Vomit the Lukewarm
Many kinds of men devote themselves to Science, and not all for the sake of Science herself. Some... because it offers them a chance to display their talents. Another class...come...in the hope of making a profitable return... Should an angel of God come and drive from the Temple of Science all those who belong to these categories, I fear the temple would be nearly emptied. But a few worshippers would still remain- some from former times and some from ours. To these latter belong Max Planck: and that is why we love him.
Einstein, of course, needs no introduction; and Max Planck barely needs one, being the most significant father of Thermodynamics and Quantum Theory. Both these men are safely immortal for their discoveries, and yet what is it, according to Einstein, that makes them so lovable? In a word, it is what the "worshippers...from former times" called contemplation.
Contemplation is the love of knowledge for its own sake. It is the state of one who views knowledge as worth having ultimately
not for the sake of power, or wealth, or vain trumpery, or to get a job, or for any use at all, but because knowledge is itself a good. This does not preclude the man who contemplates from secondarily
using his knowledge for one purpose or another, and it does not even relieve him from a sort of duty he has to spread this knowledge and use it for good ends, but in the man's highest act as a knower he does not use
knowledge, but rather he loves it: "and that is why we love him."
That knowledge is ultimately contemplative is a doctrine that is usually ignored, and often condemned. The condemnations can usually be cleared up by pointing out that while knowledge is ultimately contemplative, and not utilitarian, this does not mean that knowers are not called to use what they know to help others, as natural scientists might do through developing things for the art of medicine, or as political thinkers might do through giving good political advice, or as Christian Apologists might do through spreading the Gospel. But the fact remains that therapeutic drug development, political advice, and apologetics are not the highest states of the natural scientist, the political philosopher, and the theologian. The highest state of all these men is achieved when they see the knowledge of nature, the regime, and God as being simply worth having for its own sake.
More often, though, the love of knowledge for its own sake is not condemned, but simply ignored. A student in any modern school could attend classes for twenty years, and hear every class justified for no other reasons than those like "it will help you succeed in high school" or "it will help you get into college" or "it will help you get a job". After twenty years of utilitarian reasons, it is understandable that the average person would instinctively relate to every science in terms of "what can I use this for?" So it happens that when they come to a science like philosophy, they see it only as the study moral philosophy; when they come to theology, they see it only as apologetics; and when they look at nature they see it only as a great mass of useful substances whose powers can be harnessed for human utility.
The correct disposition to have toward knowledge is to always treat it never simply as a means, but always at the same time as a end. This language is borrowed from Kant's categorical imperative- and Kant would certainly recoil at the idea that it should be applied to knowledge, as opposed to humanity- but in truth we can apply it to knowledge because
it is true of humanity. In loving knowledge, we love what is most intimately the act of our own nature, we love that which our nature shares with the angels and God. The love of knowledge for its own sake is the love of that which most profoundly makes us ourselves. In loving knowledge for its own sake we love our existence for its own sake- for to exist as a man is to be a knower, and the act of a knower is knowledge.
One of the greatest problems with so much human discourse is that it shows so little love of knowledge for its own sake. We seem content to refute same evils and errors over and over again, and we never go on to articulate the precise nature of the good and true. We are quite adept at using knowledge to beat up others, and show up their errors, but we never seem to get much beyond the point of giving a slapdash account of what is correct and true. In one sense this is perfectly understandable. Refutation, which is a species of negation, is easier for us to do, it takes the burden of proof off of ourselves, and it allows us the delicious thrill of knowing that we have a better position than another man. But to refute is to use
knowledge; it is even in a certain sense to have a parasitic existence upon error itself- what would we do if there were no fools, heretics, or anarchists to refute? Would our knowledge be any good to us if we had no use for it?
The irony has not escaped me that a good deal of the things on this blog are refutations and negations, including, on the main, this very post. I can only protest that I have tried always to give positive arguments for what I say, and never to see complaint or negation as the last word in philosophy or theology. I have also shied away from using philosophy or theology as handmaids to solve or discuss the particular problems or happenings of the day- since I think philosophy and theology are worth knowing for their own sake, and are timeless in a way that the particular happenings of the hour are not. There are plenty of voices in the world that witness against the folly and errors of the age- and perhaps even more are needed. But would that there were more people who simply loved knowledge for its own sake and wrote about it for their own edification. This has happened in history before- and can always happen again in any man's life.
The Divine Comedy and Politics
All the readers of the Divine Comedy are put off by Dante's incessant fascination with the politics of his day. Face it, does anyone beyond the most obscure specialist know, or even care, whether Dante was a member of the white or black party? Does anyone need to research the political situation of 14th century Naples in order to enjoy the Inferno?
If there is one objection against the genius of the Comedy it is that Dante spends so much time on the forgotten and forgettable disputes of his contemporary situation. Dante's text did not become immortal through its point-by-point enumeration of the foibles, errors, and disputable decisions of medieval Italian politicians, who exist now only as footnotes and strange sounding names that pepper a hundred cantos.
We have two options, it seems to me. We can either accept that this evaluation of the comedy is correct, or we can think that the particular political situation we find ourselves in is the most important thing that we can devote our time and attention to. Eight hundred years from now, the names of the present politicians will be just as strange sounding to the ear as "Manfred" (crowned King of Sicily in 1258) or "Bonconte de Montefeltro" (see Canto V of Pugatorio, one of my favorite stories). I do not mean to intimate in any way that our particular political situation in America is not dire and important, only that when it is compared to eternal things it will be judged by history as comparatively unimportant. If providence has so blessed us as to have produced another Dante who even now is writing an epic poem about the afterlife, people will one day relate to all his talk of parties and political figures as a boring and skippable aside to all the wonderful things that he teaches us about the everlasting truths of the human condition. How could the people of those future times be so blind? Why won't they see all the tremendous things that were at stake in this election? Human lives are at stake now- for crying out loud!
All this is true, and even now it is the claim of both political parties. I wholly assent to the truth that there are countless lives that are in the balance, who all will live or die depending on what happens November 2nd. Were there no such stakes in the political decisions of Dante's time? Are we all fools for passing over the political discussion of the Comedy? By no means. It is for us, the living, rather, to dedicate ourselves to the great task remaining before us
. But not every task, or every aspect of each task, is of equal worth. To the extent that this present struggle is a manifestation of the things that do not pass away, it will remain for future generations to consider and judge us by. To the extent that it is merely temporal and secular, however, it is destined to pass into obscurity and the forgettable wasteland of passing daydreams.
The eternal things will always remain. Why is it that we consider them so little? Why is it that we so often drag down eternal doctrines to the level of mere service to that which, though so important, is destined to pass away? And doesn't the boredom and indifference we experience when reading the political parts of Divine Comedy stand as a sort of warning against treating the things that pass away as though they were the most important things?
Everything and Nothing
Success at anything requires certain qualities of thought. Good salesmen need an ability to ignore rejection and not let it get them down. Good test pilots need an ability to think clearly under circumstances that would leave the average person completely unhinged. Good poets need the ability to think in concrete and specific language and metaphors.
Good philosophers require the ability to appreciate the transcendental character of words like "everything", "nothing", "always" and "never". By "transcendental" I mean "going across everything" (trans
= across, ens=
being). They grasp that these words are indicative of a mind that has contained all without a possible exception, that the mind that can speak of "everything" or "nothing" has grasped a unity of object
(an analogous unity, though)
to which there is no actual or possible extraneous thing of any description.
Words like "everything" and "nothing" indicate to the mind of the philosopher the subject matter of his science. Now in every science, the subject matter is something in one sense known all from the beginning, but in another sense unknown at the beginning. Just as someone who wants to be a doctor knows that every significant thing he learns in medical school has to be in some way related to causing health, or everyone who studies mathematics knows that everything they learn will be in some way related to understanding quantity, so too every philosopher knows before he even begins philosophy that everything he learns will be in some way related to the absolute unity that is revealed in words like "everything" and "nothing".
The mind, as has been said before, is in a certain sense all things. "In a certain sense" is added not to deny that
the mind is all things, but to indicate the way in which
the mind is all things. The mind is all things in a similar way to how the one has never studied health already knows what it is to be a doctor, or the way in which one who has never studied mathematics already knows everything about quantity. If anyone thinks I have unduly inflated the powers of the human mind by saying the human mind knows everything, they should keep the above analogy in mind. In one sense, it is true to say that we know nothing, just as the one who has never studied mathematics or medicine can be said to know nothing of them. "Everything" is the subject matter of philosophy, and every subject matter is in one sense wholly known from before it is studied, and in another sense wholly unknown before it is studied. In one sense the human mind, even before it has studied philosophy in any way, knows everything about everything; in another sense it knows nothing about everything, or simply put, it knows nothing.
By this point, there may certainly be some confusion, and perhaps there will be one who thinks what is said above is completely false. Take heed tough, that in proving that it is false you do not say "this opinion has a contradiction". For on what basis do you invoke contradiction unless you already know that contradiction implies impossibility, and so my statements are impossible? Who can claim the impossibility of something that has a contradiction unless he already understands that contradiction as such implies an impossibility of being? Contradiction already is some grasping of everything, and of
the obvious contradiction of everything, sc. nothing.
But if these statements imply no contradiction in any way, then you are equally certain that there is no way in which they are impossible. They are certainly possible then. The philosopher is one who can see them as actual in the word "everything". If you can't see the transcendental import of the word "everything" then philosophy "just isn't your thing". You will fail at it as certainly as one who can't use concrete language will fail at poetry, or one who can't take rejection will fail at sales. I myself have neither of the above talents in any significant way- and there's no use in me getting bent out of shape about it. Perhaps I could develop these talents- in themselves they are certainly good things- or perhaps I couldn't. I don't know. But I should never try to be a poet or a salesman who thought that either of these dispositions was unnecessary. Nor does it particularly matter what I think about poetry or sales- the things have a nature in themselves that makes them only possible to people of certain dispositions. I don't worry that poetry will ever be taken over by speakers of abstract terms, or that sales will be taken over by the easily discouraged; the nature of the thing will defeat them far more quickly than any argument they can give. The timid salesman won't sell anything and the abstract poet won't write anything worth reading- or even anything poetical. They can only exist as a fad, or a trend: here today, gone tomorrow.
A String Of Middle terms
Of course God exists. Things move, and cause, and exist, and are good, and act, and are definite, and happen by chance, and are evil, and we feel guilty, and I feel wrongs as wrongs, and the mind knows universals, and things are actually perfect, and simple answers are better than complicated ones, and the universe is intelligible.
As for the objectors: To posit evil is to appeal to standard of goods, Nothing in natural science is the same as its existence, Bertrand Russell doesn't get Thomas Aquinas, and Nietzsche was the contemporary of John Vianney, Abraham Lincoln, Therese of the little flower, John Bosco, John Henry Newman, Mathias Sheeben, Leo XIII, Pius X, Bernadette of Lourdes, Frances Cabrini, Henry Clay, and millions of other visionaries, stigmatists, radiantly holy people, and guys who got their lives together with prayer and faith.
I don't know when the sciences decided to stop trying to explain themselves in words that have everyday, commonsense meanings, but that certainly seems to be the status of things now. This state of affairs is hardy absolute, and everyone who has shown any success at explaining the sciences has tended to use everyday language (C.S. Lewis, Leo Strauss, Max Planck, Arthur Eddington, Albert Einstein, and a whole crop of liberal minds from 1900-1950) But I think it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that a good deal of the modern sciences (I include in this philosophy) are on the main carried on either in jargon or in language that is sullied by jargon. Could anyone imagine the average modern philosopher or scientist explaining himself to a non-specialist, as always is the case when a philosopher speaks in a Platonic Dialogue? Could anyone imagine a science textbook that didn't drop terms out of the sky, and continually assert a whole flock of things that are completely bizarre and unintelligible to everyone? This corrosive practice, by sheer repitition and dogmatic assertion eventually corrupts us to the point where we think it is the very purpose of science and philosophy to overturn everything we know about everyday experience, and everything we already knew before we came to the a book or a class.
It is an old observation that a pupil of any degree of learning can memorize and manipulate jargon, without in the least having to understand what it means. In some cases this is necessary, but it must never be viewed as a general way of doing things- it must always be last resort, and one that is explicitly flagged as an exception from the correct way of learning. I am not speaking here of memorization simply, but of the memorization of jargon,
i.e. specialized words. Words like "energy" "matter" "act" "ontological" etc. are batted around all day by men who don't have more than the vaguest idea of what any of them mean, or how they are in any way culled from everyday experience. These men would be at a complete loss to explain what any of the terms mean to any inquisitive person- or even to themselves.
Most people have come to view paradox as something like the very measure of science. We see words like "revolutionary" and "controversial" as the very measure of scientific goodness. We place at the cornerstone of our mind a slothful and distorted love of infinite progression without a term. We have become flattered, smug, and lazy in our acceptance of the incongruous, the absurd, the unfitting, the corrosive.
Or have we? It's true enough that a good number of men have adopted this outlook on nature and philosophy, but of what significance have any of these men ever come to? What contribution has negation or desire to destroy an established order ever come to, except where this destruction was not what was desired as such, but rather the bringing forth of a better, more lovely, more fitting, more simple, and more fitting order? When we turn to the great philosophers and scientists, we see them explaining how their new theories are more logical, less contrived, more beautiful, and less incongruous.
Those who protest and whine about the vanity of human knowledge and the unintelligibility of nature are eternal only insofar as new individuals are born every generation who repeat the same line. They make no significant discoveries of anything, and they leave nothing in their wake worth reading for its own sake.
Those who enjoy knowing things for their own sake should tolerate the skeptic, or better yet, simply ignore him. The best response to someone who says something is impossible is not to worry about what he says, but to do it.
Beliefs And Their Perversion
Beliefs are things we hold as true that are not reducible to the self-evident. In a looser sense, they are things that we hold without proof. We cannot get through the day without a thousand of them. We need beliefs because of the necessary infirmity of our intellect- no man is wise enough to be able to give an exhaustive account of every action he does, or every thought he thinks. Even if he were "intelligent" enough to do so, he was not always so intelligent- he was, like all men, once a baby and a child that would have freely shoved all manner of deadly, disgusting, or absurd things in his mouth if his mother wasn't there to stop him. There is also a positive reason- our need for companionship is as deeply rooted in our nature as the need for food (there are severe somatic effects to the loss of human interaction), and our need for companionship is necissarily related to some culture and political structure (who changed the diapers of the "man in the state of nature", taught him to speak, and fed him for over a decade?) But every political structure and culture is founded upon belief and opinion. We require certain beliefs in order to be a part of it- or rather, we acquire certain beliefs because
we are a part of it.
There are layers to this belief, however. Beliefs are universal enough to be bent to either virtuous deeds or vicious ones (they are universal simply by being widely accepted). A strong belief in personal freedom, or being connected to the natural world- in themselves certainly a good things- can be elevated to starry heights, or bent by sophistry to the depraved depths of nihilism and human sacrifice. This bending of beliefs one way or another has to be done by something that has the ability to influence all or most of the people in a given group, and the most common and powerful ways of influencing the opinions of a given group are through art, religion, and politics. To the extent that any one of these is depraved, the beliefs of a culture will be depraved; and to the extent that any one of these is good, the beliefs of a culture will be good. The balance of the three, however, slouches toward depravity- a perversion of any one of them tends to drag down any goodness in the other two, as opposed to being overcome by them.
I leave off the most commonly held instrument of influencing opinion, sc. education, since I think that for the most part education is the arm of either religion or politics- since the majority of schools are either public or religious- and so education does seem to be reducible to either public (i.e. political) or religious beliefs. I do not think that the same can be said of art, even though there are no doubt works of religious and public art, art itself does not seem to be as neatly divided as education is along the lines of "public" and "religious". It also goes without saying that education is a means,
not an end. Public schools have curricula that are set in some way by an elected body of people holding government positions and having political beliefs, and religious schools set their curricula by relating it to religious beliefs. Art is more autonomous than this, although not entirely so.
Beliefs are perverted through the mob and the sophist. Relatively speaking, every mob will give birth to some sophist, and every sophist desires to give birth to some mob. The two are mutually dependent. The mob always looks to some one person to follow (having by definition no order within themselves), and the sophist views his "knowledge" as a transitive action. He claims to have the truth, but he never contemplates it, nor is he content merely to know for the sake of knowing- he would be loathe to lack the sort of political influence he has over a crowd. The sophist is inseparable from the mob he uses as a crutch for his sham wisdom, and his immoral art. Look how the sophist will squeal and moan at any attempt to diminish his mob- everyone who ignores him is "censoring" him, everyone who argues against him is too brainwashed to accept the lofty status of being a member of his enlightened and free thinking mob. The sophist never wants to know something because it is simply worth knowing, nor does he make a work of art because it is simply beautiful or pleasing. The sophist's whole existence and connection to "truth" is tied up with the mob that is simply a reflection of is own narcissistic life.
The last point above is the necessary and sufficient condition of any man to become a sophist of some description. No one has to be intelligent to be manipulative of belief, they only need to be self-absorbed; and every self-absorbed person will be manipulative, without needing or even wanting intelligence.
A great skill with words, or an ability to make pleasant movie images is not necessary- or at least the lack of these things can be supplemented by firm belief in one's own infallibility and absolute goodness (the flip side of which will always be a belief in one's own suffering and persecution at the hands of some malevolent group of people).
Diagnosing a sophist is as easy as noticing how self absorbed someone is. They will profess their own righteousness while simultaneously vilifying all those that have it in for them. When they are explaining their philosophy, notice how often the word "I" pops up. And notice how they will strangely moan of persecution and censorship even while they are as rich as sultans, as widely read as the Bible, and as widely looked to as the Pope. It is understandable that they should view all this power as inadequate- after all, who wants to be king over those that must be slaves to accept you as king? Who can feel good for only being the leader of those who are too irrational to lead themselves? The need for a mob is the need for a hateful thing.
I am aware that the Sophists have many brave words and fair conceits, but I am afraid that being wanderers and having no habitation in one city or another and having never had habitations of their own, they... may not know what they do and say in time of war, when they are fighting and holding parley with their enemies.
Spoken by Socrates
It is a very old observation that "experts" take their name from being "out of towners". A second observation is that many of the experts are what Socrates would undoubtedly call "Sophists", i.e. teachers of trendy sham wisdom. As Socrates points out here, the stumbling block for such trendy teachers is war, when they do not know what to do, or what to say. They experience things like patriotism and love of a community from the outside- and they no doubt believe this gives them a more objective or impartial view of things.
And so the sophist has a reason to despise all war- why bother to fight for a house or home or community life if you don't have one? Without concern for any of these things, we can always believe that "war is not the answer", since we don't even have an ability to understand the problem. He doesn't understand what is threatened.
The sophist also never gets the benefit of having to deal with people in all of their diverse corruptions and faults, since he merely teaches willing and obedient students. He has no family, and so has no pressing need to understand what it means to have to punish or endure the insults of people who you deeply love. He need not confront overmuch the mad irrationality of people- people who will only treat your attempts to reason with them as invitations to use you for whatever they want. War makes no sense to those who do nothing but teach at a college level- why not just have a seminar where al the sides can get together and work things out (i.e. listens to me and tells me what I want to hear?)
The Problem with Infinite Regress (when there is a problem)
Not every infinite regress is impossible. The ones that are impossible are so for three reasons:
1.) When the positing of an infinite regress does not give a cause, or attempts to ignore causality. Assume that you ask a guy for a light and he tells you he lit his smoke off another guy's cigarette. You go to that guy and he says he lit it off another guy's cigarette. This process repeats itself some number of times. But we all know that there's a lighter of some description out there.
2.) When we lose the very account of what a thing is if we deny a first thing. If we call something "an intermediate thing" it has to exist between some first and last thing. "intermediate" means "middle" and there is no middle without extremes.
3.) Generally, when we multiply out any one thing, when we need to posit a different kind of thing.
How The Seven Deadly Sins Impair The Apprehension of the Truth.
(randomly put down, with envy being left off for the moment)
Makes compromise impossible, since compromise involves ceding something good to an opponent, while anger as such refuses to do so. It also makes impossible any sympathy with an opponent. Compromise is essential to apprehending the truth in political affairs, since reason in these affairs demands compromise; but it also hurts dialectic as such, which demands some measure of sympathy with opponents, even if merely for the purpose of converting them.
Wrath also places an unfitting emphasis on the particular, practical here and now- what should be done to this man or this particular set of men. But the apprehension of truth cannot happen until our concern is more about the truth itself, and not about what needs to happen to any particular group. It also causes us to see as "true" anything that harms an opponent- a disposition that is not obviously correct.
Perhaps the consequences of this are the best known: asserting one's will as supreme over any given object; hating to have to accept something as true that we did not make and are not responsible for; the desire to be unique, which causes us to have a distaste for anything that has been already said by someone, or worse still, is commonly accepted by everyone and is in no way "revolutionary" or "controversial", and which is liable to get us the brand of "a follower" or "a disciple" who doesn't "think for himself".
Supernaturally, we alienate ourselves from angel guardians- who despise pride for the same reason that a Normandy Veteran would hate Hitler- remember that the Angels fought a War against angelic pride, and saw a third of the angels fall from the sky over it. Man's intellect is so infirm that he needs help if he wants to get very far, just as a crippled man needs help if he wants to make a long journey.
Gluttony and Lust:
Each makes us identify what is most real with what is the most extreme sensation. We trust extreme sensation for everything. It dependably rewards us when we do well, it dependably comforts us when we feel down or stressed, it dependably passes the time for us when we feel neutral or bored. We start t order our whole lives around extreme sensations, we plan for them, we make provision for them, they are the one thing in our life that we will not negotiate with for very long.
To the extent that we understand the most real, existent, and dependable things to be what causes extreme sensation, we think of immaterial things as less real, less dependable, less worthy of interest. Eventually immaterial things pass from our everyday life, then from our private moments, then even from our dreams.
Similar problems to lust and gluttony, but the sensible thing desired is not sex, booze, a drug, porn, but a sort of desire as such
, since money is a sign of desire. We abstract from any particular material object and desire what stands for all material objects as desirable.
Greed also makes reason less desirable since reason makes it harder to extract money from people. It will sometime make it in our interest to get someone to give us money for something they should not and do not want. Similar problems attend lust and gluttony, but I put greed in a different class since it generally tries for a more widespread attempt to circumvent that reason in people that causes them to say "no".
The distaste for things because they are difficult or unsatisfying in some way. Getting the truth is difficult. We get mowed down on a thousand different pet theories we have; we have to content ourselves with a lot of negations and arguments from analogy; we look to the past and see a trainwreck of dead philosophies, sciences, opinions, doctrines, beliefs, sacred dogmas, unsatisfied desires, failed efforts, blind ideologies, good things that were forgotten and abandoned, noble endeavors that were defeated by irrational or trivial forces, vanity, vanity, vanity. Who could claim that there is anything here worth knowing or doing, and not doomed to perish? Even if we found it, what then? Isn't it better to just get by, never claim to have gotten the final answer to anything (which we will no doubt find unsatisfying for some reason, right?) ...why not just put in our time, make no bold claims, live out our life and die like everything else?
We don't want to be proud or arrogant
Eddington on The Ought and the Is
In human affairs [law] means a rule, fortified perhaps by incentives or penalties, which may be kept or broken. In science it means a law that is never broken; we suppose there is something in the constitution of things which makes its non-fulfillment an impossibility. Thus in the physical world what a body does and what it ought to do are equivalent; but we are well aware of another world where they are not equivalent.
This argument has many variations, and as been stated many different ways. The Locus classicus of the argument is Plato's Phaedo:
So an attunement (here, the disposition of the body) should not control its elements, but should follow their lead?
Surely we can see that the soul works in just the opposite way. It directs all the elements of which it is said to consist... conversing with desires and passions and fears as though it were quite distinct from them (93-94e).
The temperament of the modern scholar tends to pick out the points of difference between Eddington and Plato- and such a critique will not be empty. But the two points do share what is most formal to them: sc. that no analysis of what are called "elements" is sufficient to explain what is given about human life. Our actions do not proceed with the sort of necessity that we find among the elements studied in a scientific way. Even if, quite contrary to fact, all human actions proceeded with the same regularity with which heavy objects fall down or fire goes up, the motion of the elements would not be the same as human action. A society in which all men followed the law, and made no mistakes, would not be a society where the men could not
do other. Some other principle must be given, a principle which differs in kind from the material world and from material necessity.
I am not so much concerned with this argument here, which is clear enough, but with troubleshooting a false inference that is often drawn from the argument. It is easy to suppose that the argument sets up two fundamentally separate worlds, that of science on the one hand, and that of knowledge, or the human soul on the other. The world of science follows "blind" forces (what would a "sighted force" be? This surely must mean "non-intelligent" forces) while the world of human action can be directed by intelligence.
The difficulty with this strict separation is that the world of the scientist exists as a postulate, and a postulate, whether true or not, can neither give a reason for the postulation, nor does it need to give a reason. The scientist seeks the scientific laws, and he "supposes that there is something in the constitution of things that makes the non-fulfillment (of the laws) an impossibility". What makes this supposition possible? The scientist need not ask. But failure to answer the question does not make the answer any less real. Any good scientist will admit that the answer to this question is beyond the scope of his science- and he would be right.
I have dealt with this problem in earlier blogs, but the syllogism bears repeating:
All that has order is directed by mind.
All that follows a natural law has order.
The minor is obvious: "thus in the physical world what a body does and what it ought to do are equivalent", and "attunement" follows the "disposition of the elements". The major was the subject of two of my favorite posts "the monkey and the typewriter
" and "determinism and teleology" (the former written on 8/24/04, and the latter written a little later).
How the "Why" and the "What" are Related
My twelve year old was working with multiples, as a way of determining "least common multiple". Multiples are pretty straightforward. The multiples of 4, for example, are 4, 8, 12,16, 20, 24, 28... (that is 4 x 1
, 4 x 2
, 4 x 3
, 4 x 4
, 4 x 5
...). The multiples of 7 are 7, 14, 21, 28, 35... (that is, 7 x 1
, 7 x 2
, 7 x 3
, 7 x 4
In the course of drilling the twelve year old on all of this, he had a moment of wonder. He noticed that the multiples of even numbers were even, and that the multiples of odd numbers were odd, then even; odd, then even; odd, then even. Two different truths! Were they always true?
With the boundless energy of a non- adult, the kid set to work testing his theory. He started off with the evens times evens. He checked 2 x 4... Even! then 4 x 2... Even! then 4 x 8... Even! The kid would have been perfectly content to spend the rest of class doing nothing else. Notice what he was doing, though. He had a theory. He formed a hypothesis that it applied to two certain numbers. He performed a test. The test happened to always confirm his theory. This was, in other words, a flawless example of the hypothetical/ experimental model of the empirical sciences.
Notice that in this experiment, the universal, i.e. "Even numbers" is always a partial sample of the even numbers. One group of evens is tested, another group remains as, at best, "predicted". Even if, per impossibile,
he could check every instance of an even times an even and see that it was even, he could only know that
it was the case, not why
it is the case.
At this point, I step in:
"What makes an even number an even number?"
: "You can divide it in two."
"And those two parts that you get are equal?"
"So lets say this is an even number:
it has two equal parts, right?" (post publishing note: I have tried like crazy to get the B, the D, and the F to be over the second half of the number, where they should be. No contrivance has worked.)
and if we multiply them, we will get some number of lines all the same length and equal?
(make lines for other numbers: G,H; I,J...etc)
"and equals added to equals are what?" (Take the lines and add them to the top line)
ME: "so if I take A and add C, E, G, I; and take B and add D, F, H, J, what will they be?"
"So we will always have a number with two equal halves, no matter how many times we multiply the number out?
"So an even number, regardless of whether we multiply it an even
number of times or an odd
number of times, or, well, an indefinite amount
of times, will always be even?"
(Note: I have no doubt that my kid only understood this demonstration vaguely. I am certain that he couldn't replicate it perfectly by himself [neither could a lot of grown- ups.] But I have no doubt that the kid realized that something different and important
was happening, if for no other reason than his teacher was putting on a good show of taking the dialogue in deadly earnest.)
Remember what was said earlier about the kid's hypothetical/experimental process. He could understand that
an even times an even was even, but not why
it was so. In order to understand why
an even times an even is even, you have to understand what
an even number is, and what
multiplication is (i.e. adding a number a certain number of times). There simply is no understanding of "why" apart from definition, or the "what". Our desire to understand why things are as they are can never be satisfied by hypothesis and experiment alone. The hypothesis/experiment, by itself,
can only tell us that things are so- but we remain alienated from the thing in itself. Our understanding is wholly "extrinsic" as opposed to "intrinsic". Now I have no doubt that a hypothesis is the best we can do for understanding many things, and to the extent that we approach things in their concrete nature, as opposed to the abstract truths that we can know about their nature, the role of hypothesis becomes more and more necessary. But we can never let the hypothesis/experiment understanding of things be viewed as the only kind of knowledge that we have access to. To do so would be to totally abandon the natural desire that all men have to understand "why".
Reduction is an extremely interesting concept. I know of no one who has defined all its precise meanings. Reduction has the curious property of being both present and absent from something.
A few examples:
A point is not a quantity, but it is reduced to the genus of quantity.
"Material reductionism" means to assert that all things are nothing other than modes of matter.
One is not in the genus quantity, but is reduced to the genus.
Sensible substance is reduced to non-sensible substance, which is reduced to intelligence, which is reduced to the divine mind.
To reduce in size is to get smaller.
To reduce to the absurd means to show that there is an implicit contradiction in a statement.
The Imperfect Certainty of the Experimental Sciences
I love the experimental sciences, and I am teaching them now. All science textbooks, however, contain some lament over the imperfect certainly of these sciences, and yet they never attempt to give a reason for this state. The natural effect of all this is that the student blames the wretched nature of man for this "calamity", thinking that we never have "complete" or "absolute" certainty in the experimental sciences because we are unable to have any such certainty about anything. This is simply not true. Experimental science (most often called simply "science") has imperfect certainty because of the sort of thing that it is.
1.) All the experimental sciences are based on the actual measurement of things, and all measurements are imperfect.
2.) All predicted things are in some way unknown, but to predict belongs essentially to the experimental sciences, so they must deal essentially with predicted things.
3.) Repeated experiments increase the certainty of science. Because there is no limit on the number of times an experiment can be repeated, there is no limit on the degree of certainty that experimental science can have. But certainty that can always increase is in itself imperfect., and also relatively imperfect with respect to all future possible experiments (which, since they are future things, become predicted things- see #2).
4.) To the extent that the experimental sciences are attempting to have some practical power over their object, they can afford to be indifferent to whether or not their hypotheses are completely true. Geocentrism is perfectly acceptable if all we want to do is predict eclipses, or steer a ship. There is no problem assuming the world is flat if it makes it easier to shoot a cannon.
Controversy for the Days of Last Decline, II
APA Drops Stigma On Bulimia
In a hotly contested and heavily argued vote, The American Psychiatric Association agreed yesterday to remove bulimia from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and agreed no longer to single out the behavior as a "disorder."
"The conspiracy of silence is coming to an end" said Pamela Moreson of the Independent Womens Health Alliance, "Today the APA has sent a message of hope to the millions of women who live in silence and fear."
Yesterday's decision is widely viewed as being the most significant yet in a decades long battle to show compassion and understanding to bulimic Americans, who have suffered for years under the stigma of being considered outsiders in public life. Dr. Irvin Weinstein, who was among the first physicians to question the psychiatric status of bulimia when he was a young intern at Dow Chemical, remembers the furor that his original findings caused only ten years ago: "All the therapists were fixated on a model that understood bulimia as a 'binge-and-purge' behavior. Anyone who actually dealt with bulimics could understand that this had more to do with a societal aversion than with real science. The therapist would simply look at the client and say 'yuck', and the woman would be left to deal with a stigma by herself."
The move is widely viewed to be an endorsement of Savinol, the antidigestent drug which has encountered heavy resistance in its bid to be approved by the FDA. Hearings were delayed last week when a small number of doctors questioned the medical findings of the FDA, findings which assert that the drug can be safely taken by women over the age of twelve, say Women's health advocates. While the delay has caused some concern over whether the drug will be approved, the final decision rests on the decision of the Fifth District Court, which last week ruled that the drug can be safely given as an over the counter health supplement. But even with the status of the drug remaining uncertain, Bulimia Advocates have been quick to seize upon the APA's declassification of bulimia as a significant moment in women's health. "We will continue to advocate for women's health options, clearly," said Raisa Cheril, of the women's health group Silent No More "but we feel that today's decision by the APA is a great step forward toward recognizing bulimics as full persons in the eyes of the Scientific Community."
Many advocates point to yesterday's decision as the most significant moment yet in the understanding of bulimic persons, who have long been ostracize by Conservative Christians as living the sort of life that characterized ancient paganism. "The third century Christians were quick to distance themselves from any taint of the pagan world" said Harvey Callish of Harvard Divinity School, "for a third century Christian, the Vomitoria
and the Purgatorii
(ancient structures for purging food after Roman feasts) were inseparable from the worship of Juno and Pan. This quickly lead to a condemnation of bulimic persons, a condemnation that carried on in various ways even until the 1970's. Contemporary scholars have tried to reinterpret the idea of bulimia on an older tradition in Christian thought, one that places an emphasis on the denial of appetite to achieve the spiritual self worth of a person."
Other religious scholars were quick to show support for the action of the APA. Ishani Apuisha, of the Center for eastern studies in Santa Cruz, Ca, points out "the idea of denial is often viewed in the sort of absolute terms that do not allow for a fullness of ones desires. People are often quick to condemn bulimics for having both fullness and self denial, when in fact what they have is a more complete understanding of denial and satisfaction."
The Finding of the APA came as a great relief to Persia Ward, a 15 year old Arkansas Woman who was being held in a Little Rock psychiatric Facility under twenty-four hour surveillance. "Everyday Persia has been forced to live like a sick animal" said Audrey Alcott, a lawyer who has fought for Ward's release, in a press conference that followed Ward's immediate release, "but now we know that millions of women just like her will no longer have to live in a world that treats them like sick people who have to be brainwashed into accepting some definition 'healthy and normal.' that takes away a woman's right to make her own health decisions." Ward spent three months in the facility under court order, after her stepfather voiced concerns over his daughter's health in a custody battle.
"My client finally can step out into the world as what she is, without fear of stigmas" continued Alcott, "She finally knows what it is like to be free at last, free at last."
On the Reason for Creating Material Things
Material things mark the place in the universe where things begin not to exist. Material things are marked by having what is not actual as an intrinsic principle. Angels have no such principle of their being, properly speaking. There simply is no part of them that can become something else.
There is a great mystery in why God created anything at all, but even given that he did create all things, why did he create material things? What good do we shadows serve to the universe? I do not use the word "shadows" lightly. We, like shadows, have a form- but it is the form of something that when viewed in a certain real way, is a privation (see Aristotle on whether the principles of being are two or three, i.e. matter viewed as the receiver as the form is potency, matter viewed in another way is privation.)
Thomism 101 should* tell of how God created a multiplicity of things so as to have the fullest possible expression of his perfection. God could not but create things that have finite essence (see I q. 7 A. 2) and so to have the fullest possible expression of his perfection, God had to create a full plurality of essences. But finite essences arrange themselves in at least five grades.
"Essence" here means "the thing considered inasmuch as it corresponds to a definition". Now this happens in two different ways. We can consider the definition itself, or the individual thing inasmuch as it corresponds to the definition. Both of these ways manifest themselves if we say "God willed to create individual things of a certain sort
". The "certain sort" indicates the definition of the thing that exists, the "individual thing" indicates the thing in which the definition is present. Simply put, everything that God created was an individual thing with a certain finite essence or nature. But there are five different ways of being an individual with a nature.
The first and lowest way that a nature can have individuality is to have it only in the smallest material part. Granite is an example. The only individuality that granite has is in the smallest part of granite that cannot be divided any further and still yield that kind of rock. Physically speaking (as opposed to considering the mere quantity) there is a limit to the number of times one can divide a sort of rock and still have that same sort of thing (this is obviously true on atomic theory, but St. Thomas knew it too, for different reasons.) This is the lowest possible way to have individuality, because it is an individuality that is nothing other than mere indivisibility, taken in the brutest sense of being unable to break something up into any sort of smaller parts.
The second way that a nature can have individuality is through the perfection of being alive. A plant has a greater individuality to it than merely its smallest part; rather, through its being alive, makes many diverse parts be a part of itself. The plant can act for itself inasmuch as it eats, and grows. It can even go further than this and have an activity that regards itself not as an individual, but as a bearer of a species. It does this through reproduction, through which the plant, inasmuch as it is a sort of thing, performs an action which is ordered to the perpetual existence of the plant inasmuch as it is a sort of thing (a species).
The third way that a nature can have individuality is through the sort of animals that have sensation. This happens in two different ways, that correspond the mere senses on the one hand, and memory on the other. Through the "mere" senses** an animal can have an individuality that is marked by a containment of the whole universe inasmuch as it can be apprehended through that sense. Through memory, an animal can have even a fuller individuality, for he is able to be aware of the continual existence of objects (an animal doesn't think its prey disappears when it runs behind a tree) and through memory he has some grasp of motion, because motion requires memory to be seen as a motion, since the mobile itself needs to be remembered as being here and then
being there. This sort of existence is said to augment individuality because it augments the number and quality of the things that the being has by and for itself ,
because all the animal's memories and sensations are uniquely his own. It already has all that the plant has, and more- and even what it has in common with the plant it has in a better way. The animal cannot move itself to feed, for example, and it cannot be aware in any way of its own progeny.
The fourth way that a nature can have individuality is through having knowledge that is derived from sensation. While the animal is aware, the knower is aware of his awareness, and can reflect upon it. Even if it is granted that a mere animal has an awareness of his awareness through his memory, he does not have an intellectual awareness of it. This intellectual awareness adds to the awareness of motion, for example, not only an idea of motion as such, but also an idea of motion as having a before and after, sc. Time. As a knower, the one who derives knowledge from sensation is also able to have some awareness of things that are beyond sensation by denying or negating all that is properly
sensible in the things that he knows.
The fifth way that a species or nature can have individuality is through the very individual being the same as his finite species. Whereas all material things differ from their species through the individuality of matter, an angel, who is a being without matter, is an individual who is the same as his species. At this point, there is a perfect identification of an individual an its finite species, and no higher created being is possible.
*I say that Thomism 101 should include this. In point of fact, what we all expect it to include is a slapdash overview of the five ways, an uninformed reading of the treatise on law, and a chortle about the immaculate conception, which is no doubt intended to make us feel like we are smarter than St. Thomas. Absurd.
** I say the "mere" senses because as a point of teaching. I would call them the five senses, or the external senses, but anyone who has studied pit vipers might suspect that there are more to the external senses than the ones we have.
Existential Awareness of a Theological Paradox
Some terrible event happens. It is a consequence of our folly, wickedness, negligence, apathy. The results are so shocking that they jar us to remember good things and to do them. We know in our hearts that only this event, or one like it, could have saved us. Is this justice or mercy?
The Explanation of the Electoral College That I Gave to My 12 and 9 Year Old Students.
( the electoral college came up when we were discussing the election of John Quincy Adams. The general question was "why do we have this electoral college- why not just let the people decide?" The explanation had pictures the first time)
The electoral college makes small states more powerful
Assume that there were two states:
State A has a population of 1,000.
State B has a population of 10,000.
By a strict popular vote, state B is ten times more powerful than A, in other words, state A has 10% of state B's electing power.
Now assume that there were a system under which the state would elect a person not by a popular vote, but in the following manner: Every state starts with two votes, and gains another one for every 1,000 people that live in the state. Under these conditions:
State A has 3 votes.
State B has 12 votes.
Now state A has 25% of State B's electing power. The little state has become more than twice as strong.
(at this point, you can show how it would be better to win five states the size of state A [15 votes], than to win one state B [12 votes]- even though the one who won five state A's could have at best 5000 popular votes, and winner of one State B could have 10,000 popular votes- hence the winner might lose the poular vote... something that even a twelve year old can remember happening in 2000)
It is Good To Have Small States Be Strong
Why do we want the little states to be more strong? Because if big states are the super strong, than anyone who runs for office will give the people of the big state all the things they want, and he will ignore the small states. What will happen to the small states then?
(first answer, "they won't vote for the guy running for office")
No, what will happen is that everyone in the small state will move to the big state, because if you live in the big state you can get anything you want.
(Moment of realization: "Oh, yeah..." kids understand doing something to get what you want.)
So what will happen to the small states then, states like Nebraska, or Wyoming, or Montana... (list off a bunch... a little dialectic about what happens in the small states)
" Well then everyone will leave the farms, and the cattle, and the horses, and no one will build roads in the small states... (more dialectic) ... and the big cities will become super packed, and the government will have to spend more and more money on them to deal with all the people that are coming in. And the big cities will start falling apart, and there won't be any people in the small states and everything will be bad"
"and isn't that just what happened in Rome after the Punic Wars?" (we had studied them two weeks prior, along with the story of Tiberius and Gaius Graccus, who are easy for young boys to remember because Tiberius dies by getting beat to death with chairs on the floor of the senate)
"And what happened to Rome because it didn't deal with the problems that happened after the Punic Wars?"
"The Republic died."
"and what kind of nation is America?"
Self knowledge and Negation.
Philosophy proves the spiritual nature of the human soul by an analysis of knowledge, but the argument goes from effect to cause, not vice versa. We suffer somewhat from our inability to know ourselves except by a negation. The angels do not understand themselves as "immaterial", nor even as "spirits" as we understand the term: sc. "a being without a body."
The arts have been of little help in understanding spirits- most often they are represented as dim outlines of a human body- sometimes they are given wings. The childish nature of this is clear enough- it is something like if a dog were to paint a human as a dog that could walk everywhere on its hind legs. The dim nature of spirits usually leads u to imagine that they are less substantial than us- like floating clouds. The truth is directly opposite. Material things are the clouds and shadows. If we looked at bodies rightly, we might wonder if they even exist at all. After all, when
do bodies exist? At what time? They are not in the past, and are not in the future; and the present, that indivisible limit between past and future, isn't a time "any more than a point is line".
We are in some paradoxical way higher than ourselves- existing in some world already we have never imagined. We are a thing we cannot understand except by negation, nor understand the community we keep in a world higher than this one. We borrow things from a lower world, and can do no other, all in the attempt to get to even the lowest part of the highest order- where we might be able to see what we have been all along. Perhaps we desire heaven partially, but profoundly, to understand ourselves.