Saturday, February 05, 2011

Rowman Littlefield

Thomas Cromwell: Machiavellian Statecraft and the English Reformation by J. Patrick Coby

Niccolo Machiavelli: The Laughing Lion and the Strutting Fox by Raymond Angelo Belliotti

How did James Keenan, S.J. land a contract with the company?
Revaluing ethics: Aristotle's dialectical pedagogy By Thomas W. Smith (Google Books)

A review.

James Chastek on Matter

Matter (1) and Matter (2)

From the second part:
Within the context of universal nature, any particular individual is matter. Universal nature moves by cycles, and these cycles are made by the arising of things, and the necessary corruption that is entailed by this. Matter taken in this sense causes time – though not “time” in the sense of an international agreement that a second will be 9 billion or so periods of caesium-133 but in the sense of mode of existence that arises from any particular thing being ordered by an interior impulse of universal nature to be other or something else. Aristotle thought that the last sphere of the heavens was the sole ultimate cause of this “order of any particular nature to being other or something else”, and so he concluded that the one motion of this sphere was the cause of one time. The theory fell through in its particulars, but the general structure of the argument remains: if the activity of one thing is the reason for why all particular natures are matter, then one time would arise from it; and if one activity of one thing is not responsible for this, then there would be as many times as there are actions of universal nature.

William T. Cavanaugh on the Modern Nation-State

Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is not the Keeper of the Common Good (pdf)

I agree with his conclusions regarding the modern nation-state. He seems to believe that its power should be limited, and I would agree with that. I disagree with him on what he says about the origin of the state (government) and the nature of politics as a science:

In Christian social ethics the assumption is often made, with a minimum of examination, that the responsibility for promoting and protecting the common good falls to the state. In this essay I want to examine that assumption. All too often Christian social ethics begins from ahistorical and idealized assumptions about the state as protector and benefactor. They are ahistorical because they assume that the state has been with us since biblical times. The state, as Charles Curran says, is “natural and necessary” and “based on creation”.2 It takes different forms—polis for Aristotle, regimen principum for Aquinas—but these different terms refer to the same essential reality; all historical forms of political community are conflated into the term “state”.3 These accounts are also idealized because they assume that society is prior to the state and broader than the state. Human society is represented as a pyramid: the family is at the base, other groups and associations are in the middle, and the state is at the top to coordinate and protect. The base has “ontological priority” to the state and calls forth the state to be at its service. Furthermore, “Society is broader than the state and includes much more.”4 The state is just one limited part of society, but is established in nature with an important role to play: “the end or purpose of the state or government [is] the pursuit of the common good”.5

What I find unhelpful about such accounts is the way that they float free from any empirical testing of their theses. Christian ethicists will commonly recognize that, in a sinful world, particular states always fall short of the ideal. Nevertheless, the ideal is presented not merely as a standard for Christian political practice but as a statement of fact: the state in its essential form simply is that agency of society whose purpose it is to protect and promote

the common good, even if particular states do not always live up to that responsibility. This conclusion is based on a series of assumptions of fact: that the state is natural and primordial, that society gives rise to the state and not vice-versa, and that the state is one limited part of society. These assumptions of fact, however, are often made without any attempt to present historical evidence on their behalf.

Certainly the study of history will aid those who wish to criticize the modern nation-state. While what Aristotle or others say about the genesis of political communities may be without sufficient evidence, an account such as Aristotle's does not consist of historical claims alone. The claims that are made regarding governing of a political community may make use of assertions about history as illustrations, but they are not dependent upon them? It only needs to be shown that people desire to live in society with others for the sake of friendship, and society also serves to bring about other goods.

Does some version of the naturalistic fallacy apply to attempts to bridge normative and descriptive "sciences" or "disciplines"? And is this what someone like Aristotle is trying to do, borrowing premises from a descriptive discipline (whether it be history or anthropology) to argue for certain norms? I think rather, it is the use of the historical imagination to show how certain norms have been instantiated in the past. There may be variation in the forms of government and in the goods that are being sought, but certain aspects of political [goal-oriented] reasoning are universal? I think the claim that he takes to be of fact (the purpose of the state, i.e. the government) is really a normative claim. I do not believe that Aristotle or Aquinas link the claim about the nature and purpose of government with "other assumptions of fact," even if it is the case that this is what Charles Curran does.

Started on July 31, 2010 at 5:38 PM.

What a straw man fallacy is not.

Fallacy: Straw Man
Logical Fallacy: Straw Man
Straw man - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Fallacies [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

The fallacy is imputing an argument to someone that isn't his, and then refuting it.

One needs to be wary of reading too much into someone's remarks; opponents may even deliberately misinterpret those remarks for the sake of rhetorical effectiveness with the audience.

The fallacy is not the same as debating an imaginary opponent to illustrate a point, so long as one is not falsely attributing the argument to anyone participating in the debate. It is also not the same as drawing out an implication from the premises that are accepted by the other side--but one should demonstrate that this is what logically obtains, if the other side does not realize it.

One must take care in identifying fallacies. As in all arguments, one should support one's point; in this case by showing how the argument is a fallacy, rather than resorting to mere assertion based on one's own authority.

When I was at Christendom one of the professors told us to avoid talking of "isms." I might elaborate on that advice some time in connection with the transformation of academic philosophy into genealogy. (I haven't tired of that critique yet.)

Temporal Happiness

Returning to an old post, I ask once again: What is temporal happiness? Is it identical to what might be called imperfect participation in happiness by Aquinas? Or is it the imperfect happiness that we can attain by our natural powers alone?* I suppose "temporal happiness" could be used to refer to either, depending on the speaker.

However, some authors, such as Henri Grenier (see the comments to that post), use "temporal happiness" to name the end of civil society. Was the use of temporal happiness in this way begun by neo-Thomists? Or can it be found in earlier Thomistic commentators? I need a Dominican Thomist to be my personal reference librarian.

For the neo-Thomists, does one's temporal good consist of the necessities of life, as well as health/life? Or are these understood as instruments for the sake of activity? I would suspect the latter --these instruments would then be necessary conditions for virtuous activity, but not sufficient conditions, obviously. I think the listing of  habits  (e.g. knowledge) and quasi-habits (e.g. family) as a good constitutive of happiness is a recent "development" (perhaps most prominent among New Natural Law theorists?) and involves a certain confusion about the meanings of the word "good" and how the analogous use of good is related to desire and practical reason. Are the NNL theorists just following the example of Aquinas? If happiness is convertible with both ends and goods, and it is defined as an activity by those who follow Aristotle, then can a habit or quasi-habit said to be an end or good in the same way an activity can? Is what Aquinas writes about how the precepts of the Natural Law are derived incorrect or in need of clarification? More on that later.

If temporal happiness is identified in this way, it can then be distinguished from the supernatural end or good (spiritual good?) of man. I suppose calling the supernatural good a "spiritual" good is misleading, as virtue and the temporal good are primarily goods of the soul. A related question then: Why shouldn't the Church have care of the temporal good as well as the "supernatural good"?

*I cannot say that this imperfect happiness is identical to the natural end/good of the neo-thomists. I don't understand the controversy over nature/supernature, the natural desire of man to see God, etc. well enough to say anything at this point. I do plan on getting a copy of Feingold's The Natural Desire to see God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters. (Sapientia Press has also published that collection of essays, Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of the Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought.)

I still have to finish reading Dennis Bradley's Aquinas on the Two-Fold Human Good (a review; Google Books).


entelechy, energeia, eudaimonia

Begun on July 15, 2010 at 12:41 AM.


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This blog is intended to help those who are in pursuit of knowledge. However, I would ask that if you seek to use the material presented here in a published form other than the Internet that you contact me either by leaving a comment on the relevant post or by e-mail. Thank you!

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10 Big Myths about copyright explained

John Kyparissiotes's Decades

Don't miss Peter Gilbert's translation of John Kyparissiotes's Decades.

Being a Disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Pursuit of Wisdom

Being a Disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Pursuit of Wisdom

The lecture by Fr. Dewan at Christendom has now been uploaded, so you can listen to it here if you don't have access to iTunes or don't want to take the trouble to download it through iTunes.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Dominican Province of St. Joseph: Consumed by the Holy Mysteries of this Great Sacrament
A Homily by Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, O.P.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Certitude and Evidence

ML asked a question on FB about defining fact and opinion, and after posting a brief response there I see this post by James Chastek: The evident.

I wrote on FB that I'd look at self-evidence as being one criterion for distinguishing the two, along with the notion of certitude. I also added that the modern distinction between fact and opinion does not correspond to the distinction between knowledge and opinion in "realist" epistemology. I also asked whether to accept the distinction between fact and opinion is not too much of a concession to modern empiricists.

I should have added that the main problem between the distinction between fact and opinion is that it is commonly presented as a dichotomy, which is not true. Some facts (i.e. that which is observable) can be known by those who are present to observe it, but others who believe such facts to be true do not have knowledge of it, only opinion or belief (and if they rely on the testimony of someone whom they trust, it is faith).

Solidarity vs. Identity

Solidarity, if it is identical to social justice or perhaps benevolence, pertains to the will, while identity pertains to the intellect. The exercise of solidarity is dependent upon how one's identity, which is admittedly "subjective," in that people can identify themselves in various ways and think that each way of determining their identity is correct relative to the moral agent. But in answer to the question of "Who am I?" in relation to moral reasoning, we should look not at what is relatively insignificant (what are our pastimes or "interests" are), but firstly the role we play in creation [our function, narrowly conceived]. This role is tied to our understanding of our family (including lineage), relations with friends and associates, community, and people.

I remember someone else in the PhD program writing her dissertation on role-centered morality, but from more of an "analytic" perspective--I don't know if she is trying to turn her dissertation into a book (or if she's still in academics). If roles are so important, why didn't the medievals talk about them? Because their moral theology  already presupposes an understanding of roles and related precepts (see Aquinas's discussion of the virtues related to justice and the order of charity)--there wasn't a need to write an explicit account of roles and duties. (As Fr. Cessario once said in class, "The medievals didn't have to talk about community; they lived it.")  This understanding of roles is covered, implicity if not explicitly (at least not as far as I remember) in Dr. Fleming's The Morality of Everyday Life (a review here).

For us Americans, the acquisition of a "role-centered" morality is necessary for a deepening of our understanding of the lay vocation.
"Teaching That Comes From Above and Touches the Human Condition"

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The St. Croix Review -- I received a solicitation from them last year, but I didn't subscribe due to lack of funds and sufficient interest. I gather it is a conservative publication, but how conservative?

Monday, January 31, 2011