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?


Paradox of the Angelic Fall

WarCraft 3 Reforged Mal'Ganis demonThough the fallen angels have been driven from heaven, their nature remains uncorrupt. Now every creature in its pure state loves God who is lovable essentially. Hence, demons love God at least as their Creator.

Human nature, on the other hand, is wounded in general; and many particular humans are sinners and may not even believe that God exists. But human saints at least, too, love God.

Why then are demons and men locked in a merciless battle? Wasn’t it the same God whom we love who created both our kinds?


NAP Requires a Theory of Property and Justice

WarCraft 3 human paladinThe non-aggression principle cannot be a primary concept in libertarianism, because determining what constitutes aggression presupposes a theory of property and its just and unjust acquisition.

Stalin might argue that Solzhenitsyn is his slave, that he belongs in the Gulag by right, and that any attempt by him to escape is aggressive violence.

Thus, in this example, establishing self-ownership is prior to deducing the content of the NAP.


Tar and Feather the Politicians?

David Friedman has authored a penetrating article on how game theory can help escape the Hobbesian jungle. In it he uses the notion of Schelling points to make his case.

A Schelling point is (in a game) a unique choice among many which is chosen by all people playing the game who cannot talk with one another precisely because of its uniqueness. It makes possible coordination without communication. Thus, if two people are given a series of numbers 2, 5, 9, 25, 69, 73, 82, 96, 100, 126, 150 (Friedman’s example) and can win a prize if both select the same number, they can succeed if they know which number the other person interprets as uniquely special, even though the concurrence in picking any number will suffice. Thus, 2 might be picked by both, because it is the only smallest prime number. 100 might be picked, because it is a nice round number. Since there are three perfect squares in the series, it is less reasonable to try to pick one of them, because even if both for some reason like squares, they will still have only 1/3 chance of selecting the same one. Thus, a Schelling point is “each person’s expectation of what the other expects him to expect to be expected to do.”

Does Friedman’s theory apply to “social” contracts? For example, is the US Constitution a Schelling point as an agreement between the federal government and the people / states? The federal government can be either limited or unlimited; but if it is unlimited, then no one knows exactly which form it will take or how big it will be. This uncertainty will please no one. But if it limited, then we can specify or enumerate all of its legitimate functions. This can be a small list or this can be a big list, but it will limit the government. Such a government is a Schelling point; it is a unique solution to politics. It so happened that the point settled initially on a very small government. As the ideology has changed from the days of the founding of the US into something far more statist, it would still have been better to obtain the vastly bigger government that we have now by amending the Constitution than by retiring it altogether, which is the de facto situation today.

The recommendation to the people then is not to wait until “a long train of abuses and usurpations” has left its mark on the country but rather to revolt at the smallest sign of corruption of which they should be eternally vigilant. This is because any exceeding of government authority, if not checked right away, will embolden the government to try to do the same again and again, thus moving the agreement further away from the Schelling point and encouraging the government to make unlimited demands.

For if the first abuse is tolerated, then what argument remains for not tolerating all the future abuses? Give the government an inch, and it’ll take a mile. So, punishing unconstitutional acts immediately and ruthlessly (e.g., by tarring and feathering the President) is a good policy even if it seems initially out of proportion to the crime committed by a public figure. This strategy will install essentially a revolution in permanence, because the government will always try to evade its restrictions.

Why shouldn’t a Mafioso (as in The Sopranos) eat pussy? Because if he eats pussy, he’ll eat anything.

Similarly, the people ought not to allow government crimes, no matter how small, because tolerating them means that the government will be motivated to rape the people with ever increasing contempt and boldness.

So, it seems that enforcing Schelling points is deterrence with a vengeance.

Jefferson thought there ought to be rebellions at least every 20 years or so, so that the rulers are “warned from time to time that this people preserve the spirit of resistance.” He underestimated the folly of the American people. From a shining city on the hill America has turned into an ant hill. And this has been partly due to disregarding game theory.

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.

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.

A Proof of God’s Infinity

One of St. Thomas’ proofs of the infinity of God is this:

Again, an effect cannot transcend its cause. But our intellect can only be from God, Who is the first cause of all things. Our intellect cannot think of anything greater than God. If, then, it can think of something greater than every finite being, it remains that God is not finite.” (SCG, I, 43, [11])

The sense of infinitude he is promoting here is “spiritual greatness,” meaning either completeness of nature and ad intra happiness or ad extra omnipotence.

This is very similar to Descartes’ arguments in Meditations on First Philosophy, e.g.,

It is true that I have the idea of substance in me in virtue of the fact that I am a substance;

but this would not account for my having the idea of an infinite substance, when I am finite, unless this idea proceeded from some substance which really was infinite.

It might seem that the difference is that Descartes wants to prove God’s existence (the idea of God is “the mark of the craftsman stamped on his work”), while St. Thomas is only concerned with His infinity.

But since proving God’s existence is identical to demonstrating which attributes are co-instantiated in the same being, both philosophers are doing essentially the same thing.

Quine Confuses Modalities

Quine writes:

Perhaps I can evoke the appropriate sense of bewilderment as follows.

Mathematicians may conceivably be said to be necessarily rational and not necessarily two-legged; and cyclists necessarily two-legged and not necessarily rational.

But what of an individual who counts among his eccentricities both mathematics and cycling? Is this concrete individual necessarily rational and contingently two-legged or vice versa? (Plantinga, Nature of Necessity, Ch. 1, 2)

This is a case of confusion of necessity of the consequent with necessity of the consequence. In order to conclude that

(30) Zwier is necessarily bipedal,

we need

(31) Cyclists are necessarily bipedal


(32) Zwier is a cyclist.

But (31) can be read de dicto as □(x is a cyclist → x is bipedal), in which case it’s true, yet (30) does not follow;

or de re as (x is a cyclist → □(x is bipedal)), from which (30) would follow but which is unfortunately false.

In other words, we have the following 4 true statements:

(1) □(x is a mathematician → x is rational)
(2) ~□(x is a mathematician → x is bipedal)
(3) □(x is a cyclist → x is bipedal)
(4) ~□(x is a cyclist → x is rational).

Suppose in the actual world x is both a mathematician and a cyclist. Then he is both rational and bipedial. Suppose in some world W our x is a cyclist and is irrational. Then in that world he is not a mathematician. And so on. Whence the bewilderment?

Contingent Identity + Leibniz’s “Law”

Allan Gibbard tries to understand when a lump of clay and a statue made from this lump are identical. There are situations in which they are not, if the clay and the statue are generated or corrupt at different times. But:

I make a clay statue of the infant Goliath in two pieces, one part above the waist and the other part below the waste.

Once I finish the two halves, I stick them together, thereby bringing into existence simultaneously a new piece of clay and a new statue. A day later I smash the statue, thereby bringing to an end both statue and piece of clay.

The statue and piece of clay persisted during exactly the same period of time. (“Contingent Identity,” Journal of Philosophical Logic 4 (1975), 187-221)

Gibbard in this part of the paper thinks of the statue (Goliath) as form-in-matter: “By a statue here, I do not mean a shape of which there could be more than one token, but a concrete particular thing… A clay statue consists of a piece of clay in a specific shape.”

And he thinks of the clay (Lumpl) as matter-under-particular-form: “They began at the same time, and on any usual account, they had the same shape, location, color, and so forth at each instant in their history; everything that happened to the one happened to the other…”

Obviously, the two are one and the same thing, even if different aspects of them are emphasized in their definitions.

But later on Gibbard suggests otherwise: “Take a possible world in which I squeeze Lumpl into a ball, and suppose all the molecules involved are clearly identified. There are still two distinct things in that world, the statue Goliath which I destroy by squeezing, and the piece of clay Lumpl which survives the squeezing.”

If Lumpl survives the squeezing, then its particular shape cannot be its essential but must inevitably be an accidental property. But the statue’s exact shape is essential to it. If it were remade into a statue of David, then the old statue would cease to exist and a new statue would come into being. What our author calls “persistence criteria” for the two things differ. Goliath’s persistence criteria are more stringent that Lumpl’s.

In short, Lumpl has the power to endure even if squeezed into a ball; Goliath does not have this power. Consequently, their essences differ, and they are discernible.

We can conclude that if Goliath and Lumpl are identical, then only contingently, in the actual world; but not necessarily, as in the possible world in which the statue is squeezed into a ball, Goliath corrupts, and Lumpl persists.

Therefore, the Leibniz’s law of indiscernibility of identicals is false; but a weaker relation, “necessarily identical → indiscernible” probably holds.