James Chastek’s Just Thomism is one of the sites I read without fail. I like it because he teaches me lots of things. He closed comments a while ago because responding to them took up too much time. So here is what I would have commented at his blog if he still allowed comments, in response to this post:
Many of the books in the “decline of the West” genre – which was already old by the time Weaver published Ideas have Consequences in 1948 but which still sells (Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed) – tell a curious narrative of decline over very large time scales. If Nominalism or Hobbesianism were as harmful as claimed, why is the diseased host still alive a half-millennium later?
Now that’s a good question. I myself have contributed a fair bit to the literature wailing and bemoaning nominalism. How do I answer the question?
I have from time to time argued that this or that indispensable aspect of our lives presupposes in its partiality and incompleteness the prior exhaustive comprehension and completeness of the eternal divine act, so that absent that act we could not do what we do in fact constantly do. The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude and The Argument from Truth both come to mind. The basic motion of such arguments is this: you can’t get a posteriori partiality or finitude of any sort unless wholeness and infinity have been accomplished a priori. More simply, the a posteriori as such presupposes the a priori, and cannot come to pass without it. No infinity, then no finite thing whatever.
If one doesn’t see the universe as existing for God, he starts seeing it as existing both for itself and for human use. But this idea will get quickly and inevitably extended to that part of nature which concerns what we most desire, i.e. the objects of erotic desire. These desires then become the paradigm cases of what is both divine-eternal and yet merely for human use, thus making sexual imperatives simultaneously the voice of God and yet only the commands of “my body”. Like anything tied up with the reward system of the brain, however, if we try to make it infinite it leads to a ratcheting-up effect that demands greater and greater novelty, though this novelty becomes difficult to find without transgression of the boundaries of behaviors that were once kept off limits. At this point, the human person becomes simply a transgression machine, seeing in the infinite possibility of spirit only the limitless boundaries to destroy.
He has here in a few sentences summed the entire discourse of the orthosphere upon the modern disease.
Philosopher James Chastek is one of the most economical writers you are ever likely to read. Often, his posts demand considerable deliberation, first to get what they are saying, second to get to the bottom of what they are saying, and third to contemplate the sequelae for one’s own understanding of what they are saying. Not infrequently, there is a fourth step: theoria, a state of pure contemplation.
In a post on the maximum practical size of a true polis – i.e., a human organization that can function as the medium of a truly political life – he sets forth in just a few paragraphs the basic problem of the political organization of modern industrial society:
One can’t scale up the polis forever and keep it as a common good, since when it becomes too big … The number of well-intentioned regulations reaches a point where a reasonable man is no longer a standard for what should be done, at which point he is replaced by consultants and court scribes. In response to all problems and difficulties involving human relations, we no longer think “what would a reasonable person do?” but “We ought to check with our lawyers to see whether this is okay”. But as soon as political life ceases to cultivate the standard of the reasonable man, it ceases to be an expression of genuine human flourishing.
Though there is no bright yellow line marking where it happens, at some point the size of the government hits a tipping point where it no longer is the action of us but an of an It; and we can no longer look to it as an institution within which we exercise political life but only as a Leviathan that we must appease with tax-offerings and paperwork and exploit for whatever resources it might offer us.
Read the whole thing. Then, if you have lots and lots of time to devote to the project, check out a few of his other posts. But be ready: a comfortable chair, a serene room, strong coffee, and some baroque chamber music in the background are recommended. Chastek is like mind candy that is as nourishing as beef.
In the comments of Alan Roebuck’s recent post on the God of the Philosophers, Josh asked us to explain how God can be a Trinity and yet also Simply One. It’s a tough question. While I can’t honestly say that I understand the notion, I do feel as though I have the beginnings of a grasp on it. I worry about it a lot; I have for about 30 years. Every now and then, I feel as though my grasp has improved appreciably. Five days ago, I awoke out of a sound sleep at 4:00 am, thinking about the Trinity, and observed for two hours as my grasp improved a bit. It wasn’t as though I did anything, other than watch a flower unfold.
What follows is a record of my thoughts that morning. It was an interesting couple of hours, spent in a state half dreamy, half-awake, yet fully aware the whole time, and every ten minutes or so turning on the bedside light to make another note. Eventually the sky turned grey, and I arose to get some coffee.