Vomit the Lukewarm
The Age of The Angelic Wars
(a first account)
All that follows is not divided by happening earlier or later in time. Just as there is no time delay between when we touch something and when the thing is touched, or just as there is no time between when we speak and the time when something is spoken, so too there is no difference in time between any of the things to be spoken of. The priority indicated is a wholly non temporal kind, like the priority of something causing over the thing that is being caused.
2.) "God is". The whole body of divine science follows, for him, out of this, not in the crude way that we learn theology, with our negations or analogous terms, for the theology he
knows is known from the top down, from the things that exist most to the things that exist least. There is no need for a concept like "immaterial" (he does not need to understand matter to understand God) nor for "unmoved mover" (why would he start with something that so barely exists as motion?) nor is there any need to understand "eternal" as "being outside of time and having a wholly simultaneous life". He needs no terms that are taken from sensation and then expanded.
3.) Out of this, at the point when theology naturally departs from the consideration of the divine nature as such to the consideration of how all creation relates to the divinity, he immediately recognizes his own nature fully in its procession from God. He has known himself all along- for his thought is sublimely reflective and transparent to himself- but now his self knowledge is perfect, and he can see himself proceeding from God with absolutely no intermediaries, with nothing more noble than himself. He knows his own dignity, and has perfect awareness of his own name: Lucifer.
4.) Proceeding downward from the consideration of himself, he knows and speaks to an "infinite number" of inferior beings. He does not need some crude negation like "infinite" to understand what is beneath him, nor does he need any idea of some barely existent "quantity" like number, a concept that is wholly inferior to his own nature and knowledge. All such terms as these belong to an order he is separated from by infinite legions of angels inferior to himself.
5.) Past the limit of this infinity, he knows the point at which things begin not to exist. These things begin with the thing "man" and quickly descend to absolute oblivion. Man is the first negation- the "highest" of the things that are formless, inactual, fleeting, finite, ununique... man is something of an afterthought to the universe; like a sprig of parsley added to a plate. We would say that Lucifer sees that man "will exist"- for man is not created yet- but Lucifer does not relate to things as being near or far in time.
6.) Lucifer knows all these things without any trace of ugliness, or a feeling of strangeness or oddity. He sees the faintness of man's intellect, and the nature of what man calls knowledge. How strange, we would think, to call this "knowledge"! For Lucifer, knowledge is a direct participation in the knowledge of God, it is a relationship of Lucifer to another personal being. For us, knowledge is the relation of our mind to some material, barely existent object.
We must do things like "learn" or "use logic"- which are completely unnecessary to the angelic mind.
Beneath man, things quickly become so confused, shadowy, and complex (not in the sense of being difficult to understand, but in the sense of having so little about them to understand) that they speedily pass to oblivion. Lucifer's natural knowledge is complete, with nothing having to be learned; and nothing, as we would say, left to be learned. The Universe is completely bracketed by Lucifer at the top, and the last possible shadow infinitely far at the bottom.
8.) A revelation falls upon Lucifer's natural knowledge. Though he is the Greatest intellect in the universe, the revelation was in no way in his knowledge, nor could it ever be there if it were not given from God. Man will commit a capital offense against God. God will pardon man by becoming an animal, making himself an animal with a Divine Person. This animal thing will leap the from the place where things barely exist, over the whole plenitude of the angelic universe, and place himself "between" Lucifer and God. Lucifer is not confused by this. He does not find the idea absurd, or disgusting. He has no argument against the goodness or the fittingness of the thing, and he knows that there is no argument possible. The revelation requires Lucifer's assent, acceptance, and obedience.
9.) Lucifer refuses.
10.) Beneath him, and perhaps all but infinitely beneath him, Lucifer hears a voice. It is the voice of an inferior species, one that has perhaps only a minute fraction of Lucifer's knowledge and consequent power. The one who confronts Lucifer has, we would be tempted to say, no reason in his angelic mind to believe that he can overcome, or even challenge the power of Lucifer. His challenge is to us as laughable as a six year old boy trying to pick up a mountain. The challenge is a question: "Who is like God?"
11.) A third of all the angels, pledging absolute allegiance to Lucifer, the immovable mountain of the heavenly choir, set themselves against the one who dared to question the loftiest creature in the universe.
12.) The warfare of the angels is not our warfare. For us, anyone outnumbered two to one could be finished off in short order. But the angels are not like us. Though two men might have the advantage over one man, Two angels need not have any more natural advantage over one than two mice would have against a python. The angels also don't need emotions-as we do- to deeply experience the importance of what they fight for, or the goods that are at stake. They do not need passions to experience the profundity of loss, or the agony of battle. They experience all these things infinitely more deeply than we do.
13.) The battle rages. We measure by time. We cannot measure this.
14.) Lucifer loses- in a battle that must have made Thermopolae seem insignificant and inconsequential in comparison.
Meditations on Potential Life
1.) If a fertilized egg is a potential
human life, it is no different from a sperm cell. A whole would be equal to a part.
2.) All animals: an elephant, a tuna, a Michael Jordan, etc. can be described as "blobs of tissue".
3.) A potential life is, precisely inasmuch as it is potential, not an actual life. It must be something not alive. It therefore would not grow into the kind of life it is potential to.
4.) Scientists once held that an embryo was not an actual human being- in the 13th century.
5.) The substance of a thing is not discerned by sensation, except per accidens.
6.) The soul is the principle of life. Nothing can be killed unless it has one.
7.) Does anyone who speaks of a potential life have any ability to account for what either "potential" or "life" means?
Anyone reading this is within a click of what deserves exultation
. Even if one can't read the Latin on the link, he can still rejoice that the whole world has access now to what was once available only to the most dogged and well financed of scholars. I have spent years and hundreds of dollars to get less than half of what is here- and much of what remains out of my hands I couldn't even find to buy. Now I have it for free. I'm sure my story could be retold a thousand times by men of every hobby and profession about the things on the internet. Te Deum, Laudamus.
The painful trade off here is that we are all just as close to things that would lead us to total degradation. We are given no help from any governmental power in avoiding this degradation, rather we must make all the effort for ourselves. This is the trade off of the information age. We must either give into what is base, or sublimate it.
To sublimate means to raise up. The word suffers somewhat from the etymological accident of containing "sub", which usually means "under", and therefore leads us to believe that sublimation involves a certain "putting under". It doesn't. It involves "sublime-ing" something. We take what of itself only exists in an inferior order and we make it to exist in a superior order. Most often, this involves making sexual desire become a desire for things more noble than sex. The definitive account of this is in Plato's Diotema speech at the end of the Symposium.
It is spoken of in greater detail by those who made philosophy "a woman" (cf. Boethius, or Dante).
A Controversy For The Days Of Last Decline
Archeologists Deal Final Blow To Geometry
Times Science Report
Lupold Wendershaft, Ph.d, F.A.A.A.S, D.D.
Geometry, which was long considered the most elegant and irrefutable of the sciences, was dealt the last of a series of deadly blows last week with the unveiling of a five year archeological dig.
"The age of Euclid is over" said Wermer Heisenstat, referring to the famous geometrical theorist whose work was once required reading for every elementary school pupil, "While his model has been very much under fire for most of the last few years, we have finally found the definitive evidence in the fossil record."
Theorists have long called into question the progression of Euclid's most well known text Elements,
though it was not until recently that scientists began to call into question the trigonocentric- that is, triangle based- nature of Euclid's various proofs, a critique that was originally put forth in Erhard Schroeder's now famous work The Two Missing Sides of Euclid's Triangle.
Euclid essentially treats the triangle as distinct from other shapes" explains Harvard's John Benson, "In Euclid, there is a bright line distinguishing the triangle from the pentagon, for example. This naturally lead to a kind of divinization of the triangle, which explains why it was featured as such a prominent part of medieval cathedrals. In light of the new evidence, however, we can see that older distinction as a somewhat naive mistake, one that we can now definitively correct using the fossil record."
scholars have long disputed the natural basis of geometry, but until now the debate lacked the sort of hard evidence that could silence a dwindling body of theorists that held to the natural priority of the triangle model in geometric theorems. The debate centered around Euclid's foundational belief that the triangle was the basis for the generation of the pentagon. "Euclid treats the pentagon as essentially an afterthought to the triangle" Benson explains, "If anyone looks for the pentagon in the Elements
he or she will have to go through half the book before Euclid even mentions it. The new evidence suggests that Euclid is progressing in exactly the wrong way, since pentagonal shapes are found 35 million years before triangular shapes in the fossil record."
The release of the evidence was met with a firestorm of controversy. Harvey Longman, a senior research fellow at the Aleithia Institute, took issue with the dating of the fossils: "there is simply no way to accurately parse the strata of late chronolithic sediments" he said, and then quickly added "the evidence is pretty convincing, I must admit, but we can't forget the teaching value of Euclid, who still provides a pretty good model for the distinction of shapes, even if it is ultimately not entirely in line with natural history."
In spite of the tremendous success of the newer pentagonal theorems among the archeologists, there was a note of reflection and regret. "We have all gotten used to assigning a certain priority to the triangle, and we have grown to see it as a sort of separate, distinct, and wholly autonomous shape" said Schroeder. "But we can no longer accept the sort of exalted position that the triangle has. It is, in the end, only a sort of warped pentagon, a shape which proceeded out of a random selective process progressing over 30 to 40 million years."
"There is a part of us that is sad to see Euclid go" said Schroeder "But that is simply the way science is. Upheavals are what makes the study of any science so satisfying to participate in."
Bias Part III, The Positive Account of a Good Man as Objective.
As you are, so you will judge.
The only person who sees things as they are is the good man. There are two points here: first, morality is generally necessary for discerning rightly. The reason for this is laid down in my previous blog about the human self, sc. the primary effect of guilt is the distaste for good things, and to the extent that we are immoral, we must accept this effect of guilt. Guilt inevitably makes us biased, because it makes the way things are distasteful to us, leaving us only able to find comfort and pleasure in some fantasy creation of our own*.
The second point is one that is more proximate to the problem of bias. The point can be best addressed if we look to the primary way in which problems of bias are now dealt with: the debate between ideologues. The idea here is that we should listen to both sides of an ideological struggle, and then "make up our minds for ourselves". This is, in effect, the method of every political talk show and congressional meeting, and it is the desired result when one asks for "a greater diversity of voices on the subject". This process is laudable and indispensable. Its only downside is that it is essentially incomplete and endless. It is not a perpetual debate that one seeks, but a single consensus. We do not eliminate the problem of bias, which is nothing other than the problem of not being objective (i.e. seeing the truth) by providing both sides of a debate, and then "deciding for ourselves". The whole problem is what to decide. How do we do this?
There is probably twice as many principles for decision as there are decisions to make, so it will do no good to enumerate particular principles here in this post, which concerns a general method. Beyond this there is the problem that many decisions are not made on the basis of principle, but of prudence. But while there is no universal law for making decisions that is definitive enough to provide a basis for decision or choice, there is a sort of universal disposition
that can be found in most difficult decisions we have to make, namely the disposition to find the correct answer for what should be done in the answer which gives us the painful trade- off which regards the ideal.
Human dispositions that regard things to be done have two extremes: the utopians and the fatalists. Utopianism sees ideals as perfectly realizable, while fatalism sees ideals as unattainable.
Utopians see the ideal as realizable with no cost, fatalism sees ideals as dangerous opiates that are for the naive or immature. Utopianism blames its lack of success on a conspiracy or a particular malevolent power (Bigots, Corporations, Small minded men) which can be fixed, while fatalism sees the lack of attaining ideals as the tragic consequence of human irrationality, or a more systemic problem with human society that cannot be fixed.
The middle ground between utopianism and fatalism is the painful trade off which regards the ideal. Inasmuch as it regards the ideal, it preserves the truth of utopianism, but inasmuch as it recognizes that every decision about difficult things requires us to give up something that is considered a good in the option we do not choose, it preserves the truth of fatalism. The painful trade off that regards the ideal recognizes that "to be an ideal" does not mean that it can provide every comfort of both courses of action, but nevertheless it preserves the ideal as a principle of action. This is, I think, the only middle ground between the two options, and it may provide us with a clearer understanding of the "realist" that we all wish we were when someone asks us "are you an optimist (utopian) or a pessimist (fatalist)". Isn't there something maddening in the dismissive character that attends being labeled either an optimist or a pessimist? Doesn't the idea of the idealistic painful trade off provide an answer to the dilemma?
This condition applies to guilt as such. Guilt which is allied to hope may be a principle, per accidens, of repentence. But so long as guilt remains as the unresolved feeling of having offended the other by our evil, the primary ethical effect of guilt will remain.
The Point at Which I Left Heidegger
"Being at hand" (there probably were hyphens) the idea behind the term is that we best understand the being of something when we don't have it anymore. No one is more aware of their car than in the times when it doesn't work, no one has a more profound awareness of a screwdriver than in the times when they can't find one. The Method here is a sound one, my only question has to do with what is left out. Nowhere does Heidegger mention things like eyes, hands, a harvest, good weather, etc- in other words, there are no natural things. Yet these things are no less "present at hand" than a hammer or a car- as anyone who has lost his sight or his hands could know (or, to treat of the absence of good weather, spent a winter in Minnesota)
This omission, easily corrected if noticed right away, will fester if allowed to continue. We are lead to believe that meaning is something merely constructed, as opposed to being not only constructed but also given prior to construction. We will be lead to assert the primacy of man in the universe, a position that will ultimately make the universe seem to be the sort of thing that isn't even worth dominating. Who cares if he is the head of something that only exists by his fancy and whim, from the construction of his own imagination? Uprooting meaning from the divine mind is like sawing down the tree to get the fruit.
Two Parts of Happiness
I call them "two parts" although it is not clear to me if they are really two different accounts.
1) Happiness can mean a feeling of well being, contentment, satisfaction, etc.
2) Happiness can mean something that is self-evidently desirable- this meaning seems to be at work insofar as no one ever asks someone "why they want to be happy".
If happiness only means contentment, satisfaction, etc. then it is possible that one could question whether happiness is even worth having- who cares if Pol Pot was content with his life? He may very well have been, he may very well have scored a perfect 10 on any statistical analysis of happiness. But it is a dark or perverse mind that is content with itself in spite of its wickedness. It may well be the case that all those who we despise might lead lives they are mostly satisfied with- and at least in this sense they are happy.
If we are open to the possibility that at least some kinds of happiness is not worth having, then we can see #1 above as one complete account of happiness. If we cannot do this, then we cannot separate happiness from human morality- regardless of what account we give of it. Along with Socrates, we must say that Tyrants, Felons, and immoral people can never be happy, regardless of how content they are with their lives.
A Missing Fragment From The Cartesian Thought Experiment
...I have been deceived many times by my own words, spoken both in French and in Latin. I have sometimes thought that a word meant one thing, when in fact it meant another, and I have often times misspelled words and been completely unaware of my error. I therefore will treat all languages as uncertain and totally false. I will forget the meaning of every term, and never speak again.
(Editorial Note: the treatise, at this point, ends)
Art and Reason
Art is in one sense too reasonable.
In a play, all chance events occur as inevitable- for they are scripted beforehand. Desdemona must
drop her hankerchief, Skywalker must
go to see Obi Wan at the exact moment when the storm troopers are looking for the droids. Even in a picture, the portrayed thing is always significant, or telling, or beautiful, it always means
something. Even when we precind from the particular arts, we are still left with a product that has a beginning, middle, and end. The whole of the art is rational in a way we can understand; it is totally proportionate to our intellect.
Life, maddeningly, is not like this. The chance events in our life are truly contingent, not every moment of life is particularly beautiful, telling, or significant; and it is not always clear whether the story of our life has something fitting the description of a beginning middle or end. This is not to say that we are not born, live, and die, but there is more to being a beginning or an end than just being the time at which the clock starts and stops.
There are three responses to this. The first is to deny that there is any rational order to things at all. Such an option exists only in speech, but it is unthinkable. To deny rationality altogether is to deny intelligibility, but this would leave us in the unthinkable position of denying something that we could have no idea of. We would be, by definition, talking about something we do not and cannot understand. This position has the benefit of accounting for the contingency and absurdity found in the universe, but it destroys even the possibility of knowing something as contingent or absurd.
The second response is the one adopted by certain spiritual people. It denies that there is anything in the universe that is absurd, contingent, or insignificant. All these things are mere appearances, they say. All things unfold on a script that is predetermined. Whenever we drop our hankerchiefs, it is really
not a chance event at all, it is as scripted as Desdamona dropping her hankerchief. They also assert that everything is meaningful, that every moment of our lives is, as it were, the climax of a play, or the development of a plot. The author of the play is God, or some other force within the universe.
I am sympathetic to this opinion, but I find it ultimately degrading to the divinity it is attributed to. To deny real contingency, absurdity, etc. reduces the action of the divinity to nothing other than our own kind of action- God is simply a man who has a wider control over things. To say "there is no contingency" is simply to say that there is one respect in which God's power is no different from our own. We cannot be the cause of a chance event- if someone won the lottery by my
providence, it could only happened because I rigged it and was cheating. Are we to conclude that a lottery is rigged because God
determined who will win it ahead of time? By no means. Check the dice a thousand times, there will be nothing wrong with them. Check the number creating machines for the rest of your life- you will find nothing in them that was rigged to produce a certain result. God is the cause of contingent events, but it is a power that we have absolutely no access to. We cannot even try to create something by chance without destroying its chance character.
Similar problems attend the perennial disputes about free will and predestined. "Predestination" is conceived in terms of merely human causality, in a way identical to how Malvolio is "predestined" to find a note in the garden (he can't avoid the script), or in the way that Oedipus is predestined to kill his father, or to say the line "the greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves"* All these events are predestined to happen by the Shakespeare and Sophocles. So long as their play exists, the characters must do these things. If God had no greater kind of power than we have in our art, then to accept a doctrine like predestination would lead to the denial of free will- and of luck, chance, contingency, and insignificance. The desire to make everything significant, or to believe "that nothing happens by chance" turns our to be a sinister boomerang. It will ultimately make us morbid Calvinists or atheists.
I am certain that this line is in Sophocles' Oedipus cycle, but I can't remember exactly who says it. I threw it in because it is one of my favorite lines in all literature.
Proofs, Morality and Discipleship.
Things that must be proven,
when they fall apart from their proofs, become bizarre and uncanny. The conclusion remains but the reason for the conclusion is lost. Sometimes this bizarre quality is unavoidable, as for example when we have to accept certain things on the authority of another that we will not see as proven until later. But whether avoidable or not, it does not change the uncanny and unreal feeling that attends a thing we have forgotten the proof for, or have never learned.
We need to qualify this strangeness with the proviso that the strangeness only attends the things we are disinclined to believe. Men have thousands of unproven opinions, but it is only the ones that they are disinclined to believe that seem strange to them when they have no proof.
Moral opinions are only proven by experience, and we are disinclined to believe them, and so these opinions beyond all others seem strange and uncanny to us. There is no avoiding the need to have moral opinions be the sort of things that we first hold by opinion, for we have to learn them before we have any experience or knowledge. A child who hears that he must respect his elders or not steal, or an older person who hears he cannot contracept, will experience the moral law as a bizarre kind of voodoo or superstition. The law is simply laid in front of them, and they have no rational reason to accept it beyond that weakest reason- sc. the argument from authority. The moral law must seem, to all who seek strong reasons, as initially arbitrary and dogmatic. There is no other way.
It is only after we gain a moral experience that the moral law reveals itself as a manifestation of who we are. Anyone who teaches five year olds understands that respecting elders is not some bizarre and arbitrary law, but the smoothest way to harmony, goodness and truth. If one only could know the truth of respecting ones elders they would know that it was worth any denial or overcoming of frustration in order to attain. Every teacher or mother or father burns to infuse his student or child with the knowledge he had to learn in the hard school of experience. But there is no way to infuse this knowledge. There are certain rational arguments one can give in defense of respecting ones elders, but the argument can never be wholly demonstrative apart from experience- it can only be dogmatic and accepted by a student or child who accepts his role as a disciple
We exist in such a way that certain conclusions must be accepted without reasons stronger than poetical reasons. This is certainly true in morality, and it is usually true in the sciences. Why do we accept electrons, inertia, real numbers, the concept of space, the importance of scientific method, the need to read carefully, the relevance of statistics, the space time continuum, the speed of light, or almost any other thing? Do most of those who hold such things have any ability to prove them? Does anyone have the ability to prove them as soon as he hears about them? Would we have any ability to even find the proof at all if we did not hold the conclusion in our minds as true, and come to the proof much later?
Discipleship is a sort of method
, that is, it is the shortest way to come to knowledge. This is not to say it is a short or simple way, only that it is the shortest. The need for discipleship is presupposed in every textbook I have ever read. People assume discipleship naturally. In more recent times, discipleship has been replaced by attempting to reason with children, or having them do all or most of
their thinking for themselves. The only possible result of this is brats and fools. Teaching requires dogmas that can develop into knowledge.
The Human Self, Part II
One of the most important meanings of the word "self" is "conscience". This is the sense the term is used in when we say "I can't live with myself". The condition under which this is said is not sickness, or misfortune, or bad luck. All these things are bad, and they may make life intolerable for many, but they are never occasions for someone to say "I can't live with myself". Perhaps they say "I can't live like this" or "life is awful" but when we can't live with ourselves, we mean to say that we can't live with guilt. Guilt is a tricky and maddening thing, since the torment of guilt is not something that anyone feels he has the power to take away. We can deaden the sense of guilt for awhile (busywork, drinking, sleep, drugs, pleasures) but we have no power to take it away, because power belongs to life, and guilt makes life hateful. Guilt, more importantly, is the sense of having offended another,
and no one feels he has the power to take away another's offence. No one feels "guilty" for having let himself down, or for offence he might have given "to himself" (whatever this means). We may be disappointed by our own failure to measure up to our own standards, but we don't feel guilty about it- except insofar as we give offence to another.
The primary ethical effect of guilt is a hatred of good things. "Hatred" here is a general term for finding something hateful- the particular disposition may be anything from pure and unequivocal hatred, to disgust, or disappointment, or the feeling that good things are simpleminded, or inauthentic, or silly, or for the weak. The hatred may be as "innocuous" as a lack of interest in good things for one reason or another. The "good things" that guilt makes us hate are also diverse, and they tend to vary given the life we lead, since various lives are more forced into contact with various goods than others. Guilt in intellectual types leads to hatred of truth, or of the power of truth. Guilt in artistic types leads to a hatred of beauty. Guilt in political types leads to hatred of politics (with its truths like "all men are created equal"). Guilt in women leads to a hatred of what is feminine, guilt in men leads to a hatred of masculinity. Guilt in general leads us to a hatred of good things in general, for they make our own life hateful and intolerable. We hate the good because it torments us so. It makes us so that we "cannot live with our selves".
After the state of hating good things is allowed to progress for awhile, the man fails to see even good things as good anymore, since he has hated them so habitually. Good becomes bad and bad becomes good. We do not exist in such a way as to hate something habitually, and not come to find it hateful in itself. The completion of this process is a man who is firmly convinced that his own depravity is moral, and he will act accordingly. But even before this completion is reached, there is the more maddening awareness spoken of above: no one feels he can take his own guilt away.
How can we hope, by our own power, to avoid becoming hardened men after our first fall? If we cannot take guilt away, how can we hope to ever keep it from reaching its inevitable completion: the absolute distortion of the mind, heart, soul, and strength? If we have any hope, it is in the goodness of another. It is this goodness alone that can save us from utter denigration, self-distortion, and corruption. It is only from this other that we have any hope of being able to live with ourselves.
Meditation on Two Species of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse follows sexual desire, for we only abuse someone to get what we want. Those who seek emotional things abuse emotionally, those who seek physical things abuse physically. Both are destructive, dehumanizing, and forever justified by those who do them- often in very reasonable ways.
The nature of abuse is that the abuser gets most of what they want, the abused does not. To the extent that the abuser reflects on the situation, they will not be able to understand why the other person is not happy, since they themselves are so satisfied. The abuser will for this same reason view himself as a victim whenever the abused reacts reasonably to abuse, for he will see the objections of the abused as an attempt to rob him of his happiness- which to him is so reasonable and justified.
Never try to fix an abuser. The desire you have to help them is exactly what they prey on.
Skeptics and Disciples
The most causal things cannot exist less than their effects*, because no cause can give what it does not have. But we first know the things which exist less**, and so we don't know the first causes of things first. There are two possible reactions to this: 1.) We do not accept anything until we know the reason for it; or 2.) We find some reason to trust someone, accept what they say as truth, and meditate on it until we (hopefully) find the reason for it. The first state is skepticism,
the second state is discipleship.
Now the two are not in every way opposed; for example, one might be a skeptic out of a discipleship to a particular teacher. But if we mean by "disciple" a person who accepts the teachings of a certain person as true before he understands them in the same way as his teacher does, then discipleship is opposed to skepticism, for a skeptic as such accepts nothing he does not know.
In any one of the particular arguments of philosophy, there will be some need to be both at certain times- but taken broadly, we must choose either to be skeptics or disciples. We must either accept certain things from the wise in part
from their authority, or we must refuse to. We must either accept the possibility that something we hold as true might be false, or we can refuse to accept anything that might be false. In this sense, there is a bright yellow line dividing discipleship and skepticism.
The disciple has the better case. We simply don't exist in a way that allows us to know something fully first, and then progress on to what is implied in it. We also don't exist in such a way that we can continually desire to meditate on something unless we hold it to be true before we understand fully why it is true. An indifferent proposition will be held indifferently. All the thoroughgoing skeptics I have known in my life lose interest in philosophy as soon as they don't have anyone to knock down or argue against. Skepticism is, of course, a sort of negation, and negation will always live a parasitical life on the thing it negates. The skeptic needs something to negate just as intimately as a disciple needs his master.
Most of the things we understand in philosophy spend many years in a very delicate state- we could not defend them in the face of a sturdy skeptic, and we will tend to distort them when we run into problems. The skeptic never needs to experience this delicate state of knowledge- he can have the confidence that he will win most arguments with his peers, and he will certainly have his way with the young disciple. But the skeptics position is unstable and ultimately unsatisfying, and he can only hold it from the pleasure of negating neophytes and seeing them as "sheep" who are not as enlightened as he is.
The skeptic does have a case that is hard to confront- there is something maddening about discipleship, and even something that seems irrational. There is no avoiding that a disciple must hold something as true that he may have only the foggiest justification for, a justification that may not even reach the point of being the weakest sort of argument***,
sc. the argument from authority. But the maddening character of discipleship is due to the weakness of our own intellect. I have no argument with someone who notices that discipleship is not the best way we could imagine to come to knowledge- we could for example imagine a world where we could know the most intelligible things first, and then progress downward to know the less intelligible (this happens to some extent in Mathematics). But this is not our condition. We must accept certain things on authority, things we may not understand as well as the wise do for many years. If this is hateful, it is only because the human condition is hateful. Our primary choice is either to accept or reject our condition.
* I use the word "existence" here not in the sense of existence as opposed to non-existence, but rather in the sense that there is a hierarchy of existent things. For a plant to exist is merely to be alive, for an animal to exist means to be alive and be ordered to sensation, and for a man to exist is to be alive, and ordered to sensation and reasoning. "Existence" in this sense admits of degrees, whereas it does not in the sense of existence as opposed to non-existence.
This hierarchy seems to be denied by those who believe a jury-rigged philosophy based on Darwinianism, which correctly establishes a hierarchy of things according to experimental simplicity, but which is the exact opposite of the hierarchy that is created by a philosophical understanding of things. The two are not opposed, but regard being in different respects. For an experimentalist to see the man as proceeding from the animal, and the animal from the plant is fine, but we need to understand that this is not to understand the hierarchy of being. Neither does experimentalism articulate all the causes of being as such by simply pointing to a progression of a species over time. A philosophical understanding will add the need for intelligence to the Evolutionist account, which qua Evolutionist
does not need to consider the intelligent causes of things.
** For an explanation of this, see my "On Prophecy in Bats" from 4/14/04.
***It is often forgotten that the argument from authority is an argument.
This does not happen because it makes us to know that something cannot be otherwise, but because it inclines us to one side of a contradiction. Poetry can argue in the same way. This does not make the argument irrational, however, rather it is only as rational as our reasons to trust the authority.
Consider all material things as contained in an underground cave. One day, with a great upheaval of the earth, a fissure crack opens up in the roof of the cave, and the whole cave is flooded with light and the vision of the whole universe.
The the fissure in the roof is man. Considered in himself, he is a void, a gap, an utter nullity. Considered in relation to the universe that he makes visible, he is infinite and without limits.
Anything in the cave would hold the fissure to be the greatest and most lofty feature of the cave, not because it is a crack, but rather because it is a principle by which the universe became known.
Determinism and Teleology
All who deny you, but prove you perversely.
There is no difference in the thing
between saying "determined" and "acts for an end". All things that act for an end are determined and everything that is determined acts for an end. The central idea in "determined" is "term", which is synonymous with "end".
The difference between the two is how we are considering the idea of determination.
"Teleology" is a philosophical doctrine, while "determinism" is a postulate of experimental science. Because it is a postulate, one does not and need not give a reason for it, e.g. the experimentalist does not use his experiments to understand determinism, but rather he uses his determinism to make the experiment possible. No experiment is capable of giving us a philosophical understanding of what is implicit in an idea like determinism.
When philosophy talks about teleology, it is capable of giving a larger understanding of what it means to be determined. Philosophy gives a reason
for what is a postulate
in experimental science. The most notable reason that "teleology" gives for "determinism" is that determinism requires intelligence in some way- in other words, things cannot be determined unless they are intelligent or necessarily related to intelligence.
The middle term between intelligence and acting for an end (determination) is "order". Order belongs to reason alone, and all that is determined/acts for an end is ordered. The second premise (here the minor) is self evident, for one cannot have an end without at least a distinction in account between the end and the activity ordered
to the end, or an order between the determined activity and the term of the activity. The first premise (here the major) is shown in the post I put up called "the monkey and the typewriter" (8/24/04).
It is a widespread opinion that the doctrine of determination is a refutation of the existence of God (this argument is a species of the second objection given against the existence of God in the Summa). Rightly understood, this objection is as kooky as saying that a daylight or a full moon is a proof against the existence of the sun. Determinism exists because
of a divinity*. Now if we postulated
the existence of daylight, of course, we wouldn't need to also postulate the sun- because no postulate ever
gives a reason for the postulate. But as soon as we give a reason
for the daylight or the full moon we will have to relate them to the sun, just as we must relate determinism to divinity because of order.
My argument here can is an explanation of what is called St. Thomas' "fifth way", although it is certainly older than Thomas Aquinas. It is a common objection to the proof, and all the Thomistic proofs, that they do not prove the existence of something an opponent is willing to call "God" (note that all of Aquinas' proofs conclude with "and this is what all call God"). If someone is not willing to posit the existence of God until they find a proof for an infinite, eternal, all powerful, singular, and totally good being, then I admit that the five ways do not prove the existence of God, at least not until later proofs pull out what is implicit in the being/beings whose existence is proved in the five ways. In this case, we can only take the existence of God to be proven after about the tenth question in the Summa. But I find this objection strained and untenable: who would not believe that the knowing being/ beings that order all the things in the universe should be called "God" or "the gods"?
The Gospel of Inadequacy
(from yesterday's reading)
Christ articulates what he means by the necessity of "hating one's mother and father" by comparing it to a man who tries to build something, and then runs out of money. Everyone laughs at him. He finds himself unworthy to be considered a builder. The project, no doubt, would become hateful to him. So too would his financial state, even the one he had before he tried to build the tower. His most profound feelings would be shame and inadequacy. There was nothing evil-and in fact there was only good- with his original finances, but there was something very wrong with trying to build a tower out of them (think of the story of another tower) . This was the fatal error that made even his finances hateful.
Some part of even our deepest loves has been pressed into the service of the "tower" we build. At some point, the Tower will sully even the things we love. It is not a matter, I think, of trying to avoid building the tower- we began construction of it long ago. The gospel begins to take root when we notice our inadequacy- our hopeless, Promethean, and ultimately silly desire to take our gifts and build a tower we could never finish. At this point, even our dearest loves become hateful to us, not because they are evil, but because our actions are. We see no way that anything we have can give us what we most deeply want. In this sense, all that we have becomes hateful. Our tower bends and distorts everything that is related to its construction- and we have so related everything, in one way or another.
Abstraction and Consideration
The Critique of Pure Reason
is more responsible for the rejection of perennial philosophy than any other text. The central thesis of the book is that metaphysics is impossible because it goes beyond the limits of empirical experience. Kant's middle term, however, suffers from a fatal ambiguity which neither he nor his commentators to my knowledge have even noticed, sc. The many possible considerations
of empirical experience.
I am perfectly willing to concede to Kant that there is no knowledge that goes outside the limits of the things we sense. If one must gaze upon "being itself" or "man himself" in order to have metaphysics, then metaphysics is certainly impossible for me to do, and I would distrust anyone who claimed such a science. If a "metaphysical" man is a man who exists separately from Tom, Dick and Harry, I will freely admit that I have never met him, and would not recognize him if I did. I have no access to some divine museum (as Borges calls it) that has on display a man that is simultaneously short and tall, fat and thin, black and white; or perhaps more impossibly has no height, no color, and no shape. I cannot point out quickly enough that my statements here are not meant to be a critique of Plato, and his theory of the forms. I have my own ideas (huh huh) about how to understand Plato's theory of forms, and I don't think that they should be taken in such a way as to assert the necessary existence of a "metaphysical" man. But I have no doubt that Hume and Kant critique the possibility of metaphysics on the basis that it requires some "metaphysical" man or triangle or ocean to contemplate. I concede their objection, but I fail to see how it is relevant. I concede that there is nothing in the mind that goes beyond the limits of empirical experience, but this does not require that an empirical thing must always be considered inasmuch as it is empirical.
I had a joke I would tell my students once to bring out the distinction between the per se and the per accidens:
"would you trust a carpenter to do heart surgery"?
"So I guess we should never let carpenters go to medical school then?"
The resolution is pretty clear- inasmuch we consider a man as a carpenter, we don't trust him to do heart surgery. But inasmuch as we consider a man as a heart surgeon, we can trust him to do heart surgery. These different considerations lead to what we might call different subjects of the mind. In one sense, the subject matter of the mind is the same (a guy named Dr. Joe who can also build a house) But we don't need to consider the man as a carpenter, or as a heart surgeon, or even as a man all at once. We can turn our consideration to different things about him, and focus our attention on multiple different subject matters.
Sciences result from our mind's ability to consider multiple subject matters. If we choose to consider things inasmuch as they are alive, we get "biology". If we choose to consider things inasmuch as they are composed of elements, we get "chemistry". If we choose to consider things inasmuch as they are divine, or related to God, we get "theology". Metaphysics results when we choose to consider things inasmuch as they are beings. In one sense, metaphysics is the most self evident of the sciences, since there might be some dispute over whether things are truly alive, or composed of elements, or related to God, but there can be no doubt that things are beings.
To doubt metaphysics in this sense is as kooky as saying that a man can't choose to notice that all things are things. If one wants to go further and say that this consideration of things as things requires an "abstraction", or more exactly an abstraction of "a form" from "matter", or if he wants to call this consideration something that points to some "ideal form"- fine. I have no objection to further refinements of the idea of considering things as things. But we cannot fail to notice that these doctrines are further refinements, even if the refinements lead us to something more causal of the experience of noticing that things are things.
indubitable point is that we can notice that things exist (or fail to exist), and treat them as such. If we could not do so, we couldn't even say "there's a lion in the grass" or "Joe is not in the house" or even "Metaphysics does not exist".
It is this indubitable fact of consideration that Kant overlooks, and it is a consideration I take to be fatal to his categories, his intuitions, and his sophistical "antinomies". Kant is not the first one to insist that there is no knowledge beyond the limits of a possible experience- any number of great metaphysicians have insisted on this far more emphatically than Kant. Kant is simply one of the first to insist, wholly without proof and absurdly so, that empirical experiences must be judged according to their empirical character. But to do this is to undercut any possibility of even being able to say that metaphysics does not exist.
Politics and Philosophy
One of the bitterest pills to swallow in politics is that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed. Why is this so bitter? Notice what the axiom isn't:
say that governments derive their authority from the good of the citizens, or the rationality of the citizens, but simply from the governed. we must take these men in all their ugliness, irrationality, small mindedness, etc. and acknowledge that they have a real authority in the government. Politically speaking, these men all have a right to speak, and a right to be taken seriously. To the extent that we simply refuse to cater to, soothe, assuage, or even sometimes give into the irrational and the stupid, we cannot be politicians. It makes no difference if a politician has high ideals, as did Reagan or Lincoln, unless he recognizes that he cannot always speak these ideals, and he will often have to hide them. Listen to any politician answer the loaded questions of reporters "do you favor taking away the safety net for the poor"? the politician may have the highest ideals in the world, but 99 out of 100 of the responses he gives to reporters will be convoluted, namby- pamby, evasive, and generally off-point. This is good. It is wrong to give an honest answer to a loaded question, to assume sincerity when all that is sought is a soundbite, or to assume good will when all that is sought is fodder for a dismissive, hostile or condesending demagogue.
Alan Keyes seems to be the latest politician who has not learned this, and he is destined to go the way of all the other forgotten politicians who have not learned this. I respect the man as a philosopher, and I know he must surely be one since he is so reticent to rule. The ambassador's reticence, however, seems to be largely subconsious- it is only manifested in the self-immolation of his campaign. It makes no difference to say he is a man of high ideals- did Lincoln have fewer ideals, or believe them less strongly? Did Reagan? Does Rick Santorum disagree with homosexuality less than Alan Keyes? When all this is granted, how do you think any one of them would respond to a question like "is Lynn Cheyney a hedonist"?
If you want to always
or even most of the time
give clear and correct answers to things, stay out of politics. If you want to speak and preach the clear truth all the time, stay out of politics. If you're against giving namby-pamby and evasive answers, stay out of politics. Governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed, not from some ideal goodness that can always be looked to in such a way as to ignore the real authority in the irrational
, the ugly, and the ignorant.
Preliminary Questions About The Human Self
"The self", (and its allied terms "myself", "itself" etc.) like all of the commonly used terms in a language, have columns of definitions. Like many problems in philosophy, the philosophical problems concerning the self usually happen when people try to act as though there is only one meaning of a term. This tends to make any argument about the self quixotic, a sort of continual assertion and negation of ideas that were never there in the first place. Philosophies will at one time deny the existence of a self altogether, then at another time assert that it is the supreme existent thing, or even the only existent thing. Among those who affirm the existence of a self, some will claim that it is only there to be denied and negated, others will claim that it is only through the exultation of the self that any goodness is possible.
There is no commonly accepted and exact
account of the self. This is not to deny that there is no commonly accepted account- or even a self evident one*- but only that if there is one, it is indistinct. "Self" first seems to be used as the opposite of "other". This is how we use the term when we speak of "self motivated" or "a self made man", i.e. we connote that the motivation or the success proceeded from the self as opposed to proceeding from someone else (an angry teacher, a slave driving employer.)
"Self" can also be used to mean "a human individual, considered as an individual" (as opposed to considering him as a body, or as sick, etc.) As far as this account goes, it is obvious enough, and by this account to deny the existence of a self is no more reasonable than to deny the existence of persons. The denial of a self, whenever it is made, must be made over an account that is more distinct than this one, as for example, Aristotle's later accounts of what a substance is, or a confused idea of what a substance is.
"Self" also can be used to mean "what most intimately belongs to a person". In this sense, self can be viewed as either constant or transitory, or as both in different respects. This seems to be the meaning at work when we speak of "hating ourselves" or "looking into our selves". This meaning seems to grow quite naturally out of the one given above, for as soon as we consider a human individual, we will naturally look to that thing by which they have their individuality, i.e. the peculiar or unique traits that set them apart from "others".
"Self" also seems to mean "conscience". This meaning seems to be at work when we say "I can't live with myself" or "I couldn't live with myself if I did that". There is some voice, or disposition, or temperament that we have that is incompatible with certain actions. I call it "conscience" because whenever I hear someone say "I can't live with myself" they are never talking about something that has been done to them (an injustice, a sickness, an insult received) but rather about something that they have done. They are speaking of guilt.
"Self" can also mean "what is opposed
to the other". This meaning seems to proceed from a particular understanding of the meaning of "self" as the opposite of "other". "The other" in this sense as viewed as that which is opposed to the self, and vice versa. This seems to be the sentiment one expresses when they say "I decided to start living for myself". There may be some confusion about how I am using the words "opposite" and "opposed" here. When I said in the first account '"self" is the opposite of "other"', I did not mean to indicate that there was some enmity or total incompatibility between them, only a difference. But in this last meaning of "self" there is some enmity between self and other. When I hear people speak of wanting to live for themselves, they seem to view this life as the complete opposite of living for another, i.e. either you live for another, or you live for yourself.
I think these accounts of the word "self" can provide at least some genera in which to classify the various uses of the word "self" in common usage. These various meanings might also help to resolve some of the peculiar paradoxes that arise when people discuss the self, which usually arise from confounding certain meanings. There are certainly more particular meanings, and there are probably more general meanings, as the ones I have layed down here.
Two things are meant here: first, what is commonly accepted is
in one sense "the self evident": what all hold, is.
But secondly, I want to point out the seeming paradox that the self evident is characterized by its lack of distinctness. The most certain things are the most indistinct things.