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Category: Philosophy

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

March 18, 2018 | 3 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: How God Is The End Of All Things

Previous post.

A continuation of last week’s lesson. Two Chapter this week.

How God Is The End Of All Things

1 Now, it appears that the preceding view may be opposed by certain arguments.

2 The ultimate end of all is such that He is, nonetheless, prior to all things in existing being. Now, there is a sort of end which, though it holds first place causally in the order of intention, is posterior in existing. This is the situation with an end which the agent sets up by his own action, as a physician sets up health in a sick man by his own action; this is, of course, the physician’s end. And then there is an end which takes precedence in existing being, just as it precedes in the causal order. For instance, we call that an end which one intends to obtain by his action or motion, as fire inclines upward by its motion, and a king intends to establish a city by fighting. Therefore, God is not the end of things in the sense of being something set up as an ideal, but as a pre-existing being Who is to be attained.

Notes You can see how much has changed from the dreaded medieval era, when a physician’s end was the health of his patient, not his death or maiming.

3 Again, God is at once the ultimate end of things and the first agent, as we have shown. But the end that is produced by the action of the agent cannot be the first agent; it is, rather, the effect of the agent. Therefore, God cannot be the end of things in this way, as something produced, but only as something pre-existing that is to be attained.

4 Besides, if something act for the sake of an already existing thing, and should then set up something by its action, then this something must be added by the action of the agent to the thing for the sake of which the action is done: thus, if soldiers fight for the sake of their leader, victory will come to the leader, and this is what the soldiers cause by their actions. Now, something cannot be added to God by the action of a thing, for His goodness is completely perfect, as we showed in Book One [37ff]. The conclusion stands, then, that God is the end of things, not in the sense of something set up, or produced, by things, nor in the sense that something is added to Him by things, but in this sense only, that He is attained by things.

5 Moreover, the effect must tend toward the end in the same way that the agent works for the end. Now, God, Who is the first agent of all things, does not act in such a way that something is attained by His action, but in such a way that something is enriched by His action. For He is not in potency to the possibility of obtaining something; rather, He is in perfect act simply, and as a result He is a source of enrichment. So, things are not ordered to God as to an end for which something may be obtained, but rather so that they may attain Himself from Himself, according to their measure, since He is their end.

That all things tend to become like God

1 Created things are made like unto God by the fact that they attain to divine goodness. If then, all things tend toward God as an ultimate end, so that they may attain His goodness, it follows that the ultimate end of things is to become like God.

Notes I beg you will not mentally remove that last “like”. You will not become God. Even if you add perfection to yourself, God is infinitely far away, and it would take you forever, which is to say never, to get there.

2 Again, the agent is said to be the end of the effect because the effect tends to become like the agent; hence, “the form of the generator is the end of the generating action.” But God is the end of things in such a way that He is also their first agent. Therefore, all things tend to become like God as to their ultimate end.

3 Besides, it is quite evident that things “naturally desire to be,” and if they can be corrupted by anything they naturally resist corrupting agents and tend toward a place where they may be preserved, as fire inclines upward and earth downward. Now, all things get their being from the fact that they are made like unto God, Who is subsisting being itself, for all things exist merely as participants in existing being. Therefore, all things desire as their ultimate end to be made like unto God.

4 Moreover, all created things are, in a sense, images of the first agent, that is, of God, for the agent makes a product to his own likeness. Now, the function of a perfect image is to represent its prototype by likeness to it; this is why an image is made. Therefore, all things exist in order to attain to the divine likeness, as to their ultimate end.

5 Furthermore, everything tends through its motion or action toward a good, as its end, which we showed above. Now, a thing participates in the good precisely to the same extent that it becomes like the first goodness, which is God. So, all things tend through their movements and actions toward the divine likeness, as toward their ultimate end.

March 15, 2018 | 12 Comments

Richard Dawkins’ Cannibalism Suggestion is Hard to Digest

Part of a high protein, low reason diet

Don’t accept any dinner invitations to Richard Dawkin’s house. You might be asked to swallow more than his bizarre idea that God doesn’t exist.

If you do do, don’t be surprised to find the soup course followed by Roast Spleen of Graduate Student, or Ten Toe Casserole.

Why the warning? Dawkins noted that playful scientists managed to created meat-like goo in a test tube. And so he wondered in a tweet “What if human meat is grown? Could we overcome our taboo against cannibalism? An interesting test case for consequentialist morality versus ‘yuck reaction’ absolutism.”

There are some kinds of indigestion even the strongest antacids can’t cure.

Before getting to the meat of this subject, it’s well to point out this isn’t the first time Dawkins was caught licking his lips while reminiscing about the Donner Party.

Fellow atheist David McAfee reminds us that Dawkins in a 2010 video “raised the idea of cannibalism as the logical end to those who won’t eat animals because they can’t ‘consent’ to it. If a human being consents, he says, it would follow that you could eat that person under that logic.”

McAfee thinks Dawkins is not “a secret cannibal or that he ‘craves’ human meat.” Rather “he enjoys asking questions that many people shy away from.”

Childish impertinence may be the right explanation for Dawkins’s cannibalistic quips, but it’s just as well to ban Dawkins from manning the grill at the next atheist convention.

Let’s return to the big people’s table and contrast Dawkins’s “consequentialist morality” versus “absolutism.” Consequentialism says that the consequences of a person’s actions should be the sole basis to judge whether those actions are right or wrong. There is nothing inherently right or wrong in any act, but only what flows from an act. Absolutism does not deny consequences, but insists acts can be good or bad in themselves.

Many who heard Dawkins’s dinner bell and jumped to his defense embraced consequentialism. They pointed out that human meat carries more diseases than animal meat. Therefore, unless these diseases can be screened from human meat, the consequence of bad health shows cannibalism is wrong.

One person compared cannibalism to incest, saying “The ‘yuck reaction’ associated with cannibalism & incest have a far deeper purpose than a mere taboo avoidance. We know incest is bad since there’s lots of evidence for offspring turning out w[ith] terrible conditions.”

This conclusion is as consequentialist as it gets. Incest is bad only because of its health consequences.

Another man looked to economics. He said “I doubt [artificial meat production] will succeed without massive resistance. Millions of farmers will click here to read the rest.

March 11, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: All Things Are Ordered To God

Previous post.

Some simple and, I hope, non-controversial (accepting that which came before) proofs that God is the ultimate end.

That All Things Are Ordered to One End Who Is God

1 It is, consequently, apparent that all things are ordered to one good, as to their ultimate end.

2 If, in fact, nothing tends toward a thing as an end, unless this thing is a good, it is therefore necessary that the good, as good, be the end. Therefore, that which is the highest good is, from the highest point of view, the end of all things. But there is only one highest good, and this is God, as has been demonstrated in Book One [42]. So, all things are ordered to one good, as their end, and this is God.

3 Again, that which is supreme in any genus is the cause of all the members that belong in that genus; thus, fire, which is the hottest of corporeal things, is the cause of the heat of other things. Therefore, the highest good which is God is the cause of the goodness in all good things. So, also, is He the cause of every end that is an end, since whatever is an end is such because it is a good. Now, “the cause of an attribute’s inherence in a subject always itself inheres in the subject more firmly than does the attribute.” Therefore, God is obviously the end of all things.

4 Besides, in any kind of causes, the first cause is more a cause than is the secondary cause, for a secondary cause is only a cause through the primary cause. Therefore, that which is the first cause in the order of final causes must be more the final cause of anything than is its proximate final cause. But God is the first cause in the order of final causes, since He is the highest in the order of goods. Therefore, He is more the end of everything than is any proximate end.

5 Moreover, in every ordered series of ends the ultimate end must be the end of all preceding ends. For instance, if a potion is mixed to be given a sick man, and it is given in order to purge him, and he is purged in order to make him thinner, and he is thinned down so that he may become healthy. Then health must be the end of the thinning process, and of the purging, and of the other actions which precede it. But all things are found, in their various degrees of goodness, to be subordinated to one highest good which is the cause of all goodness. Consequently, since the good has the essential character of an end, all things are subordinated to God, as preceding ends under an ultimate end. Therefore, God must be the end of all things.

Notes Dieting began earlier than supposed.

6 Furthermore, a particular good is ordered to the common good as to an end; indeed, the being of a part depends on the being of the whole. So, also, the good of a nation is more godlike than the good of one man. Now, the highest good which is God is the common good, since the good of all things taken together depends on Him; and the good whereby each thing is good is its own particular good, and also is the good of the other things that depend on this thing. Therefore, all things are ordered to one good as their end, and that is God.

7 Again, order among ends is a consequence of order among agents, for, just as the supreme agent moves all secondary agents, so must all the ends of secondary agents be ordered to the end of the supreme agent, since whatever the supreme agent does, He does for the sake of His end. Now, the supreme agent does the actions of all inferior agents by moving them all to their actions and, consequently, to their ends. Hence, it follows that all the ends of secondary agents are ordered by the first agent to His own proper end. Of course, the first agent of all things is God, as we proved in Book Two [15]. There is no other end for His will than His goodness, which is Himself, as we proved in Book One [74]. Therefore, all things, whether made by Him. immediately, or by means of secondary causes, are ordered to God as to their end. Now, all things are of this kind, for, as we proved in Book Two [15], there can be nothing that does not take its being from Him. So, all things are ordered to God as an end.

8 Besides, the ultimate end of any maker, as a maker, is himself; we use things made by us for our own sakes, and, if sometimes a man makes a thing for some other purpose, this has reference to his own good, either as useful, delectable, or as a good for its own sake. Now, God is the productive cause of all things, of some immediately, of others by means of other causes, as is shown in the foregoing. Therefore, He Himself is the end of all things.

9 Moreover, the end holds first place over other types of cause, and to it all other causes owe the fact that they are causes in act: for the agent acts only for the sake of the end, as was pointed out. Matter is brought to formal act by the agent, and thus matter actually becomes the matter of this particular thing, as form becomes the form of this thing: through the action of the agent, and consequently through the end. So, too, the posterior end is the cause of the preceding end being intended as an end, for a thing is not moved toward a proximate end unless for the sake of a last end. Therefore, the ultimate end is the first cause of all. Now, to be the first cause of all must be appropriate to the first being, that is, to God, as was shown above. So, God is the ultimate end of all things.

Notes The cause of causes is the end to which acts are directed. The final cause is the first. As such, the word is inapt in English. But we by now have the idea.

10 Thus it is said in Proverbs (16:4): “God made all things for Himself”; and in the Apocalypse (22:13): “I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.”

March 7, 2018 | 7 Comments

Against Moldbug’s Reservationist Epistemology: Reason Alone Is Not Reasonable

For most, Mencius Moldbug will need no introduction; for those who do not know him, this review of his work is succinct (which Moldbug never was) and fair.

We’ll not discuss his political ideas today per se, but instead tackle his thoughts on what he called his reservationist epistemology.

The central dogma of reservationism is that reason is irreducible and untranscendable. Reason is no more and no less than common sense. It is not possible to construct a useful definition of common sense, nor is it possible to construct a system of thought that improves on common sense. Any system that purports to do so is either (a) bogus, or (b) justifiable via common sense, and thus a special case of it.

For example, mathematics is a special case of reason. Mathematics proves theorems by reducing complex formal propositions to a series of obvious steps. Since there is no mathematical definition of obviousness, there is no mathematical definition of proof.

My disagreement begins at the beginning. Reason is not irreducible, nor is any system of epistemology relying solely on reason reasonable (Dear Internet: this last is a joke). Reason is no more than a tool—a necessary tool—to work with ideas. Ideas themselves can and are produced by reason, but not often and usually only in specialized contexts, like mathematics. Ideas—concepts, universals, call them what you will—more often are the product of insight and intuition, which is to say, some form of inspiration, insight, instinct; i.e. a case of induction (see this article for the various types).

Moldbug is right that mathematicians prove theorems, which is to say, that they demonstrate the truth of certain ideas. Reason is used to build the ideas, the end result of theorems, and can even generate them in some contexts. But usually the mathematician’s intuition—or insight, or inductive powers—provides him with the goal. Reason fills in the blanks between ideas known before, and the new inuited idea. Do not forget, what is often forgotten, that the proof supplied by the mathematician does not make the idea true. It is, was, already true. The proof is only a demonstration of the truth.

Plus, no mathematical theorem could ever get off the ground without first assuming truths (ideas) that cannot by definition proved by reason. These are the axioms, which are supplied and massaged and put into readable form in some small part by reason, but again the bulk of the work is done by intuition (induction). Axioms are incapable of proof by strict reason. Yet everybody believes them (or most of them), because, of course, they are obviously true. Faith (in intuition, in the unproved axioms’ truth) is just as necessary as reason.

The limitations of reason are not restricted to mathematics, but apply everywhere. Since reason is just a tool, it has to have material upon which to work. Think of reason as a lathe, a complex apparatus which turns a shaft of wood into a newel post. The newel post, which like all famous artists we can say was always “in” the wood but needing drawing out, is not the lathe’s idea, either. It must be directed. We couldn’t get to the post without the lathe, so neither is reason dispensible.

This goes for morals, politics, logic, everywhere, including, in part, religion. Religion provides a different source for ideas beyond, or rather underpinning, reason, which is revelation or inspiration. There are many ideas which are held (such as the Eucharist) which can only have been proved by divine authority. Reason, as ever, is able to take these inspirations and push them forward, but only incrementally. We cannot do without intuition or inspiration.

Moldbug says that the “The great enemy of the reservationist is the automatist. An automatist is a small, grubby person who believes he can reduce or transcend reason.”

Automatists tend to fall into four camps. The stupidest are literalists, who believe that instead of thinking, we should accept the literal text of some holy book or other. The most dangerous are officialists, who believe that truth is whatever the government says it is. The most annoying are popularists, who believe that the most fashionable thoughts, as of right now, are the most likely to be true. And the most pernicious are algorithmists, who believe they have some universal algorithm which is a drop-in replacement for any and all cogitation.

I’ll man the barricades side by side with Moldbug against officialists, popularists, and algorithmists, though I would fend off the last with compassion, since most of these folks are nothing but overly earnest nerds too in love with their toys. Officialism and popularists need to be bayoneted mercilessly—intellectually speaking, of course (or in hope).

Bayesians, at least many serious ones, are inveterate algorithmists, as Moldbug rightly notes. Too many believe they have discovered in Bayes’s rule a formula for, well, everything. But Bayes’s rule, as I have pointed out before, is not needed. It is only a computational aide. It is the mathematical equivalent of the lathe, accepting numbers as input, massaging them a certain way, and spitting them out. It can even be skipped, bypassed, as we can figure probabilities without it. Bayes needs input, as all probability is conditional, and that input can’t be provided by the rule itself, but must come from outside. (Moldbug, like many, writes the theorem wrong; e.g. writing P(B), when no such object can exist. We can only have P(B|E), where E is the evidence probative of B we assume or believe.)

Moldbug chooses as his representative literalist a dogmatic chemist who believes “the CRC Handbook is the literal word of God.” Such a man does not exist, except in mindless computerized form (as an algorithm), for every human chemist knows how the tables in the Handbook were generated, and knows therefore of the potential for changes and error.

Perhaps Moldbug thought religion too easy a target, or that because of his sympathy for the religious (he admits he’d prefer an orthodox Catholic over a Bayesian as dictator) and desire not to cause them explicit grief, he instead constructed his lignin-cellulous man. Moldbug is forced into condemning literalists by his worship of reason and eschewing inspiration. Yet the ideas produced by inspiration, unfortunately for Moldbug’s theory, cannot be proved true or false by reason. Not wholly, that is; some claims of inspiration are subject to debunking, but only when those claims intersect the contingent world. For instance, we can test prophets and would-be prophets. Anyway, it is unreasonable to reject the possibility of inspiration. Any argument saying inspiration is impossible is, or would be, circular (try it).

“Reservationists,” Moldbug says, “are fascinated by the interpretation of human affairs. In human history, politics, and economics, we observe patterns which appear to be patterns of cause and effect.” Human affairs are a fine thing in which to take an interest. And it is good to hope the patterns we see really are patterns caused by forces we think we have identified, and that therefore can be used as analogs for forecasting. But how to do this?

Moldbug sees that Bayes theorem cannot provide the structure or foundation of this system of interpretation. Bayes is rejected because it is a mere algorithm, but then so is reason. Reason takes what is given and acts on it, producing output, just like Bayes. Therefore we must reject reason as our epistemological basis, too. Which means we’re right back to the hard problem of figuring out how inspiration intersects with intuition and reason. As for that, I have nothing new to offer.