6.24.2014

Goddness Itself II

A thing acts in virtue of its nature, and it acts for the sake of its own perfection. Perfection, then, is what is desirable, and something is only desired inasmuch as it grants some end or perfection. However, some ends can only be had to the exclusion of others, meaning that one form entails the privation of another form. This is how a creature may desire evil, not in itself but inasmuch as it is related to some good. In other words, evil is only a principle of action and desire per accidens. Only good can be a principle per se.

Evil cannot be a first principle.

6.23.2014

Goodness Itself I

Potency, or that which can be, is the subject of both form, or act, and privation.

Evil is essentially the privation of some perfection belonging to a nature.

Therefore, potency is the proper subject of evil.

That which lacks potency, then, cannot be the subject of any evil.

God is Pure Act, meaning he does not contain any potency within Himself.

Therefore, God cannot be the subject of any evil.  

5.01.2014

Unnatural Relations VII

"The bifurcation of the contemporary social world into a realm of the organizational in which ends are taken to be given and are not available for rational scrutiny and a realm of the personal in which judgment and debate about values are central factors, but in which no rational social resolution of issues is available, finds its internalization, its inner representation in the relation of the individual self to the roles and characters of social life.

This bifurcation is itself an important clue to the central characteristics of modern societies and one which may enable us to avoid being deceived by their own internal political debates. Those debates are often staged in terms of a supposed opposition between individualism and collectivism, each appearing in a variety of doctrinal forms. On one side there appear the self-defined protagonists of individual liberty, on the other the self-defined protagonists of planning and regulation, of the goods which are available through bureaucratic organization. But in fact what is crucial is that on which the contending parties agree, namely that there are only two alternative modes of social life open to us, one in which the free and arbitrary choices of individuals are sovereign and one in which the bureaucracy is sovereign, precisely so that it may limit the free and arbitrary choices of individuals. Given this deep cultural agreement, it is unsurprising that the politics of modern societies oscillate between a freedom which is nothing but a lack of regulation of individual behavior and forms of collectivist control designed only to limit the anarchy of self-interest. The consequences of a victory by one side or the other are often of the highest immediate importance; but, as Solzhenitzyn has understood so well, both ways of life are in the long run intolerable. Thus the society in which we live in one in which bureaucracy and individualism are partners as well as antagonists."

- Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue pp. 34-35

4.24.2014

Maritain's Division by Degrees

Humans know things. Matter, however, is not a thing but is a potential thing. Inasmuch as something is material, then, it contains within itself a certain degree of unintelligibility. Conversely, inasmuch as matter is actually determined to one thing, meaning inasmuch as we are speaking of something which actually is (on account of form), we are speaking of an intelligible object, an object of knowledge.

From this, we can divide human knowledge of the material world according to two criteria: the degree to which the objects of our knowledge can exist apart from matter and the degree to which the objects of our knowledge can be understood apart from matter. Here is Maritain's division:

The first degree: That which can neither exist nor be understood apart from matter. The science of these things is most properly called 'physics,' for it pertains to things which have matter within their definition. Remember in our previous post on man, animal is part of the definition. This science, then, is concerned with sensible nature.

The second degree: That which cannot exist apart from matter but can be understood apart from matter. When we abstract material quality from natural substances, we are left with quantity, and when we begin to treat of quantity as such we are engaged in the science of mathematics. We understand material substances inasmuch as they are the subject of quantity and then understand quantity as if it were a 'thing' in its own right, which it is not.

The third degree: That which can exist and be understood apart from matter. The proper object of this science is being as being, in other words, not being as it exists in material substances or being necessarily limited to the objects of our sensible experience. This science is called metaphysics and it treats of that which is most immaterial.

4.21.2014

The Proper Object of Science

If science's proper object was the real as sensible, then any object of sensible experience would have its own science. Every object does not have its own science, therefore science's proper object is not the real as sensible.

To the major: Science most properly deals with abstracted universality which is separated from any individual existing thing. This is why we can have a science of humanity. If this were not the case, we would need to have a science of individuals; a science of Ryan and a science of Peter. Human knowledge, then, concerns itself with the objects of sense experience, but not as sensible. The human intellect is able to consider the objects of our experiences as instances of kinds, with science being primarily of the kind and not the instance.

This means that science is about the real world, but not in a direct way. Our knowledge needs to be indirect because the real world is a world of particular things, meaning things that are made of matter and form and subject to motion. Our science, though, must be necessary and unchanging. Therefore we need a necessary knowledge of a contingent world. This cannot be had directly, so science cannot be of things as particular sensible objects.

4.18.2014

First Principles

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

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

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

4.17.2014

Definition Matters

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

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

4.13.2014

Measured Uniformity

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

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

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

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