Living in non-Christian culture

1.) To the extent that the culture is sinful, the Church condemns itself by thinking it is powerless to deal with it; to the extent that it’s not, why should the Church assume it’s at war with it?

2.) What’s more hilarious than imagining Christ saying “Oh no! Sinners are everywhere! Whatever can be done?”

3.) One person advancing in the interior life towards the unitive way justifies the value of the Church on earth. No mere culture of Christians would.

4.) Seeing yourself in a culture war contextualizes your problems in exterior terms: falling Church attendance, disheartening responses to telephone polls about faith, frustrating battles of soundbites and combox threads, unfavorable national-news stories, lack of success within what Christ called “The World”… The Church, on the other hand, offers advance in the interior life irrespective of what your larger culture is like, though always under the assumption that it will contain a good deal that is incompatible with divine friendship.

5.) Some starstruck fan of Mother Teresa once called her a saint, but the now-saint rebuked her saying “You want me to be a saint so you don’t have to be”. Celebrity holiness threatens to be another way of avoiding interiority. A fortiori, so is complaint about corruption in one’s made-to-order holiness celebrities.

6.) When I read Ron Dreher I can’t escape the image of someone who immolates himself in despair every night only to rise in fresh despair every morning. In sympathy with him, I am part of a small, very orthodox Christian community that separated from the world and whose motto is cultura vitæ. 

7.) If many popular Catholic journalists wrote a gospel the whole thing would be dramatic, critical descriptions of the courts of Pilate, Herod, Caesar, and the Sanhedrin, along with polls and lurid descriptions of unobservant Jews and pagan nonsense. The depravity! The corruption! The hopelessness! The clickbait!



Physicality and soul

(3 column, 5 row table is below)

1.) Divide rows 1-5 and columns A-C.

2.) Rows 1-3 can all be called physical, meaning that if there are none of the chemicals necessary for life (C,H,N,O) then we could not have life in any of these senses.

3.) Row 4 is partly physical since if there were no chemicals necessary for life there could still be possible objects of sense (like helium or sodium) but there obviously could not be sense organs.

4.) Row 5 is wholly non-physical since one needs no physical parts to make the non-physical, and if there are even sense objects without sentience, a fortiori there are intelligible ones.

5.) Rows 1-3 are physical in another sense: if the thing in column A is actual, the thing in column C cannot be, and vice versa. If you have beef you don’t have the cow; if you have food in the cupboard you can’t have food in your bloodstream; if you have parts of a parent you don’t have a baby, and vice versa.

6.) But rows 4 and 5 are non physical in the sense that if the thing in A is actual, the thing in C is necessary. If I am sensing (as opposed to hallucinating) then there is some object in the exterior sensible world; if I am intellecting there is an object in the intelligible world. Call this sense of the non physical the cognitive. 

7.) The cognitive differs from the physical by way of contradiction, by what cannot be an what must be. The wholly non-physical differs from the physical as a contrary, allowing for a middle state that is neither of the two.

Dimensions of life

Living being Life Thing that, when separate and on its own, is a corpse. Usually called “body”
Feeding or growing thing The source of maintained identity through parts assimilated and sloughed off All parts that living thing can assimilate: food, air, water, etc.
Reproduced thing/offspring/ baby Life of the reproduced/offspring/baby Life of the parent.
Conscious sentient experience Sense organs, i.e. actions of central nervous system The sensible object
Conscious noetic experience Action other than action of central nervous system The intelligible object

Simplifying an argument in Nagel

(Mind and Cosmos, c. 4)

The cognitive act of any organ arising by natural selection can be rationally justified. 

This is, one assumes, exactly what natural selection has to do. The organ exists like so because of some reproductive advantage or as a spandrel of some other reproductive advantage. But the fact that the organ exists in the way that it does as opposed to some other possible way suffices to explain its action

Reasoning cannot be rationally justified. 

Any attempt to give rational justifications for reasoning are, by definition, question-begging and therefore fallacious.

Therefore, reasoning cannot be the cognitive act of any organ arising from natural selection. 

Notice that “natural selection” is just a paradigm case of any account of the structure of some organ. Reasoning cannot be explained as the act of some organ that exists in way X but could have existed in way Y. This also rules out explaining it by Nagel’s desired Naturalist teleology, or by any other theory that sees reason as the act of an organ that could exist in some other way for some other reason. This does not rule out saying that reason is created since creation is not the actualization of some real potencies as opposed to others. As explained below, abstracting from the creative act, the creature is not only not actual but not even really possible (though it is obviously logically possible, i.e. not impossible.)



Divine outpouring

1.) God, as infinite perfection, lives out this perfection by outpouring, like someone becoming more sure of a truth by living it out, teaching or writing it.

2.) The first outpouring is into the infinite: deep calls out to deep with the sound of many waters. One outpouring is source and the other complete reflection – complete because unlike the reflection of light off a mirror or sound off a wall the whole substance of one infinite is reflected in the other, making the first infinite Source and the second infinite Logos, both being identical in nature as Father and Son.

3.) In virtue of its perfect reflection, the Logos outpours just as the Father; in virtue of its distinction from the Father it is outpouring with the Father. In the first sense, it is identical to the Father, in the second both the Father and Logos are distinct from a third.

4.) All modalities of outpouring are therefore fulfilled. Nothing is left to be done – all perfection is complete and no potentiality remains unfulfilled.

5.) There is an outpouring into the finite simultaneously making the possibility of the finite and its existence in fact. That said, we visualize this as fulfilling some subjective possibility, i.e. what is in reality from nothing is conceived as actualizing a subjective possibility.

6.) Absent creating, there is neither actual finite things nor their real possibility. Real possibility is of a thing in time to a later time, and there is no such state before creation.

7.) When a productive action ceases at X, we have only what existed before X. In the case of creation, there was nothing at all before X, not even the possibility of the thing. Creation must therefore be seen as continuous and ongoing.  Absent any ongoing creative act, creatures are not even really possible. Creation is the outpouring of the infinite into the finite.

8.) The creature is distinguished into a possibility receiving the creative power and the actualization of that possibility. Taken in the first way it is a reservoir and therefore a limit; taken in the second way it must be taken as neither infinite nor finite. If water could fill all reservoirs then the lake qua water is infinite, but qua basin or reservoir it is finite. This is why Thomas teaches that esse as such is neither finite nor infinite.

9.) Creation manifests infinite perfection and is desirable because of its suggestion of it. In one sense the existence in creatures is infinite and divine so far as it is esse, but as received it is limited to one dimension of this esse. 


Aristotle’s ultimate account of happiness

Aristotle defines happiness as excellent activity of the soul, where “soul” means reason and an irrational part that reason can train. In keeping with this the first excellence the soul can have is in training its irrational parts until they enjoy responding to the world correctly. At the far end of his discussion, however, Aristotle raises the possibility of a higher sort of excellence, because given that reason rules it also:

Take[s] thought of things noble and divine, whether it be itself also divine or only the most divine element in us, the activity of this in accordance with its proper virtue will be perfect happiness. That this activity is contemplative we have already said.

In ruling the irrational world under its power reason shares a property with divinity, and if we rule by  a divine thought we have a share in the fullness of divine thought, which, beyond providently ruling and having concern for the irrational, also enjoys the possession and contemplation of the highest activity of soul in continually meditating on, praising, glorifying and savoring sublime things.

After showing that this sort of life most of all satisfies his definition of happiness, Aristotle writes a very paradoxical and therefore very uncharacteristic conclusion:

But such a life would be too high for man; for it is not in so far as he is man that he will live so, but in so far as something divine is present in him; and by so much as this is superior to our composite nature is its activity superior to that which is the exercise of the other kind of virtue. If reason is divine, then, in comparison with man, the life according to it is divine in comparison with human life….

So far, so good. The divine life is beyond man since it is the activity of intelligence alone whereas human intelligence – soul – is not just intelligence but intelligence with an irrational component capable of being trained. But right after this…

This would seem, too, to be each man himself, since it is the authoritative and better part of him. It would be strange, then, if he were to choose not the life of his self but that of something else.

That which is above the person is most of all who that person is.  Figuring out what is being said here would be less pressing had Aristotle not made it the conclusion of his whole vision of the human person.

Identity and command

Whenever a whole has a part that commands, the identity of the whole is from the commanding part. This is clearest in military authority, e.g. Lee beat Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville even though 193,000 men actually fought; Caesar conquered Gaul even though he commanded four legions – in fact, he conquered Gaul because of his command.

In the sense in which what we love commands our action our identity is what we love, and this is one approach to the pre-modern idea that love brings about a likeness to the thing loved.

More properly, command follows knowledge, and human quidditative knowledge is of being concretized in sensible things. But being is non-categorical and therefore infinite while the concretized sensible is not. We can either take the concretized sensible as if infinite by making it our ultimate end, or we can take it as a means to achieve a truly infinite end other than itself. In this sense our identity is either from a pseudo-infinite and is therefore a pseudo-identity – what stands on nothing is itself nothing – or it is from the true infinite to which the sensible world serves as a principle of knowing and about whom we can have no quidditative knowledge.



The gospel, philosophically (pt. 2)

Axiom: The human person needs to go beyond beyond natural limits.

As evidence, start with II Republic where Socrates is forced to re-imagine his idea of a city after it is ridiculed as “A city for pigs”, i.e. one limited to meeting what fell within natural human needs for nourishment, sheltering, health, recreation, etc. The critique was on-point: while pigs are perfectly content (or even in a state of bliss) when their natural needs are met, humans have a need for the heroic, the glorious, the illustrious, magnanimous; or on a more basic level for the refined, luxurious, elegant, etc. This is why we can identify ancient humans by jewelry, large decked-out temples, well-executed art… one is not sure he’s found a fully human species if they merely have tools like controlled fire or sharpened rock-axes.

Since we don’t have any choice whether we want to go beyond the limits of nature, the only question is how we will do so. I’ll focus on one way in which we want to go beyond limits, sc. the moral limits of human behavior.

One approach is to go beyond nature by contradicting it. Raising kids makes it clear that even before we are fully self conscious we defy the rules that restrain us as a proof of our own self-sufficiency. Augustine gives the classic description of this in his analysis of his desire to steal pears. From within this perspective, rules are at best useful illusions for living together, though the clever and wise seek ways to flout them.  This flouting doesn’t require that my life be outwardly rebellious or defiant in any obvious way, but only that, somewhere in my heart, I have made a definitive judgment that some moral rule does establish a limit I am bound to respect. To return to Augustine’s life, it’s enough to steal some pears in the dark.

The only other approach has to preserve the limits of human nature. But this seems impossible: how can we preserve the natural limits of our nature while being true to our desire to transcend all limits?

The Platonic-Christian answer is that staying within the limits can be in part rewarded by the gift of transcending them. The moral limits of life are tied to a larger story culminating in the possibility of transcending all limits by way of divine gift. The possibility of rewards also raises the possibility of punishments, perhaps even perpetual ones.

In Christian dogma, these two ways of transcending moral limits are, respectively, mortal sin and sanctifying (or diefying) grace. 


Divine interiority

God is the exemplar, final and efficient cause of creation, i.e. his causality is described as entirely extrinsic. But the mode of divine agency is so utterly different from agency in creatures that it is helpful to understand it by negating the way created agents are exterior to their effects. In this sense, divine agency is an interior cause.

The salient description is of what Thomas calls spiritual contact: 

In quantitative contact that which touches must be outside of what it touches, since contact occurs on the surfaces of each. Thus, it cannot penetrate through the object but is impeded by it. But contact by power, which belongs to intellectual substances, makes the substance touched be within that which touches it since it reaches within things, penetrating into them without impediment.*

Divine efficient causality is therefore what is most interior to things:

God is the cause of [created causes], working more intimately in them than those moving causes since he is the cause of the very esse of things while those other causes are, as it were, determining that esse. For the creature takes no part of its whole esse from some creature as a source, since even matter is from God alone, and esse is more interior to to any thing than that which determines it, which is why The Book of Causes says it remains when all other determinations are removedAnd so the activity of the creator more reaches to the interior of things than the work of secondary causes**

Divine efficient causality cannot be understood as lacking the perfection that interior created causes have (i.e. matter and form). In denying that God is a material or formal cause of things we mean to negate the imperfections and limitations to both but not the perfection of their interiority. In this sense divine exteriority – transcendence – makes him more interior to the material thing than the soul, self, or concrete body that is his own. In this sense, we deny that God is a material or formal cause of things not because they are intrinsic to things, but because they are too superficially constitutive of things.

* Contra gentiles II. c. 53 Quia in tactu quantitatis, qui fit secundum extrema, oportet esse tangens extrinsecum ei quod tangitur; et non potest incedere per ipsum, sed impeditur ab eo. Tactus autem virtutis, qui competit substantiis intellectualibus, cum sit ad intima, facit substantiam tangentem esse intra id quod tangitur, et incedentem per ipsum absque impedimento.

** Super Libri Sententiarum, lib. 2 d. 1 q. 1 a. 4 co. Horum tamen causa etiam Deus est, magis intime in eis operans quam aliae causae moventes: quia ipse est dans esse rebus. Causae autem aliae sunt quasi determinantes illud esse. Nullius enim rei totum esse ab aliqua creatura principium sumit, cum materia a Deo solum sit; esse autem est magis intimum cuilibet rei quam ea per quae esse determinatur; unde et remanet, illis remotis, ut in libro de causis dicitur. Unde operatio creatoris magis pertingit ad intima rei quam operatio causarum secundarum


On infinites, esp. Words

Aristotle distinguishes two accounts of the infinite

a.)  that which has nothing outside

b.)  that which always has something outside.

He says (b) is the correct account.

Proof: if “infinite” were “an X which had nothing outside”, we could think of an X that had nothing greater – namely the infinite one. But calling numbers or spaces or time infinite means recognizing there is no number, time, or space for which a greater is inconceivable.

I want to tie this familiar sort of infinite to another one that is just as infinite, namely, the possible uses of a term. We can’t enumerate all possible uses of… (I’m pulling out a random book and scanning for the first noun)… “School”. Miriam-Webster gives five noun meanings, but others were left out and others will arise, and this is before we include all the ways the term might be used metaphorically, ironically, euphemistically, in puns, malapropisms, idioms, Freudian slips…

My point is not that the uses of the term could actually go on forever, but the word as such has no definite limit.  So, for example, the fact that languages constantly melt into dialects into new languages sets an extrinsic limit to how many uses a term can have, but the word as such is as infinite as numbers or space, since no matter how many uses one enumerates there will always be another possible use outside them. Moreover, time and space are infinite in exactly this way: there will never be an actual infinite, but the mind in knowing these things knows it can never conceive of a last one, but, as we said, there will always be another outside. 

While sentience is infinite in the sense that we can always see one more blue thing or taste one more salty one, words, numbers, and space are not infinite in this way. To see one blue thing after another is not the same as seeing an equivocal meaning of a term, forming another species of number, or a space that contains another and so bestows a form on it (i.e. place). Carving out this new sense of the infinite points to its spirituality, though describing that will have to wait for later.


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