12.07.2009

Knowledge For What?

It is no argument against the Scholastic tradition to say that empirical science flourished under its destruction rather than under its reign. Aristotle explicitly stated that the highest knowledge is knowledge for its own sake. Techne, or technological knowledge, was not even secondary to him but tertiary. It was nothing short of a conceptual revolution in philosophy when thinkers like Descartes and Bacon proclaimed that the real purpose of knowledge was to make man the master of nature. Once this becomes the new end of knowledge, anything that does not advance this end will be overlooked or even thrown out if it is seen as useless. But the question “What will help us control and predict nature,” is a very different question from “What is the nature of reality?” The first question is far less comprehensive than the second, so it is no surprise that the mechanistic conception of nature has seemingly helped man a great deal in his conquest. Ultimately, though, the fact that the information gained from the mechanistic conception of nature gives us something does not at all entail that it gives us everything, it’s just that we do not need everything in order to exert control. Descartes’ true error, then, lies in his use of philosophy as a mere instrument for justifying his physics and his pursuit of technological advancement.

11.19.2009

Causes and Creatures

Fundamentally, most of the classical arguments for the existence of God can be simply seen as the realization that the world, us included, does not and cannot exist of its own power. In other words, everything we encounter, again, including ourselves, has being by participation and not of itself. This is the Truth that lies at the heart of metaphysics, it is the Truth of Genesis: We are created things.

This insight is not benign, for the original sin of man is pride, which is nothing else than a refusal to acknowledge our existence qua creatures. To understand that God is the Uncaused Cause or our Creator is the ultimate truth about ourselves that we must know in order to begin to be as God wants us to be.

11.12.2009

The World of Philosophy

Consider a stone. A stone exists within the world but the stone does not "have" a world. What is the difference? Having a world means existing within a field of relations in connection with some interior power. The dirt does not have a world. A plant within the dirt, though, does. The dirt, inasmuch as it provides the plant with nutrients, nutrients which are "taken into" the plant in both a literal and a figurative fashion, is part of the world of the plant. The plant has a relatedness to the dirt in the way a stone does not.

Is there a simpler distinction that can be made between things that "have" worlds and things that are merely within worlds? Of course. What else are we describing other than the difference between living and non-living things? To be a living thing is to have a soul, and the soul is the interior power by which living things possess fields of relations.

Not all living things contain within themselves identical fields of relations, though. Animals have more expansive fields of relations than plants, and human beings' fields of relations are even more expansive than irrational animals. By considering the degree to which living things have fields of relations, then, we can establish a hierarchy of being and existence.

But what is man's proper field of relations? Being in its totality! As a being that is capable of knowing, man is able to place himself in relation to all things simply. What do we call this activity of placing oneself in relation to Being as a whole?

Philosophy.

Tradition

The old light illuminates the young soul
who stands beneath the ancient fires
of a world unseen and unheard
His hands can only touch the winter
and the visions are only of fear
But this boy is patient
as he is consumed and burned
by ancestral heat
Now a man enkindled
he may walk through the snow
and it shall melt

10.29.2009

The Mind of a Body, The Soul of a Man

According to Descartes, man is essentially a thinking thing. It follows, then, that the soul, the thinking thing, is one substance and the body, which is not the thinking thing, is another separate substance. As two distinct substances which are ultimately independent of each other, the immaterial soul interacts with the material body in order to perform the operations proper to man. But how?

(Que the centuries long debate over the mind/body problem.)

So now we've arrived at a moment where the most popular answer is to deny the existence of an immaterial soul. The mind/body problem is thus solved by denying the 'mind' (or soul) part. We now do not have to wonder how the soul and body interact because there is now only one thing.

There is a sense in which this is close to the truth and a sense in which it is monstrously off the mark. Inasmuch as the materialist wants to conceive of the human being as essentially one thing, he maintains an accurate description of reality. However, inasmuch as he wants to conceive of the human being as essentially material, his description of reality is grossly mistaken.

We can say the same for Descartes, who is right to recognize that man has an immaterial soul but is incorrect to understand this soul as a distinct substance. So, we can maintain that a man constitutes a complete substance, not his soul individually or his body individually. We also maintain that the body, or the material, requires an immaterial soul in order to actually be a human being.

Thus we are left with one final question: Who affirms that man is a unity of matter (body) and form (soul)?

10.12.2009

The 5th Way and Intelligent Design

Peter Kreeft — Handbook of Christian Apologetics page 5
5. The Design Argument
This sort of argument is of wide and perennial appeal. Almost everyone admits that reflection on the order and beauty of nature touches something very deep within us. But are the order and beauty of the product of intelligent design and conscious purpose? For theists the answer is yes. Arguments for design are attempts to vindicate this answer; to show why it is the most reasonable one to give. They have been formulated in ways as richly varied as the experience in which they are rooted. The following displays the core or central insight.
1. The universe displays a staggering amount of intelligibility, both within the things we observe and in the way these things relate to others outside themselves. That is to say the way they exist and coexist display an intricately beautiful order and regularity that can fill even the most casual observer with wonder. It is the norm in nature for many different beings to work together to produce the same valuable end—for example, the organs in the body work for our life and health. (See also argument 8.)
2. Either this intelligible order is the product of chance or of intelligent design.
3. Not chance.
4. Therefore the universe is the product of intelligent design.
5. Design comes only from a mind, a designer.

This is not the teleological argument, this is closer to the modern arguments in support of ID. In these arguments, the concept of design is unclear and does not apply with any metaphysical certainty. It fails to demonstrate the existence of the God of classical theism with the same metaphysical force that the 5 ways display. In fact, it displays no metaphysical force at all, since ID claims to be scientific in the modern sense, meaning empirically verifiable. If you cannot see the distinction between these two types of arguments, one largely classical and the other modern, then you simply cannot claim to understand what either Aristotle or Aquinas is actually saying.
I am not being antagonistic for the sake of argument. I am saying that the weaknesses in the modern arguments from design are real and ultimately they will fail because they 1) cannot demonstrate with certainty the existence of the God of classical theism and 2) they accept the modern, meaning since Descartes, conception of nature which denies both final and formal causality, the first of which is central to the teleological argument for God’s existence. There is indeed some honor in attempting to show that the world just looks like it was designed intelligently, but the weight of this argument, I would say, has always been rhetorically powerful while being philosophically lacking.
P.S. Kreeft is probably well aware that Aquinas is not simply a forerunner of William Paley and thus knows that the ancient and medieval arguments for the existence of God are strikingly dissimilar in many key respects, but he also writes popularly for a largely modern audience, and I say this as someone who very much enjoys his books and lectures.

9.28.2009

What Counts as Reason?

Many people today think that, through reason, we can all see that man does not have an immortal soul. The Medieval philosophers thought that, through reason, we can all see that he does.

Many people today think that, through, reason, we can all see that there is no such thing as God. The Medieval philosophers thought that, through reason, we can all see that there is.

Reasoning is hard work and it is essentially a movement from one thing to another. The famous maxim is "to follow the argument wherever it leads," and if it leads us to the knowledge of the existence of God and our own immortality we must assent to these things. There is no real split between faith and reason in the modern sense; there is only good reasoning and bad reasoning which leads to false conclusions. Just because a man believes in God does not mean he does so despite what his reason tells him. If he is truly wise, he has come to this knowledge precisely because of his reason. Let No One Afraid of Thought Enter.

9.23.2009

The Never Ending Story II

According to many philosophers, both professional and amateur, the veracity of the cosmological argument, in its various forms, always hinges upon whether or not the universe began to exist. This idea is odd, though, since the two most famous proponents of the argument, Aristotle and Aquinas, did not hold that the temporal finitude of the universe could be rationally demonstrated. Aristotle, in fact, held that the universe did exist from eternity, yet it is his argument from motion that Aquinas adopted and used in order to demonstrate that God exists. Aquinas held that the world was finite, but this view was held in light of revelation, meaning that it is not logically contradictory to say that the universe began to exist in time, we cannot prove by reason that it did, though, and since revelation holds that it did then we are to believe it as well.

One of two things is happening here: 1) Anybody with common sense and who reads the argument with even the slightest diligence will immediately see a contradiction in the opinions of arguably the most brilliant philosophers who ever lived or 2) We do not understand what either Aristotle or Aquinas are actually saying. Which should we pick?

9.20.2009

Wonder and Awe, Again

"It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raising questions about the greatest matters too, e.g. about the changes of the moon and of the sun, about the stars and about the origin of the universe. Now he who wonders and is perplexed feels that he is ignorant (thus the myth-lover is in a sense a philosopher, since myths are composed of wonders); therefore if it was to escape ignorance that men studied philosophy, it is obvious that they pursued science for the sake of knowledge, and not for any practical utility. The actual course of events bears witness to this; for speculation of this kind began with a view to recreation and pastime, at a time when practically all the necessities of life were already supplied. Clearly then it is for no extrinsic advantage that we seek this knowledge; for just as we call a man independent who exists for himself and not for another, so we call this the only independent science, since it alone exists for itself."

-Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I

8.26.2009

The Never Ending Story I

The modern debate between atheists and theists oftentimes becomes a debate about scientific research. How much evidence is there for evolution? Did the universe actually have a beginning? This last question is always brought up when debating the cosmological argument for the Existence of God. All of a sudden the argument becomes scientific instead of philosophical, meaning that a physicist, rather than a philosopher, would be better able to answer the question.

Something, then, is wrong. This includes much of modern Christian apologetics. I will delve into a more rigorous explanation of why in later posts, but for now let us be content with understanding one thing: God did not create the world.

The idea that God created the world as a watchmaker constructs a watch is usually ascribed to deism, a popular eighteenth-century belief. Like a watchmaker, God has set up the mechanisms required for the universe to operate and, like a watchmaker, He is then done with his job. From then on the watch operates on its own. This idea is fundamentally mistaken. I repeat, God did not create the world.

God is creating the world. At every moment all things are radically contingent, or dependent, on God for their continual existence. The watchmaker analogy does not go far enough. It would be better to remember Atlas, the Titan who holds the Earth upon his shoulders. If he moved at any particular moment, the Earth would fall. Or perhaps another analogy would be a plug for an electrical appliance. Once the plug, meaning the electric current, is removed, the energy ceases and the appliance will not work. It matters not how much or how little electricity is needed at any particular moment in time. What matters is that it is perpetually there. The world was not created by God, it is created by God.

8.25.2009

Lightning

People usually consider lightning as one of those phenomena that primitive people ascribed to mysterious and divine sources. Then modern man came along and taught the world that lightning is nothing of the sort. Its a purely natural phenomena that does not need God or gods in order to explain itself.

This might have been true for some primitive peoples, but it has never been true of classical philosophy. This is because the ancients and medievals taught that there are many aspects under which one single thing may be considered.

This is to say that lightning is caused by everything that the scientists say causes it, but the scientist cannot explain causation as such. God is what necessarily follows from any investigation into what causes anything to be at all. So God is the ultimate explanation of all things caused only if they happen to be caused. This is why, in a sense, I can answer "God" to the question "What is the cause of _____?" Not because I deny the natural causes of lightning, wind, fire, etc., but because as long as a thing is caused God is its ultimate explanation.

God causes lightning.

8.21.2009

A Few Notes on The Soul

Many people wonder whether people can exist beyond their earthly life. "Is there an afterlife?" they ask. But what if most people are mistaken in thinking that this is something that cannot be known with certainty? What if the existence of an immortal soul can be demonstrated rationally?

- The soul is the principle of life. The ancient and medieval philosophers would not distinguish between "being alive" and "having a soul."

-The classical understanding of the nature of the human soul entails some understanding of universals. Something that is universal cannot be particular. Something that is not particular cannot be material. Universals are not material. All men are particular, but Man is universal.

-The intellect resides in the soul. It is the soul of man, then, that understands. What does the soul understand? Universals. The soul understands that which is not material. The soul is not dependent on matter in order to understand. The human soul is not material.

8.20.2009

Wonder and Awe

As hard as it is to believe, philosophy, stated simply, is the process of figuring out what things are and why. This task seems simple enough, but it is actually a goal that cannot definitively be accomplished. You may respond by saying that science (physics, chemistry, etc.) does this all the time. The world of natural science is filled with descriptions and definitions of what is. The truth, however, is that natural science has given itself very strict limits on what may and what may not be included when giving a proper definition of something. Take, for example, man. Does man have a soul? Natural science does not include ‘soul’ in its working definition of man, but can we then say, therefore, that man has no soul? Maybe we can, but the argument must take on a much more complex form than this. We cannot assume, without proper justification, that whatever cannot be described by natural science, ipso facto, does not exist at all. I do not seek to argue one way or the other now, for my current objective does not concern itself with this debate but something else entirely. For now, my desire is to give a clearer picture of what philosophy is.

Western histories of philosophy usually begin with Thales, an Ionian man who lived before the time of Socrates and Plato. The story goes that a Thracian woman saw Thales trip and fall into a well because he was not watching the road ahead of him. What was he doing? He was gazing upward to the sky and to the stars above. Maybe Thales was clumsy. Maybe he would’ve fallen into the well no matter what direction his eyes were facing. The point of the story, however, is that Thales was preoccupied with something; something above him that he did not quite understand. What do we feel when we are so fixated upon something that we do not or cannot understand that all the things that immediately surround us are instantly rendered irrelevant? Maybe you’ve personally never felt this before. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, for we live in a world where the proper words to describe this feeling are seldom used. If we did feel this way, however, we might call it wonder or awe. What do these words mean, though? The ancient and medieval world knew them well, but our modern world understands them only as na├»ve emotions belonging to children’s fantasies and anything else that cannot provide utility or practical efficacy. Nevertheless, I ask again. What does it mean to be awe-inspired? What are we really trying to say when we describe something as wonderful?

Wonder is much more than just not knowing. It is the realization of not knowing. It is knowing that you do not know and understanding that the world in which you live will never be able to be captured properly with just words or definitions. It is what we feel when we gaze upon a world that we did not make, and we are insatiably curious to meet the man who did. When we realize that the world in which we live is a gift; one that did not need to be given but, nevertheless, was, we experience wonder. We do not understand what a thing is, only that it does not have to be. We stand before a thousand doors, ready to open any one of them, but the one that we do open, the one that we are inextricably drawn to, is the one to this world. We did not walk through the door, however. We were pushed, but by whom? Well, different people will give different answers. What we can say, though, is that the hand that made the world is the hand that brought us into it.

The world, then, is not ours. It cannot be. We are the most intelligent beings within it, but it still eludes us. This is because we are first and foremost sojourners passing through this world and not wholly natural products from the ground below. We are flesh and blood, yes, but the part of us that knows we are flesh and blood is not. This is the part that experiences wonder.

In the Beginning...

This is the first entry.
Let no one afraid of thought enter.