“Protection” vs. Deterrence

Huemer keeps confusing "protection" services with "general deterrence." (145-8)

"Protection" consists of a wide variety of goods and services, most of which are fully private; they are excludable, and their consumption is rivalrous. I see no case at all for government provision of them. The market works as expected and improves our welfare speedily.

In addition, the vast majority of protection is now already being privately supplied.

General deterrence, on the contrary, understood as the effect of the threat / fear of punishment on the citizens' decisions to commit violent crimes, is indeed a public good; both non-excludable and non-rivalrous. This generates a case for having it supplied by the state.

Plus, since the state is the only organization that is authorized to punish (with vengeance being proscribed altogether), general deterrence is for the most part already produced by the state.

In this respect, self-defense and punishment have only one thing in common, namely, that both are justifiable uses of violence. But that is where the similarities end.

The state both properly and actually has zero involvement in self-defense. Guns (and skill at using them), alarms, car anti-theft devices, and so on are private goods in the economic sense. Employing them is one's natural right and responsibility. Do not expect the cops to save your life or stop a mugger! It's not what they are for. Cops are not "first responders"; they are precisely last responders, getting into action at the very end of the judicial process.

"It is the fear of punishment that law makes use of in order to ensure obedience: in which respect punishment is an effect of law," says St. Thomas. (ST, II-I, 92, 2)

Protection and deterrence could not be more different, and we'll make no headway in our philosophy if we conflate them.

Following Unjust Orders

In Chapter 6 Huemer discusses the "psychology of authority." He relates an experiment in which people obeyed obviously unjust and illegitimate orders. He proposes that even if it were in fact true that all governments were illegitimate, "it is quite likely that we would still by and large feel bound to obey our governments. That is likely, because even people who are subjected to the clearest examples of illegitimate power still typically feel bound to obey." (110)

However, I disagree that it follows from this that "the widespread belief in political authority does not provide strong evidence for the reality of political authority, since that belief can be explained as the product of systematic bias." (111) Rather, what the experiments and history seem to establish is that people tend to overestimate the proper scope of authority. No authority has unlimited discretion, and the mistake people make is imagining that the authority has the right to command them to do evil things. But that does not suggest that they are mistaken as to the reality of authority as such. It leaves open the possibility that some appropriately "limited" government can be justified.

Perhaps the argument could be rephrased in Bayesian terms. Let h = "there is political authority," and e = "widespread belief in authority."

Then, considering P(h) to be 0.5 for the sake of simplicity,

P(h|e) = 1 / (1 + P(e|~h) / P(e|h)).

Huemer argues that P(e|~h) is larger than it seems. Perhaps it is as big as P(e|h). Then P(h|e) is still no greater than P(h) (or 0.5). Then e is worthless as evidence for h.

Yet this form of the argument is not convincing, either. What the Stanford Prison Experiment described in the book had in common with a state was the fact that the "authorities" had easily exercised power to hurt people. By virtue of explicit design, both the Stanford "guards" and the state had such power. It may be true that when Smith accepts Jones as a political authority, Smith soon develops a compulsion to obey Jones' orders, no matter how unjust. At the same time, Jones will probably abuse his powers greatly. There will occur both intellectual blindness and moral corruption on the part of both rulers and subjects. What's the explanation of this phenomenon?

Speculatively, few people would endorse a Hobbesian absolute sovereign. They do not in their cool-headed philosophical moments believe that one ought to follow unjust orders. At the same time, people's "real" underlying beliefs are often demonstrated in action. Huemer with some reason rejects the idea that the examples of experiments, war crimes, kidnappings, and so on indicate that people act viciously because they cannot tell right from wrong. The folks involved in these situations are not necessarily more likely than anyone to be perverted psychopaths. That people willingly and readily follow unjust orders suggests that they believe not in authority as such but in absoluteness of authority.

In that case, if h'= "political authority is absolute," and e' = "widespread belief in the absoluteness of authority" (demonstrated in action), then P(e'|~h') is indeed high despite the obvious falsity of h'. But that does not prove that P(e|~h) is also high.

But Huemer is right that there is something about political authority that is uniquely disturbing. In a private firm, the manager is an authority for the technician, but no employee will agree to assassinate the business owner's competitor at the manager's command. Similarly, the consumer is an authority for the entrepreneur, but the latter is unlikely normally to break the law to satisfy a malicious customer.

In contrast, regarding the "greatest man-made evils," Huemer points out, "no one has ever managed, working alone, to kill over a million people. Nor has anyone ever arranged such an evil by appealing to the profit motive, pure self-interest, or moral suasion to secure the cooperation of others -- except by relying on institutions of political authority. With the help of such institutions, many such crimes have been carried out, accounting for tens of millions of deaths, along with many more ruined lives." (109)

In other words, it's as if the state specialized in committing awful injustices on a massive scale, while at the same time busily "devising theories to explain why we have this obligation" to obey. In addition to its primary mission of destructionism, the state is always at work improving its ability to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.

Public Goods and the Anarchist’s Intransigence

A tax is not a "price" for anything, including "civilization." This is because taxes are levied on each person whether the benefit derived from the public goods produced with their help justifies the cost to him or not. He is forced by the state to pay the "price" whether "civilization," or what the state in its fatal conceit imagines to be one, is worth to him or not.

People find it indisputable, for example, that the government of the city they live in ought to produce roads. The relevant attitude may be, well, what is to be done? I mean, we "need" the roads. How else can they be produced? It's true that the roads will either be built or not. If they are built, then some people in the community will lose, and others will benefit. It may be argued that if in the final accounting, building the roads conduces to the overall good (perhaps with some form of hypothetical compensation from the winners to the losers), then they should be built. But that's not the issue at all. The issue that the harm to those who lose is not morally neutral but in fact is unjust.

Let it not be said that the state owns all land. No sane individual or group or entire community would ever agree to grant the mayor allodial ownership over all the land in the city, such that they would end up mere tenants on his land, with the concomitant natural obligation to pay rent to the state which the state can dub "taxes."

Perhaps people can agree to proclaim, "Let certain areas in the city be owned collectively. Let us then hire Jones to manage these areas bidding him to improve them one way or another." Yet whence Jones' power to tax? The taxes do not discriminate properly. Some people will not profit but rather lose from the exchange of the public goods for their tax money. Inflicting such a loss via a coerced "exchange" is straightforwardly unjust.

What then is the correct exchange rate between justice and utility? Let there be some people to whom the roads (or whatever) are not worth the money the state extorts from them. Moreover, among them is one philosopher who goes around teaching a novel doctrine that even the state may not commit injustices and that taxation is theft. These teachings are eloquent and stir people's hearts, jeopardizing the entire road-building project. Would it be Ok for the state to murder this philosopher in order to allow the construction to proceed without any irritating snags? Why not? If it's Ok to throw some citizens under a bus figuratively by making them pay more in taxes than they are willing for the roads, what is wrong with throwing them under a bus literally?

In short, if you will tax for a road, will you also kill for one? And if not, why not?

This also impinges on the idea of state "supremacy." Some may argue that from the conjunction of the facts that (1) x, say again, roads, is economically a public item, and (2) the state desires to produce x, and (3) the state has overwhelming power to crush any individual who might object to paying the tax to finance x, it follows that the state is justified in imposing the tax. But let Smith be the head of a Mafia crime family. He decides that it would be "good" for his fellow townsmen to have some y, also a public thing, say, a subway. Moreover, he has access to loyal well-armed henchmen who comprise a capable paramilitary force. He then goes door-to-door and demands contributions from individuals and local businesses for the construction of the subway. In this case, all three criteria are also satisfied. It does not seem to follow that Smith would be in the right to lay his own taxes on the people. But if the state can tax (or murder) for the "greater good," why can't Smith? Or is there perhaps some advantage in fully centralizing the sources of injustices in one individual or organization called "state"?

Certainly decentralization down to local level can make the problem less pointed, in that people who feel their taxes are too high will migrate out of their cities and into more suitable to them communities. But it will not eliminate it.

Pure consequentialism, such as utilitarianism, may be able to justify government extortion and coercion. It may even allow taxation while proscribing murders, if the latter would cause an unbecoming diminution of total utility.

A somewhat more plausible and flexible moral theory is called "deontology with thresholds": "A threshold deontologist holds that deontological norms govern up to a point despite adverse consequences; but when the consequences become so dire that they cross the stipulated threshold, consequentialism takes over... A may not torture B to save the lives of two others, but he may do so to save a thousand lives if the 'threshold' is higher than two lives but lower than a thousand." Thus, the threshold for doing evil for the sake of the roads could be above the wickedness of robbery but below that of murder. The state (however organized) will then "non-fanatically" or "pragmatically" tax the people without their consent but still refuse to kill the dissenters.

Utilitarianism would commend any action, regardless of how criminal, which improves things on the whole. Threshold deontology allows each person to use his own criteria for where to draw the line: there may be no objectively right answer. It can thus disallow some beneficial yet unjust actions. According to such moderate deontology, one would make the morally difficult decision as best he can and learn to live with it, without shame or regret.

Note that even if state coercion can be justified, it does not follow that one has a duty to pay the tax that makes him worse off. A person who shrewdly evaded such a tax need not feel any qualms for his perfectly reasonable and even praiseworthy actions.

Differences Between Laws and Duties

1. Duties are addressed to the citizen personally. Laws are addressed from the legislator (such as God or the human legislature or the chief executive) through judges to the police. It is the police and not the people who have the duty to obey laws and inflict punishments predictably.

This is simply because cops literally are employees of the executive branch and subject to, say, the authority of mayor who in his turn obeys the superior legislative and judicial branches. It's the cops' contractual obligation to follow their bosses' orders. But citizens do not work for the state and so are under no obligation to obey. In other words, the state is an enterprise organization, bound by a single purpose: the business of governing. The citizens form merely a civil association, bound only by a common law.

2. A duty is therefore a command, saying "you shall not steal." A law is an incentive, saying "if you steal, then you will be punished."

3. A duty suppresses wicked desires internally by its very meaning. A law elicits good behavior externally through fear of punishment, wherein the expected costs to the potential lawbreaker seem to outweigh the expected benefits.

Thus, knowing the true proposition "stealing is wrong" is equivalent to recognizing the duty not to steal. If you have no interest in stealing, then the duty is all but irrelevant. Otherwise, you are commanded to purify yourself by driving sinful desires out of your soul.

4. Law is descriptive. A natural law may say, "Smith promotes his welfare best when he treats Jones according to Jones' nature, specifically by libertarian ethics."

A positive law may say, "The common good is promoted when the local government enforces basic sanitation standards."

An administrative law may say, "One may lose his driver's license for unsafe driving, so that traffic moves most efficiently." (Since the government owns the roads.)

Duty is prescriptive. It commands action, such as to drive safely.

5. Laws aim, by altering behavior, to promote some good. Duties destroy goods, designating some desired goods evil. Duties do not command mere outward obedience; they demand inner regeneration, such as becoming a just person who is happy to abide by justice.

Both laws and duties then justify human relationships, except that laws harmonize external consequences of human actions, and duties justify humans internally in their hearts and minds, as to how they ought to feel and think about fellow men.

Thus, a law against murder aims simply to control and put a damper on violence; a duty not to murder aims to cultivate good will toward men.

6. Laws form a complex system. Each duty suffices by itself.

Whether Libertarianism = Decentralization?

Consider a global central government with no competition. There is no "Earth, love it or leave it," because there is no escape. Let it be run by a single reasonably prudent self-interested despot.

The despot will face a strong incentive to tax the world economy at the revenue-maximizing rate, so that he personally can live in unparalleled luxury. The Laffer curve shows that there is only one such point, call the tax rates corresponding to it, MLC-rate. Above that rate, productivity declines so much due to the disincentive effects of taxation, that higher tax rates bring in less and less revenue to the despot.

Let it be asked: can the tax rate be forced by libertarians below the MLC-rate?

Someone proposes that the royal despot be deposed and democratic government be instituted instead. Unfortunately, democracy will generate two opposing forces regarding taxation.

On the one hand, the taxpayers will have a representation in the government implying that they'll have a means to try to lower taxes.

On the other hand, democracy will entail greater competition for loot by the parasites who attach themselves to the legislators. The sustainably prudent predation by the single despot who, by abstaining from raising taxes above the MLC-rate, prevents overexploitation of the economy to everyone's detriment, will be replaced by multiple independent looters for whom the economy will be a common resource which will inevitably suffer from the tragedy of the commons. This influence will tend to push tax rates above the MLC-rate. The overall effect cannot be determined a priori.

Regarding taxes at least, libertarians cannot unequivocally favor democracy.

This understanding differs from Hoppe's ideas of the incentives to temporary presidents or legislators as opposed to a permanent royal dynasty which I think are mistaken, anyway.

As a result, the only real solution to taxation is indeed radical and massive decentralization. Without it, the best constitution of the government is futile; with it, and the comcominant competition between local governments, it is unnecessary.

Is Bionic Mosquito then right that "libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice"? Regarding taxes and their minimization (or elimination), I think so, yes. But there are many other issues beyond taxation. It's false that all libertarian goals can be accomplished and all ideals realized entirely through decentralization.

For example, fractional-reserve banking and credit expansion are possible to some extent without a central state.

The system may permit slavery and serfdom, whereas capitalism requires free and highly mobile labor.

Business regulation is unaffected, although of course a city with many restrictions will be less prosperous, and, just like cities with high taxes, will suffer emigration.

Wars between cities will be possible, and only a libertarian ideology can fully prevent them.

If a lot of people believe in prohibition, even a decentralized society may end up repressing consumers.

Cities may unwisely choose to impose trade barriers, and only grasp of economics can assure that this will not occur, except again that protectionism impoverishes, and localities that indulge in it will tend to internalize the costs of their mistakes.

Entrepreneurial freedoms to buy and sell capital goods and hire and fire labor can still be restricted within many cities as per the vicious ideologies of their inhabitants.

In short, decentralization fixes the taxation problem fully, and all other economic calamities partially. For fully enabled libertarian capitalism, the right ideology is indispensable.

Why the Old Testament Ultraviolence?

I mention a few examples of the over-the-top violence in the OT in previous posts: [1], [2].

What's the deal with all that? One explanation may be that the physical wars in the OT were signs of the spiritual warfare after Christ.

Another is that God was pursuing a very important end: preparing the world for the Incarnation of the Son. Great sacrifices had to be made in order for this momentous and highly beneficial to mankind event to succeed.

From the deontological perspective, God is the Author of life and death and has a "right" both to give life and to kill at His pleasure.

But the truth is probably even simpler. John the Baptist said, "And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones." (Mt 3:9) It follows that natural unregenerated humans are almost worthless. They are a dime a dozen. They are grass, and God can mow the lawn of His creation however He wills. What does it really in the final analysis matter if I die now at Moses' sword or 20 years from now from some hideous disease? Earthly life ends, and with it, as it appears to a faithless man, all subjectivity, experience, pleasure, understanding, and memory. If it ends a little sooner rather than later, so what?

But among this grass, there are a few flowers. God cares for them. He gives them living water; He prunes them; He increases their charity. There is a price God pays for this care; not, obviously, because He gets tired from the effort of gardening, but because He cannot grace everyone, and if He chooses Smith to be the flower, He by that very fact refrains from uplifting Jones. For mysterious reasons of divine providence, grace is fairly scarce.

These flowers "are worth more than many sparrows." (Lk 12:7)

Now if a person has been chosen thus, then rejecting the grace is a monstrous crime, because God has forsaken others for his sake. The costs have been borne, but no profit realized. Therefore the importance of cooperating with grace cannot be overemphasized.

Hypothetical Social Contract

Huemer makes an excellent point. The virtue of the original position for Rawls is that "since the differences among the parties are unknown to them, and everyone is equally rational and similarly situated, each is convinced by the same arguments."

This understanding "rests on a particular diagnosis of the phenomenon of widespread intellectual disagreement: that such disagreement is due entirely to such factors as ignorance, irrationality, and biases created by knowledge of one's individual characteristics."

But, Huemer continues, that seems to be obviously false. "Outside political philosophy, philosophers carry on persistent debates in epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics, some of which are millennia old. The partisans in these debates commonly appear equally rational, well informed, and intelligent. None appear to be attempting to tailor their theories to their own circumstances nor to be illicitly relying on personal information about themselves... Anarchists do not disagree with statists because anarchists have some peculiar social position or combination of personal traits that somehow would enable them to prosper in the absence of government while the rest of society fell apart." (48-50)

I myself am a case in point. In the previous post, I argued that Rawls has misunderstood his own invention or thought experiment of the original position. Nothing like the Rawlsian "interventionist phantasmagoria" follows from it. Instead, laissez-faire capitalism should seem far more attractive to the persons behind the veil of ignorance than any other economic system. And I believed that long before I read The Problem of Political Authority. It's clear that honest disagreements can persist even without emotions or undue self-interest or sinful desires clouding the mind.

A little earlier in the book, Huemer offers another clever argument. The "hypothetical" social contract theory may propose that "one may coercively impose an arrangement on individuals, provided that the individuals would be unreasonable to reject the arrangement." (44) He counters with examples that demonstrate otherwise. But the idea is even more hopeless. An "arrangement" is ultimately a preference and as such is a subjective and arbitrary ultimate given. Preferences and values are neither reasonable nor unreasonable. They belong to the will not the intellect. It is neither more nor less reasonable to prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla or vice versa. In this case, there are no "true" values. Who then is to judge whether a rejection of any political system is reasonable or not? Clearly, Smith's judgement does not determine or invalidate Jones'.

Then "the mere unreasonableness of someone's rejecting am arrangement does not typically render it morally permissible to coerce that person into accepting the arrangement, nor does it impose on individuals an obligation to accept the arrangement." (57) Again we can strengthen this conclusion by asking, "Reasonable from whose point of view?" We do not normally have access to God to teach such things with authority.

This argument of course applies specifically to contractual theories, where the agreement itself causes an "arrangement" to acquire force. If we start wondering whose political theory is objectively truest or best, we may no longer be able to call a preference for it "subjective and arbitrary," but we'll then also stop using contractarianism, as well.

Rawls and Cohen Revisited

Reading Huemer reminded me of my notes on Rawls and Cohen. Again, if I were behind the veil of ignorance, thinking about what sort of society I'd want to live in, it would occur to me that since I can't influence who I personally will be incarnated as (as rich or poor, healthy or sick, smart or dumb), I would focus on making the overall society as efficient as possible. This means in particular not its "total happiness" at any given moment, but the speed (and acceleration, etc.) at which this total happiness increases with time.

But that society is precisely libertarian laissez-faire capitalism.

Rawls seems to think differently. He'd rather live in a society where the "morally arbitrary" distinctions between persons, such as the quality of their families or IQs are erased. In practice, that would mean that the accidentally better-off shall toil thanklessly for the benefit of the worse-off. Rawls concedes that there can be "incentives" for the more talented so as to elicit the appropriate effort from them which would regretfully cause society to deviate from perfect equality. Cohen asks why, if justice is our ideal, any incentives are necessary. People should work as hard as they can only to give up the fruits of their labors to the poor out of a sense of moral duty. Perhaps we can even have full-featured capitalism, as long as all consumer goods are distributed equally.

In response, I argue that people act for ends. They perceive future pleasures; choose between them; choose between various means to attain these ends, and act with a hope of bettering their lot. "Moral duty" is not in the equation at all. One is never content with merely following the moral law, for a stone or any other inanimate object, too, is perfectly righteous in this sense. One follows the law for the sake of physical or spiritual survival. But he seeks happiness by working to satisfy his various desires and succeed in his pursuits.

In that case, a man must be ruthlessly brainwashed from childhood in order to forget his own ends and work like an automaton only to have his product confiscated. But what if he wakes up from this nightmare and thinks for himself? That's presumably where the "incentives" would come in. What if he, responding to the tax laws, refuses to work? Then he must be enslaved and forced to work under threat of the whip. And what if he tries to run away to free himself? Then he must be killed, lest other slaves mutiny, as well.

We can see that Cohen is a murderer of both mind and body. Hs soul is his own business. But murdering talented people does not benefit the worse off, as Rawls himself acknowledges. Nor does enslaving them, since slave labor is extremely unproductive. Nor, in the final analysis, does treating them as tax-serfs. Up we go in this manner until we reach libertarian unhampered free enterprise system as the pinnacle of human social evolution.

This, I think, is what really follows from Rawls' "original position."

The State Is Not a “Protection Agency”

Libertarian political philosophers make this mistake, i.e., that the state can be likened to a security firm, all the time. Thus, Michael Huemer in his book The Problem of Political Authority examines the idea that it is a basic mission of the state to "protect the citizen from criminals and hostile foreign governments." (31) He finds the state guilty of dereliction of duty from the US courts' invocations of "the fundamental principle that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen." "The government's duty, the court explained, was only a duty to the public at large, to provide a general deterrent to crime." (33)

This is entirely correct. It is not the task of the state to protect anyone by any means at all or to assist the victim in self-defense during the commission of a crime.

Protection, from locks to bulletproof windows to bodyguards to a concealed weapon to karate expertise, is a market service, provided by private firms. It always has been so provided and always was meant to be. It would be a very bad thing if the state concerned itself with "protection." It would ruin the free market and the safety and security industry.

Instead, the state indeed supplies "general deterrence" by promulgating a penal code and threatening potential criminals with punishment after they commit a crime, perhaps long after their victims are dead, after an exhaustive investigation has concluded, after due process has been observed, after the judge has pronounced a sentence, and so on. The fear of punishment permeates society as a whole. Every potential evildoer willy-nilly takes the cost in the form of possible capture and punishment of his contemplated crime into account. As a result, some marginal criminals are deterred by this incentive of servile fear, though they care not for justice, and are redirected into legitimate occupations.

All people benefit from this deterrence. That includes the criminals, such as thieves, themselves. Without it, crime would skyrocket, and (1) undeterred thieves would face greater competition in their line of "work," and (2) production would suffer as (2a) otherwise decent people decide that theft beats honest work, and (2b) decreased security of property rights scares off savers and entrepreneurs. Even thieves would be worse off without the state. "Smart" thieves have a vested interest in vigorous theft deterrence: it keeps society rich and ripe for the plucking and keeps their "dumber" brethren in prison.

Huemer then proceeds to argue that "if the [social] contract somehow holds only between the state and the public at large, then perhaps 'the public at large' owes something to the state, but no individual does. If, on the other hand, the social contract holds between the individual and the state, then the state must have an obligation to the individual." But he imagines that the state has repudiated the contract (to protect the citizens), which means that "individuals cannot be taken to be obligated under that contract either." (34)

Now the "social contract" is not so much between the individual and the state as between the citizens who, presumably unanimously in some town meeting, agree to commission the state and grant it certain powers and responsibilities. One such responsibility may be to punish condemned criminals. As long as the state executes this function with a measure of competence, it may be considered to have fulfilled its contractual obligations. As a result, since deterrence is a costly public good, the citizen body owes to the state, as a logical deduction or praxeological necessity, some financing. Perhaps taxes are the only feasible way to keep the government running. Who should pay how much is of course debatable. But in this case one can no longer dismiss the idea that a citizen can have obligations to the state on the grounds that the state has no obligation to the citizen.

As for the state's alleged duty to protect folks against "hostile foreign governments," Rothbard disposed of it long ago:

Especially has the State been successful in recent centuries in instilling fear of other State rulers.

Since the land area of the globe has been parceled out among particular States, one of the basic doctrines of the State was to identify itself with the territory it governed. Since most men tend to love their homeland, the identification of that land and its people with the State was a means of making natural patriotism work to the State's advantage.

If "Ruritania" was being attacked by "Walldavia," the first task of the State and its intellectuals was to convince the people of Ruritania that the attack was really upon them and not simply upon the ruling caste.

In this way, a war between rulers was converted into a war between peoples, with each people coming to the defense of its rulers in the erroneous belief that the rulers were defending them.

This device of "nationalism" has only been successful, in Western civilization, in recent centuries; it was not too long ago that the mass of subjects regarded wars as irrelevant battles between various sets of nobles. ("The Anatomy of the State")

The very idea of "foreign policy" is a despicable fraud: the only proper attitude of one state toward another is unconditional pacifism.

In short, the state very properly has no duty to protect anyone from anything and therefore cannot be charged with viciously abdicating this duty. Hence, the argument against social contract theories based upon this charge cannot get off the ground.

“Bionic Mosquito” Confuses Theory with Strategy

He writes that "libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice. There is not a longer-lasting, more decentralized period of history in the west than the Middle Ages."

Well, no, libertarianism in theory is... libertarianism in theory. Even if he is fully correct in his main thesis that the medieval world was nicely decentralized, its political system failed precisely because it lacked the libertarian theory and ideology.

Even worse, the later centralization of power was justified precisely by anti-libertarian ideologies, such as empire-building, global socialism, or Keynesian economics.

On the other hand, I agree that libertarianism's greatest mistake has been the assumption that liberty and capitalism can be established and flourish in large states. Experience confirms that this is impossible. The federal government, for example, is irreformable.

I am amused that BM's favorite type of essay is a line-by-line "refutation." This, of course, is as amateurish as it is uncharitable. Taking each sentence out of its context makes no sense, and to imply that literally every sentence in an opponent's argument is "unbelievably false" is to demonstrate deep and vicious contempt for this opponent.

Many years ago, I, relishing my growing intellectual power, would do just that. My first paper in my first philosophy class in 2005 was exactly a line-by-line critique of some author. The professor mercifully did not grade the paper but still rejected it as utterly inappropriate. After a good talking-to from him, I learned my lesson.

First Cause As Last End

St. Thomas aims to prove that there is such a thing as "last end" for humans. He correctly identifies it as happiness. Further, he believes that it is specifically "the sole contemplation of God seen in His essence" that grants perfect pleasure. It's what puts the mind at ease and rest, what satisfies all desire: the vision and secure possession of all truth, even if God remains infinite and beyond full comprehension for any finite creature. Thus, "if man's happiness is an operation, it must needs be man's highest operation. Now man's highest operation is that of his highest power in respect of its highest object: and his highest power is the intellect, whose highest object is the Divine Good, which is the object, not of the practical but of the speculative intellect. ... Therefore the last and perfect happiness, which we await in the life to come, consists entirely in contemplation." (ST, II-I, 3, 5)

I have two objections to this.

First is that there is no such thing as "perfect happiness" even in contemplation. The object of vision, God, obviously cannot improve, but the understanding of a blessed soul or angel can, with time. There has to be continuous learning of new things, new insights, including even by the angels. The idea of a permanent changeless operation is repugnant to the nature of all rational creatures as potentially infinite.

Second is that the human body is not a disposable consumer good, as though "the very body is for the soul, as matter for its form, and the instruments for the man that puts them into motion, that by their means he may do his work." (II-I, 2, 5) The body is not like a shovel or granola bar but an essential aspect of humanity; and this is precisely how we differ from the angels. The embodied pleasures for humans in paradise will be equal in intensity and fun to the disembodied pleasure of contemplating God in heaven.

For example, St. Thomas is wrong in thinking that the "the fellowship of friends" is not necessary for happiness: "Perfection of charity is essential to happiness, as to the love of God, but not as to the love of our neighbor. Wherefore if there were but one soul enjoying God, it would be happy, though having no neighbor to love." (II-I, 4, 8, reply 3) He seems to contradict himself in (I, 106): even regarding contemplation, he argues that superior angels enlighten inferior ones in the celestial hierarchy and always will. Much more then do angels and greater saints enlighten the lesser souls in the state of glory.

Even if contemplation of God is a somewhat solitary activity, in paradise a solitary human would be rather miserable. Humans are highly social creatures, complementing each other in a vast variety of ways. To deprive us from the communion of saints is to harm us immensely and unjustly. Thus, Jesus' words to the crucified thief were not, "Today you will be with the Father in heaven," but "Today you will be with me in paradise." (Lk 23:43) It seems therefore that in heaven the Holy Spirit will unite each man with the Father; and in paradise, He will unite us with each other and with the Son.

The whole reason for the enormous sacrifices God has made through the fall of angels and men and the death of His Son and massive human suffering on earth has been to unite the universe into a one thing through different types of love or charity. To turn around and blithely proclaim that the communion between humans, between men and nature, and so forth, as described earlier, is all of a sudden actually irrelevant or at most an afterthought is a major mistake. We can excuse St. Thomas only because in his times, neither economic science nor laissez-faire capitalism existed, and the idea of everlasting progress in man's active life was completely unknown and unentertained.

St. Thomas' proof that one's contemplative life is perfected by the vision of God in heaven is adequate: all intellectual wonder is satisfied by beholding the source and archetype of all things. That in addition to heaven, there is also paradise in which one's active life is perfected requires a different proof. Or rather, the idea of paradise can be developed a priori, but whether paradise actually exists is an empirical problem which can be resolved by considering the Incarnation of the Son. We know that the Incarnation occurred, that Jesus is God, that He was born so that His love for us could be tested by our ultimate injustice toward Him personally -- by following the evidence. Since we know that Jesus united human nature, soul and body both, to the divinity, we can deduce that the happiness in the embodied active life can be one of our rewards in the hereafter.

The passage, "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him," (1 Cor 2:9) is best interpreted as the promise of future enjoyments in paradise, since, contrary to it, we do know exactly what God has prepared for man's contemplation in heaven, and that is Himself.

Now we must make a distinction between our ability to conceive what will make a man happy and whether this happiness is reachable. Now regarding the contemplative life, St. Thomas argues in (I, 12, 4) that no created intellect by its natural powers can see the divine essence. And regarding the active life, reason tells us that humans not only fail to enjoy everlasting improvement and perpetual novel pleasures in paradise, but that they fail to secure life itself, since everyone dies including often in terrible pain. Therefore, that both kinds of happiness are attainable by man is a deliverance not of reason but of faith.

And with that, we have it that union with God is our last end for our both contemplative and active lives.

Re: Dillahunty Objects to the Arguments from Contingency

A speech by Matt Dillahunty was linked to for my edification from an atheist website on which I presented my arguments for the existence of God from "contingency."

At the beginning, Matt distinguishes between two kinds of contingency: "causal" and "sustaining." P may be dependent on Q for its coming to exist, but also for its continuing to exist. Thus, he argues that it is possible that some X caused or created the contingent universe and then disappeared. My own arguments are untouched by this distinction, because they all ask what ultimately sustains contingent things in being, such as the unions of (1) potency and existence; (2) act and existence; (3) potency and act.

There are three kinds of necessity relevant to this problem. The first type of necessity I call "imperishability." An object is necessary in this sense if, once it exists, it will never stop existing (and perhaps always has existed). Yet such an object is still contingent, because there will always be possible (though non-actual) ways to destroy it. There is no such thing as an ordinary indestructible object, because we can always postulate an irresistible force in some possible world that will smash it into smithereens. The proof begins with noting the perishability of numerous things and continues that there must be at least one thing that is imperishable or necessary in the first sense.

Matt appears to wonder what we can point to that is imperishable. I list three things: matter, in accordance with the law of conservation of matter and energy; certain forms, such as a stable elementary particle of some sort perhaps that is sure to exist forever; and the universe as a whole. Different arguments follow from each of these.

The second sense of necessity is illustrated by an X in which it's not the case that its essence and its existence are united by yet a third thing or force or what have you, but such that its essence and existence are numerically identical to each other, self-same. St. Thomas pronounces this astounding thing in particular to be "what all men call God." Imperishable matter and forms are such merely in this actual world; X is imperishable in all possible worlds. Matter and these imperishable objects are necessary in the first sense but not in the second sense. This time, it is not possible even logically to separate X's nature from its existence, because they are one and the same thing. However, the universe as a whole might indeed be necessary in the second sense, too, as far as we are concerned, and as Matt proposes. Must we then allow that the "cosmos" might be "God"?

Now let us not underestimate our achievement so far. We've already established that there must be some thing that is extremely and fantastically different from ordinary matter and objects in the fact that its essence is its own existence. We may stop here and call this "God." Matt objects to calling it God, because it may be the "cosmos as a whole," whatever it is, that may feature this very property. And I agree that there are further insights to be gained by following the argument to its final stage.

Note that even if it is possible for the cosmos to be necessary in the second sense, the cosmos cannot cause the necessity (in the first sense) of matter and imperishable forms. This is because all those are part of the cosmos, and the whole cannot give existence to its parts; rather the reverse. Whatever X is keeping things in perpetual existence must be distinct from the cosmos, even if both X and the cosmos are necessary in the second sense.

The third and last sense of necessity for us is modal logical necessity. In the X under our investigation, it has been revealed, there is a perfect (i.e., numerical) union of being and essence; but if the "cosmos," understood as everything that there is, consists in nothing but "being," then there may be possible worlds in which X does not exist at all. If God exists, then He is absolutely imperishable or necessary in the second sense. But He has not yet been demonstrated to be necessary in the third sense, as is evident from the ease with which His non-existence can be contemplated by the mind. Matt refuses to engage the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" apparently considering it nonsensical, but I urge him to change his mind. It is a perfectly reasonable query.

And as I therefore argue, the answer to it is that X is not really a "thing" at all; it is rather the Creator of things. Insofar as we (hopefully) are willing to consider the cosmos to be a good thing, its Creator would be the quintessence of goodness itself. This goodness is beyond being. For the sake of illustration only, and we are now going beyond our argument, the Father-Son-Holy Spirit would be perfectly and infinitely happy on the "2nd, spiritual" level. God on His ultimate and unique 3rd level of goodness does not seek happiness at all; but this goodness overflows and diffuses itself into things-that-seek-happiness, such as human beings. Even the Trinity is comparatively a mere attachment to God's essential goodness. As such, X-as-goodness transcends possible worlds and exists in all of them. Our X is now necessary in the fullest and most spectacular sense of this word.

Regarding the name of God, "goodness," I have a counter-argument. Imagine a world W of intelligent crystals who reproduce against their will, who live a long time, and who are always in agonizing pain. They long to die. Eventually, they develop the technology to commit suicide and actually all, as one, kill themselves. It is doubtful that even if the crystals reasoned their way to God's existence, they would concede His goodness. At the very least, W would clearly be incompetently and probably maliciously made. I submit that given the knowledge of God we've obtained in the course of this argument, it is more likely that W is an impossible world. It is conceivable, but there is a difference between what is conceivable and what is possible. W is only apparently possible and in fact not; hence, we are barred from using this example to argue against God's goodness.

Again, it is true that humans have on many occasions created a hell on earth, but very rarely to such an extent as to, through their crimes, cause their fellows to want to die.

Matt complains that the proofs under consideration do not supply us with the full understanding of God; they give us only a slice of God. Well, that is enough for these proofs. There are other proofs that reveal other aspects of the divine nature.

My methodology is that at the beginning of any systematic unveiling of the nature of "God," I deliberately forget so much as the common meaning of the term "God." I assume nothing. The most I allow myself is a question, "What is this God that other people occasionally mention in their speech?" Matt may object that I am still conditioned by my "culture" to use the word "God." True, but I do so only because I want to be understood rather than stew in my own solipsistic juices. Matt can hardly condemn a desire so innocent.

In sum, the argument from contingency succeeds at establishing a number of attributes of God; and moreover the use of the word "God" should cause the skeptic no offense, especially upon demonstration of how greatly God differs from creatures.

Real Presence, 2

Another possibility, albeit one unsupported by any evidence, is that Christ's human body in heaven right now contains no matter but is subtle physical energy, as though fully a wave and not particles; or at least fully convertible to energy.

The energy of Christ's body is light of perfect purity, though on a lower level than the light of His will or intellect.

St. Thomas explains the "subtlety" of a glorified body as "the power to penetrate." (ST, Supplement, 83, 1)

As a result, perhaps the "transubstantiation" consists in God's imparting a measure of this energy or "vibration" (as some accounts of near-death experiences refer to it) to the bread, making it "deiform." However, that in no way destroys the bread but instead graces or even glorifies it, and both build on an intact nature.

Either way, the traditional understanding of transubstantiation cannot stand.

A Theory of Real Presence

I fully affirm that God the Son is present, as body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharistic host.

However, I find the doctrine of transubstantiation to be almost entirely meaningless. No appeal to faith or God's omnipotence can salvage it, because faith builds on reason; it cannot contradict it. To faith belong the things above reason not contrary to reason.

The astonishing, absurd, and incredible error of the Catholic theologians has been that in order to become the body of Christ, the bread must "convert" into meat. It is affirmed that that's just what it does, yet absolutely and 100% undetectably. No chemical analysis of the bread after it has been transubstantiated will reveal any meat-like properties. Watch the stomach digest the wafer with any manner of microscopes and modern devices; as far as the stomach is concerned, it is appropriating the plant matter of processed wheat, not animal matter of human flesh. And you can't deceive a brute innocent organ which does not care for dubious points of the Catholic doctrine. The body will receive the nutrients from the original bread, not from any sanctified meat.

What is "conversion"? If it's anything like the turning of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt, then it constitutes simply the annihilation of the wife and creation ex nihilo of the pillar. Thus, similarly, the bread is destroyed, and a piece of meat is allegedly created by God via a miraculous act in its stead. This is defended by the claim that transubstantiation is a substantial conversion of something essentially bread into something essentially meat, but one where the accidents of the bread -- apparently in fact everything that makes bread what it is -- remain. "In every true conversion the following condition must be fulfilled: 'What was formerly A, is now B.'" But "what bread was" is not defined by its accidents. This idea would never have passed muster with St. Thomas, unless he felt he was under a (false) necessity to try to defend the indefensible.

The Catholic Encyclopedia goes on: "For we do not receive in the Sacred Host one part of Christ and in the Chalice the other, as though our reception of the totality depended upon our partaking of both forms; on the contrary, under the appearance of bread alone, as well as under the appearance of wine alone, we receive Christ whole and entire." How can that be if human flesh is greatly varied in biochemical structure and function in the different organs of the body? Do we consume Christ's liver or His muscles? Does the bread turn into a little homunculus perfectly mimicking the body of Christ that He possessed while incarnated 2,000 years ago? Let's not get ridiculous.

What then happens during the Eucharist? It is simply a most literal and actual re-incarnation of God in the matter of bread and wine. Christ's divinity incarnated in the human flesh 2,000 years ago. Today, during every mass, His divinity and human soul are reincarnated as bread again and again. Bread is in the full sense Christ's body, yet now we are under no obligation to suppose absurdly that it "converts" into meat. In the original incarnation, Christ had (and does now) two natures, divine and human; a single personality, woven out of these; and a single undivided pursuit of happiness. In the Eucharist, He has four natures: bread-ness, wine-ness, humanity, divinity; yet still 1 person. Jesus dies every time the bread is eaten and wine is drunk, but it doesn't hurt.

How is that possible? Easy! All things pre-exist in God. Any real thing, therefore, is as if God shrunk into some particular finitude. As a result, God could incarnate as a human, but He can also incarnate as literally anything else, including a cat or color TV. In particular, God can incarnate as bread and wine which become His body while "containing" His divinity. More generally, any higher thing can incarnate as a lower thing. Now an angel cannot really incarnate as a human being. He can "assume" a human body, but it will be a mere facade, since the angel will not exercise any functions of life in that body. The active life proper to man is entirely foreign to an angel. But a human soul can assuredly incarnate as a merely material object, say, a car engine, since such a thing will be fully below it. As such a thing, it will be blind, deaf, and unthinking, but it will be attached to the engine, anyway. That this is so is clear from the fact that a human embryo has a full-featured soul, but because of the temporary primitiveness of the body, the soul cannot do much. The embryo does not contemplate philosophy while in the womb.

Again, the body (including the brain) is a limitation on the faculties of the human soul. The brain itself as a physical object has no power to think on its own. If the soul can permeate an embryo and in so doing lose most of its powers, then what is so outrageous about the idea that the soul can permeate bread and lose all of them?

Thus, both Christ's divinity and soul are bundled within the host. The idea of real presence remains without the absurdity of an outrageous magical transformation.

Why would God uplift mere bread and wine so? I already answered this question: in order to serve as a most adequate sign that just as a profane matter can become sacred, so can a profane natural unregenerated human soul be perfected and glorified.

There are other benefits to this understanding. The CE presents 3 problems of speculative theology relevant to the Eucharist:

  1. the continued existence of the Eucharistic Species, or the outward appearances of bread and wine, without their natural underlying subject;
  2. the spatially uncircumscribed, spiritual mode of existence of Christ's Eucharistic Body;
  3. the simultaneous existence of Christ in heaven and in many places on earth.

Problem 1 is conveniently dissolved.

Problem 2 is put as follows: "The difficulty reaches its climax when we consider that there is no question here of the Soul or the Divinity of Christ, but of His Body, which, with its head, trunk, and members, has assumed a mode of existence spiritual and independent of space, a mode of existence, indeed, concerning which neither experience nor any system of philosophy can have the least inkling." But now that we see that each individual piece of bread used in every celebration of the Eucharist is a new body of Christ and a temporal and very temporary one at that, this problem, too, goes away.

Problem 3 "has to do with the multilocation of Christ in heaven and upon thousands of altars throughout the world." This, too, is now easily solved: God can have as many separate bodies as He likes, whether human or bread or wine or indeed cat or TV set.

Arguments for God’s Existence from Contingency

St. Thomas begins his Third Way by saying that "we find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be." (ST, I, 2, 3)

Now if the universe began, then "at some point," to use this phrase loosely, there was nothing. If, on the other hand, the universe never began, then things in it must have existed forever, for an actual infinity of, say, years. (This isn't 100% intelligible in its own right, but let's suppose this for the sake of argument.) But if it is possible for an existing thing not to be, then the probability of its corrupting within some finite span of time is non-zero. But in infinite time, all probable events will occur, and an infinite number of times, too. Hence he goes on that "if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence." Either way, this is a problem, because "if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence -- which is absurd."

St. Thomas correctly concludes that "not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary." Here is where he and I part ways.

First, let's purge the argument of ambiguity: "necessary" here does not mean modal logical necessity but simply "imperishable." An imperishable thing is such that, once it exists, it will always exist and by extension, perhaps it always has existed.

Second, let's enumerate some of those imperishable things. They are:

  1. Matter, and as its limiting variant, prime or formless matter, ghostly pure potentiality; something which can become anything. Matter can change from one form to another and even to energy, but according to the law of conservation, it cannot die.

    We can understand prime matter as what remains if we take any real object and strip away all its distinctive characteristics. Prime matter has no essence; but neither is it non-existence. To say that prime matter exists is to say that it is potentially, given the appropriate agent, all possible things, but no actual thing.

  2. Certain forms may well be imperishable. For example, perhaps electrons can never corrupt. (Technically, they, too, can collide with positrons and be annihilated, but it may well be that some actual things are imperishable.)

    Note that an electron is considered to be an elementary particle, but it has a definite form; it is not a fully inert and property-less point of prime matter. An electron behaves in highly precise and unique ways. It knows what it is full well.

  3. The universe as a whole seems to be imperishable. For example, there are no "predators" outside it that may kill it. The universe does not seem to have the potential for disappearing. It is not beyond the pale to suggest that it will exist forever.

    There are a couple of other possibilities that we can list.

  4. Perhaps a certain object may change forms on a regular basis: say, one year on March 12, A changes into B, and then next year on June 5, B changes back into A, and so on forever. However, we can reduce this situation to one object P whose single essence includes in its definition the potential for all such changes.

    Thus, liquid water turns into snow and ice in winter, melts in spring, and evaporates into gas in summer. But it's still water.

    Finally, perhaps forms may change into novel and never-before-seen forms forever: A-∞ → ... → A-1 → A0 → A1 → ... → A.

    But we don't seem to have such forms in our universe.

Third, let's see what the first 3 things tell us, if anything, about God. St. Thomas outlines the procedure by concluding: "Every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another... Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God."

1. Prime matter makes all possible things potential. But what is possible and what is potential are two separate and distinct things that are united within prime matter. For example, it is easy for us to contemplate possible worlds and possible things. The fat man in the doorway has a partially specified essence, but he does not exist in reality. I form an idea of a lamp by abstracting the "essence" of the lamp from the singular object on my desk. This idea exists in the understanding as an ideal abstractum, but it may or may not exist really. Possibilities on their own are causally inefficacious and have no potential to exist.

Even prime matter, and therefore the union in it of the possible with the potential, then is contingent. It must be explained which means be reduced to a cause. Let a certain X cause prime matter. What can we assert about this X? Well, it causes possible things to become potential. If these are separated, then we are back to prime matter which cannot be a cause of itself. The inevitable conclusion is that in X, possibilities and potentialities are numerically identical with each other, self-same. They are not 2 separate things that need to be united by a 3rd object (as, e.g., (1) a man is united with (2) his life by (3) his self-love), because they are literally one and the same thing. That is what we mean by God: a thing in which everything possible is also potential, i.e., can be actualized. But that means that God possesses absolute and unlimited creative power.

This seems like an important first discovery in our investigation.

I am not proposing that the existence of prime matter entails the existence of the omnipotent shaper of prime matter directly. Oil has existed under the ground for far longer than there have been humans and for longer than humans have known how to transform oil into gasoline. At first glance, there may be formless matter with no one to use it. It is superficially conceivable that there is prime matter without God. But only because of the initial weakness of the human intellect. Such a thing is not possible.

It may be objected that God may have the power to create prime matter but lack any power to create anything further out of prime matter. God can make everything makeable but not necessarily makeable by Himself later on. Moreover, prime matter seems exceedingly simple. Perhaps it is easy for God to create it but impossible to create anything else with its assistance. In reply, I say that prime matter is simple actually but is infinitely complex potentially, since absolutely everything, from ladybugs to angels, can be fashioned out of it. Prime matter is inseparable from the art of using it. There is no way that a weak God could make a substance as infinitely versatile and wondrous as prime matter, unless His power to make reached everything which prime matter's power to be made also reaches. Hence God is ad extra omnipotent.

NB: Prime matter is a technical term for pure potentiality. Hence, even immaterial souls, including human and angelic, can be made out of it, too. There is no need to add "prime spirit."

2. This one is easier to unravel. An imperishable thing may nevertheless be contingent. That this is so can be established by the ease with which I can abstract the electron's essence from the singular thing. I can say that while I am contemplating this essence in my mind, the electron is an ideal abstractum; when instantiated, it becomes real. The essence of the election is a possible thing, and it may or may not be actual.

In the previous argument we considered the union of potentiality (matter) with existence. Now we proceed to the union of actuality (form) with existence.

This union must be effected through some "glue" that unites essence and existence which is not identical with either but is something super-added to both. The glue is probably some form of divine love which is the preeminent unitive force. Again then, even if the electron is imperishable, it is contingent, and the glue must be caused by something else.

But of course the cause must be a really existing object X, also, since ideal abstracta are causally inefficacious. (Nor is the electron's existence a proper accident of the nature of the electron, as the capacity to laugh is a proper accident of humanity. Nor, furthermore, can a thing cause its own existence.) Which raises the question of what united X's essence and existence. We cannot go to infinity, so the first cause of this union must be something in which essence and existence are numerically identical to each other, self-same. Again they are one, showcasing an aspect of divine simplicity. And that is God.

God then is "being itself subsisting," as St. Thomas expresses it.

3. Now that we have analyzed the consequences of the union of (potentiality + existence) and of (actuality + existence) in creatures, what remains is to see what the union of (potency + act) in them reveals about God.

As before, this union is artificial, contingent, and must be caused by something in which potency and act are entirely one. It does not make sense to say that whatever God is or is doing (act), He also can be (potency). But the reverse is quite meaningful: everything that God can be, He already is. And this signifies simply that God has no potentiality at all. Whatever God can extend to or do or enjoy, He already is in full possession of.

The conclusion is that God is pure act unmixed with any potency.

We have seen from argument 1) that in God, everything possible is potential. Argument 3) demonstrates further that in God, everything potential is actual. Hence, whatever is possible is actual in God. Therefore, all possible, and therefore all actually created, things pre-exist in God somehow as in their source of being, essence, and everything else.

Note that this argument does not preclude pantheism. Perhaps we are part of God, and all possible worlds are actual as constituent parts of God, especially if we argue that in God, the concrete and the abstract are self-same. More plausibly, however, creatures pre-exist in God as ideas in His mind, though this precise formulation may need a separate argument to be established. God is concrete as a self to be known as the Son, abstract as the thought knowing it as the Holy Spirit, which come together in a self-aware mind as the Father.

The identity of the abstract and concrete may be understood as that "2 + 2 = 4" is both an ideal proposition contemplated by God and a real component of the structure of the divine mind.

4. The argument from the contingency of the universe as a whole leads to a different conclusion. The question now is: Why is there something rather than nothing?

At first glance, the question seems befuddling. Why should there be nothing rather than what we have around us? Why privilege either "nothing" or "something"? Why cannot this world be everything that has ever been and will be?

On the one hand, we humans privilege nothing readily. We apparently come from nothing and go into nothing. In between we live for a little bit, always in danger, such that if we do not struggle with all our might, the nothing will arrive even quicker. All living things are born, thereby beginning to exist, and die, thereby ceasing to exist. But the inference from this human experience to the universe as a whole need not be taken.

Moreover, "something" is also privileged. The moment we are born, we are surrounded with stuff to use, enjoy, and manipulate. Disembodied existence, while not inconceivable, is not part of our human experience, though it may ultimately be natural in "heaven." But "nothingness" is inconceivable; one can't close his eyes and picture nothingness. However, that nothingness is inconceivable does not mean that it is impossible.

Let possible world Empty be defined as follows: ∀(x I can think of) [x does not exist in Empty]. Then

(1) Nothing = ∃[Empty]. We are dealing with "universes," uni = "one"; so, any possible world is a maximally consistent state of affairs. As a result, Empty swallows up every other reality; so, it is not necessary to say "there exists only Empty."

Let our actual world be called Terra. "Terra" is the name of the universe we live in, not of planet Earth. Then

(2) Something = ∃[Terra]. Neither is privileged, but just as before, (2) is only contingently true and demands an explanation.

Terra either has existed forever or was created. In either case, a physical cause of Terra is precluded from consideration, because it is situated before the effect. In the first case, infinite past cannot have a prior cause; and in the second case, time, too, began along with Terra, and it is meaningless to ask what happened "before" Terra began.

Since we are interested in the origin of the universe, neither teleological nor Aristotelian causation is applicable, either.

The cause of Terra joined the essence of Terra with existence by creating it. As a result, (2)'s being true has a "cause," and Terra's existing has a "ground" of its existence. This ground is called God. We have already seen the mode of causality of the first two grades: physical and teleological. An eternal grounding cause is the effecting of the 3rd grade, of goodness. Terra was united with its existence not at any moment in time but as a whole in eternity which "covers" merely everlasting existence (that we allowed for the sake of argument).

This is only half the task. Now we ask: What is this God? It cannot be another real thing, for then it, too, would stand in need of its own ground. It must then be "beyond" being. We conclude that God is not a thing at all but a kind of force, a primal principle that permeates all, that creates this world, so that its inhabitants might enjoy life or try to. That is what we mean when we say "God." God is not a thing but Creator of things. We may call it by the less ambitious and less potentially objectionable name, "creativity," or by the more ambitious one, "goodness," to the extent that one is inclined to consider Terra to be on the whole good and beautiful. But nothing is not a thing, either. So, in the beginning (of our story), we postulate nothing whatsoever (other than the 2nd-level God). It is a kind of clean slate, in which whatever is created (by goodness) can be made into a top-notch project or performance from ground up, with no need for backward compatibility.

Again, if goodness reigned, then in the beginning, there could not be anything, because only goodness creates good things, and nothing can exist whose existence goodness has not authorized. The choice goodness faced was: 2nd-level God + Empty or God + Terra.

To simplify: our options are: (a) goodness + nothing in the beginning and (b) a good thing, i.e., the world, in the beginning. Goodness implies "nothing," and "nothing" implies goodness; and now we see that their combination, i.e., (a), is also implied.

Note the difference between the last two arguments. The first establishes the identity of God's essence and existence. This is possible, because the essence of our electron can be fully comprehended. But it does not establish God's goodness, because there is no reason to hold that it is a "good thing" overall that a particular electron exists.

The second establishes God's goodness, because it is evident to any reasonably sane man that the universe as a whole is a very good thing. At the same time, it cannot prove the identity of the divine essence and His existence, because the universe as a whole is too big for me, not the least because I am part of it, and I cannot know myself fully, since in me the subject knowing is forever distinct from the object known. I cannot know the essence of the created universe. But I see that there may have been in its stead nothing at all.

These proofs relied on what I think is an uncontroversial principle that every contingent thing, including an actually imperishable one, must have a cause or perhaps "sufficient reason" which itself is necessary. We have by uniting in God what is diverse in creatures in the end demonstrated God's maximal creative power, an aspect of His simplicity, His pure actuality, that He is the archetype of all finite things, and His goodness.

Three Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence

Two arguments below will be deductive, and they come straight from my book. The third argument will be inductive, and I will show that it is inconclusive.

As per my methodology, the existence of God is proved by discovering, one adequate and unique argument after another, God's attributes or the meaning of the term "God." Moreover, unless God is shown to differ from creatures substantially, we gain nothing, since this God might as well be considered to be part of the universe.

1. Why does our universe obey laws rather than exhibit prime matter style chaos? "Laws of nature" are of course abstractions made by humans; nevertheless, the obvious orderliness of the world may point to something. This is an intuitive argument to the effect that at the beginning of every human project, there are raw materials and human labor that transforms them into something useful, virtuous, or pleasant. Similarly, it stands to reason that in the beginning of the universe, there was chaos which was later on ordered. The pure potency of prime matter is an ideal building block, because one is not constrained by any pre-existing form in shaping prime matter into whatever he desires. It grants absolute freedom to the maker to fashion out of such matter anything he likes.

Why do all things obey laws? Another argument that answers the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" reveals that the universe was created out of nothing. What informed the universe with laws? If object A gave the law to matter, then if A itself is law-bound, then the problem remains. "What ordered A?" we are liable to ask. We cannot go to infinity; hence, the ultimate first cause of the order of the universe itself obeys no laws at all. But there are only two sorts of things that obey no laws at all: one is pure chaos, and the other is absolutely simple; pure potency and pure act. But the chaos of the former does not generate order. We must acknowledge this simple thing that is free to such a perfect degree to be the cause of order of the universe and to be God.

This argument proves deductively that the cause of the universe, whatever it is, is not restricted in its operation by any intricacies of its own nature. There are no "laws of the divine nature" (as there are laws of the nature of atoms, cats, and humans) that are prior to God which determine, condition, and thereby limit His functioning.

2. Now the inductive argument from the same. William Dembski has developed the notion of specified complexity (SC) which, when applied to physical mechanical systems (and in particular to biological structures, such as molecular robots within cells), permits and even makes inevitable a rational inference to intelligent design.

It may be possible to ascribe SC to the universe as a whole: not to any self-contained arrangement of material parts within it, but to its natural laws. I include the laws studied by both natural and social sciences, both, say, physics and economics.

There are then two questions. (1) Can we adopt the premise that the universe exhibits specified complexity? And (2) given that premise, can we conclude that if the universe was created, then whatever created it must be an intelligent thing?

One difference is that ID in biology studies "grace" which mingles with works of nature, such as perhaps evolution. But the design argument for God's existence deals not with post-creation grace that perfects nature but with the original divine act of creation of nature itself.

The second difference is that specified complexity for Dembski regards clever and sophisticated structure of working machines, be they tractors or bacterial flagella, i.e., complexity of something concrete. The SC of natural laws is abstract complexity, such as the complexity of the axiomatic-deductive math that models natural laws.

Despite these differences, I think the answer to (1) is yes.

However, the positive answer to (2) does not follow. Design inference in biology depends on the limited amount of computational resources in nature. And earth, despite the considerable length of its history, is certainly sufficiently finite.

With the universe, we cannot be sure of that. For all we know, there may be a googolplex (though not an infinitude) of other worlds, randomly generated, so that, although the vast majority are chaotic, ours just happened to be lucky to be ordered and intelligible.

The previous deductive argument cannot be ruined in this manner. Whatever X generated our world, as well as all the other ordered worlds out of the googolplex of all attempts either obeys its own laws or does not. If X is meaninglessly chaotic, then it cannot produce order in its effect. At the very least, X must be precisely tuned to reliably give birth to universes. If X is law-bound and rational, then the question of what made it so remains. The conclusion as before is that the first cause is efficiently free.

As a result, the deductive argument succeeds, and the inductive argument fails, at giving us a slice of God.

3. This argument may be called the problem of particularity: why is the world this and not something else? All chaotic worlds are identical to each other, all equally boring; but each orderly world is uniquely interesting, and again there is an infinitude of possible ordered worlds, so they cannot all exist. How did this particular world manage to obtain its highly peculiar reality out of an infinite number of its possible brethren?

I refer you to my book for a full explication of the consequences of this strange situation.

Two Kinds of Superstition

I have described how huge an error it is to oppose science and religion; instead, magic is opposed in different ways to both.

Now ancient superstitions were of two kinds. One postulated gods in charge of natural phenomena, as Zeus in Greek polytheism commanded thunder and lightning, and Demeter was a "goddess of agriculture," whatever that meant.

Scientific advance reveals that these gods do not exist. Where the Greeks saw teleology, we see physical causation. No rational being in fact controls a thunderstorm, and no goddess decides how good the harvest will be.

The second kind of superstition mistakenly found gods in what are actually demons. The ancients sought to propitiate these gods, to curry their favor with sacrifices, often human and bloody.

Religious advance affirms that demons exist. But it also teaches that demons are mankind's implacable enemies. The very attempt to appease or make a deal with a demon is a sin in itself capable of condemning you. The most you can get the devil to agree on is to kill you last (though he'll probably lie); and for that to happen, you'll yourself need to murder as many innocents as you can, as per the devil's own inevitable terms.

The dual liberation of man from the tyrannical whims of the nature gods and from the malice of the demon gods is one of his greatest civilizational achievements.

Re: Public Policy After Utopia

Will Wilkinson argues against "ideal political theorizing," a vision of a good and just society. This is because "all our evidence about how social systems actually work comes from formerly or presently existing systems... The further a possible system is from a historical system, and thus from our base of evidence about how social systems function, the more likely we are to be mistaken about how it would work if it were realized."

But what about, say, economic theory? Doesn't it give us useful information about how systems work? Wilkinson is unimpressed: "But all I really know is that the context matters a great deal, that a lot of interrelated factors affect the dynamics of low-wage labor markets, and that I can't say in advance which margin will adjust when the wage floor is raised. Indeed, whether we should expect increases in the minimum wage to hurt or help low-wage workers is a question Nobel Prize-winning economists disagree about." What a strange conclusion! Of course we cannot predict which specific persons will be harmed, in what ways, and to what extent. But that overall greater than zero harm will be inflicted is almost certain; and that minimum wage can only harm and can never benefit society is unequivocally true. No empirical calculations need to be made to arrive at this understanding; deductive economic logic is fully sufficient.

Similarly about political philosophy. Is the question "What is justice?" meaningless? What exactly are the methodological or substantive errors in, for example, Rothbard's Ethics of Liberty? If his conclusions or reasoning are vicious, Wilkinson owes us an attempt at a refutation. E.g., don't any two people have a libertarian right to sign a contract to exchange labor services for wages, the precise terms to be determined according to their pleasure? And doesn't minimum wage interfere with that right unjustly? What is so allegedly scandalous about an argument of this sort?

Wilkinson prefers a "non-ideological, empirical, comparative approach to political analysis... The best we can do is to go ahead and try to rank social systems in terms of the values we care about, and then see what we can learn." He then considers some "measurement attempts" which he feels suggest that "liberal-democratic capitalist welfare states" are the freest of all. Curiously, big governments, "in terms of government spending as a percentage of GDP," allegedly do not interfere with their freedom. It's therefore false that "liberty and redistribution are antithetical." Now it is of course true that government interventions take many different forms. For example:

  1. a high-tax country can have relatively few business regulations;
  2. high sales taxes may be offset by low taxes on business profits and capital gains which permits faster capital accumulation;
  3. absence of coercive occupational licensing schemes for workers can contribute to freedom;
  4. as can absence of any nationalized enterprises like Amtrak or the Post Office in the United States;
  5. taxes may be spent on "public goods" only and not on subsidies to private interests;
  6. free trade is of critical importance;
  7. and so is sound money;
  8. libertarians favor freedom of consumption, such as lack of alcohol or drug prohibitions;

and so on. But surely, the right to own the fruits of one's labor is a crucial part of liberty, as well. A ranking that does not count the harm of taxes to liberty will be different from a ranking that does. But it begs the question whether taxes are or are not un-libertarian. It is "ideal theory" that allows us to rank nations according to "freedom" in the first place. If Wilkinson assumes at the beginning that size of the government does not impinge on liberty, then the ranking he will generate will of course reflect this. But he cannot then use his ranking as evidence of the irrelevance of taxation in a circular manner.

Without a vision of a good society, how are we to improve ours? Via some sort of blind random mutations and natural selection? Let every country build and utilize a machine that would spit bills and statutes out at random. Most of these will be vicious, but some may turn out to be accidentally good. Then we watch the flow of immigration. People from countries with bad random laws will probably either starve or migrate to countries with better laws. The random laws in countries that gain people can then be judged superior to the laws in countries that lose them. Now this is a parody of what Wilkinson seems to imply, but a procedure of this sort may actually make some sense given a sufficient number of polities. If the biggest governments were all local, such that there were 100,000 "free cities" in the world, then competition between them would give each town a compelling incentive to improve its political system. But with the United States in particular being a global empire, such an evolutionary approach is hopeless.

Denmark, Wilkinson suggests, is comparatively "an actually-existing utopia." In my book, in (Introduction, I) I make the following counter-argument:

For example, even after the abolition of slavery, well into the 20th century, the American South was a status society: rigid, unfree for all people, black or white, featuring little social mobility up or down.

Many blacks seemed "happy" in it, because they knew that they could not by their own will and power change their social position. They could relax, because their destiny was not in their own hands.

The marked inferiority of blacks was made evident only in the "civil rights era," when white Americans agreed to give blacks (artificially, via unjust government privileges) a boost at making their own way in society. It turned out that when given this freedom, blacks eagerly voluntarily renounced it to the welfare state, and what freedom they decided to keep, they used mostly for violence and doing evil.

No wonder blacks ended up "unhappy." Who wouldn't after first-hand intimate acquaintance with one's own abject failure?

It is the same perhaps with Denmark which, despite some of the highest taxes in the somewhat developed world, has been found the "happiest country in the world" in "experienced well-being." I suggest that this is the well-being of slaves. A slave, admittedly, is not permitted to seek his own happiness. But he also cannot, in seeking this happiness, fail. Some people may judge this effect so wholesome and salubrious that slavery (or high taxes) will seem to them attractive.

In other words, a man's happiness can be increased if the possibility of failure for him is taken away. Generally, however, this can only be done by taking away the possibility of success, as well. It is true that many people would enthusiastically prefer this sort of stupefying security that would ensure that they neither improve nor worsen, neither progress nor deteriorate. A life in which nothing ever happens can indeed be peaceful. It is the essence of Americanism, however, to reject this sentiment. Americans tend to welcome a chance to succeed even at the cost of a real possibility of failure. But this attitude is by no means universal. As a result, even many Americans are "unhappy" by virtue of being losers in life. They have been tried and found wanting by their fellow men. Now they hate capitalism and long for the rigidity and boredom of suffocating statism, because capitalism exposed their social worthlessness for all to see.

There are then two ways of gaining inner peace: by achieving one's goal or by becoming convinced that the pursuit of this goal is hopeless. A desire can disappear by being either satisfied or extinguished in this manner. But the latter is utterly inhuman.

In short, one perfectly effective remedy against failure is never trying to succeed in the first place. This is the philosophy of the welfare state and socialism alike. Perhaps it works for the soulless automata in Denmark. But don't tell me it's a libertarian wisdom.

Divine Simplicity vs. Unity

We have seen that on the 1st level, God is materially simple.

On the 2nd level, it is better to speak of divine unity rather than simplicity. For example, a man is generally one spirit and enjoys the unity of experience despite being spectacularly complex in his body. Simplicity and unity then are different notions. God enjoys both "bodily" simplicity and unparalleled spiritual unity.

Thus, God exhibits no schizophrenic symptoms. He is not divided against Himself in any way. There are no inner contradictions within God. He does not experience cognitive dissonance; He does not have to reconcile his sensitive and intellectual appetites; He would not worship Satan for political power. Humans are conflicted in multiple ways; not God, however. His spirit showcases perfect and single-minded integrity.

Three Ways of Loving God

1. It is a traditional Christian trope that man's happiness is found in knowing God. But when put this way, God plays the role essentially of a consumer good, say, a book which is fun to read and study. When one loves God thus, he loves Him less than himself.

In other words, my own pleasure is the end; the knowledge to be learned is the pleasure-giving object; God and the vision of Him are a means to the acquisition of this knowledge. The means are inferior to the end and are treated accordingly.

This kind of love is impossible without grace, since we are aware of the promise of our beatitude via spiritual and intellectual union with God by faith alone. We don't know what God is in His essence, but we look forward to finding out and therefore love God as a good even in this life. In the state of glory, God will seem the most valuable thing of all.

2. But God -- and Jesus in particular -- is also a friend. On the one hand, it is inevitable that one loves himself more than any neighbor, since one is united with himself more tightly than with any other human or angel. (Loving neighbor as oneself pertains to the perfection of charity. St. Thomas, too, comments that it's not a precept of charity that "a man must love his neighbor equally as himself, but in like manner as himself." (ST, II-II, 44, 7))

On the other hand, God is perfect, and this perfection is actually infinite. Humans are by nature (and especially when strengthened in the state of glory, to be discussed later) potentially infinite. Hence God's holiness and happiness are something forever for man to aspire to. Man then relates to God as his present self relates to endless future improvement. It is clear that in this case, one loves God as intensely as himself.

Again, without grace, one cannot be friends with God, because this perpetual improvement is not anticipated in mere natural state. One must believe in and hope for everlasting life and our Lord's provident kingship over the communion of saints.

3. Finally, God on the 3rd level is absolute goodness, one's Creator and Maker, and the source of everything good including one's nature, existence, happiness, grace, and glory.

Though a man is united with himself in many various ways, this adhesion is effected by love which is the divine light itself infused into him. But when X is glued to a numerically distinct Y however strongly, the glue is closer to both X and Y than X and Y are to each other. Thus, God is closer to a man than even the man to his own essence or life or enjoyment.

It therefore befits man to love God more than himself as the ultimate benefactor.

An unregenerated person will tend to think in his philosophical moments that the evil in the world outweighs and trumps the good, because it will appear to him that everything dies. Our bodies suffer and decay; our creations malfunction and break. Even the human race as a whole seems to be in a highly precarious position; and an ungodly man can have no illusions of hope whatever for himself personally. As a result, an atheist must needs be a natural pessimist for whom existence is on the whole evil. Hence, he cannot make the inference that God is good or goodness, and so will not love Him in the 3rd way, either.