Vomit the Lukewarm
I can't find exactly the right word to describe a good children's story: "mature subtext" comes close, or at least it would if we didn't live at a time that had to make every word for complete human age a synonym for goatish lechery ("adult situations" "adult" "mature audiences" "adult situations" "18 years and up"...etc.) The stories my dad loved reading to me were stories that he enjoyed immensely, but for far deeper reasons than I did. He still treats "Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby*" as a profound piece of psychological insight- and so it is.

Walt Disney, of course, changed everything, in ways that are both obvious and subtle. The bloodiness of the stories has been lost, and given that Disney makes movies, it had to be (it is one thing to read a story of a girl whose feet are cut off and keep dancing, or of another girl who freezes to death while looking at the flames of matches, but it is quite another to see those images on a movie screen. Again, to read about Hiawatha cutting up his grandmother and throwing her into the heavens is one thing, to see it on a screen would be like watching The Evil Dead...My favorite childhood story was about Perseus and Medusa, which contains 1) a scene of three green witches who all share the same eye, 2) a decapitation, 3.) A Woman who as snakes coming out of her head. To see any of this on a screen would have sent me into cardiac arrest.) Also, In order to make a movie of a decent length, Disney had to turn what was once a story into a musical, a genre that is, whatever its merits (few), more about songs than stories. Musical is some absurd hybrid. Stories should be songless and opera plots should be inane. Sorry, there's a bit of venom here... but if musicals are so worth doing, how come Mozart never wrote one?

Disney's moral vision is also famously Manichean- bad characters are all bad, good characters are flawlessly good. The usual baffoonish characters, mysteriously, are all benevolent (what would Shakespeare think? Touchstone! The vengeful and even spiteful Clown of 12th night! The Doorman in Macbeth! Christopher Sly! Even Iago is a comic!) In Disney's Moral World (you must be over this tall to...) One generally knows the moral status of a character before the character even opens his mouth, and it is a moral status so thoroughly good or bad that no one can so much as identify with it, still less feel some kind of moral realism. The heroes are impeccable, the villains irredeemable. Walt Disney/ John Calvin.

The New Opportunity Given By The Theology Of The Body

Theology is the study of God, first as he is in himself, and then as an end for all things that relate to him. Because theology is a body of knowledge, it will divide itself according to the kinds of knowledge that we can have about God. One such knowledge begins with things that are given naturally, another with things that are given supernaturally*. The unity that the sciences have in object, that is, the certain conclusions that they share, can often be a stumbling block to people, causing them to think that there is only one kind of theology** but there is no such unity in the bodies of knowledge as such. In technical language, they share the some common objects (Their ultimate conclusions will all mention God in some way), but they have different subject matter (it is not the same thing to begin with something given by faith, and something given naturally)***

One of the most contentious topics of both theologies treat is sexual morality, which is the primary focus of the now very popular "Theology of the Body". Both natural and revealed theology arrive at the same conclusions in sexual manners, which can cause both proponents and opponents of the conclusions to think there is no difference between natural and revealed theology. One is merely a disguised version of the other, they say, and they use this common premise variously to condemn or ignore the radical difference between the two sciences. Opponents of sexual morality view any claim to natural knowledge of chastity as a disguised religious dogma, and proponents usually are not careful to distinguish when they rely on revelation (which must be given), and when they rely on natural knowledge (which is given). The mistakes of the opponents, however, are categorical mistakes****; whereas the confusions of the proponents, I suspect, may simply be rhetorical- and they are not hostile as such to a purely natural or purely revealed "theology of the body". I suspect that the proponents simply grab whatever is at hand and can be used in a convincing manner, and in a country that is 80 percent Christian, the authority of revealed theology is given far more weight than it would get anywhere else, or at any other time.

It is with the proponents that we find a great opportunity. There have been many times in the past where natural theology has helped to give credibility to revealed theology, even though revealed theology rests on radically different givens. Now is yet another time when revealed theology can "return the favor" and use the influence that it has to help out a purely natural theology of the body, which will require a return to what perennial philosophy calls "physics" which serves as the basis for "metaphysics" or "natural theology". In some sense, the revealed "theology of the body" must do this, or they run the risk of falling into the all-too-historically-common opinion of "the two truths" (one for things revealed, another for things known naturally). The only reason that this hasn't happened already is that the figurehead opponents of sexual deviance have been such intellectual lightweights (Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Mead, and Margaret Sanger, while influential, draw no power from the rigor of their "research". Their influence is now just a mushy affirmation of their "revolutionary" or "controversial" personnas- no one would think to defend their claims any more than he would think to defend the claims of phrenology or Soviet historians.) If our contemporary theologians had to take on a serious and solid advocate of sexual deviance, how confident are we that they wouldn't either lose the argument resoundingly, or be forced into hopelessly quoting scripture at him? I am afraid that we might be getting by on borrowed time, and taking too much advantage of the power of sexual deviance to darken the intellect of anyone who practices it. Sooner or later there will come the guy who still has enough cunning left to give serious natural objections to the "theology of the body". What will we tell him? We must get our principles in order now, for we will not have the advantage when he comes and starts speaking. Will we even be able to defend our own ideas to ourselves?

*There will be materially some overlap in the things given here, since God can also reveal things that can be known to us naturally: e.g. "Adultery is wrong", or "it is good to honor your Father and Mother". Nevertheless, we do not give the same account to a thing that is known in one way by nature and in another way by revelation, just as algebra and and geometry might both talk about a parabola, but for the first it is an expression of the graphing "Y equals X squared" and for the other it is "the shape formed by passing a plane through cone...etc."
**Another problem here is that Christianity is the only religion that has showed a prolonged success at doing natural theology.
*** the exact way I am phrasing this scares me to death, and there seems something dreadfully wrong about it, although it is my best thought at the moment. I am confident of the essence of the point, that there is a difference in the science taken from naturally known things and faith, but I won't defend the specific distinction between object (conclusion) and subject matter (which seems to include the way of apprehending) to the death.
**** "categorical mistakes" is a technical term, and I am leery of all technical terms. The idea here is that the opponents mistake one category of things for another, confounding the one with the other. They make this mistake deliberately and it is essential to their position, whereas the opponents make it by omission, and there is nothing in their omission that is hostile to making a good distinction.
The End of The World As A Dream

Last night I had several dreams about the end of the world. They were all quite vivid, and ended (or changed scenes, in that way dreams do) with the advent of Christ from the sky, or just before it. What do these dreams mean?

(pick one or more)

1.) They meant nothing beyond the objective fact that was dreamt of; sc. the end of the world. This is an article of faith that every believer assents to, both believing that it will happen, and believing in what manner it will happen: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead"; "this Jesus, who is taken up into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven." As to when it will happen, there does seem to be some ambiguity as to whether we can know this, or to what extent. On the one hand, "it is not for you to know the times and the moments, which the father has put in his power" but on the other hand "can you not read the signs of the times?" Both of these passages can be read variously to support, or apparently contradict each other. But even when all of this is worked out (and there is a good deal to work out) there was no significance to the dream beyond a fanciful imagining of the end of the world.

2.) No, there is more to it than this, there is some inspiration in this dream, or some revelation that tells that the end is near. That is why I dreamt of myself seeing the end of the world. Who doesn't get this feeling in some way after he dreams something of great significance? Scripture seems to give us some support in the belief that our dreams can have a prophetic significance: Both Joseph and Daniel are presented as people who take it as axiomatic that there is, or at least can be significance to dreams, and I am unaware of a single time in scripture where dreams are looked upon as having no special meaning beyond the mere presentation of certain pictures or stories.St. Thomas seems to agree that the mind during sleep is more open to prophesy tan the waking mind. There is also the witness of Acts 2:17 and Joel 2:28- Thus says the Lord, in the last days...your old men will dream dreams". So there is some intuition to this dream that the end is near, and it is coming soon. The guys at TBN are right.

3.) No, neither of these opinions is entirely right or entirely wrong. In one sense, they are completely compatible*. Whoever gives witness to the coming end of the world by faith simply is, by that very fact, a prophet. Even when we parrot the creed thoughtlessly, are we not proclaiming it as certain that we know the future? That we may or may not know exactly when in the future the end of the world will come does not change the fact that we lay claim to some real knowledge of future events. We don't claim to believe this as a mere hypothesis or a prediction (like a man forecasting the weather, or predicting eclipses) but rather as a necessary occurrence that we have no reason to believe for any purely natural reason. The objective fact of the end of the world (option one) is a revelation (option two). It is not, however, my revelation, if by mine I mean that it was given in a special way only to me. But wait, it was given to me. It was my dream, for crying out loud. The resolution here seems to be that for the first time, I have appreciated the prophetic office of every believer, because every believer claims to know the future. I do not call the revelation "mine" in the sense that I have something that you don't have, but rather because I have something in virtue of my faith, which can also be yours. But it is no less mine because you or infinite others may have it also. The good of prophesy is not diminished by sharing, and in fact if anything it is diminished by not sharing.

I'm going with option three.


*What does not remain is that I received some special revelation as to the imminence of the end. I think that the idea that the end of the world was immanent was a device to make me take the end of the world seriously. We should not relate to the end of the world as something far of, even if it is. This detracts from our seeing it as approaching, and inevitable.

A Thanksgiving Post

We must posit the existence of incorporeal creatures; because what God chiefly intended in making things was the good that consists in the assimilation to God. But the perfect assimilation of an effect to a cause happens when the effect imitates the cause in the same way that the cause produced the effect, just as heat makes heat. And God made all things by intellect and will.

...The ancients, ignoring the power of what can be known, and not distinguishing between sense and intellect, thought nothing existed in the world except what could be apprehended by sense and imagination...

S. Theo. Q 50 a.1.

What assimilation is:
"To assimilate" someone means to draw them into a shared life. We assimilate immigrants into American culture, for example, when we make them Americans more or less like everyone else. St. Thomas' proof here begins with the proposition that God intended chiefly that his creation should be assimilated to his life. What does this mean?

Why assimilation was intended in creation
For God to create meant that he wanted some assimilation to himself. Every act of making means that the thing you make has its existence from you, and it cannot exist or be understood apart from you. To exist as an artifact is to exist because of the mind of an artisan. There would be no "Starry Night" without Van Gogh, and the very painting owes its existence to him (so much so that we can refer to the painting as "a Van Gogh"). Every artifact is assimilated to its artisan from the moment of its existence, for its very existence is tied to its sharing in the life of the artisan.

Why assimilation was intended chiefly
Though every making involves some making of a thing that shares in the life of the maker, this is not always the chief thing that the artist intends to do. Those who found states or write books, if they do it well, are not primarily interested in making something that is assimilated to their own life (though this surely happens) but rather in making something that confers on others a good that is higher than themselves. But with God there is no such higher good. All other goods that God could give are subordinate and dependent on the good of assimilation to himself- i.e. that good that comes from a sharing in his own life.

What perfect assimilation is
Assimilation means to cause something to have a shared or common existence. But not everything is equally capable of sharing in a common existence. Van Gogh's paintings knew nothing about Van Gogh, or about anything else. They could not praise him or even like him. There is an impenetrable wall between our minds and our artifacts at least in this respect- our minds are immaterial and all that necessarily relates to them are not. Our mind as such exists in an entirely different world from the things it creates: inasmuch as it is immaterial, it is measured by eternity; but our artifacts are corporeal, and are measured by time. To perfectly assimilate would mean, for anything making with a mind, to overcome the gulf between the eternal and the temporal, to make another immaterial thing.

Why perfect assimilation was intended by God
The "why" in this question is a why of choice, and not of necessity. There is the further difference that the "why" of our own choices is not precisely the same as the why of the divine choice. In our own choices, the why relates to some good that is separate from ourselves in its existence, for by our choice we are moved by some object, but God is never moved by some good that is extraneous to himself, though he move by choice. When speaking of the divine choices, we can point out why they were fitting, though.

One reason that it was fitting to create a being capable of assimilation by mind was that if this did not happen, then creation would manifest in one sense no greater power than we have ourselves. We can create things that cannot overcome the gulf between time and eternity, and it was only fitting that we expect a higher artisan to do more than this. If God did not make eternal things, it would be something like Michelangelo contenting himself with drawing stick figures. We expect greater artists to make greater works.

Another reason it was fitting is that it allowed for the completion of the universe. I have spoken of this before in another post and also here.

All philosophers sooner or later will confront the charge that they are concerned with things unworthy of thought. Laments over the pointless subtleties of the Medievals are as near as any book written between Descartes and Kant. Both of these men, mutatis mutandis, were later accused of pointless subtleties themselves (Descartes for his vortices, and Kant for... well, everything.)

The chief reason for all this is that few are capable of understanding philosophy, but almost everyone has a vague desire to understand it. Everyone wants to stand on principles that he knows to be true, but to find them is so fraught with difficulties that few will try, fewer will succeed, and none will succeed without error. A small handful will have so few errors that the errors will hang on their philosophy like the mole on Marilyn's face, But in the end Philosophy will always have something higher than the whole teaching of any philosopher.

The second reason that philosophy gets condemned as pedantic is that, well, it usually is. This usually gets done after some one philosopher has disseminated his teaching down through a few generations of students*. The terms of the philosophy get ossified into a lifeless jargon, jargon that does nothing but joust with other equally ossified chunks of jargon. The philosophy isn't anything that wells up out of a persons experience with the world, or out of the things that everyone knows about the world. Philosophers stop drawing knowledge out of themselves, and they see "knowledge" as nothing but a string of ink marks in a book. Discourse becomes about airy nothings like "-ism's" or "-istics" or
"-ogicals". We forget about understanding the world and give book reports. Philosophy becomes the fruitless search to find full satisfaction in debating about what an author was trying to say. Such an approach is doomed to go down in flames of mockery; for just as a book, whenever it is questioned, will merely repeat the same thing over and over again, so too the one whose knowledge is nothing but the parroting of a book (as opposed to being something that comes out of his common experience) will merely repeat the same thing over and over again when he is questioned. He could be dispensed in short order by a dime-store sophist, or a precocious child.

All this being said, philosophy is still worth doing. I myself hope to get good at it someday. In the meantime I can at least still read St. Thomas.

*there is no impediment to philosophies being simply stillborn as pedantic. Good teachers can be undone by their students, and bad teachers give their students no power to make their thought right again.

The Mother of the Cosmos

"Matter" and "mother" come from the same root. They share the common idea of something out of which something comes.

The certain understanding that we have of matter today is obviously more perfect than has existed at any other time. The periodic table of the elements seems by my inspections to be beyond any serious dispute, and the common axioms of chemistry are not only axiomatic once they are understood, but have also been tested, retested and confirmed for over two centuries.

If there is any tension in chemistry at all, it is the one that tends to rear its head at the moments when it is unclear whether the chemists are talking about things, or about their measurements of things. One case that comes to mind is all important to chemistry: heat. A chemist defines heat as "energy transferred as the consequence of temperature differences". I have no particular problems with this as a definition, but one must keep in mind that it is an account of how heat is measured more than a strict account of what heat is. If all things in the universe were the same temperature, then there would certainly be heat, but there would be no measurement of heat. Heat is measured by a length (sc. the distance between certain markings on a thermometer) and if all things were the same heat, then there would be no length between points to measure. Perhaps some other measurement could be stumbled upon, but it would A.) probably be of no value; B.) it could not be thought of in the first place; and C.) even if it were possible, it would be completely different in concept than our present understanding of heat.

The fundamental problem is that when we ask chemists what something is, we only get an explanation of how it is measured. This is very often not a problem: after all, is there much more to "density" other than "mass over volume"? Is there much more to "speed" than "distance over time"? In these cases there does not seem to be any or much difference between what something is and how it is measured.

(prepare yourself, lest you go snowblind on the word "actual")

At this point, however, philosophy might start to make a nuisance of itself again. What is actual through measurement is only...Well, actual when it is measured. Again, a measurable thing as such is only actual when it is actually measured. But no one thinks, for example, that there is no actual speed of something if the speed is not measured, and the same goes for density and heat. This all happens because measurement is a sort of relation, and every actual relation presupposes two terms that are already actual. The terms of a relation do not come into being after the relation.

Or is this all wrong? I myself think that there is something about motion and its measure, time, that make them unable to exist outside of some measurement of them. What does it mean to talk about motion unless we remember that a mobile was once at this place, and now at that one? The mobile thing itself has moved. It no longer is at its previous space. But any grasp of motion seems to require that we understand this difference, and remember it. Our remembrance will force on us some awareness of time also, for we can't help but be aware that a thing was "there" before, and "here" now. Perhaps we will even anticipate that it will be "there" later on. If all motions were related to a single motion, we might relate them all to that mobile thing and have something like a measure of all motions. But there seems to be no such thing that I know of.

But why can't the example of time be enlarged to all measurables, or at least the measurables of chemistry? Why can't the measure of something be the very cause of its actual existence?

More later, all this has cooked my mind.
[Because of the plague] People began openly to venture upon acts of self indulgence which before then they used to keep in the dark... as for what is called honor, no one showed himself willing to abide by its laws, so doubtful it was that he would survive to get a name for it... No fear of God or law of man had any restraining influence. As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing whether one worshipped them or not.

The Peloponnesian War.
Book Two pp. 53.

It is difficult to read these passages and think that any man values good things simply in themselves. When deprived praise as an incentive, all abandon honor. When deprived of good things from the gods, it "is the same thing whether we worship them or not." Hobbes, having read Thucydides so faithfully that his translation of him still sells, is clearly deeply affected by these sorts of passages. When we confront passages like these, the teaching of Hobbes seem to gather great force. Men by nature are small, ravenous, dirty, mean, smug, impious, self centered, shallow, and vain. All "virtues" are mere tropes on these features that make life more tolerable to spend among others.

Thucydides' passage does not commit us to this drastic interpretation that Hobbes brings to it. We could, for example, say that all human goodness requires some external force to keep it in check, while at the same time there is some profound interior desire of men to be honorable and pious. Something like this opinion is made necessary by the simple fact of men writing the sort of laws that get disregarded in times of trouble. Why did me feel it necessary to reward honor if they did not have some natural appreciation of honor being honorable? Even if this honor was only posited in law to make civil society more commodious, why should we desire to have a civil society at all, except by some natural impulse?

But this response is open to objection. Could we not desire civil society for vicious reasons? Perhaps we want to band together so that we can conquer others, or exploit others more efficiently. This seems to be the idea that many have of a civil society- that it is a group of thieves that want more power. Powerlust, avarice and vainglory are the bedrock of human desire, they say. All else is concession, fear, and force.

But even given all of this, does not the idea of a virtue still remain? Even if we could find definitively that man is vicious to the core, why is it that this vicious nature could still be judged as "un-virtuous" or perhaps even "wicked"? We will never be able to shake the conviction that if man is fundamentally selfish, backbiting, covetous, and irrational then man is simply fundamentally evil. But to call all men evil is to condemn them. Something must remain in us- some conscience, some voice that we cannot escape, that tells us that there is something better than what we are- that some life is at least thinkable that is more worth living than our own.

It is in attempting to answer this question that the arguers must definitively part ways. If we attempt to object to the natural understanding of virtue as laid out above, then we must at last plunge headlong into an abyss that we must regard as no abyss at all. Virtue must become the very exultation of what we might call "depravity" and all other thoughts to the contrary must be torn out root and branch. We must get beyond thinking our depravity to be depraved, and start to embrace it, live it, and seek its fullest development. We must view any hint of the old "virtue" as a vice, and swallow down all the consequences of the new "virtue" of rapacity. The terms of both this life, an its contrary (virtue in the old sense) are absolute and admit no final middle. Look at them. Now decide: which do you want? Which can you do? What do you need?

Aspects of Art

We have all had the experience of seeing the picture of a person that seems to fully capture who the person is- and even if we haven't we still understand what this would be like. We have also all known people who have the power of showing their best side in pictures (I for one have almost no such power. Most pictures of me are disturbingly ugly- draw what conclusion you will.)

In this there is an example to understand all the arts. All arts are imitative, first of the image in the mind of the artist, and then also of the reality that is the measure of the mind (this is not in any way to advocate what artists might call "realism" as opposed to "abstractionism"- there is more than one way for reality to measure the mind*) There are two parts in the example above: the first is that some people are better than others at catching what a thing is, the second is that some things are better than others at showing what they are. Shakespeare was simply better than anyone at catching exactly who is characters were- a character can have three lines in a Shakespeare play and you can know everything about them. It seems that kings or others who are slightly more noble than we are are better at showing themselves in plays and literature. They make for better art not because the are better people, but because they are more "art-o-genic**" just as certain people are more photogenic. These two aspects of art have a sort of fluid relationship: a good artist might show us a peasant more clearly than a poorer artist might show us a king, but a poorer artist (who works with words) produces a better result by telling of Kings, Presidents, or heroic people or subjects*** than he would if he picked a less "art-o-genic" subject.

The danger in all of this is confusing the self-evident axiom that "all men are created equal" with the idea that "all men are created equally art-o-genic". The first truth is often taken to be an affirmation of the second. This probably happens because we have a hard time distinguishing the goodness of the thing from the goodness of the thing as art-o-genic. The idea seems to be now that any subject matter is equally god to make art about- and I have a hard time with this. Art is not something that can be indifferent to its subject matter in a way that assumes all subjects equally good for the artist to make a focus of his attention. Even if one wants to dispute about what is more "art-o-genic" tha something else, we cannot lose the idea that some things make for better art than others. This is the awareness that I think we are less comfortable with than others have been, and think it has led to a diminution in the power of recent art. turn to the ideas of the subjects, for they are not all equal.

* I wholly reject naive realism, a claim that all paintings should look like photographs, or that all literature should paint a character "as he is" if we mean by "as he is" that we should get a description of him in a novel that would track his movements exactly as they happen. A good novel does not show us what the character does in everyday banal existence, but what he ones that shows us who he is.
** Art-o-genic is an absurd word, the actual word should be "factagenic" or "operagenic". But if you have to coin a new term, it should be kept as close to the term nearest it, which n this case is "photogenic".
***some examples of heroic topics might be war or the sort of ethical decisions that are so rarely confronted.

My First Sophistry

When I was in sixth grade a librarian told me that if I didn't now how to spell a word I should look it up in a dictionary. I told her that her idea was absurd: because no one can look up a word in the dictionary unless they know how to spell it. After all, if I didn't know how to spell it, how would I even know where to look? Inasmuch as I am now a philosopher, this old argument is my Augustinian pear tree.

What I was doing to that librarian wasn't cute, or innocent, or anything of the kind. I had thrown together an argument that I loved simply because it refuted someone (I thought) and because it was uniquely my own. I wouldn't have loved the argument at all if not for having thought of it myself. I didn't hold what I held out of an open ended wonder which wanted to understand anything- to lose my argument would not have been greeted with relief at learning the truth but by humiliation at losing some part of my identity.

It was also the first time I remember trying to refute everyday experience with an argument. Nevermind that thousands of people look up words in a dictionary to learn how to spell them. I had never done so, and thought I had a reason that invalidated the possibility of anyone else doing so. Why bother looking at the way things are to figure out the nature of things? I can cast judgment on everything without even having to try anything.

This argument was not the last of its kind that I gave. At best, I cannot claim to be a non-sophist, only a sophist "in recovery". In some way, the general form of my dictionary argument is a common sophistry of the whole human race: we all at times fall into thinking that imperfect knowledge is no knowledge at all. This is the claim of those who think that the imperfect character of any science condemns it to be entirely mysterious, or perpetually in flux. This is something like thinking that "sincerely" might really begin with "i".

The Red Herring of Consciousness.

Poke around living philosophers for fifteen minutes, and chances are you'll spend at least ten of them hearing about consciousness. The word is plastic enough, and sufficiently separate from everyday experience to allow for pretty much any conclusion. I've posted on consciousness before, in an attempt to show the progressive analogous uses of the word. The word seems to be used as a term that allows one to talk about knowledge without claiming that one knows anything at all. Hence the inevitable "problem of consciousness" where one looks over their consciousness in an attempt to see if anything like knowledge "is possible". From all this springs a host of problems and theories that are even more obscure than their obscure basis in "consciousness": "correspondence theory of truth" or "skepticism" or "the personhood of consciousness"...etc.

There is a hypocrisy in all this- the same old hypocrisy that is so banal we fail to give it its due- how do we know that we are conscious, or that anything like consciousness exists? The question is rhetorical. Push anyone's account of knowledge back a few steps and you'll find that he is resting on something he holds as self- evidently true and known. He'll fail to admit this self-evident thing under questioning- don't bother with it. But don't bother being a sucker for his hypocrisy either. Worrying over the problems of consciousness is a non-philosophical problem. It would be like an astronomer worrying over the Amish thinking the world is flat. Some people won't admit that they know anything... so what? People say all kinds of stupid things. Some people say that knowing about consciousness is prior to knowing something...so what? Philosophy isn't for everybody.

the road to wisdom is too long for a dispute about whether there is a road at all. Leave the skepticism of conscious questions behind. It will remain where it is: to be forgotten.
I have been bothered for a few days by an op-ed column. The backbone of the argument, which centered around abortion and homosexual unions, is this:

These are some of the conflicting values everyone is talking about. But at least my values... don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to have an abortion or marry [sic] someone of the same sex, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities to us.

My first reaction was a sort of disgust at the hypocrisy of the statement. The idea that any law does not involve some imposition on those who would want the law to be otherwise is to simply ignore what a law is. To legislate means to impose rules. The modifier "direct" in "direct imposition" is one of those meaningless sophistical modifiers that allow one to escape from any objection. The examples that he states are inarguable, but irrelevant- as if the only way to impose on someone through abortion would be to force them to have one.

My second reaction was one of offence at how flippant he thought those who disagreed with him were- as if anyone who disagreed with him was some blind tyrant who wanted to control the lives of others. Does he think that I don't understand the horrible chaffing of the moral law he despises? Does he think that I never struggle under the constraints of the moral law? Does he think it is easy for me even to impose this law on myself, still less to want it held up as a law for others to respect? If his man wanted to understand his position- which is at heart a disgust at being told that something is set as good and we cannot change it- then I suggest he actually try to follow any moral law of any description. Only then will he understand the real conflict between the things you want and the things you know that a morality tells you are good. Any man that I respect who fights for the moral law to be enshrined in positive law is not a man who thinks his law will cause no pain, psychological and otherwise, to the governed. We all wish, in one way or another, that we could live in a world where we could always do what we want, a world where every decision we make would be right, true, and approved by law. But this wish is not even a want. Every morality chaffes. To call anything good is to call all of it's contraries evil. Even to deny that we can know the good at all will chafe just as much as to say we can know it perfectly, or in any way at all. Does this man think that I am oblivious to the pain that comes from the imposition of law, moral and otherwise? Does he think that it never crossed my mind that it would be better if I could simply do my own thing- even though I was forced out of this position by contradiction? This man wants to live in a world where the state never intrudes on the private and personal desires of any man. Does he think that I- who hold the moral law he despises as true and right- have not wished for this far more intimately than he has? I know what it is to follow the law: I love it and hold it as true. This man knows knows nothing: he despises it and holds it as false.

Or does he? Does this man relate to things as true or false? His argument presupposes that to impose anything on another is wrong, i.e. incorrect, i.e. false. Does he care that this is simply one philosophical position among many, that would have to be defended, reasoned out, and capable of meeting objections? Does he bother to give his reasons? No. Will he ever bother? No. He, like most people who moan about political things, will never get to the point of ever convincing or even talking to a non-partisan. All who agree with his opinions will be listened to, and reasoned with. Everyone else gets yelled at, condescended to, or told that "we're never going to work this out." Nevermind that any serious consideration of these things would require him to dive into the world where things get involved in serious dispute, where things are not as clear as they are in political discussions- and where his passions could not get so enflamed. There is truth to be found, but it is hard to get to. Seek philosophy if you want your answers. Stick with your political rah-rahing if you want to always have your passions flattered by a "convincing" argument that is no more than an opinion.

A Political Post about An Eternal enmity;
or, the coming story.

I do not know how long it takes after something happens for an official story to harden into its status as official. The givens of the story have to be confirmed, or denied, or spun, or noticed. The givens of yesterday's election, accepted by both those on the left and the right, are that the election was valid, and decided by those who voted for the sake of "moral values". Such values are now, and will continue to be universally accepted as "Christian values". To the extent that these givens survive as the facts of the official story of both sides, those who hate the winner will have to settle down into the comfortable and time tested role of hating Christians.

In the day after the election, blame of the Christians does seem to be the dominant story. It is one that makes for a better story than the one that formed about the 2000 election, which asked us to believe that the present Supreme Court was a "conservative" one that "handed over the election". This story always rang hollow, and tended to make too many demands on our willing suspension of disbelief. Usually, the story had to be buttressed by some claims of voter disenfranchisement. The agent of the disenfranchisement was always too vague, though- one was never quite sure who exactly he was to blame for all those minority folks being turned away from the polls. Certainly there was some evil person or corporation doing it- but conspiracies have a hard time getting traction when they don't have a clear conspirator; the communists, Halliburton, etc.

But this present story has none of those problems. It is not even a conspiracy theory. The necessary conclusion for all sides to come to, given the facts, is The Christians are responsible for all this.

An Overview

In response to a request, here's an overview of the sort of things that have been written at this site:

Works of Short Fiction: the best ones are here and here

Philosophical Posts and Paper fragments: here or here or here or here or here

Theological/Liturgical Posts: here or here or here

Most of the comments that were previously posted have vanished (blogger only preserves them for a few months) but feel free to object to anything. I will respond.
Things that No One Expects a Modern Psychologist to Say

Your marriage is falling apart because of your addiction to pornography.
You want to get a divorce. This should never be done for any reason.
You need to spank your kids more often.
A home with a mother and father is better than any other possible home.
Your first priority should be having children and raising them well.
Prayer and fasting can help someone in your situation.

Why is it that no one expects any modern psychologist to say these sorts of things, even though it is given that they do relate to the sorts of things that Psychologists and marriage counselors are concerned with? (i.e. a good marriage, and child raising.)

(pick one or more)

1.) All the things said above are simply false, which modern psychology has proven to the satisfaction of educated men. Some of the things may be false all the time, or perhaps they are false in all but a few exceptions that prove the rule, but all the above opinions have been in some way considered and refuted. (option: this is only the case for some of the above, and the others are explained by some other reason.)

[then any group or sect that advocates any one of these as true must be false and harmful to mental health. Given that a good number of these positions are advocated by many people, and have been in the past all but universal, why is it that so few of these people have, or had, serious mental illness?]

2.) These opinions were rejected because they were not helpful. Perhaps they're true, or perhaps they're not, but we cannot ask anyone to do them because they would either be too difficult to do, or they would in some way end up causing more harm than good.

[but isn't the very idea of therapy to help people to do things they would find too difficult to do without help?]

3.) No, the problem with these opinions is that they don't sound scientific. Any one who says things like that sounds like a stogy old traditionalist or a religious kook. But neither of these people sound scientific, and the modern psychologist derives all of his authority from sounding like a scientist.

[but then how is psychology anything more than witch-doctoring? Who cares how something sounds if it is not true, or what something true might sound like?]

4.) No, the problem with these opinions is that they are too absolutist. None of them are the sorts of things that work in all or most cases.

[this is just a polite way of calling them false, or a way of avoiding an answer as to whether the positions are true or false.]

5.) No, the real problem is that no man can live according to the truth of the above propositions, or do them well, without the help of God. But psychology is entirely about what man can do by his own power.

[A plausible opinion. When Christ told the apostles that divorce, for example, was always wrong, they responded that if a man couldn't get divorced, he should never marry in the first place- they saw divorce as all but inevitable. Christ does not deny this, but does give a qualification "All men cannot accept this, except those to whom it is given." Without grace, in other words, the apostles are right. Mt 19: 9-12 This reading of the text also help us understand what Christ meant when he said "Moses allowed divorce, because of your hardness of heart" (i.e. the law before the law of grace)

6.) No, the real problem is that all these things sound like religious or traditionalist positions, and psychology hates religion and tradition. It would rather be modern than right, even if the positions above are correct. God and tradition are an albatross around the neck of anyone who is trying to live a good modern life and enjoy all the goodies of sexual liberation, fantasy world construction, infinite rights, and eternal adolescence. Psychology is nothing other than the science that sprung up to obfuscate the problems that pop up when someone lives an immoral life- to paper the problems over with platitudes and hollow nostrums about self fulfillment and self esteem.

[Then why is it that so many people become psychologists because they want to help people? Is our world so messed up that a person can delude himself into thinking that he is helping someone, when in fact he is simply avoiding the real problems that they have?]

Traditio aut Vanitas

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