Monday, March 30, 2015

Disentangling reason and same-sex marriage Part I: the gravity of free choice

It requires an offensively high level of superstition to assert, let alone demand others acknowledge that the native character of any individual kind is changeable or even answerable to the preference or will of any one creature. You will find this position maintained as the centerpiece of the LGBT movement. They will tell you that this is foundational to the commonly held right to individual self-determination. This is superstition. Maybe this resonates with you, but do not give in so easily; they are cheating you of your wits.

Happiness was once high point of reason and humanism. Resolved to this end, it is only he who through reason curbs his passions to this end who was counted free. Only a master of self enjoys liberty. How can one consider the ignorant, those enslaved by passion, or those by form inclined to ill free when they choose against what they naturally most desire? It is fact that no person is free which suffers violence to his self-determining faculty.

The majority fails to understand the importance of free choices or free actions as a special kind of choices or acts. I do not mean the species of choice or action, such as dancing a waltz or drinking a scotch. No I signify the kind of choice that is characterized as free, issuing from a free agent. Even minor actions or processes conducted by the body of a free agent do not fall under this category: digestion of food or the beating of the heart, for these actions are not the choices of an agent, but those of his body. Is it not plain then, that within even those actions that proceed from the agent are those faculty of deliberation governs and the others proceed from the body? Only deliberate actions are free. So chooses the agent, free from compulsion from within his members and outside them, that considering his desire and the means to attain it chooses those means.

Now consider the faculty of reason and its part. It is not widely disputed that a person is often led astray by as much manipulation from within as from without if left deceived to petty and temporal passions and urges. The alcoholic is case and point; there is he who feasts too late and oversleeps ahead of work or of school; there is he who consumes food inordinately to obesity; or he who yielding to fear bequeaths his self to a tyrannical human master. Indeed it is an unremarkable fact that man can be and is often cheated out of his own freedom from within. It is plain enough then that he who yields himself to his own reasoned counsel to discern the means to his desired ends fashions free and deliberate choice. What does that make the choices of him who chooses against his own counsel to bow beneath the lordship of lesser masters? He surely casts his own self into disorder and surrenders his freedom to that which would drive him its slave. So can we classify these choices among the free? Surely no.

From this it is plain that counsel, deliberation, self-mastery, and often self-restraint following law are conditions not on freedom, but for it. Clearly virtue also, viz. the disposition by the will through repeated action of the passions, lower appetites, and the intellect toward a character or species of acts securing the desired end, secures freedom. This is the formation of a habit. Contrarily vice: the disposition of the passions, lower appetites, and the intellect by the will through repeated action toward a character or species of acts destructive of the desired end, ensures a loss of freedom.

All of this says something, namely, that the passions or lower appetites alone apart from reason are insufficient for securing freedom. This implies a few things. First, the will must dispose the intellect or reason to ascertain what is most desirable. This is not equivalent to sending out “feelers”

For example, the impulsive hungry individual at a restaurant might perhaps in a hurry order the first or biggest thing on a menu. Someone who puts out “feelers” might scan a bit and find a dish picture, description, or name that ‘sounds good’ to him, or someone who for fear of judgment from a date orders the littlest or least expensive dinner. Neither of these, though the second cases do in a way employ reason, are what I am talking about. The second cases exemplify cleverness, but the two agents are still governed principally by their passions, and these agents merely move the intellect more cleverly and with more poise than the impulsive. There is he though, who knowing his physical constitution, his ailments and allergies, his dietary needs, the size of his wallet, but indeed also his taste and personal history of culinary preference chooses accordingly. Thus informed and restrained, he orders what is healthy, filling, and pleasant to him. He is free and more easily is so once he as disposed himself to readily, easily, and pleasurably seek such counsel through reason. This is prudence as opposed to cleverness, since he does not merely employ his rational powers to achieve one of many ends proposed by a passion or urge, but chooses something that achieves the proper and suitable end for him. His passions play a role in forming a choice, but their roles are subordinate and non-governing.

From this it is plain that reason partitions acts into those that qualitatively bolster the happiness of the agent in question, viz. good acts, and those that undermine it, viz. bad or evil acts. A good human agent (which is person as a choosing and acting person) chooses well. Well is the adverbial form of good and in this sense describes the verb to choose or to act (since a choice is an act from the will). Thus, choosing well means that that choices of the agent are good choices because they are good acts of the will. A bad, evil, or wicked human agent chooses badly or wickedly, and thus as acts of the will they are constitutionally deviant by undermining the person’s happiness.

Of course, since we do not call choices good, bad, evil, or wicked on account of the goodness or wickedness of the agent but on account of something else as seen above and since we hold that the will’s acts are free, viz. free choice, it follows that a human agent forms himself as good, bad, evil, or wicked by the choices he makes. This may also be ascertained from the fact that most human agents are not accounted wholly good or wicked, but some mingling of the two.

This is a profound responsibility, greater even than that proclaimed by Jean-Paul Sartre, who claimed we fashion even our natures. No, we do not fashion our natures, but the natures we do have place enormous responsibility on us. We are responsible for who we become: over whether we form ourselves as good or wicked people. When we choose and act well, as we are in a way good persons in that moment and all those that proceed in the enjoyment of the good action. When we choose and act wickedly, we are in a way wicked in the moment we choose the wicked deed; and unless we wish afterwards that we had never chosen that wicked deed (we repent) and bear sorrow for that action having been done, our will remains wickedly inclined and we ourselves remain in that fashion wicked. Obviously this does not draw a line between perfectly good or wicked individuals, but we no doubt bolster or mar our characters with each act.

It is as if we carry ourselves like glass. We can mold ourselves into something beautiful and ornate, but in a moment of anger or lust we can shatter our very selves. From a full initial understanding of this fact, an almost certain reaction might entail we only choose and act with grave and extreme caution, carrying ourselves on verge of trembling with overcautious concern for even the minutest placements of our steps. This is a grave responsibility over ourselves and over others, and we are remarkably foolish to dismiss even the most trivially bad willful choice. It is now even at first glance better to suffer an evil than to choose wickedly. To suffer an evil entails no constitutional loss of self; even in death one can end life as whole and himself, as a good person. He dies free who dies well, whole, and as himself. To choose wickedly is to surrender oneself; in a sense he more truly dies who chooses wickedly and continues to live than he who dies but acts well.


Indeed, what we do and how we do that is impactful upon other people and their choices as well, especially children who are very far from being formed. By choosing and acting well we create exemplars, showing that good choices and good acts are desirable things. By acting wickedly we generate scandal: we show that corrupt acts and corrupt choices are in fact are good, desirable, and profitable things when in fact they are not. Indeed we form not only ourselves with every choice: we participate in the formation of others. We can never detract from their free choice, but we may corrupt their reason and make the good easier or more difficult to choose and likewise the wicked easier or more difficult for others by we ourselves choosing well or wickedly.

Part II will focus on the nature of virtue and further explore the nature of the good, Part III on human friendship and love, Part IV on friendship and the body, and finally Part V on marriage and the state. While this is not strictly philosophical prose, like most of this blog I hope to convey certain philosophical concepts.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why I think the pro-choice mentality in principle abridges the possibility of free rational expression.

On its head, it would appear to us that sustaining the liberty for a woman to procure an abortion constitutes simply that, further liberty. Consider now the reasons given to substantiate what has been for forty years enumerated a right; ponder their meanings and their implications.

First (1) is the freedom over ones body. For if one cannot exercise self-determination even over the physical body she possesses, how now can one count her strides free within the world outside that sphere? Even if one could sustain the personhood of a fetus from fertilization onward to a joyful birth and with it all its rights, liberties, and standings privy to free persons, we are told even such would still fail to constitute a successful response to the concern regarding bodily autonomy.

(2) Consider further the argument from equality. (2a) In a society where flourishing and success are conditioned by competition, one possessing a disadvantage in opportunity will indubitably possess a corresponding limit to her liberty. A child and prior pregnancy place demands on time and resources upon a woman in a non-elective way, whereas a man is not bound as concretely or in the same way as a woman. This creates a disparity in opportunity between the two sexes, implicitly granting greater opportunity to men and limiting the freedom of women. (2b) It is fallacious, so we are told, to appeal to alternate ways of regulating births other than abortion, including abstinence, for a number of reasons. (2b.1) The first against alternative regulation of births is the possibility of failure or misuse, to which elective abortion would put it right. (2b.2) The second is that many who oppose elective abortion also oppose the use of, proliferation of, or the education concerning contraceptives, and thus limit their effectiveness in alleviating the disparity of opportunity for women. (2b.3) The first against abstinence enumerates a further restriction on the rights of women, viz. that this leaves men free to participate in a natural, pleasurable, and emotionally relieving act unrestrictedly, whereas women must control themselves. This affords to men a luxury not afforded to women. (2b.4) The second is the possibility of rape, namely that we will cause greater psychological and emotional trauma to a victim by proscribing means to eliminate one of the more traumatic effects and burdens caused by such a horrific crime. (2b.5) Some caution us further, not that we will merely cause more trauma; nay, we ourselves would be imposing the burden initiated by the rapist's self-serving and wicked deed.

Thirdly (3), this must be enumerated among the human rights, safe even from the democratic process. Such democratic process and discussion would privy men in the discussion about laws concerning the bodies only of women. In such a way, men participate in a debate and political process where they have little or no vested interest in the implications felt heavily by their counterparts. Such inequality is favorable to men, who then can use it do dominate women and continue what has been an overt and long-held sexist political practice. This is often made clear to us in a more brusque and brute manner, viz. a man does not have a uterus, ergo he must refrain from the conversation and abstain from the decisions.

Fourthly (4) is the freedom of opinion itself, particularly where the opinions or beliefs held concern so intimately the person herself that they regard her loves, her habits, her sexual intimacy and practices (which must be free from all intrusion), her responsibilities, career, and family. One cannot force her to respond to an opinion or a belief that would bind her in all of these ways. She must be left free to take upon herself the burden of these opinions or beliefs or leave them with other bearers who find them as equally bearable as they find them sound.


Let us now consider the implications of these arguments, viz. that all four of these arguments takes a blow at the freedom of rational expression and should not for that reason at all constitute a legal basis for the proscription of abortion. When I use the phrase possibility of free rational expression, I mean all of the following are possible on a given subject:
A) Rational expression means giving reasons for a position supported by premised arguments (with grounded premises), rather than assertions.
B) Free rational expression means a rational expression is not countered or rejected except on the basis of its content, viz. there are reasons to the contrary. In other words, rational expression as such is not rejected.

And now I provide replies that both support my argument and respond to the arguments above:

(1r) This is resolved with its implications clarified in a twofold manner, each with identical implications reached in these two ways. (1r.1) expresses first the necessity of a positive definition of freedom. (1r.2) expresses the implication of continual insistence of (1) within a legal sphere granting the truth claim of (1r.1).

(1r.1) The argument (1) hinges upon the dogma that no positive definition of freedom may be imposed upon freedom, otherwise the negative definition is abridged. The negative definition of freedom consists in defining freedom as the absence of influence from an external determinate. To apply norms to the choice exercised by a kind of individual possessing freedom even through reason, viz. saying a choice is always a choice for some determinate kind when this argument holds, is to apply some sort of restriction or finitude that abridges this freedom by abridging a part of the negation. If this positive definition is not applied, even to the extreme of not assigning the universal predicate, viz. being, to the determinate kind, we are left with no rational basis for assigning freedom to the human agent. If there can be no kind that as a kind determines choice by being its object, there can be no choice (free or not), since choice as an act presupposes an object (an object can mean an action, for example). Therefore, negating the possibility of a positive definition negates also the possibility of freedom, which lies at the crux of the argument. To hold (1), then, is to hold to the simple affirmation of contraries. This eliminates the possibility of reason and ergo rational expression, though which there is no possibility of reasoned debate or real expression on any subject.

(1r.2) To accept (1r.1) then, but to continue to insist that such positive definitions should not enter the legal sphere would then imply that there are simply some topics which cannot be reasoned with or negotiated in law, for no reason. This also abridges arbitrarily the possibility of reasoned dialogue and expression.

(2r):

(2ar) This argument presupposes that the equality of opportunity (EO) is not merely a norm, but is also an normative ideal that trumps our ability to to call an action evil and unlawful for other reasons. For example, as a norm EO should hinder me from passing a law that women can only receive 75% of the salary a man would make in the same profession and business. This law creates an inequality where inequality is per se the rational justification (though the rational justification is inherently false and ungrounded). EO as a norm bars inequality as a rational justification for creating laws that result in inequalities in opportunity. But suppose that fictional race y would be equal to fictional race z if theft was legal, since y are better thieves by nature than z but do not do as well in the workforce as z when theft is proscribed. By the same reasoning, theft in the fictional nation of fictional races y and z should be legal, no matter the ulterior reasoning. This also bars the possibility of giving reasons for laws such as theft in this case. This argument is continued below

(2b.1r) This argument is first answerable by (2ar). The argument continues the idea that the realization of an ideal disallows any reasons that may be given against the means necessary for the ideal. I am not per se arguing against utilitarianism here, but I am arguing that a certain implementation of utilitarianism abridges the rest of us from expressing reasons for sets of positions containing reasons for the proscriptions of these means. (I do not condone artificial contraceptives, but they are included in the arguments, since on principle I am making an argument concerning reasoned debate. This post is not even really a post against abortion or for its proscription, even though that expresses my true opinions, but against a certain set of arguments typically made by the pro-choice lobby.)

(2b.2r) Responded to, see above (2ar) and (2b.1r)

(2b.3r) This is, in addition to being answered by the previous (2r)s, is answered by (1r.1). Further, this represents a despair of the possibility of freedom and self-mastery, viz. that someone can refuse to be mastered by his or her passions to maintain or attain an end. Those expressing reasons for hope instead of despair or dogmatically silenced. 

(2b.4r1) This disallows any reasons given as to how an abortion could do further psychological damage, and that reasons could be given that even in this case abortion should still be proscribed because it constitutes a bad action, period. I, to cautiously add my opinion, pose this scenario. Say that abortion at some point is proscribed on the grounds that it constitutes murder, but we give an exception to a rape victim who conceives a child from her assailant. So we tell the victim, about whom God alone knows what psychological damage and hurt she is sustaining, that while normally we proscribe murder, for you we give an exception. Abortion is this terrible and tragic crime, but because of your injury you may kill your child if it alleviates your suffering, though the child has done you no willful wrong. We tell her it is empowerment and a way she may elect to set at least some things right in her life. Then tell her you are not being condescending in any way whatsoever.

(2b.5r1) These are false alternatives, and they seek to abridge someone's ability to give other reasons for a position.

(3) These premises assume other premises that are harmful to rational expression and reasoned dialogue.

(3r.1) First this might deny that men or the vast majority of men cannot reason without having ulterior selfish and sexist motives. This suspicion denies to men the ability to express reasons on the basis that they cannot.

(3r.2) If (3r.1) is affirmed, then (3) denies the capacity for empathy and extension of the human mind. It basically states that in order to think rationally about issues that regard the female reproductive system but not the man's, you must first have a female reproductive system (not simply know about it). One could say that it is easier for someone who has a female reproductive system to speak to the issues, but from this it does not follow that men cannot say anything at all nor contribute reasons to the discussion. Ergo (3) as stated abridges the possibility of free rational expression. This has been realized to an extreme as written about here.

(4r) This argument is answerable by (1r). In addition, here one asserts that the subject is too intimate for there to be rationally binding norms, much less legal ones. This then dogmatically refuses to listen to reasons that would ground any binding norms on arbitrary grounds, viz. too intimate: what is too intimate? References to a person's body or privacy are also blurred, since privacy and ones body are inevitably going to be affected by laws that few would be willing to relinquish.


Some notes are in order. For one I am not self-refutingly denying anyone the right to give these as reasons, but I am denying that they are inconsistent with an unabridged possibility of free rational expression. One is entitled to believe two inconsistent things, but he cannot by believing them make them consistent. Furthermore, I am arguing that the principle of free rational expression should be a reason to not use (1)-(4) as the grounding for any law. I would not say someone is not free to do so, but they are wrong and inconsistent to do so if they also try to ground laws in the possibility of free rational expression, since now they have denied that reasons need to be given for a position. I also do not claim that these are all the arguments given by the pro-choice lobby: these are merely the most common of the pro-choice mentality per se.

Finally, given that these reasons are typically used to negate the argumentative force behind the norm that killing an unborn child should be proscribed because it constitutes murder, I do think the norm should be enshrined in law.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Love: Illusion, Disillusion, and Reason

Growing up in a family that harbored no shortage of brothers yet merely a sister, I recall how I failed to grasp what demon drove her into playing with baby dolls day and night. The rest of the world was trains, trucks, planes, etc; baby dolls: no. Nevertheless, my world expanded to welcome this oddity. After the birth of one of my cousins, however, my mother brought her to visit my aunt and newborn child. According to my mother, upon seeing her baby cousin lying in a crib, she dropped the dolls she was carrying to the floor.

St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P. was among the greatest philosophers and Theologians ever to preserve his considerations in ink. His memory and logical acumen exceeded all but a few (if any), and he was known to keep even three secretaries working at once. By the conclusion of his short life (only 48 or 49 years), his work was prolific: one edition of his Opera Omnia weighs in at 90 pounds. Yet, after having a mystical experience during the celebration of Holy Mass, he exclaimed, "mihi videtur ut palea: it seems to me as straw." After this remark he wrote no more.

Such is our condition. Something occupies us from within, fixes our attention, drives us outwards towards some object before the intellect or sensory imagination manages to conjure even a foggy notion of what that object is. Prior to being seen, it is loved in some way. Its very obscurity, instead of banishing its lover into inattention or despair, compels some to develop or mull through their own representations of that object. It is the doll to the newborn child, Theology to God Himself, the painting to beauty or to a person.
Yet once the object is encountered, the representations are neglected: they fall to ground or by the wayside. Only a fool would reject the beloved for his own sub-creation. These objects are called ends, and acting for its proper ends is intrinsic to the essence of any substance. A substance cannot detract from seeking its end without violating its integrity, without loosing or distorting, in a sense, a part of itself. 
These representations of ends foster a kind of illusion within the subject. He discovers the stirrings of hidden love buried within, integral to his being. In thinking about, creating, or playing with these representations, the lover clarifies and nurtures this hidden love and with it the illusion.
Here I do not mean delusion, as if he were deceived or some faculty of his were disordered. There is no room in illusion for falsities, for falsities and delusions hamper the illusion. On the other hand, an illusion can be lacking without hampering an agent's pursuit of the end.
Illusion lacking perfection involves the play of a child, a dance, a thinker when he becomes lost in thought, the rummaging of expectant parents through parenting books, setting up an unborn child's soon-to-be bedroom, or the flirtation of lovers. Perfected, illusion is the kiss or love-making of a married couple, the grasp of a newborn's tiny hand around your index finger as he rests peacefully in your arms, or the mystical vision of God. Illusion brings its possessor outside of himself. It plunges him into the world. It stirs in him a desire demanding satiation, a desire to burst through the prison of his own being so that he may be captive no more: no longer restrained from his love, that every fiber of his being might delight in it and rejoice!

If delusion is wayward or deceptive illusiondisillusion is the counterpart of illusion. Disillusion is a disinterested unbelief in the object. Such is the phenomenon experienced by the reader when he encounters inconsistencies in a story, an onlooker who sees the trick wielded by the magician, or the Philosopher who finds irresolvable problems in his philosophy: difficulties leading to contradiction. Such is discovery of a lover whose beloved merely feigned love. Disillusion is clearly a counteractive measure to delusion, but often with it comes despair as the subject retreats back into himself.
The subject who once was drawn outside of himself by illusion retreats back into the confines of his dark cell. He sees the child accompanied merely by the discomforts and the seeming superficialities that make them bearable. Romantic relationships and marriage are only maintenance and expenses: restrictions on personal freedom. Philosophy and Theology are circular and indefinite speculative endeavors deprived entirely of utility. Religion becomes superstition, merely the care of old women and gullible children, and a vehicle for intolerance and war. 
Often disillusion shrouds herself in the garments of a false realism, citing as purely imaginative or helplessly fantastic the deluded optimism that surrounds her. The disillusioned take a numbing comfort in surface joys around them, working into silence and shutting within a vault the pangs seeking to drive them with fervor to their proper ends. Their prudence is a deductive cleverness, incorrectly termed reason, taking as its point of departure the futility of the most profound longings of the human spirit. In the place of ends are the lifeless mechanisms akin to manmade machines, which largely govern the way the modern populus sees evolution.

This is decidedly not the purpose of reason, though it may be in the rhetoric of Dawkins and the secular movements. Reason's purpose cannot be to vanish and treat as myths the various ends toward which the heart naturally inclines but rather to render them lucid. It may be that love is accompanied by various hormones and mechanistic chemical reactions within the body, but such a conclusion that replaces "accompanies" with "is reducible to" comes only from an investigation that has not ad terminum suum adusque processit
Nor must the fears of self-discipline as a means to the acquisition of self-mastery hinder any into disillusion. We must stir ourselves on to what is most free and beautiful, what is best and most just. We must not be afraid to crush the distracting worries and concerns that stir within us, the wayward passions and malicious habits that seek to rob of our happiness and true delight. The will must seek the aid of reason by means of counsel, as any just ruler seeks the aid of counsel to save his people, or to parents seek counsel with one another for the benefit of their children. This must not crush its love, but bring it to fruition with greater urgency, mulling through difficult paths and warding of threats that seek to crush it.
Let us neither continue to dehumanize reason nor to empty it of its efficacy in human affairs. Let us cease using it to numb the wounds of error instead of remedying them. Let reason be a form of wisdom and a route to human flourishing, the healing of harmful divisions and violence, a cooling of pride that gives way to the generous outpouring of self that is charity or Divine Love. Only then are we free. Only then is there peace. Only then is there justice. Without these there is not love, nor its gifts that assume man into his true greatness as a creature of God.

Attachments and Logos

There is no sense in denying the role preference and emotions play in the dialectical realm, especially in moral arguments. It is the will that moves the intellect (as in a separate way the intellect moves the will), and it is impossible that the will's own attachments be relegated to an entirely different sphere.

I mean not to argue against the will's attachments in the intellect's business. On the contrary, there is one attachment of the will that should rule all, that should ever drive the intellect. This is the desire for happiness. Happiness is found in truth; wherever the truth of the person is found, the will should stir the intellect on with impartiality to that truth. Only in truth are we truly happy, are we truly free.

The intellect should seek the truth with rigor unhindered by lesser emotional attachments and biases, because these must not hinder the acquisition of our greatest desire: happiness. Lesser loves should not hinder the greatest love, and so passions should do their best not to hinder reason. Reason must uncover happiness, and so we must be ever sensitive to persuasions in the moral sphere which are fallacious or based upon other worries or fears. We have more to fear from these than we do from truth, from freedom, or from love.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Spectacle of the Dead

My first week or so in Bologna (Italy) did not disappoint. I do not feel this particular post to be the place to recount the sublime artistic feats especially of the cathedral, basilicas, and other churches here, the historic wall which is still in parts erected around the more ancient center of the city, the covered walkways, or the food whose reputation is assuredly merited. Much I am still learning; thus, a premature telling of such things concerning which my knowledge is yet still beginning to wax would not only spoil the novelty for any reader but also uproot a still budding expressive capacity fed by what I now see around me.

What I can say, without any such setbacks, is that this city is old. Its artistic wealth is inherited. While in one sense this allows us contact with those who preceded us, there is another where there is a richness in their cultures from which we are blocked. There is an obvious side to this, where most of us, touched though we might be by the beauty imbedded in these things, are oblivious to their meanings. Take a basilica for example. Here stands this massive organism of a church building, almost dormant, "posing" for the photos and plodding of tourists. Yet, it is still active.

One encounters this with a subtle profundity when in many of the churches there lies portion of the church, usually a side chapel, restricted to all save those entering to pray. This is generally the chapel with the universal red candle signifying the presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament. In one circumstance, in the Basilica di San Domenico, as the Arca di san Domenico was closed for the period of the time this Saturday for the beginning of the rosary and the vigil mass, a handful of tourists and their cameras attempted to plead with a custodian to let them in. Quite emphatically, he pleaded with them to understand that the Holy Mass was beginning, that this was a time of prayer. The building, the organism in a sense was no longer dormant, that again as for many centuries preceding our own was animated and living its inner life, the intimacy between Christ and His Bride. The time of the day for the spectacle of the dead was over, for now was beginning the spectacle of the living. Those who wished to suppress this reanimation were cut off.

For most of the us, viewing the traditions and rituals of the dead is akin to observing someone with untreated schizophrenia. We awe at their blindness in their sapiential darkness that we have now lit through scientific and humanistic progress. We either have compassion on or mock them on account of the phantasmic figures that appeared to them in that darkness, and now we wonder, with that same world illuminated before us, how any could ever see as they did. Friedrich Nietzsche, recounting a parallel story, wrote, "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music?" The music is phantasmic, and thus they are in some way beyond our understanding. The hallucination-caused antics of the dead inspire pity and fear of any attempting to quench the light of reason we have kindled to ward off such spectacles.

There is an ounce of truth in this, namely that the natural scientific and technological advances of the recent age have dispelled many demons of the past. What was unknown, and the superstitions employed attempting to control the unknown (without mentioning that most of these superstitions were held at bay by the Church, but another time) have hopefully been dismissed for good. This ounce of truth has led us into a conquest to sack all the reasonings of the ancients. Leading ourselves to deceivingly believe our natural science will replace all of that reasoning, we are in reality left with little if anything to replace it.

It is absurd to state that progress in the realm of natural science has thrown into suspect not just the ancients' natural science, but all their philosophical and humanistic sciences as well, if not summarily dismissed them. It is absurd to claim that the ancient sapiential figures, most notably Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury, Averroes, Avicenna, Albert the Great, Thomas of Aquino and his commentators, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham were so blinded by their ignorance of natural science that the whole of their metaphysical and ethical systems are debunked, save that which our modern empirical sciences alone can ratify.

It is reasonable to claim that what is empirically falsifiable will in part be falsified in a growing particularization of our understanding of such empirical natures of given objects. It is unreasonable, or more aptly, insane to claim that lacking the character of empirical falsifiability is equivocal to lacking the character of demonstrability. Demonstrability would imply empirical falsifiability, which not only is false, but misappropriates the terms. Perhaps such misappropriation may make a few chemists and physicist more secure in the stability and legitimacy of their disciplines (for if nothing else is (more) demonstrable, our own wisdom is most secure), but it wrecks the very foundation from which scientific disciplines are constructed. Despite being a misappropriation, it itself would need to be proven, and underscoring the current visible progress of natural science in order to render natural and philosophical sciences into a false dichotomy leads to hopeless non sequiturs grounded in a privation of natural and philosophical scientific erudition. If one misconstrues the relationship between his discipline and others, he misunderstands not only the other disciplines, but his own as well.

This anti-intellectual temper tantrum of an argument, this anti-intellectual disease whose symptoms clog man's natural capacities for reasoned dialogue, debate, and careful particularizations can on its own lead one to wonder if the worldview of the moderns is turned on its head. If the ultimate questions are being dismissed outright as invalid questions, all because their genre is not that of natural science, perhaps it should be suggested that the problem is not that the music is phantasmic, but rather that we have outshouted it.

None of this obviously demonstrates that the music is real, for any who engages these questions must deal with the intellectual giants following René Descartes, David Hume and Immanuel Kant especially. What it does demonstrate is the incapacity of this modern positivism to have reasonable dialogue outside of its own limiting, self-inflicted dogmas.

So in a way, the spectacle of the dead is but a spectacle, and the inner profundity and mystery of its intimate Divine life is shielded from the spectators. The modern world is privy only to a spectacle, a set of antics indiscernible as anything but antics on account of the moderns' own melodrama and self-inflicted, irrational limitations. J.R.R. Tolkien once said, "It is indeed an age of 'improved means to deteriorated ends,'" since we no longer use science to investigate ends, but only means, the material used to achieve an end. The ultimate questions of ends are dismissed. And so we are only tourists, coming in an out while an organism beyond our understanding sleeps, never partaking in the intimacy that would constitute eternal and impermeable bliss. The section with the red candle is roped off to those who would disturb that intimacy.
 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

On Anselm's "Proslogion" Argument for God's Existence

I.
Introduction. The argument for God’s existence in Chapter 2 of St. Anselm’s Proslogion may be one of the most elusive arguments on the subject, and attempts to validate or invalidate it are often akin to nailing Jell-O to a wall. The argument is also commonly classed with and is one of if not the most famous of the a priori arguments for God’s existence, viz. that God is per se nota (though one look at this elusive argument may force one to doubt even that!), as opposed to a posteriori arguments grounded in human experience or more traditionally reasoned from the effects to the cause. For the purposes of this paper, however, I intend to demonstrate that Anselm’s argument begs the question.
I first present Anselm’s argument and briefly explain it in Section II. Afterwards I distinguish between what I call a variable feature and what I call a definite feature of an object in Section III. Then I provide a critique of the argument premise-by-premise in Section IV and list objections to my critique in Section V. Following this I conclude in Section VI.
II.
The Argument. St. Anselm gives his argument in Chapter 2 of his Proslogion. Anselm writes,
So even the fool must admit that something than which nothing greater can be thought exists at least in his understanding, since he understands this when he hears it, and whatever is understood exists in the understanding. And surely that which nothing greater can be thought cannot exist only in the understanding. For if it exists only in the understanding, it can be thought to exist in reality as well, which is greater. So if that than which a greater cannot be thought exists only in the understanding, then the very thing than which a greater cannot be thought is something than which a greater can be thought. But this is clearly impossible. Therefore, there is no doubt that something than which a greater cannot be thought exists both in the understanding and in reality.[1]

Because elements in this argument can be difficult to follow, particularly with the references to something than which nothing greater can be thought, I will designate something than which nothing greater can be thought as S. Also important to note, S will refer to the something, not to the phrase: something than which nothing greater can be thought. I will refer to the phrase, “something than which nothing greater can be thought” as “S”, such as when Anselm says that the phrase “S” can be understood (even by the fool). This should also eliminate confusion when there are slight alterations to S. All of those instances involving alterations will be written out in full.
Here is a representation of Anselm’s argument with numbered premises:
1.     The phrase “S” can be understood, and because of this S can exist in the intellect (because S must be thought or referred to in order for one to make sense of “S”).

2.     But if S can exist in the intellect, then S can be thought to exist as well.

3.     This then means that even if S does not exist (and so exists only in the intellect), nevertheless S can be thought to exist, which is greater than if S did not.[2]

4.     But if S does not exist, then S is something than which something greater can be thought (the fool can think of S as existing) which is a contradiction.

5.     Therefore, S exists in reality.

A few points of clarification are in order. First it is necessary to note Anselm’s claims about the fool’s understanding of S and of the “S” are minimal. When Anselm says that the fool can understand the phrase, “S”, Anselm means that the fool can see that the phrase syntactically makes sense and designates something that harbors no obvious contradictions. The phrase is not equivalent to phrases such as, the ran car alley sunset, which syntactically does not make sense, or the triangle with four sides, which harbors an obvious contradiction and cannot designate a real thing.[3]
Then, when Anselm claims that the understanding of the phrase “S” means that S can exist in the intellect, he does not mean to say that the fool can understand S, but rather that the intellect acknowledges S as something to make sense of the phrase, “S”. Thus S must exist in some minimal way in the intellect so that the fool can make sense of the phrase. I will further explain this in Section IV.
Lastly, this argument works as a reductio, which in my rephrasing of the argument is found in premise 4. If S did not exist, I could nevertheless think of S as existing, which would be greater. But if it is greater, then that means I can think of something greater than something than which nothing greater can be thought. So a denial of S’s existence leads to an absurd, contradictory claim.
III.
Definite Features and Variable Features. To argue that Anselm’s argument begs the question, I employ the use of two different terms: definite features and variable features. A definite feature is an aspect or attribute that is used in the act of designating a particular object. Let us suppose I looked into a crowd of four women with different hair colors: one blonde, one red, and two white, and I said to Henry, “Jane Seymour is the blonde in this crowd.” Blondeness taken in my reference into the crowd to Jane is a definite feature and cannot change without at best changing which thing I am designating and at worst failing to designate anything.
Thus if I change this definite feature to red hair, the statement changes to, “Jane Seymour is the redhead in the crowd.” Which person I designate as Jane changes entirely. Jane is no longer the same Jane I designated when I designated her as the blonde; Jane is now the redhead and thus someone else entirely. But now let us suppose I said, “Jane Seymour is the one in the crowd with white hair,” then not only does which object I designate change, but my statement also becomes ambiguous. Jane could be either one. But if I said, “Jane Seymour is the brunette in the crowd,” then I have a new problem: there is no brunette in the crowd. So now I do not designate anything, which is a problem because my statement assumes that there is someone with the definite feature I used in my designation.
Contrary to a definite feature, a variable feature occurs when an aspect or attribute of a designated object can be thought to change once the object is designated. Here I will switch and use hair color as a variable feature. Let us suppose I say, “Jane is the third wife of Henry VIII.” The definite feature is Jane’s relation as the third wife of Henry VIII. Now let us suppose we do not know her hair color: is she a blonde, brunette, redhead, etc.? I can think of Jane as being any of these without changing which object I have designated; otherwise it would seem that I would need to know this to make sense of the phrase, the third wife of Henry VIII. So here hair color is not used as a definite feature but rather is used as a variable feature. Once we already know that Jane is a blonde, we could still treat hair color as a variable feature and imagine or think of Jane as hypothetically having brown or another color hair without changing which object is designated. She could have dyed it or survived childbirth to live to a more advanced age. After all, if Jane’s hair color did change most would agree that she would remain the same woman or at least the same object of designation.
From this the definite/variable feature distinction I have made is inconstant and obviously not rigidly fixed to the designated object, since the same feature of the same designated object can go back and forth between being either kind of feature. The classification of these features depends on how the object is referenced, viz. how these features play their roles in the act of designating.
I would like to push this point a little, so now let us suppose that I again designate Jane as the blonde in the crowd. Now while it is true that I cannot change the definite feature, viz. I cannot designate Jane as having any other hair color without changing the designated object or failing to designate anyone, still once I have designated Jane as the blonde in the crowd I can imagine or think of Jane as hypothetically having red or brown hair instead of blonde without changing which person I am designating. I can do this because Jane’s hair color could conceivably change (e.g. she could dye it, it could turn gray, etc.) without Jane becoming a different person. When I make this move, I immediately make the switch from speaking of Jane’s blondeness as a definite feature to speaking of it as a variable feature. Which one is Jane? Jane is the blonde in the group, but what would Jane look like if she dyed her hair brown or was born with brown hair instead of blonde? Here, the switch was done in one breath. As things are, however, we cannot hypothetically designate her as the brunette, because then we designate nothing; neither can we hypothetically designate her as the redhead, because then we designate something else, as I have said.
Let us complicate things further by saying, “Jane would be prettier if she were a brunette.” Now my statement hinges on two variable features: hair color and prettiness, where the latter is contingent on the former. I can think of Jane as having brown hair, and I can think of Jane as being prettier than she already is.
But let us suppose I said, “Jane as a brunette would be prettier than Jane as a blonde.” Now my statement hinges on hair color as a definite feature, because I designate the hypothetical Jane as a brunette and compare it to the other designated hypothetical, viz. Jane as a blonde. Because the feature used to designate the objects changes, viz. hair color changes, the objects I’m designating must change somehow. I am now designating two different versions of Jane,[4] unlike the single version referred to in the above paragraph employing variable features, which are based on the same designated object.
These two different things (or versions of the same thing) do not need to exist nor does even one of them need to exist, because the statement could still be true if it read: existence or no, Jane as a brunette would be prettier than Jane as a blonde. In fact, there would still be no problem if the mood changed to indicative, with it reading: existence or no, Jane as a brunette is prettier than Jane as a blonde. Hypothetical brunette Jane does not need to exist for one to designate her by brown hair. What has been designated does not exist in reality, but it can still be thought.
Before I move on, I should briefly distinguish this definite/variable feature distinction from the substance/accident distinction. It should be clear that since accidents have been used throughout this explanation as both variable and definite features, the distinction between variable and definite features is not the same as the substance/accident distinction.

IV.
Critique. Now that this distinction has been made, I will take this argument premise by premise.

1.     The phrase “S” can be understood, and because of this S can exist in the intellect (because it must be thought or referred to in order for one to make sense of the phrase).

When Anselm writes, something than which nothing greater can be thought, the fool can understand the phrase because Anselm uses a definite feature to designate S (otherwise we would not know what he was talking about). What is the definite feature? The definite feature is that whatever S is, whatever properties S has, and whether or not S exists (all could be variable features), nothing greater than S can be thought. The fool understands that if he were to think of something T, and there were something else greater than T that could be thought, then no matter how great T is, T is not S.
As I noted in Section II, the fool’s understanding of the phrase ensures the existence of S in his intellect. Not that the fool understands S, but if the fool can understand the definite feature Anselm defines and uses to designate S, then the fool can be aware that there is something, namely S, that is being designated. For example I can point my finger into the woods and ask, “What is that?” I do not know or understand what that is, but I am aware that there is something (I know I am pointing to it!). So while I do not understand what that is, I am still aware of it and to a minimal degree possess it in my intellect. The fool may not even understand anything else about S, as Anselm gives the example that the fool may not even understand that S exists in reality. For our purposes then, this premise in not controversial.

2.     But if S can exist in the intellect, then S can be thought to exist as well.

Now that Anselm has designated S using a definite feature, Anselm proposes we discuss a variable feature, viz. existence. Without knowing whether S exists or not, the fool can nevertheless suppose that S exists or think of S as existing in reality. Anselm is not implying that S does exist or even that S can exist; rather he is merely asserting that from what the fool knows of S, he could think of S as existing.
This is akin to our Jane Seymour example. Let us designate Jane Seymour as the third wife of King Henry VIII: definite feature. Given this and without knowing her hair color, I could, without changing which thing I am designating, think of Jane Seymour as having blonde or brown hair: variable feature. Similarly Anselm has designated S as that than which nothing greater can be thought: definite feature. Then he says that the fool can think of S as existing in reality: variable feature. Like the first premise, this premise is for our purposes uncontroversial.

3.     But then this means that even if S does not exist (and so exists only in the intellect), nevertheless S can be thought to exist, which is greater than if S did not exist.

This premise is akin to our example of Jane when we already had the prior knowledge of her blondeness. Though Jane is a blonde, nevertheless I can think of Jane as having brown hair (e.g. she could dye it): variable feature. In a world where S did not exist, nevertheless, I could still think of S as existing in reality: variable feature.
The premise goes one further, however, when it mentions that existence would be greater for S. This is similar to our example: Jane would be prettier if she were a brunette. Here, as I stated in Section III, I juggle two variable features for my statement to work: hair color and prettiness. Thinking of Jane as a brunette (variable feature) allows me to think of her as prettier (variable feature) than she already is.
This parallels the premise. Supposing S did not exist, nevertheless, if S did exist (variable feature) then S would be greater (variable feature) than it already is. Like the first two premises, nothing in this premise then is controversial for our purposes.

4.     But if S does not exist, then S is something than which something greater can be thought (the fool can think of S as existing), which is a contradiction.

Now Anselm makes a move comparable to our phrase, Jane as a brunette is prettier than Jane as a blonde. As I said in Section III, hair color is now used as a definite feature. But as we noted earlier as well, we could say, existence or no, Jane as a brunette is prettier than Jane as a blond. The prettier version of Jane is designated as the brunette, not as a thing that exists, so even if it does not exist, we can still designate brunette Jane. This version of Jane does not exist, but it is still prettier than blonde Jane.
Let us try to do the same thing with S: existing S is greater than inexistent S. But can we say: existence or no, existing S is greater than inexistent S? If S does not exist, however, then I do not designate anything at all when I say existing S.[5] Existence is here being used as a definite feature. Anselm is free to say, “If S existed then it would be greater than it would be in a hypothetical scenario of S not existing.” He is also free to say, “If S did not exist then S would not be as great as it would be in a hypothetical scenario where S existed.” He is however not free to say, “if S does not exist then I can think of something greater: S existing,” because if I think of S existing, I designate a version of S by means of existence, a definite feature. But if S does not exist, then I am not designating anything at all. If this is the case, then Anselm does not have anything to compare with inexistent S without assuming (another) S’s existence. This is closer to the example where I tell Henry, “Jane Seymour is the brunette in the crowd” (a crowd with no brunettes!). I do not designate anything here. So if S does not exist, then I cannot think of anything greater. I can acknowledge that S has room for improvement, but that does not constitute thinking of a greater version of S.
Then to designate anything at all in order to compare it with inexistent S, Anselm must assume that (an) S exists. If S does not exist after all, then Anselm is no better than when I pointed into a crowd with no brunettes and whispered to Henry, “Jane is the brunette in the crowd.” But S’s existence is exactly what Anselm is trying to prove, so Anselm is begging the question.



V.
Objections. One could object saying that Anselm is really designating S existing in a hypothetical world. That way, Anselm designates something to compare with inexistent S without assuming the existence of S in the real world.
To this I would reply with the following question: is S existing in a hypothetical world really greater than S assuming S does not exist? Neither of these actually exists, so assuming S did not exist, S existing in this hypothetical world would only be greater than inexistent S if inexistent S did not exist in this other hypothetical world (and only then in that particular hypothetical world!). If S does not, then S is not S, but that does not bring us any closer to saying this S existing in a hypothetical world exists in reality. The solution to the dilemma, if there is a dilemma, is to say that whether or not S actually exists, S must exist in every hypothetical world with room to suppose the existence of (any) S. This still does not help Anselm.
One could also object that Anselm really means that the version of S which is greater than S if S does not exist is the version with the variable feature of existence, viz. thinking of S as hypothetically existing would make it greater than S if S did not exist. The version of S that I can think about that would improve on S if S did not exist, namely, my ability to think of S as existing assuming S did not, is greater than S if S did not exist.
To this I would reply with the following. What does it mean to say that I can think of a version of S that hypothetically exists? To say that I can think of S as existing is different than to say that I can think of an S that exists. So what does it mean to say that I can think of an S that hypothetically exists? This is to say that either I can think of S as existing or that there is some hypothetical world where S exists. I just dealt with the latter, and I already dealt with the former in Section IV.
There I stated that I can think of S as existing, but this is not equivalent to thinking of an S that exists. I could think of a version of Jane with brown hair, but that is because her definite feature is not existence. Inexistent Jane with brown hair still has brown hair: I still designate something by that phrase, even if that something does not or no longer exists. The phrase, inexistent S that exists, harbors a contradiction and does not point to anything real.[6] Inexistent S that I think about as existing is still inexistent S.
To be further exhaustive, what would it be like to think about the fact that I can think of S as existing (variable feature), which would be greater? This, after all, is not thinking of an existing S, but rather thinking of the thought where I think of S as existing. In this case, however, I am thinking about an activity of the mind (which is why, might I add, the wording sounds so backward), not a something. But thinking of the activity of the mind where I can think of S as existing if S does not exist is not itself a greater thing to be thought.
One may further object that I have imposed a structure on Anselm which begs the question and that no begging of the question is inherent in the actual argument. This is so since by reframing Anselm’s argument in terms of variable and definite features, I have imposed an alien interpretation on an argument that would otherwise commit no logical fallacies (or at least would not beg the question in the manner I have suggested).
To this I reply that while it is true that I have explained a certain theory that I think helps us better understand what is going on in Anselm’s argument, I have not altered Anselm’s actual argument nor added anything to it. There are neither extra nor altered premises. Now I have used this framework to ask what this or that premise means (e.g. what does it mean to say that I can think of S as existing if it in fact does not exist?). To ask this question, however, one at least needs to use some framework, whether it is my own or someone else’s. What framework is appropriate to Anselm’s argument is a legitimate matter of dispute, and while I may have gone into more detail in explaining the premises’ meanings than what is intuitively grasped from reading the text, this can hardly on its own constitute an objection to my method without the aid of pious but nevertheless unmerited scruples or other substantive objections.
Neither is there evidence that I have imposed this fallacy on Anselm. If there were something inherently erroneous in the framework without which this fallacy would not be present, then the fallacy would be imposed. But again I claim to not have added anything to the argument itself but rather to have tried to explain what this or that premise means.

VI.
The Ongoing Debate. I do not have such an outrageously high opinion of myself as to have finally put the matter to rest. At best I have contributed to the ongoing controversy of Anselm’s argument ignited by Gaunilo of Maurmoutiers and continuing to this day. At the worst (and the more likely scenario), I have contributed to the many silly and trivial things written concerning Anselm’s ontological argument.
In either event, what I have tried to show is that using this definite/variable feature distinction that I have attempted to outline, it is possible for us to see that Anselm’s argument begs the question.




[1] Anselm, “Proslogion,” Anselm: Basic Writings, ed. and trans. Thomas Williams (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007), 82.
[2] In this paper I interpret this to be saying that S would be greater if it existed, not S would be greater if it were thought to exist.
[3] My use of the term real thing is not to be confused with an existing thing. By my use of the terms, all existing things are real, but not all real things exist. By a real thing I mean an object that has an inner consistency in its designated features.
[4] I use the term two different versions instead of two different people to make my comment feel more agreeable. The mind does not want to agree with my saying, “two different people,” because the only difference between the two Janes is hair color. But if I designate and compare two versions of Jane differing only in hair color (blonde Jane is prettier than brunette Jane), my reference if taken literally should designate two different hypothetical people identical in all features but hair color. Often the phrase is used analogically to mean the same person at two different instances (Jane after her hair is dyed brown versus before), but this is not necessarily the literal meaning.
[5] This statement is probably possible if I am designating something as existing in a hypothetical world, just not in a strictly literal sense. I treat of possible or hypothetical worlds in Section V (objections).
[6] See an earlier footnote (3).