Category: Uncategorized

You Are Loved

When we say, “That is wrong, that is wrong, that is wrong,” people hear, “You are bad, you are bad, you are bad.” When we say, “This is right, this is right, this is right,” people hear, “You are wrong, you are wrong, you are wrong.”

Pope Francis says, “You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.”

Now, we are speaking the truth, and it’s a truth that needs to be heard. But Francis is also speaking the truth, and he is speaking to them.

Coming to Grips with Sin

Somewhat to my bemusement, I find that I’m now writing a monthly column for CatholicMom. My first outing is entitled “Coming to Grips with Sin,” which perhaps sounds like a downer, but if you click on the link you’ll get to see my big cheery smile. (If that’s a downer, kindly don’t let me know. :-)

Three Dogs and a Cat, Part I: The First Dog

Here are some musings on the nature of reality and the reality of natures, from the standpoint of Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics (so far as I understand such hifalutin’ things). But don’t let that scare you; I think it’s going to be fun.

First, consider a statue of a dog:

What is it? Is it a dog? Clearly not; it’s a statue of a dog. It’s a hunk of (I presume) bronze that’s shaped like a dog. In plain English we might say that it has the form of a dog, but in Thomist terms that’s a mistake; a real dog has the form of a dog, but a statue has merely the shape. (More on that later.)

In fact, it’s an artifact, created by human beings to have the appearance of a dog. In terms of its behavior it remains a hunk of bronze not much different from any other hunk of bronze of the same mass. We say that it has the nature of bronze. And how does it behave given that nature?

Well, first of all it’s a body. That is to say that it takes up space and has mass. Wherever you put it, you can’t put anything else in exactly the same spot. If you drop it (in a gravitational field) it falls to the place of lowest potential.

Second, it’s bronze. It has a particular mass and density. When it falls, it hits the ground with a force consistent with its mass. If you hit it with a hammer, you might well dent it.

If you ask why it does these things, a Thomist will tell you, “Because it is its nature to behave in this way.” You might think that the Thomist is avoiding the question, and from the point of view of physics and chemistry you’d be right. But from the point of view of metaphysics, this is a serious answer. If you drop the statue of the dog, it falls: not because it’s God’s whim, or because things are falling today (unlike yesterday), or because the person who dropped it decided that falling is what he wanted, but because it is its nature to do so. That is, there’s something about being made of bronze that causes it to fall when dropped in a gravitational field. A physicist would go further, and say, “it has a mass of thus and so,” and a chemist would relate this to the alloy and the molecules involved…but note what the philosopher has done. The philosopher has said, “The behavior of this status, when dropped, is not arbitrary. It always acts the same way. It acts according to a fixed nature.”

In short, it is because the bronze of the statue has a nature and behaves according to that nature that it’s worth investigating the chemistry and physics of the thing. And it turns out that many aspects of that nature are explicable in those terms. Woohoo! Go science.

However, this particular hunk of bronze looks like a dog. Science has very little to say to this. There is nothing at all in the nature of bronze that in any way tends to make it look like a dog. We call this appearance artificial: it has the nature of artifice, so to speak. Some human being made the bronze look like a dog. But note: the bronze isn’t irrelevant. The sculptor chose bronze precisely because you can make attractive, durable statues out of it given a reasonable amount of effort. The statue wouldn’t look nearly as good if it were made out of, say, whipped cream, and it wouldn’t last for more than a few minutes (not in my house, it wouldn’t).

Aristotle tells us that in any change, there are four causes—that is, four aspects of why and how the change occurred. Let’s look at two changes involving the statue: first, the change in position we call “falling”, and the creation of the statue in the first place.

So, consider a statue of a dog that’s falling through the air. It begins 20 feet above the ground,
and on impact embeds itself in a beautifully manicured lawn.

  • It’s a bronze statue that’s falling. This is the material cause.
  • It’s falling because it’s bronze. It’s the nature of a hunk of bronze to fall. This is the formal cause.
  • It’s falling because it’s in the Earth’s gravitational field. This is the efficient cause.
  • It’s falling to the point of lowest energy potential, i.e., a dog-shaped dent in the lawn. This is the final cause. Note that there’s no sense of purpose here; but anyone can see that a hunk of bronze falling from a height is gonna leave a mark on that lawn.

Now, the interesting thing about efficient and final causes is that they can exist in chains. Suppose the statue is falling through the air because I hurled into the air using a trebuchet, purely because I was curious to see whether the resulting dent was dog-shaped. It’s true to say, then, that I’m the efficient cause of the statue falling through the air, and the final cause is my curiousity as to what will happen. Thomists would call these chains of causes accidental rather than essential, per accidens rather than per se. Yes, I caused the statue to go flying…but once it is flying that fact is irrelevant to the physical outcome. If, between launch and landing, an angry landowner shot me for lobbing bronze canines onto his lawn, that wouldn’t change the flight path and the resulting dent.

Next, consider the creation of the statue. This isn’t really one change, it’s a whole sequence of changes. First I model the statue in clay, or plaster, or stone; then I make a mold from the model; then I acquire and melt bronze, pour it into the mold, and wait for it cool. Then there’s a fair amount of finish work before the statue is complete. For simplicity, then, let’s suppose that our bronze statue is a replica of a marble statue, and think about the creation of the marble statue.

I, the scultor, take a big piece of marble, and start carving away with hammer and chisel and file. I keep going until everything that doesn’t look like the dog I have in mind is gone.

  • It’s still made of marble, no matter what I do. This is the material cause of the statue.
  • I’m the one making the statue (but more on this in a moment). So I’m the efficient cause.
  • I’m giving the statue the shape of a dog: I’m giving the marble an accidental form. The doggy shape is the formal cause.
  • I can sell the resulting statue for $2534.47, and will be able to feed my family. This is the final cause.

That’s one way of looking at it. But I could also look at the efficient and final causes in this way:

  • The chisel carves away the stone. The chisel is the efficient cause.
  • The stone takes on a particular shape as the end of the process. This is the final cause.

There are, in fact, chains of causes here too. I decide I want to strike just there, and my nerves trigger my muscles to move my arms to make the hammer strike the chisel to break a small piece of marble away from the statue. But oddly, this chain of causes is different from the one that led to the statue flying through the air: each of the causes in this case is operating at the same time, and if any of them were removed the end would not be reached. If I chose not to strike, or if my muscles were too tired, or if the chisel slipped from my hand, or if that angry landowner shot me in the midst of my sculpting, the statue-in-progress would be unchanged. Thomists call this an essential or per se chain of causes. I might have more to say about that later.

As you can see, there’s a lot you can say about even something as simple as the statue of a dog.

I Have to Sit Down

I like Simcha Fisher; she makes me laugh:

Listen, deadbeat. It’s too late to send out paper cards, which you’ve been “taking a year off” from doing since 1993. In fact, failing to send out cards is the only Christmas tradition you’ve managed to keep faithfully, other than miraculously transforming, every Christmas Eve, from someone who owns six pairs of scissors and four rolls of tape into someone who is seriously considering using little dabs of strawberry jelly to stick together the shredded edges of wrapping paper, which you attempted to cut by scoring it with a Budweiser cap. Jelly is sticky, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/how-to-write-a-family-christmas-letter#ixzz2Fi8lUbSu

15 Tips to Help Your Prayer Life

Apropos of the interior life, Marcel at Aggie Catholics has posted 15 Tips to Help Your Prayer Life. Good stuff.

London Street Life in 1876

Courtesy of Jen Fulwhiler, here’s a page of photos from London in 1876. It looks rather different than you might expect.

Fortnight for Freedom

During this Fortnight for Freedom, it’s important that we remember to pray not only for ourselves, but for those for whom the lack of religious freedom is a bloody reality.

Sources of Confusion

Thomist philosopher Ed Feser spends a lot of time debating supporters of materialism and scientism, and he finds that as a general thing they don’t have the background to understand the points he’s making. He’s written a quite marvelous post which lays out the position he’s coming from, and the usual sources of misunderstanding. Recommended.

Helpful Nigerian Spam

Here’s something I haven’t seen before: a Nigerian e-mail spam taking me to task for being so foolish as to trust in Nigerian e-mail spam:

Attn:

Sometimes, I do wonder if you are really, really with your senses. How Could you
keep trusting people and at the end you will loose your hard Earned money, or
are you being deceived by their big names? They Impersonate on many offices,
claiming to be Governors, Directors/Chairmen or one position in an organisation
of one Office or the other. Their game plan is only just to extort your hard Earned
money.
Now, the question is how long you will continue to be Deceived? Sometimes, they
will issue you fake cheque, introduce you to fake Diplomatic delivery, un-existing
on-line banking and they will also fake wire transfer of Your fund with Payment Stop
Order and even send you fake atm cards etc.

Anyway, by the virtue of my position I have been following this transaction from
inception and all your efforts towards realizing the Fund. More often than not,
I sit down and laugh at your ignorance and That of those who claim they are
assisting you, it is very unfortunate that at the end you loose. Although, I
don’t blame you because you are not here in Nigeria to witness the processing of
your payment in Nigeria.The problem you are having is that you been told the
whole truth About this transaction and it is because of this truth they decided
to be extorting your money. The most annoying part is even fraudsters have
really taken advantage of this opportunity to enrich themselves at your
expense. Those you feel are assisting or working for you are Your main
problems.

I know the truth surrounding this payment and i will prove to you and you will
later testify to people that truly good people still exist even in the midst of
gullible ones. Repose your confidence in me and give me your trust and see if i will
fail you, I am The only person who will deliver you from this long suffering
if you will abide by my advice and follow the instructions.

I also know that recently you have been dealing with people claiming to be the
EFCC. They claim that they are helping you and you forward all the fraudulent
e-mails you received to them. At the end they do nothing about the fraudsters.
Soon they will ask you to pay money to receive a compensation of $1,500,000. Do
not pay any money to them because they are only interested in your hard earned
money and you will never receive any compensation in return, they will always
keep coming back to ask for more money.

Please I beseech you to stop pursuit of shadows and being deceived.Feel free to
contact me immediately you receive this mail so that I can Explain to you the
modus-operandi guiding the release of your Payment. Do not panic, be rest
assured that this arrangement will be Guided by your Embassy here in Nigeria.

N/B: You are urgently requested to provide me with the following information
for me to establish the truth about your fund.

Full Name:

Address:

Age:

Telephone Number:

Occupation:

Contact me upon the receipt of this mail if you wish to receive your fund and
stop wasting your hard earn money.

Thanks and remain blessed.

Yours faithfully,

Christian Philosophy?

 

I’ve just started reading Etienne Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, a thick book based on a series of Gifford Lectures he gave around the 1930′s. I usually have trouble writing about this kind of book, because there are so many ideas in it; and by the time I get to the end I’m so tired and so unable to summarize the mass of them that I don’t usually say much more than, “Oh, I liked this one,” or “Oh, I was disappointed.” That is, if I say anything at all. But my previous posts of philosophy have been reasonably popular, and so I hate to say nothing.

Consequently, I’m going to say something about the two chapters I’ve read. That way, I’ve said something, even if I say nothing else. (And by the time I’m done, perhaps the coffee will have kicked in, and I can get on with working on the novel.)

One of Gilson’s big topics was the notion of “Christian Philosophy”; and at the time he gave the lectures he was swimming against the tide, for most people thought that there was no such thing. The argument against “Christian Philosophy” is fairly simple:

  • If you’re dealing with truths that can only be known by divine revelation, then you aren’t doing philosophy (even if you’re using the methods of philosophy); rather, you’re doing theology.
  • If you’re dealing with truths that can be known by pure reason, then these truths are accessible to anyone, and hence aren’t specifically Christian (except in the sense that, God being Truth, all truths are Christian).

This argument presumes that truths are divided into two distinct, non-overlapping categories: truths known by divine revelation, and truths known by pure reason. Theology deals with the first, philosophy with the second.

Gilson’s counter-argument is also simple: these categories overlap. There are truths that God has made known by divine revelation that can also be known by pure reason. St. Thomas Aquinas says that God has revealed many truths needed for salvation that can also be known by philosophical methods, because relatively few men have the time to do the philosophical work needed to discover them, and because men are inclined to make mistakes.

Because of this overlap, the Christian Philosopher is inspired to seek the rational foundation for revealed truths, and so comes to understand the purely philosophical in a deeper way. For example, says Gilson, Aristotle understood the Unmoved Mover as Truth but not as Being itself; that was a truth revealed by God, who told Moses “I Am”. But if the Unmoved Mover is Being itself, then all other being flows from it; we have a Creator. From this comes St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument, and St. Thomas’ Five Ways. These are truths accessible to reason, but which reason did not attain until Christianity pointed the way.

 

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