Thursday, June 20, 2002

From an engaging essay on Isaiah Berlin
'"Two Concepts" is a classic source for what has become a standard manoeuvre against all kinds of threat to the conceptual status quo. The trick is to accuse the challenger of pig-headedness-of overweening dogmatism and addiction to a single pattern of explanation. Berlin unveiled the tactic in his first paragraph, deriding "those who put their faith in some immense, world-transforming phenomenon, like the final triumph of reason or the proletarian revolution." The trouble with rationalists and Marxists and other enemies of liberal freedom, he seemed to suggest, was not so much that they were mistaken as that they were crashing bores, always worrying at the same old worn-out bone. Berlin invited us to smile with him at all the one-track thinkers with their sickly fixations on "some super-personal entity-a state, a class, a nation, or the march of history itself," or "some single formula... whereby all the diverse ends of men can be harmoniously realised."

Berlin's confidence deserted him, however, when he tried to explain exactly what was wrong with conceptual monism. He declared that it was "not reconcilable with the principles accepted by those who respect the facts," or again, that it was "not compatible with empiricism." This was a feeble ploy, however, and a question-begging one: facts and experience cannot speak for themselves, and Berlin's boring monomaniacs would always be able to claim them for their side rather than his. Appeals to "the world that we encounter in ordinary experience," and warnings against anything that "it would be eccentric to say" cannot have much authority when deep or even tragic differences are in play. Berlin's mountainous labours have produced a plaintive little mouse, imploring us to respect traditions, especially when they are, as he put it, "so long and widely accepted that their observance has entered into the very conception of what it is to be a normal human being." "Two Concepts" was a magisterial performance, but not without pathos: by the end of it the master is left intellectually becalmed, up a conceptual creek without a paddle.'

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

"A man's inner and spiritual life in its present earthly stream is subordinated to this very same general law, according to which every force is manifest or every work perfected thanks only to already existing forces or work. It has been thus constructed by God himself, and dualists speak in vain against this. One law! I know with complete and absolute reliability that if I begin to get angry, to be dissatisfied, and to curse regarding the train stopping, then my spiritual energy would be wasted aimlessly in the external environment, and I would in no way be able to enjoy myself now with the spring morning in the woods and to reflect calmly on physical and moral truths. But I also know that if the capacity of anger and a passionate temper were not in me, if I was bereft of this dark fire, then I would also have nothing to pay for the clarity of soul and for the quaff of immortality that pours into me this bright, Divine day. If there were no evil passion in me at all as a latent force, as potential energy, then I would be as dispassionate as a corpse, which rots as easily as a log; it does not take anything to destroy it like a pile of sand that the first breeze will disperse.

-V.S. Soloviev, Politics, Law, Morality

Friday, June 07, 2002

"Emotional Flatness" is one debilitating symptom of schizophrenia. Uhoh.
Eric Voegelin on Race

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

For the record, here are condemned Jansenian positions:

  • Some of God's commandments are impossible to just
    men who wish and strive (to keep them) considermg the
    powers they actually have, the grace by which these
    precepts may become possible is also wanting;
  • In the
    state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace;
  • To merit, or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we
    must be free from all external constraint, but not from
    interior necessity,
  • The Semipelagians admitted the
    necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even
    for the beginning of faith; but they fell into heresy in
    pretending that this grace is such that man may either
    follow or resist it;
  • To say that Christ died or shed His
    blood for all men, is Semipelagianism.
"At any rate, in Aquinas's thought, "nature" refers to human nature as it concretely exists, that is, as already integrated within the context of grace but as formally considered independently of what revelation teaches of that context. Viewed from that perspective, nature possesses a transcendent openness to grace and, some Thomists would claim, a desiderium naturale toward fulfillment in grace. Sixteenth-century theologians, however, tended to take the natura pura to be a full reality in its own right. On the basis of Aristotle's principle concerning the proportion of ends to means, they declared this nature incapable of any supernatural desire of God. Their theological dualism was complete but remained hidden behind a traditional terminology--"natural" and "supernatural--whose meaning it subverted. In Aquinas, the term supernatural does not refer to a new order of being added to nature but to the means for attaining the one final end for which the power of nature alone does not suffice. He calls God agens supernaturalis to distinguish the order of the Creator from that of creation(in which nature and grace appear together). Nature thereby becomes the effect of a supernatural agent." -Louis Dupre, Passage to Modernity

A nature that is a full reality in its own right is fertile ground for atheism, but Reformation-era thinkers struggled to reunite nature with God via theories of grace and justification. Some, like the Jansenists, tried to resolve the tension by holding that grace abolished nature. Others reinterpreted the old saying "grace perfects nature" in a radically dualistic fashion. Still, in post-medieval theories of nature, one major theme of modernity had been established.

Monday, June 03, 2002

"It would be wrong, however, to regard these analogies as justifying a syncretistic relativism that entitles each person to compose his or her own religious collage. This attitude, all too common today, shows a lack of respect not only for one's own faith but also for those faiths one so casually dismantles for spare parts. It is yet another manifestation of that radical anthropocentrism, the main enemy of sincere religion, that tempts believers to bring the language of transcendence down to the level of purely human wants and choice. Without detracting from the providential nature of other faiths, Christians cannot ignore the fact that this same Providence has led them to a faith that is not a "choice" but, for those chosen to it, an absolute summons. To relativize faith is, I think, to subvert its fundamentally divine character."
-Louis Dupre, Passage to Modernity