I Like William Godwin

“For Godwin, to express it with restraint, was an unusual man — as also were Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen; and the eccentric and bizarre always have a psychological fascination for the great unenterprising bulk of humanity, whose humdrum visages conceal no hidden weakness or waywardness.” (Gray, Socialist Tradition, 114)

I laughed heartily at the following: “There is no such thing as Free Will; as has already been noted, we are entirely the results of our environment: ‘my propensities are the fruit of the impressions that have been made upon me.’ In one of those extravagant phrases beloved of Godwin, ‘the assassin cannot help the murder he commits any more than the dagger.'” (130)

First, the plight of the assassin does not disprove “free will,” which is the power of choice, by which alternate courses of action are contemplated by the intellect and weighed by the will.

Second, free will’s compatibility with determinism means that what was determined was that the assassin would murder, not that he could not (or should not) help murdering.

The way the assassin, in the totality of his inner personality and the external influences on him, was before embarking on the murder was not enough to stop his evil deed. But it is precisely this moral ignorance/weakness/malice within him that is wicked.

For example, the assassin may have been aware of his duty not to murder; but future satisfaction of his desire tempted him to commit the crime despite the duty’s demand that he suppress his murderous urges and thereby cleanse his will.

Given my moral duty-driven internalism, I do not think there can be such thing as an amoralist who gives no weight to moral considerations in deciding what to do. The very meaning of the term “duty” intrinsically compels. Instead, there are just sinners.

Effects of Sin

Guilt means “a feeling of culpability for offenses” and is the opposite of righteousness.

Shame is “a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute” and is the opposite of glory.

And pain, of course, is the opposite to health, whether bodily or spiritual, and of pleasure.

Now we can associate St. Thomas’ effects of sin with these:

1. Guilt corresponds to debt of punishment and the evil of fault.
2. Shame, to stain on the soul and the evil of self-hatred.
3. Pain, to corruption of nature and the evil of punishment.

I Don’t Understand the Fourth Way

The fourth way of demonstrating the existence of God, says St. Thomas,

is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like.

But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest;

so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being…

Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God. (ST, I, 2, 3)

Note that there are two claims here: (a) that the greatest or perfect or infinite thing exists and (b) that it is the cause of all imperfect and finite things.

Objecting to this, Richard Dawkins writes,

That’s an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a preeminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion.

1. The number line has lesser and greater integers, but there is no highest integer, nor is ∞ the cause of any number. Perhaps we need to restrict our inquiry to “perfections.”

2. How about sharpness of a knife? A knife may be more or less sharp, but there is no perfect sharpness (an edge one atom in width? I doubt such a blade could work), and even if there were, the perfect sharpness would not cause the sharpness of my own kitchen knives. Now sharpness is a perfection of a means to an end (of cutting things); so perhaps we need to consider only perfections of living things that are ends in themselves.

(I.e., whose final cause of their own happiness is within them.)

3. Dawkins’ smelliness example suggests that there must exist a perfectly noxious skunk. The ability to spray stinky fluid is useful to the skunk but hardly defines it. Very well, let’s focus on intrinsic or essential perfections of 2nd-grade things.

4. Swiftness is an essential perfection of a horse. A slow or lame horse is unlikely to survive and reproduce in the wild. Yet there is no self-subsisting swiftness; nor can any horse run at the speed of light; nor does the speed of light cause horses to run fast. I guess we must deal only with the most general essential perfections of life.

We are left with things like power, understanding, love, happiness, relation to time, unity, and so on. But at this point, the fourth way collapses, because all the analogies with (1)-(4), including “fire,” have been eliminated.

Searching James Chastek’s blog suggests that the principle “whenever something is more or less great by being more perfect, there is something most perfect” may be an “axiom.” But I do not find it self-evident. So, I don’t know how to salvage the Fourth Way.

I mean, it is conceivable that there is something most perfect, but conceivability does not entail possibility, and possibility does not entail actuality. The Fourth Way thus gives us only an idea of God as a perfect being without even spelling out the meaning of perfection, not a proof that this God exists or that He is even possible.

Perhaps if we assumed (b), that creaturely perfections are caused, then (a) would follow straightforwardly. Just as we deduced that God is pure act by considering creatures that are mixtures of act of potency, so we can argue that there is a perfect being by extrapolating from creatures’ falling short of perfection though not completely.

It may be a non sequitur, though, since proving that God is an Unmoved Mover on the physical level is much easier than proving that He is a Happy / Perfect Attractor on the spiritual level.

Components and Essence of Happiness

Holy light ecstasySt. Thomas locates the essence of happiness in an activity, and the essence of perfect happiness in the activity of the intellect at contemplating God “seen in His essence.”

The enjoyment of happiness is for him a proper accident, i.e., a common though not essential property of it.

But does that neglect our “trinities within”? And wouldn’t it follow from this opinion that a man who was seeing God but did not enjoy it would still be happy?


Re: Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?

Orc burning hanged human corpsesThe philosopher Todd May is right that human extinction would be a tragedy, though not for the reasons he gives.

Contra May, the destruction of the human race would be the worst possible thing this universe could experience.

Finally, animal suffering, which for May constitutes a reason to welcome our demise, (1) is largely irrelevant, (2) is justified, and (3) would not diminish, and might even increase, even if the human race came to an end.


Train Hard

Our world is not perfectly realThis universe is not our true home. Why then are we here? If men live only one life as Christianity affirms, then perhaps this is a natural place to get one’s eternal life started.

If, however, as I think, there is something to the doctrines of metempsychosis and suchlike, then we must admit that the main answer is to improve in all of our faculties.

But in that case, this universe is somewhat of a simulation: a boot camp for both the soul and the body.