Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Is it just me?

Am I the only one bothered by the fact that a few sub-disciplines of natural philosophy have usurped the title of knowledge (scientia) all for themselves?

Monday, April 28, 2008

I aint’nt ded!

Like Granny Weatherwax says, "I aint’nt ded!" Just busy. Sorry. More to come as I have free time.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Some scattered thoughts on metaphysics and the liturgy

Properly speaking, "accidental" does not mean "that which is unimportant." "Accidental" means "that which exists in and through another." There are many accidents that are the furthest thing from unimportant. Indeed, anything that does not possess its perfection by its very nature--i.e. anything that is not God--is made perfect through certain superadded accidents.

Man, for example, is oriented towards his perfection by the virtues and achieves his perfection only through grace. Yet both the virtues and grace are accidental to man, since man is still man without them and since they only exist in and through a rational nature.1 From this we can see that something can be accidental while still being of the gravest importance.

Which brings me to the topic of the liturgy. These days people are apt to dismiss any criticism of certain aspects of the liturgy--e.g. the type of music used, the design of the vestments worn by the priest, the orientation of the priest with respect to the people &c.--as being criticisms of what is accidental to the liturgy. "The essence of the liturgy," they will say, "is the same as it ever was."

This I will in no way deny. The essence of the liturgy is the same as it ever was: the outpouring of grace for the unification of man with God through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Whose sacrifice and glorified body are again made present to us on the altar when a validly ordained priest says the words of consecration over the proper matter with the proper intention.2 The essence of a mass celebrated by priests in a gulag or concentration camp, with matter scrounged from whatever sources are available and words half-remembered, is the same as the essence of a Pontifical High Mass celebrated by the Pope himself.

But bearing that in mind, we must ask ourselves what accidents are appropriate to the liturgy. What accidents are conducive to inculcating in those present at the mass an attitude conducive to the contemplation and love of God? For contemplation and love, I would argue, are the true and definitive acts of active participation.

It would take a wiser and holier man than I to answer this question. But, in closing, I will note one simple fact. Many wiser and holier men than I have lived and discussed these matters. And in so doing they bequeathed to the Church Her patrimony of sacred music, sacred vestments, sacred rites and forms &c. Perhaps we should listen to what they have to say?

1 I say "in and through a rational nature" rather than "in and through man" because the angels also achieve their final end, viz. God, only through grace.

2 I am not quoting this definition of the essence of the liturgy from any one source, but rather formulating it based upon my own understanding. Thus I am open to an correction or modification that it may need.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Briefly on beauty

The beautiful is as much a mode of being as the one, the true and the good. If unity, truth and goodness are objective, then so to is beauty. To say otherwise would be relativism.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Some more blog housekeeping

Some may have notice that I added a new blog category: retractationes. This is a Latin noun that translates to something along the lines of re-discussion or re-treatment. It is often translated as "retractions" but it does not necessarily mean "a taking back of a previous point." It can also be a clarification of a previous discussion. I'll use it when I need to go back and further clarify or modify things I have previously stated.

In addition, here are the topics of some upcoming posts, which will be written as time permits:

A series of posts about the "Do-It-Yourself Deity" game. It essentially states that God as understood by Christians is improbably. I will be responding and critiquing its reasons for so doing.

A post on St. Thomas Aquinas' discussion of the the production of the woman in the Summa theologiae.

On the kind of being possessed by the "product of conception"

As I have previously discussed here, a substance is a particular being, something that exists in and through itself. It must be a being that is whole in itself and distinct from all other particular beings. Let us then ask ourselves the following question: Is the being that comes into existence at conception a particular being?

Yes. It is a distinct being that is whole in itself, not a part of another being. If this were false, then any and every part of the being that comes into existence at conception would be a part of the pregnant woman. Thus, pregnant woman would eventually be two headed, four armed, four legged &c. Some of them would even be hermaphrodites. This is absurd. Thus, the being that comes into existence at conception is a particular being.

If this is so, the question that arises next is: What type of being is this particular being? It is human. It is a being that posses a full human genome. Science can tell us that.

The next question we must ask is: Is this newly existing human being a person? A person is an individual substance of a intellectual nature. We have already demonstrated that this being must be taken as a substance rather than as an accident or as something that is solely a part of another being. And since we are talking about a particular being rather than the nature of a particular type of being taken as a genus, we must admit that it is an individual substance.

Now we are left to ask whether of not this being has a intellectual nature. This being has been shown to be human. A human being by definition possesses human nature.

So what is human nature? How do we come to know the essence of humanity? Well, how do we come to know the essence of anything? We observe its acts and properties. These show us its powers, which in turn lead us to understand its essence.

So what powers to humans have. There are the basic powers of bodily life: the powers of nutrition and growth which preserve the individual, and the power of generation which preserved the species. There are the sensitive powers of sight, touch &c, which gives a being perception of individual things. And there is the power of intellect, which gives a being perception not just of individuals but also of universal natures. Now, if it is part of human nature to possess an intellect, it follows that human nature is an intellectual nature.

Human beings are persons, since every particular human being is an individual substance of an intellectual nature. The being that comes into existence at conception is a being that possesses a human nature. It follows necessarily then that the being that comes into existence at conception is a person.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A reassesment of a previous point

In this post I said the following: "God is the immediate cause of the existence of everything that exists in the physical world, both substance and accident." I believe I misspoke somewhat.

To whit: "Therefore, as accidents and forms and the like non-subsisting things are to be said to co-exist rather than to exist, so they ought to be called rather "concreated" than "created" things; whereas, properly speaking, created things are subsisting beings" (ST, I, q. 45, a. 4c). The word translated in the Benzinger edition as "concreated" is translated as "co-created" in the Blackfriars edition. The Latin term being translated is "concreata" in the Leonine edition. My Latin isn't great, but I believe this is a participle of the verb "concreo," which, if I am not mistaken, means "to create with."

As such, I believe it is incorrect to say that God is the immediate cause of the existence of accidents, since accidents by nature participate in the existence of their subject. It would be more correct to say that God is the principle cause of the existence of everything that exists in the physical world, both substance and accident. The cause of the existence of accidents can be reduced to God, but comes through a mediating cause, viz. substance, rather than immediately. And this may play an important point in relation to an argument I make here regarding the principle cause of evil.

To wit: The effects of an intermediate cause may be reduced to the effects of the first and principle cause insofar as the intermediate cause is subordinate to the first cause. Thus the existence of any accident qua existing and, since that which exists is good insofar as it has existence, qua good is reducible to the causality of God. But insofar as an accident is evil, i.e. insofar as said accident lacks the fullness of being it should possess, it falls outside the order of the first and principle cause, viz. God, since insofar as it lacks the existence it should possess it falls outside the order of existence that the first and principle cause establishes. Thus, the existence of the accident insofar as it is evil cannot be reduced to the first and principle cause. It is rather reducible only to the intermediate cause.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A foolish "philosopher" in need of reproof*

Hail, O Reproof of foolish philosophers! ~Akathist Hymn to the Virgin Mary

Sedes sapientiae, ora pro me!

(With a tip o' the ol' beanie to The Sci Fi Catholic. His post on the issue first brought it to my attention.)

So apparently there is a Christian girl named Gina DeLuca. She attends school at Suffolk County Community College. She is taking an Introduction to Philosophy course. Apparently her "philosophy" professor has used the course as an opportunity to belittle her and her Christian faith and has, it seems, given her poor grades because of her faith. Needless to say, she contacted the American Center for Law and Justice to defend her freedom of religion and to seek a just grade.**

Now, I do not have enough information to competently judge Gina's performance in the course. Maybe the professor is a fool and at the same time Gina actually deserved to be graded poorly rather than the professor's foolishness causing him to act unjustly in giving her a poor grade. That is between Gina, the professor and the school; and now--for better or for worse--the legal system.

The ACLJ's letter to county attorney Christine Malafi can be found here. (WARNING! PDF!) The letter contains some choice quotes from the professor. These I do have the knowledge to competently judge. And so, in the interest of the truth of things and defending the faith, I shall.

To Gina's comment that she "can KNOW the material, without having to BELIEVE it," the professor responds as follows:
[I]t is clear that knowledge is linked to belief and that KNOWLEDGE is a justified true belief. If you do not believe that X is true then you can not claim to know that X is true. What you do is to deceive yourself and others by claiming that "I can KNOW the material, without having to BELIEVE it." What you do is MEMORIZE and REPEAT without understanding. You have no understanding of what it means to know something.***
This is obviously false.

In offering my critique of what the professor says, I will accept the definition of knowledge that he offers, viz. justified, true belief. But even with this definition of knowledge being accepted, the professor is still wrong. He is either guilty of the fallacy of equivocation or of holding to absurdity. The professor is either not addressing the same knowledge that Gina is or he is violating the principle of non-contradiction.

Gina is saying that she can know what a philosopher or school of philosophy taught without having to believe that said philosopher's or school of philosophy's principles, conclusions &c. are true. It is perfectly possible for Gina to believe that some philosopher or school of philosophy taught X, to justify her belief by the reading of primary and secondary sources and for her belief to be true. Thus she would have justified, true belief.

The professor is arguing that Gina cannot know some position of a philosopher or of a school of philosophy is true without believing it. This is equivocation, since it was not at all what she was talking about. Moreover, if the professor actually was talking about knowing what a philosopher or school of philosophy taught rather than knowing that what they taught was true, then his position is absurd. For example, one could not know both what Hegel taught and what Kierkegaard taught, since--according to what the professor has said--knowing what Kierkegaard taught would require holding his positions as true, while knowing what Hegel taught would require holding his positions as true. But this is an impossible absurdity, because Kierkegaard's teachings include teaching that Hegel was wrong! One cannot hold both that Kierkegaard's teachings are true and that Hegel's teachings are true, since Kierkegaard's teachings are that Hegel's teachings are false. One cannot hold both A and not-A at the same time and in the same respect, and that is exactly what the professor is arguing for if he is not equivocating!

The next quote from the professor states the following: "There are problems with any single being having all the properties traditionally assigned to the deity of the Western religions." He then goes on to give some examples of what he believes these "problems" are. There is nothing to indicate that he has any idea that these problems have been answered, nor to indicate that if he knew of these answers he engaged them in some way to show why he believes them to be false. Perhaps he has done so and this was simply not quoted in the letter. Since, however, the letter is all most of us will see of his thoughts on the subject, I will now attempt to answer them point by point.

Objection 1: "If the deity is ALL POWERFUL would it not have the power to create beings that would know what GOOD was without knowing or committing EVIL? If this is not possible then how is the being ALL POWERFUL?"

Reply to Objection 1: According to the Catholic tradition, God did exactly that. Our first parents, in their state of original justice, knew good and not evil. This is because they were human, and thus they had the power to possess intellectual knowledge. Now, that which is primarily known is being. And in knowing being, they also would come to know it as desirable, i.e. as good.

Now, evil is nothing except privation, the lacking of some good in a being that should have that which it lacks. Thus, evil is not being per se, but only per accidens, since it can only exist through something that has being.

Now, the professor is here speaking of moral evil. A moral evil is a human action that lacks the fullness of being proper to it. Ever action can be said to have being insofar as it exists, even though it exists per accidens. To deny that actions have being would be the equivalent of saying that no action ever existed. But if no action ever existed, then no effect of an action could ever exist. This is absurd, so we must admit that actions are beings. In their state of original justice our first parents had not yet committed any actions that lacked the fullness of being proper to human actions. Since evil only exists per accidens, it can only be known through that which exists per se, since that which exists per accidens only exists through that which exists per se. But until our first parents committed an action that lacked the fullness of being proper to human actions, no moral evil existed, since moral evil can only exist through some moral agency, viz. the moral agency of our first parents. Thus, until our first parents committed the original sin and lost for themselves and their posterity original justice, they knew the good, including moral good, without knowing moral evil.

Now, the professor seems to mean not only the actual knowledge or moral evil, but even the potential knowledge of moral evil, since he speaks also of committing evil. Why, if God is all powerful, did He not create beings who did not have the potential to commit moral evil?

To this we must reply as follows: to say that God is omnipotent is not to say that the divine power is capable of bringing into existence all that can be thought. It is to say that the divine power is capable bringing into existence all that is possible to be brought into existence. Now, those things which violate the principle of non-contradiction cannot be brought into existence, because that would require they both exist and not exist at the same time and in the same respect, which is absolutely not possible.

To create a moral agent that is incapable of moral evil would violate the principle of non-contradiction. To wit: A being either possesses its end, the fullness of its existence, its perfection either per se or per accidens. God is ipsum esse subsistens, the fullness of existence itself. Thus only He possesses the fullness of existence per se. All other beings must possess their end and perfection per accidens. This is because any being that is not its own act of existence is a being that receives existence limited by some potency. Now, that which has some potency is capable of possessing accidents. Thus, the perfection of a being that is not its own act of existence is through superadded accidents which actualize its potentialities in proper proportion to its nature. For example, man is perfected by acquiring those habits called virtues.

But insofar as a being is capable of possessing accidents of certain modes, it is not only capable of acquiring and possessing those accidents which bring about its perfection. It must also be capable of not acquiring those accidents that would bring about its perfection--as man is capable of not possessing grace--or of possessing accidents that are contrary to its perfection--as man is capable of possessing those habits called vices that are contrary to virtue. Thus any being that is not its own act of existence, that does not possess its perfection per se, must be capable of failing to achieve its perfection. Now, any limited moral agent possess potentiality insofar as it is limited. Thus any limited moral agent must not just be capable of acting to acquire the accidents that are its perfection, but also of acting in such a manner as to fail to acquire said perfecting accidents or to acquire their contraries. And thus the existence of a limited moral agent that is incapable of doing moral evil is a contradiction, since to be a limited moral agent is to be able to do moral evil by definition.

Now, the professor might ask "Why then did God not create unlimited moral agents?" But this to would be a contradiction. Beings are differentiated by their potency. A man, for example, is differentiated from other men by his particular matter. But matter is that which is in potency, since it is capable of receiving many different substantial forms. In the same way, immaterial beings are differentiated by their essences, since essence relates to existence as potency relates to act. Only God is unlimited and possesses no potency, since He is ipsum ese subsistens, the subsisting act of existence itself. For God to create another unlimited being would require that He create another being that possesses no potency, another God. But this is impossible, since the only way to distinguish between God the creator and the created God as different beings would be if the latter contained an admixture of potency. But any being with an admixture of potency is neither God nor unlimited by definition. Thus the creation of unlimited moral agents would violate the principle of non-contradiction, since said created unlimited moral agents would have to both possess potency and not possess potency at the same time and in the same respect.

Objection 2: "If the being must make EVIL to make GOOD then how is the being ALL GOOD?"

Reply to Objection 2: Good does not require evil to exist, but rather vice versa, as was explained above. This suffices to reply to the objection.

Objection 3: "If the being is ALL KNOWING and thus knows in advance that there will be a use of FREE WILL that produces EVIL and then goes and creates FREE WILL then the being has made EVIL and is not ALL GOOD."

Reply to Objection 3: The effect of a middle cause can only be reduced to the first cause insofar as said middle cause is subordinate to the first cause. Insofar as a middle cause goes outside the order of the first cause, the effects of said middle cause are reducible only to the middle cause, not to the first cause. For example, insofar as a student gains knowledge, said knowledge can be reduced to the teacher as first cause, since the teacher teaches in order to bring about knowledge in the student. But insofar as the student remains ignorant, said ignorance is reducible only to the student as cause, since the failure to gain knowledge is outside the order established by the teacher.**** Thus, since evil is, by definition, outside the proper order of things as established by God, evil cannot be reduced to God as cause, but only to the immediate agent.

Objection 4: "Another problem with the deity being ALL PERFECT is that the being would need to possess all perfections and if freedom is a perfection or a good thing as opposed to its opposite being not god [sic] then the deity that is all perfect would also need to be free and yet it cannot be free as it is not free to be or do anything that is less than perfect or the very best possible. As it cannot be free it is NOT ALL PERFECT."

Reply to Objection 4: This does not follow. Something is not said to lack freedom because it is not able to do what is not in its nature to do or be what is not in its nature to be. For example, man is not said to lack freedom because he is not capable of flight under his own power. Nor is man said to lack freedom because he cannot be a stone. Thus God cannot be said to lack freedom because He is incapable of doing what is not in His nature to do and being what is not in His nature to be.

Now, the professor might respond that this answer is opposed to the divine omnipotence, but this would be speaking falsely. As was stated above, the divine omnipotence consists in being capable of bringing into existence all that which is capable of being brought into existence. And as was also stated above, that which is not capable of being brought into existence is that which violates the principle of non-contradiction. For God to do what is not in His nature to do or be what is not in His nature to be would violate the principle of non-contradiction, since it would require Him to both be and not be God at the same time and in the same respect.

Here ends the professor's objections and my replies to them.

The professor states that "there are problems with the SET OF BELIEFS associated with the one deity of the Western religions." But if this is true it certainly does not follow from the arguments he has presented.

The final statement of the professor quoted in the letter is as follows:
Now for those who believe in the GOD of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition they must believe in a single being with characteristics of being: SUPREME, ALL POWERFUL, ALL GOOD, ALL PERFECT, ALL KNOWING, ETERNAL etc... Why must they? Well, because they have no choice either they believe in the GOD of those traditions or else they make up their own ideas and they are then actually moving out of those traditions and are giving good example of the post modern relativistic, subjectivist tradition of the Twentieth Century. The religions of the West have very clear ideas about the DEITY they have at the center of their beliefs. These religions have doctrines and dogma that the faithful must accept.
How would I respond to this?

I would agree with it. Insofar as I am Catholic "I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." That is what it means to be Catholic. But what of it? Nothing about this makes what I believe absurd or illogical. The professor has certainly not, as far as I know, written anything that demonstrates my faith to be such. Indeed, in my own personal life I spent a large part of my undergraduate studies slipping away from the Catholic Church and the faith of my fathers because other things provided more immediate and powerful enjoyment. I was a deist at best, an agnostic at worst. It was not until I began the study of philosophy that I realized that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church possessed the fullness of Truth. The idea that philosophy and reason are opposed to faith is absurd, as any competent study of the history of western philosophy would show.

I do not know if Gina has a case against her professor for being unjust in his grading. But she certainly has a powerful case for his being a fool.*****

* I say "philosopher" because error is not philosophy. It is rather the abuse of philosophy, as the Angelic Doctor says in his In Boeth. de Trin, q. II, a. 3c.

** N.B. Apparently the chief council for the ACLJ has come out in favor of waterboarding. This is bad, since torture is intrinsically evil (See Gaudium et Spes, 27; Veritatis Splendor, 80). It does not, however, undermine the justice of Gina's claim.

*** All formatting as in original letter.

**** This example assumes that the teacher truly and properly teaches.

***** "Fool" being taken in its philosophical definition, viz. "one who does not possess wisdom."


Post on important issues of metaphysics, ethics, religion &c. and rarely get any hits.*

Make one post that mentions intelligent design and receive more hits in one day than ever before. And they're almost all from Harvard.**

Speculation: some professor gave an assignment on ID and evolution.

* Which is not to disparage any regular readers of this blog, who I love as much as one can love people one knows but a little via the internet.

** You're welcome for the link Harvard.

Election '08*

Once again, the major parties give us a choice between bad and worse.

EDIT: Kant attack ad on Nietzsche removed due to YouTube's refusal to remove videos of the desecration of the Holy Eucharist.

EDIT: Nietzsche attack ad on Kant removed due to YouTube's refusal to remove videos of the desecration of the Holy Eucharist.

Don't play their game! Vote for a third party and have a real choice!

EDIT: Kierkegaard third party run ad removed due to YouTube's refusal to remove videos of the desecration of the Holy Eucharist.

Or just write in St. Thomas Aquinas. Why settle for anything less than the best?

* Yes, I'm sure you've all seen these before via other, bigger blogs.** They're still funny and worth posting.

** Notice that I said bigger. I didn't say better. Discerning readers value quality over quantity and all that.

Aphorism VII

The modern world is only semi-Nietzschean; it has all of Nietzsche's vices but none of his virtues.

Aphorism VI

Electoral politics in the modern United States is the result of turning the fallacy of the false dilemma into a way of life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Aphorism V

The modern hatred of hierarchies is really the hatred of not being at the top of one.

Aphorism IV

Agreeing to be a slave doesn't make you any less of one.

Blog housekeeping

I've retitled the aphorism posts because I've decided on a new style of titling them. I've also slightly modified the first one so as to better allude to what I meant when I thought of it.

As you were.

Aphorism III

When modern man says, "That is not realistic," what he truly means is, "That is not easy."

Aphorism II

Tell me what you would die for and I will tell you what you love.

Some thoughts on intelligent design, creation and evolution

"Do you believe in creation or evolution?"


"Do you believe in intelligent design? Do you believe intelligent design is science? Are you a creationist?"

Define your terms. What do you mean by 'intelligence', 'design', 'intelligent design', 'science', 'creation' and 'creationism'?

Moreover, have you solved the demarcation problem? Have you published that paper yet? Where has it been published? I would dearly like to read it.

Questions: Can design be unintelligent? Does not 'design' imply planning, intent and mind? Would 'unintelligent design' not be a contradiction?

If 'science' is that which can be known by empirical observation and repeatable experiment, is evolution really science? Has anyone every observed macro-evolution? Has anyone ever seen one species give birth to a new and different species? What experiments can one do under controlled circumstances to prove the theory? These are real questions, not rhetorical ones. I would appreciate real answers and real sources to go to in order to improve my knowledge.

Did Darwin defend his theory via laboratory experiment, or only thought experiment? Was not his whole argument based on the fact that his theory best fit the observed data? If this worked for Darwin, why not for Behe, et alii? Allowing them to take part in the conversation is not the same as admitting that they are correct.

At the end of the day I am and remain a Thomist. Whichever side is correct is interesting and important to the truth of things. But whichever side is correct has no effect whatsoever on the question of the existence of God.

God is the immediate efficient cause of all things because He is the immediate efficient cause of their acts of existence. God is required, no matter which theory of the physical processes involved in the origins of life is correct. Eliminate God and you do not have self-sufficient nature. You have nothing.

Edited to add:

It seems that I have committed the fallacy of equivocation, as the comments should demonstrate. To clarify, when I asked "Has anyone ever seen one species give birth to a new and different species?" I was not using the term "species" in its biological sense, which would be the mode of signification that I appeared to be using since I was, at least in part, discussing biology. It might be better to ask, "Has anyone ever seen a being with one ontological mode of existence produce a being of a superior ontological mode of existence?" I am primarily interested in metaphysics, not biology, though I am indeed interested in the biology insofar as it is a part of observable reality that needs to be taken into account when discussing metaphysics.

Some thoughts on the second way

St. Thomas' second proof for the existence of God is an argument from the nature of the efficient cause. He begins with the fact that there exists in the world an order of efficient causes. He goes on to say that we know of nothing that is the efficient cause if itself. Indeed, this would be impossible because for something to be the efficient cause of itself it would need to exist before it could cause itself to exist, which is absurd. Now, it is impossible for us to go to infinity in efficient causes, since if there was no first efficient cause there would be no subsequent efficient causes and thus there would be no effect, which is plainly false. Thus there must be some uncaused cause, which is God.

A problem often arises in how people think about the second way. Since the proof depends on the fact that there cannot be an infinite chain of efficient causes, people often think that it is speaking of God as the first link in the causal chain of the universe. God started the big bang and everything went on from there. This is not the proper way to think about the second way.

As readings in the rest what has come to be called St. Thomas' treatise on God will show, St. Thomas is primarily thinking of God as the efficient cause of existence. Thus God cannot be viewed as simply the first link in the causal chain of the universe. Rather, God is the cause of existence for any and every link in any and every causal chain. He is the cause of the existence of the agent, the action and the effect. Thus God does not cause you simply because He is the cause of the big bang, without which you would not exist. God is the immediate efficient cause of your act of existence.

Nothing in this is opposed to the efficient causality of your parents in your coming to be. The efficient causality of your parents and the efficient causality of God are not incompatible. The causality of your parents and the causality of God are causes on two different levels of reality, physical and metaphysical.

The important thing to remember is that the entire causal chain on the physical level of reality is dependent on the metaphysical causality of God. God is the cause of the existence of your parents. He is the cause of the existence of the conjugal act in which you were conceived. He is the cause of your existence. God is the immediate cause of the existence of everything that exists in the physical world, both substance and accident.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just a thing

I was torn about posting this. I am not sure it really fits the tone of the blog. But to purposefully hide things about myself seems dishonest, and not posting after thinking I should post it seems to count as purposefully hiding things about myself.

90% Geek

I am a geek and I have been one for a very long time. I was the fourth grader who signed out an unabridged copy of The War of the Worlds from the classroom bookshelf. My teacher had no idea how such a book got on her shelf. She told me not to feel bad if I couldn't understand it. I brought it back the next day. "Too hard?" she asked. "No," says I, "I've just finished it." She asked me a few questions about the plot &c. The next week I was going to the fifth grade for reading class.

I'm not as into technology as I used to be. It may or may not show in some other posts, but I have some Luddite sympathies. I used to really be interested in technology, especially computers. I originally majored in computer science as an undergraduate. But in the end, the math I had to learn was more enjoyable than the programming. And later I found metaphysics more enjoyable than mathematics. I suppose that's a pretty Platonic progression.* Now I'm a Thomist, or at least I'm attempting to be one. Funny ol' universe.

I'd better be careful about these kinds of things though. First you're posting the results of a geek quiz. Before you know it you're posting answers to long questionnaires with questions like "What is your idea of the perfect romantic evening?"** I think we can all agree that such a path is one that it would be best to avoid.

* "Pretty Platonic progression" is an enjoyably alliterative phrase.

** The answer to this question is as follows: "Dancing barefoot on a moonlit beach to the music of the heavenly spheres." The less said about this the better, no?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Aphorism I

When attempting to understand an otherwise incomprehensible event in the modern world, hold to these two principles: Cherchez la femme et cherchez l'argent.

Whether it is manful to weep?

Objection 1: It seems that it is not manful to weep. For to be manful is to possess qualities befitting a man. And of the qualities most befitting a man (vir) are the virtues (virtutes). But the virtues are good habits which participates in reason, as the Angelic Doctor shows (Summa Theologiae, I-II. q. 55, a. 4c). But when one is in the midst of strong weeping the use of reason is hindered, and thus too are the virtues hindered. Thus weeping is not manful.

Objection 2: As was stated above, that which is manful is that which is virtuous for a man. But in his Confessions (IX.xii), St. Augustine tells how he fought back tears at the death of his mother St. Monica. Now, Saints are those who possess "heroic virtue." Thus it is not manful to weep.

Sed contra: The Evangelist John states: "And Jesus wept" (John xi.35). But our Lord is without vice or sin. Thus it cannot necessarily be contrary to virtue and right reason to weep, and thus it cannot be unmanful.

Respondeo dicendum: As has been stated, that which is manful is that which befits a man, and that which most befits a man is virtue. Thus the question is whether weeping is contrary to virtue. And to this we must answer as follows: to weep follows from sorrow or pain. Now, sorrow or pain are passions and passions are specified by their objects. Thus it would follow that whether or not particular pain or sorrow is virtuous is dependent upon whether or not the object over which one feels pain or sorrow is one for which it would be proper to feel pain or sorrow according to right reason. Now, insofar as one feels pain and sorrow properly and in accord with right reason, it would not be vicious to weep on account of said pain or sorrow. And thus it would not be unmanful to weep insofar as one feels pain or sorrow in accord with right reason. For example, it would not be unmanful to weep on account of one's sins.

Reply to Objection 1: The Angelic Doctor states that "it is not contrary to virtue, if the act of reason be sometimes interrupted for something that is done in accordance with reason, else it would be against virtue for a person to set himself to sleep" (Summa Theologiae, I-II. q. 153, a. 2 ad 2). Thus, insofar as the pain or sorrow one feels is in accord with right reason, and insofar as one weeps in accord with right reason, i.e. one does not allow weeping to hinder one from performing acts of virtue and duty that one is required to perform, then weeping is not contrary to right reason even if it interrupts reason.

Reply to Objection 2: St. Augustine, in the same place, informs us that he did not weep openly and in public because "in most cases it is customary to use such mourning to imply sorrow for the miserable state of those who die, or even their complete extinction. But my mother's dying meant neither that her state was miserable nor that she was suffering extinction" (Confessions IX.xii). However he later wept for his mother while bathing in private. Thus the Saint refrained from weeping for the death of his mother not because it was vicious per se, but because to do so publicly would have caused scandal by leading others to believe that St. Monica was rendered miserable or extinct by her death.

On the car

Some half-formed thoughts from my morning drive to work:

In the ~10 years that have passed since I obtained my license to drive a car, I have gone from being enthralled by the freedom it offered me to being disgusted by how it enslaves me.

I do not miss many things about life in the District of Columbia, but do I miss the MetroRail.

Why have we gotten rid of streetcars?

Surprisingly--or perhaps not so surprisingly--I have come to agree with those (in the words of Marion Montgomery) "men I have chosen for my fathers," such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Russell Kirk: the car is--to quote Kirk--"a mechanical Jacobin."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

On Syncretism

A quote that I thought bore repeating:
For syncretism, those who are saved are the inward-looking souls, whatever the religion they profess. For Christianity, they are the believers, whatever level of inwardness they may have achieved. A little child, an overworked workman, if they believe, stand at a higher level than the greatest ascetics. "We are not great religious personalities", Guardini once said; "we are servants of the Word." Christ himself had said that St. John the Baptist might well be "the greatest among the children of men", but that "the least among the sons of the kingdom is greater than he." It is possible for there to be great religious personalities in the world even outside of Christianity; it is indeed very possible for the greatest religious personalities to be found outside Christianity; but that means nothing; what counts is obedience to the Word of Christ.*

* Jean Daniélou, SJ, Vom Geheimnes der Greschichte, pp. 133f. Quoted in Joseph Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, pp. 42-3. Emphasis added.

On Kosovo and Serbia

Because I am sure that any and every reader of this blog cares what I think (I am sure of this because I am relatively sure that I am the only reader of my blog) and because the Internet allows me not to care what any of you think even if you do not like what I have to say and because I forgot to say something sooner, I will now make public my opinion on what should be one of the most important global political issues of the day. viz. the secession of Kosovo from Serbia.

My opinion is as follows:

is Serbia

That is all.

Edited to add, for further clarification:

It is not at all stupid to allow a Muhammadan state to come into existence in the heart of Europe. It is a great idea. There can be no possible danger in allowing such a foothold where Western and Eastern Europe meet. There is certainly no danger in further Muhammadan encroachment on the boarders of Christendom. It is not like they have ever destroyed churches, defaced holy icons and persecuted Christians or anything. It is certainly not the case that they have been doing so in Kosovo. It is certainly not the case that support for an independent Kosovo is support for terrorists and their tactics. Because the United States has chosen to support independence for Kosovo, and we are at war with terrorism. No, this is a great idea. It should be followed with free marshmallows and puppies for all.

The preceding paragraph was an example of what we in the business call sarcasm.

"So, are you saying that Christianity should have precedence of Muhammadanism?"

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Truth should have precedence over falsehood. Civilization should have precedence over barbarism. The fact that anyone could question such things is evidence that the world is mad.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Happy de Maistre Day!

Today is the 255th anniversary of the birth of Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre.

Celebrate by reading some excerpts from his works.

"The 1795 constitution, like its predecessors, was made for man. But there is no such thing as man in the world. During my life, I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on; thanks to Montesquieu, I even know that one can be Persian; but I must say, as for man, I have never come across him anywhere; if he exists, he is completely unknown to me." ~Joseph de Maistre, Considerations on France, Chapter VI.