Sunday, November 2, 2014

Voluntarism and PSR


Aquinas holds that “will follows upon intellect” (Summa Theologiae I.19.1).  He means in part that anything with an intellect has a will as well, but also that intellect is metaphysically prior to will.  Will is the power to be drawn toward what the intellect apprehends to be good, or away from what it apprehends to be bad.  Intellect is “in the driver’s seat,” then.  This is a view known as intellectualism, and it is to be contrasted with voluntarism, which makes will prior to intellect, and is associated with Scotus and Ockham.  To oversimplify, you might say that for the intellectualist, we are essentially intellects which have wills, whereas the voluntarist tendency is to regard us as essentially wills which have intellects.

That is an oversimplification, though.  Voluntarism can come in milder forms which do not subordinate intellect to will but merely tend to put them on a par, and perhaps some writers who can sound like voluntarists really mean only to emphasize the importance of the will without intending thereby to assert anything about its metaphysical relationship to the intellect.  Augustine might be regarded as a voluntarist in a mild sense, and Ockham in a strong sense.  On the other side, even in Aquinas the claim that intellect is prior to will has to be qualified in light of the doctrine of divine simplicity, according to which God’s intellect and will are identical.  All the same, the tendency of the intellectualist is to understand the will always by reference to the intellect, whereas the tendency of the voluntarist is to conceive of the will independently of its relation to the intellect.

The implications of the dispute between intellectualism and voluntarism are many and profound, and I have discussed some of them in various places (e.g. here and here).  One of these implications is theological.  The intellectualist tends to think of God as essentially a Supreme Intellect, as (you might say) Subsistent Rationality Itself.  We might not always understand what he wills and does, given the limitations of our own finite intellects; all the same, in itself what God wills and does is always rational or intelligible through and through, and would be seen to be by a sufficiently powerful intellect.  By contrast, an extreme voluntarist conception of God would regard him primarily as a Supreme Will, indeed as (you might say) Subsistent Willfulness Itself.  On this sort of view, what God wills and does is not ultimately intelligible even in itself, for he is in no sense bound by rationality.  He simply wills what he wills, arbitrarily or whimsically, and there is ultimately no sense to be made of it.  If we borrow some analogies from Plato’s analysis in the Republic of the five types of regime, God as the intellectualist understands him is essentially the Philosopher-King write large, whereas God as the most extreme voluntarist understands him is like the tyrant writ large.

Some of the general theological consequences of these two conceptions of God as they were developed within the context of Christianity have been sketched by Michael Allen Gillespie in his book The Theological Origins of Modernity (which I reviewed here) and by Margaret Osler in Divine Will and the Mechanical Philosophy.  They are also relevant to what Pope Benedict XVI had to say about the difference between Christianity and Islam in his famous Regensburg lecture.  The Cartesian view that even mathematics and the laws of logic are the product of divine fiat, and could have been other than they are had God so willed, is a specific consequence of extreme theological voluntarism (though Osler thinks there is still a sense in which Descartes was an intellectualist -- again, the relationship between the two tendencies in the work of a particular thinker is not always as simple as it might at first seem).

Another specific theological implication has to do with the relationship between God and morality.  For Aquinas, what is good for us is necessarily good for us because it follows from our nature.  As such, even God couldn’t change it, any more than he could make two and two equal to five.  For the divine intellect knows the natures of things, and the divine will creates in accordance with this knowledge.  To be sure, the natures in question exist at first only as ideas in the divine mind itself; in this sense they are, like everything else, dependent on God.  Still, in creating the things that are to have these natures, the divine will only ever creates in light of the divine ideas and never in a way that conflicts with what is possible given the content of those ideas.  Aquinas’s position is thus at odds with the sort of “divine command ethics” according to which what is good is good merely because God wills it, so that absolutely anything (including torturing babies for fun, say) could have been good for us had he willed us to do it.  This sort of view was famously taken by Ockham, for whom God could even have willed for us to hate him, in which case that is what would have been good for us. 

In the Catholic context, at least a very strong whiff of voluntarism is to be found among those who think the pope could decide to teach -- contrary to scripture, tradition, and the constant teaching of previous popes -- that capital punishment is always and intrinsically immoral, or that it is not after all a mortal sin for a Catholic to divorce and “remarry.”  In fact, according to Catholic teaching the pope is not a dictator and cannot either reverse scripture and tradition or make up new teachings from scratch.  That would be contrary to the very point of the papacy, which is to preserve the “Deposit of Faith” without adding to or taking away from it.  In that sense the pope’s will is, like any other Catholic’s, subject to the Catholic Faith and does not create it.  The Catholic understanding of papal authority is, you might say, intellectualist rather than voluntarist.  Critics of Catholic claims about papal authority often read a voluntarist conception into it, but this is a caricature; Catholics (whether liberal or conservative) who suppose that a pope can teach whatever he wants essentially buy into this caricature. 

In philosophical anthropology, the dispute between voluntarism and intellectualism cashes out in the difference between what Servais Pinckaers calls the “freedom of indifference” and the “freedom for excellence.”  On the former conception of free will, developed by Ockham, the will is of its nature indifferent toward the various ends it might pursue, and the will is thus freer to the extent that it is at any moment equally capable of choosing anything.  The implication is that a will that is strongly inclined to choose what is good rather than what is evil is less free than a will that is not inclined in either direction.  By contrast, on the conception of free will as “freedom for excellence,” which is endorsed by Aquinas, the will is inherently directed toward the good in the sense that pursuit of the good is its final cause.  The implication is that the will is more free to the extent that it finds it easy to choose what is good and less free to the extent that it does not. 

The intellectualist is also naturally going to endorse the Aristotelian conception of man as a rational animal.  Contrast that with a view I recently found expressed by Philip K. Dick in an interview in What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick.  Dick says:

[The] android figure… is my metaphor for the dehumanized person, as you know, who is someone who is less than human -- that essential quality that distinguishes a human being is essentially compassion or kindness, that -- it’s not intelligence.  An android -- or in the film Blade Runner it’s called “replicant” -- can be very intelligent, but it’s not really human.  Because it’s not intelligence that makes a human being; in my opinion it’s the quality of kindness or compassion or whatever -- you know, the Christians call “agape.” (pp. 63-64)

I imagine many people today would find this appealing and regard the traditional Aristotelian conception as too bloodless and insufficiently touchy-feely.  But from an intellectualist point of view Dick’s claim is just muddleheaded.  Love that is truly human is an act of will, which is why it can abide when sentiment wanes.  But will, and thus love, presupposes an intellect which can grasp the object of love qua good or lovable.  Hence man is a compassionate or loving animal precisely because he is, more fundamentally, a rational animal.  But neither, contra Dick’s portrayal of the replicants, could there be such a thing as an intelligent creature incapable of love in the sense of willing the good of another.  For will follows upon intellect, and it is of its nature directed toward what the intellect perceives as good or lovable.  Hence an intellectual creature always loves something (even if the object of its love is sometimes not what it should be). 

To make sense of Dick’s proposal you would, it seems to me, have to be committed to a kind of voluntarism, on which love -- the willing of someone’s good -- could float free of intellect.  (There is at least a family resemblance between Dick’s view and that of Scotus, whose position is summed up by the Catholic Encyclopedia as follows: “Because the will holds sway over all other faculties and again because to it pertains the charity which is the greatest of the virtues, will is a more noble attribute of man than is intelligence.”)

In ethics and politics, a kind of voluntarism is evident in the Hobbesian theses that the good is just whatever one happens to will, and that law is not something the intellect discovers in the nature of things, but rather something the sovereign creates in an act of will.  Hume’s claim that reason is but the “slave of the passions” is in the same ballpark, though of course the will and the passions are distinct.  Such ideas are known to have their echoes in modern social and political life.

Lately (here and here) we’ve been discussing the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), according to which everything is intelligible.  How could that be the case if it is will rather than intellect that is fundamental?  To be sure, mild or localized versions of voluntarism could in theory be consistent with PSR.  Suppose you thought God’s intellect was prior to his will but that the laws that govern human societies were ultimately grounded in the sheer fiat of legislators.  Then everything might still have a sufficient reason.  The sufficient reason for the existence of some particular law was that it struck the fancy of some legislator to impose it, that it struck his fancy might be given an explanation in terms of his mood that day together with some end he hoped the law would realize, that he was in that mood might be explained by his circumstances together with his physiology at that moment, and the whole chain of causes could trace back to God who willed to set things up this way in light of what his intellect grasped to be good.  But suppose God as First Cause is himself conceived of in voluntarist terms.  Could this be consistent with PSR?

I think not, at least not if the voluntarism is extreme.  Suppose mathematics, the laws of logic, and everything else are the product of divine fiat, where God’s willing things the way he did is in turn in no way intelligible -- that it is unintelligible in itself, not merely unintelligible to us.  Since God’s willing the way he did is the ultimate cause of everything else, it would follow that everything is thus ultimately unintelligible.  At the bottom level of reality would be the “brute fact” that this is what God has willed, utterly arbitrarily, and that’s that.  PSR, which admits of no brute facts, would therefore be false.

Now if PSR is false, then the principle of causality is threatened as well, since if things are ultimately unintelligible, there is no reason to think that a potency might not be actualized even though there is nothing actual to actualize it and thus that something might come into being without any cause at all.  But then it would not be possible to argue from the world to God as cause of the world.  Hence it is no surprise that Ockham’s voluntarism went hand in hand with skepticism about the possibility of any robust natural theology and a retreat into fideism.  I’ve also suggested that theism itself, or at least classical theism, cannot be made consistent with a denial of PSR.  For rejecting PSR tends, for reasons given in that earlier post, to lead away from classical theism to a more crude and creaturely conception of God.  Hence it is no surprise that Ockham’s voluntarism was followed historically by such a conception.

Hence extreme theological voluntarism -- motivated though it seems to be by a desire to do honor to God and uphold divine power -- in fact undermines theism.  (Which is not surprising when you think about it, since voluntarist views have this self-undermining tendency elsewhere: Authoritarianism undermines authority by reducing it to lawless tyranny and thus destroying all respect for it; the view that the pope can teach just any old thing he wishes undermines the very point of the papacy and undermines the credibility of papal decrees in general; the Hobbesian idea that the good is just whatever we happen to will is not really an alternative theory of ethics but destroys the very possibility of ethics and replaces it with the notion of a non-aggression pact between self-interested preference maximizers; and so forth.)

Whether milder forms of theological voluntarism would have similar results depends on how they are formulated, but it is hard to see how any view which makes the divine will prior to the divine intellect (as opposed to being merely on a par with it) could avoid a similar result.

No post on voluntarism and PSR should fail to discuss Schopenhauer.  But as the supreme arbitrary dictator of this blog I hereby arbitrarily decree that this post will.  But that is not to rule out a future post on the subject.

196 comments:

Daniel said...

Hence extreme theological voluntarism -- motivated though it seems to be by a desire to do honor to God and uphold divine power -- in fact undermines theism

There is a very real sense in which Voluntarism leads to nihilism in a strictly nietzschean sense with God as the biggest Will. Gillespie also wrote an interesting book titled Nihilism Before Nietzsche where he traces the origins of Nihilism culminating in the absolute arbitrariness of Nietzsche’s Will to Power back to Ockham and other nominalists.

I thought Scotus’ view that the Will had precedence over the Intellect amounted to the fact that in order to possess an Intellect and act intelligently one required a Will (though the contraposition also seems to hold).

Random thoughts: It occurs to me that Ed’s argument in General Scholastic Metaphysics as to why Thomists should not fear PSR type arguments based on the convertibility of the Transcendentals ‘Truth’ and ‘Being’ also constitutes a point in favour of Conceivability Arguments. Well done Ed – that’s proper 'hard' metaphysical work.

(Though I’d get that in before this turns into a battle with Torley at best or a 400+ Santi ramble at worst)

Irish Thomist said...

“will follows upon intellect”

I find when Peter Kreeft makes an argument that both act together quite interesting. True he aims for a more 'Pop Philosophy' type reader but still interesting none-the-less.

Summa Philosophica[sic - and he knows it is 'wrong']

DNW said...

Hearing of the will willing what it wills because it wills it, is like watching a dog chase it's tail, or listening to someone trying to ground their prescriptive ethical principles on an extrinsically driven, kaleidoscopically purposeless "evolution".

" 'We?' 'You?' What are you even talking about?" one wishes to say. "You've just defined humanity as the pointless epiphenomenal flotsam of unconscious processes fizzing away in nothingness, and yourself as a congeries of appetites with no core or substance. You want me to tolerate 'you?'? What 'you' is that? Is there anyone even "in" there?"



So yeah, it's good comedy at first, but when they persist as if they are themselves serious, you eventually conclude the damn thing doing it must be effen crazy in some way.

Steven Jake said...

I have a question that is off-topic. What is God's relation to the laws of logic? I mean, the laws of logic simply describe the nature of existence--e.g., a tree cannot be both itself and not itself. So, do the laws of logic simply also describe the nature of God? However, isn't God restricted by the laws of logic? For example, God can't create a square-circle.

John West said...

"No post on voluntarism and PSR should fail to discuss Schopenhauer. But as the supreme arbitrary dictator of this blog I hereby arbitrarily decree that this post will. But that is not to rule out a future post on the subject."

I look forward to it.

Daniel said...

@Steven Jake,

I mean, the laws of logic simply describe the nature of existence--e.g., a tree cannot be both itself and not itself.

Yes and of Identity as well. Logic in this sense is sometimes called Formal Ontology as it refers to any being what so ever.

So, do the laws of logic simply also describe the nature of God? However, isn't God restricted by the laws of logic?

Yes, pretty much. The laws of Logic, what are grounded in the Divine Nature and as such incapable of change. In fact Classical views of the relationship between God and Modality go further and say that necessary truths about essences, 'Material' or 'Broadly Logical' Necessity in modern parlance, are also incapable of being altered - hence no object that can have both the properties 'Square' and 'Circular'.

John West said...

Incidentally, do you have any idea when Amazon.ca will get more copies of Scholastic Metaphysics?

Irish Thomist said...

@Steven Jake

God's mind is the source and since God is 'simple' metaphysically speaking 'the laws of logic' do not have power over him since he is logic so to speak (in the same way he 'is' good).

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel and everyone else

Does Ed also need to argue in defense of the Transcendentals in order to prop up several of the lines of argumentation he has made in recent posts?

How would you go about this [the readers]?

On a side note I am tempted to counter argue Edward as to the equality or at least simultaneous nature of the act of will/intellect.

To begin with the intellect can correct the will, and the will can correct the intellect. I've experienced this at times in my own life. What are your thoughts?

TD said...

Dr. Feser,

I have a number of questions that have been on my mind and this post specifically touches on some of them.

1) I have trouble understanding the claim that God's intellect and will are the same. I understand why we would want to say it, given simplicity, but I'm not sure how it makes sense. How can this be if God's will can choose between multiple options? This seems fundamentally opposed to what an intellect is.

2) Along the lines of the PSR, what reason can we give for creating this world rather than another? Assuming God is not bound to create the best possible world.

3) Are you at all familiar with Katherin Rogers's work on Anselm and free-will? She is a strong defender of libertarian freedom and I was wondering how that relates with the current blog post.

Thanks

TD

Irish Thomist said...

@TD

2) Along the lines of the PSR, what reason can we give for creating this world rather than another? Assuming God is not bound to create the best possible world.

Well he is not bound to create any world. Nor the 'best possible' since he is not a moral agent per se. Nor can there be a 'best possible' finite world.

Tom said...

@Irish Thomist: I'd certainly be interested. It was disappointing (although only mildly so, considering the quality of everything else) to see they wouldn't be covered in Scholastic Metaphysics. Plus the argument that God, as pure actuality, would also have to be omnibenevolent greatly interests me.

Greg said...

@ TD

How can this be if God's will can choose between multiple options? This seems fundamentally opposed to what an intellect is.

The modality here has to be sorted out. In the actual world, God does not choose between multiple options, and in fact "cannot." There was no time when God decided to create this world rather than some other, because God is eternal and is not in time anyway.

There are possible worlds in which God creates different worlds. But in any given possible world it is not the case that God chooses between multiple options. The reason for this is that the latter case would impute a potentiality to God, whereas we say that there are possible worlds in which God creates different worlds because there is no possible world which he is compelled to create. Creating is a good act, but God's goodness is complete whether he creates or not, so he is not determined to create anything in particular, or even to create at all.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Irish Thomist: You wrote, "To begin with the intellect can correct the will, and the will can correct the intellect. I've experienced this at times in my own life. What are your thoughts?"

I understand that the apprehension of the intellect can discipline the will's mistaken desires for something. What do you mean by the opposite, however? Do you have in mind something like intuitive urges, in which the will highlights something the intellect has been mistakenly overlooking?

I could see this happening in something like falling in love, in which numerous signals operate "below the radar" of the intellect, so to speak. Is that the sort of thing you have in mind?

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg
Creating is a good act, but God's goodness is complete whether he creates or not, so he is not determined to create anything in particular, or even to create at all.

A very good way to put it.

@Craig Payne

I'm sure its going to take a while and more than a reply here to formulate and explain the position. Although while one may not precede the other in time (or absolutely in a causal sense) intellect may precede the will in some other ways.

Yes you give a good example about love - love can and often is illogical (in terms of giving good even at ones own expense etc. etc.) and can impose itself upon the intellect.

Bob said...

"He means in part that anything with an intellect has a will as well, but also that intellect is metaphysically prior to will."

How are the words intellect and will being defined here?

Is it analogous to reason and desire?

Mark said...

I am rather confused by the idea that will always follows intellect. It seems to me that we often desire things before we know what they are, and do things instinctively without understanding (ex. an infant instinctively eating when hungry without any understanding).
Is the distinction that neither desire nor action is "will" without intellect?

Scott said...

@Mark:

"Is the distinction that neither desire nor action is 'will' without intellect?"

For Aquinas, yep, that's pretty much it. Will is rational appetite.

DNW said...

Just speaking casually here, it seems to me that pure pangs cannot be said to be a "willing" but merely a precursor condition. The intentional object must appear before it can be willed ... no object no will.

Now the biological drive for an object may not include comprehensive understanding, but to what, before what, or in what context does the intentional object appear or subjectively manifest?

And the problem with radical voluntarism, as everyone here, almost, seems to understand, is that in a developed being, it is simply incoherent. Take it seriously, and there is no coherently willing there, there. The will itself seems to float free and even lose an identifiable locus of any significance or ground.

Which of course, does not particularly trouble the anti-rational types, as we have all observed for some decades now. They are content to define arbitrarily, respond to unconsidered impulses, to gleefully seek self-realization through manifesting the unconscious and embracing chaos. After all, there is always someone to sweep up after and pay the bill, right?

Well, "So what?" we might say. And so I do. Until that is, in order to seek the compliance of others, they begin crudely aping the traditional forensic process, while ignoring the critical and validating forms of the process.

Then we watch in amazement as they in effect say:

"When we liberals and nominalists say of socially instituting rule X over class Y, 'It is good for everyone', we do not of course mean this in some primitive reciprocal or literally and logically distributive manner wherein the good of every individual subsumed under class Y will be improved by rule X. But rather we mean the intelligent to understand it in the sense of "From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need".

And of course it is naturally to be further understood that when we refer to a “good” or even a need we do not have in mind some notion that there is a universal “good” applicable to each and every entity we have decided to insert as stakeholder within the stipulated beneficiary class, but that individual “goods” will differ, and that some of the “goods” provided to those with “needs” by those with the ability, will not actually improve the lives of those with the ability, and may not even be goods, direct or indirect, as far as they are concerned.

And of course then when we say "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need” you will naturally understand it to mean that some with the capacity to provide will therefore necessarily be more or less mandated to provide goods which will not in fact be goods for them, and which will add nothing of benefit to their own particular existences. But you will also understand that it is necessary that they bend to this labor if we who desire things we cannot or will not produce or do for ourselves, may have both these things and the spillover benefits of associating with the others whom we need, nonetheless.

And this plan of directed life, a life directed by us, we call civilization; and you are to understand that it is good for everyone; even if, consistent with our own definitions and terms, it really isn't.

Daniel said...

@TheIrishThomist,

Well in Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink yes in as much as Natural Law ethics, at least in the older tradition, takes how accurately an being instantiates its essence as its standard and would thus rely on the convertibility of 'Being' and 'Good' (doesn’t Ed admit this somewhere in Aquinas?).

I think one can argue for the PSR sufficiently on the grounds of Retorsion and the incoherence of the concept of 'Brute Facts' without needing to bring in questions of the Transcendentals though – in fact I suspect even sympathetic modern philosophers may have more initial problems with the Transcendentals than the PSR. Ed’s argument to the PSR from the Transcendentals in General Scholastic Metaphysics was directed against Gilsonian concerns about Thomists employing the PSR.

In many ways the doctrine of the Transcendentals seems to follow naturally from Realism about Universals* I would be most interested to read anything on this subject from a modern Thomist. Come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Thomist who engages with contemporary thought to the degree that Ed does defend the Fourth Way – something which is strange given that it and the Transcendentals get to the heart of Classical Theistic metaphysics going back to Plato.

*I don’t know much about the modern literature on Conceivability Arguments but I cannot shake of the impression that such arguments in fact tacitly imply a form of Realism about Essences a la Edmund Husserl’s ‘eidetic variation’.

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel

All as a side note rtaher than a reply.

As of yet I am not sure which form of PSR I may or may not embrace.

If Ed doesn't take up an argument for the Transcendentals should... probably not at this stage. Although if I don't come across any contemporary argument I would be tempted to look into this.

What were the points you were making about Étienne Gilson and Edmund Husserl? Could you flesh those topics out a little more maybe with links or references?

Daniel said...

I too must give a somewhat brief response I'm afraid.

Gilson was cautious about what degree of epistemic priority to assign to the PSR because he viewed it as coming from the Rationalist tradition of Leibniz and Wolff, and thus tainted with the dread toxin of 'essentialism'. There was also an old controversy with Garrigou-Lagrange who employed a variation on the PSR as an axiom of logic reachable by retorsion arguments as Ed does. Another writer, J E Gurr, following the lead Gilson had set in his Being and Some Philosophers went further in an explicit attack on Thomists he sees as taking up the PSR and thus allowing Rationalist influences in his The Principle of Sufficient Reason in Some Scholastic Systems 1750-1900.

Ed featured this link about it some time ago:

http://thomistica.net/commentary/2013/10/28/garrigou-lagrange-leibnitz

Just googling ‘gilson principle of sufficient reason’ will turn up dozens of articles on this.

DNW said...

Daniel said...

I too must give a somewhat brief response I'm afraid.

Gilson was cautious about what degree of epistemic priority to assign to the PSR because he viewed it as coming from the Rationalist tradition of Leibniz and Wolff, and thus tainted with the dread toxin of 'essentialism'. There was also an old controversy with Garrigou-Lagrange who employed a variation on the PSR as an axiom of logic reachable by retorsion arguments as Ed does. Another writer, J E Gurr, following the lead Gilson had set in his Being and Some Philosophers ..."

If you recall where in Being and Some Philosophers, if indeed it's a specific textual reference, drop a note.

Otherwise I'll take a look when I get home.


Thanks.

DNW said...

By the way, although I am obviously a casual and not a highly motivated reader, I have some academic background in philosophy and am therefore surprised to find myself surprised: specifically by the notion of "retorsion"; though the context here makes it clear enough what is meant, and I suppose it has been treated explicitly in previous posts.

Nonetheless, I don't recall it as part of the logic courses I took, nor as a term used in the analysis of paradoxes, or with regard to self-referential or redounding negations, a couple of decades ago.

Nor as part of "classical metaphysics" nor analytic philosophy as it existed in the 80's.

So, as a specific conceptual "tool", rather than a general approach or procedure, it's more or less news to me.

a quick search came up with this ...

http://books.google.com/books?id=l1sk0yc3a5cC&pg=PA284&lpg=PA284&dq=philosophy+and+%22retorsion%22&source=bl&ots=tRIcm_MClz&sig=wsdr8zx_sbo9duQxVaik86BaS5E&hl=en&sa=X&ei=kOtXVILJFMidygTwzIDoCw&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=philosophy%20and%20%22retorsion%22&f=false

And maverick Philosopher has an extensive treatment of it.


Always something to learn here.

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel

if indeed it's a specific textual reference, drop a note.

Yes I would be very interested in books authors and page references concerning this Thomistic dispute on PSR.

Big Dutchman said...

I am not a philosopher, and I only read this blog for intellectual gain, so if I'm saying something ignorant or something that doesn't apply to this post, please give me a little latitude. Yesterday, I went to the library, and all of the books in the Christian Living section were on the will ("Become a better you", "Living beyond your feelings", etc.), and none were on the intellect ("Orthodoxy", "Mere Christianity", etc.). Are all the bestselling modern Christian authors considered voluntarists? And is this why the media persists to ask when the Catholic Church will change to fit modern times?

Plotinus#6 said...

@John West
I emailed the publisher of Scholastic Metaphysics to inquire if the book was still in print! I ordered the book in August from Amazon.ca and the delivery date since has changed twice (existing copies of the book from other sellers have doubled in price). I emailed the publisher who said they were having "problems" with Amazon. He directed me here:
http://www.transactionpub.com/merchant2/

I purchased the book from them this morning.

Edward Feser said...

The book's been back in stock at Amazon.com for several days now. Also at BarnesandNoble.com. But I'm afraid I don't know what the deal is with Amazon's Canadian site.

I notice, BTW, that a Kindle version is available via Amazon UK. Also a Nook version from Barnes and Noble. But I'm afraid I have no idea what the story is with getting a Kindle version available via Amazon.com.

rank sophist said...

Yet another post that makes me think Prof. Feser and Hart have more in common than they realize. Daniel's point about nihilism is spot-on: Hart made the same argument in Christ and Nothing.

I do wish that Schopenhauer had been brought in, though. The arbitrary-exclusion joke was funny, but reading Prof. Feser's takedown of the old windbag would have been funnier.

Anonymous said...

Several have professed (in willful way or the other):

with Garrigou-Lagrange who employed a variation on the PSR as an axiom of logic reachable

and/or

If you recall where in Being and Some Philosophers...

Yet the PSR shows us the ways that profound truth is innate; yet by reasoning we can see whom or what else might 'drive that bus.' The consequent.

The unity of “explicability arguments” used by (Della Rocca) reminded me of something I read long ago about an askewed version of how the Hegelian dialectic could be used to form a unity that was guided towards preference in platforming politics; Ethics are sorely needed, but not gone. God forbid!

Dr. Feser is indeed a brilliant teacher professing his faith.

One could say they individually are born with a Principle of Sufficient Reason as to know that doing what is right is all sustaining; that love and charity in extended with this reason to others brings unity and common purpose. However, when that reasoning is willful, or self-centered, it is disharmonious; incongruent - it becomes faulty logic. Negative consequences as verbatim language ensues. The grouping and actions of unity and profession is unpurposeful.

I most find the Principle of Sufficient Reason expressed here:

Whether The Father Is A Principle the expressed in of the Trinity
http://www.ewtn.com/library/theology/trinity.htm#07

I cannot explain totally why, except for the reason it made sense was that explicability arguments, implication and other ways to believe the proof that anything exists are outside of self when belief in anything other than God is used in the reasoning or logical argument. Especially the Second Person.

Of course you may search for the terms, 'sufficient, efficient, principle.'

Sorry for any wrong language.

John West said...

Could Pruss's suggestion that "A proposition of the form Jones freely chose A for no reason at all, if true, sufficiently explains why Jones chose A" be applied in defense of Voluntarist-God?

Similarly, could an explanation for Voluntarist-God's choice(s) be given in terms of desires?

DNW said...

Thumbing more or less at random (not much of an index) through "Being and Some Philosophers" I was unable to pick up on the fainter PSR trail Daniel had alluded to, and lacking the more direct "The Principle of Sufficient Reason in Some Scholastic Systems 1750-1900" I had to let it drop.

Maybe the latter is available on line.

However, there's a typically Heideggerian treatment (teasing the question to conceptual and linguistic pieces with a fine tooth comb) of the topic in "The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic" (Trans by Heim), pages 109 and following.

In fact the chapter is headed, "The Metaphysics of the Principle of Reason as the foundational Problem of Logic"

Schopenhauer's contribution is discussed there at some length.

John West said...

Since I think it's just something Pruss offered for Jamesians, not his actual view, I should probably have added a "might" somewhere in my first paragraph.

Willing to be said...

Even in the freedom for excellence line, which I endorse, the will of one's own good, i.e. the will to continue to be and to be in fullness, comes first. The intellect gives the will the information it needs, and so the intellect is at the service of the will.

Let's consider an albino. The will for his own good comes first. Intellect apprehends that sun exposure is bad for him. With that information, the will, in order to procure the person's good, decides to avoid sun exposure.

We could say that there is a primary will and an instrumental will. The primary will is of one's own good. The instrumental will is of what is necessary or convenient, as shown by the intellect, to achieve that good.

The baby's intellect apprehends that his mother is the utmost source of good for him, and tells the will to love her. The adult's intellect apprehends that God is the utmost source of good for him (to a much higher degree that the mother for the baby), and tells the will to love Him. But the will of one's own good is prior in both cases. Which is in agreement with Catechism #2264.

John West said...

Plotinus#6,

Since the price at Amazon.com was similar to transactionpub and both companies ship from the States, I ordered a copy from Amazon.com. Thank you, nonetheless, for the advice.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Just a few quick comments. First, I think you exaggerate the differences between Aquinas and Ockham as to what God can and cannot command, as the following quote from Summa Theologica I-II q. 94 art. 5, (reply to objection 2) shows:

"Reply to Objection 2. All men alike, both guilty and innocent, die the death of nature: which death of nature is inflicted by the power of God on account of original sin, according to 1 Samuel 2:6: "The Lord killeth and maketh alive." Consequently, by the command of God, death can be inflicted on any man, guilty or innocent, without any injustice whatever. In like manner adultery is intercourse with another's wife; who is allotted to him by the law emanating from God. Consequently intercourse with any woman, by the command of God, is neither adultery nor fornication. The same applies to theft, which is the taking of another's property. For whatever is taken by the command of God, to Whom all things belong, is not taken against the will of its owner, whereas it is in this that theft consists."

Thus I think it's simplifying things a little to claim that "for Aquinas, what is good for us is necessarily good for us because it follows from our nature," as you do. (I should add that I do not agree with Aquinas' views here, as I think his claim that people belong to God is mistaken.)

Second, you appear to be implying that God's willing things the way he did cannot be intrinsically unintelligible, because that would contravene PSR. But it seems to me that God's decision to create this world rather than that one, or even to create a world at all, must ultimately rest on Divine fiat (and hence, brute fact), as there is no objective reason why God should have created this world rather than some other, or none at all.

Third, you appear to be suggesting that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good. At school, I was always taught that "the will is captain of the soul"; your account would make it the slave of reason. It would also make it hard to explain akrasia, and it would seem to buttress the Socratic view, according to which the evil man is in some way ignorant - which contravenes ordinary experience. Thoughts?

Cantus said...

I once saw someone claim that voluntarism must be true, on the grounds that if it were not true it wouldn't have been possible for Ockham & co. to rebel against the truth contained within Thomism, or something of that nature. I got the feeling something was highly fishy about that assertion, but I didn't know quite how to respond to it. Thoughts?

Daniel said...

Cantus said,

I once saw someone claim that voluntarism must be true, on the grounds that if it were not true it wouldn't have been possible for Ockham & co. to rebel against the truth contained within Thomism

What a ridiculous argument! Ockham and co 'rebelled' against Thomism because they did not think it was true, in other words they did so on intellectual grounds.

David T said...

Where can I sign up to make my will the slave of reason?

Irish Thomist said...

@DNW and Daniel

Sorry I got your names mixed up when I replied earlier (I think). DNW took up where Daniel had left of on something.

@Vincent Torley
To be fair you do have a point this time - you have been learning something I might add. I take views like Dr. Matthew Ramage's (like in the book Dark Passages of the Bible) but I would be more critical of the critical method then he or Pope Benedict XVI since some of it overstates the evidence and so forth.

John West said...

"Third, you appear to be suggesting that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good. At school, I was always taught that "the will is captain of the soul"; your account would make it the slave of reason. It would also make it hard to explain akrasia, and it would seem to buttress the Socratic view, according to which the evil man is in some way ignorant - which contravenes ordinary experience. Thoughts?"

I thought the post was about God. Isn't this comment talking about people? I feel like there's a distinction that's not been made at some point between Ed's post and this.

DNW said...

"David T said...

Where can I sign up to make my will the slave of reason?"


You can't it's a self-discipline.

On the other hand Johnny Knoxville is enrolling members for the opposite side, and then filming their exploits.

You can manage the same thing on your own though, with a skateboard and hand-held camera, or a lawn chair perched on a 50 gallon drum and a quantity of black powder ignited beneath.

Glenn said...

DNW,

You can manage the same thing on your own though, with a skateboard and hand-held camera, or a lawn chair perched on a 50 gallon drum and a quantity of black powder ignited beneath.

In the absence of a lawn chair, two leather straps will suffice. (Caution: The leather straps should be fire-resistant. Just in case.)

Glenn said...

Vincent,

You to Dr. Feser: Third, you appear to be suggesting that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good.

I've read through the OP three times, and still can't find the suggestion "that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good"--or those pieces which, when properly assembled, comprise that suggestion.

Perhaps I have been repeatedly side-tracked or blinded by the facts that: a) the OP discusses both intellectualism and voluntarism; b) the distinction made in the OP between intellectualism and voluntarism is acknowledged as being an "oversimplication"; and, c) the OP clearly states that "even in Aquinas the claim that intellect is prior to will has to be qualified".

Since I have previously called attention to what appears to an occasional inability on your part to properly read what is written, this may be a good time--indeed, it seems like an excellent opportunity--for you to return the favor.

Where in the OP does Dr. Feser suggest "that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good"? And if he doesn't quite explicitly suggest that, then what is it in the OP which appears to you as implicitly suggesting it?

If it can be shown where that suggestion is made, or where the appearance of that suggestion occurs, then I might be able to figure out why, before then, I hadn't been able to see it.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

Here we go again.

"First, I think you exaggerate the differences between Aquinas and Ockham as to what God can and cannot command, as the following quote from Summa Theologica I-II q. 94 art. 5, (reply to objection 2) shows:"

Sure, except for how it, well, completely and totally doesn't. Aquinas is very obviously not arguing that God can arbitrarily declare what's good or bad for us; he's expressly arguing that as sinners we objectively deserve death and that God, as Creator, is the just "owner" of His creation.

"Thus I think it's simplifying things a little to claim that 'for Aquinas, what is good for us is necessarily good for us because it follows from our nature,' as you do."

And? Did Ed not expressly (and more than once) state that his summary was an oversimplification?

"(I should add that I do not agree with Aquinas' views here, as I think his claim that people belong to God is mistaken.)"

Oh, I thought you were Catholic. Thanks for clearing that up.

"Second, you appear to be implying that God's willing things the way he did cannot be intrinsically unintelligible, because that would contravene PSR. But it seems to me…"

Well, I'm sure you're the best judge of how things seem to you. But that they seem that way to you isn't much of a reply to the arguments Ed has already given, in this post and (many times) elsewhere.

"Third, you appear to be suggesting that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good."

Like Glenn, I'm mystified as to how you managed to read this out of Ed's OP. Eisegete much?

Irish Thomist said...

@Glenn

To be fair to Vincent on this occasion he has actually made an interesting observation (even if it were a misunderstanding of the OP). Aquinas did indeed hold a view close to voluntarism in relation to a number of isolated passages of Scripture. Although this says as much about his hermeneutics as it does his view of the actions of God.

I gave Vincent a good book suggestion on the topic (which I may blog about).

N.B. I am not for ID, I've read about it and creationist books too. I also have rejected the strength of the argument while appreciating where the authors are coming from. So I am being fair to Vincent because others might overlook this point he made because of the large volumes of less than well worked out points in Eds blog Comments.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

Oh, I thought you were Catholic. Thanks for clearing that up.

Scott do you mean in relation to the point he didn't agree with or because the point was made by Aquinas and thus Catholic doctrine?

Scott said...

I mean that I have a very hard time understanding why a Catholic would deny that "people belong to God."

Glenn said...

Irish Thomist,

To be fair to Vincent on this occasion he has actually made an interesting observation (even if it were a misunderstanding of the OP). Aquinas did indeed hold a view close to voluntarism in relation to a number of isolated passages of Scripture.

Ja, and St. Thomas also explained the sense in which it is the intellect which is moved by the will. But what has this to do with the allegation that Dr. Feser suggested a certain something in the OP?

Glenn said...

Perhaps a better, albeit more pointed question would be: why should calling attention to St. Thomas having held "a view close to voluntarism in relation to a number of isolated passages of Scripture" legitimize the making of a false allegation against someone else?

Irish Thomist said...

@Glenn

I shall be honest I maybe didn't read all of what Vincent said - that bit just stood out for me.

@Scott

Thanks, that clarifies what you mean for me.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Glenn,

Here's the statement from the first paragraph of Ed's post, where he is discussing Aquinas' intellectualism:

"Aquinas holds that 'will follows upon intellect' (Summa Theologiae I.19.1). He means in part that anything with an intellect has a will as well, but also that intellect is metaphysically prior to will. Will is the power to be drawn toward what the intellect apprehends to be good, or away from what it apprehends to be bad. Intellect is 'in the driver's seat,' then. This is a view known as intellectualism, and it is to be contrasted with voluntarism, which makes will prior to intellect, and is associated with Scotus and Ockham."

In the light of the above, I wrote that Ed APPEARS to be suggesting that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good. If, as Ed interprets Aquinas, intellect is "in the driver's seat" and will is defined as the power to be drawn toward what the INTELLECT apprehends to be good, then it seems to follow that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good. I don't think that I'm misreading Ed. Many reasonable people, upon reading the same paragraph, would draw the same inference as I did, and if that's not what Ed meant, then (with the greatest respect) I really think he could have expressed himself more carefully.

Vincent Torley said...

Scott,

You write: "I have a very hard time understanding why a Catholic would deny that 'people belong to God.'"

What I mean is that God does not and cannot own us. It's impossible for anyone to own a person; you can only own things. That's why slavery is inherently absurd. We are, as the Bible states, not God's slaves but God's sons, not God's chattels but God's children.

The statement "A owns B" logically implies the following: (i) B has no inherent value, and exists merely as a means to A's ends - in other words, B's value is purely instrumental; (ii) A may licitly do anything that he/she wishes to B, as long as A does not interfere with the rights of other agents or with their property; and (iii) no matter what A does to B, B cannot be said to be wronged by A. If God owns us, then we have merely instrumental value. Also, God can licitly do anything he wants with us, including annihilating us and burning infants who haven't sinned in hell forever. And as the creator of the cosmos, God doesn't have to worry about His actions interfering with the rights of other agents. And no matter what God did to us, we could never complain that we were being wronged by God. This is absurd.

Persons have inherent value. God made persons. In the act of making them, God freely chose to assume certain obligations towards those persons, as their loving Father. God does not "own" them; He values them too much to want to do that.

Vincent Torley said...

Scott,

You write: "Aquinas is very obviously not arguing that God can arbitrarily declare what's good or bad for us; he's expressly arguing that as sinners we objectively deserve death and that God, as Creator, is the just 'owner' of His creation."

Sorry, but I think that a God who (according to Aquinas) can licitly order a man to kill innocent people (including, I might add, unborn children, some of whom would have died when the Israelites slaughtered pregnant Midianite women by putting them to the sword - and I'm sure you can imagine exactly where those swords went), or to sleep with a woman (with or without her consent) or to help myself to someone's property (with or without their consent), is not so very different from Ockham's God. It's true that Aquinas would have held (unlike Ockham) that God cannot order people to hate Him, to tell lies, to commit unnatural acts or to hate their parents, but all the same, what he says is shocking enough.

Glenn said...

Irish Thomist,

@Glenn

I shall be honest I maybe didn't read all of what Vincent said - that bit just stood out for me.


Some of my irritation over VT showing signs of resuming his M.O. leaked into my response to you. You're not at all deserving of that. I apologize.

Anonymous said...

It's true that Aquinas would have held (unlike Ockham) that God cannot order people to hate Him, to tell lies, to commit unnatural acts or to hate their parents, but all the same, what he says is shocking enough.

If you rule out the existence of a God you find "shocking" or disturbing, neither theology nor intelligent design is for you.

Glenn said...

Vincent,

Thank you for responding. I had asked as the second of two questions, "[W]hat is it in the OP which appears to you as implicitly suggesting...", so it wasn't necessary for you to emphasis that you "wrote that Ed APPEARS to be suggesting..." But never mind that. I have two more questions:

1. Since erring reason can deem as good that which is not, and the will can act at variance with erring reason, is it not obvious that the will does not always choose "what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good"?

2, What is it about that small OP passage you quote which entails in your mind the likelihood that Dr. Feser is oblivious to the rhetorical point of the prior question?

Glenn said...

(s/b "...to emphasize...")

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Glenn,

Erring reason can indeed deem as good that which is not, as you rightly point out. But on Ed's reading of Aquinas, "Will is the power to be drawn toward what the intellect apprehends to be good, or away from what it apprehends to be bad. Intellect is 'in the driver's seat,' then." If intellect is 'in the driver's seat,' then it is not possible for the will to act at variance with erring reason - or for that matter with unerring reason - as you suppose. If intellect is 'in the driver's seat,' then the will does what reason commands, regardless of whether reason errs or not. And in that case, all sin would involve a failure of reasoning. I think this view is empirically false.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"The statement 'A owns B' logically implies the following:"

Actually it implies none of those things.

(i)My wife and I own two dogs and a cat. That we own them does not imply that they have no inherent value.

(ii) It also doesn't imply that we can do whatever we please to them…

(iii)…nor does it imply that it's impossible for us to wrong them.

"[W]hat he says is shocking enough."

Well, that's nice, but it doesn't explain or support your claim that Aquinas differs from Ockham less than Ed says he did. As I said, Ed has already acknowledged repeatedly that his summary was an oversimplification.

Call me uncharitable, but your track record in interpreting Ed (and anyone else) is not good and I'm not inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt here.

Glenn said...

Vincent,

If intellect is 'in the driver's seat,' then it is not possible for the will to act at variance with erring reason[.]

The unspoken corollary to which, apparently, is supposed to be, "Since the will can act at variance with erring reason, the intellect is not in the driver's seat."

I suppose that would be true if by being "in the driver's seat" is meant not just, e.g., being in control of a situation, but having a complete, total, absolute and inviolable control of a situation.

I must say, however, that you are the first adult I have encountered who holds to so drastic an interpretation of that particular idiomatic expression.

Still, an idiomatic expression is an expression whose meaning cannot be derived from its constituent elements, and it just isn't clear *to me) that the meaning you assign to it was included by Dr. Feser in his OP.

Vincent Torley said...

Glenn,

You write, "
Still, an idiomatic expression is an expression whose meaning cannot be derived from its constituent elements, and it just isn't clear *to me) that the meaning you assign to it was included by Dr. Feser in his OP."

Look, you could well be right, and I could well be wrong in my interpretation of what Ed has written. That was why I wrote to Ed, "you APPEAR to be suggesting that the will always chooses what the intellect, here and now, decrees to be good." A clarification from Ed himself would be much appreciated.

If you are correct in your interpretation, however, then the will is able to over-ride the intellect. In that case, the contrast between intellectualism and voluntarism is not as pronounced as we have been led to believe. I dount whether even Ockham would have denied that the intellect needs to grasp what something is before the will can decree it to be good (as opposed to apprehending it to be good, as intellectualists would hold). And I doubt whether Aquinas would have denied that God can on occasion decree something to be good on a purely arbitrary basis - e.g. going to church on Sundays rather than Saturdays, or refraining from eating pork rather than chicken. The difference between the two camps would then seem to boil down to whether there are certain decrees which not even God can make - e.g. God cannot decree idolatry or unnatural acts to be good. But on this point, I think most voluntarists (with the exception of hard-line voluntarists like Ockham) would surely agree with Aquinas.

Finally, I'd like to reiterate my point in my initial post on this blog: it seems to me that God's decision to create this world rather than that one, or even to create a world at all, must ultimately rest on Divine fiat (and hence, brute fact), as there is no objective reason why God should have created this world rather than some other, or none at all. In that case, it seems that Ed's version of PSR is too strong.

Glenn said...

Vincent,

A clarification from Ed himself would be much appreciated.

Until such time as he does – if he does -- try relying on the non-drastic interpretation which has enjoyed wide acceptance for a long period of time across multiple continents. ;)

Finally, I'd like to reiterate my point in my initial post on this blog: it seems to me that God's decision to create this world rather than that one, or even to create a world at all, must ultimately rest on Divine fiat (and hence, brute fact), as there is no objective reason why God should have created this world rather than some other, or none at all. In that case, it seems that Ed's version of PSR is too strong.

Okay, fine. He does say in the 14th para of the OP that he thinks the PSR would be false if everything were the product of divine fiat, so it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to think he might not disagree that if only some things (i.e., not everything), were the product of divine fiat, then the PSR, while not necessarily entirely false in this case, nonetheless would not be as strong as he thinks it actually is.

DNW said...

Vincent Torley said...


Sorry, but I think that a God who (according to Aquinas) can licitly order a man to kill innocent people (including, I might add, unborn children, ... is not so very different from Ockham's God.

It's true that Aquinas would have held (unlike Ockham) that God cannot order people to hate Him, to tell lies, to commit unnatural acts or to hate their parents, but all the same, what he says is shocking enough.
November 5, 2014 at 5:03 PM


I've always been interested in what people mean when they refer to "innocent" in such contexts. It may be no more than literally "unknowing".

But I think that the implication is usually there of the subject both being personally guiltless, as well as being the undeserving recipient an objective injustice.

This seems to clearly be a circular intellectual move which generates a false conundrum.

The question that naturally arises here is one that parallels that which arises when materialist atheists go on about their supposedly independent "moral compasses" and the cosmic injustices which they supposedly divine through their use of their magic compasses.

But on what logical basis does one justify the rhetorical deployment of a subjective value-judgment infused term, as if it had some universal and objectively recognizable social signification: when per stipulation, or at least presumptive context, you are denying it does?

"Evolution?" The, stale "We are 'programmed' as 'social beings' to feel that way" stuff; in what is in the standard framing held to be the same nature and reality which has no purpose, and wherein no "is" entails an "ought".

I mean what reason more, if you think about it, has the voluntarist himself for deploying the shock term "innocent" as if it carried an objective value, rather than a rhetorically convenient valorization?

Irish Thomist said...

@Glenn

That's fine. :) No worries.

I'm usually the one to be picky when someone is off the mark here (whether I agree or disagree with the point they are trying to convey).


Santi Tafarella said...

Dr. Feser writes: "[W]hat God wills and does is always rational or intelligible through and through," whereas "an extreme voluntarist conception of God would regard him primarily as a Supreme Will,...On this sort of view, what God wills and does is not ultimately intelligible even in itself, for he is in no sense bound by rationality. He simply wills what he wills, arbitrarily or whimsically, and there is ultimately no sense to be made of it."

So my questions then become the following:

--Does the Holocaust fit best under intellectualism or voluntarism? In other words, in deciding between competing goods, was God being rational to prefer Hitler's free will to the suffering of six million Jews?

--Does God have THE RIGHT ANSWER for Antigone and Creon in terms of prioritizing and choosing between their competing goods? (For Antigone, it was "bury-your-brother" vs. the State's command that she not do so; for King Creon it was "punish Antigone" for insolence vs. give her mercy.)

--If one devotes oneself to masturbation or art (a private pleasure), rather than helping gays and lesbians organize for equality and justice, is one being irrational?

It just seems to me that, obviously, if God exists, She is not Hegel, providing a direction to history through its Sturm und Drang. Instead, she has quite clearly set up the cosmos for whimsy; for the play of multiplicity, contingency, and competing goods, not for the business of working out a winner-take-all competition between the obviously good v. the obviously evil.

The rational response then, would seem to be to take our cue from God and be multiple ourselves; to not try to hold the impulses of our evolved brains and bodies in a single vision, but to be nomadic, unsettled, ironic and humorous (ala Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"). By all appearances, life really is "absurd, and death's the final word," and God thinks more like Proust than Aquinas.

So maybe God made the cosmos for whimsy, and has strewn the evidence for Her whimsy everywhere. Just look in the night sky. Astronomers tell us the moon itself is the debris of an ancient collision. God, it would seem, is speaking loud and clear, pointing at the moon like Dogen, and Feser is neither listening nor looking.

Santi Tafarella said...

Life, death, the Holocaust, history, and evolution all appear to tell us that there is no rational or single end to which the cosmos is tending. It seems, rather, to be quite contingent. The vastness of time and space point to "no point." And the multiplicity of objects in that vastness, great and small, points to dicing, to gambling; to things lasting for a bit under the gambit of their own contingent being, and then passing away when that gambit falters in its contingent confrontation with the ongoing flux of time and energy.

Any fossil will tell you what life's about, and its end. This is not hard. "Time and chance happeneth to them all."

Here's the full verse from Ecclesiastes 9:11 (KJV): "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

Even the author of Ecclesiastes sees that there is nothing "intelligible" (Feser's word for how he thinks God must ultimately behave) that is holding things together in a single, timeless, coherent narrative.

So maybe we shouldn't aspire to making of ourselves such an intelligible narrative either. Maybe we should relax a bit into being more like how Emily Dickinson described herself: "a kangaroo among the beauty."

A kangaroo with free will. Now that's an interesting game.

John West said...

Go away, Santi. You nasty troll.

Santi Tafarella said...

No John, you're the one trolling because you have nothing to say. You're trolling me. I deliberately avoided this thread until it died down, then I had my say. You are not being just. If somebody comes around to speak to me, or stumbles on me here, and wants to retort or converse, fine. It doesn't mean I hijacked the thread. To talk is their choice.

It's been a week since anyone has put anything on this thread. I wasn't trying to disrupt or derail an ongoing conversation. And threads are not zero sum games. Conversations can go on at multiple levels. I am just expressing my thoughts after reading Ed's thoughts; they are a foil for me to reflect, and to see if others have interesting things to say in response. I'm sorry you don't agree with me. That's fine. But diversity of opinion is something that most people take to be a good thing in a democracy.

John West said...

Santi, all it takes for someone to see through this bluster, is for them to read your two posts previous mine.

Go away.

Santi Tafarella said...

John,

I'm beginning to think that you make it about me because you don't actually have a good counter-argument to what I write, and that bothers you. But if my observations above are unreasonable, offer, please, your reasonable counter-observations, that they might be evaluated.

John West said...

I've simply seen, on the order of dozens and dozens of times now, and once for myself, that you neither respond to good arguments nor make any attempt to fix the endless gross fallacies in your own (which typically don't even meet the standard of an argument, and are mere assertions).

You just bang on with the same inflammatory rhetoric, repeating the same confuted drivel.

I'm not going to be trolled into an argument about whether or not you're a troll. Go away.

BenYachov said...


>I'm beginning to think that you make it about me because you don't actually have a good counter-argument.....


All that I have seen on this thread & others is devastating rebuttals to your ignorant nonsense.

Your "arguments" are morally & practically equivalent to the Young Earth Creationist pill who thinks the Second Law of Thermal dynamics "refutes" Evolution.

Or who thinks "Cats only give birth to cats. Dog beget dogs But Apes only give birth to other Apes how can an Ape give birth to a human being?" is an unanswerable argument against Evolution because an actual evolutionary biologist doesn't wish to waste his time on raw stupidity.


Your questions are moronic as is your silly isogesis of Holy Writ.

Silly Gnu.

BenYachov said...

@People

Should I give this Gnu the full BenYachov?

I am not doing anything late tonight.

Santi Tafarella said...

Ben and John,

Ah, yes. Thomism is on as firm a ground as the theory of evolution. You guys are funny.

And notice neither of you offer any actual counter-arguments, because, you know, um.

BenYachov said...

>Thomism is on as firm a ground as the theory of evolution.

That is as dumb a statement as Platonism is on as firm a ground as Quantum Gravity theory.

Or asking "What is the atomic weight of Natural Selection?"

Then going on to say;

"If natural selection doesn't have a measurable atomic weight then how can it be real or a true science like Physics?"

You are too funny Gnu.

BenYachov said...

Other dumb statements.

Reductionist materialism is on as firm a ground as the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

Objectivism is on as firm a ground as the theory of Cosmic Inflation.

The Theory of Forms is on as firm a ground as the Germ Theory of disease.

The Positivism runs deep in this Gnu.

Santi Tafarella said...

Prof. Feser wrote: "For Aquinas, what is good for us is necessarily good for us because it follows from our nature. As such, even God couldn’t change it, any more than he could make two and two equal to five."

Yet what is "our nature," and what is "good for us"? Here's what Aquinas never knew: evolution.

But Whitman knew it. And here's what he wrote: "As the greatest lessons of Nature through the universe are perhaps the lessons of variety and freedom, the same present the greatest lessons also in New World politics and progress." That's the first sentence of Whitman's "Democratic Vistas" (1867), written eight years after Darwin wrote "The Origin of Species" (1859).

In other words, before there are essences to be taken account of, evolution tells us that, for the human animal, there is hijacking of purposes; cleverness; a variety of gambits; vistas reached where humans can see beyond Nature's courses and inertias, and bypass them. "Variety and freedom" translates in contemporary politics to things such as contraception, gender equality, and gay marriage.

Aquinas couldn't have reasoned sensibly about these things because he didn't know Darwin; he didn't know what sort of animal he was even writing about. He knew none of our evolutionary history. He could no more talk sensibly about gender or homosexuality than he could about the nature of the stars. He was that far in the dark.

Something Aquinas didn't know (for example) is that our large and modular human brain is often in conflict with itself; it doesn't hold together in a single vision, and to one purpose. God, through evolution, didn't make it that way. God made us impulse players; imaginative exploiters of the contingent moment; gamblers into the future, not just respecters of the past. We are nomads as well as settlers. We are evolution accelerators. That's our nature.

So for Feser to reason about human nature without taking a full account of Darwin is problematic. To speak of essences in medieval terms, prior to submitting to the full deliverances of evolution and science as to what we are (and it's a complicated picture), is folly. At one point in Feser's post, for instance, he rattles off the popes, scripture, and tradition as reasons for no budging on certain moral issues, but those are not the starting places for reasoning about human nature in the 21st century. Evolution is. The tradition Feser appeals to came into existence before Darwin, and it needs to be re-imagined in the light of Darwin.

Santi Tafarella said...

Ben,

What is human nature in the light of evolution?

Scott said...

"And notice neither of you offer any actual counter-arguments, because, you know, um[…]"

…no arguments have been offered to counter. "I have arbitrarily announced X, and now it is up to you to refute it" is not an argument.

But I think you already know that.

Go away.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Ben,

Santi should simply ignored entirely. He is a troll and largely impervious to take downs. We should all resolve to ignore him as long as he remains so lacking in basic reasoning skills and hope Dr. Feser bans him if he strays from dying threads.

Crude said...

Actually, I almost endorse Ben and Ben alone going after Santi. Ben's resilient and seems to genuinely enjoy these things. The rest of us can simply move on, or watch with amusement.

So long as he knows in advance he's dealing with an intellectual waste of time. But then, Ben probably knows that.

BenYachov said...

@Crude

>So long as he knows in advance he's dealing with an intellectual waste of time. But then, Ben probably knows that.

I know.

Enjoy the show.

BenYachov said...

>What is human nature in the light of evolution?

Why are you asking a Philosophical question?

Don't you believe IN SCIENCE!!!!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FIMvSp01C8&spfreload=10

Already your question bores me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J_AUBT-PAo&spfreload=10


Scott writes:
>no arguments have been offered to counter. "I have arbitrarily announced X, and now it is up to you to refute it" is not an argument.

Which is why it's easy not to take this Dawkinoid seriously.

BenYachov said...

> He knew none of our evolutionary history. He could no more talk sensibly about gender or homosexuality than he could about the nature of the stars.

The Problem with homosexuality is that it's really gay!

So very very very gay.........

BenYachov said...

>Variety and freedom" translates in contemporary politics to things such as contraception, gender equality, and gay marriage.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH9yb9dx3lI

BenYachov said...

>So for Feser to reason about human nature without taking a full account of Darwin is problematic.


Ah but Darwin didn't understand particle physics!!!!

Did he even bother to try to measure the Atomic Weight of Natural Selection? Because if he had he would discover it was only an idea in his mind therefore it didn't have weight thus it didn't exist.

Wasting all that time looking at Fossils when he what he needed was a Large Hadron Collider.

Thus evolution must be false!!!

See I can "reason" like Santi & dudes it is better then any primo stuff I smoked in college.

BenYachov said...

>But Whitman knew it. And here's what he wrote: "As the greatest lessons of Nature through the universe are perhaps the lessons of variety and freedom, the same present the greatest lessons also in New World politics and progress." That's the first sentence of Whitman's "Democratic Vistas" (1867), written eight years after Darwin wrote "The Origin of Species" (1859).


Ah but was it not the fallen Jedi Master Sorzus Syn who wrote:

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall set me free me.

Surely if Darwin had only lived to see the Star Wars Trilogy and the prequels (& survived the existential despair of watching Jar Jar Binks) he would have had a better understanding of the nature of man?

He could have been lead to abandon natural selection the moment they turned on a particle accelerator & found it had no atomic weight.

It's obvious!

PS. I should note I reject the earlier Sith Code as underdeveloped. I believe it's important to add the words of the great Darth Revan to the code.

"This is the way of the Dark Side! All things end in Death".

This gives final causality to everything. :-)

Glenn said...

A certain teacher of literature mentions Whitman's "Democratic Vistas", in which Whitman wrote:

"The great literatus will be known, among the rest, by his cheerful simplicity, his adherence to natural standards, his limitless faith in God, his reverence, and by the absence in him of doubt, ennui, burlesque, persiflage, or any strain'd and temporary fashion."

Santi Tafarella said...

Prof. Feser writes in this post the following: "[O]n the conception of free will as 'freedom for excellence,' which is endorsed by Aquinas, the will is inherently directed toward the good in the sense that pursuit of the good is its final cause."

This is a place where Thomistic reasoning about sex clearly goes off the rails. The Thomist's frowning on masturbation and oral sex (for example) becomes akin to the Leninist's frowning on comrade Kandinsky for spending too much time painting and not enough time organizing for the Workers' Party. In other words, Aquinas puts forward an ideological notion of what the human being is, harnessing the will to a singular focus that doesn't take proper account of individual contingency, pleasure, whimsy, and private goals. It's too cookie-cutter.

All serious business and no masturbation, sexual exploration, imagination, play, or art, makes Jack a dull and neurotic boy.

So if you're going to forbid to humans something so central to them (joy in sexual novelty), and reject gender equality (female priests) and gay marriage, the reasons need to be very, very good ones. Simply saying, using pre-Darwinian reasoning, that God meant for sex organs and the human will to be harnessed solely to their reproductive purposes and the ultimate good will not do when evolution has informed us repeatedly that humans are not unitary animals, but an evolved conglomeration of contingent and often open-ended purposes. Our needs are multiple; our evolutionary strategy is repurposing and variety; our focus is not naturally on a universal singularity.

Compromise among the competing and layered parts of ourselves is thus more likely to make for human flourishing than blanket sexual suppressions (no homosexuality, no crossing certain gender lines, no masturbation, no contraception, etc). Reasoning in the 21st century about human nature while taking little account of evolution is barely reasoning at all.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: Actually, I almost endorse Ben and Ben alone going after Santi.

Ah, Crude, you’re so genteel and reserved. I utterly and wholeheartedly endorse siccing BenYachov — and BenYachov alone! — on our latest anti-intellectual.
There have, of course, been previous instances when I have objected to the nuclear option: this time is not those times. Indeed, there is only one man I would recommend for the job.

Have at it, BenYachov.


BenYachov: Ah but Darwin didn't understand particle physics!!!!
Did he even bother to try to measure the Atomic Weight of Natural Selection?


I bow before the master.

Santi Tafarella said...

Prof. Feser, responding to the Philip K. Dick quote, writes: "[W]ill follows upon intellect, and it is of its nature directed toward what the intellect perceives as good or lovable." This, I think, is true, but Dick's intention seems to be simpler than this: if you use your intellect to close yourself off from other people, you risk losing your humanity. It's like that scene in Atlas Shrugged where the train goes off the rails and Rand writes about it without remorse, as if the passengers who died had it coming to them.

Here's how Whittaker Chambers put it in National Review: "[Atlas Shrugged] supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber — go!' The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too (in the total absence of any saving humor), in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture — that Dollar Sign, for example. At first, we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive."

Whittaker's "discriminating knack" is the heart that will warn the intellect "in time," before it drives love over a cliff. This is the sense in which will should function to alert and restrain the intellect. You don't want to end up unbending, like King Creon in Antigone. If your intellect justifies inequality, callousness, harshness, and cruelty (no masturbation, no women priests, no gay marriage, etc), the resisting heart should not be silenced, and the intellect's deliverances should be re-evaluated.

Santi Tafarella said...

An example of Aquinas putting his intellect ahead of his heart in a manner akin to "To a gas chamber--go!" and Philip K. Dick's android (from the Summa, Supplement q. 94):

"Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned."

Gottfried said...

Santi,

I hope for your sake that you someday acquire the self-knowledge and intellectual honesty to be ashamed of the sideshow you've put on here.

BenYachov said...


gay weirdo writes:
>no homosexuality, no crossing certain gender lines, no masturbation, no contraception, etc). Reasoning in the 21st century about human nature while taking little account of evolution is barely reasoning at all.


I reply:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlbR8H2hJZM&spfreload=10

Mr. Green

>I bow before the master.

I reply: Among the Sith always two there are a Master and an Apprentice.

One to embody the Power! The other to crave it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRkKbdIFZGM&spfreload=10

Jeremy Taylor said...

Crude,

Ben is putting on one hell of a show. The problem will be if Santi progresses from the dead to living threads. Whatever he says, threads are not zero sum.

Scott said...

I'm in full agreement with Mr. Green. Release…the Ben!

John West said...

"Ah but Darwin didn't understand particle physics! [...] Wasting all that time looking at Fossils when what he needed was a Large Hadron Collider."

Brilliant. In fact, I'm stealing it for next time someone makes this type of appeal.

Glenn said...

An example of Aquinas putting his intellect ahead of his heart[:]

"Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned."


Contary to your intended use of the quotation, and in keeping with what it actually says, the comparison with a contrary spoken of is not about elevating oneself at the expense of others, nor is it about feeling superior.

Since you seem to belong to the pluck-my-heart-strings camp, here's a comparison-with-a-contrary note that may be music to your dog-who-has-esaped ears:

In The Horse Whisperer, there is an accident involving a young girl and her horse. Both are severely injured, and the girl winds up with a partially amputated leg. She is bitter, and in danger of disappearing forever in a morass of self-pity. She hasn't disappeared just yet, so in an effort to reduce the chance that she will, the case of someone who has is brought to her attention:

"There was a boy from the Blackfeet reservation, he used to do some work around here for a while. Sixteen, strong kid, good kid. He and I were really, really good friends. One day he went swimming and dove headfirst into the lake... and right into a rock. And it snapped his neck, paralyzed him. And after the accident I'd look in on him from time to time. But he wasn't there. It was like his mind, his spirit, whatever you want to call it, just disappeared. The only thing left was just anger. Just sort of as if the... the boy I once knew just went somewhere else."

"I know where he goes."

"I know you do. Don't you disappear."

The young girl was permeable, got the message, and stuck around. (The boy, alas, is still lost.)

Santi Tafarella said...

Glenn,

I like the quote you offered. When Blake, for example, did the cover piece to his "Songs of Experience," I seem to recall that he puts a person weeping over someone who is dead, but if the person only looked up, she would notice that angels are dancing overhead.

Certainly my ironic pessimism could be a tragic mistake on that level, missing beauty and the bigger picture by focusing on reality's current appearances.

I get it.

The passage you cite, however, can also be read in the other direction, where one leaves reality and doesn't face it. Religion certainly functions like self-pity for many people, where the self-pity manifests as narcissism and a determination to "love not the world, neither the things in the world, etc."

There are all sorts of ways to check out.

One thing I like about Buddhism is that it tries to get people to work with the world as it actually appears to be, and to not bring an excess of wishful thinking into one's emotional life.

But maybe that also makes it too Stoic and unimaginative (and lacking in hope).

In any case, the quote you offer is interesting and complex in implication. Thanks for sharing it.

BenYachov said...

>"Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned."

I reply: Because everyone knows it would be wrong to take delight in watching an unrepentant, smug, hypocritical, self-righteous, & cowardly arsehole, who likes to torture rape & murder little children get his eternal well deserved comeuppance.

http://www.orionsarm.com/page/233

We need to show compassion to unrepentant arsehole everywhere.

I'm serious otherwise what hope is there for moi?

Santi Tafarella said...

John West:

I think it's quite fascinating that you agree with Ben that one can sensibly reason about human nature, sex, and gender in the 21st century absent Darwin and the deliverances of biology and anthropology.

Why isn't Thomistic reasoning about human nature absent evolution akin to the young Earth creationist who brackets off his own reasoning about human nature absent evolution?

Thomas made assumptions about sex, gender, and human nature absent the least knowledge of the sorts of evolutionary creatures we actually are. He assumed an act of special creation in a garden in Mesopotamia perhaps 6,000 years prior to his writing. He assumed that there was no death prior to Adam and Eve's original sin. He assumed that the first woman was a "weaker vessel" made out of the body of the first man as a helper to him in reproduction (that was her central role, to support the man). He assumed that man is superior to woman. We now know that not a single one of these assumptions is correct.

In making this observation, it doesn't seem to me that the right response is "Category mistake! You can't mix metaphysics with evolution," but rather, "Thanks to Darwin, Thomism needs to go back to the drawing board."

Bracketing Aquinas to the side for the moment, what do you believe human nature is in the light of evolution? And if it's different from what Thomas concluded, what is to be done about the competing evolutionary narrative? Blow it off? Incorporate it into Thomism so as to generate a hybrid perspective? Simply give up on Thomism?

Greg said...

@ Santi

Bracketing Aquinas to the side for the moment...

Bracket yourself to the side for the moment.

I am sorry. That will be all.

John West said...

"I think it's quite fascinating that you agree with Ben that one can sensibly reason about human nature, sex, and gender in the 21st century absent Darwin and the deliverances of biology and anthropology."

Ah, but you seem to think Darwin could sensibly reason about animal nature, sex, and [sex] absent particle physics and knowledge of the fundamental atoms to which they reduce.

Oh, nevermind. I'm taking the advice of others here. He's all yours, Mr. Yachov.

Santi Tafarella said...

John West:

I think one issue here is that Aquinas was one of the Lenninists of his day. In other words, for Aquinas, there was only The Party. His metaphysical assumption was that nothing should be done without reference to the The Party; that all focus should have The Party at the fore. Aquinas was perfectly willing to hijack his own organism into the service of The Party, and did all of his reasoning from there.

So evolution made us hijackers, including Aquinas. We can, using our clever brains, disrupt the normal course of things to our purposes. Imagination before essence. That's our evolutionary strategy; our superpower (just as the eagle's superpower is strong wings, claws, and vision).

So the ideological impulse characteristic of Thomas and Lenin is to deploy this hijacking evolutionary strategy in a very particular way. It makes a single version of hijacking universal; it subsumes a diversity of human evolutionary functions to one large goal taken to be the "should" and "ought" that all should strive toward. You ought to be a Communist; you ought to orient to the God of Christianity, which is the highest good. Those who don't orient to this bigger Thing, however imagined, are deviant.

It makes for a difficult atmosphere for eccentric joys and interests, dissent, imagination, play, art, and science (as Michelangelo discovered in relation to Savonarola, Galileo discovered in relation to the Inquisition, and Trotsky discovered in relation to Stalin).

Ideological thinking is singular, universal, conformist thinking. It's not the way Whitman's "variety and freedom" (the insights he drew from Nature and evolution) inclines us as a species, which makes ideologies very unstable absent harshness, powerful carrots and sticks, violence, etc.

And so you need a lot of powerful psychological techniques to make people stay put ideologically in a free society. You can't force people. You've got to spell-cast them with words, not swords, otherwise diversity, like entropy, will assert itself again. This is why there's such turbulence within the Catholic Church over the new Pope's liberalism, masturbation, women priests, contraceptive technologies, gay marriage, divorce, and remarriage. We're multiple, and the ideology, resisting Nature, is singular.

Glenn said...

Santi,

Thank you for your response. If I may say, in a friendly way, you sounded rational for a change. ;)

The passage you cite, however, can also be read in the other direction, where one leaves reality and doesn't face it. Religion certainly functions like self-pity for many people, where the self-pity manifests as narcissism and a determination to "love not the world, neither the things in the world, etc."

There are all sorts of ways to check out.


Yes, there are all sorts of ways to check out. And if by this you mean to suggest that, e.g., religion can be misused, then you're 100% correct. And no person of sound mind would deny that.

But, then, no person of sound mind would deny that just about anything can be misused (or, to make use of your terminology, inappropriately 'repurposed').

Does that make the thing misused, as it is in and of itself, necessarily bad or wrong? I would say not.

St. Thomas himself observed that, e.g., "It very often happens that contemplatives, because they are docile, are the first to become acquainted with a knowledge of the mysteries of Christ--but they do not enter, for sometimes there is knowledge, but little or no love follows."

But he also noted that, and this is a paraphrasing, abuse does not do away with use. If it did, then, since most of us ab/mis-use (or have ab/mis-used) our faculty of reason from time to time, most of us should undergo a frontal lobotomy (to keep us from using in the future what we have ab/mis-used in the past).

One thing I like about Buddhism is that it tries to get people to work with the world as it actually appears to be, and to not bring an excess of wishful thinking into one's emotional life.

A non-superficial Buddhism is not concerned with considering the world to be as it actually appears, but is concerned with the reality underlying its appearances.

Thanks again for your response.

Greg said...

@ Santi

I think one issue here is that Aquinas was one of the Lenninists of his day.

I think one issue here is that you post whatever contrived analogy comes to your mind, however inane.

Glenn said...

Santi,

Since you're a literature guy, and one with some interest in the appearance of things, here are two short stories, both by Herman Hesse, for your reading pleasure: The Indian Life (which deals with the world of appearances), and The Father Confessor (which, for one thing, shows that the reality of a matter is not always as it appears to be).

Jeremy Taylor said...

Marco Palis on Buddhism, Aquinas, and archetypes/essentialism :

Whatever exists in a relative sense, as an element in the samsaric vortex, must needs have its corresponding place in the still waters of nirvanic consciousness; the colours of the spectrum find their synthesis in the uncoloured light of the Void, coming in and out of it as existential contingency may require; but, for all this scintillating interplay of light and shadow, they will subsist there in the eternal present, as archetypal potency and actuality, two in one. It was St Thomas Aquinas who said, when speaking of God, that for Him there is no difference between potentiality and act. This is good Buddhism - one but has to transpose the Angelic Doctor's statement into the language of the Bodhic dharma in order to recognise similar, if differently expressed, teachings.

John West said...

Mr. Taylor,

I don't understand the statement, "for [God] there is no difference between potentiality and act." Could you (or anyone who wishes) clarify?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Kathleen Raine on Blake's influences and views:

They [Blake and Jung] had read the same books - essentially the Platonic tradition, the Neoplatonists and the Hermetica, the Gnostics and the Alchemists, Boehme and Paracelsus and Swedenborg. Blake had discovered and given new life, at the end of the eighteenth century, to the hidden traces of the perennial philosophy, which, in the words of his one-time friend Thomas Taylor the Platonist, is 'coeval with the universe itself; and however its continuity may be broken by opposing systems, it will make its appearance at different periods of time, as long as the sun himself shall continue to illuminate the world (Eleusinian and Bacchic mysteries, Introduction)'. Blake's 'system' that to scholars trained in modern Western universities has often appeared obscure is in reality grounded Plato and the pre-Socratics, Plotinus and the Neoplatonic succession, which through Ficino and the Florentine School continued to be, both outside and within Christianity, the mainstream of European civilisation until superseded by the modern scientific school.

So, which prat was trying to link Blake with Dawkins and Galileo. He has more in common with Paracelsus (a name which should send shivers down the spine of a good scientistic materialist).

Jeremy Taylor said...

John West,

He is referring to God as pure act.

John West said...

Thank you, Mr. Taylor. Despite the earlier insinuation that I'm a radical Thomist ideologue, that was not obvious to me.

John West said...

I wonder what the Buddhists would say about intuitionist logic and its rejection of the LEM.

Santi Tafarella said...

Glenn,

In your most recent post above, I basically agree with everything you said, but I'd also like to respond to your comment on Buddhism.

You said: "A non-superficial Buddhism is not concerned with considering the world to be as it actually appears, but is concerned with the reality underlying its appearances."

I agree that Buddhism contains a reality-appearance concern akin to that of the ancient Greeks and subsequent Thomism, but it also arrives at a very different conclusion from Thomism. That insight is anti-essentialist: "No flower in the flower." In other words, the things that appear in the world are paradoxical; they might seem to have stable identities for a time, but are in reality unstable and mutually interdependent, arising, ripening, and passing away, often quite quickly.

More Heraclitus than Aquinas is the Buddha. Identity is empty, incapable of being separated from relations, and on the move.

So in terms of being realistic, the Buddha would suggest that we get some equanimity going around the transitory nature of things. Don't cling.

The anti-essentialist insight of Buddhism--its Anatman doctrine (no-self; without Atman doctrine) is thus particularly well-suited to our fast-paced, networked, and ecology oriented global village. It goes well with evolution and Whitman ("variety and freedom"), and can be readily naturalized by Westerners who are inclined to want to do so. As such, I'm guessing that Buddhism's stock with educated Westerners is likely to continue to rise. It aligns almost perfectly with contemporary common sense. I think, by contrast, that Thomism presents itself to the contemporary mind as largely anachronistic and authoritarian, something appealing to highly educated conservatives (perhaps), but hardly anyone else.

Santi Tafarella said...

Glenn,

Thanks for the story recommendations. I'll try to get to them this week. I tend to prefer books to links, so if you ever have a book recommendation, such as a collection of stories that have these pieces in them, that's great as well. Thanks again.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

Likening a universalist religious ideology (Thomism) to a universalist political ideology (Leninism), and noticing the single-minded focus brought by believers to the "higher goal" set for each, is not a "contrived analogy," but an insight.

No wasting time masturbating for Thomists; no wasting time making bourgeois art for Lenninists. There's more important work to be done.

Thomism's theorizing of human nature is a product of the ideological mind committed to universal conformity to a goal. Of course Thomas would theorize human nature as "essentially rational" and therefore inescapably oriented to Thomas' highest goal: God, the greatest and most "essentially rational" being. Failure to pursue the goal marks you as irrational and morally deviant. An ideologist like Thomas never assumes good will on the part of non-adherents. They must be disordered and wrongly motivated in some manner not to get with the program. ("Get with the program, stay with the program, don't doubt the program.")

Likewise with Leninism. Lenin too thought that orientation to the Party was grounded in reason, and would bring about the highest human happiness. Deviants were enemies, not of God, but of the State. All ideologues on a mission, secular or religious, think they've stumbled on the ONE THING that will rationally fill the emptiness of humans.

The sort of mind devoted to singularity and conformity, not variety, makes social movements go. Such a mind is always going to posit a theory of human nature that makes one part of the human being essential and rational, and all other parts incidental or accidental. And if those incidental or accidental parts get in the way of the higher goal, they are to be brought under "rational" control.

So the whole ideology ballgame, religious or secular, is exposed by noticing the hedgehog nature of ideological intellectuals. ("The fox knows many things, the hedgehog one big thing.") Historically, Aquinas and Lenin were hedgehog thinkers.

Evolution, of course, is an anti-hedgehog thing; an anti-essentialist thing (most especially with regard to clever humans). Though evolution gave the hedgehog a singular evolutionary strategy, and many humans have hedgehog temperaments that salivate to hedgehog-ism, evolution itself is variety. It bypasses efforts at hegemony by casting up multiplicity, and so runs counter to all singularity narratives.

Jeremy Taylor said...

From the introduction to Marco Pallis's A Buddhist Spectrum: Contributions to Buddhist-Christian Dialogue :

If one travels among the Buddhists of Asia, one detects among those who still practice their tradition a sense of the sacred, of transcendence, and of the world of the Spirit, while many a Western student of Buddhism, even if personally attracted to it, presents Buddhism as if it were simply an Oriental version of the anti-Christian humanism and even nihilism which has caused many Westerners to leave their own tradition in quest of another universe of discourse and meaning. Pallis, although himself coming from a Christian background to Buddhism, points out the errors inherent in this crypto-rationalistic and humanistic presentation of Buddhism. His work stands in fact as the antipode of that kind of exposition and serves as an antidote to the misunderstanding resulting from that secularised version of Buddhism so prevalent in the Western world today. In Pallis's presentation of the message of the Buddha one recognises a great religion as lived and practice by the people of the Orient with its strict morality and a sacred art of transcendent beauty rather than being seen as an ally of that rationalism and humanism which have been eating away at the sinews and bones of the Christian West since the renaissance.

And as Pallis writes in his chapter on Archetypes, as seen through Buddhist eyes :

Uniting with one's archetype, this is what home means for every being that ever was: moksha, deliverance means nothing else. The land of archetypes is the Pure Land. The Greek Fathers from quite early times had a word for this repatriation; they called it 'deification'...uniting with one's archetype is but to rejoin that which is one already is 'in God', to quote Meister Eckhart's phrase once again. The essential 'non-duality' of samsara and nirvana is our proof that such is possible once that arch-prodigal, the samsaric wanderer, has made tracks for the parental home where the dreary cycle of birth and death may once and for all be ended.
Of all things proceeding from a cause, the cause has been shown by Him-thus-come and also their cessation, the great Mendicant has declared. So speaks the Vinaya-pitaka Mahavagga I, 23. The message of the archetypes is but speaking the same hope.


One wonders what these educated Westerners will think if they ever discover genuine Buddhism!

You see, the troll does not know of that which he speaks. He takes a few themes or notions from topics which he takes no time to properly understand and uses them, reinterpreted according to his own whims, as a starting point for his own vague and impressionist ramble, which has little or nothing to with the original subject matter. He is at least consistent, I suppose. He is so anti-essentialist that he doesn't balk at creating a Blake or Buddha entirely different from the actual ones.

Greg said...

@ Santi

An ideologist like Thomas never assumes good will on the part of non-adherents.

Are you joking me? Have you ever read Catholic moral theology, or do you just make stuff up? Aquinas-inspired moral theology focuses substantially on subjective culpability. The focus stems from Jesus's call not to judge. We can tell people when they are engaging in a disordered object, but we cannot make presumptions about their subjective culpability.

This is moral theology 101.

You have shown yourself, again, to be unserious and lacking in good faith.

Greg said...

@ Santi

An ideologist like Thomas never assumes good will on the part of non-adherents.

Are you joking me? Have you ever read Catholic moral theology, or do you just make stuff up? Aquinas-inspired moral theology focuses substantially on subjective culpability. The focus stems from Jesus's call not to judge. We can tell people when they are engaging in a disordered object, but we cannot make presumptions about their subjective culpability.

This is moral theology 101.

You have shown yourself, again, to be unserious and lacking in good faith.

Glenn said...

Santi,

I agree that Buddhism contains a reality-appearance concern akin to that of the ancient Greeks and subsequent Thomism, but it also arrives at a very different conclusion from Thomism.

A mundane observation: Buddhism, the ancient Greeks and Thomism are not all one and the same.

That insight is anti-essentialist: "No flower in the flower."

You said only that each of Buddhism, the ancient Greeks and Thomism contain a reality-appearance concern, and that Buddhism arrives at one conclusion and Thomism at another. As arriving at a recognition of the former commonality and arriving at a recognition of the latter difference require no insight, it's not at all clear what insight you might be referring to.

In other words, the things that appear in the world are paradoxical; they might seem to have stable identities for a time, but are in reality unstable and mutually interdependent, arising, ripening, and passing away, often quite quickly.

Particular instantiations pass away all the time. Think ye a Thomist might be unaware of that? Or that a Buddhist might be unaware that additional instantiations come into being just as often?

More Heraclitus than Aquinas is the Buddha.

Coincidentally or not, more Christian is Aquinas than the Buddha (and more Greek were the ancient Greeks than either Aquinas or the Buddha). And the point is...?

Identity is empty, incapable of being separated from relations, and on the move.

If there is something called 'identity', and there is something called 'relations', then, be they inseparable or not, they are two things. So, where there is a flower, there is some collection of 'relations' (which relations we call 'a flower') which constitutes, is a reflection of and/or exists concomitantly with 'identity' (which identify we call 'flower').

Speaking of flowers, here are some choice quotes from one translation of the Dhammapada: The Buddha's Path of Wisdom:

o As a mighty flood sweeps away the sleeping village, so death carries away the person of distracted mind who only plucks the flowers (of pleasure).

o The Destroyer brings under his sway the person of distracted mind who, insatiate in sense desires, only plucks the flowers (of pleasure).

o Not the sweet smell of flowers, not even the fragrance of sandal, tagara, or jasmine blows against the wind. But the fragrance of the virtuous blows against the wind. Truly the virtuous man pervades all directions with the fragrance of his virtue.

o Of all the fragrances -- sandal, tagara, blue lotus and jasmine -- the fragrance of virtue is the sweetest.

o Faint is the fragrance of tagara and sandal, but excellent is the fragrance of the virtuous, wafting even amongst the gods.

If you dislike Thomism for its concern with virtue, and wish to embrace (real) Buddhism, then be forewarned: you'll be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Glenn said...

Santi,

A few more choice quotes from the same translation of the Dhammapada:

o A fool who knows his foolishness is wise at least to that extent, but a fool who thinks himself wise is a fool indeed.

o Though all his life a fool associates with a wise man, he no more comprehends the Truth than a spoon tastes the flavor of the soup.

o Lead a righteous life; lead not a base life. The righteous live happily both in this world and the next.

o For a liar who has violated the one law (of truthfulness) who holds in scorn the hereafter, there is no evil that he cannot do.

- - - - -

Also, you can find the two short stories in Hesse's novel, The Glass Bead Game (sometimes also called Magister Ludi). It was reprinted just last year.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

I agree I shouldn't have used the word "never." In the Summa it says that one can reason with a nonbeliever if he (it's always a "he") holds a different doctrine, and is open and searching. On the other hand, if the person persists in his view, and does not come around to the Orthodox position, it becomes a sin of willfulness on his part, and Aquinas is quite clear what is to happen in that instance (SMT SS Q[11] A[3] Body Para. 1/2):

"I answer that, With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death. On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death."

Aquinas's use of the word "exterminated" here is particularly chilly.

John West said...

"One wonders what these educated Westerners will think if they ever discover genuine Buddhism!"

Poor Schopenhauer.

Greg said...

@ Santi

The conclusion he reaches is that if forgers of money should be put to death, then heretics should be as well (after admonishment).

You also suggest that this is a conclusion about "nonbelievers," but it's not. In the article above he defines heresy as a corruption of Christianity. (Hence in the medieval periods Christians never exterminated the Jewish or Muslim populations living in the region, even though they obviously did not "come around to the Orthodox position.")

Aquinas's use of the word "exterminated" here is particularly chilly.

You mean the translator's?

This is the Santi par-for-the-course. Make a bombastic claim, and support it by picking out a paragraph to read uncharitably.

Historically, Aquinas and Lenin were hedgehog thinkers.

Incidentally, there is absolutely no question that Isaiah Berlin would have classified Aquinas as a fox, because Aquinas was a consummate Aristotelian in method, scope, and inspiration, and Berlin classified Aristotle as a fox. As usual, you are taking someone's idea and twisting it into a grotesque knot, which reveals that it is bereft of content. (Of course, hedgehogs were never taken to be equivalent to ideological conformity-imposers anyway.)

Or perhaps it is just a coincidence that you are appealing to the same line that Berlin does, and you are just doing so less artfully.

Greg said...

(Of course, hedgehogs were never taken to be equivalent to ideological conformity-imposers anyway.)

I'll add that Berlin's interest in this distinction was the apparent coherence of reading Tolstoy as a fox striving to be a hedgehog. The distinction does not track Santi's application at all.

Santi Tafarella said...

Glenn,

You said that "identity" and "relations" are "two things," and therefore "where there is a flower, there is some collection of 'relations'..."

But I think the Buddha would be comfortable dropping the identity portion of your equation, concluding that identity is an illusion of relation.

In other words, identity can't be separated out from its web of relations any more than a word can be separated out from the dictionary and still mean something. What the Buddha observes of beings, Wittgenstein observes with regard to language: a word has to be part of a language game to "mean" anything. There's no essence to any word separated from the dictionary. Same for you, me, and the flower. We're nodes in a web of shifting relations.

So if you're anything, you're all of it. Buddhism is nondual. You can't step out of the web and history and still be something. If you're Socrates and you know about the Eiffel Tower, then you're different from if you were Socrates and didn't know about the Eiffel Tower. There's no essential Socrates, "the rational animal," who just happens incidentally or by accident to know (or not know) about the Eiffel Tower. Socrates is a node in the web of relations, and he is located in that web in part by whether or not he knows about the existence of the Eiffel Tower or not. What you make important about Socrates' knowledge of this is INTERPRETATION; you're not identifying his "essence" one way or the other. Nietzsche made this point when he wrote, "There are no facts, only interpretations."

Likewise with numbers. There's no essence to any number. What's the essence, for example, of the number 4? Obviously, the number 4 designates a relation. It is a node in the system of numbers, less than 5, more than 3; what separates 1025 from 1029, etc.). There are lots of things you can say about 4, but not a single thing about 4's essence, because its only meaning is in its relations. 4 IS its relations.

This is why, as I talk to Thomists here, I'm increasingly skeptical of the essence-accident distinction in all its versions. Basically, the essence part can be dropped without the least harm. "I'm a rational animal." "I have hazel eyes." I'm sitting eight feet to the left of a Magnum photo book right now." There's no need to make the first sentence essential, and the other two sentences inessential and accidental. Really, it's all contingency, accident, and relation. There's no need for hierarchy, just description and relation. The rest is interpretation. I think Buddha hit upon this, as did Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, whereas Thomas missed it.

Santi Tafarella said...

John West:

You're "Poor Schopenhauer" observation was clever and made me smile.

John West said...

Possibly my comment was just repurposed. Ah me.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg:

Thomism is what happens when a fox like Aristotle gets hijacked by a hedgehog like Aquinas. The eudomonia of Aristotle (for example) is certainly not channeled into the single-focused God-goal that Aquinas turned it into. And of course Berlin's observation of Tolstoy exactly tracks my own analogy: in Tolstoy's case, he was a fox of diversity and complexity in his novel writing, even as he tried, in later life, to become a single-minded religious believer.

(Tolstoy's "A Confession," by the way, is amazing, if you've never read it.)

Greg said...

@ Santi

Thomism is what happens when a fox like Aristotle gets hijacked by a hedgehog like Aquinas. The eudomonia of Aristotle (for example) is certainly not channeled into the single-focused God-goal that Aquinas turned it into.

This is not the distinction to which Berlin was attending. For Aristotle, eudaimonia is the aim of everyone's life in the same sense that God (beatitudo) is for Aquinas. In fact, Aristotle held that the highest pursuit was contemplation of the Prime Mover.

That does not make Aristotle a hedgehog either, of course, because that is not what Berlin's distinction is getting at.

Glenn said...

Santi,

You said that "identity" and "relations" are "two things,"

I responded to what you wrote, and you wrote that 'identity' and 'relations' are two things incapable of being separated ("Identity is empty, incapable of being separated from relations").

Buddhism is nondual.

Buddhism itself is not non-dual; it asserts that ultimate reality is non-dual**. It also claims that the freedom from your suffering is available by following its 8-fold path of: right view, right intention, right action, right speech, right livelihood, right effort and right mindfulness. And for naive aspirants, such as yourself, who do not understand what right view, right intention, right action, right speech, right livelihood, right effort and right mindfulness are, it is chockfull of explanations, explications and elucidations involving comparisons with their contraries (of wrong view, wrong intention, wrong action, wrong speech, wrong livelihood, wrong effort and wrong mindfulness).

- - - - -

** I suggest you re-read Jeremy's comment of 11/14 6:05pm, and his response to John West's question re that comment.

BenYachov said...

gay weirdo writes:
>if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death."

No modern Catholic not even the most staunch Traditionalist I know advocates this(Vatican II). Not everything Aquinas says is gospel & as the old saying goes "even Aquinas got the Immaculate Conception wrong".

But Santi is a Dawkins supporter.

WDDS? What Does Dawkins Say?

“Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

I guess "mild paedophilia" is when a liberal, a public school teacher, someone from Hollywood or a Muslim from Rotherham is the perpetrator and not a member of the Catholic Clergy.

Then it's ok in the Dawkins mind to bonk children.

Still according to the Dawk if my saintly Catholic Mother had done unspeakable things to me that should not be named it would have been better for her to have done so then what she actually had done to me. That is give me my first instructions in the Catholic faith.

For him teaching religion to a child is worst than sexually abusing him.

Dawkins teaches Evolution. Well it's clear in addition to the brute fact we cannot measure the atomic weight Natural Selection we cannot enforce Evolution since it is clearly linked with anti-religious extremism and acting as an apologist for sex abuse.

It's obvious!

BenYachov said...


gay weirdo writes:
>The Thomist's frowning on masturbation and oral sex (for example) becomes akin to the Leninist's frowning on comrade Kandinsky for spending too much time painting and not enough time organizing for the Workers' Party.


I reply:

O Lord, do we have the strength to carry off this mighty task in one night? Or are we just jerking off?""Reverend Johnson-BLAZING SADDLES



"Jumpsuit Chick #1: First you give us the continuum transfunctioner, then we give you oral pleasure.
Jesse: I've heard that one before..."
-DUDE WHERE'S MY CAR.

Jeremy Taylor said...

The Anonymous troll in response to Dr. Feser's latest blog post:

Does theology, especially that based on the idea of a creator-God have anything to do with Reality?

All modes of human religion and science are point of view based systems of presumed knowledge that prescribe and limit what is known and what is allowable to be known.

All modes of human religion and science are attempts to tribalize and thus to localize and control knowledge, such that it characterizes and protects a collective political, social, and cultural mode of mind.

All modes of human religion and science are systematic patterns of mind that are impulsed to acquire or assimilate all particular subjects in order - by objectifying, naming, categorizing, symbolically representing, and systematically interiorizing and enclosing them - to appropriate, exploit, control, replace, and ultimately, eviscerate and annihilate them.

All modes of human religion and science seek to dominate all subjects (including the Divine as subject), via substitution ideas - either by means of sacred conceptual language, such as Deity myths and otherwise religious modes of philosophical language, or by means of secular conceptual language such as materiality myths and otherwise scientific modes of philosophical language.

All modes of human religion or science - including all Deity myths or God-ideas, and all materiality myths or objective-reality-ideas - are artifacts of the human ego-effort to protect and extend the local interests of human collectives by means of idea-invocation, wherein and whereby Reality is identified as an opponent, objectified as an other, invoked as an ally, indulged and exploited as a captive, and, at last, desecrated and destroyed as a convicted criminal and victim via a universal scapegoat "game".


In the domain of humanly created religion the "catholic" church is obviously the most "successful" example of this enclose and destroy universal scapegoat "game". Even while all the time pretending otherwise and using Thomistic metaphysics (etc) to justify its destructive presence and actions in the world.


Is this Santi? It reminds me of his impressionistic, vague waffle. Is it someone parodying him?

John West said...

Why are these people (or person) incapable of writing arguments? It's always line after line of dogmatic assertions.

I know Thomism is a hard metaphysic to attack, because it takes time to learn. Still, why can't someone whose read some Oppy or something and a basic logic text come around, just once?

John West said...

And yes, it does read like Santi trying to hide his identity, but failing.

BenYachov said...

Ah if only Gnus would read Oppy instead of Dawkins we might take them more seriously and have a read argument on our hands.

But no they want to be totally gay.*

But alas as the old pagan saying goes "Against stupidity even the gods themselves contend in vain."

*I should note in this context by "gay" I don't mean homosexual I mean "gay" as in getting a Jar Jar Binks Tattoo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7ZzsBwd3rY

Why? For the love of the Ground of All Being why?

Daniel said...

@Jeremy,

I would assume not actually - at least if it is then he is taking a radically different stance - the troll you quote is giving what could almost be a parody of Continental Philosophy a la Derrida and friends. We have references to metaphysics and theology (by which is meant Heidegger’s ‘ontotheology’) as attempts to master Reality, Science as a form of imperialism, the imposition of names as an act of violence and domination, objectification of the Other et cetera et cetera. The only adequate response is probably just to stop debating rationally and shout: Deconstruct it man!

Santi Tafarella said...

Another reason I like the Philip K. Dick quote so very much is its emphasis on the android (the robot with a human appearance). One of the great enemies of humankind is the machine you can't turn off.

Bureaucracy as a machine you can't turn off functions in this way, with responsibility dispersed. Hitler's Holocaust of the Jews was such a machine, in which, once Hitler unleashed the order for the Jews' annihilation, from that point forward the Nazi bureaucracy took on a life of its own, "just carrying out orders."

Likewise, when Feser says that even the pope "cannot either reverse scripture and tradition or make up new teachings from scratch," and that this "would be contrary to the very point of the papacy, which is to preserve the 'Deposit of Faith' without adding to or taking away from it," he's basically saying that the machine cannot be turned off, and that grave injustices must persist regardless of how humans feel about it or are impacted (as with the exclusion of women from the priesthood, already battered divorcees from remarriage, and gays from full equality and marriage). There is no casting of the eye, like a good judge, on both the law AND its actual effects on real human beings, but only on the law. This turns man into an android, an unemotional bureaucrat, a pitiless machine with a human form. The very thing Philip K. Dick warns about.

Feser calls Dick's android comment "muddleheaded," but it is Feser who is showing here a lack of wisdom surrounding the dangers of machine rationality, and therefore great folly. History tells us what happens when humans pretend that they can't (and mustn't) change things and are only obeying orders.

Santi Tafarella said...

I would also note that the Scotus quote Feser offers in this post is illustrative of the same love vs. intellect error that Feser commits, but just in the reverse order. Here's the Scotus quote:

“Because the will holds sway over all other faculties and again because to it pertains the charity [love] which is the greatest of the virtues, will is a more noble attribute of man than is intelligence.”

Feser thinks the opposite (that intellect is superior to will).

Feser and Scotus are both wrong because they drop CONTEXT and RELATION to generalize about love and intellect in the abstract. Love and intellect can only be applied in contingent historical contexts, in relational settings. Just as you can't have a Darwin cookbook (follow this evolutionary strategy--be cooperative or be selfish all the time--and you'll survive), so you can't have a cookbook for will (love) v. intellect (follow love or intellect all the time and you'll do the best thing).

Once you're in the game of life, context and relation are all. You've got options, and often you're not dealing with good and bad, but competing goods.

There is no machine rationality to plug in and just run with it (the love program v. the intellect program). There is only a grappling with context.

Pope Francis, for example, may not be able to square his love of the Church with his love of gay equality, but he should keep on trying. As should Feser.

Santi Tafarella said...

I think it's interesting where Feser locates essences in this post: the mind of God. He writes: "...the divine intellect knows the natures of things, and the divine will creates in accordance with this knowledge. To be sure, the natures in question exist at first only as ideas in the divine mind itself."

This tells one a lot about how much Feser is prepared to assume without evidence (a lot), and the question begging nature of Thomistic reasoning generally.

Feser, to save essences from DISSOLVING into relational and contextual INTERPRETATION, hides them in the mind of God. They start there. Identity is not located as a node in the shifting web of time and space, but outside of time and space. The effect of this is to undermine Nietzsche's observation that "there are no facts, only interpretations."

So for Feser, the facts--what is essential and to be foregrounded about each thing--is in the mind of God. There are not a gazillion ways to chop up appearances, only one way: God's way. Essences and forms in the mind of God function as the de facto interpretation for how the cosmos should be chopped up. We might put things to work for us for various purposes, but God possesses in Her mind the right usages for each thing.

How do we infer God's will for each thing? Look at it's form and differentia. Penises are for vaginas. It's an organ for reproduction. That's why God made it. Duh. Everybody can see that. Now use it CORRECTLY. There are no opinions, only God's facts.

From this, the mighty and one-eyed oak of Thomism gets to masturbation is naughty and no gay marriage. It's all hedgehog.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

You think I read Aquinas on heresy uncharitably, and that Jews and Muslims were not Aquinas' target, but you're straining out the gnat to swallow the camel. It's the ethos of suppression that Aquinas takes for granted that is disturbing (the idea that, of course, one suppresses with death those who get in the Church's way in any serious fashion). The Crusaders are illustrative of this. They would have gladly exterminated all Muslims from the planet if they had the power (and likewise, at the time, Muslims would have exterminated all Christians). And with regard to the Jews, you know Europe's history of moving from blood libel and deicide to genocide.

Jews did not have it good in Europe at the time of Scholasticism's intellectual reign. You know this. The punishment for deicide, according to Augustine, was that the Jews were kicked out of Israel by God, and that they were now to continue as a people only for the purpose of being a testimony to God's wrath and the truth of the gospels. They functioned as illustrations for what happens to those who mess with the Christian diety (you end up an accursed wanderer of the Earth).

So the blood libel, deicide, the myth that Jews sought the blood of Christian children for use in Passover rituals, and alleged ritual murders by Jews, made it extraordinarily difficult for Jews in the Middle Ages. Again, you know this.

The ugliness of Middle Age attitudes, conspiracies, and beliefs surrounding Jews is laid out in depressing detail in the historian Robert Wistrich's book, "A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad" (Random House 2010).

And let's not forget Dante. He placed Mohammad in the same circle as schismatics. The medieval understanding, reflected in Dante, is that Islam is a Christian schism or heresy. Muslims split with Christians over doctrine.

Greg said...

@ Santi

I didn't say that Jews "had it good" in the medieval period. But they weren't considered heretics by the Church and were not executed.

Dante's opinion is irrelevant. Muslims were not heretics. Aquinas in SCG, Bk 1, Ch 2:

In the second place, it is difficult because some of them, such as the Mohammedans and the pagans, do not agree with us in accepting the authority of any Scripture, by which they may be convinced of their error. Thus, against the Jews we are able to argue by means of the Old Testament, while against heretics we are able to argue by means of the New Testament. But the Muslims and the pagans accept neither the one nor the other. We must, therefore, have recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent. However, it is true, in divine matters the natural reason has its failings.

It takes a literature professor to generalize about entire populations on the basis of a single author.

I don't really care about conspiracy theories that floated among common folk. I also don't deny that Church figures have had scandalous opinions. (Odd, though, that you say Jews were in a bad position during the Scholastic period, and go on to cite Augustine...) For example, if we were having a philosophical debate over abortion, it would be intellectually unserious of me to bring up the fact that Margeret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood for explicitly eugenic and racist purposes. For some reason you fixate on things like this. Probably because you are a liberal academic and non-philosopher, and pulling up a scandalous quote is the method of argument par excellence.

Daniel said...

A. Why are people still talking with Santi? I mean really why?

B. Given that they are why the hell are they granting some sort of objectivity to the arbitrary value system he propounds and can on his own grounds offer utterly no justification for save for that he feels like it? Going by the philosophical mishmash* he propounds there’s no more justification for his statement that the persecution of the Jewish people in the Middle Ages was 'ugly' than Anti-Santi’s proposition that it was ‘magnificent’. We’re just expected to grant more validity to someone stating the former due to ‘custom and habit’.

*I am still reeling from his magnificent combination of Eliminativism and Humean Positivism, the former which eliminates all first person sense datums and the second which reduces the world to nothing but that sense date, the grand result of which being that nothing exists at all

BenYachov said...

@Santi

>Jews did not have it good in Europe at the time of Scholasticism's intellectual reign. You know this.

But why do you support child rape? Dawkins neo_darwinian mode for evolutionism and his Atheist ideology of the harmless nature of mild Pedophella was in force in popular British culture when over 1400 English girls where being systematically raped by Pakistani Muslims in the British city of Rotherham over the last 15 years.

English girls didn’t have is good in Rotherham at the time of Dawkins intellectual reign. You should also know this…..


Nietzsche believed in the will to power & his philosophy had a lot in common with Nazi Ideology. Nazis believe in the Darwinian ideology of the Strong surviving at the expense of the weak. Thus the moral justification of strong Muslim men oppressing weak English Christian girls.

All this pain and suffering being traced to the false and scientifically absurd theory of evolution which thought claiming to be true by the divine revelation of Dawkins and Master Shake from the Aqua Team Hunger Force who ascended into heaven free from all sin.
Never the less is proven false by the fundamental fact natural selection has no apparent atomic weight. Thus rendering in an unreal abstraction.

It’s obvious.


Daniel writes:
>A. Why are people still talking with Santi? I mean really why?

Well for you to continue to talk to hims is going to require a lot of drugs to achieve a state of mind I can achieve naturally.

BenYachov said...

Yeh if you want to understand Santi weird gay crap watch this a few times and remember the bun is in your mind.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1w4yt0_space-ghost-coast-to-coast-baffler-meal_fun

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

I brought up Augustine because he established, along with the NT, the Christian position toward Jews that persisted through the Scholastic period. There was nothing going on in Scholastic philosophy that took Augustine to be wrong about what Jews were "for."

As for Dante, his schismatic view of Islam was not just his own, even if Aquinas made a different distinction.

Jereny Taylor said...

I have no idea why Santi thinks anyone will take him seriously, given his tract rhetoric of rank sophistry and gross ignorance, as an authority of the history of anything, let alone Christian thought.

Santi Tafarella said...

Jeremy,

I know you think you've got your Blake interpretation down solid, and that you've got contact (occultically?) with the REAL BLAKE.

But isn't it just a wee bit possible that Blake, as a poet, misread his precursors and Jacob-wrestled with them (think Harold Bloom here), and so can be read as HIJACKING Platonism, Jacob Bohme, etc, putting them to his own uses?

Somebody who writes (as Blake does), "I must create my own system or be enslaved to another," maybe isn't a ditto-head.

Just a thought.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Troll,

I'm not sure what your point is. To say Blake was heavily influenced by these figures I mentioned does not mean he completely agreed with them. I myself have noted he put his own distinctive spin and (in my opinion) exaggeration on certain aspects of the mystical-Platonic tradition.

But this does not mean Blake is not broadly in this tradition and does not share its basics principles. And it certainly does not mean Blake has much in common with your banal and silly materialist hedonism.

Daniel said...

@Jeremy,

Random aside a propos our conversation about the Creative Imagination in modern Western thought. The philosopher who emphasised such ideas most clearly out of modern individuals, far more so than Leibniz or Nietzsche, was probably F. W. J. Schelling, at least in the mid to late periods of his career. He understood the nature of Art to be an articulation of symbols mediating between the concrete world of Particulars and the Divine Exemplars. His Philosophy of Art was a major influence on Coleridge who quotes chunks of his writings in the Biographia Literaria.

He (Schelling) would probably repay study as his later thought contains some very interesting Non-Dual aspects and speculation on how the Absolute acts as ground of identity.

Brian Leiter writes,

Somebody who writes (as Blake does), "I must create my own system or be enslaved to another," maybe isn't a ditto-head.

Whilst this certainly contains a good deal of truth it tells us more about the psychology of William Blake the man as opposed to the nature of his thought. Blake held what he was writing about to be true, or at least an approximation of the true nature of things, and thus in no way more indebted to another than say a man describing a sunset or the behaviour of chemical compound is to another man who describes it in a similar way (hint - they're describing the same thing). So if by ‘highjacking’ you mean he believed himself to be prising various truths out of a setting of falsehoods then, yes, we concur, but it in no way effects what Jeremy has said.

Santi Tafarella said...

Jeremy,

You characterize me as a materialist and a hedonist. I'm neither. I'm an agnostic, which for me means the following: I take it that there is only one way the cosmos actually is, and I don't know what that one way is. There are a gazillion logically possible ways it could be, but that one needle in the haystack eludes me. I therefore can work with appearances and probabilities, and say a multitude of interesting things about both, but not certainties.

Catholicism down to its last detail, for example, has a tiny probability of being true, and I can notice things and make observations about it without saying, "I've got the final word on this subject." Or perhaps we live in a multiverse, or the simulation of a computer. It may be that mind and matter came into existence simultaneously. I don't know.

What I actually can know are two things. First, I can interact with appearances and make observations, noticing relations and guessing at probabilities. Second, I can appreciate that it takes variety to make an interesting world, and not just work with my confirmation biases. I can talk to diverse groups of people to keep me on my toes. Thank goodness there are Thomists, hedonists, materialists, Hindus, and agnostics in the world. Things would be less interesting, not more interesting, without them. Each has a niche, and somebody has to be committed to those things and long for their promises to make them interesting. It's part of the gambit of evolution to give people different temperaments, proclivities (to be selfish or cooperative), interests, beliefs (which are always related to actions), etc.

Evolution is ironic, but with regard to our individual beliefs, we rarely are. And that makes for an interesting world. And the Internet connects us in unprecedented ways, so we can talk to one another.

As an agnostic, when someone comes under the spell of a thing, and says, "I now see the ONE reality behind the appearances," I hear OCCULTISM and wishful thinking. How did that person get the spiritual or intellectual Horton ears denied to me, and then manage to pull out the one signal from all the cosmic noise, attaining the ultimate truth? Why do they think they've achieved so stupendous a feat? Hmm.

I don't think they have those Horton ears, nor are they likely to have the final truth, but I want to hear what they have to say. There's something true out there, but I don't think anybody knows what that one truth is, and if they do know, well, how do they think they know? In all likelihood, if they've got it, they've stumbled on the needle-in-the-haystack TRUTH and might lose or diminish it in the next moment of their thoughts.

Better, I think, to acknowledge our existential situation (we're limited beings in a vast and ancient cosmos) and work with that as best we can. Some humility in assertion and keeping Galileo's telescope pointing. That seems to me the best we can do when we're not possessed by the fever and urgency of the need to be certain.

Santi Tafarella said...

Daniel,

I'll take the Brian Leiter dig as a compliment. I like Leiter, though he can be quite cutting with those who cross him.

Greg said...

I like Leiter, though he can be quite cutting with those who cross him.

And with those who don't!

BenYachov said...

The Bun is in your mind.

Scott said...

It's pretty impressive how easily a superficially "open-minded" approach slips into sheer closed-mindedness.

The sort of agnosticism being peddled here, for example, conveniently relieves its exponent of the responsibility of evaluating (or even understanding) any actual arguments before dismissing any claim to "knowledge" as wishful thinking born of a feverish need for certitude. (It has, moreover, the additional advantage of allowing its exponent to make assertion after assertion without having to bother making such arguments him- or herself.)

It is, in short, a veritable recipe for guaranteed perpetual ignorance.

Greg said...

Yeah, Scott. It is interesting to compare Santi's two methodologies. First, a very measured Bayesian epistemology. (Though, it must be admitted that that approach ran almost immediately into inconsistencies and employed prior probabilities exceeding 1.) Then, citing poets and literary critics in support of intuitive arguments.

Anonymous said...

Santi said,

I'll take the Brian Leiter dig as a compliment.

What more can one say?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Is anyone actually reading his waffle anymore? What is the point in them?

Daniel,

I have heard of Shelling and his views, but not explored them in detail. I have always been a little put off by the German romantics. Although they had some ideas similar to the Platonic-Hermetic tradition, they always struck me as somewhat outside its spirit. The same goes for Bishop Berkeley, for the most part (although Kathleen Raine makes use of him in her writings on Blake, as Blake much admired him) and some latter idealists, like Bradley.

Brandon said...

Jeremy Taylor,

I think Berkeley is much more Platonic than is usually realized. It's just that the standard works that are read in (e.g.) philosophy classes are the ones in which Berkeley is least obviously influenced by Platonism. In some of his later works -- Alciphron and Siris especially -- the influence is much more obvious. (I suspect you would at least like his last major work, Siris, incidentally; although it famously starts in a weird place, in a discussion of recipes of tar-water. But he has a very nice summary of the argument of the work in his poem, "On Tar", which you can find at the Images of Berkeley website.)

Daniel said...

German philosophy of that period is interesting in that it represents the utter taboo of modern philosophy, that is Idealism and Idealism put forward in a non-straw man Berkely type way. I always find it amusing how little space modern introductions to philosophy of mind dedicate to the 'other' monism. Idealism in this sense of course springs from a false Cartesian idea of Matter and Mind but it is at least far more interesting than most other modern philosophies. It's also telling to note how Idealism often came to collapse in on itself a la the latter Fichte when it was recognised that the Absolute was not Absolute Ego as much as Absolute Being possessed of perfect self-transparency. I agree about Bradley and the later Idealists being a distinctly unrewarding prospect (all the more so because they were really Hegelians).

In his defence though Schelling ceased to be an Idealist proper in his mature thought where he posited the Godhead as transcending and grounding both subject and object. He was far closer to Böhme and John Scotus Eriugena than any modern thinker.

Although they had some ideas similar to the Platonic-Hermetic tradition, they always struck me as somewhat outside its spirit

Surely the extent to which they were outside its spirit is only a reflection the extent to which Romanticism as a whole was outside its spirit?* You are welcome to out this down to cynicism on my part but I don't see much of insight or worth in the works of the British Romantics - even if they weren't all bathetic materialists like Keats and Shelley they didn't produce anything approaching the originality or (at least to my eyes) aesthetic power of earlier poets such as Traherne or Vaughan. I would be happy to be proved wrong here. With the Germans I see more of interest even if it's alloyed with a lot of dross.

*Perhaps the movement which came closest to a Neo-platonic-Hermetic ideal would be second wave Russian Symbolism with Vladimir Solovyov and acolytes.

Daniel said...

More random biographising: with regards to Germanophone literature I am very taken with the Post-Nietzschean Platonic theological themes in the works of Ernst Jünger, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and, though he still remained ostensibly Nietzschean, Stefan George.

BenYachov said...

So do you guys need me anymore because I was really getting in the zone?

Glenn said...

Ben,

Even if you weren't really getting in the zone, we'd still need you.

Glenn said...

In honor of certain goings-on, here is a logic puzzle (whose solution may be known with absolute certainty). Enjoy.

Five notables were appealed to by a logorrheic speaker, and each of five listeners uttered a single word in response to a different one of the appeals. Can you determine the order in which the notables (Thomas Bayes, William Blake, Gautama Buddha, Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein) were appealed to, as well as the names of the listeners (Brody, Dylan, Gavin, Jasper and Simon) and the single word ("baloney", "hogwash", "hooey", "piffle" or "taradiddle") uttered by each?

1. The appeal to Blake was met with "piffle".

2. Simon's utterance was to the appeal made immediately after the appeal to Blake.

3. Jasper isn't the one who uttered "hooey".

4. "Hogwash" was uttered sometime before someone responded to the appeal to Bayes.

5. The appeal to Buddha was made immediately before the appeal to which Jasper had responded.

6. The appeal to Wittgenstein was not met with "hogwash".

7. The appeal to Russell was made sometime after Brody responded to an appeal.

8. Jasper didn't respond to the appeal to Bayes.

9. The third appeal was responded to with "taradiddle".

10. Dylan responded to the fourth appeal.

11. Jasper responded to the fifth appeal.

Glenn said...

(While the substance of the 2nd clue is fine, the clue itself should read: "2. Simon's utterance was in response to the appeal made immediately after the appeal to Blake.")

Scott said...

@Glenn:

1: Brody, piffle, Blake.
2: Simon, hogwash, Russell.
3: Gavin, taradiddle, Bayes.
4: Dylan, hooey, Buddha.
5: Jasper, baloney, Wittgenstein.

Glenn said...

Scott,

Dang, that was fast. Sehr gut!

BenYachov said...

The Force is Strong in this one(i.e. Scott).

Glenn said...

I think so.

Glenn said...

Scott,

The arrangement of categories in your (100% correct) solution is: order, listener, word and notable. To make things below easier to follow, the arrangement of categories is revised to: order notable, listener and word. Now,

Let:
A1 = 1st
A2 = 2nd
A3 = 3rd
A4 = 4th
A5 = 5th

...let:
B1 = Thomas Bayes
B2 = William Blake
B3 = Gautama Buddha
B4 = Betrand Russell
B5 = Ludwig Wittgenstein

...let:
C1 = Brody
C2 = Dylan
C3 = Gavin
C4 = Jasper
C5 = Simon

...and let:
D1 = baloney
D2 = hogwash
D3 = hooey
D4 = piffle
D5 = taradiddle

It is given by clues 9, 10 and 11 respectively that D5 = A3, C2 = A4 and C4 = A5 ("taradiddle" was uttered in response to the third appeal, Dylan responded to the 4th appeal and Jasper responded to the 5th appeal).

For a step-by-step visual proof of the remainder of the puzzle see here.

The natural language clues 1 through 8 above correspond to "Open Clues" 1 through 8 in the visual proof**. The relationals =, ~, -, +, < and > may be taken to mean "same as", "not the same as", "immediately before", immediately after", "sometime before" and "sometime after" respectively. Under "Steps", RC stands for Row Completion; the other mnemonics (UP, TDE, etc.) are left unexplained.

The puzzle as presented above, of course, has not been reduced to a collection of symbols and relations; rather, the collection of symbols and relations existed first, then were converted/reduced to a natural language version (though by no means the only version possible).

Entertaining, perhaps. And also perhaps... codswallop. But I hope there's a genuinely interesting thought in there somewhere.

** In converting/reducing the symbolic clues to natural language, the second "Open Clue", C5 + D4, was treated as if it were C5 + B2. Since B2 = D4, same difference.

- - - - -

(Methinks I need to find a better way to deal with the sudden onset of boredom...)

Scott said...

Danke schön! And thanks for the entertaining puzzle.

I'd have been a little bit earlier in responding if I'd seen your post sooner. I didn't actually start working on it until a bit after 3:00 (12:00 server time). ;-)

Scott said...

Nice graphic! It's certainly neater than the lists I wrote out by hand.

Glenn said...

Generously allowing, say, one minute to read the puzzle, and another minute to type up the solution and post it, it took approx. 11 minutes to solve. Yikes. The man is a prime example of a logic machine!

Scott said...

Only because I was in a hurry—I had to leave at 3:15 for a 3:30 appointment. Under normal circumstances I'd have taken my time.

I didn't actually think I was going to complete it in time, but then the last couple of steps fell into place and there it was. I didn't take time to check it (other than to make sure it satisfied all the conditions, which didn't guarantee uniqueness).

Scott said...

a time machine.

Scott said...

It also helps to have

Jeremy Taylor said...

Brandon and Daniel,

I have heard good things about Berkeley. Blake, Yeats, and Katheleen Raine all praised him. On the other hand, I have heard bad things about him, especially that he is absorbed within the debates of enlightenment philosophers which have little to do with timeless truths. I have little knowledge of his thought myself, so can't really comment.

Essentially the same is true for Schelling. I do agree, Daniel, that many of the English romantics are not much better (though, again, I can't claim a complete knowledge of their thought and poems), although I would make an exception for Blake himself and for Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In the end, there are so many books and so little time and it will be a long time til I get round to reading these authors (except for Blake and Coleridge) to properly judge.

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

For whatever it's worth, my much-less-expert opinion of Berkeley is pretty much the same as Brandon's much-more-expert one.

Berkeley seems to have turned more Platonic in his later years, and I say "seems" advisedly: I think his early work tends to be misunderstood, largely because he did spend so much time engaging the views of (notably) Locke. (I also agree with Timothy Sprigge against David Stove that Berkeley didn't—at least unambiguously—offer the howler of an argument for which he's so infamous.)

At any rate I think you'll find things to like/appreciate in Siris.

Daniel said...

I will have to back the anti-Berkeley front I'm afraid. The man not only kept up the Enlightenment trend of 'refuting' the Schoolmen by indignantly declaring that they used nasty long words and technical terms the common man had never heard of (I am aware that despite this he was still influenced by Scholastic ideas like the doctrine of analogy) he also canonised the horrifically stupid notion that thoughts were images, a crime no amount of tar water can wash clean. Plus he noticed the phenomenalist conclusions regarding the nature of the self his system lead to though ignored them on the grounds they were simply absurd. And I haven't even mentioned his steps on the royal road of absurdity which is Nominalism. So basically I hold Berkeley to be deserving of much of the blame left at Hume's door.

@Jeremy,

I was classifying Blake as a pre-romantic really.

@Scott,

Apologies for the intrusion but looking over old combox discussions I noticed that you were an Idealist at one point – did you have any particular opinions on Schelling?

Brandon said...

I have to disagree with you on both accounts, Daniel -- at least in qualified ways.

(1) In his early works we do occasionally get some remarks against the schoolmen. But in his later works Berkeley becomes the only major early modern philosopher besides Leibniz to buck the trend -- and the discussion of the scholastic doctrine of the analogy of divine names in Alciphron is perhaps the single best discussion of it in the early modern period.

(2) While Berkeley thinks that all 'ideas' are images, he doesn't think that all thoughts are images. And, indeed, he can't; Berkeley's view of human thought, going back to his very earliest works, is that it is semiotic. We have no image of the mind, for instance, but we can think of it, because all our ideas are signs of our own mind. And since the world on Berkeley's view is a divine language, understanding the world requires understanding the grammar of that language -- but our understanding of the grammar of the world is no more reducible to having idea in the mind than our understanding of the grammar of English is reducible to having words in our mind. No words, no English; words are the material of English. But understanding English requires a higher-level thought than just being able to call the words to mind.

Berkeley's weakness is certainly that he is a kind of nominalist. But (1) this nominalism is qualified by the theory of divine language, which means that his nominalism has many more resources than most forms of nominalism, and (2) even in his early works, when he talks about the possibility of ideas in the Platonic sense, he deliberately leaves the possibility open. Both of these points tie in with the way in which Berkeley is Platonist, even in the later works -- he accepts some obviously Platonic claims, but only as plausible suppositions, things for which he has no proof (because of his nominalistic tendencies), but which he thinks do make sense and can at least guide inquiry.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"[D]id you have any particular opinions on Schelling?"

I'm afraid not; I'm not sufficiently familiar with him to have any sort of opinion.

Alan said...

In defense of the voluntarism position (wandering dangerously back towards the OP), it is right most of the time. The vast majority of decisions made during the day are made by the will, with the intellect deferring. This can give the impression of voluntarism if you don’t look closer. For the intellectually lazy, thought can appear to rarely bubble to the surface.

John West said...

For what value it has, ever since I found out that Blake was a Platonist here, his poetry makes much more sense and is actually enjoyable. I found much of it quite obscure before.

John West said...

"Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so" - Bertrand Russell

Alan said...

Building upon that (comments from myself and John West), the real world reinforces the comment within the OP that: ‘… the conception of free will as “freedom for excellence,” which is endorsed by Aquinas, [wherein] the will is inherently directed toward the good in the sense that pursuit of the good is its final cause. The implication is that the will is more free to the extent that it finds it easy to choose what is good and less free to the extent that it does not.’
In this real world, life has been getting nominally better continuously across history. Over seven and a half billion people today enjoy a life better than any ever before experienced. These last sixty years have similarly seen a far lower rate of deaths from famine, plague, war and violence than ever in the experience of man. All this with minimal exercise of intellect. Aquinas was right.

John West said...

I guess I'm going to have to reread the OP (when I get home and my screen size increases). As I wrote in response to Dr. Torley's comment, it's unclear to me how the fact that the Will more often dominates the intellect in Man, is an argument against the Intellect being dominant for God.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Alan,

Of course, your point relies on the definition of getting better.

John West said...

There are, I think, also questions about sustainability. The fact that we have managed to sustain - even improve - these rates for the past few decades, does not necessarily imply we will be able to continue to do so.

I know the endless-progress narrative is popular nowadays. but it seems to me that sustainable, successful societies are not built off unchecked appetites.

John West said...

"In this real world, life has been getting nominally better continuously across history."

Actually, if possible, I would like to see data backing this claim on the criteria provided: "rate of deaths from famine, plague, war and violence." For instance, I suspect social history reveals peaks and troughs, rather than the straight line of improvement suggested here, (say) the population increasing for a century or two until the plague, the height of Rome under the Good Emperors versus the Dark Ages. I would be very surprised if the findings of social history match the idea that life has been getting "nominally better continuously across history," and suspect accidental glossing of details.

Alan said...

Jeremy: It always does, doesn’t it.
John: Yes on all points except that the glossing was deliberate for brevity and impact. A closer look at any point would more resemble the ‘drunken walk’. I suspect quite strongly that this ‘sustainability’ you speak of is not attainable through thoughtless will alone, but will require significant intellectualism.
As for data, a start could be: Jared Diamond who has collected ominous sadistics in ‘The Third Chimpanzee’, ‘Guns Germs and Steel’ and ‘Collapse’. As does Steven Pinker in ‘Better Angels of Our Nature’.

Scott said...

@Alan:

"Ominous sadistics." I like that phrase.

Glenn said...

(Ominous sadistics? Reminds me of the old joke about the omissible sadistic: What did the omissible sadistic do to the masochistic? Nothing.)

John West said...

A friend once all but forced me to read Jared Diamond's Collapse, which has a much more sensational title than its content would suggest. He's a bit tedious, and long-winded, but I'm a fan.

Nice pun.

Sami said...

You know, while God definitely makes only rational decisions there is definitely also a sense of arbitrariness about them. After all, whatever God wills is good, but WHICH good he wills out of the set of infinite possibilities is pretty clearly arbitrary in a sense. While a purely voluntarist God is probably not right, we can't neglect the will of God, after all God is love (aka, willing).