Evolutionary explanations of goods (2)

Natural selection is not ordered to making any trait or property in an individual animal or species, but this is not because it is directionless but because the theory is meant to explain variety and plurality in nature as such. Darwin spoke with precision in calling it the Origin of Species and not the origin of this or that species or property. In the way in which evolution is actually directionless it is also without a goal or good; but once we locate any per se outcome of a theory – any orientation of causes toward effects – then this per se orientation is what Aristotle called a telos or good. Having a good in this sense is a condition of a theory explaining anything at all, or a cause giving rise to an effect.

“Directionless” or “random” within the theory is, like every claim that something is directionless or random, one way in which an outcome relates to a the cause, theory, mechanism, or set of facts. If the cause is “drawing a lottery number from 1,000,000 purchased ticket numbers” then

1.) If you consider the effect as someone won the lottery then the outcome is necessary. 

2.) If you consider the effect as Socrates Smith won the lottery then the outcome is random. 

Note that the theory we gave of the lottery makes (1) ambiguous. If you pull a ticket its necessary that someone win, but if you meant that a single individual out of 1,000,000 ticket buyers won the lotto then the effect is not necessary but improbable, and the improbability can be precisely given as one in a million. If you add to the theory of the lottery given above the fact that Socrates Smith is one ticket holder in a lottery, then his winning becomes not random but merely unlikely or improbable. Random, in other words, means only “an effect that did in fact arise, but which was not caused by or predicted by the theory as described“, and so the only reason why (2) was random is because Socrates Smith was not part of the theory as originally described, though it would have been easy enough to add him, and, in fact, in his own theory of the lottery he was doubtlessly so included.

So if we argue that Natural Selection is a mechanism or cause or theory of speciation that works my favoring beneficial adaptations, then

1.) If you consider the effect as nature speciates or some species or another leads to another one then the outcome is necessary. 

2.) If you consider the effect as tigers get faster then the effect is random. 

3.) If you consider the effect as tigers are found with beneficial adaptations, one of which is speed then the claim is a mix of the random and the necessary. The truth of the theory demands that for a trait to exist at all throughout a population is for it to be adaptive so to take the claim in this sense makes it necessary. But nothing in the theory demands that tigers exist at all.

The claim that “nothing in biology makes sense outside of evolution” is thus just a dramatic way of saying that the theory is biological  – it’s exactly the same sort of claim as “Nothing in the Principia makes sense outside of Newtonian assumptions”. That said, all theories or causes explain nothing more or less than the precise logos-of-the-effect that they are posited to explain, and to take some other logos is to hit on something random.

In order for this theory to be a theory at all, however, it has to set up a per se relation between causes and effects, and whatever effects these are, are the Aristotelian teloi of the process. That it has random outcomes is just a feature of its being finite.

*The random is categorically different from the improbable, even the astronomically improbable. Astronomically improbable outcomes are features of complete theories, but random outcomes only belong theories qua incomplete. This incompletion can happen in two ways, however. One sense is familiar: you set up a theory that explains a lot but was never meant to explain everything. Another sense is more interesting, where one says all human theories are incomplete since no human or finite logos can capture all possible natural outcomes. If a complete theory means a human logos that can predict an effect under any description then a complete theory is an utterly deterministic one. In this sense of complete Aristotle would have said that no human logos can be complete since the necessity of nature is from the end striving to realize itself in matter, and matter, as any artist figures out, is not capable of being perfectly obedient or pliable to the demands of any finite logos.

Our fascination with the random is an outcome of our hope that human or finite logoi could capture in advance all possible descriptions of outcomes in a single theory, i.e. determinism. On this account the random would be entirely subsumed into either the necessary, probable, or improbable, though the latter two might well turn out to be provisional to the necessary.





Evolutionary explanations of goods

I think at most two of these are compatible:

1.) Believing X leads to morally better outcomes than not.

2.) P is the sufficient explanation of believing X.

3.) Knowing P is a reason not to believe X.

Plausibly, belief in the existence of Santa (or Princess Alice) might produce better moral outcomes in children, but I want to set this sense aside and focus only on the case when the one who knows P is the same person who believes X We might tell noble lies to others, but I’ll take it as given that we usually can’t tell them to ourselves.

If X is religion, then the New Atheists thought P was “having a hypersensitive agency detection device”, and that #3 was true, but they utterly and unequivocally threw out #1, and gave the truth of 3 as the reason for 1 being false.

But what if X is still religion but P is, as Jonathan Haidt puts it, that such a belief is “an evolutionary adaptation to make groups more cohesive?” Here things get trickier because one doesn’t believe in the goodness of his religion as an evolutionary adaptation effecting group cohesion. Evolutionary adaptations are indifferent to the goodness of what evolves while the lover of his religion is not. So if (2) is true, then (3) also follows since he will be without a reason to believe in the goodness of what he loves, and so (1) will follow.

The inference can be easily forestalled by saying that evolution is one way of realizing or instantiating some goods in nature, i.e. that the evolutionary explanation is a necessary component of a larger explanation of how certain goods are realized, even if it is true that evolution as such is not ordained to this or that good that might arise from it. Seen from this angle, religion is a search for transcendence or the sacred in the sense that it is the recognition of the superiority of the common good to a more limited individual good. There are times when Haidt, for example, all but says this outright.




Ontology of Being and Essence (2)

We just defined a universal as in the genus of relation. This is, in fact, one reason why mind alone knows universals, since mind alone knows relations.

But the objections to that last claim are formidable: likeness and difference are relations and all animals seem to detect likeness. And what’s wrong with saying a machine detects likeness? Isn’t this the basis of photocopying?

While other accidents are formally ways of being in some subject relations are formally ways of being toward another subject. As a result, other accidents can act when their subject acts but relation cannot. But sensation differs from intellection in that the subject has to act on the cognitive power, and so while other accidents can be sensed relation cannot be.

But if this is right, it follows that position, quality, action and passion, etc can all be sensed and perhaps even mechanically detected, but relation cannot. But what does relation add over and above all of these? Why not reduce relations to nothing beyond position, acting, quality, etc?

There are as many ways of being as ways of existing, and relations uniquely co-exist. While there is certainly a way in which a position like sitting involves a relation of parts, the relation taken formally is not position but a way in which distinct terms co-exist. So while the position of the legs when sitting is perpendicular-ish relative to the torso this does not set up any necessary co-existence between the legs and the torso. For something to be in the category of relation, on the other hand, the terms must be such that they cannot exist apart, like “father” and “son”, “above” and “below”, or “darker” and “lighter”.

Being as true, being as real

0.) Visualize each true proposition P as having its own location. Make God write a book of all P’s, or have him write each one on a card, put it on a stake, and pound it into the ground.

1.) Either we know some P is irrefutable or not. If so, we have run over all possible locations for a true ~P and found none. If not then, for all we know, among all possible locations for a true ~P there  might actually be one.

2.) It follows that we know all possible locations for any proposition, though we disagree over the way in which we know them. Maybe we know them only as a great “out there” beyond our knowledge (like the infinite ocean beyond a slowly growing island of knowns, or like the task of distinguishing green emeralds from grue ones). Maybe we know them sufficiently to know that some ~P’s cannot be found, as certainly seems to be the case with certain logical axioms or with any sufficiently general or very concrete P like “Something exists” or “I exist” or (I’m checking) “At the moment I have two hands”.

More likely, some claims are refutable and others aren’t, but we know all possible locations either way. Let the state of being a P location be called being. 

3.) Being in this sense is the truth of propositions. This includes negative claims, claims about fictional characters, compound claims made of impossibles (if wishes were horses then beggars would ride), some claims made with alienans modifiers (Socrates is dead, my car can’t drive)…

4.) We’re using propositions only as a way of getting to the metaphysics, so replace P with whatever its ontological equivalent is. I assume we all know what this is for “I exist” or “at the moment I have two hands”, and I assume we’ll have to work out some differences about “Don Quixote dies in his home village” or “Pluto is not a planet” or “There are no weasels in my shirt”. But how do we get from being as truth being ontologically?

5.) Being in an ontological sense is also being as true, and so is intelligible. While both accidents and substances are beings, accidents have less intelligibility than substances, since the accident strictly both includes its proper substance and is said of it. As a result, if only noses are snub, then speaking of a snub nose is either to say the same thing twice or to fall into the infinite regress of snub nose = snub-nose nose = snub-nose-nose nose… Thus, being in an ontological sense will first be substances as opposed to accidents.

6.) Intelligibility both shows that substance is more a being than an accident and that the causes of substances are more being than substance itself.  If you ask why something a ship you explain why it has the properties it has and is used for that reason, both of which are causes of the ship.

While the matter out of which something is made is a cause it is clearly less of a cause than the form, agent, or goal.

To conclude: because being in an ontological sense is intelligible, it is least of all true of accidents, more true of substances, and most of all true of causes of substances; among causes, it is less true of matter than of the other causes, even though it is often the case that the matter is the first thing we can understand. So even while we learn more about life by knowing it is carbon-based or cellular this description is subordinate to other orders of causality. Knowledge moves slowly though, so it can take a very long time even to get a clear view of matter.





The US Catholic norm for fasting

The norm of Friday fasting and abstinence for American Catholics is articulated in this 1966 Bishop’s letter:

24. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.

There are three criticisms to make here, going from more to less evident:

1.) It’s very difficult to argue that the Bishop’s hope came to pass. Abstinence and penance is not typical even among many of the devout, and it’s hard to believe this was unforeseeable.

2.) The norm is ambiguous and can be read either as

a.) The bishops are removing the necessity under pain of sin from Friday abstinence (broad reading).

b.) The bishops are removing the necessity under pain of sin from abstention from meat but keeping such necessity of Friday penance. (narrow reading).

The insistence on voluntary as opposed to imposed penance suggests (a), but the assumption that  the qualifications of the first sentence are necessary suggests (b). No matter how many times I read the norm it shifts iridescently between (a) and (b).

3.) While it’s easy to criticize the Bishops naïvety-suggesting confidence, the devout have to also accept some blame for not voluntarily doing more mortifications. The faithful are now, within broad parameters, to decide for themselves how they will exercise mortification and penance in their lives, but a self-examination is likely to show that we haven’t made serious efforts to think this out. Sure, no plan of fasting is imposed on me, but what plan am I imposing on myself?


On finding love insipid

Hypothesis: what we find insipid in so many sermons and eulogies about love is that they are conflating the love of X with making X comfortable.

What makes the conflation easy are the many times when love is making someone comfortable: a mother’s care for an infant, care for the elderly and infirm, many kinds of hospitality, the beaten man helped by the Good Samaritan, etc. We first feel love as maternal care and pampering and the desire to sink back into a divine ocean of it is archetypal.

While this is a real dimension of divine love that needs to be proclaimed, limiting love to this is a horror beyond words. Here’s a short list of what would be lost:

1.) Love that perseveres. The love we experience as wanting to get something done, in, say, getting hooked on a hobby, a pursuit, a project, a game, etc where love is the joy of absorption in the flow of the task or the events. Here comfort often inverts its role, in that that the love is most of all shown in our insensitivity to whatever absence of comfort the task might involve.

2.) Love that rejoices in one’s smallness. I work with teenagers, and one of their more charming traits are their frequent convictions that one of their peers is a god or goddess. Call it a crush if you want, I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of the experience that there is some person in the world upon which all the refulgence of the good shines forth. Dante obviously felt this for Beatrice and we got The Comedy out of it.  Love in this sense is almost opposed to comfort.

3.) Love that hopes. Love brightens moods and gives the conviction – or better, the insight – that good will win out somehow. There are notes of comfort in this idea of love, but comfort makes one want to stay where he is at whereas hope makes him strive for something he doesn’t possess.

4.) Love that protects. Even if our first notion of love is the comfort of maternal care, that care makes mother grizzly bears. The maternal archetype isn’t all cuddles and comfort – it starts with pregnancy and labor, and is found as much in claw as much as the breast. The paternal dimension of protective love is no less obvious, and it is also manifestly opposed to comfort.

All of these share with comfort-giving love an absorption in the object, and in this sense love is fundamentally what one can lose oneself in.


-If you want to understand the angel or separated soul, imagine the whole universe in all of its details, totality, and history, then add to this being known. 

-Sensation knows so far as objects effect physical action like light or sound reflection, giving off scent molecules, etc. Intelligence is not a way of being acted upon but of lighting up another from within so as to share existence with it.

-A thing cannot be without being a window to the whole angelic host.

-Being is a kernel of divine action, witnessed by intelligences with declining clarity, down to embodied persons who only see what they see in saying “being”.

-Death is a transition out of knowing the universe from a perspective, though organs with an accidental evolutionary history, with a limited capacity to retain information.

-Like all physics, Relativity is limited by interactive activity. The unidirectionality of intelligence demands that the theory be taken as a theory of the universe considered as if there were no intelligence.

-Any attaining of the things in themselves demands some action of the will, whether creative or created.


Levels of being as effecting unity

Reality is distinguished into levels by diverse forms overcoming multiplicity.

1.) Non-living. Forms in non-living beings don’t give rise to distinct individuals. By dividing this mass of granite or water you get more of the same. While dividing things at the molecular or atomic level makes a difference, and non-living being does at least require this minimal degree of overcoming multiplicity, the non-living never forms a this ontologically distinct from a what.

2.) Living non-cognitive. This level was once clearly defined as plant life, but we’ve become more aware of the ways in which plants assimilate information from their environment and so the lines between plant and animal life have become less sharp than they were in the past. Perhaps LNC’s are a logical impossibility, and if so skip to level 3.

An LNC is a form that at least gathers its own subjective and physical parts into a ontological unity, and so has a this really distinct from a what. This allows the LNC to act as a unique individual.

3.) The physically cognitive. Physical cognition occurs when the object known is a mix of an exterior object and the disposition of an organ. What colors animals see are a matter of both the reflective surfaces of the world and of the rods and cones of different animals’ eyes, what sounds they hear are a matter both of the vibrations physically in the air and the structures of different ears. This is also true of common sensibles: whether you sense something as moving depends on whether your organs are in motion relative to it, whether something is large or small depends on the size of the organism sensing it, etc.

Because physical cognition is a mix of subjective and objective factors it is not simply objective. The sense organ is incapable of teasing apart what is objective and subjective in its object. Because its object is constituted out of itself, all desire arising from physical cognition is concupiscent, meaning there is no rising above “me and mine”. This includes at least some of the lower levels of common goods like kin relations and co-operation, but any action rising above this cannot arise from physical cognition as such.

To the extent that physical cognition contains an element outside of the organism, the form of that organism unifies not just the physical parts of itself but also things outside of itself. Nevertheless, physical cognition does this in the minimal possible way, by having an objective part that is inextricably bound up with the physical dispositions – the subjectivity – of an organ.

4.) Cognition properly speaking. Cognition as such is objective, but this requires that the physical world be known without physical interaction. Simple objectivity of the world and spirituality are thus co-implicative, since on this line of analysis spirituality arises only as the term describing a knower with simple objectivity, or which knows objects simply speaking.

Human cognition is spiritual in the minimal possible way. Because we can meaningfully understand being and objects, we recognize at least some truths and goods not just for “me and mine” but for all things at all times and we can choose to act benevolently and sacrifice even when we can expect no benefits to kin.  All the same, the clearer we try to make objective knowledge the more it becomes dizzying and disorienting. We can know that one can divide knowledge from sense information, but the more we try to flesh out what this means the more we stare into the sun of a knowledge with no perspective, no distance from objects, which knows real existence by a concept (and not just an abstract nature) and which has no location in time or space.

Still, cognition unifies all being in themselves and so effects a fuller unity than physical cognition does.

5.) Disembodied cognition. Just as the eye sees all visible + the organ as positioned, structured, operative, etc, so disembodied cognition knows all existent things and unifies them in their concrete existence within itself. It is aware at once of the whole universe and all of its parts, along with all revealed to it by other intelligences. This does not give rise to information overload first because this condition is proper to physical structures, and next because anything aware of all being has the resources to deal with it.

In any given thought, disembodied cognition either knows all that it can know or not. If not, then its knowledge is temporal, not in the way that physical cognition is continuously temporal but in the way that the premises of an argument are distinct. Because of this division in thoughts, disembodied cognition can know something it is not thinking about, and so must choose between good and evil. The question of fixity in this state is one that raises questions of the nature of grace.

Disembodied cognition can know all that is given in being. It is not clear how much of the temporal order this includes. Relativity theory argues that there is always given perspective in which any two events are simultaneous, and if so any disembodied knower would know all events at all times. Nevertheless, it can know them only as given. While possible existence has being it can only be known to these intellects as inferred from a pre-known actuality, and it can know the thoughts of other intelligences only to the extent that they are revealed to it.

6.) Creative cognition. An intelligence that has all that it can know at once knows all that is knowable in a single thought. Because of this, it (a) unifies all things in itself like any intelligence but (b) unlike any other intelligence, it is incapable of failing to think of something it knows and so is incapable of evil. This intelligence alone is good first of all and per se. Because of this, the goodness of this being is the source of all other goods and so is the source of being as such.


A Phaedo aporia

In Phaedo Plato proves personal immortality – literally the immortality of Socrates – by appealing to the immortality of form. The forms are of course Platonic forms which are, even in Phaedo itself, things which individuals participate in for their being and intelligibility. This is clear from the first recollection argument (equality vs. equal sticks) to the last argument about things being taller by tallness.

Put as an aporia:

1. ) A form is participated in by different individuals.

2.) The soul of Socrates is a form.

3.) The soul of Socrates is not participated in by many individuals.

Liturgical reform

Sacrosanctum Concilium demands that the Roman liturgy be reformed into a characteristically Latin and chant-filled liturgy that made fruitful use of vernacular, and in which the laity were no longer silent spectators. What resulted was two liturgies with glaring failures to meet the council’s demands, both of which have taught their denizens to be horrified by the demanded reform.






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