Saturday, March 13, 2010

James Chastek, Being as an "ing" word


The word “being” has two parts: the infinitive verb “be” and the suffix “-ing”. One difficulty is that the sign “-ing” signifies more than one thing. Take the word “running”- there are two relevant senses:

1.) Running is healthy, though it can harm the knees.

2.) Bill is running a marathon.

The first mode of the word running is a noun (or gerund) the second mode is a participle. Both modes can be said in either the subject or the predicate, viz:

1.) One thing that can hurt your knees is running

2.) The running wolf caught the gazelle.

The difference between the modes of the word is whether the term consignifies with time. I say “consignifies” because neither word signifies time (running signifies some motion of the legs), but the participle is bespeaks the past, present or future action whereas the gerund doesn’t. When one says “running is healthy” he isn’t saying that there is running happening now or then or in the future, but when he says “the wolf was running”, he is. Because of this, the gerund is to the participle as the abstract to the concrete, or as the potential to the actual: the running that is healthy (gerund) is actual in Bill running (participle). Likewise, being as a gerund is potential to being as a participle.

The difference between these two senses of being is crucial, and the later Scholastics (including the -gasp – manual Thomists) gave it a prominent place. The distinction was overlooked by Kant- along with the division of potency and act that is needed to articulate it- and the omission shows. In his famous an influential critique of the ontological argument, Kant is right to say that existence (or being) is not contained the concept of something, but he goes wrong when he construes this as meaning that it is not a “real” predicate, but has only a “logical” existence. Every defined state or “concept of something” is a noun or gerundive, or is conceived of in this mode, and thus the participle is not contained in it according to its mode, but is opposed to it. But this is because the participle is more real and concrete, and because the concept has a “logical” existence. Kant notices, correctly, that the participle cannot be derived from the gerundive; but he misconstrues the character of their opposition when he calls the participle logical or less real. Exactly the opposite is the case.

(N.b. we don’t so much object to Kant’s case against the ontological proof, which is very profound, but to the terms he uses to describe being as a participle. These terms, in my opinion, are not necessary to make Kant’s case, but they stuck, and they played a crucial role in making metaphysics seem silly.)

It is being as concrete and real- that is, as signified in the mode of a participle that the ancients and medievals sought. When taken precisely in this sense, it is distinct from the concept being or being as quasi-definable. So taken, this kind of metaphysics has always been a metaphysics of existence, at least inchoately. That said, no participle is definable precisely as participle, just as “running” is not defined precisely as participle, but only as a gerundive (participles function as adjectives, but they do so by including a time reference, and definable things have no time reference)

So what if we return to the ontological proof when considering being as a participle? The question then becomes “to what does being belong?” St. Thomas would compare it to heating: which heats: the stone or the moving molecule? to which does to heat belong?” Clearly, to heat belongs to moving molecule in a way that it does not belong to the stone. So to what does being belong just as heating belongs to the moving molecule? I’d submit that unless one admits the existence of God, he must say that there is not answer to this question, even in principle. Said another way, if one claims know God does not exist, he must claim to know that there is no answer to the question “to what does being belong?” or “what is, simply speaking?” or “what is like moving molecules heat?” I’d argue, at the very east, that we can’t know that there is no answer to this question.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Zenit: On St. Bonaventure's Concept of History
"The Richness of the Word of Christ Is Inexhaustible"

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Berquist audio files are being moved to this website. (via Just Thomism)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Public Discourse: Marc Thiessen, Double Effect, and the Torturer’s Dilemma by Christopher O. Tollefsen, February 26, 2010
Both Marc Thiessen and his critics have misunderstood an important moral distinction on the question of torture.