Scholastic investigations

At Throne and Altar, I have been writing about some of the tricky issues of scholastic philosophy.

  • Natural law:  Suppose there were vampires so constituted that they could only feed on human blood.  Would it be acceptable for them to prey on us?  To answer this question, I outline general principles of natural law reasoning.  (Natural law arguments often skip important steps)
  • Divine simplicity:  If God is identical with His attributes, how can he have contingent properties such as knowing about His creation?  I clarify the doctrine using the idea of state spaces.
  • Prime matter:  Do we really need it?  Could it be rather that everything is information?  Possibly, but this would have some surprising consequences.  I make this point while reviewing William Dembski’s Being as Communion.
  • Analogy of Being:  No original analysis by me, but I review Kris McDaniel’s The Fragmentation of Being, in which he makes a case for rehabilitating this doctrine for contemporary analytic philosophy.
  • Predestination:  I have a look at Garrigou-Lagrange’s explanation of why God doesn’t give efficacious grace to everyone.

19 thoughts on “Scholastic investigations

  1. On matter and information. The word “materialism” has different meanings. A lot of people simply think it is lack of belief in anything supernatural. But actually… if you look at for example Engels, Marx’s friend, he said it was the evolution of the hand that made humans human, because it enabled us doing work. Materialism in this narrow sense means a fascination with and a focus on the purely physical, like manual labor.

    Yet, today, wouldn’t most everybody, liberal or conservative, theist or atheist, say that it was the evolution of speech that humans human? And other forms of communication like facial expressions? Just hit up the Wiki on the evolution of human intelligence and most theories say human intelligence is rooted in social intelligence and tool-making is secondary.

    So in this sense people are less materialist now, ready to accept not only matter but also things like communication, information matters. Of course. The model of society is no longer the factory. The modern proletarian is a Facebook moderator or works in a call center. We all are infoworkers now. Almost all.

    So we went from the age of steel to the age of information. IT. Telecommunication. Internet. So people understand now that information really matters. That is what not being a materialist means in the narrow sense: that not only matter matters, but also information.

    And information is funny. It really has no material constraints. Like it can take different froms, pixels in a form of “4” or “IV” drawn in sand and yet it means the same thing. But it requires minds. It requires intent. It informs only if one sends a message and another receives it. Because it can be the same information only if the intent of the sender is the same. Another weird attribute of information is non-scarcity, just look up the debates like “piracy is not theft, theft removes the original thing, piracy just makes a copy”. Information is truly weird. I would not call it supernatural, but very different from physical matter. Call it meta-physical? I wonder in how many steps could one go from the idea of information to God’s existence?

    • Good point.

      > And information is funny. It really has no material constraints.

      Dembski claims to be using “information” in its technical sense, and the Shannon entropy does have a direct connection to thermodynamic entropy and its associated material constraints, but it’s not clear to me that information in this sense does the work Dembski needs it to.

  2. Pingback: Scholastic investigations | Reaction Times

  3. There could be no better example of how morally and intellectually bankrupt Thomism became than in the Banezian concept of grace and predestination expounded by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. It’s an absolutely morally odious God defended by reams and reams of intellectual sophistry. It lost the fight not only in the world but also in the Church because it deserved to lose.

    God predetermines that men sin and damn themselves by only giving them sufficient, but not efficacious, grace. IOW, God makes sin metaphysically impossible to avoid and then apparently then is going to manifest His “Justice” to mankind when He punishes it. Worse yet, He is supposedly the “Father” of these very same men which makes Him guilty of felony child abuse.

    The Thomist responses to this are completely and utterly laughable, and just again unfortunately show how quick people are in general to shut off critical thinking skills when truth and facts get in the way of an ideology. Just a few examples of what you will hear from Thomists:

    1. The sufficient grace produced the good act in potency, so it (and by extension salvation) was in fact possible. Deny this, and you deny that potencies can exist without being actualized.
    2. Efficacious grace would have followed had the sufficient grace not been resisted, so it’s therefore the person’s fault for not receiving the efficacious grace.
    3. God doesn’t “owe” efficacious grace to anyone, so no one can complain about not having it.
    4. Even though salvation is rendered metaphysically impossible “in the composite sense” due to God’s permissive will, it is nevertheless possible “in the divided sense”. So therefore no one can complain that salvation is impossible.
    5. It isn’t Calvinism because God isn’t the cause of the sin (the cause of the sin is human defectibility), and there is only a negative predestination (unlike the double predestination of the Calvinists). And this distinction makes all the difference in the world.

    And again, all this is completely 100% intellectually bankrupt. But the Thomists are forced into this because they are not, under any circumstances, going to admit the Emperor in fact is naked.

    • St Thomas himself did pronounce all his writings were ‘like straw’, so I suppose we certainly ought not grant him anything like the authority of Scripture. We are Christians first. Christianity got on quite well for twelve centuries without Thomas. It’s undeniable that there have been multiple difficulties since his time. The doctrine of salvation is so important for each individual human being that it is difficult not to stray from the thin line that divides the Jansennist and the Universalist. Aquinas has written much that is helpful, but obviously he didn’t get everything right. He was wrong on the Immaculate Conception. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that he might be wrong on the doctrine of Salvation. Still, I’d regard such as Fr Garrigou-Lagrange as having been an important bulwark against the tendencies of Universalism which have become very dominant in certain sectors of the Church. From what I’ve read of Maritain, he was quite a weak predestinationist, tending to define salvation as a final free choice at the point of death. There seemed to be a strong element of ‘between the stirrup and the ground’ with the latter.

      Any recommended reading?

      • I read some writings by the late Father John Hardon that tease out what has long been a divergence of opinion in the Church between the Molinist and the Banezian sides. I agree that the sentence you quote is inappropriate, but there’s a very important debate behind it all, one which has never been finally resolved. One may hold to either opinion and remain a Catholic in good standing.

    • Hi Lonely Professor,

      Regarding 5, I think the situation of the Thomist is even more awkward than you say. Having actually read a Calvinist, I find that many don’t believe in double predestination. That there is any difference between the followers of Aquinas and Calvin on this issue is not clear to me.

  4. Has anybody seen the article on First Things about David Bentley Hart’s new book arguing for universalism?

    You can expect an Eastern Orthodox theologian to be about to break from his own tradition when he starts going extra heavy on the Augustine-bashing. It’s really a shame that Saint Augustine made up this idea of eternal damnation and then traveled back in time to convince Jesus of it. Imagine the happy religion we might otherwise have had.

    I admit that I’d be happy if the prospect of eternal damnation could be somehow made to go away. It seems to me, though, that if you’re going to make all of Jesus’ words on the subject completely figurative, the most credible thing to do would be to just declare all the New Testament’s talk of an afterlife figurative. Some people die in mortal sin and God judges them to be bad, so they are “damned”, but no need to worry about never-ending pain, because all talk about life after death really just refers to one’s terminal relationship with God or the universe, or whatever. I wouldn’t say this reading of scripture has much to recommend it textually, but it’s more consistent than simply throwing out the bits one doesn’t like.

  5. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 09/22/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

  6. Regarding Divine Simplicity, since this means God occupies a state space of one, He cannot be used as a contrastive explanation for anything in creation, including the particular decision of a created will.

    • Correct! With a Simple God, one can’t explain contingent beings (i.e. God’s action of creating them) by referring to God’s internal state. Then again, if God did have contingent mental states that could explain His contingent acts (i.e. a non-simple God), this would only push back the unexplainable fact one level. By beginning with an acceptance of contingent facts, I must reject the principle of sufficient reason and allow unexplainable facts somewhere. The idea that a being’s actions might have no sufficient explanation in its own state is very counterintuitive but not obviously incoherent. I find it fascinating, and I’m glad you’ve picked up on it.

    • A being that occupies a state space is posterior to that space, and so by the definition of God cannot be God. God is by definition Ultimate, thus prior to all other things, including state spaces. So if we are talking about something that occupies a state space, we can’t be talking about God.

      God is as it were the space, forecondition and limit of state spaces, and of all other sorts of spaces. Spaces do not limit God; on the contrary.

      Nevertheless, that God is prior to all spaces does not mean he may not be in any of them; indeed, as ubiquitous, he is (again by definition of God) present in all of them, not just as their environment and basis, but as participant in them throughout, and as agent.

      That I operate in the real world does not mean I cannot operate in the virtual worlds that are its subdomains. I can write a book in which I am a character. My participation in the plot of the book nowise impugns or diminishes my life in the real world; does not at all affect my essential character. So likewise with God.

      It is certainly impossible to explain contingencies by reference to an internal contingent state of God. An internal contingent state of God would by the definition of contingency continge upon some other thing, such as some other, prior state of God, which if it were contingent would likewise continge; so that an infinite regress would loom. And an infinite regress is a property of hypotheses that cannot explain; that cannot be explanations.

      But there is no reason we should look to internal states of God to explain contingencies. We can for such explanations look to God as necessary, simpliciter, period full stop. For, it is not the case that contingencies can be caused only by contingencies. They can be caused by necessities. Viz., every contingent thing is formally caused by necessary truths of math and logic.

      So, we don’t need to worry about abandoning the PSR in respect to contingencies in order to explain them – about, that is to say, abandoning the intelligibility of mundane things, and thus foreclosing any possibility of ever explaining them. Because why? Because we can abandon the PSR at God – or rather, to speak more carefully, we can adduce God himself as the sufficient reason for God: for, what is necessary is by necessity sufficiently reasonable, in virtue of the fact that it could not possibly be otherwise than it is.

      • We do still have to abandon thinking there is a sufficient reason why God created one set of creatures rather than another. Even in theism, not every question has an answer (although every non-necessary being has a cause).

      • I see what you mean. It’s a good point. I would say however rather that we have to abandon thinking there is a sufficient reason why God created one set of creatures rather than another *that we can understand;* that on theism, not every question has an answer *that we can know.* To suggest that we could thus either understand or know would be to suggest that we could comprehend God, which is of course silly.

        To say that every non-necessary being has a cause just is to say that it has a sufficient reason.

        Evidently, God has sufficient reason to create the worlds that he creates, even though we can’t comprehend that reason. One suggestion however is that God creates all cosmogonies that end in his mundane victory, and forbears to create any others. Another is that he creates only worlds that are more good than bad. Upon examination, these two suggestions amount to the same thing; for, what is predominantly good will tend predominantly to the good.

        NB: These suggestions are not tantamount to a theological verification of the MWI.

  7. By the way, looks like Feser has responded to your review of Aristotle’s Revenge – see his most recent post (I haven’t read it yet). I’m glad to see that he’s engaging with some of your objections.


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