Second Way

Where subordinate agents are interactive, any given agent is in a part-to-whole system. But part-to-whole systems are instrumental (consider the interactive parts of a car, which are just ways of channeling the natural activity of explosive expansion and the intentional activity of executing a trip). But whether there are infinite instruments or not, not all agents can be instruments.

Math but not Spirits

Problem: Naturalism wants to rule out the existence of supernatural things without ruling out the existence of mathematical things. This puts it in the awkward position of having to allow that there is more than one way in which a thing can exist or be objective, and more than one method to establish this, while also having to rule out one sort of objectivity and set of methods which are by definition different from one that they allow.

-Describing mathematics and logic as “formal systems” is tendentious. What do we call one item in the system? A formal entity or being, right? But then our metaphysics is off to the races.

-The desire to allow for math while ruling out God and soul helps to explain the arbitrary dogmatism of our time that “abstract entities are not causal”, an axiom that was established by some act of divination that everyone performed when I wasn’t looking.

-Abstract entities cause events in the same way an agents do, by being non-negations or privations having an existence prior to the event and being responsible for is existence.

-“But abstractions are static!” Maybe so, but so are conduit pipes, rail lines, and river banks while they are still as directive instruments. The shape of the bat is as integral to event-agency as the swing, and the swing takes part in the batter like the shape takes part in circularity.

-“Mathematics is a tool for science, and this establishes that it’s objective and existent”. But it isn’t and it doesn’t. Go explain to a mathematician that his study becomes pointless when it loses scientific applicability (he actually believes more or less the exact opposite). At any rate, the claim proves to much by requiring the existence of ideal gasses, frictionless surfaces, massless rest particles, black boxes…

Objects first

In considering the cognitive powers of soul (what are now called mind or consciousness) Aristotle raises an important question:

Again, which ought we to investigate first, these parts or their functions, mind or thinking, the faculty or the act of sensation, and so on? If the investigation of the functions precedes that of the parts, the further question suggests itself: ought we not before either to consider the correlative objects, e.g. of sense or thought?

Aristotle’s answer comes in the next book:

If we are to express what each is, viz. what the thinking power is, or the perceptive, or the nutritive, we must go farther back and first give an account of thinking or perceiving, for in the order of investigation the question of what an agent does precedes the question, what enables it to do what it does. If this is correct, we must on the same ground go yet another step farther back and have some clear view of the objects of each; thus we must start with these objects, e.g. with food, with the sensible object, or with what is intelligible.

The axiom that Aristotle is working from is the intelligible priority of act, or, alternatively, the derivative intelligibility of possibility and potency, i.e. possibility only gets a logos relative to what arises from it. Cognitive powers are only intelligible relative to objects. This is why STA defines knowledge by starting with its object, specifying that the object is what is apt to be in another. Mind, therefore, first arises as the “other” of its cognitive world.

Descartes reverses all of this, or perhaps puts an interesting spin on it. For him, mind or consciousness becomes self-luminous and gets an intelligible priority to its objects. The power or faculty is seen as more fundamental and “farther back” in causality than its object.

This Cartesian move is part of a much larger class of arguments that (usually tacitly) attempt to derive actuality from potency, whether David of Dinant’s claim that God is prime matter or the Democratian/Evolutionist/multiverse theory belief that explaining any actual thing is just a matter of making a large enough domain of probabilities so as to diminish our surprise in the fact that it exists.*

*With infinite trails, all outcomes happen infinitely and so we have no right to be surprised by any outcome. Of course it happens. But all this means is that we can’t confuse explaining something with lacking surprise that it exists.



Symbol notes

-Eucharist, symbol of Christ: The dove that Noah released was a sign that life could exist outside the ark by being a life that existed outside the ark.

-The dove returned with an olive branch as a sign that life continued over the waters, there is life on the far side of judgment. The Dove is the resurrected Christ as first born of the Eschaton.

-Sacraments.  The Baltimore Catechism definition of “a sacred sign from Christ to confer grace” is simply a development of its existence as a sign, since every sign is instituted by a community to establish a shared life.

-C. S. Lewis, a critique: The authority of Lewis obscures the fact that charity is a sort of friendship. Agape is a sort of philia.

Moral perfection and the possibility of evil

God is not a moral being and so also lacks “moral perfection” (half the cardinal virtues are ridiculous if applied to him, and “justice” merely means he will execute whatever claim creatures place him under.) Still, arguendo let’s say God must be a morally perfect being. Here I want to respond to the this objection:

It is impossible for something to be morally perfect unless it can do evil

God cannot do evil, therefore, etc.

(N.B. The can in both cases is logical possibility.)

Another variant might be:

We should never praise the moral goodness of a being that could not have done evil.

God could not have done evil.

Therefore creatures should not praise God.

But moral goodness is not, even for us, a neutrality to good and evil but simply the ability to choose goods by oneself. God is morally good in this sense because he does what he does by himself, and he is more free than us precisely because nothing outside of himself is necessary for the co-operant action of his goodness.

1.) While it is true that moral goodness requires that there exist in the mind an alternative to what one chooses, it does not demand that the alternative be a real possibility. For me to choose to go to the store does not require that the store be actually there since, for all I know, it burned to the ground yesterday. But the presence of alternatives in the mind is a good (since the co-presence of contraries is peculiar to intelligence) and moral goodness does not demand that any of the alternatives be actualizable in the real world. It suffices that the being choose the goodness by himself. This is a variant of a Frankfurt counterfactual that clarifies the difference between alternative possibilities in the mind (which are good) from alternative possibilities in reality (which are signs of imperfection.)

2.) Freedom is a skill and skills are relative to the goods they produce. The only reason to have skills at all is to actualize goods that are not already given, and so to the extent that some outcome is not good it is also not the outcome of a skill. This is clear from an appraisal of skills: A surgeon might make a good torturer but this does not mean that torture is a part of the description of what surgeons do; a mechanic would make a great saboteur but this does not mean that this is part of his job description. If, per impossibile, you could eliminate the peculiar perversions of a skill from ever being realized in reality, nothing would ever change in the action of the one exercising his skills.

3.) The desire for freedom is not formally a desire for more options but a desire to do something by oneself. Children seeking to increase their freedom aren’t looking for more alternatives but to assert their independence. So long as we get to do what we want for ourselves, it doesn’t even matter if some other alternative was a real possibility, and even where the alternative is a real possibility we find our freedom in independence, not in the sheer multiplication of alternatives.

Corollary: Human beings are not free because they can do good or evil. This is a transient feature of freedom that belongs to them (and to some angels) so far as they exist in an imperfect state. While Dekoninck was right that freedom always involves imperfection, he missed a chance for a more precise account by saying that freedom is just what it is in everyday usage: independence or the power to do the good by oneself, or simply to do what one wants by himself.


The progressivism of conservatism

Take a society that goes from being unselfconsciously patriotic to being skeptical of the value of patriotism, like most European societies before and after WWI or America before and after the 1970’s. In the old society, being patriotic was to go with the flow, fit in, and avoid looking weird or set apart; and in the new society all this now applies to irony or skepticism of patriotism.

Arguendo, let’s call someone conservative when they hang onto the patriotism and accept going against the flow of society, and someone liberal when they go with it. The liberal therefore preserves the naturalness and cohesion of the old life while the conservative preserves the object. The change in the liberal way of life is obvious, but the change is also very radical for the conservative since he now holds a value that makes him weird and set apart. The conservative position necessarily becomes more rigid since it is defined in defiance of social pressure. He accepts his status as a weird outsider and even celebrates it as the mark of his authenticity. The dangers for each way of life follow these differences: the liberal risks all the dangers that come with the loss of some object and going with the flow of society (dangers that once came with patriotism) and the conservative risks all the dangers that come by defining oneself as an outsider and lacking the power that comes with going with the flow of society.


A genius for equality

After noting that the main defense of the Electoral College is that the only way to ensure justice and equality to rural voters is by making their vote count more towards the outcome, Andrew Prokop responds:

But a national popular vote system wouldn’t devalue the votes of people who live in rural states and small towns. It would accurately value them by treating them equal to people who live in cities, rather than giving them an extra weighting.

But accuracy is relative to what one is aiming for (if the bullet hits a tree, was the shooter accurate?) and so equal vote weighting can only be more accurate if we’ve already determined that equal vote weighing is what we should aim for, i.e. if we’ve already decided that the Electoral College is unjust. The argument begs the question.

The fact is that the argument Prokop is trying to refute and the institution that arises from it are among the all-time greatest acts of political prudence. The equality of all persons is the equality of all just ways of life, but some of these ways of life require less population density. Farming is an obvious example, but so is the life of a pioneer,* a homesteader, or anyone who prefers life in the country. But equal vote-weighting puts those who choose this way of life in a less powerful voting bloc than those who live a way of life compatible with population density, and so incentivizes a president who is not the president of all but only of one faction. And that’s unjust.

It’s a particular wisdom of American politics that it can defend the equality of persons by striking a balance between the urban and the rural/country ways of living. The composition of the senate is one very good example, thought it was a better one when the senators were chosen by the state legislatures and so, for reasons given above, were more likely to represent all the ways of life in their states.** This is also why state capitals are neither in the country nor in the largest city (LA, Seattle, New York City, Minneapolis, etc.) but usually in a place midway between the two.


*Note that there are still pioneers of open spaces today: the shale miners in North Dakota come to mind.

**This also speaks to the genius of the Electoral College as originally designed, where Electors were chosen by State Legistatures. The present winer-takes-all system has its merits, but it is not as good at ensuring equality of ways of life. The cities tend to marginalize the rural vote.



Doomed to repeat it

Hypothesis: Social Darwinism is the canary in the mine for Naturalism. The theories are functionally the same, with the same epistemic connection to the sciences, the same peculiar exultations and degradations of human life, the same disastrous intrinsic logic, and the same eventual condemnation as obvious perversions of science – though this condemnation will be driven far more by the horror of social outcomes than by the scientific findings that will be demanded of and dutifully proven by the sciences themselves.* Social Darwinism was simply the more volatile and fragile version whose logic worked more quickly and – even taken into account the horrors of the two World Wars that dominate its mature dominance of the public mind – with less violence and loss of life.

Even before the conclusions of Naturalism play out, Social Darwinism can play the role of a Cassandra, giving us pause in the face of a philosophical and governing idea that claims to both be based on the sciences and yet always comes up short when we ask for the hard evidence that demands its acceptance. We’re all supposed to just know that science is a bona fide Naturalism just as we were just supposed to know that Darwinism demanded the active cultivation of favored races and the elimination of impure breeding stock. Both theories start from the same twilight consciousness that takes the philosophy as being so obvious in the lack of all justification.


*Since whenever it meets up with politics – i.e. with what matters to us – science will always do what it’s told.


Reform Election, And We Mean It This Time!

I’ve lost track of how many reform/change/throw-the-bastards-out (RCT) elections this last one makes. It would be one thing if this were just anti-incumbent rhetoric (what else can a rookie promise but someone new?) but the promise is usually much more grandiose. Part of this is just the American preference that political rhetoric have an inflated style, but there is also what seems to be a perpetual desire to change “business as usual” In RCT. What does this amount to? Three recurrent themes are limiting government overreach and limiting the influence of corporations and special interest lobbies. But “government overreach” exists relative to (a difficult and always unspoken) set of opinions about what justice demands, dependence of government on large moneyed interests is structural to any national, vote-based system, and there is nothing to being a “special interest” beyond being an interest we are not aligned with. The cries of RCT probably can’t be satisfied since what they hate is either a protest of injustice whose basis is unspoken and unexamined, a structural feature of the very system that voting demands or the literal special pleading of complaints about “special interests”. All this makes for good television, but one wonders how long human beings will be convinced that it will really be different this time.

Trinitarian ontology

Put yourself on the Porphyrian tree. How do you get to existence? On the one hand, you have to step off the tree from above, and into what is more general than all things and communicable to all of them. On the other hand you have to step off the tree from below and get to the concrete particular, to the individual of such-and-such a nature. Being thus overcomes the opposition between the unity of nature and the diversity of supposits. And so the paradigm of existence has both absolute unity and a diversity of supposits.

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