Vomit the Lukewarm
There are a handful of modifiers that are commonly used for no other reason than to disguise the absurdity of a claim. A few examples (adjectives first, in italics)
We do not have a metaphysical
We cannot attain apodictic
There is no absolute
There are also the cognate boogyman adverbs:
We can't know anything absolutely
You can't do something wrong if you really
know it is wrong.
I don't deny that these terms can be used in a meaningful ways, but usually the hollow adjective is thrown in to disguise an otherwise impossible claim. What, after all, do the claims mean? Is the person saying that we have a nature
, but not a metaphysical
nature? Are they claiming we can know truth, but not absolute
truth? Can we be certain of something, but not apodictically
certain? I am happy with mere nature, truth, and certitude. If one would deny me this, would that they deny it straightforwardly.
The Hatred of Certitude
At present, philosophers, theologians, and men like them do not want to prove
anything as a part of a general sytem of philsophy. They descibe options, they inquire about them, they give book reports, they seek eternally for counter-examples and exceptions, they give an infinite regress of critiques, they coin new jargon- but none of these things involve taking a fixed, positive stand on anything in a attempt to construct a complete system of thought. In fact, for anyone to prove anything at all is relatively rare.
Desiring proof means desiring a grounded, reasoned certitude, and such certitude is never sought for. There are a few reasons for this.
-- One reason that certitude is not sought after is that it takes a relatively long time to reach, and it requires a good amount of discussion and consideration of many different viewpoints. But in all of the formats in which there is an opportunity to hear many viewpoints, there is never enough time allotted to expect the conversation to get anywhere. A Cable News host will allot 90 seconds to a discussion about, say, the nature of religious freedom before he kills the discussion. College professors will allow a discussion about the nature of universals to linger for maybe two minutes before declaring "we have to move on". Newspapers print one response to an article, and then refuse to let the discussion continue. Seminars and discussion groups as a rule will stop at exactly when they were scheduled to stop, regardless of how the discussion is going.
Even when we find a format that allows us enough time, we bring with us the habits and expectations that we formed as TV watchers, newspaper readers, college students, etc. We are all too willing to declare "it's time to move on" or "well, there's a lot to think about here" or "well, we have a lot of material to cover today, so..." or "we'll have to deal with that later", or "Talk to me after class"...
- Another reason we hold certitude as impossible is that certitude requires discussion and debate, and debate requires some common point of view, and some common point of reference. But there is no universally taught canon of books that allows people to share a common experience and point of view. To the extent that there is some universal canon, it is not the sort of thing that allows for discussion about any deep matter (we have all read To Kill A Mockingbird, I guess, and we all know the lyrics to Gilligan's island, but so what?)
To give only one example, if people began to discuss a question like "what are human beings really like, deep down?" it would help if everyone in the room had read Thucydides (and knew his accounts of the Plague, of the Melian Dialogue, and the funeral oration). Or perhaps if everyone in the room had read the book of Eccesiastes and Matthew's Gospel. If we all, like the Greeks,had to memorize Homer, we would at least have some common frame of reference that we could all appeal to.
The sheer plenitude of texts has made it all but impossible to have one common ground. If the existence of a book required a monk to copy down every word, there would be a common canon of books. As it stands, "abundance has made me poor".
--Again, certitude requires discussion, but we don't have to talk to anyone. We have TV.
--One of the chief reasons we don't desire certitude is that certitude fixes us in one place, from which we cannot move. Certitude is like a relationship we can never get out of (gasp). It is like a town that we must always live in (no!). It is like wearing the same clothes for our whole life (how icky). Certitude remains always as it is and never changes.
Yet don't we still at least daydream about someone we could live with forever, or a place so wonderful we would never want to leave it, or something so beautiful that we could always show to the world? Abandoning certitude as a goal leaves us in the same sort of gray and empty world as we get from empty relationships. Perhaps there is more than a likeness here. Perhaps the rejection of certitude is
the rejection of a personal relationship. St. John thought so.
On Preaching to The Choir
I have been accused before of preaching to the choir, and it is a common charge leveled against many.
It is worth remembering, though, that the sole foundation of all discussion is agreement
. Where there is no agreement, even the most heated debate or polemic is impossible.
A disagreement that is not rooted in some identical, fundamental, and accepted premise can never be discussed
A Borrowed, Obvious, Fertile, Essential, and Timeless Point
The bridge between what is best in modern and classical political philosophy is that a "right" is simply an aspect of "justice" or "what is just".
A Dangerous Ambiguity.
There is a certain kind of person that is simply blind to the reality of human irrationality. Their blindness does not proceed from stupidity- in fact it often is found in people who are considered quite intelligent.
The characteristic features of one who fails to see human irrationality are a refusal to use force, and an eternal optimism and trust in any kind of dialogue.
Men who are blind in this way will defend their belief as a trust in the dignity an equality of human persons. In truth, however, whenever the blindness is not due simply to ignorance (as might be found in ivory-tower academics who never deal with lazy or willful students, children, criminals, etc.) it is usually due to sloth or vanity- i.e. a desire to be liked at all costs.
Those who can't see the reality of human irrationality relate to the world in a fundamentally distorted way. All or most authority seems like tyranny to them: they see certain cops with their guns and interrogations and hittings; certain parents with their spankings; certain teachers with their cold blooded rules; certain vice principals who take no compromise. That such force had been the way of things forever doesn't phase them in the least- it's totally unnecessary, according to the way the blind see the world. Cops should reason with criminals, and parents with children, and teachers with students. How could reasoning not work? All evils can be solved by education!
Such a worldview is worse than hokum. It is an infallible recipe for more criminals, brats, and smug idiots. A world which demands we reason with all men is an irrational world. It is a fatal ambiguity to think that "always treating another reasonably" means "always treating another as though they were reasonable".
A Thought on the the Modern Realist/ Nominalist Controversy
The order of things to be done, and the order of things we observe are distinguished by different ways of speaking ( a sign of this is that what is moral- or to be done- employs the auxiliary verb "ought".)
The order of things we observe and the order of things that we create are not distinguished by different modes of speaking. Hence "St. Nick wore red" and "Santa Claus wore red"- St. Nick being an actual bishop (present at the council of Nicea, no less); and Santa Claus being an imaginary marketing gimmick for Coke.
There is no way of speaking that is peculiar to the order of things that we create, (Santa Claus, unicorns, The present king of France) that opposes it to the order of things we observe (the sky, my hands). What proceeds from our own mind alone (which includes errors) is viewed as a fait accompli
just as much as a thing merely observed. To the extent that we see "things merely of our own mind" or "imaginary things" as "non- existent", then we cannot determine existence or non existence from the structure of our speaking.
Death and Nature
Is it natural for men to die?
If by natural we mean "it happens always" then death is certainly natural.
If we mean by natural, however, "proceeding from an internal principle" then death is in one sense natural, and in another not. If we mean that there is an internal principle by which something is alive, and the loss or separation of this leads to death, then death is natural in this sense, but per accidens. But if by natural we mean only those things that proceed per se from the internal principle, then death is not natural, but is inflicted from without- just as water is the cause of iron rusting, or heat is the cause of ice melting. It happens in a similar way when sicknesses or wounds corrupt organs. The corruption of anything does not happen in the same way that the thing grows, or blooms, or matures.
Men certainly have nothing in their nature that preserves them from death (which is evident enough from their dying) And yet why is it that the human soul cannot cease to be? What sense is there in making something that a.) must always exist, b.) must be in a body*, but c.) cannot always exist in the body it needs to have? Nature always provides for every species the things it needs as a species. Yet nature has never provided anything that can save us from death. This would not be a problem were it not for man. Man is the only thing in the cosmos for which death separates a deathless part (soul) from the part of him in which the deathless part is (body). When we look at the body as made for this deathless soul, the human body might seem poorly made- for if something was made to be the companion of a deathless part, it makes no sense that it would die; it is as worthless as a wax furnace. We can object that we are simply poorly made, but is this even plausible? The greatest craftsman who has ever lived could not create something even vaguely approaching the elegance and beauty of nature- and it can be further shown that man is made not merely by nature, but also by God, whose power to create is infinitely beyond the power and ability of nature.
Death cannot be natural for men if we mean "according to a natural agency" (that is, according to the equivocal
cause of men). If nature created men, and yet did not provide them with eternal life, then nature created man in vain- which would make men superfluous, and unnecessary. Yet nature creates nothing superfluous. Why then are we here? It makes no sense to think we are merely an exception to the rule of nature making nothing superfluous or in vain. Any other explanation would be more likely and reasonable than this one, which is testified against by the whole universe. And one other such explanation is that death is a punishment.
*The soul need not be in the body in order to exist, but it does need to be in the body in virtue of its weakness- that it might "be lead by the hand" to knowledge through the external world, as by an example of intelligible things.
Two Thoughts On The Exaggeration of Carnal Pleasures
The intensity of physical pleasures often gets exaggerated for two reasons: a.) every pleasure drives out pain, and b.) we usually have a certain control over physical pleasures. Cigarettes, food, booze, sex, pills etc. are always there for us
. We can pick them up and know they will come through. Other pleasures- like the pleasures of a clear conscience, or of discovery of something, or of figuring out a difficult problem, or of just having something big go your way, will also drive out pain, but we have less control over these things. It seems to me that what is most formal to our love of carnal pleasures is the degree of control that we have over them. Even though the carnal thrills are generally admitted to be less enjoyable (and I think most people would grant that they experience greater joy from the latter things than the former things) we can love them more for simply being so dependable. In the everyday grind of daily disappointments, anxieties, hatreds etc. the pleasures of booze, food, orgasms, or a pack of smokes are all things we can have easily and often. But who knows the next time we will write a perfectly telling jewel of an essay or story, or get promoted, or find a sweet new job, or discover something new and beautiful for ourselves?
A further reason that carnal thrills can seem better than the other pleasures is that the carnal thrills can be rewards
in the way tha the other pleasures cannot. Even if we were able to take away pains by the other pleasures, we would generally find a way to also reward ourselves with the carnal thrills.
(my take on the thoughts of an unknown author)
We can give different accounts of the same thing, and when we do, we get different accounts of what is good for it. What makes a quarterback, a father, a citizen, or a creature of God good is not the same thing, even though one man might be all those things.
In all the above goods, there is also the distinction between the good that the man has as a part of something, and as the individual that happens to be a part. One cannot exist as a quarterback except as a member of a team, or as a father except as a part of a family, or as a citizen apart from the regime, or as a creature apart from the universe.
Whenever the account that we give of a thing makes it a part, then the good of the thing obviously cannot exist except as a part, and therefore there is a sort of primacy of the whole that constitutes the thing. Every part, as such, has its whole existence ordered to the being of the whole, even if the being that the thing has as a part does not exhaust the being that a thing has as thing (i.e. there is more to being Joe Montana than being a part of a team, more to being St. Joseph than being a father, etc...)
We tend to miss the quality that we have as parts of a larger whole, a whole that confers goods on us fundamentally and ultimately as parts of a whole. We pervert goods when we see the good of the whole as existing for the sake of a part.
The Argument from Evil And Hellfire
It's interesting to consider the various ways that one could relate the argument from evil and Hellfire:
1.) Some believe the argument from evil shows that God does not exist, and they take this to mean that there is therefore no basis for believing in hellfire.
2.) Some believe the argument from evil fails to disprove God's existence, but
a.) They believe that the existence of God is incompatible with hellfire
b.) or, they think it is compatible.
3.) If someone is thinking about the argument from evil, while burning in hellfire, is the argument still valid?
4.) The argument from evil makes inferences from evils suffered (I have heard no one question God on the basis of the evils they have committed). Now hell is the greatest evil that one can suffer. If the argument from evil works, therefore, the existence of hell should prove the case better than any other evil. But no one thinks that the existence of God is disproven if hell is given as existing.
5.) Some believe that the existence of hellfire is the sine qua non
for believing in God, for they believe only in a God that came to earth to save man from damnation. Their God would be disproven if the greatest evil did not
6.) If one proved the existence of God, they would also conclude:
a.) hell could not exist
b.) nothing at all about whether hell exists.
7.) If one believes in God, then to believe that God allows us to suffer the greatest possible evil is _______.
8.) We cannot determine by reason whether or not hell exists. If it does not, we cannot suffer the greatest possible evil. If it does, then God has offered to save us from it.
9.) when we compare the argument from evil to hellfire, the question becomes not "how can God exist given that there is evil in the world?", but rather "how could we stand to exist if we were not protected from the evil in the world to come?"
The First Principle of a Philosophical Defense of the Trinity*
(in creatures, nature/ essence and particular existence/ the individual are different, in the Creator they are the same)
The nature of a material thing exists only in the individual that has that nature. There is always a real distinction, and a fortiori one in thought, between the essence of a material thing and the particular material thing in which the essence happens to exist.
Were essence to itself subsist, then any multiplication of it would multiply not only individuals of the same essence, but individuals that are the same self subsisting essence
. If the individuals were multiplied as begetter and begotten, then though neither would differ from the essence, they would be distinguished from each other.
In other words, when I have a son, then both of us will have the same nature, but it will exist in different individuals. This is necessary because both my son and I differ from our nature. But in the divinity there is no distinction between nature and particular existence. Any particular existence of divinity is therefore the same as its nature- regardless of whether there is one particular existence of this divinity, or many.
* I have wildly different ideas about how thorough I can make this defense. To illustrate, I would defend all of these paradoxical sets of propositions as true:
a.) We can give no reason to prove the existence of a trinity of persons.
b.) A trinity of persons is more certain than anything we know, because it is revealed by God, who cannot err.
a.) Faith in the T.o.P. requires us to put some faith in the human institution that tells us about the T.o.P- and so the believer must put some faith in men, as speaking for an inerrant God.
b.) All men are fallible. This is gross understatement. Men err as a rule.
a.) Without revelation, it would be best to say that there is only one person in God.
b.) A trinity of persons is more fitting than a single divine person.
a.) When speaking of God, we must negate the things in our way of speaking that are proper to our way of speaking- like the predication of something in the way of a secondary substance expressing an actual secondary substance (a species or nature, for example that is something had
, or a part,
i.e. something different from the existent divinity.)
b.) We can still say meaningful things about God.
a.) Man is called to be led by reason in all that he does.
b.) Man is called to find happiness in something reason cannot lead him to.
Parts of St. Thomas' Discussion About Whether There Is a Trinity of Persons in God, part one.
As Dionysus says, the good is communicative of itself. But God is the highest good, therefore he will be communicative in the highest possible way. But he does not communicate himself in the highest possible way to creatures, because they cannot receive his whole goodness. That the communication might be perfect, therefore, it is necessary that God communicate his whole goodness to another. This cannot happen through diversity of essence, therefore it is necessary that there be many distinctions in the unity of the divine essence.
On the Sentences
Book 1, Q.2, art. IV.
This argument, though compelling, is not the response
to the question of whether there is a distinction of persons in God- which is much shorter:
There are in God a plurality of supposits or persons in a unity of essence. This must be conceded without any ambiguity- not because of any reasons set forth (which do not conclude with necessity), but because of the truth of the faith.
And so we believe
in the Trinity when we have in some sense no reason to do so.
So what do we make of the sed contra then, which seems to give three
separate reasons for the why the there should be a some kind of plurality of persons in the divine essence? The arguments seem relatively straightforward:
1.) God cannot have "diversity of essence" (insert your favorite argument for the unity of God here- it is one of the most thoroughly established theological claims.)
2.) God is the highest good (again, almost axiomatic, and relatively easy to prove)
3.) Good is communicative of itself (this is probably the hardest proposition of the bunch to prove, but is still pretty much a Plato/ St. Thomas 101 proof. Good grief, the idea is in Plato's Cave
metaphor: Sun= good.)
4.) Creatures cannot receive all of God's goodness, and so God can only partially communicate his goodness to them (and so if a higher kind of expressed goodness were possible, then God would have it. All one has to do then is show that some plurality of persons is possible in the divine essence. This is difficult, but within reach.)
And nevertheless, St. Thomas leaves no ambiguity
about where he stands on the question of giving proofs for the Trinity:
Whoever, then, tries to prove the trinity of persons by natural reason, derogates from faith in two ways.
Firstly, as regards the dignity of faith itself, which consists in its being concerned with invisible things, that exceed human reason; wherefore the Apostle says that "faith is of things that appear not" (Heb. 11:1), and the same Apostle says also, "We speak wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery which is hidden" (1 Cor. 2:6,7).
Secondly, as regards the utility of drawing others to the faith. For when anyone in the endeavor to prove the faith brings forward reasons which are not cogent, he falls under the ridicule of the unbelievers: since they suppose that we stand upon such reasons, and that we believe on such grounds.
An interrupted Line of Thought
The Line of Thought
Spent most of the afternoon in mild humiliation. I'm prone during humiliations to think in terms of broad universals... something like "the dissatisfaction of man seeing himself ". I can spin any number of existential theories out of the failure to do some daily task, or out of the humiliation of recognizing the way my writing sounds. I know, I know, this is all terribly self-absorbed and childish. But at least it puts me in some famous company-
"All loneliness is Guilt"--thus speaks the herd.
pt. 1 chap 17
Humiliations are tailor made for projection and disguised confession, since we desperately want to get them out of ourselves, and are just as desperate to keep anyone from finding them out. We end up with something like the above quotation-- a perfect description of Nietzsche's central humiliation (the rejection of which is the cornerstone of his philosophy), belittled as the opinion of the herd.
There are a thousand other humiliations too: that we are destined to leave no more of a mark than those who died nine years ago today (there were thirty thousand such people. Can you name one?); that we have in truth accomplished almost nothing we have dreamed of doing (this is made easier by the fact that we have forgotten a thousand such resolutions we so dedicated ourselves to); that the only, or predominant, actions we have done consistently for a long time are our vices; that the things we do today that we are so impressed with will seem tomorrow to be so utterly unremarkable; that the same amount of money that seems like nothing for a six pack and smokes seems like an exorbitant and ridiculous sum to give even once a month in a church collection; that if we spoke our private thoughts, or of the things we have done, we would be certain of no one ever speaking to us again; that we will never face our faults unless we are forced to. Or perhaps this is all just me. I shouldn't pretend to speak for someone else, or hide behind a "we" when I should use an "I".
All true, as far as it goes. If anyone wants to complain about the wickedness or silliness of man, I'll have sympathy with him (actually, like anyone who has to listen to a whiner, I'll get really annoyed or try to out whine him, but you know what I mean.)
I looked at the Christmas crib. That's man too. That is the same sort of thing as us. We can't get around understanding ourselves as the same sort of being as that person in the manger.
I have to allow for the reality of that infant in any description of human beings.
And we are all human
Things I Learned From intemperance.
1.) Intemperate people are overcome by a good thing that is beneath them. In this is a proof both for their dignity (they are higher and deserve a higher life) and for the degradation of the evil (they are overcome).
2.) intemperance controls us in our immediate concerns through anxiety, and in our long-term concerns through fear. Both of these things concern "making provision".
3.) Both the intemperate and the ex-intemperate claim they do what they do "just for now/ today".
4.) intemperance is corrosion, restlessness, bitterness, lethargy, effeminacy.
5.) intemperance always keeps its promises. For one hour.