Friday, March 2, 2012

Levering on TLS

Esteemed theologian Matthew Levering kindly reviews The Last Superstition in The Thomist.  From the review:

In the preface to this marvelous book, Feser makes clear that he is seeking to reach a general audience with a simple thesis: the modern rejection of Aristotelian philosophy was a grave mistake whose consequences continue to escalate… 

His account of the rise of mechanistic modern philosophy—the rejection of formal and final causality (and thus also of efficient causality linked with final causality)—is a tour de force… 

[The book] subjects to a withering and wonderful critique the view that modern science has outmoded formal and final causality.
  
[T]his book places Feser at the forefront of contemporary philosophy.  The author of books on Locke, philosophy of mind, and Aquinas that are notable for their clarity and largely neutral tone, he adopts a combative tone here in hopes of getting his bold message out to a popular audience.  It is the message, however, that truly captures the attention.  Could it be that the anti-Aristotelian emperor has no clothes?  With a brilliant grasp of the salient points of ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary philosophy, and with clear and lively prose, Feser argues that it is so.  Given faith’s urgent need for its preambles, his arrival on the scene is a cause for rejoicing.

Very kind!  But Levering also offers some important criticisms.  Regarding the book’s traditional natural law approach to sexual morality, Levering suggests that “the appeal to the teleology of the bodily organs could be more strongly joined to appeal to human teleology as a whole.”  He is right, and a more thorough, book-length treatment of the subject (which I will get to someday) would devote greater attention to the psychological and social aspects of sex than I was able to give them in TLS.  But I have said something about these matters in a couple of recent posts (here and here).

Levering also has some criticism of my treatment of the relationship between faith and reason:

It seems to me that Feser overestimates the claims of reason with respect to faith.  Reason has a role that should not be neglected (one thinks of N. T. Wright’s valuable defense of the historicity of the Resurrection), but reason cannot by itself attain to the certitude that would compel our assent to God revealing and to what is revealed.  

More nuance is also needed when Feser writes, “Establish that the resurrection really occurred, and you will have proven that Christianity is true” (161).  This phrase… suggests that faith’s knowledge can be rationally proven…

Now, I certainly agree that reason can neither directly arrive at nor fully understand those truths that are available only via divine revelation, and that a complete treatment of the relationship between faith and reason would have to take account of the crucial role played by grace.  On the other hand, I would deny that grace has anything to do with an irrational “leap of faith” or “will to believe” something for which there is insufficient evidence.  And as I argued in a section on faith and reason in a recent post on original sin, Catholic theology also denies this.  I hasten to emphasize that Levering would not necessarily disagree, and he is right to suggest that what I wrote in TLS is not the whole story.  But the aim of the part of the book in question was merely to make it clear that there is nothing contrary to reason in faith properly understood, not to provide a complete treatment of the complex theology of grace (which would have been out of place in a book on natural theology).

Finally, Levering writes:

Feser’s discussion of the problem of evil also strikes me as insufficiently attuned to potential difficulties.  He states that “since human beings have immortal souls, so that our lives in the here-and-now are but a trivial blink of the eye compared to the eternity we are to enter, there is no limit to the good result that might be made in the next life out of even the worst evils we suffer in this one” (162).  I certainly agree, but the problem of evil goes deeper than he seems to recognize, because God does not need evil to accomplish good.

This is an important point.  Like other Scholastics, I would reject Leibniz’s idea that God has to create the best of all possible worlds, so that the evil that actually exists must have been necessary.  God could have instead created a very different world from the one He has created, including one devoid of evil.  Still, it does not follow that there are no goods that could be achieved only by allowing some evil.  And it does not follow that any of the evil that God does in fact allow is evil that He does not draw a greater good out of -- especially given that, as I have argued in an earlier post, He cannot fail to will what is good for us.  My point in the book was that there is nothing in the evil that actually exists that is in any way inconsistent with the existence or perfect goodness of God.  I was not attempting to provide a complete account of why God allows the specific evils that exist in the world He has created.  (In the language of recent literature on the problem of evil, I was for the most part providing a “defense” rather than a “theodicy.”)

79 comments:

Gregory the Eremite said...

Good to see you receiving the plaudits you deserve.

You've also got a good review from Bernard Maulcahy in the latest Nova et Vetera - I quote: "The Last Superstition is pure gold".

BenYachov said...

Brian Davies I note doesn't like to call God "morally good" since people in general seem to take it to mean "God is a moral agent unequivocally compared to a human moral agent".

I agree with him(others are free to disagree).

I prefer to explain that God is ontologically good or metaphysically good but not morally good.

Terence M. Stanton said...

A.M.D.G.

I enjoyed "The Last Superstition" immensely, Dr. Feser. Thank you for writing it. I am surely not the only one who would love to read a book of yours devoted to natural law in relation to human sexuality. It is greatly needed.

Brian said...

but reason cannot by itself attain to the certitude that would compel our assent to God revealing and to what is revealed.

Hmm. This seems to be contrary to Catholic teaching. Catholic teaching says that human reason is capable of knowing the praeambula fidei and the motiva credibilitatis with certainty, placing a reasonable man with the obligation to assent. Specifically, Catholic teaching says we can have certain knowledge of the following facts:

(Natural Religion/praeambula fidei)
-The existence of God
-The attributes of God
-Man's duties toward God
-Man's nature and destiny
-The moral law

(Supernatural Religion/motiva credibilitatis)
-God's Revelation in history through Christ Jesus, the God-Man
-The founding of the Catholic Church by Christ
-The authority of the Catholic Church

Reason can some to a certain knowledge of all that, and, yeah, that does compel a kind of assent (though not a supernatural one necessary for faith). Anyone can correct me if I am wrong, and if I am wrong, it is only through honest misunderstanding.

Brian said...

Anyone interested in the topic should check out these books:

Title: Aquinas On Faith and Reason

Title: Catechism of the Catholic Church

Title: Dei Filius

Title: Outlines of Moral Theology
Author: Francis J. Connell and Roy J. Deferrari

Title: Faith and Certitude
Author: Fr. Thomas Dubay

Title: The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Christian Faith
Author: Avery Cardinal Dulles

Title: Fundamental Theology
Author: Heinrich Fries

Title: Faith: Sermon's Preached at a Men's Retreat
Author: Emmanuel Martin de Gibergues

Title: The Theological Virtues: Faith Volume 1
Author: Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange

Title: The Theology of Faith
Author: Rev. P.P. M'Kenna

Title: Outlines of Dogmatic Theology Volume 1, 2, 3
Author: Slyvester Joseph Hunter

Title: Fides et Ratio
Author: Pope John Paul II

Title: Faith and Revealed Truth
Author: Rev. George D. Smith

Title: A Manual of Catholic Theology based on Scheeben's Dogmatik Volume 1
Author: Joseph Wilhelm, D.D., Ph.D. & Thomas B. Scannel, D.D.

Title: The Grounds of Faith
Author: Henry Edward Manning

A. R. Diaz said...

Dear Prof. Feser,

I would like to know what are your thoughts about James F. Ross' "negative strategy"––as he called it in his Philosophical Theology, PT for short, 2ed. 1980)––towards the problem of evil. You do seem to share a commitment with him, namely, that evil in the world is no sign, proof, or even probability-confering evidence, in favor of God's moral imperfection. But he rejects the line of reasoning or strategy of "greater goods" (or justification by greater goods), which you seem to defend (I haven't read TLS yet, just your response here. So forgive me if you've already dealt with his objection and his negative strategy), and instead arrives at that conclusion by the aforementioned negative strategy. His argument is, of course, more complex, but for purposes here I'll quite his own (overly simplified?) summary of that reasoning via negativa:

"One cannot determine that God is not good, no matter how bad the world might be, because there's something else you'd need to know and can't know. You'd need to know something of which God is the only possible instance, something which we do not know a priori or through any relevant experience. And if you do not know that missing thing, your reasoning from the condition of the world would be a missing premise.

The thing you'd need to know is this: Any real being which could, without cost or moral defect, preclude or avoid the evil acts and sufferings of other real beings which are metaphysically dependent upon it and fails to do so is morally imperfect."

There are further qualifications, of course, but perhaps you're familiar with this argument. The idea is, roughly, that the premiss that would make the problem of evil successful is epistemically inaccessible. I would like to know your take on this reasoning, if it's not too much trouble.

Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

Regarding the problem of evil, I think there are three words used in physics that can be used to explain the “answer” to the problem of evil and also to explain Aquinas’ Fourth Way (the argument from degrees); these words are: source, intensity and gradient. Just as it happens with light, sound, heat or smell, where if there is a gradient there is also a source; the existence of a source of being (God) can be derived from the existence of a gradient of being. Aquinas could have said “show me a gradient and I will show you either a peak or a source”. The maximum intensity can only be found at the source. Any other point in the gradient is lacking something that the source has. There is no way a universe with absolutely no evil (lack of something) can exist, but it is possible to have universes with higher intensities of being.

Michael said...

Anonymous at: March 2, 2012 2:04 PM

Very interesting. I see what you wrote as a support for the following:

That you cannot have a universe of non-finite beings.

But moral evil... especially if you think humans have free-will (and I would hope that you do!), doesn't seem to be so necessary.

ciao,
Michael

Chris said...

Just recently, I happily discovered Dr. Feser's writings- I just completed the "Last Superstition" and now I've started "Aquinas". I think I have a much better grasp of the difference between AT and Intelligent Design.

I'm curious, is anybody here familiar with the essay "On Earth As It Is In Heaven" written by the Perennialist Orthodox scholar, James Cutsinger? I would love to hear an opinion from a Thomist- particularly whether or not the position presented is compatible with classical theism.

Anonymous said...

I’d like to amend what I said about the necessity of evil. The real evil for humans is lacking the things that our nature requires (food, health, knowledge, love, justice). There can be many worlds where those needs can be met (Paradise would be one of them) and for all practical purposes there will be no evil there. But there will be always a lack, a gap between what God is and what the universe is. Some sort of lack is inevitable, lack of what we need (evil) is not.

Regards,
Juan

Daniel Smith said...

I hold a view similar to the one Anonymous expressed in his "gradient" argument except that I think it can be applied to moral goodness as well.

If God is the only being who is pure good, then all other beings must be "less than" pure good. "None is good save God alone."

Anonymous said...

It’s a matter of degree or intensity. For instance, the holes in a piece of Swiss cheese can be large and yet we can call that piece good. A light can be dim and yet allow us to read. It is also a matter of nature; our nature determines how much light we need and how much light we can process.

Patrick said...

As for the problem of evil and how it relates to classical theism the concept of divine simplicity may be very important. Dr. Feser explains this concept as follows (source: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/11/william-lane-craig-on-divine-simplicity.html):

“The doctrine of divine simplicity holds that God is in no way composed of parts. ... There is also no distinction within God between any of the divine attributes: ... Talking or conceiving of God, God’s essence, God’s existence, God’s power, God’s goodness, and so forth are really all just different ways of talking or conceiving of one and the very same thing. Though we distinguish between them in thought, there is no distinction at all between them in reality.”

The theodicy outlined below, called “Theodicy from divine justice”, has divine simplicity as one of the basic elements.

(1) God’s perfect justice prevents Him from relieving people with unforgiven sins from their sufferings (see Isaiah 59,1-2).
(2) Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help people with unforgiven sins. By doing this they may make those among them who haven’t yet accepted God’s salvation receptive of it (Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2), which in turn frees these persons from suffering in the afterlife.
(3) The greater God’s beneficial power due to His love, the greater God’s destructive power due to His justice (see Matthew 13,27-29). Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it.
(4) Someone who dies before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16-17, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) faces no punishment in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins. So, God may not be inclined to prevent such a person’s death.
(5) A person’s suffering in this life may have a redeeming effect (Luke 16,25) and consequently contribute to a decrease of the respective person’s suffering in the afterlife; the amount of suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the amount of suffering in the afterlife. So, God may not be inclined to relieve this person’s suffering.
(6) There are degrees of punishment in the afterlife depending on one’s moral behaviour (Matthew 16,27, 2 Corinthians 5,10), one’s knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 11,20-24, Luke 12,47-48), and, as mentioned before, one’s amount of suffering in this life (Luke 16,25).
(7) Those people who suffer more in this life than they deserve due to their way of life are compensated for it by receiving rewards in Heaven.
(8) As for animal suffering, animals will be compensated for it on the “new earth” mentioned in Isaiah 65,17-25, 2 Peter 3,13 and Revelation 21,1.

The concept of divine simplicity is in particular apparent in point (3), as it shows that God’s power, God’s love and God’s justice are indistinguishable.

Westcountryman said...

Dr.Feser

I fully agree with Levering's praise of this work and would extend it to Aquinas and your work on the philosophy of Mind.

I do have a query though. In these works, as far as I can recall, you do not make much reference to the Ancient and Medieval Concepts of Intellectus or Nous; by which I mean direct Intellectual or Mystical knowledge.

Despite Aristotle's famous break with Plato, including his more discursive and worldly focus, I think it is still arguable whether Aristotle totally abandoned a role for such knowledge. And Aquinas could not, due to its obvious place in Scripture (for instance St. Paul's experiences) and in Church History, including many of the greatest of the Fathers such as Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite, the Alexandrians, and the Cappadocians. What is more Aquinas himself, late in life, as you undoubtedly know, experienced Mystical knowledge which caused him to lay aside( I believe) his academic work.

I have no doubt that, though many great religious thinkers of the last century (such as Henry Corbin, Dr. Nasr and even C.S Lewis) have begun to look again at the importance of Intellective, Imaginal and Mystical knowledge, it would be a bridge too far for academic philosophy, such as it is today. But I'd be interested to hear your views on these matters and on the role Intellective or Mystical knowledge can play in the relationship between reason and faith.

Aquinas3000 said...

St Thomas is clear that evil is not just a lack of good. It is a lack of a due good.

A. R. Diaz said...

Hey people. I'm new to this stuff. So just wondering, does Prof. Feser answer/respond to comments/questions one makes him here or does one have to contact him by email or something?

Regards

SR said...

Some considerations concerning reason's role in religion:

1. Vatican I said that the existence of God (et al) "can be" proven rationally, not that it "has been" proven.

2. Proof of the resurrection of Jesus does NOT prove Christianity is true. It does imply that naturalism is wrong, but there are plenty of other ways to account for Jesus' resurrection that do not imply that Jesus is God, that salvation is only through Jesus, etc.

3. That mechanistic philosophy is wrong does not make Aristotle right. Aristotle created a plausible metaphysical account of common sense (while mechanism's account is implausible), but what if common sense is wrong? (Which I believe it to be, from reading mystics. In a nutshell, I hold that Original Sin just is having a false common sense view of reality.)

Brandon said...

A. R. Diaz,

He does respond here, but to the extent that he has the time to do so, both in terms of how busy he is, how relevant it is to the immediate topic, and how much time he can put in to take the question seriously (some questions require a considerable amount of work to answer, and are better answered in a post down the road somewhere than immediately in a comments thread).

A. R. Diaz said...

Thanks Brandon. I guess I'll have to sit, wait and hope for the best.

Cheers

Michael said...

SR,

"3. That mechanistic philosophy is wrong does not make Aristotle right."

By that very fact alone you are correct.

But it isn't the case that Aristotle merely came up with a plausible system. Aristotle's Hylemorphism may be arrived at by an analysis of change. His position is that there is no alternative explanation for the data of change.

SR said...

Michael,

But why did he assume that change is what needed explaining, and not our awareness of thingness? True, the word 'change' presupposes a thing that changes, but it is just that viewpoint (that there are substantial things that change) that is the common sense that -- if one is aware of what mystics report -- is in question.

Tony said...

SR, I don't know what mystic experiences you are thinking of, because my readings of the Catholic mystics indicates that they are WHOLLY in line with what Aristotle and Aquinas make of form-matter and act-potency applications to the world, including hylemorphic dualism.

Anonymous: There is no way a universe with absolutely no evil (lack of something) can exist,

Daniel: If God is the only being who is pure good, then all other beings must be "less than" pure good. "None is good save God alone."

You are glossing over the distinction between non-being and evil. A dog is a being, but it does not have the "beingness" of rational beings, because it hasn't rationality. So there is a degree of being it does not have. But a dog isn't EVIL because it doesn't have rationality, because evil is condition of non having being that ought to be there. Since dogs are not designed to be rational, the condition of rationality isn't "supposed to" be there, and their lack of rationality isn't an evil.

God is the only being that has all of the perfections, all of the ways in which being can be fully actual. All other beings depart from that, they are all less full. But they are designed to be less full. They are defective (evil) only when they have less being than they are designed to have.

God is the only being that is good "in Himself", with no cause of it and no dependence for it. All other beings that fully achieve their nature are also good, but their good is due to their receiving it from Another.

God could have made a universe in which all the creatures reach their true fulfillment without error or defect. Such a universe would be without evil. God is not bound to create this or that world, and there is no such thing as "the best of all possible universes" even in principle, much less in fact.

Jinzang said...

my readings of the Catholic mystics indicates that they are WHOLLY in line with what Aristotle and Aquinas

It would be quite some trick for Pseudo-Dionysius to be in accord with Aquinas.

Christian mysticism, like its Muslim and Jewish brothers, developed under the influence of Neo-Platonism. No doubt the more well educated mystics were in accord with the Church's theology, which is a bit broader than Aristotle and Aquinas.

SR said...

Tony,

I don't know what mystic experiences you are thinking of, because my readings of the Catholic mystics indicates that they are WHOLLY in line with what Aristotle and Aquinas make of form-matter and act-potency applications to the world, including hylemorphic dualism.

Well, there is Bernadette Roberts (a Catholic) who says it is not true that the senses sense particulars (it takes senses with intellect to perceive them). Then there is Franklin Merrell-Wolff who says that in the highest realm of thought the principle of non-contradiction does not apply. And then, of course there is Buddhist doctrine that impermanence is all-pervasive.

So if some mystics say this and others say that, how shall we decide? By reason, I hope, but we had better make sure our reasoning does not presuppose that which many mystics deny.

And if we can't decide on rational grounds alone, then is it not strictly by subjective choice that one takes as a starting point that by which one has justified one's natural theology, and ones' espousal of natural law?

Brandon said...

It would be quite some trick for Pseudo-Dionysius to be in accord with Aquinas.

This gets into complicated issues. Aquinas, of course, has an interpretation of Ps-Dionysius; he wrote a commentary on the book on Divine Names, and Ps-Dionysius is one of the most quoted authors in Aquinas's works -- he's third (I think) after Aristotle and Augustine. And obviously the Thomistic interpretation of Ps-Dionysius is considerably in accord with Aquinas. The question, of course, ends up being, how Dionysian is the Thomistic interpretation of Dionysian ideas?

M. McCUe said...

Off subject. I made a Feser app link right to this site on my iPhone . Won't miss a thing while traveling or waiting.

Westcountryman said...

Jinzang,

I believe Aquinas quotes Dionysius more than he quotes anyone else, if memory serves, more even than he quotes Aristotle.

To say Christian mysticism developed under Platonic influence has a truth to it, but is not the whole truth. Or rather it is not the truth that it is something alien to Christian tradition and based only on foreign elements. Mystical and Intellectual experience and knowledge of God have an important place in both the Old and New Testament, as well as in early and medieval Church history. There is no sense in which Aquinas, or sensibly any later Catholic figure, could reject Mystical experience as a whole.

SR,

I think what is needed is some firmer view of mysticism in relation to Christianity. I do not think that starting by introducing Oriental conceptions without evaluating them would be a good idea, not least because they speak in a language which can be very hard for Westerners to understand, particularly Buddhist and Taoists.

Of particular importance in terms of understanding Christian mysticism are the respect roles of Cathartic or Positive theology and Apophatic or negative theology, as well as the roles of Intellect, Imagination, Symbolism and Discursive Reason.

There are also divisions or loose categories that can be made of types of Christian mysticism. One such category is that of Knowledge mysticism, associated with figures such as the Alexandrian and Cappadocian Fathers, Dionysius and perhaps reaching its zenith in St.Symeon the New Theologian and Meister Eckhart. Then there is the Love mysticism associated most obviously with St.Francis of Assisi and the Passion mysticism of which St.John of the Cross is prime example. Though there are many common threads in these categories there are important differences.

I think that an in depth analysis of Christian mysticism will find that not only does it accord, in general, with the general truths and perspective of the Christian revelation, but that, though it may disagree on certain emphasises and wish to point out certain limitations, it does not fundamentally disagree with the Thomistic position.

True mysticism is often anti-rationalist, but rarely is it anti-reason, and there is no reason for it to be so.

SR said...

Westcountryman,

I think what is needed is some firmer view of mysticism in relation to Christianity.

Only if you are convinced of Christianity in the first place. I am not.

I do not think that starting by introducing Oriental conceptions without evaluating them would be a good idea, not least because they speak in a language which can be very hard for Westerners to understand, particularly Buddhist and Taoists.

I have evaluated "Oriental conceptions", and I have evaluated Aristotelian conceptions. I conclude that the former are better at addressing the mysteries of reality than the latter. Your mileage may differ, but then the question is why. Reason or unfamiliarity or just a subjective preference?

Westcountryman said...

SR,

I was under the impression you were a Christian, so that changes things somewhat.

I obviously know little of your personal knowledge, but one thing I have found is that it takes a lot for Westerners to truly understand Eastern Spirituality and religious/mystical thought. Most, even of those who pride themselves on it, do not have the right understanding it seems to me. Though I myself certainly do not have anything like a proper understanding of it either.

I do not think a mystic who really applies himself to the issue (some mystics and Saints are not concerned much with philosophy or discursive thought and should not be consulted on the subject too deeply) would suggest mysticism is illogical or irrational, though they may say it transcends logic and reason in the sense that the laws of logic and reason are reflections of the supra-logical and supra-rational.

I have great respect for the Angelic Doctor and Scholastic thought, but I'm a Platonic Christian, not an Aristotelian, and am very much attracted to more mystical and Intellectual/Imaginal aspects of Christian thought (the Greek Fathers, Eriugena,the School of Chartres, Meister Eckhart, Hesychasm etc,.).

I cannot comment on the truth of certain other religious traditions, I'm willing to entertain private opinions but I leave the truth to God, but I do know that mystical and esoteric thought transcends an exoteric and doctrinal tradition from within. It builds on a profound knowledge and love of that tradition, it does not treat this traditional edifice with contempt (remembering its own anchoring in it and the truth that all men are not mystics but all men need God) nor does it engage with other traditions until it has mastered its own and then only at a chaste distance.

The Christian will generally gain little by attempts to bring Buddhist or Eastern conceptions or practices into their faith(not that, upon reaching great proficiency in their own faith, certain readings and awareness may not have positive effects, rather I'm referring to the active incorporation of alien elements into their everyday spiritual path), whether they be an esoteric, an average believer or someone in between.

Chris said...

Westcountryman,

Are you familiar with the "Traditionalist" school, whose most well known exponents are the metaphysicians, Frithjof Schuon and the Rene Guenon?

SR said...

Westcountryman,

I understand what you are saying, and by and large agree with it, but it is tangential to the point I am trying to make, which is addressed to the Thomists here.

Thomists,

I have several times put forth the accusation that Aristotelian thinking is based on arbitrary presuppositions, in particular the belief that thingness is self-explanatory, while change requires explanation. Other metaphysicians and other religions do not presuppose that. So my question is: what makes you right, and the others wrong?

I trust you see the implications here. For a Thomist, 'good' means "conformity to the ideal represented by a thing's nature or essence" (Aquinas, p.34). But obviously that definition rests on the original privileging of thingness over change. Why shouldn't 'good' (for those with self-consciousness) be thought instead in terms of the overcoming of one's essence, of changing it?

In other words, if you can't give that compelling reason for Aristotle's point of departure, then it would seem that basing a social code on natural law (as Thomists understand it) is an act of imposition of an arbitrary belief on those who have different ones.

Brandon said...

I don't see any reason to think that either Aristotle or Aquinas believes that 'thingness' is self-explanatory; they both end up doing an unnecessary amount of discussion of 'thingness' if it were self-explanatory. Thingness requires its own kinds of explanation, and they are different from change, although both kinds of explanation in the Thomistic account do depend on act as a more fundamental idea.

Similarly, good doesn't really mean "conformity to the ideal represented by a thing's nature or essence", full stop; this is one thing it can mean, i.e., amount to, given certain conditions -- as it happens, conditions that arguably arise a lot, thus making it a suitable starting point for certain inquiries about good. (In the case of the Feser passage you are quoting, it's simply a starting point for thinking about how to make sense of the notion that good is coextensive with being.) What good means is always glossed in terms of the desirable or 'appetible' (although rigorous definition of it is impossible).

Tony said...

Why shouldn't 'good' (for those with self-consciousness) be thought instead in terms of the overcoming of one's essence, of changing it?

I am not familiar enough with eastern thought or mysticism to speak directly about it with any confidence. Most of what I have is second hand. That said, I have always been struck by something that seems to me to be a feature that IS in western mysticism (by all Catholic sources, anyway), that I see no reason WOULN'T be found in eastern mysticism. That is: nothing of necessity prevents it from being warped and twisted away from being a real, valid, wholesome encounter with deeper reality of itself - human defects and evil spirits are available sources to mis-form the experiences. Given that, Catholics are taught to not trust their mystic experiences as being reliable. Is there a comparable caution for eastern mystics? If not, then that constitutes a manner of distinguishing between them, a basis for thinking that one may be acceptable where the other may not (to the extent they might be incompatible with each other, that is). It's not a definitive standard, I grant, but it is enough for a start.

Speaking as a Thomist and as a rational being, I cannot see how an approach "in terms of the overcoming of one's essence" can be anything else than positively ANTI-reason (instead of being merely not-discursive-reasoning). To be "overcoming one's essence", seems, to me, to mean that "one" has no essence properly so called, and therefore there is no specific sort of activity, behavior, or way of being that is more suitable than any other. If I can "overcome" my essential limitations as human, then I can "be" the sort of thing for which stealing, or killing, or adultery, is suitable (as these are suitable for certain kinds of beings). As a result, there is no way of speaking of ethics, or of reality, or even communicating, that can mean anything useful between "one" and "another".

I see little reason to grant significant credit to an approach that asks me to abandon reason for anti-reason (for mystical experience) when there is a tradition that encourages mystical experience that does not abandon reason for anti-reason. Why should I prefer mysticism with anti-reason when I can have mysticism and reason both?

Westcountryman said...

Chris

Yes, Schuon, Guenon, Seyyed Nasr and Martin Lings, as well as W.B Yeats, Henry Corbin, Kathleen Raine and Philip Sherrard are some of my favourite thinkers and philosophers of the last century.

SR

As Brandon notes a thing's essence is, in one sense, its set place within Being, or Reality. If all that is 'outside' God takes its form and pattern from him it will not be ordered arbitrarily, as God is not arbitrary. It is within that order that we best approach goodness.

SR said...

Brandon,

Ok, but you're dodging the issue, which is that there are other points of departure than Aristotle's. Since I do not see a compelling reason to choose his over others', how can one claim that Thomism is rationally based? It is rational within its basis, but why choose its basis?

SR said...

Tony,

I see little reason to grant significant credit to an approach that asks me to abandon reason for anti-reason (for mystical experience) when there is a tradition that encourages mystical experience that does not abandon reason for anti-reason. Why should I prefer mysticism with anti-reason when I can have mysticism and reason both?

My favorite modern mystic, Franklin Merrell-Wolff, called his mystical journey the Path of Reason, one followed by the likes of Plotinus, Shankara, and Eckhart. It is reason, though, which cannot be contained in Aristotelian categories. I would never consider the abandonment of reason to be a good thing.

Other traditions also watch out for the rogue mystic, so that is no basis for differentiation. What you worry about (stealing, etc.) is a strawman.

SR said...

Westcountryman,

As Brandon notes a thing's essence is, in one sense, its set place within Being, or Reality. If all that is 'outside' God takes its form and pattern from him it will not be ordered arbitrarily, as God is not arbitrary. It is within that order that we best approach goodness.

Well, that makes sense if you are an essentialist and a theist. What if you aren't?

Brandon said...

SR,

The reason is that there is no "point of departure" for Aristotle; there are several different points of departure depending on the subject, and Aristotle usually goes at a topic from more than one perspective.

Here is I think some closer to what you're asking. Why does Aristotle pick the topics that he takes to be important? Almost all those topics are approached dialectically, one of the implications of which is that he isn't committed to only one point of departure unless he honestly can't find any others. But he does pick out certain topics for this treatment, and one can legitimately ask why those topics. The reason would largely be those were the topics that had become important points of discussion before Aristotle. Later when Aristotle was taken up by Muslims, they added the topics that were the ones of historical interest to them, and the Christian scholastics did the same. In both cases some correction of Aristotle was required, but a lot turned out to be useful in the dialectical churn to get some traction on the new topics. In that sense, the answer to "What should one do about people who think that other topics are important?" is that you'd throw it into the mix as well. Or perhaps a better way of stating it is the way Alasdair MacIntyre portrays Aquinas's philosophy: Aquinas immersed himself in both an Aristotelian tradition and an Augustinian tradition and on the basis of that worked out ways that each could deal with problems, weaknesses, and questions raised by the other. Two massively different traditions can't be compared externally; they have to be thought through from the inside and the internal weaknesses and strengths discovered, not just apparent external weaknesses (which may be imported from our own view). But it all requires communication. So the answer to the question of what to do about somebody from a radically different tradition is the only thing it can be: send them over and we'll talk. It may turn out that things are not actually as different as they looked at first glance and from the outside; or any number of other things may turn out to be the case. Almost certainly it will turn out that they're on to something, too; the human intellect is a powerful thing. But it's not possible to say anything about what to do about any differences without seeing what they actually are from both sides, at least as well as one can see things from both sides.

Jinzang said...

There is no sense in which Aquinas, or sensibly any later Catholic figure, could reject Mystical experience as a whole.

Sorry I didn't make my point clear. Christian mysticism developed while Christian philosophy was still under the influence of Neo-Platonism and in only in this sense are Aristotle and Aquinas alien to it. No doubt St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and other later mystics were aware of scholasticism, but their exact relation to it is beyond my ken. I do recall Teresa was accused of heresy, but then the Spanish Inquisition was crazy.

Jinzang said...

Given that, Catholics are taught to not trust their mystic experiences as being reliable. Is there a comparable caution for eastern mystics?

I assume you mean that they must be checked against the doctrines of the Church. Eastern religions are less centrally organized than the Catholic Church and while there are scriptures and their commentaries, there is no organization enforcing orthodoxy. In a more general sense there are warnings against meditation going wrong. One famous example in Mahayana Buddhism is the last chapter of the Shurangama Sutra, which lists fifty deviations from proper practice, each one of which I am sure can be found in meditation centers of the American West.

Jinzang said...

My favorite modern mystic, Franklin Merrell-Wolff, called his mystical journey the Path of Reason, one followed by the likes of Plotinus, Shankara, and Eckhart

One theme of modern Hinduism ever since Ramakrishna is to see the views of all religious teachers as adumbrations (a neat word I learned from watching Act of Valor) of the one, true religion which, of course, strongly resembles Advaita Vedanta. This leads to an admirable tolerance of different religions though it is dobtful intellectually,

SR said...

Brandon,

What I take to be Aristotle's point of departure are the concepts of act and potential, and of hylemorphism, and assigning act to form and potential to matter. In comments to previous posts, I have questioned this, mentioning some alternatives (the whole digression into mysticism being the consideration of alternatives). So my asking for a compelling reason is: why these concepts and assignations, and not various alternatives, for giving an account of our experience.

As for a meeting with those with alternative viewpoints, well, here I am. I offer as a simple alternative the notion that the objects of our experience are composites of form and energy, with energy being that which actualizes, not form. (I would prefer a more complicated starting point, but trying to state it would take a much longer comment).

Brandon said...

SR,

In other words, the key topics around which things coalesce.

But even setting that aside and keeping the point of departure metaphor, difference in point of departures does not mean that there is any inconsistency in the points of departure. No Thomist would ever think that merely having a different point of departure made anyone wrong -- Thomism itself is a union of several different points of departure. Genuinely different points of departure won't usually cover the same ground even on the same subject; there may be real conflicts, where one has to be corrected in some way, but these have to be sorted out from cases where each point of departure provides a means for seeing genuine features that might be missed by another point of departure.

Are you claiming that mere difference in two points of departure means that one of the points of departure is necessarily completely wrong?

What does energy actualize on your view?

SR said...

Jinzang,

One of the interesting things about Merrell-Wolff is that he considered himself a disciple of Shankara, i.e., as working within the Advaita Vedanta tradition. And he had his great Realization, which seemed to validate it all. But then a month later he had another, more profound Realization that he hadn't expected. He subsequently found in his reading that Buddhists had been there. Roughly speaking, the first Realization was that of Nirvana, while the second was Realizing that Nirvana is Samsara.

Westcountryman said...

Well modern nominalism and existentialism are rank sophistry, so if someone were a follower of one of these I would suggest they reconsider.

Someone mentioned Frijthof Schuon and I recall a wonderful line of his that sums up modern existentialism (and indeed was aimed at them and their offshoots)

'all down the ages to philosophise was to think, it was left to the 20th century not to think and call it philosophy'.

If you are referring though to the Buddhist idea of 'No-Self' and to other, similar apophatic perspectives then I do not think these conflict with essentialism, they simply affirm the limited and relative existence of all essences outside God and the limited ability of human language and discursive thought to grasp these essences and certainly God's.

It is true, as much as I have great love for Scholastic thought, that it can be somewhat rationalistic at times and come close to utterly ignoring these apophatic warnings. However I do not think that this is symptomatic of a wider incompatibility between essentialism (even a nuanced Thomism) and apophatic theology.

SR said...

Brandon,

Are you claiming that mere difference in two points of departure means that one of the points of departure is necessarily completely wrong?

Depends. Aristotle simply dismissed the Heraclitean viewpoint on the grounds that it couldn't be formulated without violating the principle of non-contradiction. But all mystery does, at least to our common sense consciousness. So while I'm not about to say of anyone that they are "necessarily completely wrong", I would say that Aristotle got off on the wrong foot.

Heresy has been characterized as replacing mystery with something understandable. In my view, that is what Aristotle did.

What does energy actualize on your view?

All objects of experience. That which we and other sentient beings are conscious of. Moving ahead, I will posit that consciousness and energy are two names for the same (non-)thing.

But already I must backtrack. One tends to confuse "exists" with "actual". But keeping to the roots of the words, it would be better to say that energy acts to create that which exists ("stands out"), while that which exists influences further action. (Already one is faced with apparently contradictory statements. Which is why Aristotelian logic is not of much use in metaphysics.)

Chris said...

Westcountryman,

I'm the one who mentioned Schuon.
I've noticed that the majority of traditional Christians are hostile to the Perennial Philosophy- including conservative ones like Lings and Burkhardt.

This is a question that I asked previously to the general readership here. Are you familiar with an essay written by the Perennialist Orthodox scholar, James Cutsinger, entitled "On Earth As It Is In Heaven"?

This particular work seems quite relevant to the subjects being discussed in this thread. I was wondering if you think that the Schuonian position that Cutsinger presents in his essay is indeed compatible with classical theism and Thomism?

SR said...

Westcountryman,

If you are referring though to the Buddhist idea of 'No-Self' and to other, similar apophatic perspectives then I do not think these conflict with essentialism, they simply affirm the limited and relative existence of all essences outside God and the limited ability of human language and discursive thought to grasp these essences and certainly God's.

The Buddhist Middle Way holds that both realism and nihilism are wrong, and they would include essentialism as a form of realism (real essences). As for the apophatic, my position is that metaphysics must start with the apophatic, not bottom out with it. Common sense, as I said way back there, is reality as understood by those (like me) trapped in Original Sin. Essentialism, and even worse, materialism, are attempts to tighten up the notions of common sense, and so are idolatrous.

Westcountryman said...

Chris,

I'm familiar with Cutsinger, but not that particular work. I know the Traditionalists stress it is most important that people practice their traditions faithfully and are not overly concerned about not being accepted by traditional Christians or Muslims.

They present a very Platonic and mystical, essentially Non-Dualist, position. They tend to respect Thomism and Aristotle, but also to criticise them for faults like rationalism and a lack of respect for Intellect(Nous) and Symbolism. Essentially, apart from the transcendental unity of religions, it is a question of the compatibility between Platonism and Aristotelianism. I would say these two are largely compatible, though there are certain frictions and minor contradictions, and how these are resolved depends on which side you lean towards.

As for classical theism, well I suppose they are as much classical theists as Plotinus, Proclus, Eruigena and Meister Eckhart.

Sr

Realism and nihilism are Western terms and it may not be the best thing to introduce them into a discussion of Buddhism.

I'm no expert, but it seems tome that the Buddhist perspective and particularly emphasis is on the relativity and contingency of all things outside Nirvana and about laying great stress on the limitations of human language, discursive reason and mental conceptions and the hold they can have on us.

The emphasis and symbolic language is quite different to the West, and I believe(from my limited knowledge) in many Islam and even India and many of the details do conflict. But I would not say it was a flat out contradiction of the kind of essentialism associated with Platonism and Aristottelians nor Advaita Vedanta. All of these, at least when they are careful, are capable of recognising the relativity and contingency of all essences 'outside' and the limitations of our conceptions of God and Self. Aside from important figures in this respect like Nicholas of Cusa and Meister Eckhar, St.Augustine for one reminds us that anything we can think of as God is not God

When it comes to common sense, I think it really depends what you mean. There is no absolute error and our common sensory experience is a valid, if limited, kind of knowledge, a reflection and refraction of the root of all knowledge. You mentioned common sense, but you also mentioning the realisation that Nirvana is Samsara. This, I think, can be taken as recognition of the Platonic and Christian realisation(and no doubt Islamic, Indian and so forth position as well) that creation, or manifestation, reflects God. This is why I would not write off our everyday experiences or our relationship with the natural world.

Anonymous said...

on the 'harmony' between Aristotelianism and Platonism as seen by the Neoplanotonists, cf. Lloyd Gersons' excellent 'Aristotle and other Platonists'.

Chris said...

Westcountryman,

I think your remarks regarding Perennialists are spot on. Contrary to what many believe, they don't present themselves as proponents of some kind of over-arching "meta-religion". Nevertheless, it is indeed difficult to reconcile Christian orthodoxy with a Transcendent Unity of Religions.

Ultimately, for me, the question is this: Is Christianity, in fact, not in conflict with Non-Duality. Does the Transcendent Unity of Religions really hold up.

Does esoterism (mysticism)transcend theological doctrine from within?

Minimally stated, does metaphysics "trump" theology?

SR said...

Westcountryman,

but you also mentioning the realisation that Nirvana is Samsara. This, I think, can be taken as recognition of the Platonic and Christian realisation(and no doubt Islamic, Indian and so forth position as well) that creation, or manifestation, reflects God.

No, I don't think so. The classic statement of this (from the Heart Sutra) is "Form is empty, Emptiness is form." I don't see how that cashes out in Western terms except as pantheism, but it is more than that. It can only be expressed as "contradictory identity" (a phrase Nishida uses, for example). Now Cusa, for one, spoke of the coincidence of opposites in God, but the Buddhist is more likely to express it as coincidence of opposites in ourselves.

This is why I would not write off our everyday experiences or our relationship with the natural world.

The Buddhist handles this with the doctrine of "two truths", conventional (common sense) and absolute (it's all Buddha-nature, form is formless, etc.) It's not about "writing off" our everyday experiences -- that would be nihilism. It's about transcending the subject/object duality in which the fallen mind is trapped. Now Aristotle and Aquinas did not think in terms of subject/object duality (and there is a reason why not, having to do with the evolution of consciousness -- see here), but they did treat the objects of experience as substantial, which is a mark of fallenness.

SR said...

Westcountryman,

This new blogger comment thing apparently doesn't like links. The link intended was to http://logicsinandlove.blogspot.com/2008/03/importance-of-owen-barfield.html

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

SR

Aquinas, following Aristotle, taught that “[t]he intellect’s first act is to know being, reality, because an object is knowable only in the degree in which it is actual.”

Actual being is ontologically prior to motion; you seem to agree that the idea of change presupposes thingness but not vice versa so I'm unsure why you object to what Aristotle did. I wonder if you could clarify why you think Aristotle is wrong to use being as his “point of departure”?

In particular I have two questions:

1. How does your view differ from the radical nominalism of Heraclitus (and the rejection of the principle of contradiction as a law of reality) such that it does not lead to complete scepticism?

2. My current understanding of what you say is that man, corrupted by Original Sin, cannot have a correct common sense view of reality. But then why is it that “we had better make sure our reasoning does not presuppose that which many mystics deny”? Are mystics free from Original Sin?

I guess strictly that's three questions. I don’t know nearly enough about Mysticism so forgive me if I’m wrong but it seems as though you’d prefer the point of departure to be one that not all men can reach by the path of reason, but one that only some men can report to others.

In any case I think you're mistaken in assuming Aristotle only explained change. As Michael said earlier, Aristotle's Hylemorphism is the *only* way to harmonize the data of sense with the fundamental laws of reality and thought (the principle of contradiction/identity) - it wasn't only "change" that needed explaining, but "thingness" too (the real distinction of actual thingness and potential thingness).

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

I suppose also that mystics might not be considered men? I assumed they must be men in my previous comment, apologies if this is incorrect - as I said, I don't know much of anything to do with Mysticism.

Anonymous said...

SR,

"It's about transcending the subject/object duality in which the fallen mind is trapped."

I believe Thomists hold that the duality is in some sense transcended in the act of knowledge i.e., where knower, knowledge, and the known become one.

SR said...

Jack, or do you prefer Vaughn?,

Actual being is ontologically prior to motion; you seem to agree that the idea of change presupposes thingness but not vice versa so I'm unsure why you object to what Aristotle did. I wonder if you could clarify why you think Aristotle is wrong to use being as his “point of departure”?

Because I hold that things are NOT prior to motion (change). Rather I hold that thingness and change are a 'polarity': each determines the other as each opposes the other. To consider thingness as ontologically prior is just to be fallen. It produces attachment, especially to that supposed 'thing' that we consider ourselves to be.

1. How does your view differ from the radical nominalism of Heraclitus (and the rejection of the principle of contradiction as a law of reality) such that it does not lead to complete scepticism?

I would not call Heraclitus a radical nominalist. He did after all consider underlying reality as Logos, which for me is a denial of nominalism. How does one avoid complete skepticism? By treating all objects as signs, as manifestations of concepts. If you look at a tree, something is "speaking" to you. Fallenness can thus be understood as the inability to hear what is being said, to mistake the word for a thing, an idol. (See Barfield for more on this -- the link is above in my previous comment.)

On this point, Aquinas is certainly more in tune than modern philosophers (except perhaps Coleridge and some German Idealists). At one point he says something like "a natural object is constituted between two intellects". And the whole idea of 'participation' is relevant. But he doesn't go far enough.

2. My current understanding of what you say is that man, corrupted by Original Sin, cannot have a correct common sense view of reality. But then why is it that “we had better make sure our reasoning does not presuppose that which many mystics deny”? Are mystics free from Original Sin?

I like to think of Original Sin as Original Insanity -- of being out of touch with absolute reality. Mystics, I gather -- at least some of them -- have moments of being sane. Then there is the occasional fully sane individual, which one supposes the Buddha and Jesus to be. So I see reason's role to be: assume that at least some mystical reports are authentic. Which ones? and what do imply? Reason is our guide through that thicket of questions.

it seems as though you’d prefer the point of departure to be one that not all men can reach by the path of reason, but one that only some men can report to others.

It can't be reached by discursive reason, but reason can address the problem of its being unreachable. That is where I would start. I keep bringing up Buddhism because Buddhist philosophy does start there.

In any case I think you're mistaken in assuming Aristotle only explained change. As Michael said earlier, Aristotle's Hylemorphism is the *only* way to harmonize the data of sense with the fundamental laws of reality and thought (the principle of contradiction/identity)

In the first place, what's wrong with my proposed dynemorphism instead, but of course what I am saying is that Aristotle's mistake was in thinking that the principle of contradiction/identity is fundamental. Mystics say otherwise. That we cannot understand a contradictory identity is a sign of our fallenness, when we substitute the understandable for the real.

SR said...

Anonymous at 12:06,

I believe Thomists hold that the duality is in some sense transcended in the act of knowledge i.e., where knower, knowledge, and the known become one.

Yes, but that's a long way from Realizing that Nirvana is Samsara. One the other hand, it is a big step in the right direction from the Cartesian or materialist view, which can't account for knowing at all.

Westcountryman said...

Chris

I would say I was a Christian Non-Dualist. I find this position metaphysically most truthful. I know it is not a position held overtly by a lot of historical Christians, but I do not see it is in absolute conflict with Orthodox Christians, except for some areas where I feel too rigid doctrinal and exoteric theology gets in the way.

I put metaphysics before theology. This is partly because I find the existence of God and his role he Absolute Good, Beauty and so on as obvious truths with little room for doubt, but the question of why accept a particular religion is something that I have found harder to support conclusively.

After all the Traditionalist can respond to his critics by asking not only which Christ is it who saves, the logos or the incarnate Jesus, but why, if Christianity is alone the truth faith, did it come so late in history and then not to most of mankind? I suspect the transcendental unity of religions may have a lot of truth to it, but the traditionalists have given me other reasons to properly practice and stick to my tradition; in particular there focus on the importance of embracing fully a religious tradition has been an important influence on me.

SR,

I simply do not see how the saying that 'form is formless' really changes things. After all to a Platonist all forms are ultimately divine qualities that merge within the oneness of God. I do not see that this is a flat out contradiction of essentialism.

When it comes to the transcendence of many opposites I think the same is true. After all many opposites, such as hot and cold, only exist together and are in a sense what Coleridge called 'Interpretentive'. This is how opposites, or most of them (not all), are trasncended by God.

The Aristotelian, due to a certain rationalism and worldly, discursive bent that tends to always deduce from particular individual objects, needs to be careful lest he does give too much rigidity to things in themselves. But this does not mean that whatever other criticisms of Western thought a Buddhist may have, that Buddhism is anti-essentialist per se.

One thing that must be remembered, though again my knowledge of Buddhism is lacking, is that Buddhism does not have a central place for discursive thought and what might be called philosophy. It tends to have less time for speculation and instead focus more on what is directly practical to the faith.

It is simply incorrect to say that mystics dispute the principles of identity and non-contradiction. Now we must keep in mind the previously noted distinction between those Saints and mystics who do not have much time for discursive thought and speculation and who are not to be primarily looked to on issues like this. But the great philosophers and metaphysicans among the mystics do not tend to dispute these basic principles of logic. Shankara (who may be the greatest philosopher and metaphysican who ever lived) for instance, extensively uses them, as I recall. They will affirm that God transcends most polarities (which after all rely on each other and a shared medium to exist as polarities) and that within him all qualities and possibilities exist without distinction. But they will not deny that such basic principles of logic are a reflection of the highest reality itself.

SR said...

Westcountryman,

It is simply incorrect to say that mystics dispute the principles of identity and non-contradiction

I didn't say the principles were disputed. I said that they are not fundamental. Or should I let Merrell-Wolff do the talking:

"While in the State [of High Indifference, as he called it, that is "indifferent" between Nirvana and Samsara], I was particularly impressed with the fact that the logical principle of contradiction had no relevancy. It would not be correct to say that this principle was violated, but rather, that it had no application. For to isolate any phase of the State was to be immediately aware of the opposite phase as the necessary complementary part of the first. Thus the attempt of self-conscious thought to isolate anything resulted in the immediate initiation of a sort of flow in the very essence of consciousness itself, so that the nascent isolation was transformed into its opposite as co-partner in a timeless reality....It seemed to be the real underlying fact of all consciousness of all creatures." [Franklin Merrell-Wolff, Experience and Philosophy, p.286]

Obviously we use the principles all the time, but when comes to most anything metaphysical, it seems we have to say "X, yet not X". But note the last sentence of that quote: "It seemed to be the real underlying fact of all consciousness..." In other words, contradictory identity isn't just the way we talk about mysteries, it is what they are. And what we are.

Anonymous said...

Form only changes
Energy is always conserved.
Being only IS, and It is never negated.

All appearances, conditions, forms, or changes are apparent modifications of Primal Energy or Spirit Power. Primal Energy is the essence of every body-mind. Primal Energy is the essence of all "things". Primal Energy is the essence of all opposites and all changes. Primal Energy is the essence of the activity of change itself. Nevertheless, Primal Energy Itself is inherently changeless. Even in all changes, Primal Energy Itself is forever conserved. Primal Energy Itself cannot be destroyed. Primal Energy Itself is a constant and Self-Existing Shine, merely, or only Self-Radiant.

Every conditional "thing" or apparent "object" is only Energy Itself.
Every conditional "self", or apparently individual "subject" IS only Consciousness Itself.

Consciousness Itself IS the native and inherently perfect intuition of Being, Itself.
Being,Itself is Self-Existing and Self-Radiant.
Consciousness, Itself IS the eternal contemplation of the Self-Existing Self-Radiance, or inherent energy, of Being, Itself.
Therefore, Consciousness, Itself, IS the contemplation and real observation of Energy, Itself.
Consciousness, Itself, IS merely Being, or Existence Itself, Self-Radiant As Primal Radiance, or Energy Itself, appearing to be modified as all forms and changes.

Consciousness, ITSELF - Realized as inherent freedom and Self-Radiant and Self-Existing bliss, or happiness Itself - IS the Realization of Real God, or Truth, or Reality, ITSELF.

Therefore, Consciousness, Itself - Self-Existing as Being Itselfe, and Self-Radiant as Bliss-Energy Itself, or Happiness Itself - IS the Divine Being, the Eternal Spirit, forever standing in the midst of Life, and all of its seeming changes.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

SR,
“I have several times put forth the accusation that Aristotelian thinking is based on arbitrary presuppositions, in particular the belief that thingness is self-explanatory, while change requires explanation. Other metaphysicians and other religions do not presuppose that. So my question is: what makes you right, and the others wrong?”

Could you perhaps give examples of who rejects that? Just saying ‘other metaphysicians and other religions’ doesn’t really say anything. Could you perhaps also present their arguments? (And how can something change if it doesn’t first exist?)

And could you perhaps explain what you mean by the allegedly Aristotelian-Thomstic presupposition that thingness is self-explanatory? I’m not entirely sure I understand what you mean, and I’m pretty sure you are wrong here (that they do not in fact presuppose that thingness is self-explanatory).

“Aristotle simply dismissed the Heraclitean viewpoint on the grounds that it couldn't be formulated without violating the principle of non-contradiction.”

And rightly so. There can be no coherent thought – here or in any other ‘spiritual plane’ – without the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity and law of excluded middle. Any attempts to explain them away makes use of them, and so they cannot be explained away.

“Heresy has been characterized as replacing mystery with something understandable. In my view, that is what Aristotle did.”

I’m interested in finding out who said that. It certainly wouldn’t be supported by the bishops in Nicea AD 325.

Westcountryman said...

SR

I am not familiar with Merrell-Wolff. There are many figures, who dabbled in mysticism, of the last century who should not be completely trusted on the topic. I do not know though whether this applies to him or not.

I simply do not think that quote conflicts with what I'm saying. He appears to be talking about what I mentioned; the overcoming of polarity in the One and its complete, distinctionless Unity or Unicity. What he says would not conflict, for instance, with what Coleridge wrote on Unity and what he called 'Interpenetration' and 'Translucence'.

The laws of logic are reflections of the Supreme Reality that is itself supralogical and suprarational. But this not mean they should be at all disputed, violated or not fundamental and it would unwise to suggest so. I think it is just a matter of you talking a bit too loosely. The laws of logic are fundamental then, though as reflections of Reality in terms of human language and discursive thought. This must be maintained lest instead of moving towards transcending reason we fall for a psuedo-, irrational mysticism which does not even rise to the level of rationalism.

Anonymous said...

During and since the time of the European Renaissance, there has been a profound struggle to come to terms with with the notion that the nature of the universe was not as it had previously been presumed to be. The "old view" had the Earth at the center of everything. I the period of the Renaissance and ever since, people had to come to terms with the notion based on physical perceptual observation, that the Earth and the other planets of the solar system, revolves around the sun.

The "old view" did not rightly represent Reality-Truth, but neither does the "new view" rightly represent Reality-Truth. In either case, whether "old" or "new", if the point of view were shifted so much as a hair's breadth to the left or right, the universe so described would no longer exist.

Reality ITSELF is not any view or point of view. Reality ITSELF is not merely the idea of "God creating and running the universe. Rather, Reality Itself, and in the context of all conditionally arising appearances, is INHERENTLY DIVINE, or egoless, Indivisible, Absolute, Transcendental , Spiritual, and Perfect, in Nature.

In Reaity Itself, there is no center. In Reality Itself, there are no spheres within the shere. And yet. paradoxically, there is the appearance of conditionally arising events.

Participation in the appearance of conditionally arising events can either be done on the egoless Basis of Reality Itself or on the basis of the illusion of egoity (or separate presumed point of view).

EITHER there is the Enlightened Life of egoless Self-Illumination in and by Reality Itself, OR there is the mummery of Narcissus in the ego-constructed-"world".

There are NO other choices.

Chris said...

I thought this passage by Frithjof Schuon was, perhaps, relevant to the ongoing discussion.

".....the rational mode of knowledge in no way extends beyond the realm of generalities and cannot by itself reach any transcendent truth; if it may nevertheless serve as a means of expressing supra-rational knowledge- as in the case of Aristotelian and Scholastic ontology- this will always be to the detriment of the intellectual integrity of the doctrine.

Some may perhaps object that even the purest metaphysic is sometimes hardly distinguishable from philosophy inasmuch as it uses arguments and seems to reach conclusions. But this resemblance is due merely to the fact that all concepts, once they are expressed, are necessarily clothed in the modes of human thought, which is rational and dialectical.

What essentially distinguishes the metaphysical from the philosophical proposition is that the former is symbolical and descriptive, in the sense that it makes use of rational modes as symbols to desribe or translate knowledge possessing a greater degree of certainty than any knowledge of a sensible order, whereas philosophy- called, not without reason, ancilla theologiae- is never anything more than what it expresses.

When philosophy uses reason to resolve a doubt, this proves precisely that its starting point is a doubt which it is striving to overcome, whereas we have seen that the starting point of a metaphysical formulation is always essentially something intellectually evident or certain, which is communicated, to those able to receive it, by symbolical or dialectical means designed to awaken in them the latent knowledge which they bear unconsciously and 'eternally' within them.

In theology as in philosophy, and to varying degrees, one encounters a deliberate way of reasoning in a given manner and in a given direction in order to support a certain axiom, and to exclude from the intelligence all possibilities which do not serve this end. The subjectivists will say that the same holds true for all demonstrations, but this is not so, since in the case of a certitude independent of all sentimental postulates, the arguments result objectively from the certitude to be demonstrated, and not subjectively from our desire to prove it."

SR said...

Kjetil,

I've covered most everything you ask about in previous comments in this thread.

I’m interested in finding out who said that [about heresy]. It certainly wouldn’t be supported by the bishops in Nicea AD 325.

It's discussed at length in Part 4 of Robert Magliola's Derrida on the Mend. For example, "God is Three, Yet One" is not understandable. Tritheism and modalism are understandable heretical replacements.

Westcountryman said...

I would avoid Derride and decontructionism/post-modernism like the plague.

Brandon said...

SR,

Thanks for the clarification. From what you've said, I suspect that this is one of those things full hashing out of which would require large-scale interaction of communities and extensive time, so we're almost certainly not going to resolve in a comments thread the questin, "How much and in what way do these approaches actually differ rather than just cover different, even if only slightly different, ground?" -- much less get close to anything that will contribute much to the question, "Where there is real difference does one correct the other adequately?" But perhaps it's possible for some brief conversation here that would contribute to that sort of larger-scale interaction.

Some further questions. You keep using the term 'wrong'. If you reject the principle of noncontradiction, what do you mean when you say something is wrong? I think most of us here understand the term entirely in terms of the application of the principle of noncontradiction, so this is a big preliminary question.

You mention that energy actualizes objects of experience and that energy is consciousness. When you say this are you putting forward a view that everything is conscious including objects of consciousness (panpsychism) or that everything is either conscious or an object of conscious but not both (idealism, broadly construed)?

I notice the brief reference to Barfield and your mention of polarity. Are you at least largely in agreement with Barfield's anthroposophy, or is the connection there much narrower?

SR said...

Westcountryman,

I simply do not think that quote conflicts with what I'm saying. He appears to be talking about what I mentioned; the overcoming of polarity in the One and its complete, distinctionless Unity or Unicity. What he says would not conflict, for instance, with what Coleridge wrote on Unity and what he called 'Interpenetration' and 'Translucence'.

If there is a disagreement, it is in the word 'overcoming'. As I understand Coleridge, polarity is not 'overcome', or 'reconciled'. Rather it is what is, and is everywhere. If -- as I maintain -- consciousness is polarity in action, then how is one to formulate a philosophy of mind without the logic of contradictory identity?

The laws of logic are reflections of the Supreme Reality that is itself supralogical and suprarational. But this not mean they should be at all disputed, violated or not fundamental and it would unwise to suggest so.

Seems to me that Supreme Reality -- where Aristotelian logic has been supra-ed -- is what is meant by fundamental.

I think it is just a matter of you talking a bit too loosely. The laws of logic are fundamental then, though as reflections of Reality in terms of human language and discursive thought. This must be maintained lest instead of moving towards transcending reason we fall for a psuedo-, irrational mysticism which does not even rise to the level of rationalism.

While I contend that exploring the (non-Aristotelian) logic of contradictory identity is the way to go about moving towards transcending (discursive) reason. Or an aspect of the way -- meditation being the greater part.

Merrell-Wolff, by the way, was well-versed in philosophy and mathematics, which is one reason I like him. He was quite aware of the difference between the rational and the irrational.

SR said...

Brandon,

You keep using the term 'wrong'. If you reject the principle of noncontradiction, what do you mean when you say something is wrong? I think most of us here understand the term entirely in terms of the application of the principle of noncontradiction, so this is a big preliminary question.

Since I hold that no metaphysical system (including mine) can be firmly grounded in self-evident assumptions, I evaluate them in the same way I evaluate religious doctrines, namely, pragmatically with respect to salvation. That is, I assume that the word 'salvation' is meaningful, and that the primary function of religion is (or should be) salvific. Hence 'wrong' with respect to a whole system means not helpful, possibly detrimental. But since there are gradations of helpfulness, I suppose I should use another word. Though there are specific things in Aristotelian thinking that I think just are wrong, like the assigning of act to form. How about I say that I think Aristotle got off on the wrong foot?

You mention that energy actualizes objects of experience and that energy is consciousness. When you say this are you putting forward a view that everything is conscious including objects of consciousness (panpsychism) or that everything is either conscious or an object of conscious but not both (idealism, broadly construed)?

Like you said, too much to cover in this situation, as to answer with either would require a large amount of explanation. Is a word conscious?


I notice the brief reference to Barfield and your mention of polarity. Are you at least largely in agreement with Barfield's anthroposophy, or is the connection there much narrower?

I am in agreement with Barfield, and I have also been influenced by another anthroposophist, Georg Kuhlewind. But most all the esoteric data one finds in Steiner I set aside. I don't deny it, just have no way of dealing with it.

Westcountryman said...

SR

I think that Coleridge's basic point, which seems to me akin to the general mystical perspective, is that while on its own level polarity is a part of existence it is overcome in the complete, distinctionless unity of the One.

That overcoming does not destroy polarity, there doesn't cease to be hot and cold, rather it transcends it; linking the poles with what they have in common, the base of temperature in our example, and showing how each exists within and alongside each other and the common base or what he calls the fulcrum. This is what he refers to 'Interpretation' and 'translucence' is just this Unity not in pairs or poles but across even larger unities and relationships, in the end up to all Reality itself. To stress again the poles continue to exist as poles, and yet at the same time they are overcome and transcended. But there is no flat out contradiction here, no flouting of the basic laws of logic.

This is akin to how the duality of the many is overcome in the total Unity, or Unicity, of the One. The many still has its place in Reality but it is ultimately as part of the One.

Or again it is like Divine Simplicity, where God's Qualities of Goodness and Beauty and so forth have their separate existence and place, but they still exist in total, distinctionless Unity in God's essence.

Though this is impeccably logical it can be hard to fully grasp discursively; it is something, as Coleridge's maintains, that we only completely grasp Intellectually and Imaginatively.

However at no time do basic logical laws and truths get set aside in any of this. At no time can God make 2+2=5 or square the circle or not be God or not be Absolute and Infinite or contradict himself. What C.S Lewis noted, that these sorts of claims are manifest nonsense even when made of God, remains true always. If you are suggesting these or that the basic laws of logic ever do not apply then you are simply incorrect. To suggest so is to give in to an utterly inane, irrational and absurd pseudo-mysticism. But on the other hand you are certainly right if you are pointing out that some common ways of thinking, including at times Aristotelianism, do not fully appreciate what Coleridge refers to as 'Interpenetration' and 'translucence'.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @10.45 pm March 2,

"For instance, the holes in a piece of Swiss cheese can be large and yet we can call that piece good."

..........

mmmmm ... cheese!

Wednesday in Lent, Week 2.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

SR,

I've covered most everything you ask about in previous comments in this thread.

I haven’t seen any hard evidence. ‘Other metaphysicians and other religions’ is too abstract. And I haven’t seen any evidence that Aristotle or St. Thomas say what you claim they say. (And you are simply wrong about the law of non-contradiction.)

It's discussed at length in Part 4 of Robert Magliola's Derrida on the Mend. For example, "God is Three, Yet One" is not understandable. Tritheism and modalism are understandable heretical replacements.

Understood rightly, ‘God is Three, Yet One’ is perfectly understandable (three referring to persons; one referring to essence).

SR said...

Kjetil,

Understood rightly, ‘God is Three, Yet One’ is perfectly understandable (three referring to persons; one referring to essence).

So you understand perfectly how three persons can be one essence? And what a 'person' is when it isn't referring to people? Amazing. I wonder why all those theologians have been writing books on the Trinity for all these centuries, when it's so simple.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this isn't the best thread to bring this up, but anyway, I'm reading (when I have time) Feser's "Aquinas" and I think one of his examples is wrong on the physics. If I understand him correctly (and perhaps I don't) he argues that a particular example from science shows that a cause can be simultaneous with the effect, and uses the example of how the movement of a hand moves a staff which moves a stone which moves a leaf and it all happens simultaneously. Well, no it doesn't. When your hand pushes on one end of a staff there's a time delay before the other end of the staff moves. The same is true for any rigid object--in fact, it's known to textbook writers on relativity theory that our incorrect intuitions about rigid objects lead to seeming paradoxes that baffle students when given as homework problems. The problem is that our intuition tells us that when you push on one end of a solid object the other end immediately begins to move, but in reality there is a time delay as elastic waves travel to the other end and tell the other end to start moving. It's not noticeable on a human time scale because the delay is on the order of a millisecond, but it's there. In almost any area of science, causes precede effects and I don't know if there are good examples of a causal series per se, if that phrase means a causal series where all the events in the cause-effect chain occur simultaneously. (I hedged that a bit because there are some weird quantum mechanical situations where it almost seems like the measurement effects what path a photon took, but I don' think anyone quite understands QM.)

Whether Prof. Feser's invalid example from physics has any relevance to his defense of Aristotle's metaphysics I couldn't say. I haven't even finished the book and would probably have to read it a few times before I could say I understood it. Metaphysics isn't exactly my area of expertise.

Donald

Edward Feser said...

Donald,

I've addressed this before. The point of the example you are citing is to introduce the idea of instrumental causality. Whether the motion is strictly simultaneous is irrelevant (just as the fact that the hand is not strictly a first cause is irrelevant). See this post:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

Anonymous said...

"[...] in reality there is a time delay as elastic waves travel to the other end and tell the other end to start moving."

Donald,

cf. what Doc. Feser said. but it seems you're wrong on another account as well. consider this: is there a time delay between the pushing of the hand and the moving of the end (of the stick) that the hand first pushes? if no, they're simultaneous. if yes, and you say there are elastic waves between the hand and the end of the stick its pushing, then the same question would apply to the hand and the elastic waves? what causes the motion of the so-called elastic waves? the hand? if so, then they're simultaneous. if not, you have to posit other waves 'in between' the hand and the elastic waves that push the other end of the stick. and the same question would then apply to these new elastic waves (between the hand the first elastic waves). And so on ad infinitum. but this is absurd.

Tony said...

SR: Since I hold that no metaphysical system (including mine) can be firmly grounded in self-evident assumptions, I evaluate them in the same way I evaluate religious doctrines, namely, pragmatically with respect to salvation. That is, I assume that the word 'salvation' is meaningful, and that the primary function of religion is (or should be) salvific. Hence 'wrong' with respect to a whole system means not helpful, possibly detrimental

See, this is why sane people have learned to start running when anyone starts talking about mysticism but is not fully grounded in philosophy, theology, metaphysics, and Christian devotion. Because there cannot be intelligible recourse to any "pragmatic test" of a salvific program if you cannot begin by saying what man is that he should need "saving" and what "saved" would mean. How would you know that a system does, nor does not "save" if you don't know what "saved" even means? It's hopelessly deluded.

Give me St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross any day of the week. They certainly plumb mysteries, and yet they never go around declaring that the principle of non-contradiction is invalid, only that TRUTH supercedes our expression of it by being MORE real, MORE true, MORE grounded than our grasp of it, not less.

No, I don't think so. The classic statement of this (from the Heart Sutra) is "Form is empty, Emptiness is form." I don't see how that cashes out in Western terms except as pantheism, but it is more than that. It can only be expressed as "contradictory identity" (a phrase Nishida uses, for example). Now Cusa, for one, spoke of the coincidence of opposites in God, but the Buddhist is more likely to express it as coincidence of opposites in ourselves.

Mind is empty, Mind is full.

Or, to put it another way: Bullsh%^. You mind is empty, but it is not of the nature of mind to BE empty, and God's mind is full. For every so-called contradiction that you want to pin up as a poster child, a Christian mystic like St. John of the Cross would rightly say you're out to lunch. EITHER the contradiction X is true / not-true is resolvable discursively by saying that X is true in sense P and X is not-true in alternate sense Q, and saying silly things like "Form is empty, Emptiness is form" is just a goofy way of saying "I don't know how to express distinctions, pay me no attention, I am still studying to become the village idiot."

Or, alternatively, the contradiction may be resolvable non-discursively, but this in NO WAY touches the principle of non-contradiction in the least. The principle still is valid and still APPLIES in all the same places, it is just that there is more to be known than knowing strictly by ratiocination and discursive analysis.

My advice is to stop trying to transcend the contradictories "self" and "other" in some mystic mumbo-jumbo, and instead learn to know God, and that knowing will be your all in all. You won't be worried about either "self" or "other" any more. Mysticism separated from God is pure insanity.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dr. Feser.

To the other anonymous-- I was talking about the time delay between a hand pushing a stick and the other end moving. You're saying that "I'm wrong" because of some issue you raised and incidentally, if you reduce things to a smaller scale, you'd be talking about atomic interactions and below that you'd be talking about particle physics and eventually you'd find yourself involved in some argument between physicists who believe in string theory and those who don't. (Which is way beyond my pay grade.) Just how far down the time and space scale one can go in analyzing events in nature isn't known (or not to me.) It's possible that on some level you're right, but "simultaneous" is a word that physicists don't use lightly. I accept that I don't have enough understanding of metaphysics to be able to judge Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, or Prof. Feser's arguments. I'm slowly trying to change that.

Donald