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Category: Philosophy

The philosophy of science, empiricism, a priori reasoning, epistemology, and so on.

June 17, 2018 | No comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Human Happiness Does Not Come In Health

Previous post.

Strange (again again) are the things men seek out.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In Goods of the Body

1 Moreover, that man’s highest good does not lie in goods of the body, such as health, beauty, and strength, is clearly evident from similar considerations. For these things are possessed in common by both good and bad men; they are also unstable; moreover, they are not subject to the will.

2 Again, the soul is better than the body, which is not alive, and which does not possess the aforementioned goods except by means of the soul. So, a good of the soul, like understanding and that sort of thing, is better than a good of the body. Therefore, the good of the body is not man’s highest good.

3 Besides, these goods are common to men and other animals. But felicity is the proper good of man. Therefore, man’s felicity does not lie in the aforesaid goods.

4 Moreover, many animals are better endowed than men, as far as the goods of the body go; for some are faster than man, some are stronger, and so on. If, then, man’s highest good lay in these things, man would not be the most excellent of animals; which is obviously false. Therefore, human felicity does not consist in goods of the body.

That Human Felicity Does Not Lie in the Senses

1 In the same way, it is also apparent that man’s highest good does not lie in the goods of his sensitive part. For these goods, too, are common to men and other animals.

2 Again, intellect is better than sense. So, the good of the intellect is better than the good of the senses. Therefore, man’s highest good does not lie in sense.

Notes And you have proved that, dear reader, by reading these lines.

3 Besides, the greatest pleasures in the sense order have to do with food and sexual activities; and so, the highest good ought to lie in these areas, if it were in sense. But it is not found in these things. Therefore, man’s highest good does not lie in the senses.

Notes This relies on the hard lesson we learned a few weeks back.

4 Moreover, the senses are treasured because of their usefulness, and also because of their knowledge. Now, the entire utility of the senses has reference to the goods of the body. But sense cognition is subordinated to intellectual cognition; thus, animals devoid of understanding take no pleasure in sensing, except in regard to some benefit pertaining to the body, according as they obtain food or sexual satisfaction through sense knowledge. Therefore, man’s highest good, his felicity, does not lie in his sensitive part.

June 14, 2018 | 3 Comments

If The Founding Principles Were So Great, How’d We Get To Where We Are? Part II

Read Part I (first!).

Munoz is right to show there was not unanimity among the Founders. Most adopted the language of rights, but some tempered this with doses of natural-law reality. For instance, James Wilson: “In a state of natural liberty [the state of nature], every one is allowed to act according to his own inclination, provided he transgress not those limits, which are assigned to him by the law of nature.” This brings the focus to natural law, but through the lens of rights, not duties. Contrast a direct statement along the lines of “The civil law will follow the natural law.” And now, of course, we have the State denying the limits of our natures—as if our essence can be decided by whim and law and not nature.

The natural law follows from the nature of things. Since all things have natures, or essences, and we are things, and since natures have to have an Author, it is well to learn about this Author and what we might owe Him. Thus we finally arrive at the difficult subject of religion. The State now, and the State at the founding had a religion, even though at the founding it was decided not to call the State’s religion a religion. (As we learned from Anthony Kennedy, that religion is the deification of man.) The idea was that if the State’s religion was not called a religion, worship would not be mandated as worship. Mandating worship is equivalent to mandating thought, a condition about which the Founders were rightly afraid. Funny how we ended up where we were designed not to go. It is now the “law of the land” that people must swear to believe absolute violations of the natural law. There now exist genuine thought crimes.

It wasn’t always so. Madison quoting Jefferson (quoted by Munoz, quoted by me) wrote “We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, ‘that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.'” It does not follow from this that State cannot or must not declare a religion. It only says that mandating worship and thought is verboten. Disallowing calling the State’s metaphysical position, which necessarily must exist, a religion allows the State to mandate thought because when it does so it can say it is not mandating worship of an official religion. It is merely, it will say, forcing compliance with a law. Obviously, Christianity was never our State’s official religion, though many forms of it were tacit. But notice that none of the Founders insisted the natural law would be official, either. They left its unacknowledged religion entirely up to “reason”, by which path we have reached unreason.

The radicals cannot thus agree with Munoz when he says “Liberalism, accordingly, recognizes that religious authority and the teaching of religious truth properly fall under the domain of churches alone.” Liberalism, as the radicals have it, acknowledges freedom of thought (which is not equivalent to what we now call freedom of speech) and the right to withhold worship. Outside families, that is; inside families is their own business (children can be made to worship, for example). There is nothing illiberal with having the State teach religion. It can teach the wrong religion, of course, and does (as we have seen) and that can be illiberal. Unless the State officially acknowledges an authority higher than itself, eventually the State becomes the religion. (We saw an outright statement of this conclusion from a Chinese official recently.)

If instead the State laid out with specificity and limits of what its official religion was, while also declaring freedom of thought and association, we might have a real liberalism, at least about religion. Look to once Great Britain for an example. They have an official State religion without mandatory worship. They also have an unofficial State religion, much like our own, with mandated acquiescence. The problem is that the more the religion differs from the natural law, the further from liberalism the society goes. Real liberalism is the freedom to do what is right. And what is right must be based on the natural law. We increasingly lack the freedom to do what is right because our religion is inimical to the natural law.

Also, the constant talk of rights diminishes acknowledgement of the duty to worship. A true liberalism would not see religious police à la Saudi Arabia beating layabouts on the noggin on Sunday mornings. Nor would it develop into clericalism as long as the religion can be made to understand its limitations (which are also in part constrained by the natural law). The State and the religion must not become one. But this does not preclude the State from encouraging worship. Again, it does so now (but it does not call its regulations worship).

Now Munoz also says “The liberal state is limited to safeguarding liberty because religious truth lies beyond its authority. In disparaging liberalism, the ‘radical’ Catholics, perhaps unwittingly, raise doubts about the propriety of the separation of church and state and about the legitimacy of religious freedom.” This is false because a person in government who holds a religious truth brings that religious truth to the State. He can and must use that truth for the actions he takes in government. To say the person is forbidden to bring religious thought with him, and that he must not use religious convictions as the basis of his official actions, is illiberal. It also strengthens the State’s Religion That Shall Not Be Named.

Our enemies understand this point (here’s one example). This is why they push for the exclusion of religion from all State business, including the use of religious principles by State officials (leading to the Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy). This is allowed because of “freedom from religion”, which arises from (current) liberalism’s separation of Church and State. The more these forbidden religious principles align with the natural law and can be made to seem religious and not deductions from natural law, obviously the further the State will recede from the natural law. You say a man pretending to be a woman is a man? That’s religious bigotry! That it is also a hideous violation of natural law no longer counts. The pseudo-transformation must then be judged on other merits. Again we’re back to Kennedy.

Munoz does allow there is some justice to the radicals’ point about the path from then to now. “American liberalism, whatever its original character, has produced a decadent and deplorable legal and moral culture.” And “The Founders held that the primary purpose of government is to secure natural rights.” That is, in short form, the argument of the radicals: equality and rights and not the natural law were the actual founding principles. Munoz also admits

[The Founders] did not embrace Aristotle’s teachings that the purpose of politics is to make men virtuous and that law should be used to coercively habituate moral virtue, but they did understand that their constitutional republic would depend on virtue for its success. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People,” John Adams stated.

The radicals say the Founders had it backwards and that Aristotle was right. Adams was lucky to live at a time when virtue was thicker on the ground than now, and he incorrectly forecasted (or wishcasted) its continued presence. It was not a terrible guess, which we know because so many great men thought the same. But nobody bats a thousand.

Munoz still denies the path. “If we Americans are no longer sufficiently virtuous, the fault lies primarily with us, not our founding principles.” It’s true we are to blame for our own decisions (everybody always is), but this is not to disprove we got here from the actual founding principles of equality and rights. Now it could be the emphasis on equality and rights at the Founding was not what we are making it out to be, and that the natural law had a more prominent place. There is surely some truth in that, but because equality is false and rights were always made to seem like a gift to the State (“Bill of Rights”), we did not start from an ideal place.

I won’t discuss, as Munoz does, the Constitution, because it is clear (to him, too) that whatever is written must be interpreted. The radicals say that grounding interpretations on equality and rights gives us results—voil&agrave!—aligned with equality and rights. Because equality is false, and rights are (believed to be) granted by the State, to enforce equality and award rights, the State must inexorably grow. Hence abortion, gmarriage, etc., say the radicals. That story is so well known we don’t need to retell it.

Classic liberals could retort, again with some force, that all civilizations commit suicide or are conquered eventually, and what makes us so special? Equality and rights gave us a good two hundred-plus years! Even if we started with natural law, we’d end up in a ditch sooner or later. Well, who could but agree? Plus what makes all this discussion almost pointless is that however we started we are where we are now, and we all see where we’re going (including Munoz, God bless him), and we also see that only the insane want to get to the final destination. The real questions are: can we get from where we are to a better place? If so, how?

Here Munoz joins with the radicals. We must “regain both political wisdom and the character that befits a constitutional people. Reacquaintance with our actual liberal principles and a return to belief in the existence of an obligatory moral law are essential.” (This does not imply the Constitution has to remain as it was.) I think it is only politeness (for Munoz is a learned and humble man) that has him say that to institute a preeminence of the natural law “may require a reemergence of religious belief, especially among the cultural elite where it has precipitously declined.” The radical would change that “may” to “must’. We guess Munoz would too, in private, because he says “Morality, it must be recalled, is a precondition of political freedom.” That morality must be derived from the natural law.

Alas, I think that unless God looks with mercy on us, and so leads us to another Great Awakening (for which we all ought to pray), it is better to speak of an anticipated Restoration, as our reactionary friends have it. Anticipated because it assumes the slide toward the Left Singularity (as it has been called) will continue. Much worse is to come. The pace is anybody’s guess, but there is wisdom in the old phrase motus in fine velocior: things accelerate at the end.

Note: I do not mean for this to be a complete explanation or a brief in favor of Catholic integralism. All I want to establish here is that States founded on Equality & Rights, as seen here and in Europe, come to the same bad end.

June 13, 2018 | 15 Comments

Anthony Bourdain In Hell?

Hell exists. The unrepentant go there. By all accounts, and from the man’s own pen, Anthony Bourdain was unrepentant. Therefore, Anthony Bourdain is in Hell.

Or perhaps purgatory. Or maybe even Heaven itself. For though the argument above is perfectly valid, it is not necessarily sound. Missing from it is the premise that it is God, and God alone, who judges. Since God knows all, and we know but little, there could be any number of reasons God chose to show Bourdain mercy. Let us pray He did.

On the other hand, if we insert the premise of God’s potential mercy, we still are forced to concluded this: based on what we know, it is likely Anthony Bourdain is in Hell.

Now this is an unpleasant thought. Indeed, there is none more unpleasant. It is an awful, sickening thing to contemplate. The mind reels, and does its best to refuse to grasp the point. Why? Because we all know it could our own fate we have in mind. Which is well. It is why St Paul advised “with fear and trembling work out your salvation.”

Tweet Storm

Such thoughts were probably on the mind of David Leavitt, who tweeted “If you’re religious, then you believe there’s a special place in hell or purgatory for people like Anthony Bourdain who take their own lives.”

This, unfortunately, and with the same qualification about God’s mercy, is also true. Suicide in many cases, as the Catholic Encyclopedia writes, “constitutes a grave injustice towards Him.” Since the act is final, there is no chance to beg forgiveness.

Leavitt was careful not to claim to know definitively Bourdain is in Hell. But, again, it is not unlikely.

To say that people did not like hearing this is like saying Vlad the Impaler was displeased with Transylvania’s Saxons.

Many took the attitude that it was Leavitt, or Christians in general, who put Bourdain in Hell. This accounts for Patheos’s Matthew Stone’s article “Christians Claim Atheist Anthony Bourdain Is Burning In Hell.

Stone calls himself a “secular humanist”, which like Bourdain, signals an unwillingness to seek redemption. He said “There is no heaven, and there is no hell. Death is final, and that is tragedy enough. There is no afterlife.”

They said What?

Stone took exception to Leavitt’s tweet, and to tweets made by other Christians. Including some by the notorious Westboro Baptist Church.

That group is not known for their subtlety or in their accuracy in relating scripture. But in this case they said:

After lapping up the goods of this world—with no observable evidence that he sought and served God—Anthony Bourdain most likely faces a sorrowful and hopeless eternity in Hell. Oh, don’t follow him!!! #ServeGodAndLive #WhyWillYouDie

There is nothing wrong in that. And nothing in poor taste, either. And there is nothing wrong with clicking here and revealing the dramatic conclusion!

Pray for the soul of Anthony Bourdain, pray for mine (I could use it), and pray for yours, too.

June 12, 2018 | 15 Comments

If The Founding Principles Were So Great, How’d We Get To Where We Are? Part I

First, the founding principles of America were whatever they were; that is, there were principles stated and then there were principles actually adhered to (and these might be the same): the principles adhered to were the actual founding principles. Second, we are where we are; that is, accelerating on the slippery slope to Hell wearing greased shoes supplied and mandated by the State.

If you want to argue that we are where we are because of what the founding principles were, you have a case. We started from somewhere, and we ended up here. We did not start from some point other than the point we started from. That starting point was the actual founding principles, by definition. We are where we are, by observation. Therefore, there is a path from the actual principles to the point at which we now stand.

If you want to argue that we are where we are in spite of the founding principles, you can still make a case, but you have a much harder time of it. You can say that at some point we abandoned the founding principles, and so necessarily adopted other guiding principles in their place, and from those foreign guiding principles we ended up where we are now. But then you have to explain how the founding principles could not possibly have given way to the foreign principles. But the founding principles did in fact lead to the foreign principles. Even if it is not so the founding principles are exactly synonymous with our current degrading situation, the founding principles did allow the entrance of the foreign principles. The founding principles may not rhyme with our current state, but there is assonance.

Another way is to say the foreign principles were imposed by force, as in a war, by invaders who Believed Differently. There is no historical justification for this. Saying people through time came to a different understanding, and saw a gradual abandonment, of the founding principles is the same as saying the founding principles gave rise to foreign principles, etc. You can also argue, with some force, that no matter what founding principles are started with, any government instituted by men will come to a bad end. But that doesn’t explain how so many governments who have adopted principles which seem to be like ours have come to the same bad end, arriving from more or less the same path.

You can say the founding principles were not really the founding principles, but were something else. This could be so. We adopted as a definition of founding principles the principles that were in place at the founding, whatever they were. But those actual principles might be difficult to tease out. We don’t know what everybody then was thinking. What we do have are direct statements from the founders which say, “These are our founding principles.” That does not mean, of course, that these statements were the actual principles used by the government and people. But they could be, or there could only be overlaps.

That tortuous introduction was necessary to bring us to the current debate on the right about “liberalism”, which is said to be one of the declared if not actual founding principles. If “liberalism” (as yet undefined) was an actual founding principle, then there is a path from liberalism to where we are now. If instead liberalism was only a stated but not actual founding principle, then there was no path, and so it may be a good thing to actually try it.

Vincent Philip Munoz’s NRO article “Defending American Classical Liberalism” is as good an entry point to this deabte as any other. He contrasts “‘radical’ Catholics” (I lost count of the number of times he put scare quotes around radical) with classical liberals like himself. Patrick Deneen, Adrian Vermeule, and others say liberalism was an actual founding principle, and thus the path from it to here necessarily exists and is plain. Munoz, and many others, also say liberalism was an actual founding principle, but that liberalism did not have to lead to where we are. This is a counterfactual argument, meaning any number of premises can make it true. But the problem is, as our second premises insists, we are where we are and we are not where we are not. So really what Munoz has in mind, without understanding it, is that true liberalism was not an actual founding principle.

Munoz says the radicals deny that one of the founding principles was objective truth, and for evidence against this cites the Declaration of Independence which states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights.” From this it is obvious the founders held the principle of objective truth. Munoz asks “In what sense are men created equal?” and answers quoting Jefferson:

All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.

From this tortured (and generally untrue) paragraph, Munoz concludes “Both the Declaration and Jefferson in his commentary on it ground the truth of human equality in the created order of nature.” Equality and rights are thus claimed to be actual founding principles and to be true.

The radicals agree that equality and rights were actual founding principles, but disagree that those principles are true. Men are not created equal. No set of observations has yet verified equality; it has to be believed by theory alone. Radicals also say that it is more proper to speak of men endowed by their Creator with a certain inalienable nature or essence. This emphasizes duty over rights.

If insisting on equality and rights are what liberalism is, it is also clear that the path from liberalism to now is self-evident. Alexander Solzhenitsyn described the path as well as anybody. The end of the path is reached at Anthony Kennedy infamous words: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Munoz calls this (what it is) an “abomination”. But it is obvious to radicals, as it is not to Munoz, that Kennedy began with equality and rights and ended at an abomination. Munoz does not offer which principles he believes whence this abomination sprang.

Munoz next claims that it was an actual founding principle, and a theorem of equality and rights, that “consent is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of legitimate rule of man over man.” In support, he quotes Virginia’s Declaration of Rights: “All men are born equally free and independent…” and thus consent follows. Munoz says “To reject the necessity of consent, which some ‘radical’ Catholics seem to do, is to reject natural equality.”

A radical Catholic would say Rousseau himself could have written Virginia’s Declaration. A radical would therefore agree that consent is a theorem of equality and rights, but disagree that consent is necessary, or even attainable or desirable. Rousseau was wrong: men are not born free nor independent. Children do not (necessarily) consent to be ruled by their parents, nor do the aged, infirm, inducted, imprisoned, mentally feeble always give consent, and the rest of us do not always (and with decreasing frequency) consent to the rule of the State. Yet ruled we still are. Try standing on the street tomorrow and say “I withdraw my consent” and see what happens. (Hint: nothing.)

A difficulty here is it is now next to impossible to envisage a state that is not all-powerful, as ours is becoming. So when you try to imagine a different political system, such as, say, a monarchy, in which consent in the classical sense is absent, you are liable to see it as also all-powerful, and therefore tyrannical. This is an understandable but bad habit that colors all political discussions.

Munoz next claims it was an actual founding principle to distinguish “liberty from license.” The founders, he said, “understood liberty to be the exercise of freedom consistent with the precepts of the natural law; license was understood to be the exercise of freedom contrary to the natural law’s precepts.”

Allowing for differences in interpretations of natural law, radicals agree with these definitions of liberty and license. Radicals say, though, that these were not actual founding principles. They couldn’t be because there is no way to derive equality and our obsession of “rights” from natural law. The two cannot co-exist at the same time and in the same place. It’s one or the other, and the actual choice was equality and rights. Of course, since the natural law is true, and equality are rights are false, the natural law will time and again assert itself, just as gravity does to the man who claims it’s not fair that physical laws restrain him. This is why we can hear the Founders scorn license, but why we everywhere see it. The Founders could claim to adopt natural law as a principle, but without a rigorous explication of what the natural law was and meant, people were free to apply equality and rights to it, and we end up with Kennedy’s definition—which I’d bet he argues follows from what he means by “natural law.”

In Part II, obligations and religion and constitutionalism.