Friday, September 12, 2008

A is to-B-continued…

Quick recap:

I presented an analogy-chain about causation and agency relations across different ontological levels.

Then a reader, Fr. Greg, worried where agape and koinonia fit into my analogy-series.

I answered that, since God's will is the personal cause of all things, and that the only basis for His willing the existence of anything, is in order to impart good to it (viz., to love it), then agape is clearly fundamental to Thomism, which seemed fine with Fr. Greg, even though

"it [had] immediately struck [him] that agape and koinonia did not appear in [my] analogical chain, and [he's] wondering if this has anything to do with the gap between Eastern Christianity and that of the West in that, for the former, both [agape and koinonia] are clearly ontological categories even if they were not for Aristotle."

I then asked him to elaborate on this point.

He replied thus:

"What I’m thinking of primarily is Zizioulas’ “Being as Communion”[1] in which, given the eternity of the Trinity, primordial, uncreated being - God - is presented as inherently communal, and therefore, agapic. … My concern is that on this account, agape, koinonia, and yes, perichoresis seem to be, at best, subsumed under the “intellectual” or “contemplative,” whether human or divine. Perhaps, given Aristotlean [sic] and Aquinian/scholastic use of these terms, this is legitimate, but if that is the case, then the denotations of these words need to be clarified in our contemporary context, where they have taken on perhaps more restrictive meanings than what they connote when used by Aquinas or Aristotle."

In response (after a helpful little proviso from Dr. Liccione), I said:

"My analogy is meant only as a dusting off of a pretty ancient concept––the great chain of being––in slightly more analytical terms in order to explore, mainly, the problem of causation “across” ontological levels. In no way should the “intellectualist” flavor of my analogy-series be construed as an exhaustive account of God’s triunity in se or mercy to us in Christ. At most, my line of thought intends to help us grasp just HOW God can and does interact with the world, and this, by viewing His agency-relation to us and the world as a supereminent analogy for how we interact with a world so radically different from us (atoms, molecules, bricks, etc.). It’s what the Scholastics called (cf. section III) the via causalitatis advancing to the via eminentia, with the proviso, à la the 4th Lateran Council, of via remotio, namely, that “between the Creator and the creature there cannot be a likeness so great that the unlikeness is not greater [semper maior dissimilitudo in tanta similitudine].” Hence, fear not, the agapic nature of God as a perichoresis of total open, given koinonia is absolutely prior, in faith, to the tinkering I’m doing about the power of God as man might grasp it by reason."

In any case, Fr. Greg is right that "the denotations of these words [esp. intellectual] need to be clarified in our contemporary context, where they have taken on perhaps more restrictive meanings than what they connote when used by Aquinas or Aristotle."

So let me explain, briefly, what I mean by "intellectual" in my analogy.

The intellect is the immaterial principle of the human soul that allows humans to "grasp" universals in the midst of particular sensibles (e.g., grasping "triangularity" despite having seen numerous different kinds of triangles). The power of the intellect lies in its ability to correlate immaterial concepts, as opposed to sensible percepts, into a coherent intellectual idea, which is the basis for rational reflection and decision. It has little to do with being "all brain" or being "bookish" or "impersonal"––all terms which Fr. Greg, an Eastern-rite Catholic priest, seems to fear diminish God's agapic nature in favor of His power as withdrawn observer.

In the words of St. Thomas:

[S]ince Aristotle did not allow that forms of natural things exist apart from matter, and as forms existing in matter are not actually intelligible; it follows that the natures of forms of the sensible things which we understand are not actually intelligible. Now nothing is reduced from potentiality to act except by something in act; as the senses as made actual by what is actually sensible. We must therefore assign on the part of the intellect some power to make things actually intelligible, by abstraction of the species from material conditions. And such is the necessity for an active intellect.
–– ST Ia, q. 79, a. 3, resp.
[Sed quia Aristoteles non posuit formas rerum naturalium subsistere sine materia; formae autem in materia existentes non sunt intelligibiles actu, sequebatur quod naturae seu formae rerum sensibilium, quas intelligimus, non essent intelligibiles actu. Nihil autem reducitur de potentia in actum, nisi per aliquod ens actu, sicut sensus fit in actu per sensibile in actu. Oportebat igitur ponere aliquam virtutem ex parte intellectus, quae faceret intelligibilia in actu, per abstractionem specierum a conditionibus materialibus. Et haec est necessitas ponendi intellectum agentem.]

[A]bove the intellectual soul of man we must needs suppose a superior intellect, from which the soul acquires the power of understanding. For what is such by participation, and what is mobile, and what is imperfect always requires the pre-existence of something essentially such, immovable and perfect. Now the human soul is called intellectual by reason of a participation in intellectual power; a sign of which is that it is not wholly intellectual but only in part. Moreover it reaches to the understanding of truth by arguing, with a certain amount of reasoning and movement. Again it has an imperfect understanding…. [W]e must say that in the soul is some power derived from a higher intellect, whereby it is able to light up the phantasms [i.e., mental images; cf. ST Ia, q. 79, a. 4, ad 4]. And we know this by experience, since we perceive that we abstract universal forms from their particular conditions, which is to make them actually intelligible. … But the separate intellect, according to the teaching of our faith, is God Himself, Who is the soul's Creator, and only beatitude; as will be shown later on (90, 3; I-II, 3, 7). Wherefore the human soul derives its intellectual light from Him, according to Psalm 4:7, "The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us."
–– ST Ia, q. 79, a. 4, resp.
[…considerandum est quod supra animam intellectivam humanam necesse est ponere aliquem superiorem intellectum, a quo anima virtutem intelligendi obtineat. Semper enim quod participat aliquid, et quod est mobile, et quod est imperfectum, praeexigit ante se aliquid quod est per essentiam suam tale, et quod est immobile et perfectum. Anima autem humana intellectiva dicitur per participationem intellectualis virtutis, cuius signum est, quod non tota est intellectiva, sed secundum aliquam sui partem. Pertingit etiam ad intelligentiam veritatis cum quodam discursu et motu, arguendo. Habet etiam imperfectam intelligentiam, tum quia non omnia intelligit…. Unde oportet dicere quod in ipsa sit aliqua virtus derivata a superiori intellectu, per quam possit phantasmata illustrare. Et hoc experimento cognoscimus, dum percipimus nos abstrahere formas universales a conditionibus particularibus, quod est facere actu intelligibilia. … Sed intellectus separatus, secundum nostrae fidei documenta, est ipse Deus, qui est creator animae, et in quo solo beatificatur, ut infra patebit. Unde ab ipso anima humana lumen intellectuale participat, secundum illud Psalmi IV, signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, domine.]

Reason and intellect in man cannot be distinct powers. We shall understand this clearly if we consider their respective actions. For to understand is simply to apprehend intelligible truth: and to reason is to advance from one thing understood to another, so as to know an intelligible truth. And therefore angels, who according to their nature, possess perfect knowledge of intelligible truth, have no need to advance from one thing to another; but apprehend the truth simply and without mental discussion, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. vii). But man arrives at the knowledge of intelligible truth by advancing from one thing to another; and therefore he is called rational. Reasoning, therefore, is compared to understanding, as movement is to rest, or acquisition to possession; of which one belongs to the perfect, the other to the imperfect. And since movement always proceeds from something immovable, and ends in something at rest; hence it is that human reasoning, by way of inquiry and discovery, advances from certain things simply understood––namely, the first principles; and, again, by way of judgment returns by analysis to first principles, in the light of which it examines what it has found. Now it is clear that rest and movement are not to be referred to different powers, but to one and the same, even in natural things: since by the same nature a thing is moved towards a certain place. Much more, therefore, by the same power do we understand and reason: and so it is clear that in man reason and intellect are the same power.
–– ST Ia, q. 79, a. 8, resp.
[…ratio et intellectus in homine non possunt esse diversae potentiae. Quod manifeste cognoscitur, si utriusque actus consideretur. Intelligere enim est simpliciter veritatem intelligibilem apprehendere. Ratiocinari autem est procedere de uno intellecto ad aliud, ad veritatem intelligibilem cognoscendam. Et ideo Angeli, qui perfecte possident, secundum modum suae naturae, cognitionem intelligibilis veritatis, non habent necesse procedere de uno ad aliud; sed simpliciter et absque discursu veritatem rerum apprehendunt, ut Dionysius dicit, VII cap. de Div. Nom. Homines autem ad intelligibilem veritatem cognoscendam perveniunt, procedendo de uno ad aliud, ut ibidem dicitur, et ideo rationales dicuntur. Patet ergo quod ratiocinari comparatur ad intelligere sicut moveri ad quiescere, vel acquirere ad habere, quorum unum est perfecti, aliud autem imperfecti. Et quia motus semper ab immobili procedit, et ad aliquid quietum terminatur; inde est quod ratiocinatio humana, secundum viam inquisitionis vel inventionis, procedit a quibusdam simpliciter intellectis, quae sunt prima principia; et rursus, in via iudicii, resolvendo redit ad prima principia, ad quae inventa examinat. Manifestum est autem quod quiescere et moveri non reducuntur ad diversas potentias, sed ad unam et eandem, etiam in naturalibus rebus, quia per eandem naturam aliquid movetur ad locum, et quiescit in loco. Multo ergo magis per eandem potentiam intelligimus et ratiocinamur. Et sic patet quod in homine eadem potentia est ratio et intellectus.]

I have written more than once on this topic, so I leave it to the reader to go back over those posts, or read them for the first time. I have added ** to those posts I think most edifying or apt for this line of thought:

**1. "Take a long slip of paper…"

2. "Robo-Survey"

**3. "Brain, Mind and Computers"

4. "River in the River"

5. "Lower the Bar"

6. "No-brainer"

7. "D. Melser on Thought"

**8. "Reimers on the Soul"

**9. "Goodly Chain of Being"

**10. "Scientists prove…?"

**11. "What's the matter?"

[1] I posted a brief review of Zizioulas's splendid book some time ago at FCA, if you're interested.

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