First Principles

Man, unlike all other creatures, can relate to the world as a unity. His experience is of a 'world,' meaning all things are seen as part of a unified whole. Since man can understand reality as one thing, he will, as a searcher of causes, seek to explain the world not merely with respect to all of its individual constituents but also as a unity. This is not a mere aspiration, this is something that men naturally seek to do.

In a way, the post-modern turn is a decisive rejection of this notion, it is an affirmation of the idea that reality is really a set of essentially unrelated elements, and the vain quest for a unified explanation necessarily does violence to the irreducible differences found in the world. This can be true, but only if our principles are not, in fact, the proper first principles of unity. In other words, the skepticism of post-modernity is not the humble recognition that the world cannot be understood in its most fundamental mode, but rather that the modes of our recent analyses have been inadequate.

If we seek to reduce the world to a mathematical model, or a physico-mathematical model, we must end in skepticism because these are not the principles of unity. The unity of the world is metaphysical, and the proper object of metaphysics is that which truly gives unity to our experience. It is being.


Definition Matters

We often use the term 'essence' in order to denote form. In natural substances, though, we must remember that 'essence' most properly denotes not form, but the substance which is composed of both matter and form. If essence was merely constituted by form within natural compounds, man would not be defined as a rational animal but only as a rational soul.

The reason that essence is more closely associated with form is because form is that which makes matter intelligible, meaning it is the act which determines some potency in real existence. This means that something is definable inasmuch as it is in act; inasmuch as it is determined by some form. But it is also within the analysis of definition that we matter's essential role. Again, to have a body is just part of what it means to be a man.


Measured Uniformity

Consider some basic measuring instruments: a ruler or a scale. You hold a ruler against an object, any object, and as long as the ruler is long enough you will receive a proper measurement. In a similar way, place an object on a scale, and as long as the object is not too heavy for the scale you will receive a proper measurement.

Now notice, the ruler must be held against the object; the object must be placed upon the scale. The object you are measuring must first be related to the instrument you are using to measure it. In these simple examples, the relation is easy to understand. If I hold the ruler against a table leg or against my own forearm, the ruler remains the same. It is a tool we use to relate to objects in one particular way, and we do this in order to know length.

We can use any number of analogies to help us understand the act of measuring. The ruler and scale are like filters; we hold them up to the world around us, and the world becomes nothing but lengths and weights. These are the only pieces of information allowed to come to us from the sensible world given these chosen filters. Or the ruler and scale are like lenses, and when they are held in front of us our eyes can only perceive lengths and weights. We can even view them as translators, each instrument translates the world of our everyday experience into the language of numbers, lengths, and weights.

We must remember, though, that the ruler is not the table leg or the forearm. In other words, the devices we use to measure the world, and this includes number in general, impose an homogeneity on sensible experience that is not otherwise there. This is not to say that we are not describing the real world when we speak of lengths, weights, or any other type of measurement, but it is to say that there are other aspects of sensible experience that are not captured by these or any other measuring devices. We treat the world as homogeneous inasmuch as it is homogeneous according to our way of knowing. This is the proper limit of any science. 


Categorical Notes I

-Aristotle beings his discussion of the Categories by noting how we speak. What we say of things is indicative of their categorical composition.

-To be said of something is different than to be in something. Ryan is a man = Ryan is an animal, Ryan is rational, etc. Ryan is white =/= Ryan is a color.

-Of all things said, substance is the most fundamental. Without it, nothing could be said of anything else. In a way, both species and genus are substances.

-Genus is said of the species, and these are both secondary substances. Primary substances are individual things (this horse, this man).


The Solitary Boast

The Immaculate Conception: The Crucifixion::The Assumption of the Virgin: The Resurrection of the Dead.

Just as Mary's Immaculate Conception prefigures Her Son's Salvific Act, so too her Assumption, body and soul, into heaven prefigures the resurrection of the elect.


As They Are III

Machiavelli judges republics by their life span and general stability. Athenian democracy under Solon did not outlast its own founder, and even after some semblance of democratic order was restored, the polity could not last a century. Sparta, on the other hand, endured for eight centuries under the institutions established by Lycurgus. Why? According to Machiavelli, Lycurgus constituted Sparta in such a way that the king, aristocrats, and people all had a share in the maintenance of order. For Machiavelli, these three parts or classes of a city, which are always present in some form, must be recognized as having unique virtues and vices that make them integral to perpetuating both tranquility and stability.

In the case of Rome, Machiavelli says that even though the city was originally established as a kingdom, fortune and chance allowed it to transition to a state that had at least two of the three required representative constituents present: the two consuls who stood for royal authority and the aristocratic senate. All that was left was access by the people, the democratic element of government. This would be accomplished by the creation of the tribunes of the plebeians.

The process of political transition is not without its troubles, and most people would rather not acknowledge that the three separate factions do not always share similar interests or have identical desires. Political life, though, is part of the life of men, and men, so says Machiavelli, are evil creatures who will always seek to act cruelly to others if given the chance. Rulers who seek to found cities and political associations, not to mention political philosophers who wish to remake the world according to their pet theories, ignore this at their own peril.   

This inherent evil in man is what necessitates the representation of each faction within the city. When Rome was no longer ruled by the Tarquins, the unchecked aristocratic class, which no longer needed to fear an alliance between the king and the people, began to abuse their authority over the plebeians. The tribunes were birthed from the conflict between these two classes, and Machiavelli recognizes that these conflicts, rather than creating total disharmony or anarchy, helped hold together a relatively stable political order for three centuries. The evil of men combined with the disparate interests of each class, with no faction going completely unrestrained, created conditions favorable to liberty.    


As They Are II

Machiavelli, following more ancient political theorists, claims that there are, generally speaking, three types of government: kingdoms or principalities, aristocracies, and democracies. He points out, though, that it is more accurate to say that there are six, since each type has its own defective counterpart. Through a process of degeneration and decay, kingdoms become tyrannies, aristocracies become oligarchies, and democracies become anarchic ochlocracies.

The first ruler or prince comes about when smaller groups and clans place a leader, presumably the strongest among them, at their head in order to establish organization, protection, and law. In return, this leader is given obedience and, from this relationship, civil justice is born. Assuming that this dynamic persists, the next ruler chosen will not necessarily be the most powerful in the sense of being the strongest; he will, however, be the most able at maintaining justice among his people. It is here that Machiavelli says the process of degeneration may begin. Rulers, instead of being chosen for their ability, or even chosen at all, come to power through hereditary succession. Because of this, the rulers lose all necessary virtue, excelling only in the pursuit of power and pleasure. As a result of this abdication of concern for the common good, these new leaders are eventually despised by the people over which they rule. Living in fear of the people, these princes are more likely to enact violent deeds and become tyrannical rather than seek to assuage the displeasure of the citizenry.

At this stage, Machiavelli says that the tyrant begins to face opposition from men of wealth, power, nobility, etc. Upon the elimination of tyrannical rule, the mass of people fall under the rule of this small elite. These men, only just ridding themselves of the political yoke of tyranny, desire to keep the favor the people. They therefore take care to execute government effectively and also scrupulously observe the law themselves. However, just as the rule of a single virtuous man cannot endure perpetually, so too the virtuous collective must pass their rule to a group which lacks the necessary virtues. As the king becomes the tyrant, so too the aristocrats become oligarchs. Now, instead of turning to another small elite, the masses lend their support to any who are willing to destroy the oligarchs. Exhausting the rule of the one and the rule of the few, the people turn to the rule of the many.

Machiavelli, like Socrates in Plato's Republic, is particularly harsh toward democracy. He argues that democracies, like all other types of political organizations, can indeed maintain themselves at first. But unlike other forms of government, he does not think that a democracy can even outlast the generation which establishes it. Democracies immediately become anarchical, with each individual following only his own passions. Anarchy, though, is untenable. It must give way to either monarchy or monarchical tyranny, that is, if the state has not already been conquered by its more powerful and stable neighbors.

Notice, the distinction between a virtuous government and its opposite is whether the state's rulers are concerned with the common good or their own personal good. This contrast is most visible in democracy, where the concern for the common good is almost completely lost. Each man becomes a ruler to himself, it is a land of little tyrants. In our democratic regime, the very notion of the common good is rejected.