Possible Being Is Caused Being

That which can possibly be need not actually be. In this way, possible being has a certain indifference towards both actual being and non-being. From this, we can see that possible being must necessarily be caused being. Remember that what something is is separate from whether or not it exists. If the definition of something is simply that it exists, we do not search for a cause of such a being, for it does not receive its existence from another but exists in itself. Possible being, since it is not a being such that its definition is that it exists, if it was it could not be possible being, must be caused by necessary being. From this, we see that necessary being is prior to possible being.

All material being is possible being since matter is, by nature, in potency towards some form or act. This composition of matter and form, potency and act, is just what material being is. All material being as such is being caused.   


Christmas Day

"To restore man, who has been laid low by sin, to the heights of divine glory, the Word of the eternal Father, though containing all things within His immensity, willed to become small. This He did, not by putting aside His greatness, but by taking to Himself our littleness."

- St. Thomas Aquinas, Introduction to The Compendium of Theology

Sometimes it is easy to forget that Christmas is a celebration of God coming to earth. This idea alone can provide a lifetime of meditation for anyone who desires to take it seriously.


So Aristotle is Wrong...

So Aristotle is wrong. His philosophy has been disproved by modern science, whatever that means. We should discard what he says and everything built upon it. Away with all of this ridiculous talk of matter and form, nature and art, act and potency, motion and rest, and definitely none of this talk of essence or what-it-is-to-be something. 

What now? Can we continue on with modern science and modern life as if we have outgrown such primitive thought? Absolutely not! The only thing we can do is say, "You were right, Parmenides, being is one." 

What, did you forget why Aristotle was spending his time thinking about motion and how we can make sense of it? If we throw him out, we cannot continue on with anything, for we are forced back to Parmenides' metaphysics. And since, without Aristotle, his philosophy goes unchallenged, we must all become his followers. In this way, the rejection of Aristotle is the single most regressive movement in human knowledge ever. In fact, our knowledge of the world would not regress at all, it would vanish, or, more precisely, it could never be.


The Treason of Philosophy

The philosophical act is nothing less than a revolutionary call to transcend the world of utility, productivity, and work. The men of business ask "Where can I get this item," or "How can I come to possess this thing that I need for this purpose?" The men of science ask "How can I obtain power over that which I have not made? How can I predict nature and exert my will over it?"

The philosopher asks "Why is there anything at all? Why is there something rather than nothing?" Against the world of utility this question is at least disturbing and at most treasonous. Inasmuch as the modern world sees itself as a world of "workers," a world in which men only know how to conform things to their own will with the power of machines and know-how and inasmuch as men see their own imaginations as the only arbiters of what can or cannot be, philosophy will always stand as the mortal enemy of our world.  


Social Notes

Perhaps I will devote longer posts to some of these...

-Modern conservatism, as a species of liberalism, is positively obsessed with politics. The most prominent writers and speakers waste their time discussing electoral politics and polls and policies. It used to be that only liberals were insufferable at the dinner table.

-Tolerance can only follow division or diversity. When will it be time to speak of the virtues of unity?

-Imagination is more often used to obscure reality than to reveal it. People call something 'old' in order to create an image of that which is dying and decaying. We could, however, use the same word to create the image of something powerful, enduring, lasting, and wise.

-Pop culture is created by business. Culture is a people's way of life: tradition, memory, song, and behaviors. Business creates our traditions, memories, songs, and behaviors.

-Proper conservatism can never be such if it is combined with ignorance of history. Many young people today assume that moving in with your girlfriend is a mature step on the path to adulthood. They do this out of a type of conservatism, a devotion to a particular way of life. That this is pure nonsense is evidenced by the fact that the practice is only decades old.

-In America, activism is encouraged before thought.

-Politics grows from history, morality, religion, biology, and philosophy. People define themselves politically only after they have defined themselves according to these prior standards, so those who view politics as the proper conduit for substantial social change have it exactly backwards.


Imaginary Warning

Children are often admired for their ability to imagine. With the acknowledgment of imagination's beauty, though, must also come the realization that it is a power that is essentially limited by particularity. If imagination were a power of abstraction then children would be the most brilliant of philosophers. And inasmuch as we fail to transcend our own imagination when understanding reality, our thinking will remain stagnant and marked by a gross immaturity. In this way, the empiricism of a Hume or a Locke is a philosophy fit only for perpetual children.


Physics: Book VIII

In the Physics Book VIII, Aristotle begins his argument by defining motion as the “actuality of the moveable insofar as it is moveable” (Phys. 251a10). The moveable as moveable must therefore contain within itself some potency determined to some act. That which is altered must first be alterable, for instance. The second principle for which he argues is that whatever is in motion is moved by something. This premise is proven through a consideration of both act and potency. Potency as such cannot be in act or else it would not be in potency. That which is what it is cannot at the same time become what it is because something cannot become what it already is. No potency can bring itself to act without first being in act, which would mean that it was not in potency.

What we now have is a series of movers being moved by something or a series of potentialities being brought into actuality by something which is already actual. According to Aristotle, this series cannot go on infinitely because if it did there would be no first mover and, hence, no motion at all. The series must cease or, more accurately, begin with some first mover that actualizes potentialities without itself being brought from potency to act. In other words, the series must begin with some mover that is itself unmoved. “For it is impossible to have an infinite series of movers each of which initiates motion and is moved by the agency of something else; for there is no first term in an infinite series” (Phys. 256a15-20). Even in what Aristotle calls self-movers, living things, it is more precise to say that motion is initiated in one part by another part. These self-moved movers are also subject to generation and corruption and therefore cannot be the unqualified first movers in any series since, for Aristotle, motion is continuous. The motion of self-moved movers, then, must also regress to some unmoved mover.


Philosophy For Death

Early in the Phaedo, Socrates briefly elaborates his assertion that philosophy is “to practice for dying and death” (Phaedo 64a). The body, he says, impedes a man’s true acquisition of knowledge. Sight, hearing, and sensation in general are not sources of truth because they are deceptive and cannot accurately yield any truth. Examination through sensation, then, will never yield true knowledge. Socrates then explains that this is because the Forms are not material and cannot be perceived through the senses. Knowledge of the Forms can only be reached trough thought, pure thought that is both unmixed with and uninfluenced by material sensation. The body and its senses can only hinder the soul’s approach of the Forms, so man must only utilize his reason, which for Socrates is an activity of the soul. It is after death that the soul is finally and utterly without any material obstruction because at death the soul is separated from the body and thus free from the senses (Phaedo 64c). Death, then, is not something to be spurned by the true philosopher, rather, it should be accepted and even invited when it comes because the philosopher will be able to do more perfectly what he has been doing during his earthly life.


A Science Indeed

Philosophy concerns itself with everything, but some things are more important than others. The nature of reality, the existence of God, the nature of humanity, justice, these are all subjects that can be considered philosophically, which is how we should consider them if we wish to both know truth and do good. Everybody who is alive or has ever lived has either explicitly, implicitly, practically or theoretically answered these questions for themselves, but this does nothing to diminish the superiority of the philosophical approach, which is as scientific and even more scientific than anything else we call by that name. This means that the approach is difficult and not able to be understood by everyone. Just because you care greatly about God or you simply take pleasure in discussing His existence or non-existence does not mean that you actually know anything worthy of being passed on. Imagine if people ignorant of quantum physics began writing books and internet weblogs about the ridiculousness of string theory or some other matter. Most people would immediately realize that these opinions were worthless, so why can I not say the same thing when I read pop atheists or comments on the internet which state that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God? If your response is "Well, there isn't any scientific evidence for God!" then you should pay special attention because you are on of the people about whom I am speaking.

One Division of Being

That act is within the idea of being is assumed since to actually be is to actually be. Potency, though, is also contained within the concept of being. The possible as possible is contrary to the impossible. That which cannot come to be or become is impossible to be. Non-being is that which cannot come to be or become. and so is impossible to be, therefore being, since it is contrary to non-being, is also contrary to impossibility to be. Therefore being includes within itself the concept of the possible. To distinguish what is and what is possible is nothing other than to distinguish act from potency.


The Most Fundamental...

The most fundamental axiom of Aristotle’s metaphysics is the principle of non-contradiction. It can be stated in several ways, but they all convey the same essential idea, namely, that something cannot both be and not be in the same way. A number cannot be both odd and not odd, a man cannot be both alive and not alive, and something cannot both exist and not exist. In a way, this principle gives us an absolute knowledge of all things, for within it is the concept of being simply along with its distinction from non-being, which is being’s negation. Any knowledge of being simply, though, must necessarily be a knowledge of all that is since being is, by definition, what is.


The Tyranny of Freedom

Socrates says that because democracy is free and the lives within it appear to be varied, it will seem to be the most beautiful of arrangements. The truth, however, is not so appealing. Democracy breeds indifference, a city of people that will neither embrace a man for his beliefs and virtues nor burn him at the stake because of them. According to Socrates, a man must be taught and trained in excellence from his birth. This will never happen within a democracy, though, because the people care not for the pursuits with which men concern themselves. It is a society where nobody is right or wrong, the truth is dead, and demagoguery is king.

The real ugliness of democracy does not yet cease with this because it must now devolve into tyranny, the worst of them all. The hallmark of democracy, for both Socrates and perhaps modern America, is egalitarianism of both people and preferences. The people of a democracy spend both their time and money feeding their unnecessary, or evil, pleasures. They refuse to evaluate their desires and grant an awful equality to their personal preferences. This causes a spiritual instability and unreliability. The democratic man rejects virtue on principle. He will stop at nothing to satiate his unsound passions and he believes not in the truth because the truth is that all of man’s desires should not be equally pursued. Democracy grants equality where it should not exist, such as between the sexes. This rampant freedom and egalitarianism spreads to every social context. Even the family is seen as an obstruction to true freedom.

Finally, the people will abhor the law because it imposes limitations upon them as well. Every institution becomes oppressive, every man of authority is seen as the cruelest of slave masters. The rulers are monsters, the mob says, and the people require an advocate to advance their cause of liberty. In response, the rulers assume the form of oligarchs and do indeed resemble the monsters that the people always thought them to be. The advocate must become stronger in order to deliver his people, he must be given the power to rule. He will give the people what they have always wanted by any means necessary. A tyrant has been born.


Old Physics and New Science

In the Physics, Aristotle’s object of study is the world of nature. Nature, in this sense, means that which is the primary and internal principle of change or motion, and it is the subject of motion that occupies much of the treatise since it is most characteristic of the natural world as such. In this way, the treatise is an attempt to arrive at a science of motion and, therefore, nature. At the outset, though, there is a possibility for confusion in the understanding of the modern reader. Modern science also speaks of nature, motion, and change, yet Aristotle’s treatise does not appear to concern itself with the same type of study that modern science does. In fact, it would not be too far of an exaggeration to say that they do not appear to study the same subject at all. 
Aristotle does not fill his work with equations or any numbers or measurements and it does not contain quantifiable empirical data. The reason for this disparity is not obvious. It could be because Aristotle’s knowledge of science is so primitive and mistaken that it is different simply because it is false. Another reason, the true reason, is that Aristotle is considering nature in a more general way than any particular modern science does, and although it is certainly a different way of speaking about nature it is not wrong because of its difference, rather, Aristotle’ physics is indeed prior to any modern account of science.

In Book III of the Physics, Aristotle arrives at a definition of motion simply. Motion is the actuality of some potentiality inasmuch as it is potential. A man who is pale may become tan only if he is first potentially tan and actually pale. As something which is actually pale, a man undergoes a process whereby his being-potentially-tan becomes his being-actually-tan. This process is called motion or change, and in this particular instance we would call it the act of tanning. Notice that the words ‘act’ is even present in a conventional description of the motion. This is a definition of motion per se, meaning that it applies to all motions inasmuch as they are motions.
Aristotle also makes a second distinction that is related to the act/potency distinction. Natural substances are also considered composites of matter and form. Matter is a potency which becomes an actual substance through the possession of some form. This form, then, is the act in relation to the matter which is in potency. Applying the act/potency distinction specifically to this matter/form distinction, we can say that a man’s skin, which would be the matter in this case, is informed by paleness. Motion is just the process by which the matter, skin, looses the form it currently possesses, paleness, and acquires the form of tanness. This is Aristotle’s way of describing how someone becomes tan.

Aristotle’s account is not a scientific account in the modern sense, but difference does not necessarily imply incompatibility. Because he is seeking to define motion as such, Aristotle is not attempting to describe the particular motion of any one thing. He is also not attempting to exhaustively define the motions of any particular things. What he is doing is demonstrating what all motion must essentially be at the most general level. There is a sense in which modern science fills in the blanks of Aristotle’s conceptual schema by attempting to discover the particulars of individual natural motions. Aristotle’s account of motion is formal, while modern science’s account provides the material. Ultimately, the modern empirical science that is studied today is conceptually dependent upon Aristotle’s science, which is prior to it and presupposed by it.


Truth and Being

"Names and verbs by themselves, when nothing is added, are like thoughts without combination and separation, since they are not yet true or false. A sign of this is the fact that 'goatstag' signifies something but is not yet true or false unless 'is' or 'is not' is added, either without qualification or reference to time."

 -De Interpretatione 16a15-20

Notice that truth and falsity do not apply until 'is' is added. In other words, truth and falsity are said only when being is predicated. Truth is Being considered differently.


On The Possibility of Motion

In Book I Chapter 8 of the Physics, Aristotle presents us with the position of previous philosophers who maintained that coming to be (motion) is impossible. The argument runs thus:

What comes to be must come to be either from what is or from what is not.
What is cannot come to be since it already is.
What is not cannot come to be because something cannot come from nothing.
Therefore coming to be is impossible.

Aristotle's solution rests within a distinction. There is a sense in which the previous philosophers are right, something cannot come from nothing. However, there are two ways of 'coming from nothing.' One way is simply and without qualification. If this is the only sense admitted then the previous philosophers are right and motion is impossible. This is not the only sense admitted, though. There is also coming to be with qualification. A man does not become pale simply, he comes to be pale after being dark. Notice that the term 'coming to be from nothing' becomes ambiguous. The dark man is not pale, and in this way paleness comes to be from nothing. The difference is that it is not nothing taken absolutely but rather as a privation.


Unnatural Relations IV

"Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains."

Is man naturally free? If freedom means absolute autonomy and independence then the answer is a resounding "No!" Man, upon birth, is immediately subject to the authority of nature and of his natural parents who nourish and raise him according to their customs. Hierarchies of authority are found at almost every level of human association from father and son or wife to king and subject. If this is the general history of humanity, then the modern concepts of freedom and individualism are nothing short of a revolution. There is a slight problem, though, with revolutions against nature: they must be maintained perpetually by forceful coercion lest nature take back her rightful place as that which properly orders man's actions.

These few observations are enough to explode the fantasy that libertarianism or classical liberalism are at war with the modern state. The libertarian needs the modern state as a man needs oxygen; without its ability to dilute or destroy the natural authority found within human relations, the ideology would simply die. In short, freedom as license requires what modern conservatives call "big government."


Substance As Subject of Change

Aristotle says that substances are able to receive contraries. In fact, the potential to receive contraries is what is “most distinctive of substance” (Catg. 4a10). Consider a table with a white surface, for instance. The whiteness of the table’s surface is known through sensation. When I paint the white surface blue, what changed? It was not the color white, white cannot be anything other than what it is. We see the presence of one color and then we see the presence of another, but the colors themselves cannot be the things that underwent change. The subject of change cannot be color, which is an object of vision, therefore the subject of change was not something that is given to our sense experience. This account can be expanded to include man and all of his accidents. Man undergoes changes in his color yet the colors which he bears do not themselves change. He also can be many different ages, sizes and shapes, etc. The substance “this man,” though, must allow for all of these contraries to subsist in him somehow. As a substance, man is not something that can be explained through recourse to our sensible experience, and this is even true when we point to something and call it “this man.” This is true of all substance as such. On Aristotle’s account, substance is actually something that cannot be seen, smelt, touched, heard, or tasted, yet it accounts for the way we speak of subjects like man, horse, and table.


Listen, O Wretched Man!

"Then, what seek ye by all this noisy outcry about fortune? To chase away poverty, I ween, by means of abundance. And yet ye find the result just contrary. Why, this varied array of precious furniture needs more accessories for its protection; it is a true saying that they want most who possess most, and, conversely, they want very little who measure their abundance by nature's requirements, not by the superfluity of vain display. Have ye no good of your own implanted within you, that ye seek your good in things external and separate? Is the nature of things so reversed that a creature divine by right of reason can in no other way be splendid in his own eyes save by the possession of lifeless chattels? Yet, while other things are content with their own, ye who in your intellect are God-like seek from the lowest of things adornment for a nature of supreme excellence, and perceive not how great a wrong ye do your Maker. His will was that mankind should excel all things on earth. Ye thrust down your worth beneath the lowest of things. For if that in which each things finds its good is plainly more precious than that whose good it is, by your own estimation, ye put yourselves below the vilest of things, when ye deem these vile things to be your good: nor does this fall out undeservedly. Indeed, man is so constituted that he then only excels other things when he knows himself; but he is brought lower than the beasts if he lose this self-knowledge. For that other creatures should be ignorant of themselves is natural; in man it shows as a defect. How extravagant, then, is this error of yours, in thinking that anything can be embellished by adornments not its own. It cannot be. For if such accessories add any lustre, it is the accessories that get the praise, while that which they veil and cover remains in its pristine ugliness. And again I say, that is no good, which injures its possessor. Is this untrue?  No, quite true, thou sayest. And yet riches have often hurt those that possess them, since the worst of men, who are all the more covetously reason of their wickedness, think none but themselves worthy to possess all the gold and gems the world contains. So thou, who now dreadest pike and sword, mightest have trolled a carol 'in the robber's face,' hadst thou entered the road of life with empty pockets. Oh, wondrous blessedness of perishable wealth, whose acquisitions robs thee of security!"

-Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book II: The Vanity of Fortune's Gifts


Faith of Our Fathers

"Now," said she, "I know another cause of thy disease, one, too, of grave moment. Thou hast ceased to know thy own nature. So, then, I have made full discovery both of the causes of thy sickness and the means of restoring thy health. It is because forgetfulness of thyself hath bewildered thy mind that thou hast bewailed thee as an exile, as one stripped of the blessings that were his; it is because thou knowest not the end of existence that thou deemest abomidable and wicked men to be happy and powerful; while, because thou hast forgotten by what means the earth is governed, thou deemest that Fortune's changes ebb and flow without the restraint of a guiding hand. These are serous enough to cause not sickness only, but even death; but, thanks be to the Author of our health, the light of nature hath not yet left thee utterly."

-Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book I: The Sorrows of Boethius

Philosophy admonishes Boethius for forgetting his own nature and the nature of the world as God's creation. Notice, though, that he cannot forget these things unless he is able to first know them. Boethius knows that God exists and that He governs the word, and it is his later willful ignorance of these truths which causes him to doubt both Providence and Justice. The above passage relates how the maiden Philosophy chooses to describe his loss of faith. It is not that he has doubted something for which there was never any actual evidence, rather, it is that he has chosen to ignore what he knows in the face of seemingly indominable suffering and misfortune. This is what faith truly is, that a man may hold onto the truth despite his passions and emotional reactions towards the ever changing circumstances of material existence. It is not believing in something that is absolutely contrary to what we know, and it is not blind trust in an arbitrary authority. These are modern notions which seek to define religion as a kind of irrationailty without any foundation in reason. Inasmuch as a Chrsitian implicitly accepts these definitions of faith, he is lost in a desert of the mind where knowledge cannot grow.


August 9th, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Pure Being, which has nothing of non-being in itself, is in such wise eternally infinite that no non-being is before it or after it, and it contains within itself all that is or can be. This being is all that it is in the highest measure of being, or more correctly, it is measureless (it is the very measure by which all else is to be measured)- it is pure act. In it nothing is shut, nothing remains unfolded; it is rather in absolute openness, illumined in itself and through itself; that is, it is light itself - it is pure spirit.

-St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
Potency and Act, conclusion.


Masters and Servants

There is a certain demystification of the natural world that occurs as our scientific knowledge increases. Every time something is analyzed, classified, and put in a book we seem to have gained mastery over a new piece of reality; it is somehow inferior to us now because we have successfully understood it to at least some degree. Some ancient people worshiped stars, for example, but modern man knows what stars really are and therefore does not worship them. Once we can relate to something as knower to known the object of our knowledge is somehow conquered or less than us in some way. Fear, wonder, and awe are reduced as a result of us possessing true knowledge of things. If an entire galaxy can somehow be known then there is a sense in which even the stars and planets can fit within our heads with ease.

This is the glory of metaphysics and theology, that any real metaphysical or theological knowledge we possess demonstrates definitively at least one thing: We are the masters of nothing. As creatures and as objects belonging to the finite world, our vast knowledge of the entire universe is completely insignificant when compared with the knowledge we have of things that are not of the physical world. It is not a matter of degree. To know that God exists, to know that the angelic universe exists, to know that all the things we see and touch are secondary to the higher being that is our creator, this is knowledge that can never make us masters. This is the knowledge that makes us servants, the knowledge that gives us fear, wonder, and awe. To truly know the star is to cease worship of it; to truly know God is to begin to fall prostrate before Him in praise.


Unnatural Relations III

Today, many are giving their opinions on Judge Walker’s Proposition 8 ruling. Obviously, some are for and some are against it, but my question does not concern itself primarily with either homosexual “marriage” or its apparent legal justification. What I want to know is this:

Can a healthy and unified polity exist which contains citizens who openly disagree about such fundamental matters?

Religion, as even an atheist can admit, has been a principle of cohesion among the peoples of the earth for all of our history. Our foundational myths, stories, beliefs, rituals, practices, moralities, etc. provide us with a framework within which we are able to live a properly communal life with those to whom we are somehow naturally attached. Liberalism, the project of modernity, purports to be able to structure human life in a way that is neutral to all of the differing claims of religion and even culture, but one more question comes to mind whenever this is proposed as a satisfactory answer to my first question:

Why would somebody want to live in this way unless they were not themselves already neutral to the differing claims of all the world’s cultures and ways of life?

In other words, who but a modern man would want to live in a modern world? The only people who actually think that the liberal orthodoxy imposed upon us is, in fact, neutral are people who happen to have no moral objections to the practices in question in the first place. At some level I have no problem with this, for this is just a particular example of the general principle I affirmed above. But our history is not so neat that we can all live in the way we choose, and what we call the “culture war” is really a war between two different cultures that desire to occupy the same seat of power and historical dominance. The only answer I can possibly think of is that we must radically devolve power so much so that no orthodoxy can be imposed so universally and so uniformly that people feel alienated from the very world in which they live. But, then again, the radical devolution of power is itself opposed by the liberal orthodoxy. It seems that we are at an impasse. Let the war resume…

Addendum: I posed this question to Thomas Fleming and here is his response: "The simple answer to the first question is: No, absolutely not. Devolution of power would be the answer, if it were possible, and it would only be possible in conditions of economic, social, and political collapse. The only answer for Christians is to do what they once did: live as Christians. Until they quit listening to and supporting the frauds and quacks who take their money and mount campaigns pretending to challenge a regime they actually support–say, people like Pat Robertson or Bill Donahue or Focus on the Family–even sincere Christians will not only not make any difference, they will not even attempt to lead Christian lives."

Cartesian Ontology Necessitates Mind/Body Dualism

Descartes is usually credited with being the father of modern philosophy. Modern philosophy, in this sense, represents two different yet related ideas. First, Descartes inaugurated a radical methodological doubt which refused to give any sort of deference to the traditions of the past. This philosophical individualism is wholly distinct from everything that came before it. Aristotle, who was the paradigmatic philosopher for most of western history until the early modern period, would always consider the opinions of his predecessors before expounding his own particular doctrines. Even Plato’s Socrates, who was notorious for his criticism of popular Greek moral and political thought, did not offer a wholesale rejection of tradition as the only means of properly attaining truth. Doubt, then, is Descartes’, and it was this doubt that became the foundation for his entire philosophy and much of philosophy afterward. Second, modern philosophy, particularly the early modern era, represents not merely a methodological rejection of the past but also its theoretical rejection. In other words, Descartes popularly marks the end of the Aristotelian grip on the world of western thought. Descartes’ explicit rejection of core Aristotelian doctrines, and the Scholasticism that was built upon them, makes him the first truly modern philosopher. This accolade, however, was ill-gotten.

The rejection of a broadly Aristotelian philosophy birthed a plethora of errors and seemingly unsolvable philosophical problems, and of them, none are more famous, or infamous, than the mind/body problem. When discussing this topic, philosophers rightly regard Descartes as being the first philosopher to state the relation of the mind and the body in such a way as to make the recognition of the problem obvious. This, in turn, results in an almost irredeemably puzzling confusion about how the mind and the body interact. This, however, is not the real problem. Rather, it is Descartes’ ontology and how it is responsible for creating the mind/body problem instead of simply discovering it. If there is any type of solution to be found it is in a return to a more Scholastic metaphysics and the Aristotelian doctrines that provide for its foundation.
In his Second Meditation, Descartes attempts to understand who or what he essentially is. By placing all things in doubt, Descartes arrives at one conclusion of which he is indubitably sure: He exists. He demonstrates how this one thing cannot be reasonably doubted:

“Is it then the case that I too do not exist? But doubtless I did exist, if I persuaded myself of something. But there is some deceiver or other who is supremely powerful and supremely sly and who is always deliberately deceiving me. Then too there is no doubt that I exist, if he is deceiving me. And let him do his best at deception, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I shall think that I am something. Thus, after everything has been most carefully weighed, it must be finally be established that this pronouncement “I am, I exist” is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind” (Meditations on First Philosophy, pg108).

Now that he has found something of which he can be absolutely certain, Descartes proceeds to apply this same method to other aspects of his existence in order to understand more completely who, exactly, he is. He entertains some possible answers; perhaps he can say that he is a man. But he can then ask what a man is, and, in his mind, to say that man is a rational animal is a confusing waste of time (notice that the term rational animal would be a standard Scholastic answer to the question “What is a man?” Descartes vehemently and abruptly rejects this approach immediately). Ultimately, he will not be satisfied by any answer that suggests that his identity has anything to do with the nature of bodies. Instead, Descartes concludes that he is essentially a thinking thing. His essence is therefore thought, which can have nothing to do with being a body or being within a body. Even sensation and imagination are reduced to thought. The things which are sensed or imagined could be dreams that have no reality but, nevertheless, he is sensing and imagining and this cannot be doubted. We can ask why Descartes is at such pains to eliminate the possibility that his essence has anything to do with his corporeality, and the implications of his answer will provide both philosophers and scientists with a conceptual sketch of the nature of matter and causation that remains largely uncontested to the present day.
For Descartes, the essence of matter is extension. It is from this principle that every other attribute of matter can be derived. “Thus extension in length, breadth, and depth constitute the nature of corporeal substance; and thought constitutes the nature of thinking substance” (The Principles of Philosophy, Part 1, 53, pg. 245). What Descartes has done here is conceptualize matter in terms of what is mathematically quantifiable. In this way, physics now becomes the true method of discovering the manner in which objects actually exist. The implication of this belief, then, is that what we experience through our sensation is decidedly not a part of the actual nature of the substances which we perceive:

“In this way we shall perceive that the nature of matter, or body in its universal aspect, does not consist in its being hard, or heavy, or colored, or affecting our senses in some other way, but solely in its being something extended in length, breadth, and depth. For as regards hardness, we do not know anything of it by sense, except that the portions of the hard bodies resist the motion of our hands when they come in contact with them…” (The Principles of Philosophy, Part II, 4, pg. 254).

Descartes is making two critical points in this passage. First, everything that we perceive in the world, despite our particular sensations, is really made up of some collection of uniform particles which are nothing other than their quantifiable dimensions. Second, the only way we can explain any changes in these objects, either as we perceive them or as they change in themselves, is through what Descartes calls motion. By motion, Descartes means local motion or movement from place to place. Strictly speaking, Descartes says that motion “…is the transference of one part of matter or one body from the vicinity of those bodies that are in immediate contact with it, and which are regarded as at rest, into the vicinity of others” (The Principles of Philosophy, Part II, 25, pg. 262). A stock example would be billiard balls striking each other; one ball moves until it hits another one, that one then moves while the first ball comes to rest.
In this brief outline we have the now common image of the physical world. Everything is simply matter in motion. At its most fundamental level, the world is nothing other than material particles colliding with one another continuously. This is the modern mechanistic picture of nature, and it owes much of its existence to the father of modern philosophy.
Notice, though, that nowhere in this picture can mind or soul be found. All material substances are essentially extension, but extension is seemingly unsatisfactory in explaining human existence. If the things which we experience in sensation, for instance, are not actually parts of material substances, then it logically follows that the human mind cannot also be material. Consider a piece of chalk. Upon looking at it, most people would conclude that it is white. According to Descartes, however, this certainly is not the case. Whiteness is not “in” the chalk because the chalk is only the sum of its moving quantifiable elements, none of which possess any color, taste, smell, etc. The whiteness of the chalk, then, can only be in the mind of the observer. But the mind of the observer cannot also be said to be material since we just said that it is the mind which perceives these different qualia (sensible qualities). Cartesian dualism is thus the only way out of this conceptual impasse.
Although this argument might appear to be utterly distinct from the one in the Meditations, it is actually a different way of saying the same thing. Going back to the Second Meditation, we see that Descartes decides that he is a thinking thing only after he has established, however roughly, his conception of matter as extension. This is the only reason why he is able to imagine that his body does not exist and that therefore he must be whatever it is that thinks, which is his soul:

“On the contrary, I was under the impression that I knew its [body] nature distinctly. Were I perhaps tempted to describe this nature such as I conceived in my mind, I would have described it as thus: by “body,” I understand all that is capable of being bounded by some shape, of being enclosed in a place, and of filling up space in such a way as to exclude any other body from it; of being perceived by touch, sight, hearing, taste, or smell; of being moved in several ways, not, of course, by itself, but by whatever else impinges upon it” (Meditations on first Philosophy, pg. 109).

It is his clear and distinct idea of matter as one thing and thought as another that enables him to separate them. His conceptual distinction comes first, his idea of himself as essentially a thinking thing comes afterward.
Descartes has to understand the soul in terms of a separate and distinct immaterial substance that somehow exerts causal force over the physical world of matter in motion. How does it do this? Centuries have passed and it still eludes us; most philosophers have now simply disregarded the immaterial soul in favor of materialism because Cartesian dualism just seems so untenable. The truth, though, is that the mind/body problem is necessitated by Descartes’ mechanistic conception of nature, i.e. understanding nature as matter in motion. Instead of accepting this description of the world while denying Descartes’ dualism, we should deny his conception of the material world as thoroughly inadequate.


Unnatural Relations II

From a certain perspective, modernity can be seen as an untidy patchwork of contradictions which are held together by the combined powers of media, pop culture, and the managerial state of which we are all subjects. One of the more glaring contradictions we are supposed to unquestionably hold is the idea that man is a mere animal, a result of biological evolution like any other beast, but, nevertheless, he should be liberal in his politics. The word 'liberal' in this sense is applicable to most political philosophies forged from the 17th century onward.

I can think of nothing more opposed to the life of brutish animals than egalitarianism, pacifism, or multiculturalism. If the world of the animals is anything it is hierarchical, war-like, and utterly tribal. What modern liberalism diagnoses as the world's worst maladies, I see as nothing more than animals simply behaving as such. It cannot possibly be that liberalism is the politics of a people who study man scientifically.


Time Apart

Aquinas tells us that there is no contradiction in affirming that something was created and that it was never non-existent. The reason that this might appear to be counter-intuitive to the modern reader is that many misunderstand what it means to say that something is created in the strict sense. All things which are composites of act and potency, essence and existence, etc. by definition require God to perpetually maintain their existence. This is not to say that all things necessarily have a beginning in time, they need not have one, but it is to say that there is a hierarchy of existential dependence that is separate from the temporal order. That there was or wasn't a Big Bang is irrelevant to the question of whether man, the world, and the entire universe are created things. Here's a good rule of thumb to tell whether or not something is a created thing: If it is God, no. If it is anything else: yes.


Metaphysical Considerations Necessitate God

A very popular contemporary debate between theists and atheists concerns morality. The theist argues that human morality must rely upon some transcendent and therefore divine source in order to carry any weight; anything less results in a purely subjective ethics that is too relative to ascribe objective goodness and badness to man's actions. Atheists argue that morality relies upon evolutionary biology and sociology which require no such transcendent or religious authority.

Part of the reason why this debate is so popular is because we have forgotten our philosophical ancestry, which had its culmination in the medieval ages but began with the ancient Greeks. The existence of God is not some hypothesis employed in order to explain certain phenomena, it is a conclusion that is reached after the long, arduous, and sometimes tedious exploration of reality as a whole. Aristotle arrives at God in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics, and it is no simple task to follow him through from beginning to end.

But if you do follow the ancient way to God, you will discover that God is an absolute necessity to the existence of the world. Once you understand the distinction between act and potency, form and matter, essence and existence, etc., you understand that all things that are not God need God in order to exist. It is a question of science, not faith. God is the explanation for reality when considered at its most general level. He is a type of scientific explanation. It is not as if we can ponder what things would be like without Him, His existence is at every moment doing explanatory work.

So the interesting question is not whether we can be moral without God, the essential question is and always will be "How can we be without God?" Act an potency are real, essence and existence are real, and form and matter are real. All of the metaphysical distinctions are real. It does no good to deny God's existence as if His being is inconsequential. If He does not exist, you have left an infinitely wide explanatory gap that simply cannot be filled by any empirical science.


Special Effects

If an atheist says that he does not believe in God because he does not see any evidence of his existence, then there is a sense in which we can agree with him. If the best evidence for a stone's existence is the actual stone lying on the ground for all to see, no theist or scientist will ever be able to provide such evidence for the existence of God.

It is a good thing, then, that Aquinas does not offer any arguments of this type in order to prove God's existence. In fact, his method is quite congenial to a modern audience since he always begins with what his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hands tell him. It is perhaps easy to be fooled when reading proofs for God's existence and descriptions of His nature; how could these lofty things possibly be concluded from examples like hands holding sticks pushing rocks!?

Aquinas' reasoning is a movement that begins with effects and progresses towards what is ultimately a first cause. Notice, God is first known as a cause. It is through the relations that God has with his creations that we know He exists. Now this is the crucial point: It is what we know about the material world that necessitates God's existence. The theist does not see anything the atheist does not, they both touch, see, smell, hear, and taste the same reality.

The central difference, then, between the atheist and the theist is not what each has to say about God; it is what they have to say about the stone lying on the floor, or the hand holding the stick pushing the rock. And what they say, exactly, will depend upon their modes of consideration. The atheist refuses to consider the objects in the material world in a way that the theist does not. It does not matter whether you call this mode of consideration metaphysics, ontology, or first philosophy. What matters is that the atheist qua atheist is positively limiting the use of his reason and so cannot see what makes God absolutely necessary to a coherent image of reality.

Aquinas is more scientific than Richard Dawkins.


To Be Wise, Unlearn

For the modern mind, perhaps even more than any mind that came before, the first step to authentic understanding and learning is to absolutely empty one's mind of all supposed knowledge. We are filled with so many prejudices about the past that we are, unless serious effort is made, positively unable to see what came before us. Do not say "I will read the thoughts of men who lived in a dark age of unenlightened dogmatism and uncritical gullibility," say rather, "I will read the thoughts of men who lived upon this earth as I have lived upon this earth, and I will seek to understand what they are saying as they would have me understand it." This is the beginning of the path to Truth.

What's The Matter?

If materialism is the belief that only material things exist, I do not see how this can be proved rationally. The materialist must be committed to saying that if something is, then it is material. In other words, there is something in the very concept of being and existence which entails matter. This is an unacceptably arbitrary limitation upon the word "is."


The Art of Nature

If we cannot see the interiority of Nature then we will never be able to properly distinguish the natural from the artificial. A human doctor uses the human art of medicine to heal other human beings. An automobile manufacturer takes parts from the world and puts them together in order to function according to his design. If we conclude from these examples that nature is simply the machine that God has put together then we have missed the essential difference between nature and artifice. To say that something is natural is to say that it possess a power which is in itself. No machine can boast this. As a machine, meaning ignoring what the parts and components and elements were doing before we grabbed them, no machine exists apart from human beings who serve as the external agent and artist. This is one of the most significant disanalogies between nature and art.

If we were to properly analogize between nature and art, we would have to say that nature is that in which the work of art and the artist are the same thing.


What Is That

Fundamentally, the Five Ways rest upon the distinction between what something is and that it is. This distinction is both within ourselves and within all the objects of our experience. I can know what the do-do bird is while also knowing that it does not exist anymore. The do-do bird still has a what but it does not possess a that. All of creation is a composition of what and that. The what is what gives definition and limit to things. It is what separates an atom from an animal from a planet from a universe. The that is actual existence or being.

Notice that if something is a composition of a what and a that, its existence must be explained by something outside itself. All of our physical reality, though, is made up of this type of composition. Things are constantly coming in and going out of existence; we all will go out of our current mode of existence when we die. Existence is a gift given to all things. That is given to what in order for something to actually exist.

Ultimately, though, we must reach a Giver of Existence. We must reach something that does not share in existence or even merely have it. In order to properly explain the existence of all things we must reach a Being whose what and that are identical. What it is to be this being is simply that He Is. His definition is that He Exists.

When Moses asked God for His Name He replied:" I AM."


Between What Is and What Isn't

Greek philosophy may be understood as a sort of running conversation among men attempting to rationally explain the world as a whole. To begin with Plato is to enter into the middle of a conversation that has already been taking place for quite some time, and in order to understand the importance of Aristotle we must briefly digress into the philosophies of two other men: Parmenides and Heraclitus. Stated succinctly, Parmenides (515-450 B.C.) and Heraclitus (535-475 B.C.) represent two competing and opposing views of the world that cannot be reconciled.

Parmenides’ argues that change, or motion, to use the traditional language, is impossible. Being can only be changed by something other than itself. But what is there besides Being? Non-being. Non-being, though, is not anything at all. Therefore, it cannot affect change of any kind. Being is, non-being is not; you will never get beyond this thought. What we then have is an image of the world where there is no multiplicity or diversity of things, there is just Being. This Being is absolute and eternally itself. Because of this, all of our apparent experiences of the world as subject to change are merely that, apparent. The world of change is an illusion.

Contrast this with Heraclitus’ philosophy of an ever-changing reality. For Heraclitus, everything is constantly in a state of change and nothing is ever actually static. All things are in a state of “becoming,” nothing can be said to “be” in a definitive sense. Accordingly, the world of permanence, like the world of change for Parmenides, is utter illusion. What is merely apparent to us is the world of things that have continual existence; the reality is that all is in flux.

Plato took these two adversarial ways of thinking very seriously, and, for him, the Forms were an attempt to answer the question of how the world can be both changing and unchanging, for both are given to common sense experience. Plato, however, set for himself yet another serious problem, one that he even addressed in the dialogue Parmenides. Forms exist, material things exist, but the interaction between the two is seemingly elusive. The attempt to account for a world of both change and permanence, then, still appears to be unsuccessful. That is, until Aristotle.


How Certain Are You?

Descartes: The most primary, certain, and indubitable thing I know is this: I think; I exist.

Aquinas: And how is this so?

Descartes: Because I cannot know with certainty that anything else exists. If there are no heavens, no bodies, no minds, and I am being deceived by something more powerful than myself, it is still true that I think; and there must be an "I" which is thinking. Even if I were being deceived, it is still "I" which is the object of deception, and it can never be brought about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. I think, I exist.

Aquinas: If you are being deceived, though, why is it that you cannot be deceived into thinking that you exist when you really do not?

Descartes: Because I am still thinking, and it cannot be that I think but I do not exist.

Aquinas: Because if you are thinking then there must be a "you" which is doing the thinking?

Descartes: Exactly!

Aquinas: So it is implicit within the statement "I think," that you must exist.

Descartes: I must say, you are much more intelligent than I ever thought. You have caught on so quickly. You understand my first, most primary, most certain, and indubitable principle so well.

Aquinas: Thank you, Rene. But, if I may, I have one more question to ask you.

Descartes: By all means, ask.

Aquinas: Why is it that you are not being deceived right now into thinking that your principle is true? Why is it that you know that you must exist because your thinking presupposes your existence?

Descartes: What do you mean? Are you saying that it is possible that I do and do not exist right now? That is absolutely ridiculous!

Aquinas: Why?

Descartes: Because nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same manner.

Aquinas: So you know you exist now because you knew before that it must either be one or the other. You knew that you either existed or you did not, and you never thought that it might be both.

Descartes: Yes.

Aquinas: So there is something that you claim to know before you know whether or not you exist, namely, that nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same way?

Descartes: Well, yes.

Aquinas: So it seems that we have an even more certain, more primary, and more indubitable premise than your original one.

Descartes: It appears so. Well, what kind of philosophy do we get if we begin with this more known premise instead of my less known one?

Aquinas: Mine.


Unnatural Relations I

Modern political theory, beginning popularly with men like Lock, Hobbes, and Rousseau, understands the origin of political associations as a thoroughly unnatural process that must be artificially constructed by man in order to ensure his well-being, however defined. The story runs as thus:

Individuals who have no prior relations with each other must form political bonds because they cannot sustain themselves otherwise. For Locke, men can more easily secure their property and their rights if they enter into contractual governance. For Hobbes, men must place their security in the hands of the absolute sovereign.

Since this time, we have had a myriad of ideologies seeking to enforce upon us a particular structure which emphasizes either the state at the expense of the individual (socialism, communism, collectivism, modern liberalism) or the individual at the expense of the state (capitalism, anarchism, classical liberalism, modern conservatism). Politics is seen as a sort of balancing act between the two exclusive actors of the state and the individual. Which side do you fall on?

Well, the answer that a normal human being should give is "Who says that individuals have no prior relations with one another?! Of course we do!" All modern political philosophy, to use an inappropriate analogy, thinks that Humpty Dumpty has fallen and broken into a million pieces, and each political/economic ideology wants to put him back together again according to their own crazy set of blueprints. The truth, of course, is that there will never be a time when people truly consider themselves as free and utterly separate "individuals" with no prior spheres of obligations to family, friends, and broader clans (racial or cultural). All men are either fathers, brothers, or sons, and all women are either mothers, sisters, or daughters; and this relational set only covers the nuclear family!

To be continued...


How To Grow a Man

It is popular to criticize college education because college does not train you for a job. There is a sense in which this is absolutely correct and a sense in which it is terribly off the mark. Most people should probably not be attending college for the simple reason that they have no interest in furthering their education. Education, in this sense, does not mean learning how to do something. Education means simply what it has meant for most of our history: The passing on of our civilization to future generations. Literature, history, empirical science, music, art, philosophy; not one of these things necessarily puts food on the table or provides shelter to those who need it. In short, we do not need these things in order to subsist. If this is what college is supposed to do (enable us to earn money for our biological necessities and luxury wants) then away with it. It has obviously failed this task.

However, if we look at our past, we see that this was simply never the proper aim of the college or university. In fact, the true purpose is the exact opposite. The curriculum of that brilliant medieval Catholic invention, the university, has had the same name for centuries: The Liberal Arts. The Liberal Arts education is and has always been the goal of the university. What does it mean, though? Both words, liberal and art, are Latin in origin. Liberal comes from the root "liber" which means free. This curriculum was historically distinguished from the Artes Serviles, or servile arts. What is the difference between them? Well, the answer to this question is also the answer to the question "What is it that makes the liberal arts the "free arts?"

The Liberal Arts are free from one thing: social utility. In other words, the liberal arts are liberal (free) precisely because they are not a means to a social end. The idea that the highest form of knowledge is technical knowledge is purely modern and utterly flawed. It is literally an inhuman form of education. For the ancients and medievals, the highest knowledge was philosophical knowledge. By this, I do not mean what you would typically find in an average college's philosophy department. What I mean is that the highest type of knowledge is philosophical in nature; it is knowledge for the sake of truth, not for the sake of serving some material end.

Man is the rational animal. This means that he has biological need which must be met (man as animal) but that he also can relate to the world absolutely (man as rational). To relate to the world absolutely means relating to it on terms other than how we need it to survive. A bird cannot consider a stick as a stick but only as a "house piece." Man needs to meet his animal needs because he needs to survive, and for this we simply do not need the modern college education with all of its waste and inordinate expensiveness; not to mention the fact that it is probably the fastest way to transform a 20 something man or woman into a moral wreck.

What we do need is a return to humane learning. We need an education aimed at bettering man as rational and not as animal. We need truly free arts that do not need to justify themselves by providing you with an excellent job.


Easter: The Fulfillment of Philosophy

There is a sense in which the Resurrection of the Body transcends philosophy while it is at the same time complimentary to it. Natural reason teaches that man has an immortal soul that does, in fact, persist at the death of the body. The soul, though, is essentially the form of the body, and it therefore draws its identity from the matter that it informs. This is true even after death. In other words, my soul is still the actualizing principle of the matter out of which I am made. Now once I am dead, my soul is no longer animating my body in order to sustain the matter-form compound that is myself, but it must still bear this relation to me somehow. This means that, after death, the soul is still what it is because of the matter that it once informed.

Philosophy finishes speaking to us at this point. Natural reason cannot guide us any further along the road, but it is certainly suggestive. A person cannot be a person without both body and soul, so even though the soul persists after death there is a sort of incompleteness about it. This holds true even of the blessed in heaven. We are by our nature composites of matter and form, so there is, in a sense, something unnatural about our souls persisting perpetually after death without the body.

We have been shown, though, that this unnatural separation cannot continue eternally. Philosophy has not shown us this, but philosophy guides us towards this conclusion. We need something, then, that fulfills philosophy in all of its limitations. We need an answer to this question. How can we be shown whether or not death, the separation of the soul (form) and body (matter), is final?

By The One Who Has Conquered Death.


Form I

Man cannot touch solidity. He cannot drink liquidity. To call something a solid or liquid, though, is certainly saying something both real and true of the things we experience through sensation. Notice that they have to be said of things. We must account for what we sense by using things which cannot be sensed. Not all things which exist are material.

The Heart of Plato

Plato is in many ways the father of Western philosophy. What is the most important lesson that this father has for his children?

We cannot rationally account for what the eye sees or what the hand touches without that which can neither be seen nor touched.

This is the genesis of Platonism. This is the genesis of the philosophia perennis.


Creatures and Causes II

Pope Benedict XVI
Here we can at once say that at the very heart of sin lies human beings’ denial of their creatureliness, inasmuch as they refuse to accept the standard and the limitations that are implicit in it. They do not want to be creatures, do not want to be subject to a standard, do not want to be dependent. They consider their dependence on God’s creative love to be an imposition from without . . . Human beings who consider dependence on the highest love as slavery and who try to deny the truth about themselves, which is their creatureliness, do not free themselves; they destroy truth and love. They do not make themselves gods, which in fact they cannot do, but rather caricatures, pseudo-gods, slaves of their own abilities, which then drag them down.

In the Beginning…: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall .


The Never Ending Story III

Does the universe depend on God for its existence? To most people, the answer depends upon whether the universe began to exist or not. Today, we have multitudes of scientific theories either attempting to explain the possible origin of our universe or attempting to demonstrate that the universe has always existed. The notion that the right answer lies in whether the universe began to exist or not, though, is thoroughly modern.

Aristotle could hold simultaneously that the universe has always existed and that it depends upon God for its existence. How?

I am sitting on a chair as I write this. Let us assume that I have been sitting on a chair and will continue to sit on a chair eternally? Do I still need the chair to hold me up? If I do need it, we have a notion of causation which does not rely on temporal duration in order to exist.

We can see this again in another example. At every moment I am depending upon many things in order to remain alive. I need oxygen to breathe, and in order for oxygen to exist on Earth I need the Earth to have the same atmosphere it has right now, and for the Earth's atmosphere to remain the same, let's say that it needs to remain a certain distance from the Sun, and for this to stay the same the Sun cannot change in any drastic way, and for this to happen let us suppose a million different things in the universe have to remain as they have always been.

This entire chain of dependency does not need to stretch back in time in order to have real power. At every moment of my existence all of these factors must be what they are. If one link was altered, then everything after it would be altered too.

What we have, then, is an atemporal notion of causation. In other words, we can say that the universe has existed forever, just like I have always been sitting on my chair. We can also say, though, that the universe depends on God for its perpetual existence, just like I still need a chair in order to remain seated even if I have been sitting always.

Any philosopher who does not acknowledge this when discussing God's Existence is unworthy of your attention. Any book which does not acknowledge this can be shut.