Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hart stopping


In the August/September issue of First Things, David Bentley Hart gives us what he promises is his last word on the controversy generated by his article on natural law in the March issue.  I responded to Hart’s original piece in “A Christian Hart, a Humean Head,” posted at the First Things website (and cross-posted here).  Hart replied to my criticisms in a follow-up article in the May issue of First Things.  I responded to that in “Sheer Hart Attack,” posted at Public Discourse.  Hart also replied to several other critics in the Letters section of the May First Things, and I commented on his remarks in a further post entitled “Discerning the thoughts and intents of Hart.”  What follows is a reply to his latest piece.
 
Hart does not refer to me by name this time, but he does quote a remark I made in my Public Discourse article to the effect that according to natural law theory, “there is common ground among all human beings, and particularly between religious believers and non-believers, on which moral disagreements can be rationally adjudicated.”  Hart comments:

I am not sure I could sneak so minimalist a definition of natural law theory past, say, the piercing eyes of Russell Hittinger; but, by all means, if we are talking only about principles upon which we all agree in advance, then only details remain.

I, however, do not believe everyone agrees on those principles anymore, even when it seems they might.

End quote.  The first thing to say about this is that I was not trying to give a formal definition of natural law theory in the first place, but merely putting emphasis on one of its key features.  I was also keeping my characterization general enough to cover both of the main theories that go under the “natural law” label these days (i.e. the traditional or “old” natural law theory defended by the likes of Hittinger, Ralph McInerny, and myself, and the “new” natural law theory of Germain Grisez, John Finnis, and Robert P. George).  Had I intended my remark as a definition it would have been what Scholastics call a “nominal definition” (one which tries merely to capture a term’s usage) rather than a “real definition” (one which tries to capture the real essence of the thing named by a term).  And had I given a real definition it would have been no more minimalist than the sort Hittinger would give.

Anyway, while on the substantive issues Hart concedes little if anything to his critics, he does allow that in some places in his earlier articles he perhaps could have been clearer, writing that “given the necessarily condensed nature of columns with word limits, I may have been guilty of a few cryptic formulations.”  But though he tries to clarify things in this latest piece, I’m afraid it just doesn’t seem to me that he has succeeded in doing so.

One of the complaints Hart’s critics have raised repeatedly is that he appears to be attacking a phantom, refusing to name the specific natural law theorists whose work he has in mind, blurring the crucial differences between the “old” and “new” approaches, and as a consequence raising objections that apply to neither one.  Amazingly, in this fourth time at bat he still does not resolve this ambiguity, or so it seems to me.  On the one hand, he tells us that “while classical forms of the tradition are cogent given the religious and metaphysical assumptions with which they work,” he has been “dismissive” of “attempts to forge an effective natural law theory without the support of those assumptions, agreeable to the temper of modernity.”  That makes it sound as if what he has had in his sights is the “new natural law theory,” which attempts to reformulate the natural law position without reference to the classical metaphysical foundation traditional or “old” natural law theorists would insist on. 

On the other hand, Hart is critical of attempts to argue for moral conclusions via what he calls “philosophical arguments simply from the evident natures of things” and spends most of the piece emphasizing how, given their “mechanical” conception of nature, modern people do not see “inherent purposes” in nature and fail to “find a moral meaning in nature’s forms.”  That makes it sound as if Hart is criticizing the “old” or traditional natural law theory, which (unlike the “new”) appeals to formal and final causes in nature.  (Or at least it sounds as if he is criticizing a caricature of the “old” theory -- I know of no natural law theorist who thinks he can appeal “simply” to “the evident natures of things,” as if the existence of such natures were uncontroversial.)

I do not have any satisfying explanation for Hart’s persistent ambiguity.  He has read his critics and knows that this is one of their complaints (indeed, perhaps their chief complaint).  It would be very easy for him to say something like “Let me make it clear that I am only criticizing the ‘new natural law’ of Grisez, Finnis, George, et al.” (if that is indeed the case) or “I am criticizing both approaches, but I realize that the same criticisms don’t apply to both, so let me first raise some criticisms of the ‘new’ approach and then some separate criticisms of the ‘old.’”  As it is, he does not even acknowledge his critics’ repeated complaint about his failure clearly to distinguish the “old” and “new” approaches to natural law, much less respond to it.

Could it be that Hart does not understand the differences between the two approaches?  That is hard to believe, given not only how well-read he evidently is, but also how clearly and frequently the differences have been harped on by his critics.  One thing is plain, and that is that if Hart were to disambiguate his position, his main objection to natural law theories would entirely collapse.  For that objection -- which the new article essentially restates -- has consistently been that modernity’s conception of nature is too metaphysically desiccated for natural law theorists to be able glibly to appeal to nature’s purposes in arguing about morality with secularists.  And the problem with this -- to repeat a point I’ve now made many times, in several articles, but which Hart has never answered -- is that it is directed at a straw man. 

For “new” natural law theorists do not appeal to nature’s purposes in the first place.  In response to Hart’s eloquent description of the moderns’ conception of nature as denuded from top to bottom of inherent purpose, they might say “Fine, but how is all of that relevant to us?  The whole point of our approach is to sidestep that problem by grounding natural law, not in a classical philosophy of nature of the sort the moderns reject, but in a theory of practical reason sensitive to their post-Humean metaphysical scruples!”  This may be a hopeless task -- I certainly think it is -- but Hart offers no arguments whatsoever against it.  His repeated emphasis on the differences between classical and modern conceptions of nature, while correct, simply misses the whole point of the “new natural lawyers’” project.

We “old” natural law theorists, meanwhile, do appeal to “inherent purposes” and “nature’s forms.”  We agree with Hart that natural law theory requires such a classical metaphysical foundation.  But precisely for that reason, we are also well aware that that entails that we are committed to a radically different conception of nature from that of modern secularists, and that “any ‘natural’ terms [we] employ have very different meanings for [those] interlocutors” (as Hart tells us -- as if it were news).  We realize that we cannot take for granted a common metaphysical understanding of the natural world and proceed directly to moral arguments, but have first to challenge the moderns’ understanding of nature itself, and that this is a Herculean project.  In response to Hart’s eloquent description of the moderns’ conception of nature as denuded from top to bottom of inherent purpose, we would say “Fine, but how is all of that relevant to us?  You’re not telling us anything we don’t already know -- indeed, you’re not telling us anything we haven’t said ourselves!”

In short, Hart’s targets are natural law theorists who both (a) appeal to formal and final causes inherent in nature but also (b) are blithely unaware of the fact that (or at least downplay the fact that) most modern readers firmly reject the very idea of formal and final causes.  And the trouble is that there are no such natural law theorists.  For (a) is not true of “new” natural law theorists, and (b) is not true of “old” natural law theorists.  Certainly Hart has, in four different pieces now, failed to offer a single specific example of a theorist to whom his criticisms would apply.

Since Hart has now responded twice to me personally, it is especially odd that he should say some of the things he does in his latest piece, presumably as if they were criticisms of anything I’ve written.  He emphasizes that the “rise of the mechanical philosophy” has made it possible for modern people to deny that there are purposes in nature; that “even those who believed that the exquisite clockwork of the universe had been assembled by an intelligent designer still regarded physical nature as an amalgam of intrinsically aimless energies upon which order had been extrinsically imposed”; that even in the biological realm moderns tend to reject “intrinsic natures” in favor of “local coalescences of diverse and meaningless material forces” so that there can be “no proper purpose inherent in any aspect of an organism” on such a view and thus no morally relevant criterion of what counts as “flourishing”; and that this overall picture amounts to a “nihilism” that when pushed through consistently enables those who embrace it to “dismiss logic” and tends toward a “limitless voluntarism” in ethics.

I hardly need tell my longtime readers that these are themes I have repeatedly emphasized and developed at length myself, e.g. in The Last Superstition and in countless blog posts (such as my series of posts on Alex Rosenberg).  Indeed, I have, I think it can fairly be said, relentlessly hammered (some might say ad nauseam) on the theme that defending natural law and natural theology requires revitalizing the entire classical metaphysical tradition and attacking the metaphysical assumptions of modern philosophy at their core.  Hearing Hart complain that natural law theorists are insufficiently mindful of how deeply at odds their basic metaphysical assumptions are with those of modern thinkers, I feel a bit like Richard Dawkins might if he were told that he really should consider writing something about evolution someday.

Agree though we implicitly do about the condition of modern metaphysics, Hart and I certainly do not see eye to eye on the remedy.  While I acknowledge in The Last Superstition that there are “non-intellectual factors” behind the crisis of modern Western civilization and that “some are more important” than the intellectual ones (p. 51), I have also long insisted that a major part of the problem is intellectual and philosophical, and can only be dealt with via sustained, vigorous, and painstaking philosophical argument. 

And here is where a kind of “common ground” between the classical natural law theorist and the contemporary secular philosopher can still be found.  For though the latter typically rejects classical metaphysics of the Platonic, Aristotelian, or Scholastic sort, he can still understand arguments for those views if they are set out carefully.  He is perfectly capable of engaging in debate with the classical metaphysician about such matters as whether a nominalist account of universals is ultimately defensible, whether Humean arguments about efficient causality are ultimately cogent, whether efficient causation is ultimately intelligible without affirming an end toward which a cause points as to a final cause, whether the existence of change can coherently be denied and if not whether it can be made sense of without the act/potency distinction, whether modern science can ultimately be made sense of without affirming that things have immanent natures, whether reductionist interpretations of what we know from modern chemistry and biology are correct -- and all the other philosophical issues I address in The Last Superstition and elsewhere (and which other traditional natural law theorists address too).  That such debate can be fruitful is obvious to anyone familiar with the resurgence of Aristotelian ideas even outside the ranks of Thomists -- as several recent anthologies (see this one, this one, and this one), not to mention the well-known recent example of Thomas Nagel, make evident.  Of course, this by itself does not entail the moral conclusions associated with natural law, but it does show that the metaphysical presuppositions of classical natural law theory can be recovered via philosophical argument.

Hart evidently disagrees.  While he says on the one hand that his skepticism about natural law “arises not from doubts regarding the powers of natural reason,” he immediately goes on to say that they arise “rather from doubts regarding the powers of philosophical dialectic when it artificially confines itself to ‘purely natural’ principles.”  I’m not sure I see the distinction here, much less a difference, but in any event Hart seems, as he did in his earlier articles, to be saying that the dispute between “these two views of reality” -- classical versus modern metaphysics -- is only ever going to be “mediated” by grace rather than nature, revelation rather than reason, and what he calls “the rhetoric of conversion” rather than philosophical argument.  (How this squares with the existence of the many contemporary non-religious philosophers who have been brought over to various Aristotelian and other classical metaphysical views via purely philosophical arguments, he does not tell us.) 

The problem with this alternative approach seems to me more obvious than any Hart purports to find in natural law.  Whose rhetoric?  Which conversion?  Why should it be Christ’s call to leave our nets and follow Him, rather than (say) the call from the minaret, that stirs our hearts?  Or why Christian renunciation rather than Buddhist non-attachment?  And how can any answer that simply appeals to further conversion rhetoric be anything more than a riff on the sort of subjectivism and voluntarism Hart rightly denounces when it appears in its modernist guises?

It is no good merely to insinuate, as Hart does, that reason is at least a part of the story, as if this sufficed to keep the subjectivist and voluntarist genies in the bottle.  For he also appears to insist that “the rhetoric of conversion” must always ultimately wear the trousers, and the problem is that there are competing rhetorical influences on us.  Either further rhetoric is what ultimately decides between them -- in which case we’ve fallen into subjectivism and voluntarism -- or it is not, in which case it is not Hart’s “rhetoric of conversion” that wears the trousers after all.

So, Hart has not only failed to lay a hand on the natural law approach, but has also failed to make clear exactly what his alternative is supposed to be.  Or so it appears to me.  But as an admirer of Atheist Delusions, I am (as Hart says of himself in his closing line) more than willing to be proved wrong. 

217 comments:

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Seraphim said...

I think that Dr's Feser and Hart should arrange to sit down and record a youtube session on these issues. The immediate back and forth may help to clear things up more efficiently, and it would be fun to watch.

rank sophist said...

For he also appears to insist that “the rhetoric of conversion” must always ultimately wear the trousers, and the problem is that there are competing rhetorical influences on us.

It seems like Hart has finally revealed his hand. I don't have access to the article, but this is indeed what Hart believes and what he defends at great length in The Beauty of the Infinite. His position is a bit like a combination of MacIntyre, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and traditional Christian thought. Hart is of the opinion that logic is impotent to convert on its own. Logic is always presented in a wider framework of rhetoric. Even the claim that logic can convert on its own is rhetoric--of the Enlightenment variety. As a result, he would simply dismiss as Enlightenment nonsense the claim that one could become convinced by pure logic.

Further,

Why should it be Christ’s call to leave our nets and follow Him, rather than (say) the call from the minaret, that stirs our hearts? Or why Christian renunciation rather than Buddhist non-attachment? And how can any answer that simply appeals to further conversion rhetoric be anything more than a riff on the sort of subjectivism and voluntarism Hart rightly denounces when it appears in its modernist guises?

The idea that Hart lays out here has a long history in Christian tradition. It isn't subjectivism or voluntarism. It's based on the belief that human reason is incredibly benighted, to the extent that it can't tell truth from error (or truth from verisimilitude). Hence the disagreements between the great schools of philosophy in Greece, which Augustine talks so much about in Confessions and Against the Academics. Human reason cannot, on its own, figure out which mutually contradictory position is true, since both can be supported by convincing arguments. Obviously, one side must be false--but who are we to say with absolute certainty which one it is? Aquinas follows Augustine and the rest on this point. He would never suggest that Aristotelian philosophy could be considered absolutely true without first being judged by the light of the articles of faith.

Similarly, human reason is completely helpless to decide between Christianity and Buddhism. It is only the event of grace that raises us out of our ignorance to embrace Christianity as the truth by which all other truths must be judged. This is by far the majority opinion in Christian tradition. The alternative is essentially Pelagianism.

rank sophist said...

One more point.

Either further rhetoric is what ultimately decides between them -- in which case we’ve fallen into subjectivism and voluntarism -- or it is not, in which case it is not Hart’s “rhetoric of conversion” that wears the trousers after all.

Hart would reject this dichotomy, since it forgets the third option: the "apocalyptic interruption" of grace, which is transcendent rhetoric. To pick a side in the above dichotomy is to accept either the post-modern or the Enlightenment position, respectively--both of which Hart considers nihilistic.

Seraphim said...

Rather than subjectivism and voluntarism, the idea Hart seems to be conveying is what is called a "head in the heart conversion" in Orthodoxy. In other words, for one to be truly converted the intellect alone, while an important tool in the process, is insufficient.

dan said...

Similarly, human reason is completely helpless to decide between Christianity and Buddhism.

This seems like an outright false claim. For instance, Justin Martyr was convinced of the falseness of Platonism through reason, which also kindled within him the love of the Prophets which led him beyond reason to the truth of Christ. Likewise, the Cappadocians (and many others) argued at length why, for example, Arianism was contrary to reason. I personally was convinced of the falseness of atheism via reason. So reason certainly doesn't seem "completely helpless" to decide between two competing belief systems. It may not be sufficient for a full turn towards Christianity, but it certainly can lead us towards the light. It can also allow us to judge some beliefs as false, and others as significantly more likely to be true.

It also seems odd to criticize a position as being "Enlightenment nonsense" while simultaneously seeking a standard of "absolute certainty". I'm not so certain that absolute certainty is a useful standard for anything but geometric proofs and the like.

Joe said...

I think if Hart were more specific he would lose "Orthodox" street cred. The Orthodox can't stand being exoteric.

Edward Feser said...

rank sophist wrote:

Hart would reject this dichotomy, since it forgets the third option: the "apocalyptic interruption" of grace, which is transcendent rhetoric

Seraphim wrote:

Rather than subjectivism and voluntarism, the idea Hart seems to be conveying is what is called a "head in the heart conversion" in Orthodoxy. In other words, for one to be truly converted the intellect alone, while an important tool in the process, is insufficient.

This just re-labels, rather than solves, the problem. Why is it the Christian rather than Islamic "apocalyptic interruption" whose "transcendental rhetoric" we ought to hear? Why a Christian rather than Buddhist "head in the heart conversion"? How does any of this avoid just being higher level examples of subjectivism or voluntarism?

Neil Parille said...

Can't wait till this is over, maybe a "Total Eclipse of the Hart"

Tony said...

Hart is of the opinion that logic is impotent to convert on its own.

That just begs for the question: convert WHAT?

The problem here is a failure to use direct or indirect objects. Convert the person? Convert the mind? The heart? Convert to what? Convert to a RELIGION, or to a firmly held truth-claim about reality? Or to a validly firmly held truth-claim about reality. Or about logic? The different possible direct and indirect objects make it impossible to be right about ALL of them, all at once, in saying "impotent to convert."

Even through the damage of sin, the mind retains the capacity to see truth of its own natural power. The mind doesn't need to "convert" to anything outside of its normal function to pass from not knowing Euclid's first theorem to knowing it. The passage from ignorance to knowing is, indeed, a kind of conversion, and the interior experience of "AHA, now I see is experientially analogous to that of seeing the truth of Christ. Similar in a sense, not in all senses.

The mind doesn't need any assistance out of its natural and proper functioning to know geometric truths, it is fully POTENT to those actions by which it so knows without superadded grace to raise the mind to higher functions. The "conversion" then is that of reducing potency to act, where the mind has a natural readiness, a born conformity to receive the act. Man is made in order to know such things.

This is different from receiving supernatural grace, which the soul can receive but not by any natural readiness, nor by any essentially proper conformity prepared for it. Grace then raises the soul above itself.

Logic isn't the only operation of the intellect, that would include other acts such as induction, intuition, etc, as well as belief. When the intellect brings all of its natural powers to bear on learning a truth about the natural world, it is potent to convert from ignorance to knowledge.

to the extent that it can't tell truth from error (or truth from verisimilitude).

But it certainly CAN, in some areas of study. That's part of the givens that Hart should have noticed, but keeps shunting off to the side: nobody actually thinks that the validity of a "Barbara" syllogism is in doubt - nobody operates as if it were doubtful. We do know some truths from the opposed errors. The problem is not that man cannot know the right starting principles, it is that too many men DO not know them. And, not knowing them, spend all their time debating the wrong questions.

Like Hart, perhaps?

Seraphim said...

This just re-labels, rather than solves, the problem. Why is it the Christian rather than Islamic "apocalyptic interruption" whose "transcendental rhetoric" we ought to hear? Why a Christian rather than Buddhist "head in the heart conversion"? How does any of this avoid just being higher level examples of subjectivism or voluntarism?

While I believe that there is indeed objective reality, some of which can be abstracted by the human mind, I also believe that there is enough ambiguity, nuance, and other limiting factors to prevent most individuals from correctly discerning between faith traditions.

This seems especially relevant when one considers that many people do not have the intelligence, education, or time to make such realizations through intensive study. Even speaking as someone who has spent years studying the philosophy and and theology of various religious traditions (both as a graduate student and for personal edification) I realize the difference between subjectivism and mystery. There are just certain factors necessary for solving such issues that we don't have available. At some point one must rely on the supra-rational.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

If the truth of Christianity rather than Buddhism could be demonstrated by human reason, then it would follow that human reason (i.e. philosophy) was higher than the articles of faith (i.e. the word of God). But Aquinas expressly denies this (ST I q1 a5 ro1-2), in favor of the view that Christian reason is properly a rationalization of the articles of faith (ST IIb q2 a10)--which themselves transcend reason. The traditional view, to which Aquinas and nearly everyone else subscribed, is that one cannot determine the truth of Christianity through logical means. Anyone drawn to the church is drawn by grace primarily; and reason, if it has any place in the process, is simply an aid to fleshing out our understanding of what we already believe.

The problem is, as you mention, that we are therefore incapable of demonstrating the truth of our own most fundamental convictions. We can call Christianity true and Islam heretical--or whatever--but we can't ever prove this to be the case. Of course, Augustine's and Aquinas's counter-argument to this position is that very little can be proven by human reason in the first place (see Against the Academics, Confessions and On the Apostles' Creed). The truth of Christianity is no different from the identity of your parents, in this regard. We simply have faith and remain in a state of general unknowing in hope of that time when we finally see "face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12).

dan,

I was specifically referring to the question of Buddhism's truth. I never claimed that no proposition could be proven true or false--which was the view of the Academics' that Augustine soundly refuted. However, in many, many cases, human reason is incapable of determining truth with any kind of certainty.

Also, Hart has extensively covered the history of the Arian controversy, and his analysis is that Arianism had as much logical and Biblical support as any other view. It was rejected because it contradicted what Christians had always implicitly believed, and because it made salvation incoherent. But one could accept Arianism, reject salvation and still remain comfortably within the realm of (apparent) logical consistency.

rank sophist said...

Seraphim,

I agree that the question is not about objectivity and subjectivity, but about truth and mystery. This is how most Christians have thought throughout history. Everyone agrees that there is truth out there, but most of it remains totally mysterious to us. As Aquinas put it, "[O]ur manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly."

Anonymous said...

RS, if you post an e-mail address, I can send you the article in Word format.

Edward Feser said...

RS,

I have addressed these issues before, and I believe some others have addressed your particular claims here in the combox before. I'm not going to repeat all that here. Suffice it to say the following:

1. We need to distinguish natural theology, natural law, etc. from distinctively Christian doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, etc. (Hart seems to lump all this stuff together, which is one of several muddles that afflict his writing on this subject.) Aquinas and Catholicism certainly DO hold that the basic truths of natural theology and natural law can be demonstrated philosophically, and that is all that matters for present purposes, because what I've been addressing is natural law, not moral theology per se.

2. Aquinas and Catholicism more generally also hold that distinctively Christian doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, etc. cannot be demonstrated, but what that means is that they cannot be deduced via unaided reason from premises that are evident to all human beings (unlike e.g. the existence of an Unmoved Mover, which proceeds from the existence of change, which is evident to everyone). They have to be learned instead from divine revelation.

3. This does NOT mean, however, that they are something we can legitimately just up and believe on the basis of an ungrounded act of will, rhetoric, stirring of the heartstrings, or other such touchy-feely hoo-hah. For that a divine revelation has in fact occurred and isn't just a delusion is something that can be known only when the revelation is backed by miracles, and miracle claims require evidence. They don't involve the kind of evidence demonstrations do because they have to do with one-off historical events and the like, but that doesn't mean some non-rational will to believe must enter the picture.

4. Catholic teaching condemns fideism precisely because it makes Christian doctrine subject to charges of irrationalism and subjectivism, "defending" Christianity via arguments that in fact could be used to "defend" virtually anything. For a summary see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on fideism:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06068b.htm

The question is whether Hart's position can be distinguished from fideism. I don't see how, but as I say, I'm happy to be proved wrong.

Tony said...

If the truth of Christianity rather than Buddhism could be demonstrated by human reason,...The traditional view, to which Aquinas and nearly everyone else subscribed, is that one cannot determine the truth of Christianity through logical means.

Ah, but it is not necessary to prove the truth of Christianity in order to disprove Buddhism. As with the possibility of disproving certain of the errors opposed to the articles of faith, the basic errors of Buddhism CAN be disproven by reason without revelation. Mainly, by grasping and using the ramifications of the act / potency distinction.

The problem is, as you mention, that we are therefore incapable of demonstrating the truth of our own most fundamental convictions.

Right, that's true. But a person can apprehend the fact that we shouldn't expect to demonstrate the most basic truths, (because demonstration requires premises already understood as true) and at the same time that these most basic truths are apprehended by the intellect not by the mode of demonstration but by a different operation of the intellect. The fact that we know them but don't know them by demonstration is not troubling in itself, nor in the least problematic for the validity and certainty they hold in our minds. The truth that the whole is not less than the part does not rest on any kind of a proof, but its truth is undebatable and its certainty is perfectly secure.

Glenn said...

Rank,

Of his Against the Academics, Augustine later wrote, "I purposed by the most cogent reasoning I could muster to rid my mind of the arguments of the Academics."

In his intro to Augustine's Confessions, Outler says of Augustine, "He is never the blind fideist; even in the face of mystery, there is a constant reliance on the limited but real powers of human reason, and a constant striving for clarity and intelligibility."

And while Augustine does say in his Confessions that, "[W]e are too weak by unaided reason to find out truth," he also says, "We see... man, created in thy image and likeness, in the very image and likeness of thee--that is, having the power of reason and understanding--by virtue of which he has been set over all irrational creatures."

As for On the Apostle's Creed, in the very same para where that little fly is mentioned, Aquinas says, "One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master had said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be considered very foolish."

Regarding ST I q1 a5 ro1-2, it says that "our intelligence...is more easily led by what is known through natural reason...to that which is above reason".

And ST IIb q2 a10 upends the objection that "human reasoning in support of matters of faith, diminishes the merit of believing."

rank sophist said...

Anon,

I'd be very grateful. I try to keep up with everything Hart writes, but it's hard when it's put behind a paywall. You can fire it off to tgapnds at gmail, if you would be so kind.

Prof. Feser,

Thanks for providing such a lengthy response. I know you're busy. I don't expect another, but I'll respond for the sake of responding.

We need to distinguish natural theology, natural law, etc. from distinctively Christian doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, etc. [...] Aquinas and Catholicism certainly DO hold that the basic truths of natural theology and natural law can be demonstrated philosophically, and that is all that matters for present purposes, because what I've been addressing is natural law, not moral theology per se.

But this simply begs the question at hand, which is whether or not we can know through natural reason when something has been proven. To say that X appears to be proven by rational argument is not the same as to say that X is proven. Rational argument can always be mistaken, and much of it certainly must be, because very few philosophers actually agree(d) with one another. This is a point that Augustine and even Aquinas return to multiple times. The only way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to appeal to a higher standard beyond human reason, which Augustine, Aquinas and Hart say is the Christian faith. Recall that Aquinas goes so far as to say that theology's relationship to philosophy is simply that of a judge: it approves or condemns the products of natural reason from its perch of revelation (ST I q1 a6 ro2).

And how else could we possibly separate truth from falsehood, even in the cases of natural law, natural theology and so forth? Appealing to arguments and counter-arguments ad infinitum just digs one into the skeptical abyss that Augustine describes in Confessions. Or, as Alypius puts it in Against the Academics:

They [the Academics] would have us notice that their behaviour is illustrated and mirrored, so to speak, by that of Proteus who, it is said, could be caught only by means which invariably did not result in his capture. His pursuers were never sure that what they had was still he, unless some divinity informed them. May that divinity be present to us, and may he deign to show us that truth for which we strive so hard!

There must be a "divinity" that finally reveals the truth to us--an event that Hart calls an apocalyptic interruption. Without this, even natural law is clouded over. The ancient Greeks were clearly able to deduce certain truths (even though they didn't have our certainty that they were true) about morality, but these were mixed with errors that were utterly invisible to the greatest philosophers of the time. Consider the widespread pederasty, slavery and homosexuality in Greek culture, which were either taken for granted or actively supported even by Aristotle. When Aquinas says that human reason can find the truth, he is not saying that it can know the truth to be true. He is saying that it can stumble along and find truth here and there, mixed with falsehood; and he is saying that only the information of revelation allows us to truly tell the difference between the two.

rank sophist said...

Aquinas and Catholicism more generally also hold that distinctively Christian doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, etc. cannot be demonstrated, but what that means is that they cannot be deduced via unaided reason from premises that are evident to all human beings (unlike e.g. the existence of an Unmoved Mover, which proceeds from the existence of change, which is evident to everyone). They have to be learned instead from divine revelation.

This is the Neo-Scholastic, post-Enlightenment view that human reason is capable of discerning the truth as true by its own power, but that certain truths exceed even this power. It's simply anachronistic to read this into Aquinas. What Aquinas et al. are saying is, yes, that certain truths surpass reason's grasp entirely; but they are also saying that even those truths that reason is capable of discerning cannot be confirmed as truths without help from a "divinity". Thus the products of natural reason must always be judged and altered by theology, whose axioms derive from revelation.

This does NOT mean, however, that they are something we can legitimately just up and believe on the basis of an ungrounded act of will, rhetoric, stirring of the heartstrings, or other such touchy-feely hoo-hah. For that a divine revelation has in fact occurred and isn't just a delusion is something that can be known only when the revelation is backed by miracles, and miracle claims require evidence.

That evidence, too, is rendered uncertain by the innate weakness of the human intellect. Also, this seems to suggest the Pelagian position that we can attain faith by ourselves. For Aquinas, that's impossible. Faith to him is nothing other than "an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God" (ST IIb q2 a9), which is to say that grace precedes our reasoning about Christianity. Unless God has already drawn us by grace, it is literally impossible for us to have faith or to rationalize that faith.

Catholic teaching condemns fideism precisely because it makes Christian doctrine subject to charges of irrationalism and subjectivism, "defending" Christianity via arguments that in fact could be used to "defend" virtually anything. For a summary see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on fideism:

I've been confused by that article in the past, actually. If that opening paragraph defines fideism, then Augustine was perhaps the king of fideists and Aquinas one of his vassals. In fact, nearly all Christian writers prior to early modern Scholasticism would have to be classified as fideists. It was only once people like Descartes began to assert natural reason's capacity for absolute certainty that Christianity absorbed that false belief into itself.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Ah, but it is not necessary to prove the truth of Christianity in order to disprove Buddhism.

I agree. But I still don't believe that Buddhism can be disproven by human reason. Its self-coherence is far too strong to be unwound by any argument I can think of. However, a position that can be disproven quite easily--and this is a point that Hart himself agrees on--is materialism. It is self-referentially incoherent, and so must be false regardless of the truth of Christianity.

The fact that we know them but don't know them by demonstration is not troubling in itself, nor in the least problematic for the validity and certainty they hold in our minds. The truth that the whole is not less than the part does not rest on any kind of a proof, but its truth is undebatable and its certainty is perfectly secure.

I agree with this as well, for the most part. Truths that cannot be demonstrated are not therefore irrational. I was simply trying to respond to Prof. Feser's objection, which seemed to me to be that the impossibility of proving Christianity entails irrationalism. I would counter that the Enlightenment view of reason's self-reliance rests on principles just as impossible to demonstrate as the truth of Christianity. If believing in Christianity without reasons is irrational, then believing in reason without reasons is irrational.

Glenn,

Perhaps the clearest and most concise summary of Augustine's beliefs is something he says in Against the Academics:

Let us rather discuss among ourselves as closely as possible, the question whether or no truth can be found. For my part, I think I can even now advance many arguments against the Academic position. Between them and me there is this one difference: they think it probable that truth cannot be found, and I, that it can.

Everything you posted regarding Augustine is compatible with this statement.

Your comments about Aquinas are unclear to me, though. I have read those passages many times, and the sections you quoted don't seem to contradict my arguments in any way.

Aquinas3000 said...

What about Vatican I declaring reason can establish with certainty the existence of God?

Brandon said...

The only way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to appeal to a higher standard beyond human reason, which Augustine, Aquinas and Hart say is the Christian faith. Recall that Aquinas goes so far as to say that theology's relationship to philosophy is simply that of a judge: it approves or condemns the products of natural reason from its perch of revelation (ST I q1 a6 ro2).

It needs to be pointed out that Aquinas's explicit point in context is that other sciences do not depend on sacred doctrine for their proofs; it still can be counted as wisdom, despite lacking this usual feature of wisdom, because it has the same critical and ordering function as metaphysics. That is to say, it has higher principles than other sciences. This is a completely different position from "the only way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to appeal to a higher standard", which would, contrary to what Aquinas explicitly says in the passage, require proving the truth of principles. Aquinas, unlike Augustine and Hart, is explicitly Aristotelian about demonstration, and does not have the concern with skepticism you attribute to him.

Brandon said...

It should also be pointed out, incidentally, that sacred doctrine cannot perform the function you attribute to it. If sacred doctrine does not prove the truth of principles, as Aquinas quite explicitly says, it only has the iudicium by which one science sets another science in proper order; which means that it leaves proof or lack of proof of any true statement exactly where it was. The only functions it could have are exactly the ones Aquinas attributes to it: it can set the other sciences in order by laying out more clearly their relations to more fundamental principles, and it can show, dialectically, some false statements to be false when it happens occasionally that they contradict these more fundamental principles. But it will never take a state in which we don't have proofs and give us proofs.

Anonymous said...

RS, check your email. I also threw in his other essay from this month. Let me know whenever you'd like to read any others. Frankly, I like playing spectator to your exchanges with the other regulars on this blog.

Tony said...

But I still don't believe that Buddhism can be disproven by human reason. Its self-coherence is far too strong to be unwound by any argument I can think of.

Well, I disagree. I think the valid and certain apprehension of the distinction of potency and act, and the certain apprehension of the transcendental unity of good and act, are probably sufficient bases to prove Buddhism wrong. Admittedly, it is not possible to prove logically those two apprehended truths, but they are valid and certain without proof.

There must be a "divinity" that finally reveals the truth to us--an event that Hart calls an apocalyptic interruption.

That doesn't solve the problem. Take person A who tells person B about this divinely revealed truth. Unless (1) the divine revelation to A happens directly to A in the intimacy of his own mind, AND (2) that revelation by interruption is expressed in words perfectly formed and perfectly clear that A can simply recite to B (without personal "interpretation"), AND (3) B has HIMSELF received either the same perfectly clear words and truths by the same revelatory intervention, (OR, a direct revelation from God imbuing B with certainty that the truth A is reciting was received by A from God in the same form A is reciting it),

then B is still capable of disputing the truth A is saying. And God doesn't work that way. And so the "appeal to higher authority" hasn't solved the problem in the least. This was Dr. Feser's point about Hart's supposition that the fix is in revelation. We HAVE revelation, and people dispute about that too.

Unless reason and revelation work hand in hand, side by side, revelation isn't an adequate source for anyone but the person whom God sends the revelation to directly, privately. But Scripture is PUBLIC revelation, not private. The interior movement of faith in that public revelation is, itself, a movement of the intellect, an assent, that is inspired by a power outside the intellect but causing the intellect to adhere with certainty to something that already can be apprehended as reasonable though not certain.

That's why fideism is an error: it discounts the conformity with reason of the truth that the intellect assents to in faith as being an irrelevancy.

A Christian friend of mine is good friends with a Muslim. In exploring some Islamic teachings, she pointed out an apparently irrational discrepancy at some point, and his response was "it isn't SUPPOSED to make sense, you just have to accept it." This would be a deeply unchristian response to an apparently irrational teaching of Christianity. And it is also a deeply unhuman response as well, based on a stance that effectually says religion is not made for rational man, you have to give up one to be the other.

dan said...

RS


I was specifically referring to the question of Buddhism's truth.


I was speaking to the notion you espoused that reason is "completely helpless" to decide between Christianity and Buddhism, which I took to be entailing the more general claim that reason cannot aid us in deciding between rival systems of belief. Again, this seems obviously false. In the specific case of Buddhism and Christianity, the fact that God's existence can be demonstrated through reason coupled with the fact that Buddhism is atheistic seems to show this quite nicely.

Moreover, how exactly do you respond to those, like Justin Martyr, like myself, like any number of others great and small throughout history who tell you that reason was not "completely helpless" in deciding between rival belief systems? are we deluded? are we lying?

Also, Hart has extensively covered the history of the Arian controversy, and his analysis is that Arianism had as much logical and Biblical support as any other view.

Given Hart's apparent stance on the weakness of reason, why would we expect anything different? Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen certainly disagreed with him, and, while I haven't read Hart's work on the history of Arianism, having read the primary sources themselves, I'm inclined to agree with the Cappadocians.

Again there seems to be a contradiction in what you're saying, as right after you make the point quoted above you say:

But one could accept Arianism, reject salvation and still remain comfortably within the realm of (apparent) logical consistency.

If reason is, in fact, "completely helpless" in these sorts of discussions than how is the logical consistency of the Arians only "apparent"? This certainly seems to imply that, deep down, the Arian position is not logically consistent, but this can only be true if reason can in fact judge between the two. If reason is, in fact, "completely helpless" than there's no apparently about it.

James said...

Neil Parille:

“Can't wait till this is over, maybe a ‘Total Eclipse of the Hart’”

With the Ender’s Game movie coming up, Orson Scott Card’s been in the news a bit lately. Would Hart’s Hope be too obscure?

Anonymous said...

However, a position that can be disproven quite easily--and this is a point that Hart himself agrees on--is materialism. It is self-referentially incoherent, and so must be false regardless of the truth of Christianity.

You people are so cute when you are sure of yourselves.

Anonymous said...

dan said... If reason is, in fact, "completely helpless" in these sorts of discussions than how is the logical consistency of the Arians only "apparent"?

RS exaggerates a lot. If a Church father might quibble with the phrasing of some modern Church teaching on sexuality, he says they'd be "terrified". If reason is not omnicapable, he says it's "completely helpless". He's a smart guy, and has read more than I have, but I'm starting to realize that his style has a rhetorical flair that needs to be interpreted accordingly.

Anonymous said...

"RS exaggerates a lot." - Not to mention, RS = 'Rank Sophist' - surely that's not just the name his momma happened to give him.

monk68 said...

RS,

You wrote:

"What Aquinas et al. are saying is, yes, that certain truths surpass reason's grasp entirely; but they are also saying that even those truths that reason is capable of discerning cannot be confirmed as truths without help from a "divinity". Thus the products of natural reason must always be judged and altered by theology, whose axioms derive from revelation."

Like Dr. Feser and Brandon, I find this account of Aquinas’ position to be utterly opposed to what he actually writes. It is contrary to nearly all that he says in his commentaries on Aristotle's works, and in many other places besides – especially those which touch on first principles, method, scientia, the nature of demonstration, and so forth. Aquinas certainly does not think that *all* truths which reason can grasp, such as the law of identity, of non-contradiction, of excluded middle; or of ontic couplets such as form/matter, substance/accident, act/potency, etc. (i.e. first principles of knowledge, or unavoidable ontological conclusions in natural philosophy) require the help of divinity or else adjudication and/or altering by theology.

I think you are reading Aquinas perfectly backward on this point. The reason Aquinas is understood to be predominantly Aristotelian in philosophy is because he sees Aristotle’s basic epistemological, ontological, and methodological principles as *demonstrably* correct, independent of revelatory claims. When he occasionally veers away from Aristotle on some point, it is always with respect to a topic far removed from philosophical considerations about the organic roots of human knowledge. He does not take sacred science to either supply or judge those underpinnings.

Pax

Black Luster said...

"You people are so cute when you are sure of yourselves."

rank, I think you hurt this anon's feelings.

Glenn said...

Rank,

Your comments about Aquinas are unclear to me, though. I have read those passages many times, and the sections you quoted don't seem to contradict my arguments in any way.

If the sections I quoted do not contradict your arguments in any way, then it must follow that your arguments do not disagree in any way with the sections I quoted (for if they did, the sections I quoted would contradict your arguments in some way).

And if your arguments do not disagree in any way with the sections I quoted, then, since you are the one who has put together your arguments, it would follow that either:

[1] you do not in any way disagree: a) that it is foolish for person A to contradict person B (in some matter regarding which A is more educated than B, and where B's contradiction of A stems from his, B's, lack of understanding); b) that our intelligence is more easily led by what is known through natural reason to that which is above reason; and, c) that human reasoning in support of matters of faith does not diminish the merit of believing; or,

[2] you do disagree in some way with one or more of the foregoing, even though your recent arguments do not (or are said to not) reflect the disagreement(s).

- - - - -

Now, you say the following in your earlier reply to Dr. Feser,

Faith to [Aquinas] is nothing other than "an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God" (ST IIb q2 a9), which is to say that grace precedes our reasoning about Christianity. Unless God has already drawn us by grace, it is literally impossible for us to have faith or to rationalize that faith.

Possibly this constitutes another example of the kind of thing which has led Anonymous--rightly or wrongly--to the conclusion that you are given to exaggeration. But whether it does is a side issue. The main thing here is that it helps to show that one of the sections I quoted from--ST IIb q2 a10--does indeed contradict not just one of your arguments, but two of your arguments.

Aquinas says in it that "human reasons may be consequent to the will of the believer". But saying that they may be consequent (to the will of the believer) is not only a far cry from saying that it is literally impossible for them not to be, but also a far cry from saying that it is literally impossible for them not to be.

Indeed, that humans reasons may be consequent to the will of the believer is mentioned after it has been mentioned that human reasons may be prior to the act of the will ("as, for instance, when a man either has not the will, or not a prompt will, to believe, unless he be moved by human reasons").

So, not only does one of the sections I quoted from contradict your argument that "Unless God has already drawn us by grace, it is literally impossible for us to have faith or to rationalize that faith", it also contradicts your argument that "Faith to [Aquinas] is nothing other than 'an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God'."

- - - - -

Possibly you'll now want to mention that faith can be meritorious or not, and that it is meritorious when human reasons are consequent to the will of the believer, and that it is not meritorious when human reasons precede the act of the will. If so, then I will: a) have not much qualm about agreeing; and, b) point out that such a mention carries with it a tacit acknowledgement that at least one of the sections I quoted from does indeed contradict at least two of your arguments.

monk68 said...

RS,

“But one could accept Arianism, reject salvation and still remain comfortably within the realm of (apparent) logical consistency”

Along the lines of my previous comment, even if Arianism were logically consistent and also a credible biblical hermeneutic vis-à-vis the nature of Christ; I think Aquinas would have little interest in that fact. The truth about the nature of Christ can only be determined within the ambit of sacred science, Christ’s dual nature not being evident or deducible through the senses or reason.

Sacred science has principles of its own which set it off as a science distinct from others. Of course, like any science, it draws from and depends upon the foundational and organic principles which govern human reason generally, such as the laws of logic; but it is not defined – as a science – by the laws of logic. Hence, while every true proposition derived through sacred science must be logically consistent, not every logically consistent theological proposition is established as true by sacred science.

Arianism may be logically consistent, but that is neither here nor there with respect to establishing its truth, because natural reason has no native means by which to arrive at the truth about the nature of Jesus Christ, nor to adjudicate between logically consistent theological opinions/interpretations about the same (unlike truths within logic and natural philosophy wherein the native powers of natural reason are evident even to the point of giving rise to the principles themselves).

To determine the truth about the nature of Jesus Christ, one needs - in addition to logical consistency – the principles specific to sacred science, among which are the dogmatic pronouncements of Christ’s Church. Arianism was not rejected merely because it “contradicted what Christians had always implicitly believed, and because it made salvation incoherent” [your use of the term *incoherent* here points to the necessity but insufficiency of logical consistency]”: but, ultimately, because it was excluded by a magisterial act of the Church, where magisterial acts themselves operate as a principle of sacred science by which the line between revealed truth and mere theological opinion is demarcated formally.

Pax

rank sophist said...

Anon at 6:06 AM,

Many thanks. I'll devour these in short order.

Brandon,

Aquinas, unlike Augustine and Hart, is explicitly Aristotelian about demonstration, and does not have the concern with skepticism you attribute to him.

But this is obviously false. Let me demonstrate.

In both these respects this science surpasses other speculative sciences; in point of greater certitude, because other sciences derive their certitude from the natural light of human reason, which can err; whereas this derives its certitude from the light of divine knowledge, which cannot be misled[.] (ST I q1 a5)

The investigation of the human reason for the most part has falsity present within it, and this is due partly to the weakness of our intellect in judgment, and partly to the admixture of images. The result is that many, remaining ignorant of the power of demonstration, would hold in doubt those things that have been most truly demonstrated. This would be particularly the case since they see that, among those who are reputed to be wise men, each one teaches his own brand of doctrine. Furthermore, with the many truths that are demonstrated, there sometimes is mingled something that is false, which is not demonstrated but rather asserted on the basis of some probable or sophistical argument, which yet has the credit of being a demonstration. That is why it was necessary that the unshakeable certitude and pure truth concerning divine things should be presented to men by way of faith. (SCG b1 ch4.5)

Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. (ST I q1 a1)

For human reason is very deficient in things concerning God. A sign of this is that philosophers in their researches, by natural investigation, into human affairs, have fallen into many errors, and have disagreed among themselves. And consequently, in order that men might have knowledge of God, free of doubt and uncertainty, it was necessary for Divine matters to be delivered to them by way of faith, being told to them, as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie. (ST IIb q2 a4)

But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly. We even read that a certain philosopher spent thirty years in solitude in order to know the nature of the bee. If, therefore, our intellect is so weak, it is foolish to be willing to believe concerning God only that which man can know by himself alone. (On the Apostles' Creed)

Aquinas clearly supports the Augustinian position on the status of reason. In fact, his comment about not being able to guarantee the identity of one's parents in On the Apostles' Creed is a direct mirror of an argument that Augustine makes in Confessions. For both Aquinas and Augustine, natural reason is weak and is prone to completely undetectable errors without the corrective of revelation. This is why he states that theology is free to accept or dismiss anything in secular or pagan philosophy: even that which appears to be demonstrated often has not been, and only Christians are able to tell the difference between demonstration and sophism.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

We HAVE revelation, and people dispute about that too.

Yes. But we agree about the principles of our disagreements. We agree about the infallibility of Scripture. We agree about the core articles of faith, particularly as expressed in the Nicene Creed. We agree about the necessity of grace. We agree that the Holy Spirit guides the church. Someone who disagreed with one of these would be a heretic, and someone who disagreed with all of them would not even count as a Christian. At least some of these principles must be accepted as given before any hermeneutics come into play, because interpretation is always an interpretation of something. In this case, it is an interpretation of the principles of the faith.

Unless reason and revelation work hand in hand, side by side, revelation isn't an adequate source for anyone but the person whom God sends the revelation to directly, privately.

And Aquinas agrees that reason should be applied to revelation to help us make sense of it, since our intellects are too weak to comprehend it simply. It took several hundred years for us to flesh out the Trinity, and several hundred more to explain the humanity and divinity of Jesus. I would argue that it took us almost two thousand years to reach a fully Christian understanding of sexuality. All of this is contained virtually in the principles of the Christian faith, but reason must be applied to separate good interpretations from bad ones.

This would be a deeply unchristian response to an apparently irrational teaching of Christianity.

Who disagrees with this? Certainly not Hart, nor Augustine, nor Aquinas, nor myself. Christianity claims to have the truth that judges and completes all human truths. It does not destroy nature or natural reason. But this is also not to say that Christianity is in line with everything that natural reason has led us to believe, since much of philosophy is false.

dan,

the fact that God's existence can be demonstrated through reason coupled with the fact that Buddhism is atheistic seems to show this quite nicely.

Buddhism is not atheistic in the sense necessary for this argument to refute it. Traditional Buddhism certainly accepts the idea of a higher, all-pervasive reality that cannot be known or represented, and from which all being comes. Hart actually comments on this in his review of a translation of the Shobo Genzo:

While it is true that Buddhism has no real interest in any creator god, it is also quite clear that what Buddhist tradition has always understood by such a concept is a kind of finite demiurge—the sort of god described by Deists or the New Atheists, for example—and neither Christians nor Jews should be deeply offended by the Buddhist refusal to worship so inadequate a picture of the divine.

Although I personally find Buddhism to be rife with errors, I don't think a simple argument for God's existence is going to refute it.

rank sophist said...

This certainly seems to imply that, deep down, the Arian position is not logically consistent, but this can only be true if reason can in fact judge between the two.

If reason were all-powerful, then it would be able to identify the exact truth and error of every position. But the human intellect is far too weak for this to be the case. However, you should not confuse the denial that we are able to determine all truth and error with the unrelated denial of the existence of truth and error.

Also, I think you're taking my "completely helpless" remark the wrong way. I was referring specifically to Buddhism. I do not believe that reason is completely helpless to determine the truth of any competing beliefs, which was the opinion of the Academics. Augustine refutes this with his argument in support of one's own existence, among other things.

Anon at 9:23,

RS exaggerates a lot.

I admit that I've always had a weakness for hyperbole. It's probably caused a lot of the confusion that I've seen on this blog in response to my arguments.

monk,

Glad to see you again.

Aquinas certainly does not think that *all* truths which reason can grasp, such as the law of identity, of non-contradiction, of excluded middle; or of ontic couplets such as form/matter, substance/accident, act/potency, etc. (i.e. first principles of knowledge, or unavoidable ontological conclusions in natural philosophy) require the help of divinity or else adjudication and/or altering by theology.

I didn't mean to suggest that the three axioms of logic could be judged by theology, which I don't believe Aquinas intended to say. But I would certainly suggest that he only accepts Aristotle's ontic ideas because they are in line with the Christian faith. This can be proven by looking at Aquinas's texts (such as the quotes I presented to Brandon), or, even better, by simply looking at the historical context that Aquinas worked in. Aquinas lived in a time when Aristotle's views were considered heretical, and when Averroism was the prevailing interpretation of Aristotle. It was in no way orthodox to accept Aristotle's philosophy, and the numerous condemnations (most prominently the Condemnations of 1277) of Aristotelianism ensured that this remained the case for many hundreds of years. Aristotle was seen with suspicion at best in Aquinas's time. Aquinas's synthesis of Christianity and Aristotle was very original, and it earned him more than a few enemies (and more than a few condemnations in 1277). He was not considered a champion of orthodoxy in his day. It would have been beyond presumptuous for him to take Aristotle's philosophy as true ahead of time, as demonstrably true, before thinking that it fit with what he already believed. This is in line with ST I q1 a8 ro2:

Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities [philosophers] as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): "Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning."

John Burford said...

@ Rank Sophist

Just to clarify, the Catholic Church holds that the existence of God, and many other truths, can be known by the unaided light of human reason.

In the real world, human weakness often clouds reason. So as a practical matter, the entire world will never agree that God exists. But unaided human reason, in and of itself, IS capable of such knowledge.

"Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason."
-Vatican 1, Dei Filius

"Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God..."
-Pius XII, Humani Generis

monk68 said...

RS,

You wrote:

"I didn't mean to suggest that the three axioms of logic could be judged by theology, which I don't believe Aquinas intended to say. But I would certainly suggest that he only accepts Aristotle's ontic ideas because they are in line with the Christian faith."

I read all the passages you provided to Brandon, as well as the one you presented to me. I have read most of them in the past. But none of them make your case in my estimation, even in their immediate context – much less in the light of the wider corpus of Aquinas’ works. The passages you quote are, for the most part, speaking of the necessity of revelation and grace-enabled faith for men to come to a knowledge of the *highest things*, such as God. He is not speaking of the laws of logic, or demonstrable ontic fundaments. Aquinas, following Aristotle, sees the “ontic ideas” as demonstrable; which means that their denial in some way lands one in an unavoidable contradiction; which in turn means that the ontic ideas are married to the laws of logic in such a way that they stand or fall together – that is what a demonstration entails; it is a very strong claim.

Or else, your quotes show Aquinas speaking of how sacred science makes use of philosophical postulates as probable. But again, in context, the notions of certainty and probability mentioned are in relation to knowledge of the highest things (those things which men most need to know in order to achieve their end). The sort of philosophical notions that Aquinas thinks the theologian can take up and use – but only as probable - are *not* the same philosophical truths which he describes in other of the passages you quote as demonstration or demonstrable. In other words, it is not as if Aquinas is saying that the ontic fundaments of natural philosophy are demonstrable when doing natural philosophy, but only probable when viewed within the context of sacred science.

Even in the passages where he speaks of the weakness of the intellect, he uses the fact of demonstration - that some things *are* demonstrable, and demonstrably known - as a contrast with all of the false or partly false ideas men mix with those truths which can be demonstrated. But he can speak like this because he has thought so carefully about the nature of demonstration; and all his talk about demonstration comes from his deep study of Aristotle, particularly Aristotle’s teaching on the possibility, nature and means of demonstration per se. Because they are “demonstrable”; and given the very nature of a demonstration; he finds those "ontic ideas" to be inevitable, independent of the claims of revelation.

The notion that the basic ontic principles of natural philosophy are held by Aquinas only insofar as they happen to comport with his prior Christian faith seems strange to me. Moreover, the intellectual and theological climate of Aquinas' day seems to work against your narrative. Precisely because Aquinas was so dogged about holding to those core truths which he found in Aristotle, in the face of professional and ecclesial pressure and criticism; one can argue that Aquinas was committed to embracing the truth wherever he found it, especially when demonstrable.

Pax

Hallvard N. Jørgensen said...

Thanks a lot for the original post, and for the very stimulating discussion here.

Does anyone know of any good secondary literature on this subject, i. e. the relation of faith and reason in Aquinas and the church fathers?

I was also wondering, RS, about your thoughts on Vatican I...

"CHAPTER II.
ON REVELATION

The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the natural light of human reason, by means of created things; "for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Romans 1:20)"

(...)

"It is to be ascribed to this Divine Revelation, that such truths among things Divine as of themselves are not beyond human reason, can, even in the present condition of mankind, be known by everyone with facility, with firm assurance, and with no admixture of error."

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

[1] you do not in any way disagree: a) that it is foolish for person A to contradict person B (in some matter regarding which A is more educated than B, and where B's contradiction of A stems from his, B's, lack of understanding); b) that our intelligence is more easily led by what is known through natural reason to that which is above reason; and, c) that human reasoning in support of matters of faith does not diminish the merit of believing; or,

I don't disagree with any of this. Regarding A, it is clearly the case that the learned know more than the ignorant. This was the office of the "wise man"--a concept discussed by Augustine in Against the Academics and Aquinas in the SCG--in ancient times. The wise man has wisdom: he has transcended reasoning (i.e. deduction) and has reached understanding. Thus it is obvious that the ignorant should listen to the wise.

But the purported wise men of Greece and Rome all disagreed with one another. Since the opposite of a truth cannot be demonstrated, it follows that some or all wise men must be counterfeits in at least certain respects. The problem is that, if even many of the wise do not really have wisdom, then the ignorant are going to be even more in the dark; and following the advice of the "wise" will not necessarily lead them to the truth.

Regarding B, it is again clearly true. Because our weak intellects are not like those of the angels--we do not understand conclusions simply from their premises--, we must plod through reason. Very few intellects, if any, are powerful enough to achieve understanding without philosophy. Hence it is proper for theology to employ philosophy (i.e. natural reason). This applies even to the elaboration of the Trinity in ancient times. But, again, natural reason is often confused or outright false, and so it must always be checked against revelation.

Regarding C, Aquinas makes two points. First, he states that believing on the basis of human reasons diminishes the merit of faith. Second, he states that searching for reasons after attaining faith increases the merit of faith. This is to say that one should use reason to rationalize what one already believes on grounds of faith.

rank sophist said...

But saying that they may be consequent (to the will of the believer) is not only a far cry from saying that it is literally impossible for them not to be

You are conflating two unrelated arguments. My other arguments were about our ability to tell truth from error, by the light of faith. This one is about the possibility of faith. Again, faith is always a product of grace, and so it cannot exist unless one's will has already been elevated by grace. The idea of rationalizing oneself into Christianity is an illusion, because it is God who draws us prior to any of our rationalizing. The view that we can achieve faith by our own power is Pelagianism, which is a heresy. This is pretty standard stuff.

monk,

I agree largely with your critique of Arianism, but there's a point near the end where you've gone off the rails a bit:

among which are the dogmatic pronouncements of Christ’s Church. [...] it was excluded by a magisterial act of the Church

Arianism was rejected well before anything like the modern magisterium came into being. Dogma played only the tiniest of roles in the very early church, and the Catholic church, as it is currently understood, did not exist. Arianism was rejected because the Cappadocians were better able to explain the lived Christian experience up to that point. The concrete unity of Christianity as expressed in the Creed was the result, and not the cause, of the decision to exclude Arianism.

John,

Just to clarify, the Catholic Church holds that the existence of God, and many other truths, can be known by the unaided light of human reason.

I am fully aware of this, and it does not contradict Aquinas's or Augustine's remarks. It is clear that the Greek philosophers achieved knowledge of something highly similar to the Christian God through reason alone. This is clear to us, though, only after the fact. We can say that reason determined the existence of something much like the Christian God with certainty because, as Christians, we have already achieved full and error-free knowledge of God through the articles of faith.

rank sophist said...

monk,

The passages you quote are, for the most part, speaking of the necessity of revelation and grace-enabled faith for men to come to a knowledge of the *highest things*, such as God. He is not speaking of the laws of logic, or demonstrable ontic fundaments.

This reading is an easy mistake to make. However, it contradicts Aquinas's actual beliefs. In Aquinas's view, theology encompasses both God and creatures under the aspect of God:

Therefore, because Sacred Scripture considers things precisely under the formality of being divinely revealed, whatever has been divinely revealed possesses the one precise formality of the object of this science; and therefore is included under sacred doctrine as under one science. (ST I q1 a3)

And,

Sacred doctrine does not treat of God and creatures equally, but of God primarily, and of creatures only so far as they are referable to God as their beginning or end. (ST I q1 a3 ro1)

And,

Similarly, objects which are the subject-matter of different philosophical sciences can yet be treated of by this one single sacred science under one aspect precisely so far as they can be included in revelation. So that in this way, sacred doctrine bears, as it were, the stamp of the divine science which is one and simple, yet extends to everything. (ST I q1 a3 ro2)

When Aquinas refers to theology's judgment of lesser sciences, or to the confusion of natural reason without revelation, or what have you, he is talking about absolutely every topic covered in his work. This extends from the simplicity of God to the morality of pride, and to everything in between.

rank sophist said...

Even in the passages where he speaks of the weakness of the intellect, he uses the fact of demonstration - that some things *are* demonstrable, and demonstrably known - as a contrast with all of the false or partly false ideas men mix with those truths which can be demonstrated.

It does not follow from the demonstrability of a truth that it has been or ever will be demonstrated. When Aquinas mentions "some probable or sophistical argument, which yet has the credit of being a demonstration", he is making a more complex claim than modern readers might think. He is saying that a truth in actuality can be different from our belief about it. Because the opposite of a truth cannot possibly be demonstrated, it must be the case that the alleged wise men were engaged only in a "probable or sophistical argument". But he is not making the unrelated, Enlightenment claim that we will differentiate probable or sophistical arguments from demonstrations simply by appealing to more reason. It is fully possible, under his system of thought, that we will never discover sophistical arguments. Again, it is the situation of Proteus. The alternative reading floated by Neo-Thomists, viz. that reason can solve reason's problems, is simply anachronistic given the intellectual concerns of the ancient world.

The notion that the basic ontic principles of natural philosophy are held by Aquinas only insofar as they happen to comport with his prior Christian faith seems strange to me.

I'm not sure why. Aquinas himself writes that theology only makes use of other sciences as "handmaidens", i.e. as helpers in the elaboration of what we already believe. This is a highly traditional mode of operation that descends from the earliest church, and which has a very prominent place in Augustine's thought.

Precisely because Aquinas was so dogged about holding to those core truths which he found in Aristotle, in the face of professional and ecclesial pressure and criticism; one can argue that Aquinas was committed to embracing the truth wherever he found it, especially when demonstrable.

This is because Aquinas was convinced that Aristotle complied with Christianity, against those who were convinced that he didn't. He inherited this belief in particular from Albertus Magnus. And, again, one must read this situation in context. Well into the Scholastic period, Christians held to Augustine's "gold from the Egyptians" argument, which is that we should take and "baptize" whatever of value pagan cultures had to offer. It's anachronistic to read Aquinas in any other way.

Hallvard,

I responded to John's similar question above, but you quote a passage from Vatican I that I haven't seen before; so I'll make another remark.

with no admixture of error

Depending on how this line is interpreted, it could contradict Aquinas's position. If it means that non-believers are technically capable of attaining knowledge of the Christian God with no errors mixed in, then Aquinas might agree. It is theoretically possible for a very learned non-believer to get very, very lucky. However, if it means that everyone is capable of achieving this knowledge without luck or uncertainty, then Aquinas would not agree. In Aquinas's view, the Greek philosophers could not even prove God's omnipotence or providence, or that he should be worshipped to the exclusion of all other gods (ST IIb q1 a8 ro1). Further, he asserts that purely human attempts to grasp the divine will, essentially, always contain errors (ST I q1 a1).

Tony said...

Yes. But we agree about the principles of our disagreements. We agree about the infallibility of Scripture. We agree about the core articles of faith, particularly as expressed in the Nicene Creed. We agree about the necessity of grace. We agree that the Holy Spirit guides the church.

Each and every one of these IS DISPUTED by various people. How do you think we got the Pelagians, the Montanists, the Arians, the Protestants? They disputed them. Manifestly, revelation didn't overcome the problem.

Someone who disagreed with one of these would be a heretic, and someone who disagreed with all of them would not even count as a Christian. At least some of these principles must be accepted as given before any hermeneutics come into play, because interpretation is always an interpretation of something. In this case, it is an interpretation of the principles of the faith.

OK, go ahead and switch the terms of the debate right in the middle. Hart was talking about people who DON'T accept Scripture, nor various other basic starting points. HE wasn't talking about people who have already accepted "as given" anything that is not directly manifest to ALL, and he more or less denies outright that there is ANYTHING AT ALL that is manifest to all. If you want to limit the discussion to Christians who have accepted the infallibility of Scripture (not all do), and have accepted the necessity of grace (not all do), you have just thrown yourself out of Hart's discussion into another arena.

I for one tire of Rank's and Hart's continual insistence that they are not denigrating the power of reason but then going around saying that reason unaided is capable of NOTHING certain. And when you point out that they don't mean that about the ontic principles, they admit, well, yes, of course, that cannot be applied to the ontic priciples, about which reason is capable of certainty...and then they go off and yet again repeat the same overblown complaint about the inability of reason to achieve truth with certainty. They admit that they are doing rhetoric instead of reasoned debate, and hey, you know what, its EMPTY RHETORIC. Hart tried 4 times, and his empty rhetoric was basically the same each time, so if it didn't convince the first time, why would he keep doing it again?

Hart's complaint with reason and the powers of reason apply with equal force to faith. Hart says repeatedly, 'but they have not accepted your metaphysics, so your "natural arguments" are pointless, the wrong mode of addressing them altogether.' Equal complaint can be laid against Hart's "conversion" approach: hey, buddy, it's been tried. Christians preached conversion for centuries, but now moderns no longer even accept your claims about what faith would be, how it is to be grounded, whether miracles would support it, they have rejected the WHOLE DOG AND PONY show of "faith". You are proceeding along the wrong approach altogether.'

The fact that some people get reasoning wrong doesn't mean reason is "so weak" that we can't trust it without revelation, any more than the fact that people have gotten FAITH wrong doesn't mean faith is so weak we cannot trust it without SUPRA-reason, or some Nth alternative to back it up. Nobody intelligent looks to Scripture to prove basic truths of logic, and nobody looks to Scripture to interpret itself and explain its own literary forms and to specify (itself) the canonical list of Scripture.

monk68 said...

RS,

“This reading is an easy mistake to make. However, it contradicts Aquinas's actual beliefs. In Aquinas's view, theology encompasses both God and creatures under the aspect of God:”

The problem with your analysis is that you are not taking into account the proper formality under which things are considered in sacred science. They are not considered under the aspect of God in an unqualified sense. You quote Aquinas as follows:

“Therefore, because Sacred Scripture considers things precisely under the formality of being divinely revealed, whatever has been divinely revealed possesses the one precise formality of the object of this science; and therefore is included under sacred doctrine as under one science. (ST I q1 a3)”

The formality explicitly stated is “being divinely revealed”. As a science, theology proceeds according to “whatever has been divinely revealed”, not simply what can be considered under the aspect of God in any sense. The *way* in which we know the truths arising from sacred science (namely through revelation, rather than reason alone) enters into the formal object of sacred science. Not all that is knowable with certainty is divinely revealed (i.e. not everything falls under the formality of the divinely revealed). Your use of this passage is just mistaken. The traditional rendering of Aquinas’ breakdown of human knowledge according to the aspects of reason and revelation are as follows (and can be found even in introductions to his works such as ND Press edition of the Summa Contra Gentiles):

1.) *Naturally known truths* which have not been revealed (because knowable through reason alone and not strictly necessary for man to achieve his final end, such as fundamental ontic principles of natural philosophy or the laws of logic. These truths are knowable through philosophical investigation alone).

2.) *The Revealables* (truths which are knowable in principle through reason alone, such as the existence of God or the immateriality of the soul; but which have nevertheless been revealed because of their importance to man’s final end. These truths may be known through both philosophy and sacred science – but through sacred science more readily).

3.) *Revelation in the strict sense* (articles of faith proper, whose content is *not* knowable - even in principle - through natural reason, such as the Trinitarian nature of God or the Hypostatic Union of Christ, etc. These truths are arrived at by sacred science alone).


cntd . . .

monk68 said...

You quote Aquinas further:

“Sacred doctrine does not treat of God and creatures equally, but of God primarily, and of creatures only so far as they are referable to God as their beginning or end. (ST I q1 a3 ro1)”

Here Aquinas explicitly states that sacred doctrine only treats creatures (things) in so far as they are referable to God as beginning and end. There are many ways in which things are referable to other objects besides God, and these are the subjects, not of sacred doctrine, but of natural philosophy and other sciences. Moreover, this quote must be taken in combination with the formal object of sacred doctrine which restricts the consideration of things under the aspect of divine revelation, as I stated above.

You quote Aquinas further:

“Similarly, objects which are the subject-matter of different philosophical sciences can yet be treated of by this one single sacred science under one aspect precisely so far as they can be included in revelation. So that in this way, sacred doctrine bears, as it were, the stamp of the divine science which is one and simple, yet extends to everything. (ST I q1 a3 ro2)”

Again, Aquinas is saying that insofar as all things can be considered in some relation to the content of divine revelation, there arises a unity within sacred science by which it may *in this specific and formal way* be said to encompass all things. The same can be said of Wisdom or metaphysics (the study of being qua being), but according to a different formal principle. In no way does theology encompass all things or all human knowledge as providing or adjudicating the principles of the other sciences. It can only be said to include all things in so far as all things are related – in some way - to that which has been divinely revealed; that which pertains to God specifically as beginning and end.

You wrote:

“When Aquinas refers to theology's judgment of lesser sciences, or to the confusion of natural reason without revelation, or what have you, he is talking about absolutely every topic covered in his work. This extends from the simplicity of God to the morality of pride, and to everything in between.”

That is simply incorrect for the reasons I have given. You are misunderstanding Aquinas’s very careful attention to proper method in the various sciences, and specifically the role of the formal object or aspect under which things are treated in each science. Two sciences may treat of the same thing under a different aspect and gain truths – even about that same object - independently of one another because of the formal principles and method which underwrite those sciences. In this way, fundamental ontic truths discovered by reason alone within the ambit of natural philosophy can be demonstrated within that science without any additional input from theology. Even if theology considers many of the very same objects (nature, man, etc) under a different formal aspect (namely their relation to divine revelation); thereby deriving additional truths about man and nature which natural philosophy could not achieve. This does not entail that the truths achieved in natural philosophy were either underwritten or adjudicated in any way by sacred science.

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

You wrote:

“It does not follow from the demonstrability of a truth that it has been or ever will be demonstrated.”

If you admit the demonstrability of some truth, it follows that the truth in question has been demonstrated by someone. There is no such thing as a demonstrable truth until after the fact. One cannot meaningfully speak of a truth that is demonstrable “in principle”, but has not, as a fact, yet been demonstrated. One must actually move from what is already known demonstrably (the more known to us), by way of the rubrics of demonstration, to a arrive at some newly demonstrated truth (what had been less known), before one can affirm that the later truth was ever “in principle” demonstrable in the first place. At a minimum, the very nature of demonstration (what counts as a demonstration) must be demonstrable (i.e. the movement from definition to judgment to reasoning) in order for demonstration talk to obtain at all.

You wrote:

“When Aquinas mentions "some probable or sophistical argument, which yet has the credit of being a demonstration", he is making a more complex claim than modern readers might think. He is saying that a truth in actuality can be different from our belief about it.”

Of course that is possible, but if *no* truths were known as such (that is demonstrably), we could in no wise meaningfully distinguish between the truth of the matter and our beliefs about a matter in principle. Aquinas’ clear affirmation that the majority of men go wrong in their reasoning and think they know what they do not know, does *not* entail that Aquinas thinks there are no truths which *can* and *has been* demonstrated. He does think as much about Aristotle’s epistemology and fundamental ontology.

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

You wrote:

“Because the opposite of a truth cannot possibly be demonstrated, it must be the case that the alleged wise men were engaged only in a "probable or sophistical argument". But he is not making the unrelated, Enlightenment claim that we will differentiate probable or sophistical arguments from demonstrations simply by appealing to more reason.”

I don’t know what you mean by “more reason”. The only way available to differentiate between demonstrations and sophistry is to essentially embrace the truth of Aristotle’s account of the first and second paths of human knowledge 1.) from the senses into reason; and then 2.) from reason into reason. In other words, unless an argument can be traced back through the reasoning process for proper form (formal logic) and then backward further to judgment and definition whereby the matter of the premises were derived, then one has not a demonstration. One either has a probable argument, or an opinion (less probable still), or a patent falsehood (sophistry). Where else would you suggest one go to differentiate a piece of sophistical reasoning from a formal demonstration?

You wrote:

“It is fully possible, under his system of thought, that we will never discover sophistical arguments.”

Nope. A sophistical argument is one which is known to be false and the only way one can know an argument is false (and therefore sophistical) is if one has already seen an error in either the formal reasoning of the argument or in the matter of the premises. It would be impossible to describe an argument as sophistical unless one had already discovered the error within the argument. What Aristotle and Aquinas *would* say is that there may be many probable arguments or opinions whose truth we will never be sure of. But that is because not all of the matter which can potentially enter into the premises of an argument is knowable with certainty through definition and judgment applied to sense data.

You wrote:

“Again, it is the situation of Proteus. The alternative reading floated by Neo-Thomists, viz. that reason can solve reason's problems, is simply anachronistic given the intellectual concerns of the ancient world.”

I think you are too hard on the “Neo-Thomists” :>)

You wrote:

“I'm not sure why. Aquinas himself writes that theology only makes use of other sciences as "handmaidens", i.e. as helpers in the elaboration of what we already believe.”

The traditional notion of the other sciences as handmaidens to theology entails that theology makes use of the other sciences to either a.) defend the sacred doctrine against accusations of error and contradiction, or else b.) to better probe and explicate the content of divine revelation. None of that has anything to do with sacred doctrine supplying or adjudicating the principles and truths which pertain to the other sciences

Pax

Andrew Chen said...


prof. feser,

i greatly admire your work and might be way out of my league even in addressing this topic.

i suspect the key point of departure between you and hart is that i think for hart, there is no such thing as "unaided" reason because there is no sharp line between nature and supernature (or between special/general revelation). this position probably arises from his commitment to eastern orthodoxy.

(i happen to agree generally with hart that all thinking is, ultimately, miraculous, and that completely "unaided" reason does not, strictly speaking, exist.)

for hart, then, until those lines are erased (possibly through conversion to eastern orthodoxy?), there will be little hope of seeing the world truly, including the moral law and its foundations. hence his hang-up with natural law -- there is nothing merely "natural."

nevertheless, even if he's right, his position is almost useless for addressing real questions. after all, conscious acknowledgement of God, the ground of being, the source of all truth including logic, is not necessary for sound thinking. in other words, even if nature is ultimately merely a manifestation of supernature, this fact is not necessary for genuine insight into the way things are.

to use c.s. lewis's analogy of christ as the sun by whose light all else is seen, it's as if hart would have us believe that acknowledging the sun is a necessary condition for seeing the world truly. but of course he's wrong, and self-evidently so.

to illustrate, my son knows that 2+2=4 and therefore, he knows truth. even though hart is right to point out that God is the ground of my son's being and the source of mathematical truths, it's obvious that theology -- even correct theology -- is not necessary for knowing that 2+2=4. my son is no theologian, but he knows at least one mathematical truth. the same could then be said of moral truths.

Anonymous said...

Off topic question:

When something actual acts on some other object that's a mix of act and potency, does it act on the potency within the object or the actual object? Can potency even be "acted upon?" If it's the actual "part" of the object that gets acted upon, then why can't God be acted upon?

Glenn said...

Rank,

>> But saying that they may be consequent (to the will of the
>> believer) is not only a far cry from saying that it is literally
>> impossible for them not to be

> You are conflating two unrelated arguments. My other
> arguments were about our ability to tell truth from error, by
> the light of faith. This one is about the possibility of faith.
> Again, faith is always a product of grace, and so it cannot
> exist unless one's will has already been elevated by grace.
> The idea of rationalizing oneself into Christianity is an illusion,
> because it is God who draws us prior to any of our
> rationalizing. The view that we can achieve faith by our own
> power is Pelagianism, which is a heresy. This is pretty
> standard stuff.

Your aspersions do not alter certain facts.

One certain fact not altered by your aspersions is the fact that Aquinas writes that "human reason in support of what we believe, may...preced[e] the act of the will; as, for instance, when a man either has not the will, or not a prompt will, to believe, unless he be moved by human reasons[.]"

Another certain fact not altered by your aspersions is that what you have said is literally impossible is, based on what Aquinas has written, not impossible.

And a third certain fact not altered by your aspersions is the fact that faith for Aquinas is, again based on what Aquinas himself has written, not restricted to what you say it is.

moduspownens said...

As a Christian theist, the difficulty I face is not whether or not God exists but which theists have the best theory of metaphysics. On one hand, we have Thomists or classical theists i.e Augustine, Aquinas, Anscombe, Geach, Haldane. In the other camp, we have those who accommodate Descartes', Hume's and Kant's criticisms of classical theism i.e. Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig. Good ole' Catholics vs. Protestants battle royale. I feel the pull of both sides.

My philosophical upbringing started with the Moderns' metaphysics, which, as mentioned above, are critical of Aristotle and Aquinas. By means of a rhetorical presentation, their metaphysics occupy a default position in my own views. With more exposure, I matured and became less reverent of them.

One of the few things that remains is Hume's is/ought gap--the one thing he got right. It seems evident to me that a prescriptive fact cannot be taken from a descriptive one. It's conflating two different ontological categories. Besides an appeal to popularity, just because everyone illegally downloads, it does not follow that it is good or right.

Dr. Feser and Thomists seem to reject this reasoning, and instead argue it's not right because this violates Aristotelian formal and final causes inherent in humanity. But then again, I've seen Thomists argue against secular ethical theories that try to reduce the good to natural properties, which are purely empirical, via G.E. Moore and his open-ended questions argument, a famous expansion of Hume's is/ought gap. This would appear contrary to classical natural law theory. Maybe I have something wrong?

Secondly, could someone please kindly direct me to some literature as to why the classical natural lawyers reject the new lawyers adoption of Hume's is/ought gap? I know of Dr. Feser's post (A Christian Hart, a Humean Head) that contends that such a concession leads to Humean skepticism. I want something a little more substantial, academic and in the philosophical nitty-gritty, no offense intended for Dr. Feser's explanation. It just seems to me, the ontological basis of formal and final causes is a different type of "is" than say the example I gave about piracy. One is an is of being; the other is not. It would appear Hume's gap is not allergic to natural law. I'm not so deluded to think that I'm the first person to come to this solution, so please object away.

Brandon said...

RS,

None of the passages you quote have anything to do with skepticism; nor do they establish the conclusion you claim to draw from them. Quoting passages that have nothing to do with skepticism (the claims that reason is weak or that it can err are not skeptical theses, but what most people, even errant dogmatists, think are common sense; nor are they at all indicative of a systematic concern with skeptical problems) and claiming that this somehow proves your point, merely makes clear that you have no serious exegetical grounds for your interpretation, except your anachronistic reading of Aquinas in light of Cartesian themes.

Moreover, I notice that you don't actually address the original argument, which pointed out that Aquinas's actual position on sacred doctrine as exercising a iudicium like that of metaphysics is that, unlike metaphysics, it cannot be used even to prove the basic principles of other sciences, only to fulfill the other functions of this critical role, namely, ordering other sciences to higher principles and dialectically showing some false claims to be false due to their inconsistency with these higher principles. This means, again, that Aquinas's account of sacred doctrine makes it impossible for it to fulfill the function you claim Aquinas assigns it; if we have no proofs in an area of another purported science, nothing sacred doctrine can do will give us such proofs. If proofs are there it can put them in a new light to make them easier to understand, or it can make it easier to see what's wrong with certain objections, but since it doesn't prove the truth of the principles of other sciences, much less their conclusions precisely insofar as they are conclusions in that science, it won't shore up arguments to make them proofs. Even when sacred doctrine covers the same area as another science, it necessarily won't cover it in the same way, nor will it, unlike metaphysics, give the underlying principles their foundation so as to turn dialectics into demonstrations.

Brandon said...

moduspownens,

One thing you have to be careful about is assuming that there is one thing that is called "Hume's is/ought gap". Someone or other has counted the kinds of things that get called this and come up with seven or eight completely different and mutually exclusive positions. For instance, the characterization you give of it, in terms of descriptive facts and prescriptive facts, is inconsistent with Hume's own; Hume's point is that obligations cannot be identified with relations discovered by reason alone as the rationalists claimed, but as a moral sense theorist he holds that there are descriptive facts that serve as the foundation of prescriptive facts (namely, facts about the moral sense). Both of these in turn are inconsistent with another common variation, in terms of fact and value. And so on and so forth.

Further, there are obvious difficulties with development of the idea, even if we stick with one version. For instance, is it a descriptive fact that there are both descriptive facts and prescriptive facts? If it's a prescriptive fact that murder is wrong, why wouldn't we say that there is a descriptive fact (namely, the descriptive fact that it is a prescriptive fact that murder is wrong) that entails the prescriptive fact? What makes them both kinds of fact?

Although it's a middle-brow and informal rather than an advanced and formal discussion, I had a post on ought and is at the First Things blog sometime ago. I'd have to dig up something more formal, but I'll try to do so when I have the chance.

monk68 said...

RS,

As you can see, what Brandon and I have now said about St. Thomas and his understanding of the relation of sacred science to the other sciences is virtually identical. Yet, as far as I know, I have never met Brandon. Hence, you have two persons here reading and attempting to follow the thought of St. Thomas concerning principles, method, and the relation of the sciences; and arriving at an understanding of his meaning very different from your own. I really do think that your position on the epistemological reach of sacred science is a novel one and contrary to the works of St. Thomas properly understood.

Pax

Edward Feser said...

moduspownens,

My reason for rejecting Hume's position on is/ought or fact/value isn't "If we accepted it, we'd be led into skepticism." That would be a pretty crappy argument.

The reason I reject it is that the metaphysics underlying his position is false. In particular, it rests on a mistaken conception of what a "fact" is, and also a mistaken conception of what "value" is (or, better, what "good" and "bad" are).

I've discussed this in several places. See e.g. chapter 5 of my book Aquinas, especially the section on "the good." Also, the first half or so of my Social Philosophy and Policy article "Classical Natural Law, Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation," which you might be able to find online. I've also got a forthcoming paper that deals with these matters: "Being, the Good, and the Guise of the Good," to appear in Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, edited by Daniel D. Novotny and Lukas Novak.

See also chapter 1 of David Oderberg's Moral Theory, and Christopher Martin's paper "The Fact/Value Distinction" in Oderberg and Chappell, eds., Human Values.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Each and every one of these IS DISPUTED by various people. How do you think we got the Pelagians, the Montanists, the Arians, the Protestants? They disputed them. Manifestly, revelation didn't overcome the problem.

And so they were excommunicated as heretics. If you don't accept what has been handed down, then you aren't one of us and you do not possess the truth. What more is there to say?

Hart was talking about people who DON'T accept Scripture, nor various other basic starting points. HE wasn't talking about people who have already accepted "as given" anything that is not directly manifest to ALL, and he more or less denies outright that there is ANYTHING AT ALL that is manifest to all.

Hart's view is that it is impossible for Christian natural law theorists to dialogue with the modern world, because the modern world rejects the articles of faith and cultural intuitions that fuel the discipline. It is only by converting them to our standards that we can actually argue with them about natural law. This is why Hart refers to the "rhetoric of conversion" near the end of his article. I was not changing the subject.

Only Christians possess the full truth. The downside is that non-believers flounder in error that cannot be corrected without a vision of the full truth, which is Christianity. So the only way for a non-believer to be corrected is for him to first be converted, and for him to get those "new eyes" that Benedict and Francis talk about in Lumen Fidei. Otherwise, natural lawyers are trapped in a self-confirming echo chamber.

Equal complaint can be laid against Hart's "conversion" approach

Hart would probably appreciate the claim that the call to conversion is absurd. In the final chapter of The Beauty of the Infinite, he says that Christianity can only preach itself via martyrdom, which is to say that it must continue preaching its rhetoric until it is rejected, silenced or executed. But the central promise of Christianity is resurrection, which guarantees that Christianity will never finally be made to stop preaching. Hart's view is that it is only this form of totally open, non-dialectical rhetoric should characterize Christianity's relationship to the outside world.

The fact that some people get reasoning wrong doesn't mean reason is "so weak" that we can't trust it without revelation

You would have to take that one up with Aquinas and Augustine.

Edward Feser said...

Re: Aquinas, I should add that the section on "the transcendentals" in chapter 2 is crucial as well. In general, here as elsewhere, you aren't going to understand the classical position without some understanding of classical metaphysics in general.

rank sophist said...

monk,

Not all that is knowable with certainty is divinely revealed

Revelation covers almost every subject imaginable, particularly once you start unpacking it. Each line--each word--of Scripture has been analyzed and elaborated on by the great Christian writers throughout history. Further, the main issue under dispute is the necessity of Christianity to avoid error in natural law. If revelation covers morality, then my point seems to be secure.

The traditional rendering of Aquinas’ breakdown of human knowledge according to the aspects of reason and revelation are as follows

Aquinas does not break down knowledge into such discrete chunks. There are portions of the SCG that can be read so as to appear to do this, I agree, but there are also parts of the SCG that appear to entail determinism. Consulting his other works--especially the ST--reveals that Aquinas placed a very thin (even non-existent) boundary between the domains of philosophy and theology. This I take to be shown by my past citations.

The same can be said of Wisdom or metaphysics (the study of being qua being)

Aquinas has a quite novel opinion on wisdom. He redefines it to mean theology (ST I q1 a6). In this same article, we also see his view that theology judges all other knowledge; and that the wise man's job is to judge and arrange the products of natural reason accordingly. As he writes, "[T]hrough the highest wisdom, all our knowledge is set in order" (ST I q1 a6 ro1).

Even if theology considers many of the very same objects (nature, man, etc) under a different formal aspect (namely their relation to divine revelation); thereby deriving additional truths about man and nature which natural philosophy could not achieve. This does not entail that the truths achieved in natural philosophy were either underwritten or adjudicated in any way by sacred science.

But this view directly contradicts Aquinas's. He is very, very clear: "[w]hatsoever is found in other sciences contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false" (ST I q1 a6 ro2). He is not taking a complementarian view of natural reason and revelation, in which both are self-contained. Without the principles of revelation, our reason is doomed to error and confusion; and it must be "saved" by theology. The alternative view is not supported by the texts, and, further, it is anachronistic. Christians by Aquinas's time (including Aquinas himself) were still very much in the tradition of patristic Neo-Platonism, and they didn't set very clear boundaries for the domains of faith and reason.

If you admit the demonstrability of some truth, it follows that the truth in question has been demonstrated by someone. There is no such thing as a demonstrable truth until after the fact.

I see no evidence that Aquinas holds this position. That something is demonstrable entails that it is a truth that can be demonstrated, i.e. discovered; not that it has been demonstrated. I'm baffled that you would disagree with this fairly obvious reading. It fits perfectly with Aquinas's belief that we know very few things through their essences, even though we can, in principle, know these essences.

rank sophist said...

Aquinas’ clear affirmation that the majority of men go wrong in their reasoning and think they know what they do not know, does *not* entail that Aquinas thinks there are no truths which *can* and *has been* demonstrated.

Perhaps this is the source of the confusion. I didn't mean to suggest that no truths can or have been demonstrated. I apologize if you took my argument this way. I was referring to specific truths, and not to all truth as such. Obviously certain truths can and have been demonstrated. I was simply trying to show that Aquinas's attack on sophism was not, therefore, a claim that natural reason would ever solve its problems for itself.

The only way available to differentiate between demonstrations and sophistry is to essentially embrace the truth of Aristotle’s account of the first and second paths of human knowledge 1.) from the senses into reason; and then 2.) from reason into reason.

Aquinas does not share Aristotle's confidence in the human intellect. Detecting probable arguments, opinions and sophistry is something that reason often does not do for itself, even though it could, technically and in principle, do so. Errors invisible to natural reason arise left and right for almost everyone, and the disagreements of the philosophers are in the majority of respects incommensurable without taking to the higher ground of revelation.

Where else would you suggest one go to differentiate a piece of sophistical reasoning from a formal demonstration?

Unless one wants to run in circles with Proteus, then the answer is theology.

rank sophist said...

Nope. A sophistical argument is one which is known to be false and the only way one can know an argument is false (and therefore sophistical) is if one has already seen an error in either the formal reasoning of the argument or in the matter of the premises.

We describe these views as sophistical or probable after we have judged them by the light of revelation. To others, they don't seem sophistical or probable at all; but, because we have the Truth-with-a-capital-T, we are able to tell the difference between a demonstration and a probable or sophistical argument. This is the problem with natural reason: demonstrations are mixed in with sophistry, and no one is intelligent enough to tell the difference between the two. By the time one sophistry is discovered, ten more have been created. This is why Aquinas says that natural reason can only "with the admixture of many errors" discover anything about God. These errors are invisible to us without revelation; and, even if we were able to find them, we would make more mistakes in the interim. We simply are not that smart.

The traditional notion of the other sciences as handmaidens to theology entails that theology makes use of the other sciences to either a.) defend the sacred doctrine against accusations of error and contradiction, or else b.) to better probe and explicate the content of divine revelation. None of that has anything to do with sacred doctrine supplying or adjudicating the principles and truths which pertain to the other sciences

I agree with A and B, but you seem almost willfully to be ignoring Aquinas's comments about theology's judgment of natural reason. He is extremely clear and concise about it. Theology certainly doesn't supply the principles of other sciences, but it certainly does judge all other sciences.

Glenn,

Your aspersions do not alter certain facts.

What aspersions? I was simply explaining a mistake you'd made in interpreting what I wrote.

One certain fact not altered by your aspersions is the fact that Aquinas writes that "human reason in support of what we believe, may...preced[e] the act of the will; as, for instance, when a man either has not the will, or not a prompt will, to believe, unless he be moved by human reasons[.]"

Grace must necessarily still precede this, or what you have isn't belief at all. So the situation is that one's will is reshaped by grace, but that one refuses to accept the divine authority as such and relies on human reasons before believing anything.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

None of the passages you quote have anything to do with skepticism; nor do they establish the conclusion you claim to draw from them.

Bare assertions carry no weight. I reject your interpretation of the lines I quoted, and I have presented a significant amount of argument in an attempt to justify my alternative interpretation. You, on the other hand, simply dismiss my interpretations out of hand in favor of Neo-Scholastic ones.

Aquinas was extremely influenced by Augustine, and his arguments about certitude and error clearly reflect Augustine's concerns about the difficulty of certitude without faith. I have already attempted to argue this point above, and you have not even tried to rebut my claims in any meaningful way.

This means, again, that Aquinas's account of sacred doctrine makes it impossible for it to fulfill the function you claim Aquinas assigns it; if we have no proofs in an area of another purported science, nothing sacred doctrine can do will give us such proofs. If proofs are there it can put them in a new light to make them easier to understand, or it can make it easier to see what's wrong with certain objections, but since it doesn't prove the truth of the principles of other sciences, much less their conclusions precisely insofar as they are conclusions in that science, it won't shore up arguments to make them proofs.

Of course theology can't make something a proof. "Proof" is a technical term meaning a logical demonstration from the principles of natural reason. As a result, no argument based on the principles of theology counts as a proof to those who reject Christian revelation (ST I q1 a8). As a result, no logical argument produced by theology is unequivocally called a "proof". However, "Whatever is based on these principles [of theology] is as well proved in the eyes of the faithful, as a conclusion drawn from self-evident principles is in the eyes of all" (ST IIb q1 a5 ro2).

Further, Aquinas clearly states that theology's principles infuse it with a greater certitude than natural reason could ever achieve, as I quoted above. The proofs "in the eyes of the faithful" are in fact more certain than those of natural reason, since natural reason almost always has the possibility of being misguided.

monk,

As you can see, what Brandon and I have now said about St. Thomas and his understanding of the relation of sacred science to the other sciences is virtually identical. [...] I really do think that your position on the epistemological reach of sacred science is a novel one and contrary to the works of St. Thomas properly understood.

I honestly don't see how your two arguments are related. They seemed vastly different to me. Even if you were both arguing the same thing, though, I would not be dissuaded. I heartily disagree with the Neo-Scholastic interpretation of Aquinas on many points, and this blog is absolutely packed with Neo-Scholastic sympathizers. (Even Prof. Feser is in that group!) As a result, I never expected to be met with agreement when I presented my case. If anything, I think I'm getting more acceptance than I banked on.

Glenn said...

Rank,

You are misguided.

edevita said...

I would just like to point out something that I don't think has been made explicit yet. While it is true that reason cannot prove the truths of revelation, this does not mean that one cannot have very good reasons for believing one particular revelatory claim over another. Nor do I think that St. Thomas would deny this. In fact, he himself argues that the truth of Christianity is corroborated by the miracles of Christ, especially his resurrection from the dead. There are clearly many things that, while not provable by reason, would be irrational to deny.
In the light of this, I would direct everyone's attention to a book by D.C. Schindler which will be published shortly, entitled, "The Catholicity of Reason." Schindler's thesis (based on his study of Hans Urs Von Balthasar) is that all truth has a dramatic structure. In any good drama, the flow of events has little intelligibility until a reversal occurs. The reversal does two things: first, it takes us by surprise --- it is unexpected; second, in spite of its unexpectedness, it makes everything that occurred before wholly intelligible. This, according to Schindler (and Balthasar) is how revelation works. Indeed, it is how all truth works. We know when we have a right idea when we find that it sheds light on and readily explains everything that went before. A simple example here would be the Copernican theory as contrasted with that of Ptolemy. When one accepts the Ptolemaic theory, one can explain the retrograde motions of the planets mathematically, though the motions themselves remain unintelligible. Why do these stars alone exhibit such motions while the others do not? But once one accepts the simple idea that the "wandering" stars, i.e., the planets, all revolve around the sun, the retrograde motion becomes wholly intelligible. In the case of revelation, it is precisely because it is beyond human reason, that we could never have anticipated it. When it is revealed, however, it makes everything that led up to it more intelligible than it could ever have been otherwise. The claim of both Schindler and Balthasar is that only Christ gives intelligibility to the world, to the Old Testament, to whatever. It is precisely this coupling of surprise/intelligibility which gives rise to the certainty that we have attained the truth.
In this manner, we see that belief in Christian revelation is wholly rational and yet not "proved" by reason.
Needless to say, I've oversimplified Schindler's thesis, but I think I've gotten the gist of it. It seems to me to have some merit.

Anonymous said...

Only Christians possess the full truth. ... Otherwise, natural lawyers are trapped in a self-confirming echo chamber.

hahahahahahahahahaahahahahaha

Brandon said...

Bare assertions carry no weight. I reject your interpretation of the lines I quoted, and I have presented a significant amount of argument in an attempt to justify my alternative interpretation. You, on the other hand, simply dismiss my interpretations out of hand in favor of Neo-Scholastic ones.

Bosh and nonsense and outright lie. All you've done is gesture vaguely at quotations taken out of context and make vague attacks on Neo-Scholasticism as Cartesian without engaging with the reasons for their interpretations (or, for that matter, properly distinguishing them from the second wave commentators who had very similar interpretations but preceded both the Neo-Scholastics and Descartes); whereas I have pointed out (in the case your first egregious case of contextless quote-mining) the explicit context in which Aquinas said it, which does not appear to fit with your interpretation, and which you certainly have done nothing to accommodate, and (in the others) pointed out that none of the passages you gave are actually relevant to your conclusion -- you certainly didn't do more than say that they were, and here you are still not doing anything more.

Since, however, you insist on treating as "bare assertion" any attempt on my part to assume that you know the contexts of the passages you are quoting and thus do not have to have them explicitly reiterated for you, I suppose I will from now on have to treat you like a complete newbie who has never read Aquinas before, just to prevent you from accusing me of giving no argument whenever I explicitly point out that your interpretation fails to fit the contextual evidence. I will start with just an example -- the very argument that you have explicitly said that I haven't given, despite the fact that I have already stated it two times. Third time's the charm; let's hope we actually have some reading comprehension this time around and you actually address the argument instead of saying obviously stupid things like your comment above.

to be continued

Brandon said...

continuing

You quoted from ST 1.6, with, as usual, just a claim that it supported you and without regard for the actual context. So, step by step, showing the problem with your use of it:

(1) This is specifically an article about whether sacred doctrine is a sapientia. Anyone with any knowledge of Aquinas's works would immediately think of his discussion of metaphysics as a form of wisdom, sapientia, at the beginning of the commentary on the Metaphysics. Thus a major concern is immediately how sacred doctrine relates to metaphysics as wisdom; and indeed this is confirmed by the article, the first two objections of which are on precisely this, and the body of which echoes standard Aristotelian commonplaces about metaphysics.

(2) Aquinas's position is that, like metaphysics, sacred doctrine is architectonic, and therefore a form of sapientia, since all wisdom sets things in order and judges lower things. Like metaphysics as natural theology, sacred doctrine considers God as the highest cause, but it is higher than metaphysics because it is not only essential to sacred doctrine to do so, but sacred doctrine does so in a way that is higher than metaphysics,quantum ad id quod notum est sibi soli de seipso, et aliis per revelationem communicatum, inasmuch as He is known to Himself alone and to others communicated by revelation. Notice, incidentally, that Aquinas only emphasizes the ordering principle. This is in fact primarily the point of the argument: sacred doctrine, like metaphysics, sets things in order (which is fundamentally what it is to be wisdom), but in a higher way because it is based on higher principles.

(3) He then, in his reply to the second objection, concedes the second objection's claim, haec doctrina non probat principia aliarum scientiarum, this doctrine does not prove the principles of other sciences. Non pertinet ad eam probare principia aliarum scientiarum, proving the principles of other sciences is not relevant to it. And the reason why is given in the beginning of the reply: aliarum scientiarum principia vel sunt per se nota, et probari non possunt, vel per aliquam rationem naturalem probantur in aliqua alia scientia (The principles of other sciences are either self-evident, and cannot be proved, or are proved by natural reason in some other science) Propria autem huius scientiae cognitio est, quae est per revelationem, non autem quae est per naturalem rationem (and it is proper to the thinking of this science that it is through revelation and not through natural reason).

But then how can it be a sapientia like metaphysics? Because even though it does not have metaphysics's capacity to prove the fundamental principles of other sciences, it still has the same capacity of metaphysics to judge other sciences for the purpose of ordering them with respect to the highest cause; but it has this capacity in an even higher way than metaphysics.

Thus in this very article Aquinas is utterly explicit that other sciences are known on the basis of principles either known per se by natural reason or on the basis of principles proved by sciences that are. Sacred doctrine does not fall into this category; it does not prove principles at all. All sciences are sciences on their own and in their own right; all sacred doctrine does is put them in the right light by showing their proper order and relation to God as revealed first cause.

Brandon said...

I honestly don't see how your two arguments are related. They seemed vastly different to me.

This is pretty baffling, and strongly suggests that you don't actually grasp the position you are arguing against, since, as monk68 pointed out, it's very obvious that we've been making the same argument. The only difference between the two is that I have been staying closer to the specific points in ST 1.6, because you still haven't addressed my argument on this point at all at all, despite the fact that you explicitly quoted from ST 1.6 as if it supported your position and should therefore be able to answer it, whereas monk68 is proceeding more generally. But the arguments are making the same points, because they are both objections to the same claims on the basis of the same features of the Aristotelian account of demonstration and scientia Aquinas alludes to or explicitly accepts throughout his works.

Brandon said...

Of course theology can't make something a proof. "Proof" is a technical term meaning a logical demonstration from the principles of natural reason. As a result, no argument based on the principles of theology counts as a proof to those who reject Christian revelation (ST I q1 a8). As a result, no logical argument produced by theology is unequivocally called a "proof". However, "Whatever is based on these principles [of theology] is as well proved in the eyes of the faithful, as a conclusion drawn from self-evident principles is in the eyes of all" (ST IIb q1 a5 ro2).

Further, Aquinas clearly states that theology's principles infuse it with a greater certitude than natural reason could ever achieve, as I quoted above. The proofs "in the eyes of the faithful" are in fact more certain than those of natural reason, since natural reason almost always has the possibility of being misguided.


Yes, and all this is irrelevant; everyone here accepts the weakness of reason claim and everyone here accepts the certitude claim with regard to sacred doctrine. These are all standard points, yes, even among Neo-Scholastics. This is not the point people are criticizing you for; they are pointing out that (1) sacred doctrine will necessarily not solve the alleged problem you and Hart keep saying it will, but leave it entirely as it is, because it does not and cannot address it at all, being unable to do more even in the vicinity than order any other sciences that may exist in their own right with their own proofs, and rule out dialectically positions that are inconsistent with its principles, and therefore cannot actually give us truths in any other science; and (2) your position implies that we cannot have any scientia (which requires demonstration, hence the point about proof) other than sacred doctrine at all, since you are explicit that we cannot have the habit of scientia, i.e., of being able to demonstrate conclusions, without sacred doctrine, and you have just conceded that sacred doctrine cannot establish any demonstrations in other sciences; but this is clearly contrary to Aquinas, who recognizes all sorts of sciences, and, again, to have the habitus of science requires the capacity to demonstrate; and (3) your repeated emphasis on certitude is not relevant to the question, because the whole point of Aquinas's saying that sacred doctrine has greater certitude is to say that it has greater certitude than sciences like metaphysics based on self-evident principles, and your mischaracterization is not in claiming greater certitude for sacred doctrine but in your claims about the contrast case.

Tony said...

Right. The greater certitude of Sacred Doctrine can add to the already existing certitude of metaphysics on, for example, the validity of the act/potency distinction, but it does not DISPLACE the natural certainty of the metaphysician doing his proper metaphysical demonstrations, nor is it the cause of the natural certainty of the metaphysician on the given truth. So the certitude that Sacred Doctrine brings is grace building on nature, using natural certainty in its own proper place. Demonstrations remain certainly valid even when grace attests to the same truths.

Tony said...

edevita, I have never been able to manage to muster any rapport for the Balthasarean theme that "only Christ gives intelligibility to the world". I take it that Balthasar must reject the intelligibility that Aristotle and Euclid found? Did Pythagoras not actually find any intelligibility of right triangles in his famous theorem? Did Ptolemy's advances in trigonometry not constitute any form of intelligibility? In what way does the validity of the construction of the equilateral triangle constitute a "drama" or any sort of "reversal". Not all drama involves reversal, anyway. Some drama rejects reversal and "surprise" in favor of foreshadowing and types. Indeed, one can read the same Greek play 20 times and get the "drama" without being surprised by it. I have known professors who absolute bathe in the "surprise" and "wonder" of drama, but they are often unidimensional and rarely consistent on how it is supposed to enlighten the rest like they claim. Balthasar is overrated as a philosopher.

Neil Parille said...

Balthasar taught that it is possible that everyone is going to heaven, a view advocated by JP2 and most Catholic theologians today.

It's interesting that the catholic church has a reputation for being conservative when its views are generally left of center.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

whereas I have pointed out (in the case your first egregious case of contextless quote-mining) the explicit context in which Aquinas said it, which does not appear to fit with your interpretation, and which you certainly have done nothing to accommodate, and (in the others) pointed out that none of the passages you gave are actually relevant to your conclusion

I've attempted to rebut every counter interpretation on offer. As usual, your response is to scream, flip the tea table and call me a liar. I've noticed this pattern when arguing with you before, Brandon.

All sciences are sciences on their own and in their own right; all sacred doctrine does is put them in the right light by showing their proper order and relation to God as revealed first cause.

Your explanation was informative, but it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. I don't disagree with any of it. In fact, I have no idea why you wrote it. How does it counter my argument? It almost looks as though you've conceded the very point I've been trying to argue for, viz. that theology orders and judges the products of all disciplines by the light of faith, such that some are accepted and others are condemned.

(1) sacred doctrine will necessarily not solve the alleged problem you and Hart keep saying it will, but leave it entirely as it is, because it does not and cannot address it at all, being unable to do more even in the vicinity than order any other sciences that may exist in their own right with their own proofs, and rule out dialectically positions that are inconsistent with its principles, and therefore cannot actually give us truths in any other science

And again it seems like you've conceded my point. The natural law that Christians put forward is ordered and altered by theology, and so it will be different from the natural law of non-believers. Natural law as proposed by a non-believer will contain errors (from our perspective) that are impossible to correct without an appeal to theology. For example, a non-believer could use natural law to support slavery--or innumerably many other repugnant positions. The sky is the limit when natural reason is left to its own devices.

rank sophist said...

We adopted and adjusted natural law because it was mostly in line with what Christianity already preached, and so it proved an excellent tool for rationalizing the moral principles of Scripture. But you can't secularize it after you've Christianized it, unless you're willing to lose to error and confusion a huge portion of what you've produced. Plus, as soon as you throw it to the secular wolves, you've given away the whole game. Take away the theology, and all you have is ungrounded, misguided natural reason in all its stupidity. If I didn't already believe, to use Hart's example in Atheist Delusions, that every life has an infinite value, then why would I read that into natural law? Or why should I say that pride is a sin? The list goes on.

What you're left with is a system without a center--a gutted system.

and (2) your position implies that we cannot have any scientia (which requires demonstration, hence the point about proof) other than sacred doctrine at all, since you are explicit that we cannot have the habit of scientia, i.e., of being able to demonstrate conclusions, without sacred doctrine, and you have just conceded that sacred doctrine cannot establish any demonstrations in other sciences

I never made this claim, though. How could you even get that from what I was saying? Natural reason demonstrates stuff all the time and it always has. Augustine, Aquinas and Hart all agree that natural reason is capable of demonstration. The problem is not that natural reason cannot demonstrate anything, but that much of what it has appeared to demonstrate contradicts the one truth revealed in Christianity. The demonstrations of theology, as you put it, set lower disciplines "in the right light"--so that their errors may be clearly seen. Without theology, the errors would remain hidden, potentially for all time.

Tony,

Demonstrations remain certainly valid even when grace attests to the same truths.

The problem is that this gets the issue exactly backwards, at least according to the traditional Christian view. The truth of Christ is prior to the truths of reason, since Christ--as the embodiment of truth--is the source of all truths as such. Obviously, this does not mean that one cannot find truth without an explicit belief in Christ. But it does mean that the products of logic are only true when they comply with the truth of Christ, since nothing that fails to participate in Christ can be true. Thus, to say that demonstrations "remain certainly valid even when" revelation attests to them puts the issue backwards: we should say that Christ's truth is certain even when demonstrations attest to the same truth.

Tony said...

Rank, that is living up to your name, it is the rankest, smelliest sophistry you have used yet. My point was about distinction of FAITH and reason, not the source of truth grasped by faith or reason. You are arguing the wrong issue.

The truth of Christ is prior to the truths of reason

is just so much smoke and mirrors. ALL truth, is Christ's truth ("I am the way, and the truth, and the life...") So your comment comes to saying "the truth of Christ is prior to the truth of Christ." Dumb

What you attempting to imply, though, is wrong. The truths revealed by grace (the ones that reason cannot get on its own) are HIGHER than the truths of reason, but they are not prior in the sense of time. Man must needs first have natural knowledge (like the preambles of faith) in order to even grasp the truths of revelation. If a man properly comes to the truth of the existence of God through reason, and THEN AFTERWARDS comes to it through faith, the grace of faith does not disturb or diminish the rightful, proper certainty he already had of it naturally, grace rather improves on that certainty.

Thus, to say that demonstrations "remain certainly valid even when" revelation attests to them puts the issue backwards:

I was speaking of the order of time in apprehension - the order of coming to knowledge and certainty - not the priority of causality of the truths themselves. As anyone could have grasped from my comments: grace building on nature is usually taking place in order of time, with nature coming first and grace coming after. And grace building on nature isn't the order in which higher truths are "prior" to lower truths anyway, higher truths don't build on lower truths in that sense.

As I said, your sophistry is more glaring than usual.

Edward Feser said...

Neil wrote:

It's interesting that the catholic church has a reputation for being conservative when its views are generally left of center.

That the non-binding views of many churchmen today are left of center does not entail that the Church's views are left of center.

Tony said...

Balthasar taught that it is possible that everyone is going to heaven, a view advocated by JP2 and most Catholic theologians today.

Neil, I am willing to concede the possibility that Balthasar made some advances to theology, BUT NOT on the basis of THIS. Rather, this one is actually one of the proofs that he was on shaky ground, and his reputation is overblown. He was an innovator, a word that Catholic theologians until the 1950s would have shunned as extraordinarily dangerous, and would not have been pleased with in the least.

Read this article, for example:
http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=3344&CFID=418161&CFTOKEN=68027439

A second scriptural passage that abolishes the possibility of universal salvation, and with it Balthasar's hope that all men be saved, is Luke 13:23-24. Luke states: "But someone said to him, 'Lord, are only a few to be saved?' But he said to them, 'Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able"' (Lk. 13:23-24). Now, "many ... will not be able ... to enter" means that "many" will not be saved...Balthasar in Dare We Hope admitted that St. Augustine's belief that many go to Hell was clearly held by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, such as "Gregory the Great... Anselm, Bonaventure, and Thomas [Aquinas]," and by Church scholars such as the Venerable Cardinal Newman.

I will take the Fathers and Doctors over Balthasar and JPII on this. I will not take JPII over the Fathers and Doctors on it because he refused to speak "teaching the whole Church, definitively" on the matter, always couching his opinion as tentative. I will not take "most Catholic theologians today" on it, first, because "most" is probably an exaggeration, and secondly, this is the very same "most" who attempted to follow JPII into the innovative realm of saying that capital punishment should never be used anymore, and fouled up their own explanations of the matter beyond belief.

To me, it seems like Balthasar was a part of that cadre of 20th century writers who insisted on re-inventing the wheel, that is, on inventing new reasons for old truths, as if the old tried and true reasons were not really valid. And in doing so he employed as methods various tricks of rhetoric that defied careful analysis because the language was convoluted and indistinct in itself. Slippery and apt for multitudes of misconceptions, misconceptions that were not possible under the old explanations.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

My point was about distinction of FAITH and reason, not the source of truth grasped by faith or reason. You are arguing the wrong issue.

I was simply trying to make what I've been attempting to say clearer, since your comment provided such an ample opportunity to do so. Most Thomists seem to think in the way that you described, rather than in the traditional way of placing faith above reason. Everyone is free to disagree with this traditional view, but it must be clear that Aquinas accepted it, and that Hart is one of its modern adherents.

So your comment comes to saying "the truth of Christ is prior to the truth of Christ."

It doesn't, though. Christ is the truth fully realized, and so all truth participates to a greater or lesser degree in him. Traditionally, one would not say that something would be true regardless of Christian revelation: Christ was considered to be the entire truth. The truths of natural law (for instance) are only true because they reflect Christ, and for no other reason. Again, this is not to say that we can't discover truth without Christ; merely that Christ must always be seen by Christians as higher than and the condition for any logical demonstration. The illumination of faith in Christ's absolute truth is what makes Christian logical demonstrations so profitable: it provides a grounding for our reason. When reason is separated from that grounding, it loses its illumination and falls (although not completely) into confusion and error. This is Hart's point, and it's something that Aquinas whole-heartedly supports.

Man must needs first have natural knowledge (like the preambles of faith) in order to even grasp the truths of revelation.

This is actually the exact opposite of Aquinas's position, and that of almost every Church Father. A huge part of the point of revelation is to allow the average man to understand the deepest truths. If everyone actually had to understand the preambles of faith--as Aquinas uses that term; not as the Neo-Scholastics use it--then "the human race would remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance" (SCG b1 ch4.3-4). Only the wealthy, old and intelligent could even pursue such a goal, and even most of them would fail. Lucky for us that God "hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (Luke 10:21).

If a man properly comes to the truth of the existence of God through reason, and THEN AFTERWARDS comes to it through faith, the grace of faith does not disturb or diminish the rightful, proper certainty he already had of it naturally

Indeed it doesn't, because such knowledge precludes the merit of faith (ST IIb q2 a10 ro2).

Anonymous said...

So RS is being branded a full-blown sophist now? Really bizarre, given his detailed contributions at this blog. I wonder if he was also guilty of sophistry when he was in agreement with all of you in 99% of the non-Hart threads.

Anonymous said...

It is now more of less common knowledge at the present time that you are not merely seeing what is external or "out there" whether in a particular enclosed room or in the Cosmos altogether. Your seeing is, in fact, an electronic apparition, developed in the nervous system and the brain and projected "out there".
You have no direct connection to the gross object, or objects, that you are seeming to view at the present time. In other words you are having a vision. You are not merely seeing a gross environment, but you are having a vision of a gross environment.

Likewise, your sense of being physically embodied is communicated to you through the subtle electronics of the brain and nervous system. You are experiencing an apparition, an electronic sense of being identified with a gross phtysical body. The position in which you are experiencing perceptions is an extremely subtle position. You seem to be possessed of very gross, tangible objects of attention, but none of the objects with which you are associated are actually gross and tangible to you. They are all electronic apparitions generated by the brain and nervous system.

You are simply appearing as a point of attention associated with and Infinite Grid of Light - and, yet, you imagine or presume all this complexity that you call the "external world". All of this complexityis mere imagination. In Truth, you never experience this presumed complexity. You are not where you think you are, any more than you are where you think you are when you are in a dream. If you were not identified with the body - and, therefore, with a spatial concept of your existence -all you see is this Grid.

What is it ultimately? It is just an illusion, or a conditional representation of Consciousness., Which is One with Its Own Energy. There is no "difference" between Consciousness and Energy. And, therefore, there is no "difference" between attention and any object.

There is Only One Absolute Condition. That is the case with every one right now. You do not have to be changed in any way in order for this to be So. It is simply So, inherently So.

Nonetheless, as long as you think you are where you think you are, conditional existence is a seemingly deadly serious matter. A deadly serious matter that produces all kinds of conflicting (even fight to the death) philosophical and "theological" mind games. Even creating wars of "religion" between advocates of different mind-games, especially by those that have the powers of State behind them to extend and enforce the collective mind-game with which they are identified.

Tony said...

Most Thomists seem to think in the way that you described, rather than in the traditional way of placing faith above reason.

More sophistry, since I (and Thomists, always) put faith above reason. What you described is a particular sense of putting faith above reason, a sense which is neither in Thomas nor valid.

This is actually the exact opposite of Aquinas's position, and that of almost every Church Father. A huge part of the point of revelation is to allow the average man to understand the deepest truths.

Again you misconstrue my meaning. It's almost as if you want to.

St. Thomas says
The object of every cognitive habit includes two things: first, that which is known materially, and is the material object, so to speak, and, secondly, that whereby it is known, which is the formal aspect of the object.

I was referring specifically to the matter of which faith give the assent. A man must needs have the terms of a proposition in his mind in order to assent to them. A person who speaks only Japanese cannot assent to a proposed truth stated in English, because the sounds do not produce any concepts in his mind. The matter which the operation of assent operates on must BE IN THE MIND in order for assent to take place. That's what I was referring to. "Faith comes through hearing."

Absolutely nothing about this poses in the least bit any objection to your thesis that faith is granted so the average joe can have truth, because he has so many obstacles to overcome in the natural mode of coming to firm assent. Whether joe assents to the proposed truth on account of reason alone or on account of faith, he must needs have the terms of the proposition in his mind in order to assent to it.

Indeed it doesn't, because such knowledge precludes the merit of faith

You flatly contradict Thomas here. He says the FAITH is diminished, but NOT the merit, because merit is in the will, and the will can be ready and inclined to believe whether demonstration has occurred or not.

On the other hand, though demonstrative reasons in support of the preambles of faith, but not of the articles of faith, diminish the measure of faith, since they make the thing believed to be seen, yet they do not diminish the measure of charity, which makes the will ready to believe them, even if they were unseen; and so the measure of merit is not diminished.

It would be odd indeed for merit to decrease when, out of LOVE for truth, a person of faith undertakes to prove naturally that which can be proven so. A due and proportionate act from love cannot decrease merit, it can only increase it. And that too explains why when "faith and hope shall pass away, but love remains" the merit remains, because the measure of merit is from the will which adheres to God, not from the intellect's assent to things unseen.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

So RS is being branded a full-blown sophist now? Really bizarre, given his detailed contributions at this blog. I wonder if he was also guilty of sophistry when he was in agreement with all of you in 99% of the non-Hart threads.

You raise a most interesting and perhaps edifying point, one regarding which the following question may itself be raised: Why is that when Rank gets sophistical, he tends to do so in Hart-based threads (where attention is called to Hart's seeming eschewal of reason (and Rank seemingly supports the apparent eschewal))?

rank sophist said...

Tony,

he must needs have the terms of the proposition in his mind in order to assent to it.

If all you were saying was that everyone lives and learns before being brought (or confirmed) into the Christian faith, then your point all along was trivially true. Plus, it has nothing to do with what I've been claiming.

My argument is very simple: Christ is the entirety of truth; therefore Christianity encompasses the entirety of truth. The truth that natural reason grasps descends from the fuller and more original truth of Christ, which we possess. Human reason is extremely lacking when it is not illuminated by the fullness of Christ, and it is prone to copious errors. Without an appeal to Christ, truth can be like Proteus in Augustine's example: always slipping out of our grasp; always difficult to identify. The light of faith "saves" lesser sciences by revealing the complete truth, which allows us to determine truth from falsehood in many situations where a non-believer would err. This is what I've been saying, and I'm fairly certain it's Hart's argument as well.

He says the FAITH is diminished, but NOT the merit

You're correct; I misread that passage. Apologies.

Tony said...

then your point all along was trivially true.

It's funny, but somehow you found it easy to dispute a point that is trivially true, a point that I found necessary to make because things you said denied that trivial truth.

Rank, to the extent what you have been saying is true, it is (and has been all along) trivially true: man's reason is weak. Beyond your trivial truth, you have been wrong: truth is not "always slipping out of our grasp", only sometimes. "Always" is intemperate rhetoric. Lesser sciences don't need "saving" when they proceed in proper demonstrations, and the yield from those proper demonstrations is knowledge. Faith doesn't "save" such demonstrations in their own right, it only saves the scientist when he has made some error elsewhere.

Revelation is necessary in the absolute sense for the things beyond the reach of reason, and for the things within the reach of reason it is necessary in a qualified sense that takes note of man's obstacles to consistent success. If you had started out all along using the temperate language of qualified necessity and the like, such as the difference between knowing truths and consistently being right, and the difference between knowing some of the truth (especially about our grasp of self-evident truths)and knowing all of the truth (even that part theoretically within the reach of reason) necessary for salvation, you would have had agreement all along. As Brandon said earlier.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Lesser sciences don't need "saving" when they proceed in proper demonstrations, and the yield from those proper demonstrations is knowledge.

And yet the difference between a proper demonstration and a sophistical or probable argument is often lost to natural reason. Again, Aquinas confirms in multiple places that even truths accessible to natural reason need to be expounded via revelation to clear up the invisible errors that proliferate in man's natural reasoning process, which are falsely believed to be demonstrations by many non-believers.

you would have had agreement all along

Then you all secretly agree with Hart's thesis, and you've been hiding it from me all this time! How coy.

If this is the case, then I suppose it's time to admit that natural law is not something that Christians can use in a secular context. Without the grounding of revelation, natural law is handed over to confusion, error and evil. Most of Aquinas's moral theory in ST IIb will have to be tossed out, since it is only coherent when one accepts the Christian message. Take away that framework and natural reason is free to spin off in whatever false, pagan direction it pleases.

Brandon said...

I've attempted to rebut every counter interpretation on offer. As usual, your response is to scream, flip the tea table and call me a liar. I've noticed this pattern when arguing with you before, Brandon.

Let's actually go through each of your comments in this thread, step by step, and let's see if there's a reason why people might think that you are repeatedly responding to people without paying attention to their actual arguments. Those who do not want to read the entire rehash of the argument are recommended to pay attention especially to: July 18, 2013 at 12:15 PM; July 19, 2013 at 10:36 AM; July 19, 2013 at 10:40 AM. That people will accidentally drop arguments is going to happen in comments threads; but it is absurd to claim to have "attempted to rebut every counter interpretation on offer" when having failed three times to do anything to rebut the interpretation of the very passage in question, having ignored it completely once, having simply reused the passage in the original way once without regarding the intepretation issue, not rebutting it in the prior comment (all he actually does in that comment is agree with a secondary premise and make a vague comment about certitude). Likewise, I'm sorry if your feelings are hurt by my saying your prior comment was a lie, but in a comments thread in which you have irritated Glenn out of the conversation, nearly infuriated Tony at least once by ignoring yet again the argument he made, irritated me by repeatedly failing to respond to my argument at all, and made me laugh at you out loud for manifest falsehood in your claim about what you've actually done in the argument, you might consider the fact that it's more what you are doing than what the people around you are doing that is causing any problems you might be having.

to be continued

Brandon said...

July 17, 2013 at 1:14 PM Opening salvo: You give your general position; no specific evidence or support. Followed immediately by July 17, 2013 at 1:21 PM, in which you make a minor point about Hart interpretation.
- Seraphim qualifies your interpretation of Hart with respect to subjectivism and voluntarism. Dan responds to your comment about Christianity and Buddhism. Ed responds that both you and Seraphim seem simply to be relabeling the problem. Tony argues against Hart as you've represented him.

July 17, 2013 at 5:01 PM You respond to Ed arguing that one cannot demonstrate Christianity over Buddhism (which he hadn't claimed), on which you do provide evidence, and to dan you clarify your original point and make your Arianism comment, again without any support. July 17, 2013 at 5:19 PM follows to Seraphim, in which you agree but clarify.
- Ed responds that natural theology needs to be distinguished from revealed theology, clarifies his point with respect to the latter, affirms the importance of motives of credibility, and notes that the Catholic Church condemns fideism, and that he doesn't see how a Hartian position can avoid being fideistic. Tony replies to the Christianity and Buddhism point that certain Buddhist errors can be proven wrong, and that your claim that we can't prove our must fundamental conviction is obvious and irrelevant because as first they depend on intelligentia. Glenn questions your interpretation of Augustine, noting a comment in C.A. and a secondary source; he also notes that your reference to On the Apostle's Creed ignores other comments in the immediate context and supports his claim that reasoning is important to faith with two quotations from Aquinas.

to be continued

Brandon said...

July 17, 2013 at 10:25 PM You respond to Tony by agreeing in a qualified way but in the process you characterize Ed's view incorrectly as "the impossibility of proving Christianity entails irrationalism" and "the Enlightenment view of reason's self-reliance". You respond to Glenn by posting a quote from C.A., saying that Glenn's evidence with respect to Augustine was consistent with the quote without any account of how this quote is supposed to support your own case; and on the Aquinas passages you say you don't see how they are inconsistent with your argument.
- I point out that your 1.1.6 quotation ignores the fact that in context Aquinas states that the judgment of sacred doctrine does not prove the truth of principles, which would be necessary for it to separate true from false the way you claim Aquinas is saying, and follow it up by saying that, indeed, it seems on the same basis that sacred doctrine as Aquinas conceives it can't do what you claim it could do. Tony replies that he thinks the doctrine of potency and act can provide a foundation for proving Buddhism wrong, and that the Hartian appeal to "divinity" doesn't solve the problem, because it just leaves us with a problem of competing revelations, and develops this point at some length. Dan responds that his point was that your claim that reason was "completely hopeless" to decide the matter, and asks how you respond to people like Justin Martyr and himself that reason can, in fact, decide between rival belief systems; he is also puzzled as to how reason is completely helpless if the logical consistency of Arianism is only apparent. Anonymous notes to Dan that RS exaggerates a lot, and so his claims should not be taken precisely. Monk68 protests that Aquinas's account of demonstration and his commentaries on Aristotle's works appear to be inconsistent with your claims about Aquinas, poining out first principles and the fact that he seems to regard Aristotle's basic approach as demonstrably correct. Glenn responds that if your argument is consistent with the passages in Aquinas he gave, you acept that contradictions of a claim are foolish when not based on understanding, that intelligence is more easily led by what is known through natural reason to that which is above reason; and that human reasoning in support of matters of faith do not diminish the merit of believing; however your criticism of Ed on motives of credibility appears, unless you were merely exaggerating, to contradict these. Monk68 addresses your Arianism point, noting that logical consistency is not the issue at hand.

July 18, 2013 at 12:15 PM Responding to me, you ignore my primary argument about 1.1.6 completely and attack my comment that Aquinas is, unlike Augustine, explicitly Aristotelian about demonstration and does not have the concern with skepticism you had attributed to him. You claim this is "obviously false" and give five passages on the weakness of reason, concluding "Aquinas clearly supports the Augustinian position on the status of reason". You do not explain how any of the passages you list show that Aquinas is not Aristotelian about demonstration or show that he has the specific worry about skepticism that you attributed to him, which they would have to "obviously" do in order to show my claim "obviously false".

to be continued

Brandon said...

July 18, 2013 at 12:17 PM and July 18, 2013 at 12:19 PM You respond to Tony that the competing revelations problem is not a problem because we agree, on the basis of revelation, about the principles of our disagreements, and anyone who did not would be a heretic; you quote his claim that revelation isn't an adequate source for anyone but the person whom God sends the revelation, but don't actually respond to it, saying instead that, given revelation, we should apply reason to it to develop it. You ignore one of Dan's questions, responding instead to some of his side comments on Buddhism, but respond briefly to his Arianism question and clarify that you are not an Academic skeptic. You conceded Anon's point about exaggeration. You claim in response to Monk68 that Aquinas "only" accepts Aristotle because he thinks it is consistent with the Christian faith, appealing to the passages you quoted against me, giving a historical argument and saying that your conclusion is in line with 1.1.8ad2, on how sacred doctrine makes use of philosophy.
- John Burford responds with Vatican I and Pius XII. Monk68 protests that none of the passages you've given are actually relevant to your claim in context, since they are all about the necessity of revelation and grace, which is not relevant to the issue at hand, or about the use of philosophy in sacred doctrine, which in context concerns truths that are not the same philosophical truths he calls demonstrable; and that even when talking about weakness of intellect, it is usually by contrast to demonstration.

to be continued

Brandon said...

July 18, 2013 at 2:17 PM and July 18, 2013 at 2:18 PM and July 18, 2013 at 2:20 PM and July 18, 2013 at 2:21 PM You respond to Glenn by agreeing with his three points, and say he is conflating two different arguments: one about the possibility of faith, and one about telling truth from error. You respond to monk68 on Arianism by qualified agreement. You respond to John Burford by agreeing but saying that it is only possible to know that people have genuinely discovered "something much like the Christian God with certainty" in light of faith. You reject Monk68's claim about the context of the necessity-of-revelation passages, saying it is "an easy mistake to make" but "contradicts Aquinas' actual beliefs" without actually saying what it is about his claim that you are disagreeing with; then you give three passages to prove that sacred doctrine encompasses both God and creatures under the aspect of God, without explaining how this is inconsistent with Monk68's rather limited claim about what Aquinas is not considering in the context of the passages you've appealed to, or how this supports your original claims. You respond to his point about weakness of intellect in context that merely because something is demonstrable doesn't mean that it is ever demonstrated. You appeal to Aquinas's claim that other sciences are the handmaids of theology.
- Tony, exasperated, responds that the point every single one of the principles you noted is disputed, and thus that the competing revelations problem still exists; and that Hart himself had been talking about people who don't accept Scripture, so this can't be appealed to in order to solve the problem; and that the entire Hartian approach applies with equal force to faith, then notes that the fact that the weakness of reason does not establish that it is as weak as your position requires. Monk68 points out that your claim about the scope of sacred doctrine ignores the formality under which these things fall under it; he gives a close exegesis of each passage you quoted, showing that each of them is specifically speaking about things under this formality, and responds that this closer exegesis shows that sacred doctrine cannot distinguish truth from falsehood in natural philosophy in the way your position requires. He then notes that 'demonstrability' in an Aristotelian context requires actual demonstration: things are demonstrable when there is a demonstration of them, and that, likewise, nothing can be counted as sophistical until it is established as such. He points out that the traditional interpretation of the handmaid point doesn't have anything to do with supplying or adjudicating the truths of other sciences, but simply to defense and explication. Glenn, exasperated, points out that none of your response changes the fact that human reason can be used to support what one believes and that Aquinas is explicit that this can be prior to actually believing, contrary to your argument against motives of credibility. I respond that none of the passages you had raised against me had anything to do with skepticism (which is what I had explicitly been talking about), since the weakness of reason is not a skeptical thesis, and that if this is your 'obvious' basis, you have no serious exegetical grounds for your claim; and also that you have not addressed my argument about the interpretation of 1.1.6 at all, which I then restate. Monk68 notes in response that my argument on this point is virtually identical with his argument.

to be continued

Brandon said...

July 19, 2013 at 10:26 AM You respond to Tony once again that people who dispute the principles of revelation are excommunicated as heretics; you respond to his Hart point by saying that "non-believers flounder in error that cannot be corrected without a vision of the full truth" and thus "the only way for a non-believer to be corrected is for him to first be converted". You do not address his objection that Hartian criticism would apply to the Hartian position itself except with an obscure comment about martyrdom whose relevance I can't even grasp enough to say what you even might mean by it in context. Then, to his point that weakness of reason doesn't mean that reason can't be trusted without revelation by telling him to take it up with Aquinas thus failing to recognize that his point was precisely that Aquinas's comments about the weakness of reason does not in itself support your claim.

July 19, 2013 at 10:36 AM and July 19, 2013 at 10:37 AM and July 19, 2013 at 10:38 AM You respond to Monk68 by merely repeating your position, and then repeating your claim about ST 1.6.1 once again without addressing the issue of interpretation on this subject that had already been raised twice, explicitly, or even acknowledging that it could be made. You then clarify that you are not advocating Academic skepticism, and, in response to Monk68's claim that distinguishing between demonstrations and sophistry at all requires accepting an Aristotelian account of demonstration, you vaguely say that Aquinas does not share Aristotle's confidence in the human intellect, and restate your position, then conclude by saying that only theology can distinguish sophistry from formal demonstration. You then agree with the traditional account of the handmaiden point, apparently forgetting that you had already given a different interpretation of it, but say that Monk68 "seems almost willfully to be ignoring Aquinas's comments about theology's judgment of natural reason" again raising the 1.6.1 issue despite the fact that an argument had already been given criticizing your interpretation of this passage on precisely this point.

to be continued

Brandon said...

July 19, 2013 at 10:40 AM And here we get the bare assertions accusation in response to my claim that none of the passages quoted had anything to do with the skepticism problem you had originally put forward, baldly claiming that "I have presented a significant amount of argument in an attempt to justify my alternative interpretation" despite the fact that you had, in fact, nowhere given any argument that the particular passages in question should be interpreted as being related to this problem -- Monk68 had, remember, noted the exact same issue with these passages, and given a close look at each, but your casual comments on his exegeses don't address the issue here at all. Note, too, that even if you somehow overlooked my admittedly brief argument, you could not possibly have overlooked that Monk68 had filled in the gap, in any case. Tony had also noted exactly the same problem, at least with the weakness of reason passages, and your response to him was "take it up with Aquinas"! Then, it finally looks like you are going to address my interpretation, and nothing you say is actually about the interpretive problem about judgment, which had been emphasize already twice as precisely the point in question, but simply a concession that sacred doctrine gives no demonstrations, which was one of the premises of my argument, and an appeal to the greater certitude of sacred doctrine.

There's no doubt here: your argument has been sloppy, patchy, and you usually respond to arguments by either reiterating your position or vaguely pointing to some passages in Aquinas without much explanation of how they support your view, often without any regard for the fact that your opponents are pointing out that your position is not the most obvious reading of the passage.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

I regularly re-read my own posts in long threads to make sure that I haven't lost the plot along the way, and I'd just done so earlier today. I confirmed to myself that I've been saying the same thing since the beginning of the combox, even if I may not have expressed myself that clearly for most of that time. I appreciate all the effort that you went through to write that long summary, but I really, honestly don't know what I'm supposed to take from it. It's just a compilation of what's been said and done in this combox--of which I was already fully aware.

The clearer you've made your position over the course of this combox, the less it's seemed to differ from mine. See my stripped-down summary at July 20, 2013 at 9:45 AM.

Brandon said...

It's just a compilation of what's been said and done in this combox--of which I was already fully aware.

Apparently not so fully. You said above, and I quote:

Bare assertions carry no weight. I reject your interpretation of the lines I quoted, and I have presented a significant amount of argument in an attempt to justify my alternative interpretation. You, on the other hand, simply dismiss my interpretations out of hand in favor of Neo-Scholastic ones.

This directly implies (1) that I had merely asserted rather than argued (as noted in the summary above, I had given an argument, and that even if I hadn't, Monk68 had given an even more extensive argument); (2) you had presented a significant amount of argument in an attempt to justify your interpretation of the passages in question (as the summary above shows, you did not originally even explain your interpretation of the passages in question, making only a very vague comment about them, nor how they related to the claim to which they were responding; and that you never actually did so afterward, since when Monk68 raised the problem with the same passages, different issues were discussed); (3) that I simply dismissed your interpretations out of hand (despite the fact that, as the summary above shows, I had not dismissed your interpretations of the argument -- which you had not really explained at all -- but pointed out that they were irrelevant to the question because they didn't have anything to do with the particular attribution of a concern with a skeptical problem this whole thing had been about, and that I gave an argument for it).

Then you said:

I've attempted to rebut every counter interpretation on offer. As usual, your response is to scream, flip the tea table and call me a liar. I've noticed this pattern when arguing with you before, Brandon.

This, despite the fact that I had already twice pointed out, in comments to which you explicitly responded, one of which was the comment to which you were responding with these words, that you had not addressed the interpretive worry I raised at all. And the summary again shows that this is so.

Obviously you've said the same thing since the beginning of the thread; most of your comments are just restatements of your position with an occasional extra vague argument or two thrown in. Obviously a lot of your argument is in agreement with mine; almost all the genuine argument you have actually made in this comment thread has been in support of the two theses (1) that human reason is very weak and in need of assistance for some kinds of questions; and (2) that sacred doctrine has a certitude that exceeds even that available to sciences. Both of these positions were explicitly accepted multiple times by people pointing out to you that these were obvious points that were not what they were criticizing, but further claims you made that were far stronger than either of these points.

Tony said...

that even truths accessible to natural reason need to be expounded via revelation

SOME, not ALL. You persist in making these general statements as if the underlying (sometimes Thomistic) premises apply to ALL, and you go using them as if they apply to all, when they do nothing of the sort. Some, yes. All, no.

Furthermore: let us suppose that we have a truth T that is in theory accessible to reason, but for 4000 years before Christ nobody had managed to locate it in the natural law. Let us assume, further, that some men had constructed an erroneous argument for Not-T, thinking that they had proven Not-T when they had not.

(It is fair and reasonable to say that in this instance we need revelation to overcome our ignorance and weakness. The need is that of a qualified, contingent sort, based on happenstance of historical accident about which errors people fell into, because nothing essential to man or the truth T must lead people into falsely believing Not-T when they don't have to.)

Now revelation comes along, and with faith we see that T is true, and as a consequence that Not-T is false. But the fact that we faithful believe T, correctly, and that we repudiate Not-T, does not tell us what is wrong with the argument for Not-T. So, we undertake to study the argument more carefully, and we discover the error in the argument, we find that there was an equivocation in terms. We study further, and we discover that there is indeed a demonstration for T based on naturally known principles. In this scenario, the path to finding a demonstration of T is through faith illuminating our intellect.

We can show the equivocation of terms to non-believers and they can rightly see that Not-T is invalidly proven. We can also demonstrate T to them using correct, valid demonstrative argument, and they (even without faith) can apprehend both the truth T and that it has been demonstrated.

Therefore, Hart is STILL wrong about the role of natural law arguments to non-believers and to men in general, even GRANTING the need for faith in man's approach to the truth.

Tony said...

What Rank seems to be trying to do is to say that since we sometimes make mistakes in what we think are demonstrative arguments, we DON'T KNOW, in any given case, that an argument is demonstrative without faith to buttress it up, making us sure of it - because we might have made a mistake.

But faith doesn't do that. Faith in revealed truth can tell us the conclusion is true, it doesn't tell us that THAT ARGUMENT is a valid demonstration. So, effectively, Rank is saying that demonstration isn't actually the sort of thing that provides certainty of the conclusion, all it is, really, is a probable argument, because we can never be certain it is a demonstration. He is saying (always and everywhere, by its nature) an attempt at demonstration is just a form of probable argument.

And, really, the same goes for self-evident truths: some people have claimed that something is self-evident when it is not. So we make mistakes in those too, and so we cannot be certain that a proposition is self-evident without faith to back us up on it.

Again, faith doesn't do that for us: revealed truth can tell us that the proposition is true, without telling us whether it is self-evident.

What Rank is saying, in effect, is that there is no such thing as self-evident truths or demonstrations. Because people have made errors about self-evident truths, we don't KNOW the law of non-contradiction is self-evident, or even that it is true. We don't KNOW that a BARBARA syllogism from self-evident principles is a valid argument.

So, by destroying the intellect's operations, Rank has bolstered the rampant, modern skepticism about the intellect, effectively denying the entirety of Thomas's position on principles and demonstration, that things are known to the intellect in their proper mode, which includes apprehension of self-evident first principles and demonstrative arguments.

As a result, Rank (and Hart) would have it that the only mode of assent that provides certainty is faith.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

This directly implies

It implies nothing. Its meaning is very explicit: I had been trying to answer objections to the best of my ability, and your comment at July 19, 2013 at 7:41 AM simply asserted that my quotes were not about what I believed them to be. Your only two posts before that were brief and dealt with an issue largely unrelated to my argument. I stand by what I said.

Both of these positions were explicitly accepted multiple times by people pointing out to you that these were obvious points that were not what they were criticizing, but further claims you made that were far stronger than either of these points.

The further claims follow from the premises that everyone here apparently accepts.

Tony,

I would like to take a moment to thank you for your post at July 20, 2013 at 5:40 PM. For the first time in this whole Hart-Feser brouhaha, I think someone from the Feser side has finally addressed the argument put forward by the Hart side. No misunderstandings, no red herrings, no unrelated tangents: you nailed it. The comboxes on this issue over the past months have made me feel like I was beating my head against a brick wall, but, finally, the other side has been reached. I disagree with your conclusion, as you'll see in a second, but you still engaged the argument on its own terms. Bravo.

rank sophist said...

We can show the equivocation of terms to non-believers and they can rightly see that Not-T is invalidly proven. We can also demonstrate T to them using correct, valid demonstrative argument, and they (even without faith) can apprehend both the truth T and that it has been demonstrated.

Your scenario was perfectly laid out. And I believe that this conclusion does indeed follow. However, there is a problem. One of the central questions of Hart's work--and particularly of Atheist Delusions--is this: what happens when the faith that illuminated reason fades away? What happens when, in your scenario, people begin to reject the faith that originally led us to those conclusions about natural law?

We can show non-believers the proper, logical solutions to natural law questions. But, unlike us, they don't have the certitude of faith that enlightens reason. They don't have an unquestionable bedrock: they still operate within the domain of natural reason. What you call the "happenstance of historical accident" is a very powerful force. It continues to shape society today. Just look at America's Godless culture of death: it was yet another product of historical accident. And the subjectivist ideology that powers it is one of the most coherent and seductive errors that human reason, via historical accident, has ever produced. "The result is that many, remaining ignorant of the power of demonstration, would hold in doubt those things that have been most truly demonstrated" (SCG b1 ch4.5).

Even if we provide demonstrations of natural law, they simply will not matter to most non-believers. They are swept up in an error that leads them to doubt unquestionable demonstrations, and correcting this error via rational argument is, in Hart's opinion, impossible. Just look at most of the objections Prof. Feser gets to his natural law arguments. They are ignorant and false, of course, but they indicate that most are simply incapable of seeing the truth of the demonstration. And the false ideology in which they are embedded is, again, an extremely appealing and self-coherent sophistry. If the only answer to that ideology is better reason, then most will "remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance".

rank sophist said...

Faith originally led us to the truth, and we were able to retrace our steps and see where we went wrong in our logic. But take faith away, in Hart's view, and the secular world will quickly forget the moral advancements that Christianity first showed us. Attempting to fight against this tide by appealing to natural reason is a bit like attempting to paddle out of a whirlpool. As a culture we've lost the light that led us out of our errors and toward truth, and we're slipping backward into absolute darkness.

we DON'T KNOW, in any given case, that an argument is demonstrative without faith to buttress it up, making us sure of it - because we might have made a mistake.

This is something like what I mean. Again, most people simply do not understand demonstration, and even the allegedly wise disagree. This is enough to throw anyone into Augustine's skeptical crisis. There has to be a light cast out over this muddle. This does not mean, though, that demonstrations are in doubt. We can--and do--doubt demonstrations for innumerable reasons, as Aquinas unequivocally states. But that does not place the demonstrations themselves in doubt.

He is saying (always and everywhere, by its nature) an attempt at demonstration is just a form of probable argument.

Again, that we doubt the most certain demonstrations does not entail that those demonstrations are not demonstrations. God's existence can be demonstrated, but many would disagree because they do not, cannot or will not understand. I've met people who question the validity of the law of non-contradiction--even dguller has done so. It's all part of the weakness of fallen, natural reason.

Aquinas3000 said...

I don't think anyone is saying people won't still doubt a demonstration. Just that reason is capable of making the demonstration and seeing why the demonstration truly demonstrates.

No one can really doubt the first principles though such as non contradiction. They can do so in words but not in reality. To even say they doubt it presupposes it.

Branston said...

Like RS, I want to go back to Tony's comment on 7/20 at 5:40 p.m. He talks about a theoretical situation in which a truth T that is in theory accessible but that nobody before Jesus had managed to locate it in natural law before Jesus. Tony concedes that in such a case, we would need special revelation (or faith) to overcome our ignorance. And then Tony claims that if having overcome that ignorance, we were then able to work out where humans had gone wrong before on that issue, we could make a case on reason alone and use that in argument to somebody that does not accept special revelation. RS does not agree with this and points out the numerous (incorrect) objections in the blog comments to Ed Feser's arguments. There are two points that I want to make here.

Branston said...

The first is that there are all sorts of moral truths that do not fit into that category, such as that murder and adultery are wrong. The Greek doctors several centuries before the birth of Jesus knew that abortion was wrong and they did not that by special revelation. And there is a place for making natural law arguments in the public sphere against murder, adultery and abortion. But this is precisely what Hart and, if I understand him, RS object to.

Branston said...

The second point relates to RS's comment that "most are simply incapable of seeing the truth of the demonstration." I disagree with this. RS is far more accurate when he later says, "they do not, can not or will not understand." The WILL NOT is extremely important here. Many are capable of understanding the arguments but as soon as they see what consequences follow that they do not want to accept they WILL not to understand, they REFUSE to understand. I would suggest that any rejection of the law of non-contradiction falls into this category of desperate rejection.

Tony said...

"The result is that many, remaining ignorant of the power of demonstration, would hold in doubt those things that have been most truly demonstrated" (SCG b1 ch4.5).

OK, so the entire argument comes down to this: the significance of the degree, number, or percentage included in "that many..."

Let us suppose, for instance, that many, such as 90%, doubt that truth T even after we have provided a demonstration, because they don't grasp the import of "demonstrating" as such.

That means that making such a demonstration in the natural law, on its own, will not persuade enough people of the truth T to cause a democracy to express T in law.

Who the hell ever said that natural law theorists intend that the support of T is to be left to DEMONSTRATION ALONE, or that the "point" of making the argument is specifically to persuade enough for a public vote? That's nowhere in the stance of the natural lawyers. Even if the number is rather 99%, or 99.9%that still means that demonstration changed at least 0.01% who otherwise would not have known T is true. That is, of itself, a sufficient reason to have engaged in the exercise. EVEN IF IT WERE JUST ONE PERSON, that would be a fine reason to make the effort. Better that one person come to the truth than that he not do so.

Secondarily, we can also employ numerous probable arguments that are more attuned to the sensibilities of the mass who don't grasp the significance of demonstration. And, in addition to argument, we can employ other means as well, including other rhetorical devices such as jokes, songs, movies and plays, stories and anecdotes, all designed to add to the weight of impression in favor of T. And in of course with of these efforts in the public order, we should do prayer and sacrifice for the sake of faith in others. (That goes without saying.) All of these factors together will change more than any one of them alone. There is, then, no call to rely on just one of them.

The use of demonstrations from the natural law is, in principle, sufficient to persuade a person of the truth, if they can be led by docility of the mind to truth. If that docility is lacking, demonstration may not be sufficient. But none of that means that the demonstration is USELESS. Even if it persuades just one person, that's one person who comes to truth, a good in and of itself. And apart from persuading a person who didn't before accept T, the natural law argument helps prevent those, whose faith is otherwise weak and tottering, from falling into doubt on account of false arguments against the truth. And, as above, it adds incremental weight to a range of factors employed culturally to promote T among those whose wills are not yet docile to the truth. All of these are sufficient reasons to make the natural law arguments for truth T.

Nor is it reasonable to complain against the natural lawyers that they have done just one of these techniques, and not used all the others: to each his specialty. We do not require of the family practitioner that he do brain surgery, nor of the neurosurgeon that he diagnose dermatitis. We ask the mathematician for statistics, but not for movies about the same truths the statistics support. An actor might act in a movie, that doesn't mean is called to write and sing songs that are part of a culture-wide effort. You will nowhere find natural law theorists saying that NOTHING BUT NATURAL LAW should be used to support T. Nor are any (Christian ones) saying that you shouldn't be using spiritual methods of prayer and sacrifice - remember, THOSE go without saying, so we didn't say it.

Tony said...

In addition to wanting to convince people specifically about T, making the natural law demonstration in its favor still does other favorable work. Even when a person is not convinced that T is true because they doubt the principles, they can be led to see the internal coherence of T with the rest of the natural law. This means that when, by other means, they are brought to consider (or re-consider) the body of revelation because by grace they have a new moment of opportunity, they are not led into refusal or doubt because of erroneously thinking "yeah, but that whole body of material is internally inconsistent, so by adhering to part I have to give up being rational." Likewise for other opportunities to discover different new truths even when they are not led to them by special revelation but by natural means.

The fact is, even when some other approach than argument is doing the heavy lifting for a person to begin to be open to the faith for the first time, all of the well-presented natural law arguments in society are doing bit-player parts in the background. God uses every circumstance around a person to play into the whole effect, including that little argument he heard 5 years ago and while not convincing, was a tiny thorn in his mind. Just as some are called to be evangelists, others are called to be teachers and some of those teachers of natural law, for the sake of the Kingdom.

Branston said...

Tony,
These last two posts of yours are excellent and part of what I wanted to say also. If you make a demonstration through natural law that people should accept and which certain people at one level realize is true but refuse to acknowledge as true due to their WILLS being in opposition to God, you have made an important contribution nonetheless. And you could have planted something in their mind that bears fruit many years later when their will has been softened by other things.
Also, the issues that are most contentious today--such as abortion or homosexual activity--are issues that many people had come to see were wrong without special revelation and before the birth of Jesus. Hart is on the wrong side of this debate.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

That is, of itself, a sufficient reason to have engaged in the exercise. EVEN IF IT WERE JUST ONE PERSON, that would be a fine reason to make the effort.

I agree that one shouldn't simply stop explaining natural law just because so few people will ever understand it. However, I don't think this was Hart's point. He is rather pointing the finger at those who appeal to natural law to adjudicate the "culture war", as though natural law would be so obvious that everyone would understand it and accept it as public policy. This isn't going to work, for two reasons: A) only a select group of intellectuals throughout history have ever truly understood natural law demonstrations, with the rest accepting them on authority or on faith; and B) even if one reintroduces the framework of natural law to the secular sphere, then the errors of natural reason (of those who lack faith) can and will hijack it, and much of what we recognize as natural law will vanish.

There is, then, no call to rely on just one of them.

I'm in full agreement with everything you said, there.

And apart from persuading a person who didn't before accept T, the natural law argument helps prevent those, whose faith is otherwise weak and tottering, from falling into doubt on account of false arguments against the truth.

I was in that group, and so I fully agree with you here as well.

You will nowhere find natural law theorists saying that NOTHING BUT NATURAL LAW should be used to support T.

But you do see people like Prof. Feser acting as though numerous people--untrained laymen, even--will be convinced of T simply through rational argument. This view was, in my opinion, the main target of Hart's essays. Particularly in today's intellectual climate, the average mind is simply not prone to accept natural law.

This means that when, by other means, they are brought to consider (or re-consider) the body of revelation because by grace they have a new moment of opportunity, they are not led into refusal or doubt because of erroneously thinking "yeah, but that whole body of material is internally inconsistent, so by adhering to part I have to give up being rational."

Again, I'm in full agreement. Natural law served this role for me.

Just as some are called to be evangelists, others are called to be teachers and some of those teachers of natural law, for the sake of the Kingdom.

I don't think we have anything left to argue about. I never thought I'd say this, but I think we've more-or-less overcome the problem of the two sides talking past each other and we've reached an agreement. I don't know if Hart would be fully satisfied, but I certainly am. Great debate, Tony.

monk68 said...

RS,

Tony, in summarizing what he took to be your position, wrote in part as follows:

“What Rank is saying, in effect, is that there is no such thing as self-evident truths or demonstrations. Because people have made errors about self-evident truths, we don't KNOW the law of non-contradiction is self-evident, or even that it is true. We don't KNOW that a BARBARA syllogism from self-evident principles is a valid argument.”

To Tony’s summary of your view (of which this passage is a part) you wrote:

“I would like to take a moment to thank you [Tony] for your post at July 20, 2013 at 5:40 PM. For the first time in this whole Hart-Feser brouhaha, I think someone from the Feser side has finally addressed the argument put forward by the Hart side. No misunderstandings, no red herrings, no unrelated tangents: you nailed it. “

At face value, it looks as though you are affirming that you hold the position that one cannot *know* that the law of non-contradiction is self-evidently true. Is there some other way to interpret Tony’s appraisal, and your subsequent praise for the accuracy of his appraisal?

If not, why do you pent time giving arguments for any number of positions within doc Feser’s comboxes (unless, of course, you really are a “Rank Sophist” – which I do not want to believe)? The moment you state an argument verbally, or in writing, or even within your own thought, you are unavoidably, and *undeniably* assuming the power of the law of non-contradiction in adjudicating between truth and falsity. I can’t believe you actually hold this position? Say it isn’t so.

I don’t think you really hold that position, because in the very next post where you elaborate on Tony’s remarks, you write pieces like this:

“They [objections of modern unbelievers to natural law arguments] are ignorant and false, of course, but they indicate that most are simply incapable of seeing the truth of the demonstration. And the false ideology in which they are embedded is, again, an extremely appealing and self-coherent sophistry.”

Which now sounds like you believe demonstration *is* possible, or that an ideology can be described as “false” or as “sophistry”, all of which statements presuppose the validity of the law of non-contradiction. Here you seem to be saying not that men cannot *know* the law of contradiction as self evidently true, but merely that some men don’t think carefully enough to see it, or that their failure to see it is due to other cultural factors.

Or take this passage, where you write:

“This does not mean, though, that demonstrations are in doubt. We can--and do--doubt demonstrations for innumerable reasons, as Aquinas unequivocally states. But that does not place the demonstrations themselves in doubt.”

Again, you seem here to be affirming that demonstrations are possible, which in turn, presupposes the truth of the law of non-contradiction; even if you go on to point out that many people fail to see that this or that demonstration is a demonstration.


cntd . . .

monk68 said...

So I am entirely confused by your comments here, as I have been in the past, when you touch upon the subject of the law of non-contradiction vis-à-vis Hartian “integralism”, etc. Sometimes you speak as if the LNC is indubitable (because you seem aware of the immediate problem in denying it); but at other times, you speak as if the LNC can be doubted, or else in some obscure way, depends upon theology, grace, etc. But from my point of view (and clearly that of many other writers here – perhaps all of us deceived by the legacy of the evil neo-scholastics), what makes a demonstration a demonstration (rather than a probable argument or an opinion, or a sophistry) is that in rejecting the conclusion of a demonstrative argument, one is necessarily embracing a contradiction (which is just a way of saying that one has violated the law of non-contradiction).

And the reason is because a demonstration is precisely the sort of argument wherein the premises which lead to its conclusion have been forged out of choices between contradictory alternatives where no third or middle option is available either logically or ontologically. True, it sometimes take a bit of dialectical work to show a person exactly how the rejection of a given demonstrative conclusion necessarily entails the embrace of a contradiction; but if the interlocutor is willing to abide the dialectic, it can always be done. The point is that the LNC is the underlying principle which puts the “beef” in a demonstration, and in fact establishes its character *as* a demonstration over against other forms of argument.

In some ways, this entire conversation about whether or not the principles of the other sciences require, or in some way depend upon, sacred science, can be boiled down to this one question: “does the truth of the law of non-contradiction itself depend upon revelation and sacred science”? If it does not, then we have at least one principle – THE principle of logic which drives the very nature of any demonstration – which is capable of determining truth or falsity in human knowledge *independent* of sacred science or divine revelation. And that admission would be all that is needed to undermine the broad and sweeping claims you have been (or certainly seem to have been) making regarding the epistemological reach and priority of sacred science in relation to the other sciences and *all* human knowledge. A position which I and others here vigorously disagree with, in part, because of our reading of Aquinas.

So I ask, are you in fact holding to the position that one cannot *know* the law of non-contradiction to be self-evidently true (which would be the calling card of a radical skeptic); or are you merely affirming that many people fail to recognize that the truth or falsity of their current position on any subject, moral or otherwise, necessarily depends upon how a given position ultimately comports with the law of non-contradiction? If you are affirming the former, I honestly don’t see the point of anyone continuing dialogue with you. If you are merely affirming the latter, then - yawn – you have been preaching to the choir, but confusing us along the way.

Pax

rank sophist said...

monk,

At face value, it looks as though you are affirming that you hold the position that one cannot *know* that the law of non-contradiction is self-evidently true.

If you check the times of his posts, you'll see that the one I praised was not the one that contained the remark you quoted. So, no; I am not affirming that the law of non-contradiction is not self-evidently true. I understand your concern in this long double-post, but it's founded on a misunderstanding.

but merely that some men don’t think carefully enough to see it, or that their failure to see it is due to other cultural factors.

This is my position. The law of non-contradiction cannot be doubted coherently, even though some don't realize this.

Tony and I seem to have settled the whole debate, so I don't want to respond to your comments in too much detail--I might say something confusing that starts it all up again.

monk68 said...

RS,

Yep, I see I misplaced the time stamp. I am glad to hear that you affirm:

"The law of non-contradiction cannot be doubted coherently, even though some don't realize this".

But I will say, that this position seems contrary to some of your earlier statements about the relation of sacred science to the other sciences: such as:

"When Aquinas refers to theology's judgment of lesser sciences, or to the confusion of natural reason without revelation, or what have you, he is talking about absolutely every topic covered in his work. This extends from the simplicity of God to the morality of pride, and to everything in between."

That seems evidently untrue. The law of non-contradiction is one example of a principle that enters into the other sciences which does not require sacred science as an epistemic support.

Which is why I agree with Tony's conclusion that:

"We can also demonstrate T to them using correct, valid demonstrative argument, and they (even without faith) can apprehend both the truth T and that it has been demonstrated.

Therefore, Hart is STILL wrong about the role of natural law arguments to non-believers and to men in general, even GRANTING the need for faith in man's approach to the truth"

Pax

rank sophist said...

monk,

That seems evidently untrue. The law of non-contradiction is one example of a principle that enters into the other sciences which does not require sacred science as an epistemic support.

Like I said, I think I was just phrasing my argument badly. What I said there is exactly what I said later on, just in different words. All sciences below theology are technically and essentially capable of achieving truth on their own, but they often fail to do so thanks to what Tony called historical accident. Theology systematically extends the light of faith to these sciences, which reveals the truth ahead of time and thereby helps us figure out where our arguments went off the rails. For example, the great-souled man was revealed by Christianity to be an error, and we were then able to go back over our reasoning and eliminate the mistakes that led to it. Without faith to light our way, natural reason errs very easily, and those errors build up over time into very plausible systems of sophistry. In a world without faith, only a small group of people would ever find truth on their own steam, and even the greatest of them (such as Aristotle) would remain in error on many issues.

Which is why I agree with Tony's conclusion that

As I said to Tony, most simply will not accept the demonstration because they are trapped in error and/or ignorance.

rank sophist said...

I will add one thing, though.

I still agree with what I said above, viz. that reason is incapable of deciding between Christianity and Buddhism on logical grounds. While I firmly believe that Buddhism is in many respects false, and that this entails logical falsehoods somewhere along the line, I don't believe that human reason is powerful enough to locate every truth and falsehood. Similarly, it isn't powerful enough to know most things through their essences. There may be some point in the future when Buddhism's logical flaws can be located, but I don't believe that we can do it now. I would make the same argument for most forms of subjectivism.

Tony said...

Rank, I just don't get that. Seems to me the unicity of the transcendentals (being, good, truth, and beauty), and the potency - act distinction, leads one with very few steps to the fact that the good of any creature (man in particular) is being, i.e. act, to be incompletely JUST IS to incline toward completeness, and this precludes Buddha's position that to resolve suffering one must cease to desire. Aristotle's and Thomas's common response to Buddha's goal to eliminate suffering is that for the rational being to be incomplete means he desires completion, and "elimination" of desire as such would just imply ceasing to have a nature - which is impossible. To the extent a Buddhist approaches closely to something like his goal, the Eightfold Path approximates virtue, which is actually the completion of the man rather than the elimination of his being or his desire. It is really a proper ordering of desire within the proper mode of man's nature. A correct apprehension of the notions of being and good and act preclude Buddhism's theory.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

I don't claim to be an expert on Buddhism, but I'm not sure that Buddhist "desire" and Aristotelian "love" mean the same thing. From what I've read, it seems like a more exact translation would be "passion". Buddhists certainly desire what they see as completion, which is the absolute, unrepresentable one-ness prior to Samsara.

Tony said...

Hey, I am not a Buddhist, all I know is what is written about them. Everything I have ever seen indicates Buddha said "eliminate desire". If that's a bad translation, I wouldn't have a clue. But humans, qua rational animal, desire all of the goods of that nature, including sensible goods, knowledge, and friendship. To eliminate even the lower desires is to eliminate not just base things but human nature.

Scott said...

@Tony:

Short explanation here.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"From what I've read, it seems like a more exact translation would be 'passion'."

I'm no expert on Buddhism either, but my understanding is that an even better translation is "thirst" (or "craving"). Either way, you are most certainly right that it's not equivalent to Aristotle's "love."

Glenn said...

1. I notice the following in the short explanation linked to by Scott:

A starting point for understanding desire is to differentiate between unhealthy and healthy desire. Unhealthy desire undermines psychological health, producing what Buddhism often calls 'suffering' for short. Healthy desire can contribute to psychological well-being, happiness, and peace. If we place healthy and unhealthy desire on a spectrum, at one end we have the motivations that lead to some of the worst and most horrific things people do. But at the other end, desire expresses some of the most beautiful and noble aspects of human life.

One way to distinguish the two ends of this spectrum is to differentiate between craving and aspiration.


It seems clear that:

a) "craving" is to be identified with that end of the spectrum at which is found the "unhealthy desire" which can lead to "some of the worst and most horrific things people do"; and,

b) "aspiration" is to be identified with the opposite end of said spectrum, where is found that "healthy desire" which "expresses some of the most beautiful and noble aspects of human life".

2. I also notice the following in that short explanation:

Buddhism recognizes many beautiful aspirations, including wishes of goodwill and kindness for others[.]

3. Now, while Tony has not said that Buddhist "desire" and Aristotelian "love" are equivalent, and others have said that they are not, there nonetheless seems little reason to believe (based on what is found in the short explanation) that Buddhism would fail to recognize and acknowledge, if brought to its attention, the beauty of either this about Aristotelian "love"...

...We may describe friendly feeling towards any one as wishing for him what you believe to be good things, not for your own sake but for his, and being inclined, so far as you can, to bring these things about. (Rhetoric Book II, Part 4)...

...or this about it:

Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally. (NE, Book 8 Chapter 3)

4. Hmm; maybe, maybe not.

5. Well, either way there is little to no 'maybe' about it in my mind regarding Tony's statement that:

"To the extent a Buddhist approaches closely to something like his goal, the Eightfold Path approximates virtue, which is actually the completion of the man rather than the elimination of his being or his desire. It is really a proper ordering of desire within the proper mode of man's nature."

- - - - -

(6. Btw, am I the only one who has noticed that the short explanation says that there are a number of myths about desire circulating among Buddhists? Most unlikely, I'm sure (that I'm the only to have noticed that, that is.))

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Perhaps the misunderstanding is a basic one, in that Feser speaks of propositional truths and Hart of the personal truths of following Christ. It is the latter kind of knowledge that has relevance to our salvation, and it this kind which is only to be personally found and cannot be demonstrated in the abstract.

Some commenters above speak about other great religions such as Buddhism or Islam and wonder how one is to distinguish which religion is true. Two things. First on this level natural reason appears to be of little help (as evidenced by the fact that professional philosophers do not tend to switch religions). Secondly and more importantly the personal kind of knowledge which (I say) is relevant to our salvation is to be found equally in all great religious traditions. I believe this not only because as a matter of fact the *call* of all great religions is the same (a life of poverty, humility, disinterested love – it is difficult to distinguish a Christian saint from a Buddhist or Muslim one), but also because it strikes me as obvious that God would not place a large proportion of humanity in a cognitive position that would radically obstruct their path of repentance.

Being a Christian I believe that Christianity’s body of propositional knowledge is closer to the truth in some fundamental matters. In particular I hold that the Trinitarian nature of God (which on the other hand one can only make sense of when thinking about the person of God), as well as the incarnation and sacrifice of the second hypostasis of the Trinity, are the greatest and most beautiful of propositional truths. But I also hold that one commits the sin of pride when one holds that Christianity is therefore superior in comparison to the other religions. To follow Christ is indeed the only path to salvation, and I find it marvelous that God opened that path to all whatever their religious environment happens to be.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I am not sure that I represent Hart correctly, but speaking for myself I think that Thomism may lead people to commit two kinds of error:

First to think that thomistic metaphysics can be demonstrated by reason alone. This only holds when one circumscribes reason in a certain manner. On the other hand the naturalist can describe reality in a way which is not compatible with Thomism, but fits with all the data we have. Naturalism’s picture of reality may stress the kind of reason we theists are inclined to have, but one must recognize that it is possibly true.

The fundamental epistemological predicament of natural reason is this: There is no reason why to believe that reality must conform to that reason. This insight I think moved moderns like Kant or Hegel to go beyond Thomas, on the other hand it is questionable how far they succeeded. The natural theologian seems caught in a loop from which, it seems to me, she cannot escape except through something like what Hart points out. And why not? If Christianity is true then Christ, the Word of all truth, is present and alive here and now.

The second potential error of Thomists is to think that one can ground moral truths on their metaphysical insight alone. Moral truths must of course fit with the basic metaphysical nature of things, but their actual form is given by God’s loving nature. Without personally knowing God’s love one will probably not only fail to discern moral truths but will actually fail to understand them. This, incidentally, is the by far worse error. For the first is an epistemological one which may lead to a certain attitude of false assuredness. But the second may lead to false ethics and thus to personal calamity. Natural reason has its limits, and it is unwise not to be aware where they lie.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony,

I for one tire of Rank's and Hart's continual insistence that they are not denigrating the power of reason but then going around saying that reason unaided is capable of NOTHING certain.

Natural reason builds airplanes – I don’t think that anybody can “denigrate” its power. On the other hand our condition is such that certainty is only possible in subjective conscious experience without any help from “reasoning”. Thus certainty about God is only possible in mystical union with God.

Some people mean by “certainty” something rather closer to “I’d be willing to bet my life on it”. Well, I’d bet my life on “2+2=4” but I am not really certain about it. I have only my intuition and memory as a guide, and even though I find my intuition and memory sufficiently reliable to bet on “2+2=4”, they are clearly not sufficient for actual certainty. On the other hand I am certain I am watching a computer screen right now.

They admit that they are doing rhetoric instead of reasoned debate, and hey, you know what, its EMPTY RHETORIC.

Please observe that Christ in the Gospels does a lot of rhetoric and next to no “reasoned debate” whatsoever. But perhaps you only mean that while Christ’s rhetoric is powerful Hart’s rhetoric is empty. If that’s your meaning then as a matter of fact many people find Hart’s rhetoric quite powerful too.

Rhetoric is based on the assumption that people have the cognitive capacity to recognize certain important truths (such as ethical truths) – without the requirement of reason or demonstration. If theism is true then this assumption makes much sense.

Tony said...

On the other hand the naturalist can describe reality in a way which is not compatible with Thomism, but fits with all the data we have. Naturalism’s picture of reality may stress the kind of reason we theists are inclined to have, but one must recognize that it is possibly true.

Ummmmm, not so much. Naturalism paints a picture in which the principle of non-contradiction is not knowable and perhaps not necessarily true. And yet we know it is true. As Rank says above, anyone who asserts that is is not, or may not be true, is using assertion, and thus presumes it to be true, acts in such a way as to show they accept it. Naturalism rejects knowledge properly speaking, and thus rejects a fundamental experience of reality.

Well, I’d bet my life on “2+2=4” but I am not really certain about it.

All that means is that you have failed to apprehend the proper modes of certainty, or accept that human certainty is human and not divine. People like Descartes and Hume wanted our certainty to be godlike, instead of human, and found erroneously that "it isn't certain" when they found that it wasn't divine. Only God can hold truth in the palm of His hand as source, all those that receive their natures must of necessity receive truth through their powers, which means that they receive it in a limited mode. But when we apprehend "the whole is not less than the part" we apprehend with the certainty our nature intends.

Thursday said...

We realize that we cannot take for granted a common metaphysical understanding of the natural world and proceed directly to moral arguments, but have first to challenge the moderns’ understanding of nature itself, and that this is a Herculean project.

I'd say a futile project. The modern conception of the natural world was not arrived at through philosophical argument, is not believed because of philosophical argument, and will not be corrected through philosophical argument. Laying out the arguments may be worth doing for it's own sake, but as a missionary effort it has failed and will continue to fail.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

1. Thus certainty about God is only possible in mystical union with God.

A Buddhist might say that you are deluded. (Depending on the disposition of the Buddhist so saying, he might say so dismissively, sternly or with a smile.)

o "Profound absorption in prayer or meditation can bring about a deepening and widening, a brightening and intensifying, of consciousness, accompanied by a transporting feeling of rapture and bliss. The contrast between these states and normal conscious awareness is so great that the mystic believes his experiences to be manifestations of the divine; and given the contrast, this assumption is quite understandable. Mystical experiences are also characterized by a marked reduction or temporary exclusion of the multiplicity of sense-perceptions and restless thoughts. This relative unification of mind is then interpreted as a union or communion with the One God... [A] Buddhist meditator, while benefiting from the refinement of consciousness he has achieved, will be able to see these meditative experiences for what they are; and he will further know that they are without any abiding substance that could be attributed to a deity manifesting itself to his mind. Therefore, the Buddhist's conclusion must be that the highest mystical states do not provide evidence for the existence of a personal God or an impersonal godhead." (See Buddhism and the God-Idea.)

Now you can see why I do say that a Buddhist might say that you are deluded.

Come to think of it, certain contemporary Buddhists might go so far as to say, "There is no such thing as God, only 'meditative experiences arranged godwise'."

2. Being a Christian I believe that Christianity’s body of propositional knowledge is closer to the truth in some fundamental matters. In particular I hold that the Trinitarian nature of God (which on the other hand one can only make sense of when thinking about the person of God), as well as the incarnation and sacrifice of the second hypostasis of the Trinity, are the greatest and most beautiful of propositional truths. But I also hold that one commits the sin of pride when one holds that Christianity is therefore superior in comparison to the other religions.

Recognizing the fact that I am taller than Shorty does not entail my being prideful about the fact; but if I should happen to be prideful about the fact, having my legs amputated at the knees (so that I'm no longer taller) isn't necessarily the best way to go about getting rid of the pride.

Likewise, believing A to be superior to B in some relevant sense does not entail being prideful about that belief; but if I should happen to be prideful about that belief, diminishing the belief itself isn't necessarily the best way to go about getting rid of the pride.

(cont)

Glenn said...

3. Btw, remember the Buddhist above (i.e., the one mentioned further up the screen)? The one of who it was said he might say that you are deluded? On learning of the propositional knowledge to which you adhere, he might then say, "It's worse than I thought. Not only are you deluded, you are deeply deluded."

o "From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali Canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha's teachings. On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, etc., are excluded by the Buddha’s teaching on anatta, non-self or unsubstantiality... In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world... Although belief in God does not exclude a favourable rebirth, it is a variety of eternalism, a false affirmation of permanence rooted in the craving for existence, and as such an obstacle to final deliverance." (ibid)

How 'bout them apples? If we're interested in what we refer to as salvation, then we're shooting ourselves in the foot by believing in God. Yikes...

However, if nothing is permanent, what's with the Buddhist endeavor for final deliverance?

4. >> They admit that they are doing rhetoric instead of
>> reasoned debate, and hey, you know what, its EMPTY
>> RHETORIC.

> Please observe that Christ in the Gospels does a lot of
> rhetoric and next to no “reasoned debate” whatsoever. But
> perhaps you only mean that while Christ’s rhetoric is powerful
> Hart’s rhetoric is empty. If that’s your meaning then as a
> matter of fact many people find Hart’s rhetoric quite powerful
> too.

But notice what happens when the metastasis continues--we're led to the unimpeachable fact that many people found, e.g., Jim Jones' rhetoric quite powerful too. This being so, not only must there some reason behind your having intentionally set the metastasis in motion, there must also be some reason behind your having put a stop to it when you did.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.

But that rhetoric may be experienced as 'powerful' makes for a poor litmus test with respect to whether we are being persuaded towards good, towards a diminishment of good, towards a state of confusion regarding what is good, or towards something more directly or blatantly worse.

So, if we're going to be better able to discern just what it is we're being persuaded towards, something a little more rigorous, nimble and adept at refinement than the 'powerfulness' of a rhetorical presentation would seem to be required.

Tony said...

Being a Christian, I believe Christ when he said "I am the truth", and therefore I disbelieve Islam which says Christ is not the truth. To hold Christianity and to not reject Islam because Islam rejects Christ's divinity is to hold that TRUTH, i.e. Christ, is irrelevant to salvation.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony,

Naturalism paints a picture in which the principle of non-contradiction is not knowable and perhaps not necessarily true.

According to naturalism the metaphysically ultimate is of a mechanical nature, and according to the formal way we understand “mechanical” (i.e. as what is exhaustively described by a mathematical formula – albeit perhaps an indeterministic one) it can’t be the case that non-contradiction is violated (for math entails logic).

As for the principle of non-contradiction not being knowable in a naturalistic reality, I am inclined to agree in the sense that given naturalism’s problem of intentionality what epistemologists commonly mean by “knowledge” does not even make sense in a naturalistic reality. Or, if it does make sense then, given Plantinga’s EAAN, it probably does not exist.

Anyway I stand by my claim that naturalism is possibly true, since I can easily describe a naturalistic reality that is compatible with all our experiences, including our deepest intuitions (about principles of logic, about freedom, about morality, etc).

you have failed to apprehend the proper modes of certainty

According to what I mean by “certainty”, and according to what I take is the common meaning of “certainty”, there aren’t any proper modes of certainty. There is only one mode of the cognitive state of certainty, namely that of zero doubt, and it’s either there or it isn’t. There is no godlike certainty which one in contrast with mere human certainty, in the same way that there is no godlike zero in contrast with mere human zero.

But when we apprehend "the whole is not less than the part" we apprehend with the certainty our nature intends.

Given the ambiguity of words such as “less” and “part” I don’t even know what that means, let alone apprehend it with any confidence. I can think of many examples where arguably P is part of W, but W is less than P. For example one might say that the plane is part of the circle (since it is required for defining the circle), but the circle is less than the plane (say in respect to size). The concept of God is part of the theology of Christianity, but the concept of God is not less than the theology of Christianity.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

A Buddhist might say that you are deluded.

Yes, of course. And what’s more she may be right. It may be the case that, as the Buddhist passage you quote claims, those who experience what they take to be union with God are in fact experiencing something else. On the other hand it may also be the case that the Buddhist is deluding herself.

That’s all beside the point I was trying to make though, which is simply this: A fact about the human condition is that certainty is only possible in subjective conscious experience. Thus *if* theism is true, and *if* the experience of union with God is attainable, then attaining that experience is the only way for one to have certainty about God.

As for the second of your points, I claimed that to hold that Christianity is superior to Buddhism because it entails some key propositional truths Buddhism misses, is to commit the sin of pride. You seem to object to that claim giving analogies the relevance of which I can’t quite understand. I believe that the religion of Christianity is not in fact superior than the religion of Buddhism, so there is no need for me to get rid of the pride. And I believe that on what I take are Christian principles. In particular, when I read the Gospels I don’t see Christ admonishing us to study scripture, or philosophy, or propositional logic - but to follow His path. In that we love one another as He loved us shall we be known as His friends – He said. So in my judgment what gives value to a religion is not the truths of its propositional content, but the power of its call to follow the path. The one identical path of repentance (i.e. self-transformation and submission) that lies at the heart of the call of all great religions.

From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali Canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha's teachings.

I suspect that the Buddhist who in her studies sees that is deeply deluded. Perhaps the path to non-delusion is to study less.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.

I don’t think that’s the sense that Hart uses the word. Rather rhetoric in our context is the art of demonstrating the truth just by showing it – without any need for demonstration based on reasoning or argument.

The orthodox tradition is I find rather particular on this point. Since God is of a personal nature, so is truth. And since Christ is the incarnation of God, to see Christ is to see the truth. Thus Hart speaks of the “form” of Christ, rather than of the teachings of Christ, or of the teachings of theologians about Christ. And, come to think of it, when one first reads the Gospels the primary experience is that of meeting Christ through the text, and then of understanding the text by the light of that encounter.

Incidentally, there is nice story about truth being personal and not objective: When Pilate asked “What is truth?” Christ remained silent because this is a wrong question that admits of no answer. Had Pilate asked “Who is truth?” Christ would have answered “I am”.

dguller said...

Dianelos:

Yes, of course. And what’s more she may be right. It may be the case that, as the Buddhist passage you quote claims, those who experience what they take to be union with God are in fact experiencing something else. On the other hand it may also be the case that the Buddhist is deluding herself.

What is most interesting about this from my standpoint is that mystical union is described in the Christian tradition as a darkness of unknowing within which reason has reached the end of its tether. And the question that I’ve always had is whether this darkness is due to an excess of light or an absence of light. The darkness itself cannot help us decide between the two scenarios.

Another way to put it is to ask: Did reason begin to collapse, because it reached something that was too much for it to handle, causing it to buckle and break under the pressure, or did reason itself reach a point of structural insufficiency, which caused it to collapse due to an absence of strength in its foundations at that precise point? All we observe is that reason begins to falter and struggle, and ultimately collapse, when it reaches a specific rational space. The collapse itself cannot tell us which scenario was actually occurring.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

I claimed that to hold that Christianity is superior to Buddhism because it entails some key propositional truths Buddhism misses, is to commit the sin of pride. You seem to object to that claim giving analogies the relevance of which I can’t quite understand.

Perhaps the objection I made will be clearer when divested of analogies and put like this:

Pride is not a necessary and inevitable concomitant of holding that Christianity is superior to Buddhism--even if the only reason Christianity is held to be superior to Buddhism is that Christianity "entails some key propositional truths Buddhism misses".

This is to say that, though it is entirely possible for a person to be prompted by pride to hold that, and it is entirely possible for a person to become prideful about that after coming to hold it, it is not at all assured that where we find a person holding that, we will also find a person being prideful about it.

Tony said...

Given the ambiguity of words such as “less” and “part” I don’t even know what that means, let alone apprehend it with any confidence. I can think of many examples where arguably P is part of W, but W is less than P. For example one might say that the plane is part of the circle (since it is required for defining the circle), but the circle is less than the plane (say in respect to size).

And since the sense in the first case (plane is part of the circle as principle) is different from the sense of part in the second case (circle as part of plane as extended), you have an example of equivocation, and you still don't have something where it is not true that whole is not less than the part properly. And you never will.

I find it funny to see you deny that "you even know what that means" when you then insist that you have a counterexample.

Given the ambiguity of words such as “less” and “part”

And there you have the nonsense at its core. What you mean is that the words have many meanings. But of course, every person over the age of 5 is capable of identifying varying senses, of seeing proper meaning versus improper senses, of distinguishing root meanings from adjunct senses, denotation from connotation, etc.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

rank sophist,

Also, Hart has extensively covered the history of the Arian controversy, and his analysis is that Arianism had as much logical and Biblical support as any other view. It was rejected because it contradicted what Christians had always implicitly believed, and because it made salvation incoherent. But one could accept Arianism, reject salvation and still remain comfortably within the realm of (apparent) logical consistency.”

Huh? How can Arianism both have ‘Biblical support’ and ‘make salvation incoherent,’ when salvation is clearly part of the Biblical witness? If you reject salvation, you could have logical consistent view, but you couldn’t claim that it had ‘Biblical support.’ To have a coherent view, it has to be, well, coherent.

Alan Gorman said...

To accuse Hart of fideism is like calling Saul Bellow an Austrian folk dancer. It is so utterly at odds with everything he has ever written that it merely reveals Feser's total incomprehension of the arguments here. Hart has repeatedly stated that human reason is quite capable of knowing the good. His argument is that traditional natural law thought is a defective way of expressing and proving what the good is.

Glenn said...

Alan,

Since you obviously have missed it, the following relevant summary of the OP is contained in the OP itself:

"One thing is plain, and that is that if Hart were to disambiguate his position, his main objection to natural law theories would entirely collapse. For that objection -- which the new article essentially restates -- has consistently been that modernity’s conception of nature is too metaphysically desiccated for natural law theorists to be able glibly to appeal to nature’s purposes in arguing about morality with secularists. And the problem with this -- to repeat a point I’ve now made many times, in several articles, but which Hart has never answered -- is that it is directed at a straw man."

Scott said...

@Alan Gorman:

"To accuse Hart of fideism is like calling Saul Bellow an Austrian folk dancer."

Here's what Ed actually wrote:

"The question is whether Hart's position can be distinguished from fideism. I don't see how, but as I say, I'm happy to be proved wrong."

How you read that as an accusation of fideism is beyond me. I read it as a question about what, if anything, keeps Hart from inadvertently falling into fideism despite his lack of intent to do so.

Glenn said...

I'm glad to see someone followed up with a patience I didn't show.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

dguller,

What is most interesting about this from my standpoint is that mystical union is described in the Christian tradition as a darkness of unknowing within which reason has reached the end of its tether.

Perhaps you refer to the medieval book by an anonymous mystic “The Cloud of Unknowing”. I understand the idea is that in mystical union one knows God by leaving behind, by un-knowing it, what one thinks one knows about the world.

Mystical experiences are certainly a very interesting subject matter. I used to have weak mystical experiences myself in a rather regular fashion when I was a young man. I did some reading about them, and I think the undisputed facts are as follows: Mystical experiences are real, are experienced by rational people, are universal (along time, cultures, and religions), and mystics describe them rather consistently as being the experience of a reality which feels much more solid than that of our everyday life, and also as being highly desirable.

The important question here of course is what their relevance is.

I don’t think they are problematic for naturalism in the sense that mystical experiences would obtain in a naturalistic world too. And the fact that they are universal is simply the implication of some universal property of the human brain, one for which there is probably a sociobiological explanation. Some naturalists point out that taking a certain chemical can induce mystical experiences, and think that this fact somehow speaks against divine origin. But no theist claims that religious experiences are unnatural phenomena; thus it is entirely normal and expected that they can be induced artificially by taking a pill with chemicals that affect our brain in the right way. On the other hand to hold that one can judge the relevance of religious experiences by taking a pill that induces them, is similar to thinking that one can judge the relevance of loving one’s wife by taking a pill that induces that love.

Things get more interesting on theism. The easy interpretation is that since in religious experience we do experience God, mystical experiences up to mystical union with God are just the highest forms of such experiences of God. Perhaps that’s so. Perhaps God’s love is so great that there are no limits to how close we can experience God even in this life. On the other hand sometimes I feel like God’s perfection entails a certain measure or moderation (“metron” in ancient Greek), and that there is no need and perhaps no gain in hurrying. Both views may be true – perhaps some of us are blessed with a quick consummation of divine love, and some others are blessed with a slow one.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Did reason begin to collapse, because it reached something that was too much for it to handle, causing it to buckle and break under the pressure, or did reason itself reach a point of structural insufficiency, which caused it to collapse due to an absence of strength in its foundations at that precise point?

I don’t think it’s a matter of collapse but a matter of letting go.

“Reason” typically refers to an analytic, conceptualizing, mechanistic way of thinking. And indeed reason in this sense is highly useful for navigating life, never mind for building airplanes or for developing carefully structured philosophical arguments. But knowing is a matter of cognition, and here it is the case that one can know things without reasoning about them. As in the famous story about Mary, no matter how much one reasons one will not know what red is without actually experiencing it. It seems to me quite obvious that God, being the metaphysically ultimate and relating to us on a personal level – can only be known through actual experience. Through reason one can know propositions about God, but that’s as far as reason can carry one. So, as a practical matter, for actually knowing God reasoning is not necessary, and can therefore become an obstacle. Like Mary insisting on putting on heavy dark goggles before taking her first look at something red. Perhaps that’s Hart’s basic point, which of course Ed entirely misses by being bothered by the unreasonableness of it.

To realize and point out the limits of reason is not at all an irrational position. Perhaps Hart is like somebody telling Mary to take off her heavy dark goggles. Reason appears to be just a tool which is useful only in the more superficial levels of reality. Indeed it seems that reason starts to become inadequate even when considering certain classes of propositions such as ethical ones. To know God is really a matter of meeting Christ – at this point neither reason nor any propositional truths are needed, and may well become obstacles. Perhaps that’s the meaning of the mysterious “blessed are the poor of spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

Incidentally, in the Zen tradition of Buddhism, unreason is systematically taught in order to free disciples of the kind of conceptual/analytical thinking that keeps them from understanding the fundamental nature of reality. And the way it’s done is through the delightfully rationality-breaking koans.

In my own tradition (I am Greek orthodox) perhaps something not dissimilar to this is used. At informal religious gatherings it often happens that people ask some rather important questions to the presiding priest or monk. When things get too heavy or complicated I have seen them respond in a funny way which, well, dissolves the cloud of unknowning in laughter. Come to think of it I saw something similar in a small Catholic monastery in Italy. At dinner a telegram was passed to the abbot, a very learned man, informing him that a dear friend of his, also a priest, had passed away. I remember his face darkening. But after telling us the news he used the rest of the dinner time to narrate funny moments he had lived together with his friend – until we were all crying with laughter.

I am inclined to think that those who know God best have a not very serious demeanor.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony,

since the sense in the first case (plane is part of the circle as principle) is different from the sense of part in the second case (circle as part of plane as extended), you have an example of equivocation

I don’t think I follow you. The plane is one thing with various properties. One such property is that it is part of the definition of the circle and in that sense part of the circle, in the same way that its center or radius are parts. Another property of the plane is extension, indeed infinite extension, and in that sense the circle is less than the plane. Where is the equivocation?

When one says “X is part of Y” and “X is less than Y”, since presumably “part of” and “less than” do not have exactly the same meaning, “part of” and “less than” must relate to different properties of X and Y. Except if one holds that “part of” and “less than” have exactly the same meaning, in which case “the whole is not less than the part” becomes an empty truism. For in this case to say “X is part of the whole” means exactly the same as “X is less than the whole”.

What you mean is that the words have many meanings.

Right, that’s what I mean. And since “part” and “less” have many meanings, so does the proposition “the whole is not less than the part”. And when trying out some plausible senses of “part” and “less” I find that this proposition is false, since it is an easy matter to find counterexamples.

Glenn said...

Oh, Dianelos...

Glenn said...

Sorry I didn't get to complete my comment earlier. Won't be able to complete it now, either. My wife has taken over the computer for a few hours, so I got booted before, and will again quite shortly. But I do have a moment to continue the comment...

Thou hast outsmarted thyself.

You say "the whole is not less than the part" is an empty truism. I say it is an obvious truism. And not only will I bet my life that Tony would agree, I am also certain that he would agree.

If you wish to hold that the truism is empty, then not only will it be true that thou hast outsmarted thyself, it'll also be true that thou hast shot thyself in the foot.

Well, I'm about to get the boot here, so that's it for now. In the meanwhile, don't think about it, just enjoy the experience of... fretful suspense. ☺

Glenn said...

So, anyway...

1. You say that certainty about God is only possible in mystical union with God (July 23, 2013 at 1:44 AM), yet acknowledge that the statement "the whole is not less than the part" is a truism (July 25, 2013 at 2:33 PM). [**]

But a truism is not a wishy-washy something which is uncertain, but a solid something that is certain. And mystical union with God is not a necessary requirement for having the certainty we have about truisms.

What this means is that you have tacitly acknowledged that there are "proper modes of certainty" (e.g., divine certainty and human certainty)--as Tony indicated in his comment of July 23, 2013 at 4:36 AM, and contrary to your denial of July 23, 2013 at 4:56 PM.

[**] To play the game of since “part” and “less” have many meanings, so does the proposition “the whole is not less than the part” is either to convert a non-idiomatic statement into an idiomatic statement, or to effectively claim that the meaning of a particular statement changes when you alter that particular statement's meaning. Regarding the former, certainty still obtains--just idiomatically rather than non-idiomatically. And regarding the latter, the effective claim itself is a truism--the certainty of which no rational person would doubt.

2. As for "obvious truism" vs "empty truism": a) I'll concede that the term 'obvious' in "obvious truism" is obviously redundant (or so says my contact in the Department of Redundancy Department); and, b) point out that "empty truism" is an oxymoron (for a truism that is empty cannot contain truth).

3. Incidentally, in the Zen tradition of Buddhism, unreason is systematically taught

There's a neat trick.

And the way it’s done is through the delightfully rationality-breaking koans.

Zen koans are for all sorts of purposes--including helping people to break out of bad habits (such as that of pretending to not know the truth). And some koans are multipurpose in intent.

For example,

Accurate Proportion

Sen no Rikyu, a tea-master, wished to hang a flower basket on a column. He asked a carpenter to help him, directing the man to place it a little higher or lower, to the right or left, until he had found exactly the right spot. "That's the place," said Sen no Rikyu finally.

The carpenter, to test the master, marked the spot and then pretended he had forgotten. Was this the place? "Was this the place, perhaps?" the carpenter kept asking, pointing to various places on the column.

But so accurate was the tea-master's sense of proportion that it was not until the carpenter reached the identical spot again that its location was approved.

Tony said...

To realize and point out the limits of reason is not at all an irrational position. Perhaps Hart is like somebody telling Mary to take off her heavy dark goggles. Reason appears to be just a tool which is useful only in the more superficial levels of reality.

You know, I find it amazing that the Harts of the world, while "just" pointing to the way truth is not limited by or encompassed by our ability to logically fashion conclusions from root principles, "just" noting the limits of reason, seem to find it impossible to then go on and denigrate the operation of reason even within its OWN PROPER SPHERE. To wit:

Indeed it seems that reason starts to become inadequate even when considering certain classes of propositions such as ethical ones.

If Hart, and others here in these pages, had really and truly limited themselves to pointing out how mystical apprehension of Truth is beyond reason, we would not have had the argument going on for months and thousands of replies. The question isn't whether the "knowing" we have in the faith and in the enlightenment of grace illuminating us with God is a higher knowing. That is (or should be) admitted by all Christians. The question at dispute is whether the intellect even without that grace can know at all, and THAT should be admitted by all Christians as well.

Tony said...

Right, that’s what I mean. And since “part” and “less” have many meanings, so does the proposition “the whole is not less than the part”. And when trying out some plausible senses of “part” and “less” I find that this proposition is false, since it is an easy matter to find counterexamples.

Only when the senses you use are equivocal.

The plane is not "part" of the circle as extended. The circle is less than the plane qua extension - the whole magnitude of extension of the circle is less than the whole magnitude of extension of the plane. The magnitude of extension of the plane is not "part of" the circle - certainly not the WHOLE magnitude of extension of the plane, that would be ridiculous.

So when you use as "part" you cannot be using the WHOLE plane's extension as "part." The sense of "part" is either that of principle similar to in the way a point - the center - is a principle of the circle (not an extensive part of its extension, since a point is not extended at all and is not on the circle anyway) or you are using only a PART OF the plane as "part" of the cirle, not the whole plane. If you stop equivocating, the proposition is true.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"[S]ince 'part' and 'less' have many meanings, so does the proposition 'the whole is not less than the part'."

I would say rather that the fact that "part" and "less" have many meanings implies that the sentence "the whole is not less than the part" can be used to express a number of different propositions, some of which are false.

I think your way of putting it is what's leading you into the equivocation of which Tony is speaking. The counterexamples you're adducing are actually counterexamples to some of the other propositions that might have been expressed in the same words.

Scott said...

@Tony:

"If you stop equivocating, the proposition is true."

And indeed, as I implied in my previous post, the proposition you intended is true whether or not Dianelos stops equivocating on the words in the sentence you used to express it.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

You say "the whole is not less than the part" is an empty truism. I say it is an obvious truism.

Well, if “the whole is not less than the part” only means “a part of the whole is a part of the whole” then it’s an empty, obvious, and useless truism. And I agree it is self-evidently true, as the OP claims. The question is what we mean in relation to certainty when we say that something is “self-evidently true”. Does what we mean entail certainty that this something is true? Bellow I argue that it doesn’t.

And not only will I bet my life that Tony would agree, I am also certain that he would agree.

According to what I mean by “certainty”, namely zero doubt, what you here claim can’t be true. Tony is a free being, whose cognitive state we moreover don’t know exactly, so one can’t be certain how he will react to anything.

But a truism is not a wishy-washy something which is uncertain, but a solid something that is certain.

If I understand you correctly your argument is this: The truth of a truism is certain, yet you Dianelos have previously claimed that "our condition is such that certainty is only possible in subjective conscious experience”. Which is a contradiction.

Again, let me stress the point that by “certainty” I mean “zero doubt”, and by “zero” I mean zero, and not “so small a quantity as to be equivalent to zero for all practical purposes”. (Bellow I shall use “ecertain” for referring to this “certainty for all practical purposes” sense.) Further please observe that subjective conscious experience is not exhausted with the five senses. For example we also experience memory. So, when I say “I am certain my name is Dianelos” what I actually mean is “I am certain that I remember my name is Dianelos”. Similarly when I say “I am certain there is a computer in front of me” I really mean “I am certain I see a computer in front of me”. Thus it is often the case that when we say “I am certain that p” we really mean “I am certain I experience p”. Now another kind of experience is how things seem to us. So the principle of induction seems true to me, and I am certain about that. When I say “I is obvious that 2+2=4” I mean “I am certain that “2+2=4” seems obviously true to me”. We see then that in many cases certainty only refers to facts about experience.

Is the human condition such that sometimes we feel certain not only about some experience but also about some implication of it? Can it be that we don’t only feel certain that p seems true to us, but also that p is true? First of all please observe that people have often been proven wrong about things they found completely obvious and thus felt ecertain about. For example physical realists used to be ecertain that space and time are independent, or that one thing cannot exist in two places at the same time, or that an event either obtains earlier or later than another – but modern science has proved all of these to be wrong.

But perhaps we can be certain and not just ecertain about the truth of self-evidently true abstract propositions, such as the principles of logic? Take any such principle such as “A=A” (or “a part of a whole is a part of a whole”, or “a table is a table”). Such propositions certainly seem self-evidently true, but are they really or do they simply refer to a contingent property of our condition? Suppose we would suddenly start experiencing a different kind of world, one in which tables all the time popped in and out of existence, or often turned into chairs or apples – and vice-versa. If such were our condition then we would find that “A=A” is self-evidently false. Thus even when we say we are certain about the truth of some self-evident abstract proposition what we really mean is that we are certain about some very stable property of our experience of life, or rather about our memory about it.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

So I stand by my claim that the common human condition is such that we can only (indeed cannot fail but to) be certain about experiences. There is only one exception I can detect. I find I am certain not only about current experiences but also about the existence of who is having these experience, namely myself.

I state the above not in an argumentative but in a descriptive state of mind. Those who disagree with me either experience life quite differently than how I do (are in quite a different cognitive state), or mean by “certainty” something different than “zero doubt”.

Finally I’d like to very quickly discuss certainty in the existence of God. If theism is true, and if one were to actually experience God in the most overpowering way imaginable, that will not produce certainty in the existence of God. For there will always remain the tinniest bit of doubt that perhaps one is being deceived by some evil demon, or that one exists within a computer simulation which some alien philosopher is using to do experimental epistemology, etc. I can see only two possible ways to become certain about God’s existence. One, to receive a different condition than the common one we now have, one with a cognitive situation which entails certainty in the existence of God. And two, actual theosis – the union with God, the personal state where one’s individual being is extinguished in God. In theosis is certain about God’s existence, not only in the same manner that now certainty about oneself obtains, but in that one’s cognitive state becomes God’s omniscience. Ultimately then, one can only become certain of the existence of God when one’s cognitive situation is transformed.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

Zen koans are for all sorts of purposes

Right. Perhaps the books on Zen I read primarily mentioned the rationality-breaking kind, or perhaps it’s that kind that most grabbed my attention. Some of these reasoning-transencing eye-opening koans are grossly irrational themselves, but this need not be the case. Here is the type of Zen koan I like:

Master Gu found a student deep in the study of a book. He asked the student what he was doing, and the student answered “I am searching for what is true”. Gu grabbed the book and threw it out of the window.

Some later time Gu found the same student deep in the study of a book. He asked the student what he was doing, and the student answered “I am searching for what is rational”. Gu grabbed the book and threw it out of the window.

Some later time Gu found the same student deep in the study of a book. He asked the student what he was doing, and the student answered “I am searching for what is good”. Gu grabbed the book and threw it out of the window.

Some later time Gu found the same student deep in the study of a book. He asked the student what he was doing, and the student answered “I am searching for what I am”. Gu grabbed the book and threw it out of the window.

Some later time Gu found the same student deep in the study of a book. He asked the student what he was doing, and after hearing the student’s answer walked away. What was the student’s answer?

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

I hope it was "I am reading a book."

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

At least one thing is certain--Scott will appreciate this koan:

A monk asked Joshu, "I am a novice in this monastery. I beg of you, Master, your kind guidance (for enlightenment)." Joshu asked the monk, "Did you have your meal?" The monk replied, "Yes, Master, I did." Joshu said to the monk, "Then, go wash your bowls." At this remark, the monk was enlightened.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Some later time Gu found the same student deep in the study of a book. He asked the student what he was doing, and after hearing the student’s answer walked away. What was the student’s answer?

See, that's misdirection.

The relevant question is, Where was Gu going?

The answer, of course, is that he was marching with a purpose to confront Johsu. "How dare you interfere with my method of instructing my students... We're Zen masters, for God's sake, not Thomists. Verbal instruction is verboten."

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

And while we're at it, let's turn things around a bit, shall we?

1. Glenn gives a disquisition on the subject of certainty vs. ecertainty, claiming that, of the two, it is the former that is less certain and the latter that is more certain.

2. Dianelos then says, "As you no doubt know by now, I am quite fond of the Gospel of John. And I myself am quite certain--not ecertain, but certain--that there is a good reason Christ said (John 21:22), "What is that to thee? Follow thou me."

3. Glenn is dumbfounded. And before he can respond, Dianelos follows up by saying, "Your inordinate interest in Zen koans has you overlooking the fact that Christians also have instructive 'koans'. To wit,

The question isn't whether the "knowing" we have in the faith and in the enlightenment of grace illuminating us with God is a higher knowing. That is (or should be) admitted by all Christians. The question at dispute is whether the intellect even without that grace can know at all, and THAT should be admitted by all Christians as well.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

I can see only two possible ways to become certain about God’s existence... And two, actual theosis – the union with God, the personal state where one’s individual being is extinguished in God. In theosis is certain about God’s existence, not only in the same manner that now certainty about oneself obtains, but in that one’s cognitive state becomes God’s omniscience.

"Theosis literally means to become gods by Grace."

The above definition of Theosis is from the glossary of Archimandrite George's Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life.

From the same are the following quotations (following which are some notes):

(cont)

Glenn said...

o Our life's purpose is declared in the first chapter of the Holy Bible, when the Holy author tells us that God created man "in His image and likeness." From this we discover the great love the Triune God has for man: He does not wish him simply to be a being with certain gifts, certain qualities, a certain superiority over the rest of creation. He wishes him to be a god by Grace. p 19 [1]

o Externally, a man seems to exist in a purely biological way, like the other living beings, the animals. Of course, he is an animal, but "an animal... which is in the process of Theosis through its inclination towards God," as St. Gregory the Theologian says in his characteristic way. He is the only being that is distinguished from all else in creation, because he is the only one which can become a god. p 20 [2]

o Having been endowed "in His image," man is called upon to be completed "in His likeness." This is Theosis. The Creator, God by nature, calls man to become a god by Grace. p 21 [3]

o Since man is "called to be a god" (i.e., was created to become a god)... p 22 [4]

o Can man unite with God? Can he commune with Him? Can he become a god by Grace? p 23 [5]

o The Church Fathers say that God became man in order to make man a god. p 24 [6]

o The Church is not a social, cultural or historical organisation, and does not resemble other organisations in the world. It is not like the different establishments of the world. The world has fine institutions, fine organisations, fine establishments and other fine things, but our Orthodox Church is the unrepeatable, the sole place for the communion of God with man, for the Theosis of man. Only within the Church can man become a god, and nowhere else[.] p 37 [7]

o An awareness of this great calling of his, i.e., of Theosis, comforts and really completes man. The Orthodox humanism of our Church is based on this great calling of man, and therefore it develops all his powers to the extreme. What other form of humanism, however progressive and liberal it may appear, is as revolutionary as that of the Church which is able to make man a god? Only the humanism of the Church reaches so high. p 71 [8][9][10]

- - - - -

(cont)

Glenn said...

[1] I confess to not having had quite caught on when you had earlier said in another thread that in defining idols and superstitions as the "other gods", the Rev. George Mastrantonis's talk about "other gods" is very misleading. [11][12]

[2] See [6] below.

[3] See [4] below.

[4] See [1] above.

[5] Given the quotations above the quoted questions, as well as the quotations below them, seeing the questions as being other than rhetorical in design is somewhat of a challenge. Therefore, see [2] above.

[6] See [3] above.

[7] To say that Christianity is superior to Buddhism in some relevant sense is to commit the sin of pride, right? To say. however, that the Orthodox Church not only is the 'unrepeatable' but also the only that within which a man may become a god is to... well, it is to give utterance to a statement of fact, right?

(Mind, I'm neither asserting nor condoning the notion that man may become a god within (or because of) this, that or the other thing. I'm simply calling attention to what appears to be an inconsistency in attitude about, perspective on and/or treatment of the holding of one thing to be higher, better, or more conducive than some other thing in some (thought to be) relevant sense.)

[8] This single quotation spans three paragraphs in the actual work.

[9] See [3] above.

[10] See [7] above.

[11] See the 7th paragraph subsequent to the salutation here.

[12] It is true that you immediately went on to say, "There are no other gods." This being so, perhaps there is a bit of the sliminess about the intimation.

Perhaps.

And perhaps you have placed yourself between Scylla and Charybdis.

For if there really is such a thing as Theosis, and Theosis literally means "to become gods by Grace," then to say, "There no other gods," is to say, wittingly or not, that no one alive has actually experienced it.

(cont)

Glenn said...

I purposely omitted a relevant quotation from those provided above. This relevant quotation has to do with clarifying that a man does not become a god in essence by becoming a god by Grace. It is an important clarification, and I hadn't any intention of ignoring it. I just wanted to address it in isolation from the other quotations. This relevant, clarifying quotation is from pp. 39-40:

According to the teachings of the Holy Bible and the Fathers of the Church, man is able to achieve Theosis because within the Orthodox Church of Christ the Grace of God is uncreated. God is not only essence, as the West thinks; He is also energy. If God was only essence, we could not unite with Him, could not commune with Him, because the essence of God is awesome and unapproachable for man, as was written: “Never will man see My face and live” (Exodus 33:20).

Let us give a relevant example from things human. If we grasp a bare electric wire, we will die. However, if we connect a lamp to the same wire, we are illuminated. We see, enjoy, and are assisted by, the energy of electric current, but we are not able to grasp its essence. Let us say that something similar happens with the uncreated energy of God.

If we were able to unite with the essence of God, we would become gods in essence. Then everything would become a god, and there would be confusion so that, essentially, nothing would be a god. In a few words, this is what they believe in the Oriental religions, e.g. in Hinduism, where the god is not a personal existence but an indistinct power dispersed through all the world, in men, in animals, and in objects (Pantheism).

Again, if God had only the divine essence -- of which we cannot partake -- and did not have His energies, He would remain a self-sufficient god, closed within himself and unable to communicate with his creatures.


As a Western Christian, here is my take on the matter:

If I fill a clear glass with some dark liquid, say Coca-Cola, and then hold the glass under a running faucet, the darkness of the liquid will dissipate until the liquid itself is clear as the glass.** Whether this happens quickly or slowly depends on a number of factors--including the size of the glass, the amount of liquid contained therein, the opacity of the liquid, its viscosity of the same, the length of time the glass is held under the running faucet, and the forcefulness of the water streaming from the faucet.

Now, three things:

a) Clear as the liquid may become due to the inflowing water, the glass itself does not become that water--not even for a moment;

b) that which is elutriated does not become that by which it has been elutriated; and,

c) however much I may be purified by God, His grace, the Holy Spirit, or whatever else one may want to say it is that does the purifying, I am still a man, a created being. One who perhaps is a little less impure than he was before, true. But certainly at no time a god.


** It may be argued, and not without some basis, that the darkness of the liquid in no way is dissipated, but that, properly speaking, the dark liquid is replaced with something clearer. Whatever. The glass itself still does not become that clearer something. And I still certainly at no time become a god.

Glenn said...

errata:

- [then to say, "There no other gods,"] s/b [then to say, "There are no other gods,"]

- "its viscosity of the same" s/b "its viscosity"

erratica:

- the zig-zagging of the references in the notes above is intentional, and is meant to be a kind of... well, what might it be saying (so to speak)?

dguller said...

Glenn:

What you write is consistent with Aquinas' claim that in the beatific vision, one intellectually perceives the divine essence, but not comprehensively, because to do so, one would have to be God himself and know God as God knows himself, which would obliterate the difference between God and creature.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

I don’t know the right answer to the koan. I am not sure there is supposed to be a right answer. The way I understand it koans are meant to push the student towards a transcendent cognitive state in which she directly perceives the truth. And sometimes they achieve this by making the student think hard about a perhaps impossible problem, so hard that at some point thought is transcended and the problem disappears. Perhaps the way to answer Zen questions is by unasking them.

Having said that I doubt that the answer “I am reading a book” would be dealt kindly by the Zen master, since he already saw that the student was reading a book. Chinese tend to be practical people. If given that answer it is likely that the master would have hit the student with his stuff.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

I’d say that theosis refers to the ultimate perfection of human nature at the eschaton. Everybody more or less agrees that this is the insuperably greatest possible condition, and thus the end of every human. So one wonders: what is the greatest conceivable human condition? In my mind the greatest conceivable human condition is that of extinction and completion within God. “Extinction” as seen from the outside, since one’s self disappears. But completion as experienced from the inside, since such an event will be experienced as one becoming God.

Of course I may be wrong – but several things speak to me for that view. First consider one’s state in the presence and closeness to God, who is the ground of all beauty and the perfect manifestation of beauty. At the actual view of God, having fallen in love in the most profound way and being struck with the most crazy desire and longing possible, what else would one wish but to give up oneself to God, to disappear within that which is God? And what can God’s love do but accept such desire? Indeed it seems so natural an end. Secondly, it solves a problem related to the idea of creaturely “eternal life”, for if understood as “infinite life” then one faces the problem of boredom. It seems that only an infinite being can enjoy infinite life – and we humans are intrinsically not infinite beings. But theosis, understood as personal extinction within God, solves that problem by giving us eternal life in the sense entailed. Not to mention solves the problem of the crowding of heaven with an ever larger multitude of created persons – an unseemly picture. Third, I find that this idea of theosis comports well with the eastern religions’ end of Nirvana, which Hindus describe as union with Brahman (the ground of all being), and which Buddhists describe as the blissful extinction of the self.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"I doubt that the answer 'I am reading a book' would be dealt kindly by the Zen master, since he already saw that the student was reading a book."

Then maybe the student should have replied, "Three pounds of flax."

Scott said...

(Glenn was right earlier, by the way; I was already familiar with the kōan he posted, I do appreciate it, and it was right on point.)

Scott said...

Also by the way:

"I don't know the right answer to the koan. I am not sure there is supposed to be a right answer."

I wasn't offering an "answer" to the kōan; I was merely stating, tongue slightly but not entirely in cheek, what I hoped had been the student's answer to the question from Master Gu.

Tony said...

The student's answer to the Zen master is "what are you doing?"

To which the master responds "Ah, yes, Grasshopper, NOW you are ready."

Among the other high and mighty, noble benefits of the discursive study of theology and philosophy, is the essential grounding of meditation to the TRUE divine one. The great masters of Christianity, speaking on the mystical union with God, declare with one voice that the devil will use meditative and higher states to fool and deceive a person away from true advancement with lures, false intuitions, etc. The devil can mimic or cause certain higher states (though not the highest). Without the one true Church with its guarantee of sound doctrine, the person who imbibes in mysticism has no assurance of approaching truly to the Godhead rather than being deceived - as we see in the mistakes of eastern religions.

Tony said...

But theosis, understood as personal extinction within God, solves that problem by giving us eternal life in the sense entailed. Not to mention solves the problem of the crowding of heaven with an ever larger multitude of created persons – an unseemly picture. Third, I find that this idea of theosis comports well with the eastern religions’ end of Nirvana, which Hindus describe as union with Brahman (the ground of all being), and which Buddhists describe as the blissful extinction of the self.

If you mean real and whole extinction, absolute and entire, then it has nothing at all to do with Christianity and is rather opposed to it. God's immense goodness lies visible in that he desires created beings to enjoy Him in union. That union is not annihilation and absolute absorption, or there is no ultimate effusiveness to point to in God's act of creating.

If the Buddhists mean a lesser sort of "extinction", a sort that leaves the personhood of the creature intact, then they describe it ineffectively.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

First consider one’s state in the presence and closeness to God, who is the ground of all beauty and the perfect manifestation of beauty. At the actual view of God, having fallen in love in the most profound way and being struck with the most crazy desire and longing possible, what else would one wish but to give up oneself to God, to disappear within that which is God?

Alternative view:

You have been seduced by a demon -- one wryly dubbed, by those who know better, as Nepeta Cataria.

Secondly, it solves a problem related to the idea of creaturely “eternal life”, for if understood as “infinite life” then one faces the problem of boredom. It seems that only an infinite being can enjoy infinite life – and we humans are intrinsically not infinite beings. But theosis, understood as personal extinction within God, solves that problem by giving us eternal life in the sense entailed.

Alternative view:

You are already facing the problem of boredom, and are faring poorly, i.e., fumbling badly, in your attempts to deal with it -- "Communion with God? How plebian. I want to be God."

Third, I find that this idea of theosis comports well with the eastern religions’ end of Nirvana, which Hindus describe as union with Brahman (the ground of all being), and which Buddhists describe as the blissful extinction of the self.

Correct view:

(1) The Advaita school of philosophy isn't the only school of Hindu philosophy. Another school of Hindu philosophy is the Dvaita school. According to the Dvaitist, after liberation the soul neither merges with nor is absorbed by God; rather, it remains individuated (i.e., the soul remains distinct (and not just from other souls, but also from God)). If the Dvaitist is right, then your theosis thesis comports with the wrong compartment of Hindu philosophy.

(2) Buddhist Nirvana does not extinguish the desires of self, let alone self itself. It is what is when self ceases to be; and self ceases to be when desire ceases to be. From a Buddhist perspective, then, desiring Nirvana ensures its unattainability.

(3) Further, and still from a Buddhist perspective, you are in one of the worst states imaginable -- the state of craving. Craving isn't mere desire, but inordinate desire (such as, e.g., "the most crazy desire and longing possible").

(4) Not to pile it on, but Buddhism also identifies 36 currents of craving. These currents of craving underlie 'abnormal suffering'. Abnormal suffering is the kind of suffering which can be avoided (which is contrasted with the kind of suffering which cannot be avoided (which is called 'normal suffering')). And one of the 36 currents of craving underlying abnormal suffering is the notion, "I shall be otherwise because of this." **

Accurate summary:

If you want to establish both the credibility and viability of your theosis thesis as you frame it, then --

a) you cannot appeal to Western Christianity (for your thesis falls flat on its face (see Tony's comment));

b) you cannot appeal to Hinduism (because it is divided on the question (see (1) above)); and,

c) you cannot appeal to Buddhism (for it makes clear that you are both barking up the wrong tree and borrowing a heap of trouble (see (2), (3) and (4) above).

- - - - -

** Pfft! So much for the vaunted compatability of Buddhism at its core with Christianity.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"But theosis, understood as personal extinction within God, solves that problem by giving us eternal life in the sense entailed."

I must say that I'm having trouble seeing how "personal extinction" can involve my positively "becoming" anything at all, let alone God.

Anonymous said...

Think the Dr. should address Hart by exploring how his (that is, Hart's) Eastern Orthodoxy is conditioning his take on Natural Law and preventing this discussion from closing.

I know this gets touched upon here and there (especially in the comments) but a complete flaying of his position (in view of his Eastern Orthodox standing) needs to be had.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion regarding "personal extinction".

Alestier Crowley theorized and practiced such in his attempt to extinguish (meld into god) all distinctions and modes of existence through Sex Magick, and other rites developed at his Abbey in Sicily.

The OTO, LeVay's COS, Aquino's Temple of Set all practiced a Luciferian Theosis. Their efforts are not to be belittled;; they bore enormous weight upon our popular culture. Even the homosexualist movement (as an ideology) views the experience of "gay" sex as a species of theosis spirituality - with their gnosis that sex which dissolves distinctions becomes a threshold to transcendence (where all becomes one). One could go on - even doing an hermeneutic of Charles Manson's final instruction to his Family. The concept of theosis is a very welcome notion among the adepts I once knew. Theosis (in spite of its voluminous literature) is a slippery thought - its PRACTICE is a magnet for all sorts of perfected gnosis - and folks looking for a perfection which simply is not ours by order of what defines us, our creaturehood, our being created defined and limited - and therefore free.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony writes: “The devil can mimic or cause certain higher states (though not the highest).

There are many deceiving spirits in the human condition. But the one principle we Christians should trust, indeed trust more than any Church doctrine is this: We know Christ’s commands, we know the path He calls us to follow, the same path He followed. A path that is brightly lit and perfectly visible to any who have read the gospels: The path of selfless love for all, of poverty and building one’s treasure in heaven, of humility and turning the other cheek. Thus any call we may hear, any idea, any philosophy, any feeling, any experience that motivates us to follow Christ comes from the spirit of truth. And any that doesn’t comes from some spirit of deception. By their fruit one recognizes them. For one can’t go wrong when following Christ, and one can’t go right when not following Him. It’s really that simple. By keeping the path of Christ in one’s mind it’s really easy to distinguish truth from error, and the spirits of deception lose all power over us. Unless we let them convince us to focus on something other than to follow Him.

And since Christ’s new commandment is to love God and our neighbor as He loved them – anything that makes God and our neighbor appear more lovely comes from the truth. And this incidentally is the main principle I use in theology. Which after all fits perfectly well with St Anselm’s definition that God is the greatest conceivable being. (Or, more precisely, as not less than the greatest being one can conceive).

In a similar vain Glenn writes: “Alternative view: You have been seduced by a demon”

Ah, but after following Christ one will certainly find oneself in the presence of God and not of some demon. This too is as clear as can be in the gospels: The pure of heart will see God. And again: You who love me as I love you will be recognized as my friends.1807

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony,

If you mean real and whole extinction, absolute and entire, then it has nothing at all to do with Christianity and is rather opposed to it.

I am not explaining well what I mean. For how can one’s complete union with God in which nothing from oneself remains as distinct from God, how can this be described as “real, whole, absolute, entire *extinction*”? Rather than “real, whole, absolute, entire *completion*”? At some point being an individual apart from God becomes a weight, a hindrance, one last imperfection.

Incidentally, I am not sure this view is opposed to Christianity. It seems to me that the official Christianity as represented by the great churches is much less dogmatic than many assume.

But, again, I may very well be wrong. What I hold to be certain though is this: If I am wrong then the eschaton is even more beautiful than how I now imagine it.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

You are already facing the problem of boredom

I am not sure what you mean by “already”. Don’t you see any problem with a finite being having infinite life? Can you conceive of yourself experiencing life for ever? Not one trillion years, not one trillion times one trillion years – but infinitely more?

You cannot appeal to [Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism].

I am not appealing to them. I am only claiming that this view of theosis comports well with ancient and revered views close to the center of all these religions. And I don’t think the view I expound here is novel or surprising. I understand great mystics have described how in their union with God their self disappeared, and their disappointment when later finding themselves in their previous condition of being apart from God. I wish I knew more to be able to mention names or give quotes.

Further, and still from a Buddhist perspective, you are in one of the worst states imaginable -- the state of craving. Craving isn't mere desire, but inordinate desire (such as, e.g., "the most crazy desire and longing possible").

Right, but I understand the principle of not-desire (or non-attachment, which it seems to me is present in all great religions) concerns itself only with the desire of what is of the world. For how can one love God with all one’s heart without desiring God? And how can one love one’s neighbor and not desire to be good and useful to her and to give her joy? Desire then is not good only when it is desire for what is not good. Further, even when desiring the good, one should not in one’s pride expect that one’s desire will be satisfied, but should expect nothing and trust in God that all shall be well.

At this point you may argue that you were discussing Buddhism and not Christianity. But there too something similar must be the case. Charity is one of the great virtues in Buddhism too, and as a practical matter one cannot give without desiring to give. Further, it can’t be the case that one undergoes spiritual discipline without desiring illumination. One is not an automaton. I understand that Buddhism, like Christianity, teaches non-attachment in the common context of desiring (and even worse of craving) things that keep one from following the path.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

I must say that I'm having trouble seeing how "personal extinction" can involve my positively "becoming" anything at all, let alone God.

It’s a very simple idea, which we can readily conceive.

Consider first the experience of empathy which is common when feeling love for another person closeby: of being yourself but experiencing to some degree what the other person experiences. In closeness to God in heaven the experience of such empathy must be one of the greatest blessings. Now imagine that empathy becoming ever clearer. And then desiring complete union at which point you find yourself experiencing only what God experiences. You look and realize there is no person of Scott being there anymore. You realize that the one who experiences is and has always been God. And also that you know Scott, exactly as Scott used to know himself, as he was up to the moment that for love he melted into You.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"You look and realize there is no person of Scott being there anymore. You realize that the one who experiences is and has always been God."

I have no trouble imagining that; I'm simply questioning whether it amounts to "personal extinction." As you say, I look and realize . . .

Scott said...

(I should probably have said "conceiving" rather than "imagining," but in fact I have no trouble doing either.)

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Don’t you see any problem with a finite being having infinite life?

The only problem I see is that of a finite being slipping into or being seduced into thinking or believing that that infinite life is his (not in the sense of his partaking of it in some manner, but in the sense that it actually, really, truly and genuinely is his (or that he is it) -- in which case the finite being does indeed have a problem (and one which has not anything to do with boredom)).

I understand great mystics have described how in their union with God their self disappeared, and their disappointment when later finding themselves in their previous condition of being apart from God.

Yes, so? Being a great mystic is not an assurance that one has reached some apex of spiritual maturity. Given the insuperable difference between the exquisiteness of spiritual joy and the relative baseness of worldly joy, the disappointment is not incomprehensible. At the same time, the maturation of a mystic's spiritual development, be that mystic great or not so great, is likely to be curtailed to the extent that his disappointment detracts from his doing his best and giving his all to whatever it is he is to be doing here and now in this world -- even if what he is to be doing here and now in this world is to, say, clean a latrine.

how can one love God with all one’s heart without desiring God?

How can one love God with all one's heart without doing His commandments?

As mentioned previously (under another post), doing His commandments is loving Him. A sane and rational person does not desire or long for what he has. Since without Him I can do nothing, it follows that I cannot do His commandments without Him. So, if I'm busy doing his commandments, He is with me already. And if He is with me already, where is the sense in my setting aside sanity and rationality so as to desire or long for He Who Already Is Present?

If I am not busy doing His commandments, however, then I am busy doing something else. And since I cannot do anything without Him, He still is with me even when I am busy with the doing of that something else -- just not in the same way or to the same degree or extent that He is when I am busy doing His commandments. But seeking the extinction of self is not going to bring me closer to Him (or Him closer to me); rather, what will close the relative gap is my being occupied with the doing of His commandments.

it can’t be the case that one undergoes spiritual discipline without desiring illumination

And what of those who, without having undergone spiritual discipline, have had a fortuitous experience of illumination, and, as a result, subsequently undergo spiritual discipline that they might be of better service to others?

In other words, do you really want to be saying that God does not call some to a life of service?

Glenn said...

s/b ...do you really want to be saying, in effect, that God does not...

Tony said...

I am not explaining well what I mean. For how can one’s complete union with God in which nothing from oneself remains as distinct from God, how can this be described as “real, whole, absolute, entire *extinction*”? Rather than “real, whole, absolute, entire *completion*”? At some point being an individual apart from God becomes a weight, a hindrance, one last imperfection.

Incidentally, I am not sure this view is opposed to Christianity. It seems to me that the official Christianity as represented by the great churches is much less dogmatic than many assume.


Well, C.S. Lewis thought that this is definitively opposed to Christianity - it is one of the errors Weston tries out in Perelandra, IIRC. Or maybe it's pointed out as an error in Screwtape. Either way, it's not Christian.

If the merging is one where there is no creature left after the merge, then that isn't Christianity. If the merge is one where there REMAINS a creature, then the union is a COMMUNION, and that is (or at least can be) Christian.

And then desiring complete union at which point you find yourself experiencing only what God experiences. You look and realize there is no person of Scott being there anymore. You realize that the one who experiences is and has always been God.

Yeah, and the "always has been" is an eastern error, not Christianity. It is not so much that you are not "expressing yourself", it is that what you are expressing is opposed to Christianity.

But as long as you are pushing eastern mysticism: please explain to me why it is that the divine, omnipotent, perfect God bothers to go through the motions of "making" something for that "something" to eventually merge back into Himself with the realization that it was He all along and not "something" else after all? WHAT'S THE POINT? It's like a chess player setting up a board for himself to play, with no opponent (not even opponent pieces), playing a "game" with his own pieces, with no there to get to because there is no opposition king to checkmate. What would be the point? Now shrink the board so it only has the 16 squares needed for the initial position: what is the point of even contemplating a game without any moves to make? That's what saying "the one who experiences is and always has been God" is like: sheer pointlessness.

Anonymous said...

But as long as you are pushing eastern mysticism: please explain to me why it is that the divine, omnipotent, perfect God bothers to go through the motions of "making" something for that "something" to eventually merge back into Himself with the realization that it was He all along and not "something" else after all? WHAT'S THE POINT? It's like a chess player setting up a board for himself to play, with no opponent (not even opponent pieces), playing a "game" with his own pieces, with no there to get to because there is no opposition king to checkmate. What would be the point?

I think the standard explanation is that it is in fact, a game, except that the act of creation is also an act of forgetting. So it's like playing chess against yourself, except that you can't remember you're playing against yourself.

Tony said...

Well, if that's the standard explanation, then the only kind of god that allows for is a really stupid one. I am well and truly glad I don't have to bother refuting it, it refutes itself just fine.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

The only problem I see is that of a finite being slipping into or being seduced into thinking or believing that that infinite life is his

It is not clear to me that you are answering the question. Do you or don’t you see any problem with a finite being like we are experiencing infinite life?

Yes, so? Being a great mystic is not an assurance that one has reached some apex of spiritual maturity.

If great mystics do experience union with God then it seems to me that while in that state they have reached the apex of spiritual maturity. And if later when describing that state they assert that their individual self had disappeared then this is significant evidence that at theosis one’s individual self disappears. And if theosis is the ultimate eternal state of the saved (as explicitly the Eastern Orthodox and kind-of also the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions teach) then one arrives to the view I here expound.

It does seem to me that the testimony of the great mystics is evidence for the view of the eschaton I expound, unless one wishes to affirm that mysticism is a tool of the spirits of deception. But then isn’t it a fact that such mystics are revered and sometimes recognized as inspired or as saints by the great Christian traditions?

I would say that the roots of the idea of theosis as the eternal condition of the saved run extremely deep in Christianity. We have Christ’s call in the Gospels to become as perfect as our Father in heaven is and that we should be in Him as He is in the Father, we have the opinion of some of the earliest Fathers of the Church including St. Irenaeus, we have the expressive opinion of the Eastern Orthodox church, it is entailed by the famous Irenaean dictum that “For the Son of God became human so that we might become God” (a dictum that for example Pope John Paul II explicitly mentioned, and which is included in the Catholic catechism). And what might be of special interest in this group, Thomas Aquinas too spoke of our deification understood as our “partaking in the Divine Nature”, and of course there is only one divine nature.

Now the view I expound here is not that of theosis itself, but of a particular understanding of theosis. On the other hand, if “union with God’ is to be understood literally then how can such unity be metaphysically possible while one retains one’s human nature and individual identity? Some might suggest that in theosis we embody Jesus’s condition of being fully human and fully God, and they may be right. There is I find a whole range of views. But some, as C. S. Lewis’s who speaks of the saved being transformed into a god-like dazzling creature which “if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship” strike me as not describing theosis at all.

the maturation of a mystic's spiritual development, be that mystic great or not so great, is likely to be curtailed to the extent that his disappointment detracts from his doing his best and giving his all to whatever it is he is to be doing here and now in this world

Sometimes I think the same, but it is not for us to judge. Internally the only path towards God is Christ’s, but externally (i.e. how people who follow Christ’s path live) there may be many ways. Some may love their neighbor by going into a cave in the desert to live alone and pray there all the time for the salvation of all. Some may love their neighbor by reaching union with God and coming back to testify about it.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

How can one love God with all one's heart without doing His commandments?

One can’t, but please observe that this does not refute what I wrote, namely that when loving God one also desires God.

As mentioned previously (under another post), doing His commandments *is* loving Him.

I disagree. It is metaphysically possible to do God’s commands not because of our love for Him, but, say, because of fear. But I am inclined to believe that doing God’s commands even for the wrong reasons tends to cause one to realize the beauty of God and the beauty of creation - and thus arouses one’s love for God the new commandment speaks of.

Since without Him I can do nothing, it follows that I cannot do His commandments without Him. So, if I'm busy doing his commandments, He is with me already. And if He is with me already, where is the sense in my setting aside sanity and rationality so as to desire or long for He Who Already Is Present?

It’s not like things are black and white. Since God is the metaphysically ultimate it is in a sense true that we can’t do anything without God, or that God is always with us already. But surely God is not in the same sense present in the condition of a sinner and in the condition of a saint. (Reading your next paragraph I understand you think the same.) Significantly though, when doing God’s commands without love one is also without God. Come to think of it, perhaps the debate about faith and works is a false one, for there can’t be neither true faith nor true works without love. But, as I mentioned before, much faith or many works may be like digging a ditch in which the waters of God’s love easily flow.

But seeking the extinction of self is not going to bring me closer to Him (or Him closer to me); rather, what will close the relative gap is my being occupied with the doing of His commandments.

I completely agree. I am not of course saying that one should seek the extinction of the self. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding. I am talking about the eschaton and about the saved who are in the immediate presence of God, and of what I think *they* would desire given their condition, and of what I think God would grant them. And even they would not desire the extinction of the self; they would desire true union with God, which in turn entails the extinction of the self, in the same sense that perfection entails the extinction of imperfection, or completeness entails the extinction of incompleteness.

And what of those who, without having undergone spiritual discipline, have had a fortuitous experience of illumination

There are paths towards salvation which do not entail undergoing formal spiritual discipline. On the other hand I don’t think there is such thing as fortuitous salvation. Salvation, via repentance, comes with great courage, great trust, much work, and the ultimate self-transcedence one reaches in loving God and one’s neighbor with all one’s heart.

“do you really want to be saying, in effect, that God does not call some to a life of service?”

Yes I do. God calls us all without exception to a life of selfless love. How that love expresses itself in one’s observable life may take many forms, including some which you may not be inclined to call “a life of service”. It is not for us to judge one way or the other how love leads people to live. On the other hand, rather obviously, the observable life of one who loves selflessly will not be that of selfishness, of pride, of craving for material goods or fame. But even in these cases it is not for us to pass judgment. Sometimes it happens that depravity leads to sanctity.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony,

it's not Christian.

I am not sure how you can claim that. I suppose if some idea clearly contradicts the gospels, or the creeds, or perhaps some official dogma of a great Christian church (and as far as I know only the Catholic Church has a dogma which claims inerrancy for some of its dogmas) –one may then claim that it is not Christian. But I don’t think one can claim that something is not Christian because it does not fit with what C. S. Lewis thought. I feel pretty certain that C. S. Lewis would agree.

If the merging is one where there is no creature left after the merge, then that isn't Christianity. If the merge is one where there REMAINS a creature, then the union is a COMMUNION, and that is (or at least can be) Christian.

From the outside no individual subject apart from God is left. But from God’s point of view, and from the creature’s point of view, there is a continuity of that creature’s being passing into eternity. All that is good in that creature is there.

It’s not an either-or situation. If a drop of water trickles down and falls into a river, only the river remains. But all that was the drop of water is still there in the river. There just isn’t anymore a drop of water apart from the river. And if that drop’s end is to fall into the river, then nothing good is lost.

What seems clear to me is this: If the union I here describe is valuable, is freely and greatly desired by the creature, and is freely accepted by God – then it will certainly come to pass.

the "always has been" is an eastern error, not Christianity.

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding. In that post I was describing how theosis would feel like from the point of view of Scott when he undergoes it. The “you” in the “you look and realize there is no person of Scott being there anymore; you realize that the one who experiences is and as always been God” refers to Scott’s subjective experience after theosis and his being joined to God’s. It is not meant to suggest that before theosis the one who experienced Scott’s life was not Scott, but God alone. Of course not. And incidentally I don’t think that eastern religions hold such a belief either.

Anyway, a major point I try to convey is that nothing good is lost. To remain for ever an individual apart from God does not strike me as a good thing. On the contrary, when I try to imagine living for ever in myself I find it to be a very bad thing indeed, so much so that it strikes me as inconceivable.

But as long as you are pushing eastern mysticism

I am not pushing anything, let alone eastern mysticism. I am only saying that the universal testimony of the great mystics comports well with the view of theosis I expound. Here, for example, is how the great Christian mystic St Catherine of Siena describes from God’s point of view the eternal condition of the saved: “They are like the burning coal that no one can put out once it is completely consumed in the furnace, because it has itself been turned into fire. So it is with these souls cast into the furnace of my charity, who keep nothing at all, not a bit of their own will, outside of me but are completely set afire in me. There is no one who can seize them or drag them out of my grace. They have been made one with me and I with them.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

I have no trouble imagining that; I'm simply questioning whether it amounts to "personal extinction." As you say, I look and realize . . .

Yes, exactly right. From the subjective point of view of the one who undergoes theosis nothing is lost, on the contrary one obtains the greatest possible experience and eternally the greatest possible personal condition. But from the point of view of an outside observer, the person undergoing theosis does not any more exist as an individual. Only in that sense, which is irrelevant to the one undergoing theosis, can one speak of extinction. But even there it’s a good kind of extinction, the kind a problem undergoes when meeting the solution, or that doubt undergoes when meeting certainty, or darkness undergoes when meeting light, or thirst undergoes when satisfied. An empty glass of water is no more when it is filled.

Tony said...

From the outside no individual subject apart from God is left. But from God’s point of view, and from the creature’s point of view, there is a continuity of that creature’s being passing into eternity. All that is good in that creature is there.

Parmenides: all that is, is The One. Other than being, there is nothing. Nothing that is not can exist, and no Thing that is can not-be. There is no coming to be, nor ceasing to be, for that which Is is the One, and it IS.

"So it is with these souls cast into the furnace of my charity, who keep nothing at all, not a bit of their own will, outside of me but are completely set afire in me. There is no one who can seize them or drag them out of my grace. They have been made one with me and I with them.”

Unless you want to run toward Parmenides, you have to accept the saints referring to the union being one in a sense but still not one in every sense.

St. Thomas, Supplement, Q 92, A1: Speaking of the union in heaven with the beatific vision.

Therefore we must take the other way, which also certain philosophers held, namely Alexander and Averroes (De Anima iii.). For since in every knowledge some form is required whereby the object is known or seen, this form by which the intellect is perfected so as to see separate substances is neither a quiddity abstracted by the intellect from composite things, as the first opinion maintained, nor an impression left on our intellect by the separate substance, as the second opinion affirmed; but the separate substance itself united to our intellect as its form, so as to be both that which is understood, and that whereby it is understood. And whatever may be the case with other separate substances, we must nevertheless allow this to be our way of seeing God in His essence, because by whatever other form our intellect were informed, it could not be led thereby to the Divine essence. This, however, must not be understood as though the Divine essence were in reality the form of our intellect, or as though from its conjunction with our intellect there resulted one being simply, as in natural things from the natural form and matter: but the meaning is that the proportion of the Divine essence to our intellect is as the proportion of form to matter. For whenever two things, one of which is the perfection of the other, are received into the same recipient, the proportion of one to the other, namely of the more perfect to the less perfect, is as the proportion of form to matter: thus light and color are received into a transparent object, light being to color as form to matter. When therefore intellectual light is received into the soul, together with the indwelling Divine essence, though they are not received in the same way, the Divine essence will be to the intellect as form to matter: and that this suffices for the intellect to be able to see the Divine essence by the Divine essence itself may be shown as follows...

Tony said...

In the blessed union with God, the saint is one with Him while remaining a distinct entity. The union is a union of the intellect and union of the will under the due proportion, not the union of being or essence simply.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

The quotation provided from Catherine of Sienna immediately precedes I will never withdraw from their feelings. No, their spirits always feel my presence within them here.

May the Lord be with you (i.e., may there be a you with whom the Lord may be).

Glenn said...

s/b Catherine of Siena

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Master Gu found a student deep in the study of a[n e]book. He asked the student what he was doing, and the student answered “I am searching for what is true”. Gu grabbed the [e]book [reader] and threw it out of the window.

Question 1: Why did Master Gu do that?

Answer 1: He saw that the [e]book the student was studying is published by Wikimedia Foundation.

Question 2: So what?

Answer 2: So he immediately knew it not terribly unlikely that the snippet from Catherine of Siena had been cherry-picked and trimmed.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Tony,

The union is a union of the intellect and union of the will under the due proportion, not the union of being or essence simply.

Perhaps one can interpret “union” in a sense that allows one to remain a distinct entity. Actually St John of the Cross wrote something about the mystical union with God that comports well with what you write above: “the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation; although it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before

Still, as a practical matter: If at theosis one eternally perceives what God perceives and thinks what God thinks and wills what God wills - what relevance is there to the question of whether there is also a union of one’s being or essence? I mean what difference does it make to the one united with God? Or to anybody else for that matter?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

The quotation provided from Catherine of Siena immediately precedes ‘I will never withdraw from their feelings. No, their spirits always feel my presence within them’

Right, thanks. Reading to the end of the paragraph it is clear that St Catherine wants to distinguish between the eternal union of the perfect and the temporal union granted to some of the imperfect, a union which she herself had undergone. She describes the latter as a “feeling” that comes and goes, and makes clear that in the case of the eternal union of the perfect that “feeling” will never go.

A little further down she writes about the temporal union again from God’s point of view: “I withdraw that union for a while and make the soul return to the vessel that is her body, so that the body’s feeling, which had been completely lost because of the soul’s emotion, returns. For the soul does not really leave the body (this happens only in death) but her powers and emotions are united with me in love. Therefore the memory finds itself filled with nothing but me.

It is as always difficult to understand what mystics are saying, for the simple reason that mystics have to describe a really extraordinary experience to people who are not acquainted with it. Still, what I find clear in the above is that after the mystical union the saint found herself remembering the union as being filled with nothing but God, i.e. as a state where nothing specifically hers was experienced by her.

I find that her testimony while suggestive does not conclusively support the view of union I here expound. It would be nice to have her here and ask this: “You say you remember being filled with nothing but God, but do you remember being aware that it was you who was filled with nothing but God? Or was it only after getting back the feeling of your body that you realized that?”

May the Lord be with you

May you be with the Lord.

snippet from Catherine of Siena had been cherry-picked

I found that snippet in the Wikipedia article here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinization_(Christian)#Roman_Catholicism

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Right, thanks. Reading to the end of the paragraph it is clear that St Catherine wants to distinguish between the eternal union of the perfect and the temporal union granted to some of the imperfect, a union which she herself had undergone. She describes the latter as a “feeling” that comes and goes, and makes clear that in the case of the eternal union of the perfect that “feeling” will never go.

There is a story about three blind men who come to believe they know what an elephant is simply by the feel of it. One blind man touches an ear, and says, "An elephant is like a big fan." Another blind man touches a leg, and says, "An elephant is like the trunk of a thick tree." And the third blind man touches the tail, and says, "An elephant is like a heavy rope."

Tactile feeling, however, is not the only type of feeling which may present to the experiencer a less than complete picture of what it is that is experienced. And a fourth blind man employing his intellect may be able to come up with a less incomplete picture of what an elephant is like--in part, by putting together and reasoning about the more incomplete and disparate pictures of those who rely primarily on feeling.

It would be nice to have [Catherine of Siena} here and ask this: “You say you remember being filled with nothing but God, but do you remember being aware that it was you who was filled with nothing but God? Or was it only after getting back the feeling of your body that you realized that?”

Only rarely when asleep am I aware that I am asleep--might this mean there is no Glenn who is asleep if he is not aware that he is? And many times when I wake up with a recollection of having dreamt, I have no simultaneous or subsequent recollection of having been aware during the dream itself that I was dreaming--might this mean that there was no Glenn who was dreaming if he wasn't aware that he was? Interesting questions, perhaps. OTOH, maybe not. Either way, it's hard to see how the fact that such and similar questions can be formulated and/or pondered might be taken seriously as evidence in support of the extinction, extinguishment, disappearance or absence of one's being during particular moments of a certain character.

I found that snippet in the Wikipedia article here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinization_(Christian)#Roman_Catholicism

The Wikimedia Foundation "operates some of the largest collaboratively edited reference projects in the world, including Wikipedia, a top-ten internet property", and its e-book -- the one Master Gu's student was reading -- includes more than a little of what is found word-for-word in the article to which you refer.

Btw, did you notice the article's implication that Catherine of Siena put words into God's mouth ("Catherine of Siena had God say...")? Or did you notice the implication, but thought it inaccurate and in need of correction ("she writes...from God's view")?

May you be with the Lord.

Thank you.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

You to Tony,

Still, as a practical matter: If at theosis one eternally perceives what God perceives and thinks what God thinks and wills what God wills - what relevance is there to the question of whether there is also a union of one’s being or essence? I mean what difference does it make to the one united with God? Or to anybody else for that matter?

1. Let it be assumed that you are not attempting to save face.

2. Let it now be observed that you have repeatedly attempted to convince others to accept a view it matters not that they accept.

3. And let it be concluded that a charitable take on that behavior is that it is a sign that you are already faced with the problem of boredom.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

I came across the following just a few hours ago. It is from the 'Union with God' section of the 'God as Prayer' chapter of Kallistos Ware's The Orthodox Way. Ellipses are mine, all else is Ware's.

- - - - -
Bearing in mind what has been said earlier about the Trinity and the Incarnation, it is possible to distinguish three different kinds of union:

First,... God remains God, and man remains man... The distinction between Creator and creature still continues: it is bridged by mutual love but not abolished. God, however near he draws to man, still remains the "Wholly Other".

Secondly,... In the mystical union betwen God and the soul, there are two persons, not one (or, more exactly, four persons: one human person, and the three divine persons of the undivided Trinity). It is an "I-Thou" relationship: the "Thou" still remains "Thou", however close the "I" may draw near. The saints are plunged into the abyss of divine love, yet not swallowed up. "Christification" does not signify annihilation. In the Age to come God is "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28); yet "Peter is Peter, Paul is Paul, Philiip is Philip. Each one retains his own nature and personal identify, but they are filled with the Spirit (The Homilies of St Macarius).

Since, then, the union between God and the human beings that he created is a union neither according to essence nor according to hypostatis, it remains thirdly that it should be a union according to energy. The saints do not become God by essence nor one person with God, but they participate in the energies of God, that is to say, in his life, power, grace and glory.
- - - - -

It should be noted that one reviewer of TOW writes, Although we gladly admit that there is much of value in The Orthodox Way, it is nonetheless marred by some serious dogmatic errors. (Book Review: The Orthodox Way)

Nonetheless, none of the dogmatic errors identified by the reviewer are located in the 'God as Prayer' chapter. Further,

Chapters Five and Six, in which the author deals with God as Spirit and God as prayer, are both generally fine. It is in the fourth chapter, however, that he commits several frightful theological blunders and, once again, departs from the exactitude of Patristic thinking. (ibid)

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

may present to the experiencer a less than complete picture of what it is that is experienced

Our discussion is not about what it is the saved will eternally experience. We agree this is God. Our discussion rather concerns what they will experience, the content and nature of their experience. Will it be the experience of being with God, or the experience of being in God, or the experience of being God.

Perhaps it helps separate the issue at hand into distinct steps:

1. At the eschaton the saved will be eternally near God, in a most blissful personal condition.

2. At the eschaton the saved will be eternally in the greatest possible personal condition.

3. Eternal union with God is a greater condition than being eternally near to God.

4. Eternal union with God so complete that one is only filled with God and has lost all awareness but that which is God (including therefore the awareness of oneself) is a greater personal condition than a union where one is still aware of one’s identity.

Where is it that we disagree? I guess only #2 and #4 are candidates. It seems to me that #2 follows from St Anselm’s definition, since it is evident that the greatest conceivable being would grant to the saved the greatest conceivable condition. As for #4, since each creaturely self (and thus the awareness of the creaturely self) is less than God – it seems plausible to me that it also holds. But, once more, I may be wrong. Perhaps there is a special value in eternally remaining aware of one’s creaturely self. One way or the other I don’t see something terribly important riding on the issue.

My question to Tony concerns the metaphysical status of the #4 condition. Suppose #4 is true. This would still leave open the question of whether one’s “being or essence” is also united with God. It appears that Thomas Aquinas and St John of the Cross reject the idea. I don’t dispute the point (since it does not contradict #4 which only refers to the actual experience). I am only asking what its relevance is to us. For if there is no relevance whatsoever, why should I care to think about it (starting with trying to understand what it means)?

I have no simultaneous or subsequent recollection of having been aware during the dream itself that I was dreaming

Right, but while dreaming you were aware that it was you who were having the experiences contained in the dream. In the dream it is you, correct? I mean, while in the dreamful state I am aware that it is I who is experiencing whatever the dream is about. And that’s not how #4 is supposed to be. Here one remembers a continuity of experience of all the saved who have undergone union with God, but one is aware only of God having that memory.

Interesting questions, perhaps. OTOH, maybe not.

I find them useful in that they clarify what we are speaking about. So it is clearly the case that we can conceive one subject having two streams of conscious experience at the same time - actually in empathy we experience exactly that. And I suppose that’s God’s condition in relation to us. Which clarifies the difference between #3 and #4. Do the saved experience a perfect empathy with God while losing all other experience of themselves except the experience of their identity, namely remaining aware that it is them “having all that God has” (to use the words of St John of the Cross)? Or does the condition of the saved become fused with the condition of God and thus their experience of identity disappears?

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Btw, did you notice the article's implication that Catherine of Siena put words into God's mouth ("Catherine of Siena had God say...")? Or did you notice the implication, but thought it inaccurate and in need of correction ("she writes...from God's view")?

If St Catherine did experience union with God then she is describing God’s point of view (as best as she can), and is certainly not just putting words into God’s mouth.

it is possible to distinguish three different kinds of union”

I have read Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Way” and remember liking it very much. One point that once again becomes clear when reading it is that religion is not so much a belief system but a way. Beliefs are just what illuminates or circumscribes the way, but the real thing is the way. Which comports well with Christ’s “I am the way and the truth and the life”. We see here that “truth” does not ultimately refer to propositions or to beliefs or to ideas, but to the personal condition – indeed the personal condition of whom follows Christ’s way and thus becomes more similar to Him. Which understanding of truth in turn comports with the theistic metaphysics according to which all, including all truths, are grounded in God.

Anyway, reading the quotes you post, I don’t quite understand the third kind of union. The second kind, which expressively denies “annihilation” and says that “Peter is Peter, Paul is Paul” is clearly not my #4 above. (Incidentally, the fact that Ware speaks of “annihilation” evidences that the view I here expound is not at all novel and is probably ancient.) Now the third way which speaks of “participation in the energies of God” appears to describe a greater union, but it seems to me is still not #4. Rather it appears to refer to a union of the same kind that unites the persons of the Trinity – an alternative I mentioned in some previous post. (Even though I happen to hold that the concept of “person” in the context of the Trinity is idiosyncratic and should not be confused with the concept of “person” used elsewhere in philosophy.)

Glenn said...

My question to Tony concerns the metaphysical status of the #4 condition. Suppose #4 is true. This would still leave open the question of whether one’s “being or essence” is also united with God.

No, it doesn't. There still is a that which is not God.

Btw, you seem to not understand your formulation of #4.

#4 asserts that there is a greater personal condition than a union where one is still aware of one's identify. Fine. But this greater personal condition is still a personal condition.

What is more, #4 asserts that this greater personal condition is an eternal union with God so complete that one is only filled with God (and has lost all awareness but that which is God). But there still is a that which is not God--else there wouldn't be a something for God to fill. And if there isn't a something for God to fill, #4 can't be true.

Additionally, that which is lost is awareness of anything which isn't God--i.e., what is lost is an awareness, e.g., that one's being is separate and distinct from God's being, and not the actual separateness and distinctiveness of one's being from God's being.

It appears that Thomas Aquinas and St John of the Cross reject the idea. I don’t dispute the point (since it does not contradict #4 which only refers to the actual experience).

But it does contradict #4. You can try to wriggle out of it by claiming that #4 refers only to actual experience. But such an attempt is disingenuous at best; for that which is experiencing is not God, but a something which itself is not God (however much it may seem to that something that it is other than itself).

I am only asking what its relevance is to us.

Two quick reasons:

1) Challenging as it is in and of itself, having a right conception of God becomes even more of a challenge when one thinks that that is God which is not God; and,

2) he who claims that that is God which is not God loses standing and credibility with those who can see that that which is not God indeed is not God.

Anyway, reading the quotes you post, I don’t quite understand the third kind of union.

Well, it helps to have some familiarity with the difference between appearance and reality.

Maybe some familiarity too with the difference between a something actually being X, and that something being only as if it were X.

Also, it may be helpful to first come to terms with the fact that the same word may be used in different senses.

And, I suppose, one simple way to put it might be to say that we are recipients of life from God, and are neither that life itself nor God Himself. But to the extent that we are 'clean' recipients, or to the extent that less and less of what is our own adulterates the life we receive from God, to that extent are we said to be one with God (i.e., experiencing a union with God).

Glenn said...

1. Left out "Dianelos," at the top.

2. 1st para s/b italicized.

3. "But it does contradict #4" s/b "But it does contradict what is intended by #4, i.e., the notion that we become God".

4. re "(i.e., experiencing a union with God)": should clarify that 'a commuion with God' would be more accurate and less subject to potential confusion.

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