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Vomit the Lukewarm
6/30/2005
 
An Act and Ability, Part I

(n.b. in Latin, the word for "ability" is potentia, usually rendered in English as "potency". This is good for connecting us with the tradition which speaks of "act and potency", but here "ability" works a little better. I'll use the words interchangeably)

An Act and ability are names that first apply to distinctions in motion. To understand this,

1.) take any verb that denotes a motion or a coming to be "run", 'spit', 'walk', 'eat', 'fall', 'move'...etc.
2.) put 'can' in front of it.
3.) then, put the verb in the present imperfect tense: e.g. is running, is eating, is moving'...etc.

#3 stands to #2 as act to ability. In fact, this is the first meaning of "an act" and "an ability/potency"*. All other meanings proceed out of this first meaning by analogy. This is why motion is "the act of the potential"- it something that can run actually running, something that can eat actually eating, something that can move moving. Because the "something" in which the action is can be considered in many different ways, but motion only considers the thing as the act of the potential, we add for precision "the act of the potential as potential".

___________________
*the first meaning of "an act" is "an action", which can be taken in two ways- either as complete or as incomplete. Either way, however, the mind first relates "an act" to something being done, which is proceeded by an ability.
 
6/29/2005
 
The mind can make collections, and then make an artifact to represent that collection. This is to make a symbol.
Or the mind can notice what something is (this thing noticed will belong as much to the individual as to the collection of them) and express what it is. This is to use a word.

A symbol represents a particular always, regardless of how many particulars are spoken of. At best it speaks of any particular.
The word can precind from the particularity of the symbol.

A symbol can pertain only to a class,
a word can pertain to a species, or a genus.

Symbols can be meaningfully instantiated apart from thought- an abacus does as much.
Words cannot properly be so- for words are primarily things spoken.

Symbolic logic is a logic of particular things (for every x, if x is H then... this is a mere collection)
no study of particulars is open to what is.
 
 
The Objections to the Existence of God
In (ST I, q2. a3)

An atheist asserts that God is either impossible or unnecessary. If impossible, it is because the evil in the world makes perfect goodness impossible, if unnecessary, it is because the world that man sees does not require anything external to itself. These particular arguments can have variants, but the variants will all turn on denying a first perfect and good principle to the cosmos. The arguments asserting that God is unnecessary deny the principle altogether; the arguments that assert God is impossible deny some perfection or goodness (just, caring, intelligent, powerful, etc).

Either way, the atheist's meditation on the universe requires asserting some evil as ultimate, for their philosophy consists in the negation of any ultimate perfection. Atheism negates goodness either by negating some intelligent cause of the cosmos (and being cannot be good except by participation in an ultimate goodness- and ultimate goodness is intelligent) or by negating more directly that there is any good being causing the universe. In our own day, the first way of atheism is advocated by those who cultivate ignorance of metaphysics for whatever reason (usually a misunderstanding of empirical science, or religion, or politics, or some other kind of discipline) and the second way of atheism is advocated by a group of people who cultivate a disproportionate meditation on evil, in an attempt to prove the existence of some kind of ultimate evil.
 
6/28/2005
 
Guess That Author (answer in comments)

A critique of Alfred North Whitehead's Religion in the Making.
(the critic begins by noting that "the ground idea of Religion in the Making is that a new metaphysical description of the universe is necessary today because of the discoveries of modern science." Notably, the space-time continuum.)

...Professor Whitehead assumes that a new meaning given to a word endows that word ipso facto with that new meaning- but the mere fact that I call black white does not make it so... I do not mean to say that Professor Whitehead has gone to the length of calling black "white", but he has avoided the ordinary terminology of philosophy and coined a nomenclature all his own. "Value" he writes, "is a word I use for the intrinsic reality of the event (p.136)". Creatures, he calls "epochal occasions"; universals are "eternal objects"; cause is "a ground"; effect is "a consequent"; creation is "a progress". Then there is such a word as "prehension" and such sentences as "He (God) transcends the temporal world because he is in actual fact the nature of things"- in which the word "transcendence" is used in an entirely different meaning from the one ordinarily given it. Philosophy will not be helped in its task of solving problems, which are difficult enough, by too great a flexibility in terminology. Novelty in expression is a shortcut to novelty in doctrine, but it is also the death of doctrine. Philosophy today, to my thinking, needs a lexicon more than it needs a space time continuum.
 
6/27/2005
 
Note on Genus and the Thing That is the Genus

Our mind moves from the confused whole to the more distinct and more particular part. Nevertheless, the more general and confused understandings are present in the more particular, not as accident in a substance (although they cannot exist apart) nor simply as an intentional entity, existing only in the mind. "Genus" as such or anything called "genus" as so called, is not "in" an individual, for genus exists only in relation to a less general class which it virually contains (in other words, we cannot determine whether "animal", for example, is a genus. in relation to "rational animal" it is, in relation to "corporeal substance" it isn't.)

But though genus is an intentional being, "animal" does correspond to something in, say, koko, fido, and Lincoln. The ability they have to sense isn't something that comes to be with our thought. Our sensing does not cause their sense organs. For that matter, our sensing or knowing doesn't cause our own sense organs either.
 
6/24/2005
 
Aspects of Agent Causes, IV
instruments and dominion

All instruments are agent causes, inasmuch as they are active and perfective of an effect. The instrument adds to this the idea of receiving some power from the agents superior to it. This reception means that the instrument exists by participation in its superior agents. It makes no difference that an instrument can sometimes continue to act and cause when it is separated from its superior agent- as would happen, for example, if a man were to fire a rocket and then change his mind about wanting it to hit the target. Not every superior agent, taken separately, has perfect dominion over the instrument. And in a certain sense, the rocket is moving according to an intention- an intention the man now regrets.

No man has perfect dominion over his instruments, for anything that exists can act in some way, but man does not have perfect control over what exists. Man is not the agent reason for existence.
 
6/23/2005
 
"The Crisis In..."

It's a phrase we usually use because it's fun to talk about "the crisis" but its no fun to do anything about it. Is philosophy in crisis? Why should I care? Why not simply philosophize?

Oh right- because of the common good. I'd be better at this if others around me were actually philosophizing and not fascinating themselves with baubles of trivia. We'd all be better if we could work together, and the crisis keeps us from working together.

So the prime reason that I hate the crisis is that it keeps me from having co-workers and, well, friends. The end of the crisis is not when the enemy is silenced, but when friends are working together to philosophize.
 
 
Aspects of Agent Causes, Part III
on agency and participation

Instruments are sorts of agent causes, because agents are active, perfecting causes, and instrument only adds to this the idea that the instrument is also passive and perfected by something else. This passivity in the instrument, however, is not to be understood as making it a sort of material cause- for an instrument is not something out of which a thing is made ( we don't make dresses out of scissors).

We can distinguish two aspects in every instrument: a.) what it is in itself, b.) its participation in the superior causes. The first relates to the second as something that can be to something that is: because scissors are what they are, they are able to cut; because a bullet retains the force we impart to it, it is able to take down the deer; because I listen to the counselor, I am able to do the right thing.

All instrumental causes exist as causes by participation. The instrument becomes a cause at the exact moment when it begins to participate in the action of the superior cause or causes. In other words, as cause, to be is to participate.

All causes that are instruments to us have only an imperfect participation in our agency. I use this computer to write, and it only writes inasmuch as it is an extension and participation in my intentions, but there is more to the computer than what is participating in my intentions. There is something to the instrument that is not a participation in my agency. It will still be here after I stop writing. We can call this sort of agency we have over our instruments "imperfect" because something is called a cause because it is responsible for being, and our agency is not perfectly responsible for the being of the instruments, but only inasmuch as they participate in our intentions, which they do not do in a complete way.
 
6/22/2005
 
Aspects of an Agent cause, Part II

Every aspect of an agent cause is in one sense only a part of the agent, and has therefore only a partial effect, but in another sense it is responsible for the whole of the action. The knife beng metal is responsible for one aspect of the total effect, and the edge is responsible for another aspect. But these two aspects are not really separable in the actual cut that has been made, even though we can distinguish them in thought. Each of the aspects, however, is really present in the effect, even though they can only be separated in thought.

In sum:

We can distinguish many aspects in every agent. Each of these aspects of the agent will contribute a certain part to the final action. Each of these "parts", though they are really present in the effect, are separable from each other only in thought. In asmuch as none of these parts can be really separated, each of these parts can be viewed as "the whole action" for two reasons:

a.) since each part is not separable in reality from the effect that has been done, the only way to eliminate a part is to eliminate the whole

b.) Since without each of the different aspects of the agent, the effect would not have occured as it did (or not at all). And so each aspect of the agent is responsible for the whole effect, even though it is not reponsible for it as its proper effect.
 
6/21/2005
 
Aspects in an Agent Cause Part I

- Say I cut a piece of steak. I use a knife. I can distinguish different aspects of the knife: it is made out of metal- (or something like it) it has an edge, it retains the edge throughout the whole cut. Each of these is responsible for different aspects of the cut- the edge explains why it cut, but not why it kept the edge long enough to cut (the metal explains that) and the metal explains why the knife is hard, but not why it is sharp, etc. I could add in any number of other aspects: who it is moved by, whether it is serrated, etc. and each of these aspects of the knife would be responsible for a different aspect of the cut.
 
 
Not the Heretics, but the Rivals...

The church fathers saw the rival Greek religions as ridiculous. They did not take them seriously except to the extent that they pointed to the Church. They practiced, interestingly, what could be called an apologetics of ridicule.
 
6/20/2005
 
Short Distinctions

1.) a principle is the first in a certain order, a cause is something responsible for being.

2.) the principle of inertia does not give a cause for continuing motion, for inertia is not the cause of moving, but the resistance to an outside force of change. Those who speak of inertia do not, or at least cannot, posit it as a cause of the continuing motion. They merely take the continuance of motion as a fact which is not explained (i.e. uniform motion is a state), just as the maker of an engine takes the expansive power of gas as a fact that he does not need to explain in order to make an engine.

3.) An equivocal cause is a cause which produces an ontologically inferior effect, which nonetheless it has some likeness to. A human mind (which is spiritual and can count) can make a calculator (which is purely material and can count).

Aristotle posited equivocal agents which were non-spiritual, sc. the heavenly bodies. There no longer appears to be any such equivocal agents, although the equivocal agent is still manifestly necessary.
 
6/18/2005
 
Esse

Usually translated "existence", and it can mean that- yet we should keep in mind its relation to perfection. Esse is the actual perfection of essentia- esse is that by which a definition comes to life and stands in front of us.
 
6/17/2005
 
The Politics of Being Left Alone

As soon as we see ourselves as having no voice in the society we live in, In other words, as soon as we see ourselves as powerless in the face of current events, we will begin to advocate a political view which places the greatest emphasis on the government simply leaving us alone. All modern political parties advocate strongly this "being left alone", although it does not mean the same thing to all of them.

This feeling we have of a lack of voice proceeds from a regime getting too large. My suspicion is that all empires and super-states come to have a popular philosophy of "being left alone". For example, the Alexandrian Greeks and the Romans from Augustus to Constantine were popularly Epicurians- a philosophy that is often misunderstood as hedonism. There is a way in which this is true, but it is misleading. The Epicurians were not, by doctrine, riotous- they primarily wanted to be left alone in serenity.

This point where the state gets too large is the most apparent harbinger of decay. It will be inevitably followed by the politics of "being left alone"- where it will be agreed on all sides that there should be little relation between law and morality. The total divorce of these is impossible, of course, but what we mean is that in "the politics of being left alone", what people call law will contain less and less of what they call moral, and what people call "moral" they will be less and less comfortable putting into what they call "law". They will come to see "the state" or "the culture" or "society" as an intrinsically non- moral thing- i.e. people will view the state/culture/society as the sort of thing that should not speak of what people call "the morally right and wrong". This morally right and wrong will be decided by the individual- either by himself, or by some politically insulated body that the individual signs on to- like a church or some other club.

I don't in this post cast a moral judgment on the politics of being left alone- I lean toward both toward condemning it and simply accepting it as the only kind of politics that is possible in an age of decline and decay. I only note now that it is a politics of decline and decay- it is the philosophy of the dying (though it may take hundreds of years to die). I am uncomfortable, however, with how fatalistic one has to be to accept the politics of being left alone.
 
6/16/2005
 
How Vice Leads to Fatalism

We are moved by our passions (this is the very reason we call them passions, because we suffer them).

It is the very definition of virtue to have some dominion over the passions.

To the extent that we lack virtue, therefore, we are lead to a sort of fatalism- for we experience ourselves as wholly moved by something other than ourselves. Our emotional attachment to fatalism, determinism, historical/political/ cultural inevitability is proportionate to the amount of vice we observe in ourselves; either as individuals, or as a culture and society.
 
6/15/2005
 
Brain Weedings, Thought Seedings

1.) One awful consequence of immodesty is that we make a ridiculous identification between good looks and good sex. This is a categorical mistake. Looks can be good apart from being meaningful, reciprocal, or attached to an interesting, intense, or erotic person who is madly in love with us. Good sex cannot be indifferent to these things. Would you care what a woman looked like if she treated sex in the same way that Winston's wife did in Orwell's 1984?

In a nutshell: immodesty intensifies and exaggerates our erroneous idea that good sex means sex that's good to look at. "Sex we like" somehow comes to mean "sex we'd like to see ourselves doing". But sex isn't something you look at, its something you do.

2.) Most of the life of vice is spent saying "just one more".

3.) Intellect knows being
being as such has no particular determination
what lacks any particular determination is, as such, infinite in the sense of belonging to all.
so the intellect knows infinite in the sense of all.

Man comes to know all distinctly through having one idea for each thing known
God knows all distinctly through the single idea that is himself
Angels have a plurality of ideas, but they do not need a separate one for each thing known.

4.) Meditation on the angels helps us remember the primacy of the immaterial, the divine quality of the human soul, the dignity of the intellect...

5.) we have lost the emphasis that should be placed on man as living.

-6.) When we study a female person as female, or for that matter, when we study a male person as male, we do not study the best thing about them. When we go further and study female persons or male persons as such, but apart from reproduction, we lose all ability even to understand them as female or male.

Feminism, therefore, is at best subordinate in dignity to the study of the nature of human persons- what Aristotle would have called "psychology" (the study of the soul) and "ethics" (the study of the soul's end for the sake of action). When severed from an a necessary relation to reproduction, the study of women as women (or for that matter, men as men) becomes completely incoherent- and it will end up annihilating in thought the very thing one wanted to understand.
 
6/14/2005
 
Thought Seedings

-In Christianity, the word "father" means two things when said of the divinity a.) the divine nature b.) the first person of the Trinity. Figuring out the words of Christ requires distinguishing these two meanings. In one sense, Christ (as God) is his own Father (as a man). In another sense, Christ (as second person) is the son of the first person.

-For Aristotle, "imitation" which is as the genus of all art, implies two things

a.) an order of dependence of the imitation on the imitated (two like things are not "imitations" even if they are identical.)
b.) The imitation exists in the mode of intelligibiles- it is defined in reference to knowledge, as a sign is.

Uncovering what is implicit in this goes a long way to understanding what art is.

-Some people think one should study Aristotle's Metaphysics first, others think one should begin with the Categories. Refuting the first opinion can be done with only the vaguest understanding of what Aristotle taught, but the opinion also seems a kind of false dichotomy: chapter two of the Categories is very metaphysical- it accounts for substance as "neither present in or said of", and it accounts for "present in" as "unable to exist apart". In Chapter Five, one gets some of the best description of what a substance is.

-Peter is a Saint, all saints have heroic virtue, so what are Peter's virtues? Faith and Humility. Peter's essential nature, his core being, was a believer aware of his sin.

-The Laval Journal from about 1945-1974 is a testament to a Golden Age of human thought.

-What we desire to attain in evil cannot be attained except by good . What the romantic desires cannot be fulfilled except by sacraments. There are not two ways, two truths, two moralities, only the path of contradiction and the moral.

-The Latin Averrhoists are better modern philosophers.
 
6/06/2005
 
Proper and Common Meaning

Take almost any word in any language, and it is likely to have more than one meaning. Take the word "cold": which has at least five meanings:

a.) The absence of heat
b.) A common sickness
c.) something unsolved (a cold case)
d.) an unfeeling disposition
e.) the absense of further signs or clues (the trail went cold).

All of these have the common idea of "privation", even though "privation" is not one of the meanings of cold. Even if "privation" came to be one of the meanings of "cold" (so that we started to say "I'm cold to the bank" and mean by this we were in debt.) This meaning would still be simply one meaning of the term among others: it would not be "the real meaning of cold".

In the above example, there are three different things to notice:

1.) All the meanings are proper meanings of the term. When we call a sort of sickness a cold we are not using a metaphor, as though we could call it an "ice" and be making the same sort of statement.
2.) We can see that there is a certain order among the meanings: it is not the case that we minted every meaning of the word cold ex nihilo, with no reference to the other meanings. A meaning like a. was admittedly first, and then the word expanded its meaning from there.
3.)There is a common idea behind all the meanings of the word "cold". This might one day become a proper meaning of the term, but then this meaning could be viewed either as a common idea, or as a proper meaning, even if the account was in both cases identical.

This property of words to take on other proper meanings is called analogy, and words are analogous as a rule. It is the rare exception among words that they have only one meaning.
 
6/03/2005
 
Matter and Infinite Regress

Matter or material can only be understood in relation to another: we call cloth material in reference to a clothing or drapes, or blankets, etc, and we call thread material in reference to cloth, or stitches, etc. This is not to say that we have no understanding of thread or cloth apart from the things they become, but we do have no such understanding of them as matter.

This tends to lead to a difficulty for the formal study of matter. Atoms, for example, are not made out of atoms, but the imagination rebels against saying that they are not made out of something. Modern chemistry, at least at the lower levels, tends to avoid this problem by representing electrons, neutrons, and protons as little spheres. The sphere, however, is nothing more than a symbol for something we are not going to think about.

Even if one were to indentify what atoms were made out of, the temptation for regress does not stop. So long as we look at some material thing as having a substatial quality in itself, we can distinguish between the thing as a sort of substance, and the thing as "made of" something. If we understand something as matter, and then consider it as a sort of substance, we will naturally ask "what is the matter of this substance"? We then find ourselves asking about the matter of "matter" (really something material considered not as matter, but as a substance).

This enterprise of finding "the matter of matter" and "the matter of the matter of matter" cannot ever reach some term. Matter is not the sort of thing that can ever have some first, substantial existence. So long as we continue looking for some first matter that can be understood substantially, we will never find it.
 
6/02/2005
 
On Berkeley

Johnson, famously, claimed to refute Berkeley by kicking a stone. One common response to Johnson is that he failed to understand the nature of Berkeley's philosophy: that his opinion is ill considered and easily met. There is some difficulty involved in the story because we don't know exactly what part of Berkeley Johnson was claiming to refute. It is often assumed that Johnson was reasoning like this:

Berkeley says there is nothing but ideas
Kicking this stone proves it's not an idea.

The response to this is close at hand:

Berkeley was speaking of the ontological nature of things
Kicking a stone does not reveal the ontological nature of things

So far, so good. I'm signed on. To imagine that kicking a stone would tell us about its intelligible nature is as silly as thinking there can be no such thing as "substance" because we can't peel away the accidents of color, quantity, relation, etc. and be left with something that was is all substance, through and through. I have known plenty of people who believe, for example, that Aristotle must have been some naive idiot for thinking that "substance" "matter" or "form" could possibly exist, because it is completely obvious that one can't sense form in the same way that they sense, say, the red on a fire engine. Perhaps Johnson was the sort of Philistine that denied Berkeley whole cloth because he didn't understand what it meant to account for the intelligible principles of natural things. Perhaps Johnson would have thought that he could refute the existence of what Aristotle called "substance" by kicking a stone too. But there is another reading of Johnson.

Take the following passage from Berkeley (bold is mine):

25. All our ideas, sensations, notions, or the things which we perceive, by whatsoever names they may be distinguished, are visibly inactive- there is nothing of power or agency included in them. So that one idea or object of thought cannot produce or make any alteration in another. To be satisfied of the truth of this, there is nothing else requisite but a bare observation of our ideas. For, since they and every part of them exist only in the mind, it follows that there is nothing in them but what is perceived: but whoever shall attend to his ideas will not perceive in them any power or activity; there is, therefore, no such thing contained in them. A little attention will discover to us that the very being of an idea implies passiveness and inertness in it, insomuch that it is impossible for an idea to do anything, or, strictly speaking, to be the cause of anything: neither can it be the resemblance or pattern of any active being, as is evident from sect. 8.

Imagine for a moment that Johnson had this passage in mind, and that by kicking the stone, he intended to cause himself pain (it is specified that the stone was a large stone, not simply a rock that went skidding down the street) Johnson then, can be seen not as making a claim that a stone was manifestly material as opposed to intelligible, but rather that the stone was hurting him. In other words, even on Berkeley's hypothesis, an idea was causing something: pain.

To read Johnson in this way, at the very least, gives a solid objection to Berkeley's theory. For the sake of full disclosure, I've tried to wrap my mind around Berkeley's The Principles of Human Knowledge in at least four different academic contexts, and I've never been able to see how one could get anything he says to follow. His arguments for "to be is to be perceived" only seem to prove, at best, that thought and being are co-extensive, but it does not follow from this that the latter depend on the former; his arguments against abstract ideas have the same problems as Hume's- why does it make sense to say "triangle" is nothing but scalene, isosoles, etc. when "scalene" is a word that is just as universal (with respect to the individuals named by it) as "triangle"? And the grandaddy of all of Berkeley's claims is the claim that the perceiver is the act of the idea. Even if I could get this to follow from his principles, I would regard such a conclusion as being a reductio ad absurdum. If my ideas depended on me for their act, I wouldn't perceive anything as creative as a black void with nothing in it.
 
Traditio aut Vanitas

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