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The Metaphysics of Caitlyn & Planned Parenthood

I had a very of-the-moment experience the other night at bedtime in my hotel room. After reading about the unmitigated horror of Planned Parenthood’s customized cannibalizing of fetal body parts, I toggled over to the ESPN site to watch the propaganda video the network made to set up its awarding Caitlyn Jenner its Arthur Ashe Courage Prize [1].

I encourage you to watch the clip, which is about 13 minutes long. It is a remarkable piece of work, and profoundly indicative of the deepest metaphysical assumptions of Western culture today. Jenner’s heroism, according to the film, consists in his dramatic refusal of Nature — of imposing his own will and desires on nature so profoundly that he repudiates his own nature as a male. Jenner retains his male genitalia, and, of course, maleness in his genes. In other words, everything about Jenner’s material existence (that is, his existence in his body) is male. But Jenner thinks of himself as female, and presents himself publicly as a female. He believes that what he wishes to believe about himself is who he really is, in terms of his gender. And our culture has decided that someone who wishes to assert that he or she is actually of the opposite gender than his or her body, that not only is that person conforming to the Truth — courageously, against the opposition of tradition, religion, society, and so forth — but that courage in part consists of that very willingness to impose one’s will on Nature, to make it serve our desires.

If you watch the Jenner video, he/she keeps saying things like, “This is who I am” and “I had to be who I really am.” I’m not making fun of this; clearly Jenner believes this quite deeply. The images in the video in which s/he is presented as a lone conquering hero are crushingly sad; Jenner comes across as a defaced person lost in the desert, someone who thinks s/he is free, but who doesn’t seem free at all. The culture now seems to have accepted as self-evidently true that one’s gender is whatever one wants it to be. To assert this implies a metaphysical view that is radically at odds with classical (including Christian) metaphysics, which holds that nature is not mere stuff that we can fashion as we like, and impose our own meaning onto it, but rather that nature in some mysterious way reflects things as they actually are.

In the new edition of the (unfailingly excellent) Mars Hill Audio Journal [2], Ken Myers interviews philosopher Roger Scruton, who talks about the implicit atheism of contemporary culture, and how we are “defacing” Nature by denying — whether we realize it or not — that there is intrinsic, metaphysical meaning in matter. Driving home from the airport last night, listening to the Journal, a line from Scruton jumped out at me:

“As soon as we begin to understand how the human person, as it were, defines himself apart from the natural order, till we do that, we won’t begin to see exactly where the limits of scientific investigation lie.”

He’s put his finger on the heart of the matter. How do we define the human person within the natural order? The way we answer this question has everything to do with how we judge what Bruce Jenner has done by reinventing himself as Caitlyn — is he a hero or a fool? — and, for that matter, how we regard the Planned Parenthood fetal body part harvesting. It is remarkable to me that so many people who read this blog puzzle over why people like me are horrified by the scandal; we accept organ transplants, don’t we? The point from our side is not that it’s wrong to study or otherwise put to use human tissue, but rather the circumstances under which this tissue was acquired are radically dehumanizing. Doctors had to exterminate human life to acquire the tissue, and in fact altered their method of extermination so as to preserve the tissue, which they then sold on the market. Even if one does not believe as a philosophical matter that human personhood begins at conception, there is no doubt at all that the unborn child, or fetus, is, biologically speaking, human and alive — which is precisely why its organs are scientifically valuable.

In both the Caitlyn and Planned Parenthood cases, the stand you take has everything to do with what you think it means to be human, and how you relate the human being to the natural order. Modernity generally sees the material world as meaningless matter that we can fashion however we like. The older world — including the world of Christianity — teaches that God is intimately involved with Creation, and that we therefore have strict limits governing how we should treat it, including our bodies. A big problem is that far too many modern Christians have lost that older, classical Christian metaphysics, and no longer view the body and nature as bound inextricably to the divine. The conservative Christian may draw the limits of exploiting nature in a different place than, say, Caitlyn Jenner or Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Deborah Nucatola, but there may well be a shared metaphysics among them.

The fact that the core divide between orthodox Christians and those who profess the Joy of Caitlyn Thought is not moral but metaphysical tells us how unbridgeable the gap is. It’s not that we look at the same natural phenomena and draw different conclusions from the same set of facts. It’s that we don’t even see the same things.

change_me

When I watch that Caitlyn propaganda video, I am reminded of Ulysses in Canto XXVI of Dante’s Inferno. Ulysses is damned as a “false counselor” — as someone who used his rhetorical gifts to lead others to their deaths. In the version of the myth Dante uses, Ulysses chose to violate the limits the gods set on how far man may voyage. He was curious to see where the journey beyond the Pillars of Hercules would lead. He knew that his loyal crew would not want to cross that line, so he delivered a stirring speech telling them that if they really wanted to be brave and to be who they really are, they would not be cowed by limits:

‘Consider what you came from: you are Greeks!
You were not born to live like mindless brutes
but to follow paths of excellence and knowledge.’

Their captain convinced them to throw off all limits, because that was the courageous thing to do. They all sailed to their doom.

Caitlyn Jenner, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, and the rest of us: Western culture is having a Ulysses moment. Our own captains of media and culture are exhorting us to be brave, and “to follow paths of excellence and knowledge” — but it’s a lie.

This will not end well.

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176 Comments To "The Metaphysics of Caitlyn & Planned Parenthood"

#1 Comment By Turmarion On July 20, 2015 @ 9:53 pm

Anne, to respond to some of what you ask:

1. I’m very skeptical of Aristotelian hylomorphism (form/substance model). I explain why in excruciating detail [3] and [4], for those who want to slog through the comboxes. In brief, it seems that the only candidate for prime matter is the interior of a quark. For all higher-level entities (with the exception of the human mind and possibly life as such), all physical properties are adequately explained by the mass and interaction of the subatomic particles making up those entities. There’s thus no basis for distinguishing substantial and accidental forms. You could, I suppose, call the atomic arrangement itself a “form”; but that’s not what I think Aristotle mean by the term.

2. Given 1, I don’t quite buy the soul-as-organizing-principle model. The structure of the hardware and software of a computer is an organizing principle, but a computer doesn’t therefore have a soul. Thus, if a living thing is the sum total of all its subatomic components arranged in a certain way, it’s hard to see how calling that pattern a “soul” adds to our knowledge of it. On the other hand, if the sum total of the material pattern of a living thing is necessary but insufficient–if there is an immaterial “life force” or élan vital that is neccesary to make it alive–then the pattern is secondary.

3. The latter is an example of how, IMO, St. Thomas, acting out of his Christian faith, tried to make Aristotelianism do things it really couldn’t do. Aristotle doesn’t posit an “infused” immortal human soul (his god is the Deist Unmoved Mover, anyway). It’s not clear that he thinks the soul is separable–in fact, he seems to posit it as being a material configuration, in some ways. He doesn’t even really seem to think a human soul is the locus of individual personality–it seems, on his account, to be more like the electricity that runs two different computers. The electricity is the same; the difference resides in the hardware and installed software. This doesn’t seem like the idea of an infused soul that St. Thomas teaches, an idea more like the over-and-above essence infusing the mere material pattern.

4. I’m actually sympathetic to the idea of an immaterial soul beyond the mere material configuration, as opposed to soul-as-substantial form. I actually lean towards panpsychism, the notion that everything, living or not, has at least a small or latent “consciousness”. Put it another way: Like gravity and the electromagnetic force, mind is an irreducible component of reality. In nonliving things it’s very vague and dim; stronger in living things; and fully conscious in humans. I think such a view could be developed that would be compatible with Christianity, but I don’t have space or time here.

5. Chimps, bonobos, possibly gorillas, dolphins, and one species of European magpie can pass the [5], which seems to indicate at least some self-awareness. Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, etc.) have been observed to communicating to each other, and referring to each other consistently with constant and distinguishable sound patterns. In layman’s terms, they give each other names. Given the wide differences in modes of perception, it’s quite possible that cetaceans are actually sapient as we are–they have equivalent sized brains, cortex, etc., and their communications can’t be ruled out as language. I think it’s at least plausible that they are intelligent, and thus that they might have true souls. For primates and other higher animals that’s less clear; but the IQ of a profoundly mentally retarded person or of a newborn baby is irrelevant to its having a soul. It seems that self-awareness (on a species level, at least) at least points to some form of soul.

6. To the predictable objections, I can’t even prove that other humans have souls and aren’t just [6]. If an animal behaves in all discernible ways as if it’s self-aware and sapient, then by Occam’s razor I’d say it is self-aware and sapient. The only being we know for sure to be self-aware and sapient–us–have, as we believers assert, souls; therefore, if some higher animals are also self-aware and sapient, I’d assert, on the same grounds, that they have souls, too. God hasn’t revealed that to us; but His relationship with them isn’t our business, is it? The scientific jury is out; but once more, it seems to me at least 50/50, or even a bit better, that at lest cetaceans may have souls (with implications for our treatment of them).

7. Given all this, humans may not be unique as we think we are. It is possible that sin and redemption are more diffuse than we think. Perhaps they come into sharper relief with us than with other species, and it may be that we are theologically the “spokes-species” for our planet. Nevertheless, it may be that one incident with one pair of early hominids is not a sufficient explanation for the state of us and the world.

8. How “Original Sin” works then is something I’m honestly not sure of. I mulling over some ideas which seem plausible, which I intend eventually to blog; but that’s still just my musings. We may never fully know in this life how it all works; but I think the traditional model is going to need replacing with something as time goes on.

#2 Comment By J_A On July 20, 2015 @ 11:16 pm

Irenist

First I apologize if I came out as rude. That was never my intention.

Having said that, I’m afraid I am far from convinced by your arguments. At the end of the day, my point is quite the opposite. We don’t know. I don’t know, and you don’t know. None of us can know the final causality. It is not possible. Is like knowing what was there before the Big Bang. You can’t.

The first thing for me is to recognize the limits of what I know, and the vast expanse of what I don’t. And to examine the things I think I know, to make sure why I know them. And that is the problem with Revelation. God did not talk to me. I am told that God talked to a man around 45 AD and that this man wrote some letters. I am shown facsimiles of the said letters. And I told by people who have neither talked to God nor to this man that wrote the letters, that those are inspired by God, and tell us what he wants from us. And my question, with the quote from the Quran was: what happens if you are told something different? A billion people are taught that God spoke to a man in Arabia 1,400 years ago, and he received a book. But it’s a dint book from the letters from the other man. Now I have to books. Which one is the one that tells me the tru final causality. I can’t tell. Unless like Joseph Smith God talks to me and gives me a third book, I can’t tell which one is the right one. And I don’t believe you can tell me which is the right final causality. I’m sorry, but I cannot believe you, because I can’t see you bringing any proof to the table.

But one thing I must say, and that was the main point of my rant: the fact that I don’t claim to know the formal and final causality, more so, the fact that I claim I cannot ever know the formal and final causality, doesn’t mean that I do not have moral and ethics.

That, I’m sorry to say, is demeaning and insulting, Irenist. Morality and ethics are not dependent on subscribing to one particular final causality. If knowing the (true) final causality was a requirement to be moral, or ethical, only those fortunate enough to have guessed the correct causality would be truly moral. To no avail, because no one would ever know who the moral ones were, since no one can know what the final causality is.

So I reject in full your assertion that morality is impossible without a final causality. And I propose the morality of consent, avoidance of harm, and justice. It is possible that this is also God’s morality, but I cant know it while I’m still standing on this small rock. So I’d God’s morality cannot be known, I’ll have to stick with mine.

I appreciate your effort to engage about the teleology of dinosaurs. Again, I am far from convinced. God did not put them there just so they could have more dinosaurs until enough time elapsed for them to be wiped out. And if He did, then I don’t see why we believe we are different. Dinosaurs have no interesting telos, but we do. The billions of stars are just inert objects, but we are here to praise God’s glory. It’s too Popol Vuh for me. The stick men could not praise the Gods and are destroyed, but we corn men can, so the Gods are pleased with us and let us live.

I hope this comes out better than I first effort. Thanks for engaging.

#3 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 20, 2015 @ 11:54 pm

Lots of interesting comments here, it looks like — I’ll have to catch up tomorrow, because I’ve just staggered off the plane, having spent the whole day in transit to the US from central Europe. So apologies for any delayed replies.

But keep your head up, Cubs fan: they’re third in the NL Central standings, so you never know….nobody saw Boston coming in 2004…

Reinhold, nobody’s ever going to believe this except the guy I said it to, but I was out to dinner (at Harry Carey’s Cubs-and-baseball-themed restaurant in Chicago, as it happens) on the third night of the 2004 ALCS. One of our party, a former Harvard athlete and big Red Sox fan, was in despair over the Sox barely failing in a big Game 3 comeback to fall to 0-3 in the playoff. To cheer him up, I said, “Just watch: they’re going to win the next four to take that series, then sweep the World Series in four straight.” And they did! If I had put money on that, I’d be posting this from my penthouse in the Trump Tower.

The funny thing is, when I said it, I believed it, somehow. The Cubs, of course, would have made the same heroic comeback, then blown it with four outs left in the final game.

#4 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 21, 2015 @ 8:34 am

OK, I’ve now read every comment here currently posted (jet-lag has its uses). That means up through Turmarion’s at 9:53 pm. A few general things I notice:

Some of the arguments that I will too crudely all “conservative” are with more extreme positions than I’m taking. I agree that it raises a bunch of thorny philosophical questions to talk about whether someone “IS” a man or a woman “trapped” in the body of the other sex. To me, we don’t need to reach those questions to make the more modest claims that there are some crazy things happening in some people’s brains, and that this has implications for how they construe their identities and selfhoods.

Related to this, some of the disputes are really over terms, or particular ways of formulating a point. (On which: Anne, yes, I meant “comatose with no hope of recovery.” I thought I was borrowing the usage of the literature I linked to, but I’m not a medical professional so may have misapplied it.)

I have a question for those here who are conversant with natural law theories: what is DNA in the Aristotelian or Thomist scheme? It’s material, I can see, but is it also a “formal” cause, since it helps “form” the organism? Irenist objects to my using terms like “programming” and “encoding,” and I’m happy to switch to others if they’re more precise, but what do you call the mechanism whereby I have thumbs because human DNA directs cells to divide and differentiate in ways that produce thumbs?

And on that, I’m struck again by a point that J_A raises: these discussions really do seem like latter-day efforts to make sense of worldviews passed down to us from a time when the universe was very poorly understood — when it was imagined that there was a human world at the center of all things, and then some kind of canopy over and around this but designed with reference to it, and that the whole arrangement was only slightly older than humankind itself, probably by less than a week, and had been created as a stage-setting for the human drama. I have been reading recently about what an intellectual revolution it was, in the 17th and 18th centuries, just to come to grips with the idea that the earth’s surface was in flux, that mountains rose and fell, etc. That’s even before we get to the discovery and interpretation of fossils. The early theorists of all this were at pains to try reconcile it with Noah’s flood and the like, until that just became too obviously unhelpful to be worth the bother.

So while I’m interested in natural-law-type arguments, which is why I ask about them, and while I think it’s even useful, within reason, to borrow certain concepts like “human flourishing” for purposes of secular ethical analysis, the bottom line is that they’re faith claims and heavily dependent on an ancient book, or a tradition of which that book is one expression. If you asked the people who wrote the books of the Bible, “how old is the universe?”, some of them might have explained that it’s a misguided question, but those who answered would never in 14 billions years have said “14 billion years.” They just didn’t know that and many other facts. They had no idea how far away the stars were or how many there were. They did not know there was DNA or what it did, or that it’s present in all those other creatures too.

I think those writers and prophets of old gave us some great stories (plus some that are less great), and we can learn things from them, and they may have expressed some great spiritual truths. The more articulate of you have proven that you can spin out their work and the associated tradition in all kinds of elegant ways. But in the end, you’re building intellectual structures on what at least partly was error and misinformation. Your fellow citizens need to keep that fact in mind as they evaluate which of your claims should be written into public policy.

#5 Comment By Anne On July 21, 2015 @ 8:36 am

Irenist: “And the matter of the sacrament of matrimony? The conjugal act itself.”

I’m not sure anyone else is reading this thread anymore, but just in case, this jumped out at me, so I’ll venture a quick comment:

According to my understanding, the matter of the sacrament of matrimony is the couple themselves, not the conjugal act. An unconsummated marriage is still fully a sacrament. No?

#6 Comment By Raskolnik On July 21, 2015 @ 9:08 am

An unconsummated marriage is still fully a sacrament. No?

An unconsummated marriage is not in fact a “marriage” at all. Lack of consummation is unqualified grounds for annulment, since without consummation the marriage never took place.

#7 Comment By Irenist On July 21, 2015 @ 9:57 am

@Anne:

According to my understanding, the matter of the sacrament of matrimony is the couple themselves, not the conjugal act. An unconsummated marriage is still fully a sacrament. No?

Out of what I think is over-delicacy, the matter of the sacrament is often euphemistically referred to as “the bodies of the couple themselves” in American catechetical materials. Unfortunately, this squeamishness leads to misconceptions about the sacraments, and makes it harder for either an anti-contraceptive mentality generally or the “Theology of the Body” of Pope St. John Paul the Great in particular or to effectively establish itself in the minds of couples constantly bombarded with propaganda on behalf of a merely companionate, contraceptive understanding of marriage. Some quotes that I hope are helpful:

[T]he marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity.

Catechism, 1640 (emphasis added).

The form of the sacrament of marriage is the exchange of vows; the matter of the sacrament is the consummation of the marriage, when the two people enact those vows in that physical expression of love.

—Saunders, Rev. William. “The Marriage Covenant.” Arlington Catholic Herald, online at the Catholic Education Resource Center, (emphasis added).

A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.

—Code of Canon Law, Can. 1061 §1 (emphasis added).

Marriage is a sacrament which is contracted by means of the word which is a sacramental sign by reason of its content: “I take you as my wife—as my husband—and I promise to be always faithful to you, in joy and sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to love you and honor you all the days of my life.” However, this sacramental word is, per se, merely the sign of the coming into being of marriage. The coming into being of marriage is distinguished from its consummation, to the extent that without this consummation the marriage is not yet constituted in its full reality. The fact that a marriage is juridically contracted but not consummated (ratum—non consummatum) corresponds to the fact that it has not been fully constituted as a marriage. Indeed the very words “I take you as my wife—my husband” refer not only to a determinate reality, but they can be fulfilled only by means of conjugal intercourse. This reality (conjugal intercourse) has moreover been determined from the very beginning by institution of the Creator: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (cf. Gn 2:24).

—Pope St. John Paul II, General Audience of January 5, 1983 on “Language of the Body, the Substratum and Content of the Sacramental Sign of Spousal Communion” (emphasis added).

A marriage that is ratum et consummatum can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death.
For a just cause, the Roman Pontiff can dissolve a non-consummated marriage between baptized persons or between a baptized party and a non-baptized party at the request of both parties or of one of them, even if the other party is unwilling.

—Code of Canon Law, Cans. 1141-42. (emphasis added).
That last quote means that a non-consummated marriage may be annulled. Now, annulment may only be granted where the marriage was invalid. Canon lawyer Cathy Caridi (whose otherwise excellent blog, “Canon Law Made Easy,” won’t let me copy and paste) writes that “Invalidity” means that the external administration of the sacrament has no spiritual effect. In other words, an invalid marriage was not really a sacrament. (Caridi does note that the children of an invalid putative marriage are still legitimate, where “putative” just means the couple sincerely (though mistakenly) thought they were marrying.)

Upon first learning of this doctrine, my wife’s reaction was to ask whether the paralyzed protagonist of Born on the Fourth of July could contract a sacramentally valid marriage. AFAICT, it does not seem so. That’s at least as hard a teaching as the Church’s unwavering opposition to SSM. In both cases, the Christian should deeply respect the unitive love that allows an impotent paralytic or a gay man to cherish someone emotionally. But however emotionally beautiful, such affections are not sacramentally valid, just as some well-meaning priest could not confect the matter of a rice cake as the Body of Our Lord, even if he had the best of intentions to accommodate some kid with celiac or something, and just as a well-intentioned feminist priest cannot validly baptize a child with the form of words, “I baptize thee in the name of the Mother, the Child, and Holy Sophia.”

I doubt many people are reading this, but if I’ve proven helpful to you, Anne, that’s reward enough.

#8 Comment By Irenist On July 21, 2015 @ 11:28 am

@Turmarion:

In brief, it seems that the only candidate for prime matter is the interior of a quark. For all higher-level entities (with the exception of the human mind and possibly life as such), all physical properties are adequately explained by the mass and interaction of the subatomic particles making up those entities. There’s thus no basis for distinguishing substantial and accidental forms. You could, I suppose, call the atomic arrangement itself a “form”; but that’s not what I think Aristotle mean by the term.

You’re certainly right that the quantum realm is the most reminiscent of Aristotle’s prime matter:

The probability wave of Bohr, Kramers, Slater… was a quantitative version of the old concept of “potentia” in Aristotelian philosophy. It introduced something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality…. [T]he matter of Aristotle, which is mere “potentia,” should be compared to our concept of energy, which gets into “actuality” by means of the form, when the elementary particle is created…. I believe that the language actually used by physicists when they speak about atomic events produces in their minds similar notions as the concept “potentia.” So the physicists have gradually become accustomed to considering the electronic orbits, etc., not as reality but rather as a kind of “potentia.”

–Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy (N.B., the gaps implied by some of those four-dot ellipses are tens of pages long: the quotes were culled by Ed Feser for a blog post.)

However, you go wrong because the various subatomic particles, and atoms, and molecules are present not actually and formally, but potentially and virtually, in more complex substances. For example, a free electron acts differently than an electron in an atom. Sodium and chloride are distinct substances with distinct formal propreties (one a soft metal, one a greenish gas), distinct finally caused reactions to various events in the lab like being added to water, etc. Combine them into table salt, and you no longer have either a soft metal or a greenish gas: the sodium and chloride are present virtually, but not actually, potentially as the product of breaking down the salt, but not actually until you actually do so. Thus, salt is a separate substantial form from sodium and chloride, and also from the various subatomic particles that compose it. The substantial form of table salt might be said to “harness” the virtually present sodium and chloride, and indeed the virtually present electrons, protons, neutrons, and quarks within the protons and neutrons: they don’t act like sodium, chlorine, free electrons, free protons (a.k.a. bare hydrogen ions), and certainly not as free quarks. “Harnessed” (provided one doesn’t picture a mechanical process) by the substantial form of table salt, they *are* the substance table salt, not the substances sodium, chlorine, or bare hydrogen. Hylemorphism not only does not conflict with modern chemistry and physics, but in its subtle distinctions (e.g., virtual vs. actual vs. eminent presence of a substance or a cause) actually complements and enriches our understanding of what strictly material-efficient causal investigation into nature has disclosed.

Given 1, I don’t quite buy the soul-as-organizing-principle model. The structure of the hardware and software of a computer is an organizing principle, but a computer doesn’t therefore have a soul. Thus, if a living thing is the sum total of all its subatomic components arranged in a certain way, it’s hard to see how calling that pattern a “soul” adds to our knowledge of it. On the other hand, if the sum total of the material pattern of a living thing is necessary but insufficient–if there is an immaterial “life force” or élan vital that is neccesary to make it alive–then the pattern is secondary.

Well, I have attempted to describe why 1 fails. And the “harnessing” I have described, the way the formal organization of sodium and chlorine into salt makes them into a different substance with different properties, is plainly precisely what is going on in nature. Now, a computer is an artifact. It has the artifactual teleology the engineers intended. But, qua computer, it has no innate teleology. The computer on my desk is composed of separate substances. The plastic, the silicon, etc., have their own innate final causes as inanimate substances: they respond to electricity in certain mathematically orderly ways, etc. IOW, the reason a computer can never be alive, and an AI can never have qualia, is not because of how it is organized (for this is to fall into the physicalist’s “functionalist” theory of the brain and the mind, which is a kind of hylemorphism manqué), but because it is not a substantial form in its own right with its own final cause, but instead an artificially brought together collection of distinct substances each with its own teleology. Aristotle used the example of a man who carved a bed out of a living tree: it might sprout branches, but it will never grow a second bed. Feser uses the more intuitive example of Tarzan’s hammock woven from living liana vines: they’ll grow more liana vines, but they’ll never spontaneously grow Tarzan another hammock. Their teleology is that of lianas, not hammocks. Unlike the Creator’s living artifacts, human artifacts (with the possible and metaphysically complicated exception of lab-grown artificial cells) do not have innate teloi as whole artifacts. Now, the plastic of which the computer is partly composed is a genuinely novel substance: the human chemists have given it separate “innate” reactions to stimuli like heat and mechanical force than its chemical constituents. It is a substance in its own right. But the computer is a “mere” artifact, like an abacus or a clock. Nothing we have not put into, as either direct or (or often quite) indirect cause comes out of it.

St. Thomas, acting out of his Christian faith, tried to make Aristotelianism do things it really couldn’t do. Aristotle doesn’t posit an “infused” immortal human soul (his god is the Deist Unmoved Mover, anyway). It’s not clear that he thinks the soul is separable–in fact, he seems to posit it as being a material configuration, in some ways. He doesn’t even really seem to think a human soul is the locus of individual personality–it seems, on his account, to be more like the electricity that runs two different computers. The electricity is the same; the difference resides in the hardware and installed software. This doesn’t seem like the idea of an infused soul that St. Thomas teaches, an idea more like the over-and-above essence infusing the mere material pattern.

Aristotle’s God is quite Deist. And his Agent Intellect can certainly be plausibly read to be exactly like the “electricity running two different computers” as it lights up all human intellects at once in a way quite reminiscent of the Hindu concept of Atman. However, while it can be argued either way whether Aquinas misread Aristotle, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is describing nature correctly. Just as we are happy to trade Newton for Einstein (who included yet deepened and advanced Newton’s insights) and just as Newman helps us discern the development of doctrine, so in the Angelic Doctor we see, if not slavishly punctilious following of the Stagirite on every point, then instead a deepening and a development on questions like the nature of God, the soul, and essence vs. existence that enriches and empowers the Aristotelian method, rather than deforming it or rendering it implausible. A physicist is not a Newtonian but a physicist: his or her loyalty is to the discovered facts, not to old texts. Likewise, a metaphysician must be concerned to “save the phenomena,” not to follow any authority, even one as eminent as Aristotle or even Aquinas. AFAICT, Aquinas consistently does better justice to the facts everywhere he deviates from the Philosopher. And the facts are what matter. Aristotle isn’t Scripture. He was just an early and brilliant thinker who was often right, but often enough wrong.

I’m actually sympathetic to the idea of an immaterial soul beyond the mere material configuration, as opposed to soul-as-substantial form. I actually lean towards panpsychism, the notion that everything, living or not, has at least a small or latent “consciousness”. Put it another way: Like gravity and the electromagnetic force, mind is an irreducible component of reality. In nonliving things it’s very vague and dim; stronger in living things; and fully conscious in humans. I think such a view could be developed that would be compatible with Christianity, but I don’t have space or time here.

When one sees someone like Feser commenting on the panpsychism of a Russell or a Chalmers, it quickly becomes apparent that the best of panpsychism’s insights, but without the New Age-iness, may be captured in a sufficiently subtle account of formal and final causality as exhibited in inanimate nature. On a related noted, the Thomist blogger “Siris,” IIRC, has a lovely discussion somewhere of Newtonian inertia being perhaps poetically viewable as an analog in the order of inanimate nature to something like the irreducibly formal/final causal concept of intentionality, which so flummoxes physicalist accounts of the mind. Both inertia and intentionality have a kind of “directed at”-ness at their conceptual core. IOW, Thomism already *has* developed something sufficiently like panpsychism to do conceptually what you want it to do, such that it is not only compatible with Christianity, indeed deepens our understanding of Christian core dogmas like the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Your understanding of these matters is already very deep. But some of the more subtle distinctions, of the sort that the Scholastics spent centuries arguing about, as between virtual and actual presence in a substance, the non-artifactual final causality of the inanimate, etc., are precisely the places where I would urge you to read even more deeply.

Chimps, bonobos, possibly gorillas, dolphins, and one species of European magpie can pass the mirror test, which seems to indicate at least some self-awareness. Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, etc.) have been observed to communicating to each other, and referring to each other consistently with constant and distinguishable sound patterns. In layman’s terms, they give each other names. Given the wide differences in modes of perception, it’s quite possible that cetaceans are actually sapient as we are–they have equivalent sized brains, cortex, etc., and their communications can’t be ruled out as language. I think it’s at least plausible that they are intelligent, and thus that they might have true souls. For primates and other higher animals that’s less clear; but the IQ of a profoundly mentally retarded person or of a newborn baby is irrelevant to its having a soul. It seems that self-awareness (on a species level, at least) at least points to some form of soul.

I don’t really have trouble with any of this. I think cetaceans, e.g., are about as bright as it is possible for an irrationally animal souled creature to be. And as you point out, that means they are much brighter than we usually think. Indeed, for precisely that reason, I think that the theological speculation that Adam’s and Eve’s children mated with irrational primates until rationally souled descent from Adam “went to fixation” (as the population geneticists say) in the primal population is not so horrifying or implausible as might otherwise be the case. Even irrationally souled hominids (hominins?) could have been much brighter than we might think. Seth and Cain would not have been able to discuss higher mathematics with their mates, but they could at least, like cetaceans, have communicated with their mates employing *names* for things. It would’ve been much more like befriending and mating with a bipedal cetacean of entirely human shape than mating with some dull-witted quadruped. Still bestiality, and still only permitted out of temporal exigency (as God permitted the Patriarchs polygamy to build up His People Israel). But not like some pervert schtupping a sheep.

To the predictable objections, I can’t even prove that other humans have souls and aren’t just philosophical zombies. If an animal behaves in all discernible ways as if it’s self-aware and sapient, then by Occam’s razor I’d say it is self-aware and sapient. The only being we know for sure to be self-aware and sapient–us–have, as we believers assert, souls; therefore, if some higher animals are also self-aware and sapient, I’d assert, on the same grounds, that they have souls, too. God hasn’t revealed that to us; but His relationship with them isn’t our business, is it? The scientific jury is out; but once more, it seems to me at least 50/50, or even a bit better, that at lest cetaceans may have souls (with implications for our treatment of them).

Well, they do have animal souls. Just not rational ones. Of course, I don’t think it’s dogmatically defined that humans are the only rational animals on Earth. I think it’s closer to the spirit of defined dogma to assume that we are. But OTOH, I’ve long wished I had an iota of talent for writing fiction, so I could write a fantasy or sci-fi type story about Jonah having been, unbeknownst to us, the prophet to the cetaceans. (Please feel very free to steal this idea. I just want someone to write it so I can enjoy reading it.) Engaging in further speculation, perhaps the cetaceans could be unfallen sapients, like the Hrossa on Mars in Lewis’ Space Trilogy. As such, Christ’s saving Incarnation would not be their direct concern. The trouble with that hypothesis is that cetaceans seem to suffer all the ills that flesh is heir to at least as much as we poor, banished children of Eve. But then, so did Lewis’ Hrossa—they died and could be murdered. So who knows? I’ve read that “dolphin rape” is an urban legend. Do cetaceans seem especially ethical to you? Even “unfallen”? I have no idea, and it’s not an area of speculation I’ve given much serious thought to.

Given all this, humans may not be unique as we think we are. It is possible that sin and redemption are more diffuse than we think. Perhaps they come into sharper relief with us than with other species, and it may be that we are theologically the “spokes-species” for our planet. Nevertheless, it may be that one incident with one pair of early hominids is not a sufficient explanation for the state of us and the world.

That’s interesting. I don’t think it works without common descent. The classic metaphor for original sin is Adam was left to tend a vineyard by its landlord. He wrecked the vineyard. Thus, his heirs inherit a wrecked vineyard. It’s not that God actively takes something away from each new generation, but that the wrecked vineyard is all that’s left to inherit. I think the “heir” concept is the hinge of the metaphor, and I don’t think that works without descent. Further, not that this may matter to you, but I don’t think “spokes-species” is compatible with either the plain reading of Paul or the general tenor of “Humani Generis,” even if it could be smuggled in between the lines of either with sufficient ingenuity.

8. How “Original Sin” works then is something I’m honestly not sure of. I mulling over some ideas which seem plausible, which I intend eventually to blog; but that’s still just my musings. We may never fully know in this life how it all works; but I think the traditional model is going to need replacing with something as time goes on.

Well, the traditional model is the model endorsed by Tradition. And that’s where I think we must amicably part company. I’m not 100% clear on how it works either, and I don’t know if anyone is, but when I encounter a difficulty in such a dogma, I at least initially assume that I have not understood it deeply enough, rather than that the dogma is wrong. So far, I have yet to encounter a doctrine that does not resolve itself into clarity if I investigate it further with a docile mind. YMMV, of course.

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 21, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

I’ve noted this about the teleology of dinosaurs before, but apparently it bears repeating:

Dinosaurs are at least one of the possibilities, maybe inevitable, maybe only one of many, in the chain of biochemical reactions that leads from inert matter to a hairless biped which closely enough approximates the Image of God that a soul could be “breathed” into it. It wasn’t sufficient, no matter how clever velociraptors were, so the somewhat random and structurally unsound process of evolutionary biology had to continue, and along the way, the inadequate dinosaurs were discarded. There is no evidence that a rather gentle triceratops was crucified, died, or was buried, much less that it rose again on the third day. But then, the Eleusinian Mysteries hadn’t been thought of yet. Those were developed by the Greeks, who were homo sapiens sapiens.

#10 Comment By Turmarion On July 21, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

John Paul II, as quoted: The fact that a marriage is juridically contracted but not consummated…corresponds to the fact that it has not been fully constituted as a marriage.

This is why I’ve often thought the Church’s approval, at times, of Josephite marriages (no sex) is paradoxical and seem to involve marriages that actually aren’t “fully constituted”.

Irenist: However, you go wrong because the various subatomic particles, and atoms, and molecules are present not actually and formally, but potentially and virtually, in more complex substances.

See, I disagree. You might as well say that the bricks in a wall exist only in potentia; but that violates common sense. Many particles are potentials in and of themselves–e.g. the virtual particles that form the zero-point energy. However, I don’t think that atoms are potentials just because they’re part of a larger entity. Put it another way–potentia and actualitas are matters of the particles without reference to their configuration.

Thus, salt is a separate substantial form from sodium and chloride….

Thus, I disagree. If you put “c”, “a”, and “t” together, you get “cat”, which signifies a word. You might say it’s an emergent property. However, there is no change in each letter. The valence electrons interact in such a way as to produce properties for NaCl that differ from those of Na and Cl individually; but that doesn’t mean there is a separate “substantial form” for salt than for sodium and chlorine in an ionic bond, unless by “substantial form” you mean an ionic sharing of one valence electron between sodium and chlorine atoms. But if that’s the case, it’s hard to see how calling it a “substantial form” adds to our understanding or is even useful.

However, while it can be argued either way whether Aquinas misread Aristotle, it doesn’t really matter.

It does for this reason: From his own perspective, Aristotle seems to have thought he was doing what a modern scientist is doing. That is, he was using trying to describe empirical reality using the tools he had without bringing in supernatural explanations. This means that to the extent that our understanding has changed, much of Aristotle’s work becomes invalid. For example, he didn’t understand inertia, which is why he had to posit intelligences that keep the planets in motion. With Newtonian physics, that’s not a necessary assumption.

On the other hand, Thomas imported other ideas in order to fit his Christian faith. That’s fine; but such ideas are not and cannot be empirical. It’s also worth pointing out that importing them and tacking them onto Aristotle’s–or anyone else’s–system is not automatically valid. That’s a separate thing to establish. Aristotle’s ideas about the various types of soul may or may not be correct; but that God infuses an individual soul into each human at conception is something that cannot be demonstrated, not even in principle. It may be held as a matter of faith, which is fine; but it has to be argued on the basis of theology, not of science or even metaphysics.

The problem with a lot of modern Thomism is that this line between the theological and the metaphysical and empirical gets very much blurred. Arguments about the immortal human soul (a theological issue) get muddled with the soul as organizing principle (a metaphysical notion, in which it seems that Aristotle and Thomas are not in agreement) and further muddled with hylemorphism (an idea that, from Aristotle’s perspective, was probably more a matter of what we’d call “physics” than “metaphysics”, and one which, for reasons I’ve discussed, seems to me to be invalid). With both Thomism and some sympathetic modern physicists, I think there’s a Rorschach effect of projecting what one thinks Aristotle meant. “The Christian view of the soul fits right in with soul-as-substantial form!” Well, does it? I hate to sound like Siarlys, but one could argue that the Old Testament, Semitic view is not at all like this; and the New Testament view is also debatable. Likewise, “Quantum states are just like potentia!” Well, are they? Is that what Aristotle (who didn’t even believe in atoms!) really meant by the term?

I’m a lot more agostic in two ways: One, I don’t think anyone really knows quite what is happening with quantum events, metaphysically speaking. Even among physicists who understand QM there is hot debate. Two, given the vast difference in worldviews, I’m not sure we really understand Aristotle and Thomas as much as we think. In some places, I’m not even sure Aristotle is even clear what he means. In clearer cases, such as salt above, I think Aristotle is just plain wrong.

In short, Thomism, in my view, has a bad tendency of trying to defend theological propositions (the nature of the human soul, natural law theory of morals, etc.) on the grounds of a procedure that is pseudo-empirical that actually is not suited to prove what it seeks to prove. You say that Thomas does “better justice to the facts in the places where he deviates from the Philosopher”–but most such “facts” are theological. That doesn’t mean they’re not true; but by definition they’re not subject to demonstration as facts by philosophy! They are based on faith; and while I’m not a fideist, there are lots of things, such as an interactive, non-Deist god, the immortality of the human soul, etc. (things I believe in, let me note) that are not demonstrable by philosophy alone. The Thomist mistake, IMO, is to think that a lot more can be demonstrated purely by reason than is the case.

Maybe Aristotelian-Thomist “intentionality” is similar to the panpsychist view, but most A-T scholars would probably dismiss panpsychism. It seems to me that teleology doesn’t make sense without some idea of mind. Physics dismisses telos on the grounds that it makes it sound like a rock “wants” to fall, or a seed “wants” to grow into a tree. Many A-T philosophers have conniptions over this, accuse the physicists of being too ignorant to understand the sublimities of A-T thought, and then say that while of course a rock doesn’t “want” to fall, that’s still a telos. To me, that’s the mistake. I can say the rock is an intert object that follows empirical laws according to which it falls; or I can say that mind is irreducibly in the cosmos, and in some sense the rock does “want” to fall; but trying to have universal teleology without mind seems to me either to posit the absurdity of [7] or to be self-contradictory.

I think cetaceans, e.g., are about as bright as it is possible for an irrationally animal souled creature to be.

Well, you’re smuggling in an assumption. How do we know they’re “irrationally souled”? Suppose it becomes possible to truly communicate with them, like you would with another human? On what basis would you conclude they still have no “rational soul”? That would essentially say they’re aquatic philosophical zombies; but by that criterion everyone else I know may be, too, since I have no access their qualia. Any assertion that cetacians in that case have no souls is pure assertion, period. Any such assertion is purely theological; Christians might say “But animals don’t have souls,” but Hindus would say “Of course they do!” and Buddhists would say, “No human or animal has souls, since souls don’t exist!” (anātman) If it looks like a duck (or sapient) and quacks like a duck, I’d say it is a duck (or sapient). If you’re still skeptical, read “ [8]” for a fascinating fictional look at how very difficult it would really be to understand a true but alien intelligence. I think it’s at least an open question as to whether some higher animals have souls or not, and I’d act accordingly. I’d also note that there is to my knowledge any dogmatic conciliar or ex cathedra statement that rules out any possibility of some animals having souls. I think it’s safer to remain agnostic on that. (I do think Jonah as prophet to the whales is a good idea though–thanks! I may use it.)

Well, the traditional model [of Original Sin] is the model endorsed by Tradition. And that’s where I think we must amicably part company. I’m not 100% clear on how it works either….

Well, that’s fair enough. I think the problems with the traditional view are insurmountable; you don’t. There are vague rumors that there are theologians tasked with reworking the teaching in light of modern knowledge; and it’s worth pointing out the lynchpin phrase in Humani Generis, “It is in no way apparent” how traditional doctrine could be reconciled with polygenesis. That’s short of saying “It cannot be reconciled” and leaves definite wiggle room. In any case, we’ll see; and trying to follow God and to deal with our own sins is in the long run more important than the specific model we adopt.

#11 Comment By Irenist On July 21, 2015 @ 2:16 pm

@J_A:

First I apologize if I came out as rude. That was never my intention.

No worries. And anyone who’s mature enough to apologize in a situation like that has earned my admiration. I likewise apologize for the somewhat snarky tone I employed in some of my replies.

Having said that, I’m afraid I am far from convinced by your arguments.

Again, no worries. If I can illustrate online that us traditionalist actually HAVE arguments, rather than just irrational bigotries, I consider a great victory indeed. The inferential distance to be covered, and the emotional motivation to stick with the (a)theism upon which one has built one’s life make it exceedingly rare that these arguments ever convince anybody. Such arguments brought both me and the Thomist philosopher Ed Feser out of atheism, but cases like ours are, as I said, exceedingly rare.

At the end of the day, my point is quite the opposite. We don’t know. I don’t know, and you don’t know. None of us can know the final causality. It is not possible.

I know this is a bit facile, but how do you KNOW that we can’t know? More to the point, as I’ve attempted to describe, while we can’t know what I’ve called the “artifactual” final causality in the sense of the Divine Artificer’s purposes, the *innate* final causality isn’t mysterious AT ALL. It’s just stuff like “what makes this critter healthy?” or “how, under the mathematical order of nature, does this inanimate substance X consistently react to stimulus Y?” (Innate inanimate final causality is all about reaction to actions. The efficient cause (say, the act of heating ice) is the action, and the final cause (the ice, consistently, melts) is the reaction. The efficient cause is the stimulus, and the final cause is the consistent response. The student approaching the philosophy of nature is often advised to think of every natural event as composed of an efficient causal “push” and a final causal “pull.” I fell that you’re either insisting on conflating the artifactual and innate versions of final causality after I’ve already distinguished them at some length, or attempting to tell me that we somehow can’t know things as simple as “what makes this critter healthy?” or “does ice melt when you heat it?” But neither of those is plausible coming from someone of your obvious intelligence. So what’s your objection to the INNATE part of final causality? I just don’t see it.

Is like knowing what was there before the Big Bang. You can’t.

Agreed. We can’t know what was before the Big Bang because not only space but time itself began then: there was no “before.” Further, we cannot even know what happened at the instant of the Big Bang, because the physics equations of that moment are a mathematical singularity: they give crazy “divide by zero”-type results we can’t do anything with. But so what? Not knowing everything there is to know about the Big Bang doesn’t stop us from knowing humble, workaday final causal things like “a healthy dog eats meat; a rabid dog eats grass.” There’s nothing really fancy going on here. “Final cause” in this context is just a technical term for something very mundane and unremarkable.

that is the problem with Revelation. God did not talk to me. I am told that God talked to a man around 45 AD and that this man wrote some letters. I am shown facsimiles of the said letters. And I told by people who have neither talked to God nor to this man that wrote the letters, that those are inspired by God, and tell us what he wants from us. And my question, with the quote from the Quran was: what happens if you are told something different? A billion people are taught that God spoke to a man in Arabia 1,400 years ago, and he received a book. But it’s a dint book from the letters from the other man. Now I have to books. Which one is the one that tells me the tru final causality. I can’t tell. Unless like Joseph Smith God talks to me and gives me a third book, I can’t tell which one is the right one. And I don’t believe you can tell me which is the right final causality. I’m sorry, but I cannot believe you, because I can’t see you bringing any proof to the table.

I can’t prove to you what the artifactual final causality, that is to say, the Providential purpose, of the cosmos is. That it exhibits innate final causality (i.e., mathematically ordered, predictable regularity, rather than the macro-scale weirdness of Hume’s thought experiments) should be plain to anyone who has any acquaintance with modern physical science. As for Christianity, I can’t prove it to you at all. I will say only this: once one accepts something like Aristotle’s metaphysics of fourfold causality, act & potency, etc., Aquinas’ five ways become airtight proofs for the existence of at least a Deist conception of God. One may in fact rest there: even the problem of evil may be answered as a matter of the Perfect allowing the imperfect to exist. But most of us will still be troubled by the problem of evil and find that “principle of plentitude” sort of theodicy unsatisfying. This can lead to an examination of the various world religions to see if any of them seems to have the fingerprints of God upon it. I have found Catholic Christianity to do so, and have accordingly put my trust in its Scripture and my faith in its Triune God. YMMV. It’s an intensely personal business, and not one susceptible of logical demonstration.

But one thing I must say, and that was the main point of my rant: the fact that I don’t claim to know the formal and final causality, more so, the fact that I claim I cannot ever know the formal and final causality, doesn’t mean that I do not have moral and ethics.
That, I’m sorry to say, is demeaning and insulting, Irenist.

I don’t doubt that you think and act morally as best you can. You seem like a nice person. I apologize for having lead you to think that I would doubt that. My point is distinct from that: it’s that although you do strive to think and act morally, the philosophical foundations for your morality must contain a logical flaw in them somewhere. On a day to day basis, that likely doesn’t stop you from being a good person. But when debating extreme situations like Jenner’s transsexuality or the rightness of abortion, even subtle logical flaws can lead to large errors of ethical judgment, even by sincere, well-intentioned people. Thus the importance of debating these “hair-splitting,” “angels on the head of a pin”-type questions in the first place.
Morality and ethics are not dependent on subscribing to one particular final causality. If knowing the (true) final causality was a requirement to be moral, or ethical, only those fortunate enough to have guessed the correct causality would be truly moral. To no avail, because no one would ever know who the moral ones were, since no one can know what the final causality is. So I reject in full your assertion that morality is impossible without a final causality.
Lots of moral systems are possible, and men and women of good will have adhered to myriad moralities over the centuries. That’s fine when the question is a relatively simple one, like whether it’s wrong to murder an innocent adult. But on the murkier cases, the philosophical foundations of one’s ethics lead to very different answers to the hard questions.

And I propose the morality of consent, avoidance of harm, and justice.

That leaves a lot of questions unanswered that require answers. What is the nature of consent? May a child give it? What is harm? Is an aborted fetus harmed? What is justice? Is social justice Rawlsian distribution from rich to poor, Nozickian absolute property rights, or something else? Is criminal justice retribution, rehabilitation, or something else?

More importantly, what is the basis for your proposal? Do you ground your proposed morality in utilitarianism, in deontology, in virtue ethics, or what? In your gut feelings and intuitions about what seems fair? What if I have different gut feelings and intuitions? If it’s utilitarianism, how do you avoid having ends justify means, which is a problem that bedevils (at least most, IMHO all) utilitarian formulations of metaethics? It’s one thing to say that because of separation of church and state, or whatever, that the American government ought to confine itself to a strictly libertarian concern with consent, harm avoidance, and justice. But that’s a political opinion. It doesn’t tell us much about what our private moralities should be. It might tell us that Jenner’s transition ought to be legal, but it wouldn’t tell us if it was moral.

It is possible that this is also God’s morality, but I cant know it while I’m still standing on this small rock. So I’d God’s morality cannot be known, I’ll have to stick with mine.

You don’t need a revelation from God to get to Natural Law ethics. Both Aristotle and Cicero were pagans. All you need to do is ask yourself “what behaviors lead to human flourishing?” and honestly follow the answers where they lead. There are specifically Christian precepts, like honoring the Sabbath by attending Mass, that you can’t reach by reason alone without Revelation. But the vast bulk of morality consists of things that Aristotle and Cicero and those like them could figure out without any Divine revelation whatsoever. I think the arguments that Aristotelian metaphysics and virtue ethics are more coherent and better fit the facts of our world than materialist metaphysics and utilitarian ethics can be established by secular argument with no appeal to the Bible AT ALL. I’ve tried to sketch the barest outlines of how that might go in these comments. You’ll notice I do not rely upon Biblical authority for anything I’ve posited regarding metaphysics and virtue ethics. The Bible infinitely enriches a Christian’s understanding of philosophy, but philosophical reason can mount much, much higher than you think all on its own. Give it a try. It’s fun!

I appreciate your effort to engage about the teleology of dinosaurs. Again, I am far from convinced. God did not put them there just so they could have more dinosaurs until enough time elapsed for them to be wiped out. And if He did, then I don’t see why we believe we are different. Dinosaurs have no interesting telos, but we do. The billions of stars are just inert objects, but we are here to praise God’s glory. It’s too Popol Vuh for me. The stick men could not praise the Gods and are destroyed, but we corn men can, so the Gods are pleased with us and let us live.

First of all, hatching from eggs, growing, finding food, and mating is a very “interesting” innate telos. The irrational animals are fascinating and wonderful, and an ethologist or paleologist or biologist can spend a very richly rewarding lifetime studying them in all their glory. It’s no insult to dinosaurs or dodos or any other extinct species if that was their innate telos, any more than it’s an insult to irrational animals now. A lion doesn’t need to be a man to be magnificent; it’s superb enough as a lion. The same goes for the stars. In their own way, just by existing as the sublimely awesome fusion furnaces they are, just by illuminating the dark sea of the endless void with infinitely many islands of light, the stars glorify God. Not consciously, because they are inanimate, but glorious all the same. (Surely you don’t think stars are alive rather than “inert,” do you?) All creation from the humblest quark to the grandest quasar glorifies God. It’s true that we rational creatures, humans and angels and maybe aliens, have our own unique place in the economy of the cosmic chorus of glory to God. Just as the Levites were set aside to be priests in the Temple, and all Israel as a priestly people unto the Gentiles, so, too are us rational creatures set aside to prayerfully praise God’s glory in a way that the irrational and the inanimate cannot. But so what? Just because the role of animals, plants, and stars is different, doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful, or valuable: St. Francis and Pope Francis alike can value and cherish the natural world without pretending it’s something it’s not. Brother wolf and sister sun needn’t be people to be worthy of our abiding interest.

As Rod has blogged here, Dante depicts Heaven as each of us taking our own place in the chorus of praise, not despising those with less exulted parts, and not envying those with more exulted parts. The Greeks used to speak of each of us as having a “moira,” a word for fate or destiny that originally meant “part,” as in a part in a play. The dinosaurs and stars have had different moirai then us, but the cosmic play needs characters of all kinds.

I hope this comes out better than I first effort. Thanks for engaging.

You’ve asked very interesting and important questions. I thank you for engaging, too. All the best to you, J_A.

#12 Comment By Irenist On July 21, 2015 @ 2:59 pm

@Siarlys Jenkins:

Thanks for another very generous comment. It interests me that your forebears were Presbyterian. With your Cymraeg moniker, I’d taken you for a Methodist.

@Eamus Catuli:

what is DNA in the Aristotelian or Thomist scheme? It’s material, I can see, but is it also a “formal” cause, since it helps “form” the organism?

The information borne by DNA organizes the organism. While deoxyribonucleic acid itself is not a “form,” it bears in-form-ation that is part of the formal organization, i.e., formal cause, of the organism. To speak especially precisely, the formal cause of a human is his or her essence, his or her nature as a “rational animal.” But it’s not the words “rational animal” on a page that are the form. Rather, this essence realizes itself in practice as what Aristotle called an “entelechy”: the substantial form organizing the substance (the animal, the plant, the ice cube, etc.) so that its virtually present subparts (the cells of the organism working in concert as organs, the hydrogen and oxygen bonded as a crystalline lattice of H2O in the ice, etc.) are harnessed toward the telos (hence “en-tel-echy”) of the substance (the tiger hunting for food, the gingko growing leaves sunward, the glacier melting when heated, etc.).

Irenist objects to my using terms like “programming” and “encoding,” and I’m happy to switch to others if they’re more precise, but what do you call the mechanism whereby I have thumbs because human DNA directs cells to divide and differentiate in ways that produce thumbs?

My point was quite the opposite: I don’t object at all! Rather, I propose for your consideration that the deep difficulty of discussing animate nature without employing teleological terms like “pro-gramming” (in which the grammata are pro some telos or other) and formal causal terms like “in-form-ation” indicates that animate nature is irreducibly teleological and essential. Indeed, when I was at vocational college in the long long ago, my electronics instructors usually fell into saying that the electrons “wanted” to move through a closed circuit. Now, such intentional language is incorrect when applied to inanimate nature. But the mathematical regularities by which the “push” of an efficient cause is met with the “pull” of a final cause toward the same result every time (as Humean skepticism would NOT lead us to expect) indicate that even for inanimate nature, formal and final causality ultimately “save the phenomena” of our “mysteriously comprehensible” (as the apocryphal Einstein quote has it) mathematically orderly cosmos in a way that the present centuries’ vogue for Humean retreat into positing mere “observed regularities” simply fails to do. Thomism neatly accounts for the cosmic orderliness of physics, for the way constituents like sodium and chlorine can be “virtually present” in salt and (non-cancerous) cells can be organized unto entelechy, for how all animals experience qualia, and for how rational animals exhibit intentionality—our words really have “meaning” and are really “about” things. This is no “god of the gaps” nonsense: the falling away of cancerous cells from entelchic organization is mediated by material problems in the telomeres, not by telos. But what Thomism does do is enrich our understanding of the efficient and material causes of things by adding the formal and final, and thus acts as a “therapy” (in the Wittgensteinian sense) for the mind-body problem, for Humean skepticism, and all the other “perennial problems of philosophy” that usually date only from—and were caused only by—the understandable but still disastrous missteps of early Enlightenment mechanism like that of Descartes or Locke. One need not be a Catholic or a Thomist, strictu sensu, to embrace these insights. Look at someone like the atheist Thomas Nagel, who is beginning to grope his way toward Aristotle’s answers in metaphysics. I don’t commend this stuff to your attention primarily because I’m Catholic, but rather because in its own right it’s importantly true.

And on that, I’m struck again by a point that J_A raises: these discussions really do seem like latter-day efforts to make sense of worldviews passed down to us from a time when the universe was very poorly understood — when it was imagined that there was a human world at the center of all things, and then some kind of canopy over and around this but designed with reference to it, and that the whole arrangement was only slightly older than humankind itself, probably by less than a week, and had been created as a stage-setting for the human drama. I have been reading recently about what an intellectual revolution it was, in the 17th and 18th centuries, just to come to grips with the idea that the earth’s surface was in flux, that mountains rose and fell, etc. That’s even before we get to the discovery and interpretation of fossils. The early theorists of all this were at pains to try reconcile it with Noah’s flood and the like, until that just became too obviously unhelpful to be worth the bother.

The universe was poorly understood when Aristotle posited his physics, and not much better understood when Newton posited his. Of course we have to update old thinkers for modern knowledge.

So while I’m interested in natural-law-type arguments, which is why I ask about them, and while I think it’s even useful, within reason, to borrow certain concepts like “human flourishing” for purposes of secular ethical analysis, the bottom line is that they’re faith claims and heavily dependent on an ancient book, or a tradition of which that book is one expression. If you asked the people who wrote the books of the Bible, “how old is the universe?”, some of them might have explained that it’s a misguided question, but those who answered would never in 14 billions years have said “14 billion years.” They just didn’t know that and many other facts. They had no idea how far away the stars were or how many there were. They did not know there was DNA or what it did, or that it’s present in all those other creatures too.

The Bible is not a book of astronomy or biology. And Aristotle’s astronomy and biology were mostly bunk, although very impressive for his time. But those aren’t the parts worth keeping, nor are they the parts I’m urging be kept.

I think those writers and prophets of old gave us some great stories (plus some that are less great), and we can learn things from them, and they may have expressed some great spiritual truths. The more articulate of you have proven that you can spin out their work and the associated tradition in all kinds of elegant ways. But in the end, you’re building intellectual structures on what at least partly was error and misinformation. Your fellow citizens need to keep that fact in mind as they evaluate which of your claims should be written into public policy.

Fair enough. But which of us aren’t updating narratives built by fallible forebears? The Biblical scribes were mere men, thought the Bible is inspired. But as postmodernism rightly sees, there is no getting outside of meta-narrative; it’s perspectivalism all the way down, for the most part. We all have a stance somewhere, upon some foundation; we all see through a glass darkly. Why the flawed assumptions and failed arguments of a physicalist like Hume or Dennett, Bentham or Locke, should have more purchase in the public square than the metaphysics and metaethics of an Aristotle or Aquinas has yet to be demonstrated.

#13 Comment By Irenist On July 21, 2015 @ 9:21 pm

@Turmarion:
What a delight you are to converse with!

This is why I’ve often thought the Church’s approval, at times, of Josephite marriages (no sex) is paradoxical and seem to involve marriages that actually aren’t “fully constituted”.

Josephite marriages are supernaturally ordered rather than naturally ordered, just as a priest’s celibacy is the sacrifice of a natural good for the sake of a supernatural good. Were there no grace, a Josephite marriage in the order of nature alone would just be an invalid marriage. It is because the Josephite marriage is specifically dedicated to God that it is a sacred state. A marriage unconsummated out of devotion to, say, population control before the invention of contraceptives, would be a sham, not a sacrament.

You might as well say that the bricks in a wall exist only in potentia; but that violates common sense. Many particles are potentials in and of themselves–e.g. the virtual particles that form the zero-point energy. However, I don’t think that atoms are potentials just because they’re part of a larger entity. Put it another way–potentia and actualitas are matters of the particles without reference to their configuration.

But brick is a substance. The quarks in an atom in a molecule in the brick exist virtually; the brick does not. Note well that a brick wall is an artifact: the bricks in a wall exist actually rather than potentially. The quarks in an atom exist only potentially.

The valence electrons interact in such a way as to produce properties for NaCl that differ from those of Na and Cl individually; but that doesn’t mean there is a separate “substantial form” for salt than for sodium and chlorine in an ionic bond,unless by “substantial form” you mean an ionic sharing of one valence electron between sodium and chlorine atoms.
By a “substantial form” I mean an organization of matter such that it exhibits certain characteristic properties. NaCl exhibits different characteristic properties than Na and Cl standing alone, yes? In the specific case of NaCl, the ionic bond is the mechanism by which the Na and Cl are joined. In the case of an organism, the mechanisms are more complicated. But what matters is that a quail has different properties than a quark.
From his own perspective, Aristotle seems to have thought he was doing what a modern scientist is doing. That is, he was using trying to describe empirical reality using the tools he had without bringing in supernatural explanations. This means that to the extent that our understanding has changed, much of Aristotle’s work becomes invalid. For example, he didn’t understand inertia, which is why he had to posit intelligences that keep the planets in motion. With Newtonian physics, that’s not a necessary assumption.

I agree with all of this. But just as most of Newtonian physics remains valid at the macroscale within the Einsteinian paradigm, so most of Aristotelian metaphysics remains valid today, even as Aristotle’s physics has been rightly discarded.

On the other hand, Thomas imported other ideas in order to fit his Christian faith. That’s fine; but such ideas are not and cannot be empirical. It’s also worth pointing out that importing them and tacking them onto Aristotle’s–or anyone else’s–system is not automatically valid. That’s a separate thing to establish. Aristotle’s ideas about the various types of soul may or may not be correct; but that God infuses an individual soul into each human at conception is something that cannot be demonstrated, not even in principle. It may be held as a matter of faith, which is fine; but it has to be argued on the basis of theology, not of science or even metaphysics.

I agree that God’s infusing the rational soul at conception is a matter of faith. However, other distinctions added to Aristotelianism by Aquinas, like the bright line between existence and essence, are simply sound philosophy. No matter that “I AM WHO AM” may have inspired Aquinas’ reflections on that topic, they are sound reasoning even in a non-Christian framework, and enrich and extend the Aristotelian system. They are not science, but they are philosophy (not just theology).
The problem with a lot of modern Thomism is that this line between the theological and the metaphysical and empirical gets very much blurred. Arguments about the immortal human soul (a theological issue) get muddled with the soul as organizing principle (a metaphysical notion, in which it seems that Aristotle and Thomas arenot in agreement) and further muddled with hylemorphism (an idea that, from Aristotle’s perspective, was probably more a matter of what we’d call “physics” than “metaphysics”, and one which, for reasons I’ve discussed, seems to me to be invalid).
Thomists argue that the soul is immaterial because it performs logical operations, which are too precise to be instantiated in matter, which is always indeterminate w/r/t intentionality, as the atheist physicalist Quine demonstrated. (James F. Ross’ work on this is very fine.) Because it is immaterial, it is incorruptible. There is no specifically Christian presupposition in work like Ross’.

With both Thomism and some sympathetic modern physicists, I think there’s a Rorschach effect of projecting what one thinks Aristotle meant. “The Christian view of the soul fits right in with soul-as-substantial form!” Well, does it? I hate to sound like Siarlys, but one could argue that the Old Testament, Semitic view is not at all like this; and the New Testament view is also debatable.

The Hebrews seem to have believed in some sort of “breaths” as the threefold soul. Paul seems to have inherited such. Regardless, just as the Bible is not an astronomy or biology textbook, it is not a textbook of psychology (in the old sense of the science of the soul). The reason to believe that the hylemorphic conception of the soul is correct is not because Aristotle may (or, as you say, may not) have thought of it, or because it precisely matches the Bible (Aquinas actually has to leap quite a few hurdles to get the pains of Hell to work with a hylemorphic conception) but because as a matter of deductive demonstrations like those offered by Ross, it is true. We are to save the phenomena, not slavishly follow ancient texts.

Likewise, “Quantum states arejust like potentia!” Well, are they? Is that what Aristotle (who didn’t even believe in atoms!) really meant by the term?

Aristotle surely didn’t have any concept of quantum states. Obviously! But his insight into what must, in principle, be true in any cosmos (which is what metaphysics strictu sensu is about) remain fruitful long after we have replaced his physics with our own.

I’m a lot more agostic in two ways: One, I don’t think anyone really knows quitewhat is happening with quantum events, metaphysically speaking.

Sure. But most of what’s really interesting in fourfold causality is of the pig-simple “healthy dogs eat meat; rabid dogs eat grass” variety. There’s no need to go searching for quantum esoteria for hylemorphism to bear fruit. But you mentioned the subatomic realm, so I responded.

given the vast difference in worldviews, I’m not sure we really understand Aristotle and Thomas as much as we think. In some places, I’m not even sure Aristotle is even clear what he means. In clearer cases, such as salt above, I think Aristotle is just plain wrong.

The interesting question isn’t whether Aristotle or Aquinas was right (of course they often weren’t), but whether hylemorphism is more coherent than physicalism and other alternatives, which it is. As for Aristotle being wrong about NaCl? He wasn’t even wrong: he had no conception of such things as the formula for NaCl. But David S. Oderberg does, and he has fruitfully applied hylemorphism to such cases.

In short, Thomism, in my view, has a bad tendency of trying to defend theologicalpropositions (the nature of the human soul, natural law theory of morals, etc.) on the grounds of a procedure that is pseudo-empirical that actually is not suited to prove what it seeks to prove. You say that Thomas does “better justice to the facts in the places where he deviates from the Philosopher”–but most such “facts” aretheological. That doesn’t mean they’re not true; but by definition they’re not subject to demonstration as facts by philosophy! They are based on faith; and while I’m not a fideist, there are lots of things, such as an interactive, non-Deist god, the immortality of the human soul, etc. (things I believe in, let me note) that are notdemonstrable by philosophy alone. The Thomist mistake, IMO, is to think that a lot more can be demonstrated purely by reason than is the case.

One need not share the Christian faith to see that transsexuality perverts the human reproductive faculty. One need not share the Christian faith to see that arithmetical and logical operations are too precise to be instantiated in purely material media. (Ross’ discussion of Kripke’s “quus” example is the go-to here.)

Maybe Aristotelian-Thomist “intentionality”

Intentionality is a concept formulated by analytical philosophy. Thomism just explains it well; it didn’t originate the concept.

most A-T scholars would probably dismiss panpsychism.

Indeed. But that’s because formal and final causality do a better job of saving the phenomena.

It seems to me that teleology doesn’t make sense without some idea of mind.

Why? Teleology is just directedness toward an end. An coder can employ “object-oriented programming” to direct a computer toward an end without the computer being conscious. My coffee maker was designed to brew coffee, but it doesn’t “want” to brew coffee. Directedness does not require consciousness.

Physics dismisses telos on the grounds that it makes it sound like a rock “wants” to fall, or a seed “wants” to grow into a tree. Many A-T philosophers have conniptions over this, accuse the physicists of being too ignorant to understand the sublimities of A-T thought, and then say that while of course a rock doesn’t “want” to fall, that’s still a telos. To me,that’s the mistake. I can say the rock is an intert object that follows empirical laws according to which it falls; or I can say that mind is irreducibly in the cosmos, and in some sense the rock does “want” to fall; but trying to have universal teleology without mind seems to me either to posit the absurdity of occasionalism or to be self-contradictory.

You can’t posit goals without mind. But you can posit directedness. You can posit tendency and regularity and orderliness.

Well, you’re smuggling in an assumption. How do we know [cetaceans are]“irrationally souled”?

We don’t. Out of respect for the general tenor of “Humani Generis,” and the Bible, however, I default to assuming that they are. I’d be happy as a pig in slop to find out we shared the planet with interestingly alien sentients. But until there’s evidence of such, I strive to keep my mind chaste of possibly heterodox speculations.

trying to follow God and to deal with our own sins is in the long run more important than the specific model we adopt.

To this I heartily agree. Pax Christi, Turmarion!

#14 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 21, 2015 @ 10:56 pm

If I can illustrate online that us traditionalist actually HAVE arguments, rather than just irrational bigotries, I consider a great victory indeed.

Irenist, mission accomplished. 🙂

I will have to read your clarification about DNA and entelechy and so forth more carefully another few times to be sure I’m getting it. It prompts this thought: It would be really helpful if somebody wrote up, in essay form, a kind of introduction to natural-law thinking for laypeople like myself that takes account of the kinds of questions I’ve been asking. Or if there is such a thing already, I’d be happy for a link to it. It should, however, not be a whole book, because I have too much actual work to do (which already involves reading lots of books) to be sure of getting to that. It also should not be two and a half hours of video, like that Robbie George / Ed Feser Princeton seminar, which in any case seemed to me from the parts I did watch to be pitched at the cognoscenti and not to neophytes. Hence is just felt to me like a lot of questions were being begged.

Just a suggestion. You’d be an excellent guide to all this for people like me if you were up for such a project. (Even better would be a published dialogue between you and Turmarion. If needed, you could posit a third, idiot interlocutor, perhaps modeled on me, who keeps interjecting with dumb layperson’s questions.)

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 21, 2015 @ 11:51 pm

Actually, Irenist, I AM a Methodist, having joined a church affiliated to one of the older Methodist denominations, in 2001, after a period of unaffiliation, following a period of atheism and agnosticism. But I was raised Presbyterian. I was also a Unitarian briefly in my late teens, after my mother told me ‘as long as you live in my house, you will go to church on Sunday, but you are old enough to decide which church you go to.’

My father was ethnically Jewish — parents off the boat circa 1905 — Jenkins is my mother’s father’s mother’s maiden name. (Mom’s next youngest sister married an Irish Catholic, and their oldest daughter is a left-leaning Episcopalian). The Presbyterian branches of my family were a mix of Welsh and English, and a few other things, including Dutch, probably a bit of Cherokee and African, etc. Some were also Church of Christ, not to be confused with UCC. Learning various pieces of Wisconsin history, I learned that among the Welsh settlers of the state (among whom I cannot number any ancestor of mine — maternal grandfather was from Pennsylvania) were a group called “Calvinistic Methodists.”

To keep things utterly confused, I currently visit a WELS Lutheran church most Sundays, partly because an African American friend invited me many years ago, partly because I teach chess at their school, and a few other reasons in between. I do not take communion, for the same reason I would not take communion at a Roman Catholic Church. I sometimes manage to get to a Methodist church on the first Sunday of the month.

#16 Comment By Turmarion On July 22, 2015 @ 12:29 am

Irenist: But brick is a substance.

No; no, it’s not.

The quarks in an atom in a molecule in the brick exist virtually; the brick does not.

At the very least, I don’t see how quarks can be demonstrated to exist virtually; at the most, I think they are no more virtual than bricks. I’ll admit I can’t be definitive on that; but I know a couple of PhD.’s in physics (one Christian, one Jewish) whom I’ll ask about that, when I have time.

[M]ost of Aristotelian metaphysics remains valid today….

Well, this is at least debatable.

I agree that God’s infusing the rational soul at conception is a matter of faith.

Well, we agree on that!

However, other distinctions added to Aristotelianism by Aquinas, like the bright line between existence and essence, are simply sound philosophy.

Maybe; but that’s not non-debatable.

Thomists argue that the soul is immaterial because it performs logical operations, which are too precise to be instantiated in matter….

That much I’d agree with; though going much beyond that is more arguable.

The reason to believe that the hylemorphic conception of the soul is correct is not because Aristotle may (or, as you say, may not) have thought of it, or because it precisely matches the Bible (Aquinas actually has to leap quite a few hurdles to get the pains of Hell to work with a hylemorphic conception) but because as a matter of deductive demonstrations like those offered by Ross, it is true.

I admit I haven’t read Ross (I’ll try to do so when I have time), but I suspect it’s at least debatable that it hylemorphism is “just simply” true. I admire that you admit St. Thomas’s problems and hurdles (I’d say “mental gymnastics”!)

[Aristotle’s] insight into what must, in principle, be true in any cosmos (which is what metaphysics strictu sensu is about) remain fruitful long after we have replaced his physics with our own.

To some extent; but how far that goes is a matter of debate.

The interesting question isn’t whether Aristotle or Aquinas was right…but whether hylemorphism is more coherent than physicalism and other alternatives, which it is.

Well, maybe; maybe not. I’ll have to put Oderburg on my reading list, too; but meanwhile, it doesn’t seem as clear-cut to me.

One need not share the Christian faith to see that transsexuality perverts the human reproductive faculty.

Maybe, maybe not. Many cultures in the Old and New Worlds had concepts of “Third Geders” or “Two Spirits”. I’m not sure I’d accept this purely by assertion.

But that’s because formal and final causality do a better job [than panpsychism] of saving the phenomena.

My interest in panpsychism is for other reasons; but I’m not sure I agree with even this statement.

Me: It seems to me that teleology doesn’t make sense without some idea of mind.

Irnist: Why? Teleology is just directedness toward an end.

Directedness toward an end–even “directedness” and “end” make no sense without mind. Otherwise, things just happen.

You can’t posit goals without mind. But you can posit directedness.

I’m not sure I think that “directedness” makes sense without mind.

Me: Well, you’re smuggling in an assumption. How do we know [cetaceans are]“irrationally souled”?

Irenist: We don’t. Out of respect for the general tenor of “Humani Generis,” and the Bible, however, I default to assuming that they are.

Humani Generis is not demonstrably ex cathedra and thus not demonstrably infallible. Thus, given that observable reality seems to be at least somewhat at odds with it, I go with demonstrable reality. I really have issues–and not just because I’m a “rebel”–with St. Ignatius Loyola’s statement that “We should always be prepared so as never to err to believe that what I see as white is black, if the hierarchic Church defines it thus.” I simply can’t do that–and God, who made me, knows that. If the science indicates against Humani Generis–and it does, emphatically–then so much the worse for Humani Generis. I can’t believe that the God who gave me intelligence and allowed me to make use of it wants me to deny it on the basis of ecclesiastical statements that frankly seem ignorant of science.

To this I heartily agree. Pax Christi, Turmarion!

With this I can agree; and right back at you! 🙂

#17 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 22, 2015 @ 1:19 am

On further reading, just one other comment:

Why the flawed assumptions and failed arguments of a physicalist like Hume or Dennett, Bentham or Locke, should have more purchase in the public square than the metaphysics and metaethics of an Aristotle or Aquinas has yet to be demonstrated.

Well, when you cite individual names like that, of course there’s no good reason. My position would be that on any question involving what’s true in or about nature, public policy should be based on the best available consensus of those who investigate nature scientifically. So, for instance, on a question like climate change, I am more inclined to listen to climate scientists as a group (speaking through organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), than I would be to turn policymaking over to people who argued from spiritual revelation, be they Thomists, Gaia-worshippers, or what have you. I understand that this already involves accepting a bunch of premises, but they have the advantage of being premises that are shareable cross-culturally, among people who come out of a variety of historic faith traditions.

#18 Comment By Turmarion On July 22, 2015 @ 10:24 am

Thanks for your support, Eamus–such a dialogue would be neat. Maybe some day Irenist and I could team up and do that! Our discussion is a model of what blog–or any discussion–should be, I think, in that we try to understand each other and to present the best arguments, without necessarily agreeing with the other’s arguments; and keeping a calm and respectful tone. That’s how it should always be; but Original Sin and such.

#19 Comment By Irenist On July 22, 2015 @ 10:33 am

@Siarlys Jenkins:
Certainly sounds like you have varied and interesting influences! We commenters here would’ve expected no less.

@Eamus Catuli:

It would be really helpful if somebody wrote up, in essay form, a kind of introduction to natural-law thinking for laypeople like myself that takes account of the kinds of questions I’ve been asking…. You’d be an excellent guide to all this for people like me if you were up for such a project. (Even better would be a published dialogue between you and Turmarion. If needed, you could posit a third, idiot interlocutor, perhaps modeled on me, who keeps interjecting with dumb layperson’s questions.)

Well, except for the part about you being an idiot, all of that sounds lovely. I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a good, essay-length intro of that sort that covers enough of the ground. Perhaps, time someday permitting, I can work up some of our conversations here into some blog posts, and use them as a launching pad to blog something more systematic. I’m grateful for the suggestion.

on any question involving what’s true in or about nature, public policy should be based on the best available consensus of those who investigate nature scientifically.

I heartily agree. The important question there is whether a policy question IS about nature in the sense investigated by natural science. E.g., the abortion debate, once the silly stuff is argued away, turns on a debate about personhood, which is a philosophical rather than a scientific concept. Science can tell us that a new organism takes its start at conception, but whether to accord that organism the status of personhood from conception or not until some later stage of brain development is a philosophical question turning on metaphysical conceptions of “human nature,” rather than “nature” in the sense amenable to quantitative prediction and control.

on a question like climate change, I am more inclined to listen to climate scientists as a group

So am I. Indeed, despite knowing how much party politics shapes peoples rationalizations, I’m always surprised when my fellow conservative Catholics bridle against deference to consensus climatology. To me, insisting that “I can figure out the climate better than some dang poindexter” seems like a very typical American Protestant attitude rooted in a (false) confidence in the perspicuity of Scripture to the unschooled layman, and a rowdy populist anti-authoritarian demotism running from Jacksonianism all the way back to the congregational model of ecclesiastical polity.

The idea that “these are the experts, and you should listen to what they have to say before you go off half-cocked spouting nonsense” seems to me to be the traditional (and of course, Traditional) Catholic attitude to Scriptural exegesis, theology, philosophy, and so forth. So why not defer to scientists like climatologists? They aren’t the keepers of any Sacred Tradition, but they are certainly educated elites of the sort that, when the question is something like nostalgia for the monarchies of yore, trads are often the first to line up in favor of deference to, right? It’s a puzzlement why that can’t carry over, as it rightly ought, to scientific expertise. “Science” can be illegitimately invoked to defend eugenics or transsexuality or even “hockey stick” graphs or whatever, but like the bishops and theologians, the scientists, whatever their many flaws, are the only experts we have in their field.

@Turmarion:
First, you’re quite right about bricks. The sand and lime (or whatever) in the brick would be a substance. The brick itself is a mere artifactual aggregate.

I don’t see how quarks can be demonstrated to exist virtually; at the most, I think they are no more virtual than bricks.

As so often in these discussions, the term “virtually” is very misleading. It doesn’t mean that the quarks aren’t there, but that they are organized into protons/neutrons, atoms, molecules, and thus a silica sand grain. The collection of quarks reacts to stimuli as silica would, not as free quarks would. It is formally organized as silica is, not just a cloud of free quarks. That’s all I’m claiming here. Honestly, only the vocabulary, and the emphases of thought it promotes, are different than what I take you or any mainstream physicist to be saying. As the atheist blogger Scott Alexander once said, after a long time talking to Thomists about “form”, he figured out that while he thought they were making some controversial claim about ghostly ectoplasm or something, they were getting frustrated that he wouldn’t agree with them that chairs are chair-shaped with an artifactually imposed chair structure, and they couldn’t figure out why he thought they were making a controversial claim. “Form” is thus misleading in the way “virtual” is, or the “natural” in “natural law” that leads the initial inquirer to get hung up on cancer being natural and glasses artificial, even though the “nature” in question isn’t about that sort of distinction, as you know.

I suspect it’s at least debatable that it hylemorphism is “just simply” true.

Well, I think it’s true, and I think it accords surprisingly well with both present science and with common sense intuitions that analytical philosophy usually struggles to incorporate. But it takes a lot of argument to establish its plausibility, and I’m sure that just as Aquinas emended Aristotle, there’s lots of emendation still to be done. But establishing the general plausibility of the method and system as a mode of metaphysical analysis and enquiry seems to me the most urgent task at present. Once sufficient numbers of people much smarter than me (Oderberg, e.g.) can be attracted to the field, the work of emendation can begin. Right now, the emphasis is unfortunately mostly on preservation, recovery, and apologetics, rather than on synthesis and dynamic new work. (Although Ross’ and Oderberg’s work is very good, and engages with the analytic tradition deeply and importantly. Feser has thus far been most prominent as a popularizer, but he does engage fruitfully on occasion with the analytic tradition as well. Of course, earlier figures like Maritain and de Lubac could engage with continental philosophy, but their otherwise very interesting work involved disparaging the “dry and dusty” manualism in which they themselves had been trained, which led later students after Vatican II not to have the same solid foundations in the system needed not only to defend it, but to critique and emend it aright.)

I admire that you admit St. Thomas’s problems and hurdles (I’d say “mental gymnastics”!)

“Mental gymnastics” isn’t unfair. The whole topic provides quite an example of “faith seeking understanding.” On the one hand, Revelation tells Thomas the damned will suffer. OTOH, the best “science” of his time tells him that the souls of the damned cannot be some sort of “spirits of the air” or some such. So Thomas has to figure out what the pains of the damned can possibly be.

His work retains value today. We Christians of today (unless, ahem, we’re universalists) are bound by the same Revelation he was. And our physical science is far more emphatic in confirming that there is simply no unmeasured matter left over for there to be any kind of ectoplasmic “ghost in the machine,” and our understanding of the conservation of energy poses an insuperable obstacle, “the interaction problem,” to such a conception of the soul in any case. The soul must be immaterial, but Revelation says what it says. Theology, striving to stay loyal to Revelation while saving the phenomena clarified by natural science, will always be in this position of faith seeking understanding. Our discussions regarding the reconciliation of doctrines about Adam and Eve with paleoanthropology are another example. I expect no shortage of such occasions for “mental gymnastics” in the future.

Many cultures in the Old and New Worlds had concepts of “Third Geders” or “Two Spirits”.

Indeed they did. And the Chinese perverted the purpose of the foot by binding it. And the Hellenistic Mediterranean enthusiastically practiced pederasty. The Carthaginians offered infants to Moloch. Aztecs sacrificed captives. The Americans kept slaves and abort babies. One can find examples of all manner of immoral practices in all sorts of cultures. If I were arguing that human knowledge of Natural Law had led to universal condemnation of transsexuality over the centuries, then such counterexamples would easily defeat my contention. But I’m arguing only that Natural Law forbids it, not that humans have always discerned or observed that law. (Indeed, I don’t claim that Natural Law arguments on these matters are always perspicuous to the inquirer. Even Aristotle got slavery wrong. St. Paul tells us that the [natural] law is graven on our hearts, and I accept the Revelation. But I don’t deny that some parts are written in finer print than others!

Directedness toward an end–even “directedness” and “end” make no sense without mind. Otherwise, things just happen.

Let’s step away for a moment to consider the problem of universals. The nominalist denies that they exist; the Platonist insists they exist in an independent realm. Thomas finds the middle way between them, and says they do exist, both immanently in the natural world, and eternally in the Divine Intellect (not in some Platonic ether).

Likewise, the materialist denies teleology in nature, the panpsychist seems to me to contend that the planet “want to” orbit, while the Paleyite and the occasionalist both view it as imposed by arbitrary Divine fiat. Thomas again finds a middle way: if efficiently causing effect X (say, as a reaction to stimulus Y) is inherent in A, then X is the final cause of A, without A needing to “want” that final cause. Instead, the orderliness of nature is ultimately held in being by the Divine Intellect. However, unlike the Paleyite and the occasionalist, this holding in being is mediated through secondary causes, and flows from the Logos rather than arbitrary will. So there is a Mind at root of teleology. But teleology remains immanent in animate and inanimate nature. Consider melting ice again. “Melting” is the final cause of heated ice. But in order to be efficacious, a cause must exist: from nothing, nothing comes. But where, before the ice melts, can “melting” exist? In the Divine Intellect. So, yes, Turmarion, the Divine Intellect lights up the cosmos, but not in a panpsychist way. Just as it is important to emphasize the non-arbitrariness and mediation through secondary causes of Divine action in nature to avoid occasionalism, so it is necessary to avoid full panpsychism, IMHO, if the immanence of teleology is not to lead to a pantheism. Further, ice just doesn’t think or want. It’s not that kind of thing. But God does think, and does will. He is the Mind teleology requires, although not in the crude, brute-force way a Paley or a Malebranche might think.

Humani Generis is not demonstrably ex cathedra and thus not demonstrably infallible. Thus, given that observable reality seems to be at least somewhat at odds with it, I go with demonstrable reality.

I’m more skeptical of the nonhuman animal intelligence research than I take you to be: the results are interesting, but don’t seem to me to indicate “rationality” specifically. As for polygenism, I’m just not convinced that things like, say, Neanderthal or Denisovan interbreeding are all that major a problem. Also, Humani Generis is not demonstrably NOT ex cathedra, and that’s enough for me to defer to it as much as I’m able. Which so far, is entirely. If the science convinced me otherwise, I’d change my stance.

I really have issues–and not just because I’m a “rebel”–with St. Ignatius Loyola’s statement that “We should always be prepared so as never to err to believe that what I see as white is black, if the hierarchic Church defines it thus.”

It’s a tightrope. You can’t fall into Mottramism, but you ought to be prepared to be a docile student when the Church propounds a doctrine that initially seems to you implausible.

#20 Comment By JonF On July 22, 2015 @ 4:20 pm

Re: I think the “heir” concept is the hinge of the metaphor, and I don’t think that works without descent.

But it does: in your allegory, anyone who comes into the wrecked vineyard experiences the same wrecked vineyard. It doesn’t matter if s/he is a lineal descendant of the wrecker or not. (I’ve seen an analogy using a tainted well, from which everyone drinks, instead, which removes the irrelevant question of ownership from the allegory)

#21 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 22, 2015 @ 5:32 pm

To me, insisting that “I can figure out the climate better than some dang poindexter” seems like a very typical American Protestant attitude rooted in a (false) confidence in the perspicuity of Scripture to the unschooled layman, and a rowdy populist anti-authoritarian demotism running from Jacksonianism all the way back to the congregational model of ecclesiastical polity.

Wow, Irenist, that’s really good. As someone who studies and writes about the 19th century professionally, and has dealt specifically with the Jacksonian era and with the cultural influences and impacts of American Reformed Protestantism, I don’t think I could improve on it. But I hadn’t made the connection to climate denialism before. So thanks for that; I’m hoping the temptation to steal it won’t be too great, weak sinner that I am. 🙂

Turmarion, yes indeed, it’s a model discussion. I’ve been learning a lot from it.

#22 Comment By Turmarion On July 22, 2015 @ 9:46 pm

“Form”, of course, translates ἰδέα (from which we get “idea”)–literally, “that which is seen” or “appearance”. Of course, it doesn’t mean “idea” like a notion in the mind, or “form” as “shape”. It’s the overall organizing principle. However, Plato’s description of forms actually is much like “ghostly ectoplasm or something”; sort of etherial templates from which material objects are “projected”.

On the other hand, Aristotle, IMO, never completely gets past this, either. Sometimes it seems like he just means a template: sixty-four alternating squares of black and white make a chessboard; millions of differentiated cells arranged in a certain way makes a living being; two hydrogen atoms covalently bonded to one oxygen atom makes water. At other times, though, he makes it sound like a form is a sort of metaphysical bottle into which prime matter is poured, giving, voilà, water or a rock or a rabbit.

If you want to call a template or organizing principle a “form”, then that’s fine; but I don’t think that adds anything useful to the account given of it. It also seems to me to subsume the parts into the whole too much. You say that quarks combined into, say, a proton don’t behave as quarks do alone. Well, that’s like saying that ice doesn’t behave like water–ice is exactly how water behaves at or below zero degrees Celsius! Quarks behave one way alone, another when combined. The point is that the properties of a proton are exhuastively explained by the interaction of the quarks in it. Except for human consciousness, the consciousness of any other sapient creatures here or on other planets, and mabye life itself (I’m not sure on that), all physical properties are totally reductionist. Aristotle’s theory, for nonliving things anyway, seems non-reductionist. This is, IMO, because he was trained in medicine and biology and on a not completely conscious level treats everything like a living thing trying to fulfill its nature.

Anyway, I’d never deny that we can learn things from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas; I just think the problems are more than just “emendation” can fix.

Those of us who are universalists, BTW, do not, in fact, believe that revelation unambiguously teaches that hell is populated. There are great and holy men–some Church Fathers–who thought and think otherwise. We’re all bound by the same revelation; but Church history has been an ongoing dialectic as to defining exactly what the content of the revelation is. I think a cogent argument can be made that universalism is not at all heretical; but here’s not the place for it.

As to natural law, for reasons I’ve explained in the past, and in which I agree with JonF, it seems to me to cause more problems than it solves.

As to nominalism and essentialism, there seem to be grave problems with both. I suspect (to get Kantian) that they’re an antinomy of pure reason. I’m not sure “final cause” is intelligible. To say that X is inherent in A, then X is the final cause of A seems a longwinded way of saying that A tends to do X. It’s like the canard about opium causing sleep because it has a dormitive power. That’s a tautology–“it makes you sleep because it makes you sleep”! “X does A because X does A”!

But where, before the ice melts, can “melting” exist?

You sound like Nāgārjuna–except he’d say that since melting cannot exist without something to melt, but something cannot melt without melting, this proves the voidness of all phenomena and the reality only of śūnyatā! I do believe that the Divine Intellect lights up the cosmos, but my model is more like [9].

As to murky areas, exhortations to “docility” and accusations of intellectual pride have been used in the past to beat down good and noble people who honestly tried to renew and reform abuses in the church. Teilhard de Chardin died alone in a hotel in New York, docilely accepting the gag order imposed on him; but he was largely rehabilitated by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. His acquiescence may make him a better man than I–intellectual docility to something that seems wrong or severely questionable is not in my nature. On the other hand, God knows that, and He knows that I pray every day to be forgiven my sins, [10] (I follow the Orthodox that way). If I am out of line in this way, I hope to be forgiven; but if not, I hope I can be charitable in trying to seek truth as best I can, and to be fair to both Tradition and modern knowledge.

#23 Comment By Irenist On July 23, 2015 @ 10:20 am

@Eamus Catuli:

Glad you liked the idea. Please do steal it. All I ask is that you get me a copy of whatever doubtless very interesting thing you end up writing!

@JonF:
That’s a very strong point. My reply would be that since the vineyard is standing in for human nature, it doesn’t really make sense that an action could wreck it except for descendants. Another analogy might be the old Lamarckian theory of evolution. The descendants of the giraffe straining his neck for leaves will have longer necks, but even on a Lamarckian model, that
giraffe’s exertions don’t leave any imprint on those giraffes not descended from him.

@Turmarion:
You’re quite right that Aristotle never quite gets past the Platonic associations of ἰδέα (and you’re right that his thought is deeply marked by his calling as a biologist—as the beautiful (not at all “Aristotelian”) recent book The Lagoon, by evolutionary developmental biologist Armand Marie Leroi delightfully describes (seriously, make time to read that book). And while claims about form are often mere claims about structure (chair-shaped chairs, e.g.), the “organizing principle,” “entelechy” aspects do indeed make it more than mere structure. I think the real question is whether there can be non-mechanical (i.e., non-efficient) causality in an intelligible way. To me the idea of formal causality is loosely associated with an intuition that the mathematical relations described by the laws of physics “cause” physical processes. Now, the forms don’t “push” on matter: they’re not material or efficient. Whenever I try to picture “causality,” though, my modern mind usually falls into mechanical pictures. And certainly, most scientists would be horrified at the idea that a law causes statistical regularities in nature, rather than merely documenting them. But I think a big part of the horror is that an assertion of “causality” would sound to them, as to most moderns, like an assertion that something is pushing on something else mechanically (or energetically, or whatever). And that’s not at all what an advocate of formal causality is trying to say.

Those of us who are universalists, BTW, do not, in fact, believe that revelation unambiguously teaches that hell is populated. There are great and holy men–some Church Fathers–who thought and think otherwise. We’re all bound by the same revelation; but Church history has been an ongoing dialectic as to defining exactly what the content of the revelation is. I think a cogent argument can be made that universalism is not at all heretical; but here’s not the place for it.

I trust you can make a very respectable argument indeed. And I agree insofar as I think we are called to hope that no human souls populate hell. After all, like many others, I do pray the Fátima Prayer after each decade of my Rosary, (“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.” (emphasis added)). I’m just not convinced that we were ever meant to know if such hopeful prayers will be granted: I think the sapping of evangelistic urgency and moral effort would follow quite directly for many of us sinful slackers (like me, at least) if universalism was something seen rather than something hoped for. You seem to me a fine enough fellow that you could keep up the good fight regardless. But don’t fall into the classic error of the temperamentally and culturally moral Edwardian atheist of overestimating the rest of us! Just as Russell would worry about the good of his fellow men without god belief, so you strive for moral excellence without belief in damnation. But the rest of us? Here, as always, Providence knows best: we’re better off not knowing.

As to nominalism and essentialism, there seem to be grave problems with both. I suspect (to get Kantian) that they’re an antinomy of pure reason.

Intriguing! But by their definitions they can’t both be true (like Kant’s compatibilist solution to his two dynamic antinomies about free will and mechanistic determinism) and if they’re both false (as Kant argues of the two mathematical antinomies), then where does that leave us? One might be tempted to say that it leaves us with the middle ground of conceptualism, but the discursive community posited by conceptualism is defined by reference to the sociobiology of human language, and so is usually (AFAICT) acknowledged to be parasitic upon realism (which is either obviously synonymous with, or always cashes out to, essentialism) at least about something in nature (even if it’s just those wholly explained-by-quarks hadrons you’ve been talking about) about which one has to be an essentialist in the reductionist way of a Brian Ellis (who thinks quarks and electrons, etc., have essences, and everything else is built out of them).

I’m not sure “final cause” is intelligible. To say that X is inherent in A, then X is the final cause of A seems a longwinded way of saying that A tends to do X. It’s like the canard about opium causing sleep because it has a dormitive power. That’s a tautology–“it makes you sleep because it makes you sleep”! “X does A because X does A”!

Feser says in The Last Superstition, it’s not *quite* the tautology Molière thought it was. Hume argued that it’s all just one darned thing after another. Final causality says, no, this substance is inherently ordered to produce this effect. People laughing at Molière’s gag, and you in your paraphrase of the gag just above (“makes you sleep because it makes you sleep”) are usually focusing on the fact that “dormitive” is just a pretentious word for “having to do with sleep.” But the information in the statement isn’t in the word “dormitive”; it’s in the word “power.” Take a look at something like Brian Ellis’ work on “powers and dispositions” in things like quarks. The idea that ice is “disposed to” melt, that it has the “power” to cool your drink as it does so, is informative. It’s minimally informative, to be sure, and needs to be cashed out by biochemists telling us about the structure of opium and its mechanism of action in the body. But it is a statement that the ice is inherently ordered to have reaction X and produce effect Y, contra Hume. And a tautology is never contra anybody, so this isn’t a tautology. Feser:

A particularly famous criticism of Aristotelian Scholasticism by early modern philosophers is enshrined in Molière’s joke about the doctor who pretends to explain why opium causes sleep by saying that it has a “dormitive power.” The reason this is supposed to be funny is that since “dormitive power” just means “a power to cause sleep,” the doctor’s answer amounts to saying “opium causes sleep because it has a power to cause sleep”; and this, it is said, is a mere tautology, and therefore explains nothing at all. (A real knee-slapper, no?) In general (so the objection continues) Aristotelian Scholasticism, in positing inherent causal powers, forms, and final causes of various sorts, merely peddles empty phrases of this sort instead of genuine explanations. The trouble with this objection, though, is that the statement in question, while admittedly not terribly informative considered all by itself, is not a tautology; it does have substantial content, even if that content is minimal. To say “opium causes sleep because it causes sleep” would be a tautology. But the statement in question says more than that,. It says that opium has a power to cause sleep; that is to say, it says that the fact that sleep follows from the ingestion of opium is not a mere accidental feature of this or that sample of opium, but derives from something in the very nature of opium as such. That this claim is by no means trivial or tautological is evidenced by the fact that the early modern philosophers rejected it as false. They didn’t say, “Sure, opium has a power to cause sleep, but that doesn’t tell us anything” (which is what they should have said if it really were a tautology). Rather, they said, “Opium does not have such a power, because there are no inherent powers, forms, etc.” Moreover, they couldn’t very well dismiss the appeal to power and the like as tautological on the grounds that such an appeal has only minimal content, because their own alternative proposal, when it too is considered all by itself, also has minimal content: To say “Opium causes sleep because the chemical structure of opium is such that, when ingested, sleep results” is hardly more informative than “Opium causes sleep because it has a power to cause sleep.” If the former statement is not a tautology — and it isn’t — then the latter isn’t either.

Of course, the critic of scholasticism is going to say, “But the reference to chemical structure isn’t supposed to be a complete explanation all by itself; it’s just a starting point, and detailed empirical investigation into the specific chemical properties of opium would be needed in order to give a fully satisfying explanation.” And that is perfectly true. But exactly the same thing is true of the Scholastic appeal to forms, powers, final causes, etc. Such appeals are not supposed to be the whole story. What they are intended to do, rather, is to point out that whatever the specific empirical details about opium turn out to be, the fundamental metaphysical reality is that these details are just the mechanism by which opium manifests the inherent powers it has qua opium, powers that a thing has to have if it is going to have any causal efficacy at all. This is perfectly consistent with, and indeed is (from an Aristotelian point of view) the only way to properly understand, the results of modern chemistry: The empirical chemical facts as now known are nothing other than a specification of the material cause underlying the formal and final causes that define the essence of opium. As elsewhere, the “critique” of Aristotelianism here rests on an unjustified double standard coupled with a failure to distinguish metaphysical issues from empirical ones.

I think Nāgārjuna sounds more like a Parmenides or a Heraclitus. Aristotle’s whole reason for positing act and potency as modes of being was to transcend the antinomies of logomachs like the Eleatic advocating for all being stasis and the Ephesian advocating for all being chaos. Now, I do think trying to perform for Hindu and Buddhist logic and metaphysics what the Fathers did for Neoplatonism and the Scholastics did for Peripateticism will some century soon be among the more urgent—and certainly the most fruitful—tasks for theological reason (although we have to spend probably at least my lifetime engaging with analytical and continental atheist materialisms, and indeed just getting our own philosophical house in order first after the cataclysmic loss of manualist expertise after Vatican II). But I also think, with my admittedly quite shallow knowledge of the Dharmic traditions’ oceanic richness of texts and commentary, that falling into merely logomachic (if not sophistic) paradoxa about being, emptiness, etc. seems to be a real danger in those traditions. “Nirvana is samsara; emptiness is form” and all the rest sound terribly wise in some California meditation center, and at their best they are reminiscent of apophatic mystics like Pseudo-Dionysus, Eckhart, and many of the Eastern Fathers.

But I retain a Chestertonian insistence upon Aristotle’s plain man’s common sense: a tree is really a tree, and it is really not a deer. Some of the so-called “sober” Sufis (IIRC) used to teach that the mystic might see the illusory nature of Shari’ah and his own oneness with God, but that when he returned to town from his cave, he had darn well better row in with the rules. Likewise, apophatic mysticism is magnificent, but we are not angels, but men: we need to affirm that a tree is a tree, a quark is a quark, and none of it is *just* emptiness. You don’t build a soup kitchen sitting around thinking that hunger is an illusion. Whatever else you can say against typical Christian common-sense metaphysics, the West has historically gotten stuff done, and the shared conviction among Scholastics and Lockeans and Baconians alike that stuff really exists is part of that. We’re not gnostics. The world is real, darn it! I respect Nāgārjuna and his colleagues very deeply. But I’ll stick to the conviction that an oak tree or an ice cube is a certain kind of thing, and a real thing, with knowable tendencies and properties, powers and dispositions, over any paradoxical logomachy, no matter how much such winsome gnosis impresses the Californians.

As to murky areas, exhortations to “docility” and accusations of intellectual pride have been used in the past to beat down good and noble people who honestly tried to renew and reform abuses in the church.

Sure. But there’s a difference between someone else making me be docile, and me urging myself to be docile, just as there’s a difference between voluntary poverty and getting mugged.

Always wonderful chatting with you, Turmarion. (Rod is very kind to let this old thread be the bar from “Cheers” for us, isn’t he?)

#24 Comment By Turmarion On July 23, 2015 @ 1:04 pm

Irenist: I think the real question is whether there can be non-mechanical (i.e., non-efficient) causality in an intelligible way.

Yes–that’s the nub of it. I think the only intelligible non-mechanical causality has to involve mind, be it human, animal, Divine, or mind-as-fundamental-constituent (i.e. some form of panpsychism). That’s where I think Aristotle and his followers get it wrong, by trying to import a type of causality possible only by mind into inanimate processes. That’s my objection in a nutshell. That’s the same reason I have an issue with A-T teleology–“telos” in any way I find intelligible once more involves mind.

I sometimes say I’m intellectually and philosophically a universalist, and functionally not one. I go to Confession with not quite neurotic regularity, and the Brown Scapular never leaves my shoulders. I can’t really make sense of a God who damns people eternally; but I take sin deadly seriously. That’s what pees me off about a lot of people I’ve discussed this with (not you): They make out universalists to be moral idiots who think they can party hearty until they die and then waltz into heaven on the cheap. There are anit-universalist arguments I can respect, but not that one. I vented on that [11] and [12].

As to nominalism vs. essentialism, I don’t really have an answer.

I see what Feser is saying, but I still disagree. Once more, that’s Aristotle veering into what you call the “ectoplasmic”, as you said. It would be weird to say that “c”, “a”, and “t” have the power to form the word “cat”. It implies that there is some nebulous metaphysical mojo that periodically strikes and turns letters into a word. Rather, those letters can be re-arranged into a pattern that forms a word; just as the molecules of opium interact with receptors in the brain, with the result that the body performs the action that we call “going to sleep”. The “intrinsic power” model still seems to me to be tautologous.

Actually “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” is just a way of saying everything is empty of individual existence. Everything is interdependent–you can’t know yourself without knowing non-self (a newborn has no self concept at all, since it hasn’t interacted in an intelligible way with that which is outside itself). You can’t have clouds without water, or water (rain) without clouds. The rose is in the garbage heap, but the garbage heap (through decay and absorption) is in the rose, too. Everything that exists is interactive. That’s what Nāgārjuna is trying to show: Anything you try to say or define has to be said or defined in terms of something else; but that also has to be defined; and you get an infinite regression. In a sense, if you grab hold of anything, it unravels and you see it connects toeverything else in the universe. The only thing that isn’t unraveled is śūnyatā. Śūnyatā–“emptiness, voidness”–is widely misunderstood in the West. It doesn’t mean nothingness–it is the inscrutable void out of which all activity arises and into which all activity returns. It is dynamic, not static. I’ve said this elsewhere, but śūnyatā seems to be very similar to the Orthodox concept of the “essence” of God, which is totally unknowable to us, or St. John of the Cross’s statement that looking for God is nada y nada y nada: ” [A]nd on this path is NOTHING (nada), NOTHING (nada), NOTHING (nada), and still at the summit NOTHING!” (from [13]) The main difference is that Buddhism prefers to leave the Ultimate in impersonal terms (though not always–it’s sometimes personified as Mahavairocana Buddha), and the West usually prefers to be kataphatic. I’m inclined to see them as different approaches to the same thing.

[14], and [15], and [16] are some books about Nāgārjuna’s philosophy; and while I tend to think that Stephen Batchelor gets a lot about Buddhism wrong, his [17] of Nāgārjuna’s principle work, the Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā is quite readable.

I agree that it’s great that Rod puts up with us here! 🙂

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 23, 2015 @ 3:06 pm

we need to affirm that a tree is a tree, a quark is a quark, and none of it is *just* emptiness. You don’t build a soup kitchen sitting around thinking that hunger is an illusion.

That’s why I don’t devote much time to the depth and detail of metaphysics. It doesn’t even help define my relation to God, much less how to live my life. It is worth knowing that the only reason my hand can’t pass through an iron bar is that the individual electron shells repel each other, but what I really need to know is that a collision between my arm and an iron bar would be painful, and could severely damage my arm.

God is transcendent, I’m not, I’ll learn the rest when I get to the other side. “He has shown you, oh man, what is good…”

#26 Comment By Olivia On July 27, 2015 @ 2:37 am

@Irenist

You asked why transgenderism is not simply a mental disorder. A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling–they simply experience discrimination as distressing–which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.

And while something being neurological doesn’t make it “moral”, the comparison to pedophilia is specious. Pedophilia incontrovertibly hurts children. That makes it immoral, full-stop.