Thursday, May 29, 2003

On Kantian Aesthetics, and its relevance for JPII's Theology of the Body

Kant: 'Taste is the power of judging of an object or of a way of representing it through an entirely disinterested satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The object of such a satisfaction is called beautiful'[The Critique of Judgement]

"By saying that aesthetic appreciation is 'entirely disinterested' (ohne alles Interesse) Kant does not mean, ,of course, that it is boring: he means that it is contemplative. In terms of the theory of taste the aesthetic judgement implies that the object which is called beautiful causes satisfaction without reference to desire, to the appetitive faculty. A simple example is sufficient to convey an idea of what Kant means. Suppose that I look at a painting of fruit and say that it is beautiful. If I mean that I should like to eat the fruit, were it real, thus relating it to appetite, my judgment would not be a judgment of taste in the technical sense, that is, an aesthetic judgment; and I should be misusing the word 'beautiful'. The aesthetic judgement implies that the form of the thing is pleasing precisely as an object of contemplation, without any reference to appetite or desire." -Copleston, _History of Philosophy_, vol VI p. 357

"Further, [Johann Gottfried] Herder attacks the idea that history should be interpreted as a movement of progress towards the modern State. He implies at least that the development of a modern State had little to do with reason, and that it was due rather to purely historical factors. The members of a tribe may very well have been happier than many inhabitants of a great modern State, in which 'hundreds must go hungry so that one can strut and wallow in luxury.' And Herder's dislike for authoritarian government is plain enough. When he published the second part he had to omit the statements that the best ruler is the one who contributes the most to making rulers unnecessary, and that governments are like bad doctors who treat their patients in such a way that the latter are in constant need of them."
-Copleston, _History of Philosophy_, vol. VI p. 175

Monday, May 26, 2003

A note on Tolerance: According to Roger Kimball's _The Long March_, Herbert Marcuse is the inspiration for the Leftist virtue of tolerance. In his 1965 essay "Repressive Tolerance" Marcuse declares: "Liberating tolerance would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and tolerance of movements from the left." Knowing full well that a text without a context is a pretext, I still think this is a perfect description of the toleration dispensed at my almae matres.
Natural Order and Human Goods

This ties in to my previous entry covering Kimball on Descartes. While lurking on a discussion thread that had shifted towards Catholic apologetics, some confusion arose over the phrase “against the natural order.” The atheist had no clue what natural order meant, while the apologist couldn‘t explain the phrase, taking the meaning to be self-evident. “Natural” is terribly vague. It can be contrasted with the supernatural, the artificial, and the cultural. It can be interpreted in the monotheistic sense, as the reflection of the will of a benevolent Deity; in the Darwinian sense, as a struggle for existence; and in the nihilistic sense, as a blank slate upon which man may work his will.

So here’s my shot at a clear definition: the “natural order” is the proper hierarchy of human goods.

Papa Wojtyla says something similar: “The normative truth of "Humanae vitae" is strictly tied to those values which are expressed in the objective moral order according to their proper hierarchy.”

Frederick Copleston documents a homologous line of thought in the Anglican bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752):

…It may be objected, of course, that happiness is something subjective, and that each individual is the best judge of what constitutes his happiness. But Butler can meet this objection, provided he can show that ‘happiness‘ has some definite and objective meaning which is independent of different persons‘ various ideas of happiness. And this he tries to do by giving a definite objective content to the concept of nature, that is to say, human nature. In the first place he mentions two possible meanings of the word ‘nature‘ in order to exclude them. ‘By nature is often meant no more than some principle in man, without regard either to the kind or degree of it.’ But when we say that nature is the rule of morality, it is obvious that we are not using the word ‘nature‘ in this sense, namely, to indicate any appetite or passion or affection without regard to its character or intensity. Secondly, ‘nature is frequently spoken of as consisting in those passions which are strongest and most influence the actions.’ But this meaning of nature must also be excluded. Otherwise we should have to say that a man in whose conduct sensual passion, for instance, was the dominating factor was a virtuous man, acting according to nature. We must look, therefore, for a third sense of the term. According to Butler, the ‘principles,’ as he calls them, of man form a hierarchy, in which one principle is superior and possesses authority. ‘There is a superior principle of reflection or conscience in every man, which distinguishes between the internal principles of his heart, as well as his external actions: which passes judgment upon himself and them; pronounces determinately some actions to be in themselves just, right, good; others to be in themselves evil, wrong, unjust…’ In so far as conscience rules, therefore, a man acts according to his nature, while in so far as some other principle other than conscience dictates his actions, these actions can be called disproportionate to his nature. And to act in accordance with nature is to attain happiness.”(History of Philosophy, Vol. V p. 187

So conscience, by which I understand Butler to mean moral reason, is king of the human goods, and the neglect of moral reason is contrary to the natural order.

But I wonder: is such an approach to natural order a distinctly modern one, or is it something the ancients could have accepted as well?

"Poor Grendel's had an accident. SO MAY YOU ALL!"
Theology and Science without Dualism

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Envoy's Carl Olson has written an excellent overview of divine adoption, titled Called to Be Children of God. Theosis, by another name.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

"The point is that the ambivalence we feel about Descartes is a reflection of the ambivalence we feel about modernity. Despite the prattlings of contemporary academic "humanists," New Agers, and other intellectually handicapped persons, no one can in good faith utter a simple "no" to modernity. The affluent protestors who chat on their cell phones and jet around the world to demonstrate against "globalization" embody in their lives the very things they pretend to reject. Still, an unqualified "yes" to the modern world is also impossible. Descartes' dream of a philosophy that would render us the "masters and possessors of nature" has been all but realized. The question is whether we can really inhabit the world that we rule over with such thoroughness. Advances in genetic engineering, in nanotechnology, and other frontiers of science, pose deep challenges to any traditional notion of humanity and moral order."

-Roger Kimball, "What's Left of Descartes?" Lives of the Mind

Very intriguing. To what extent can one say "no" to modernity as an ideology, while accepting its benefits? I suppose in the exact same way one can say "O Felix Culpa!" to the fall of Adam and Eve or to the American economy's exaltation of greed.

I've long been pondering the various theories of nature. In contrast to the ancients and medievals, moderns see the natural no longer as man's superior and an ordered reflection of God's creative will. Rather, it is subject to the absolute domination of man. And so man is faced with the awful indignity of being an existentialist: he has no place in nature, but must nonetheless give meaning to a meaningless universe.

Even in the medieval Christian worldview, man never really fit within nature. Aquinas declares that man's happiness consists in no created thing, but rather in God. Yet there was a sense that nature was man's teacher, rather than man's slave, that man was part of the created order. The Dumb Ox also states "the order of nature is from God Himself: wherefore in sins contrary to nature, whereby the very order of nature is violated, an injury is done to God, the Author of nature." The Cartesians have obliterated both the magisterial quality of nature and its image of God's will, and in so doing, have undermined the "traditional notion of humanity and moral order."

What then? Is there "no returning to the pre-Cartesian"? Is Nature's slavery permanent?

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

A Review of Pieper's _The Concept of Sin_, translated by my favorite Jesuit, Edward T. Oakes
Newman, too, believed that Liberalism functioned as a peace treaty:
Next the liberal principle is forced on us from the necessity of the case. Consider {68} what follows from the very fact of these many sects. They constitute the religion, it is supposed, of half the population; and, recollect, our mode of government is popular. Every dozen men taken at random whom you meet in the streets has a share in political power,—when you inquire into their forms of belief, perhaps they represent one or other of as many as seven religions; how can they possibly act together in municipal or in national matters, if each insists on the recognition of his own religious denomination? All action would be at a deadlock unless the subject of religion was ignored. We cannot help ourselves.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Aristotle on Deification, courtesy of Cornelis:

Here is something from the Nicomachean Ethics Book 10.7 1177b (from the Crisp translation)

Such a life is superior to one that is simply human, because someone lives thus [in complete happiness], not in so far as he is a human being, but in so far as there is some divine element within him. And the activity of this divine element is as much superior to that in accordance with the other kind of virtue as the element is superior to the compound. If the intellect, then, is something divine compared with the human being, the life in accordance with it will also be divine compared with human life. But we ought not to listen to those who exhort us, because we are human, to think of human things, or because we are mortal, think of mortal things. We ought rather to take on immortality as much as possible and do all that we can to live in accordance with the highest element within us; for even if its bulk is small, in its power and value it far exceeds everything.
Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss carried on an interesting exchange of letters throughout their careers. Cornelis has posted several of these letters on Here's one on Locke from Voegelin

Dear Mr. Strauss,
Many thanks for your offprints of "Walker's Machiavelli" and "Locke's Doctrine of Natural Right" . . . The Locke piece interested me greatly . . I have a slight uneasiness in light of your handling of Locke as a representative of natural law . . . I ask myself can . . . Locke be treated as a philosopher of natural right? And even more: Is Locke still a philosopher?

Lockean reason.

[The Lockean ratio is actually opinion, no longer participation in the ratio divina. With that, the question arises, essentially for the whole Age of Reason, whether a ratio that, unlike the classical and Christian, does not derive its authority from its share in divine being is still in any sense a ratio? For Locke, it is clear on the strength of your excellent study that it is no longer that. In the concrete realization he must drop the swindle of ratio, and in the last instance refer to desire.

The deliberate destruction of spiritual substance occurs throughout Locke's political work. In three places it becomes decisively visible. You have dealt with two of them. The first act of destruction concerns ratio. The second, man as imago Dei. From this second destruction, the specific Lockean idea of man as "proprietor of his own person" should follow, on which the theory of ownership through incorporation of work into natural matter is based. This definition of the essence of man as property of oneself always seemed to me to be one of the most terrible atrocities in the so-called history of philosophy--and one perhaps not yet sufficiently noticed. The third act of destruction comes in the Letter on Toleration, on the occasion of a separation from a church community. Locke askes himself if, on such an occasion, conflicts over property could ensue that would make necessary the intervention of the state. He answers in the negative for the following reasons: the sole question of property could emerge from contributions to provisions that are consumed during the sacrament of communion. The contributions are too trifling to lead to a suit under common law. This conception of communion as a consumption of staples that cost money always fascinated me as much as the conception of property of oneself. Beyond these three main points, I believe, the systematic destruction of symbols can be demonstrated as a continuous feature in Locke.

The right of concupiscentia substituted for natural right.

This destruction leads now inevitably to conflict between the language of symbol, which is still used, and the new meanings that are substituted. It is not a conflict in Locke's theory (there you are quite right; he is consistent) but instead in the verbal construction. In the Second Treatise, the conflict is expressed in the fact that Locke must try three times to establish finally a political order that he wishes to have as the right one. The three attempts are (1) the natural state of pioneer squatters with approximate economic equality ("in the beginning all the world was America"), (2) the same egalitarian state, protected by state organization, (3) the consent of inequality (through money) in the context of state organization. The ultimate stage will then be protected by the new definition of consent by the fact of residency and by the exclusion of a state-run social policy. This final protection could refer, in a concrete historical sense, to the attempts of the politics of the Stuarts (Stafford and Laud) to protect the farmers of N. England and the slaves in Bermuda against extreme exploitation by the landlords and merchants, the attempts that were the material motive for revolt of the upper classes against Charles I.

It is a brutal ideological construction to support the position of the Enlgish upper class, to which Locke belonged through his social relations. The construction is consistent, insofar as the concupiscentia is maintained from the beginning as the driving motive; it is inconsistent, insofar as the introduction of the vocabulary of natural right forces a repeated redefinition in the concept of nature.

Lockean camouflage

And this leads, now, to the problem on which you have for so many years worked: the camouflage of the philosopher who wishes to protect the uncomfortable theories against the conventional protests. If I understand you correctly, you see also in Locke such an effort at camouflage--and I believe you are right. But only then, when you considerably extend the problem of philosophic camouflage.

I mean the following: you follow completely legitimate problem when you state that philosophers (I think for example about your Arabic studies) take precautionary measures to protect their philosophizing against disturbance by the unqualified. But: Is an ideological constructor, who brutally destroys every philosophical problem area in order to justify the political status quo, a philosopher? Is this not precisely the opposite case of a nihilistic destroyer, who wishes to cover his work of destruction from the attentiveness of the qualified? What difference, I ask myself, actually exists between Locke and that series of types that Camus deals with in L'Homme révolté? Isn't that which may still appear as camouflage of a philosopher already the bad conscience of a "modern" man, who doesn't quite dare to declare the knavery that he actually intends; and so he hides it not only from others but also from himself, by the ample use of a conventional vocabulary? That possibility recalls the words of Karl Kraus; such a person knows already what he wants, only subconsciously. What is the political philosophy of Locke other than the roguery of which Anatole France in the Ile des Pengouins makes fun: the majesty of the law that forbids eaully the poor and the rich to steal. Finally, when one considers the development from Locke to Marx, what is this Lockean ideal picture of political order but the picture of bourgeois society that Marx believed he had to produce with laborious research and had to unmask. If England had not in fact been better than Locke, and had not again elevated itself through the Wesleyan Reformation, this nasty caricature of human order would have brought about some interesting revolutions.

Excuse the length of this letter. But when it comes to Locke, my heart runs over. He is for me one of the most repugnant, dirty, morally corrupt appearances in the history of humanity. But back to our technical problem: it seems questionable to me, at least where it concerns Locke's political work, whether it still falls within the area of philosophizing; and following from that, it seems questionable whether the substance of Locke's political work becomes accessible by attending to the question of philosophical camouflage. Perhaps what is involved is a phenomenon of completely different order; Locke was one of the first very great cases of spiritual pathology, whose adequate treatment would require a different conceptual apparatus.

And on Karl Popper:
Leo Strauss: May I ask you to let me know sometime what you think of Mr. Popper. He gave a lecture here, on the task of socioal philosophy, that was beneath contempt: it was the most washed-out, lifeless positivism trying to whistle in the dark, linked to a complete inability to think "rationally," although it passed itself off as "rationalism"--it was very bad. I cannot imagine reading, and yet it appears to be a professional duty to become familiar with his produtions. Could you say something to me about that--if you wish, I will keep it to myself.
Dear Mr. Strauss, The opportunity to speak a few deeply felt words about Karl Popper to a kindred soul is too golden to endure a long delay. This Popper has been for years, not exactly a stone against which one stumbles, but a troublesome pebble that I must continually nudge from the path, in that he is constantly pushed upon me by people who insist that his work on the "open society and its enemies" is one of the social science masterpieces of our times. This insistence persuaded me to read the work even though I would otherwise not have touched it. You are quite right to say that it is a vocational duty to make ourselves familiar with the ideas of such a work when they lie in our field; I would hold out against this duty the other vocational duty, not to write and to publish such a work. In that Popper violated this elementary vocational duty and stole several hours of my lifetime, which I devoted in fulfilling my vocational duty, I feel completely justified in saying without reservation that this book is impudent, dilettantish crap. Every single sentence is a scandal, but it is still possible to lift out a few main annoyances.

1. The expressions "closed [society]" and "open society" are taken from Bergson's Deux Sources. Without explaining the difficulties that induced Bergson to create these concepts, Popper takes the terms because they sound good to him[he] comments in passing that in Bergson they had a "religious" meaning, but that he will use the concept of the open society closer to Graham Walas's "great society" or that of Walter Lippmann. Perhaps I am oversensitive about such things, but I do not believe that respectable philosophers such as Bergson develop their concepts for the sole purpose that the coffeehouse scum might have something to botch. There also arises the relevant problem: if Bergson's theory of open society is philosphically and historically tenable (which I in fact believe), then Popper's idea of the open society is ideological rubbish . . .

2. The impertinent disregard for the achievements in his particular problem area, which makes itself evident with respect to Bergson, runs through the whole work. When one reads the deliberations on Plato or Hegel, one has the impression that Popper is quite unfamiliar with the literature on the subject--even though he occasionally cites an author. In some cases, as for example Hegel, I would believe that he has never seen a work like Rosenzweig's Hegel and the State. In other cases, where he cites works without appearing to have perceived their contents, another factor is added:

3. Popper is philosophically so uncultured, so fully a primitive ideological brawler, that he is not able even approximately to reproduce correctly the contents of one page of Plato. Reading is of no use to him; he is too lacking in knowledge to understand what the author says. Through this emerge terrible things, as when he translates Hegel's "Germanic world" as "German world" and draws conclusions form this mistranslation regarding Hegel's German nationalist propaganda.

. . . Briefly and in sum: Popper's book is a scandal without extenuating circumstances; in its intellectual attitude it is the typical product of a failed intellectual; spiritually one would have to use expressions like rascally, impertinent, loutish; in terms of technical competence, as a piece in the history of thought, it is dilettantish, and as a result is worthless.

It would not be suitable to show this letter to the unqualified. Where it concerns its factual contents, I would see it as a violation of the vocational duty you identified, to support this scandal through silence.

Leo Strauss is in the news.

First, a hatchet-job attack from the Asia Times: Neocons dance a Strauss waltz....The New Liberal Mantra?

Then a better article from the Boston Globe: The Philosopher of Neoconservatives

(This link contains an intriguing interview with one of Strauss' students)

Finally, there's this year-old article from Leo Strauss, Conservative Mastermind, which is perhaps the fairest presentation of Straussian thought of all three articles.

I've read very little of Strauss; I didn't understand his Natural Right and History very well, though several people I respect tell me he has written some excellent commentaries on Plato.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

An article on Theosis by an Eastern Orthodox priest. Good guidelines at the end.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

"All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government . . . in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body."

-John Stuart Mill, 1859, quoted here

Friday, May 09, 2003

Friday, May 02, 2003

Bush the Blasphemous and his Messianistic Nationalism

"Ours is the cause of human dignity: freedom guided by conscience, and guarded by peace. This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it." -Speech on September 11, 2002

""There is power – wonder-working power – in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." -State of the Union Address, 2003

"There is power, power, wonder working power in the precious blood of the Lamb." -Evangelical Hymn from the turn of the Century

So what are we to make of this conflation of America with the person of Jesus Christ? Theological illiteracy, as in the comment of the putative Christian Tony Blair: "I wonder what Jesus would have made of it?" The cynical abuse of religious language for the purpose of national aedification? Idolatry of the state?

The Romans prided themselves on warring down the proud and sparing the conquered. We have assumed a similar role in our recent "liberation" of Iraq. Augustine declared this attitude "the inflated ambition of a proud spirit." All our rhetoric about Liberation arrogates to ourselves the qualities of the Prince of Peace

Thursday, May 01, 2003

St. Paul's Suite is a wonderful short work by Gustave Holst, incorporating several Irish jigs. Download it here
The Common Good and Christian Ethics