Friday, June 29, 2007
Why did you choose or reject the confessional (i.e., Catholic or Protestant) school option for your child? What questions did you ask yourself? What questions would you want to ask if you were crossing that bridge?
Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles' blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Everyone's seen the billboard or read the bumper sticker:
"Nietzsche: 'God is dead.' ~1885
God: 'Nietzsche is dead.' ~1900"
Very cute. But you have to give Nietzsche a little more credit. He did, after all, diagnose the West's abandonment of God and the its moral and philosophical impotence. Nietzsche is always great fun to dabble in.
Here's a go at some comparisons between a Nietzsche and Aristotle. Try to apply the differences to your own concerns about secularism or, if so inclined, about Christian thought.
In Truth and Illusion, Nietzsche declares that truth is relative because of the mind's irreparable separation from reality. The fundamental differences between Nietzsche and Aristotle lie in their views on this relation of mind to reality, the nature of truth, the validity of thought and language, and th subsequent value of philosophy.
Nietzsche's account of truth rests on the assumption that man's mind, through a series of disconnected intervals, is detached from reality. (He's not talking about trying to live on two hours of sleep per night while nursing.)
These interruptions lie between the mind and things-in-themselves so that man can never grasp the essence of things. The senses distort the thing, for "sensation leads nowhere to truth, but contents itself with receiving stimuli." Man cannot know if the stimuli he receives are accurate images of the thing or are warped signals. When man transforms his sense data into "percepts" (sort of "ideas"), he simply makes a metaphor in his brain for something he thinks he perceived out in the world. From one metaphor, he makes another and another, so that with each hiatus, he "leaps completely out of one sphere and right into the midst of an entirely different one." The workings of the human mind are discontinuous and thus cannot be relied upon to transmit reality. If man cannot know reality, "Then what ... is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms." Not a high estimation of the mind's abilities.
Thus, truth is an illusion and relative to the individual; each man's mind shapes its own reality.
Aristotle's account of truth rests on an entirely different assumption; he declares that reality imprints itself on the human mind, revealing intelligible truths. Because his mind corresponds directly to reality, man is capable of knowing its essence. "Truth means knowing existent objects and falsity does not exist, nor error, but only ignorance." Man can know things as they truly are; ignorance of their existence does not mean things do not exist, but that man has yet to know them.
A thing has its own integrity. Therefore, it cannot be true for one man and false for another. There is one truth, and individual men are more of less ignorant of that truth.
To be continued... (dum, dum, dum...)
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The two disciplines are distinct. In C. IV of Leisure, the basis of culture, Joseph Pieper provides a good distinction between the two. The best discussion of the relationship of philosophy with theology is, of course, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) by John Paul II.
Philosophy cannot rely on truths revealed by God; that is, it must rely on reason alone. In theology, reason works with the truths of revelation (therefore, it presupposes faith).
Philosophy strives to acquire through reason what has been revealed by God: e.g., the existence of God, the human condition, the way to happiness, etc... So, why philosophize, if these truths have already been revealed and are accessible to faith? Why seek explanations when we can just accept everything on faith?
Well, revelation and theology give us a clue about the true, the good, and the beautiful, but not rational proofs or fully articulated ideas. The philosopher, because he loves wisdom and seeks truth, desires the knowledge of the theologian. He will never fully explain the truth or exhaust its possibilities. But in pursuing with his intellect the truths offered by faith, he becomes more human: out of a desire to know, he exercises that which is in him most distinctly human, his reason. And by seeking to know more of God with his reason, he enters into a personal relationship with the Truth (because faith tells us that God is personal).
Faith and reason are distinct, but are completely in harmony. When reason purports to give a comprehensive account of reality--abandoning faith--it becomes corrupt. But when reason pre-philosophically submits to truths of faith, it gains an infinite field of inquiry and wonder.
Every human being has pre-philosophical assumptions; every scientist brings a pre-scientific credo to his laboratory. What matters is what those assumptions are.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The practice of apologetics (arguing in defense of the faith) must also involve an authentic witness of our lives.
This is because a conversion to Christianity is not simply an intellectual conclusion at the end of a series of irrefutable arguments. It is a new way of being which, "unless you believe you will not understand." (Augustine, City of God, Book IX)
That is, to make the leap from unbelief to belief is not to master Christianity with your mind (although our mind can bring us to the point of wanting to believe). The leap of faith is to enter a new way of existing in relation to God and the world. God becomes incarnate; the world becomes creation.
Using our reason, then, is not an absolute value. It does not answer all questions. From the view of the believer, however, all things take on a new meaning and the questions of the human heart come closer to their answer in God made flesh.
Nisi crediteritis, non intellegetis.
Unless you believe, you will not understand.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Whatever side you take in the discussion on Christ's descent into Hell (that's a raging battle), you must acknowledge Balthasar as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th-century.
He worked under the well-reasoned conviction that Truth is one with the Good and the Beautiful. All three of which are personally interested in you. I especially like the title of one of the articles on this website: "Love Alone is Believable." So true, so true.
When thinking about human beings, it's important to distinguish the world from the environment.
The environment, which human beings also live in, describes that place where animals live and interact. It is governed by the natural laws, and our interactions on this level (because we are, after all, wholly animal) are instinctive.
The world, which is reserved for rational beings (human beings, angels, God), is a new level of interaction. If you live in the world, you have a conscious relation with all things. That is, because you have the ability to know things and know yourself, you inhabit the world.
Irrational animals, in traditional philosophy and even in almost all philosophies, do not inhabit the world. They stop at the level of instinct and natural laws. They don't have a personal relationship with other animals, nor are they conscious of having any relation at all with the world. They simply live, survive, and die. But we are aware that we live, survive, suffer, laugh, and die.
This is not to say that irrational animals are not in some sense worthy of our respect (though the nature of that respect is worthy of thousands of blog entries). It is simply to make a distinction between the world we live in by virtue of our desire and capacity to know and the environment we cope with on the level of our animal nature.
Being a thinking being is not all fun and games and mastery of the universe. Obviously, it is sometimes rather a bore to be conscious that I will suffer and die or that the things I hold dear at this moment may be gone the next. That is living in the world, beyond the immediate demands of the environment. But I also am able to contemplate metaphors ("God is like those mountains") or compose songs; I can anticipate with joy my child's next accomplishment; I can work to grow in virtue and wonder why it is that men can't find what they're looking for.
Dear Pascal wrote it out so beautifully: "Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the whole universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this. Thus, all our dignity consists in thought... Let us then strive to think well; that is the basic principle of morality." (Pensee 200, L)
Friday, June 22, 2007
Unlike my ramblings on verbing, Thomas's article is a clear and quite balanced discussion of one way to educate your children.
Why am I Catholic?
This may be more fun for all y'all Catholics out there. But it is great fun and a little boost at the end of a tired week.
Nota Bene: Do not bother reading the comments posted on the video. They're unwholesome, and the philosopher mom prefers to contemplate beautiful things.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Yes, in everyday language they are basically the same thing. If we think about them as distinct, however, we uncover an important real distinction in the world. This is a classical distinction (meaning, it has been kicked, scuffed, and otherwise violated by some modern and post-modern philosophers), but it is still respected in some circles; and it is still a wonderful way to approach the world.
Ends are inherent to a thing or an activity. That means they are in the thing or activity by nature. The thing or acitivty is the best that it can be when it is pursuing and, finally, has achieved its end. Ends do not change and cannot be changed by us. We can only discover ends.
For example, the end of the art of medicine is healing. We cannot change the end, healing, without making medicine unrecognizable. If he's not healing, he's not practicing medicine.
Here's an example from another happy activity: the end of philosophy is a true theory (theoria); that is, a true vision (speculum) of the world, of God, of ourselves. To conform our minds to an already-existing truth is the end. Our thinking is the best it can be when it grasps truth. The greater the truth, the more perfect the act of thinking.
Purposes are not ends. Purposes are imposed by human beings upon things. We create purposes.
For example, a tree stump has no real purpose or use for us until we decide, "Ah ha! What a perfect resting place for my tired self!" We impose the purpose--be a seat--upon the otherwise indifferent stump.
Of course, that's morally neutral, and no one gets too many feathers ruffled over you sitting on a stump.
Purposes become sticky, however, when we decide to pervert an end. The medicine example was deliberately chosen. Medicine, in the tradition, has the end healing. When someone imposes a different purpose on it, we all become quite disturbed (or ought to become disturbed). If we suspect a doctor or HMO is in medicine only for money, we sense that there's something out-of-place. The natural end of medicine has been sacrificed for a man-made purpose.
This distinction is dreadfully (and I do mean dreadfully) important for most talk of ethical concerns and the appreciation of contemplation. To know the end of something is to receive a truth about it from outside yourself. To simply impose your own purposes on things means you never really get outside of yourself.
And my self is a rather dull companion.
If you read it in high school, read it again. It gets better with age.
Like a fine wine. (Sorry, I couldn't resist...)
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
It's a good investment for anyone who plans to homeschool her children, as well.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
But the sort of philosophy that gets the eyeballs rolling is not what Aristotle thought of as philosophy. And my heart breaks when I think that philosophy has become something that only a very few twenty-somethings pursue around a seminar table.
To do philosophy, Joseph Pieper says, we must first ask what is the nature of man? Philosophy is intrinsic to human nature. (He's referring, in part, back to Aristotle's "all men by nature desire to know.") To philosophize is to step out of the everyday world, where everything we do must be useful. It is to simply stop and contemplate what is true and good and beautiful for its own sake.
This seems to most of us most of the time a waste. Philosophy appears to be a luxury and useless--which, in terms of dollars and clean diapers, it is. It appears to the working man to be subversive, because it is a disturbance. It is a space where the work-a-day world is not respected and made absolute. But this space is essential to our happiness, and here's why.
The human person has both a body that needs feeding and a more-than-physical soul, its intellect and will, which also need "feeding." The intellect, in order to be satisfied, needs the truth. The will, in order to be happy, needs to be free. The human soul, then, is most itself when it contemplates the true, the good, and the beautiful for its own sake. That is, philosophy can be a radical act of freedom--we don't do it to feed the kids, to keep the house clean, to get a promotion. We simply do it because it is a good thing for us to do.
And what are we doing? We are doing what the wise man does: we wonder at all that is and ask why it is so. We allow the world to impress us simply in order to know the truth of things better.
That sort of philosophy does not roll the eyeballs. That is the kind of thinking for which we were made.
Monday, June 18, 2007
So, here's the overview (the one I submitted to the prof.) of the thesis, which is currently on Chapter 3.
"The Enlightenment sought a purely rational basis for understanding moral world that would determine, beyond all dispute, the first principles of thought and the fulfillment of human desires. The history of its failure to do so is well-known: in the three-and-a-half centuries following Descartes’s call for those “clear and distinct” ideas that would free philosophical thought from contention and muddle, mankind strove to live by reason alone for the improvement of the human condition. The central requirement of its method was that it assume there to be no essential connection between the physical mechanics of, say, the human heart and its “final cause.” The result was a world of rationally-determined purposes without inherent ends, artificial goods with no transcendent meaning. As Blaise Pascal observed from the beginning, the modern mind is necessarily “neutral, indifferent, suspending judgment on everything, not excluding ourselves.” In an effort to find himself on certain ground, modern man lost his way and, per Pascal’s prophecy, himself.
Pascal not only criticized, however, but also offered an alternative to the Cartesian philosophy. As Lucy Beckett writes,
'The alternative is to choose to trust a tradition in which to think, to judge, to live, because we discover that a tradition does exist, a collaborative achievement of coherent intellectual effort with a long history still accessible, that confirms our experience of what we have found--using, quietly, words we cannot do without--to be good, beautiful, and true. What we may then discover is that the tradition we have come upon makes more and more sense to us, makes more and more sense of our own lives, which begin to take on the very unity that turns out to be real and full of infinitely explorable meaning (Beckett 3).'
For Pascal, the intellectual tradition making most sense of the human condition is that made possible by the Incarnation--the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. In the unity of God and man, the fragmented pieces of man’s experience of his own condition come together to form that “infinitely explorable” whole, a whole in which each piece’s meaning becomes clearer if not clear and distinct. Men are capable of knowing both more than Descartes allowed and less: a more complex understanding of human thought, based on experience, will recover both the mathematical and physical sciences as well as man’s self-knowledge. To that end, Pascal rejects the rejection of the essential, unifying principles of classical philosophy while embracing the scientific method for the purpose of mastering the material world’s mysteries. It is the tradition of the ancients and Christian thinkers, he claims, that allows him to do so. "
That's the project. We'll get back to Aristotle tomorrow. Hoorah!
[Oh, and you really should check out Lucy Beckett. Her book, In the Light of Christ, is a smashing collection of essays on various Western thinkers from Aeschylus to Augustine, from Dante to Newman, from Pascal (!) to Pope John Paul II.]
Sunday, June 17, 2007
I've just found this link to a great
"Introduction to Philosophy for Young People."
Now, you needn't be young to enjoy these essays--they're relatively brief and provide a good overview of some basic philosophical topics from Aristotle, Plato, and Thomas.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Here's a fun one of pre-Benedict Ratzinger at the debate he had with Habermas, one the foremost secular philosophers of our time. It was a remarkable debate, which I'll have to summarize as soon as I've done reading it.
It's the sort of conversation you'd like to have with moms on the playground when you tell them you don't watch Sex in the City. Only slightly more academic. But really the same.
It's not enough to say the wise man is the one who contemplates the first causes or principles of things. As human beings, we want one thing above all: happiness. We want to know and run after what appears good to us.
The wise man, however, does not run after something simply because it looks good. He runs after it because it is good. That is, in knowing the source of all things, he knows the good of all things. He knows the good of himself.
The good for man lies in his source, in the first cause of all things. For Aristotle, it all comes back to the source. The first cause is also the end (the fixed goal) for which we long. If all of us by nature desire wisdom, we find wisdom in knowing our source and our end, our cause and our good.
Of course, in the Catholic tradition this Aristotelian thinking has helped lead to the contemplation of God as our source and our final rest.
It also has meant, however, that wherever human beings are, there is a search for their source going on. That is why Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI could say that there is at least some truth in every human religion: in all ages and cultures, the wise man contemplates his source and his good. That's a huge can of worms, so I'll submit it to the priests, prophets, and kings, and move on...
But the main point is this: the lover of wisdom (yes, the philosopher!) is the one who articulates the truth of the first causes and principles and the truth about the good of all things. Rock on, philosopher moms, rock on.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
The wise man, as we said in the previous post, is the one who seeks the why of things. Why do ducks migrate? Why are men and women so different? Why do I want to be both bad and good? Why does Mummy not let me eat ants on my sandwich?
There are several common opinions of what makes a person wise. Aristotle lists these in Chapter 2 of the Metaphysics: a wise man has comprehensive knowledge, he knows difficult things, he is capable of teaching others what he knows, he has a speculative (read: useless) type of knowledge, and he is the guy in charge. That sounds about right--the sort of answers you would get if you asked "the man on the street."
Aristotle, of course, takes it one step further. Wisdom, he says, is more than just knowing lots of particular facts (who was the 22nd president? what is an alloy? is lipstick waterproof?). Someone might know lots of trivia and win Jeapordy, but still not be wise.
Wisdom is having a universal knowledge (or, as a priest professor I had liked to say, "Catholic" knowledge!). A wise man knows what is common to many things. This is a difficult knowledge, because it requires that the intellect take what it knows from sensations and draw from those particular things common truths. The most wise man of all will know what is common to all things: he will know BEING itself. He will be able to express the act of being as the first principle.
First principles are the key here. A first principle is foundational--if you've got it, you've got the key to understanding all things, the key to wisdom. The first principle is also called the first cause--it is the why of all things. It's the beginning and source of everything else. The wise man has ascended the chain from his particular little sensations to knowledge of the causes and principles of all things.
This may seem awfully difficult. But Aristotle insists that the first cause is the most knowable thing of all. In his terms, it is the most intelligible. That's because it is the source. You can follow the stream of all particular beings back and back to their one source--the first principle, their cause.
That is true wisdom--to see the first cause in all its effects, to see the unity of beings in their source.
Pope John Paul II was very keen on this part of philosophy. For him, as for me and you, contemplating the source was a personal encounter with God, the first cause. This poem is from his trilogy, "Roman Triptych."
The undulating wood slopes down
to the rhythm of mountain streams.
To me this rhythm is revealing You,
the Eternal Word.
How amazing is Your silence
in everything, in all that on every side
unveils the world of creation about us ...
all that, like the undulating wood,
runs down every slope ...
all that is carried along
by the silvery stream's cascade,
rhythmically falling from the mountain,
carried by its own current --
2. The Source
The undulating wood slopes down
to the rhythm of mountain streams ...
If you want to find the source,
you have to go up, against the current.
Back through, search, don't yield,
you know it must be here somewhere.
Where are you? ... Source, where are you?
Stream, woodland stream,
tell me the secret
of your origin! ~John Paul II, The Stream
That is the sort of prayer I would like Miriam to pray one day. It is the prayer of the wise man.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
When he says "by nature," he means in sum that our desire to know is a desire to exercise some inborn quality in us. We're born to operate this way: to use our minds to the fullest extent. We want to know things not because we chose to want to know--it's not a matter of convention. Nothing forces us to want to know. It is our nature to want to know true things.
In fulfilling this desire, we become fully human. That is, we exercise our human nature. For Aristotle, as for most of the philosophical tradition, reason and art distinguish human beings from other animals. That's why studying and seeking the truth matters: it's this action that practices or exercises that which is most fully human about us. It makes us more human.
That's also, then, the basis for why we study liberal arts (which seem so useless on the job market): having practical knowledge is useful, but to study the highest truths simply for the sake of knowing truth answers a basic call of our human nature. In Aristotle's terms, to study the less-practical questions is to learn the why of things. A mechanic can know that the car will run on gasoline but not on Diesel; a scientist will know the why. On the moral level, the statistics major can know that being cheated on hurts; the contemplative soul wants to know why.
Knowing the why is wisdom (sophia). The lover of wisdom seeks to know the why. Every human being has an inbuilt desire to know. If we cultivate that desire rightly, we will love wisdom and seek it always.
Monday, June 11, 2007
By Joseph Bottum
Richard Rorty has died, passing away on Friday, June 8. A uniquely American mix of philosopher, pragmatist, and provocateur, Richard Rorty was the grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, the theologian who had been a key figure in the Social Gospel movement. And over the years of his professional career, Rorty grew to occupy—for good and for ill—an astonishingly large place in American intellectual life.
A search through the back issues of First Things reveals, in its dozens of references, just what a point of reference Rorty has been since his book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was published in 1979. Among the many articles referring to him, two particularly deserve revisiting: “Joshing Richard Rorty,” by Richard John Neuhaus in the December 1990 issue, and “How Richard Rorty Found Religion,” by Jason Boffetti in the May 2004 issue.
The iconic status he achieved is difficult now to understand. The frisson of postmodernism in its early days had something to do with, as did Rorty’s claim to be the last true heir of the American pragmatist tradition, the mantle falling to him from the shoulders of John Dewey. But he had a mind of enormous capability and energy, and he was always worth reading.
That’s not something that can be said of many. He will be missed.
"Professors in countless classrooms in many different disciplines report that students have already been well taught that, when they are faced with any moral proposition, the proper response is, 'That's just your opinion.' They are resistant, then, to resolving disagreements by reasoned arguments. They aver, 'You choose your good, and I'll choose mine.' Reasoned debate is replaced by naked will. I choose. Don't ask me to give reasons--I just choose...
"The prevailing moral code of the West was [in past ages] informed by the wisdom of our forefathers, but in the new vision developed by secular humanism that old code is no longer relevant. The biting challenge of Nietzsche still nags at us: If God is really dead, by what authority do we say any particular practice is prohibited or permitted? In the resulting moral diarray in our society, the most immediate of moral questions has become unsettled: How shall we raise our children? What kind of moral example should we set?"
-Michael Novak, "Remembering the Secular Age"
He's spot on here. This is why we study--so that we can "give a reason for the hope that is in us" and for our conviction that there is the Good, the True, and the Beautiful and that we can know and love him.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
There are several theories to answer the question: The "correspondence theory" says that truth is when your mind (or intellect) corresponds to the world. The "coherence theory" says that truth is when a statement you make coheres to an accepted system of other statements. Finally, the "pragmatic theory" says that if what you believe is practical (i.e., it works), then it is true.
Aristotle acknowledges that each of these theories has some truth but is also incomplete.
He offers his own explanation of truth: that it is the objective world, or reality, that is the measure of truth. Truth does not originate in our minds. Man is not the measure of truth. Rather, that which is is truth (being is truth). The world is true. Our thoughts are true when they express the reality of what is.
That expression of being is the logos (or, "word"). Aristotle thinks that it is not private ("I can only speak for my own experience of the logos"). Rather, every mind can by its nature experience the same logos (the "word" of being) and so every mind can know truth, goodness, and beauty. The world is not private, but is common.
[Note for the interested: The Logos, which is a common title for Christ, is the perfect expression of the truth of being. Later on, in St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas's thought, we will see the connection the Christian tradition makes between Aristotle's logos and being and the Christ and Father the Church worships.]
Aristotle objected for most of the same reasons you may object: "Protagoras said that man is the measure of all things, meaning simply and solely that what appears to each man assuredly also is. If this is so, it follows that the same thing both is and is not, and is both bad and good, and whatever else is asserted in contrary statements, since often a particular thing appears good (or beautiful) to some and the opposite to others; the criterion is what appears to each individual." (Metaphysics 1062b13)
That is, Aristotle is saying that if Protagoras (and today's modern relativist) is right then we cannot know whether something is good or bad, true or false for anyone except ourselves. God may be good for me and bad for you--we're equally right.
If that sits uneasily in your stomach, you will love getting to know Aristotle and his friends...
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Monday, June 4, 2007
We are moms who guide, teach, answer the deep questions on a daily basis to children from 0 to adult years old. The gift of motherhood is also a responsibility to form our minds and hearts for our children and husbands.
This blog is a way for the mother of eight or the mother of one rather demanding 2-year-old to find formation. With humor, lots of paraphrasing, and mostly prayers I pick up ways to understand the beloved "dead white guys" of history and find how their thoughts can shape our lives in our homes today.