Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Bodybuilding of an Educator: Gym regimen - April 2011

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Yes, I'm still hitting the weights.

The Bodybuilding of an Educator: Gym regimen - April 2011: "Tuesday, 19 April 2011 Even-Keel Workout 1 50 mins, 97kg [I seem to have lost some weight. Mostly fat, as far as I can see. Fine by me. Gain..."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Walking in a forest one day…

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…and you stumble upon a watch. Surely something so complex requires a maker. No watch could build itself. Complexity could not arise out of chaos without intelligent guidance, without an Intelligent Designer.

This train of thought, popularized by William Paley, and now at the heart of the Intelligent Design movement, is opposed not only by skeptics but also, notoriously, by Thomists and other Christians, largely on theological grounds. I am beginning to see how the debate ties into the much older dispute about conservation and concurrentism. Alfred Freddoso's lengthy introduction to Suárez's Metaphysical Disputations XX–XXII discusses the issue at length, and it is on my mind from reading Walter Ott's Causation and Laws of Nature in Early Modern Philosophy. I will not go into much detail in this post, since I only want to note a passage in the Summa theologica (I, CIII, iii) which caught me off-guard when I read it in Ott's book (p. 52; my emphasis):

Certain ancient philosophers denied the government of the world, saying that all things happened by chance. But such an opinion can be refuted … by observation of things themselves: for we observe that in nature things happen always or nearly always for the best; which would not be the case unless some sort of providence directed nature towards good as an end; which is to govern. Wherefore the unfailing order we observe in things is a sign of their being governed; for instance, if we enter a well-ordered house we gather therefrom the intention of him that put it in order, as Tullius says (De Nat. Deorum ii), quoting Aristotle [Cleanthes].
[Benzinger translation]

Some ancient philosophers denied governance to the world, claiming that everything occurs by chance (fortuito agi). But … this position is impossible: First, from what is apparent in the things themselves. For we see among natural things that what is better occurs either always or for the most part (semper aut in pluribus). But this would not happen if natural things were not directed by some sort of providence toward the good as an end (ad finem boni)—which is what it is to govern. Hence, the fixed order of things itself clearly demonstrates the governance of the world. As Tully, quoting Aristotle, says in De Natura Deorum, if someone entered a well-ordered house, he would, because of the very order within the house, arrive at the idea of someone responsible for the order (ordinatoris rationem perpenderet).
[Freddoso translation]

…quidam antiqui philosophi gubernationem mundo subtraxerunt, dicentes omnia fortuito agi. Sed haec positio ostenditur esse impossibilis … ex eo quod apparet in ipsis rebus. Videmus enim in rebus naturalibus provenire quod melius est, aut semper aut in pluribus, quod non contingeret, nisi per aliquam providentiam res naturales dirigerentur ad finem boni, quod est gubernare. Unde ipse ordo certus rerum manifeste demonstrat gubernationem mundi, sicut si quis intraret domum bene ordinatam, ex ipsa domus ordinatione ordinatoris rationem perpenderet; ut, ab Aristotele dictum, Tullius introducit in libro de natura deorum.

How different is this from Paley's argument? The narrative format is even similar: Walking along one day, you come upon a … and have every reason to infer, etc. As Prof. Feser has written at great length, however, the difference between Paley's and Aquinas' argument about intelligent "governance" has to do with the role of finality in each thinker's worldview. For Paley, and for IDers in general, given that the world is a mechanical system, the only way for blind matter in motion to produce complex functional entities would be by the intervention of an Intelligent Designer.

Aquinas' argument seems to say the same thing, but it actually goes much deeper, metaphysically, than Paley's. For, even if we can discover how any and all complex entities arose by "purely natural" means, we could not deny the fundamental lawfulness of the universe which supports those natural means themselves. Since, in Thomism, and Aristotelianism generally, finite beings have their own immanent finality––their own dynamism towards existing and flourishing––, we should not be surprised to find a process of natural development among nature's harmonious parts. Since God works in the world through the natures of His creatures, rather than upon them as inert voids, we have reason to expect they will develop "on their own", as it were. So, even though evolutionary theory may be able to explain how a watch, as it were, came to be in the forest without the intervention of a watchmaker, it cannot explain how the processes described by the theory themselves hold "either always or for the most part." That level of persistent order is what grounds any subsequent natural developments that become the intelligible content of scientific theory. As Suárez writes (XXII.x.10; my emphasis):

…there are many changes or actions of physical objects which cannot be adequately explained in terms of internal characteristics or tendencies of individual things [i.e. discrete material objects]. E.g. water rises up in order to fill a vacuum; and this cannot be explained from the specific nature of water and its own energy, but only from the purpose which is to be found in the perfection of the whole universe, and which must be intended by some other, superior agent [ex fine qui in perfectione totius universi sit positus, quem oportet ab alio superiori agente intendi]. It is the same with the water of the sea, which restrains the force of its breakers on the shore so that it never overwhelms the earth. This is certainly for the preservation … of living beings, which is a purpose intended by the supreme Governor of nature. From this we can see that when these natural objects change or act in accordance with their own specific tendencies, if by these they serve the convenience and preservation of the whole universe, its species or even individuals [cum per illas etiam deserviant commodis et conservationi totius universi et suarum specierum, vel etiam individuorum] (especially humans), they also manifest goal-directedness through subordination to a superior agent.

The general concourse of the world––indeed, the very fact that all created entities form a unified world, a cosmos––is the deep sign of creative intelligence, not simply this or that "irreducibly complex" object or operation.

Interestingly, far from being in conflict, the Scholastic doctrine of immanent cosmic order could very well be read as the (premature) converse of the theory of natural selection (TNS). TNS says that organisms which are better adapted to their niche in the world tend to produce more offspring, and thus such adaptations tend to proliferate. The Scholastic doctrine has it that no organisms really exist that don't contribute to the orderliness of the world as a whole. In both cases, it is only because the relations between world and organisms are well ordered that the former shows the variety it does and that the latter flourishes like they do. There is, in both cases, a tight empirical link between how well-fitted, or how discordant, a being's actual operations are with the general "layout" of the world. The world as we know it does not, according to TNS, contain any organisms or processes which do not "mesh with" or contribute to the actual operations of the world, which have not succeeded thus far. Everything fits. If something doesn't fit, if something tends toward compromising the orderly governance of the world, it thereby ceases to be an integral part of the natural order.

Why, according to TNS, do we see the "survival of the fittest" instead of the survival of anything in random fashion? To cite Aquinas again, it is because "we see among natural things that what is better occurs either always or for the most part … [which] would not happen if natural things were not directed by some sort of providence toward the good as an end." Thus, even the evolutionary "weeding out" process preserves natural order; indeed, it is only because the world has a natural tendency to operate "always or for most part" in the same ways that there is any weeding out at all. A plant cell remains turgid and functional by maintaining a fluid-nutrient balance: its vital turgidity tends to "weed out" what compromises the plant as a whole. Likewise, the many niches of the world maintain an ecological turgidity by admitting and expelling new inhabitants in the larger homeostasis of the world. If the world did not operate in such an orderly fashion, there would be no firm structure, no selective lattice, which could filter out incompatible subparts. This is not to say Thomism just is Darwinism. It is however to argue that a metaphysic which posits both that material entities are intrinsically subject to change and corruption due to the correlation of their diverse parts, and that the world is ordered by its intelligent source, has the means to account for the kind of changes described by evolutionary theory, yet without succumbing to materialism.

Notes for a response to a reader…

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On the goodness of God, truth, etc.

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG, Book I, Chapter 45–48

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This is the run-up to explaining how God can know finite things without being passible or potential. Stay tuned!

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG, Book I, Chapter 45–48: "[Formatting note: Instead of bolding and providing Latin for key phrases/points, I have decided to trim the contents down to the key points ..."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG, Book I, Chapter 44

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The order of the cosmos is actualized in the act of intellection and the power of the intellect to be so informed in turn depends on God's transcendent intelligence 'unto' His creation.

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG, Book I, Chapter 44: "Chapter 44: THAT GOD IS INTELLIGENT [QUOD DEUS EST INTELLIGENS] … [2] … among movers and things moved we cannot proceed to infinity, but mus..."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG, Book I, Chapter 43

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A point of confusion in an otherwise very lucid and bracing chapter.

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG, Book I, Chapter 43: "Chapter 43: THAT GOD IS INFINITE [QUOD DEUS INFINITUS EST] [1] ...infinity cannot be attributed to God on the ground of multitude. For we h..."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

De modo studendi…

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Thomas Aquinas to Brother John:

Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium:

ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua.

Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem;

conscientiae puritatem amplectere.

Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci.

Omnibus te amabilem exhibe;

nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum;

nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat;

de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias;

sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas;

non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda;

ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas;

de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere;

altiora te ne quaesieris.

Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas.
Because you have asked me, John, my dearest friend in Christ, how you should study to amass the treasure of knowledge, such is the advice I give to you.

You should choose to enter not immediately into the ocean depths, but rather through small streams, for one should reach more difficult matters by going through the easier ones first. This is, therefore, my admonition and your instruction.

I bid you be slow to speak and slow to approach the chat-room1.

Embrace purity of conscience.

Do not fail to have time for prayer. You should frequently choose your own room if you wish to be led into the wine cellar.

Present yourself as amiable to all.

Do not look for deep, hidden meanings in the deeds of others.

To no one should you show yourself to be too familiar, because too much familiarity gives birth to contempt and provides from its eagerness the raw material for backsliding.

You should in no way involve yourself concerning the words and deeds of worldly people. Above all else you should flee from common conversation.

You should not fail to imitate the steps of the saints and all good people.

You should not consider the source from which you hear something, but whatever good is spoken, commit it to memory.

Those things that you read and hear, make sure that you understand them.

Make yourself certain about doubtful matters, and make it your business to shelve in the bookcase of your mind whatever you can, as if desiring to fill a vase.

Do not seek the matters that are above you.

Following those well-known paths you will bring forth and produce, as long as you have life, branches and fruits useful in the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts. If you eagerly follow these points, you will be able to attain that which you are striving after.

1 I have for the most part kept this a fairly literal translation, attempting where reasonable to keep if not precise word order, at least the order of clause arrangement as close as possible to the original. My choice of “chat-room” for locutorium, however may seem a bit too colloquial, but there was a reason for this decision. Aquinas’ metaphors are quite vivid and, for the most part, come across well into modern expression without significant change. The word locutorium refers to a parlor, or place to gather for conversation, so “chat-room” is not altogether inappropriate. Of course, it also suggests the modern connotation of the Internet chat-room, and while Aquinas certainly could not have intended this, I think the modern reader who has this in mind will receive in a more personal way the admonition that Aquinas intended. -- Steve Perkins, 2004

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Joking is serious business…

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Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa Theologiae 2-2, 168, s.c.:

In human affairs whatever is against reason is a sin. Now it is against reason for a man to be burdensome to others, by offering no pleasure to others, and by hindering their enjoyment. Wherefore Seneca [Martin of Braga, Formula Vitae Honestae: cap. De Continentia] says (De Quat. Virt., cap. De Continentia): "Let your conduct be guided by wisdom so that no one will think you rude, or despise you as a cad." Now a man who is without mirth, not only is lacking in playful speech, but is also burdensome to others, since he is deaf to the moderate mirth of others. Consequently they are vicious, and are said to be boorish or rude, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. iv, 8).

Since, however, mirth is useful for the sake of the rest and pleasures it affords; and since, in human life, pleasure and rest are not in quest for their own sake, but for the sake of operation, as stated in Ethic. x, 6, it follows that "lack of mirth is less sinful than excess thereof." Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix, 10): "We should make few friends for the sake of pleasure, since but little sweetness suffices to season life, just as little salt suffices for our meat."

I knew a guy in my Bible study group in college who concluded from his reading of the Bible not only that joking and even mild sarcasm were wrong but also that smiling or laughing were wrong since, first, we have no biblical indication Jesus laughed or smiled, and, second, we have no cause for joy as sinners until we get to Heaven. Yeah. I think he eventually came back to sanity, indeed he seems to have bounced back as a business owner and tech guru, though I'm sure he's still a fundamentalist.

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG I, 42

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Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG I, 42: "Chapter 42: THAT GOD IS ONE [Quod Deus unus est] … [2] For it is not possible that there be two highest goods, since that which is said by ..."

Wind's up…

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I recently acquired a complete Latin text of Summa contra gentiles––Is the Internet Archive the best website… or the best website ever?––and have decided to post only significant excerpts or doctrines and my own glosses from my reading of SCG. I will refer to the Latin myself in study. I need to be moving more quickly through SCG and the blog formatting is too tedious.

Henceforth my plan is to post readings from Saints and Augustine only when they are related to feast days or the Mass when the Spirit moves me. I will continue to post German "lessons" for myself, but that will be catch as catch can. I also want to keep posting Albert's De adhaerendo Deo, but, again, will do so as time permits.

In addition, I have decided to adopt a new gym regimen which requires me to be in the gym only two days a week: Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. I will train my grip on Wednesdays and do some core/ab and aerobic exercise on off days, which may entail using aerobic equipment at the gym if I feel like it. I recently devised my own mace bell (a design which I will tweak once I find longer sections of slightly thicker pipe), and just last night I figured out how to make my own "Gut Wrench" device from the mace as well, so training my core is a breeze now. I've also resolved to start working out in the mornings. I think this will help me get up and sleep earlier, partially because I am obliged to wake up to hit the weights and partially because not working out at night will make me less agitated or "wired" at night.

In other words, enough farting around.

I went on a wonderful retreat with old friends/parishioners this weekend and my Lenten focus got a boost. I also read Sertillanges's splendid The Intellectual Life over the weekend and feel a new resolve to live a more disciplined, more organized, which is to say a humbler life towards my intellectual vocation [my latest readings, btw]. Thus have I weeded out a few more books that are more extraneous than not to my research interests and am taking steps to increase greatly my engagement of Aquinas (and other auctores) in Latin. Interesting what one must do to make up for a relatively poor education, and what one can do based on a relatively excellent education.

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Deutsch als Vatersprache…

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Der Roman wurde von einigen Kritikern als Schund abgetan. (The novel was written off as trash by some critics.)
Für mich ist die Sache damit abgetan. (With that the matter is at end for me.)

abwarten und Tee trinken
Bis der Präsident erklärt was zu tun ist, können wir nur warten und Tee abtrinken. (Until the president explains what is tobe done, we can only wait and see.)

auf Abweg führen
Das Internet und das Alkohol haben zwischen den beiden vielleicht die ganze Welt auf Abwege geführt. (Between them the Internet and alcohol have perhaps led the whole world astray.)

Zaun ist Friedensstifter unter den Nachbarn. --> Good fences make for good neighbors.

Würde bringt Bürde. --> Fame is a burden. With great power comes great responsibility.

Wörter schneiden schärfer als Schwerter. --> Sticks and stones may, etc.

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG I, 39–41

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Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG I, 39–41: "Chapter 39: THAT THERE CANNOT BE EVIL IN GOD [Quod in Deo non potest esse malum] [1] From this [viz. the substantial goodness of God, cf. S..."

Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG, I, 37–38

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Summa contra gentiles Sancti Thomae Aquinatis - Glosses from Jazzland: SCG, I, 37–38: "Chapter 37: THAT GOD IS GOOD [CAPUT TRIGINTA SEPTEM: Quod Deus est bonus] [1] From the divine perfection, which we have shown, we can conclu..."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Thought spree...

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A: "The movie poster for the last Harry Potter movie is slightly similar to the one for "Enemy Mine"."
B: "That might be its strongest virtue."

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"From a philosophical point of view...." Is there any other?

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A: Human nature is a myth. Just look at the diversity of human behavior.
B: The existence of rainbows is an illusion. Just look at the variety of rainbows.
C: The dogmas of human essence, social order, and natural law are yokes upon man's otherwise free and otherwise socially harmonious nature.

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"There is no fact-checker more ruthless than I when it comes to me quoting myself." -- Elliot Bougis

I think it's only fair that I give credit to me for giving credit to myself for providing such quotable quotations when I needs them.

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I love losing Facebook friends for ideological reasons!

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"Universal human rights"––long live speciesism!

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Yes, yes, but why can't Darwin fix my DVD burner!

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Faith is at the heart of confidence.

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David Lewis's "Void and Object" is the funniest thing I've seen all day and the funniest title I've seen all month. (My life really is that arcane.)

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How Amazon has outsmarted the music industry (and Apple)
By Ed Bott | March 30, 2011, 2:21pm PDT

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This, from a Church with an INQUISITION! I'm shocked!

Atheists and Catholics in Paris examine question of God
By Alan Holdren

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Politics is so depressing.

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It will be nice to get my head shaved to the skin again, it's been too long! Click GOOD if you want to see the pics tomorrow! (If it cracks a hundred people, I might lose the eyebrows too.)