Archives for posts with tag: Thomas Aquinas

Axioms, Chance, Providence

John C. Wright’s article Last Crusade: The Promise of Peace (April 9, 2017) exposes why moral agnosticism makes impossible the advent of leftist utopian promises.

A commenter wrote in the thread: “I don’t subscribe to the belief that conscience comes from God, but this is a minor quibble.” I admired the irony of the proposition and, reading it again later, I felt compelled to find out how Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Maritain already answered the quibble. The following arguments are inspired from Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics: Seven Lectures on Being (full text). A few relevant quotes are reprinted at the end of this post.

So, let us quibble first with the MATERIALIST’s argument:

  1. Axiom : a cause must be greater, or at least equal, to its effect.
  2. Physical, empirical matter is inferior to immaterial, non-empirical things such as soul and conscience (characteristic of the self and the capacity to act).
  3. Therefore, physical matter cannot be the cause of non-material, non-empirical phenomena.

Then with the PANTHEISTIC argument:

  1. According to the axiom of finality, an agent is a being which can determine itself to act, either reflexively (in and on oneself) or transitively (exerting an action on other beings, including creation).
  2. The eternal, cyclical world of metempsychosis is deemed to be one undetermined being.
  3. Therefore, it cannot be an agent nor a patient (caused, moved by another). The movement, the action our senses perceive is deemed to be a deception, thus an evil, in this worldview.

The belief that multiplicity and motion must be a deception is a logical conclusion from the premise that there is no determination, hence no finality, but the premise is false. It is a statement contradictory to the metaphysical axiom of SUFFICIENT REASON (or grounds for being), which calls for the determinate nature of every being, as well as to the axiom of FINALITY, which calls for a preordination of every nature, or essence. Preordination takes place in the creative mind before any being comes to existence, either ex nihilo (including the creation of a new soul at conception) or by rearrangement of existing things.

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Civilization Is A Conversation

The popular philosopher Stefan Molyneux (https://freedomainradio.com) often reminds his audience that “civilization is a conversation. ” I read about the same idea before in a blog article by John C. Wright (www.scifiwright.com) about the Great Books. A philosopher himself, as well as a novelist, Mr Wright is an alumnus of St. John’s College of liberal arts. I gather the school’s Great Books program was inspired from the writings of philosopher Mortimer Adler on “The Great Conversation” and his editing work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica Great Books series.

According to classical philosophers and other classical writers who had to know philosophy as a general foundation for their field, philosophy and science, literature and arts, civilization in a word, is a great conversation, and philosophy is its common language. It began to spread from Greece some six centuries before Christ.

Metaphysics, or philosophy properly so called, is the conversation about the fundamentals of everything that is or may be, especially the “why”, the causes. The “how” is more particularly the domain of empirical sciences and mathematics.

Ethics is the part of philosophy that examines the use of practical reason, or moral conscience. Why is there a sense of right and wrong? Why is conscience attracted to the good and repulsed by evil? Why is happiness connected to the good? These are some of the main questions of moral philosophy.

The moral questions are of course paramount also to religion and theology. Philosophy is the greatest achievement of the human mind unaided by faith, since it derives its information from the senses, external and internal. But the self-revelation of God being at the same time the revelation of man to himself (e. g. John 2:25), the Judaeo-Christian revelation is a very reliable source of information for philosophy, particularly for natural theology (or theodicy) and ethics.

Christian theologians, philosophers, and authors of literary or scientific writings were the ones who kept the conversation ongoing and timeless. It is timeless because philosophia perennis, the common philosophy of humanity (as philosopher Jacques Maritain would say), known also as Aristotelian-Thomism, or classical theist philosophy, is true in all essentials and those essentials are not subject to time. True philosophy is therefore capable of organic, continuous development upon this perennial basis.

Up to the 1960s, every generation educated by learned masters had access to the great works of the past and to a common philosophical framework. Scholars and writers could thus contribute to build on and transmit the intellectual and moral treasure of civilization, the treasure of human wisdom.

 

Conversation Slows Down

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Three Reformers, Three Rebuilders

In his essay on Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau, Jacques Maritain pointed out the fateful ideas that were ferments in transforming Christendom into the modern secularist world. Reviewing the book once again, I came to the conclusion that the 20th century, though it featured the most horrendous consequences of de-Christianization, also saw refreshing beams of light. Three great writers, in particular, responded and gave an accurate assessment of the damage, and paths of healing.

Against the individualistic view of religion brought forth by Martin Luther, another German-speaking theologian stands for a comprehensive view of Redemption and reconciliation founded on the transcendentals –the Beautiful, the Good and the True– thus on classical philosophy and theology. Amongst a phenomenal production, Father Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) gave the Church his monumental trilogy: Herrlichkeit (Glory, or “Theo-aesthetics”), Theodramatik and Theologik. He also tellingly chose Communio as the name of the quarterly theological journal he founded.

Against the rationalistic destruction of philosophy effected by a great scientist but terrible philosopher, René Descartes, Maritain himself (1882-1973) opposed his life’s work to spark a renewal of Thomism, or philosophia perennis. The common philosophy of humanity, enveloped and exemplified everywhere in the works of saint Thomas Aquinas, can be developed and applied to every new problem of any human culture.

Against the false, unreal worldviews and the false moral superiority à la Jean-Jacques Rousseau pervading the post-modern thought, the English-speaking world was graced with a literary genius who is a miracle of sanity. Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), also a Thomist, is known to his admirers as the “apostle of common sense”.

 

The chronological order and the overlap of these three writers and their fields recall the logical order of operation of the transcendentals in human life.

In high quality literature and poetry, beauty leads to the True and the Good. Chesterton was also a great poet and a fine artist; Maritain wrote beautifully and was a connoisseur of fine art; von Balthasar was an incredibly well-read man, a translator, a literary critic of French and German literature and an excellent pianist.

Metaphysics is the highest and deepest inquiry into truth that the human intellect unaided by faith can achieve. The common and precise language and categories of classical theist philosophy are the frame for the basic principles in every science, especially theology.

Theology, supporting itself on the gifts of faith and Divine Revelation proceeding from the Goodness of God, explains spiritual reality and its embodiment in worship and Christian life, where man responds to the call to holiness, or the invitation to the perfection of goodness.

 

(Linked document updated Feb. 28, 2016)

Beauty is in the Form

Professor Edward Feser quotes a sarcastic passage by Isaac Asimov and asks why plastic objects cannot eventually be admired as antiques.  (“The metaphysics and aesthetics of plastic”  Feb. 14, 2014)

Elsewhere, a commenter quoting from a David Gerrold novel compares moral integrity to that of a plastic balloon, lost when the balloon is destroyed by a pinhole. Philosopher and novelist John C. Wright answers that forgiveness is better than asking for perfect integrity. (“Why the Rats Conquer Empires”, Feb. 27, 2014 )

I looked into the matter in Plato and Maritain.

Perception of form

Beauty, Plato said, is in the form. It is not in the philosophical prima materia, that cannot exist without an essential form. Contrary to Plato’s theory, though, separate forms of material beings do not exist either, except as concepts. For example, human form, or nature, does not exist apart from actual human beings.

Form differentiates individuals only in beings who are pure forms (God and angels). There are as many angelic natures as there are angels. But physical beings are differentiated by matter, and all individuals in a species share a common form.

By the fact it has a form actualized in matter, every physical being, particle, element, compound has the same degree of intrinsic beauty that the form lends to matter. Although an unlearned observer may not perceive anything interesting and pleasing about, say, subatomic particles, an observer possessing even a small knowledge of the thing certainly does.

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Another pearl from David Warren :

http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2013/06/18/the-idleness-of-saint-thomas/

and a development following comments [comments erased since] :

http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2013/06/25/quote-for-the-day/

Other quotes:

Beauty is the splendor of Truth.
Plato

Beauty is akin to the Good.
Plato. The Symposium

The light of God’s face shines in all its beauty on the countenance of Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) […] Consequently, the decisive answer to every one of man’s questions […] is given by Jesus Christ, or rather is Jesus Christ himself […]

Jesus Christ, the “light of the nations”, shines upon the face of his Church, which he sends forth to the whole world to proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Hence the Church, as the People of God among the nations […] offers to everyone the answer which comes from the truth about Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

John Paul II. Veritatis Splendor (Introduction)

On Catholic Theology and Western Civ

Another witty piece from David Warren as an answer to a comment under http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2013/01/14/james-m-buchanan (comments have been erased since).

Quote:

“You don’t admit of any possibility of error in your theological framework.” (quoting the commenter)

My dear CTC, it is time you realized that it is not my theological framework. After fifty years of shopping, I bought into the Catlick one; or more precisely, found that I already more-or-less had. And in the end you’re not arguing with me. You’re arguing with my buddy Thomas Aquinas, & all his buddies. And having tried to argue with them myself, let me tell ya…

It is a working out, over twentyish centuries of often quite heated argument & debate, of what the best minds could discern in the Christian Revelation, on the principle of non-contradiction. The result has been concisely & carefully set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which you might want to obtain as a kind of phone directory to what “people like me” (i.e. Catlicks) believe.

Is it infallible? No, nothing from the hand of man is infallible (& check that CCC for what we mean when we say the pope is pronouncing on doctrine “infallibly”). It isn’t “infallible,” in the sense you might use, but it is extremely good, because if anyone, Catlick or non-Catlick, can find a contradiction in the thing, we sweat it through until we’ve fixed it.

But by now that body of doctrine has been remarkably stable for a very long time. This is because our best minds have been sweating it through for all these centuries. And in fact most of it was clear enough to the candid & honest & intelligent from early on: working from what they sincerely believed, & for cause, that Christ had told them about what’s what, checked & re-checked interminably against the known facts of “reality.”

You don’t have to believe a word of it. There are many soi-disant Catholics who never bother to consult it (even before speaking publicly “as a Catholic”), & who believe what they want to believe. Some of them even serve in your Congress. “Cafeteria Catlicks,” if you will. People who don’t listen when being corrected on fact. What can I say?

But there it is, Catholic Doctrine. And since the whole of Western Civ was erected upon it, I suggest you check it out. So that you can know, at least, what it is you are rejecting as you walk off into the scientistic aether, pitching Western Civ to the dogs.

Otiosus / David Warren