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Vomit the Lukewarm
5/30/2005
 
What I've Been Up To In The Meantime, Part II

Gotten into a long dispute about the natural law here and here.

Had a dispute about the Trinity at Brandon's blog (some of the best philosophy on the net)

I found this site, again through Brandon, and left a comment about what I think "authentic thomism" is. he comment is in in his "Introduction To Scholastic Theology" given on 5/19/05.
 
5/29/2005
 
Three Meanings of "End" In Teleology

The word "end" has three meanings in teleological accounts of things, although all the meanings have a unity in being a "that to which" something goes.

On the most basic level, the word "end" means simply "that to which something goes". Hydrogen and oxygen, under certain conditions, form water, under different conditions, they make hydrogen peroxide. Depending on the conditions, "water" or "hydrogen peroxide" are the ends of the process. Wood stuck in a fire will burn up, and so under these conditions, "burning up" is the end of wood, and "to burn" is the end of the fire. All that the teleological account of such things notices is a determinate result from the action. In condition X, result Y will happen.

On a higher level, the word "end" means "that perfection to which something goes". Seeds grow into full plants, and eventually acquire the power to make other plants, which they did not have before. This end is called "maturity"- a concept that has no place in the first and most basic meaning of the word "end".

On a higher level than this, the word "end" can mean "that perfection that something goes to knowingly". The word "knowingly" means two things here- the knowledge of sense alone, and the knowledge of sense united to intellect. A dog can chase a Frisbee with the end of catching it, and a man can throw a Frisbee, with the end of enjoying himself.

The confusion of these three meanings makes a trainwreck of teleology. Confuse the first with the second, and you'll think any number of impossible things: that hydrogen is somehow "better off" for making water, or that teleology is impossible, since we see no maturity in chemicals, etc. Confusing the third meaning with any of the others ends up making teleology seem like some bizarre occult belief that invests chemicals and plants with knowledge.

Chemical reactions have no good or perfection in themselves. The closest they come to goodness is the good they have by providing good to another. Water isn't better off because it condenses in a cloud and falls to the earth, but rain is a good for crops, and crops are good for man. It may be interesting to speculate about how it is good for water to condense under certain conditions, or if there is any such good to condensation at all, but answering this problem is does not affect the consideration of condensation as teleological. Condensation has some term- it makes vapor water fall from clouds, as opposed to hovering there or floating up. Teleology demands no more than this.

All thins should make clear that there is no opposition between mechanism and teleology. Mechanism can be accounted for teleologically without any destruction of its findings. Teleology simply gives an account for the presence of ends in things. It considers ends as such, and famously sees that all ends require a participation in intelligence, and that this intelligence reduces to a divine intellect. But this consideration happens after we see ends for what they are, and see them as present in all things in one way or another.
 
5/27/2005
 
Exegesis of Paul's Letter to the Romans, Chapter One.

From Romans Chapter One, v. 18-27, we can link together the following account:

1.) Certain persons knew the eternal power and divinity of God (v. 19,20),
2.) but they changed this truth into a lie (v. 25),
3.) and as a consequence/ punishment of this they began to use the natural power of sexual activity in an unnatural way (v. 26,27).

ad 1.) The knowledge of these persons is of God's "eternal power and divinity". Why these attributes? God has no limit to his attributes, so why is it that these ones are manifest? Now Paul tells us that these attributes are seen from "the things that are made", and so the attributes seem best taken as relating directly to the things that are made. "Eternal power" therefore means "the power of making the world" and "divinity" seems to mean "the nobility that a creator has over the thing created". The power is also explicity called "eternal", i.e. it transcends the temporal world where things come to be and pass away.

This knowledge of God is also not a knowledge of God founded on scriptural revelation. We could prove this in any number of ways (Paul is writing to the Romans; "wise men" in Paul's letters
are always Pagans "the Jews seek signs, and the Greeks seek wisdom"; this knowledge is clear always, whereas the truth of God as revealed was hidden to the world, etc.) but though we could prove this, it would be to labor the point. No one has ever called into question the fact that, in this passage, the knowledge of God that Paul speaks of is the kind of knowledge that man has apart from revelation.

ad. 3) Why is this the consequence? Paul is clear the this did not happen because God forced it to happen, rather God "handed them over to their shameful passions". There are two things to point out here: first, the passions in question are "their own"; and the passions in question are "unnatural", in other words, they presuppose some natural state that was corrupted by some cause. The ultimite cause of this corruption is the rejection in practice of a speculative truth that is naturally known, apart from scriptural revelation, namely, God's eternal power and divinity. In our own time, we tend to call "speculative truth" "theoretical truth". I have no substantive objection with this, so long as the two are understood to mean the same thing.

Paul's doctrine here (or, for those who believe in scriptural inspiration, we would say "God's doctrine") can be summarized as follows:

-human passions, if they are to be saved from perversion, must act in accordance with the speculative truth that man knows about God, apart from revelation. In other words, they must be in accord with the truth that is known by reason. The phrase "known by reason" here can mean two things:

a.) The truth that human reason actually finds by its own powers, and/ or
b.) The truth that human reason could have found by its own powers, but actually found from some other source (like the revelation of a higher intellect).

In either case, however, the truth is considered "natural". Even if we first heard it from a supernatural revelation, we could prove the truth using our own powers.

This doctrine of Paul (or, again, of God) is an infinite treasure house of truths for many different sciences. It is a psychological truth, for it shows us that the human passions have a necessary and per se relation to God; it is a theological truth, for it understands human nature as explicitly related, through reason, to God as "eternal power an divinity"; it is an ethical truth, for it provides the necessary condition for virtue, which consists in the dominion over the passions; and it is a political truth, for it makes explicit a necessary condition without which human persons will degrade to the tyranny of passion, and the anarchy of uncontrolled and unnatural emotion.
 
5/26/2005
 
Papers which, if you thought the ideas yourself and handed them into a philosophy graduate school professor, would get the equivalent of a failing grade:

St. Thomas' Treatise on Law

Any book in Arisototle's corpus

On the Principles of Human Knowledge, By George Berkeley (this, however, would deserve it)
 
5/25/2005
 
Conscience and The Intellectual Life

Conscience is the inner knowledge of man concerning right and wrong. It can be perverted or corrupted in a thousand ways, but it never loses its character as a voice of what is right- even when it holds something objectively wrong as right.

Conscience is to be distinguished from other voices inside of man. There is the voice of pleasure, the voice of habit, and even the voice of opinion. These voices are not opposed to conscience, but they are different from it. What is pleasant may be right, or not, so also with the habitual. But the voice of pleasure is not the voice of conscience, even when the two agree. Neither is the voice of conscience experienced as an opinion, even when the what the conscience holds is an opinion. Conscience can be befuddled or mislead, but when it speaks, it claims to know and we cannot get behind it, any more than the eyes can convince themselves that they do not see a certain color.

Most often, we choose simply to ignore conscience. We turn it off, or look around it, before every evil thing we do. We simply are not put together in a way that allows for us to do something evil while we are thinking about how it is evil. To focus on the voice of conscience would immobilize us- we would not be able to remember what good it is that we were seeking in something objectively evil. We must listen to another voice.

Much of the intellectual activity that one encounters is activity that ignores conscience. The discussions ignore what is true and false, right and wrong, etc. I've known men who can discuss an opinion for years without ever asking whether it is true or false, good or evil. Such people seem to be more the rule than the exception. The problem is not with their logic (although this often suffers) or with their research (although this suffers as logic does, by a fascination with trivia or the per accidens). The problem is with their conscience- they simply have stopped listening to it, and have become indifferent or oblivious to truth, goodness, and beauty. The arguments of such persons can belittle, dimiss, sneer, jab, hector, condescend, insult or bicker, or in the best case, be a flurry of bombast (the most common traits of such arguers are name dropping and an excessive use of rhetorical questions) . The elephant in the corner, though is that they never speak of something explicitly as true, good, or beautiful.
 
 
What I've been up to in the Meantime...

I've been posting here. It's fun, jump in. Keep a calm tone, though, or I'll rebuke you.
 
5/20/2005
 
Argument Sketches: Architectonic Syllogisms

(note to self: Get the argument, then the details)

Thesis: Political rights require God

Political rights exist
God is the cause of existence

Political rights reduce to the natural law
The natural law is a participation in the mind of God

Political rights are founded in the nature of man
Nature is a divine logos.

Any human action, political or not, can be judged by an order that transcends human action
All order proceeds from intelligence

Political rights are ordered to the enjoyment of an imperfect good
Every imperfect good is measured by the highest good, and God is the highest good.

If political order were the highest authority, than there could be no authoritative judgment of a depraved regimes.
It would be unfitting if there were no authoritative judgment of depraved regimes.
 
 
Distinguish:

Democritus gives a scientific understanding of atoms.

Dalton gives a scientific understanding of atoms.

Nils Bohr gives a scientific understanding of atoms.
 
 
The Principle of Dignity

From a book by Benedict XVI, in which he quotes a man approvingly who says-

The body is the visibility of the soul, for the soul is the actuality of the body.

My thoughts:

- As noted below, English does not have a word in common usage that means what "soul" used to mean. If it did, then Atheists, Scientists, Catholics, and everyone ease would not be disputing over whether the soul exists, but what the soul is. The word "soul" used to mean "that by which living things live", but over time, the word came to mean "a spiritual substance" or "the ghost of a man". With this new imposition, the "soul" was by no means a self- evident thing, but a rightly disputable thing. We lost the root meaning of the word, and were left powerless to take that root meaning and expand its notion to include the particular truth that the human soul is immortal.

The concept and reality of the soul, however, remain- just without a single commonly used word denoting them. This wordless concept is an indispensable one- one that cannot be replaced by other terms like "person". This lack of a word to denote an essential concept throws a thousand different all- important disputes into the shadows: it hamstrings any discussion of what a man is, or what human dignity is, or what a person is, or whether abortion is wrong, or embryonic stem cell research, or euthanasia, or the nature of life after death, or the place of the resurrection of the body, or the relation of God to man- and any other dispute that is related to these ones.

-I take issue with the theologians that claim the soul is "a Greek concept". Strictly speaking, it's not a Greek concept, it's a Greek word. The Greeks simply had a word ("psyche") for what English speakers have to understand without a single commonly used word. We have to get by with the clunky phrase "that by which living things live". We can dispute about whether the presence of this is thing constitutes an essential difference from non- living things (that is, whether a word like "soul" is superfluous, or whether it should properly be said of machines too); we can dispute about whether this thing is the brain, or the order of the body; we can dispute whether this thing is spiritual or not- all these opinions are up for grabs just as they were when the Greeks used the word "psyche" or "soul" but what is not really open for dispute is that there is something in virtue of which a living thing is alive.

The theologians, however, do have point- even though we have access to what the concept of the Greek word "psyche" means, our lack of a single word to denote it affects our ability to know it, and structure our arguments, lives, and cultural practices around it. We also have words for things the Greeks had no words for- e.g., our word "right" which means "a man's relation to justice inasmuch as something is owed to him". The Greeks could dispute about, say, what was owed, or if anything was owed to a man simply in virtue of his humanity (they actually did dispute about these things, without recourse to the word "right"), the Greeks could have even gone further and asked if there was a "right to life" or a "right to affordable housing"- but they lacked the word "right" to use as a locus for discussion. If you tried to explain the idea of "human rights" to the folks in the Agora you would be met with a lot of confused faces. Anyone who wanted to understand what you were saying would have to study what you said for a few years. Nevertheless, the absence of a word for a concept doesn't destroy the concept, only the quick access to it, and still less does it destroy the reality of the thing the concept represents.
 
5/19/2005
 
A Teaching with a Missing English Word

Anything changeable is both
i.) what it is, and
ii.) capable of becoming something else. .

So i. and ii. are parts of a changeable thing (parts meaning "distinguishable in some way"). These parts follow directly from the meaning of the compound word "changeable thing", and are therefore judged as "essential" to changeble things.

A changeable thing is one thing, but not always in the same way. A thing is one inasmuch as it has a unity, but not all unities are the same. Some have a unity through cooperation, like an army or the parts of a bicycle. Some others also have the unity of living.

For what lives, to cease to exist means to die. But to cease to exist means for a thing to cease being what it is, and hence to no longer have part i. that was mentioned above. English does not have a term in common usage for part i. when said of living things.
 
 
Turns of The Phrase "Nature is Mind"
(to compare and contrast)

Thales says "all things are full of gods"

Thomas Aquinas says "Nature is a divine reason, given to things"

Arthur Eddington says that the universe is composed of "mind stuff" because "now that we are convinced of the formal and symbolic character of the entities of physics, there is nothing else to compare it to."

Distinguish.
 
5/18/2005
 
Sex Ed

Sex ed is a name for a few different kinds of instruction. I don't mind the good touch/ bad touch programs that I got taught back in the day, or the part that tells young girls about menstruation. But then there's everything else.

I'll leave out the most damning critiques of sex ed proper- its mechanism, its amoral presentation, its indifference to eros, its basis in the pseudo, anti-science of Alfred Kinsey. The whole enterprise deserves to be done away with for a far less damning reason: sex ed is superfluous. Sex is probably the only thing that an adolescent human being doesn't have to be taught. We don't need to be taught how to do it any more than an infant has to be taught how to suckle. The act, as everyone admits, is natural- in the sense that the desire for it arises spontaneously and the execution of the act is not something we have to be instructed on. We're animals, for crying out loud, the bare fact that we exist is proof enough that we can figure this stuff out for ourselves. Why should a human being require twelve more years of schooling than the chimp he descended from?

The whole premise of sex ed is that we can't trust sex to nature. There are two ways to understand this- either sex ed teaches manners, and/or it teaches that nature's instruction is simply wrong. We don't need to be taught how to chew, but we do need to be taught not to chew with our mouth open. I wouldn't mind a sex ed that taught sex in terms of manners, or in terms of the proper perfection of sex, but that's not at all how the thing gets taught.
 
5/14/2005
 
The Glamour of Evil

The baptismal vows require us to reject the glamour of evil. What's glamour?

The word, in English, first shows up in 1720 as a Scottish variant on the English word grammar, and it denoted occult practices like casting spells. Apparently, there was some association of occult practices and erudition- hence grammar (a similar thing has happened in our own time with the word metaphysics.) It took another hundred or so years for the word to take on its present meaning of "alluring charm".

The etymology of the word tells a story about what glamour is. Glamorous charm is an alluring quality hiding a dark side under the cover of sham erudition. The erudition is a sort of worldly wisdom- usually called "sophistication". This word seems itself to have a similar etymology to "glamour"- as it originally meant "the using of sophistical arguments".
 
5/13/2005
 
One of the Most Irritating Qualities of The Situation We Find Ourselves In:

Consider the following sentence.

the first amendment does not mention the separation of church and state
.

Why does this immediately sound to us like a political opinion? Why do we reflexively feel that this is a partisan or ideological statement? It is true enough that the statement does have political consequences, but this is completely beside the point. The statement is primarily textual- similar to saying "Don Quixote dies at the end of the novel" or "Vader is Luke's father". If one were to point out that we would view it as a political statement because e have become habituated to hearing it as one, this only opens up a deeper question- why is it that we are not habituated to understand textual statements as textual?

My purpose in citing the first amendment is not to debate it: the sentence the first amendment mentions the separation of church and state would have worked just as well. The whole point of bringing it up is to point to a deeper problem, which is twofold:

a.) an excessive desire to see things as political in the sense of being ideological, and
b.) a disregard for the opinions of the average reader.

a.) Political categories have been invested with a bizarre kind of transcendence- as though they are capable of describing any endeavor. To describe, say, Christianity or the present pope or a sociology department as "liberal" or "conservative" makes no more sense to me than to describe them as "horticulturalist" or "mathematical". Neither do I have any patience for that absurd argument that tries to find some non-existent distinction like "the Pope is liberal on ________ and conservative on ________." This is simply an attempt to make political categories transcendent, and to try to apply them to things they simply don't apply to.

Politics is a different kind of thing from either science or art or religion. Politics essentially requires prudential compromise and appeals to the passions through rhetoric. The effect of reflexively seeing all things in political terms is to make us reflexively reach for exactly the wrong tool for the job. We will invoke rhetorical and passionate arguments when we should be giving proofs and making distinctions; we will seek prudential compromises on things about which compromise is neither possible, nor good, nor acceptable; we will view rigidity on anything as extremism; we will listen to any crank with an opinion on a matter, just as politicians are forced to do. Worst of all, seeing a things as political ends up destroying the very nature of politics itself- for political action, like any deliberative action, must have some fixed, unchangeable, and transcendent end. Since this end must be essentially not open to prudential compromise, it is not political properly speaking- unless it is taken as a terminus for the art of politics, as metaphysics is a terminus of natural science.

I'll deal with b. in another post.
 
 
Knowledge,
an account I don't know if I want to refute of accept


Intellectual knowledge, as opposed to opinion, is unity with what is self-evident to the intellect. This unity is either identity (the thing known is in fact self evident) or logical unity. Logical unity means two things, since the things that are self evident to the intellect are universal, and the universal divides in two parts:

1.) Demonstrative unity- unity said of a perfect universal.
2.) Hypothetical unity- unity said of of an imperfect universal- a universal that is by nature falsifiable.

Perfect universals are of two kinds: those which give a true definition, and those which give something in place of a definition. There is gradation of the second kind of perfect universal, and when one gets to a certain point one has fallen too far away from the perfect universal, and they must work with imperfect hypothetical universals.
 
 
Spirituality to a Twelve-Year-Old.

My twelve year old student discovered infinity today. The mind can figure out pretty early on that there is simply no greatest number. He asked me to explain why. I told him that numbers aren't the same sorts of things as chalkboards- that if I kept making chalkboards, sooner or later I'd run out of the stuff that they are made out of. The mind, however, doesn't make its products from the same sort of stuff as chalkboards- we make numbers out of something that never gives out.

The kids initial response to this was a sort of sadness- he wished that there was some term to all these numbers. He knew the desire was a hopeless one, though, and he abandoned the point.

I think the kid's initial response was understandable- there should be a sort of horror at the sheerly unlimited, at least as we first understand unlimitedness. In nature, the unlimited simply is the horrible- notice that in every horror movie the monster consists precisely in the removal of some limitation of a natural thing: the Blob removes the limits of growth, the monster in Alien removes limit to reproduction, Freddy Kreuger removes the limit of subjective awareness (he enters dreams) and many horror movies turn on the removal of death as a limit for the monster. This last way makes for the worst kind of monster, but since I don't want to write a movie review here, I'll stick to the point about nature. Nature consists in limitation. It should be jarring or us to come to contact with the unlimited- for we have in some way left the natural world.

This last point about nature needs to be fleshed out. Nature is essentially related to change, and change in the primary sense of the word involves some material subject of the change. Nature is said first, then, of things with some relation to matter. But lack of limitation in matter shows an incompletion of matter- for as such it is ordered to being something else as a limit or term. Unlimited nature is a sort of lack, privation, etc.

Unlimitedness and infinity only become desirable things inasmuch as they are removed from matter- and from nature in the sense of being related to becoming and change. The human soul, the Angels, and God all have a sort of desirable and real infinity, but it is not the unlimitedness or infinity of matter- or even of nature in the primary sense of the term.

Related to this is another sort of perverse fascination with the infinite, which consists in wrongly desiring the sort of imperfect and formless infinity which lies around nature in certain ways. We can "rejoice" for example, in the sort infinity of historical change, the infinity of opinions, the infinity of human cultures- or in general, the infinity of human artifacts when considered as infinite. A certain Philosopher took this argument to its term when he insisted that God was prime matter. Some other variations on this argument are that becoming is prior to being, human nature must be entirely made by political activity, and that diversity in things is the ultimate good.
 
5/07/2005
 
Again...


Another Flare-up of the battling straw men: atheist-for-the-sake-of-evolution folks and the IDers. My comments are toward the end. I vouch for everything Matt says as well. So too with Ken, who just wanted too tell a news story.
 
5/06/2005
 
The First Principle of Tyranny
(which applies to more than simply those we call tyrants)

The first principle of tyranny is that right is made by the tyrant- in the sense that the ultimate end of action is not given, but constructed by him. Any attempt to explain this principle will involve refuting it- for the very idea of "construction" will crumble into unintelligibility, as will the idea of "end" and "right".

Kodiak and I have discussed this many times. A few conclusions:

- If tyranny were possible, then the question "what if the tyrant does something that is not in his interest?" becomes unintelligible. Unless the tyrant has an absolute dominion over what is good, the first principle of the tyrant makes no sense. Neither is it an objection to say that the tyrant might make the end, but might mistake the means toward it. For to say this is to say that A.) there is an intelligible order of means that exists separately from the will of the tyrant; B.) Means differ from ends in an absolute, and not a relative sense, which is false, since any means, when taken as a term of action, is a sort of end.

- If the tyrant had absolute dominion over the good, then the contrary of his desires would not be of necessity evil. He could make whatever existing order was around him good merely by declaring it so. Why would the tyrant seek power, control, or social change if the opposite of these things could become good simply by his own say so?

-No action, tyrannical or otherwise, is intelligible apart from some term, regardless of whether the term is the action itself (like playing guitar, or seeing) or in something that comes to be (an orange, a pie). Now while this or that given may be posterior to this or that action, the proper end or term of any action is prior to the action itself. An action without a term could not be a determinate action- it would no more be what it is than its opposite.

This argument is countered by arguments that all reduce to the claim that the terms of actions only exist per accidens. Actions, in other words, are not determinate per se, but certain ends just "happen". All things, in other words, come to be by chance, or reduce to chance events. I dealt with this objection here.

-Tyrants require friends, because they are human. Tyrants can have no friends, because they are tyrants.

-Tyrants must view their putative "greatest, wholly constructed, good" as being something unique to themselves in the sense of being incommunicable to others (no tyrant sees his tyranny as something that would be just as good if another had it.) But this requires that a goodness that only can communicate itself to one being is better than a goodness that communicates itself to many. This may be true in a relative sense, but taken generally, the idea is absurd, for it would sever from goodness the idea of diffusibility (primarily as an end, but secondarily as an agent).
 
5/02/2005
 
Abstract

Natural philosophy is one. It is perceived as two- the ancient, and the modern.

Hypothesis: this is from two factors: the tendency of the empirical part to use technical terms- especially in equations-, that are not prima facie reducible to the terms in the ancient system; and the employment of different tools to arrive at an understating of nature.

Experiment: Founded on Lewis Carroll's observation that if one were to try to explain an algebra problem in words, they would soon realize the difficulty of the task. But I have seen algebra explained in Euclid. Seek, then, to explain a few stock equations using words, not symbols. Will take as exhibit A the flagship equation of modern science: Energy equals mass times speed of light squared.
 
Traditio aut Vanitas

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