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Category: Philosophy

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

July 8, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: Ultimate Happiness Man’s Knowledge of God

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Three-word summary: Avoid bad books.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In the Knowledge of God Which is Generally Possessed by Most Men

1 It remains to investigate the kind of knowledge in which the ultimate felicity of an intellectual substance consists. For there is a common and confused knowledge of God which is found in practically all men; this is due either to the fact that it is self-evident that God exists, just as other principles of demonstration are—a view held by some people, as we said in Book One—or, what seems indeed to be true, that man can immediately reach some sort of knowledge of God by natural reason.

For, when men see that things in nature run according to a definite order, and that ordering does not occur without an orderer, they perceive in most cases that there is some orderer of the things that we see.

But who or what kind of being, or whether there is but one orderer of nature, is not yet grasped immediately in this general consideration, just as, when we see that a man is moved and performs other works, we perceive that there is present in him some cause of these operations which is not present in other things, and we call this cause the soul; yet we do not know at that point what the soul is, whether it is a body, or how it produces these operations which have been mentioned.

Notes That there must be an orderer is easily proved. However things work, at base, there has to be a creator of how things work. How things work could not have come about “randomly”, which is impossible, or from nothing, which is also impossible. There must therefore be an author (or, as our good saint says, at least one, the singularity of the one not yet proven).

2 Of course, it is not possible for this knowledge of God to suffice for felicity.

3 In fact, the operation of the man enjoying felicity must be without defect. But this knowledge admits of a mixture of many errors. Some people have believed that there is no other orderer of worldly things than the celestial bodies, and so they said that the celestial bodies are gods.

Other people pushed it farther, to the very elements and the things generated from them, thinking that motion and the natural functions which these elements have are not present in them as the effect of some other orderer, but that other things are ordered by them.

Still other people, believing that human acts are not subject to any ordering, other than human, have said that men who order others are gods. And so, this knowledge of God is not enough for felicity.

Notes The first “gods” fallacy is mostly dead. The second “physics” fallacy is alive and prospering. We are the generation privileged to see the true birth of the “man-as-god” fallacy, which we might also call the “final fallacy.”

4 Again, felicity is the end of human acts. But human acts are not ordered to the aforementioned knowledge, as to an end. Rather, it is found in all men, almost at once, from their beginning. So, felicity does not consist in this knowledge of God.

5 Besides, no man seems to be blameworthy because of the fact that he lacks felicity; in point of fact, those who lack it, but are tending toward it, are given praise.

But the fact that a person lacks the aforesaid knowledge of God makes him appear very blameworthy. Indeed, a man’s dullness is chiefly indicated by this: he fails to perceive such evident signs of God, just as a person is judged to be dull who, while observing a man, does not grasp the fact that he has a soul.

That is why it is said in the Psalms ( 13:1, 52:1): “The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.” So, this is not the knowledge of God which suffices for felicity.

6 Moreover, the knowledge that one has of a thing, only in a general way and not according to something proper to it, is very imperfect, just like the knowledge one might have of a man when one knows simply that he is moved.

For this is the kind of knowledge whereby a thing is known only in potency, since proper attributes are potentially included within common ones. But felicity is a perfect operation, and man’s highest good ought to be based on what is actual and not simply on what is potential, for potency perfected by act has the essential character of the good. Therefore, the aforementioned knowledge is not enough for our felicity.

July 1, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Ultimate Happiness Comes In Contemplation Of God

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Finally, the grand (and not unexpected) reveal!

That the ultimate felicity of man consists in the contemplation of God

1 So, if the ultimate felicity of man does not consist in external things which are called the goods of fortune, nor in the goods of the body, nor in the goods of the soul according to its sensitive part, nor as regards the intellective part according to the activity of the moral virtues, nor according to the intellectual virtues that are concerned with action, that is, art and prudence—we are left with the conclusion that the ultimate felicity of man lies in the contemplation of truth.

2 Indeed, this is the only operation of man which is proper to him, and in it he shares nothing in common with the other animals.

3 So, too, this is ordered to nothing else as an end, for the contemplation of truth is sought for its own sake.

4 Also, through this operation man is united by way of likeness with beings superior to him, since this alone of human operations is found also in God and in separate substances.

5 Indeed, in this operation he gets in touch with these higher beings by knowing them in some way.

6 Also, for this operation man is rather sufficient unto himself, in the sense that for it he needs little help from external things.

7 In fact, all other human operations seem to be ordered to this one, as to an end. For, there is needed for the perfection of contemplation a soundness of body, to which all the products of art that are necessary for life are directed. Also required are freedom from the disturbances of the passions—this is achieved through the moral virtues and prudence—and freedom from external disorders, to which the whole program of government in civil life is directed. And so, if they are rightly considered, all human functions may be seen to subserve the contemplation of truth.

Notes The internet, upon which these words are delivered, excels at disturbing the passions. So that if anything is learned upon it it is only by supreme discipline of the reader not to distract himself. This is why quiet is needed for superior contemplation, and it why (I am convinced) we cannot find quiet easily.

8 However, it is not possible for man’s ultimate felicity to consist in the contemplation which depends on the understanding of principles, for that is very imperfect, being most universal, including the potential cognition of things. Also, it is the beginning, not the end, of human enquiry, coming to us from nature and not because of our search for truth. Nor, indeed, does it lie in the area of the sciences which deal with lower things, because felicity should lie in the working of the intellect in relation to the noblest objects of understanding. So, the conclusion remains that man’s ultimate felicity consists in the contemplation of wisdom, based on the considering of divine matters.

Notes Any true scholar will tell you that the greatest joy is found in figuring our or discovering the most difficult truths.

9 From this, that is also clear by way of induction, which was proved above by rational arguments, namely, that man’s ultimate felicity consists only in the contemplation of God.

June 24, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Human Happiness Does Not Lie In Acts Of Virtue

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

That man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in acts of the moral virtues

1 It is clear, too, that the ultimate felicity of man does not consist in moral actions.

2 In fact, human felicity is incapable of being ordered to a further end, if it is ultimate. But all moral operations can be ordered to something else. This is evident from the most important instances of these actions. The operations of fortitude, which are concerned with warlike activities, are ordered to victory and to peace. Indeed, it would be foolish to make war merely for its own sake.

Likewise, the operations of justice are ordered to the preservation of peace among men, by means of each man having his own possessions undisturbed. And the same thing is evident for all
the other virtues. Therefore, man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in moral operations.

Notes Somehow this Patton quote fits: “The Americans fight for a free world, the English mostly for honor and glory and medals, the French and Canadians decide too late that they have to participate. The Italians are too scared to fight; the Russians have no choice. The Germans for the Fatherland. The Boers? Those sons of bitches fight for the hell of it.”

3 Again, the moral virtues have this purpose: through them the mean is preserved in the internal passions and in regard to external things. Now, it is not possible for such a measuring of passions, or of external things, to be the ultimate end of human life, since these passions and exterior things are capable of being ordered to something else. Therefore, it is not possible for man’s ultimate felicity to lie in acts of the moral virtues.

4 Besides, since man is man by virtue of his possession of reason, his proper good which is felicity should be in accord with what is appropriate to reason. Now, that is more appropriate to reason which reason has within itself than which it produces in another thing. So, since the good of moral virtue is something produced by reason in things other than itself, it could not be that which is best for man; namely, felicity. Rather would felicity seem to be a good situated in reason itself.

5 Moreover, it was shown above that the ultimate end of all things is to become like unto God. So, that whereby man is made most like God will be his felicity. Now, this is not a function of moral acts, since such acts cannot be attributed to God, except metaphorically. Indeed, it does not befit God to have passions, or the like, with which moral acts are concerned. Therefore, man’s ultimate felicity, that is, his ultimate end, does not consist in moral actions.

Notes Literal atheists take note, please: “such acts cannot be attributed to God, except metaphorically”.

6 Furthermore, felicity is the proper good for man. So, that which is most proper among all human goods, for man in contrast to the other animals, is the good in which his ultimate felicity is to be sought. Now, an act of moral virtue is not of this sort, for some animals share somewhat, either in liberality or in fortitude, but an animal does not participate at all in intellectual action. Therefore, man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in moral acts.

That ultimate felicity does not lie in the act of prudence

1 From this it is also apparent that man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in an act of prudence.

2 For the act of prudence is only concerned with things that pertain to the moral virtues. Now, man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in acts of the moral virtues, nor, then, in the act of prudence.

3 Again, man’s ultimate felicity consists in the best operation of man. Now, the best operation of man, according to what is proper to man, lies in a relationship to the most perfect object. But the operation of prudence is not concerned with the most perfect object of understanding or reason; indeed, it does not deal with necessary objects, but with contingent problems of action. Therefore, man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in this operation.

4 Besides, that which is ordered to another thing as an end is not the ultimate felicity for man. But the operation of prudence is ordered to something else as an end: both because all practical knowledge, in which category prudence is included, is ordered to action, and because prudence makes a man well disposed in regard to things that are to be chosen for the sake of the end, as is clear from Aristotle, in Ethics VI [13: 1145a 6]. Therefore, man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in the operation of prudence.

5 Moreover, irrational animals do not participate in felicity, as Aristotle proves in Ethics I [9: 1099b 33]. However, some of them do participate somewhat in prudence, as appears in the same writer, in Metaphysics I [1: 980a 30]. Therefore, felicity does not consist in the operation of prudence.

That felicity does not consist in the operation of art

1 It is also clear that it does not lie in the operation of art.

2 For the knowledge that pertains to art is also practical knowledge. And so, it is ordered to an end, and is not itself the ultimate end.

3 Again, the ends of art operations are artifacts. These cannot be the ultimate end of human life, for we ourselves are, rather, the ends for all artificial things. Indeed, they are all made for man’s use. Therefore, ultimate felicity cannot lie in the operation of art.

June 21, 2018 | 1 Comment

Chapter 1 Excerpt from Uncertainty: The Soul of Probability, Modeling & Statistics

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Necessary & Conditional Truth

Given “x,y,z are natural numbers and x>y and y>z” the proposition “x>z” is true (I am assuming logical knowledge here, which I don’t discuss until Chapter 2). But it would be false in general to claim, “It is true that ‘x>z‘.” After all, it might be that “x = 17 and z = 32“; if so, “x>z” is false. Or it might be that “x = 17 and z = 17“, then again “x>z” is false. Or maybe “x = a boatload and z = a humongous amount”, then “x>z” is undefined or unknown unless there is tacit and complete knowledge of precisely how much is a boatload and how much is a humongous amount (which is doubtful). We cannot dismiss this last example, because a great portion of human discussions of uncertainty are pitched in this way.

Included in the premise “x,y,z are natural numbers and x>y and y>z” are not just the raw information of the proposition about numbers, but the tacit knowledge we have of the symbol >, of what “natural numbers” are, and even what “and” and “are” mean. This is so for any argument which we wish to make. Language, in whatever form, must be used. There must therefore be an understanding of and about definitions, language and grammar, in any argument if any progress is to be made. These understandings may be more or less obvious depending on the argument. It is well to point out that many fallacies (and the best jokes) are founded on equivocation, which is the intentional or not misunderstanding double- or multiple-meanings of words or phrases. This must be kept in mind because we often talk about how the mathematical symbols of our formulae translate to real objects, how they matter to real-life decisions. A caution not heard frequently enough: just because a statement is mathematically true does not mean that the statement has any bearing on reality. Later we talk about how the deadly sin of reification occurs when this warning is ignored.

We have an idea what it means to say of a proposition that it is true or false. This needs to be firmed up considerably. Take the proposition “a proposition cannot be both true and false simultaneously”. This proposition, as I said above, is true. That means, to our state of mind, there exists evidence which allows us to conclude this proposition is true. This evidence is in the form of thought, which is to say, other propositions, all of which include our understanding of the words and English grammar, and of phrases like “we cannot believe its contrary.” There are also present tacit (not formal) rules of logic about how we must treat and manipulate propositions. Each of these conditioning propositions or premises can in turn be true or false (i.e. known to be true or false) conditional on still other propositions, or on inductions drawn upon sense impressions and intellections. That is, we eventually must reach a point at which a proposition in front of us just is true. There is no other evidence for this kind of truth other than intellection. Observations and sense impressions will give partial support to most propositions, but they are never enough by themselves except for the direct impressions. I explore this later in the Chapter on Induction.

In mathematics, logic, and philosophy popular kinds of propositions which are known to be true because induction tells us so are called axioms. Axioms are indubitable—when considered. Arguments for an axiom’s truth are made like this: given these specific instances, thus this general principle or axiom. I do not claim, and it is not true, that everybody knows every axiom. The arguments for axioms must first be considered before they are believed. A good example is the principal of non-contradiction, a proposition which we cannot know is false (though, given we are human, we can always claim it is false). As said, for every argument we need an understanding of its words and grammar, and, for non-contradiction specifically, maybe the plain observation of a necessarily finite number of instance of propositions that are only true or only false, observations which are consonant with the axiom, but which are none of them the full proof of the proposition: there comes a point at which we just believe and, indeed, cannot do other than know the truth. Another example is one of Peano’s axioms. For every natural number, if x = y then y = x. We check this through specific examples, and then move via induction to the knowledge that it is true for every number, even those we have not and, given our finiteness, cannot consider. Axioms are known to be true based on the evidence and faith that our intellects are correctly guiding us.

This leads to the concept of the truly true, really true, just-plain true, universally, absolutely, or the necessarily true. These are propositions, like those in mathematics, that are known to be true given a valid and sound chain of argument which leads back to indubitable axioms. It is not possible to doubt axioms or necessary truths, unless there be a misunderstanding of the words or terms or chain of proof or argument involved (and this is, of course, possible, as any teacher will affirm). Necessary truths are true even if you don’t want them to be, even if they provoke discomfort, which (again of course) they sometimes do. Peter Kreeft said: “As Aristotle showed, [all] ‘backward doubt’ terminates in two places: psychologically indubitable immediate sense experience and logically indubitable first principles such as ‘X is not non-X’ in theoretical thinking and ‘Good is to be done and evil to be avoided’ in practical thinking”.

A man in the street might look at the scratchings of a mathematical truth and doubt the theorem, but this is only because he doesn’t comprehend what all those strange symbols mean. He may even say that he “knows” the theorem is false—think of the brave soul who claims to have squared the circle. It must be stressed that this man’s error arises from his not comprehending the whole of the argument. Which of the premises of the theorem he is rejecting, and this includes tacit premises of logic and other mathematical results, is not known to us (unless the man makes this clear). The point is that if it were made plain to him what every step in the argument was, he must consent. If he does not, he has not comprehended at least one thing or he has rejected at least one premise, or perhaps substituted his own unaware. This is no small point, and the failure to appreciate it has given rise to the mistaken subjective theory of probability. Understanding the whole of an argument is a requirement to our admitting a necessary truth (our understanding is obviously not required of the necessary truth itself!).

From this it follows that when a mathematician or physicist says something akin to, “We now know Flippenberger’s theorem is true”, his “we” does not, it most certainly does not, encompass all of humanity; it applies only to those who can and have followed the line of reason which appears in the proof. That another mathematician or physicist (or man in the street) who hears this statement, but whose specialty is not Flippenbergerology, conditional on trusting the first mathematician’s word, also believes Flippenberger’s theorem is true, is not making (to himself) the same argument as the theory’s proponent. He instead makes a conditional truth statement: to him, Flippenberger’s theorem is conditionally true, given the premise of accepting the word of the first mathematician or physicist. Of course, necessary truths are also conditional as I have just described, so the phrase “conditional truth” is imperfect, but I have not been able to discover one better to my satisfaction. Local or relative truth have their merits, but their use could encourage relativists to believe they have a point, which they do not.

Besides mathematical propositions, there are plenty other of necessary truths that we know. “I exist” is popular, and only claimed to be doubted by the insane or (paradoxically) by attention seekers. “God exists” is another: those who doubt it are like circle-squarers who have misunderstood or have not (yet) comprehended the arguments which lead to this proposition. “There are true propositions” always delights and which also has its doubters who claim it is true that it is false. In Chapter 2 we meet more.

There are an infinite number and an enormous variety of conditional truths that we do and can know. I don’t mean to say that there are not an infinite number of necessary truths, because I have no idea, though I believe it; I mean only that conditional truths form a vaster class of truths in everyday and scientific discourse. We met one conditional truth above in “x>z“. Another is, given “All Martians wear hats and George is a Martian” then it is conditionally true that “George wears a hat.” The difference in how we express this “truth is conditional” is plain enough in cases like hat-wearing Martians. Nobody would say, in a general setting, “It’s true that Martians wear hats.” Or if he did, nobody would believe him. This disbelief would be deduced conditional on the observationally true proposition, “There are no Martians”.

We sometimes hear people claim conditional truths are necessary truths, especially in moral or political contexts. A man might say, “College professors are intolerant of dissent” and believe he is stating a necessary truth. Yet this cannot be a necessary truth, because no sound valid chain of argument anchored to axioms can support it. But it may be an extrapolation from “All the many college professors I have observed have been intolerant of dissent”, in which case the proposition is still not a necessary truth, because (as we’ll see) observational statements like this are fallible. Hint: The man’s audience, if it be typical, might not believe the “All” in the argument means all, but only “many”. But that substitution does not make the proposition “Many college professors are intolerant of dissent” necessarily true, either.

Another interesting possibility is in the proposition “Some college professors are intolerant of dissent,” where some is defined as at least one and potentially all. Now if a man hears that and recalls, “I have met X, who is a college professor, and she was intolerant of dissent”, then conditional on that evidence the proposition of interest is conditionally true. Why isn’t it necessarily true? Understand first that the proposition is true for you, too, dear reader, if we take as evidence “I have met X, etc.” Just as “George wears a hat” was conditionally true on the other explicit evidence. It may be that you yourself have not met X, nor any other intolerant-of-dissent professor, but that means nothing for the epistemological status of these two propositions. But it now becomes obvious why the proposition of interest is not necessarily true: because the supporting evidence “I have met X, etc.” cannot be held up as necessarily true itself: there is no chain of sound argument leading to indubitable axioms which guarantees it is a logically necessity that college professors must be intolerant of dissent. (Even if it sometimes seems that way.)

We only have to be careful because when people speak or write of truths they are usually not careful to tell us whether they have in mind a necessary or only a conditional truth. Much grief is caused because of this.

One point which may not be obvious. A necessary truth is just true. It is not true because we have a proof of it’s truth. Any necessary truth is true because of something, but it makes no sense to ask why this is so for any necessary truth. Why is the principle of non-contradiction true? What is it that makes it true? Answer: we do not know. It is just is true. How do we know it is true? Via a proof, by strings of deductions from accepted premises and using induction, the same way we know if any proposition is true. We must ever keep separate the epistemological from the ontological. There is a constant danger of mistaking the two. Logic and probability are epistemological, and only sometimes speak or aim at the ontological. Probability is always a state of the mind and not a state of the universe.