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Category: Philosophy

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

February 11, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: Evil is Based on the Good

Previous post.

We have a very easy week, a short chapter defining how evil is in a good thing, and what that means. This is a mopping up chapter, collecting the threads of the weeks before. We’re not done with evil, by any stretch. Note that St Thomas is being very careful to define all this terms, which are all technical. This is especially necessary for us moderns, who use evil in loose, inconsistent and confusing ways. In other words, Aquinas is under obligation to use words in the way we moderns use them, but we are obliged to understand precisely what he means.

That Evil is Based on the Good

1 It can also be shown from the preceding considerations that every evil is based on some good.

2 Indeed, evil cannot exist by itself, since it has no essence, as we have demonstrated. Therefore, evil must be in some subject. Now, every subject, because it is some sort of substance, is a good of some kind, as is clear from the foregoing. So, every evil is in a good thing.

3 Again, evil is a certain privation, as is evident from the foregoing. Now, privation and the form that is deprived are in the same subject. But the subject of form is being in potency to form, and such being is good, because potency and act belong in the same genus. Therefore, the privation which is evil is present in a good thing, as in a subject.

4 Besides, something is called evil due to the fact that it causes injury. But this is only so because it injures the good, for to injure the evil is a good thing, since the corruption of evil is good. Now, formally speaking, it would not injure the good unless it were in the good; thus, blindness injures a man to the extent that it is in him. So, evil must be in the good.

5 Moreover, evil is not caused, except by the good, and then only accidentally. But everything that occurs accidentally is reducible to that which is by itself. So, with a caused evil which is the accidental effect of the good, there must always be some good which is the direct effect of the good as such, and thus this good effect is the foundation of the evil. For what exists accidentally is based on that which exists by itself.

6 However, since good and evil are contraries, one of these contraries cannot be the subject for the other; rather, it excludes the other. It will seem to someone, at first glance, that it is improper to say that good is the subject of evil.

7 Yet it is not improper, provided the truth be investigated to its limit. Good is spoken of in just as general a way as being, since every being, as such, is good, as we have proved.

Now, it is not improper for non-being to be present in being, as in a subject. Indeed, any instance of privation is a non-being, yet its subject is a substance which is a being. However, non-being is not present in a being contrary to it, as in a subject. For blindness is not universal non-being, but, rather, this particular non-being whereby sight is taken away. So, it is not present in the power of sight as its subject, but, rather, in the animal.

Likewise, evil is not present in a good contrary to it, as in its subject; rather, this contrary good is taken away by the evil. For instance, moral evil is present in a natural good, while a natural evil, which is a privation of form, is present in matter which is a good, in the sense of a being in potency.

February 8, 2018 | 64 Comments

You Don’t Have Free Will, Which Is Why You Make Such Bad Choices

Stream: You Don’t Have Free Will, Which Is Why You Make Such Bad Choices

There is a special kind of stupid achievable only by the intelligent (I resemble this remark). I’d ask you to pardon me for such a harsh statement, except that I can’t.

I didn’t have a choice but to say it. You didn’t have a choice in how you reacted to it. And if philosophy professor Tamler Sommers is right, nobody has any choice in anything they do.

Sommers says “recent advances in cognitive neuroscience” show that we must “abandon the deeply problematic concept of free will and ultimate moral responsibility.” We “feel free” and “We feel responsible”, but we are not.

One reason we don’t choose to leave behind the belief we can make choices is “is that the ethical implications of denying free will and moral responsibility seem terrifying.”

That sentence might not have been clear, so let me restate it. Sommers argues we have to abandon the idea we choose our actions. Only then will we make better choices. If we accept we are not morally responsible for our behavior, then our behavior will become more moral.

Be Not Afraid

There is not much sense in those renditions, either. Because there is no sense in Sommers’s position. If we cannot make choices, we cannot make choices. We can’t freely acknowledge we can’t make choices if we can’t make choices. If we are not morally responsible for what we do, then there are no immoral or moral acts.

Sommers is not alone in disbelieving in free will. Many modern philosophers agree with him. They acknowledge we common folk feel like we have free will, but they argue we are suffering an illusion.

Yet this is impossible. In order to have the “illusion” of making a free choice, a person had to have the ability to freely make a choice. As Alfred R. Mele says in Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, “If there is an illusion…it’s the illusion that there’s strong scientific evidence for the nonexistence of free will.”

There just is no philosophically consistent argument against free will. The acres of paper darkened with ink on this subject always end in absurd spectacle: a philosopher arguing why you have to freely choose to not believe in free will. And the implied farcical cry, “I do not have free will!”

The First Mistake

Why do philosophers like Sommers make this mistake? For two reasons.

The first is []

You have no choice: you must click here to read the rest.

February 6, 2018 | 6 Comments

Abortion Supporters Believe In Magic

Stream: Abortion Supporters Believe In Magic

Ireland has a Minister for Children named Katherine Zappone. Zappone supports abortion. She was asked about the “inherent contradiction” between her support and her position as Minister for Children at a recent public forum

She responded, “I believe that the fetus holds the potential for human life that develops over time. And I think my views in relation to abortion and the legislation are consistent with that view.”

If the fetus is only a blob of tissues that “holds the potential for human life”, then it must be that at some point in time the blob is transformed from a blob into a human being.

The only way this can happen is by magic.

Nothing Up Nature’s Sleeves

It has to be magic because there is no biological mechanism that operates as a switch that turns a lump of non-human flesh into a human being. Replacing the switch must be something magical.

To escape this conclusion some say the lump is partly human and gradually accretes humanness to itself until, one day, it has accumulated enough humanness to be called human. Let’s see why this requires magic, too.

Some say the fetus has accumulated enough humanness that it becomes human upon birth. If so, it must be that the magical contact with air imbues humanity into the blob. One brief moment before it was a blob. A quick puff of air and—hey, presto!—an inanimate mass of tissue becomes a tax deduction.

Viability is in the Eye of the Beholder

Others say the fetus has reached human-being level when it is “viable”; which is to say, when it can live outside the womb.

A century and more ago, with rare exceptions due to Cesarean births which occurred about the same time as a normal term birth, no fetus was viable before normal birth. The technology to preserve the fetus, whatever the fetus was, was not yet invented.

It is now the case that the fetus taken from pregnant women can survive outside the womb at very early ages given the aid of certain medical devices and drugs. The age this occurs grows earlier and earlier with each advancement in medical technology. It is not even science fiction to suggest that this age will progress to the point of conception.

Indeed, some fetuses are first created outside the womb in test tubes, and only later implanted. (We can here ignore the ethics of this.) It is reasonable to suppose that methods will eventually be invented to allow the fetus to grow entirely outside the womb.

Nonviable Arguments

It is thus clear viability cannot be what determines humanness. Why? Because viability []

If your mother didn’t abort you, click here to read the rest.

Update Presented without comment (except for the comment implied by saying “presented without comment”) more on Zappone.

February 5, 2018 | 48 Comments

Do Demons Exist?

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Do demons exist? Yes. Yes, of course. Accepting that, we infer angels exist, too.

How do we know these matterless creatures exist? Well, there is the direct and massive evidence of scripture, but that true testimmony is not likely to be accepted by people not of The Book. There have also throughout history been many (let us call them) sightings and interactions. These are dismissed as being the product of overwrought minds or are called mistakes or frauds. These charges are not always false.

Since these primary sources are in dispute, can we deduce the existence of demons and angels other ways? I think so. Here is an outline of that argument originated by St Thomas, understanding that a full treatment would require a book.

We start with the true premise that our intellects and wills are not material. They are not made of stuff. We have proved this many times, and will not take the time to do so here again. We are part spirit. Since our intellects are not material, they cannot corrupt as material things do. They must continue to exist after our bodies corrupt.

Since our intellects, our rational souls if you like, exist after our bodies turn to dust, it follows that intellects without bodies can exist. And if intellects without bodies can exist, creatures which are pure spirit can exist. This follows because it is not the creation of the body that causes the intellect to exist. The body, which is made of stuff, cannot cause that which is not made of stuff to exist. Therefore there must be some other cause of spiritual substances. What this cause is we can here be agnostic about. But that it exists we cannot.

Now humans obviously choose good and choose evil, at various times. (I use evil as we have been using in our Summa Contra Gentiles tour, as the absence of the good.) We do this by will and by intellect. Since we through our spiritual selves can choose good and evil, it would seem to follow that the creatures which are pure intellects can also choose good and evil. We can call these creatures angels and demons, depending on the choices that they have made.

The nature of angels and demons are not quite like ours. They do not have bodies, as shown, and so cannot learn as we do, first of all through our senses: they have no senses to learn with. We also discovered in Summa Contra Gentiles, and elsewhere, that angels and demons learn all at once, in a flash, as it were. As do we at times: but angels and demons always. This is not exactly pertinent to proving these creatures exist, but it does show that once they come into existence, by whatever cause, their natures are fixed permanently. You cannot talk an angel who chose good into now choosing the absence of the good, and you cannot convince a demon who chose the absence of the good into now choosing the good.

Why is that important? Because, of course, these creatures can interact with us because we are partly spiritual creatures. And do interact with us. You can have “intellectual discussions”, to stretch a term, with them. (I for many years willingly had the wrong conversations.) They cannot in general be seen or heard to have these conversations, because they possess nothing material to be seen or heard. But it does not follow that they can never be seen or heard; or rather, it does not follow that their effects can never be seen or heard. Here’s why.

Somehow our spiritual natures interact with our physical selves. How? I haven’t the slightest idea. I am like the caveman transported to an airport asked how these massive chunks of steel can lift themselves into the sky. I cannot say why it happens; I only know that it does. It should be obvious that because I do not know how is in no way proof that airplanes cannot fly.

I do not accept Descartes’s ghost in the machine, of course, but do insist on our partly non-material natures. Accepting this, it then follows that spirits can influence material things somehow. Thus it follows angels and demons can sometimes be “seen” and “heard’ when influencing material things. What are the extent of their powers to influence material things? Again, I do not know. It is not something that can be proven from first principles, like existence can, but has to be inferred from experience.

Experience can be used, too, because since we have proven the existence of demons and angels, and have inferred that they have the potential to influence material things, there is no difficulty accepting the potential of eyewitness reports. And if we can accept, on principle, the veracity of some eyewitness reports, we can accept the most reliable of eyewitness reports in scripture.

We must also accept that human-demon-angel interactions happen not in the distant “pre-scientific” past, but in the here-and-now. To you.