Apologetics, Augustinian Intellectual Tradition, Metaphysics, Natural Theology, Philosophy, Saint Augustine

The Augustinian Argument for the Existence of God

The Augustinian Argument for the Existence of GodI have been spending time highlighting arguments for the existence of God presented by Edward Feser in his book, Five Proofs of the Existence of God. Thus far, I have covered his presentation of the Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic arguments. The third argument presented by Feser is the Augustinian proof.

Here is the Augustinian proof, which is taken from the book mentioned above, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Pg. 109-110:

  1. There are three possible accounts of abstract objects such as universals, propositions, numbers and other mathematical objects, and possible worlds: realism, nominalism, and conceptualism.
  2. There are decisive arguments in favor of realism.
  3. There are insuperable objections against nominalism.
  4. There are insuperable objections against conceptualism.
  5. So, some version of realism is true.
  6. There are three possible versions of realism: Platonic realism, Aristotelian realism, and Scholastic realism.
  7. If Platonic realism is true, then abstract objects exists in a “third realm” distinct from either the material world or any intellect.
  8. If Aristotelian realism is true, then abstract objects exist only in human or other contingently existing intellects.
  9. If Scholastic realism is true, then abstract objects exist not only in contingently existing intellects but also in at least one necessarily existing intellect.
  10. There are insuperable objections against the claim that abstract objects exist in a “third realm” distinct from either the material world or any intellect.
  11. So, Platonic realism is not true.
  12. There are insuperable objections against the claim that abstract objects exist only in human or other contingently existing intellects.
  13. So, Aristotelian realism is not true.
  14. So, Scholastic realism is true.
  15. So, abstract objects exist not only in contingently existing intellects but also in at least one necessarily existing intellect.
  16. Abstract objects such as universals, propositions, numbers and other mathematical objects, and possible worlds are all logically related to one another in such a way that they form an interlocking system of ideas.
  17. The reasons concluding that at least some abstract objects exists in a necessarily existing intellect also entail that this interlocking system of ideas must exist in a necessarily existing intellect.
  18. So, this interlocking system of ideas exists in at least one necessarily existing intellect.
  19. A necessarily existing intellect would be purely actual.
  20. There cannot be more than one thing that is purely actual.
  21. So, there cannot be more than one necessarily existing intellect.
  22. An intellect in which the interlocking system of ideas in question existed would be conceptually omniscient.
  23. So, the one necessarily existing intellect is conceptually omniscient.
  24. If this one necessarily existing intellect were not also omniscient in the stronger sense that it knows all contingent truths, then it would have unrealized potential and thus not be purely actual.
  25. So, it is also omniscient in this stronger sense.
  26. What is purely actual must also be omnipotent, fully good, immutable, immaterial, incorporeal, and eternal.
  27. So, there is exactly one necessarily existing intellect, which is purely actual, omniscient, omnipotent, fully good, immutable, immaterial, incorporeal, and eternal.
  28. But for there to be such a thing is just what it is for God to exist.
  29. So, God exists.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Apologetics, Metaphysics, Natural Theology, Philosophy, Theology

The Neoplatonic Argument for the Existence of God

The Neoplatonic Argument for the Existence of GodIn an earlier post I mentioned some of the names that have done important work to undermine the credibility of new atheism and its presuppositions of metaphysical naturalism, epistemological scientism, and moral nihilism. The individuals highlighted were Wolfgang Smith, David Bentley Hart, and Edward Feser. I proceeded to focus on the work Feser is doing because he has systematically dismantled the new atheist movement, while successfully defending the legitimacy of natural theology.

Feser has accomplished this in a variety of ways. Most significantly is his ability to articulate classic arguments for the existence of God and then proceed to refute the objections offered against their reasonable authenticity. To that end Feser has used reason to the glory of God against those who have reduced it to an idol.

In his most recent work, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Feser explains, develops, presents, and defends the Aristotelian proof, the Neoplatonic proof, the Augustinian proof, the Thomistic proof, and the Rationalist proof. The presentation of the Aristotelian proof has already been highlighted, so now it is time for the Neoplatonic proof.


Taken from Neo-Scholastic Essays, The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument, Pg. 130, 131:

  1. There must be a first principle of all if there is to be an explanation of the orderly existing world, or why anything at all exists rather than nothing.
  2. If the first principle of all were composed of parts, then those parts would be ontologically prior to it.
  3. But in that case it would not be the first principle at all.
  4. So the first principle is not composed of parts, but is absolutely simple.
  5. If there were a distinction between what the first principle is and the fact that it is, then there could be more than one first principle.
  6. But in order for there to be more than one, there would have to be some attribute that distinguished them.
  7. But since a first principle is absolutely simple, there can be no such attribute.
  8. So there cannot be more than one first principle.
  9. So there is no distinction in the first principle between what it is and the fact that it is.
  10. So the first principle is not only absolutely simple but utterly unique, what Plotinus called “the One.”

Taken from Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Pg. 80-82:

  1. The things of our experience are composite.
  2. A composite exists at any moment only insofar as its parts are combined at that moment.
  3. This composition of parts requires a concurrent cause.
  4. So, any composite has a cause of its existence at any moment at which it exists.
  5. So, each of the things of our experience has a cause at any moment at which it exists.
  6. If the cause of a composite things’ existence at any moment is itself composite, then it will in turn require a cause of its own existence at that moment.
  7. The regress of causes this entails is hierarchical in nature, and such a regress must have a first member.
  8. Only something absolutely simple or noncomposite could be the first member of such a series.
  9. So, the existence of each of the things of our experience presupposes an absolutely simple or noncomposite cause.
  10. In order for there to be more than absolutely one simple or noncomposite cause, each would have to have some differentiating feature that the others lacked.
  11. But for a cause to have such a feature would be for it to have parts, in which case it would not really be simple, or noncomposite.
  12. So, no absolutely simple or noncomposite cause can have such a differentiating feature.
  13. So, there cannot be more than one absolutely simple or noncomposite cause.
  14. If the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause were changeable, then it would have parts which it gains or loses – which, being simple or noncomposite , it does not have.
  15. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is changeless or immutable.
  16. If the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause had a beginning or an end, it would have parts which could either be combined or broken apart.
  17. So, since it has no such parts, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is beginningless and endless.
  18. Whatever is immutable, beginningless, and endless is eternal.
  19. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is eternal.
  20. If something is caused, then it has parts which need to be combined.
  21. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause, since it has no parts, is uncaused.
  22. Everything is either a mind, or a mental content, or a material entity, or an abstract entity.
  23. An abstract entity is causally inert.
  24. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause, since it is not causally inert, is not an abstract entity.
  25. A material entity has parts and is changeable.
  26. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause, since it is without parts and changeless, is not a material entity.
  27. A mental content presupposes the existence of a mind, and so cannot be the ultimate cause of anything.
  28. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause, being the ultimate cause of things, cannot be a mental content.
  29. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause must be a mind.
  30. Since the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is unique, everything other than it is composite.
  31. Every composite has the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause as its ultimate cause.
  32. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is the ultimate cause of everything other than itself.
  33. If the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause had potentialities as well as actualities, it would have parts.
  34. So, since it has no parts, it must have no potentialities but be purely actual.
  35. A purely actual cause must be perfect, omnipotent, fully good, and omniscient.
  36. So, there exists a cause which is simple or noncomposite, unique, immutable, eternal, immaterial, a mind or intellect, the uncaused ultimate cause of everything other than itself, purely actual, perfect, omnipotent, fully good, and omniscient.
  37. But for there to be such a cause is just what it is for God to exist.
  38. So, God exists.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Apologetics, Metaphysics, Natural Theology, Philosophy, Scholasticism, Thomism

The Aristotelian Argument for the Existence of God

Aristotelian Argument for the Existence of GodAlthough atheism still exists as a basic presupposition of our modernistic culture, its credibility has been thoroughly exposed as fatuous. The new atheism of our current era has had its intellectual legs cut out from underneath it, and in actuality, has been demonstrated to be an illusory superstition from the very outset of its opportunistic endeavor. And despite the overall cultural embeddedness of atheistic pretension, it has been intellectually and spiritually routed by numerous minds dedicated to the perennial truths of wisdom. Indeed, atheism resides in the convenience of mantra, rationalistic sophistry, and a will to ‘suppress the truth in unrighteousness’ as Saint Paul tells us in the book of Romans.

Some of the minds that have contributed to the systematic dismantling of modern atheism hinted at above are Wolfgang Smith, David Bentley Hart, and Edward Feser. There are, of course, many others that can be mentioned because these men are merely participating in a tradition of thought inherited from the legacy of Western perennial wisdom. This tradition reaches all the way back to Plato and Aristotle, Plotinus and Porphyry, the Patristics, the Scholastics, and finally up to those who would not bend their knee to the mechanistic Weltanschauung or the postmodern metanarrative relativism that followed.

Wolfgang Smith, the philosopher and scientist par excellence, has showed us that we do not need to sacrifice even an inch of our traditional inheritance to the Goliath of scientistic presumption. Instead, Smith makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled traditionalist. David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, has triumphantly defended the tenets of classical theism against the ferocious misapprehension of those atheists erroneously proclaiming the death of God. Finally, Edward Feser, working within the Neo-Scholastic tradition of thought, has effectively established the fact that atheism is a pernicious superstition, rather than the most reasonable interpretation of reality atheism claims itself to be.

And while I am indebted to all of these great thinkers, it is Edward Feser’s thought that I would like to focus on at this time.

Throughout the extensive argumentation found in his work, Edward Feser has entirely destroyed any and all respectability the new atheist movement might have feigned to possess in their many publications of vociferous prognostications. The task of refuting the new atheists began with his great work, The Last Superstition, and has been extended in several publications that followed. His latest work, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, presents classic arguments of natural theology that demonstrate the necessary existence of God. These arguments are the Aristotelian argument, the Neoplatonic argument, the Augustinian argument, the Thomistic argument, and the Rationalist argument. Moreover, Feser dismantles the stock objections to these arguments and thoroughly defends the veracity of natural theology against those critics from the traditions of the so-called Enlightenment. I am reluctant to say that Feser’s work is the ‘last word’ regarding the positive legitimacy of natural theology and theistic ways of arguing for the existence of God, but nonetheless, Feser’s corpus is formidable. To get a glimpse of just how formidable Feser’s work is, all one must do is examine the arguments as he presents them.

Beginning with this initial installment, I will provide each classical argument in their syllogistic format as formulated by Feser. This is useful for a number of reasons, but most importantly is to pin the atheist against the wall with his own irrational slogans. If an atheist is going to reject the conclusion of the arguments, incredulity is not going to be sufficient for the task. Simply rejecting the conclusion that God exists because “I can’t see how X,” or “Science has shown X,” or the puerile reaction “What caused God,” is a desperation of the will, not an exercise of the intellect. The atheist, if he is going to live by his creed of the supremacy of reason must show which premises are in error, why they are in error, and how they invalidate the conclusion that God exists. Mindlessly appealing to the “quantum enigma” (which by the way Wolfgang Smith has solved in favor of the traditionalist) or the materialistic fallacies of Neo-Darwinian dogma do nothing to even wrestle with perennial truth.

Without further ado, here is Edward Feser’s presentation for the Aristotelian Argument for the existence of God.


Taken from Neo-Scholastic Essays, The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument, Pg. 128:

  1. That the actualization of potency is a real feature of the world follows from the occurrence of the events we know of via sensory experience.
  2. The occurrence of any event E presupposes the operation of a substance.
  3. The existence of any natural substance S at any given moment presupposes the concurrent actualization of a potency.
  4. No mere potency can actualize a potency; only something actual can do so.
  5. So any actualizer A of S’s current existence must itself be actual.
  6. A’s own existence at the moment it actualizes S itself presupposes either (a) the concurrent actualization of a further potency or (b) A’s being purely actual.
  7. If A’s existence at the moment it actualizes S presupposes the concurrent actualization of a further potency, then there exists a regress of concurrent actualizers that is either infinite or terminates in a purely actual actualizer.
  8. But such a regress of concurrent actualizers would constitute an essentially ordered causal series, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
  9. So either A itself is purely actual or there is a purely actual actualizer which terminates the regress of concurrent actualizers.
  10. So the occurrence of E and thus the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of a purely actual actualizer.

Taken From Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Pg. 35-37

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.
  4. No potential can be actualized unless something already actual actualizes it (the principle of causality).
  5. So, any change is caused by something already actual.
  6. The occurrence of any change C presupposes some thing or substance S which changes.
  7. The existence of S at any given moment itself presupposes the concurrent actualization of S’s potential for existence.
  8. So, any substance S has at any moment some actualizer A of its existence.
  9. A’s own existence at the moment it actualizes S itself presupposes either (a) the concurrent actualization of its on potential for existence or (b) A’s being purely actual.
  10. If A’s existence at the moment it actualizes S presupposes the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence, then there exists a regress of concurrent actualizers that is either infinite or terminates in a purely actual actualizer.
  11. But such a regress of concurrent actualizers would constitute a hierarchical causal series, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
  12. So either A itself is a purely actual actualizer or there is a purely actual actualizer which terminates the regress that begins with the actualization of A.
  13. So, the occurrence of C and thus the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of a purely actual actualizer.
  14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer.
  15. In order for there to be more than one purely actual actualizer, there would have to be some differentiating feature that one such actualizer has that the others lack.
  16. But there could be such a differentiating feature only if a purely actual actualizer had some unactualized potential, which, being purely actual, it does not have.
  17. So, there can be no such differentiating feature, and thus no way for there to be more than one purely actual actualizer.
  18. So, there is only one purely actual actualizer.
  19. In order for this purely actual actualizer to be capable of change, it would have to have potentials capable of actualization.
  20. But being purely actual, it lacks any such potentials.
  21. So, it is immutable or incapable of change.
  22. If this purely actual actualizer existed in time, then it would be capable of change, which it is not.
  23. So, this purely actual actualizer is eternal, existing outside of time.
  24. If the purely actual actualizer were material, then it would be changeable and exist in time, which it does not.
  25. So, the purely actual actualizer is immaterial.
  26. If the purely actual actualizer were corporeal, then it would be material, which it is not.
  27. So, the purely actual actualizer is incorporeal.
  28. If the purely actual actualizer were imperfect in any way, it would have some unactualized potential, which, being purely actual, it does not have.
  29. So, the purely actual actualizer is perfect.
  30. For something to be less than fully good is for it to have a privation – that is, to fail to actualize some feature proper to it.
  31. A purely actual actualizer, being purely actual, can have no such privation.
  32. So, the purely actual actualizer is fully good.
  33. To have power entails being able to actualize potentials.
  34. Any potential that is actualized is either actualized by the purely actual actualizer or by a series of actualizers which terminates in the purely actual actualizer.
  35. So, all power derives from the purely actual actualizer.
  36. But to be from which all power derives is to be omnipotent.
  37. So, the purely actual actualizer is omnipotent.
  38. Whatever is in an effect is in its cause in some way, whether formally, virtually, or eminently (the principle of proportionate causality.)
  39. The purely actual actualizer is the cause of all things.
  40. So, the forms or patterns manifest in all things it causes must in some way be in the purely actual actualizer.
  41. These forms or patters can exist either in the concrete way in which they exist in individual particular things, or in the abstract way in which they exist in the thoughts of an intellect.
  42. They cannot exist in the purely actual actualizer in the same way they exist in individual particular things.
  43. So, they must exist in the purely actual actualizer in the abstract way in which they exist in the thoughts of an intellect.
  44. So, the purely actual actualizer has intellect or intelligence.
  45. Since it is the forms or patterns of all things that are in the thoughts of this intellect, there is nothing that is outside the range of those thoughts.
  46. For there to be nothing outside the range of something’s thoughts is for that thing to be omniscient.
  47. So, the purely actual actualizer is omniscient.
  48. So, there exists a purely actual cause of the existence of things, which is one, immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, fully good, omnipotent, intelligent, and omniscient.
  49. But for there to be such a cause of things is just what it is for God to exist.
  50. So, God Exists.


 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

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Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Metaphysics as Seeing: The Christic Center of the Metaphysical Journey

Metaphysics as Seeing - The Christic CenterIn the quest to enter metaphysics as ‘seeing’ it is essential to establish the importance and necessity of a metaphysical schematic for understanding reality. Metaphysics is important because it is needed to answer the fundamental questions of life, and it is necessary because we interpret reality through the principles of first philosophy. Now, we are prepared to analyze Wolfgang Smith’s essay, Metaphysics as ‘Seeing’, so that we might find the Christic center of our journey.

Contrary to the modern suggestion, metaphysics isn’t confined to the halls of academia where professors smoking pipes and wearing tweed jackets break down the problem of universals to its linguistic parts in order to reject it as an ancient abuse of language; nor is it a field of thought accessible only to the modernist apologetics intelligentsia utilized only to frustrate the new atheist credo.

Metaphysics is effectively a human endeavor.

Wolfgang Smith reminds us of this perennial truth,

“Since the beginning of modern times, metaphysics has been viewed as an academic discipline, to be pursued at universities; and it is of interest to note that, as such, its standing and prestige in the educated world has steadily declined, to the point where many nowadays deny its philosophic legitimacy. Yet I contend that the metaphysical quest pertains by right, not to the artificial environment of the contemporary university, but to human life, human existence in its untruncated reality. In plain words: it springs from man’s innate thirst for truth, which is none other than the thirst for God…Metaphysics is therefore something that concerns each of us by virtue of the fact that we are human, which is to say, ‘made in the image and likeness of God.’ It is indeed a case of, ‘noblesse oblige’: so far from reducing to a mere academic discipline – to be pursued by ‘professionals,’ notably recipients of a doctorate in philosophy – metaphysics constitutes an activity of the mind and heart to which, in principle, all are not only entitled, but are, in a way, ‘called.’”[1]

It is worth noting that because metaphysics is by its nature a human endeavor, and not a speculative product of academic investigation, that its deepest roots are planted in the theophany of aesthetic wonderment. Humans crave answers to the deepest and most fundamental questions of life because we are made in the imago Dei and participate in a created order that proclaims the glory of the Triune Creator. Our hearts are restless, St. Augustine says in union with St. Paul, because it is “in Him that we live and move and have our being.” To the contrary of modern materialistic and epistemic reductionism, metaphysics springs from aesthetic longing and wonder, rather than doubtful skepticism.[2]

The divergent approaches in the metaphysical quest for truth points toward an important distinction between the perennial tradition and the modernist misconception. It is because the modernist intellectual conviction manifests itself through speculative doubt that it subordinates metaphysics to the confines of critical reason alone. With this in consideration, Smith says that “we tend to think that the means or modus operandi of metaphysics consists of reasoning, that is to say, of rational argument, when in fact it is, again, the very opposite: a question, namely, of ‘seeing,’ of direct perception, of gnosis properly so called.”[3] This is not to deny the rationality metaphysics exemplifies in the human pursuit of truth; it is, however, important to identify the appropriateness of its praeambula-type nature, that is, “reasoning does have a role to play; but its function is inherently negative and preparatory; to be precise, rational argument serves to deconstruct false beliefs, and in so doing, to purify the mind.”[4] Smith’s explanation corresponds to St. Paul’s teaching, “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”[5] Once these metaphysical “obstacles” are cleared away and the mind is ‘wiped clean’, the ‘seeing’ person will be prepared to perceive God in Christ.[6]

Metaphysics is not only a human endeavor; it is inherently mystical in its ultimate end, which is seeing the Incarnate Christ.

These truths should point us to the realization that the spiritual and intellectual journey of metaphysics as seeing is not merely an external investigation of the fundamental principles undergirding all of reality, but an internal examination as well. God is not only the end to which our initial aesthetic desire is satisfied, but the very subject imminently prompting our soul towards its beatific union with the Creator.[7] Smith says, “It is this inscrutable indwelling of God – as the ‘soul of our soul’ – that enables and indeed powers the quest from its first inception to its ultimate end.”[8]

Metaphysics as seeing is the primordial human endeavor journeying toward mystical union with God through the life, death, and resurrection of the Incarnate Christ.

While this is what metaphysics as seeing is, it is important to recall that a purifying of the mind in order to see reality properly is required. The human pursuit of divine truth has been clouded by a “collective blindness.”[9] Motivated by the illusions of progress, guided by the mantras of the Enlightenment, and fueled by the habituation of concupiscence, modern man has institutionalized the postmodern abyss described by Catholic doctrine as the fall of man. Progress, so-called, is the cultural actualization of nihilistic deterioration. When the demonic deceptions of the serpent echo throughout the halls of modernity the collective blindness inexorably increases in its darkness as the light of God in Jesus Christ is pushed further to the margins. This modern cultural reality indicates that, “the primary task of the true metaphysician is then to undo the collective decline, to reverse it in himself. It is a question of restoring the ‘heart’ from its ‘darkened’ condition, and in so doing, to recover the unimpaired use of our God-given ‘eyes’: such, in brief, is the task of veritable metaphysics.”[10]

In order to prepare the mind to see nature as a theophany created by God the metaphysical evangel must expose the faulty, indeed the diabolical, Cartesian dualist apparatus presupposed by modernity in an effort to wipe the blurred mirror clean. Cartesian dualism sets up an illegitimate bifurcation of reality into the mechanistic and extended material realm and the internal subjective realm of the soul or conscious mind. Dividing the world in this way has disconnected the external and internal, and nobody has figured out how to reunite them. Instead of casting aside the Cartesian project for the disaster that it is, its presuppositions are maintained due to their usefulness for scientific modeling. The ruinous nature of this bifurcation becomes most apparent when the issue of consciousness is addressed.

Smith explains,

“The point is that ‘seeing’ does not reduce to the ‘reception into consciousness’ of something that pre-exists in the external world, but constitutes rather an ‘act of intentionality’ which conditions and in a way ‘defines’ its object. What is more, consciousness is not something which precedes that ‘act,’ but is itself that act, which is to say that it is never without content – like an empty receptacle – but is invariably a ‘consciousness of.’ So too, what antecedes the intentional act ‘externally’ is not in fact the object or ‘extended entity,’ but the phenomenon, conceived (according to the literal sense of that Greek word) as ‘that which shows itself in itself.’”[11]

The participatory nature of the conscious intentional act and the phenomenal showing in itself not only circumnavigates the prioritization of the object and the intentional act of consciousness or the intentional act of consciousness and the object, but effectively breaks down the Cartesian bifurcation with the intrinsically simultaneous relation of being between subject and object.[12] And when the erroneous sophistry of the Cartesian divide has been exposed the insanity of the project, ironically, manifests itself as the demonic trickery of a philosophical nightmare.[13] After cleansing the mind of the bifurcated illusion, we can begin to take steps toward seeing anew in the depths of our heart.

After clearing the spiritual and intellectual blockade of Cartesian dualism, realizing that we are not confined to the inner sanctuary of our mind and that reality is in fact accessible, we come face to face with another hindrance obstructing the path of metaphysics as seeing – Newtonian mechanism. To properly expunge this stain from the mirror of our mind, Smith proposes the scientific Anschauung of Johann Wolfgang Goethe. The Goethean view of science suggests that the objects under observation cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts, mechanism is rejected for the organic whole of nature, there is no mechanism standing behind the phenomena waiting to be discovered by the scientist, and that which is ‘seeable’ is that which is being theorized (that is, the theory is of the object and not concerning anything ontologically behind the object).[14]

This view of science, according to Smith, has been vindicated by the discovery of quantum mechanics,

“I would like to now point out that the Goethean ‘denial of mechanism’ – which in his day was met with derision, bordering upon contempt, and not only by the scientific establishment, but by the ‘enlightened’ public at large – has in fact been vindicated through the discovery of quantum mechanics, which turns out not to be a mechanics at all. It appears that the physical universe – the universe as conceived by the physicist – cannot actually be separated from the interventions effected by the physicist himself: as John Wheeler has put it, we have been forced to admit that physics deals, finally, with ‘a participatory universe.’ What ‘breaks a physical system into parts,’ it turns out, is the empirical intervention by which the parts in question are specified; and because the measurement of one observable has an uncontrollable effect upon its so-called conjugate, it follows that the system as such can no longer be conceived as a sum of well-defined parts.”[15]

Saint Bonaventure Quote copy

The Goethean view of science, as it has been vindicated by the quantum discovery of a participatory universe, opens the door for the possibility of reconnecting to nature rather than remaining alienated from it according to the inherently reductionist project of ideological scientism. It intuitively follows from this renewed understanding of participation that a qualitatively permeated “kinship” with nature as an organically created whole reflects its analogical correlation to its divine source of being.[16]

It is from this perspective then, after eradicating the modernist presuppositions of Cartesian bifurcation and Newtonian mechanism, that metaphysics as seeing moves from being a mere potentiality to an appropriately situated mystical actuality. Metaphysics as seeing actualizes the potential for discovering the realization of the “primary center in man”[17], that is, man is the pinnacle center of creation having been made in the imago Christi, which is to say imaged after the Christic center of the Trinity. To see is to know Christ, and to know is to see Christ. The metaphysical quest begins and ends with God; indeed it culminates in our union with Christ.[18]

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Science & Myth, Pg. 201

[2] “We are prone, first of all, to imagine that the discipline stems from ‘doubt,’ when in fact it springs from a profound sense of ‘wonder,’ which is actually the very opposite of doubt: for that wonder proves to be in essence a recognition, however dim, of the inscrutable immanence of God in the thins of this world.” Ibid, Pg. 201

[3] Ibid, Pg. 201, 202

[4] Ibid, Pg. 202

[5] 2 Corinthians 10:5

[6] “Admittedly, reasoning does have a role to play; but its function is inherently negative and preparatory; to be precise, rational argument serves to deconstruct false beliefs, and in so doing, to purify the mind. That is all it can do, and indeed all it needs to do; for to the extent that the mind has been purified – the ‘mirror’ wiped clean – the ‘seeing’ takes care of itself. This holds true to the very end: as the Savior assures us: ‘the pure in heart shall see God.’” Ibid, Pg. 202

[7] “We need however to realize that God enters the picture, not only at the end of the metaphysical quest, but from the very outset, and not only as object of the aforesaid ‘wonder,’ but in a way as its subject as well. Indeed, we could in no wise ‘sense’ God outside of ourselves if H were not also present within the depths of our soul as the first ultimate ‘seer.’” Ibid, Pg. 202

[8] Ibid, Pg. 202

[9] “We have maintained, in keeping with sapiential tradition, that metaphysics is inherently a ‘seeing’; it needs also, however, to be noted that every ‘seeing’ – even the humblest act of sense perception – is in a way metaphysical, and can in principle serve to initiate the metaphysical quest. It is a question of following what may be termed ‘the spoor of God’ in visible things. ‘For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made.’ (Rom. 1:20) One may take this to mean that what St. Paul refers to as ‘the invisible things of God’ are in fact what is ‘clearly seen,’ which is to say that they are precisely what would be seen, if indeed we say ‘clearly.’ St. Paul is putting us on notice that in ‘seeing’ we generally ‘see not.’ We are given to understand that a collective blindness has overtaken us, which the Apostle goes on to ascribe to an apostasy, an estrangement from God: ‘Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’ (Rom. 1:21)” Ibid. Pg, 202, 203

[10] Ibid, Pg. 203

[11] Ibid, Pg. 204

[12] “It is to be noted, moreover, that the phenomenon, by virtue of the fact that it shows itself ‘in itself’ – that is to say, not just in some representation, some private phantasm, but literally ‘in itself’ – does not belong ‘exclusively’ to the external or objective side of the Cartesian divide: it breaks the dichotomy, in other words.” Ibid, Pg. 204

[13] “It should however be noted that in fact – mercifully! – not a single human being accepts this Cartesian stipulation in his or her daily life: to do so would constitute insanity. Instead, we have leaned to oscillate, as it were, between our ‘daily’ Weltanschauung and the Cartesian – we uphold in our scientific convictions – without so much as realizing that these two orientations stand in stark contradiction: that one moment the grass is green and the next it is not!” Ibid, Pg. 205

[14] Ibid, Pg. 208, 209

[15] Ibid, Pg. 210

[16] “But there is more: Goethe’s science is based, not only upon a profound kinship with Nature, but also upon a deep love: a love which cannot but be near to what religion knows as ‘the love of God.’ If Nature be more than a mechanism – more than an inert machine – it must be something noble and beautiful and instinct with power; and that, to be sure, is something worthy to be loved. One senses an almost Franciscan quality in Goethe’s relation to what he termed ‘Nature.Ibid, Pg. 211

[17] Ibid, Pg. 214

[18] “The metaphysical question – which is none other than the task of religion according to its highest conception – reduces thus to a cleansing that rids the soul of its impurities: those intangible and elusive ‘little bits’ that stick to it and impair our vision. We are called to the very ‘purity of heart’ by which we ‘shall see God.’ Nothing less than this will do: such is the perfection Christ has enjoined upon us…” Ibid, Pg. 220

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Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Metaphysics as Seeing: The Necessity of Metaphysics

Wolfgang Smith - Metaphysics as Seeing The Necessity of MetaphysicsThe journey toward metaphysics as seeing requires preliminary steps to be taken. The first step is to appreciate that when investigating the five most basic questions of life[1] a metaphysical schematic is required, that is, the importance of metaphysics must be recognized. After identifying the importance of metaphysics, another preliminary step is essential in the quest for truth – accepting the intellectual and spiritual necessity of metaphysics.

Comprehending the necessity of metaphysics is imperative because there are many who would deny both of these preliminary steps. However, these metaphysical scoffers do so at their own intellectual and spiritual peril. For it will be seen that those who deny the importance and necessity of metaphysics end up staring at the shadows in the cave rather than gazing upon the light of truth. There is no amount of epistemological trickery, semantic posturing, or scientistic shenanigans that will successfully eliminate the fundamental reality of metaphysical presence. Philosophy and the first principles of wisdom can either be united to a way of life moved by the divine light, or it can be a tool to justify a brutish existence blinded by sensual passion. Indeed, “philosophy always buries its undertakers.”[2]

Throughout the history of philosophy metaphysics has had to overcome challenges. Rather than a comprehensive survey, it would be profitable to focus on the modern confrontations our current era is up against. In his Encyclical, Fides et ratio, Pope St. John Paul II identifies five primary threats against a traditional understanding of Christian philosophy and metaphysics. These threats are eclecticism,[3] historicism,[4] scientism,[5] pragmatism,[6] and nihilism.[7] In addition to Pope St. John Paul II, Thomist philosopher Robert Koons identified a similar catalogue of modern threats to Christian philosophy and metaphysics. He argues “metaphysics faced opposition from five sources in the early twentieth century.”[8] The primary opposition came from subjectivism and phenomenology, positivism, relativism and historicism, pragmatism, and physicalism.[9]

Along with the general identification of philosophical schools of thought that are hostile to traditional metaphysics, there are some common objections routinely made against first philosophy. W. Norris Clarke zeroes in on three basic objections:[10]

  1. No distinctive subject matter.
  2. We, as parts of the Whole, cannot comprehend the Whole.
  3. Objections to metaphysics from modern restrictive theories of knowledge.

The first objection, that metaphysics has no distinctive subject matter, is an attempt to categorically transform metaphysics into something that it cannot be, which is a sort of empirical field of study. The objection amounts to nothing more than a complaint that metaphysics isn’t more like the hard sciences, but this makes no sense because metaphysics is the study of being qua being, and not observable quantifications of concrete reality. Metaphysics is the study of what is fundamental to all the sciences, which is being as such. As Clarke states, “Metaphysics does not have a distinctive subject matter, since it treats of all beings, but it does have a distinctive point of view from which it studies them.”[11] Clarke continues, “It [metaphysics] considers in them only their most fundamental attribute of being and the properties and laws which they have in common with all beings, or all changing and finite beings, as these beings exist in the community of other existent beings, acting and interacting with each other to form the universe in which we are all plunged.”[12][13]

The second objection, that metaphysics is impossible because we, as parts of the Whole, cannot comprehend the Whole, is arguing that in order to comprehend reality in its totality would require a God’s-eye-perspective, which is obviously impossible for creatures like us. It is due to this philosophical impasse that we must, maybe out of polite humility, focus on studying the parts rather than pretending that we can understand the whole.

Clarke does a beautiful job of refuting this objection (emphasis added),

“But this is precisely the wonder and paradox of the spiritual intellect we all possess. Because it is by nature ordered to being as such as its proper object, it is open to the entire horizon of being without restriction, and so can think about it as a whole and about our own place in it, can encompass it in a certain sense in its own thought – not in detail, of course, but in its broad outlines – which other non-intelligent beings in the universe cannot do. Hence, by the very fact that we can raise the question about being as a whole, the human person is not just a part of the universe but a whole, within the Whole. Every person endowed with intelligence is thus, at least implicitly, a point of view on the whole universe. This is an essential part of our dignity as images of God.”[14]

The third objection to metaphysics is based on the epistemological restrictions placed on reality by empiricism, Kantianism, and relativism. The empiricism of David Hume is quite restrictive and claims that all knowledge is derived from sense experience. Because of this limited source of knowledge, there can be no justification for claiming to know anything outside the realm of sense data. Kantianism is the view that knowledge of things-in-themselves is impossible, and the intelligibility of the phenomenal world comes from the categories of our mind as they are imposed on the world. Metaphysics, then, is an illusion of reason because each person is “locked without escape within the walls of our own minds.”[15] Finally, relativism, which is directly related to historicism and postmodernism, claims that every person is bound by the historical, cultural linguistic framework in which they live. Due to this constrained situational epoch, there is no such thing as objectivity or universal knowledge that can surpass the limits of historical circumstances.

A primary problem with empiricism is that it destroys experience for the sake of ignoring fundamental questions of reality. Moreover, empiricism as an epistemological theory violates its own criteria of what constitutes knowledge since the theory of empiricism is not subject to validation through the patterns of data collection required of the five senses. For example, in order to articulate a theory of empiricism an argument must be put forth to make the case. This argument will have basic premises to which our reasoning can syllogistically connect in our intellective capacities. The problem with this is that the premises themselves are not connected by way of sense experience because the intellect itself is not a product of the same sensory input. The intellect is extra-sensory, so to speak, and is the prerequisite for the intelligibility of sensory experience.

The Kantian assault on metaphysics, as sophisticated as it might be, is ultimately incoherent for the reason Clarke outlines,

“One of the central flaws in Kant’s theory of knowledge is that he has blown up the bridge of action by which real beings manifest their natures to our cognitive receiving sets. He admits that things in themselves act on us, on our sense; but he insists that such action reveals nothing intelligible about these beings, nothing about their natures in themselves, only an unordered, unstructured sense manifold that we have to order and structure from within ourselves. But action that is completely indeterminate, that reveals nothing meaningful about the agent from which it comes, is incoherent, not really action at all.”[16]

The objection of relativism, as well as the historicism and postmodernism that follow, fails the same way each relativistic theory fails. Every declaration related to a theory of relativism refutes itself because to claim that there are no objective or universal truths is itself an objective and universal truth claim. This becomes transparent when applied to the suggestion that there can be no objective and universal truth transcending the inherited cultural and linguistic frameworks. Due to the nature of the statement, this claim is itself an objective and universal assertion that allegedly transcends each cultural and linguistic framework because it is meant to describe every culture throughout all of history. It is a self-defeating statement.

These are the modern schools of thought and common objections against the necessity of metaphysics. And while there may have been a resurgent relevance in academic metaphysics during the twentieth century, this recovery has not been in any way influential in the culture. In fact, it might have worked to only further solidify what has already been established among these combative theories and arguments just outlined. The fusion of all philosophical heresies continues to jealously grip the soul of every Western cultural institution.

Despite this death grip, it is imperative to confront the errors of these despotic sophists combatting the truths of perennial wisdom. Although the lists provided above should be respected in their entirety, it is the united ideological synthesis of metaphysical naturalism and epistemic scientism that inexorably reduces to postmodern historicism, relativism, and nihilism. Our enemy, in a word – is atheism.

Brandishing the modern discoveries of science, atheists have proclaimed the death of philosophy, and therefore, the ultimate demise of metaphysical speculation.[17] And while philosophy is claimed to be dead according to atheistic champions, the important questions of life remain. The persistence of life’s ultimate questions needs a new guide, so to speak, since the advances of a technocratic scientism have outdone the ancient teacher.

Who wouldn’t argumentatively shrink from the obvious successes of modern science? Who needs theology and metaphysics when we can carry a computer in our pocket? What can religion offer when its mythical tenets are throwbacks to an era prior to the advent of scientific discovery, progress, and technology? How can the Davidic underdog of traditional philosophy dare challenge the Goliath of modern science?

The advance of scientific progress is a powerful narrative. But underneath the rhetoric of a premature declaration of victory lurks a dirty little secret atheists desperately want to keep hidden. The entire atheistic Weltanschauung depends on a metaphysical and epistemological schematic that is utterly incoherent. Moreover, the truth claims made by the atheist requires a metaphysical extrication from their own materialistic imprisonment so they might rob from the perennial wisdom previously spurned in order to feign intellectual superiority.

The atheist must take from what they have proclaimed to be dead.

It is metaphysical naturalism, however, that is ultimately dead on arrival because it epistemically depends on an ideological scientism that fails for the same reasons empiricism collapses into itself. Scientism cannot abide by its own principles without arguing in a circle, and begging the most important metaphysical questions. Without epistemic scientism metaphysical naturalism loses its offensive arsenal. Edward Feser provides the nails for the scientistic coffin:[18]

  1. Scientism is self-defeating, and can avoid being self-defeating only at the cost of becoming trivial and uninteresting.[19]
  2. The scientific method cannot even in principle provide us with a complete description of reality.[20]
  3. The “laws of nature” in terms of which science explains phenomenon cannot in principle provide us with a complete explanation of reality.[21]
  4. What is probably the main argument in favor of scientism – the argument from the predictive and technological successes of modern physics and the other sciences – has no force.[22]

If these four points are the nails sealing the scientistic coffin, this summary is the dirt pushed into the grave and guarantees its anti-metaphysical demise,

“For scientific inquiry rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: the assumption that there is an objective world external to the minds of the scientists; the assumptions that this world is governed by regularities of the sort that might be captured in scientific laws; the assumption that the human intellect and perceptual apparatus can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since scientific method presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle. To break out of this circle requires ‘getting outside’ of science altogether and discovering from that extra-scientific vantage point that science conveys an accurate picture of reality – and, if scientism is to be justified, that only science does so. But then the very existence of that extra-scientific vantage point would falsify the claim that science alone gives us a rational means of investigating objective reality.”[23]

It should be evident that any attempt to avoid, discredit, undermine, or eradicate metaphysics from the human pursuit of truth in the quest to see reality utterly fails. No matter the school of thought or the argument presented attempting to do away with metaphysics through the front door, an instantaneous attempt to smuggle in a schematic of first philosophy in order to maintain rational cogency is ushered in the back. Now that the importance and necessity of metaphysics has been established, the final step toward metaphysics as seeing is possible.

To be completed…

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] These questions were referenced in the previous installment, Metaphysics as Seeing: The Importance of Metaphysics. The questions are – Does God exist; Why is there something rather than nothing; Who am I in relation to all that exists; What is the good life; What happens when we die?

[2] “The reality of the fact itself seems to be beyond question. Plato’s idealism comes first; Aristotle warns everybody that Platonism is heading for scepticism; then Greek scepticism arises, more or less redeemed by the moralism of the Stoics and Epicureans, or by the mysticism of Plotinus. St. Thomas Aquinas restores philosophical knowledge, but Ockham cuts its very root, and ushers in the later medieval and Renaissance scepticism, itself redeemed by the moralism of the Humanists or by the pseudo-mysticism of Nicolaus Cusanus and of his successors. Then comes Descartes and Locke, but their philosophies disintegrate into Berkeley and Hume, with the moralism of Rousseau and the visions of Swedenborg as natural reactions. Kant had read Swedenborg, Rousseau and Hume, but his own philosophical restoration ultimately degenerated into the various forms of contemporary agnosticism, with all sorts of moralism and of would-be mysticisms as ready shelters against spiritual despair. The so-called death of philosophy being regularly attended by its revival, some new dogmatism should now be at hand. In short, the first law to be inferred from philosophical experience is: Philosophy always buries its undertakers.

That is the reason why, at the very time when he was denouncing the illusory character of metaphysical knowledge, Kant sought the root of that illusion in the very nature of reason itself. Hume had destroyed both metaphysics and science; in order to save science, Kant decided to sacrifice metaphysics. Now, it is the upshot of the Kantian experiment that, if metaphysics is arbitrary knowledge, science also is arbitrary knowledge; hence it follows that our belief in the objective validity of science itself stands or falls with our belief in the objective validity of metaphysics. The new question, then, is no longer, Why is metaphysics a necessary illusion, but rather, Why is metaphysics necessary, and how is it that it has given rise to so many illusions?” The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Gilson, Pg. 246, 247

[3] “The first goes by the name eclecticism, which is meant the approach of those who, in research, teaching and argumentation, even in theology, tend to use individual ideas drawn from different philosophies, without concern for their internal coherence, their place within a system or their historical context. They therefore run the risk of being unable to distinguish the part of truth of a given doctrine from elements of it which may be erroneous or ill-suited to the task at hand. An extreme form of eclecticism appears also in the rhetorical misuse of philosophical terms to which some theologians are given at times. Such manipulation does not help the search for truth and does not train reason – whether theological or philosophical – to formulate arguments seriously and scientifically. The rigorous and far-reaching study of philosophical doctrines, their particular terminology and the context is which they arose, helps to overcome the danger of eclecticism and makes it possible to integrate them into theological discourse in a way appropriate to the task.” Fides et Ratio, Pope St. John Paul II, Pg. 108, 109

[4] “Eclecticism is an error of method, but lying hidden within it can also be the claims of historicism. To understand a doctrine from the past correctly, it is necessary to set it within its proper historical and cultural context. The fundamental claim of historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose. At least implicitly, therefore, the enduring validity of truth is denied. What was true in one period, historicists claim, may not be true in another. Thus for them the history of thought becomes little more than an archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held, but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now. On the contrary, it should not be forgotten that, even if a formulation is bound in some way by time and culture, the truth or the error which it expresses can invariably be identified and evaluated as such despite the distance of space and time.

In theological enquiry, historicism tends to appear for the most part under the guise of ‘modernism.’ Rightly concerned to make theological discourse relevant and understandable to our time, some theologians use only the most recent opinions and philosophical language, ignoring the critical evaluation which ought to be made of them in the light of the tradition. By exchanging relevance for truth, this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth which theology is called to respond.” Ibid, Pg. 109

[5] “Another threat to be reckoned with is scientism. This is the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive science; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy. In the past, the same idea emerged in positivism and neo-positivism, which considered metaphysical statements to be meaningless…Regrettably, it must be noted, scientism consigns all that has to do with the question of the meaning of life to the realm of the irrational or imaginary.” Ibid, Pg. 109, 110

[6] “No less dangerous is pragmatism. An attitude of mind which, in making its choices, precludes theoretical considerations or judgments based on ethical principles. The practical consequences of this mode of thinking are significant. In particular there is growing support for a concept of democracy which is not grounded upon any reference to unchanging values: whether or not a line of action is admissible is decided by the vote of a parliamentary majority. The consequences of this are clear: in practice, the great moral decisions of humanity are subordinated to decisions taken one after another by institutional agencies. Moreover, anthropology itself is severely compromised by a one-dimensional vision of the human being, a vision which excludes the great ethical dilemmas and the existential analysis of the meaning of suffering and sacrifice, life and death.” Ibid, Pg. 110, 111

[7] The positions we have examined lead in turn to a more general conception which appears today as the common framework of many philosophies which have rejected the meaningfulness of being. I am referring to the nihilist interpretation, which is at once the denial of all foundations and the negation of all objective truth. Quite apart from the fact that it conflicts with the demands and the content of the word of God, nihilism is a denial of the humanity and of the very identity of the human being. It should never be forgotten that the neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity. This in turn makes it possible to erase from the countenance of man and woman the marks of their likeness to God, and thus to lead them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope. Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try and set them free. Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.” Ibid, Pg. 111

[8] Metaphysics: The Fundamentals, Koons and Pickavance, Pg. 6

[9] Ibid

[10] The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics, Pg. 8-14

[11] Ibid, Pg. 8

[12] Ibid, Pg. 8, 9

[13] “This fundamental dimension of being itself, of the actual existence of what they are studying, is taken for granted by all other branches of knowledge, which then go on to study what it is and how it works. But just because something is taken for granted does not mean that it is unimportant. This is just what metaphysics, and it alone, aims to do: to draw into the explicit light of reflection what all other human inquiry takes for granted and leaves implicit – the foundation of actual existence upon which all else is built and without which all subject matter vanishes into the darkness of nonbeing, of what is not. Martin Heidegger, the great contemporary German metaphysician – not himself a Thomist at all – complained that the whole of Western metaphysics, from Plato on, lapsed into a ‘forgetfulness of being,’ not of what things are, their essences, but of the radical fact that they are at all, standing out from nothingness and shining forth to us.” Ibid, Pg. 9

[14] Ibid, Pg, 10

[15] Ibid, Pg. 11

[16] Ibid, Pg. 12

[17] “We each exist for but a short time, and in that time explore but a small part of the whole universe. But humans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers. Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time.

Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” The Grand Design, Hawking and Mlodinow, Pg. 5

[18] Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, Pg. 10

[19] “First as I have said, scientism faces a dilemma: It is either self-refuting or trivial. Take the first horn of the dilemma. The claim that ‘the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything’ (Rosenberg 2011, p. 6) is itself not a scientific claim, not a something that can be established using the scientific method. Indeed, that science is even a rational form of inquiry (let alone the only rational form of inquiry) is not something that can be established scientifically.” Ibid, Pg. 10

[20] “The second main problem facing scientism, I have said, is that science cannot in principle provide a complete description of reality. Indeed, it cannot in principle provide a complete description even of physical reality. The reason, as paradoxical as it sounds, has to do precisely with the method that has made the predictive and technological achievements of modern physics possible. Physics insists upon a purely quantitative description of the world, regarding mathematics as the language in which the ‘Book of Nature’ is written (as Galileo famously put it). Hence it is hardly surprising that physics, more than other disciplines, has discovered those aspects of reality susceptible of the prediction and control characteristic of quantifiable phenomena. Those are the only aspects to which the physicist will allow himself to pay any attention in the first place. Everything else necessarily falls through this methodological net.” Ibid, Pg. 12, 13

[21] “If there are limits to what science can describe, there are also limits to what science can explain. This brings us to the third problem I have claimed faces scientism – the fact that the ‘laws of nature’ in terms of which science explains phenomena cannot in principle provide an ultimate explanation of reality.” Ibid, Pg. 18

[22] “Now if scientism faces such grave difficulties, why are so many intelligent people drawn to it? The answer – to paraphrase a remark made by Wittgenstein in another context – is that ‘a picture holds them captive.’ Hypnotized by the unparalleled predictive technological successes of modern science, they infer that scientism must be true, and that anything that follows from scientism – however fantastic or even seemingly incoherent – must also be true.” Ibid, Pg. 21

[23] Ibid, Pg. 10, 11

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Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Metaphysics as Seeing: The Importance of Metaphysics

Wolfgang Smith Metaphysics as Seeing Part IThere are five primary questions every person will wrestle with throughout their life, and how these questions are answered will shape who they are and what they might become. Even if these questions are ignored, or suppressed, they will remain lurking in the psyche of each individual. And because there is no escape from these questions any attempt to ignore them is in actuality an answer to them.

The five most important questions every person must confront and provide an answer for are these:

  1. Does God Exist?
  2. Why is there something rather than nothing?
  3. Who am I in relation to all that exists?
  4. What is the good life?
  5. What happens when you die?

These questions are fundamental and ultimate. It is because of their ultimacy that nobody can evade responsibility for providing answers to them. Every moment of any person’s life will result in a way of thinking, knowing, believing, and acting which reflect how these questions have been answered. The answers might be thoroughly examined or they may be entirely unexamined, but either way, they will be answered in the choices we make here and now in this life.

The fundamental importance of these questions is also the strongest reason why so many people attempt to hide from them; because once they have been answered the virtuous will recognize the necessity to submit and conform to the truths discovered. Hiding only leads to ruin and spiritual decay.

While these questions might seem disparate and independent of one another, the truth is they are intricately united by a word that causes modern men to tremble in fear – metaphysics. These five questions are metaphysically united; how the first question is answered will affect the manner in which the rest of the questions are answered. And even if the first question – Does God exist? – is ignored for the sake of starting with the fourth question – What is the good life? – the examination of what constitutes the good life will inevitably lead to whether or not God exists. The impact the divine has on the questions of life are, as we will come to see, world changing.

There are at least three all-encompassing metaphysical questions that directly overlap with the questions of life (these three questions are taken from the book, Metaphysics)

  1. What are the most general features of the World, and what sorts of things does it contain? What is the World like?
  2. Why does a World exist – and, more specifically, why is there a World having the features and the content described in the answer to Question 1?
  3. What is our place in the World? How do we human beings fit into it? [1]

It is evident, then, that there is no way to avoid metaphysics when examining life’s ultimate questions. It is built into the fabric of reality.

As penetrating as these questions might be, and as daunting as metaphysics can become, there are only two general metaphysical frameworks or schematics of reality that make sense given the nature of the questions under examination. For example, God either exists or He does not exist; the world/universe is either infinite or it is finite; there is a purpose or reason for why we are here or there isn’t; there is either a good life or there is not a good life; there is an afterlife or there is not an afterlife; the reality we perceive either exists independently of the mind or it is dependent on the mind; there are minds or there are not. Nuances arise when figuring out how these options might fit together in a coherent whole, but there are really only a couple of available routes from which to choose at the foundational level.

Another way to break down the metaphysical situation is to recognize that throughout the history of rational thought there has been a theistic and a materialistic/atheistic schematic vying for sway in the minds of men, and ultimately the cultures men find themselves living.

The theistic answers to the fundamental metaphysical questions are all of reality and everything therein exists because it has been created by God;[2] God is the necessary being which sustains all of created reality;[3] and human beings are made in His image to love, serve, and honor Him in this life and the next.[4]

The materialist/atheistic answers to the fundamental metaphysical questions are that all of reality is reduced to atomized matter in motion;[5] matter is a brute fact and eternally exists;[6] and human beings are intricately structured products of the material reality they find themselves existing.[7]

The theistic and materialist/atheistic metaphysical schematics cannot both be true. They are both making claims about reality that are fundamentally incompatible. Moreover, this metaphysical incompatibility significantly influences what might constitute the good life, that is, questions concerning moral philosophy, as well as answers concerning the mysteries of life after death.

The ultimate questions of life are vitally important and will impact every person not only by the choices made today, but potentially in the afterlife as well. The answers to the ultimate questions are fundamentally informed by metaphysical presuppositions that can either be examined or left unexamined by those who fear the consequences of what might arise concerning the truth. And these metaphysical presuppositions will directly influence how a person will answer moral questions and questions pertaining to the afterlife. Now that the importance of metaphysics has been established, it is worth examining why metaphysics is necessary and unavoidable.

To be continued…

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Metaphysics, Inwagen, 3rd Ed., Pg. 4

[2] “The World consists of God and all He has made. God is infinite (that is, he is unlimited in knowledge, power, and goodness) and a spirit (that is, He is not material). He has made both spirit and material things, but all the things he has made are finite or limited. God has always existed, and at a certain moment in the past He first made other things; before that, there had never been anything besides God. God will always exist, and there will always be things He has made.” Ibid, Pg. 5

[3] “God has to exist, just as two and two have to equal four. But nothing else has this feature; everything besides God might not have existed. The things other than God exist only because God (who has the power to do anything) caused them to exist by an act of free will. He could just as well have chosen not to create anything, in which case there would never have been anything besides Himself. Moreover, God not only brought all other things into existence, but he also keeps them in existence at every moment. If God did not at every moment keep the sun and the moon and all other created things in existence, they would immediately cease to exist. Created things no more have the power to keep themselves in existence than stones or lumps of iron have the power to keep themselves suspended in the air.” Ibid, Pg. 5

[4] “Human beings were created by God to love and serve Him forever. Thus, each of them has a purpose or function. In the same sense in which it is true of John’s heart that its function is to pump blood, a human being has free will and can refuse to do the thing for which it was made. What we call human history is nothing more than the working out of the consequences of the fact that some people have chosen not to do what they were created to do.” Ibid, Pg. 5

[5] “The world consists of matter in motion. There is nothing but matter, which operates according to the strict and invariable laws of physics. Every individual thing is made entirely of matter, and every aspect of its behavior is due to the workings of those laws.” Ibid, Pg. 5

[6] “Matter has always existed (and there has always been exactly the same amount of it), for matter can be neither created or destroyed. For this reason, there is no “why” to the existence of the World. Because the World is wholly material, and because matter can be neither created nor destroyed, the World is eternal: it has always existed. The question ‘Why does it exist?’ is a question that can be asked only about a thing that had a beginning. It is a request for information about what caused the thing to come into existence. Since the world is eternal, the question ‘Why does the World exist?’ is meaningless.” Ibid, Pg. 5, 6

[7] “Human beings are complex configurations of matter. Since the World is eternal, the existence of complex configurations of matter is not surprising, for in an infinite period of time, all possible configurations of matter will come to exist. Human beings are just one of those things that happen from time to time. They serve no purpose, for their existence and their features are as much accidents as the existence and shape of a puddle of spilt milk. Their lives – our lives – have no meaning (beyond such purely subjective meaning as we choose to find in them), and they come to an end with physical death, since there is no soul. The only thing being said about the place of human beings in the World is that they are – very temporary – parts of it.” Ibid, Pg. 6

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Culture, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics

Peter A. Redpath on Metaphysics, Science, & Wisdom

A Not So Elementary Christian Metaphysics“4. Why recovering a proper understanding of metaphysics is essential to restoring a proper understanding of philosophy, science, and their essential relation to wisdom.

In my opinion, the disembodied reason of Descartes, the depersonalized, collectivist reason promoted by Rousseau, and the anti-contemplative reductionism of modern and contemporary physical ‘science’ falsely-so-called are foundational elements of the murderous depersonalization promoted by modern utopian, and scientific, socialism like Nazism, Fascism, and Marxism. Having a view of human reason totally out of contact with reality, these thinkers and the Enlightenment socialists they spawned, had no way of properly understanding real, individual, human relationships: individual, free, rational, living, loving acts. They had no way of comprehending human beings as metaphysical, contemplative beings, or moral or political agents. According to all these thinkers, outside of mathematically-measurable data, or mechanistically or socialistically controlled events, no truth exists about the physical universe that real human beings inhabit and no real relations that exist in that world are comprehensible.

For the purpose of understanding the main arguments of this book, need exists to comprehend that the metaphysical principles that underlie the prevailing, contemporary, Western understanding of science and its development are not philosophical. They are sophistic principles of human nature, conscience, and natural law; chiefly ideological, propagandistic, principles derived from Rousseau’s sophistic, utopian dream of human nature, science, and happiness. Strictly speaking, no rational justification exists to reduce the whole of philosophy, science, wisdom, and truth to the procedures of the contemporary social system of mathematical physics. Such a reduction is founded upon a rationally unjustified assumption, nothing else.

Hence, if we want to transcend this fundamentalistic, Enlightenment mindset, and the murderous, utopian socialism that exists chiefly to justify it, in place of the disordered understandings of human reason that Enlightenment intellectuals mistakenly claimed to be the metaphysical foundations of philosophy, science, wisdom, and truth, then the acting person (the sentient, embodied individual actively engaged in free, personal, living relationships) must once again become a founding, metaphysical principle of philosophy, science. In place of some collectivist mass, disembodied spirit, or collection of mechanistically-controlled individuals as the foundation of scientific understanding, to re-establish the proper union between wisdom and science, the West needs to re-establish primacy of the individual, sentient being engaged in personal action as a first principle of knowing, truth, science, philosophy, and wisdom.

Moreover, need exists to recognize that our contemporary Western educational institutions and the socialist political regimes that give birth to and support these gulags are necessary effects of the application to the practical order of Enlightenment sophistry about the nature of philosophy, science, wisdom, and truth: of the political attempt to reduce the whole of knowledge to a social-system-science of historically-emerging clear and distinct ideas.

In short, mainly under the influence of Descartes’s and Rousseau’s disordered metaphysical understandings of science, philosophy, wisdom, and truth, the Enlightenment project unwittingly gave birth to educational institutions that are institutes of sophistry, essentially socialistic forms of propaganda and secularized fundamentalism. These arose as the necessary means for engendering a poetic, metaphysical myth in the form of utopian history that the story, ‘narrative,’ of the birth and the development of the practical science of modern physics, which only the socialistically-minded, mathematical physicist, like a shaman, can supposedly comprehend.

Under the influence of Descartes, Rousseau, and their progeny, modern physics sought to be intellectually all-consuming, to be the only form of human learning, of human truth. No rational argument can justify this quixotic quest. So, the modern ‘scientific’ spirit turned to poetic myth, sophistry, fairy-tale history, and fundamentalistic spirituality to create the metaphysical arguments it needed rationally to justify its all-consuming nature. In practical terms, this means that, if universities are primarily institutes of higher education, and metaphysics is the highest form of natural human education, the modern scientific spirit necessarily inclined Western intellectuals to create propaganda institutes, and political regimes that support the existence of such institutes, to justify modern mathematical physics’ false claim that it is the only form of human knowledge, science, and wisdom about the universe.

Most critics of modernity today correctly call these neo-gnostic, fundamentalistic, principles ‘secular humanism.’ Precisely speaking, they wrongly call them ‘philosophy,’ ‘science.’ Educationally, under the influence of Rousseau, these sophistic principles maintain that all learning is revelation, or disclosure, of the something that replaces the traditional Western creator-God, of something they call the ‘human spirit.’ By ‘human spirit’ they mean a universal scientific spirit (the spirit of progress, true human freedom, the human project: the utopian-socialist will-to-power) that grows by first revealing itself in forms of backward Scriptural writings and organized religious practices: the same sort of universal, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic spirit that was a main cause of the development of Fascism, Nazism, and Marxism.

For their adherents, metaphysics is the epic poetic story, an Enlightened, fairy-tale history, about the evolution, or emergence, of human consciousness, the universal human spirit (‘true science’) from backward states of selfishness and primitive religions like Judaism and Catholicism, to that of a new political world order dominated by Enlightenment systematic science and the religion of love of humanity, ‘secular humanism.’ And tolerance is this mythical history’s chief engine of progress, story-telling, and means of reading history.

The means of such emergence consists of a synthesis of what Rousseau calls the ‘voice of conscience’ (which he conflates with natural law) and poetic enthusiasm, or, more simply, ‘tolerance,’ an increasingly inclusive socialist feeling for love of humanity, an increasing willingness to incorporate all human differences into a higher state of socialist, political consciousness as a means for achieving the political goal of a world socialism: for everyone to think in the same neo-Averroistic way Enlightened intellectuals think.

Traditional Western universities, classical liberal arts, the classical understanding of philosophy, natural law, individual liberty, the dignity of the individual human being, and republican government, individual rights, and families are unsuitable handmaidens for generating, growing, and sustaining these myths. Needed are imperious, centralized bureaucracies.

St Thomas Aquinas Framed and Labeled TSCTo defeat these myths, Westerners need (1) a radically different approach to philosophy and science: one that insists on the existence of forms in physical things, including that of a soul within the human person; and (2) a return to an educational philosophy rooted in human beings possessing human faculties that become maturely developed through human habituation.

A necessary condition for the start of such a recovery program is that, like the utopian addicts we are, Westerners must bottom out and recognize that (1) what my friend and colleague John N. Deely rightly calls ‘postmodernism falsely-so-called’ is simply modernism on steroids and essentially out of touch with reality; and (2) we cannot build, or recover, a culture based upon the conviction that no real communication exists between substances. As Deely well says in a recent monograph, Semoitic Animal: A Postmodern Definition of ‘Human Being’ Transcending Patriarchy and Feminism, ‘Just as in politics you cannot effect a revolution and at the same time preserve the ancient regime, so in intellectual culture you cannot develop what is new simply by repeating what is old.”

If we want to transcend depersonalization in contemporary science, we have to transcend the Babelism of modern thought that is essentially related to the denial of the existence of individually existing human beings naturally capable of communicating with each other independently of social science and the utopian, socialist state. We have to restore wisdom to science because, absent wisdom, strictly speaking, science cannot be science. In such a situation, scientific reason becomes displaced by sophistry, intellectual malpractice, propaganda, myth: utopian dreams.”

– Peter A. Redpath, A No-So-Elmentary Christian Metaphysics – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Thomism

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange on the Point of Culmination

Point of Culmination

Reginald Garrigou Lagrange Young“This point is found in the idea of self-subsistent being. This idea unifies the five ways as a common keystone unifies five arches. Five attributes appear, one at the end of each way, in ascending order thus: first mover of the universe, corporeal and spiritual, first efficient cause, first necessary being, supreme being, supreme directing intelligence. Now these five attributes are to be found only in self-subsistent being, who alone can say: ‘I AM WHO AM.’ Let us look at each of the five.

The prime mover must be his own activity. But mode of activity follows mode of being. Hence the prime mover must be his own subsistent being.

The first cause, being uncaused, must have in itself the reason for its existence. But the reason why it cannot cause itself is that it must be before it can cause. Hence, not having received existence, it must be existence.

The first necessary being also implies existence as an essential attribute, that is, it cannot be conceived as merely having existence, but must be of itself existence.

The supreme being, being absolutely simple and perfect, cannot have a mere participated share of existence, but must be of itself existence.

Lastly, the supreme directing intelligence cannot be itself proportioned to an object other than itself; it must itself be the object actually and always known. Hence it must be able to say, not merely ‘I have truth and life,’ but rather ‘I am truth and life.’

Here, then, lies the culminating keystone point, the metaphysical terminus of the road that ascends from the sense world to God. This ascending road ends where begins the higher road, the road of the wisdom which, from on high, judges the world by its supreme cause.

Thus again, at the summit of the universe reappears the fundamental Thomistic truth. In God alone are essence and existence identified. In this supreme principle lies the real and essential distinction of God from the world. This distinction reveals God as unchangeable and the world as changeable (the first three proofs for His existence). It becomes more precise when it reveals God as absolutely simple and the world as multifariously composed (fourth and fifth proofs). It finds its definitive formula when it reveals God as “HE WHO IS,” whereas all other things are only receivers of existence, hence composed of receiver and received, of essence and existence. The creature is not its own existence, it has existence after receiving it. If the verb ‘is’ expresses identity of subject and predicate, the negation ‘is not’ denies this identification.

This truth is vaguely grasped by the common sense of natural reason, which, by a confused intuition, sees that the principle of identity is the supreme law of all reality, and hence the supreme law of thought. As A is identified with A, so is supreme reality identified with absolutely one and immutable Being, transcendentally and objectively distinct from the universe, which is, essentially diversified and mutable. This culminating point of natural reason, thus precisioned by philosophic reason, is at the same time revealed in this word of God to Moses: ‘I AM WHO AM.’

Now we understand the formulation given to the twenty-third of the twenty-four theses. It rungs thus: The divine essence, since it is identified with the actual exercise of existence itself, that is, since it is self-subsistent existence, is by the that identification proposed to us in its well-formed metaphysical constitution, and thereby gives us the reason for its infinite perfection. To say it briefly: God alone is self-subsistent existence, in God alone are essence and existence identified. This proposition, boundless in its range, reappears continually on the lips of St. Thomas. But it loses its deep meaning in those who, like Scotus and Suarez, refuse to admit in all creatures a real distinction between essence and existence.

To repeat. According to St. Thomas and his school God alone is His own existence, uncaused, unparticipated self-existence, whereas no creature is its own existence; the existence it has is participated, received, limited, by the essence, by the objective capacity which receives it. This truth is objective, a reality which antecedes all operation of the mind. Hence the composition of essence and existence is not a mere logical composition, but something really found in the very nature of created reality. Were it otherwise, were the creature not thus composed, then it would be act alone, pure act, no longer really and essentially distinct from God.

Self-existent understanding is given by some Thomists as the metaphysical essence of God, as the point where the five ways converge and culminate. While we prefer the term self-existent being, self-existent existence, the difference between the two positions is less great than it might at first seem to be. Those who see that culminating point in ipsum esse subsistens, begin by teaching that God is not body but pure spirit. From the spirituality follow the two positions in question: first, that God is the supreme Being, self-existent in absolute spirituality at the summit of all reality; second, that He is the supreme intelligence, the supreme truth, the supreme directive intelligence of the universe.

On this question, then, of God’s metaphysical essence according to our imperfect way of understanding, the two positions agree. They agree likewise when the question arises: What is it that formally constitutes the essence of God as He is in Himself, as He is known by the blessed in heaven who see Him without medium, face to face? The answer runs thus: Deity itself, not self-subsistent existence, not self-existent understanding. Self-subsisting existence indeed contains all divine attributes, but only implicitly, as deductions to be drawn therefrom in order, one by one. But Deity, God as He is in Himself, contains in transcendent simplicity all these divine attributes explicitly. The blessed in heaven, since they see God as He is, have no need of progressive deduction.”[1]

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, Pg. 67-70

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Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism, Thomism

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange on the Fundamental Validity of the Five Ways

Fundamental Validity of the Five Ways

Reginald Garrigou Lagrange“All these proofs rest on the principle of causality: Anything that exists, if it does not exist of itself, depends in last analysis on something that does exist of itself. To deny this principle leads to absurdity. To say “a thing contingent, that is, a thing which of itself does not have existence, is nevertheless uncaused” is equivalent to saying: A thing may exist of itself and simultaneously not exist of itself. Existence of itself would belong to it, both necessary and impossibly. Existence would be an inseparable predicate of a being which can be separated from existence. All this is absurd, unintelligible. Kant here objects. It is absurd, he says, for human intelligence, but not perhaps in itself absurd and unintelligible.

In answer, let us define absurdity. Absurd is that which cannot exist because it is beyond the bounds of objective reality, without any possible relation to reality. It is agreement between two terms which objectively can never agree. Thus, an uncaused union of things in themselves diverse is absurd. The only cause of union is unity. Union means a share in unity, because it presupposes things which are diverse, brought together by a higher unity. When you say: ‘Anything (from angel to grain of sand) can arise without any cause from absolute nothing,’ then you are making a statement which is not merely unsupported and gratuitous, but which is objectively absurd. Hence, we repeat: A being which is not self-existent, which only participates in existence, presupposes necessarily a Being which by nature is self-existent. Unity by participation presupposes unity by essence.

We have here presented the principle of causality, as St. Thomas does in question three, by the way that ascends from effect to cause. The same truth can be treated in the descending order, from cause to effect, as it is in fact treated later in the Summa. Many modern authors proceed from this second viewpoint, But the first order ought to precede the second.

To proceed. The denial of the principle of causality is not, it is true, a contradiction is immediately evident as if I were to say: ‘The contingent is not contingent.’ St. Thomas gives reason why this is so. In denying causality, he says, we do not deny the definition itself of the contingent. What we do deny is, not the essence of contingent, but an immediate characteristic of that essence. But to deny the principle as thus explained is as absurd as to affirm that we cannot, knowing the essence of a thing, deduce from that essence its characteristics. Hence to deny essential dependence of contingent being on its cause leads to absurdity, because such denial involves the affirmation that existence belongs positively to a thing which is not by nature self-existent and still is uncaused. Thus we would have, in one subject, the presence both of unessential existence and of non-dependence on any cause of its existence: a proposition objectively absurd.

But we find the denial of this principle of causality in ways that are still less evidently contradictory (in Spinoza, for example) where the contradiction is, at first sight, hidden and unapparent. To illustrate. Some who read the sentence, ‘Things incorporeal can of themselves occupy a place,’ cannot at once see that the sentence contains a contradiction. And still it is absurd to think that a spirit, which lives in an order higher than the order of quantity and space, should nevertheless be conceived as of itself filling place, place being a consequence of quantity and space.

Likewise there are contradictions which emerge only under the light of revelation. Suppose, as illustration, a man says there are four persons in God. Faith, not reason, tells us the proposition is absurd. Only those who enjoy the beatific vision, who know what God is, can see the proposition’s intrinsic absurdity.

If denial or doubt of the principle of causality leads to doubt or denial of the principle of contradiction, then the five classic proofs, truly understood, of God’s existence cannot be rejected without finding absurdity at the root of all reality. We must choose: either the Being who exists necessarily and eternally, who alone can say ‘I am truth and life,’ or then a radical absurdity at the heart of the universe. If truly God is necessary Being, on which all else depends, then without Him the existence of anything else becomes impossible, inconceivable, absurd. In point of fact, those who will not admit the existence of a supreme and universal cause, which is itself existence, and life, must content themselves with a creative evolution, which, lacking any raison d’etre, becomes a contradiction: universal movement, without subject distinct from itself, without efficient cause distinct from itself, without a goal distinct from itself, an evolution wherein, without cause, the more arises from the less. Contradiction, identity, causality, all first principles go overboard. Let us repeat. Without a necessary and eternal being, on which all else depends, nothing exists and nothing can exist. To deny God’s existence and simultaneously to affirm any existence is to fall necessarily into contradiction, which does not always appear on the surface, in the immediate terms employed, but which is always there if you will but examine those terms. Many of Spinoza’s conclusions contain these absurdities. A fortiori, they lie hidden in atheistic doctrine which denies God’s existence. Hence, agnosticism, which doubts God’s existence, can thereby be led to doubt even the first principle of thought and reality, the principle of contradiction.

Having thus shown the validity of the five ways to prove God’s existence we now turn to dwell on their unity, the point where they all converge and culminate.”[1]

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, Pg. 65-67

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Fr. Cornelio Fabro, Metaphysics, Philosophy

Fr. Cornelio Fabro on the Problem of Modern Philosophy

Cornelio on Truth“A life devoted to thought is always arduous. In our day, however, philosophical reflection meets with almost insurmountable difficulties; indeed, the very role of philosophy is in crisis. The prodigious and unbounded development of science and technology, which bids fair to change the shape of world and the structure of nations, would appear to quite overshadow the relatively insignificant and even vacuous role of philosophy. In his activity in shaping our contemporary world, man has turned outward so totally that he has lost sight altogether of the meaning of this ‘self’ and left it a locus vacuus.

The Problem of Immanence

 What we are passing though is not an ordinary kind of crisis such as can be observed in every cultural or scientific leap forward, but an essential crisis of thought itself. This has been evolving during the three centuries since Descartes set as the beginning or ‘absolute starting point’ the bare cogito or consciousness as a capacity devoid of all content. Since then, in the ebb and flow of contradictory systems, every manner of expedient for filling that capacity has been tried and proven useless. Philosophy today has what it deserves, namely, triviality and vacuity; it is unable to bring man into contact with the real and reunite him to the origin of his essential logos where he might again catch the spirit that was his at the dawn of history.

The specific and primary task of philosophy is indeed, as Heidegger constantly admonished, to go back to the foundation. It must discover and establish the original insight of reason; it must make the first affirmation of truth that is presence to being, the locus primus able to accommodate every quest for truth. The cause of the total failure of philosophy to contribute to the contemporary needs of the spirit lies in this total collapse of the philosophy that gave up the real for the possible and forgot being in favor of essence. Yet the need for philosophy has never been more acute or more burning than it is today and the calls for its contribution are therefore becoming more insistent. We are fumbling for the roots of that tree of science which is spreading its branches over the world without rule or measure. We are in need of a universal grammar of truth, in order to find our way out of this endless and continuous babel of tongues and semantics. This kaleidoscope of multiple horizons for reality forces one to ask in accord with Heidegger’s stern admonition, ‘What is the nature of being?’ What does it mean to possess reality and truth, and how is the constitutive relationship between thought and essence to be understood? That is to say, what happens to a man when he thinks; how does thought happen to man; or what does it mean for a man to think?

In the present decadence of philosophy, what gives us ‘something more to think about’…is that after the final development of the cogito we in contemporary philosophy still ‘do not think’; we no longer know what thinking means. It is a mysterious nemesis of modern thought, which had wanted to begin with the cogito or thinking about thinking, that it now admits that it does not know how to explain what thinking is. What is more, it rejects as an illusion even the hope of being able to succeed in such an explanation, because thinking is exhausted without remainder at the point of being actualized. This is the ‘final word of philosophy’ when it abandons man to the waves of time, without purpose and without hope.

These considerations are anything but abstract; indeed, they are the most concrete that can be imagined. All other specific objects of thoughts, such as how to demonstrate a theorem or work out a project, are less concrete, since concreteness is constituted by the capacity for presenting consciousness with some basis for action, for ‘creating a situation.’ The primary ‘positionality’ of the reality, however, is given first by thought in the actuality of its presence. This is then extended to various thoughts and different modes of thinking. Thought in its primordial act is the original ‘situant’ in the confrontation with reality as such. This enables the particular thought, whatever it may be, to position itself variously in relation to the varying horizons of the real. Therefore, thought in its initial positioning and actualization with respect to reality, far from being an empty abstraction, constitutes the prius and absolute starting point.”

– Fr. Cornelio Fabro C.S.S., Philosophy and Thomism Today

 

– Lucas G. Westman


*Selected Works of Cornelio Fabro, Volume I: Selected Articles on Metaphysics and Participation

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