Thales and Aquinas

One of the more curious statements that has been handed down to as from Thales is his claim that “all things are full of gods.”  Aquinas’s notion of creaturely being as received or participated being is a kind of echo of this claim: for Aquinas, “all things are full of God.” (and here the little Thomistic voice in my head informs me that I’m not speaking properly).

Die Philosophen…

Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kömmt drauf an, sie zu verändern.

With pre-Socratic brevity, Karl Marx sums up the modern spirit at the very end of his “Theses on Feuerbach.”

Analogy in De Principiis Naturae

The end of the De Principiis Naturae seems to explicitly state that analogy is a strictly logical notion, and not a metaphysical one. After arguing that analogy involves using the same name according to related notions {rationes}, he says:

The principles of those things which agree [in name] according to mere analogy are the same according to analogy or proportion alone.  For matter, form and privation, or potency and act are principles of substance and of the other genera. Nevertheless, the matter of substance and consequently and similarly the form and privation differ in genus, but agree only according to this proportion: as the matter of substance has the notion of matter with respect to substance, so the matter of quantity [has the notion of matter] with respect to quantity. Neverthless, just as substance is the cause of the others, so the principles of substance are principles of all the other [genera].
[E]orum quae conveniunt secundum analogiam tantum, principia sunt eadem secundum analogiam tantum, sive proportionem. Materia enim et forma et privatio, sive potentia et actus, sunt principia substantiae et aliorum generum. Tamen materia substantiae et quantitatis, et similiter forma et privatio differunt genere, sed conveniunt solum secundum proportionem in hoc quod, sicut se habet materia substantiae ad substantiam in ratione materiae, ita se habet materia quantitatis ad quantitatem. Sicut tamen substantia est causa ceterorum, ita principia substantiae sunt principia omnium aliorum.

In this text he says that the principles are the same “according to analogy alone”: that is, they are only the same insofar as (a) they are given the same name and (b) the things signified stand in a certain way to other things. For example,

(α) prime matter : (β) substance :: (γ) the matter of quantity : (δ) quantity;

because prime matter and the matter of quantity are both called “matter” and because each of them stands similarly to substance and quantity respectively, matter is said analogously of each.  There is no more to the notion of analogy than this.

The relation St. Thomas adds at the end “substance is the cause of the others and thus its principle are the principles of the others.” Is not a case of analogy, nor is any metaphysical relation between the matter of substance and that of quantity: such relations may be real and may even be the basis for analogous naming, but they are not the reason a name is imposed analogously.

Cartesian Symbolism

Note: this is still a draft.

Descartes sets out the fundamentals of his theory of symbols in Discourse II while explaining his fourth rule of science. There he fixes on mathematics as the only science which has so far produced demonstrations.1 This leads him to consider objects of these sciences.2 He notices of the objects of the science (multitude, magnitude, etc.), that the sciences do not consider the objects except in view of the relations or proportions obtaining between them.3 Thus, he discards all considerations except those of proportions in general from his new method.4 So, for example, their consideration of the distinction between the ratio of two planets would not be different from that of two numbers or two lines: insofar as they both have the same ratio and are proportional, they fall equally under his science.

Doing this presupposes that all relations between can be unified in a meaningful way. This is relatively easy for quantitative ratios. Numerical ratios and ratios of magnitudes have this correspondence: if a line is to a line as a number is to a number, when each line is divided into its corresponding number of parts, the divided parts are equal (e.g. if one line is to another as three is to two, then a third of the first line is equal to half of the second). If we ignore incommensurability, all quantities have the same kinds of ratios.5 Ratios of temperature and weight can be similarly led back to quantitative ratios: a thermometer makes a temperature known by the length of a column of liquid; a scale similarly makes weight known either by the number of weights necessary to balance the object or by the length at which the object balances. The use of instruments allows a large number of relations to be made quantitative, but how will fatherhood or sonship be quantified? It seems impossible to quantify such a relation.

Now, given that the method considers proportion in general, how it considers them must be thought out. Descartes takes them to be proportions of lines, there being “nothing simpler, nor anything that I could represent more distinctly to my imagination and senses.”[@Disc, CSM 121] One might object that the proportionality of lines is not clear and distinct. Given two lines, the proportion between them is not clear (in the case of curved lines, even Descartes holds that the proportion is unknowable). In the two lines which have a ratio, while it is clear that one is greater than another, it is not clear by how much it is greater. This lack of clarity, however, is a benefit, not a problem. Because a line can be divided into an arbitrary number of parts, any two commensurable lines can stand for an indefinite number of ratios and guarantees their sameness. A line three units long is to a line two units long not only as 3: 2 but also as 6: 4, 9: 6 and an indefinite number more. Since all these ratios can be represented by the same lines, one concludes immediately that 3: 2: : 6: 4: : 9: 6: : . . .  Thus, its very lack of determinate divisions makes a continuous quantity most apt for representing proportions.

Such a use of lines, however, prescinds from the per se unity of a line. When two lines are said to represent the proportion, the two indicates that the lines are each one: one whole line, an undivided continuum. Cartesian representation takes this continuum and considers it as if divided into an indefinite series of chunks, ignoring its real unity. The advantage a line has for representation over a Euclidean number is that the number is actually divided in a determinate way: Two can never be Four. The line thus considered is already a symbol; it does not represent any particular quantity, but rather every quantity.(Klein 1968) Replacing the line with a letter (or reapplying the numeral)6 is only a slightly further step; such symbols are more conveniences than innovations.

Klein, Jacob. 1968. Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra. New York: Dover Publications.

  1. “Reflecting, to, that of all those who have hitherto sought after truthin the sciences, mathematicians alone have been able to find any demonstrations — that is to say, certain and evident reasonings — I had no doubt that I should begin with the very things that they studied.” (@Disc, CSM 120).
  2. The footnote in CSM includes astronomy and optics and the like under the title “mathematics.” Whether or not this is so, the conclusion I draw applies a fortiori to the objects of these sciences.
  3. “For I saw that, despite the diversity of their objects, they agree in considering nothing but the various relations or proportions that hold between these objects.” (@Disc, CSM120).
  4. I think I’m justified in using the word method here, as he uses further down on p. 121.
  5. This is true about the quantities mathematics studies. How such quantities relate to the quantities of material substances is a perplexing question.
  6. Having taken the numeral to represent the symbol-line, it is but a short step to symbolizing zero and the negative integers.

Thomism and Aristotelianism.

“That such a doctrine [distinction of essence and existence] is his greatest or most important philosophical doctrine, I deny: the real distinction between essence and existence is an instance (and development) of a more general and overarching principle, namely, the real distinction between potency and act, an Aristotelian doctrine. Thus, every application of the doctrine of essence and existence is in fact an application of the doctrine of potency and act.” (from the comments on Quaeritur: Aren’t You Unfairly Criticizing Gilson?)

I think, if correct, such a statement would shows why Thomistic philosophy is properly called Aristotelian philosophy: the primary distinction between philosophers comes not from what they think can be proven from certain principles, but rather from the principles upon which those conclusions depend. (see Where Philosophers Disagree by M. Berquist) Thus, if the principle distinction St. Thomas admits is that of potency and act, he is an Aristotelian philosopher who happens to disagree or expand on one or more of the conclusions that one could draw from that principle. If, on the other hand, the distinction of essence/existence is a novel principle, we have a reason to deny that he is an Aristotelian philosopher: he disagrees with Aristotle about the principles of Metaphysics.

Regardless of which side one takes, one can coherently speak of a “Thomist” philosophy: such a philosophy would either be the philosophy that follow from a distinctly Thomistic principle, or it would be one that considers St. Thomas to be the most eminent expositor of Aristotle.

Obiecta sunt Praevia Potentiis II

Aristotle’s principle “Obiecta sunt praevia potentiis” is what most divides him from the “Enlightenment” philosophers.

Western philosophy since Francis Bacon (if not before) could be seen as an attempt to found one’s theory of reality upon the theory of knowledge. All of them, from Descartes’ “evil god” to the Kantian critique begin by doubting the objects which one thinks about because of doubts about our power of knowing.  Then, once they have settled on the limits of knowledge, they begin to make their physical and metaphysical claims about the nature of reality: a process which seems inevitably to lead to Kant’s denial of knowledge of things in themselves.

But one might critique this view in the following way: thoughts about things relate to the things thought the way that thought about thought relates to thoughts thought. Or, to say the same thing in another way, thought about thought is thought about a thing: thought. Thus, if things are unintelligible wouldn’t thoughts be unintelligible a fortiori? Thought about thought presupposes and, as I will argue, is dependent on thought about things.

To make this point, consider sight: I know that I see, but how do I know that I see? Don’t I know that I see precisely because I have seen? Can I know that I am seeing when I am not seeing anything? Similarly, it could be asked: how do I know that I know? The answer seems to be precisely the same as for sight: I know that I know because I have known. Thus, to speak generally, apprehension of apprehension depends on the prior (in nature as one is prior to two, not the priority of time) occurence of apprehension.

That this is so can be seen in the videos of patients in comas who respond to sensory stimulus without, seemingly, being aware that they are sensing: in a particularly apt example, the patient was told to respond to a question by imagining one activity to signify “yes” and another to signify “no.” When a question was put to him, brain scans indicated that he had said “yes.” What, then, is the difference between him and a person not in a coma? Assuming that his motor pathways were functional, it seems to be precisely the fact that he hears and responds to sounds without realizing that that is what he is doing.

An even more dramatic confirmation of the thesis that apprehending is prior to apprehending apprehension can be gathered from the phenomena of “Blindsight.” Wikipedia relates the following occurence:

In 2003, a patient known as TN lost use of his primary visual cortex, area V1. He had two successive strokes, which knocked out the region in both his left and right hemisphere. After his strokes, ordinary tests of TN’s sight turned up nothing. He could not even detect large objects moving right in front of his eyes. Researchers eventually began to notice that TN exhibited signs of blindsight and in 2008 decided to test their theory. They took TN into a hallway and asked him to walk through it without using the cane he always carried after having the strokes. TN was not aware at the time, but the researchers had placed various obstacles in the hallway to test if he could avoid them without conscious use of his sight. To the researchers delight, he moved around every obstacle with ease, at one point even pressing himself up against the wall to squeeze past a trashcan placed in his way. After navigating through the hallway, TN reported that he was just walking the way he wanted to, not because he knew anything was there. (de Gelder, 2008)

In this case it seems manifest that the person was blind, not because he did not see, but because he did not realize that he saw.

This example also shows that consciousness is not merely sensation: for an activity to be conscious, it must be reflected upon. Thus, it is clear that it presupposes knowledge of reality. Consequently, Aristotle’s method seems better than the modern method since it respects our order of knowing: first we know things and then our knowledge of things. Thus, the De Anima where Aristotle discusses our knowledge is not placed at the beginning of the course of studies, but towards the end since it presupposes knowledge of things.


Considering a Msgr. Sokolowski’s Claim that “God is Love” is a Revealed Truth

Q: Philosophers have long noted that God is many things, particularly being, truth, beauty, goodness, and unity or oneness. What is the typical reaction of a philosopher upon hearing that “God is love”? How might a philosopher understand this concept?

Monsignor Sokolowski: It would be hard to say that “God is love” apart from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Even if one were to think that the deity is benevolent, one could still not say that it is love. That sort of divine love would be relative and not substantial in the deity. Only because the Father gives everything to the Son, and because the Son and Father express their love in the Holy Spirit, can one say, with St. John, that God is love. I don’t see how such an understanding of God could have arisen in philosophical thinking. (

This seems like an odd position to take.  St. Thomas in the Prima Pars shows from reason that God has intellect and will.  The first formation of the will by the good is love. Since, therefore, God is his own good and knows that he is, his will desires his own essence. This desire is nothing other than love; but, because of divine simplicity, God is everything which he has. Therefore, it is necessary that God is love.

This may seem tantamount to proving the Trinity, since the procession according to will is the common spiration of the Holy Spirit; but, as St. Thomas points out:

Nor is the image in our mind an adequate proof in the case ofGod, forasmuch as the intellect is not in God and ourselves univocally. Hence, Augustine says (Tract. xxvii. in Joan.) that by faith we arrive at knowledge, and not conversely.

Thus, even knowing that God is love is not sufficient for demonstrating the existence of the Trinity, because we only know that there is a divine will and not whether that will knows through a term distinct form the divine essence which terminates the action of will. Unless we know this, we do not know the distinction between the persons. (Although we may be able to form right opinion about it.)


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