Category Archives: History of Thought

Why Aquinas? How Aquinas? What Aquinas?

apotheosis of saint thomas aquinas zurbaran
-“Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas”, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1631, Museum of Fine Arts, Seville, Spain.

Randall_Smith
-by Dr. Randall Smith, PhD, Dr. Smith is the Scanlan Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. Some days it can seem as though, if it weren’t for bad news, we wouldn’t have any news at all. Brutal acts of terrorism, political correctness run rampant, and a horrible election between perhaps the two worst candidates in America. It’s times such as these when we have to return to the important things – the things that will last and provide a solid foundation on rock, rather than sand. Which is precisely why I’m taking this occasion not to comment on any of our current troubles and write instead about Thomas Aquinas.

I’m sometimes asked, “What should I read by Aquinas?” This question usually comes from a person who has almost no acquaintance with his thought or writing, except perhaps a cursory experience years ago with the so-called “Five Ways,” the five “proofs” for the existence of God. They know that Aquinas is important; some even know that he has been called “the Common Doctor of the Church.” Interested in nourishing their faith, they think: “I should read some Aquinas. But what?”

Like people who decide they should “read the Bible,” and then get a short way into Exodus or Numbers only to regret their decision – “Isn’t there some easier way of doing this?” (There is: go to daily Mass) – so too there are those who decide they should “read some Aquinas,” pick up his great Summa of Theology, and get about three questions in before giving up in despair. “Wow, this stuff is hard.” 🙂 Uh-huh.

Yes, you probably wouldn’t know it from most of your high school religion classes, but theology can in fact be hard. It can make your head hurt (Ed. it does!) like the hardest bit of chemistry or advanced physics. Thomas’s Summa was meant as a “beginner’s” text. Why so many teachers feel it’s necessary to “dumb down” theology when they would never consider “dumbing down” chemistry, biology, or physics, I’ll never know. But they do, and that’s where many people find themselves.

So let’s say you want some of the wisdom of St. Thomas, but you’re a little intimidated by the Summa. You’re not alone in this. What do you do?

Well, you could start with a good introduction, like G. K. Chesterton’s The Dumb Ox or Ralph McInerny’s delightful First Glance at Thomas Aquinas (A Handbook for Peeping Thomists). Or, if you like listening, you could go to the website of the International Catholic University and get Prof. McInerny’s lively “Introduction to Thomas Aquinas.”

But let’s say you want to get right to reading some Aquinas. This shows a good spirit on your part. Where do you begin? I have a suggestion. A good place to begin for someone who isn’t used to reading medieval disputed questions is to begin with any of Thomas’s “sermon-conferences” on the Apostle’s Creed, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, or the Ten Commandments. All of these were meant for an educated audience of non-specialists. They are not “dumbed down.” Thomas still challenges his listeners to think and think deeply. But they’re less technical than the Summa or Thomas’s commentaries on Aristotle.

Most of these texts have been published separately at one time or another. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little “trade secret.” If you want to find anything by Aquinas in English translation, go to the superb web site kept up by my former classmate, Dr. Thérèse Bonin: Thomas Aquinas in English: A Bibliography. It’s an invaluable resource.

But you can also buy all these treatises together in a volume entitled The Aquinas Catechism: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith by the Church’s Greatest Theologian. Thomas didn’t actually set out to write a single “catechism,” so the title is a bit misleading. But it’s fair enough because the editors have brought together in this one volume Thomas’s commentaries on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Hail Mary, and the Our Father – to which they have added at the end some material on the sacraments.

Regarding this material on the sacraments, the reader should exercise some caution. Thomas wasn’t able to finish the Summa before he died at the relatively young age of 49. What was left unfinished at the time of his death, though, was the final section of the Summa on the sacraments. So what his students did – out of their love for their teacher – was “finish it off” with material they found in some of Thomas’s earliest writings: his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. A noble gesture, but this would be like “filling in” your teacher’s final book, his magnum opus, the fruit of a lifetime’s learning, with material from his doctoral dissertation. So it’s worth exercising some care.

When the news is bad, or just plain silly, as it is pretty much all the time these days, why not skip it? Listen to McInerny talk about Aquinas instead of listening to the evening news. Read Aquinas on the Apostle’s Creed rather than reading The New York Times. Less fretting over the news, and more reflecting on the Good News.

C.S. Lewis used to say he rarely read the news. If there was anything important that he could do something about, he trusted his friends would tell him. As for the rest, he thought the best response to those things he couldn’t do much about — horrible wars, people dying, government scandals — was to fast and pray. If you truly believe that God is the Lord of History, then often the most practical thing you can do is pray. And now while you’re praying the Hail Mary or the Our Father, you can say to yourself: “Didn’t I read somewhere that Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on these prayers?”

Yes you did.”

STA
-the St Thomas Aquinas, OP, statue I keep on my desk, always in sight, for inspiration. Patron saint of students, pray for us!

Love & Thomism,
Matthew

n.b. I have found “The Aquinas Catechism: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith by the Church’s Greatest Theologian”, by St Thomas Aquinas/Ralph McInerny, very accessible. This is a collection of Lenten sermons by the Common Doctor given in 1273, the last year of his life.

Greek philosophy & Truth

Raphael_School_of_Athens
-Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’, 1504, please click on the image for greater detail.

The Catholic Church makes some rather strong claims, now and consistently throughout her two thousand year history.  These claims, while understood by serious Catholics, are in modernity, couched in such language as to deliver “truth-in-love” without necessarily exasperating or panicking the listener out of either fear, defensiveness, or anger.  These are not the hallmarks of intentional dialogue, either by secular mores or Christian.

Well and good, I say.  There is no rational, proper, or polite reason to put emotive obstacles in the way of potential candidates, listeners, aspiring admirers, or intellectual curiosity seekers of the Church.

However, for the sake of brevity and clarity, let us be clear here.  The Catholic Church’s primary claim, in a nutshell, is “We are made for happiness!”  Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?  Nah.  That almost everyone, except the mentally or emotionally ill/disturbed, sadists, or other misanthropes may take issue with.  Catholic thinkers, though, would argue even the negative Nells above are still seeking happiness.  It is irrational not to seek happiness.  The Church would add, though, for those who seek it through disordered means it is impossible to find; truly, completely, without equivocation.  Those merely in denial need not apply.  They will only add to their sorrows.  Truth is a bitch, because it is the hardest thing to hold and maintain.  It costs, but its rewards are sweet and infinite, transcending this mortal existence.

Another word the Church uses is beatitude, or utmost bliss.  We are made for this bliss, always have been, the Church would say, whether in Eden or Heaven.  The Greeks struggled to understand their/the world.  They understood intellectual or theoretical perfection such as a circle, or a triangle, or the aesthetic perfection of mathematics.  They also understood the imperfection of reality.  What made a tree a tree?  How did things unknown/unknowable grow into things recognizable and known?  How can this be?  It is from the earliest Greek thinkers the idea and word “soul” comes.

Early thinkers among the Greeks were known as Sophists.  Contrary to their name, they believed nothing was knowable, there was no objective truth or morality, and, basically, anything goes.  This type of thinking, ideas have consequences, led the Athenians into pointless wars, un-winable wars with its adversary Sparta.  When the Athenians had been defeated as an independent city-state for the last time, along came Socrates, who had been a soldier, but now began asking questions of “experts” whom, he assumed, should know the “why” of their expertise.  They did not.

David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates
-‘Death of Socrates’, Jacques-Louis David, 1787, oil on canvas, 129.5 cm × 196.2 cm (51.0 in × 77.2 in), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, please click on the image for greater detail.

For Socrates, “knowledge is virtue, and ignorance vice”.  What is a good life?  What is good?  What is evil?  How should we live?  He became so annoying to the elites of Athens with his questioning, making them them plainly appear the fools they were, Athens held a trial and condemned Socrates to banishment or death.  Few stories save the Passion of our Lord itself, strive in the Western mind to be more compunctive than the trial and death of Socrates.

Plato was the student of Socrates, and attempted to continue his work by opening a school.  The motto “Know Thyself” was placed over the door of Plato’s Academy and marked an important change of emphasis in Greek and other philosophy, one from studying external mysteries of the universe, to the equally, or moreso, daunting interior exploration.

For Plato, attempting to explain the nature of theoretical perfection of the mind versus the reality of the world surrounding us, those two realities bifurcated into a theoretical realm of perfection “Ideas”(Heaven?), as Plato called them, and the physical world, which Plato held askance as almost not real because of its constant change and nature of being in flux from the perfect.  As  advanced as Plato’s reasoning was, he could not reconcile the concepts of permanence and change in a single world.

Along comes Aristotle, a student of Plato, teacher of Alexander the Great, and inspiration for St Thomas Aquinas.  Aristotle rejected Plato’s two worlds concept.  Rather, Aristotle explained the physical world in terms of form (or theoretical/intellectual perfection) and matter, which changes.  He also explained the concept of the material world’s ability to change as act (fully realized reality) and potency/potential, the ability of something in its current state to become something else.  Act & potency made me think of kinetic and potential energy, but I digress.

Socrates had made knowledge the equivalent of virtue. Aristotle, however, emphasizes the fact that to know is not the same as to do. In the realm of acting the fact of free will makes it possible for us to choose in contradiction to what we know is right. He stressed, therefore, the importance of developing the virtues in man for the strengthening of the will and for the control of the animal appetites.”1

Through reason ALONE we can come to proofs by reason that God does indeed exist, even Aristotle acknowledged this.  It is beyond the scope of this post to explore them, but they exist.  You can google them.  🙂

Love & reason,
Matthew

  1.  Sullivan, Daniel J. (2015-09-23). An Introduction to Philosophy: Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition (Kindle Locations 696-698). Ravenio Books. Kindle Edition.

Immanuel Kant, (1724-1804) – Philosopher, “Subjectivizer of Truth”

Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)

kreeft21
-by Peter Kreeft, “The Pillars of Unbelief”, The National Catholic Register, (January – February 1988)

“Few philosophers in history have been so unreadable and dry as Immanuel Kant. Yet few have had a more devastating impact on human thought.

Kant’s devoted servant, Lumppe, is said to have faithfully read each thing his master published, but when Kant published his most important work, “The Critique of Pure Reason,” Lumppe began but did not finish it because, he said, if he were to finish it, it would have to be in a mental hospital. Many students since then have echoed his sentiments.

Yet this abstract professor, writing in abstract style about abstract questions, is, I believe, the primary source of the idea that today imperils faith (and thus souls) more than any other; the idea that truth is subjective.

The simple citizens of his native Konigsburg, Germany, where he lived and wrote in the latter half of the 18th century, understood this better than professional scholars, for they nicknamed Kant “The Destroyer” and named their dogs after him.

He was a good-tempered, sweet and pious man, so punctual that his neighbors set their clocks by his daily walk. The basic intention of his philosophy was noble: to restore human dignity amidst a skeptical world worshiping science.

This intent becomes clear through a single anecdote. Kant was attending a lecture by a materialistic astronomer on the topic of man’s place in the universe. The astronomer concluded his lecture with: “So you see that astronomically speaking, man is utterly insignificant.” Kant replied: “Professor, you forgot the most important thing, man is the astronomer.”

Kant, more than any other thinker, gave impetus to the typically modern turn from the objective to the subjective. This may sound fine until we realize that it meant for him the redefinition of truth itself as subjective. And the consequences of this idea have been catastrophic.

If we ever engage in conversation about our faith with unbelievers, we know from experience that the most common obstacle to faith today is not any honest intellectual difficulty, like the problem of evil or the dogma of the trinity, but the assumption that religion cannot possibly concern facts and objective truth at all; that any attempt to convince another person that your faith is true — objectively true, true for everyone — is unthinkable arrogance.

The business of religion, according to this mindset, is practice and not theory; values, not facts; something subjective and private, not objective and public. Dogma is an “extra,” and a bad extra at that, for dogma fosters dogmatism. Religion, in short, equals ethics. And since Christian ethics is very similar to the ethics of most other major religions, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian or not; all that matters is whether you are a “good person.” (The people who believe this also usually believe that just about everyone except Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson is a “good person.”)

Kant is largely responsible for this way of thinking. He helped bury the medieval synthesis of faith and reason. He described his philosophy as “clearing away the pretensions of reason to make room for faith” — as if faith and reason were enemies and not allies. In Kant, Luther’s divorce between faith and reason becomes finalized.

Kant thought religion could never be a matter of reason, evidence or argument, or even a matter of knowledge, but a matter of feeling, motive and attitude. This assumption has deeply influenced the minds of most religious educators (e.g., catechism writers and theology departments) today, who have turned their attention away from the plain “bare bones” of faith, the objective facts narrated in Scripture and summarized in the Apostles’ creed. They have divorced the faith from reason and married it to pop psychology, because they have bought into Kant’s philosophy.

“Two things fill me with wonder,” Kant confessed: “the starry sky above and the moral law within.” What a man wonders about fills his heart and directs his thought. Note that Kant wonders about only two things: not God, not Christ, not Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection and Judgment, but “the starry sky above and the moral law within.” “The starry sky above” is the physical universe as known by modern science. Kant relegates everything else to subjectivity. The moral law is not “without” but “within,” not objective but subjective, not a Natural Law of objective rights and wrongs that comes from God but a man-made law by which we decide to bind ourselves. (But if we bind ourselves, are we really bound?) Morality is a matter of subjective intention only. It has no content except the Golden Rule (Kant’s “categorical imperative”).

If the moral law came from God rather than from man, Kant argues, then man would not be free in the sense of being autonomous. This is true, Kant then proceeds to argue that man must be autonomous, therefore the moral law does not come from God but from man. The Church argues from the same premise that the moral law does in fact come from God, therefore man is not autonomous. He is free to choose to obey or disobey the moral law, but he is not free to create the law itself.

Though Kant thought of himself as a Christian, he explicitly denied that we could know that there really exists (1) God, (2) free will, and (3) immorality. He said we must live as if these three ideas were true because if we believe them we will take morality seriously, and if we don’t we will not. It is this justification of belief by purely practical reasons that is a terrible mistake. Kant believes in God not because it is true but because it is helpful. Why not believe in Santa Claus then? If I were God, I would favor an honest atheist over a dishonest theist, and Kant is to my mind a dishonest theist, because there is only one honest reason for believing anything: because it is true.

Those who try to sell the Christian faith in the Kantian sense, as a “value system” rather than as the truth, have been failing for generations. With so many competing “value systems: on the market, why should anyone prefer the Christian variation to simpler ones with less theological baggage, and easier ones with less inconvenient moral demands?

Kant gave up the battle, in effect, by retreating from the battlefield of fact. He believed the great myth of the 18th-century “Enlightenment” (ironic name!): that Newtonian science was here to stay and that Christianity, to survive, had to find a new place in the new mental landscape sketched by the new science. The only place left was subjectivity.

That meant ignoring or interpreting as myth the supernatural and miraculous claims of traditional Christianity. Kant’s strategy was essentially the same as that of Rudolf Bultmann, the father of “demythologizing” and the man who may be responsible for more Catholic college students losing their faith than anyone else. Many theology professors follow his theories of criticism which reduce biblical claims of eyewitness description of miracles to mere myth, “values” and “pious interpretations.”

Bultmann said this about the supposed conflict between faith and science: “The scientific world picture is here to stay and will assert its right against any theology, however imposing, that conflicts with it.” Ironically, that very “scientific world picture” of Newtonian physics Kant and Bultmann accepted as absolute and unchangeable has today been almost universally rejected by scientists themselves!

Kant’s basic question was: How can we know truth? Early in his life he accepted the answer of Rationalism, that we know truth by the intellect, not the senses, and that the intellect possesses its own “innate ideas.” The he read the Empiricist David Hume, who, Kant said, “woke me from my dogmatic slumber.” Like other Empiricists, Hume believed that we could know truth only through the senses and that we had no “innate ideas.” But Hume’s premises led him to the conclusion of Skepticism, the denial that we can ever know the truth at all with any certainty. Kant saw both the “dogmatism” of Rationalism and the skepticism of Empiricism as unacceptable, and sought a third way.

There was such a third theory available, ever since Aristotle. It was the common sense philosophy of Realism. According to Realism, we can know truth through both the intellect and the senses if only they worked properly and in tandem, like two blades of a scissors. Instead of returning to traditional Realism, Kant invented a wholly new theory of knowledge, usually called Idealism. He called it his “Copernican revolution in philosophy.” The simplest term for it is Subjectivism. It amounts to redefining truth itself as subjective, not objective.

All previous philosophers had assumed that truth was objective. That’s simply what we common-sensically mean by “truth”: knowing what really is, conforming the mind to objective reality. Some philosophers (the Rationalists) thought we could attain this goal through reason alone. The early Empiricists (like Locke) thought we could attain it through sensation. The later skeptical Empiricist Hume thought we could not attain it at all with any certainty. Kant denied the assumption common to all three competing philosophies, namely that we should attain it, that truth means conformity to objective reality. Kant’s “Copernican revolution” redefines truth itself as reality conforming to ideas. “Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects…more progress may be made if we assume the contrary hypothesis that the objects of thought must conform to our knowledge.”

Kant claimed that all our knowledge is subjective. Well, is that knowledge subjective? If it is, then the knowledge of that fact is also subjective, et cetera, and we are reduced to an infinite hall of mirrors. Kant’s philosophy is a perfect philosophy for hell. Perhaps the damned collectively believe they aren’t really in hell, it’s all just in their mind. And perhaps it is; perhaps that’s what hell is.”

Psalm 40

Love, and as my mother always encouraged, wise woman that she was, “Matthew, (Mashew, it came out as when she was feeling particularly affectionate towards me) keep a simple faith.”  Wise woman, wise, and loving.

Mashew 🙂

A Little History of Thought: What Science Doesn’t Know

On Sep 12, 2006 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI addressed his old university in Regensburg, Germany.  He observed, truthfully, modern science presupposes the rational structure of nature.  True, and a glaring assumption for such a supposed rigorous discipline.  Glaring.  (Shhh…almost…(looking around)…like…faith?  Eeeegads!  IRRational, scientific heretics!  Hypocrites, we all!)  🙂  (Giggle!) 🙂  Stern looks of indignation, discomfortable fidgeting from the academy in the gallery!) 🙂  The Truth is almost always discomforting.  That is more about us,  dearest reader, than it ever was or will be about the Truth.

Science goes so far, based on its experience of discovering rational unity after rational unity in nature as to propose, yet only in theory, the existence, yet unproven, of what is know as The Grand Unifying Theory.  Simply put, that nature resolves itself, all of itself, into the simplest of mathematical expressions, such as E=mc^2, for the forces of Energy, Matter, and Light.  The recently released film “The Theory of Everything” is called that for a reason.

This is a profound statement, both in the minor and the major categories.  Energy and Matter are interchangeable, related, shockingly simply, stunningly, with the square of the speed limit of the universe, beyond which nothing, we currently know of, can exceed.  Not reams and reams of complex, inscrutable equations, no.  Three simple terms.  God is simple.

Science has no explanation for why the universe is so rational.  It knows not why the universe is so intelligible, so rational.  If you work mathematical problems some CAN really be complex.  What I have said is not to imply that all is child’s play in physics, hardly, but it does make the resolution into simplicity so shocking when it happens, it does take one’s nerdy breath away.

In fact, do enough math, and you begin to know, intuitively, when a problem explodes, based on the type of problem, that you’re wrong.  You have made a mistake, and must find it.  You just know, the solution must be simpler, regardless of how thorny the question.   Your current result is TOO complex!  You just know it.   Your experience tells you the solution must be simpler.  You just know it based on experience.  Find your error.

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.” – A. Einstein, 1/24/1936, to 6th grader Phyllis, of Miss Ellis’ class, Riverside Church, in response to Phyllis’ letter of inquiry as to whether scientists pray.

The Pope continued, “Yet this question, of why the universe is so rational, is a real question.  It must be addressed.

Science does not know why we sleep, let alone why we dream.  Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1.  We can get within fractions of a second of t=0, literally when time began, of the Big Bang, and our math breaks down.  We don’t understand.  We just don’t know.  Same with as when we theoretically enter a black hole, which even light cannot escape, the math we understand today breaks down.

  1. What is the universe made of?
    Astronomers face an embarrassing conundrum: they don’t know what 95% of the universe is made of. Atoms, which form everything we see around us, only account for a measly 5%. Over the past 80 years it has become clear that the substantial remainder is comprised of two shadowy entities – dark matter and dark energy. The former, first discovered in 1933, acts as an invisible glue, binding galaxies and galaxy clusters together. Unveiled in 1998, the latter is pushing the universe’s expansion to ever greater speeds. Astronomers are closing in on the true identities of these unseen interlopers.
  2. How did life begin?
    Four billion years ago, something started stirring in the primordial soup. A few simple chemicals got together and made biology – the first molecules capable of replicating themselves appeared. We humans are linked by evolution to those early biological molecules. But how did the basic chemicals present on early Earth spontaneously arrange themselves into something resembling life? How did we get DNA? What did the first cells look like? More than half a century after the chemist Stanley Miller proposed his “primordial soup” theory, we still can’t agree about what happened. Some say life began in hot pools near volcanoes, others that it was kick-started by meteorites hitting the sea.
  3. Are we alone in the universe?
    Perhaps not. Astronomers have been scouring the universe for places where water worlds might have given rise to life, from Europa and Mars in our solar system to planets many light years away. Radio telescopes have been eavesdropping on the heavens and in 1977 a signal bearing the potential hallmarks of an alien message was heard. Astronomers are now able to scan the atmospheres of alien worlds for oxygen and water. The next few decades will be an exciting time to be an alien hunter with up to 60bn potentially habitable planets in our Milky Way alone.
  4. What makes us human?
    Just looking at your DNA won’t tell you – the human genome is 99% identical to a chimpanzee’s and, for that matter, 50% to a banana’s. We do, however, have bigger brains than most animals – not the biggest, but packed with three times as many neurons as a gorilla (86bn to be exact). A lot of the things we once thought distinguishing about us – language, tool-use, recognising yourself in the mirror – are seen in other animals. Perhaps it’s our culture – and its subsequent effect on our genes (and vice versa) – that makes the difference. Scientists think that cooking and our mastery of fire may have helped us gain big brains. But it’s possible that our capacity for co-operation and skills trade is what really makes this a planet of humans and not apes.
  5. What is consciousness?
    We’re still not really sure. We do know that it’s to do with different brain regions networked together rather than a single part of the brain. The thinking goes that if we figure out which bits of the brain are involved and how the neural circuitry works, we’ll figure out how consciousness emerges, something that artificial intelligence and attempts to build a brain neuron by neuron may help with. The harder, more philosophical, question is why anything should be conscious in the first place. A good suggestion is that by integrating and processing lots of information, as well as focusing and blocking out rather than reacting to the sensory inputs bombarding us, we can distinguish between what’s real and what’s not and imagine multiple future scenarios that help us adapt and survive.
  6. Why do we dream?
    We spend around a third of our lives sleeping. Considering how much time we spend doing it, you might think we’d know everything about it. But scientists are still searching for a complete explanation of why we sleep and dream. Subscribers to Sigmund Freud’s views believed dreams were expressions of unfulfilled wishes – often sexual – while others wonder whether dreams are anything but the random firings of a sleeping brain. Animal studies and advances in brain imaging have led us to a more complex understanding that suggests dreaming could play a role in memory, learning and emotions. Rats, for example, have been shown to replay their waking experiences in dreams, apparently helping them to solve complex tasks such as navigating mazes.
  7. Why is there stuff?
    You really shouldn’t be here. The “stuff” you’re made of is matter, which has a counterpart called antimatter differing only in electrical charge. When they meet, both disappear in a flash of energy. Our best theories suggest that the big bang created equal amounts of the two, meaning all matter should have since encountered its antimatter counterpart, scuppering them both and leaving the universe awash with only energy. Clearly nature has a subtle bias for matter otherwise you wouldn’t exist. Researchers are sifting data from experiments like the Large Hadron Collider trying to understand why, with supersymmetry and neutrinos the two leading contenders.
  8. Are there other universes?
    Our universe is a very unlikely place. Alter some of its settings even slightly and life as we know it becomes impossible. In an attempt to unravel this “fine-tuning” problem, physicists are increasingly turning to the notion of other universes. If there is an infinite number of them in a “multiverse” then every combination of settings would be played out somewhere and, of course, you find yourself in the universe where you are able to exist. It may sound crazy, but evidence from cosmology and quantum physics is pointing in that direction.
  9. Where do we put all the carbon?
    For the past couple of hundred years, we’ve been filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide – unleashing it by burning fossil fuels that once locked away carbon below the Earth’s surface. Now we have to put all that carbon back, or risk the consequences of a warming climate. But how do we do it? One idea is to bury it in old oil and gas fields. Another is to hide it away at the bottom of the sea. But we don’t know how long it will stay there, or what the risks might be. Meanwhile, we have to protect natural, long-lasting stores of carbon, such as forests and peat bogs, and start making energy in a way that doesn’t belch out even more.
  10. How do we get more energy from the sun?
    Dwindling supplies of fossil fuels mean we’re in need of a new way to power our planet. Our nearest star offers more than one possible solution. We’re already harnessing the sun’s energy to produce solar power. Another idea is to use the energy in sunlight to split water into its component parts: oxygen, and hydrogen, which could provide a clean fuel for cars of the future. Scientists are also working on an energy solution that depends on recreating the processes going on inside stars themselves – they’re building a nuclear fusion machine. The hope is that these solutions can meet our energy needs.
  11. What’s so weird about prime numbers?
    The fact you can shop safely on the internet is thanks to prime numbers – those digits that can only be divided by themselves and one. Public key encryption – the heartbeat of internet commerce – uses prime numbers to fashion keys capable of locking away your sensitive information from prying eyes. And yet, despite their fundamental importance to our everyday lives, the primes remain an enigma. An apparent pattern within them – the Riemann hypothesis – has tantalised some of the brightest minds in mathematics for centuries. However, as yet, no one has been able to tame their weirdness. Doing so might just break the internet.
  12. How do we beat bacteria?
    Antibiotics are one of the miracles of modern medicine. Sir Alexander Fleming’s Nobel prize-winning discovery led to medicines that fought some of the deadliest diseases and made surgery, transplants and chemotherapy possible. Yet this legacy is in danger – in Europe around 25,000 people die each year of multidrug-resistant bacteria. Our drug pipeline has been sputtering for decades and we’ve been making the problem worse through overprescription and misuse of antibiotics – an estimated 80% of US antibiotics goes to boosting farm animal growth. Thankfully, the advent of DNA sequencing is helping us discover antibiotics we never knew bacteria could produce. Alongside innovative, if gross-sounding, methods such as transplanting “good” bacteria from fecal matter, and the search for new bacteria deep in the oceans, we may yet keep abreast in this arms race with organisms 3bn years our senior.
  13. Can computers keep getting faster?
    Our tablets and smartphones are mini-computers that contain more computing power than astronauts took to the moon in 1969. But if we want to keep on increasing the amount of computing power we carry around in our pockets, how are we going to do it? There are only so many components you can cram on to a computer chip. Has the limit been reached, or is there another way to make a computer? Scientists are considering new materials, such as atomically thin carbon – graphene – as well as new systems, such as quantum computing.
  14. Will we ever cure cancer?
    The short answer is no. Not a single disease, but a loose group of many hundreds of diseases, cancer has been around since the dinosaurs and, being caused by haywire genes, the risk is hardwired into all of us. The longer we live, the more likely something might go wrong, in any number of ways. For cancer is a living thing – ever-evolving to survive. Yet though incredibly complicated, through genetics we’re learning more and more about what causes it, how it spreads and getting better at treating and preventing it. And know this: up to half of all cancers – 3.7m a year – are preventable; quit smoking, drink and eat moderately, stay active, and avoid prolonged exposure to the midday sun.
  15. When can I have a robot butler?
    Robots can already serve drinks and carry suitcases. Modern robotics can offer us a “staff” of individually specialised robots: they ready your Amazon orders for delivery, milk your cows, sort your email and ferry you between airport terminals. But a truly “intelligent” robot requires us to crack artificial intelligence. The real question is whether you’d leave a robotic butler alone in the house with your granny. And with Japan aiming to have robotic aides caring for its elderly by 2025, we’re thinking hard about it now.
  16. What’s at the bottom of the ocean?
    Ninety-five per cent of the ocean is unexplored. What’s down there? In 1960, Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard travelled seven miles down, to the deepest part of the ocean, in search of answers. Their voyage pushed the boundaries of human endeavour but gave them only a glimpse of life on the seafloor. It’s so difficult getting to the bottom of the ocean that for the most part we have to resort to sending unmanned vehicles as scouts. The discoveries we’ve made so far – from bizarre fish such as the barreleye, with its transparent head, to a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s made by crustaceans – are a tiny fraction of the strange world hidden below the waves.
  17. What’s at the bottom of a black hole?
    It’s a question we don’t yet have the tools to answer. Einstein’s general relativity says that when a black hole is created by a dying, collapsing massive star, it continues caving in until it forms an infinitely small, infinitely dense point called a singularity. But on such scales quantum physics probably has something to say too. Except that general relativity and quantum physics have never been the happiest of bedfellows – for decades they have withstood all attempts to unify them. However, a recent idea – called M-Theory – may one day explain the unseen centre of one of the universe’s most extreme creations.
  18. Can we live for ever?
    We live in an amazing time: we’re starting to think of “ageing” not as a fact of life, but a disease that can be treated and possibly prevented, or at least put off for a very long time. Our knowledge of what causes us to age – and what allows some animals to live longer than others – is expanding rapidly. And though we haven’t quite worked out all the details, the clues we are gathering about DNA damage, the balance of ageing, metabolism and reproductive fitness, plus the genes that regulate this, are filling out a bigger picture, potentially leading to drug treatments. But the real question is not how we’re going to live longer but how we are going to live well longer. And since many diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, are diseases of ageing, treating ageing itself could be the key.
  19. How do we solve the population problem?
    The number of people on our planet has doubled to more than 7 billion since the 1960s and it is expected that by 2050 there will be at least 9 billion of us. Where are we all going to live and how are we going to make enough food and fuel for our ever-growing population? Maybe we can ship everyone off to Mars or start building apartment blocks underground. We could even start feeding ourselves with lab-grown meat. These may sound like sci-fi solutions, but we might have to start taking them more seriously.
  20. Is time travel possible?
    Time travellers already walk among us. Thanks to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, astronauts orbiting on the International Space Station experience time ticking more slowly. At that speed the effect is minuscule, but ramp up the velocity and the effect means that one day humans might travel thousands of years into the future. Nature seems to be less fond of people going the other way and returning to the past, however some physicists have concocted an elaborate blueprint for a way to do it using wormholes and spaceships. It could even be used to hand yourself a present on Christmas Day, or answer some of the many questions that surround the universe’s great unknowns.

Etc., etc.

Ps 146:3-4

Love,
Matthew

A Little History of Thought: I am a Thomist. What is a Thomist?

Thomas_Aquinas_in_Stained_Glass

A Universal Church founded by the Creator of the Universe, must be just that, universal.  Even, at least, entertaining various systems of thought.  1Thess 5:21.

There were many practical questions to be answered after our Lord’s Ascension.  Anyone attending a Bible study for even just the first time, realizes quickly the same passage of scripture means varying things to different people.  And, what about the gaps, where scripture says nothing?  🙁  And, the canon wasn’t defined, completely, until at least the 4th century, the Gospel of John and Revelation, so beloved today, being some of the last included texts.

Even the determination of the canon was from a practical reason.  There were various and sordid apocryphal scrolls floating around the Mediterranean.   Which were the authentic ones?  Which were frauds?  Which heretical?  Which were to be believed?  To be adhered to?  Which should we read at Mass?  The Church had to define.

It is the Church, from the beginning, under the guidance of the Holy Spirt, which has authority over scripture, and not the reverse.  It has always been so.  Many of those apocryphal texts can still be sourced today.  There is no serious proposal to revise the traditional canon, that I have heard?  Holy Spirit must have gotten it right?

Truth is not determined by a majority.  Lack of gravity/weightlessness is not achieved by 51% consensus.  The apple still falls to the ground, even when floating is popular. “Truth cannot contradict truth.” -Pope Leo XIII.

In the encyclical Doctoris Angelici Pope Pius X cautioned that the teachings of the Church cannot be understood without the basic philosophical underpinnings of St Thomas Aquinas‘, the Angelic Doctor’s, major theses:

“The capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.”

The Second Vatican Council described Thomas’s system as the “Perennial Philosophy”.

“The fact that Thomism is the philosophy of common sense is itself a matter of common sense.” – GK Chesterton, 1933.

Thomism is a philosophical school of thought following the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, especially as contained in his most famous summary work, Summa Theologica, the importance of which the Roman Catholic Church arguably regards as second only to the Bible.  Aquinas, arguably, moved the philosophy of the Church from Plato to Aristotle.  Thomas Aquinas’ brilliant mind coincided with Europe rediscovering Aristotle, not from Latin, but from Arabic.  The work of the philosopher had been lost to Europe in the “Dark Ages”, preserved in Middle Eastern civilization and then returned to Europe in the 13th century, on the doorstep of the Renaissance.

It was Aquinas’ burning desire to integrate Aristotelian philosophy into Christian Revelation.  If the Truth is the Truth, there should be no contradiction.  Truth cannot contradict truth.  We may misunderstand Revelation, we may need to deepen/refine our understanding, we may need to revisit our interpretation, in the light of truth, but it never contradicts.  Apparent inconsistencies are divine calls to go deeper.  Truth cannot contradict truth.  The Catholic imagination is not afraid of truth, whencever it proceeds, as Truth Incarnate came to Earth, to dwell with, and teach, and save us.

I think that’s all for now.  As principles become important, I’ll tease out some more Thomism, but for now, work with me.  You always do, faithful reader.  Have a little faith, no?  🙂  It’s heady, and complicated, and big words give me a headache!  🙂

Love,
Matthew

A Little History of Thought: Nominalism, “Ideas have consequences.” They do.

quote-occam-s-razor-no-more-things-should-be-presumed-to-exist-than-are-absolutely-necessary-i-e-the-william-of-occam-372636

We are creatures of conditioning and history.  All human beings are and ever were…with the exception of One, through His Divine nature.  This former part of this proposition is the antithesis of popular American thought.  American thought implies all ideas, let alone people, are equal.  It’s easier, much easier to think THAT.  🙁  We know the latter is factually untrue, other than politically, and it DOES make for delicious political philosophy.  Thank you, TJ!!!!  🙂  What of the former?

Americans, like the empires before them, in the vacuum of their success, all believed they were right; morally, especially, but in all other ways, too, due to their success; a circular, self-affirming logic.  For immediate relief, I propose a trip outside the country.  There is another world.  Really.  Trust me.  And, (gasp), they don’t think like us.   And, they don’t see the world the way we do.  Also, while abroad, catch some news on the BBC/Al Jazeera, and see what it is like to have a WORLD view.

If we dare to adjudicate the, as we perceive/see them, errors of our time, intellectual integrity requires we first critique our own biases and context for making such judgments.  Otherwise, our conclusions bear no merit whatsoever.

First, some terms, gentle reader, to whet the appetite and salt the fare:

Can you smell the skepticism?  The relativism?  Can you taste it?  It is in the wind, in the very air, that we breathe.  A little sulfurous, no?  Acrid?  🙂

“What is this thing?  Called Love?

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped Modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences, were becoming ill-fitted to their tasks and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past. In this spirit, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, atonal (or pantonal) and twelve-tone music, quantum physics, genetics, neuron networks, set theory, analytic philosophy, the moving-picture show, divisionist painting and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th century.

A notable characteristic of Modernism is self-consciousness, which often led to experiments with form, along with the use of techniques that drew attention to the processes and materials used in creating a painting, poem, building, etc.  Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism and makes use of the works of the past by the employment of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody.

Some commentators define Modernism as a mode of thinking—one or more philosophically defined characteristics, like self-consciousness or self-reference, that run across all the novelties in the arts and the disciplines.  More common, especially in the West, are those who see it as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology. From this perspective, Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Others focus on Modernism as an aesthetic introspection. This facilitates consideration of specific reactions to the use of technology in the First World War, and anti-technological and nihilistic aspects of the works of diverse thinkers and artists spanning the period from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) to Samuel Beckett (1906–1989).

Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism.  Postmodernism includes skeptical interpretations of culture, religon, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism.

from http://nominalismdenounced.blogspot.com/ (Disclaimer:  I DO NOT concur with the author’s overall positions, nor, hardly, conclusions, however, he makes SOME points well to support his arguments. Romans 5:20.  Which I, in turn, use to make my own.  I do accept responsibility, in general, for what I have quoted below from the author’s article.  God help me, always.)

-by Joseph Andrew Settanni

“The advance of postmodernity, into the 21st century, has seen the full fruits of the results of the rabid pursuit of what had been regarded as modernity, often called the modern project, which includes abortion, artificial contraception, infanticide, euthanasia, sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality, pornography, etc., meaning the vindication of human hubris.

The postmodern thrust is most clearly seen, therefore, in the expanding and intensifying worship of death, usually called the culture of death; the human race, denying the rights and existence of God, actively seeks self-extermination with its normally decreasing birthrates and increased sterility observed around the world; it is, thus, a manifestly manmade demographic nightmare nihilistically engulfing a much too willing humanity.

Of course, the cancerous roots of this profoundly spiritual crisis, meaning the nihilistic choosing of a completely intramundane-immanentist eschatology, go deep. What started as an intellectual tendency much earlier in the history of Western thought became first “codified” in philosophical terms by an aberrant English Franciscan Scholastic, William of Ockham or Occam (c. 1287–1347), with his subjectivist and relativist advocacy of nominalism, which, later in time, was also fairly called (appropriately enough) Occamism. And, as Richard M. Weaver had noted long ago, ideas have consequences.  (Ed. Ask the victims of the Nazis, the Communists, the Khmer Rouge, if they do, fair reader?)

Admittedly, nominalism, which ultimately leads to nihilism, is very epistemologically seductive and even most of its adherents rarely, if ever, become conscious of its supremely thoroughgoing hold upon them.

For instance, the needed denunciation of the gigantic religious/theological heresy of Modernism, by Pope St. Pius X, would have been impossible to truly comprehend (as to the precise reason for the condemnation’s vital need) without the prior success of the development of the important intellectual error known as nominalism in cognition, for there is no greater deception than self-deception…(Ed. nor none more rampant, gentle reader.)

The Matter Itself Defined

But, what is nominalism? Simply put, it is the explicit denial of there being any universals; the doctrine that general ideas or abstract concepts, meaning as being mere necessities of thought or conveniences of language, are simply names without any true corresponding reality and that, in fact, only particular objects exist; there are, therefore, no universal essences whatsoever.

The nominalist contends, e. g., that one can see an individual man, a human being, but there can be no universal term that talks about man as an abstract category as if it possessed any reality. Thus, an individual person has a human nature qua real being; but, the universality of a human nature qua nature of humanity does not philosophically exist. There are, as other examples, individual dogs or cats; there is, however, no universal “thing” that can be specified as dog or cat. Words such as liberty, freedom, truth, beauty, justice, etc. are said to be mere abstractions qua semantic devices having no true substance whatsoever.

The inherent and integral and unavoidable contradictions and conundrums, involved in such a bold contention, get rudely pushed aside in the subjective-relativist rush toward upholding the nominalist asseveration, meaning totally regardless of the actuality of the matters discussed. Objectivity and subjectivity, among other basic noetic results, get necessarily reversed within the scope of human understanding and comprehension, not surprisingly. It is, in short, Occam’s Razor gone mad.

Thus, ultimately, it is the extremely anomalous positing that metaphysics can exist without any reference to a metaphysical order (as if a river could be composed without any water); a once truly radical or extremist point of view that, today, is held to be completely normal. It is, therefore, as to its logical consequences, a world seeking to be entirely bereft of God and, finally, of sanity itself in the cause of pursuing nominalism to its final epistemological conclusion.

One can see, as with, e. g., Communism, how an ersatz religion (or the oddity of a secularist religion) qua ideology can induce people to murder millions of their fellow human beings, though not ever thinking that such slaughter is clearly indicative of insanity. If this can be understood, however, then the true meaning, implications, and ramifications of modernity are then revealed.

Objective knowledge, unfortunately, becomes difficult to grasp whenever Occamism operates on the human brain. And, further, objectivity itself has its very existence questioned when this kind of “logic” gets worked upon over time; both philosophy and political philosophy, as consequences, have become progressively corrupted as the centuries have passed such that, for the vast majority of people, nominalism has simply become an unrecognized pandemic attitude and accepted orientation of thought within all of modern civilization.

But, there are continuing philosophical problems left unresolved. How can, in fact, the particularity of a particular being, said to be human, be then held to be possible or plausible without a prior paradigmatic conception of what it is that gets properly defined as human, especially a human nature? How could, by extension, someone be said to possess a human nature without there being the definition of a nature that is applicable, by definition, to a human being and, thus, to all human beings who have ever lived or, of course, are alive now?

The moderate realism approach of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, along with most of Platonic thought, gets weirdly turned upside down and inside out in the effort to create an Occamist worldview where there are no universals imaginable (read: permitted). There were, as to the reductionist mentality involved, many consequences, as could be guessed, in the field of intellectual or political-intellectual history.

For instance, the 18th century Enlightenment’s deification of Reason witnessed a modern form of (liberal) tyranny (or insanity) then known as enlightened despotism; this fitted in well, in turn, with Rousseau’s contention, e. g., that men had to be forced to be free, which logically originated, of course, the concept of democratic despotism as a means of (insane) progressive liberation, of creating the New Eden on earth, Utopianism. (The logical end results, in their turn, lead to both Nazi death camps and Communist gulags in the 20th century, for the road to Utopia always takes the path toward necessary dehumanization, due to the ideological rationalization of murder on a grand scale.)

By the early 19th century, Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, could gratuitously, meaning just passingly, dismiss all of Natural Law as being only “Nonsense on Stilts” in his aggressive efforts at the totalist (insane) rationalization of human life, culture, law, civilization, and society. Modernity, thus, vigorously so spreads philosophical/metaphysical ignorance and, therefore, continuously incapacitates the human mind from reasoning correctly about fundamental matters concerning the human condition and the consequences of the thoughts and actions of fallen creatures living in a fallen world; sin itself gets ignored, of course; rationality qua right reason gets wrongly confused with Rationalism, a form of ideological insanity…

Thus, e. g., Martin Luther, educated primarily by nominalist-inspired teachers of theology, was then supplied with many currents of reasoning that conformed easily toward the creation of Protestantism, the truest theological expression of nominalism ever fashioned or conceived by mortal man: sola Scriptura and sola fide. Someone can actually think of himself as being a good Protestant who, in effect, constitutes his own church and acts as his own pope, in the spirit of individualism writ large.

The metaphysical order qua Supreme Being becomes flexible and adaptable to the variable and various (read: Protestant) belief needs or values of diverse kinds or types of Christians. From the Catholic point of view, however, it was obviously blasphemous to the nth degree for the so-called Reformers to, thus, reform God; Protestant converts to Catholicism get the point. But, one ought to be able to plainly see how Protestantism blends in quite well with the flow and logic of modernity.

The Protestant Revolt was and necessarily remains, therefore, the vainglorious and forever dubious theological effort at (supposedly) achieving the reformation of the Lord. This is easily proven empirically in how dozens of sects had expanded into, first, hundreds and now continuingly thousands upon thousands of sects that continue to multiply; the so-called Reformation is endless because God must be made to conform to the dictates of a multiplicity of divergent and disputational consciences, which process displays the forever inherent and integral irrationality of Protestantism, of course…

What is meant? All the ideologies of modernity, meaning inclusive of Conservatism, Communism, Nazism, Fascism, Liberalism, Anarchism, Libertarianism, Feminism, etc. can be then traced through many kinds of philosophical attitudes such as materialism, hedonism, secularism, humanism, subjectivism, pragmatism, positivism, nihilism, reductionism, etc. back to their root or fundamental cause: Nominalism.

Unsurprisingly, every heresy attacking Catholicism can be drawn, either directly or indirectly, to the same source or, rather, mental contagion; and, moreover, the desacralized and neopagan West, without a doubt, is now intellectually and morally disarmed in the face of an increasingly militant and aggressive Islam. In turn, postmodernism in thought (deconstructionism, etc.) would be inconceivable without a prior modernism in cognition; both modernism and postmodernism, as popularly understood, are ultimately traceable to the germinal nominalist point of view…

Br_Thomas_Davenport_OP
-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“At heart, Nominalism is an attempt to explain why we call a cat a cat. It’s not concerned with the etymology of the word “cat” but with why it is even possible to give a single name to all of these animals. The central claim of Nominalism is that only individual realities exist; there is only Fluffy and Garfield and Mittens, and each is completely singular and unique in its existence. Universals, like the word “cat,” are simply useful labels that we humans can apply to things that we perceive as being similar, but do not correspond to anything in reality. There is no such thing as cat nature that is really shared by each cat and gives a real basis for grouping them as a species. There is simply a name. Of course, this goes beyond felinology to all universals. Most troubling is that Nominalism claims there is no such thing as human nature, simply individual, unrelated human beings.

When considered from a theological perspective, Nominalism has a drastic effect on our relationship to God. Whatever order and structure we may observe in the world cannot be rooted in the real relationship between different types of things, because there are no types of things to relate.

Whatever order we find can only be rooted in God’s free choice. Thomists absolutely agree that God created and continues to maintain creation with absolute freedom, but they see the result of that freedom as an expression of God’s providential wisdom.

For the Nominalist, the majesty of the created order is not really a glimpse at God’s wisdom but simply of the way he wants things to be for the moment. In the moral order, if there is no such thing as human nature, there is no such thing as natural inclination towards happiness or natural law. There is no rational reason behind what makes a particular action good or bad; there is only God’s free choice.

William of Ockham, the founder of scholastic Nominalism, took this extreme Voluntarism, this overemphasis on God’s free will, so far as to claim, “God can command the created will to hate him,” and by that command, the hatred of God would be good. He saw this as possible not simply in this world. Rather, “just as hatred of God can be a good act in this world, so can it be in the next.”

Ockham never claimed that God had ever commanded this, and Ockham recognized a customary order in things. But he held on to the idea that there was no guarantee that this order would not completely change tomorrow.

As influential as Nominalism was in the 14th century and continues to be in various guises today, the phrase “anything can signify anything” isn’t really expressing medieval Nominalism. It is expressing a sort of New Nominalism* that we see in today’s culture, a sort of modern amalgamation of Nominalism and Voluntarism, but without even God as the ultimate arbiter.

There seems to be a growing trend that assumes not only that universals are merely names with no real significance, but even that the meaning of these names is entirely up to the free will of each individual. What it means to be a man or a woman is becoming something subjective and self-defined. Whether a slur is really a slur or a sign of affection is simply up to the one who uses it or who hears it.

Further, this personal Voluntarism ensures that no one need be bound by their past opinions on a word from one moment to the next. What was once, in the moment, a life-long vow “for better or for worse” might eventually become simply a nice turn of phrase, said on a day long ago but that never really meant anything…

While Nominalism tended to cut us off from God’s wisdom and the well-ordered plan of salvation, the New Nominalism introduces a sort of man-made Babel, cutting us off from one another and even from our very selves.

When words, including universals, lose their connection to an objective reality, we lose the ability to speak honestly about truth and goodness. While it may be true on some abstract level that “anything can signify anything,” only certain things actually signify the truth, only certain statements actually correspond to the reality they are conveying. Without trust in the reality underlying our words, the truth about ourselves and about God will always escape us, no matter how hard we will otherwise.”

Love,
Matthew

A Little History of Thought: What is Metaphysics?

Metaphysics

Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it, although the term is not easily, precisely defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:

  • What is ultimately there?
  • What is it like?

The metaphysician attempts to clarify the fundamental notions by which people understand the world, e.g., existence, objects and their properties, space and time, cause and effect, and possibility.

The purpose of this blog has always been to make some of the most important concepts in Christian thought as accessible as possible to as many English speakers as possible.  Therefore, the parsing further of this subject will prematurely end there, as far as delving further specifically into how Metaphysics goes.  You may, of course, indulge yourself into all that your whim and fancy desires.  Have fun!  Seriously, have a little fun, would ya?  (“Lord, spare me from somber saints!”-St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church; 1 Tim 5:23) That is not to say there isn’t more to glean, but the goal is to keep it as simple as possible, and not get lost in the weeds.  That is all which is necessary for now.

I am an applied scientist.  Prior to the modern history of science, scientific questions were addressed as a part of metaphysics known as “natural philosophy”. It was not until the very recent 19th century when this categorization really began to change and the term “natural philosophy” gave way to “science”.  Hence, also why PhDs are Doctors of Philosophy on their subject matters, even though their area of focus is not philosophy and they may never, ever have gone near a philosophy course.  Get it?

Originally, the term “science” (Latin scientia) simply meant “knowledge”. The scientific method, however, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity deriving from experiment unlike the rest of philosophy.  The inventor of the scientific method was a 13th century English Catholic bishop.  By the end of the 18th century, it had begun to be called “science” to distinguish it from philosophy.

Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.

Warm & fuzzy, right?  🙂

Love,
Matthew