idiot.

4.) My idiocy is instructive, though, not about God or boxes or programming but about what would count as a reality detector. For human beings nothing is easier than detecting something real, existent, true ontologically, etc but our inability to build a mechanical or programmed model of what we’re doing does not seem to be a mere limitation of technique.

5.) We don’t have these limitation in building instruments to detect other objects. We’ve built artificial eyes, decibel meters, thermostats, photosensitive plates, burglar alarms, infrared cameras, seismographs, stethoscopes… Why not a reality detector that could solve the problem of the reality of God, angels, mathematical objects, past objects, philosophical zombies, universals, separated souls, transubstatiation, Platonic forms, the value-free natural world, pure nature, original sin…

6.) My conclusion is that building a reality detector is conceptually impossible, but since both of us are such a thing then we have a part of us that was not built nor programmed. This part of us had no previous potential existence in parts laying about the universe in diverse places only to be brought together by our parents and other natural causes, nor is it executing some algorithm or law.

* I’m choosing God as a paradigmatic but by no means exclusive example. For a longer list – which could have been made as long as almost all the key objects of philosophy and theology – see (5)

“Never do evil that good may come”

Never do evil that good might come is axiomatic in all moral systems. In consequentialism it means “never do what on balance will not lead to the best outcomes so that the best outcomes may arise” in deontologism it means “never do an action incompatible with your duty so that you might fulfill your duty” and in virtue ethics it means “never do what is incompatible with human flourishing for the sake of bringing that flourishing about”.

So what’s the point of the axiom? First because as clear as things are in general they are usually messier in the concrete. More importantly, the axiom speaks to morality’s presupposing what Scholasticism called the unity of the virtues, i.e. human goods, no matter how they are understood, cannot be understood as involving intrinsic opposition.

Defining substantial form, with an eye to soul

Substantial form gives parts an intrinsic function as a whole. 

Intrinsic function: The head and handle of the ax have a function, but if the function were intrinsic to the parts they would hold themselves together either of themselves or using something as an instrument, but as it stands its parts are held together by pins, wedges, glue, etc. The steel in the head and the wood in the handle have a unity that neither the whole ax nor the edge on the head or shape in the handle have.

In having an extrinsic function of its parts, the ax is different both from living things and some non-living things (protons and electrons are held together of themselves and not by a distinct sub-atomic substance)

As a whole: An ax’s function is not just extrinsic but as a part. Handles exist to be wielded by a swinging arm, making ax-function the extension of another, and as such the ax is a part.

Unlike the ax, the eye has an intrinsic function, being held together by forces that are instrumentally used by the eye itself. Nevertheless, the eye does not have a substantial form qua part. This is the sense of Aristotle’s if the eye were an animal then vision would be its soul, i.e. if the eye were the whole animal, then it would have its own substantial form (i.e. soul) and this soul would be its intrinsic function (i.e. vision)

Living beings are thus not machines for two reasons: all machines have extrinsic functions and their functions are as parts of larger human wholes (which is why a machine needs a handle, a button, screen, steering wheel, etc)

Living beings are also not living by a dualist soul since dualism posits a distinct life for the soul and the parts, but this would require a distinct function for the soul and its parts. But there is no such distinct function. Even in human beings whose intellects can separate, the function of the separated soul is different from embodied intellection.

The invariance of the separated will

(IV Contra gentiles c. 95)

1.) Every appetite desires something first in the order of intention.

2.) Human life has both rational and irrational appetites. These appetites are also localized in a place that can vary and change in itself and so elicit new appetites.

3.) Reason, the irrational, and place all interpenetrate and affect each other. What is first in reason, for example, has to negotiate itself along with irrational appetite and its localization; what is first in irrational appetite has to make the same negotiation with both place and reason. All desires are relative to one another.

4.) Reason survives death with its ultimate appetite but is untethered from both irrational desire and the finitization of place. Its ultimate desire, once relative to other desires and situation, is no longer relative to another but absolute.

5.) What is not relative to another cannot be corrected or thrown off track by another and is invariant for the same reason that an object moving inertially through an infinite space is invariant.

6.) Ultimate desire, though absolute, is still finite and so can be disordered.

7.) Death gives an invariant attachment to either an ordered or disordered good.


Whatever critical thinking is, everyone agrees the kids need it. In response, as a sublime hecatomb to the gods of irony, we uncritically teach what everyone else is teaching.

Thought is critical when it stands in judgment, sifting through a sea of claims and commands in an attempt to divide the true and salient from the false and superfluous. “Critical” is thus the adjective we allow to describe skill at dividing truth from error, not in a specialized domain but generally across many subjects. This is exactly what Scripture and the tradition after Socrates calls wisdom. 

In a contemporary curriculum wisdom is a matter of technique or procedure. If we learn these informal fallacies, memorize these cognitive biases, develop the habitus of challenging claims, etc then we will gain wisdom. The Scriptural and Greek tradition agrees with this as far as it goes but would also insist that it leaves out something essential: the love of the sage or teacher. Wisdom starts in fascination with the genius and power of the words of a world-historically wise teacher, usually as illuminated by some lesser light (i.e. an actual living teacher in the room) whom we also find impressive. Catholic lectio divina and the whole of Protestant doctrine consists in seeing Scriptural authors as possessing this sort of wisdom, and I’ve had over twenty five years of success studying and teaching the the Great Books in the same way.

Okay, so I just claimed that critical thinking is a search for, inter alia, Catholic lectio divina, Protestant devotional reading, the seminar study of the Iliad, reading Plato, and the whole of the quondam liberal arts. The measure in which this is nuts is the measure that our desire for “critical thinking” is compromised and garbled. We still insist on that the students love and revere some heroes (Rosa Parks, say) but we don’t demand they love and revere someone whose words and wisdom are carefully and minutely studied. Absent this, the kids never learn to sift truth from error in a general way, which is ultimately all we mean by critical thought.


Perfection as arkai of thought

-The arkai of thought are its axioms

Cherniss: The problem of the arkai is that we only reason from them though they are more known than whatever we reason to. 

-The arkai are principles of charity as what all agree on and principles of condemnation as what all have strayed from. What gets called Socratic irony is really Socratic charity, making him both learn from and correct every doxa since all of them expressed both the arkai and a desire to be brought back into line with it.

-The Greek tradition developed though the Arabs and many Scholastics took perfection or the good as a supreme arkai. To the extent that we don’t take perfection as an arkai of thought we’ll at best have to translate this tradition into an unsuitable-though-sometimes-serviceable language.

-Perfect/defect are basic to the experience of the world, i.e. even to an ability to know this-is-not-that.

-Out my window a Jay flies from an elm to a maple. What changed? The Jay? In some sense, sure, but it obviously didn’t change qua jay. So does the Jay change as on the elm? No, because then we’re saying that being-on-an-elm turns into being-on-a-maple.

It doesn’t take long to see that what changes has no definite description or logos. For Parmenides this required there to be no such thing as motion since nothing could be without logos. Aristotle’s solution is amounts to saying that there is a participating logos, so that in flying to the maple the jay is elevated from a state of participating in being at the maple to being at it. Every motion is, in Platonic language, like an elevation from the physical world to the world of forms. Every motion, twitch, slight vibration is a sort of divinization, of leaving a state of being in via and entering in patria. 

-I can also note the jay on the branch and, to the question of “what moves” I can say “X”. So what’s an X? Well, clearly X=X; X + X = X + X; X2 = X2 etc. I thus get as many absolutely uniform entities as I want. So what can I do with absolutely uniform entities? Ha! MEASURE! All change is thus reduced to the absolute uniformity of the perfectly identical and therefore absolutely uniform. This too is the logos of motion. 



Latin liturgical reform

1.) Cards out: Between the Novus Ordo (TNO) and traditional Latin Mass (TLM) I don’t know which I like less. That sounds snippy, but it was the simplest way to say that I’ve attended, argued about, taught, and mulled over both Masses many times without coming to a clear preference. I guess you could say I have no preference, but it’s not for lack of trying to see if I should form one.

2.) Sacrosanctum Concilium wanted neither TNO or TLM, so Vatican II leaves us neither going forward with what we have nor going back to what we had. Liturgical experiments have been tried and failed before, so perhaps TNO could be abandoned. But this would just leave us with new names for the same old problem: either TNO 2.0. or a TLM that needs reforms.

3.) And the TLM does need reform. But to the TNO first: it’s main problem is that it does not represent the patrimony of the Latin Church since its creators moved too quickly and pushed the symbols beyond the point where they could be seen as continuous with what came before. This is all I’ll say in critique of it, but it’s all I think one needs to say.

4.) The main problem of the TLM is that through historical accidents it lost a large part of its ability to symbolize the pascal sacrifice, which is essentially a sacrificial community meal presenting the sacrifice as a culmination of God’s fidelity in salvation history according to the scriptures. I wholeheartedly endorse the most strident traditionalist who insists on “the holy sacrifice”, but the claim that we have to choose whether the Mass is a sacrifice or a supper completely misses its nature. Passover is a sacrificial meal. If this is Protestantism, then the Protestants were right about something. So what?

5.) We have no record of Christ saying how often the new passover should be sacrificed, but over time the frequency with which it was offered and the number of priests offering it made it impossible to represent it as a community meal. Far from gathering the community, most Masses were individual. This was neither anyone’s intention nor anyone’s fault. It just happened. But it harmed the liturgical symbol and deserved to be fixed.

6.) The community didn’t just gather for passover but took part in its celebration. As part of the ceremony, for example, the son would ask his father “why is this night unlike other nights?” and his father was required to explain how all the symbols were as a memorial of how God had delivered his people according to the scriptures.* Problematically, he TLM cited very little Scripture (4% of the OT and only the Gospel of Matthew) and a father-son dialogue can’t be done between Father and himself. This too damaged the Mass’s liturgical force, though, again, there are no villains here, just historical drift and accident.

7.) No one can fault TLM for representing sacrifice, but it’s hard to argue that its symbols were the ideal representation of Christ’s commandment to be remembered in the pascal mystery. Though I think #3 is an insurmountable objection to TNO, one can’t deny its superior liturgical representation of a community meal whose saving action occurs in accord with the scriptures, the readings from which were massively increased.

8.) I have no interest in the usual critiques of the TNO, most of which are historical accidents of TNO crowds being taken from all Catholics while TLM crowds are only one subset of a larger group of the devout (i.e. most devout aren’t TLMers, but most TLMers are devout.) The non-devout will drag down anyone’s poll numbers for Catholic orthodoxy, will make a casual and irreverent atmosphere, and generally make for an atmosphere obnoxious to the devout. Anyone shocked by this can go run his hands under the tap and marvel over how water’s wet.

*This part was connected to the passover ritual of saying “the Lord be with you/ and which your Spirit/ Lift up your hearts/ we have lifted them…etc” and which would conclude with the “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God, etc”

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