Conclusions as per se effects

One reason to distinguish soundness and validity is because it’s clear that formal validity does not require the argument be true. This is easy to show when one or both of the premises is false:

All blue colored fruits are bananas

All monkeys love blue colored fruits

All monkeys love bananas

So far, so good. But if we try to add to the idea of validity that a false conclusion never follows from true premises, we hit the problem of the Port-Royal syllogism:

Who calls you an animal speaks the truth

Who calls you a jackass calls you an animal

So who calls you a jackass speaks the truth.*

My solution is that neither the first syllogism nor the second have true conclusions since a conclusion as such is something that follows from premises, and so the conclusion of the first is that monkeys love bananas so far as they are blue, and the conclusion of the second is that it is true to call you a jackass so far as you are homogenous with one. The first claim is simply false and the second is not true per se.

The conclusion is an effect of the premises as cause, and so only follows from them so far as the premises are causal, and the crucial qualification of causality is being per se. This is the shortest way out of Mill’s critique that the syllogism is vacuous – causes aren’t vacuous and premises are causes.

In hypothetical syllogisms, like “If/then” or “either/or” this is also true, but the major premise is not the parts of the conditional but the conditional itself. So the conditional “if square circles exist, logical contradictions exist” is true, though both of its parts are impossible.


*The syllogism can be universalized to show how anything is anything, just replace “You” and “jackass” with the two things you want to identify, and replace “animal” with any common genus or predicate.



The Ancien Régime vs. the Veil of Ignorance

Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance is a thought experiment that attempts to show why the maximization of equality should be the goal of justice. We imagine ourselves setting up a system of justice in which our role will be randomly assigned. Given we might show up anywhere, justice must consist in trying to make all roles as equal as possible. I want to modify Nussbaum’s well-known objection to explain what the Ancien Régime (AR) would find unintelligible or question-begging in the experiment.

Imagine using the Veil of Ignorance to figure out what a well-ordered family would look like. I start off with a normal distribution of toddlers, marriageable women, teenage girls, old men, men between 25-40, etc. No matter how I set it up, it is impossible to assign persons to the roles randomly. The toddler can’t be the mother of the old man, and it’s impossible to figure out what the 25-40 year old man would do in the role of the teenage girl. The structure already assigns the normal distribution of persons their place in the scheme. Setting up a family at all is to assume that personal roles can’t be randomly assigned.

The AR saw societies as relevantly similar to families. One couldn’t just assign anyone to be a peasant or a Lord since reality simply came carved up into peasants and Lords. The objection to this idea is the familiar claim that all men are created equal, which is the foundation of liberal theory in opposition to the AR forms of justice.

Arguably, the AR had unrealistic expectations that heredity preserved peasants as peasants and Lords as Lords, but the liberal regime has its own unrealistic explanations that social roles are homogenous enough to be filled under the Veil of Ignorance. And, of course, no liberal society has ever been able to arrange a society where the social hierarchy did not take into account age, intellectual ability, familial role, etc, all of which are set by the nature of things.

If this is right, the AR will tend to dishonesty in its account of how natural and God-given social roles are. This is, in fact, Plato’s “noble lie”. The liberal regime will tend to dishonesty in its account of how fluid social roles are, and how much of social hierarchy is already set in the nature of things.

The dark side of assuming human equality is that unequal outcomes require either structural injustice (if the underachievers are “good”) or laziness (if they are “bad”). In other words, inequality is always a moral problem, which was exactly what the Veil of Ignorance was supposed to explain. This will end up either with false accusations of injustice against rulers or false beliefs that those at the bottom deserve what they get.

Initial claims of consciousness

A: Why bother with theistic arguments anyway? What do they show about what God is to me?

B: Huh?

A: Sure, God created the universe, but for what? There are infinite possible creations that make it nothing to me. 

B: Like what?

A: Maybe it’s a Calvinist universe of the massa damnata where almost everyone is damned (or just me); maybe we are fifty years from the definite revelation that shows that all of us are damned anyway; maybe this is the possible universe where there is a contradiction in happiness.

B: Those all seem pretty far-fetched.

A: And how would the world look different if they were true?

B: Fair enough. So is your point that it wouldn’t matter if God existed if one of the evils he allowed was a pointless human existence?

A: Yes. Any account of the created world allows for the existence of evils, so what does it matter to me if the world is created if one of those evils is my own pointlessness or ultimate suffering?

B: And that’s why you said you didn’t care about theistic arguments.

A: Exactly. Why should I care if God exists if one the the evils he allows is my own pointlessness or ultimate suffering?

B: Don’t look at me, I don’t buy into the arguments anyway.

A: Right, but even if you were an atheist there would be no assurance that there was a point to all this. If your consciousness was a program being run by some advertising agency to see how effective their campaigns would be throughout life, all this would look the same as it does now.

B: So what do yo want, or what do you feel is missing? Some sort of guarantee to consciousness?

A: No, that begs the question I’m asking. A guarantee is something over and above an initial claim. I want the initial claim, like “your actions a part of a larger project in which your good matters” or “No matter what you try, there is little practical possibility of getting more than occasional mid-grade happiness and depression which your death will not improve upon.”

B: “Not improve upon” : like Hell, nothingness, finding out that it was all advertising research…?

A: Sure, take your pick. Even before death it’s not clear how heavily constrained my happiness is. How much I can do to make myself happier just isn’t clear to me. It would be disheartening to discover that happiness or virtue or whatever were as hard as weight loss. I suspect it probably is, and that after you take into account genetic factors there is relatively little you can do to move the needle.

B: So what’s the takeaway, then?

Separated hylomorphic souls

Hylomorphism solves the interaction problem by denying that mind thinks. Mind is a part, and parts aren’t credited with the action of the whole. The car drives, not the wheels; the broom sweeps, not the stick. The mind doesn’t perform any actions of the human qua human, and since the human moves his body around the mind does not. Q.E.D.

Sometimes a part of the whole is credited with the action of the whole, but it’s pretty clear that the term is used equivocally. We say the brush sweeps, but it clearly isn’t doing so sense that the broom does. On hylomorphism, mind : thinking :: brush : sweeping.

If hylomorphic souls don’t think, how can there be separated hylomorphic souls (SHS)? I wan to defend the idea that there is both a robust sense in which death is annihilation and that there is an immortal SHS.

What we now call thought is essentially embodied, so much so that death could not be an accidental change in experience, like a shift to a ghost-like (floating? flying about?) perspective on the world. Perspectives belong to situated things, and only physical things are situated. A perspective is a way of being near or far from things, and asking what objects are near or far an SHS is like asking how far London bridge is from the Hodge conjecture. We might think we can grok perspectiveless knowledge in our experience of scientific understanding, but someone with no perspective on the world cannot be doing science, and a science that cannot be done isn’t the one that we now understand.

We can push this further, though. The traditional arguments against SHS’s prove that an embodied hylomorphic soul is intrinsically constituted by its subjective conditions, which is why its knowledge (and hence desire and love) is affected by drugs or brain disease. If anything the arguments are not ambitious enough. The subjective component of knowledge isn’t just revealed in getting buzzed or getting Alzheimer’s but also in having personality or IQ, which are both spontaneous, subjective, non-conscious responses to stimuli.

So an SHS would have no IQ, personality, moods, perspectives, etc. How is this even a recognizable mental life at all?

I want to keep a robust sense in which it isn’t, while still pointing to a need to accept SHS’s on the basis of the formal different between sensation and the human experience of objectivity.

Sense objects are a mix of object and organ. Whether it’s warm is not simply a fact about the world, but also about whether you are a desert lizard or a polar bear. The “primary sensibles” are are more objective, but are still constituted in part by the organ, though they are ways in which more than one organ must be affected. What is known by intellection, on the other hand, just is the thing itself. What we mean by mind is that whose object is not partially constituted by the one knowing. This is why the cessation of organic life annihilates all knowledge-as-subjectively conditioned, but objectivity as such remains exactly what it was. Pure objectivity (and hence pure desire) is nothing but the presence of the object as it is and the desire for the thing as it ought to be.

The absence of subjective conditions is the formal difference between sense and intellection, and while these subjective conditions are intrinsically constitutive of our knowing act (i.e. our knowledge is an act of a soul-body composite) the formal distinction between intellection and sense remains, and thereby grounds the existence of SHS’s. For all that, however, the absence of subjective conditions is not something we can understand in a way that preserves those conditions, i.e that remains contextualized in the mode of thought we have before death. Death remains annihilation in the sense that any attempt to assimilate life after death to the categories of present experience as such involves a contradiction.*

*This is a philosophical objection to the belief that NDE’s are intuitions of post-mortem existence.



In support of counterfactual causation theories

Counterfactual accounts of causation say A causes B iff non-A necessarily entails non-B. The main objection to this is that it proves too much, since it is also true of things that are conditions but not causes. If my mother hadn’t met my father this would not be typed, but her meeting him didn’t cause the typing.

We could save the theory by adding any qualification that divided conditions from causes, and Aristotle gives us exactly that in his distinctions of perseity. So A causes B iff non-A per se causes non-B  per se. There are degrees of perseity, ranging from the strictest sense (per se and primo) through mere perseity to the loose sense of “said of all”. One wrinkle here is that intelligence can make a per se unity between things that are in themselves per accidens, which costs as perseity and not accidental connection.


Expecting definite natural outcomes

Let chance or luck be a sort of event that your model or theory could not have expected. At least some such events exist: You might be able to expect someone winning the lottery twice, but no possible statistical model could have expected Lhbomir Richvalsky to be the the guy.  This is just as true of non-probabilistic theories, since all theories have limited precision and simplify (i.e. disregard) some causal factors, allowing for unexpected outcomes.

Leave aside luck and chance, which gives us the object that constitutes the sciences, and without which they cannot draw a conclusion about anything. The expected outcomes in nature result either from a rational plan or not, i.e. the laws are either the work of intelligence or are a purely  non-intelligent/ non-personal order. The first is some version of theism, the second some version of naturalism. So naturalism is more rational than theism iff assuming no rational plan makes natural outcomes more likely than assuming one.

So far this isn’t controversial: it looks like the next move is either a design argument or some sort of anti-design argument, where we point either to the order or the evil of the universe as decisive for theism or naturalism. This dilemma, however, rests on the unquestioned assumption that both theism and naturalism allow us expect some definite outcome. They don’t.

Saying there is no rational plan for the universe is either privative or negative. If privative, we mean that nature is supposed to have a rational plan but God did not give it one; if negative we mean that what we call nature is simply non-rationally- or non-personally planned. Naturalism clearly means the second and not the first. But that’s a problem, since merely negative terms don’t allow us to expect anything definite, even evil. What definite actions do you expect from a non-butterfly? As negative, the term applies just as well to Tinkerbell as your left shoe, to the mass of your last grapefruit as the height of your second-grade teacher. The negation of a plan leaves us no more likely to expect evil than good, regularity or chaos, or even any “this” as opposed to “that”. Thinking that it leads to one of these over the other (and especially to the ‘evil’ ones) is to confuse the privation of a plan with the negation of a plan, which is the same as to confuse what one can conclude from the absence of a kindergarten teacher from the classroom with what one can conclude from the absence of a kindergarten teacher from a factory floor, a DMV line, or the dark side of the moon.

This doesn’t mean that assuming some rational plan for the universe makes our expectations all that definite. If the rational plan is from a being with infinite intelligence he might have had all sorts of plans, but to call the plan rational requires expecting at least something definite from it.

We can, of course, frame our expectations of what to expect on a rational plan and find they do not obtain. So maybe we insist that if there was a rational plan there would be no seagulls but, lo, there are some. This is fine, but given the above argument this result is also incompatible with being a naturalist. Naturalism demands taking the sciences as rational, which means taking it as reasonable to form definite expectations of what the universe will do. If theism dies we have to simply cease taking it as reasonable to expect anything from the universe at all. There are accounts of the world like this, e.g. Camus and Nietzsche, but they have had a hard time gaining traction or any kind of popular following. While I like Camus, there are few dilemmas easier than whether to throw him or the sciences under the bus.  And that’s our epistemic predicament.

One objection to this is that, at best, it only shows that we cannot expect anything definite from nature considered as non-intelligent or non-personal, but perhaps we could  come to expect something definite from a particular scientific theory, like, say, evolution. But this is to badly miss the level of analysis on which the argument is occurring. There is no possibility of forming a theory of evolution without already taking it as rational to expect definite outcomes from nature. Neither will it work to say that expectation is a hypothesis that is confirmed by evolution or the success of the sciences. If the success of some theory demanded that we abandon the idea that it is rational to expect definite outcomes for nature, it would be taken as a refutation of the theory, since it would undermine the possibility of natural theories altogether.

When what and who are only logical

I want to talk about what happens when the distinction between the logical what and the logical who is only in ratio 

Knowing what is opposed to knowing who, bearing in mind that we’re understanding the difference logically, where both “What is the capital of Nevada?” and “Who is the president of India?” count as the same “who” question, even though different grammatically.

The medievals called this logical what “quidditative” or knowledge of quiddity. The term is the word “what” (quid) turned into an abstract noun, making its English equivalent “whatness”, “whathood” or “Whuddity”  Whathood placed something in a genus or species, with the genus being the easiest and first thing we understand.

Knowing what therefore means knowing quiddity in opposition to individuality. When there is an actual, existing difference between an individual and its quiddity the distinction in our knowing reflects a distinction in being, but where there is no difference the distinction in our knowing is called logical or in ratio. 

Distinctions in ratio are familiar enough: the stairs up are not the stairs down, the convex line is not the concave one, etc. When applied to concrete entities this is clear enough, but when “who” and “what” are seen as only distinct in ratio we cannot be saying that there is some individual that is both a who (individual) and a what (non-individual). The human mind has no logical category for beings with what-who distinctions only in ratio. This is not because we fail to have a category that some alien might have, but because “that for which the who-what distinction is only in ratio” is not categorical, nor could it be. A category describes what.

That for which the who-what distinction is only in ratio is known to us first in our own thoughts.  My abstraction is the abstraction, just as the size that I measure is the size of the thing, and so the distinction between my abstraction and the abstraction itself is only in ratio. Since this abstraction is only the mind in actuality, all that was just said applies to the difference between my mind and yours.  This doesn’t mean we are one individual seen in two different ways, but it also doesn’t mean that the what-who distinction between our minds is between a “what” existing logically and a “who” existing really.

What is true of us qua mind is true for the angels as persons, though of course “person” in this sense has to be understood as “that for which the who-what distinction is only in ratio“. Such a name is not a quidditative insight nor an intuition of the individual to which it applies, since to make it one would make it contradictory.

The limit case of that for which the who-what distinction is only in ratio is the divine nature, whether considered in its unity or its trinity.

Philosophy as opposed to religion

Worship spotlights the division between the God of the philosophers and the God of religion. The God of religion is essentially the object of traditions of worship while the God of the philosophers is generally not an object of worship, and even if philosophers recognized the need for this they would have no idea what to do.

A theistic argument be developed to show God as the supreme good and source of providence, but worship demands more than intellectual recognition of goodness. Philosophy can’t develop on its own into religion but needs at least four other components:

1.) Sacrifice. Religion goes beyond intellectual recognition or divine supremacy by demanding that we act as if the God we pray to is truly supreme, and the proof of this is our willingness to hand over something of our substance. One can be as cynical as he wants about the handing over of wealth that religions demand, but even if they were perfectly free of greed they would still have to demand it.

2.) Tradition. Religious practice might be new, but only if it sees itself as reforming, reviving, or perfecting something ancient. There is something absurd in thinking you could declare your own cult and start sacrificing next Monday. Religious worship, like language, is something that both defines the individual and is essentially communal, and communities exist within a lived history of mutual belonging.

3.) Charisma and the Aesthetic. Worship demands sacralizing space, and this requires a symbology, a set of reverencing practices, and the power to induce a sense of solemnity by speech, action and environment.

4.) The holy. The whole point of worship is to present and cultivate the holy, which is a dimension of existence that is not reducible to other virtues or any collection of them.


Justice vs. specialized expertise

One of the first puzzles that Republic raises about justice is that it seems to vanish whenever one specifies what its object is. If justice is “knowing what one ought to do” then justice when doing an algebra problem is nothing beyond knowing algebra, justice is cooking is nothing beyond being a chef, and justice in pricing is knowing what the thing costs. The justice that looked like one thing dissolves into an indefinite localized modes of expertise.

Republic solves the problem by saying that justice is what plays the architectonic role in coordinating diverse modes of expertise to the perfection of human life in both its collective and idiosyncratic existence. The just man does turn out to have an area of expertise, sc. the cultivation and development of the human persons as person, who develop poorly or well over time due to factors like genetics, education, family life, etc. The long discussions of education, eugenics, sexual relations, public school curriculum, the triple-structure of the person, etc. are not digressions from the problem of justice but are what the just man knows. Each of these areas might allow for expertise too, but this is not what makes them part of justice.

This helps to spotlight the way in which justice might be lost by overspecialization or the forgetfulness of the question of how diverse areas of expertise can be subordinated to the service of the perfecting of the human person. One mode of injustice is to see all knowledge as having no intrinsic connection to what the person should look like, collectively and individually.

There is no more intensely charged third-rail than justice rightly understood. To give any substantive answer to the question of what an person is means to touch upon the deepest beliefs that we have, and the intensity of the feelings this generates is such as to make everyone want to wash their hands of the problem and say that everyone gets to decide justice for themselves. This gives us moral relativism, and we all know it is incoherent, but solving the problem means touching the third rail, and it takes a godlike man to do that in a way that will be more constructive than destructive.

What we called “the third rail” is what Scripture calls the heart, or the source or totality of all our deepest, most non-negotiable convictions. The Platonic just man therefore coincides with the Hebrew notion of the “upright in heart”.

The problem of a physical causal history

The causal closure principle states that once the physical causal history of a physical effect is given there is nothing more to explain about it. I want to problematize the idea of a history within the physical order and point to some solutions to the problem.

Like any history a history within the physical world has to start somewhere, but physics since Aristotle explains things not by histories but by conserved quantities. Aristotle considered motion, time, and body to be the relevant conserved quantities and he drew different proportions of comparison between them (or what we now call laws). The sorts of proportion he was interested in were different from the ones familiar to us :  Physics Bk. VI and VIII looked at possible proportions between finite or infinite quantities while we’re more interested in specifying numerical values of variability as expressed on Cartesian co-ordinates, like when we ask how many foot-pounds of pressure drop would correspond to a drop in degrees Fahrenheit.

Conserved quantities are not historical since it’s essential to histories to start somewhere and develop into something while this is impossible for conserved quantities as such. There is no story to tell about motion or energy or time or angular momentum since any point at which you could start would take for granted the full existence of the thing whose ‘story’ you seek to tell and would allow for no further development. Whatever you want to call the account of something that must start in medias res and which never changes to anything else, you can’t call it a narrative, story, or history.

Aristotle saw that this committed him to an infinite motive power, and he denied that such a thing could be physically realized. The claim received a tepid response from Christians, who thought they were committed to denying an infinite universe. There was more to this than the Genesis myth. The finitude of the universe was part of a deeper, unspoken understanding that the universe is essentially narrative since there is an account of where it was from and where it is going. This seems to be where Christianity saw more deeply into the problem than Aristotle did, since a universe with no narrative structure is essentially meaningless, and a meaningless universe cannot be the domain of a meaningful life. The Preacher hammers this point home in Ecclesiastes, and resolves it by turning directing our search for structure and context away from the universe and to the law of the Lord, i.e. the God’s revelation of himself in his relation to his chosen ones.

STA is unwilling to throw the universe under the bus for the sake of human meaning, but he is also unwilling to allow human reason to discover whether the universe itself is capable of a narrative structure that would allow for meaning. This introduces the problem of how our beliefs about meaning can be reasonable. What could the point or the story of the universe be if at any point in time its fundamental structure is identical and complete?

One response to this is to deny that meaning can scale. Maybe things in the universe have purpose or meaning but the universe as a whole does not. Such an account could not be a physical one since physics doesn’t allow for this sort of partitioning of the action of the part from the activity of the whole. It does, however, allow for a subordination of the whole to one of its parts, or the infinitude of the universe to the desire of the nutritive/reproductive soul.





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