Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The latest from…

0 comment(s)
BBEDU for December!

Shoulder's much better, neck was a torture, the Dawning of the Age of Squat…

Ahoy, maties!

0 comment(s)
It's been kind of slow here lately, I know, but I've actually been active "in a philosophical way" on a few other blogs and Facebook, so I hope to collate those conversations into posts here.

+ The reality of numbers and form…

+ Common-sense-decency morality versus crusty ol' natural law…

+ Scientific realism and anti-realism and linguistic indeterminacy…

+ Information and mind… (though you can get most of the goods on that topic in the combox of a post not far below)

+ The experienced present and general relativity (aka The Pope Versus Stephen Hawking!)

Stay tuned…

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Time for a subvention...

12 comment(s)
'Twas asked in a thread at Doc Feser's blog:

"How does the Aristotelian/Thomistic conception of the soul and the body and their relation to each other resolve the problem of free will and determinism? How does the Thomistic soul/'form' redirect certain neuroparticles and thus intervene in the otherwise completely deterministic neurological pathways in order to produce the desired response? If they don't, there's no free will. Additionally, if they do, then they violate the fundamental physical law of conservation of energy."

A few other readers engaged the question, but mostly on the front of challenging the notion of physical closure and determinism. I took a different tack by trying to address the apparent conflict head-on.

I take much of the 'point' of A-T anthropology vis-a-vis physical causation to be that, while there is no question of a non-physical cause for bodily motion, in secondary terms, there is the larger principle that no body is 'just' a material body. As in: action is a response to perception but perception is mediated by sensation, conation, imagination, and, in the case of rational animals, intellection. These perceptual filters generate varying degrees of deliberation in their bearers, i.e. a proper range of action potential for various organisms. Amoebae have a very narrow range of sensible deliberation which can modulate there perceptual being-in-the-world, and higher animals have a correspondingly broader range of action. n Rational animals such as ourselves, by virtue of the intellectual judgment of universals in particulars and the good per se in being per se, have a deliberative access to a range of potential which transcends the deterministic bounds of purely physical causation. When a perceptual experience is given a value in the larger intellectual noesis of a human, the response is something which transforms an otherwise strictly indeterminate action potential into a concrete action, which eo ipso modulates how the physical organism responds to the physical stimuli. We don't experience the world "raw", and therefore we can modulate the incoming data; conversely, we don't respond separately from the entire Gestalt of our own (social-physical) place in the world, an entirety which just as seamlessly modulates our inner physical 'world'.

The bottom line seems to be this: Physical motion is not rational. Human perception and action are, however, rational. Humans are also continuous with the world of physical motion, but the power of our rational nature makes it the case that otherwise irrational physical matter responds and acts rationally, which is pretty remarkable.

Imagine a child who grows up seeing and handling triangles in his house but is never instructed as to what "triangle" means. One day, though, he is told the meaning of these objects and his entire world changes. Nothing physical about him or the triangles changes--there is no Cartesian 'gap'--, but everything about his perception and action has been transformed. Otherwise meaningless matter has been "de-potentiated" and "in-formed" such that his entirely 'materialistic' existence goes on as before, yet his actual, proper existence is qualitatively different. Perhaps you all know Polanyi's metaphor of the scribbled line suddenly becoming intelligible words and then flowing back into random scribbles. From nonsense to sense back to nonsense without a single physical break.

The larger doctrine of habits/virtues point to this fact by saying that recurring de-potentiation of one's body and environment leads to qualitative changes in both of them, yet without corrupting their physical contiguity/history in an otherwise a-virtuous world.

I have already tried to explain how intelligible order 'subvenes' (as it were) physical closure without violating physical order. I would simply like rephrase the question in order to show how Aristhomistic makes sense in a, perhaps disappointingly, plain way.

"How does the 'form' of a number redirect certain microparticles and thus intervene in the otherwise completely deterministic physical pathways in order to produce the intelligible content?"

Two, as a pure intelligible, makes otherwise meaningless, but physically 'taut', matter into an intelligible reality. No violation of physics, nor a physicalist reduction either. I can't "explain how" intelligible form "does" what it does, but I can't deny that it does what it does, and that this achievement is an analogous primer for grasping how soul orders body.

Actually, one commenter's reply to the question was in the same spirit as mine, and led to an increasingly lengthy tangential discussion of numbers, definitions, form, descriptions, etc., about which I shall write in the near future.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Don't want to lose this again…

1 comment(s)
I read this joke a couple years ago but could not find it again until now, so I'm anchoring it here for safekeeping. The only thing funnier is that not a few philosophists think the punchline is the pinnacle of wisdom.

A Universal Philosophical Refutation

A philosopher once had the following dream.

First Aristotle appeared, and the philosopher said to him, "Could you give me a fifteen-minute capsule sketch of your entire philosophy?" To the philosopher's surprise, Aristotle gave him an excellent exposition in which he compressed an enormous amount of material into a mere fifteen minutes. But then the philosopher raised a certain objection which Aristotle couldn't answer. Confounded, Aristotle disappeared.

Then Plato appeared. The same thing happened again, and the philosophers' objection to Plato was the same as his objection to Aristotle. Plato also couldn't answer it and disappeared.

Then all the famous philosophers of history appeared one-by-one and our philosopher refuted every one with the same objection.

After the last philosopher vanished, our philosopher said to himself, "I know I'm asleep and dreaming all this. Yet I've found a universal refutation for all philosophical systems! Tomorrow when I wake up, I will probably have forgotten it, and the world will really miss something!" With an iron effort, the philosopher forced himself to wake up, rush over to his desk, and write down his universal refutation. Then he jumped back into bed with a sigh of relief.

The next morning when he awoke, he went over to the desk to see what he had written. It was, "That's what you say."

[From Raymond Smullyan, 5000 B.C. and Other Philosophical Fantasies. St. Martin's Press, 1983]

Watch the birdie…

1 comment(s)
I wasn't really paying attention until about mid-way through, so I didn't "get it" at first. Well done! An ode to the analogy of being and modes of signification!

This is why we get lost on the Internet…

0 comment(s)

Ratzingerian excerpts…

0 comment(s)
From Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, an Interview with Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press, 1997):

The renunciation of marriage and family is thus to be understood in terms of this vision: I renounce what, humanly speaking, is not only the most normal but also the most important thing. I forego bringing forth further life on the tree of life, and I live in the faith that my land is really God — and so I make it easier for others, also, to believe that there is a kingdom of heaven. I bear witness to Jesus Christ, to the gospel, not only with words, but also with this specific mode of existence, and I place my life in this form at his disposal.

In this sense, celibacy has a christological and an apostolic meaning at the same time. The point is not simply to save time — so I then have a little bit more time at my disposal because I am not a father of a family. That would be too primitive and pragmatic a way to see things. The point is really an existence that stakes everything on God and leaves out precisely the one thing that normally makes a human existence fulfilled with a promising future.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The latest from BBEDU...

0 comment(s)

"I'm not dead yet," said his body.

"Spanked, but not dead!"


My musics…

0 comment(s)
I have deleted the ungainly links I had in this post before, having now been guided to set up a Posterous blog for hosting my music: No need to download now, just click and play. My music is very eclectic, but I don't release anything unless I'm at least satisfied with it. So, in my opinion, and the opinion of various others, at the end of the day "it's pretty, pretty good."

My latest gloss in SCG…

0 comment(s)
SCG, Book I, Chapter 28: On the Divine Perfection


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A naturalist paradox…

8 comment(s)
"It is paradoxical to hold both a.) Intelligence is (or will be) explained by natural science and b.) That natural science cannot explain nature by invoking the causality of intelligence. After all, if intelligence is just another subject of natural science, then there is no reason we can’t invoke it as a natural cause; and if intelligence is so outside of nature that it can never be invoked by a scientist, then it is supernatural."

–– James Chastek, Just Thomism

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Deliver me, O Lord…

0 comment(s)
Deliver me, O Lord, from the cross of my passions to the Passion of Your Cross, from the agony of my freedom to the beatitude of Your likeness.

I have been remiss in…, but, as I say, life gets in the way, and excuses help it find a seat.

An interesting documentary…

0 comment(s)
If you happen to watch it, note the point made by one interviewee (with spectacles and a gray goatee) that, insofar as "there is always a time lag" between a protest movement and its manifest impact, the value of persisting in protest must, to some extent, be "taken on faith" (ca. 1'32"). So much for secular progress by "purely political" means.

I love Rage's music and have always accepted as much of their prophetic message (that religious thing again!) as my grain of salt permits.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Readings from...

0 comment(s)
MACARIUS OF EGYPT: The pledge of the inheritance

Even while still in this world they [i.e. Christians] enter his palace, the dwelling-place of the angels and the spirits of the saints. For although they are not yet in possession of that perfect inheritance prepared for them in the age to come, they are as fully assured of it through the pledge they have received here on earth as though they were already crowned, already reigning.

Christians find nothing strange in the fact that they are destined to reign in the world to come, since they have known the mysteries of grace beforehand. When man transgressed the commandment, the devil shrouded the soul with a covering of darkness. But with the coming of grace the veil is entirely stripped away, so that with clear eyes the soul, now cleansed and restored to its true nature, which was created pure and blameless, ever clearly beholds the glory of the true light, the true Sun of Righteousness, brilliantly shining in its inmost being.
-- (attributed), Hom. XVII, 3-4: PG 34, 625-626.

ST AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO: Love -- the Distinguishing Sign

Love is the only sign that distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil. To prove this, let them all sign themselves with the cross of Christ. Let them all respond: Amen. Let all sing: Alleluia. Let all build the walls of churches. There is still no way of discerning the children of God from the children of the devil except by love!
-- Sermon on 1 John 5, 7

Prayer. Come to my aid, O God, the one eternal, true reality! In you there is no strife, no disorder, no change, no need, no death, but supreme harmony, supreme clarity, supreme permanence, supreme life.
-- Soliloquies 1, 1


In the opinion of the great Saint Thomas Aquinas, it is not expedient to consult much and deliberate long about an inclination to enter a good and well-regulated religious order. It is sufficient to have a serious discussion with a few people who are truly prudent and capable in such matters. They will be able to help us come to a simple, sure answer to our question. But as soon as we have deliberated and decided, we must be firm and unchanging; we must never let ourselves be shaken by any hint whatsoever of a greater good.
-- (T.L.G. Book 8, Ch. 11; O. V, p. 95)


DID Herbert Spencer ever convince you -- did he ever convince anybody -- did he ever for one mad moment convince himself -- that it must be to the interest of the individual to feel a public spirit? Do you believe that, if you rule your department badly, you stand any more chance, or one half of the chance, of being guillotined that an angler stands of being pulled into the river by a strong pike? Herbert Spencer refrained from theft for the same reason he refrained from wearing feathers in his hair, because he was an English gentleman with different tastes.
-- 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill.'

Never give up...

0 comment(s)
I've basically transplanted all my previous glosses of SCG to my SCG blog and am poised to resume reading and glossing SCG, hopefully this weekend.


0 comment(s)
I have read so many different articles on the kerfuffle about the Pope's recently released comments about condoms that they have all melted together into a meta-commentary. I seldom tend to rattle my poker in the fires of contemporary "events" at FCA, not the least because so many persons (e.g.1 and e.g.2), abler than I, discuss such topics. I prefer my "issues" to be clocked by the centuries and measured by the order of angels.

But a small point I wanted to make comes in response to a comment I read in [INSERT POSSIBLE SOURCE]. The comment was something to this effect: "The Pope's advisor admitted that the AIDS crisis cannot be solved merely by handing out condoms, but something more must be done" (emphasis in original) The point the commenter then made was to the effect that such a statement admits "handing out condoms" is at least part of the solution, and hence at least minimally endorsed by the Pope. This, however, strikes me a case of a condition I dubbed today: disjunctivitis exclusivus, i.e. the confusion of an exclusive or with a conjunctive.

Let's rephrase the commenter's assertion, say, in a context about the Kurd problem in Iran: "The UN Secretary stated that the problem cannot be solved merely by decapitating any and all Kurds on sight, but something more must be done [such as providing them with political power, etc.]."

Clearly, at least on a logical plane, nothing in the Pope's statements, or subsequent clarifications, support a conjunctive interpretation. Rather, the Pope's other comments, coupled with the huge bulk of Catholic teaching on contraception, indicate that the disjunction is exclusive. Ambiguous disjunction: Either handing out condoms is not enough or something more must be done. Exclusive disjunction: Handing out condoms is not enough and therefore something else must be done to function as an acceptable solution.

A small point, as I say, but I wanted to note it before Lethe washed it away. As we all (ought to) know, the ocean's owned by the serpent.

The BB of an EDU…

0 comment(s)
This week in BBEDU!

With anecdotes some of you might find tragicomic. And perhaps edifying in a way.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our time is now…

0 comment(s)
I've read nearly half of David Braine's The Reality of Time and the Existence of God.

Mine is a used copy.

Starting around page 115, I noticed the pencil marks from the previous owner appear less and less frequently.

A perusal of the remaining 200 pages suggests he or she made no further marks.

In all likelihood, that reader did not finish the book.

I have made marks on at least page 120.

I win.

All I have to do now is live long enough, or keep my sight long enough, to finish the book.

If Braine's argument is right, the future is as open to me as it is to God. May He sustain my existence until the last page!

Die Liebe ist…

0 comment(s)
…was die Liebe isst.

Eros is a function of irrationality over time multiplied by rationality. The larger the amount of irrationality which is crammed into a period of time (for personal rational-user benefit), or the shorter the amount of time in which irrational acts are performed (ditto), is how potent your eros is. As time goes on, eros diminishes.

Philos is a function of rationality over irrationality multiplied by time. However many rational gains you make versus the irrational sacrifices you make over a period of time, decides the quality of your friendship.

Agape is a function of time over irrationality. How long you can persist in making irrational sacrifices, even of a small nature, indicates the depth of your love. As time goes on, agape increases. Interestingly, the less irrational the acts over time, the greater agape is as well. How many pairs of underwear did your mom wash and fold for you?

Let's all go to the movies…

0 comment(s)
…and shut the hell up.

[WARNING: This is my cranky, caffeine-laden intellectual-persona speaking.]

AXIOM: There is a direct proportion between a person's intelligence and how little he or she speaks during a movie in a theater.

PROVISO: This holds unless it is a larger cultural exigency that everyone is allowed, and even encouraged, to natter on during a movie.

SUB-AXIOM: There is a strong correlation between a person's intelligence and how much he or she speaks after a movie in the theater.

This afternoon I went to see The American again and would have enjoyed even more than I already do, had I not been stricken with what I call "cinemal sub-vocalizers" in the seats behind me. Sub-vocalization is the name of a reading deficit wherein the reader vocalizes the text as she reads. Children are taught to outgrow this crutch, and advanced readers do not sub-vocalize. Rather, they read with "the voice in their heads." Famously, this ability was a marvel to Augustine when he witnessed Ambrose reading silently in Milan. (Read this post for a discussion of Ambrose's broader impact on Augustine.) By now, silent reading is par for the cognitive course. In the world of reading, at least, but not yet in the deteriorating world of public cinema.

In a theater, cinemal sub-vocalizers are "those people" who, as soon as they hear dialogue, see an object, ponder a plot twist, misunderstand an event, or, really, just let their eyes and ears get stimulated by anything in the room, involuntarily and promptly vocalize every passing reaction: Why'd he do that? What's that? Who's she? Where are they going? These are the cinematic equivalent of backseat drivers, the movie world's mouth-breathers, and they inspire me to train my neck muscles just so I perform Olympic-level reverse headbutts over a chair.

I'm tempted to call cinemal sub-vocalization a kind of audio-visuallly induced epilepsy, since it's like "those people" take a mental bathroom break every few seconds and come back to ask what they missed. Then, without fail, as soon as the credits roll––if not sooner!––, the sub-vocalizers begin nattering on about something completely unrelated as they scurry out. By the last third of the film today I lost count of how many times I sighed and face-palmed, to no avail. Was I really so wrong to hope a bullet or two from George Clooney's gun might have broken the fourth wall and 86'd the mouth-breathing on my neck?

By the skin of my volume…

0 comment(s)
[I revised and expanded this post since first posting it last night, so you roving rabid readers of mine may want to take it for a second spin.]

The soul is only as accidental to the living organism as the number one is to the number three. One suffuses three, yet is not identical to it. The soul suffuses the organism, yet is not identical to it. Three is not "made up of" three ones, since it does not instantiate the form of one three times. If it were of the form of one, it would be one.

Nor, however, is three made up of some brute substance––call it triplex matter––that could possibly exist without the primal act of one's existence. The act of three's existence integrally instantiates the act of one's existence, and in a way that renders them mutually concrete. The difference is that three is an expression of the powers of one, whereas one is an expression of a more potent mode of being which suffuses into the other integers. Three exists by the power of one but not as the power of one, exists in its own unique mode by the power of one. Three is something one can do, yet not something one can do on its own, qua concrete singularity, apart from the dynamic complexity of three. Likewise, the organism as a whole is an expression of the powers of the soul: it is something the soul can do, yet not something the soul qua form can do on its own, apart from the dynamic complexity of the organs.

If you cut apart three, you will find only one(s). Three cannot be observed apart from its integral act of existence, and every attempt to 'reduce' it to something more ontologically 'basic' is simply to destroy three qua something that exists in a formally unique (proper) way. By the same token, one can never truly be observed in three, since every investigation of three will manifest three's proper (unique) act of existing, not as one but as three. The two 'elements' of an integer, then, must be combined, like lenses, in order to get a clear picture of actual being. The same goes for an organism: its primal act of being (the soul) must be focused together with--notionally superimposed on--its secondary, dynamic mode of being (the body).

A different avenue: The surface of a contained fluid is no more accidental to the fluid than the soul is to the organism. There is no actual "film" or "plane" that can exist abstracted from the actual volume of the fluid,* yet the fluid can only exist within the confines of its volume, which is to say, within the (formally reified) enclosing film. No one can remove the "outermost layer" of the fluid to scrutinize it. First, not only is a material plane infinitely divisible into further "outermost layers," but also, second, shaving off the fluid's outer surface alters its volume, which would then require a newly measured shaving, et cetera, ad infinitum. In the same vein, no one can vivisect the organism to excise the soul (as the "innermost layer") for empirical scrutiny. The fluid exists as its outer surface but not in its outer surface, for the outer surface is not an independent container of an equally independent substance. Rather, the fluid can only be the fluid that it actually is by virtue of its being contained in a specific way, and yet it is not identical to this abstractly specific, pure way of containment.

By the same token, the outer surface exists as the boundary of the fluid but not in any boundary of the fluid: it is immeasurable--indeed, intangible--precisely because it is that by which the fluid is measurable in the first place. If the fluid lacked a measurable boundary, it would not be a distinct substance: it would be literally amorphous (i.e. formless). By analogy, the soul exists as the functions of the body but not in (any of) them. For that reason the soul is imperceptible and immeasurable--literally im-mense, as Scholastic theology has it--outside of the integrated life of the organism. The life of the organism, as an integral act of specific being, points to its own unity qua the soul precisely because it is one act of being, one organized entity, one organism.

* Even so, there does seem to be a form of the fluid's contours by which such a pure film could be modeled, as an intentional object of existence, and which could later be used to replicate the contours of the fluid itself under the so to speak "formalized form" of the film. This is to suggest how the soul can exist, albeit only in an intentional way, apart from the body, and ultimately suffice to actualize the same organism at the Eschaton.

Friday, November 19, 2010

There can be only one...

0 comment(s)
The famous tagline for The Highlander movies (movies which became increasingly infamous and cringe-worthy as time passed). If you've seen the trailer for part 1 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--I admit I've never read a Potter book nor watched any of the films-- , perhaps you noticed one of the slogans: "Only One Can Live." I've been reading Thomas Aquinas on a daily basis for the past few weeks and one "slogan" I've encountered many times in his writings is along the lines that "all things tend to one," or that "Nature is disposed to unity." So when I saw the slogan in the Harry Potter trailer, I was struck by how perennial wisdom surfaces even in the most unexpected places. No one goes to a Harry Potter for lessons in metaphysics--well, perhaps some people go for lessons in "the metaphysics section at Borders" metaphysics--, yet in that slender slogan, they are encountering a fundamental principle of true metaphysics. The quest of scientists for a grand unified theory is a profound reflection of the metaphysical 'instinct' in all things to find unity in the final end of all reality. The highest aim of science is to reach a total, intelligible account of reality, even reality that surpasses humans' perceptual and, indeed, conceptual powers.

This is all a sad instance of man's noetic fallenness, for, in a rectified intellect, the willingness to admit an ultimate account of reality, rooted in principles that surpass spatiotemporal perception and which, of themselves, unalterably account for the contents of reality, should generate a parallel admission of an equally autonomous cause of reality as existing metaphyiscally prior to the spatiotemporal contours of the final account. The convergence of all things to unity--and this unity would of course be absolute and non-contingent, on account of its pure non-composition--, is but the mirror image of their origin from one cause.

The appearance of this principle in something as "fluffy" as Harry Potter reveals how the primacy and ultimacy of the One is not only a metaphysical but also an ethical principle. It is only the dramatic tension of all things converging to unity--"There can be only one"--which makes Harry Potter a genuinely human and humane narrative. A life directed to many disparate ends is a degenerate life, not the life of a hero.

Monday, November 15, 2010


0 comment(s)
A scrupulously proper use of prepositions––never at the end of a sentence!––reveals that the speaker/writer suffers from severe emotional inadequacy. An improper use of prepositions, by contrast, nearly always means the writer/speaker is schizophrenic, and to a degree proportional to his or her misuse of said prepositions. Those are the people for whom I'm writing and that's what those behaviors are indicative of.

The goodness of people…

2 comment(s)
I'm always impressed by the goodness of people. Most people. Nothing you can do about a few bad eggs. I mean, like, the other day, or the other night, I mean, I was in an alley behind Deep Six, that old pub on Watershore Avenue. And I was jimmying the wheel lock on a guy's bike. It was about 4 in the morning, so I figured no one would be around. And things were pretty tranquil. But I forgot Deep Six closes after 3, so I should have expected some lush to stumble out. And sure enough, just as I'm hotwiring the bike, out stumbles this drunk in a brown leather jacket. A brown leather jacket! Just what I need while I'm working.

"He looks at me, squinting to focus, and says, "What are you doing?" I say, "I'm good, thanks, and how are you?" I guess he wasn't as drunk as I thought, 'cause he yelled back, "I said what are you doing to my bike?"

"Is this your bike?" I said. "Damn straight," he said, hitting his chest like Tarzan.

"Well, you see, my wife's real sick," I explained, "and I really need to get home to her."

He didn't buy it, so, to make a long story short, I bought him a few more beers at the local 24-hour, and me and him had a nice chat, without involving anyone else, you see. We settled it like gentlemen. In the end, this swell guy agreed to let me steal his bike on an installment plan. So now I've only got to make monthly payments for the bike at slightly lower than the market value. Like I say, I'm impressed by how good most people are! When the time is right, I'll be sure to do business with him again and I've already recommended him to my colleagues. This layaway theft deal is a dream come true.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Which one of these doesn't belong?

1 comment(s)
Confession: In my childhood I was a heavy Highlights user.

One of my favorite features was the "Which one doesn't belong?" challenge.

Spoon, fork, bowl, knife? See ya, Mr. Bowl!

Recently, I had yet another wave of nostalgia and realized we still play this game as adults. Let me test your categorical logic.

"I am proud of my Chicano blood."

"I am proud of my African blood."

"I am proud of my Samoan blood."

"I am proud of my Anglo-Saxon blood."

Well, kids, who's the odd genotype out?

Have a another try.

"I'm proud to be Black."

"I'm proud to be Asian."

"I'm proud to be Indian."

"I'm proud to be White."

Boys and girls, can you guess who is being ushered out by security?

If you're going to boast in your race, let everyone boast in theirs. If, however, you reject all phenotypolatry, then find yourself in Christ.

Galatians 4:

[27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
[28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
[29] And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

Philippians 3:

[3] For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.
[4] Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
[5] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee,
[6] as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless.
[7] But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
[8] Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ
[9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith;
[10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
[11] that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Cancer awareness?

0 comment(s)
I recently caught wind of the "Movember" movement. Some friends on Facebook--which I've limited to using on Wednesdays and weekends, hooray!--are "doing Movember," which means that for the month of November, they are growing a moustache. Or at least trying to grow one.

Others asked them why and the, uh, Movemberers said it's to raise cancer awareness.

"Cancer awareness?" I said to myself. "I think everybody is pretty aware of cancer."

Meh. I've thrown my upper lip into the fray and will sport a cancerstache this month, and possibly even longer! No lack of a strong manstache heritage in my family!

Oh, happy day! Oh, cursed night!

0 comment(s)
People are taken aback sometimes when I tell them a simple truth about me: I don't like sleep.

That's right. I'm not a huge fan of sleep.

Nothing happens when you sleep.

(Don't talk to me about dreams. My latest campaign to develop my dream-life a few weeks and months ago was another failure. As always, sleep for me is a triptych: lie down and close your eyes, blackness, open your eyes and stumble around.)

You can't do anything when you sleep.

People can drop anvils on your head when you sleep.

And, as is often the case with me, you can miss work when you sleep.

You've heard it all before, I'm sure. "I know I set my alarm."

Well, I know I set my alarm and left my cellphone on. But here I sit, a man in shame.

(Well, no, not really shame, since I already help the boss out so much and, in point of fact, the only reason a sub was needed is because she took the day off!)

So here I sit in groggy shame.

Apparently where I set my phone in my room can entirely cut off its signal, and I guess this afternoon I found one of those sweet spots.

In my beeline to the office, I was mocked by a steady stream of missed text messages and phone calls, all rushing into my pocket now that the gates of digital Hades had been wrenched open.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I prayed that prayer many nights with my mom as a child. It seems, however, I need a revised edition pleading with the Lord my soul to wake.

It just goes to show you: don't go to sleep unless you're prepared to die.

(Okay, well, no that doesn't really follow, but I'm a bereaved man, so you have to nod and agree with a thoughtful frown.)

Speaking of death and missing things, enjoy this clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm.

This week in bodybuilding...

0 comment(s)
You can peruse my latest efforts at BBEDU. I'm tickled pink to have chalk!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The lack of evil, the abundance of absence... (3.0)

2 comment(s)
Seeing as his rebuttal to Professor Law's "evil-god argument" had led to a discussion of God's moral goodness and the goodness of natural finality, Dr Feser wrote a post on the topic: "God, obligation, and the Euthyphro dilemma".

The reader who had spearheaded the question of God's obligations to us--I shall call him the Obligator--commended Feser on such a well argued essay and decided their disagreements on the issue were merely semantic. "As I define 'obligation,'" he writes,

A has an obligation to B if and only if:
(a) there is some good that A should give to B (as something due to B), or there is some evil that A should not inflict on B; and
(b) there is some law regarding this obligation, such that failure to fulfil the obligation would make A morally culpable.

Nothing in the foregoing definition stipulates that the law has to be external to A, the bearer of the obligation, OR that A's failure to fulfil the obligation has to be a real possibility. Hence when I say that God has an obligation not to lie to us, I simply mean that having freely decided to create us, God should not lie to us, because that would be bad for us, since our minds are designed for truth. If, per impossibile, God were to lie to us, He would be going against the eternal law, which is identical with Himself. In other words, God would no longer be God, which is a contradiction.

But as Professor Feser uses the word "obligation," the law in condition (b) needs to be "imposed on others by way of a rule and measure” (S.T. I-II, 90.4) from outside. In that case, as he correctly points out, "there is accordingly no rule or measure outside Him [God] against which His actions might be evaluated.... He is not under the moral law precisely because He is the moral law." Well, if that's what Professor Feser means by an obligation, then I would likewise affirm that God has none.

Since it is not my intent to reproduce Feser's post, nor the whole discussion, I will confine myself, as before, to my own comments on the matter.

In Feser's initial response to Law, the Obligator focused on God's moral obligations first posed the question thus: "What if God's being Himself necessarily includes behaving in the appropriate way to whatever beings happen to exist? This would mean that if God chooses to create, He thereby binds Himself to behave in certain ways towards what He creates."

Thereupon followed a quick, cogent response from another commenter: "God owes us nothing. Everything He gives He freely gives from His eternally willed beneficence. He can't annihilate us simply because He willed from all eternity to give us immortal souls. If we can be annihilated then He in fact didn't give us immortal souls and we would not truly have that nature He willed us to have."

I then chimed in to the Obligator:

I basically side with ... [the above] reply to you. A further reason I think it's incorrect to speak of God's duties to His creatures, is because He is the authority by which all defections from duty are judged, the power by which duties are ordered, and the truth by which all duties are measured. Cf. Aquinas' De Veritate.

I suppose in some minds this raises Euthyphro's dilemma, but the immediate point is that there is no truth other than God Himself which God is obliged to tell us. What's true in and of itself--God's existence--can't be a lie and can't tell a lie. What a thing does is a function of what it is. Hence, He Who Is the Truth can only generate the Truth. He who is Light can only emit Light. Therefore God, in Himself, can't be 'obliged' not to tell a lie anymore than He can be 'required' suddenly to drop out of existence.

The reason I am not terribly worried about Euthyphro's dilemma, is that I think it fails to consider a purely existent and wholly self-conceiving Deity, as Plato and Aristotle presented. Indeed, the original context of Euthyphro's dilemma was in a polytheistic milieu. "Is something good because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because it is good?" In De Veritate, Thomas makes the point that there would be no truth if there were neither human nor the divine intellect. Since, however, there is at least always the divine intellect, then there is always truth: hence, truth is eternal. The one truth that would abide even without created intellects (such as ours) would be that truth grasped by the divine intellect in knowing its own essence. As such, there is no logical space, on classical theism, for asking whether something is "true because God sees its truth" or whether "God sees its truth because it simply is true." This I take to be an analogue for how goodness is neither imposed upon God nor merely "invented" by Him. For the only subsistent goodness that abides is one with the only subsistent being that abides: God's total actuality in and of Himself.

The Obligator replied: "Both Codgitator and James Chastek appear to believe that God's having obligations to other agents would entail that God's actions are "measured against some measure distinct from himself." Heaven forbid! I completely agree that God, the Ultimate Standard, is the only yardstick against which His actions can be judged, and I would also agree with your solution to the Euthyphro dilemma, Codgitator. However, I can't see why an agent A's having a duty towards agent B logically entails the existence of a yardstick outside A, against which A's actions can be judged."

As we have seen, however, Dr Feser's response to Euthyphro's dilemma satisfied the Obligator's worry. I'm just pleased he agreed with my solution to Euthyphro's dilemma. Since my first encounter with that dilemma, it has struck me as a cheapish mental trick, and something which really ought to bother only polytheists--which is to say, relativist secularists. For more on this latter point, see my previous posts on seductive adjectives and polytheism and the pitiable rationality of pagans.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nope, nothing to see here of merit…

0 comment(s)
It's sola fide all the way down.

From today's missal reading in Philippians 4:10–19:

16] For even when I was at Thessalonica
you sent me something for my needs,
not only once but more than once.
17] It is not that I am eager for the gift;
rather, I am eager for the profit that accrues to your account.

So the Philippian Christians can do things which "profit" their "account" as Christians. Here is the Greek for verse 17:

[17] οὐχ ὅτι ἐπι ζητῶ τὸ δόμα, ἀλλὰ ἐπιζητῶ τὸν καρπὸν τὸν πλεονάζοντα εἰς λόγον ὑμῶν.

The word for "account" is lógon (which is mildly humorous, since in our day we must "log in to an account" or "log on to the Internet"), and you can read the Strong's Lexicon here to understand more about the word. You can also examine the other uses of the word in the New Testament, based on Strong's Concordance here. Granted the word does not strictly mean a "bank account," but rather an explanation of one's behavior when faced with judgment. This is the reason accounts have taken on their financial connotation: they are detailed records (explanations) of previous fiscal behavior that must be assessed (judged) by a higher authority. The upshot is that St Paul is commending the Philippian believers for adding to their account before God by means of their acts of charity towards him. At the Final Judgment, Paul assures them, their charity will abound to (pleonázonta, cf. Perseus Lexicon) their account before God.

Now, the typical Reformed objection to the idea of merit is that, at the Final Judgment, the believer will give an account simply by pointing to the Lamb, or showing the Blood. And this is true as far as it goes. The problem, however, is that Jesus is the Lamb who takes away sin, and the Blood is what washes away our guilt––not the Lamb who specifically performs the acts of virtue to which He calls us, and not the Blood which paints on our virtues. The atonement is a negative victory for us: it gets us out of Hell. It does not however completely suffice to determine our precise standing in the Eschaton, a standing which is but a ratification of the "account" we have before God. On the one hand, our merits in Christ are our merits, but, on the other hand, they are ultimately meritorious before God only becuase they are in Christ.

I grant that from today's reading it does not logically follow that our vices can detract from the atoning power of the Blood of the Lamb, but I do think it adds striking support to the notion of merit as taught by the Church. As we read in Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 3, Article 2, subsection III of the Catholic Catechism:

2006 The term "merit" refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, … deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.

2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.

2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

2009 Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God's gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us "co-heirs" with Christ and worthy of obtaining "the promised inheritance of eternal life."60 The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness.61 "Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due. . . . Our merits are God's gifts."62

2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.

A second Reformed maneuver in light of such "works" passages in Scripture is to localize, or 'immediatize', their meaning. In this case, the rebuttal would be that Paul is merely talking about the standing the Philippians have in the eyes of other Christians, or perhaps the impression their kindness toward him makes on non-Christians. But this is specious for at least two reasons. First, regarding the impact charity has on non-Christians, the biblical theme of "fearing God, not man" makes it highly suspect that Paul would encourage believers to curry favor with non-believers. Granted, Jesus tells the disciples to let their light shine before men (Matthew 5) so that they may glorify the Father, but this actually reinforces the Catholic notion that faith by itself is inadequate: what truly glorifies God is the concrete expression of that faith. (It also undermines the Reformed doctrine of monergism, since if salvation unfolds monergistically, it is incoherent for Jesus to exhort believers to "let" their light shine, as if they could synergistically impede or abet the power of God.) Second, if St Paul is applauding the account the Philippians have in the eyes of other churches, he is again undermining Reformed doctrine since he is commending the works of believers as a means to justify themselves. Further, if acts of virtue, supernaturally inspired though they may be, are "as but filthy rags" before God, then it is a strange logic on the part of the "Reformed Paul" to base his congratulations on filthy rags.

The last-ditch Reformed rebuttal is that while "saving faith" just is faith that tends to produce good works, it is still only faith which saves us. This, however, is simply to concede the Catholic teaching, the point of which is that "faith alone," devoid of actual virtuous output, is insufficient for salvation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Am I allowed to laugh now?

6 comment(s)
Whenever people say something like, "You know, Rowan Atkinson is actually quite intelligent," they are betraying at least one of two things.

Either they are perplexed, and not a little troubled, by the fact that someone "otherwise intelligent" would produce something like Mr. Bean. Citing Atkinson's actual intelligence is for them a way of legitimizing how silly, how pointless, Mr. Bean is. There's a method to his madness, you see, so, while they personally don't "get the joke," they can reassure themselves that Atkinson himself isn't really like that, doesn't really find it amusing.

Or they are anxious about the fact that they secretly love Mr. Bean and cling to Atkinson's actual intelligence as a way of justifying their own enjoyment. It's not simply mindless fun, and certainly not low humor, since, after all, the performer is actually quite intelligent.

This dynamic lies behind the frequent adulation "freethinkers" have for George Carlin, about whom I have written before. On the one hand, some fans might realize how arch and unreasoning Carlin's shtick often is, and so they advert to his obvious intelligence to buttress what they realize is little better than the ramblings of an angry drunk man. This is what Crude aptly calls "reverse strawmanning". On the other hand, perhaps fans really take all––or nearly all––of Carlin's pontifications to be rationally sound and compelling. When, however, someone begins to critique the logic, coherence, or relevance of what Carlin actually says on a particular topic, the fans advert to Carlin's actual intelligence––such as his love for physics––as a kind of blanket defense. The critic is allegedly missing the point, since, while Carlin may not have expressed himself flawlessly in this or that instance, "he's actually very intelligent," so his larger point of view holds. So there! Now shut up and laugh!

(As always, I want to go out of my way to say that I really do respect George Carlin as a comedian and rhetor, and, if his loyalty to his daughter is any indication, as a father. I don't deny for an instant that he makes me laugh, consistently, and pretty much always makes me at least grin. His delivery is one of the best in the business and he brings a great deal of insight into social foibles to the stage. When I disagree with Carlin, therefore, I do so either for intellectual or ethical reasons, as I have explained before. I have no axe to grind against Carlin, and I even pray for his soul.)

Some jokes can be denounced for intellectual reasons but I think we all know few if any jokes can be redeemed with an intellectual certification. A defense of a comedian which points more to his education than his material, more to his daily eloquence than his on-stage delivery, is just an elaborate form of "explaining the joke." Nearly all funny people are intelligent, but only a few intelligent people are funny.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

There, happy now?

0 comment(s)
I have been persuaded to establish separate blogs for my readings of Thomas Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles and my bodybuilding workout log. Click de links! I'll be cross-posting them here, but henceforth FCA will be leaner.

Carry on.

The lack of evil, the abundance of absence... (2.0)

3 comment(s)
As I noted in the previous post of this three-part series, it was in the midst of the discussion, which eventually converged on the question of God's "moral goodness" relative to us as moral subjects, that a reader asked, "Is cancer evil or praiseworthy?"

I have engaged that commenter a number of times before--on the topic of animal cognition and human intellection, for example--and quickly replied to him that "Cancer is analogous to cellular gluttony, or greed, depending on your imaginative tastes, and is therefore a species of evil. I hope you are not being misled by visualizing privatio as a genuine divot while a tumor is a bulge." He replied: "That's a good answer - kinda process-like. But what if an equally gluttonous cellular ant[i]-cancer life form is found to eat all cancers?"

I admitted:

I'm not exactly following your line of thought here, but I take your point to be that maybe even evils like tumors can display an intrinsic goodness of their own by seeking to flourish. Hence, even some evils are goods, on a privation theory of evil, which does not seem to be very good for the coherence of that theory. If this is the line you are taking, I have two problems with the scenario.

First, I don't know how much sense it makes to think of tumors in isolation from the organism in which they appear. Even cells seem only to function properly in connection with other cells of their kind, and with the larger surrounding tissue. DNA, increasingly, is seen to be in immensely complex dynamic connection with the whole state of the organism, rather than just being some "selfish" little chemical gremlin riding bodies to propagate itself. Hence, while you could, I suppose, see some goodness in the growth of a tumor as far as the vitality of its cells is concerned, I think that's missing the forest for the trees. Remove a tumor from the body and harvest it in a culture, fine. But then it's no longer a tumor: it's just a bunch of cells with their own functional tendencies. (E.g. A severed hand isn't really a hand anymore, since a hand is a tool of the body.) Further, the tumor cells are parasitic on the host, and therefore actually fails to actualize themselves like they could if they result in the host's death.

Second, using one evil (an anti-tumor) to remedy another evil (other tumorous tissue) is precisely what Christians mean by saying God can bring good out of evil. Just as human agency can see to it, based on human nature's proper ends, that "the evil of tumors" shall not prevail in the end, so too divine agency, based on the consummative glory of God, can and will see to it that "the evil of evil" (so to speak) shall not prevail in the end. The Cross might then be the anti-tumor God used to consume and conquer all evil. Once the anti-tumor is used FOR a higher good, it is no longer an evil: it is a surprising instrument of good. This is rather the inverse of what happens when a tumor is surgically removed from obstructing higher goods (the host's life) is no longer evil: it does not become good but does cease to be evil.

My interlocutor responded: "You’re giving me too much credit. I seldom have a line of reasoning! My thinking ... was simply that cancer is so terrible, yet it is also a corpuscle of life (and God created life). ... I say [cancer] is evil, but it really seems to be built-in to God’s natural order, and thus could seen as praiseworthy by some…."

"It's a tricky question about how to parse God creating cancer," I replied.

I mean, we believe He created the elements out of which cancer is formed. Natural evil only exists because of the Fall. because of a primordial defect in human nature which ramifies to displace all other levels and components of nature. I have a friend (on Facebook, so it's official!) who thinks slugs are amazing and beautiful. And I must concede that just by existing and thriving, they reflect the Creator's goodness. But if you were in a room that was suddenly filled with slugs (yes, I just vommed in my mouth), you'd die, and slugs would be a kind of evil. Likewise, dirt is good in a lowly sense, but when it forms a landslide and kills a town of people, it's a natural evil. Hence, while prolific tissue is good in its own way, its an evil in connection with the human organism. The problem of the Fall seems to be that all things are vulnerable to each in improper ways.

A bit later the formidable James Chastek weighed in on the evil of cancer:

Cancer has a likeness to poison, and taken in this way Augustine's observation is helpful: "if poison were evil in itself, it would kill the snake first". The idea is that it is not the thing taken absolutely or in its nature that is evil (since in this case it would destroy itself first) but rather the disharmony or incompatibility of two things. In fact, the evil consists not in the cancer taken as cancer (for then it would be evil even if it were not in a man's body; and the tumor would consume itself first) but in the corruption of a man who has the tumor. But if its evil consists precisely in this corruption, then the being as such (of both the corrupter and corrupted) is good, as Augustine proves in Confessions Book VII chap. 12....

There is nothing wrong in saying "cancer is evil", but it is not a statement about the nature of the thing, but about its incompatibility. God did in fact create things that were incompatible with each other, and it was good that he did so. Here at the bottom rung of existence, to be is to move and be immersed in becoming and temporality. The universe would not have been complete without something at the bottom, and this bottom rung of existence would not be possible without some things passing away to give rise to others. Human beings are only bothered by this to the extent that we do not exist wholly on this lowest level of existence.

The cancer topic did not resurface, to my knowledge, in this combox, but it did resurface--care of the same commenter--in the combox of a subsequent post by Dr Feser about God's moral obligations (the post I shall discuss in the third installment of this series). The commenter quoted from Feser's post on God's moral obligations--

Thus, Aquinas, says, “as ‘it belongs to the best to produce the best,’ it is not fitting that the supreme goodness of God should produce things without giving them their perfection. Now a thing's ultimate perfection consists in the attainment of its end. Therefore it belongs to the Divine goodness, as it brought things into existence, so to lead them to their end.” (ST I.103.1)
and replied:

So, aggressive cancer IS praiseworthy since it perfectly achieves its end - death of its host. The quote may satisfy the philosopher's intellect as he piously kneels before God in praise, but it does not so resonate with the whole emotional psyche - it demeans one's view of such a God. To a great degree, this is the key problem better handled by other theisms. I'll bet hospice priests sound an awful lot like process theologians. ... We had discussed cancer a few comboxes back, but I saw no strong arguments either way on its being of God and so praiseworthy.

Due to a tangential discussion in the combox about animal suffering, I believe the commenter in question--the cancer-worrier, as I shall call him--was getting a bit agitated, which is why he replied so snidely to some attempts to address the problem of evil in a fallen world:

Praise God from whom all cancer, sharks, and gratuitous excruciating and pointless animal suffering flows. So, my theological challenge to the tenets of simplicity and Ferser/Aquinas's [sic] God is nothing more than whining that I am not as strong as a Stoic.

Another reader decided to intervene, replying to the cancer-worrier:

Cancerous cells are not separate beings, but parts of beings. In seeking the natural end, you must ask what the cell is naturally ordered toward. It is natural for the cell to divide; but it is also natural for it to cease dividing after a time. Cancerous cells are thus an evil, since they represent a privation of the natural good of limited cell division.

That any help?

After having read a very fine essay by David Hart on evil in the light of the Gospel, the cancer-worrier replied, with no small amount of disdain, that the only consistently voiced Christian response to evil is:

Buck up and cheer up, the more suffering you endure on earth, the more rewarded you will be after you die. (And hey, lose that stupid concern over senseless animal suffering.) The conversation of ... [evil and theology makes] it ever more clear that agnosticism is the most rational approach to theology.

He also replied to the other commenter's "That any help?" in a curt fashion: "Nope, not in the least. It might satisfy a dogmatic Essentialist, but surely you are aware that there are other metaphysical knife cuts which give very different ontological status of the actuality of cancer. The Friar ain’t the only metaphysician out there, my man."

By now my eyebrows were arched and my fingers itchy, so I reposted mine and Chastek's replies about cancer from the earlier combox. I also pointed out that, just as an evil can be transfigured into a means of higher good by God, in the larger context of all things seeking their end in Him, so, conversely, an otherwise neutral and/or good phenomenon (like cell reproduction) can be disfigured into an evil by the misalignment of natural ends by the impact of moral evil (as propagated by humans and demons).

I was also disappointed with the tone the cancer-worrier was bringing to the discussion, so I decided to go on the offensive. I claimed that the cancer-worrier's

assertion that it is ever more clear that agnosticism is the best position to take reveals two rather pedestrian things: i) an agnostic believes his agnosticism is praiseworthy, and ii) this agnostic is ethically obliged *not* to be convinced, which of course means further reasoning is a bit of a waste of time.

I would like to add two positive points in reply to the kind of problems [the cancer-worrier] is advancing.

First, it has always, always, always been at the core of the Christian Gospel that Christ really and truly suffered and died, and did so for our sakes. This means the Gospel has always been about the truth that God is radically present in "the problem of evil." Hence, to say that the Christian God doesn't care or doesn't understand, is disingenuous.

Second, if any metaphysic being disputed here gives grounds for praising or condoning cancer, it is process theology. For on that theology, all things inevitably and naturally 'emerge' from the primordial knot of, well… emergence. All things have their legitimate place at the ontological table, simply because they have managed to emerge themselves to the table. If everything must be met as an infinitely rich process that connects with everything else––free from those crusty ideas like essence and finality and absolutes––, then everything must be allowed to "work itself out." We need to respect "the way of the Godhead" as much as "the way of the tiger" as much as "the way of the panda"––and as much as "the way of the tumor". If it's speciesism to favor human flourishing to non-human flourishing, then, on process thought, it's just a more subtle form of speciesism to favor the procession of dog-webs to the tumor-webs in them.

He replied courteously enough: "Good thinking, as always, Codge," and added that he is not a happy agnostic, but seeks "a compassionate embrace of life that legitimately addresses all suffering creatures." He went on to complain, mildly, that process theology does not get discussed much at Feser's blog. So I decided to advance my positive replies into a direct rebuttal:

I know you dislike how little air time [process theology] gets here, but I would like to note that I am at least attempting to make what I think is a fundamental critique of it in this debate.

Here we go again: if nothing has an enduring, substantial nature (i.e. essence), then nothing has ends truly proportionate to that nature (i.e. no finality). If nothing has proper ends, then nothing anything does can be a deviation from the thing's "proper form and function." Ergo, a tumor is just as 'natural' to 'human nature' as child birth (cue, e.g., the ideology of abortion, which treats pregnancy like an STD!), growth, etc. The upshot is that process metaphysics has no substance on which to hang its complaints about natural evil(s). Which means you don't either. You are appalled that cancer might be construed as a natural good "in its own right", since it is manifestly an assault on the proper finality of, say, your dog's health, or any dog's health. But by what measure (ratio, logos, forma) do you state that cancer is a deviation (privatio) from canine health? It's all "just part of the process," after all.

Finally, I think you are reifying privatio, which I and others have said is a mistake. Falsity presupposes truth and privatio boni (defect in good) presupposes bonum naturae (good of nature). To imagine that just because cancer flourishes, it has a legitimate, original teleological design by God is as confused as saying that death is so designed because it so prevalent and inevitable. Death is the quintessential privatio of the bonum vitae, but I don't possibly see how you can twist Catholic theology into saying that death has a proper share of finality in God's creation just because it occurs with regularity in creation. The same goes for cancer: it's primarily a defect relative to a substantial good and only accidentally a case of finality in se.

This is as much of the cancer problem as I think I shall discuss. I have highlighted it not only because it is an interesting topic in its own right, but also because it connects to the topic of the third part of this series: God's moral obligations. Is God morally obliged to cure cancer? Is God morally obligated (to us) at all?

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Assonance is as assonance does…

0 comment(s)
The following is "Pange Lingua" in Chinese.








I go to Eucharistic Adoration nearly every Thursday and we sing the 5th and 6th verses every time. The fifth is the famous "Tantum ergo" verse. When we finished singing last week, I perused the other verses and noticed something remarkable: all the final characters in each stanza of each verse are assonant! As I may have explained before, while I love music, I only have scant musical talent. This means I am easily wowed by most musical accomplishment, as long as it "doesn't completely suck." So, to a real musician and/or songwriter, the assonance (諧音)of the hymn (聖歌)may seem trivial. On the other hand, I consider myself an amateur poet and a compulsive wordsmith, so I am hardly indifferent to the subtleties of rhyme and assonance. Given my credentials, the composition strikes me as a brilliant success.

I will now reproduce the lyrics, but indicate the pronunciation of the final characters:

1. 信友齊來歡呼讚吟 [yin],吾主聖體無限情 [qíng],救世羔羊聖血流傾 [qín],贖世犧牲換太平 [píng],天地大君榮王天庭 [tíng],甘受苦難救我靈 [líng]。

2. 聖子降生自取人形 [xíng],至聖童貞為母親 [qin],三十三載天涯飄零 [lîng],山野海角佈福音 [yin],終身橫遭輕慢辱凌 [líng],架上七言終其行 [xíng]。

3. 耶穌受難前夜晚上 [shàng],偕諸宗徒聚華堂 [táng],遵順古教禮儀習尚 [shàng],宰殺羔羊分啖嘗 [cháng],建立聖體罪債普償 [cháng],洪恩長流澤萬邦 [bang]。

4. 真主真人萬世稱揚 [yáng],麵形聖化成神糧 [liàng],酒亦成聖血爵中藏 [cáng],全信勿疑主榮光 [guang],敬禮朝拜耶穌君王 [wáng],無限深情滿人望 [wàng]。

5. 皇皇聖體奧蘊深玄 [xuán],我眾匍匐主臺前 [qián],羔羊聖牲新祭禮獻 [xiàn],摒除古教棄舊典 [diân],虔誠全信以至永遠 [yuân],五官所缺信心堅 [jian]。

6. 聖父聖子聖神尊高 [gao],至仁至善萬民朝 [cháo],齊頌德能神恩豐饒 [ráo],敬禮讚美共歡躍 [yùe],天主聖三無限蘊奧 [ào],永生永王享榮耀 [yào]。    


(Can you guess how to say 阿們?)

Now here is an English translation of the hymn, which I have annotated for assonance and rhyme:

Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory [A],
of His flesh the mystery sing [B];
of the Blood, all price exceeding [B],
shed by our immortal King [B],
destined, for the world's redemption [B?],
from a noble womb to spring [B].

Of a pure and spotless Virgin [C]
born for us on earth below [D],
He, as Man, with man conversing [C],
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow [D];
then He closed in solemn order [E]
wondrously His life of woe [D].

On the night of that Last Supper [F],
seated with His chosen band [G],
He the Pascal victim eating [G?],
first fulfills the Law's command [G];
then as Food to His Apostles [H]
gives Himself with His own hand [G].

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature [I]
by His word to Flesh He turns [J];
wine into His Blood He changes [J?];
what though sense no change discerns [J]
Only be the heart in earnest [J?],
faith her lesson quickly learns [J].

Down in adoration falling [K],
This great Sacrament we hail [L],
Over ancient forms of worship [M]
Newer rites of grace prevail [L];
Faith will tell us Christ is present [N],
When our human senses fail [L].

To the everlasting Father [O],
And the Son who made us free [P]
And the Spirit, God proceeding [Q]
From them Each eternally [P],
Be salvation, honor, blessing [Q],
Might and endless majesty [P].
Amen. Alleluia.

Not a terrible effort, but perhaps you are as struck as I am by how erratic the assonance-scheme is. (Or perhaps my philistinism prevents me from seeing how the scheme is an instance of a genuine poetic device.) With the exception of xuán, diân, and yùe, I find all the assonance in the Chinese version to be much tighter. Further, if we represent the phonetic theme (A, B, etc.) of each verse (1–6) in the Chinese version, we have 1:A, 2:A, 3:B, 4:B, 5:C, and 6:D, compared to at least a dozen different phonemes in the English version. Granted, there may be a more rigorously assonant English version I have not cited, but perhaps now you can see why the assonance of the Chinese struck me so forcefully.

Finally, here is the original Latin for the hymn, in which I shall note the assonance and rhyme.

Pange, lingua, gloriosi [A]
Corporis mysterium [B],
Sanguinisque pretiosi [A],
quem in mundi pretium [B]
fructus ventris generosi [A]
Rex effudit Gentium [B].

Nobis datus, nobis natus [C]
ex intacta Virgine [D],
et in mundo conversatus [C],
sparso verbi semine [D],
sui moras incolatus [C]
miro clausit ordine [D].

In supremae nocte coenae [D]
recumbens cum fratribus [E]
observata lege plene [D]
cibis in legalibus [E],
cibum turbae duodenae [D]
se dat suis manibus [E].

Verbum caro, panem verum [B]
verbo carnem efficit [F]:
fitque sanguis Christi merum [B],
et si sensus deficit [F],
ad firmandum cor sincerum [B]
sola fides sufficit [F].

Tantum ergo Sacramentum [B]
veneremur cernui [A*]:
et antiquum documentum [B]
novo cedat ritui [A*]:
praestet fides supplementum [B]
sensuum defectui [A*].

Genitori, Genitoque [D*]
laus et jubilatio [G],
salus, honor, virtus quoque [D*]
sit et benedictio [G]:
Procedenti ab utroque [D*]
compar sit laudatio [G].

Amen. Alleluja.

Arguably, I am being too generous with the Latin by grouping technically distinct sounds under the same phonetic-letter, but, for one thing, Latin is a famously assonant language, so I don't think I'm violating the "phonetic sense" by which "Pange Lingua" was composed, and, second, I was actually being magnanimous in my analysis of the English version by keeping very obliquely assonant phonemes under one heading. Clearly, the Chinese edition strives, and succeeds, to duplicate the assonance of the original Latin; indeed, it seems to have outdone it! I admit this is not a huge shock, considering how homophonic Chinese is, but it was a small breakthrough, or perhaps just a milestone, in my ongoing absorption of Chinese.

Since talk is cheap, I leave you with a fine rendition of the hymn with Latin subtitles (and on a Chinese website, no less!).

Friday, October 29, 2010

The lack of evil, the abundance of absence... (1.0)

2 comment(s)
Over the last couple weeks at Dr Feser's blog, there has been an ongoing discussion of the problem of evil for theism. The key post, "Law's 'evil-god challenge'", is Dr Feser's rebuttal of an argument proposed by Stephen Law. According to Feser (I have not retained the original italics):

Law claims in his article that “even if most of the popular arguments for the existence of God do provide grounds for supposing that there is some sort of supernatural intelligence behind the universe, they fail to provide much clue as to its moral character.” In particular, Law says, even if a design argument could show that such an intelligence exists, it could no more show that the intelligence in question is supremely benevolent than that it is supremely malevolent. In fact, he suggests, the overall evidence such arguments appeal to should lead us away from belief in a supremely benevolent supernatural intelligence. Law allows that what is often labeled the “logical problem” of evil – which supposes that the existence of evil is strictly incompatible with the existence of a good God – may not pose a serious challenge to theism. But he thinks the “evidential problem” of evil – which assumes only that the existence of evil is strong evidence against the existence of a good God – does pose a serious challenge, at least given that there are no strong arguments for the existence of such a God. ...

So far all of that is just standard atheist argumentation, and Law’s overall position takes it for granted. ... Law’s innovation is to suggest, first, that the hypothesis of an “evil god” – an omnipotent, omniscient, but supremely malevolent intelligence – is at least as well supported as the hypothesis of a supremely good God. And if a skeptic were to pose against such a hypothesis the challenge of an evidential “problem of good” – that is, if a skeptic were to ask why a supremely malevolent intelligence would allow the good that exists in the world – the defender of an “evil god” hypothesis could offer “reverse theodicies” which parallel the theodicies put forward by theists. He could say, for example, that free will makes possible certain evils that an evil god couldn’t realize without it; that certain evils presuppose the existence of good; that the evil god intends the world to be a vale of soul-destruction, which requires that there be some good in it so that we can be tormented by its loss; and so forth.

Now, Law is happy to acknowledge that such defenses of the evil god hypothesis would not be very strong. But he thinks they are no weaker than the parallel attempts to defend the existence of a good God. There is, he says, a conceptual and evidential “symmetry” between the two views. But everyone, including theists, acknowledges that there is no good reason to believe in the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and supremely malevolent intelligence. So, shouldn’t they also acknowledge that there is no good reason to believe in a supremely good God? Isn’t the one view as unreasonable as the other? That is Law’s “evil-god challenge.”

In the first prong of his rebuttal, Feser says that

central to classical philosophy and to the classical theist tradition that it informed is the thesis that evil is a privation, the absence of a good that would otherwise obtain rather than a positive reality in its own right. Accordingly, for classical theism, there simply is no symmetry between good and evil of the sort that Law’s argument requires. Astonishingly, though, Law’s article does not even consider, much less respond to, this core element of the classical theist position, despite the fact that he evidently regards his argument as a challenge to all forms of theism, and not just to non-classical forms.

In an earlier exchange, Law had responded to Feser's initial reaction to the argument, thus:

Fesser’s [sic] “refutation” of my evil god argument is awful:

(i) it depends on the privation view of evil, which is wrong. (Why not flip this and say good is a privation of evil?!) Actually, *some* evils, like blindness, are best seen as privations of goods. But many appear not merely to be merely privations. And in fact in some cases it is more natural to see the good as a privation of evil (look up “peace” in the dictionary). That evil is in every case nothing more than a privation of some good is a myth that even many theists reject (philosopher Tim Mawson, for example).

He then adds two further objections to Feser's rebuttal concerning the privation view of evil, which Feser addresses in turn. I do not wish to reproduce the entire post here, so I will focus only on the first point: Law's dismissal of the privation view of evil. In the combox I said, "I would like to point out that the problem of evil for advancing atheism (PEA) rests on a privation theory of evil. This is because the PEA recognizes gross deficits in what *should be* the good work of an All-Good God." Here is how the PEA might run formally:

1. An all-good God acts in accord with goodness.

2. Creation is the act of an all-good God.

3. Creation contains evils.

4. Therefore the act of divine creation fails to concord with goodness.

5. Hence, either creation is not the work of an all-good God or no such God exists.

The problem is that the atheist has no way of establishing just *how good* God's creation should be. In this way, it's basically a Spinozan or Plotinian plea against theism. For if any of God's acts must wholly express his omnibenevolence, then creation qua divine act must express unbounded goodness. For the atheist, creation can't be evil and be the act of an all-good God. As God's act, it should display goods we don't see in it: a privation objection.

If the actual world had fewer evils in it than we witness, would it be a satisfactorily good world to refute the PEA? Unlikely. For then that world would still have deficits relative to some imaginably less-evil (i.e. better world) which cannot be accounted for without recourse either to the standard theistic response that an all-good God can and shall bring even greater good out of evil or to atheism. At bottom, the atheist wants to know why God hasn't created the best of all possible worlds. Unfortunately, that is an incoherent concept and God is not obliged to create such a fiction in the first place. Creation adds nothing to the goodness of Being as it subsists wholly in God and hence creation cannot detract from it.

Later in the combox, the esteemed Brandon wrote:

...privations and negations are not the same. You have negation whenever you have things that are different from each other. You only have privation when you have a lack or deficiency of something, i.e., when something is missing or has failed. (Hence Codgitator's point that the problem of evil, taken as an atheistic argument, requires taking evils as privations, because in the face of any evil that the problem considers, it always requires saying that there should be goods in the world that aren't there, i.e., that the evil is a lack or deficiency.)

On the post itself: More and more I have begun to think that the convertibility of good and being is one of the most important philosophical theses to insist upon; a truly immense number of problematic claims can be traced back to the denial of it.

Eventually, the discourse came to center on the question of God's goodness--is God a "good moral agent" like we are supposed to be? And if not, does He have any obligations to us? I encourage you to peruse the combox yourself, but, as I say, I will limit myself here to my own responses to the topic.

On the goodness of God, I would like to mention that the classical conception of goodness is that of an entity actualizing itself in accord with ('towards') its proper goals. A good beer is one that actualizes what beer drinking aims to achieve: satiety and pleasure. A good brewer is one that achieves good beer. This is why "a good beer" is just as often called "a real beer" and "a good man" is also referred to as "a real man" (or "a man in full")––parallels that once again point to the convertibility of ens and bonum, a convertibility I heartily second (following Brandon) must be reinstated as a key axiom in philosophy of religion and metaphysics. One related musing:

Again: A good bow and arrow is one that actually tends to result in accurate shots. A good doctor is one who actually achieves the goal of a doctor: a patient's health. A good lion is one that actually achieves the goals of its kind: maintaining its life by obtaining food and besting enemies, propagating its species by procreation, defending its offspring, etc. And so on.

So how is God good? Well, in so far as His entire act of existence––his so to speak natural self-actualization––entirely coincides with His essence, He wholly achieves what His nature seeks, namely, His own existence. (Hence, even a rock can be called "a good rock" in so far as it persists as a rock: it 'strives' for the perfection of its rockiness, even though it constantly suffers erosion and eventual dissolution.) He is unique in this respect, since all other things not only fail to perfectly actualize their natural ends but also because all other things tend to God as their ultimate end.

Hence, I would not say that-which-is-created is inherently 'evil', only that it is not substantially good, as God is. This is a point Boethius deals with in the Hebdomads and Thomas deals with in his commentary on the same Hebdomads. A thing that is not God is only evil if it fails to "live up to" or "actualize" the goals proper to its nature. As such, evil per se is pure nihil, pure privatio of the one good proper to created entities, namely, an enduring participation in God's one act of being. In so far as no (other) thing is or could possibly be unified in essence and existence, no thing can be good like God. Even so, things are not "evil", as long as they perfectly actualize the ends proper to their nature. (Presumably, things can have their ends altered, miraculously, which may go towards explaining how predators in the Eschaton can be transformed into peaceful beasts without losing their properly bestial majesty.) In any case, I would say that regarding the created as such as evil because it is not God is a Calvinist notion––at least, it was a key irritant in Calvinist logic which drove me away from being a Calvinist.

Not long afterwards, a reader asked, "Is cancer praiseworthy or evil?"

This topic led to a rather lengthy discussion of finality and natural goodness, to which I will devote a subsequent post.

Gym regimen - October 2010

0 comment(s)
A3 workout: Back and hamstrings: 50 mins
92kg, BMI 26.5

Warmup: ski machine, stretching, pullups

Leg curl: 15, 10, 8 @ 40kg, 50kg, 50kg

Stiff-leg deadlift: 12, 9, 6 @ 65kg, 80kg, 90kg

Deadlift: 12, 9, 6, 4 @ 85kg, 95kg, 105kg, 115kg

Cable pulldown: 15, 12, 9 @ 80kg, 85kg, 90kg

Lever bench row: 10/4, 8/4, 6/4 @ 80kg, 90kg, 100kg
[4 reps of hammer-grip rows after the underhand-grip rows.]

One-arm dumbbell bench row: 10, 8, 8 @ 22kg, 32kg, 36kg

+ + +

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

People I is wants to smack…

2 comment(s)
Some time ago I wrote about a guy I wanted to "smack upside the head" while I was eating dinner. Well, I guess it's "that time again," because I would now officially like to "vent" about two zipperheads––or, at least, two people who exhibited ricoculously zipperheaderish behavior––I recently had to deal with.

First, two nights ago, when I got to the gym, I found the changing room door was locked. I rattled the knob and knocked on the door, but no one responded. So I asked the owner, who came over to open it. Noticing a bag hanging on the other side of the opaque window, he knocked a few times, but still no one replied. So he used a NT$10 coin to unlock the knob and there stood, or rather hunched, a man in a white T-shirt and black shirts, attempting to don one running shoe. He looked up at us as if we had just, well, walked in on him in his own shower. The owner knew him, waved pleasantries and walked away. I verged on the door but the huncher stood to sniff, "I'm changing!" I replied, with an intentionally dumb look on my face and an intentionally thick husk in my Chinese, "Wuhl, I figgered you'd be a-changin' back in the other rooms ther––", but the huncher cut me off to say, "Just give me one minute. I'm changing. One minute. Thank you!" It didn't help that his voice seemed to be coming through a narrow rubber tube, or maybe was just coming out of a helium-huffing session. And so I deconverged, closed the door, stepped away and waited, sadly like a guy holding his lady's purse at the changing-stall area. A trainer at the pullup/cable rack said I could go in the women's changing room, but this was like telling me I could also get a complimentary pink sports bra to wear for the next month if I did use it. Just as I darkened the frame of that already dark room, the huncher emerged, erect now, and strode to the ski machine.

How I wanted to palm-strike him in the forehead.

Then, last night, a friend of mine told me not to write Chinese comments on a friend's blog, since "it's really unfair to those of us who can't read Chinese without Google translate." I had one word for him: "Uhhh." Let's follow the logic here: I've been in Taiwan about 7 years now; he's been here nearly 6. I can speak, read, and write Mandarin at a high-intermediate or low-advanced level; he cannot produce or comprehend Chinese at any higher a level than ordering breakfast or muttering dirty words. The friend on whose blog we were writing is Taiwanese and Chinese, the author's mother tongue. My comments were directed to the blogger, not to my friend. Further, he can use Google translate or some other software. He can even install Dr. Eye and read right along with his cursor!

And so, just as Cupid's bow is notched to send love flying forth into the hearts of the lucky, the Codgitator's elbow was notched with the hope of sending a palm-smack through our computer screens onto the guy's forehead.

And then there's my cat, Cheetoh. Enough with the "meow-meowing" already, don't you have anything else to say! (Oh, who am I kidding? Come here, Cheetoh, and give me a clawful little slash in the face for old times' sake.)

Fear not. The Codge abides.