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Category: Philosophy

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

November 18, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: You Can Know Some About God

Summary Against Modern Thought: Limits Of Our Knowledge Of God

Previous post.

Last few weeks we learned there are limits to how well we can know God. This week we learn that having an intellect means knowing a small part of God.


1 Since the created intellect is exalted to the vision of the divine substance by a certain supernatural light, as is evident from what has been said, there is no created intellect so low in its nature that it cannot be elevated to this vision.

2 It has been shown, in fact, that this light cannot be connatural with any creature, but, that it surpasses every created nature in its power. But what is done by supernatural power is not hindered by a diversity of nature, since divine power is infinite. And so, in the case of the healing of an afflicted person, accomplished miraculously, it makes no difference whether the person is much or little afflicted. Therefore, the varying level of the intellectual nature does not hinder the lowest member of such a nature from being able to be brought to this vision by the aforementioned light.

3 Again, the gap between the intellect, at its highest natural level, and God is infinite in perfection and goodness. But the distance from the highest to the lowest intellect is finite, for there cannot be an infinite distance between one finite being and another. So, the distance which lies between the lowest created intellect and the highest one is like nothing in comparison to the gap which lies between the highest created intellect and God.

Now, that which is practically nothing cannot make a noticeable difference; thus, the distance between the center of the earth and our level of vision is like nothing in comparison with the distance that lies between our eye level and the eighth sphere, in regard to which sphere the whole earth takes the place of a point; this is why no noticeable variation results from the fact that astronomers in their demonstrations use our eye level of sight as the center of the earth. Therefore, it makes no difference what level of intellect it is that is elevated to the vision of God by the aforementioned light: it may be the highest, the lowest, or one in the middle.

Notes Again we have a kind of mathematical proof about infinities by our good saint!

4 Besides, it was proved above that every intellect naturally desires the vision of the divine substance, but natural desire cannot be incapable of fulfillment. Therefore, any created intellect whatever can attain to the vision of the divine substance, and the inferiority of its nature is no impediment.

Notes This means atheists, too.

5 Hence it is that the Lord promises men the glory of the angels: “They shall be,” He says, speaking of men, “like the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). And also it is said that there is “the same measure for man and for angel” (Apoc. 21:3-7). For this reason, too, almost everywhere in Sacred Scripture angels are described in the shape of men: either wholly, as is evident of the angels who appeared to Abraham in the likeness of men (Gen. 18:2); or partially, as is the case of the animals of whom it is said that “they had the hands of a man under their wings” (Ez. 1:8).

Notes Something to look forward to. Or to be fearful of, if you end up on the wrong side of the empyrean.

6 By this conclusion we refute the error of those who have said that the human soul, no matter how much it be elevated, cannot attain equality with the higher intellects.

November 14, 2018 | 19 Comments

Next Time Somebody Asks You “What’s the Probability of X” Say This — Crucial Update!

Next time somebody asks you “What’s the Probability of X”, where X is any proposition, say this: there is no such probability. It doesn’t exist.

“Briggs, what’s the probability of this die coming up 6?”

It doesn’t exist.

“Briggs, and am deep sixed?”

I don’t know: there is no such probability.

This is your periodic reminder that no probability exists unconditionally. You can never have a probability without reference to some evidence, premises, supposeds, model, whatever.

That is, you must never write


but you should write


where E is the evidence brought to the problem. Change E, change the probability of X with respect to E.

Now you will see textbooks write probability the first way. Usually this is shorthand, because authors are lazy or the text appears busy when writing it properly. Do not let this fool you. Or sometimes the authors believe such probabilities exist. Frequentists believe this. They are mistaken.

You can conceive of no probability without reference to some evidence—and that evidence always includes the knowledge of the words and grammar of the proposition X. That evidence is implicitly in E, even if you fail to write it down.

This should not come as a surprise, since no proposition (in logic) is either true or false without references to the evidence used to judge is true or false. The evidence used to decide truth or falsity always includes the word knowledge and grammar, too. I emphasize this, because it often forgotten.

Now in real life if you ask me X = “What is the probability I die?” I will say it is certain. This is because I am using shorthand, as are you. The E with which we are using to judge the proposition is tacitly understood and agreed to by both of us. There is no reason to belabor or elaborate something so obvious.

This commonality is present in most mundane probability questions. But it’s only there because of shared cultural experience. If there is any doubt, the premises E must be set down explicitly.

This is why (as we have often discussed) there is no probability of being struck by lightning, or having a car accident, or even of winning the lottery. No probability exists. Probability is always a deduction from accepted evidence.

That includes all scientific probabilities, too. Including all the medical trials reported in the news. Nobody has a probability of cancer, or even of health. The reason is there are no such things, because there are no referents. Always insist on one!

Update I’m elevating a comment to the main post, because it highlights a common and devastating error.

A commenter below wrote “If P is a proposition, then the proposition P AND ~P is false, always, not matter the ‘evidence’ or anything else.”

This is false, and easily seen to be false as long as you keep in mind the cautions above. Every proposition that is evaluated is conditional on stated and unstated or implicit conditions, some of which include the word or symbol definition and grammar. This cannot be stressed highly enough, for even after it is said, it is forgotten, as this commenter proves.

For instance, is this proposition (enclosed in quotes) true or false?

    “♠ ⌈ ‰”

You can’t tell. (The probability it is true given these unknown symbols, as proven in this award-eligible peer-reviewed book is “(0, 1)”.) Why? Because you have no idea what the symbols mean, nor how to manipulate them (the grammar).

But if I tell you ♠ = P, where P is a proposition, and ⌈ = AND (logical) and ‰ = not-P (but only when preceded by ♠), then we are back to “P AND ~P”, which we still can’t say is true or false until we recognize the implicit unspoken assumed premises; i.e.

    Pr(P AND ~P | what I know about logic, the symbols P, etc.) = 0.

Proving, as claimed, that no proposition stands alone. Just because you’re not writing the right hand side down, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Recall, too, probability is a matter of epistemology, and not causality. We are not saying why any proposition is true, but how we know it is.

November 11, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: You Can’t Know All About God

Previous post.

Nietzsche was wrong. Plus, except for the truly satanic, I do not think it is disputed that one cannot know all of God. A very simple lesson this week.


1 It is evident from this that, though the created intellect may see the divine substance, it does not know all that can be known through the divine substance.

2 For it is only in the case of the principle being comprehended by the intellect that, once the principle is known, all its effects are of necessity known through it. Indeed, in that case, when all its effects are known from itself, a principle is known in its entire capacity. Now, other things are known through the divine essence, as the effect is known from its cause. But, since the created intellect cannot know the divine substance in such a way that it comprehends it, the intellect does not have to see all things that can be known through this substance, when it sees it.

3 Again, the higher the nature of an intellect, the more does it know: either in the sense of a multitude of things, or even in the sense of a greater number of reasons for the same things. But the divine intellect surpasses every created intellect. So, it knows more than any created intellect does, and it does not know anything without seeing its essence, as we showed in Book One [49]. Therefore, more things are knowable through the divine essence than any created intellect can see, through the aforesaid essence.

4 Besides, the quantity of a power depends on the things that it can do. So, it is the same to know all the things that a power can do and to comprehend the power itself. But, since the divine power is infinite, no created intellect can comprehend it, just as its essence cannot be comprehended, as we have proved. Nor can the created intellect know all that the divine power can do. But all things that the divine power can do are knowable through the divine essence, for God knows all and in no other way than through His essence. Therefore, the created intellect, seeing the divine substance, does not see all that can be seen in God’s substance.

Notes Not forgetting there are infinities and infinities, in a never-ending stream of cardinalities.

5 Moreover, no cognoscitive power knows a thing except under the rational character of its proper object. For instance, we do not know anything by sight except according as it is colored. Now, the proper object of the intellect is that which is, that is, the substance of a thing, as is stated in Book III of On the Soul [4: 429b 10]. Therefore, whatever the intellect knows about any thing, it knows through knowing the substance of the thing. Consequently, in any demonstration through which the proper accidents become known to us, we take as our principle that which is, as is stated in Posterior Analytics I [4: 73a 37].

Now, if the intellect knows the substance of a thing through its accidents, in accordance with what is said in Book I of On the Soul [1: 402b 21], that “the accidents contribute a good deal to the knowing of that which is,” this is accidental, inasmuch as the intellect must attain to substance through the knowledge of sensible accidents. For this reason, this procedure has no place in mathematics, but only in the area of physical things. Therefore, whatever is in a thing and cannot be known through a knowledge of its substance must be unknown to the intellect.

However, what a volitional agent wills cannot be known through a knowledge of his substance, for the will does not incline to its object in a purely natural way; this is why the will and nature are said to be two active principles.

So, an intellect cannot know what a volitional agent wills except, perhaps, through certain effects. For instance, when we see someone acting voluntarily we may know what he wishes: either through their cause, as God knows our will acts, just as He does His other effects, because He is for us a cause of our willing; or by means of one person indicating his wish to another, as when a man expresses his feeling in speech. And so, since many things are dependent on the simple will of God, as is partly clear from earlier considerations, and will later be more evident, though the created intellect may see God’s substance it does not know all that God sees through His substance.

6 Of course, someone can object against the foregoing that God’s substance is something greater than all the things which He can make, or understand, or will, apart from Himself; hence, if the created intellect can see God’s substance, it is much more possible for it to know all things which God understands, or wills, or makes, except for Himself.

7 But, if it is carefully considered, the fact that something is known in itself does not have the same meaning as that it is known in its cause. For some things easily known in themselves are not, however, easily known in their causes. So, it is true that it is a greater thing to understand the divine substance than anything whatever other than that substance which might be known in itself. However, to know the divine substance and to see its effects in it is a more perfect knowledge than to know the divine substance without seeing the effects in it. And this seeing of the divine substance can be done without comprehension of it. But for all things which can be understood through it to be known is something which cannot happen without comprehending this substance, as is evident from what we have said.

November 8, 2018 | 22 Comments

Science Is Magic & Miracles Aren’t

What is it a witch is doing when she mixes up some foul concoction, or lights a black candle, or casts a spell? I am not asking what her intent is, but by what mechanism does she hope to bring about the intended effect?

Well, by magic. So what is magic?

Magic is an attempt to harness a natural, but occult, mechanism, to bring about an effect. Occult means hidden, or rather (in this context) known only by adepts. So magic is science, or a kind of technology.

This also follows if the witch is calling on a “spirit” or “entity” to do her bidding. She expects that this spirit will use the means at its disposal, its natural means, to bring about the effect.

It is not that this natural mechanism is easy to implement or approachable by every person. It does not even have to be a known mechanism. Most people have no idea how cars work. They know that if they (these days) press the ON switch, the motor starts and the car goes. In the same way, the witch can, in the absence of any theory how her magic works, press a “button” and hope the spell goes.

Of course, witches are wrong about how effects come about. Their magic doesn’t work (I do not dismiss that people can contact spirits or entities, i.e. demons, which can bring about effects by natural means). But that doesn’t matter, because they think they are right. We’re only interested in what they believe they are doing. And what they believe they are doing is obscure or arcane science.

Arthur C Clarke, as every literate person knows, said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is almost right. He could have said science is magic, or magic is science, and have been done with it.

By natural means I have in mind a process that exists, that can be “tapped”, like starting a car is a process that can be tapped if one has the proper fob. Magic does not create the process; it uses processes that are thought (incorrectly, as all evidence attests) to exist.

Contrast magic with miracles. When Jesus turned the water into wine, he did not use magic. It is not that there is not some obscure, hugely energy-expensive mechanism to transform the mass of water (and trace chemical) molecules into ethanol and other molecules. This might exist. But Jesus certainly did not use it, not having the means to employ such a thing.

Instead, Jesus changed the essence of the material, the form of it, into something new. Changing the essence of a thing requires unnatural, supernatural powers; indeed, abilities no science can ever reach. Science (or technology) can only twist the pre-existent dials of nature. It can’t create those dials. Miracles aren’t interferences in the “laws of physics”, they are changing of the very nature of nature.

This is why you have to pray for a miracle, because you can never do it yourself. Miracles by definition require the cooperation of God.

Superstition is thus obviously a form of magic, of science. It (and even magic) works variously well, depending on how closely the superstitious act accords with nature. It fails when there is no accord, where the user has mistaken correlation for causation.

Is a Christian lighting a candle attempting superstition? Certainly this is not an attempt at magic. But perhaps superstition is a good charge.

In some cases the charges of superstition are probably true. None of us are perfect. But most of the time the Christian uses the candle as a means of prayer, a devotional object, therefore there is no sin; that is, no attempt at magic.