12.25.2011

To all...

I thought today would be a good day to resume posting. I have been very busy these past two months, hopefully the work was not all for naught. I will let you know whether it was in the coming months. For now, let me just wish a Merry Christmas to all readers, commentators, etc.

10.24.2011

Lagrange's First Critique of Idealism

How can philosophy begin with being if the only object available to us is being-as-known? How can we assure ourselves that being-as-known corresponds to being-as-itself?

Being-as-itself is opposed to being-as-known, and it is impossible that we should be able to transcend being-as-known and arrive at being-as-itself since all being available to us is necessarily being-as-known. Idealism, therefore, is inescapable.

In order to answer such an argument we must first make a distinction. Ideas or representations, what constitutes being-as-known, are that by which we know things and not the proper objects of knowledge. The idea is, of itself, an intentional and relational being which is necessarily related to that of which it is an idea. It is only when we misconceive of the idea as an object that can be considered apart from the object to which it relates that the Idealist objection appears reasonable. The idea, then, becomes a material object that is just as much of a primary substance as what we would normally call a primary substance.

As an essentially relative thing, the idea is, against the Idealists, simply unintelligible without its expressive function.

10.13.2011

Where There is No Mean

"Not every action or emotion however admits of the observance of a due mean. Indeed the very names of some directly imply evil, for instance malice, shamelessness, envy, and, of actions, adultery, theft, murder. All these and similar actions and feelings are blamed as being bad in themselves; it is not the excess or deficiency of them that we blame. It is impossible therefore ever to go right in regard to them—one must always be wrong; nor does right or wrong in their case depend on the circumstances, for instance, whether one commits adultery with the right woman, at the right time, and in the right manner; the mere commission of any of them is wrong. One might as well suppose there could be a due mean and excess and deficiency in acts of injustice or cowardice or profligacy, which would imply that one could have a medium amount of excess and of deficiency, an excessive amount of excess and a deficient amount of deficiency. But just as there can be no excess or deficiency in temperance and justice because the mean is in a sense an extreme, so there can be no observance of the mean nor excess nor deficiency in the corresponding vicious acts mentioned above, but however they are committed, they are wrong; since, to put it in general terms, there is no such thing as observing a mean in excess or deficiency, nor as exceeding or falling short in the observance of a mean." (Nic. Eth.1107a10-25)

When most of us discuss morality, we tend to speak about things like murder, theft, abortion, homosexual activity, etc. In other words, we speak about issues which are evil per se. To the extent that we, as a people, cannot come to a common understanding of what is evil per se and what is not, we are vicious and so is our culture. Aristotle is seeking to explain the virtues and to help people who already have decent habits to better deliberate in order to make more virtuous choices, so he is not primarily writing about actions like murder or adultery. Being a good person consists in much more than deciding what is intrinsically immoral and what is not. If we cannot not even agree on this one paragraph then how can we expect to fully understand and live out our human happiness communally?

10.09.2011

Intellect as Immaterial

For Aristotle, living things are understood as composites of body and soul. Body, which is matter, is informed by soul, which is form. Matter is also potency, or that out of which something is made, and form is act, or that which makes the matter an actual substance. Following this conceptual correspondence we can say that body, as matter, is potency, and soul, as form, is act. The body and soul composite is merely a specific kind of potency and act composite, namely, the kind proper to living things. Aristotle discusses the different powers of soul and then distinguishes living things according to the powers of soul most proper to them. Plants, for instance, have a nutritive or generative soul, while animals have a sensitive or perceptive soul. Human beings, however, have both the nutritive and sensitive powers, but neither of these are most proper to human beings as such. For humans, the power to understand, commonly referred to as the intellect, is what characterizes soul. There is a difference, though, that divides the human soul from the souls of animals and plants and it is found within Aristotle’s descriptions of each. Whereas the nutritive and sensitive powers require bodily organs in order to be actualized, the human soul cannot have any such organ.
    When Aristotle is discussing understanding he compares it to perceiving, both of which somehow consist in the reception of some object. This power of understanding, intellect, is characterized primarily by its ability to receive form. As something receptive, intellect is in potency with respect to all of the things which it is able to understand. While it is understanding something, or after having understood something, the intellect is, in a sense, actually what it understands, it contains within itself the form of the object of its understanding. This presents us with a problem.
    Remember that the body and soul division is a specific kind of matter and form division, the latter being found within all material reality and not just in living or organic things. All material substances are, by nature, composites of matter and form. But if the intellect, like matter, is able to receive form, then the intellect, like matter, would actually become the substance in question. For some matter to be in the possession of a certain form, a cat, for instance, is nothing more than actually being this same composite substance. For some matter to be informed by the soul of a cat is just what it is to be a cat. This distinction is at the heart of Aristotle’s ontology, but when applied to the intellect it seems incoherent. If understanding what it is to be a cat is identical with saying that my intellect is in the possession of the form of a cat, then the intellect, if it requires a bodily organ, upon understanding what a cat is, would quite literally become a cat. This is obviously not the case, though. The intellect is able to understand all types of forms and yet is never actually a material substance informed by the understood form in question. The implication, then, is that the intellectual power of the human soul cannot possibly require a bodily organ in order to actualize itself. Hence the intellect must be immaterial.

9.07.2011

Good and Evil V

Evil, then, may be of two kinds. When the defect of privation is found in relation to the nature of something we call it natural evil. When it is found in relation to the end of an action accomplished through will is called moral evil.

Actions which are within the power of the actor and whose principles are found within the will are known as voluntary actions. This type of action is distinguished from natural actions, actions done because of some force external to the agent, and actions done without knowledge. All of these actions are involuntary, and their defects do not constitute moral evil. 

A defect in voluntary action, though, is a moral evil, and it is known as sin.

8.31.2011

Good and Evil IV

Material substances are specified by their forms, and, in a similar way, moral creatures are specified by the end that is the proper object of the will. Just as the possession of one substantial form by a material substance entails the privation of other forms within the substance, moral creatures possess an end to the exclusion of others. Given that things are given ends by nature, we can say that the privation of proper form or perfection constitutes evil. Moral creatures are within this category. Their actions are evil because they entail the privation of the correct end of the will.

Evil, as such, is the privation of perfect being. The completion or perfection of a nature is the actualization of a potency and is what we first call "good." Notice that it is not only act that is called good but also potency, and potency is the subject of privation as well as act. Even a potency for evil must be, in a sense, good. In the case of God, who is pure act with no admixture of potency, we can say that His Goodness cannot possibly be the subject of some evil because good can only be the subject of evil inasmuch as it is in potency to some act. In other words, because a potency is a potency for some perfection it may also be deprived of the same perfection and is therefore what we call privation or evil. As pure act, none of this can be said of God. He is simply "outside" all potency and privation.

Further, we can say that evil can only be a principle per accidens. Only perfection is that which is desired by the will, but since the presence of one end excludes the presence of another, which is what constitutes the privation, privation and therefore evil maybe accidentally sought by the will. Evil as such cannot be a first or per se principle.

8.30.2011

Good and Evil III

Since “good” means perfection, “evil” means the lack of perfection. If something lacks that which, by nature, it ought to have, we call such privations evil.

Privation is essential to the definition of evil. Nature is either act, potency, or a composite. That which is in act is by definition perfect and good inasmuch as it is in act, potency is by definition ordered to act and therefore must have good within its notion. As that which can receive act, potency desires act, which is, as we stated previously, good. From this it follows that no being desires evil as such and, more fundamentally, no being can be evil by nature.

Nature seeks completion and perfection and so seeks act. This fulfillment must consist in goodness since goodness is simply the completion of nature and its operations. In relation to existence, nature is a potency which seeks act in existence to the fullest extent possible. Existence, as act, is the good of nature and therefore non-existence, the negation of being, is an evil.

When seen in this light, the maxim “Do good and avoid evil” is not a prescription from some authority that may be followed or disobeyed at the whim of a creature. It is the fundamental law of both being and action.

8.02.2011

Good and Evil II

Nature, as a principle of motion, determines natural operations. From this perspective, goodness is the completion of a natural operation according to the nature of the particular creature. This is why we consider deformities in humans and other animals to be defective or, to put it more strongly, a type of natural evil.

This, though, is not the only type of evil that befalls man. All creatures may suffer evil according to some defect in their generation, but man can suffer an evil according to his will, which is another principle of motion. Natural generation seeks form as its good and will seeks good as its end. In seeking the good as its end, the will also seeks the means to reach its end, the process of which is called voluntary action. In creatures whose wills can reach and end other than their appointed one a deficiency in voluntary action may occur. This deficiency is the evil of which people most commonly speak.

The will of the creature always seeks the good of the creature. Insofar as the will seeks the perfection of the willing creature, the will cannot deflect from such an end. The perfection of creatures', though, consists in God's goodness, which is a good that is external to the creature itself. Because of this, the evil of will is possible. In other words, because God creates creatures that have their own wills and intellects, there exists a possibility that these creatures (angels and men) will choose to persist in what they consider their own personal goodness instead of that goodness which is the end of all things, namely, God's goodness. This is a possibility that arises from the very nature of created intellectual beings.

"This act of self will on the part of the creature, which constitutes an utter falseness to its true creaturely position, is the only sin that can be conceived as the Fall. For the difficulty of the first sin is that it must be very heinous, or its consequences would not be so terrible, and yet it must be something which a being free from the temptations of fallen man could conceivably have committed. The turning from God to self fulfills both conditions. It is a sin possible even to Paradisal man, because the mere existence of a self -- the mere fact that we call it 'me' -- includes, from the first, the danger of self-idolatry. Since I am I, I must make an act of self-surrender, however small or however easy, in living to God rather than to myself. This is, if you like, the 'weak spot' in the very nature of creation, the risk which god apparently thinks worth taking. But the sin was very heinous, because the self which Paradisal man had to surrender contained no natural recalcitrancy to being surrendered."

-C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pg. 76



7.26.2011

Good and Evil I

Good, having the nature of both perfection and end, is expressed by creatures in two ways. First, as we said before, the creature has a certain perfection in lieu of its form, which is the proper end of generation. Second, the creature obtains perfection by virtue of its activity. Both of these goods can only imitate the divine goodness in a limited and imperfect way. As the end of generation, form is the goodness of creatures, but substances which are composed, metaphysically speaking, do not possess this end essentially. Substances composed of matter and form or essence and existence cannot contain their own form or existence by virtue of their being. They receive such goods from something external to them. 

What we have, then, is an hierarchical order in which composite substances must receive their goodness from something which is essentially good. God, being his own essence, existence, and goodness, has goodness essentially. His goodness is not the end of some generation or the completion of some incomplete activity. All goodness in creatures is therefore a participation in His goodness.  In the same way, God's essential being demonstrates that he is the cause of being in all things, His essential goodness demonstrates that he is the ultimate end of all creatures. 

7.03.2011

An Interlude

The proceeding posts constitute a brief introduction to 1) goodness in general and 2) goodness as applied to man specifically. Many people begin discussions of good and evil from a purely ethical or moral perspective without first seeking to articulate what is truly meant by "goodness." This whole discussion, though, has been about goodness, and inasmuch as we are discussing how man becomes good, we are discussing his happiness. Man, a creature who by nature seeks happiness, must look to God as that for which he longs. His happiness does not consist in anything else. To seek happiness in wealth, bodily pleasure, social status, or power over others, is folly, and it is in the misplacing of one's happiness in such things that evil consists.

The End of All Things V

Man's natural desire for knowledge cannot terminate in any created -- corporeal or immaterial -- substance. This is because as man penetrates the essence of things, that is, as he acquires their intelligible species within himself, he must necessarily understand them as secondary things, effects. No desire for knowledge, though, is satiated through the knowledge of mere effects. The perfection of knowledge, then, consists in a knowledge of causes, but not the types of causes of which we have direct sensible experience. All causes of this sort are not causes simply but are instead causes of some things and effects of others. My father is, in a way, the cause of me while also being the effect of my grandfather. The human intellect cannot find rest in the knowledge of such causes but must come to know the first cause, the Uncaused Cause.

When man comes to know God, his natural desire for knowledge is fulfilled and, since God is the cause of all goodness, no further desire can remain within him. To "see" God as he is, through His own essence, is the culmination of human life and is known as beatitude.

In conclusion, all creatures attain their end through the generation of their form. The possession of this end is called goodness, and it is through creatures' individual goodness that they assimilate to the divine goodness. Man, the rational animal, does so in an utterly special way. As an intellectual creature, his form is most properly attained through the possession of a knowledge of that which is most true, good, and existent. Knowledge of God, Who is truth, goodness, and being itself, is the final cause of man since it is this knowledge which brings man into his respective perfection. Man's end culminates in beatitude.

6.23.2011

The End of All Things IV

All creatures, in their own way, seek to imitate the divine likeness. Man, though, does this in a way that is absolutely unique. Material substances, as material, are characterized by a certain finitude that is absent in creatures who possess an immaterial principle. Man’s immaterial principle, the soul, possesses an intellect which is in potency to intelligible species. In other words, the intellect is able to receive the forms of other substances without itself being determined to one thing. Potentially, the intellect of man is infinite.

The intellect of God is actually infinite. He essentially contains the perfections of all beings in a pre-eminent way (as was shown in a previous post). By fulfilling its potential for possessing all that is intelligible, then, man becomes more like God than any other creature.

Man’s knowing power begins with sensation. Our intellectual activity consists in rendering actually intelligible that which is only potentially intelligible within the objects of sensation. The end of man, then, cannot be fulfilled in this way. Man’s natural power of knowledge is proportioned to sensible objects, but he desires perfect knowledge of all that is, which means that he must acquire knowledge of that which cannot be sensed, i.e. immaterial substances.

6.16.2011

The End of All things III

All movement is for the sake of perfection. This is because the perfection of anything is its goodness, and goodness is the fulfillment of some potency according to the act to which it is ordered. All created goodness, though, is good insofar as it participates in the uncreated or divine goodness. The divine goodness, then, is that for the sake of which all things move.

“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28).

All things participate in the divine goodness inasmuch as they exist and move, but since the motions and activities of creatures differ according to their natures, each creature attains to the divine likeness in its own way. For example, all living creatures attempt to maintain themselves in perpetual existence both individually and specifically, meaning through the reproduction and care of offspring. In this way, creatures imperfectly imitate the eternity of God.

Atop the hierarchy of creation rests a creature whose perfection exceeds all other physical beings. This creature attains to the divine likeness in a unique and more perfect way than anything else. Man, the rational animal, is this creature.  

5.24.2011

The End of All Things II

Omne agens agit sibi simile. (Each agent produces an effect similar.)

It is through form that an effect bears some similitude to its cause. "Thus the house that is realized in matter proceeds from the house existing ideally in the mind of the architect. In the realm of nature, likewise, man begets man." The form of that which is generated is also the end of generation, and it is through the achievement of this end that things become like the agents that produce them. This is true for both natural and artificial objects. The more something fully becomes what, in some sense, it already is, the more closely it is related to its cause. Even if an effect cannot rise to the perfection of its cause in a specific way as when man procreates to form another man, something of the same species, an effect will still imperfectly achieve some likeness to its cause.

God as the first cause is also the first agent. All creation, then, seeks some similitude to the form of its first cause. This form, though, is nothing else than God's goodness. "This, then, is the reason why all things were made: that they might be assimilated to the divine goodness."

5.22.2011

The End of All Things I

For the ultimate end of things produced by one who works through his will is that which is chiefly and for its own sake willed by the agent. It is for this that the agent does all that he does.”

-The Compendium of Theology, Chapter 101

What is first willed by God is His own Goodness. The divine goodness, then, is the ultimate end of all things.

5.01.2011

For The Love of Wisdom

""Eternal Life" is thus a relational event. Man did not acquire it from himself or for himself alone. Through relationship with the one who is himself life, man too comes alive. Some preliminary steps toward this profoundly biblical idea can be found in Plato, whose work draws upon very different traditions and reflections upon the theme of immortality. His thought includes the idea that man can become immortal by uniting himself to the immortal. The more he takes truth into himself, binds himself to the truth and adheres to it, the more he is related to and filled with that which cannot be destroyed. Insofar as he himself, as it were, adheres to the truth, insofar as he is carried by that which endures, he may be sure of life after death -- the fullness of life."

-Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth II, pg. 84

4.30.2011

Eternal Matter II

To resolve this problem, we must affirm that creation, meaning the bringing into existence of things from non-existence, cannot properly be called a change. We have reasoned rightly when we say that the subject of change cannot be produced by the change, but we have also reasoned rightly when we say that all things, inasmuch as they have real existence, are created by God. Change as such, then, cannot include the bringing into existence of things that previously had no existence, even in potency.

This error, like many others, is partially caused by our imagination. We imagine something as a sort of being even though it does not exist, a non-existent being, and then we imagine it being brought forth from this state of non-existence into existence. In other words, we imagine that something persists during a transition from non-being to being. Before this tree existed, for example, it was a tree that did not exist. When God created it, it became a tree that exists. This approach is mistaken for the simple reason that before the tree existed there was no tree. 

 Going from non-existence to existence only resembles change, which is why we call it a change. In reality, though, creation is not a change but a relation of the creature to the Creator.

4.12.2011

Imaginary Warning II

"And when I desired to meditate on my God, I did not know what to think of but a huge extended body -- for what did not have bodily extension did not seem to me to exist -- and this was the greatest and almost the sole cause of my unavoidable errors."

-The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book V Chapter X

"For I had been both impious and rash in this, that I condemned by pronouncement what I ought to have learned by inquiry. For thou, O Most High, and most near, most secret, yet most present, who does not have limbs, some of which are larger and some smaller, but who art wholly everywhere and nowhere in space, and art not shaped by some corporeal form: thou didst create man after thy own image and, see, he dwells in space, both head and feet."

-Book VI Chapter III

"...My desire was to have other things as clear as this, whether they were physical objects, which were not present to my senses, or spiritual objects, which I did not know how to conceive of except in physical terms."

-Book IV Chapter IV

Imagination is fundamentally related to sensation. The activity of the human intellect is also essentially related to sensation, but it is not related qua intellect but qua human. Both the angelic and divine intellects have operations apart from sensation and are superior to the human intellect, a superiority which, in fact, partly consists in separation from sensation.

As a power that is related to sensation, imagination is essentially related to matter and material existence. The imagination, then, can only assist our understanding inasmuch as matter is a principle of the object understood. As we climb the ladder or hierarchy of being toward things not composed of form and matter or as we approach metaphysics in general, the imagination can become, at least, a hindrance and, at most, a dangerous cause of error.

4.06.2011

Eternal Matter?

For everything that has being subsequent to non-being is changed from non-being to being.

Change or motion presupposes some subject because change is the act of a mobile insofar as it is mobile.

The subject of motion must be prior to the change from non-being to being.

The subject of motion cannot be the thing produced because the thing is the term or end of the motion.

Therefore some subject must be prior to the change from non-being to being.

If this subject was itself produced, then it, too, came from some subject or potency.

We cannot infinitely regress, so we must come to some matter which was not made prior to a state of non-existence.

Therefore, there is some matter which is eternal.

Two posts ago, we said that God created with no pre-existing matter. But this argument concludes to some always-existing matter. Whatever shall we do?

3.28.2011

Old Principles

Philosophy begins with the search for principles. Thales spoke of water as the origin of all things, Anaximenes spoke of air. Empedocles thought that fire, water, air, and earth were mixed by Love and separated by Strife, and Plato gave us the Forms.

When Aristotle approaches the subject of principles, he does so in a different manner than his predecessors. He is answering Parmenides' doubts about change, and in so doing he establishes the true principles of change and of things themselves.

In all change, something goes from something to something else. The something else is the "to which" and the original something is the "from which." Consider a man becoming musical. A man goes from being unmusical to musical. There is a real sense in which the "unmusical" is a type of non-being, so there is a problem. It is impossible that something (musical) should come from nothing (unmusical).

Aristotle's answer is thus: There are actually three principles of change. Unmusical cannot become musical of itself just as red cannot become blue. The privation, unmusical, does not acquire the musical form, it must inhere in something else. In our example, man would be the underlying subject of change. Unmusical man becomes musical man.

For Aristotle, the privation is non-being per se and matter is only non-being per accidens. Matter is the potency that is able to receive the act of form in order to constitute a material substance. Matter, privation, and form are thus the principles of change.

3.23.2011

Creatio ex Nihilo

 Since God’s essence is His existence, existence belongs to Him in virtue of His essence. An existence that is subsistent per se, though, must necessarily be one. Because of this, all other things have existence by participation and are therefore caused by God.

If all things which exist come from God, God does not require any pre existing material to act.

Matter itself is caused by God.

Moreover, act is prior to potency. But if God created from pre-existing matter, His first act would presuppose some potency. Potency, then, would be prior to act, which cannot be true.

So not only is God a creator but the Creator, the sole cause that requires no more universal cause than Himself in order to act.

3.08.2011

Per se cause of existence...

Consider the question "What is hot?"

At a basic level, we can answer this question by listing things we experience that can become hot. Water, wood, metal, etc. are all examples of this. More generally, we can answer it by saying that something is hot if it has heat. Notice the distinction that now arises. A metal, for instance, can become hot but it can only do so if it receives heat. But heat, in a sense, is also hot. Heat, though, does not become hot upon the reception of some other thing. Heat is hot of itself, and it is through participation in heat that other things become actually hot. Put simply, heat does not need to have heat because heat is heat. It is not hot accidentally but essentially. Therefore, it is the cause of heat in all other hot things. 

Being is analogous to this. All things which are have being but only in an accidental way. Returning to heat for a moment, we know that wood or water cannot be the per se cause of heat even if they are hot because neither of these substances are necessarily hot. They are indifferent to heat, at one time having it and at another time lacking it. In a similar way, the objects of our experience at one time exist, i.e. have being, and at another time do not (death, decay, change, etc.). These are things that have being, but having being is not enough to be the per se cause of being just as being hot is not enough to be the per se cause of heat in things. What actual existence requires, then, is a cause which does not merely have (participated) being but, in fact, is Being Itself.

In God there is not distinction between essence and existence.

3.01.2011

The Perfection of God

As Pure Act and First Mover, God moves all things to their perfections. A cause, though, must always contain within itself, in some way, the perfections of its effect. God, then, must contain within Himself all of the perfections in creatures, albeit in an eminent way.
As that which is simple, God possesses the perfection of all creatures in a unified way. This means that there is no distinction among the perfections in God, for they exist as one in him.
As that which possess all perfections in a unified way, God cannot possess accidents. From the unity and simplicity of God, we can see that all of His perfections are identical to His essence. No perfection in God exists accidentally.

This is not to say that the various names we apply to God are synonymous, they are not. This is true even though they ultimately all name what exists in God as one.

2.25.2011

The Infinity of God

Act is limited by potency. All potencies are ordered to some act, and to be ordered is to be determined to one as opposed to another. A member of a species, for instance, with reproductive capability is ordered to the procreation of another member of the same species and not a member of another. We have been speaking of act in a qualified manner, though. Act is not necessarily limited by potency. That act which, of itself, has no admixture of potency is not limited by potency and is not received by any potency. This act is not a form that informs matter, nor is it anything that inheres in some body. As such, this act is both unlimited and infinite.

2.14.2011

From Ought to Is

The is/ought problem: How can you derive what ought to be from what is?

To think that this problem is a serious one is to overlook the activity of human understanding. When a man understands what a dog is, for instance, being four-legged will usually make its way into the definition. Our experiences with dogs show that dogs have four legs. When we see a three or two-legged dog, we immediately know that, through either a birth defect, disease, external accident, malicious human action, or animal attack, this dog somehow became defective. Implicit in this assumption is that nature acts for an end (final causality). We know that nature does not intend to produce three or two-legged dogs even if we happen to encounter them. In other words, we know that a dog ought to have four legs because that is what-it-is-to-be a dog.

Put another way, the human intellect possess actual knowledge through the act of form, that which makes substances intelligible. Intelligibility is achieved through separation from matter, so our knowledge of form remains even when matter fails to become fully actual in the case of a particular instantiation. This is how we judge two-legged dogs to be imperfect or defective in some way. We do this with everything, this is how human knowing operates.
 

2.13.2011

Intellect II

There used to be a saying of philosophers: "Anima est quodammodo omnia."

We can see the truth of this by considering what St. Thomas calls the two types of perfection. In things, perfection may be had according to the act of existence. Inasmuch as a thing is what it is in virtue of its species, it possess a sort of existential perfection. This type of perfection, though, is not absolute since it may be found in many things. The perfection that follows from the act of existence in a created thing is always distinct from the perfection in another. In this way, even the perfection of individual things is imperfect since individual things, through their perfection, are only parts of the perfection of the universe. We can see, then, that creation is both perfected by being what it is and imperfect by being limited to itself and not found in another.

This is overcome by the second type of perfection. This perfection is not found within the act of existence but is somehow found in another. Just as something has perfection by having the act of existence, this perfection is achieved through the possession of some act, albeit not the act of existence. Through this type of perfection, then, there is a way in which the perfection of the entire universe can be found within an individual thing.

The thing's name? Man.

That by which he possesses all perfections? Knowledge.

"The soul is, in a way, all things."

2.09.2011

Intellect I

When discussing the human intellect or, more specifically, the inferiority of man's act of understanding, Aquinas offers an interesting illustration that supplements his argument for the intellect's immateriality. While proving that the species of the known object cannot possibly exist in the intellect in a material way, Aquinas says that bodily organs have a harmony with their formal objects of sensation. An intense sensation, loud noises or bright lights, shatters this harmony and therefore weakens or destroys our sense faculty. Intellectual reception, though, does not work in this way. It is perfected in proportion to the object which it understands, he who understands higher objects is able to understand lower things more perfectly and not less perfectly. If the intellect were a type of sensation, it would have a harmony capable of being shattered, perhaps by too much understanding or some other activity.

1.29.2011

The Day of the Ox

St. Thomas Aquinas' feast day was yesterday. 

It is remarkable how the lives of the saints are, in their totality, instruments of the will of God. Nobody in Aquinas' family wanted him to choose the path he chose, yet they wanted what they then thought was best for him. They desired that their son receive a position of power, honor, and relative conformity. All of these things, from our perspective, are reasonable and good. Wouldn't any parent want the same for his child? The human perspective, though, is sorely limited. Thomas achieved his position with the Dominicans in spite of his families' wishes, yet, through his desire to follow God, Thomas also achieved an honor and power beyond the ultimately humble plans of his parents. They could not have imagined the renown their son eventually gained. By not following his family, he became one of the most brilliant and holy men to ever walk the earth, and now he is honored as a saint, the ultimate reward and good of human life. Thomas' life is a lesson to all men. To follow God's will is to follow that which you cannot always understand, but it is also to follow that which perfects us in a way we can never imagine.

1.26.2011

A Few Notes on Final Causality

-To see the reality of final causality, one must see that certain effects follow from certain causes in a non-accidental way. Said another way, if you can look at an object or an action and determine what it is able to do in virtue of what it is, you have, at least implicitly, affirmed final causality.

-Final causality does not necessarily imply extrinsic purpose. In fact, since final causality is said mostly of nature, and nature is itself an interior power, most final causes have nothing to do with extrinsic purpose, deliberation, craft, or intention.

-Objection: Final causality does not exist in nature because nature sometimes produces defects.
Reply: Even a grammarian can misspell words. This does not eliminate either the grammatical science or the intent of the grammarian to spell correctly.

1.25.2011

Of, By, and For Ourselves

Self-government is an art, or, more precisely, it is an artifact that must be maintained by the vigilance of those who possess it. It is not a right to which all human beings, in virtue of their humanity, are entitled, nor is it able to be practiced by all people at all times. In a way, we instinctively know this. Many people are incapable of governing their own affairs with any practical wisdom, and many would be better off depending on others for the order that a good life requires. In America, this truth is denied on principle. We assume that the ability to self-govern is a default state of man rather than something that only those most capable can achieve and, even then, only for several generations at a time. Modern delusions aside, to think that self-government is an inherited right of man is akin to thinking that the ability to fish is an inherited right, which it, of course, is not. It must be practiced by those who have the knowledge, patience, discipline, and a continuity of tradition that allows stability to flourish beyond one generation of men. We are justified, then, in asking ourselves if we are indeed worthy of self-government.

1.24.2011

For Life

Throughout my life I have heard many arguments in defense of abortion. Most of them are terrible. One that is popularly given is as follows: 
Abortion should be allowed until the baby is viable outside of the womb. Until that point, it is either not a person or it is a part of the mother. Either way, we should be allowed to kill it.

This notion of viability is woefully vague and ultimately incoherent when applied in this way. First, it seems that viability outside of the womb is arbitrary. Obviously, a baby outside of the womb is still not viable of itself. It must still be cared for by another and it must depend upon another for its continued existence. Dependency remains, the only thing that changes is location. Second, viability outside of the womb is arbitrary but for a different reason. No human being is viable outside the atmosphere of the earth or underwater. Do we cease to be human beings in either of these conditions? Of course not. Viability, then, seems to be a useless standard for determining whether or not someone is a human being.

The other argument is that before viability outside of the womb, the baby is a part of the mother and not its own person. If this were true, all pregnant women would have two hearts, four legs, and women with male children would have penises. This is obviously not the case, so viability again proves to be a useless standard.

Ultimately, though, none of the arguments in favor of abortion are really attempts to justify the practice. For the most part, abortion was made widespread by feminists who want to be men, women who want to be whores, and men who want to have sex with women without committing to them. Abortion is a symptom of the disease of modern sexual relations and family structure. This is why political activism against abortion is so fruitless on a nation-wide scale. It is like thinking that a cold can be cured if you can prevent yourself from sneezing.

1.18.2011

Modern Morality

At least once a day, whether in or out of class, some professor or student laments the present condition of the world and how nobody does anything adequate enough to positively change it. The disease and violence, we are told, permeates all places and peoples, and, while our world cries out in need, we in the west are largely blind to, and partly or wholly responsible for, the majority of these ills. What lies at the heart of all these problems? Mankind, of course. And in the heart of man lies a greed and selfishness that is unparalleled by any other sentient creature on this planet. Because of this, it is man who must bear the burden of healing the world, and not merely the little world of his own neighborhood or even his own country. There is only one world, after all, and splitting it into pieces based on ethnicity, religion, or any other reality is an outmoded and irrational relic of a regressive and oppressive past. Thus, there is no demarcation of responsibility, only an infinitely expanding sphere of obligations from one person to another. In order to fulfill this universal moral obligation, we need only to realize that it exists and then simply act accordingly. Awareness, then, is the only real catalyst for improvement. Man must be drawn out of his little cave, forcefully if necessary, and see the suffering, the injustice, the lack of rights, and the unadulterated inhumanity that surrounds him.

This ethic of global responsibility, though, has moral implications that many know, perhaps only implicitly, but few are ready to admit. A law-abiding father who raises his children well and is a good husband to his wife would be considered, in ages past, either the most essential or at least a vitally necessary component to a good society, if there is such a thing. The ethic of global awareness, though, has no use for particular relationships. It assumes, like the modern nation-state, that all societies are made up of only two essential elements: individuals and the legal structures (read governments) that give meaning and shape to their lives. This is why activists of every sort are constantly attempting to alter the laws of the land while taking for granted the idea that ethics and law are coterminous and therefore the laws that governments enforce must be changed in order for the world to truly progress. This is also why political activists have become our modern day saints and martyrs. Just as Christianity has its saints, so too does our modern ethical system allow for certain figures to be deified and immortalized because of their dedication to the cause of global awareness and global social change. There is an important distinction, though, between the saints of old and the men and women who are lauded today.

Many, if not most, of the saints of Christianity were not known as saints during their lives or even in the centuries after their deaths. Alternatively, modern men like Martin Luther King or Gandhi already achieved a type of pseudo-celebrity status during their lives. What they were doing was known to the world, and the world looked on in admiration of their extreme moral courage. The reason for this difference is that Christianity, along with the rest of the world before the Age of Enlightenment, judged a man based on how he lived his personal life. The word ‘personal,’ in this sense, does not mean simply private; it represents an implicit acceptance of man’s inability to treat the whole world with the same moral goodness that he treats his wife, his friends, and his children. This is in direct contradiction to a modern ethic that treats a man who fulfills all of his personal obligations as either a complicit agent in an immoral global structure or as both an oblivious and irrelevant moral actor. We are all within the Matrix, and it is only those of us who are dedicated to the general welfare of humanity in the abstract that have swallowed the red pill.

At this point we should ask ourselves a question: By what ethic should a man live? It may not seem, at first, that the ethic of global responsibility and the older, more conventional morality of fulfilling particular obligations are in conflict, but if we look at the types of people who exemplify the modern ethic we will undoubtedly see a discrepancy. Celebrities of every stripe, for instance, are mostly known for their talents. They are also known for the myriad of causes that they all champion. Everything from disease curing to government overthrowing has at least one celebrity that is the face of the campaign. They give exorbitant amounts of their money and time to whatever particular ethical problem needs remedying in the hope of “making the world a better place.” Nobody, though, in his right mind would seriously consider looking to a celebrity for his moral formation. We all know the reality of their lives: drugs, adultery, greed, tragic deaths (sometimes at a very young age), and an arrogance of a caliber not seen anywhere else in society, except for maybe politics. Coincidentally, politicians also happen to be high on the list of adherents to the ethic of global responsibility. These people never tire of telling us plebeians about how we never give enough, that is, when they aren’t busy lying, cheating, or spending their riches on lawyers to defend themselves against charges of almost every nature.

I am not disputing that the world is filled with evil, it is. It is also filled with good people who do not attempt to “make the world a better place” but instead try very hard to behave justly and charitably toward the people who are close to them. The ills of the world are too complex for one man or group of men (governments) to fix, and very often the attempt to do so has left many people worse off. Most people implicitly understand this. It is time for the moral philosophers to understand this as well.

1.13.2011

Modern Prisons

Only in the modern world can a man confidently make generalizations about millions of people without ever actually interacting with any of them. From the comfort of your living room, you can wax sociologically using metaphor laden language that obviates the need to statistically support your assertions. A man sits in front of a computer or television screen, listens to what someone else says about what someone else has said, and the result is an ignorant yet arrogant and isolated individual who thinks he has a scientifically accurate assessment of what people living thousands of miles away from him think and feel about a given subject. 

Do not call it a conspiracy theory when someone says that we are under the control of a network which creates illusions and fabricates and filters information in order to dictate the thoughts of people who cannot help but mind the business of others, call it what it is: America.

Do we even realize how much of what we think comes from people speaking into our ears through the internet, television, radio, newspapers etc.? Modern American political discourse is nothing other than a contest between uneducated pseudo-celebrities who have vast armies of followers seeking to saturate normal people with images and slogans designed to convince you that your interests are their interests. Digital media have made this process unprecedentedly easy and powerful. We now live in a world where a man can attempt to murder a politician, something that is both historically unremarkable and which will undoubtedly be forgotten a year from now, and media will transform it into a symbol of whatever ideological ax they have to grind. Most of the things we see and hear in the news are intentionally shaped by people living in either Washington D.C. or some other urban fortress purposefully isolated from the real world. 

Digital technology has allowed these media to create an illusion of ubiquity that simply is not real. Be a true revolutionary: Turn off the television, go outside, and be sure to watch over your loved ones when this monstrous apparatus inevitably collapses.

1.09.2011

Against Many Gods

As pure act, God can have no admixture of act and potency within Himself. As such He is absolutely simple. As simple, God has no distinctions within Him of that which is per se or per accidens. There is therefore no distinction between his essence and existence.

From this, we see that God cannot be a species contained within a genus. A species is a composite of specific difference added to some genus, which, more generally, is a relation of act to potency. All genera are in potency to some species, which is act, for genera potentially contain specific differences.

Furthermore, God cannot be a species predicated of many individuals. Individuals of a species are differentiated by their existence but have a common essence. Men are all human beings but are differentiated by their individual existence and accidental qualities. But God, who is Existence Itself and thus has no distinction within Him of essence or existence, He just is His own existence, cannot be differentiated in any way.

Therefore, there is and can only be One God.

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

Once we come to a proper philosophical understanding of God, we cannot make such silly statements like the one above. Polytheism and monotheism are not similar beliefs differentiated by an arbitrary number. There cannot be more than one God because God is not the kind of thing that admits of multiplicity. Of course, none of this matters. This phrase will be repeated until a newer and more catchy one becomes popular. And this new phrase will be just as philosophically  vacuous as the last.