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Vomit the Lukewarm
5/31/2004
 
Opening Question, In Three Parts (with a follow up)

Why do certain newspapers, TV networks, and webpages concerned with giving news cover different stories? Is it:

A.) Censorship (please define by giving a purpose) or,
B.) Editing (please define by giving a purpose)

Please explain your answer in the particular instances of the L.A Times (or The New York Times, or NBC,) and the Drudge Report, (or FOX News).

Why is it that most people have an easier time accounting for the Drudge report (or FOX News), than for the others in the above question?
 
5/29/2004
 
Novelty as The Death of Philosophy

My old master, who is quietly among the greatest living philosophers, boasted in being unorigional. To the extent that we cannot make this boast our own, we fail in philosophy. The death knell of philosophy is sounded by the man who wants to be unique and different, who wants to say shocking things that deviate from common sense and the common knowledge of every person.

Philosophy is grounded in our obvious and general knowledge of things. Most people find such knowledge boring, which is to be expected. There is no body of knowledge that will be universally interesting to all people; plumbing, carpentry, radiology, astronomy, etc. The difference between all these professions and philosophy is that all the above have some ability to justify their existence through some work, or product. Philosophy, however, doesn't make anything- it only strives to know for the sake of knowing. It takes as its starting point the putatively bland knowledge that is certain to all.

But the desire to be unique is at odds with the obvious, because anything obvious is the common deposit of all mankind, and the one who craves individuality will fear nothing more than this. The lover of the unique will crave his own doctrine, and he will boast in how different he is from everyone around him. This difference allows him two great pleasures: first, he can always be a victim, since he views his whole world as against him; and second, he can always be indirectly talking about himself. The lover of the unique will always covet these pleasures, even when he gets to the inevitable promised land of all rebels and "non-conformists": a book deal and a tenured college post. The lover of the unique is the only philosopher that actually ends up making something that is universally prized among all "intellectuals": an ego.

The distinguishing trait of all such lovers of the unique is their inability to listen to anyone, and their absolute refusal to admit being incorrect about anything in a discussion. I do not say this because I think that it is impossible to be correct about something, but rather because a wise man will usually blame himself when something is not clear, and he will usually concede something in every discussion, even if it doesn't contradict what he said. Discussion for a wise man is always a give and take; discussion for the lovers of the unique is always a one way street where they refuse to concede anything. If they do concede anything, they will inevitably belittle it as unimportant, or find some other way not to think about it.

I have no advice for the lovers of the unique- and they wouldn't take it anyway. For the rest of us though, I can suggest that we pity the rebels. They suffer from a jittery, hair-trigger disposition that is absurd and pitiful, and their life is intrinsically unpleasant. They are beyond man's powers to help. We are left only to pray for them.





 
5/27/2004
 
The Etymology of the Word "Virtue"

I have heard many discussions of virtue that begin with its etymology. The root word is "vir", and as any lexicon will tell you, it means "man"

But there's a bit more to it.

Imagine for a moment a complete loser living in ancient Rome. Call him Schlepius. Schlepius is an effeminant wastrel lacking anything like what we call "virtue". If Schlepius is young, he gets called a "puer" if he is a bit older, people will probably call him a "homo". As soon as Schlepius gets married, however, he gets called a "vir", even if he doesn't change a thing about his life. Schlepius could also be called a "vir" if he accomplished heroic deeds, but since this is relatively rare, most male persons would achieve the status of "vir" by getting married.

It is wise to start a discussion of virtue with the etymology, but there is more subtlety to the word than simply meaning "man". The word could naturally lead a Roman into a discussion of marriage and family, whereas for us the word "virtue" does not. This is an overtone that we too often miss, and it gives us an invaluable insight that the Romans would have easily had into the human nature that remains the same now as it did then.





 
5/26/2004
 
The Nose and the Tongue

Taste and smell are the most forgotten of the senses. In man, vision is the flagship of the sense powers, while hearing and touch are always present to us and cannot be "turned off" (we have no "earlids" like we have eyelids, nor can we avoid feeling things). Tastes and scents are are actual only on occasion. There is nothing wrong with having taste and smell be less powerful than the other senses, but to forget about them altogether gives us a lopsided view of the universe. A good deal of the confusion in philosophy comes from a lack of appreciation for these lower two senses.

Taste and smell are the not the most powerful of the senses, but they are the most intimate of the senses. Everyone has had the experience of vividly remembering an entire world through smelling some familiar scent. Taste is primarily ordered to discerning the nature of things that we are about to make a part of our own being (food). In scent we experience most intimately the memory of things, and taste is the experience of what we make most intimately ourselves. To the extent that we do not think about taste and smell, we lose the natural intimacy that we should have with the world.

A world deprived of intimacy is a world we must experience extrinsically and analytically. This extrinsic and analytic view of the world is most often present in those who live the life of the mind because they live primarily according to the senses that best assist mind, sc. Vision and hearing. A subtle, but striking character of "intellectuals" (a group to which I emphatically do not belong) is the detached stand they take to their subject matter. I don't have a clue as to where the universe exists for Hegel or Wittgenstein or Kant or Descartes, but it always feels like they are describing something that is a million miles away. All of them treat the world as though it existed "over there"- if it even exists at all. Descartes looked out his window and wondered if everyone was a robot. Try eating a peach, moron.

So that's the problem. If you want a solution, grab a willing woman, close your eyes, and bury your face in her hair. After all that, eat a good meal, drink a glass of wine, and make out. Make sure you can smell her on your clothes after you leave. That, my friend, is philosophy.
 
5/21/2004
 
Nature and Life

Life is self activity, as opposed to natural activity. Chemicals, minerals, and even viruses properly understood do not have an activity that proceeds from a self in any way. A sign of this is that their motions can be described by "laws" of a particular kind. When a chemist or physicist talks about laws applying to the respective subject matter of their sciences, they mean more than they can give a description of "what action was determined"- they also mean to indicate the complete passivity of their subject matter to certain conditions or circumstances. Gas at such and such a pressure will be hot, all unsuspended objects will fall in the (roughly) the inverse square of the distance. Pressure, distance, temperature, force- all of which are extrinsic conditions or measures- are things the subject matter can be seen as wholly passive to.

Another sign that the motions of chemicals and stones have do not have a self in any way is that the physicist and the chemist do not strive to give accounts of things having their term in a certain individual. A botanist, or a biologist, treat of certain things that exist perfectly in some individual thing, like a rose or a monkey. The physicist and the chemist talk about "oxygen" or "hydrogen" or "mass", things that are not individual things, but more individual kinds of things. Chemicals and mass are homogeneous in a way that a monkey or a plant is not. There is some amount of chemicals and non living things that is the same kind of thing as it's half part (a quart of oxygen, water, kool-aid or molten granite is the same kind of thing as a half-quart) But there is no animal or plant that is the same as it's half part. A half quart of water is still water, and half of any given mass can still be called a mass, but half of a monkey is not a monkey.

Living things have the a sort of individually and activity that is different from chemicals and the objects of physics. The individuality is manifest through the sort of indivisibility they have, and their activity is manifest through their being part of an ecosystem: a dynamic whole that is fundamentally different from a collection of chemicals. There is no "ecosystem" on the moon, nor in a beaker of salt water. For these reasons, we place "life" among those things having self motion, as opposed to a motion that is rather proper to the "nature" (nature is here understood as "species" or "kind of thing")

The self activity of plants is very faint, and hard to see. The plant only seems to have a self motion inasmuch as the individual executes the acts determined by the nature of the plant.

An animal has self activity in a clearer way, for all the sensations of the animal are uniquely his own. No other animal can see exactly the same view as another animal at the same time. No two animals can touch or taste the exact same thing or part of a thing at the same time and in the same respect. Nertherless, the animal cannot determine how he will react to his sensations. The view that a wolf has of a rabbit is his own, but the reaction he has to it is set by the nature of the wolf.

We can surpass the animals by not only having our own sensations, but also by being in control, to a certain extent, over how we will react to them. In fact, our phrase "self control" is most perfectly manifest in those actions that run counter to our natural inclinations to eat or do other things. Even if our nature was not corrupt, we would still have a greater glory in choosing to do what we were naturally inclined to do, rather than simply being passive to a natural desire that always found its correct object.

Yet our self activity is not absolute. We cannot choose whether certain things are good, true, or beautiful. We have neither power to make our action good if it is not, nor power to make our thoughts true if they are false; because of this, we do not have the power to choose the ultimate ends we seek: sc. Happiness; Truth; and Enjoyment of what is proportionate, harmonious and delightful. We lack this power because the objects of our action are given in their natures, and we must accept this by nature.

If we were the sort of beings whose nature was not limited by an object, we would have a more perfect self activity, and a more perfect life. This desire, however, to get beyond ourselves to a higher life is a desire to destroy what we are, i.e. to destroy ourselves. The proper name for this activity is "sin".

 
5/20/2004
 
Oops

My blog for today got placed several blogs down. It is called "the everyday world", and it is under last Friday's date.
 
5/19/2004
 
Dante and The Song of the Sullen

The river Styx marks the first major division in the infernal realm, between those who sin by weakness and those who sin viciously. In the deepest part of this river, Dante enounters the sullen. There is no evidence that the sullen are even there beyond the bubbles that rise and pock mark the swampy surface of the water.
Virgil tells Dante that the souls under the water say:

"sullen we were in the air made sweet by sun,
in the glory of his shining our hearts poured
a bitter smoke. Sullen we were begun,

Now we have this black mire to be sullen in."


Vigil explains further:

"This canticle they gargle in their throats,
as if they sang, unable to speak whole words"

Canto VII, 120-26

There is an ambiguity in understanding what the sullen are doing. On the one hand, Vigil explains that the souls under the water are "speaking", but on the other hand, they are speaking in broken words "as if they sang". What is it to "gargle" out words "from the throat"? What is this kind of speech, done neither in words nor in song?

The matter of the song might be some clue. Like many in the inferno, the sullen seem to be inheriting the true nature of the action that so marked them on earth. They tried to poison the world they lived in with their dark and bitter attitudes; and now they live in a world as dark as the one they desired to create. The sun and the bright air survive the sullen, but the sullen must live eternally in a world as dark as their formerly held opinion of the world above.

We have all known people of this disposition. What kind of music do they tend to listen to? What kind of music do they tend to create? Be careful in the answer. The music cannot be in any way playful- it must take itself in extreme earnest. It must be the sort of music that speaks of all life in some way: remember the sullen cursed all the air when they lived. To perfectly describe the sullen, the words of the music should also be distorted and almost "gargled".

It is not an anachronism to use some of the cult music of our time to understand the canto. The emotion is the same now as then, although in our time the expression of sullenness has found a vast and popular following. The song of the sullen remains a sin to sing. The marshlands of the Styx remain as well.
 
5/18/2004
 
Nature and Law

I don't know if our courts ever gave a ruling on whether the sky was blue. But I do know there's nothing they could do to change its color.
 
5/17/2004
 
First Principles

I have to teach a class on composition. This was the first handout. It was understood.

The Three Truths of Composition

1.) Every art strives to make something well: portrait painting strives to paint portraits well; architecture strives to make buildings well; sewing strives to sew well. The art of composition strives to express ourselves well in writing and speech.

2.) Composition is something that must be learned. No one, not even writers with a great deal of natural talent, can escape the need to learn certain things that are necessary to express their thoughts, desires, emotions, ideas or feelings well.

3.) Composition is necessary for several reasons:

A.) If we do not express ourselves well, people will be unable to understand who we are and what we are saying. When people do not understand us, they usually interpret our words however they want to, and we therefore cease to exist as a unique person to them- rather they see us in whatever way they want to.

B.) If we cannot express ourselves well, we also cannot understand who we are and what we are feeling. Emotions, desires, thoughts and ideas will simply float around inside of us, and we will be unable to articulate them in any coherent way.

C.) If we are able to express ourselve well, it becomes easier to understand the beauty of writing, and the genius of the great authors, because it is easier to understand the genius of a great author when we know what the characteristics of good writing are.
 
 
Paper Fragment: "Natural Knowledge and Faith in the German Idealists"

The secret title of this paper was "What Thomism is Not". The title was repressed since I write in a time where reason is discriminated against. The section quoted below is a good introduction to what Thomism is not, because it articulates a sort of philosophy that has no room for mystery at all. Thomism often comes under fire in our time for being "too rational", but this is a charge meant not for St Thomas, but for Hegel. This section of the paper follows a discussion of faith and natural knowledge in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Part Two
Hegel


While Kant denies the knowability of God through speculative philosophy, he leaves open the possibility to relate to God by faith. We have already noted the peculiar character of this faith, sc. it does not necessitate a body of truths revealed by God. What would be the status of revealed truths, if any there were? The Critque of Pure Reason is silent on this question. Hegel's Phemonenology of Spirit is not.

Hegel’s need to account for what have commonly been called “reveled truths” proceeds from a system of thought that strives to be absolutely inclusive. Despite the tendency of all the German Idealists to give transcendental and all embracing accounts of the world, none set the bar as high as Hegel. Hegel aimed at such transcendence that he was disturbed by his inability to account for the color of a pen. There is no room for a potential agnosticism in Hegel- the simple presence of things called “revealed” had to be accounted for in Hegel’s thought. The mere belief in revealed things was a sufficient condition for their rationality. They were a stage in the growing awareness of spirit. Hegel takes the things commonly held to be revealed, and derives them from the human mind.

The Trinity and the The Incarnation are primary examples of things commonly held to be revealed truths, accepted by faith. Yet, in the hands of Hegel the very notion of faith:

Is nothing else but the actual world raised to the universality of pure consciousness The articulation of this world, therefore, constitutes the organization of the world of faith, except that in the latter the parts do not alienate themselves in their spiritualization, but are beings, each with an existence of their own, spirits that have returned to themselves and abide in themselves…

Hegel then accounts for the Trinity and the Incarnation:

...the first is the Absolute Being, Spirit that is in and for itself in so far as it is the simple, eternal substance. But in the actualization of its notion, in being spirit, it passes over into being-for-another, its self identity becomes actual, a self- sacrificing absolute being; it becomes a self, but a mortal, perishable self. Consequently, the third moment is the return of this alienated self and the humiliated substance into their original simplicity; only in this way is the substance represented as spirit (pp.531-33).

As a description of the Trinity, one could do worse. It is startling to note, however, that for Hegel the Trinity manifests itself in a necessary and quite reasonable way. It is a philosophical doctrine. What Kant was content to keep silent about, Hegel lays claim to, claiming to use reason alone. The account of God’s knowability has changed, to say the least. Hegel sees no reason to assert the finality of an opposition between faith and knowledge. If there is any such opposition, it will be overcome by the movement of consciousness. Revealed religion will be dealt with at greater length a the close of the book, and where the opposition between what was once believed necessary to hold by faith and knowledge is definitively overcome:

God is attainable in pure speculative knowledge alone, and [exists] only in that knowledge, and is only that knowledge itself, for He is Spirit; and this speculative knowledge is the knowledge of revealed religion.

The identity of speculative knowledge and revealed religion leads to something that looks a great deal like speculative knowledge, but not much like revealed religion as commonly understood:

Speculative knowledge knows God as pure thought or pure essence, and knows this thought as simple being and as existence, and existence as the negativity of itself, hence as self, as the self that is at the same time this individual… It is precisely this that the revealed religion knows (pp.761).

There are few points of agreement between Kant and Hegel on this point. While Kant orders his entire system in the CPR to “making room for faith”, Hegel orders his whole system to destroy even the possibility of faith. Kant denies any knowledge we might have of God by natural reason alone, while Hegel makes an absolute identification between the powers of natural reason and what was held to be revealed God. For Kant, nature is a closed system of homogenous causes, having no room for the knowable presence of an absolute being, but for Hegel it is unclear if there is even an opposition between what might be called nature, and what might be called God (Hegel certainly doesn’t preserve the distinction between what everyone including Kant would call “natural knowledge” and “revealed truth”). The opposition between Kant and Hegel in the matter of God’s knowability is so extreme that it is hard to escape the creeping suspicion that this absolute contrariety might be a sign that they represent two extremes of a position- extremes which call out for a certain mean. The locus of this dispute seems to be radically different accounts of what each philosopher would call “natural knowledge”- a thorny topic that now cries out to be noticed.
 
5/15/2004
 
Relations and Existence

As a philosopher who fears nothing more than losing sight of the obvious, I'd like to point out a few obvious things.

Look at your left hand. Now get up and turn around. Where is your left hand now? Exactly where it was before, on the end of your left arm. On the left side of your body.

Now take a coffee cup, or a pen. Point to its left side. Now flip it around. Where is its left side now? It is exactly opposite where it was before.

Coffee cups and pens don't have a left and right that they "can take with them" when they spin around. We do. I am not sure about the status of, say, the letter "q" and the letter "p". Perhaps this is a third class of things, different from people or coffee cups. Perhaps they fall into one of the two classes. I'm not sure. But this is beside the point here. What is important is that some things have a constant left and a right , others have a left and a right that is inconstant and that only exists in relation to something like me.

Left and right are relations. So generally speaking, some relations exist intrinsically in the the thing having the relation (Left and right in me), and some relations do not exist intrinsically in the thing, but are said of the thing anyway (saying "left and right" of a coffee cup). In other words, the terms of every relation do not necessarily exist as a part of the very being we say it of.

And now, from Kant's fourth antinomy (for "necessary being" read "God"):

1) If a necessary being exists, it exists either in the world, or outside the world.
2) If the being is inside the world, then either some part of the world is necessary, or it is not.
3) If some part of the world is necessary, then it would be impossible for ALL things to appear in time, which is impossible
4) If there is no part the world that is necessary, then the world as a whole must be necessary.
5) If the world as a whole is necessary, then it must be so ex hypothesi necessary without any of the parts being necessary.
6) But the world is a multiplicity, and no multiplicity can have a property not found in its parts.
7) Therefore, a necessary being cannot exist in the world, either as a whole or as a part.
8) If a necessary being exists, it must exist outside the world.
9) If the necessary being exists outside the world, it acts on the world as its cause.
10) If the necessary cause acted on the world, then it is a part of a series of causes.
11) Everything that causes alteration must begin the alteration
12) Everything that begins alteration is in time.
13) Everything in time is a part of the world, and so the necessary being must be in the world, which is impossible (premise 7)

This is perhaps the most clever argument against the divine existence... though not really. The argument rebukes divine existence in a merely apparent way. Kant is arguing against two things at the same time, and establishing neither. It is one thing to establish the existence of a divinity, it is another to infer from this the relation he must have to the world. But this is beside the point here.

Kant's more general problem is that he holds that all relations between terms are relations existing intrinsically in the things named by the terms. In other words, if something has a relation to something in time (which God most cerainly does) then God must be the sort of being who is intrinsically temporal. Premise 12 above (and the substance of 2+3) are based on an equivocation. If "to be in time" means to be a cause of things in time, then God is in time. But if "to be in time" means "to be the sort of thing with a temporal existence" then God is not in time. Kant confounds these two meanings when he infers that for God to be a cause of the world would necessitate that he is a temporal part of the world.

Cause and effect is a sort of relation. But the terms of a relation do not necessarily exist as a part of the being that we say it of. The relation of God to the world is this sort of relation. Our very being (as an effect) is necessarily tied to the divine existence, but the very being of God is not necessarily tied to the existence of a universe. If "to be God" meant "to create a universe" then an extrinsic condition, i.e. the universe, would be a condition upon the divine existence. The divine existence would then have an extrinsic cause, would therefore not be the first cause, which even Kant admits he must be. It is a part of our very being as temporal things to be related to God, but the being of God is not necessarily temporal.

The proof for all this comes from an analogy to art. We are the cause of machines. There can be no full account of a machine which does not mention that it was created by a human mind. The very being of a machine (or any piece of art) is necessarily tied to the human mind. "to be this machine" implies this mind, but "to be this mind" does not necessarily imply "to create this machine". Still less does it follow that because we create machines, that we are machines.

The world is a work of the divine art, existing in time, and necessarily related to God according to its very being. But it does not follow from this that the very being of God is intrinsically and necessarily related to the world, still that it exists in a temporal way. The being of God is not necessarily and intrinsically tied to this universe any more than our being is necessarily tied to the existence of this machine (it is the being of this machine that is tied to a human mind). God is no more temporal for causing and acting upon time than we are machines for causing and acting upon machines.


 
5/14/2004
 
The Everyday World.

We get the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) as part of our free cable. The lion's share of their programming is sugar-pop gospel clap- alongs and gimmicky self-help style preachers; with occasional Left Behind style Stephen Baldwin movies, and programs catering to creationist junk science. The kid's cartoons about the Old Testament are a particular disappointment.

CBN's obsession with the end of the world and with miracles is very pronounced. In some ways it is confusing why they do this. Miracles happen rarely, and are hard to verify, and predicting the end of the world has a history of failure as long as the human race. Neither topic seems particularly sturdy or knowable. Why obsess about either one?

Perhaps this is all related to a fundamental paradox at the heart of those who run CBN. Consider this: CBN executives all firmly believe that there was a time long ago when God, for some mysterious reason, deemed it fitting to enter the everyday world. You could have God "over for dinner", in a literal way. You could talk to him as easily as you could talk to your friend. You could pose questions to him. He lived in the everyday world of corrupt clergy, whores, and government bureaucrats. He was a construction worker, living in a town no more heavenly and metaphorical than Tomah, Wisconsin. That was God.

But what about now? If it was so fitting and necessary to have God in the world then, and if those people needed to see him like that, what about us? I don't want to hear any of the tiresome metaphors about how "God is still with us in our hearts..." zzzz. If this is the only kind of "presence" God has with us, i.e. if God is no more present than Caesar or Lincoln (i.e. in books), then according to normal human discourse, we would say he isn't with us at all.

And yet he must be present, right? Why? Why do we feel the need to have God in the everyday world again, as he once was? This is perfectly reasonable to expect. If God felt it fitting to manifest himself to the human race, he has to do more than pop in for 33 years and then leave. The human race has lived in places other than a first century middle-eastern suburb. A God who felt he had manifested himself enough by showing up in such a place would be a God who cared more for the human race than for individual people.

There's the paradox. The folks at CBN firmly believe that God wants to have "a personal relationship" with every individual, and yet they offer a personal relationship that is no more personal than I can have with Lincoln or Caesar (i.e. by reading books about them). Pointing to some vague feeling in my heart is of no use. If all God wanted to be was a vague feeling in the heart of a man, then why did he even bother coming to first century Palestine? Was it simply so that he could die? If so, why did he insist on doing so much else, like having "personal relationships" with repentant hookers, construction workers, commercial fishermen, farmers, fruit vendors and government bureaucrats? These people had personal relationships with Christ. What about us?

I am not diminishing the role of faith here. All the people in the first century needed faith to recognize that this burly construction worker was God. But what thing in our everyday world can the people at CBN point to and say "this is God"?

The scandal, even to themselves, is that they have nothing. Their book is not God, a collection of clapping people is not God, no preacher is God. All they are left with is to chase after traces of this God, like a detective who is always one step behind the criminal. "God was Just here! He healed my bad back!"... "I saw God for a moment when we all were clapping!"..."God just solved my credit card debt!"...etc. When they aren't chasing after the God who perpetually flees, they are fantasizing about the time when he will come back to the everyday world: "Man, one day I'm going to be driving along, and God will come out of heaven an snatch me out of my car"..."Oh yeah, I can tell that ever since Israel decided to sign the Oslo accords, God has been getting ready to come back"..."These new microchips that they developed are a sign that God will come sometime before the end of the year"...blah, blah, blah.

CBN is orphaned. Their only relief from this is not to think about it. At best, God is always someone who just left, or someone who is coming soon- and in either case he is decidedly not in the everyday world like whores or carpenters. Any talk of "a personal relationship" is muddle-headed and untenable. Any talk of a personal relationship requires, um, a person. Until you can point to Jesus (even if I have to hold he is there by faith), then give up the idea of a personal relationship. Content yourself with a God who loved Mankind in the abstract, particularly the minute portion of mankind that is educated enough to read his book.

 
5/13/2004
 
Kant's (commonly accepted) Redefinition of Faith

Faith is the assent of the mind to a something because it is revealed by God. (It makes no difference here how we come to hold that it has been revealed, only that we hold it has been so.)

Kant keeps the first part the definition: "the assent of the mind to something", but he drops the second part. He treats "faith in God" as something that the philosopher, as such, is called upon to have. The objects of faith are no longer things held to be revealed by a mind higher than our own, rather they become merely things which our reason must postulate for whatever reasons. While this action appears to be humble ("don't we have to admit that there comes a time when our reason just has to say we don't know whether God exists? blah, blah, blah") it is really the height of hubris. It collapses what is in fact a class of truths coming from God into a group of postulates held by human reason.
 
 
The Problem With German Idealism in a Nutshell

When we have no reason to see God as existing for his own sake, we will naturally see God as existing for the sake of man. When this happens, man becomes God.

Q: What would give a reason to see God as existing for his own sake?
 
5/10/2004
 
Toasts on My Mind

To the times when the everyday world stops being "everyday" in a pejorative sense.

To when the world around us remains the world and yet reveals itself as though for the first time.

To the hope that what we can only learn by experience may be granted to our friends. And to all- for love is no respecter of persons.

Here here.
 
5/08/2004
 
Beauty and Discernment

"Do you think she's pretty?"

The woman in question was Jennifer Garner. The occasion for the question was a full page add for the movie "13 going on 30" that was open on our kitchen table. The question struck me, for reasons I didn't understand at the time, as very odd. I spent the next hour or so trying to figure out the confusion.

In one sense, of course, the answer is "yes". Ms. Garner is a movie star. She is on women's magazine covers. These jobs aren't usually doled out to women who are hard on the eyes. Her prettiness is simply a fact among other facts. But there is something superficial about the answer. It overlooks some obvious facts.

Ms. Garner is a movie star. We experience her only when someone else is telling her what to say (a scriptwriter), when someone else is telling her how to act (a director), when someone else is constructing the world around her (a cameraman, director, etc.) when someone else is dressing her (costume designer), when someone else is determining how others will react to her, when someone else is determining the consequences of her actions, and when someone else is choosing what we see of her. Who is this "she" when someone asks "do you think she's pretty"? Ms. Garner,or any other movie star, only survives materially as a person- she is a substratum upon which most of the things which are formal to a person have been determined by someone other than herself.

Of course, her appearance still remains, doesn't it? Well, yes (we will forget for a moment that we only know Ms. Garner in perfect makeup, and from pre-determined camera angles. We can also forget about airbrushing and photoshopping her appearance) We do at least have some idea of what a particular movie star "looks like". Is this alone enough to answer the question "do you think she's pretty?"

Perhaps. But there was something else on my mind about Ms. Garner. I had seen her on a variety show while I was flipping through channels. She said something about how she thought her character as a government agent made her feel like she understood law enforcement. This remark, of course, falls on the ear about as gracefully as the sound of a two-year old banging on pots. Perhaps Ms. Garner is a better person "in real life" than this breathtakingly stupid remark. I, for one, would not want to be judged by some of the things I have said on certain occasions- and it's possible that I am not getting Ms. Garner's statement entirely correct- but this is of no importance here. "Pretty" and "annoying" have certainly been paired up before. Or have they?

Ask any group of guys at say, a college to pick out the most attractive or even "the prettiest" women. Then ask them the same question later after they have gotten to know the women. The lists will not be the same. Our evaluations about prettiness cannot be made in abstraction from the person. We are not able, in our everyday life, to abstract appearance alone and view it as "beautiful" or "ugly" except perhaps in very extreme cases, and these extreme cases are rare.

Our opinions about beauty are not as straightforward as we often imagine them to be. On the one hand, there are those who say that "prettiness" is absolute and unchangeable. It is wholly based on appearance and it cannot change, regardless of a person's other traits. On the other hand, there are those who feel that the idea of beauty is wholly a construct- that it exists outside of any particular appearance whatsoever. The first of these ideas is closer to the truth, but both ideas are ultimately wrong. Neither gives the correct account of how we experience the beauty or even prettiness of another.

The beauty or prettiness of a person is something we must discern if we are to judge it. We can only discern what is there, and in this sense, the first of the opinions said above is correct. But annoying personalities, hateful traits, and other evils make beauty hard to discern. Likewise, beautiful personalities and a lovely character make beauty so easy to discern that what a cold clinical eye may say is a "small amount" of beauty shines through more radiantly than "a large amount" of beauty. In this sense, the second of the above opinions is correct.

I am not setting forth a novel or abstract doctrine here. This is nothing but articulated Mother wit. "You would be so much prettier if you just smiled more" is an example of it. The mother is not telling a lie to make someone feel better- she is tapping into a truth about human beauty. The question "do you think she is pretty?" is one that calls for discernment. And discernment is not something we limit to "mere appearance" in our everyday lives. We have all seen many "hot chicks" that turn into "chicks" after ten minutes of conversation. And we have known many unremarkable or "average" people who, after getting to know them, have faces and bodies that can light up the room.



 
5/07/2004
 
Paper Fragment: Heidegger and Aquinas

The purpose here was to compare the 'digger and Thomas Aquinas on truth. After a windy ten pages of explaining jargon (spell check had a great time with "Dasein" "uncoveredness" "disclosedness" "existentiell" etc.) I started talking about Aquinas. This is halfway through the discussion. It has been heavily edited.

...But what makes it possible for us to know the truth? Are we to regard this openness to the truth as a mere fact among other facts?

Perfection is found in two ways: in one way, according to the perfection of something’s being, and this belongs to it through its proper species. But because the specific being of any one thing is distinct from the specific being of another…, there is therefore a perfection lacking in the specific being of a thing, to the extent that the perfection is found in something else.

In order that there might be some remedy for this, there is found another way of perfection in created things, according to which the perfection that is proper to one thing, is found in another, and this is the perfection of a knower, inasmuch as it is a knower (De Veritate. Q. 2 art. 2)

According to Aquinas, knowers exist in the universe that the universe might have a more perfect existence. The diversity of things requires that each lack the specific perfection of another, and inasmuch as all things are characterized by this lack, all things have a certain imperfection. Knowers exist that there might be “some remedy” for this situation- because a knower is able to contain the whole universe in knowledge, thereby overcoming the diversity of things.

The position of Aquinas requires that the knower is a necessary part in the perfection of the universe. Even if, per impossibile, intelligence could witness a time in the cosmos before there were any intelligent beings in it, this intelligence could still infallibly predict the advent of intelligent beings, for the whole universe would be incomplete without them. Intelligent beings were either always coeval with a perfect universe, or they were a necessary stage that was reached in the evolution of the universe to perfection.

Intelligent beings constitute the essence of the universe. It is manifest that intelligent beings are a part of the universe, and any part that contains all the individuals in a certain whole is the essence of the whole- just as an essential definition contains all the particulars defined. But intelligence contains the whole of the universe within its knowledge, and it is the only thing in the universe so capable.

Intelligent beings also perfect the unity of the universe within itself. While a theologian might argue that the universe has a certain unity by its being ordered to an end outside of itself, namely the first intelligence, a philosopher can also point to the unity of the universe within itself; for through intelligent beings the universe is unified within itself. The intelligent being is capable of such a unity that it overcomes the opposition of all material things in space and time. It overcomes the opposition of space by unifying all things in knowledge in such a way as to not contain them as a material part outside a material part; and it overcomes time by memory and anticipation, which are not limited to this present moment, but can leap both backward and forward.

It seems to many that to speak of man existing "in order to perfect the universe" is a theological opinion. But even though Aquinas uses phrases like “in order that so- and- so…” these are wholly naturalistic explanations, as when a scientist says something like “the heart rate increased in order to provide more oxygen to the muscles” or “the body makes more blood cells when we are sick in order to kill the infection”. There is no more need to posit a God in Aquinas’ explanation than there is in the scientist’s explanation. Whether one posits a God, or some other explanation for the perfection of the universe is not relevant here. The issue here is the perfection of existing things, a fact needing no God to be understood, even if it may lead us to God as a consequence.

Part Three
A Comparison and Contrast of the Two Doctrines


...if the premises Aquinas works from are true, it is hard to escape the conclusion that his analysis and account of truth is more full and more firmly grounded. Aquinas does not simply posit Dasein as a being that is being in the universe, but he goes farther and gives a reason for the very being of Dasein in the universe, namely that it was necessary for the perfection of the universe. Aquinas also has a more cultivated sense of what “the primordial sense” of a term means, for he draws a distinction between the first meaning known of the term, and the most eminent thing that can be named by the term, i.e. that which most fully embodies the meaning of the term. Even if Aquinas’ use of this distinction were false in its particular application to truth, nevertheless, this distinction is essential to understanding analogous terms- and it is found nowhere in Heidegger.

...one cannot help be struck by Heidegger’s invocation of ad hominem attacks against those who argue naturally, and yet happen to be Christians. Given Heidegger’s characterization of Philosophers who happened to be Christian, one would expect St. Thomas to be continually quoting scripture and Church councils in order to prop up his natural arguments- but one finds nothing of the sort. It would be equally ad hominem to insist that Christians set forth philosophy as nothing more than a disguised theology. This charge little more than a conspiracy theory, and a bad one at that. Christians are no less capable of thinking than any other group of people who enjoy knowing something for its own sake. If Heidegger chose to take on the Aquinas’ claims concerning the perfection of the universe, the existence of God, or the distinctions among analogous terms, he and all others are welcome to do so. But until they address these assertions head on, the traditional metaphysics that Heidegger so prides himself on transcending are in no way overcome: only belittled and ignored.
 
5/06/2004
 
"The Anteater's Lesson"

My three year old wrote a book today.

Bold Type= voice of the anteater
Italics= voice of the ant.

(Page One)
One day, an ant was on a path when he saw an anteater.
Hold it ant!

(Page Two)
Wait! why eat just me? I have five million friends over the hill!

(Page Three)
Five Million, YUM!

(Page Four)
And so the anteater ran over the hill

(Page Five)
[but] they were army ants, and they ate him.

the moral of the story is "don't be greedy".



 
5/05/2004
 
Lapidary Quotation

"When you have a crush, the most difficult part is when the other person is around. When you're in love, the most difficult part is when they're not around."
 
 
Paper Fragment

An experiment in kindness unto (perhaps) folly. The stuff on analogy is good, though, it makes up for the mistake I made about analogy earlier. The paper was called "on the harmony between the pre-modern and Cartesian accounts of the soul."

...While there are significant differences between the two views, they can also be brought together into a certain harmony- where what is true and fitting in each can compliment what is false or awkward in the other. This harmony is best seen when we realize that the words “soul” and “alive” and “self” are often used analogously, i.e. they are often used of many things which do not have the same definition, but share an instructive likeness. Diverse analogous terms do not need to be contradictory: very often they are compliment each other, as an examination of the pre-modern and Cartesian accounts of the soul will make clear.

Part One
The Pre-Modern Account of the Soul


The first properly philosophical attempts to articulate the nature of the soul saw it as the principle of life: the soul is whatever a living body has that a non-living body lacks. This account is sufficiently vague as to allow for a diversity of responses: Lucretius said that a living body is animated by atoms of a particular kind, others said that life resulted from a certain arrangement of the parts of the body i.e. that the soul stands to the body like a shape stands to a statue. Others, like Plato, said that the soul makes the body to be alive like a person might make a marionette appear alive: it “pulls the strings” i.e. the soul is in the body like a driver is in a car. All these accounts agree that the soul is what makes a thing to be alive, and that therefore it is “in” the body in a certain way: either as a material part is in a material whole, or as a shape is in a medium (e.g. marble or clay), or as an operator is in the operated upon.

It did not take long for the account of how the soul is “in” the body to reach a very subtle degree of abstraction. Aristotle transcends all the accounts of the soul’s interiority by making it in the body as form is in matter. This distinction is a very subtle one. Take for example, a tree. A tree has a certain ability to become certain other things, e.g. one can turn it into a desk, or a toothpick, or a set of bowling pins. But to make it any of these things, one has to destroy the tree; we certainly must change the definition of what we had to what we make. There is something about the tree that can become something else, but there is also something about the tree that cannot be something else: either it is a tree, or not. Whatever can become something else is called “matter” whatever can’t be something else is called “form”. The soul is said to be in the body of a living thing as form is in matter- it is what makes the intrinsically changeable and indefinite (either a bowling pin, or a tree, or a toothpick) to be a definite thing (this particular tree)

The account of the soul as a principle of life is sufficiently general and non-committal as to allow for a widespread acceptance, regardless of what particular account we give of how a soul is in a body. There is certainly some difference between a living and a dead body, even if the difference is only an apparent one. The presence or absence of a soul is said to constitute the difference between life and death; and we must either explain this difference, or explain it away. In antiquity, this difference was usually taken to be a real difference, and therefore the soul was taken to be a real i.e. a non-apparent thing. No attempt was made to reduce life and death to some common and more universal reality.

But though it is relatively innocuous to posit the soul as the principle of life, there are difficulties in doing so. For if we say that the soul is the principle of life, then we are committed to saying that all living things have souls. But it strikes many people as odd to talk about the “the soul of a carrot” or “the soul of a fish”. Souls seem to be only in human beings, or at least they are most perfectly in human beings. It is not enough for the soul to explain the difference between life and death; it must also explain the difference between one kind of life and another. If what makes a person to be alive were the same sort of thing as what makes a fish or a carrot to be alive, then we would expect the lives of fish, carrots, and people have the same sorts of lives. Whatever similarities we might note among all living things; e.g. nutrition and growth, will not sufficiently account for every kind of life. One has to talk about more than nutrition and growth if they want to give a full explanation of what it means for an animal or a person to be alive- we lose more kinds of things in death than our abilities to digest and grow.


The account of the soul as a principle of life is prone to reductionism; it can easily collapse human and animal life into the life of mere plants. The account, at its best, is forced to assert that the word “life” doesn’t mean exactly the same thing when it is said of a plant, an animal, or a human being. On the one hand, this helps to explain the tendency we have to say that fish and carrots don’t have souls- because the word “soul” doesn’t mean exactly the same thing to a plant, an animal, and a person. But on the other hand the account of the soul must be made more full if it is to be an account of a human soul. We must say more about the life that the soul is a principle of...

 
5/04/2004
 
Strange Thought.

A Bishop publicly confronting a renegade Catholic Political figure, not to deny him communion, but rather continually asking to hear his confession.
 
Traditio aut Vanitas

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