Monday, December 5, 2016

Solidarity Party for the Common Good


            I am proud to say that I am a member of the Solidarity Party, and I wanted to write about the reason why it is important that the name ‘Solidarity Party’ was chosen. Solidarity is the heart of our Party, and it is the heart of any rightful political action. It will be good to do this by examining the goal of politics; the Common Good.

            The Common Good of a nation, state, or community is the highest earthly good and condition of wellbeing of that community. While it includes spirituality, it does not include spiritual goods, because an earthly institution cannot give spiritual goods. Taken this way, we can say that the Common Good is really a group of goods which cannot exist by themselves in their best forms, and necessarily include those things which make for the wellbeing of each person, family, and association, as these come before political groups. Some of the main facets of the Common Good, then, are marriage, life, liberty, knowledge, wealth, and governing institutions, because these are needed by all people in order to live well and in peace.

            In the same way that the Common Good is composed of several individual goods, so the means to achieve the Common Good come in several forms. Among these are welfare programs that provide food, water, shelter, clothing, and healthcare, environmental protections, military defense, schools, institutions which promote financial wellbeing for all, infrastructure, and a criminal justice system.

            Uniquely part of both the goods and the means to achieve them are the virtues. These virtues include the classical cardinal virtues of self-discipline, courage, wisdom, and justice, because they allow a person to act rightly. Cultivating virtue is a crucial task for any community, for this very reason, and losing sight of the value of these virtues can be disastrous.

            If we were to bring together both the goods and means described above, we would find that the collection is quite similar to the Preamble of the Constitution, which states the goal of the Founders was to "form a more perfect union,” and that to do this they would need to, “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity". The Common Good was here acknowledged to be the goal they had in mind.

            The Common Good is not talked about much in the news. But social justice is a regular phrase. Social justice means many things to many people, but following with the classical definition of justice as a virtue (“the will to give to each what they deserve”), social justice could be defined as, “the will to give to each what they deserve as a society”, or perhaps, “the will to work for the Common Good [with others],” because the Common Good is something that all people deserve.

            Solidarity, which was once defined as the “firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the Common Good”, seems to match nearly exactly the definition of social justice as given above. Given that definition, the virtue of Solidarity is the most directly connected with the Common Good of all the virtues. Solidarity is not mere empathy, nor radicalized protests, but the hard-working commitment to ensure a condition in which all people are able to live well to the best of our earthly ability to provide it for them. We all live in society, and we all benefit when these good things are properly ensured.

            This commitment to Solidarity is the core value of our Party because Solidarity defines a citizenry with the character to strengthen their country. Wealth, power, and knowledge alone are not enough to ensure a healthy nation for our children, because all of these can be abused and hoarded. If we commit ourselves to working together and to the Common Good of all, then we will find soon enough that the rest will follow.

            I’m proud to be a member of a Party that still speaks the language of virtue, and that still has a vision beyond the “us-against-them” campaigning we’ve seen recently. Let’s continue to work together to make our families, communities, and political groups stronger. Let’s continue to remember the value of Solidarity.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


The Species of Justice

"[Let us] hold firm to the Way of Heaven and always pursue Justice and Virtue, 
remembering the soul is immortal and can endure all kinds of good and evil. 
In this way, we will live dear to each other and to the gods, 
both during our mortal life here and after when we, 
like champions who receive their gifts, 
obtain our reward.

--Plato, Republic, final paragraph

"Justice" can have several meanings, depending on the context:

1. Commutative justice as a virtue, regarding interpersonal actions.
Defined as "the will to render to each individual their due".
This is explored at length by Aristotle.

2. Social justice as a virtue, more specific in meaning than common use.
Defined as "the will to work for the common good by working with others".

This use is distinct from the others, as it is not coercive.
Social justice instead works through free associations.
Social justice is therefore the form of Justice most like 'Caritas'.

3. Legal justice as a virtue, paired with Distributive.
Defined as "the will to obey what the State legitimately commands".

4. Distributive justice of the State, as paired with Legal.
Defined as "the duty of the State to give its citizens their due".

Distributive Justice can be broken down into rewards and punishments.
These two divisions can then be further distinguished by the means of determination:

  • Equal:  All are equally human, and should receive equal support.
  • Need:  Those most in need should receive the most support.
  • Merit:  Those most worthy should receive the most support.
  • Procedural:  All are equal before the law, and should receive equal penalty.
  • Corrective:  Those involved should receive what the crime shows they need.
    • Restorative:  (For the victim, compensation.)
    • Therapeutic:  (For the criminal, treatment.)
  • Retributive:  The punishment should fit the crime in severity.

5. Justice as Harmony in the political unit.
This use is the sum total of all four above.
This is explored at length by Plato.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Our Triple-Trinitarian Psychology

Based especially on some reading I have done with the Hesychastic Saints of the Orthodox Church,
I put this image of what seems to be the overall view of the soul that they have.
(Not included are the animal motor and vegetative powers of the soul, as they do not pertain to conscious experience as internal processes.)

("Nous" is the "spiritual sense", "Logos" is the "spiritual intelligence", and "Pneuma" is the "spiritual passion"; they are also called "Intellect", "Reason", and "Spirit", respectively, but these terms have been avoided to ensure clear distinction from the non-spiritual intelligence and passions.)

Comments are welcome!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On Abortion

As a result of some recent discussion with a colleague, I decided to post this:

Either a fetus is a human organism or it is not.
If it is not, it must be explained what it is, since it very apparently is human from its genetic content, and it is clearly an organism, rather than an organ or other tissue which constitute part of another organism, simply working from a medical perspective.
That the fetus is inside another organism does not change this fact, just as a parasite is still its own organism despite being in the body of its host.
So it seems the fetus is a human organism.

Either a fetus is a human person, or it is not.
If it is not, it must be explained what it is, since it very apparently is human from its genetic content, and it appears to be a person in the sense of being a human organism which lives in the community of other persons by whom it is shaped and whom it, in turn, shapes in some ways.
That the fetus is incapable of speech or voluntary motion does not change this fact, just as a sleeping person or someone with a disability is still a human person, despite also lacking such abilities at the moment of consideration. *
So it seems a fetus is a human person.

Either it is morally permissible to kill another human (considered as organism or as person; it is irrespective) &/or allow the human to be killed, or it is not.
If it is not, then abortion is also morally impermissible, as a case of killing a human. X

If it sometimes is morally permissible to kill another human, *

Either it is always permissible or else it is only sometimes permissible .
If it is always permissible, society would collapse. But humans are social beings by nature.
So it seems killing another human is not always morally permissible, but only sometimes.

Either killing is sometimes permissible due to the humanity of the victim, or else due to something added to it.
If it is due to humanity, then as the humanity is the same for all humans, being what makes them human, it would be always permissible. But this is contrary to the previous conclusion.
So it seems it is due to something added to the humanity of the victim.

Of things added to a nature, there are (1) quantity, (2) quality, (3) relation, (4) time, (5) location,  (6) position, (7) action, (8) reception, and (9) state. These, applied to humans, can be reduced to the more general labels of (A) condition (1, 2, 8, 9), (B) situation (3, 4, 5, 6), or (C) consequence (7).

Either a consequence is the result of voluntary action or it is not.
If it is not, then it seems wrong to punish such an accident with death, even in the most severe cases, unless that accident was the result of previous action which was voluntary, as in the case of drunk driving or poor safety measures in a workplace. Even then, the death penalty may be extremely rare.
So it seems that only voluntary action can be a circumstance in which killing is morally permissible, but this is clearly something a fetus is incapable of, and this was stated earlier in the argument. X *

Either a situation is the result of voluntary action (consequence) or it is not.
If it is not, then it seems morally permissible to kill another only to save the lives of others--and even this causes sharp division among even philosophers of ethics, and may depend on precise details of the situation.
If it is, voluntary action has been already discussed. X
So while there may be a case in which a situation makes killing morally permissible if it is to save the lives of others, even this is unclear. ~~~

Either a condition is the result of voluntary action, or it is not.
If it is not, then it seems the one in the condition is innocent, and themselves a victim of external forces.
If it is, voluntary action has already been discussed. X
So it remains to be ascertained, following the same line of thought as in the treatment of situation, when it is morally permissible to kill someone who is innocent.

Either harm is being (or going to be) caused, or it is not.
If it is not, then there would seem to be no reason to kill the innocent except out of desire for killing, for its own sake. But this is utterly morally repugnant and to assert this as an acceptable reason seems little different from the assertion that killing is always morally permissible, as to kill for its own sake is to kill because of the life of the thing killed, which is always present before the act would be committed.
So unless there will be harm done by the victim, they ought not be killed. X

Either the harm which would be caused is (considered to be) to the point of death, or it is not.
If it is not, then it would seem that as possession of any good is predicated on the possessor living, the loss of any good is not enough to merit that another be killed. X
So it seems that only harm (considered to be) to the point of death might merit that the innocent be killed to save the other.

So unless the life of the mother is in danger, abortion is utterly morally impermissible by the same standards that govern killing in general.

Axiom 1. Fetuses are incapable of voluntary acts.
To deny this is to assert fetuses are capable of voluntary acts, which remains to be shown, and then requires a further development of "abortion as punishment".
Axiom 2. Killing is sometimes morally permissible, though not always.
To deny this is to assert either killing is always permissible, which is stupid, or to assert killing is never permissible, which would also rule out abortion.
Axiom 3. Death is only possibly merited by an involuntary act when it would prevent another death.
To deny this is to assert that preventing some harm less than death merits killing, but the position then needs to be developed more clearly and fully, and it appears liable to becoming an assertion that causing discomfort is grounds for being killed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why Does a Loving God Permit Bad Things to Happen to Innocent Persons?

(originally from something written up for a class)

In matters of fine distinctions, when the terms used in the discussion are themselves matters of contention, a definition must be supplied in order to ensure it is, in fact, the same idea being discussed. The terms here are "love", "God", "permission", "bad thing", "innocence", and "person".

Love is the will for the good of another. This includes both the wish and the pursuit of that good, though sometimes only the wish is possible. What is the good of another is that which allows the other to most fully be what and who they are. Because all persons share the "what" (human nature), we all share some goods (food, water, clothing, loving care, etc), but because each person is a unique "who", there are also unique goods which may apply to some persons and not to others (that particular job, this specific house, knowing that specific thing on the test, etc.). So there is a general love for humanity and a specific love of persons. Love, being an act of will regarding the good as abstracted most fully, is an act only rational beings can perform, as reason is that faculty which allows a being to most fully abstract a quality from the material, sensory inputs from which the idea springs. Further, to love is an act in one's own interest as well, because a person as "I" is defined in contradistinction to a "You". And if a person is necessarily only able to self-conceptualize with reference to another, the other is a necessary part of the self, because that other makes the self to be who it is. To summarize, love is identification of oneself with another and the rational desire that they be the best other person they can be.

God, most truly, is beyond words, being something like the Tao of Lao-Tzu, the pre-rational foundation for reason. But as the cause of all things, God is also, as though by analogy, the maximal Being. In this sense, God is Good Itself, Truth Itself, Beauty Itself, Life Itself, perfect Unity and Infinitude. By virtue of the Unity of the Being of God, so also is the Act of God singular--the bestowal of being on all created things. This single act has a different effect on all beings, as the shining sun has a different effect on wax, clay, grapes, and solar panels, not because it differs in act, but because the objects of the act differ in potentialities. It can also be seen that such a singluar Act is capable of the formation of a diversity of such objects of its continued Act when one considers the Big Bang cosmological theory, by which it is said that a single point of energy burst forth and gave rise to the universe in which we presently find ourselves. The two might even be one and the same Act--but this is another matter. In any case, God is also perfect Mind. This is clear because God is posited to be the creator of all material things, thus being Itself Immaterial (often called "Spiritual" in contrast; this is also the reason it is Timeless/"Eternal"), and the only immaterial reality we seem to encounter with causal powers in the world is the human mind. Further, the Act of God is to sustain the being of all created things as the things they are. To do this implies that God has, in some way, the form or nature of all things within Itself, since the cause of something seems to contain, even if not in exactly the same way, the effect in itself, as fire heats things because it is hot and the pen writes because it has ink in it and I speak words because I have internal words (thoughts). And the only immaterial reality we encounter that has forms or natures of things in itself is the human mind. Finally, because there are truths which would remain true even if all living things were to die suddenly, there must be a Mind to contemplate these truths. If a tree falls in the woods, you better believe it makes a sound no matter if someone hears it. A triangle with a right angle in it will still have sides related to each other according to the Pythagorean Theorem regardless of if no human is around to know that. But to say "the relationship between sides holds true in the things themselves" does not answer this objection which intends to show that God is a Mind, because the existence of the relationships is not the sames as the propositions being true--as they are--and this status of "truth" applied to a proposition is a claim about the relation of an abstracted relationship, not the relation of the things in themselves (since no physical triangle is actually perfect according to mathematical proportions). Therfore, God is a Mind which created all things and sustains their existence by a single Act, being the perfect and One archetype of all good qualities. (As an extra note, it is this trinity of Existence, Form, and Act which seems to parallel the NeoPlatonic One, Mind, and Soul, as well as the Christian Being [Father], Word [Son], and Will [Spirit].)

Permission is the absence of action by the one permitting when an action could be taken by them to prevent the action they are permitting. Applied specifically to a rational being, this is to deliberately not intervene.

By "bad things", we can mean a great number of different groups of things. There are unpleasant things (things which appear to be lacking some good quality), obstacles (things which prevent us from acquiring something with good qualities), and things which cause harm (removing good qualities from ourselves). Further, the term "bad things" can refer to acts. For this topic, we can collapse acts and beings into one analysis. Among the three categories of bad things, not all seem equal, and many seem mixed. Getting a vaccination seems good, but not to the baby who receives it. Vegetables are good, but not in the mind of the child made to eat them. Study is good, but not to the college kid who wants to do something more fun. Etc. In all these cases, there are mixed qualities, but it seems the greater weight is to be placed on the good. This implies that goods which allow us to become more fully what we are (medicine to prevent disease killing us, food to keep us healthy and active, and education to allow us to act wisely and make things) outweigh the bad qualities we endure to have them (pain, bad taste, inability to go out with friends sometimes). Sometimes, though not even close to always, we find a kind of goodness even in the bad qualities of what we have to endure, like enjoying the burn from a workout, being satisfied with a paper all the more because of the effort put into it, or laughing over a campfire about some stupid thing you did when you were younger to impress someone you liked--that worked. We recognize the bad quality of all these things, the pain, the inability, the hard work, the embarassment, etc., but they seem allowable, expected, and reasonable. They are "worth it", and are seen as the only way to be able to have to good thing we want. After all, if you want to be up in a tree or at the top of a mountain, you have to climb or have someone or something do so for you. But there are bad things which are not like that. Serious illness, death, abuse, starvation, shaming, etc. These are not worth it, and seem to have no such value. Further, there are some goods like human life and dignity which seem to be without "greater good", at least among human concerns. And this is why the atrocities of genocide and other unspeakable things are not tolerable even for some "greater good" of genetic purity, national economic standing, etc. And the reason is apparent when considered in light of the previous statement: "goods which allow us to become more fully what we are outweigh the bad qualities we endure to have them". It makes no sense to have a good above the personal well-being, since it is the goal of all action, itself. Therefore a truly bad thing is something which would prevent a person from becoming their best self.

Innocence is a term meaning lack of culpability in performing some bad thing. To be culpable is to be owed a punishment. What is "owing" is what we expect to occur, as in "you ought to pay your debts [given societal morals and possible consequences]" or "it ought to rain today [since it usually rains every so often and hasn't in a while, and especially since the weatherman said it would]". A punishment is some bad thing (not necessarily a "bad-thing" as defined above) that comes upon someone as a result of their action, as in "he was punished by hanging [because he killed the sheriff]" or "the road punished that boarder [because he didn't wear a helmet and isn't very good at skating]". Though usually we mean a punishment to be something inflicted by a rational agent. So innocence is a state in which one would expect nothing bad to happen to the person as a result of their behavior. More specified to the context of societal enforcement, this would mean that innocence is a state of being in which a person has not acted in a way warranting punishment.

Person has been defined above (and again here more clearly) as a rational being living in relation to another such being.

So restated, we are asking: "How can a Mind which created all things and sustains their existence by a single Act, being the perfect and One archetype of all good qualities, identifying Itself with other rational beings, and desiring that they be the best other persons they can be, deliberately not intervene when something which would prevent them from becoming their best selves happens to them, when their actions have not warranted punishment?"

To this, there may be several answers, some of which simply deny the question even is the right one to ask.

One, God's desire for our good may not be the only desire God has, and the other(s) might outweigh the desire for our good. This is often the view expressed in Reformed Churches, where the glory or fame of God is considered to be a higher priority.

Two, the desire for our good as persons may itself limit God, since to be a person is to be a rational agent, and to be rational is to have free will. Our having free will would then be something God would be unwilling to compromise, similar to the genocide example above; it would be destroying the very reason for doing it. Further, to love requires a free act of will, and this seems central to this will for our own personal flourishing that God has.

(Note also that since God is that which sustains the being of all things, Itself perfect Being and Good, and our own greatest good is to be most what we are, we seem to be saying that complete being and perfect good are in some way equivalent. These equivalent qualities, being and good (and some people include unity, beauty, thing-ness, etc.) are called "metaphysical transcendentals" or "convertibles", and by "converting" the one into the other in our statement about God's sustaining all things in being, we can say that since the principle act of a rational being is "to freely will", and good is convertible with being, God "freely wills the good of all things"; that, you'll note, is equivalent, per the above definition, with saying, "God loves all things". God wishes we all become the best selves we can be, simply because that is the nature of God, to love.)
Then we begin to consider the ways in which the question can have some part denied. I'll only examine single parts being denied at a time.

Three, one could deny that there is a God. But then one can't blame God any more than they can the Berenstein Bears for the evil in the world. And it seems I've met more than a few people who blame Someone they claim they don't believe exists to be blamed. But I've also met some who have genuinely not blamed either God or the Bears for the evils of the world.

Four, one could deny the definition of God given above. But that would take a very long time to refute in the myriad ways it could be denied. So I'm not going to go there.

(Further note the self-identification of God with humans seemingly hints at a God-becoming-human-ing, which is, of course, the doctrine of the Incarnation.)

Five, one could deny the definition of love given. But the competing defintions would seem to be physical desire, friendship, familiarity, and sacrifice. Physical desire might be an effect of love at times, but often it is a symptom of something quite separate. Friendship seems to be usually among equals. While this is possible if the Incarnation is accepted, God in Itself is radically unlike humanity in every way. Further, non-equal friendship seems to be based on common pursuit of something, whether business or sport or something else. But here I have already shown God to be in common pursuit with us of our own becoming our best self, and so in this way, friendship with God is possible, and already included. Familiarity is largely treated in what was said of friendship, and this seems to have its primary basis among humans in biological similarity, something again impossible to share with God unless some kind of an Incarnation is believed to have taken place, and further, that in the context of a human family, with whom He might be similar and familiar. Finally, sacrifice seems to mean giving up some good for the sake of the good of another. But God is Good unto Itself. So this is impossible. However, were there to be, as has been mentioned several times now, a radical self-identification with humanity in the form of an Incarnation, then there could be, both really in physical terms, and analogically by participation in the Incarnate Person, divine terms, some kind of Sacrifice for mankind. But of course, this is the doctrine of Kenosis and the Crucifixion, and possibly the Eucharist, depending on the denomination.

(I do not mean to use only Christian examples of groups with such beliefs, it's just that I know considerably more about them than I do of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or other religious groups' beliefs)

Six, one could deny the lack of  intervention is deliberate, and posit it is unintentional. But that seems to imply some kind of weakness or obstacle to God. And if the obstacle is not in God (as a greater will mentioned above) or in the things God created (human free will, also mentioned above), then it implies something else has power God cannot or will not overcome. This could be said to be an evil rational being of some non-human kind (like the devil), or some force (like chaos), but not some other God of the same kind as we posited, since there cannot be two "Greatest and Unequaled" beings; whatever would make them different would be a defect. And if we keep the God we have mentioned so far the same, then only the newly-posited "god" would have defects, and thus be utterly deficient compared to the One God. Further, the rational obstacle (devil) is a creature, and could be done away with or moved elsewhere more easily than we flick an ant away, and the force (chaos) is not truly a thing, but a non-thing; the absence of order. And how is God to fight absence except by filling all things with Itself? (Though human minds seem to be their own universes, in a sense, and it seems God requires human permission to enter before God is able to fill the human mind. This, of course, is reminiscent of many saying about faith, prayer, and purification through ascetic discipline and works. But this is basically the free-will thing from "Two".)

Seven, one could deny there are really obstacles that prevent people from ultimately becoming their best selves. This is effectively universalism, as it implies also that therefore all people really do become, eventually, those best selves. I hope this is true. One might argue that the objection doesn't necessarily require all to eventually become their best selves, only that they not be prevented from doing so. This can be taken two ways. One is to say then that our own will is the "bad thing", the obstacle, but this is hardly a line of reasoning that can be followed long, since it leads to denial of free will, and with it, rationality and personhood and humanity. The other is to say that those who, in the end, end up in a bad state of affairs, being always something less than their best self, tormented by the nagging conscience and perfection of those who do reach such a pinnacle of personhood, are only those who choose such a thing, and thus that it is a power given to us by God to become the little gods of our own minds and lock God out if we wish. (Since God is the sustainer of being, and thus to fail to become our most complete self is to incompletely allow God into our own self.) This is, again, the argument of "Two", above.

Eight, one could say God is justified in allowing bad things because we deserve them. No one, such an objector would say, is innocent in the way claimed. This seems flatly absurd, since it makes God considerably less merciful (which seems to be a part of loving) than most people, and altogether unjust towards infants. Further, while some bad things may be for our correction, if not all things lead us to ultimate correction of self into our best self, either "Sixth" of "Seventh", above, is true; namely that regardless of the justice of punishments God may or may not allow, either all are ultimately made into their best self (in which case all punishments were merely corrective to get us there) or else the punishments are not universally therapeutic, and some remain locked into themselves. Some might say that God actually wills to punish us for what we have done, but this seems entirely contradictory to the claim inherent in the question that God desires we become our best selves, especially if the punishment is done with no purpose toward that goal. Otherwise, it is a competing will, as in "One", above.

In summary (taking out the "dead end" choices), God may have higher priorities, be unable to stop our actions from having consequences if we are free, or actually end up making us all our best selves so it's "worth it".

While most deny the last option (and some question whether it can even make sense to say we have free will--which means we don't have to necessarily choose anything--and yet we all necessarily choose to become our best self, evenetually), and the first option seems inscrutable, because there could seemingly be myriad competing "wills" in God, and we might never know them, or at least this is imagined to be so (though it seems that if God's one Act is to sustain all beings, which is to say God loves all beings, then it is not at all apparent how from that same on Act some other, radically different will could be drived...), many find the second option appealing. Yet there are further objections.

Why, if free human actions are the causes of bad things, doesn't God prevent them? (Let's imagine for right now that natural disasters are the result of past human actions or other rational beings' actions.) There are four potential ways God could do so, and all can be ruled out in turn.

First, God could stop the cause in the person before they act. But this would be to remove our own free will and self-control of our minds, making us non-persons, but rather, robots.

Second, God could stop the effect from the person. Imagine ridicule comes out as silence from the mouth of some angry person, or a knife simply vanishes from the would-be-attacker's hands. The laws of nature have now become utterly unpredicable. Rather than inspiring change, it would probably unimaginably confuse us, since people make a lot of mistakes on a daily basis, all of which may contribute to the demise of others in some way, however obscurely and remotely. It took humanity long enough to understand the world to the level we do now, which is still incomplete--we never would discover laws of nature if they were constantly being broken. And one might say, "but God could invent or have the same effect as the life-saving things we have now to make up for that problem". But that almost would make us each in our own little bubble of God's protection and puppeteering, incapable of being a person, much less a human in a physical body, in any meaningful way. This seems like a rather pyrrhic victory.

Third, God could stop the cause in the victim, but this would basically be again to bubble us in, and presents all the same problems. Further, if God has one Act to sustain all beings, God would have to "change the Act" constantly, affecting everything wildly--something which seems impossible or hardly worthy of the Eternal, Perfect Creator.

Fourth and finally, God could prevent the effect of the bad action in us from, well, being bad. But again, this would be manipulation of our thoughts unless it was voluntary. But if it's voluntary, then God isn't totally able to prevent the bad things altogether, which is what's being discussed.

So, in summary:

I posit that God made us free beings, and wants us to become our best selves, but due to human actions, often very bad things happen to people. God permits this, then, because He has "tied His own hands", so to speak, in choosing to make us. Though I hope it turns out we all become our best selves, someday.

Monday, October 6, 2014


The Way is the Divine Reason of the Cosmos

"There are ways,
but The Way is uncharted;

there are names,
but not nature in words:

nameless indeed 
is the Source of creation

but things have a mother
and she has a name.

The secret waits 
for the insight

of eyes unclouded
by longing;

those who are bound
by desire

see only 
the outward container.

These two come paired
but distinct 
by their names.

Of all things

say that their pairing
is deepest,

the gate to the root
of the world."

--Tao Te Ching I
(tr. R. B. Blakney)

Monday, June 10, 2013

You Are Not Your Brain

"The body is necessary for the action of the intellect, not as its origin of action, but on the part of the object; for the phantasm is to the intellect what color is to the sight. Neither does such a dependence on the body prove the intellect to be non-subsistent; otherwise it would follow that an animal is non-subsistent, since it requires external objects of the senses in order to perform its act of perception."
(Thomas Aquinas, Summa 1:75:2, Reply 3)

[The soul is not a substance unrelated to the body, but rather is the form of the body, able to exist on its own, though imperfectly so. That the soul is distinct from the body, however, can be shown by several arguments: Reason, Reference, Qualia, & Free Will.]

So far we've come to know some more about the soul and how we relate to the world. But what are we? We're human, we're alive. We run, play, sleep, write poetry, fall in love, kick soccer balls, make movies, watch movies, eat, etc. We're active! (Sometimes, at least.)

But some of those activities are different than others. When a person kicks a ball, there's a visible motion. When a person thinks about soccer statistics, however, we don't see any accompanying motion, unless they are also mouthing it or typing or some other thing beyond simply thinking. And this idea, that some things are physical and some are not, is the idea behind the soul.

There's an important distinction to make before I go any further. While the mind involves all the parts laid out in the post about the mind, the soul includes more than that. The soul is the principle/structure/explanation behind all human activity, from eating to walking to composing metaphysical treatises in Latin. The soul is the organizational structure of material parts by which an animal (living material thing) executes its activities. In that sense, plants and animals also have a kind of soul, as they are similar to humans in a unique way by also being living things. This is why living things are called "animate" (the Latin word for "soul" is "anima"), and non-living things are called inanimate.

Notice right away that that kind of definition cuts the notion of Cartesian Dualism off right away, since the soul is necessarily related to the body in an essential way--the soul is just the structure the body has that makes it able to and actually be alive. When an animal dies, the soul is gone, by definition, since there is no longer any possible activity of the animal being performed.

But then we get into a tricky matter, because that last sentence is actually not without contention. Some people do say that at least the human soul survives bodily death. The fact that the body can lie before us and not be alive itself shows that the soul is something more than the body--though not necessarily able to exist on its own. Those who believe it is such a thing as can exist on its own do so mainly because of variations of a few basic arguments. These arguments themselves are not about the immortality of the soul--that'll be another post--but rather show that the soul, because it contains the mind, which itself contains the intellect, is a self-existent, immaterial thing.

1. Rational Thought

This was Aristotle's main issue with the idea of the soul being entirely the result of physical causes. If our brains are the sole cause of our thoughts, then our thoughts would be limited because there are physical limitations on the brain. If our thoughts are patterns/structures of something (neural networks might be the best description) based on patterns/structures exhibited by the things in the world, then because our brains can only have a finite number of finite patterns/structures they can contain or become, our thoughts would be limited in that way. The argument is that we do not in fact find such a limitation, but rather seem to be able to think about anything that is logically possible and finite--restrictions which would still apply even if there is an immaterial soul. Since we can do that, we must not be limited by the limitations of the brain or any other physically limited thing. And that would mean that we have an immaterial component in thought. Not that all soul-activity is inexplicable without recourse to immateriality, but that some part is, and therefore the whole must be, since it is one united thing. Think of it not like a mouth chewing, even though the whole body can't chew, but instead like the house in "Up" tied to balloons--if one part is floating, the whole thing is, because it is all unified in a relevant way. Aquinas explains this in depth in his Summas, but I neither have the space to give the explanation in detailed terms, nor the skill to do a better job than he has already.

2. Reason & Reference

This is a related argument, but one also more widely-used in contemporary philosophy. There are two aspects, but ultimately it is one and the same thing. When we think about things, we think about things. Think about that. Rocks are not "about" anything. Animals do not do anything "about" except walk "about something"--but that's really just another way of saying "around". But humans think "about" things--we refer to them, we mean them, we intend to say one thing, even if we accidentally say another. There is some kind of holding in one's mind of the thing being though that is not just a reaction, but a sort of turning towards it. That ability is the basis of this argument.

Hilary Putnam, in a famous article "Brains in a Vat" gives an example for what we mean by this "aboutness". He says that if an ant makes tracks in a sand dune such that they look like Winston Churchill, it is not actually a representation or depiction of him. The lines are not "about" him; they are accidentally arranged. But if a person sees Churchill, or photographs of him, and draws a picture of him, then it is indeed a representation or depiction--it refers to Churchill; the artist intends to convey him; it is "about" him. So how can our minds have this "aboutness" to them, when all of the components of the brain would be like the ants in the sand; themselves not rational? The argument would be that our minds must not be entirely dependent on the mind.

Similarly, C.S. Lewis gives an argument from two meanings of the word "because". When we think about things, we refer to them. It isn't just that thoughts come into our mind due to chemical, deterministic processes, but rather through rational thought, just as depictions of Churchill don't come from ants and sand, but intentional thought. If we say to a person something like, "Well you only think that because you are a Republican," or, "You say that because you're already a Christian anyways," we mean to invalidate the claim, as it is being produced not due to the rational content of the claim itself, but due to some other factor. That strongly implies that non-rational causes for rational claims render them invalid. But if we say, "If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C because they are both equal to B," we mean something different--that there is a rational cause for the claim. "Socrates must be mortal because he is a man and all men are mortal," works logically, and is another example of this second type. But if we put this together, it means that if our thoughts are caused by non-rational things (the neurons firing in your brain), then the thoughts are not rationally valid. But the whole idea of this argument, of neuroscience, of philosophy, and of daily communication is that our thoughts are rationally valid, at least some of the time.

3. Subjective Experience

This argument is pretty simple. We not only know about color, but actually perceive it. Crazy stuff, right? To add a little more, the notion is that our experience of color or taste or anything like that goes beyond what the brain alone can do. Here's a commonly used illustration: Imagine Mary, a girl born and raised (somehow) in a room or house without anything of color in it; only black and white. Or perhaps she has glasses on all the time that remove color from the light. Or maybe it's only that there's nothing blue or purple. However it is set, she lacks at least some color experience. Now imagine she lives in an era where science has been perfected to the degree that all possible relevant information about sensation and perception of color is available, and she reads or is taught all of it. Now suppose we took off the glasses/let her out into the world, and she actually sees the colors for the first time in her life. Will she know something she didn't before? That is, is there something in the experience of color beyond the information aspect? It seems that there is some aspect that is the experience itself, different from the information about wavelengths, rods & cones, or neuroscience. That experiential component is known as "qualia", and this, too, is taken to show that not all aspects of the mind can be attributed to the brain. If we can know, in theory, everything about a brain, and all thoughts are are brain states, then we should be able to know everything about thoughts--but this seems to show that such is not actually the case.

4. Free Will

Finally, and perhaps more fundamentally contentious, is the argument from free will. If we have it, either we have it from the brain somehow, or from a soul somehow. If it's from the brain, either it is from deterministic physics, or indeterminate physics. But determinate causes don't make free choices, but determined effects. And the kind of indeterminate causes proposed in some quantum theories amount to utter randomness, which is also not free will, but insanity. So it seems like we have to go with it coming from the soul, and that's how it can be something determined, and not random, but determined by the nature of the agent, rather than some external forces, which would make it not free. So we can give up free will, sure, but then everything becomes unintelligible, since you can't choose what to believe or do or think or love or anything at all--and that's not life, that's like a kind of death! Life would be the biggest illusion of all if we are not free.


Based on those arguments, or rather, better formulations of them, people have long concluded that humans must have some aspect that is immaterial. This has serious implications, as far as where that aspect comes from, what other things like it might exist, how we learn and know things, what happens to it when the body dies, and how the distinction affects our morals--but I'll leave those to be thought upon by the reader, and dive in further in coming posts. For now, here's an article about how the complete splitting of body and soul can affect our morals, specifically in the area of sexual ethics. It's good to be a composite of body and soul!