Elements of Philosophy 10-23-17

(The articles presented here, entitled Elements of Philosophy (followed by a date), provide a systematic presentation of consecutive portions of The Elements of Philosophy:  A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.  The first post took place on 3-21-17.  All previously posted articles of this Elements of Philosophy series can be found by scrolling back through these posted articles to that first posting date.)

Quote:  Elements of Philosophy, pages 17 and 18; chapter 2, section 4, paragraph 2.

“The two elements joined in judgment are referred to as the subject and the predicate.  The first, representing the thing to be understood, is regarded as determinable, whereas the second, signifying what one understands about the thing, is regarded as determining.  When the apprehended aspects of the thing are connected in their very notions or essence, the judgment is per se or essential; when the connection is only factual or existential, the judgment is per accidens or accidental.  The latter must be perceived through the senses whereas the former is directly intelligible.”

Commentary:

Predication is the act of assigning a subject to a predicate, as in the sentence “men and women are mortal”.  In this sentence, men and women are being assigned to the category of things which cease to live.  Predication is simply the act of determining and displaying the categories to which various things belong.

Some such categorization are essential, as in the example of determining and displaying that mortality is a common feature of human existence.  However, some categorizations are less than essential, not as important, that is, are accidental in the original sense of the word accidents as those characteristics which are not essential to our understandings of the things which we are considering.  Thus, an example of such an accidental categorization would be “men and women are hairy”.  For a number of reasons, radiation or age or illness, a person might lose some aspects of his/her hair coverage.  Despite this, she or he would still fully be a human being.  However, if, by some act of God or by some amazing change in the physics of the universe or by the advent of some stunning technology, men and women were to no longer be mortal, this would be an essential change in human nature.  This change would be so essential that one might be correct to ask if these non-mortal men and women were still human beings in the same sense as those who are mortal.

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Elements of Philosophy 10-18-17

(The articles presented here, entitled Elements of Philosophy (followed by a date), provide a systematic presentation of consecutive portions of The Elements of Philosophy:  A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.  The first post took place on 3-21-17.  All previously posted articles of this Elements of Philosophy series can be found by scrolling back through these posted articles to that first posting date.)

Quote:  Elements of Philosophy, page 17; chapter 2, section 4, paragraph 1.

Judgment is the second operation of the intellect by which something is affirmed or denied of something else.  It is referred to as composing or dividing, or as combining or separating, since by it the essences apprehended in the first operation are associated or dissociated.  Its necessity arises from the limitation inherent in simple apprehension, which is abstract and attains only a partial aspect of a thing at a time.  To know the thing as it is in reality, a single whole, one and concretely existing, a mental operation is required that reintegrates the intelligible aspects of the thing and signifies it as existing.  This requires a comparison, the establishment of a relation, which is the unity of its terms.  This comparison is judgment, combination and separation.  As an operation it is always a combination or composition, though from the standpoint of the apprehended essences it is either combination or separation according as they are perceived to belong together or not.  By judging and forming a proposition the intellect restores natures to subjects and accounts to substances, thus re-establishing the condition in which things exist.”

Commentary:

I do not recall the source, but I once read the following which serves as a metaphor for making clear what is being talked about above by Wallace.

Imagine a man is telling a joke to fellow workers at a horse paddock.  Closely grouped together are the man telling the joke, two or three co-workers, and a horse.  The horse’s sense organs are as acute as the sense organs of the humans present, if not more so.  The horse can see tiny changes in the joke-teller’s facial expressions and body posture; some of which are missed by those listening to the joke.  The horse can hear nuances of volume, tone, muffling, pauses in speech, the extended expression of important syllables; some of which the humans present are not attentive or at least not consciously attentive.

And yet, when the joke is done being told, the humans present laugh but the horse does not.  Though the horse has gathered every sense datum the humans did, and perhaps many they did not, the horse cannot organize the sense information gathered into an intelligible form which would lead it to laugh, assuming it had the physical organs to do so.  The horse cannot feel humor.  Probably, an electro-encephalogram of its brain would not indicate any significant change in its cerebral activity as the joke is told as compared to its electro-chemical activity evidenced later in the day when its leg is being gently attended by a veterinarian or when it is being groomed.

The human brain connects sense datums; information input through the senses.  Each is gathered through the sense organ, transmitted via specialized nerves, deposited in the brain at the time these sense datums are obtained.  But in order for the person holding the red ball to know its a red ball in her hand, a mental activity must combine and integrate those sense datums into a single whole which is then able to say “this exists” and “this is such and so”.

The physical organ called the brain is not what accomplishes this combining, integration, identification, and recognition.  What accomplishes this is the mind.  The immaterial mind is the function of the immaterial human soul which, in addition to this intellectual ability to make such judgments, is the source of awareness and will.  Through the mental abilities of judgment, memory, and imagination, the human person combines and integrates sense data into an idea of the existence and essence of the thing being considered by that human mind.  This combining and integrating ability is a wondrous thing.  It combines sense datums regarding some object one is considering which are obtained at different moments through the sense organs.  Each of those moments provides sense data which is from a different perspective or point of view, conditioned by the different emotional and physical and mental states of the person observing the thing being considered.  Because this human person has imagination, s/he is also able to integrate aspects of the thing being considered which cannot be seen and thus use that information as well to come to a correct understanding of the essence of the thing being considered.  In this respect we might think of Einstein’s thought-experiment of riding on a light beam or G.K. Chesterton speaking of the back-side of God.  More commonly, we become aware through imagination that with direct vision, the cube of iron at which we are looking can only provide to our vision three of its six sides at any one time.

The role of the physical organ called the brain and the rest of the physical form of the human person is to allow this intellectual mental ability to interface with and be expressed in a material reality and environment.  Further, because human persons are incarnate spirits, a unified body and soul, our human way of recognition of existence and essence can only happen in the material world and environment.

In order for us to have awareness of existence and essence in the afterlife of eternal bliss, there will need to be some modification of the human form.  Perhaps this is part of what is being expressed in the New Testament letters of 1 Corinthians, Philippians, and Colossians when these speak of the glorification of the human body following death.

Elements of Philosophy 10-10-17

(The articles presented here, entitled Elements of Philosophy (followed by a date), provide a systematic presentation of consecutive portions of The Elements of Philosophy:  A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.  The first post took place on 3-21-17.  All previously posted articles of this Elements of Philosophy series can be found by scrolling back through these posted articles to that first posting date.)

Quote:  Elements of Philosophy, pages 16 and 17; chapter 2, section 3, paragraph 8.

Division is a mental process of clarifying the meaning of a term or concept by showing how it is distributed into its various parts.  The objective concept may be taken as a whole in several physical or natural senses of whole, or in the more properly logical sense of universal.  These give rise to various kinds or species of division, namely, nominal, integral, physical, essential, logical, and dynamic or potestative.  The rules of division are as follows:  a good division (1) should be into inferiors, i.e., parts, (2) the parts reunited should equal the whole, and (3) there should be at least formal oppositions (some insist on contradictory opposition) between the parts.”

Commentary:

Making correct distinctions is an important key to properly understanding whatever one is considering.  This process requires that one identify the actual real parts of the thing which one is considering.  The Greek philosopher Plato (427 to 347 B.C.) wrote of the importance of finding and making the proper divisions when considering the parts of the make-up of any given thing one is considering.  Plato’s way of putting it was to use the analogy of cutting meat in preparation for cooking.  He wrote that it was important to cut the animal at the joints rather than cut through bone and muscle.  “The… principle…of division…[requires cutting] where the joint is [and] not breaking any part as a bad carver might.” (Phaedrus, 265d).

The act of categorizing concepts is a type of division which attempts to assist a person in correctly understanding whatever given thing s/he is considering.  I recall a conversation between a professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America and a student.  The student raised the issue of whether or not, and to what degree, the concept of categorization had arisen in cultures other than in ancient Greece.  Some days later the professor came back with a text of statement about some eastern potentate who had attempted something like categorization.  The potentate’s system went something like this, “All thing can be divided into those things which belong to the emperor and those things which are the color blue.  Of those things which belong to the emperor, there are those things which are pigs and those things which fly.  Of those things which fly, there are the royal peacocks and the regal banners….”.  It became obvious to his students that it would be impossible, using this potentate’s categorization system, to create syllogisms (arguments) which require the combination of premises possessing univocal middle terms in order to produce necessarily true conclusions.  A usefully accurate categorization, for example, could produce the conclusion that a “porpoise has a backbone” by means of combing the two premises “porpoises are mammals” and “mammals are vertebrates” (have backbones) in which the two premises share the same middle term of “mammal”.  By contrast, no such useful conclusion could be drawn using the potentate’s categorical structure, because of the equivocal nature of the meaning of the word “flying” to refer to both birds and banners.

The point the professor was attempting to make was that the recognition of the importance of categorization as a tool for thinking clearly is not sufficient.  Further, the attempt to categorize (as the potentate had) is in itself not sufficient for aiding clear thinking.  In order to think clearly and usefully, it is necessary that the articulation of the parts of which some thing being considered are divided are correct and essential.  Further, it is necessary that the articulation of the categories into which the thing being considered is assigned; that these categories must be both correct and essential.

Elements of Philosophy 10-6-17

(The articles presented here, entitled Elements of Philosophy (followed by a date), provide a systematic presentation of consecutive portions of The Elements of Philosophy:  A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.  The first post took place on 3-21-17.  All previously posted articles of this Elements of Philosophy series can be found by scrolling back through these posted articles to that first posting date.)

Quote:  Elements of Philosophy, page 16; chapter 2, section 3, paragraph 7.

“There are two major groups of definitions, nominal (explaining the use of a term) and real (explaining the meaning of the concept it signifies).  Instances of nominal definitions are those that employ synonym, etymology, history of the term’s use, and imposed or stipulated usage.  Among the many varieties of real definitions are those made in terms of efficient causes, end or purpose, and intrinsic principles (physical definition); properties or accidents (descriptive definition); and genus and difference (metaphysical definition).  The following are the rules of definition:  a good definition should be (1) coextensive with the definitum, (2) non-circular, (3) in univocal terms, (4) in positive, affirmative terms, and (5) expressed through a genus and difference—best when the genus is proximate and the difference specific.”

Commentary:

Whether they are having a pleasant conversation or an heated exchange, the participants are often defining things.  One person is asserting that such-and-so is the case.  Another person is claiming the a certain thing belongs to some other class of things.  A third is trying to ascertain what type of service is being offered by some other person or group.

All of these attempts at definitions involved obtaining knowledge of the true causes of those things being defined.  By causes are meant the constituent assemblies of things which go into making a thing be the way it is.  That is, we are attempting to obtain knowledge by means of determining the causes which go into making that thing be and behave the way it is and does.  In the Latin of scholastic philosophy: scientia est cognitio per causas; “science is knowledge of the causes”.

A primary distinction between modern science and the notion of science prior to the modern period regards the internality and externality of the causes being discovered and displayed.  Modern science tends to only be interested in obtaining knowledge of external forces which causes some thing to exist or behave in a certain way.  Thus, the asteroid’s path is changed when it enters into the gravitational-well of a large planet, or the billiard ball moves due to being struck by the cue.  The gravitational-well and the cue are external to the things (asteroid, billiard ball) being effected.  Science prior to the modern period, following the insights of classical metaphysics from Aristotle (384 to 322 B.C. ) through the scholastic period (c. A.D. 1100 to 1700), felt it was necessary to determine the intrinsic/interior causes that made things to be and to be the way they are.  Often, these intrinsic/interior causes were listed as material, formal, final, and efficient causes.  The material and formal were clearly part of the make up of the thing being defined.  But this pre-modern notion of science understood that the purpose for which a thing was made (by God) was also etched into the essence of the thing being defined.  Finally, though in one sense the forces which cause a thing to be one way rather than another were external to that thing, in another sense these external causes were seen to be a part of the thing’s essence.  This statement applies most clearly to the primary efficient cause of all things which is God.  Though God is external to a thing which God made, for that thing to exist at all, it must participate in God’s own existence in some way; i.e. God’s existence and presence and direction must be in that thing in a certain way.

 

Elements of Philosophy 10-2-17

(The articles presented here, entitled Elements of Philosophy (followed by a date), provide a systematic presentation of consecutive portions of The Elements of Philosophy:  A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.  The first post took place on 3-21-17.  All previously posted articles of this Elements of Philosophy series can be found by scrolling back through these posted articles to that first posting date.)

Quote:  Elements of Philosophy, page 16; chapter 2, section 3, paragraph 6.

Definition is a mental process of clarifying the meaning of a term by analyzing and relating the elements involved in it; or, alternatively, it is the product or result of a mental process, an expression explaining the use of the term or its meaning.  As the product of a mental process, definition is distinguished from the term or thing defined (the definitum or definiendum).  Definition need not be a sentence or a proposition; the mere juxtaposition of definitum and definition by a colon suffices, e.g., “man:  social being.”  Thus definitions are not true or false, but good or bad, adequate or inadequate.”

Commentary:

By correctly defining the words we use, we are then able to do valuable things such as creating a society which functions well and in developing a life-style which is fully human.  The degree to which our definitions of important words are inadequate is the degree to which the words we use then get in the way of constructing a well ordered society or lead to misguided lives.  Adequacy and inadequacy, in regard to defining the meaning of the words we use, refers to how accurately the definitions we use (and operate under) get at the essential core meanings of the words being used.

An example of the importance of definition can be found in regard to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the hypostatic union.  In A.D. 2007, the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States created and promulgated a document entitled Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework for the Development of Catechetical Materials for Young People of High School Age.  One of the sections suggested that the religious instruction of early high school age students introduce the concept of the “hypostatic union” to the students.  The “hypostatic union” refers to the central Christian doctrine that Jesus is a person with both fully human and fully divine natures.

The Curriculum Framework gave the instruction that these young students should be told the name of the doctrine and the definition given above.  However, what the Curriculum Framework did not do was provide for instruction into the philosophical origin and meaning of the words used in the phrase “hypostatic union”.  Such an instruction would have required a significant investment of time in a nuanced presentation of the philosophical system referred to as scholastic metaphysics.  Further, no provision was offered for providing a sufficient survey of the historical issues and discussions and conflicts which went into the formulation of this doctrine of the hypostatic union; the various orthodox teachings of patristic theology, the various misdirections found in various heresies of the period, and why persons acquired and supported those heresies and orthodox understandings.

Of course, a response could be given that these children did not have the intellectual maturation to handle such instruction in metaphysics, patristic theology, and church history.

This response raises a number of troubling education problems.  First, why should the children be introduced to a formal term/phrase (i.e. hypostatic union) if they are unable to understand the accurate philosophical and historical and theological meaning of the same?  Does not providing such an accurate meaning constitute what the above philosophical quote referred to as “inadequate” definition?  Worse, does providing a familiarity of the phrase/term without the definition, instill a false sense of intellectual competency (possibly leading to a life-misleading hubris)?  Second, if only the plain English definition (i.e. one person with two natures) is to be given, should not the presentation of the same contain some instruction for the teacher to tell the students that in terms of ordinary human experience, this definition has no analogy in ordinary nature.  Similarly, should the teachers be instructed to tell the students that at an appropriate time, they will be given an instruction in the meaning of this seemingly odd definition?  And third, should the Curriculum Framework have insisted that those who present the phrase/word and its plain language definition to these youth, that these instructors themselves have a comprehensive and accurate knowledge of the metaphysics, patristic theology, and church history which constituted the meaning of this phrase/term?  The answer; of course, is “yes”; the reason being that in response to student questions concerning the meaning of this definition, there is the real chance the instructor who is ignorant of the metaphysics and patristic theology and church history in regard to this phrase/word, would make incorrect statements which would have to be “untaught later”.  A cardinal rule of all instruction, but of religious formation a fortiori, is that nothing should be taught which has to be untaught later.

 

Elements of Philosophy 9-29-17

(The articles presented here, entitled Elements of Philosophy (followed by a date), provide a systematic presentation of consecutive portions of The Elements of Philosophy:  A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.  The first post took place on 3-21-17.  All previously posted articles of this Elements of Philosophy series can be found by scrolling back through these posted articles to that first posting date.)

Philosophical Quote:  Elements of Philosophy, page 16; chapter 2, section 3, paragraph 5

“Simple apprehension seeks a clear and distinct knowledge of objective concepts by an explicit grasp of their comprehensive notes and extensive parts.  The act whereby the intellect explicitly expresses the comprehension of a concept is the act of defining the concept.  The act whereby the intellect explicitly expresses the distribution of a concept into its subjective parts or components is the act of logically dividing that concept.  Hence both definition and division pertain directly to the first act of the mind.”

Commentary:

Essence, nature, quiddity, what-ness are various ways one refers to the defining identity of some thing which one is considering.  The trick of understanding a thing is to distinguish between those aspects or appearances of a thing which are essential to the understanding of that thing and those aspects and appearances which are trivial to the understanding of that same thing.  So, for example, consider one of those interesting and odd living creatures which has aspects of both a plant and an animal, such as the euglena.  An euglena moves (an indication of an animal nature) and has chlorophyll (an indication of a plant-like nature).  Let us imagine you are a biologist or microscopist who has obtained a sample of water from a creek near your home.  Being a dedicated amateur observer, you keep a journal.  You look at sample of this water under your microscope and see an euglena.  You note in your journal that it moves and that you can see its red eye spot and that you can see its greenish color.  You also note the date and location.  Since our journal also acts in part as a diary, you write down that this date is also someone’s birthday and (as is the case when I wrote this article) that this day is the feast of the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  That the euglena moves and is greenish is essential information for coming to understand its nature.  The location and date of the find may be important but not as important for determining the essential nature of this entity.  That the sample was gathered on the same day as so-and-so’s birthday is irrelevant to understanding the nature of this thing.  The presence of the red eye spot may, or may not, prove to be essential.

Taking note of the distinguishing features of a thing is important for understanding its essence.  Noticing how this entity is different from other entities is important for coming to understand its essence or nature.  In fact, as a relatively new branch of philosophy called phenomenology states, noticing what distinguishing features are absent or not visible may also prove important for understanding the essence of the thing being considered.  As an example, concerning the euglena, the observer may notice, despite many recorded observations over many months, that s/he has not once observed the replication/formation of an additional euglena after physical contact with other euglena.  That is, one has never observed sexual conjugation.  This insight might then cause the observer to pay more attention to those characteristics of reproduction referred to as binary fission.

 

Elements of Philosophy 9-19-17

(The articles presented here, entitled Elements of Philosophy (followed by a date), provide a systematic presentation of consecutive portions of The Elements of Philosophy:  A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.  The first post took place on 3-21-17.  All previously posted articles of this Elements of Philosophy series can be found by scrolling back through these posted articles to that first posting date.)

 

Quote from Elements of Philosophy, pages 15 and 16; chapter 2, section 3, paragraph 4

“The notion of sign is helpful for clarifying the meanings of both term and concept.  A sign is anything that represents to a knowing power something other than itself.  There are three basic modes of division of sign:  natural or artificial, instrumental or formal, and imaging or non-imaging.  A natural sign receives its significative force from nature itself, as smoke is a sign of fire; an artificial sign, on the other hand, receives its significative force by convention from those using the sign, as a white color signifies joy for some people.  An instrumental sign must be known apart from and before the thing signified, as the connection between white and joy; a formal sign, on the other hand, is known together with the thing signified, somewhat as a bird’s danger cry, which conveys its meaning at once even though never heard before.  An imaging sign is one that pictures the thing signified, as in picture writing; a non-imaging sign is one that does not picture the thing signified, as in writing employing an alphabet.  With these distinctions understood, one can say that the concept is the natural, formal, and imaging sign of the essence apprehended in extramental reality, whereas the term is the artificial, instrumental, and non-imaging sign of the concept.”

Commentary:

There is a person.  There is some thing which is other than the person.  The person begins to understand that thing as being different from him/herself when a concept is formed of that thing within the mind of the person.  Then, should s/he choose, s/he can articulate that concept as a term (word).  A concept is within the mind.  A term (or word) stands outside of the mind.  The person takes the concept within his/her mind and forms it into a term (word).

When the mind possesses a concept, the person in whose mind the concept resides has a clear understanding of the thing represented by the concept as something other than the self (of the person) understanding the thing.  When a person articulates or beholds a term (word), s/he is then able to step back and consider the thing that word represents.  At this moment, in addition to understanding oneself as different from the thing one understands as a concept, the person understands the representation of the thing as separate from the self which understands it.