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Vomit the Lukewarm
12/24/2005
 
On Our Opinion of How long Our Writing Needs To Be

I'm struck by how long some of my older posts were. "A Response to John Deck" stands out as terribly long, much more so than it needed to be... it makes sense that the man I wrote it for never responded. At the time I wrote the post, though, I think that I was of the mind that one must write long responses to important questions. While it is true that ceteris paribus one needs to write something longer for a more an important point than for a less important point, our idea of how long a piece of writing has to be is, in general, greatly exaggerated. The ancients thought that something the length of the Matthew's Gospel was long enough to explain the life of Christ. The medievals thought that an article about the length of an Op- ed could prove pretty much any one thing you wanted to know about God. With the amount of words that the average guy would dedicate to his Doctoral thesis, Plato could probably write twenty dialogues, and Aristotle, half his corpus.
 
12/22/2005
 
Aristotle and Words

Aristotle's whole philosophy is grounded on words. This should be evident from the beginnings of the first two books in Aristotle's corpus, from the fifth book of the Metaphysics, and from the frequency with which Aristotle says thing like "______ is said to be..." etc. Even before I was a disciple of Aristotle, I remember reading him and thinking "no one could ever beat this guy in an argument: he's cornered the market on words". At the time, I said this because I thought Aristotle was being tricky or underhanded. Like most readers of Aristotle, I was convinced that his whole philosophy was a bunch of "word games". The frequency with which Aristotle gets accused of simply playing tricks with words is an indication of the centrality of words in his philosophy.

We can belittle Aristotle for founding his philosophy on words only if we assert that words do not essentially reveal what things are. This opinion is now common. Much of modern logic, for example, is reared upon the idea that words are unnecessary for thought, even that they are an impediment to figuring out what is true. This opinion is in keeping with certain ideas of what it means to be "scientific", sc. that one should strive to eliminate as many words as possible, to get to the point where one is imply manipulating various symbols according to pre- set laws. We expect those who preeminently are supposed to tell us about the nature of the universe: i.e. the scientists, to do their job in silence and simply churn out equations. We also expect the science which is preeminently certain, sc. mathematics, to be about the manipulation of symbols, as opposed to the meaning of things. What the modern mind calls mathematics is really a sort of symbol manipulation that is done far better by a computer. Everyone admits that computers have a great ability to manipulate symbols, but it is just as obvious that they have no ability to explain what a word means.

But symbols, even though they are necessary tools for science, cannot take the place of words. A symbol and a word have an essential difference: a symbol stands for some thing, but a word has a meaning. The best short thomistic argument of this can be seen in this example: take a common symbol in physics "F" and a common word "dog". I can say "F = 6 Newtons", because the symbol "F" stands for any force in particular. But I can't say "Dog is fido", because the word dog doesn't stand for any dog in particular. Another sign of the difference between symbols and words is that we can't "solve for dog". Yet another sign is that we don't need to know what a symbol means to use it effectively (if 5+ x= 17.2, we don't need to know what x means to use it... i.e. is it standing for a force? a temperature? pounds of butter?) but we do need to know what "dog" means if we want to use it in speech. There is an irreducible difference between standing for something and meaning something.

Aristotle' science is essentially ordered to explaining the meanings of things. For this reason, he must ground his science on words. This was not a particularly Aristotelian notion- even those with profound disagreements with Aristotle still tried to found their thought on the meanings of words- we are simply more prone than other times to see the use of symbols as a greater sign of erudition than the use and understanding of words.
 
12/21/2005
 
Intelligent Design, Evolution, and Thomism

Both the ID'ers and the Evolutionists (and for that matter, most people simply speaking) agree on the following principle:

"what happens by chance is not caused by intelligence"

This is fine as a dialectical principle to get a discussion going, but in the sense in which the ID'ers and the evolutionists want to use it, it is false, since the whole ID/ evolution debate revolves around whether we can know God, and this principle is false when it is said in relation to the divine intelligence. As soon as this whole discussion shifts to a discussion of God, the Thomists can get involved: and the first thing we can bring up is that God is the universal cause of all participated being- regardless of whether the being came to be by chance or by design.

The principle quoted above is only true when it is restricted to what perennial philosophy calls "beings by participation". Said another way, the principle is true when if one is speaking about human or angelic intelligence, but not if he is speaking about the intelligence of God, the universal agent. The intelligence of the universal agent is the cause of existence as such, in such a way that whatever exists is caused and being caused by this agent. You can obviously disagree over whether any such intelligent universal agent exists- but if you want to do so, you need to start talking about being, essence, existence, causality, agency, being by participation... and for that matter, you have to start talking about what intelligence means.
 
12/19/2005
 
The Short form of the Argument Below.

Mozart is a better composer than Marty Haugen.
 
 
On Modern Liturgical Music

Over at Plato's Stepchild, there is a dispute about Catholic liturgical music. Both sides (see here) are being silly now, which is unfortunate since the topic they are discussing is of extreme importance. Music in general is of underappreciated importance- being one of the primary influences of character. This makes the music of the liturgy significant even when considered simply as music, but even more so because the music of the liturgy cannot but be seen- especially by the young- as the music approved by God.

The dispute began with Tony asking The Stepchild to define a bad hymn. The stepchild didn't do so. Let me try: I define a bad hymn primarily as "A musical composition that is not fitting to the mass". So there's a definition. The definition can be taken in two ways:

1.) Modern liturgical music is a bad because it is the sort of music that is unfitting to the mass, or
2.) Modern liturgical music is bad, but only because of the particular songs that have been written.

For my own part, I favor position 1. Here's why:

- It has always been my experience that no one listens to modern Catholic liturgical music outside of when they have to listen to it at the mass. Mr. Haugen and Mr. Haas do not sell many CD's, and there seems to be no demand for them. I have never heard any of their songs outside of the context of the mass. If their music is intrinsically worth listening to, why is it that it sells so poorly, especially given the sort of aggressive advertising that is afforded to someone who gets heard so frequently by so many people?

- Modern liturgical music- as any liturgical music- is by nature ordered toward making God known. But modern liturgical music is intrinsically limited in it ability to make God known. Modern liturgical music does not admit of any way of expressing the majesty, transcendence or solemnity of God, because it is folk inspired, and folk- inspired music has no power to strike one with a sense of awe. People love folk music because it is folkish, which is the opposite of awe inspiring, solemn, transcendent, majestic, sublime, etc. If one tried to play a folk song when a king walked in- or some other lofty dignitary, everyone would be confused. It is unfitting, it would clang. But liturgical music must be able to invoke majesty and awe- to the extent that it cannot, it is simply unfitting.

-Modern liturgical music is unfit to be played in any context- since it is intrinsically unable to highlight any emotional state. A sign of this is that modern liturgical music is not used in any movie scene as a compliment to the action- even when the action is religious or uplifting, or expressing intimacy with God. Imagine, just as the most favorable example, a movie scene that calls for a moment in which a man experiences the revelation of the love of God- like St. Peter weeping at the feet of the Blessed Mother in The Passion, or William Wallace praying in his prison cell "Give me the strength, Lord, to die with dignity". Imagine the movie camera showing him choke on his tears. Then imagine that someone cues up the music "Here I am, Lord". CLANG. Everyone recognizes that this would, at best, destroy the whole scene. There could never be a movie made about the Passion of Christ that used modern liturgical music: so why is it that we think that it should ever be used at the mass- and for that matter, when does it ever work? Is there a single movie scene anywhere that effectively uses modern liturgical music as a compliment to anything?

-Modern liturgical music is by definition new. Inasmuch as it is new sort of music, it is unfit to invoke a sense of continuity with those who have come before us. But it is of the nature of the liturgy to invoke a sense of unity with those who came before us Therefore modern liturgical music is a bad sort of music.
 
12/18/2005
 
Scholarship about the highest things is ordered to profundity of learning- even when there is also great vastness of learning. Many great church doctors probably would not have done much better or much worse than other bright theologians on a standardized test of theological knowledge, but they could meditate for days over parts of the Creed or the Scriptures that almost everyone else passes over without notice. The same things that the saints could weep over, give their lives to thinking about, and toil to assimilate into their being are the same things as that we see as dogmatic, sterile, hackneyed, and too obvious to bother thinking about. Everyone has the same basic premisses in their head, but not all have the same disposition toward them. What the upstart tholgian finds boring or not as fulfilling is the same thing that an older theologian can find intensely interesting. It is surely possible to find new perspectives on things, new proofs for things known, new rhetorical rpresentations of things already known- but the goal is to understand the premise that we understood by rote since the beginning.
 
 
A Few Jottings on the Principle of Contradiction.

-Either we explicitly take the principle of contradiction as primary, or we do not. If we don't, all roads will lead to Hegel, and then to Marx.

-All nature is nothing other than a certain potency to be moved by the divine mind- and the principle of contradiction is known by nature. So the principle of contradiction is the voice of God within us. If you want to hear the voice of God say "nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect" or- my favorite formulation- "being is, and cannot not be"

-We do not ever need to ask "is this a situation where I can apply the principle of contradiction"? This shows that the principle is absolutely transcendent. This proves that there is some sense in which we already know all things. The same is shown by the fact that we understand the word "thing" and "all" and "nothing" and "always" and "existence" and "being"...

-The principle of identity is not primary. If it were, there would have to be two principles of identity: sc. "being is being" and "non- being is non- being"- and we only know that these are really two principles if we already know the principle of contradiction.

-The confusion about the principle of identity comes from confusions in analytical logic. This logic replaces perfectly good words like "being" with symbols like "A". But the symbolization is not possible apart from some word known first- a word that speaks to being. The symbol precinds from meaning- and therefore even from the distinction between being and non- being. But our knowledge, and the world, does not precind from the distinction between being and non-being. The symbolization of the principle of contradiction, and other premises of being will always lead to perverse ideas.
 
12/15/2005
 
-Double-effect reasoning is almost always done in a way that does not take note of the common good. Even when the argument still works, it doesn't work as well. When one intends the common good, such an intention can be contrary to certain individual goods. To negate certain goods becomes possible.
 
12/14/2005
 
-If it is not evil to think anything, it is not evil to do anything.

-One sense of the word "certainty" is "firmness of conviction" where conviction means "a feeling". In this sense, we are often more certain of culturally held opinions than of anything we have have proven. Most people feel more certain about the evils of racism than about any truths they demonstrate in, say, physics.

-Opinion and knowledge are not distinguished by the thing known, but how we know it. The one who has a rational proof knows, and to fall short of this is to have, at best, belief. For this reason, most people have beliefs about scientific facts: heliocentrism, atomic theory, evolution, genetics, etc. By "most people" I include most of the scientists I have known. How many chemists, for example, could give an informed argument for why matter must be atomic?

-One of the most universally accepted attributes of God is that he has no body. How many theologians hold this as a mere opinion? How many of them could even give an informed argument for why an existing being with no body is so much as possible?
 
12/13/2005
 
If you, O Lord, were to lay our sins bare, what eye could endure it?

A large part of what makes us what we are is utterly loathsome, and known only to ourselves (if you can't remember yours right off the bat, give it some time). Between the guilt of all this, and the irrational things we do the hide guilt, and the darkness of mind that attends our loathsomeness, a large part of why a person or a society does what it does is unknown.
 
12/12/2005
 
A Whack at the Gordian Knot of Energy in Physics

(one half of a dialectical give and take- but I'd like to see how far it could be pushed)

Save me from the spiritualization of energy! Physicists seem intent on viewing it a mystical and almost divine way (divinization of natural beings is a common to the earlier stages of any mathematical physics). The puzzles about what energy is all seem unnecessary to me. Energy is a certain number of kilograms moved in a certain amount of time, times meters. It's a measurement on a scale, a stick, and a stopwatch and that's it.
 
 
Hypothesis

St. Thomas claimed to learn more in prayer before a crucifix than in all his study of books.

Hypothesis:

As a scholarly type, Thomas Aquinas continually thought about what things mean. He considered the life of Christ from every angle. He carved out a thousand distinctions about him, he memorized every word the Scriptures said about him, he memorized more books about Christ than most people have read, and understood every page of them. He meditated continually on the meaning of Christ's life as he knelt before the crucifix, and grew in understanding.

And yet, one day in prayer it strikes him all the things that Christ's life means are dependent upon the fact that Christ actually lived. This perfection, which even a child can understand with great clarity, and perhaps with even greater clarity than an adult, was the perfection upon which all the others depend. Christ can not mean anything unless he existed. The essence of his life is a secondary perfection to his existence. Thomas proceeds to meditate on this existence continually, experiencing its primacy and power. Just think, all the things that he learned as a scholar were dependent on the one insight that any five year old could have- the root perfection of the faith is not anything that the Incarnation means, but the belief that it happened.

St. Thomas, through this insight, comes to an intimite understanding of esse, existence. Later he uses this insight to explain certain philosophical and theological problems. This insight comes to be seen as one of his central contibutions to philosophy.
 
 
Manuducio

One of the loveliest ideas in St. Thomas articulated in his use of the word manuducio: "being led by the hand". This word conveys the central idea in discipleship. Man is for some time in life led by the hand by a master, and he is aways led in this life by the things of sensation, and by his angel, and he is led by God both in this life and the next. St. Thomas sees manuducio as esential to the intellectual life. Philosophers should see themselves more as being led than as leading.
 
12/10/2005
 
Number and the Things Beyond the Cosmos.


Scripture has many instances of numbers that express the superabundance of heavenly things: of the angels, there is "thousand thousands [of angels] ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him (Dan. 7:10)" and "the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands (Rev. 5:11)". To express the magnitude of what is forgiven by grace, we have Christ saying: "one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents (Mt. 18:27)". The idea with these is not to indicate a specific sum, but rather to exhaust the imagination. We were meant to encounter those numbers as unimaginable sums, which leads to a sort of ecstasy of contemplation. Ten thousand times ten thousand was supposed to mean something like "beyond all number".

But ten thousand times ten thousand is not beyond all number for the modern mind. Even very young children will talk about billions and trillions- and if you give them the names for higher numbers they will speak of them too. Eighth grade science textbooks will throw around far greater numbers than billions, and one can write out numbers of unimaginable magnitude quite easily using scientific notation. No matter how absurdly large one wants a number, scientific notation makes brief work of it: the number of grams the sun weighs (2 x 10^33) the distance to the furthest known galaxy in nanometers, etc. Once one knows the method for manipulating scientific notation, he doesn't have to do much more than be able to multiply single digits, and add doubles to easily write out numbers that seem as great as can be calculated.

I like the modern mind on this account. Because there is no number that can dazzle our minds simply as number, we are more forced to come to grips with what it means to be "beyond number". This getting beyond number is, to my mind, one of the hardest things to understand about the things beyond the cosmos. When we say "there are three divine persons" and "there are three oranges on the table" the word "three" does not mean the same thing in both statements. Likewise, "ten thousand angels" and "ten thousand puppies" do not use the word "ten thousand" in the same way. Angels do not have the sort of homogeneity that number requires, the homogeneity of quantity. All the things that happen in the cosmos have a sort of homogeneity, of space or time or both, which allows us to count them.

The things of heaven do not have this homogeneity in any way, because they have a degree of uniqueness that exceeds anything in the cosmos, even man. When we are in heaven, and first see an angel- we will first think that it is God- but even after we are told that it is not God, the next time we look at an angel, the exact same thing will happen. Angels are not what we call "alike". Each individual is a completely different species. One angel need not remind us of another, the way all men are recognizable as men, for each angel is a subsistent species. God is further than even this, for he is beyond all species and genera absolutely. Any sort of universality of genus or species is utterly impossible to say of God. If there were one, it could only be "esse" or "existence"- but this is not a genus.
 
12/09/2005
 
The Cosmos as a Whole

(By cosmos, I mean the whole of material things- the solar system, the galaxies, the distant stars, etc. This order is often called "the universe". For thomists, however, "the universe" includes the angelic universe, which exist in a far greater number than the order of material things.)

The cosmos is already essentially known as temporal, corporeal, changeable and changing, arranged in a hierarchy, evolved, composed, caused and causing, existent, etc. These traits are already known, and are known as the sorts of things that one will always find in the cosmos (the material universe). It makes no difference if we look around where we are or if we travel as great a distance from here as we wish to imagine- all through the trip, and after it, and after any amount of trips of even greater length, we already know that there is time, bodily existence, change, space, cause and caused, and all the essential properties of these. So long as we speak of these things, then, we are speaking of the cosmos as a whole.

The cosmos, as a whole, is already known, and cannot not be knowable. Even if we say "everything we know about the cosmos might be wrong", we are still speaking about a possible error concerning the cosmos as a whole, which requires some grasp of the cosmos as a whole*. For this reason, whenever there is intellect and the cosmos the intellect will contain the cosmos, and if the cosmos itself contains the intellect, then the cosmos will be perfective of intellect. The intellect in the cosmos will also give a certain perfection to the cosmos, for through cosmic intellect (and cosmic/material intellect is all philosophy considers to be man) the universe becomes known to itself, acquiring a new an immaterial unity. Also, in man, matter gains an essential unity to the immaterial, for man is a rational animal- a immaterial/material being.

___________________________
*The cosmos is not simply "whatever is", a sort of null set devoid of content. This was shown in the first paragraph. There is, in fact, quite a lot of content in the word "cosmos".
 
 
Participation

(some doctrine of participation in essential to the thought of Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas- making it as close to a philosophical slam dunk as you're going to find)

To exist by participation is to have being through the activity of another. This participated existence is analogous to the existence our ideas have in our own mind, but the analogy is not perfect. The analogy works insofar as:

-The participation proceeds from an activity of mind.

-The whole being of the participated thing is from the other- it is not the case, for example, that there is something that first exists, and then the participation is something added to it.

-The participated thing is continually getting existence from the activity of the mind. There is in fact no difference in the dependence that our ideas have on the mind when we first think of them, and after we have thought about them for awhile.

-Though the whole being is receiving existence from the mind, this still allows for an order.

-The participated thing is different from the activity of the mind.

The analogy does not work insofar as

-The things do not give perfection to the mind, as our ideas do. IF they did, then the mind from which they proceeded would in fact exist by participation- the cause of all being would be caused by all being.

-The ideas in our mind are generally not substances, but as accidents in us. But those things that exist by participation are truly substances. There is no proof necessary for this. If you ever find yourself denying that a pig, chicken or a man are substances, you've taken a wrong turn somewhere. Truths don't get much more obvious than this.
 
12/08/2005
 
Some Necessary Reading in The Relation of Catholicism and Thomism

here. In chapter #55. For another account of the same thomistic theses mentioned, see here

There is more by the author here.
 
 
St. Thomas for Memorization

Now what the mind conceives may be reduced to a twofold principle; to God Himself, Who is the primal truth; and to the will of the one who understands, whereby we actually consider anything. But because truth is the light of the intellect, and God Himself is the rule of all truth; the manifestation of what is conceived by the mind, as depending on the primary truth, is both speech and enlightenment; for example, when one man says to another: "Heaven was created by God"; or, "Man is an animal." The manifestation, however, of what depends on the will of the one who understands, cannot be called an enlightenment, but is only a speech; for instance, when one says to another: "I wish to learn this; I wish to do this or that." The reason is that the created will is not a light, nor a rule of truth; but participates of light. Hence to communicate what comes from the created will is not, as such, an enlightening. For to know what you may will, or what you may understand does not belong to the perfection of my intellect; but only to know the truth in reality.

S.T. 1, Q.107, a.2
 
12/07/2005
 
Hypothesis Formed While Sitting at A Gathering of Contemporary Theologians.

One of the distinctive characteristics of the modern theologians I have had to deal with is that they hold that the Incarnation, Resurrection, etc. would have meaning for them even if they never happened. I understand the feeling here: I see great meaning in Greek myths, even though I don't believe in any of those gods; and I greatly value what the belief in Athena did for Greek architecture, sculpture, and letters, even though I don't believe she exists.

But why is it that I can see Athena as meaningful, and yet non-existent? One necessary condition for this seems to be that I'm indifferent to Athena's existence in this sense: I've never prayed to Athena, nor attended any ceremonies to her, nor have I ever tried to live as though she cared about me, nor have I humiliated myself in front of her priests in the hope of winning her favor. I've also never expressed any love to Athena, nor given my life to her. That, in a nutshell, is why I can simultaneously believe that Athena has meaning, and yet does not exist. If I loved Athena- loved her in the sense that I truly gave my life for her- I would see any attempt to sever Athena's existence from her meaning as, well, blasphemous.

On this note, it seems typical of modern theologians that they see great meaning in the significant events in the life of Christ, even though they don't believe that any of them happened. In the end, this strikes me as nothing other than a Christianity that doesn't love Christ. At the very least, I have no interest in such a Christianity.
 
 
The closer we approach the particular, the less we are able to know. I could give general reasons for why men become philosophers, but I'm not sure I could ever give the exact reason why I became one, beyond the general accounts. A good amount of why I became one has no natural reason at all- it happened by chance. There is nothing in the nature of the universe that demanded that I have a Grandfather that told me to read Plato and Aristotle- nor that I have the disposition to listen to him. There's nothing that required that I find a mentor where I did, nor that I would listen to him either, as opposed to chasing after vanity. When I start adding up the number of coincidences that were required to make me a get into philosophy, I end up saying little more than "it happened that way because it did".

This is far before I try to figure out why my particular consciousness is as it is. When I die, no one will be able to figure out what purpose my death served in the universe. There is nothing to say. Chance has no natural reason, and chance is a part of everything.
 
12/06/2005
 
Scientific method is essential to understanding nature. Scientific method is not the only method essential to understanding nature.
 
12/05/2005
 
Unity and Perfectability

Perfection/act/being/goodness/unity is proportional to communicability, and communicability is proportional to perfection/act/being/goodness/unity. This is best exemplified in the Trinity, where there is a perfect preservation of the unity and the communication of the nature.

Failure to understand this premise is the root of many errors. The short list includes:

1.) Errors about the Trinity.
2.) Errors about the primacy of the common good.
3.) Impediments to the understanding of the nature and perfection of knowledge, and the hierarchy of being. The root of knowledge is the amplitude of existence, demonstrated by the degree of communicability of the nature.
 
12/04/2005
 
The Object of the Intellect.

An object is a term of an activity or operation- as the object of competition is to win, the object of going up the mountain is to get to the top, the object of collecting sticks is to build the nest, etc. "Object" in this sense means to be whatever completes or determines the action per se. The whole activity exists in relation to that term. Since the intellect has a determinate activity, it therefore exists in relation to an object, or term.

An object can be considered in two ways: in the formally, and in its amplitude. By formally we mean that thing that the power always attains per se: sight always attains color, hearing always attains sound. By the amplitude of the power, we mean the extent to which a power grasps the formal object: men can hear fewer sounds than dogs or other animals, but man can see more colors than a deer.

The object of the intellect, taken formally, is being. In every act of the intellect, the intellect attains to what is. This is seen through our naming things, for a name expresses what a thing is; and through our judging things, for a judgment expresses what is and is not; and through our reasoning about things, for all reasoning (and every act of the intellect) presupposes the principle of contradiction, which obtains being as such (everyone knows that the principle of contradiction has no limitation, that it is true of all things without qualification.)

The amplitude of the intellect, since it relates to what the intellect can attain, can be taken in two ways. If we means what is within the passive power of the intellect, then there is absolutely no limitation on what the intellect is able to attain. I stress this word absolute: the knowledge of the Trinity, spiritual substances, the angelic hierarchy, etc. are all within the natural passive power of the intellect.

But in this life, the intellect takes its knowledge from the senses, as should be clear enough from the power of drunkenness or a stroke to destroy reasoning. And so if we consider the active power of the intellect in this life, the amplitude of its object extends to understanding the being of material things* which are perceived by the senses. All the other things which the human intellect knows within its natural passive power can only be known in this life by these material things, by this very limited class of intelligible things.

________________________
*I can't stress enough how important each word is here in the definition of man's proper object. The proper object of the intellect is the being (quiddity) of material things. There are two possible errors here. On the one hand, we can emphasize man's knowledge of being to the exclusion of any kind of essential dependence on the senses. When this happens, we end up with with some form of error which can't explain the necessity of the body for human perfection. When we do this, we end up thinking of man as an angel or a god. On the other hand, we can emphasize the dependence of our knowledge on material things in such a way as to ignore our real grasp of being as such. When we do this, we end up understanding man as a sort of beast. The deep paradox of man's most proper object the quiddity/ being of material things, proceeds from the paradox of man; for man is a rational animal, and therefore by definition an immaterial material being.
 
12/02/2005
 
A few years ago I was arguing with a guy over something. I forget what the argument was originally about, but toward the end of it I told him something like "Our power to reason is like a mother to us. In fact, reason is more of a mother than even our own mother. Our own mother caused us to come to be at one moment in the beginning of our life, and then she partially caused us to be what we are through external advice and prodding and discipline- but reason is constantly causing us to be what we are, all throughout our life, and it is causing us to be what we are intimately and internally- it is our very essence."

The guy shot back with one of the ugliest replies I have ever heard: "reason isn't my mother. Reason is just a tool."

Both of us immediately saw that there was nothing left to speak about. The disagreement was of the sort that left no possibility of further discussion. I still see my position and his as admitting of no compromise, no dialogue, and no third option- any agreement or disagreement we might seem to hold in common would be hiding an equivocation somewhere. Reason, taken as such, is either something that should be loved for its own sake, or not.

Reason is just a tool. I have not heard anyone since summarize the position so well. I have heard a hundred different guys talk about how reasoning is a computer, a symbol holder, a cellular machine, a calculating lump of meat, a mechanical linking of appearances, a sum of conscious states, etc. Whatever. I'm not interested in arguing against materialism or physicalism (doctrines which gain most of their plausibility from a failure to define matter or physical things)
I'm only interested here in pointing our that all of the above opinions of the mind agree that the mind is just a tool, but none put the opinion as clearly as saying reason is just a tool. Either this is the case, or reason deserves to be loved for its own sake.

So those are the options.
 
12/01/2005
 
Objectivity and Speculative Science

One of my favorite thought experiments is to imagine various philosophers getting hired to write definitions for Miriam-Webster. Imagine the modern philosophers of mind submitting their definition of "consciousness" or "conscious" or "person". What would an editor say to "the sum of all mental states " or "Locus of responsibility and awareness to pleasure"? What would they say to an account of necessity like "having a probability of 1"?

The dictionary is the best example of what objectivity in philosophy and the other speculative sciences should sound like. An account is objective when it gives us the object- i.e. when personal prejudices or emotions do not distort the account given of the object. No one expects to encounter any personal theory or prejudice in the dictionary- we do not even relate to the dictionary as though it were written by a person. We relate to a dictionary as though the objects themselves were speaking to us. This "letting the object speak for itself" is the goal of all speculative sciences.
 
Traditio aut Vanitas

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