Thursday, September 24, 2020

In the Meantime...

I commend this essay to readers: How the Great Truth Dawned, by Gary Saul Morson. It is surprisingly relevant to the Current Project in a number of ways, beginning with the importance of narrative as vehicle for truth:

Novels of ideas... exhibit a masterplot: a hero or heroine devoted to an idea discovers that reality is much more complex than the idea allows.

For example, a materialist believes that love is nothing but physiology and that individual people differ no more than frogs, yet he falls deeply in love with a particular woman (the plot of Turgenev’s Fathers and Children). A moralist asserts that only actions, not wishes, have moral value, yet winds up consumed by guilt for a murder he has fostered only by his wish for it (the plot of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov)....

As mentioned in the previous post, our Current Project involves the reconciliation of evolutionary and Thomistic psychologies -- where they converge, where they diverge, and where only one can possibly walk out alive. This cosmos -- no cosmos -- is big enough for two ultimate truths.

If I were a novelist, perhaps I'd write a story of a strict sociobiologist who insists that love is nothing but a deception of the genes to trick us into reproducing, yet falls deeply in love with a particular woman. Only then does he discover a reality that transcends his little ideology, and that frogs and persons aren't of equal value and significance.

On an even deeper level, I wonder if the biblical narrative -- the arc of salvation that spans from creation to the beatific vision -- isn't a bug but a feature? In other words, this metastory not only must be told in history, but with history. What if history is made of truth -- the truth of fall and redemption?

I have a note to myself: consequences of Darwinism. Suffice it to say that no Darwinist actually thinks and lives the consequences of his ideology. Indeed, if he takes them seriously, he could under no circumstances take them seriously, because they abolish the very possibility of knowing truth. Only a sociopath could be an intellectually and morally consistent Darwinian.

Volodin recalls Epicurus’s words: “Our inner feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are the highest criteria of good and evil,” and only now does he understand them. “Now it was clear: Whatever gives me pleasure is good; what displeases me is bad. Stalin, for instance, enjoyed killing people -- so that, for him, was good?”

How wise such philosophy seems to a free person! But for Volodin, good and evil are now distinct entities. “His struggle and suffering had raised him to a height from which the great materialist’s wisdom seemed like the prattle of a child.”

Similarly, compared to St. Thomas, the wisdom of evolutionary psychology seems like the prattle of a child.

Solzhenitsyn explains: “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.... it is in the nature of a human being to seek a justification for his actions.”

Here again, a strict Darwinian can never speak of natural law or of a transcendent human nature.

Why is it, Solzhenitsyn asks, that Macbeth, Iago, and other Shakespearean evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses, while Lenin and Stalin did in millions? The answer is that Macbeth and Iago “had no ideology.” Ideology makes the killer and torturer an agent of good, “so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors.” Ideology never achieved such power and scale before the twentieth century.

How does the ideology of Darwinism explain this? More to the point, from the perspective of Darwinism, on what basis can we say that Stalin and his ideology are evil?

Anyone can succumb to ideology. All it takes is a sense of one’s own moral superiority for being on the right side; a theory that purports to explain everything; and -- this is crucial -- a principled refusal to see things from the point of view of one’s opponents or victims, lest one be tainted by their evil viewpoint.

If we remember that totalitarians and terrorists think of themselves as warriors for justice, we can appreciate how good people can join them.

Ideologies have consequences. The consequences of atheism are absolutely ruinous:

Bolshevik ethics explicitly began and ended with atheism. Only someone who rejected all religious or quasi-religious morals could be a Bolshevik because, as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and other Bolshevik leaders insisted, the only standard of right and wrong was success for the Party.

The bourgeoisie falsely claim we have no ethics, Lenin explained.... But what we reject is any ethics based on God’s commandments or anything resembling them, such as abstract principles, timeless values, universal human rights, or any tenet of philosophical idealism. For a true materialist, Lenin maintained, there can be no Kantian categorical imperative to regard others only as ends, not as means.

Each of our lives is a narrative, a story. Indeed, how could human life even be conceived if not as an unfolding drama? But what is the drama about? Does it point to a telos beyond itself, or is it only about the past -- about our past adaptations to this or that contingent environment? Can it really be about nothing other than selfish genes, or class warfare, or the elimination of people with white privilege?

Kopelev, Solzhenitsyn, and others describe the key event of their life as the discovery that just as the universe contains causal laws it also contains moral laws. Bolshevik horror derived from the opposite view: that there is nothing inexplicable in materialist terms and that the only moral standard is political success.

To be continued...

Monday, September 21, 2020

Project 2 + 2 = 5

Just for metaphysical kicks & giggles, I'm reading two books that represent opposite sides of the spectrum, after which I will try to reconcile them and thereby fashion a daring jailbreak from a supposedly inescapable, ultra-postmodern ideological prison surrounded by impenetrable and crock-solid walls of pure nothingness!

The first is the unwieldy and dryasdust Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, which exhaustively and exhaustingly lays out the Christian/Thomistic view of our predicament. I'm about halfway through with that one. It's somewhat slow-going, like reading a medication insert that goes on forever.

The second is called The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. I'm only 20 pages into this one, which comes at it -- or us, rather -- from a strictly evolutionary standpoint.

Now, both of these can't be true. And yet, let's assume they are. How can this be? We can't simultaneously have a universal human nature if what we call "human nature" is just a contingent adaptation to everchanging environmental circumstances. Can we?

The challenge is in figuring out how both perspectives can possibly be true. Of course, there are levels of truth, so that's one way to pull it off. Still, we want details: how exactly can contradictory truths be true on a deeper or higher level?

So, that's what we're working on at the moment, and I first have to get further into the books before putting them into the cosmic blender. And as usual, I have other responsibilities gumming up the works, including my dreaded semiannual continuing education requirements and the upcoming MLB playoffs.

Therefore, if things are a bit slow around here, that's my excuse. I'll leave off with a few aphorisms which may point the way upward and provide a bit of preluminary light for the journey:

Two contradictory philosophical theses complete each other, but only God knows how.

Every truth is a tension between contradictory evidences that claim our simultaneous allegiance.

Truths do not contradict each other except when they get out of order.

It is not the false idea that is the dangerous one, but the partially correct one.

The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions.

There are sciences that can be taught and others we can only learn. Natural sciences, social sciences.

Whoever appeals to any science in order to justify his basic convictions inspires distrust of his honesty or his intelligence

Science, when it finishes explaining everything, but being unable to explain the consciousness that creates it, will not have explained anything.

Without philosophy, the sciences do not know what they know.

The Christian who is disturbed by the “results” of science does not know what Christianity is or what science is.

The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book (Dávila).

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Mankind's Theomorphism Confirmed

Later in the day, after having written the previous post, I was reading a supposedly unrelated book called Introduction to the Science of Mental Health. I can't say I recommend it, unless you enjoy reading highly technical and jargon filled 800 page introductions to your own damn specialty. Yes, after 30 years of practice in the field, I'm finally being introduced to it.

Recall where we left off with our speculations: it is as if

God had broken the coin of his Infinity in two, holding on to the positive side Himself and giving us the negative side, then launching us into the world of finites with the mission to search until we have matched our half-coin with his (Clarke, emphasis mine).

This reminds me of the Eastern Orthodox view (or at least that's where I ran into it), of the ontological distinction between the image and likeness in man. The image is our divine potential, while the likeness is our ongoing actualization of this potential.

It is as if this polarization results in a kind of energy; or you could say that the energy fuels the polarization. Either way, there is vertical aspiration at one (our) end, grace (which you might call God's ex-piration) at the other. This up&down movement is actually a continuous spiral.

Now let's see what Fr. Ripperger has to say in his introduction to our subject. He writes that "the human intellect is a mirror image of the ontological order," and a mirror is -- this is me speaking -- totally passive, receptive, and "empty." At least if it's a clean and functioning mirror. And not hidden away somewhere in total darkness, with no light to reflect.

Can a human mirror reflect darkness? Have you been to college? Do you ever watch the news?

Look: this is a very complicated subject with a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous, and a whole lotta strands to keep in my head, but the pedantic padre affirms that the intellect

initially starts out as a tabula rasa, i.e., it lacks all conceptual knowledge. While initially it may lack any conceptual knowledge, nevertheless it is a certain infinite power in the sense that it is in potency with respect to all forms (emphasis mine).

A footnote to this passage specifies that "By 'infinite' is not implied that it is actually infinite like the intellect of God, but that there is no limit to what it can know regarding that which is in its natural capacity to know."

The point is, God's actual infinitude is mirrored in our potential infinitude -- a potential that can never be fully actualized. Is that clear? Yes, it's a strange place to live, but here we are.

Now I want to flip back to Clarke, who writes that every finite is

by its very nature a pointer toward the Infinite. It is an image, a road marker, that necessarily carries the dynamism of the mind beyond itself in a search for intelligibility that can end only with an actual Infinite, from which all finite degrees of participation ultimately proceed.

There it is again: the open spiral of infinitude-to-finite and back to infinitude. In which, as human beings, we may knowingly participate.

We have reached, therefore, the unique, ultimate, infinite Source of all being, the ultimate mystery of Plenitude that is also the magnet and final goal of the entire dynamism of the human spirit, both intellect and will.

The final goal. Does this mean we're done? Yes and no. Yes, because the post is finished. No, because we're always just getting started. For

our dynamism for the infinite turns out to be a remarkably eloquent reverse image and pointer toward God as He is in Himself, beyond all possible finites (Clarke).

And our dynamism for the infinite is itself infinite: ʘ --> O and back again:

this movement of the mind from from the many to the One reflects what seems to be the most basic structure of the human mind's constant quest for intelligibility in all fields. To understand is to unify: it means first to discern the parts of anything clearly, but finally to unify them into a meaningful whole in itself and then with all else that we know. He who does not understand something as one, St. Thomas says, understands nothing.

Onething or nothing, One Cosmos or no cosmos, O or Ø.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Eternal Dynamism of Infinitude

Before moving on to the next urgent question -- whatever it is -- I want to highlight one last point in The Philosophical Approach to God, having to do with the image of God in man.

This can mean a number of things, depending upon how you look at it. But whatever it means, it would have to be among the most consequential principles or axioms in our metaphysical arsenal. In way, everything hinges on it, for if we're not theomorphic then we're purely...

I suppose we could say we're not even morphic at all, because we would have no form, no essence, and no soul at all. There would be no forms, period. No transcendence for you! Mandatory nominalism.

Which, like materialism or determinism, is an impossible philosophy. No one can consistently maintain it. Which is a critical point: if it's impossible in principle for your actions to line up with your philosophy, you're not just a hypocrite but flat out tenured.

Anyway, Clarke has an interesting take on the meaning of our theomorphism, which I like so much that I think I'll run it by Petey to see if he can declare it to be Infallibly Settled Doctrine.

Clarke makes the point that it cannot be a question of our having the "positive infinite plenitude" which "is proper to God alone." In other words, we are not God. Nevertheless,

there can be an image of the divine infinity in silhouette -- in reverse, so to speak -- within man, precisely in his possession of an infinite capacity for God, or, more accurately, a capacity for the Infinite, which can be satisfied by nothing less.

Now we're talking, and I have a feeling this will indeed segue nicely into our next subject. Because when you think about it, infinitude of any kind is a queer thing. True, other animals are infinitely ignorant, but they don't know that they don't know, nor is their ignorance ordered to anything that transcends their ignorance.

As it so happens, I've been rereading the three volume edition of Hayek's Law, Legislation and Liberty, which you might think has nothing whatsoever to do with God, but truth is truth no matter where we find it.

What do I mean? I don't want to get too far ahead of the present post, but it's unusual enough to recognize that we don't know. But how many people understand that 1) we can't know it all, and that 2) this is a good thing?

Among other things, this means it is wholly unreasonable to be a mere rationalist, i.e., to imagine that reason alone is sufficient to describe reality, much less human beings. If reason doesn't recognize its own limits, tyranny is right around the corner. To put it another way, would-be tyrants from Rousseau to Newsom always want to enclose us in their little rationalistic worlds, with catastrophic consequences.

Gavin Newsom? Aren't you giving this twerp a little too much credit for the decline and fall of California?

Yes and no. Consider his fidelity to the religion of global warming. I was about to say it has nothing to do with the state going up in flames, but radical environmentalism actually has everything to do with it, since it is responsible for the failure to clear forests, for pouring money into renewable energy instead of upgrading our ancient and fire-prone electrical grid, and for eliminating the nuclear power plants that would give us cheap, plentiful, and clean electricity.

But back to Hayek for a moment. What is his thing, his one Big Idea? Yes, the Fatal Conceit that we not only know more than we think we do, but that we can know things that we cannot possibly know and can never know. For a motley bunch of contingent primates, these metaphysical Darwinians sure presume to know a lot!

The fatal conceit applies in particular to complex systems such as the economy, but what if I told you the cosmos itself is a complex system? And that it is a fundamental error to believe that ultimate reality is characterized by the simple systems described (and describable) by physics? What if the universe of biology is actually larger than the universe of physics, rather than a subset of it?

Is this a "paradox"? No, not at all. Not if you examine the interior of your own skull and consider just what it contains. Which brings us back to Clarke; recall that man is, as it were, the negative image of God's infinitude:

This negative image points unerringly toward the positive infinity of its original, and is intrinsically constituted by this relation of tendential capacity.

I don't think that word -- tendential -- means what he thinks it means. Rather, he's thinking of "tending toward," certainly not "tendentious": that our own negative infinitude is always dynamically linked to God's positive infinitude, thus the ceaseless flow of energies. Polarization. That's how it works. Unless your battery is dead.

Come to think of it, someone said Joe Biden is a flashlight with a dying battery. That's true, but what's wrong with the battery of anyone who would actually vote for this blinking idiot? That's a deep question which will take us too far afield. But there is a kind of battery-powered darkness, isn't there? Moreover, it mimics the human-divine dynamic described above. Hmm. What could be the source and nature of this dark power?

Clarke continues:

It is as though -- as with the ancient myths -- God had broken the coin of his Infinity in two, holding on to the positive side Himself and giving us the negative side, then launching us into the world of finites with the mission to search until we have matched our half-coin with his.

Yes, I'm actually stroking my chin. This is true, as far as it goes. But what if, in this launching of infinitude into the world, God also launches himself into the world? What if this kenotic circle is the last word, or better, the Alpha and Omega of what we can say of the total metacosmic situation?

I don't want to end a post with a question. Was it a rhetorical question?

Friday, September 11, 2020

I'll See Your Theory and Raise You One Vision

And now the rest of the post -- the one about all there is to know about all there is. Clarke continues:

The entire mental life of man consists in gradually filling in this at first conceptually empty and indeterminate but limitless horizon of being with increasingly determinate conceptual comprehension, as we step by step come to know one part of this totality after another.

The "conceptually empty and indeterminate but limitless horizon of being" is none other than O; while the endlessly flowing knowledge thereof is (k). Our intellectual life assumes the structure of O --> (k).

Of course, we can always turn that around and adopt a (k) --> O approach; this is acceptable so long as we don't go too far. For it is possible -- or maybe even likely -- to superimpose (k) over O, with the result that we are no longer in touch with reality, but only our little theory about it.

If and when a particular (k) --> O becomes rigid and static, this is precisely the point at which the idea becomes ideology, science becomes scientism, and philosophy becomes philodoxy. You could say Socrates is killed all over again. Scott Adams claims President Trump is the most successful stand-up comedian of all time. He's certainly the most successful today, but we'll have to wait another 2400 years to find out if we're still reading his wisecracks, as we are with Socrates:

I am only too conscious that I have no claim to wisdom, great or small. So what can he [the O-racle] mean by asserting that I am the wisest man in the world?

....[B]y dog, gentlemen -- for I must be frank with you -- my honest impression was this. It seemed to me, as I pursued my investigation, that those men with the greatest reputations for being wise, were almost entirely deficient, while others who were supposed to be their inferiors were much better qualified in practical intelligence.

To paraphrase the immortal gagfly, "it seems that I am wiser than our so-called elites -- our media-tenure complex -- to this small extent, that at least I don't freaking pretend to know what I don't know, or to presume expertise in one subject just because I know a little about another. I'm not Fredo Cuomo, let alone Paul Krugman."

So, (k) --> O is fine, so long as (k) is used to probe and explore O, not to foreclose it. The same applies to religion, by the way. Don't light a match to try to illuminate the sun!

Speaking of which, just as the sun exerts a powerful gravitational pull on us, so too does O. You could even say that O is the sun, or central star, of our intellectual and spiritual life; specifically, it attracts via love, truth, beauty, and unity.

Angelus Silesius: The abyss in me calls out to the abyss in God. Tell me, which is deeper?

Correct: the latter. Nevertheless, our little earth does indeed exert a gravitational attraction on the sun. Does the sun feel it? Does God hear our prayers?

We'll come back to that question in a subsequent post. For now, let's just say that the Divine Attractor

gives full intelligibility to the horizon of being itself, as its unifying center and source, and also confers full and magnificent intelligibility on the natural dynamism of my mind and the whole intellectual life arising out of it.

Yup. We are oriented to this "ultimate Fullness," to "the ultimate Whereunto of [our] whole intellectual life":

This at once launches us in a new direction, no longer along merely horizontal lines at the same level of things, but in a vertical ascent toward qualitatively ever-higher and richer realities.

Yesireebob, we "suddenly become aware in a kind of epiphany of self-discovery precisely that its very nature is to be an inexhaustible abyss that can comprehend and leap beyond any finite or series of finites..."

This goes to what we symbolize (¶), which is drawn and

magnetized toward an actually existing, totally fulfilling goal, which confers upon it total and magnificent meaningfulness and opens before it a destiny filled with inexhaustible light and hope.

You could say that "Man is an embodied affirmation of the Infinite," which goes to the reality of Incarnation and all it implies. But for now we'll leave off with this:

If I accept and listen to this radical innate pull of my nature as intellectual being, if I accept this nature gratefully and humbly as a gift, I will affirm with conviction the existence of the ultimate Fullness and Center of all being, the lodestar that draws my intelligence ever onward.

Amen. For a child's job.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

All There Is To Know About All There Is

I just reread W. Norris Clarke's The Philosophical Approach to God, and he comes very close to disclosing the whole darn secret of the Way of the Raccoon. Which is plain irresponsible. But since it's now out there, I suppose no further harm can come from my usual vulgarization.

Here's the bottom line:

As we reflect on the activities of our intellectual knowing power, we come to recognize it as an exhaustible dynamism of inquiry, ever searching to lay hold more deeply and widely on the universe of reality. It is impossible to restrict its horizon of inquiry to any limited area of reality, to any goal short of all there is to know about all that there is (emphasis mine).

Thomas Aquinas famously -- and correctly -- says that Every knower knows God implicitly in anything it knows. Some people don't know this, which imperils what little knowledge they might otherwise possess, since this knowledge will have no ground, no deeper context, no principle to establish and justify even its own possibility.

Nothing in this world -- no conceivable finite fact -- satisfies the inexhaustible dynamism of the intellect. Go ahead and try. Yes, you can always arbitrarily stop with this fact or that theory, but you're only fooling yoursoph:

For our experience of knowing reveals to us that each time we come to know some new object or aspect of reality we rest in it at first, savoring its intelligibility as far as we can (Clarke).

Mmm, intelligibility.

But as soon as we run up against its limits and discover that it is finite, the mind at once rebounds farther, reaching beyond it to wherever else it leads, to whatever else there is to be known beyond it.


No, it's okay. You just have to be content with the permanent and ineradicable structure of human knowing: we can only know anything because we can't know everything; or in other words, science is necessarily sponsored by omni-science:

"This process [of knowing] continues indefinitely in ever-expanding and ever-deepening circles" (otherwise known as a spiral). And as we reflect upon this inspiraling process of be-coming and of coming-into-being, "we realize that the only adequate goal of our dynamism of knowing is the totality of being."

Exactly. The "totality of being" is what we call O: it is the ground and telos of all knowing; it is our horizon of being -- or better, it is always just over the horizon.

But there's more, because our dynamic space of knowing isn't just "nothing," but ordered by ascending and descending energies and currents. How do we know this? This is like asking a sailor how he knows about wind. You don't have to know that wind is a side effect of high and low pressure areas seeking equilibrium to float your boat.

Likewise, you don't have to know about the eternal plenitude of the Divine Object to know stuff. An atheist blowhard can nevertheless get somewhere -- to tenure, and beyond! -- with science, just as a sailor who believes wind is caused by God sneezing can still get blown somewhere.

In any event, the Divine Object "naturally attracts or draws" the dynamic intellect toward itself. Which means that

the mind has, from its first conscious movement from emptiness toward fulfillment, a kind of implicit, pre-conceptual, anticipatory grasp or foretaste of being as the encompassing horizon and goal of all its inquiries.... This is to live mentally within the horizon of being.

Again, it's where we're always living anyway. Might as well be aware of it.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Back to Normal

Back to normal, in the sense that for the past week I haven't been impelled to bang out a lengthy post on some obscure subject first thing in the morning. Who would want to do that? It's a curious affliction, like vertical Tourette's or something.

Is this a temporary remission or a spontaneous cure? Don't get your hopes up. Over the past 15 years there have been numerous faux recoveries, only for the logorrhea to come roaring back, often worse than before. It's like an addiction, I suppose: you're never really cured, but can only take it one day at a time.