The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.97.1

“During the second half of the 17th century Cartesianism (3:157b) was plagued by the breakdown of the unity of man, by the recurrence of skeptical doubts over the relation between empirical reality and clear and distinct ideas, and by the eventual substitution of Newtonian for Cartesian physics.  The great rationalists—Spinoza, Malebranche, and Leibniz—found it necessary to begin all over again with fresh principles of metaphysical speculation adapted to life’s moral ends.  Benedict Spinoza (13:565d, GBWW 31) laid stress on the reforming functions of the theory of method, which had to bring the finite human intelligence to the point of regarding man as a composite modal modification and dynamic expression of the unique and powerful divine substance.  The other side of the debate between monistic naturalism and pluralistic theism was taken by Nicholas Malebranche (9:110c) and G. W. Leibniz (8:620a), who defended the reality of many finite substances and volitional centers as being related to the personal God.  Leibniz accepted the doctrine of innate ideas, distinguished between the factual truth of contingent matters and the real truth of essences, and invoked the principle of sufficient reason to assure the validity of human judgments.  The central concept of his metaphysics was the monad, a substantial but psychical entity that can reflect the entire universe without external stimulus; in his view the human soul is such a monad, and God is the monad of monads, the substance that makes all other substances possible.  All three thinkers agreed, however, that man can attain to metaphysical principles of certitude, that the crux of systematic explanation lies in the theory of human unity, and that the entire speculative effort deeply affects the moral reordering of human life and the search for happiness.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §97.  RATIONALISM AND OTHER MOVEMENTS  //  [paragraph] 1 //   [page] 303)

Obiter Dicta:  The movie The Song of Bernadette is about the appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus and wife of Joseph, to the young teenager Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in France in the year A.D. 1858.  The movie begins with the words “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”  In a similar vein, franciscanmedia’s daily meditational webpage for April 16, 2021 honoring St. Bernadette, ends with the words that she “…moved through life, guided only by blind faith in things she did not understand—as we all must do from time to time.”

To know what God want’s a person to know and in order to act lovingly, a person might not need knowledge of philosophy or science or theology.  For example, Bernadette was considered to be a person of limited intelligence who did not understand complex philosophical, theological, or scientific matters.  However, she was able to understand what she needed to understand to carry out the directions of God given through Mary in the eighteen appearances of Mary made to Bernadette.

One might conclude that philosophy and science and theology have no or limited value.  However, it is important to keep the fact of the incarnation in mind.  God entered the human condition as Jesus the Christ.  It necessarily follows from the fact of this incarnation that God/Jesus’s preferred way to communicate with human beings in the complex and messy human condition is through human touch, human presence…and human speech.  In order to speak clearly and in order to understand the speech and writings of others clearly, to assess their value and appropriate only what is of value, it then becomes necessary to understand what philosophy and science and theology have to say about the use of words and about the meaning of words used.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.96.3

“Historians of philosophy rightly caution against making a rigid contrast between Continental rationalism and British empiricism.  The two groups share many problems and presuppositions, each striving in its own way to blend reason and experience, to combine the life of reflective mind with the scientific view of nature.  Yet the empiricists were much less confident about metaphysical principles and the dependence of moral judgment upon a metaphysical account of the God-man relationship, though each worked out his system in his own way.  The important thing about John Locke (8:950c, GBWW 35) is that he tempered all claims made for human understanding with a caution born from his training as a physician and his observation of the non-mathematical methods of Robert Boyle (2:742b) and others.  He rejected all innate ideas and insisted that the sources of knowledge are experiential, viz, sensation and reflection; from sensation the mind derives ideas, while from reflection it becomes aware of such internal operations as thinking, willing, desiring.  For Locke man knows ideas, not things, and this conception led him into a subjectivism from which he never escaped.  Yet he remained committed to realism, attempted a proof for the existence of God, saw divine law as the ultimate norm of moral activity, and argued against Hobbes’ totalitarian notion of the state.  George Berkeley (2:326d, GBWW 35) reacted against Locke’s theory of knowledge, developing a type of immaterialism that permitted a reflective personal grasp of the relationships between God and the participant but limited minds of men.  His central thesis was that the whole being of a sensible thing consists in its being perceived (esse est percipi), with the result that the primary qualities of bodies (extension and motion) are as mind-dependent as the secondary.  By contrast, David Hume (7:232a, GBWW 35) was strongly attracted to skepticism, which he attempted to overcome by applying the methods of Newtonian science to the study of human nature.  Starting with the empiricist principle that man’s knowledge of things lies solely in his impressions of sense, Hume denied reality to any kind of substance, material or immaterial.  He also rejected the traditional concept of causality, replacing it by the phenomenalist notions of constant conjunction and temporal succession, and thus rendering it useless for proofs of the existence of God.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §96.  MECHANICAL PHILOSOPHY AND EMPIRICISM  //  [paragraph] 3 //   [pages] 301 and 302)

Obiter Dicta:  Imagine the following examples of human perception; a person looking at a rainbow in the sky with one end seeming to touch a farm silo, a person looking at an apple on a table or in a tree, and a person under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs who sees a snake which is not actually present.  Now let’s take these perceptions one at a time and consider what these experiences tell us about human perception (sensation) and cognition (knowing/understanding).

The person who sees an apple is seeing light reflected off the apple which enters his/her eye.  The electro-magnetic energy of that light is changed into chemical energy which is changed into electrical energy which travels along the optic nerve to the brain where it is transformed into neuro-chemical-electrical energy and impulses which somehow becomes an image of an apple of which the person is aware; i.e. “sees”.  Long before this new image was created in the brain/mind, it had ceased being the original image transmitted from the actual apple.  Somewhere in the transition from chemical and electrical energy in the eye and optic nerve, the original image of that apple, had ceased being an image of an actual apple, becoming chemical electrical neural impulses in the eye/optic nerve/brain.  But then the brain/mind constructed (reconstructed) it as the image of an apple.

The person who sees a rainbow, does not actually see a thing.  The farm silo which s/he sees is an actual thing, but the rainbow which at one of its ends seems to touch the silo, does not actual exist as an actual thing in the same sense as that silo is an actual thing.  What has happened is that light has been refracted through raindrops, the different angles of refraction creating a band of colors, which the brain sees as a rainbow.  But if one were to go to and climb the silo, talking all the time on a walkie-talkie with someone who can assure him/her that a rainbow still seemed to be touching the silo, that person on top of the silo would see no rainbow there.  In her/his original position, then, this person had an image of a rainbow in his/her brain/mind which does not in fact exist as a thing in the same sense as that silo is a thing.

Finally, let’s consider the person who, having ingested hallucinogenic substances, is now seeing a snake slither toward her/him and that that snake does not exist at all.  What we have is an image within this person’s brain generated by the influence of a chemical (the hallucinogenic drug) creating neural electrical impulses in the brain which have now become an image in the brain which in no way corresponds with the real world his/her eyes can actually see.

These three examples, and many more like them, have created the idea, the suspicion that what we call the real world is nothing more than neural generated images within our brain.  Today, we have an impression, a suspicion, that what we actually see and of which we are aware are images existing in a brain-bubble which seems to be completely isolated from the “real” world.  In fact, we have a suspicion that there either is no “real” world, or that we cannot for certain prove that the images in our brain-bubbles correspond to actual things in the outside world.

This disconnect between what our brains/minds image/see/are-aware-of and what might be materially outside our bodies is referred to as the egocentric predicament.

If this egocentric predicament were a correct interpretation of the experiences of perception and cognition, this would have very bad consequences for human speech, political activity, human relationships, culture, and community formation.  If all a person could be certain of were the images in her/his own isolated brain bubble, s/he could not know if those images corresponded correctly with images in other persons’ brain-bubbles.  In fact, if all we can be sure of is the content of our isolated brain bubbles, we could not even then be sure there were other persons existing in reality outside of ourselves.  If we could not be sure that each person’s images correspond, there is no way for a community to seek to discover and display truth together.  Soon, speech would no longer be a tool of fact/truth searching and display.  Speech would become meaningless; would become incapable of communicating meaning/fact/truth.  Once the ability of speech to communicate meaning is undermined, people would begin to doubt and then eventually avoid attempting to engage in political activity, community formation, culture expression, human relationships.  This egocentric predicament, an idea which has been circulating throughout human civilization for about five hundred years, may be the root of the seeming inability of political bodies to accomplish things, for the breakdown of dialogue between opposing factions, and for the relativism-idea that people can have their own facts; their own truths.  If people can have their own truths/facts, speech becomes impossible.

This egocentric predicament is in part a reflection of ideas present in the writings of Locke (A.D. 1632 to 1704) and Descartes (A.D. 1596 to 1650).  “For Locke man knows ideas, not things, and this conception led him into a subjectivism from which he never escaped.”  Descartes, with his cogito ergo sum/je pense donc je suis/I think, therefore I am; declares the one can only find certain reality within the thoughts of his/her individual isolated brain/mind.  Ideas such as these are the beginning of the egocentric predicament and of the deleterious effects this predicament has upon speech, human interaction, community, culture, society, politics, religion, spirituality.

However, the concept of an isolated brain bubble which creates images completely separated from a world outside itself, is not a correct way of understanding the epistemology of human knowledge acquisition.  Every act of perception is an act of the mind going out of itself and intending (making contact with, leading to awareness and consciousness of) actual objects in the real world.  Every act of awareness begins with the human mind going out of itself and intending, making contact with, objects in the exterior world.  The person seeing the apple sees the apple because the mind goes out to, is aware of, intends the actual apple.  The person sees the rainbow because the mind goes out to, is aware of, intends the colors of light refracted through raindrops.  The person under hallucinogenic influences sees the snake because s/he has memories of snakes s/he has seen in real life in the form of actual snakes or pictures of snakes.

This idea of intentionality, that mind reaches out to and makes contact with the real world as the actual basis of perception and conception; this idea is that of phenomenology.  Phenomenology, a philosophy whose framers and users have included many Roman Catholic philosophers including Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) and Karol Woytyla (Saint John Paul II), arose in part as a response to the mental and social isolation of the egocentric predicament.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.96.2

“But how does man fare in the mechanically ordered universe?  Divergent responses were given to this leading question by Thomas Hobbes (7:42c, GBWW 23) and Rene Descartes (4:784c, GBWW 31).  The Englishman’s importance lay as much in his presuppositions as in his particular doctrines, for he developed the always attractive procedure of generalizing the dominant scientific outlook and, at least in principle, confining the philosophical analysis of man to what is attainable through this generalized method.  He postulated a “state of nature” from which man emerges as he builds his political and social world, bartering his freedom through a “social contract” that provides security but otherwise forfeits any objective order of values to be recognized and implemented.  Descartes agreed that man can fare well enough in the mechanically constituted universe, but only on the condition that the mechanical conception of nature be integrated with an adequate theory of method, of knowing, and of being.  So he sought to combine mechanism with a reflective metaphysics of the self and God in so firmly grounded and closely knit a system that skepticism would be eliminated and the Christian faith would be liberated from an outmoded philosophy of nature.  His starting point was a methodical doubt that led him to assert the clear and distinct idea as the criterion of truth, and to invoke God’s existence so as to extend the universality of this criterion beyond his starting point, cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”).  From man’s clear and distinct ideas of soul and body he further deduced a dualism of mind and matter, regarding both as substances, but never satisfactorily explaining how they can and do unite.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §96.  MECHANICAL PHILOSOPHY AND EMPIRICISM  //  [paragraph] 2 //   [page] 301)

Obiter Dicta:  Thomas Hobbes (A.D. 1588 to 1679) and Jean Jacques Rousseau (A.D. 1712 to 1788) will both formulate their political philosophies from starting points of a “state of nature” upon which “social contracts” are subsequently developed.  However, their conceptions of the “state of nature” are different.  Hobbes perceives the pre-political state of nature to be a “war of all against all” in which the life of human kind is “nasty, brutish, and short”.  Rousseau perceives the pre-political state as something more benign, occupied by “noble savages” who are not malicious and only harm others when their own self-care is threatened.  Based on these different perceptions of the original state of nature, will follow social contracts which are different as well.  For Hobbes, the ruling power of the state, which he refers to as the Leviathan (a reference to the biblical monster from the dark depths of the ocean) becomes an algorithm where, in exchange for loss of freedom, each member of society gains a degree of safety and comfort.  For Rousseau, in response and reaction to the evils of political society, the mechanisms of politics such as law making and judicial over-view will come into existence for the purpose of limiting the worst features of political rule.  In both cases, a political algorithm is formulated in which, for the sake of comfort and safety, freedom is given to the over-arching ruling entity (mechanism, algorithm, ruler(s)) referred to as the sovereign.  Having ceded freedom to the sovereign, the members of these societies are not (no longer) citizens.  They are subjects without a voice.

René Descartes’ (A.D. 1596 to 1650) articulation of a mechanical concept of nature, also creates an artificial notion of nature, not unlike Rousseau’s and Hobbes’ “state of nature”.  This artificial conception undermines notions of natural law from which human mind can discern positive laws for moral and political guidance.  With the removal of natural law comes the removal of natural rights.  With the removal of natural rights (which the subjects trade away for comfort and safety), subjects no longer have nor need a voice in moral and political affairs.  All they need to do, in order to attain the comfort and safety they desire, is defer to the directions of the sovereign.

As has been said before, these three individuals do not so much formulate novel ideas as that they come to understand political concepts percolating throughout society as a whole and then, in writing, publicize these insights for public intellectual conception.  Beginning with their writings, and the writings of many others as well, a tendency has arisen within civil societies to form and accept sovereign rule.  Such sovereign rule, in which citizens become subjects without a voice and without knowledge of concepts of natural law and natural rights, takes many forms which formulate many tools to reinforce the choice to trade freedom of thought and speech for comfort and safety.  What can be a tool for political communication, such as the social forums of the internet, can become an algorithmic a-political tool for silencing thought and speech.  And seemingly contrary political economic systems, such as capitalism and communism and socialism, can be indistinguishable manifestations of sovereign rule.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.96.1

“The impetus for the great 17th-century systems came largely from the effort of the mechanical philosophers and Descartes to counter-balance skepticism with a positive theory of nature and man.  A modest role was played by Francis Bacon (2:9d, GBWW 30), even though he did not appreciate the primary lead of mathematics in the study of nature.  He gave a new rhetoric to the age by codifying the criticism of scholastic philosophy of nature, by directing attention to the moving efficient causes, and by raising doubts about whether philosophy can say anything about God and the spiritual principle in man.  But it was Galileo Galilei (6:250b, GBWW 28) who regarded nature as a divinely grounded system of mathematical intelligibles and who bifurcated the primary qualities of nature and the secondary qualities in the perceiver.  And although Sir Isaac Newton (10:424c, GBWW 34) was less confident about the ontological import of mathematical rules, he worked out their explanatory functions with unsurpassed thoroughness.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §96.  MECHANICAL PHILOSOPHY AND EMPIRICISM  //  [paragraph] 1 //   [pages] 300 and 301)

Obiter Dicta:  René Descartes (A.D. 1596 to 1650) and Francis Bacon (A.D. 1561 to 1626) both disliked and disparaged speculative philosophy, speculative theology, scholasticism, and metaphysics.  These two are sometimes credited with the birth of modern science and the technological agenda of using scientific discoveries for human benefit.  They were not the first to explore modern science and their technological applications.  Rather, these ideas were percolating through many centuries of thinking, classical and medieval and early in modernity prior to Descartes and Bacon.  It is in the writings of these two persons that these ideas of modernity are clearly articulated.  Some, perhaps much, of what they expressed has proven to have subsequent practical value in the modern and contemporary world.  For example, Descartes developed algebraic geometry; a tool which will prove to have immense scientific application and technological utility.

However, divorcing their scientific and technological thoughts from the philosophy and theology caused them to reach formulations which were humanly incorrect and spiritually detrimental.  Among these is what is referred to as cartesian dualism; the idea that the soul (mind) and body are two separate and separable entities.  (Roman Catholicism holds that the human person is an inseparable unity of body and soul.)  Also, their thoughts led them to an attitude toward nature which has proven more and more untenable and even detrimental as we have moved into the era of climate change.  This attitude is clearly seen in the sixth part of Descartes’ Discours de la Methode (“Discourse of Method”) in which he states “…it is possible to attain knowledge which is very useful in life and that, instead of that speculative philosophy which is taught in the Schools, we may find a practical philosophy by means of which knowing the force and the action of fire, water, air, the stars, heavens and all other bodies that environ us, as distinctly as we know the different crafts of our artisans, we can in the same way employ them in all those uses to which they are adapted, and thus render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature.”  If created nature had a rational mind, in this age of the Covid-19 pandemic, nature would surely laugh at the notion that man will become “the masters and possessors of nature”.

Descartes was a Roman Catholic Christian who both valued the religiosity and spirituality of his Church and feared its intrusion into political and scientific matters.  It was perhaps his knowledge of the treatment of Galileo Galilei (A.D. 1564 to 1642) by the Church that caused him to formulate his criticisms of the Church and some of its teaching.  A possible indication of this discomfort with the Church and speculative theology may be the fact that his Discours de la Methode, which extols science and technology, is made up of six parts; a possible indication that he thought human kind in its use of science and technology could be thought of as the new creator like God who created the world in six days.  If this was his thinking, it is not clear that he was aware of unaware he was making these allusions.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.95.7

“It was during this period also that the Jesuits (7:898b) came into existence and contributed an unusual number of thinkers and writers for the renewal of Catholic thought.  Among the more noteworthy from the viewpoint of philosophy were Francisco de Toledo (14:187d), Gabriel Vazquez (14:581d), and Peter de Fonseca (5:995b), the later being the moving spirit behind the Cursus philosophicus edited by the Jesuits at Coimbra (3:983a), long regarded as an official textbook for philosophy in the Schools.  Of considerable importance for their work in speculative theology, which also incorporated distinctive philosophical positions, were Francisco Suarez (13:751a) and Luis de Molina (9:1010c), whose systems of thought are known as Suarezianism (13:754b) and Molinism (9:1011b) respectively.  The latter was opposed to Banezianism (2:48a) in the prolonged disputes between the Jesuits and the Dominicans over divine grace and man’s freedom [§47.7] known as the Congregatio de Auxiliis (4:168d).  Among the significant theses of Suarezianism are the following:  (1) the concept of being is analogous as applied to God and creatures; (2) the actual essence of a creature is not really distinct from its existence; (3) primary matter is pure potency in the order of form, but it has its own act of existence and God can preserve it in existence without form; (4) the primary formal effect of quantity is to give substance aptitudinal extension, not actual extension; (5) predicamental relations are not really distinct from their foundations; and (6) any creature can, by reason of an active obediential potency, be instrumentally elevated by God to exercise any efficient causality on another creature.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §95.  RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY  //  [paragraph] 7 //   [pages] 299 and 300)

Obiter Dicta:  Ideas percolate within the minds of the members of the human community.  This process happens below-the-surface of awareness.  At some point in time, individuals and then groups and then some portion of humanity become aware of and begin to understand these ideas.  As this awareness grows, these ideas concretize into forms which are spoken about in meaningful, categorical, predicable, definitional, either-or ways.

One such percolation and concretization is currently occurring within the human community.  This involves the dual realizations of the relativistic and quantum nature of reality. More and more, human persons and groups are coming to understand these concepts. More and more they are beginning to speak about these ideas in normal speech and to incorporate these ideas into statements about other more mundane realities. However, everyday normal speech which is definitional, categorical, predicable is only somewhat suited for a correct description of relativistic and quantum realities.

At the macrocosm level, behaviors display relativity; behaviors depend on the observer whose perspective is influenced by the frame within which s/he is situated.  Thus, to a “stationary” observer, an object moving at near-light speeds (i.e. 300,000 kilometers per second) is seen to increase in mass, decrease in length, and whose processes slow down relative to the same processes of the observer.

At a microcosm level, reality is quantized.  Reality is made up of fundamental components of sub-atomic particles and fields whose behaviors cannot be described or revealed in a deterministic fashion but in a probabilistic fashion; a type of both-and dependent on the observer.  Thus, the position and the velocity of a particular particle in a particular field cannot be simultaneously measured in a definitive way by an observer.  Rather, as that particle is observed within that specific field, only a probabilistic description can be given of the behavior and situation of that particle.  Further, in a quantized world, when experiments are brought to bear in order to observe the behavior of this particle and field, what occurs is a set of definitive probabilistic results corresponding to the experimental observations made.  Such is what happens in the famous double-slit experiment in which the act of experimental observation causes an indeterminate wavefront to collapse to a particular particle appearing at a particular place.

During this same couple/few hundreds of years in which the human understanding of relativity and quantum reality has been percolating and concretizing, so as well has the philosophical understanding of knowledge of things through perception as a necessarily intentional act.  The act of knowing the thing, of being conscious of some thing, is dependent on the mind reaching out to that thing.  Knowledge is always knowledge of, awareness of, consciousness of a thing in its various manifestations, appearances, absences, manifolds, etc.  Though definition and categorization and predication remain true and are essential for meaningful communication, we are becoming aware that the full knowledge/awareness/consciousness of reality transcends definition and categorization and predication.  In the language of this intentional phenomenology, an eidetic reduction within the acts of and awareness of intentional knowing are needed to fully understand reality and to understand the relationship of the knower and the known. Somewhat related to this modern day realization of the need to specify the correct relationship of the knower and the known can be found in the summa theologica/ae of Saint Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225 to 1274) where a number of times he writes; “That which is known/perceived/received is known/perceived/received in the manner in which the knower/perceiver/receiver knows/perceives/receives what is known/perceived/received.

The inadequacy of normal everyday speech which defines and categorizes and predicates, applies as well to this essay and these statements which attempt to speak categorically about and provide correct definitions about relativistic and quantum reality. Poetry and mathematics are perhaps better suited to describing these realities but these are lacking in providing a basis for constructing a livable functioning human world.

A fictional story which can be used as an analogy for the current indeterminant/uncertain/probabilistic, intentional observer influenced, percolation and concretization of human knowing/perceiving/receiving is Flatland:  A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott (A.D. 1838 to 1926).  Imagine a world composed of two dimensional creatures living in a two dimensional world (a flat plane with no thickness).  All creatures and things within Flatland are made up of two dimensional shapes.  Flatlanders’ perceptions of the events of reality are always formulated in terms of changes occurring in these two dimensional shapes.  Now, imagine there is a three dimensional sphere which is moving through the three dimensional space outside of the two dimensional Flatland.  Now imagine this three dimensional sphere touches and passes through the two dimensional Flatland.  What the Flatlanders will perceive is a dot appearing in two dimensional Flatland.  This dot will be come a tiny circle.  This tiny circle will become a larger circle and then it will start to become a smaller and smaller circle until it becomes only a dot and disappears.  This is how the Flatlanders will perceive a three dimensional sphere passing through there two dimensional reality.  Let us assume the Flatlanders are intelligent.  They observe and record what they have seen in fine detail.  They postulate that within Flatland a new reality has been discovered which is a changing two dimensional geometric shape.  The point here is, that they will have observed correctly, recorded correctly, formulated the only possible explanation there is…and be completely wrong.  There formulation will be wrong because they are not (yet) able to perceive and understand three dimensional reality.

The way we sentient human beings observe and understand and formulate the world is through a logic and metaphysics which is definitional, predicable, categorizable, either-or.

We may be on the cusp of an idea-percolation which is concretizing into a new manner of knowledge and awareness and consciousness and communication and community life.

Christianity may be suited to exploring, expanding, and utilizing this new knowledge, awareness, and consciousness.  The reason is that the philosophy espoused by Roman Catholic Chistianity (i.e. neo-Thomistic and phenomenological moderate realism) holds that a definition of truth as an exact correspondence between events and the words we use to describe those events, is only a part of the essence of truth. Truth, in itself, is a transcendental property of being.  Truth is not just a correct description of reality. Truth is a reality. This ontological/metaphysical/philosophical definition of truth is similar to Jesus the Christ’s own statement about truth. In the Gospel of John (14:6) Jesus states “I am the truth.” This speaks of truth as a real existing thing, which is different from saying “I speak the truth.”

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.95.6

“The counterpoint to all these movements was the steady current of Renaissance scholasticism, which took on a new life as “second scholasticism” or “middle scholasticism” and continued to achieve new forms (12:1158b).  This was the period of the great commentaries of St. Thomas [Aquinas], the new developments in the law of nations and colonial moral problems, and eventually the shift to the teaching manual as the main instrument of tradition.  Among the Dominicans, who exerted an influence at Paris and Salamanca as well as in Northern Italy, the more famous were Francisco de Vitoria (14:727a), a Domingo de Soto (13:445a), Melchior Cano (3:28d), Domingo Bañez (2:48a), Ferrariensis (5:893d), and John of St. Thomas (7:1070d).  Franciscans of note included Maurice O’Fihely (10:658c) and Antonio Trombetta (14:314), and Carmelite professors known as the Complutenses (4:94d) and the Salmanticenses (12:987d) produced important manuals of philosophy and theology respectively.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §95.  RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY  //  [paragraph] 6 //   [page] 299)

Obiter Dicta:  In the gospel of Matthew 13:52, Jesus states “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”  The Church is also like the steward/home owner-manager who possesses a storehouse/attic in which all the things of a long life have been and are stored and will be stored.  The Church has within its memory and intellectual store-room ideas and solutions which were useful at one time and have now been put in storage for the day when they might be needed again.  In this store-house of faith conditioned human knowledge and experience are ideas which can be useful for framing appropriate responses toward the resolution of current and future social and political problems.  An actual example of going into this intellectual/experiential storehouse-attic occurred when a particular state government, provided incentive by certain secular education associations, constructed a “new” response to the issue of serving the education needs of “all” in an equitable manner.  This “new” response contained many facets; educational and administrative and fiscal.  A Jesuit headmaster of a private school in that same state was asked his opinion of this “new” initiative.  He succinctly responded to this question.  When asked on what grounds he based his opinion, the Jesuit responded by saying “We tried that hundreds of years ago.”

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.95.5

“Three other facets of the Renaissance mind are captured in the thought of Niccolò Machiavelli (9:31c, GBWW 23), Giordano Bruno (2:839d), and the philosophers of nature.  Machiavelli placed brackets around the social precepts of Christianity and took the attitude of the inquiring scientist toward the realities of political life; his stark findings on the drive toward power and the political management of men pointed up the need for a relevant and yet morally disciplined political philosophy [§81.4].  Bruno’s pantheism expressed a passionate desire to comprehend and unite oneself with total cosmic reality, but it was hampered by taking the substance-and-mode relationship as regulative for explaining the relationship between God and the world.  Although Bernardino Telesio (13:981d) and Tommaso Campanella (2:1110c) took a qualitative and quasi-magical approach to nature, they testified to the need to understand it better and to reorder social life in new ways.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §95.  RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY  //  [paragraph] 5 //   [pages] 298 and 299)

Obiter Dicta:  In Machiavelli, and in other political philosophers before and after this, we see the manifestation of the concept of the sovereign within the political thinking of modernity.  The sovereign is an algorithm, a human or artificial reality, which manages human behavior within society.  The existence of a sovereign transforms citizens (who discover and display the ways of political reality through dialogue) into subjects (who have no voice, and eventually no interest, in political affairs).

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.95.4

“Renaissance Stoicism (13:720d) and skepticism (13:276d) arose from a continued dissatisfaction with all current accounts of human knowledge and conduct.  Justus Lipsius (8:784a) urged that Platonism was too cabalistic; that pure Aristotelianism ran counter to faith in a personal, free, transcendent God and beatitude; and that a sounder view was obtained from Stoic logic, physics, and ethics.  The most radical challenge, however, came from the reformulation of Greek skepticism by Montaigne (9:1072a, GBWW 25) and Pierre Charron (3:512d).  They produced a crisis by regarding man’s knowing powers as unreliable, by pointing out the large mixture of fantasy and wish in human speculations, and by pitting one philosophical school against another.  Right down to Pierre Bayle (2:182a) the skeptical attitude remained strong, thus providing a spur for the great systematic thinkers of the 17th century.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §95.  RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY  //  [paragraph] 4 //   [page] 298)

Obiter Dicta:  An epistemological (i.e. way of thinking about thinking) which is solely empirical (i.e. finds truth only through sense awareness of the material) or solely rational (i.e. finds truth only through human reason) necessarily leads to skepticism.  Skepticism is a fundamental doubt about one’s ability to discover and display truth, the essences of things, the way things are.  Part of this necessary path to skepticism is a misconception about human knowledge, that it is either empirical or rationalistic, when in actuality our process of knowing is intentional; the mind reaching out to the various presentations/manifestations/appearances of the things we obtain through our senses.  Part of this necessary path to skepticism also is the choice to discount/deny/ignore the role of faith in acquiring truth and knowledge.  One’s attitude must be that of Saint Augustine (A.D. 354 to 430); i.e. credo ut intelligam (“I believe so that I might understand correctly.”) and Saint Anselm (A.D. 1033 to 1109); i.e. that knowledge is a matter of fides quarens intellectum (“…faith seeking understanding.”)

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.95.3

“A form of Christian humanism was developed by the Florentine Platonists (11:437c) Marsilio Ficino (5:907c) and Pico della Mirandola (11:347b), who strongly defended man’s freedom, personal immortality, and ordination to God against the attacks of the Aristotelians at Padua, themselves still under the influence of Averroës.  Aristotelianism continued to flourish in Northern Italy and Germany (1:805b), though without the distinctively Christian interpretations of man, nature, and the prime mover that had formerly characterized it; the strongest work was done in logical methodology and natural philosophy, and its important figures were Pietro Pompanazzi (11:546a), Agostino Nifo (10:465a), and Jacopo Zabarella (14:1101b).”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §95.  RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY  //  [paragraph] 3 //   [page] 298)

Obiter Dicta:  Knowledge of God as loving and just comes from divine revelation found in sacred scripture, magisterial teachings, and personal theophanies/spiritual experiences.  Human knowledge is a gift from God, is somewhat like how God comes to know things, and which provides knowledge of things somewhat like what God knows.  However, there are important differences between human ways of knowing (and what is known by means of those human ways of knowing) and how God knows things.  Human knowledge always begins in the senses; begins with information obtained through the senses.  God has no senses since he is incorporeal.  Further, the dependence of human knowledge on the senses means that our knowledge is always after-the fact (after the sense experiences) or a posteriori (posterior to the sense information obtained), whereas all of God’s knowledge is a priori (prior to and without the need of sense information).  By way of analogy, God knows a created thing in the way a carpenter knows the chair s/he will build even before it is constructed; it exists in her/his “mind’s eye”; it is the knowledge of a maker as opposed to the a posteriori type knowledge of the non-carpenter whose only knowledge of the chair is based on her/his use of that chair.

Human knowledge cannot obtain the type of things known which comes from divine revelation.  Worse, if the human knower worships his/her human way of knowing, this human knowledge can become an impediment to receiving knowledge via divine revelation.  But, if the human knower is desirous of gaining truth and following truth where ever it will lead her/him, it is possible that this type of attitude toward human knowing can lead this person to the maturation in which s/he is open to the possibility of the existence of divine revelation and to receiving that divine revelation.

(As an aside, fidelity to truth can possibly lead one to God because truth is a transcendental property of being (a quality/characteristic of being which exists wherever and whenever being is found and in whatever exists).  Since God is being and is the epitome of the being in all beings which exists, this quality/characteristic/property of truth always exists in God.  Thus, the honest open searcher for truth is in search of a quality of God and of God even if s/he does not know that is what/whom for which s/he is searching.)

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.

The Elements of Philosophy: III.18.95.2

“Somewhat typical of Renaissance philosophy (12:370a) is the work of Nicholas of Cusa (10:449a), which embodied the early Renaissance disenchantment with the medieval systems, its epistemological uneasiness, and its special concern to rethink man’s relations with God and the world.  Although religious faith held firm his conviction in God’s reality and creative power, he shifted the inquiry about God from a causal basis to a symbolical use of concepts similar to the mathematical way of dealing with infinite figures.  Thus Nicholas heralded the appeal of philosophical methodology to the procedures of mathematics and physics, as well as the modern dialectical correlation between God and a world regarded as his expressive image and the locus for constant social reforms.”  (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART III.  //  CHAPTER 18.  MODERN PHILOSOPHY  //  [Section] §95.  RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY  //  [paragraph] 2 //   [pages] 297 and 298)

Obiter Dicta:  Consider the following examples of infinite sets.  You have one infinite set which is composed of all whole numbers (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on) and another infinite set of all odd numbers (e.g. 1, 3, 5 and so on)  Since both of these sets are infinite, they contain the same infinite number of items; that is, they have the same/equal extent.  However, we also know that the first set has items (e.g. 2, 4 and so on) which are not contained in the second set (e.g. 1, 3, 5 and so on).  Thus, we have here examples of two sets of the same extent (infinite), in which one set (e.g. 1, 2, 3 and so on) contains all the elements of the other set (e.g. 1, 3, and so on) but with more (e.g. 2, 4 and so on).

Thus we are faced with two infinities which are different and which retain their infinite extent even though one does not contain items contained by the other.  A type of infinity is being revealed in this example which is different from the type of infinity revealed about God’s nature which is all, which pertains to only one being (God), and which can consist of only one type of characteristic.  For example, we might say that God is infinite being, not in the sense that God is all being found in all beings, but that God’s being is the type, the epitome, of the being found in all beings.  Or consider when we speak of God’s knowledge being infinite.  This infinite divine knowledge is not knowledge in the sense of an encyclopedia which contains every possible fact known a posteriori (from and based on sense experience) but contains the essence of all knowledge possessed a priori (that is the knowledge one has as a maker, the creator, the support, the nurturance of all things and of their various essences).

Thus, if one were to choose to ignore knowledge gained from divine revelation (sacred scripture, magisterial teaching, spiritual theophanies) which gives one would be reduced to using only human concepts in general, and mathematical concepts in particular, which only partially present the reality of God.  One gains a mathematical and/or a posteriori description of God which only partially and sometimes inexactly describes God as we need to know God to live well and be happy.

Key:  For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy:  Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.  GBWW stands for the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica and The University of Chicago.  “Syntopicon” refers to the introductory set of/to the GBWW.