Friday, October 31, 2008

Is truth true?

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Is Truth True?

Elliot Bougis

In a fit of literary and Latinate heroism, I once coined a personal motto, Potest veritas se defendere (“Truth can defend itself”). Not long after that, someone raised Pilate’s infamous question to Christ, “Quid est veritas? What is truth?” and asked for help in responding to arguments against truth in favor of relativism. Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Nature and Mission of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995, p. 39) notes that “the depressing thing about Pilate’s question is that it is not really a question at all but an answer.” Pilate may have expected no answer, but can we? What is truth, and is it really true? Relativism would say no. ...

Because this article is being considered for publication in a magazine, I can’t have it “published” online or in any other periodical, so, if you’d like to read it, email me at fidescogitactio AT gmail DOT com.

Charity and prayer...

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Charity is doing what you can with God's help. Prayer is doing what God can with your help.
-- E. Fakespeare

Random but not trivial trivia...

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  • "While New York City is the most populous city in the United States, Sitka, Alaska is the largest city in area. Sitka includes a whopping 2874 square miles of incorporated area. The city is larger than the state of Delaware! ... Jacksonville, Florida is the largest city in area in the contiguous 48 states at 758 square miles."

  • "In 2007, Jacksonville ranked as the United States' twelfth most populous city, with 805,605 residents. ... In 2008, Jacksonville was ranked as the third cleanest city in the United States by Yahoo! Real Estate and fourth best outdoor city by Forbes."

People Overall Jacksonville Crime Index (2006)
  • Jacksonville per 100,000 People 6253.4
  • National per 100,000 People 4479.3

Jacksonville Violent Crimes Index
  • Jacksonville per 100,000 People 837.2
  • National per 100,000 People 553.5

Jacksonville Property Crimes Index
  • Jacksonville per 100,000 People 5416.2
  • National per 100,000 People 3906.1

  • "The end of Soviet subsidies forced Cuba to face the real costs of its health care system. Unwilling to adopt the economic changes necessary to reform its dysfunctional economy, the Castro government quickly faced a large budget deficit. In response, the Cuban Government made a deliberate decision to continue to spend money to maintain its military and internal security apparatus at the expense of other priorities--including health care.

    "According to the Pan American Health Organization, the Cuban Government currently devotes a smaller percentage of its budget for health care than such regional countries as Jamaica, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. ...

    "...the Cuban Government has chosen to develop a two-tiered medical system--the deliberate establishment of a kind of "medical apartheid"--that funnels money into services for a privileged few, while depriving the health care system used by the vast majority of Cubans of adequate funding."

  • "I [Katherine Hirschfeld] have tried to illustrate that material shortages are endemic to all centralized, planned economies, and that in addition to devoting resources to hospital construction and expansion of the health sector, ideocratic states often use very authoritarian tactics--tactics that individual doctors and patients can subjectively experience very negatively--to create and maintain favorable health statistics. When issues of state power and social control are factored into the analysis, it becomes possible to see how Cuba’s health indicators are at least in some cases obtained by imposing significant costs on the Cuban population--costs that Cuban citizens are powerless to articulate or protest, and foreign researchers unable to empirically investigate."

  • "'Wrote the Cuban source,[,] 'Every single time the island of Cuba and Fidel Castro's revolution are covered anywhere in the media, one of the points always mentioned is Cuba's free healthcare. You can practically time it. If it's in print, you get the lead issue in the first and second paragraph, a mention of Fidel Castro or one of his cronies in the third paragraph, and then the plug for the lauded free healthcare available to Cubans in the fourth. I don’t think I've ever read an article about Castro or Cuba where the "healthcare" isn’t mentioned.

    "'Every single Castro supporter clings to this healthcare thing like it is some kind of holy grail. In a debate, the fact that Cuba has the most political prisoners in the world is ignored. The fact that Cubans on the island lack even the most basic of necessities is ignored. Tourism apartheid is ignored. Everything is ignored save for the free healthcare and 100% literacy.

    "'Of course, none of these "free healthcare!" cheerleaders have ever been to a Cuban hospital. They've never been to a Cuban clinic. Hospitals and clinics serving the average Cuban, that is.'"

  • "In 1962, President Harry S. Truman informed some people in the press that his middle initial 'S' should not have a period after it because the 'S' didn't really stand for anything. The middle name of S was chosen by his parents so they didn't have to offend either of his grandfathers, who both had names beginning with the letter S.

    "After the press reported this information it set off a controversy on how editors and writers should handle the spelling of his name. Some people still insist that his name should be spelled Harry S Truman (without the period).

    "There is much evidence to indicate that President Truman used the period after the 'S' both before and after his 1962 remark."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wisdom from...

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ST. AUGUSTINE (354-430): Preaching is Sharing

Many people seek to discover God's mercy and faithfulness from the sacred books, and yet, when their learning is done, they live for their own sakes and not for God's. They are intent on their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. They preach mercy and faithfulness without practicing them. Their preaching proves that they know their subject, for they would not preach without knowledge. But it is a different matter in the case of someone who loves God and Christ. When such a person preaches God's mercy and faithfulness, he seeks to make them known for God's sake, not his own. This means that he is not out to gain temporal benefits from his preaching; his desire is to help Christ's members, that is, those who believe in him, by faithfully sharing with them the knowledge he himself possesses, so that the living may no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for all.
(Expositions of the Psalms 60, 9: CCL 39, 771.)

ST. AUGUSTINE: For You I Am the Bishop

Believe me, brothers and sisters, if what I am for you frightens me, what I am with you reassures me. For you I am the bishop; with you I am a Christian. "Bishop," this is the title of an office one has accepted to discharge; "Christian," that is the name of the grace one receives. Dangerous title! Salutary name!
-- Sermon 340, 1

Prayer. Lord, whether prosperity smiles or adversity frowns, let your praise be ever in my mouth.
-- Commentary on Psalm 138, 16


[1] Those who place their faith in this truth, however, “for which the human reason offers no experimental evidence,” do not believe foolishly, as though “following artificial fables” (2 Peter 2:16). ... It reveals its own presence, as well as the truth of its teaching and inspiration, by fitting arguments; and in order to confirm those truths that exceed natural knowledge, it gives visible manifestation to works that surpass the ability of all nature. Thus, there are the wonderful cures of illnesses, there is the raising of the dead, and the wonderful immutation in the heavenly bodies; and what is more wonderful, there is the inspiration given to human minds, so that simple and untutored persons, filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, come to possess instantaneously the highest wisdom and the readiest eloquence. When these arguments were examined, through the efficacy of the above-mentioned proof, and not the violent assault of arms or the promise of pleasure, and (what is most wonderful of all) in the midst of the tyranny of the persecutors, an innumerable throng of people, both simple and most learned, flocked to the Christian faith. In this faith there are truths preached that surpass every human intellect; the pleasures of the flesh are curbed; it is taught that the things of the world should be spurned. Now, for the minds of mortal men to assent to these things is the greatest of miracles, just as it is a manifest work of divine inspiration that, spurning visible things, men should seek only what is invisible. ...

[3] This wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian faith is the clearest witness of the signs given in the past; so that it is not necessary that they should be further repeated, since they appear most clearly in their effect. ... Yet it is also a fact that, even in our own time, God does not cease to work miracles through His saints for the confirmation of the faith.

[4] On the other hand, those who founded sects committed to erroneous doctrines proceeded in a way that is opposite to this. [For instance,] Muhammad seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. ... [A]s is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men. ... [T]he truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity. He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration.... On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms. ...
(Summa Contra Gentiles I, 6)


The glorious Saint Augustine, in speaking of effective love, said a sentence that we should engrave on the doors of our rooms, or better still in our hearts: "My God, if we were to love You alone--You in all things and all things in You--how wonderful that would be!" Oh glorious saint, do you wish that we should love nothing but God? Should we not also love our neighbor, friend and enemy? Yes, but in God and for God ... indeed this is true Christian love! Now this is something that should be preached publicly!
(Sermons 33; O. IX, p. 337)

As St. Ignatius taught time and again: love nothing if it draws you from God, love all things as they draw you to God.


WITH any recovery from morbidity there must go a certain healthy humiliation. There comes a certain point in such conditions when only three things are possible; first, a perpetuation of Satanic pride; secondly, tears; and third, laughter.
('The Man who was Thursday.')


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wisdom from…

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ST. AUGUSTINE (354-430): Remember, Monica, my mother

May Monica, my mother, rest in peace with her husband, before whom and after whom she was given in marriage to no man. She dutifully served him, bringing forth fruit to you with much patience, that she might also win him to you. Inspire, O Lord my God, inspire your servants my brethren, your children my master, whom I serve with my voice, my heart, and my writings, that as many of them as read these words may remember at your altar your handmaid, Monica, together with Patricius, formerly her husband, by whose flesh you brought me into this life, how I know not. May they with a pious affection remember them who were my parents in this transitory light, my brethren under you, our Father in our Catholic mother, and my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which your pilgrim people here below continually sigh from their setting out until their return, so that my mother's last request of me may be more abundantly granted by her through the prayers of many, occasioned by my confessions, rather than through my own prayers.
(Confessions IX, 13, 36-37.)

Despite the novelty with which Nietzsche pressed the point, transvaluation was not a Nietzschean novelty. Christ Himself, as the Eucharistic Lord of History, is the prime agent in transvaluation. Hence, insofar as there is no legitimate resting point between either nihilism or the Risen One, there is no escaping transvaluation as such; there is only a choice of how, and in which direction, we transvalue, our lives. We can either reorient all things toward the Risen One, at the right hand of the Father, in which case even biological kin become our brethren and strangers become our masters in service; or toward the nothing that becomes our substance apart from Him, in which case kin become foes and strangers become threats. Transvalued towards Christ, our selves become portals to His risen life; away from Him, our selves become the abyss in which we spend an "eternal recurrence" (ewiges Wiederkehr). As Nietzsche argues in Jenseits von Gute und Böse, we are and remain strangers to ourselves. condemned to our own illusory idol of self-existence.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Caught Up in Ecstasy

Now, while my mother and I were thus talking of God's wisdom and pining for it, with all the effort of our hearts we did for one instant attain to touch it. Then we returned to the sound of our own tongue, in which words must have a beginning and an end. We said: If in the silence of all earthly things God alone spoke to us, not by them but by himself, would not this constitute to "enter into the joy of the Master"?
-- Confessions 9, 10

There is a silence we mistake for God's absence. That silence strikes us as barren and desolate only because our ears are normally more attuned to the hum and buzz of the world than to the soundless speech of God in His word and the immediate ring of the heavenly chorus. If however we gradually become deaf to the world, we may come to hear echoes of the divine stillness. Just as the folly of God is wiser than the erudition of man, so is the silence of God louder and more articulate than the noise of the world. The noise of creation is not bad per se, but only bad in so far as it is out of tune with its own inner harmony, the triune chorus of love by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Prayer. Lord, let those who understand, praise you. And let those who understand you not, praise you too.
-- Confessions 11, 31


[1] Since, therefore, there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being, one to which the inquiry of the reason can reach, the other which surpasses the whole ability of the human reason, it is fitting that both of these truths be proposed to man divinely for belief. … [2] Yet, if this truth were left solely as a matter of inquiry for the human reason, three awkward consequences would follow.

[3] The first is that few men would possess the knowledge of God. For there are three reasons why most men are cut off from the fruit of diligent inquiry which is the discovery of truth. Some do not have the physical disposition for such work. As a result, there are many who are naturally not fitted to pursue knowledge; and so, however much they tried, they would be unable to reach the highest level of human knowledge which consists in knowing God. Others are cut off from pursuing this truth by the necessities imposed upon them by their daily lives. … Finally, there are some who are cut off by indolence. In order to know the things that the reason can investigate concerning God, a knowledge of many things must already be possessed. For almost all of philosophy is directed towards the knowledge of God, and that is why metaphysics, which deals with divine things, is the last part of philosophy to be learned… [and] only on the basis of a great deal of labor spent in study. Now, those who wish to undergo such a labor for the mere love of knowledge are few, even though God has inserted into the minds of men a natural appetite for knowledge.

[4] The second awkward effect is that those who would come to discover the abovementioned truth would barely reach it after a great deal of time. … There is also the fact that, in youth, when the soul is swayed by the various movements of the passions, it is not in a suitable state for the knowledge of such lofty truth. On the contrary, “one becomes wise and knowing in repose,” as it is said in the Physics [VII, 3]. … If the only way open to us for the knowledge of God were solely that of the reason, the human race would remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance.

[5] The third awkward effect is this. The investigation of the human reason for the most part has falsity present within it, and this is due partly to the weakness of our intellect in judgment, and partly to the admixture of images. The result is that many, remaining ignorant of the power of demonstration, would hold in doubt those things that have been most truly demonstrated. … That is why it was necessary that the unshakeable certitude and pure truth concerning divine things should be presented to men by way of faith.

[6] Beneficially, therefore, did the divine Mercy provide that it should instruct us to hold by faith even those truths that the human reason is able to investigate. In this way, all men would easily be able to have a share in the knowledge of God, and this without uncertainty and error.

[7] … “All your children shall be taught of the Lord” (Is. 54:13).

As Étienne Gilson says on page 83 of his Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, "[F]aith is not a principle of philosophical knowledge, but it is a safe guide to rational truth and an infallible warning against philosophical error." The point being that, while faith cannot provide rationally deductive demonstrations of this or that claim, it can provide the light and insight we need to direct our premises in rational investigation. We cannot philosophize by faith, but we can philosophize wrongly apart from faith. Since the content of faith, objectively given, is not an object of reason, it is not subject to purely rational strictures (much less to purely rational [i.e., deductive] demonstration, as Anselm and Scouts argued in their ontological arguments). Because the content of faith is not an object of rational certainty, it is not an opinion at which we arrive, but is a testimony we accept as the Word of God. Moreover, because faith is not subject to rational demonstration, it is not arrived at by the intellect, but my a movement of the will, whereby the intellect arrives at truth it cannot grasp on its own without an elevating grace upon the pliant will.

This hold that faith places on philosophy has to do not with the supposed irrationality of faith claims, but with the very meaning of faith and reason as such. As soon as faith becomes an object of purely rational demonstration, it is
eo ipso no longer an object of faith, and this in the same way your belief that I have brown hair is a 'belief' once you see (and thus know 'scientifically') that I do have brown hair. Accordingly, Gilson, citing St. Thomas in ST IIaIIae, q. 1, a. 5, notes that it is "impossible for one and the same thing to be an object of science [i.e., rational knowledge] and of belief for the same person…" (op. cit., p. 74). This disjunction is in order, since faith "implies assent of the intellect to that which the intellect cannot see [qua 'scientific' knowledge] to be true…" (ibid., p. 73). Further, Gilson argues, "if reason cannot prove them [i.e., dogmas] to be true, it cannot either prove them to be false" (ibid., p. 83). This is all of a piece with what we read in SCG I, 3:

Just as, therefore, it would he the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it, so (and even more so) it is the acme of stupidity for a man to suspect as false what is divinely revealed through the ministry of the angels simply because it cannot be investigated by reason.

This all stands in an interesting light, given the developments that ensued a few centuries after St. Thomas. For one thing, largely animated by Gehrard Groote, the Moderna devotio placed nearly all emphasis on our mystical perception of God, rather than any scholastic musings about Him. (Groote founded the fraternity of the Brethren of the Common Life in Deventer in 1381, and in 1475, a 12-year-old Desiderius Erasmus would enter the school for that fraternity.) This anti-scholastic, mystical attitude can be seen in Thomas à Kempis' Imitatio Christi, as well as in the doctrine of Meister Eckhart (condemned in 1329 by Pope John XXII) about the soul's union with God even this side of Heaven. It also finds expression in Luther's excoriation of scholastic thought: "only without Aristotle can we become theologians." (Cf. Gilson, Reason, pp. 86–94 for more details.) According to Ernst Cassirer, it also manifests in the development of Nicolas Cusanus's thought (in The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, p. 13).

With the same assurance with which he denies the possibility of conceiving of the infinite by means of logical abstractions and generic concepts, he also denies the possibility of its conception through mere [mystical] feeling. In the mystical theology of the fifteenth century two fundamental tendencies stand sharply opposed to each other; the one bases itself on the intellect; the other considers the will to be the basic force and organ of union with God. In this dispute, Cusanus sides emphatically with the former. True love of God is amor Dei intellectualis: it includes knowledge as a necessary element and a necessary condition. No love can love what he has not, in some sense, known. Love by itself, without any admixture of knowledge, would be an impossibility. Whatever is loved is, by that very act, considered good; it is conceived of sub ratione boni. This knowledge of the good must spur on and give wings to the will, even though the What, i.e., the simple essence of the good in itself, remains inaccessible to knowledge. … The principle of docta ignorantia as 'knowing ignorance' re-affirms itself once again.


God sends afflictions, but nothing comes from the divine hand that is not useful to those souls who fear Him. Be happy if they come and receive them with a heart filled with filial love, because God sends them with a heart that is paternally concerned with your perfection. He wishes to purify and refine His holy love in you. Think often about the duration of eternity and do not get upset about the mishaps of this transitory and mortal life.
(Letters 1982; O. XXI, p. 21)


MANY of us live publicly with featureless public puppets, images of the small public abstractions. It is when we pass our own private gate, and open our own secret door, that we step into the land of the giants.
('Charles Dickens.')


A poem of Latinate proportions…

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What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
Implet in the Corn and High
Terror me Motoris Bi:
Bo Motori clamitabo
Ne Motore caedar a Bo--
Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Thus I sang; and still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi,
Et complebat omne forum
Copia Motorum Borum.
How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!

--A.D. Godley

(Hat tip to The Smithy. This declension cheat sheet might help you parse the humor. Or is parsing humor––explaining the joke––even worth it? I would like to think so, in some cases.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Captain's log…

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Sea-date Friday, October 12, 1492, the date Christopher Columbus reached the New World, after leaving Spain on August 3, 1492:

"At dawn we saw naked people, and I went ashore in the ship's boat …I unfurled the royal banner and the captains brought the flags which displayed a large green cross with the letters "F" [Ferdinand] and "Y" [Isabella] at the left and right side of the cross…. To this land I gave the name San Salvador, in honor of our Blessed Lord. …

The people here …are friendly and well-dispositioned… who bear no arms except for small spears and they have no iron. … I want the natives to develop a friendly attitude towards us because I know they are a people who can be made free and converted to our Holy Catholic Faith more by love than by force. I therefore gave red caps to some and glass beads to others. They hung the beads around their necks …And they took great pleasure in this and became so friendly that it was a marvel. They traded and gave everything they had with good will, but it seems to me they have very little and are poor in everything. I warned my men to take nothing from the people without giving something in exchange."

Pope Paul III, in Sublimus Deus, dated May 29, 1537:

"The sublime God so loved the human race that He created man in such wise that he … endowed him with capacity to attain to the inaccessible and invisible Supreme Good and behold it face to face; and since man… has been created to enjoy eternal life and happiness, which none may obtain save through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is necessary that he should possess the nature and faculties enabling him to receive that faith….

"The enemy of the human race [the Devil]… invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God's word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge, should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.

"We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of his flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it.

"Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare… that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

"By virtue of Our apostolic authority We define and declare that the said Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God and by the example of good and holy living."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Truth and Revelation by Nicolas Berdyaev

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Truth and Revelation (New York: Collier Books, 1962 [tr. R. M. French]) by Nicolas Berdyaev

Be advised that just because I read and post these ideas, does not mean I agree with or endorse them (a proviso that holds for all the books I cite here).

p. 8 …it must be remembered that man has been the one and only organ which revelation has used in order to reach man. … It is not upon revelation that man passes judgment so much as upon his own human reception and understanding of revelation.

9 God is that which cannot be expressed. … And of that which cannot be expressed there cannot be any doubts. There can be doubt only of what is expressed.

13 Existentialism may be defined … as a philosophy which will not accept objectifying knowledge.

14 Existence (Existenz) is not essence, it is not substance, it is a free act.

15 There can be no causal relations between God and man. There is nothing which God determines. God is not a power "outside" and "above."

18 Man is a tragic being for the simple reason that he finds himself placed on the frontier between two worlds, a higher and a lower, and he includes both worlds in himself.

20 Unlike Kant's thing-in-itself, transcendental man operates in this world, he reveals himself in every great creative man…. Transcendental man does not evolve, he creates.

23 Truth is always supernatural, its very meaning is that the spirit has risen above the natural.

26 Truth is primary, not secondary, that is to say it is not conformity with something else. … Truth is not a reality, nor that which corresponds to a reality. … Truth does not face a ready-made reality outside itself, it is the creative transforming of reality. … Truth means change, it is the transfiguration of reality.

28 Truth is communal….

29 I am in darkness and I search for light; as yet I do not know the truth and I am seeking it. But by this very fact I am already asserting the existence of Truth and light, though their existence is of another kind that that of the beings of the realities of the world. … My search is already the light…. Truth is value… truth is spiritual, it is the process of instilling spirit into the world of reality.

30 Truth is God… truth is human. The knowledge of God is a human thing.

32 Pragmatism is highly optimistic and fails to see the tragic fate of truth in the world. … In reality there is a pragmatism of falsehood, the lie is often useful to the organization of life…. The supporters of pragmatism very often accept the useful lie as truth.

33 To long after pure truth which nothing suppresses, however distressing it may be, is to reach out towards the divine. … The attainment of truth assumes fearlessness…. Truth is the voice of eternity in time….

34 Truth is not something which is of service to the world….

35 [in Marx's materialism and Leninism] Truth is known in praxis. … Truth ought to contribute to the victory of socialism. That is the only truth which is acknowledged and valued, just as that is the only freedom which is acknowledged and valued.

36 [in Marxism] …any conclusions whatever may be drawn so long as they are serviceable at a given moment…. Is Marxist truth merely a reflection and expression of the struggle of the proletariat against the capitalist system and the bourgeoisie––simply a useful weapon in the conflict?

Cf. pp. 79–80 in J. Ratzinger's The Nature and Mission of Theology

38 …Nietzsche's philosophy… was a philosophy of values whereas Marx's was a philosophy of well-being. … But in turning truth into an instrument of the will to power, he [Nietzsche] does in actual fact lapse into pragmatism and regards truth as that which is serviceable to the process of life. He does this in spite of the fact that he hated the idea of "the useful," which he justly looked upon as a very anti-aristocratic and most plebeian conception. Supramundane truth is just that––and it must not be perverted to the service of the processes of life, or the will to power.

39 The importance of Nietzsche is immense in that he understands truth dynamically….

40 Truth serves no man, and nothing; it is they who serve it.

43 The knowledge of truth is attained by the aggregate of the spiritual powers of man and not by his intellectual faculties only. … Truth is free and a matter of the will; it is not simply an intellectual act, it is the turning of the whole human being in the direction of creative value.

44 …the very recognition of the material world as capable of being known assumes an elementary act of faith…. There is a certain naïveté in supposing that the objective existence of matter can be scientifically proved. … A decisive "no" is faith to the same extent as a decisive "yes," and the very denial assumes and assertion….

45 Man is by nature a creature that believes…. I am affirming truth, even in the event of having no desire to hear anything about the truth.

46 Man should be ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of the truth, but Truth is often bitter to the taste and he frequently prefers some deceitful illusion…. At times it may even be that such deception takes a form which leads him in the pride of his heart to cast away every consolation that the Truth bestows and to regard a state of despair as the attainment of the highest Truth.

51 Christian truth cannot be made to depend upon historical facts…. As Kierkegaard was fond of saying, God is in the world incognito. … Revelation is always at the same time some measure of concealment.

52 Revelation cannot be something which is finished, static….

54 An exclusively apophatic understanding of God… [amounts to a] confusion between Gott and Gottheit….

56 The revelation of a suffering and yearning God is higher than the revelation of a God whose satisfaction and sufficiency in himself. … God does not act in power but in humanity. … The degrees of revelation correspond to the degrees of correlation….

57 The ancient biblical idea of God can hardly be in harmony with our religious thought.

58 Feuerbach was half right. … Sociomorphism has entirely distorted the idea of God.

59 In relation to the world God is freedom and not necessity, not determination.

60 …final truth lies with mysticism rather than with dogmatics.

63 There is no criterion of the Truth outside the Truth. … the very concept of pure act ought to be abandoned as belonging to an outworn philosophy.

72 Freedom is more primary than being and it cannot be determined by our being….

73 Tragedy in the Christian world is the tragedy of freedom, not the tragedy of fate.

74 Christian metaphysics ought to be in the first place a philosophy of history.

75 No revelation ought to lay claim to finality and completeness, it goes on to the end of the world.

82 It is man that makes history, history is not a phenomenon of nature….

83 To a notable degree history is a history of crime, and all the dreams of idealists about a better state of society have ended in criminal deeds. … History is a horrible crime.

84 I ought not to regard anything as entirely outside myself. I too am answerable for the act of Cain.

85 Nothing in history ought to be regarded as sacrosanct….

86 …sacred history does not exist…. History must either be entirely repudiated, as it is in Indian thought and by Schopenhauer and, with particular consistency, by Leo Tolstoy, or it must be received into oneself while one makes an effort not to be infected by the evil of it.

87 Hegel's freedom is the freedom of the universal and not of the individual. In the last resort it is the universal spirit which is free and not of the individual, who is offered as a sacrifice to the universal spirit. It was against this that Belinsky protested and at a still deeper level Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard.

88 I call freedom empty when it is unaware of resistance…. Freedom demands sacrifice and self-surrender. Self-assertion is the last thing it is.

89–90 history is by no means a rational process in which the progressive triumph of reason comes to pass. Volcanic and irrational forces are at work in it, and they are at times concealed and suppressed. But from time to time they break out in wars and revolutions. … The great experiment made by the Russian people displays the irrationality of the rational.

95 It does not become Christians to be self-satisfied and to despise those to whom the problem of God is a torment. It certainly does not become them to despise Nietzsche….

97 But there is no sense at all in which God is a cause. He causes nothing and determines nothing.

97–98 …out-and-out consistent godlessness does not exist. Man is more inclined to be an idolater than an atheist. … He deifies the most diverse objects, he deifies the cosmos, man and humanity, he deifies society, the State, abstract good or justice or science ,he deifies race, nationality or class, he deifies a particular social order, socialism, and he makes a god of his own godlessness.

99 The arguments for atheism which are derived from the natural sciences are just as weak as the arguments intended to support belief in God which are based upon those same natural sciences. Christian apologetics which seek to ward off the attack of the natural sciences upon belief in God are very feeble and out of date. Arguments from the natural sciences may be entirely ignored.

100 A historical biography of Jesus cannot in actual fact be written and the Gospels cannot be acknowledged as historical documents. But that only proves that the reality of Jesus Christ is borne witness to by the faith of the Christian community, and that outside that community it is a reality of history which is scarcely noticeable.

101 [Marcion's heresy was ethically motivated, insofar as he was gravely disquieted by the evil in the world; could the creator of such a world be worshiped as the true God?]

102 Out of a desire to destroy suffering and to construct a world in which suffering may not exist, he may be the cause of immeasurable suffering, but that, of course, he regards as only for the time being. This is the fundamental moral inconsistency of the atheistic revolutionary.

103 The godlessness of Marx is derived from Feuerbach, that is from Feuerbach's idea of the alienation of human nature in religion.

104 [by suggesting an inner drive to the material forces that shape society and man, Marxism ascribes rationality and creative efforts to matter, which means that a rational principle is inherent in matter; in such wise, Marxism fails to be a thoroughgoing atheism, in the sense that it denies every sacred or divine principle as such]

105–106 Nietzsche's is "a tragic godlessness" … The murder of God was also the murder of man. Nietzsche's atheism was not in the least a humanist atheism. … There was no element of Marcionism in him. He repudiated the Christian God rather because he brings consolation and happiness. Christianity gives a meaning to suffering and that Nietzsche could not endure. To him it meant the denial of the tragic principle. He wanted suffering and he did not want consolation. But the Christian theme is still there in Nietzsche. He was a man whom Christ had wounded. This passionate foe of Christianity was nearer to it than Goethe who wished it well.

109 [For Heidegger] Being is fallen and guilty in its structure. This is catholic theology without God. It is a very pessimistic philosophy, more pessimistic than Schopenhauer's.

111 To Sartre the freedom of man is connected with godlessness, to him God is an enemy of human freedom. He regards himself as a more consistent atheist than are the Marxists, for they acknowledge that there is a meaning in the historical process and look to it for support. In spite of their materialism, they believe in the triumph of social reason….

113 Traditional theology has never been the theology of the Holy Spirit.

115 All intellectual proofs for the existence of God are bankrupt; they belong to the world of thought and they stay there.

121 It must be said to the credit of Russian philosophical religious thought that it has always reacted vigorously against the forensic interpretation of Christianity and of Redemption.

123 The Eucharistic Sacrifice ought to be entirely freed from traces of the forensic interpretation. … The idea of predestination is indissolubly connected with the juridical way of understanding Christianity and it loses all meaning if another way of interpretation is adopted.

128 Christianity is a religion of social and cosmic transfiguration and resurrection. This has been almost forgotten in official Christianity.

131 The Roman Catholic Church, which has been very fond of frightening people with hell in order to keep souls in submission….

133 To him [Bulgakov] an eternal hell means the failure of God. It is the defeat of God by the powers of darkness.

134 …the significance of the historical Gospels is not absolute.

148 The whole cosmos, the whole creation, is included in Spirit and it is only within the Spirit that there is any cosmos.

149 It is very important to understand the difference between symbolization and objectification. Symbolization always provides signs of another world. It does not remain closed within the circle of this world.

152 The era of the Spirit [or the third revelation] can be nothing but a revelation of a sense of community which is not merely social but also cosmic, not only a brotherhood of man, but a brotherhood of men with all cosmic life….

Paging Dr. Latin…

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To anyone out there with Latin "skeelz": Does the following mean "Truth can defend itself"?

Veritate defendare se potest.

My grasp of Latin grammar is deplorably weak, so I need to know if that sentence is acceptable.

Thanks for any help!

With much gratitude, I am updating this post in light of the prompt help thomas (HTH) provided, and, in turn, I amend my little motto to say POTEST VERITAS SE DEFENDERE. [17.10.08]

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

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The Myth of Sisyphus (London: Penguin, 1975 [1942; tr. Justin O'Brien 1955]) by Albert Camus

p. 1 There is but on truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.

6 Does the Absurd dictate death? This problem must be given priority over others, outside all methods of thought and all exercises of the disinterested mind.

12 At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman….

14 I am interested… not so much in absurd discoveries as in their consequences.

15 The mind's first step is to distinguish what is true from what is false.

[FALSE: Cf. St. Thomas on the mind first recognizing reality (res), and as a unity, then this or that being (aliquid), and finally judging truth or falsity in light of the foregoing. St. Thomas notes in De Ver, i, 1, resp. "that which the intellect first conceives as, in a way, the most evident, and to which it reduces all its concepts, is being. [Illud autem quod primo intellectus concipit quasi notissimum, et in quod conceptiones omnes resolvit, est ens….]" Adrian Reimers, on page 97 of his The Soul of the Person, expands on this by saying, "To understand is to grasp the essence of a being, and this is the first act of the intellect. The second act is 'composition and division,' that is, in predicating something of a subject." Further, Étienne Gilson, on page 64 of his God and Philosophy, offers this:

…such is the natural order followed by our rational knowledge: we first conceive certain beings, then we define their essences, and last we affirm their existences by means of a judgment. But the metaphysical order of reality is just the reverse of the order of human knowledge: what first comes into it is a certain act of existing which, because it is this particular act of existing, circumscribes at once a certain essence and causes a certain substance to come into being. … In Saint Thomas' own words: dicitur esse ipse actus essentiae––"to be" is the very act whereby an essence is.
–– Cf. Qu. disp. de Pot., qu. VII, art. 2, ad 9.]

18–19 But you [a scientist] tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. … So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot for all that apprehend the world. … And you give me the choice between a description that is sure but that teaches me nothing and hypotheses that claim to teach me but are not sure.

20 But what is absurd is the confrontation of the irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. … From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all.

24 [Kierkegaard as a Don Juan of the understanding, full of pseudonyms and contradictions]

25 Husserl and the phenomenologists… reinstate the world in its diversity and deny the transcendent power of the reason. … it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment.

28–29 …absurdity springs from a comparison. … The absurd is essentially a divorce. … I can say therefore that the Absurd is not in man… nor in the world, but in their presence together. … For me the sole datum is the absurd.

30 …a man is always a prey to his truths. Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them.

32 "The only true solution… is precisely where the human judgement sees no solution. Otherwise, what need would we have of God? We turn towards God only to obtain the impossible. As for the possible, men suffice." If there is a Chestovian philosophy, I can say that it is altogether summed up in this way.

34 To an absurd mind reason is useless and there is nothing beyond reason.

36 Christianity is the scandal, and what Kierkegaard calls for quite plainly is the third sacrifice required by Ignatius Loyola, the one in which God most rejoices: 'The sacrifice of the intellect.'

37 The important thing, as Abbé Galiani said to Mme d'Epinay, is not to be cured, but to live with one's ailments.

38 Reconciliation through scandal is still reconciliation. … I want to know whether I can live with what I know and with that alone. I am told again that here the intelligence must sacrifice its pride and the reason bow down. But if I recognize the limits of reason, I do not therefore negate it, recognizing its relative powers.

39 …sin is what alienates from God. The absurd, which is the metaphysical state of the conscious man, does not lead to God. …the absurd is sin without God.

40 For the existential[ist]s negation is their God. To be precise, that god is maintained only through the negation of human reason.

41 …phenomenology declines to explain the world, it wants to be merely a description of actual experience. It confirms absurd thought in its initial assertion tat there is not truth, but merely [phenomenally concrete] truths.

44–45 …after having denied the integrating power of human reason, he [Husserl] leaps by this expedient to eternal Reason [i.e., in the innumerable panoply of Platonic phenomenal essences].

47 The irrational, as it is conceived by the existentialists, is reason becoming confused and escaping by negating itself. The absurd is lucid reason noting its limits.

48 My reasoning wants to be faithful to the evidence that aroused it. That evidence is the absurd. It is that divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity, this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together. Kierkegaard suppresses my nostalgia and Husserl gathers together that universe. That is not what I was expecting. It was a matter of living and thinking with those dislocations, of knowing whether one had to accept or refuse.

51–53 At a certain point on his path the absurd man is tempted. … He is asked to leap. All he can reply is that he doesn't fully understand, that it is not obvious. Indeed, he does not want to do anything but what he fully understands. … It was previously a question of finding out whether or not life had to have a meaning to be lived. It now becomes clear on the contrary that it will be lived all the better if it has no meaning. … Living is keeping the absurd alive. … One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. … That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it. … In its way, suicide settles the absurd. It engulfs the absurd in the same death. But I know that in oder to keep alive, the absurd cannot be settled. … I understand then why the doctrines that explain everything to me also debilitate me at the same time. They relieve me of the weight of my own life and yet I must carry it alone.

54 The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the State.

57 …completely turned towards death (taken here as the most obvious absurdity), the absurd man feels released from everything outside that passionate attention crystallizing in him. He enjoys a freedom with regard to common rules. … In the same way… the slaves of antiquity did not belong to themselves. But they knew that freedom which consists in not feeling responsible.* Death, too, has patrician hands which, while crushing, also liberate. [* … The absurd man is the contrary of the reconciled man.]

58 …refusal to hope…. Indifference to the future and a desire to give up everything that is given. … Knowing whether or not one can live without appeal is all that interests me.

61 The present and the succession of presents before a constantly conscious soul is the ideal of the absurd man.

64 What, in fact, is the absurd man? He who, without negating it, does nothing for the eternal.

65 Everything is permitted does not mean that nothing is forbidden. The absurd merely confers an equivalence on the consequences o those actions. It does not recommend crime, for this would be childish, but it restores to remorse its futility.

67 In the absurd world the value of a notion or of a life is measured by its sterility [i.e., for generating hope and futurity]. … [Don Juan always looking for total love in each woman, not finding it, and thus seeking just as ardently and puppyish in the next woman.]

70 Not to believe in the profound meanings of things belongs to the absurd man. … 'Collecting' amounts to being capable of living off one's past. But he rejects regret, that other form of hope.

71 One must be Werther or nothing.

76 Never has the absurd been so well illustrated or at such length [as in drama and acting].

83 [Thus spake the Conqueror:] 'Knowing that there are no victorious causes, I have a liking for lost causes…. [84] Between history and the eternal I have chosen history because I like certainties. Of it at least I am certain, and how can I deny this force crushing me? … [85] Even humiliated, the flesh is my only certainty. I can live only on it. … A revolution is always accomplished against the gods, beginning with the revolution of Prometheus, the first of modern conquerors.'

89 If the term 'wise man' can be applied to the man who lives on what he has without speculating on what he has not, then they [consistently absurd men] are the wise men. …a conqueror but in the realm of the mind, a Don Juan of knowledge, an actor but of the intelligence, knows this better than anyone…

90 …the absurd joy par excellence is creation. 'Art and nothing but art,' said Nietzsche; 'we have art in order not to die of the truth.'

91 For the absurd man it is not a matter of explaining and solving, but of experiencing and describing. Everything begins with lucid indifference.

96 If any art is devoid of lessons, it is certainly music. It is too closely related to mathematics not to have borrowed their [sic] gratuitousness.

109 It is possible to be Christian and absurd. There are examples of Christians who do not believe in a future life. [??]

"…we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen." (The Nicene Creed)

110 [Moby Dick as a truly absurd work]

114 A world remains of which man is the sole master. What bound him was the illusion of another world.

117 It is during that return [down the hill], that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. … when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks towards the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

122 [Kafka's Metamorphosis embodies] an ethic of lucidity.

125 [Kafka's The Trial] a complete success. Flesh wins out.

Before and after Socrates by F. M. Cornford

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Selected quotations from Before and After Socrates (London: Cambridge, 1932) by F. M. Cornford

p. 1 …the revolution of thought he [Socrates] effected––how he turned philosophy from the study of external Nature to the study of man and of the purposes of human action in society.

2 The kind of reason Socrates wanted was the reason why.

5 The development of Ionian science culminated two centuries later in the Atomism of Democritus, a contemporary of Socrates and Plato.

7 …we see the cosmogonies of the Milesian School [viz., Thales] as the dawn or infancy of science.

8 [three features of the pre-scientific age: 1) progressive discovery of the object vs. the subject; 2) preoccupation with practical use of the researched object; 3) belief in unseen, supernatural powers behind the object of inquiry.]

12–13 In Roman religion we find countless numina––powers whose whole content is expressed in abstract nouns, nomina: Janua is not a fully personal god presiding over doorways, but simply the spirit of 'doorness', conceived as a power present in all doors….

15 The Ionian cosmogonists assume … that the whole universe is natural, and potentially within the reach of knowledge as ordinary and rational as our knowledge that fire burns and water drowns. That is what I meant by the discovery of Nature.

18–19 …the system of Thales' successor, Anaximander, which set the pattern for the Ionian tradition. … The significance of this cosmogony lies not so much in what it contains as in what it leaves out. Cosmogony has been detached from theogony.

22 The Atomists held that the tactile properties are the real ones; the visual properties are not substantial or objective.

23–24 Where scientific Atomism went beyond common sense was in its demand that the atoms of body shall be absolutely indestructible and unchanging. … But ancient science, holding to the principle that nothing can come out of nothing, demanded some permanent and indestructible 'being' behind the screen of shifting appearances. This postulate met the same rational need that has prompted the assertion by modern science of the principle of conservation in various forms: the law of inertia, the conservation of mass, the conservation of energy. … The something––whatever it may be––of which modern science has required the conservation corresponds to the permanent 'being' or 'nature of things' required by the ancients.

27 The Socratic philosophy is a reaction against this materialistic drift of physical science.

30 If Xenophon may be trusted, Socrates rejected the current speculation about Nature on two grounds: it was dogmatic, and it was useless.

31 A fabrication of the reason may be as dangerously false as a fabrication of the myth-making imagination.

32 If I cannot know the beginnings of life in the unrecorded past, I can, Socrates thought, know the end of life here and now. This shift from the search for beginnings to the search for ends naturally coincides with the shift of interest from external Nature to man.

35 Socrates held that happiness was to be found in what he called the perfection of the soul––'making one's soul as good as possible'––and that all other ends which men desire were strictly of no value in themselves.

36 [Such power in the Apology! "…I shall question and cross-examine and test him… I shall reproach him for holding the most precious things cheap and worthless things dear. This I shall do to everyone I meet. … such is heaven's command;… For I have no other business but to go around persuading you all, both young and old, to care less for your bodies and your wealth than for the perfection of your souls…."]

37 Socrates' claim to rank among the greatest philosophers rests upon his discovery of this soul and of morality of spiritual aspiration….

39 …pre-Socratic science as the childhood of the new form of thought. … The normal child… has a power of enjoying knowledge for its own sake, until this enjoyment is killed by what is known as education. …adolescence corresponds to the second phase of Greek philosophy––the age of the Sophists. [rebellion from society as common attraction between Sophists and youthful followers]

45 …Plato himself condemns this practice [i.e., laying traps and arguing just for victory] of 'Eristic'––verbal contention without regard for truth––he cannot have meant to represent it as characteristic of Socrates.

46 [For Socrates] Knowledge of values, in fact, is a matter of direct insight….

48 [Socrates was 'demoralizing' the youth by] undermining the morality of social constraint….

49 [Socrates did not prescribe 'doing whatever you please', but making 'sure that your eyes see with perfect clearness what is really good'.]

50 …the achievement of Socrates was the discovery of the soul.

52 [Socrates argues that] No one does wrong against his true will, when once that will has been directed to its object, the good, by a genuine and clear vision. … 'Virtue', at all times, means conformity to current ideals of conduct. [??]

55 True, the central germ of Platonism… is the new Socratic morality of aspiration; but under Plato's hands this germ has grown in a tree whose branches cover the heavens [as opposed to merely the individual soul].

58 [Plato read the secret of Socrates' inmost thought and formulated its essence in The Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, Laches, Charmides, Lysis, Protagoras, and Gorgias.]

62–63 The ancients recognized it [Pythagoreanism] as an independent tradition, off the main track of Ionian science. They called it the Italian philosophy because the chief Pythagoreans were established in Lower Italy. … Pythagorean influence is everywhere traceable in the dialogues of the middle period, centred round the Republic––the Meno, Phaedo, Symposium, and Phaedrus. … Platonism proper, in fact, dates from the confluence of these two streams of inspiration––the Socratic and the Pythagorean. From Socrates Plato learnt that the problems of human life were to be solved by the morality of aspiration and the pursuit of an invariable ideal of perfection. From Pythagoras he learnt how this conception could be extended beyond the field of human concerns into a system embracing the whole of Nature and transforming the scope of science as the Socrates of the Phaedo wished to see it transformed. Unlike that Ionian materialism we considered at the outset, Platonism seeks the key to Nature, not in the beginning, but in the end––not in the mechanical causes impelling from behind, but in the final causes which attract… a movement of desire towards a pattern of ideal perfection.

64 Thus Platonism is a system which extends to the interpretation of all existence the principle of aspiration announced in the morality of Socrates.

65 In spite of certain heretical doctrines, they [Plato and Aristotle] might have been canonised in the Middle Ages, had they not happened to be born some centuries before the Christian era.

67 In Greek 'cosmos' means beauty as well as order, and Pythagoras is said to have been the first to call the universe a cosmos.

69 [Sophrosyne: temperance, self-control, right-mindedness, wisdom.]

74 …no visual image of the Triangle can even be conceived.

82 From first to last, the mainspring of Platonism is its moral and political motive.

86–87 Plato was… an introvert…; a philosophy of withdrawal from the world of common experience. The native bent of Aristotle's mind was in the other direction, towards the study of empirical fact.

90 Aristotle could never cease to be a Platonist. His thought… is governed by the idea of aspiration, inherited by his master from Socrates––the idea that the true cause or explanation of things is to be sought, not in the beginning, but in the end.

94 [Aristotle on natural science: We should approach] "every form of life without disgust, knowing that in every one there is something of Nature and of beauty. For it is in the works of Nature above all that design, in contrast with random chance, is manifest; and the perfect form which anything born or made is designed to realise, holds the rank of beauty." … living tools or 'organs'….

98–99 Matter is not simply like the steel of which the spring is made; it is like the coiled spring in which the latent power of movement is stored. Aristotle defines a natural object as a thing that has a source of motion in itself. … in the act of generation this Form is communicated to the new individual, and, with it, is transmitted the force or power tat will carry the process of development once more from the potential phase to the actual. Thus the specific Form travels through an unending series of individuals. … In this way the Platonic Form of the species is brought down from its heaven of unchanging reality, and plunged in the flow of time and sensible existence.

100–101 [brilliant summary of the arg. for the Unmoved Mover: although substances perish, change and time are not perishable, but enduring, which indicates that a circle––as the form of enduring motion––is the basis for all other cosmic motion; hence it is pure Form, the activity of which must be of the highest conceivable form, namely, intellectual self-contemplation, wanting nothing but being the world's revolving center of desire]

102 God has no operation upon the world, nor even a knowledge of the world.

103 It has always seemed to me unfortunate that the word 'God'… should have been retained by philosophers as the name for a factor in their systems that no one could possibly regard as an object of worship, far less of love.

105 By a curious turn of the wheel, the philosophy of aspiration ends with a God whose function, in relation to the world, is the same as that of the Intelligence in Anaxagoras' system. … It seems to matter little whether the Prime Mover be placed, with Anaxagoras, at the beginning, or, with Aristotle, at the end. The philosophy of aspiration has become an inverted mechanism.

106 Charity is the missing element which Dante and his teachers strove to fuse with the Aristotelian desire in that Amor which moves the sun and the other stars. … The Aristotelian system… is a colossal monument of rationalism…. It is the fate of such a monument to become a cenotaph, not a permanent refuge of the spirit. The Greeks asserted the claims of the head, Christianity, the claims of the heart.

108 The Stoic… [held] to the tradition of Socrates' cheerful indifference to bodily pleasures, but disposed to mistake this indifference for a rather grim and graceless asceticism.

109 …nothing remains but the philosophy of old age, the resignation of a twilight that deepens alike over the garden of [Epicurean] Pleasure and the hermitage of [Stoic] Virtue.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thus spake Fakespeare…

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"If you don't want kids, don't date."

"There should be no safer place in the world than the womb. None, therefore, is more dangerous than he that invades it in the name of the world."

"A woman may be impregnatable, but her womb must remain impregnable."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wisdom from…

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ANDREW OF CRETE (660–720): By the cross the martyrs were strengthened

We who worship Christ on the cross must try to grasp the greatness of his power and all the wonders he has wrought through the cross on our behalf; the holy David says: Our God and eternal King has wrought salvation throughout the world. For through the cross the nations were caught as in a net and the seeds of faith were sown everywhere. With the cross, as though with a plow, the disciples of Christ cultivated the unfruitful nature of humankind, revealed the Church's ever-green pastures, and gathered in an abundant harvest of believers in Christ. By the cross the martyrs were strengthened, and as they fell they smote down those who struck them. Through the cross Christ became known, and the Church of the faithful, with the scriptures ever open before her, introduces us to this same Christ, the Son of God, who is truly God and truly Lord, and who cries out: Any who wish to come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
(Oratio 1 in exaltatione crucis: PG 97, 1041-1045.)

Andrew was a Damascene monk in Jerusalem who represented his patriarch at the Third Council of Constantinople. He was a remarkable orator and one of the principal hymnographers of the Eastern Church.

ST. AUGUSTINE: The Inner Voice

Consider this great mystery. The sound of my words strikes the ears, and the Master is within! Do not suppose that any human is the teacher of another. We can admonish by the sound of our voice; but unless there is one who teaches on the inside, the sound we make is futile. I, for my part, have spoken to all; but those to whom the Anointing within does not speak, those whom the Holy Spirit within does not teach, go back untaught.
-- Sermon on 1 John 3, 12

Prayer. Instruct me, Lord, and command what you will. But first heal me and open my ears that I may hear your words.
-- Soliloquies 1, 5


[1] The way of making truth known is not always the same, and, as the Philosopher has very well said, “it belongs to an educated man to seek such certitude in each thing as the nature of that thing allows.” …

[2] There is a twofold mode of truth in what we profess about God. Some truths about God exceed all the ability of the human reason. … But there are some truths which the natural reason also is able to reach.

[3] That there are certain truths about God that totally surpass man’s ability appears with the greatest evidence. Since, indeed, the principle of all knowledge that the reason perceives about some thing is the understanding of the very substance of that being (for according to Aristotle “what a thing is” is the principle of demonstration) [Posterior Analytics II, 3], it is necessary that the way in which we understand the substance of a thing determines the way in which we know what belongs to it. Hence, if the human intellect comprehends the substance of some thing, for example, that of a stone or of a triangle, no intelligible characteristic belonging to that thing surpasses the grasp of the human reason. But this does not happen to us in the case of God. For the human intellect is not able to reach a comprehension of the divine substance through its natural power. For, according to its manner of knowing in the present life, the intellect depends on the sense for the origin of knowledge; and so those things that do not fall under the senses cannot be grasped by the human intellect except in so far as the knowledge of them is gathered from sensible things. Now, sensible things cannot lead the human intellect to the point of seeing in them the nature of the divine substance; for sensible things are effects that fall short of the power of their cause. Yet, beginning with sensible things, our intellect is led to the point of knowing about God that He exists, and other such characteristics that must be attributed to the First Principle. There are, consequently, some intelligible truths about God that are open to the human reason; but there are others that absolutely surpass its power.

[4] We may easily see the same point from the gradation of intellects. … He who has the superior intellect understands many things that the other cannot grasp at all. Such is the case with a very simple person who cannot at all grasp the subtle speculations of philosophy. But the intellect of an angel surpasses the human intellect much more than the intellect of the greatest philosopher surpasses the intellect of the most uncultivated simple person…. For the angel knows God on the basis of a more noble effect than does man; and this by as much as the substance of an angel, through which the angel in his natural knowledge is led to the knowledge of God, is nobler than sensible things and even than the soul itself…. The divine intellect surpasses the angelic intellect much more than the angelic surpasses the human. For the divine intellect is in its capacity equal to its substance, and therefore it understands fully what it is…. But by his natural knowledge the angel does not know what God is, since the substance itself of the angel, through which he is led to the knowledge of God, is an effect that is not equal to the power of its cause. … Just as, therefore, it would he the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it, so (and even more so) it is the acme of stupidity for a man to suspect as false what is divinely revealed through the ministry of the angels simply because it cannot be investigated by reason.
(Summa Contra Gentiles I, 3)


Let us consider for a moment our Redeemer on the cross, where He died for us by a death more loving than love itself! Ah, why do we not cast ourselves in spirit upon Him, to die upon the cross with Him Who for love of us has truly willed to die? "I took hold of him and would not let him go...." [Song 3:4]
(T.L.G. Book 7, Ch. 8; O. V, p. 35)


MODERN Nonconformist newspapers distinguish themselves by suppressing precisely those nouns and adjectives which the founders of Nonconformity distinguished themselves by flinging at kings and queens.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

About me and my non-existent Chevy coupe...

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...or any other of my non-existent objects, a class of items which is both infinite and empty. Try cataloguing the non-existent things you own. Or is it the things you own which are non-existent?

Just wanted to catch da peoples up to speed with my life at present. I left Taiwan on September 30 and got into Portland the same day two hours later than I left. I spent the day with my brother, meeting his friends and then helping him pack up for his latest move to the land of Elsewhere. Then a couple days later I got picked up by my friend from Salem, OR. In the meantime I spent my time taking photographs of the wonderful weather and flora, as well as, at last, visiting Powells Books (supposedly the biggest bookstore in the USA, especially when you count Powells as one bookstore distributed over its six content-specific branches in downtown Portland). It was impressive, by all means, but it struck me as too polished for a used bookstore; I guess I was hoping for something more like the catacombs of books in Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind.

Since then, I have spent my time (time which the Chinese and Taiwanese call "American time") driving (or rather, being driven) between Monmouth, Salem, and Portland. My first weekend in the care of my friend, I attended his brother's birthday, ate some pizza, rode some go karts, and then on Sunday, paced with him for nine miles during his first (and last?) marathon. I ended up walking and running, with a backpack on, about 20 miles. Needless to say, my knees were feeling it for days.

Yesterday we went to Multnomah Falls, took some shots up the fall's skirt, as it were, then hiked up to the fall and took some shots down its shirt, as it were. Truly breathtaking (and dizzying) heights from the top. I will get around to posting my photos from the past two weeks on Flickr and then directing your attention there. Last night, pretty much on a lark, my buddy took me to meet up with a couple of his friends who had, on a lark, attended a fashion show in downtown Portland, and then had some after-party tickets to throw around. I kicked off the little dance session among a lake of stiffs in fine clothes.

Today we (including my buddy's girlfriend... and uncluding anyone else?) drove out to the beach, a vastly different experience from my many forays in the beaches of Florida. Nevertheless, I kept true to one of my compulsions and ran into the (starkly cold!) water of one of the world's great oceans. We then drove on to a dune area where people trek up to the top for photography, sunning, painting, and general frolicking. Thereafter we went to the Tillamook cheese plant and museum. I bought "squeaky cheese", which is just cheese curds, as well as some 2-year-aged extra sharp white cheddar. Yumz! On the way back I dozed off, we stopped at Ron's burger joint for some good chowda, an then got back to my buddy's place where we just finished The Royal Tenenbaums.

For the most part I have just been taking in my own foreign American culture. I truly have felt the reverse culture shock: so many choices, so much driving, such outgoing "friendly" behavior, such, ahem, ample bodies, etc. Can you guess what I've been doing a lot of as well? HINT: It rhymes with bleeding. On top of that, however, I would be needlessly coy not to admit I have been doing my share of "gaming", mainly "Portal", "Guitar Hero", and "Rock Band" on the game Cube and X Box 360. It's nice having no cellphone to make be constantly available, like some kind of social MD on call. And while I can certainly get online, I find myself, as you may have sensed, less prompt to do so.

Oh, and today I looked it up ("Googlit!"): the phrase "This too shall pass" is of Hebrew origin (gam zeh yaavor), derived from a folk tale wherein King Solomon asked his wise men for a cure to depression, whereupon they told him to wear a silver ring at all times in which it was carved "Gam zeh yaavor." Abraham Lincoln popularized the phrase in a speech he made in Idaho (?: my memory fails me at the moment on where he made the speech).

That's all for now.I appreciate your prayers! This is a season of discernment and rest. God grant me light and eyes to follow in it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

God and Philosophy (É. Gilson)

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Some quotations from the book: Étienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1941)

p. xiv …I discovered that the only context in which the metaphysical conclusions of Descartes made sense was the metaphysics of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

p. 9 note 9: The two notions of life and of blood are inseparable in a Greek mind. Since the Greek gods have no blood, they cannot lose it, and consequently they cannot die.
–– Cf. Iliad, Bk. V, vv. 339–342.

13 A world where everything came to men from without, including their feelings and passions, their virtues and their vices, such was the Greek religious world.

22 By far the hardest problem for philosophy and for science is to account for the existence of human wills in the world without ascribing to the first principle either a will or something which, because it virtually contains a will, is actually superior to it. … The Greek gods are the crude but telling expression of this absolute conviction that since man is somebody, and not merely something, the ultimate explanation for what happens to him should rest with somebody, and not merely with something.

23 …Greek philosophy was a rational attempts to understand the world as a world of things, whereas Greek mythology expressed the firm decision of man not to be left alone, the only person in a world of deaf and dumb things.

23 When Plato says of something tat it truly is, or exists, he always means to say that its nature is both necessary and intelligible.

27 …in Plato's mind the gods were inferior to the Ideas.

31 …the soul is to Plato the very pattern after which men have formed their notion of god.

32 What makes Aristotle's metaphysics an epoch-making event in the history of natural theology is that in it the long delayed conjunction of the first principle with the notion of god became at last an accomplished fact.

33 The only question [vis-à-vis Aristotle's notion of divinity] is: Can we still have a religion? The pure Act of the self-thinking Thought eternally thinks of itself, but never of us.

34 With Aristotle, the Greeks had gained an indisputably rational theology, but they had lost their religion.

37 Provided only that it be somebody or something which they can mistake for somebody, they [men] may eventually worship it. What men cannot possibly bring themselves to do is to worship a thing.

43 What is perhaps the key to the whole history of Christian philosophy… is precisely the fact that, from the second century A.D. on, men have had to use a Greek philosophical technique in order to express ideas that had never entered the head of any Greek philosopher.

44 [Insofar as it worshiped God as HE WHO IS,] Christian revelation was establishing existence as the deepest layer of reality as well as the supreme attribute of the divinity. … As Professor J. B. Muller-Thym aptly remarks, where a Greek simply asks: What is nature? A Christian rather asks: What is being?
–– Muller-Thym, On the University of Being in Meister Eckhart of Hochheim (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939), p. 2

58 note 11: The man of Plato stood in no need of being made partaker of the divinity, because he himself was a god; hence, for Augustine, the necessity of stripping the man of Plato of what made him god, namely, his natural aptness to know truth.* We will find Thomas Aquinas confronted with the contrary difficulty, namely, that of turning the eminently natural man of Aristotle into a being being susceptible of deification.

* Consider also J. Ratzinger: "Using Plato, he [R. Guardini] makes explicit the knowledge of man's incommeasurability with the truth. In reality, man must appear foolish to himself when he risks speaking of the truth yet has no choice but to expose himself to this risk––and he must do so precisely in the recognition of his own absurdity. Only the presence of both elements, that is, the courage to search for the truth and the humility to accept one's ridiculousness, enables man to maintain the right mean between truthless cynicism and self-righteous fanaticism."
–– Cf. Stationen und Rückblicken (Würzburg, 1965), 41–50; as cited in The Nature and Mission of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995), p. 92, n. 20.

59 Time and again… Augustine has attempted the same demonstration of the existence of God as the only conceivable cause of the presence of truth in the human mind.

61 note 12: Augustine… never reached a wholly existential notion of being.

64 …such is the natural order followed by our rational knowledge: we first conceive certain beings, then we define their essences, and last we affirm their existences by means of a judgment. But the metaphysical order of reality is just the reverse of the order of human knowledge: what first comes into it is a certain act of existing which, because it is this particular act of existing, circumscribes at once a certain essence and causes a certain substance to come into being. … In Saint Thomas' own words: dicitur esse ipse actus essentiae––"to be" is the very act whereby an essence is.
–– Cf. Qu. disp. de Pot., qu. VII, art. 2, ad 9.

65 Philosophers have not inferred the supreme existentiality of God from any previous knowledge of the existential nature of things; on the contrary, the self-revelation of the existentiality of God has helped philosophers toward the realization of the existential nature of things.

67 …a decisive metaphysical progress, or, rather, a true metaphysical revolution was achieved when somebody began to translate all the problems concerning being from the language of essences into that of existence.

69 note 17: The primacy of essence, which makes existence out to be one of its "accidents," appears in the doctrine of Duns Scotus as a remnant of the Platonism anterior to Thomas Aquinas. In a straight existentialist metaphysics, it would be much more correct to speak of the essence of an existence than to speak, with Duns Scotus, of the existence of an essence (essentia et eius existentia).

70–71 …existence is not a thing, but the act that causes a thing both to be and to be what it is. … in our human experience, there is not thing whose essence it is "to be," and not "to-be-a-certain-thing."

72 BY revealing to the metaphysician that they [i.e., things, since no thing's essence is to exist] cannot account for their own existence, all things point to the fact that there is such a supreme cause wherein essence and existence coincide. … forcing its way through that crust of essences which is but the outer coating of reality….

73 …"all knowing beings implicitly know God in any and every thing that they know."
––Cf. Qu. disp. de Ver., qu. 22, art. 2, ad 1.

79 …Descartes has come after the Greeks with the naïve condition that he could solve, by purely rational method of the Greeks, all the problems which had been raised in between by Christian natural theology.

82 It is a well-known fact that Descartes always despised history….

86–87 If we look at God as the only possible explanation for the existence of such a world [i.e., a purely mechanical, extended world à la Cartesianism], his main attribute must necessarily be not the self-contemplation of his own infinite Being, but his self-causing all-powerfulness, source of his creative causality. … Since the ultimate philosophical function of his God was to be a cause, the Cartesian God had to be possessed of any and every attribute which was required of the creator of a Cartesian world. … In short, the essence of the Cartesian God was largely determined by his philosophical function.…

88 …a God whose very essence is to be a creator is not a Christian God at all. The essence of the Christian God is not to create but to be.
–– Cf. Pascal's Pensé II, §77: "I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God."

90 "By Nature, considered in general, I am now understanding nothing else either than God, or the order and disposition established by God in created things."
–– Descartes, Méditations, VI, ed. Adam-Tannery, IX, 64.

93 The world of Descartes had been a world of intelligible laws established by the arbitrary will of an all-powerful God; Malebranche's originality was to conceive God Himself as an infinite world of intelligible laws. Nothing more closely resembles the supreme Intellect of Plotinos than the divine Word of Malebranche.

95 [According to Malebranche, this, our, world] is not, absolutely speaking, the most perfect possible world, but it is at least the most perfect world which God could possibly create, given that it had to be a world ruled by universal, uniform, and intelligible laws. A congeries of individually perfect things would not be a whole, nor would it be a world, because it would not be an order of things regulated by laws.
–– Cf. Entretiens sur la métaphysique et sur la religion, Vol. II, chap. Ix, sec. 10, pp. 209–211.

96 Clearly enough, the notion of perfection is here taking precedence over the notion of being.

97 Existences are given to a Cartesian only through, and in, essences. God himself could not be posited as actually existing were it not for the fact that his idea is in us, and that, as it is found there, it involves existence.

99 …the God of the Monadology was but the Good of Plato, solving the problem of which world to create….

100 The greatest metaphysician among the successors of Descartes was Spinoza, because, with him, somebody at last said about God was Descartes himself, if not as a Christian, at least as a philosopher, should have thought and said from the very beginning. Descartes had been either religiously right and philosophically wrong, or philosophically right and philosophically wrong; Spinoza has been wholly right or wholly wrong….

101 But a God who "exists and acts merely from the necessity of his nature," is nothing more than a nature. Rather he is nature himself: Deus sive Natura.
–– Cf. Spinoza's Ethics, Part I, Appendix, p. 30 and Part IV, Preface, p. 142 à la Everyman's Library edition.

102 A religious atheist, Spinoza was truly inebriated with his philosophical God. … As a philosopher, and toward his own philosophical God, Spinoza probably is the most pious thinker there ever was.

103–104 I, personally, would not speak lightly of Spinoza's religion. It is a one hundred percent metaphysically pure answer answer to the question how to achieve human salvation by means of philosophy only. … Spinoza is a Jew who turned "Him who is" into a mere "that which is"; and he could love "that which is," but he never expected that he himself would be loved by it. The only way to overcome Spinoza is, in a truly Spinozistic way, to free ourselves from his limitation by understanding it as a limitation. This means, to grasp Being as the existence of essence, not as the essence of existence; to touch it as an act, not to conceive it as a thing. Spinoza's metaphysical experiment is the conclusive demonstration of at least this: That any religious God whose true name is not "He who is" is nothing but a myth.

105 The God of the Deists was not a first intelligible principle like the Good of Plato, the self-thinking Thought of Aristotle, or the Infinite Substance of Spinoza.

108 …the fact that there is no Demiurge does not prove that there is no God.

109 Yet the Criticism of Kant and the Positivism of Comte have this in common, that in both doctrines the notion of knowledge is reduced to that of scientific knowledge, and the notion of scientific knowledge itself to the type of intelligibility provided by the physics of Newton.

110 If we compare it with the Kantian revolution, the Cartesian revolution hardly deserved such a name.

114 Today our only choice is not Kant or Descartes; it is rather Kant or Thomas Aquinas.
––Cf. Rudolf Eucken, Thomas von Aquin and Kant, ein Kampf zweier Welten (Berlin, Reuther and Richard, 1901).

127 Supposing they ultimately consist of nothing else, how can we account for the existence [or, the why] of the very order of molecules which produces what we call life, and thought?

131 note 12: The marked antipathy of modern science toward the notion of efficient cause is intimately related to the nonexistential character of scientific explanations. … Since the relation of cause to effect is an existential and metaphysical one, it appears to the scientific mind as a sort of scandal which must be eliminated.

132 Yet the fact that final causes are scientifically sterile does not entail their disqualification as metaphysical causes, and to reject metaphysical answers to a problem just because they are not scientific is deliberately to maim the knowing power of the human mind.

133 We do not need to project our own ideas into the economy of nature; they belong there in their own right. Our own ideas are in the economy of nature because we ourselves are in it.

134 Through man, who is part and parcel of nature, purposiveness most certainly is part and parcel of nature.

136 A world which has lost the Christian God cannot but resemble a world which had not yet found him. Just like the world of Thales and of Plato, our own modern world is "full of gods." There are blind Evolution, clear-sighted Orthogenesis, benevolent Progress, and others which it is more advisable not to mention by name. … Millions of men are starving and bleeding to death because two or three of these pseudoscientific or pseudosocial deified abstractions are now [in 1941] at war.

140 note 19: Design appears to them [scientists] as a fact whose existence calls for an explanation. Why then should not the protons, electrons, neutrons, and photons be considered as facts whose existence also calls for some explanation? In what sense is the existence of these elements less mysterious than that of their composite? … If the cause for the existence of organisms lies outside the nature of their physiochemical elements, it transcends the physical order; hence it is transphysical…. if there is nothing in the elements to account for design, the presence of design in a chaos of elements entails just as necessarily a creation as the very existence of the elements.

143 The ultimate effort of true metaphysics is to posit an Act by an act, that is, to posit by an act of judging the supreme Act of existing whose very essence, because it is to be, passes human understanding. Where a man's metaphysics comes to an end, his religion begins.