Monday, June 27, 2011

What it Means to Be a Human Person – Part 4 – Thinking Empirically

            Aquinas was an empiricist. Therefore, he thinks that philosophers must begin with “things and, in the course of their speculations, they explain knowledge in terms of what they know about the being of the things that are.”[1] In his Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics Aquinas states, approvingly, “But those things are better known in themselves which have more being, because each thing is knowable insofar as it is being. However, those beings are greater which are greater in act. Whence these are the most knowable by nature. For us, however, the converse is true because we proceed in understanding from potency to act. Our knowledge begins from sensible things which are material and intelligible in potency.”[2]

In order to find out what knowledge is, and how we obtain it, we must begin with the thing being known, with being, because knowledge is always of something, and the way in which knowledge is gained varies, depending on the thing known. When we attempt to make knowledge into a vague criterion by which we can judge knowledge of everything, we lose our capacity to have knowledge of anything, except concerning the inner workings of our own minds.

 First we need to look at the existent (for the key terms see part 3), find out what it is, and then once we know what it is, we can then examine our knowledge and find out what knowledge of that existent, looks like, how we got it, and how we can get it again. This is how bodies of knowledge, such as physics, biology, chemistry, mathematic and metaphysics are formed. It is perhaps best to illustrate this point by looking at a concrete example in real life. Serge Pronovost illustrates this point as follows:

Before I leave to go fishing, I do not say to myself: ‘Well, before I begin fishing I want to be sure that I will have success, I will, without having ever fished, establish a fishing method that is infallible.’ This is not how primitive men proceeded. First, he saw that fish exist (the object of fishing) and seeing as he was hungry, he tried to catch them with the only natural equipment that were available to him, his hands, his eyes, etc. Confronted by failure, and partial success, and desiring to get better results, he reflected about the actual act of fishing, beginning with his experience of the object, and trying to create equipment that would complement his natural equipment. He must have seen that even though all of the different species of the object (all fish) necessitate similar equipment (a method) because they are all fish, certain species necessitate unique equipment (a method). The shark is not a trout and necessitates a distinct method, even though it is, like the trout, a fish. In this way, with time, the art of fishing developed into an epistemology of fishing: ‘Can we really catch fish and how do we do it?’ There are two parts to this art, or method: a common part, as these are all fish, and a specific part, as there are numerous different species of fish and there are different ways of getting or catching them. Therefore, the art flows out of experience. What I am saying here about fishing can be said of all the arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, cooking, etc.). It is the same with the art of reasoning. Man started reasoning ‘naturally’ about facts of experience (life, death, beauty, good, love). And, running into difficulties and obstacles, and desiring to come to a more perfect knowledge, he reflected about the act of thinking itself just as he who wishes to have the best results in fishing must think about the act itself of fishing. From this ‘second’ reflection he discovered a second set of equipment (types of definitions and types of reasoning, all the equipment that constitute logic) which complement the first equipment which is natural reasoning. Some of the equipment that he discovered are common to all truths (the common mode of knowing) and other are specific to certain objects of knowledge (the mode that is proper to each type of science).[3]

 This is the way that we will gain knowledge of man and his capacity for knowledge. Each object of knowledge is known in a different way. As Gilson notes, concerning the two sciences of psychology and ontology, “The two sciences must use different methods because their objects are different.”[4] You cannot use the same methods that you use in one science, in all of the sciences. This is the temptation that, when given into, causes so much trouble in philosophy. Further on, Gilson outlines the limits of some of the sciences in explaining sensible reality, then, after briefly discussing psychology, he concludes that, “There is no end to such a breaking up of the inner unity of the self. It is no wonder, then, that science considers the inner life to be made up of distinct elements subjected to necessary laws, just as if the nature of the soul were the same as that of physical reality. But the continuity of consciousness and the very possibility of liberty perish in the process.”[5] We do not come to knowledge of physics in the same way that we come to knowledge of biological things like the heart.

In the same way, we cannot begin with knowledge of what God is, and then use that knowledge to prove God’s existence. We must prove that God exists before we can even attempt to talk about God. At this point, however, the example breaks down, because, for Aquinas, we cannot, in this life, know what God is. In this life, we can only gain “knowledge” of God through his effects. As such, we can know that he exists, but anything that we say about God will be inferred from his effects, and applied to God by analogy.


[1]Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Man’s Knowledge of Reality: An Introduction to Thomistic Epistemology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1956), 18.

[2]Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, 2nd ed., trans. Richard J. Blackwell, Richard J. Spath, and W. Edmund Thirlkel (Notre Dame, IN: Dumb Ox Books, 1995), 4.

[3]Serge Pronovost, Email message to author, March 14, 2011. This quotation was originally composed in French as follows: “Avant d’aller à la pêche, je ne me dis pas: ‘Bon, pour être certain d’avoir du succès avant même de commencer à pêcher, je veux établir une méthode de pêche infaillible indépendamment de l’expérience.’ Ce n’est pas ainsi que l’homme primitif a procédé. Il a d’abord vu qu’il existe des poissons (l’objet de la pêche) et comme il avait faim, il a dû essayer des les attrapper au moyen de ses instruments naturels que sont les mains, les yeux, etc. Puis, confronté à des échecs et des succès partiels et désirant parvenir à de meilleurs résultats, il a réfléchi à l’acte même de la pêche en prenant pour point de départ son expérience de l’objet, et essayant de créer des instruments qui complèteraient ses instruments naturels. Il a dû voir que même si toutes les espèces relatives à cet objet (tous les poissons) nécessitaient des instruments (une méthode) communs car ce sont tous des poissons, certaines espèces exigeaient des instruments (une méthode) spécifiques. Le requin n’est pas une truite et exige une méthode distincte même s’il est un poisson comme la truite. C’est ainsi qu’avec le temps s’est développé l’art de la pêche, une épistémologie de la pêche : ‘peut-on vraiment attraper du poisson et comment y arriver?’ Dans cet art ou cette méthode il y a un double volet : une partie commune, car ce sont tous des poissons, et une partie spécifique, car ce sont des espèces différentes et il existe donc des manières différentes de les ‘saisir’ ou de les ‘prendre’. Donc, l’art découle de l’expérience. Ce que je dis ici de la pêche se dit de tous les arts (peinture, sculpture, architecture, art culinaire, etc.) Il en est de même pour l’art de raisonner. L’homme a commencé par raisonner ‘naturellement’ sur des données d’expérience (la vie, la mort, la beauté, la bien, l’amour). Puis, rencontrant des difficultés et des obstacles et désirant parvenir à une connaissance plus parfaite, il a réfléchi à l’acte même de réfléchir tout comme celui qui désirait avoir de meilleurs résultats à la pêche a dû réfléchir à l’acte même de pêcher. À partir de cette réflexion ‘seconde’ il a découvert des instruments seconds (les sortes de définitions et les sortes de raisonnements, tous ces instruments qui constituent la logique) qui complétaient cet instrument premier qu’est la raison naturelle et dont certains sont communs à toutes les vérités (le mode commun de connaître) et d’autres propres à certaines catégories d’objets de connaissance (le mode propre à chaque sorte de science).” [Translation is mine.]

[4]Etienne Gilson, Thomas Langan, and Armand Maurer, Recent Philosophy: Hegel to the Present (1966; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005), 1:252.

[5]Ibid., 1:308.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What it Means to Be a Human Person – Part 3 – Important Terms

Before we go too far I would like to stop and define a couple important terms that will be used through out these posts. I will be as complete as possible, though I may end up having to define some terms in later posts.
By existent I mean an actually existing entity, a being. Now, being as being is the subject matter of Metaphysics. The natural sciences, however, do not study being as being, but qualified being. “All sciences are concerned with beings, but they do not consider all beings, but only a particular type of being, such as plants, minerals, or quantified being.” (Henry J. Koren, An Introduction to the Science of Metaphysics (1955; repr., St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1957), 7.) As Robert Bolton says, “At the beginning of Met. Γ Aristotle says of the special (non-universal) sciences that they do not concern themselves with any universal study of what is qua being but rather they each simply 'cut off a part of what is and study what happens to this' (1003a23-25).” (Robert Bolton, “Science and the Science of Substance in Aristotle’s Metaphysics Z,” in Form, Matter, and Mixture in Aristotle, ed. Frank A. Lewis and Robert Bolton (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 233-4.) Therefore, when we look at the existent we are looking at the aspect of being, which is the proper subject of the particular science.
In discussing being, it is necessary, at least briefly, to note the different ways in which Aquinas talks about being. In his glossary of terms W. Norris Clarke explains three uses of the word being. “Being = that which is. When used without qualification  = a real being = that which actually exists with its own act of existence outside of an idea. When specified as a mental being = that which is present not by its own act of existence but only inside an idea; its being is its to-be-thought-about: numbers, possible, abstractions as abstract, hypotheses, etc.” (W. Norris Clarke, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (2001; repr., Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2007), 316. There are two further distinctions to be made. There is what Aquinas calls ens per se, being in itself, and ens per accidens, which could be described as an accidental being, in the sense that it is not truly a being, its existence in our thoughts is due to our attaching a predicate to a subject, such as “fire man”. According to McCabe, it is “The combination of a substance and an accident.” (Herbert McCabe, On Aquinas, ed. Brian Davies (London : Continuum, 2008), 28.) According to Owens, “Being per accidens, because it lacks necessity and definiteness, cannot be learned or taught. It is as it were only a name, and seems something akin to non-Being.” (Joseph Owens, The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (Toronto, ON: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1963), 308.) 
Ens per accidens is different from an accident, which seen by itself cannot be without a subject, we say that an accident has being in as much as it is found to be in – inest – a subject. (McCabe, 28.) Though Aquinas does not want to say that Ens per se is the definition of substance, (John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being (Washington D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 234.) we may be permitted to say that ens per se is, at least, a subject in which is found an accident (Wippel says that “An accident is rather a ‘thing to which it belongs to be in something else.’” (Ibid., 234.)); and, if there is a word that describes the combination of subject and accident, this would be called ens per accidens. With this background we can understand that when we talk about an existent we are talking about an existing thing, a being, something in which an accident can be.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Un Pensée sur la Gouvernance de l’église

Un pensée qui se répandre dans nos église est la notion que c’est les membres de l’église qui ont la responsabilité de choisir qui vont être leurs dirigeants, c’est-a-dire, les anciens. (Je vais utiliser, dans cette réflexion, le mot ancien, qui est le synonyme de pasteur, presbytère, prêtre, etc. C'est le meilleur traduction française pour le mot grec ἐπισχοπῆς (prononcé - épiskopès).) En printemps 2011 j’ai fait une présentation, dans une conférence qui avait comme but de démontrer à partir de la Bible qu'est-ce que l’église. Un des sujets sur lequel j’ai parlé était la gouvernance de l’église. Ce que j'ai découverte était que, dans le Nouveau Testament, la méthode par laquelle un nouvel homme était mis en place comme ancien était par la décision de ceux qui était déjà reconnu comme ancien, et non par le vote de l’assemblée (voit : Actes 14:23, Tit. 1:5).  Tout suite on pourrait entendre des gens qui réponds en disant que Paul suivait cette méthode seulement parce que c’était le début de l’église, et il fallait s’assurer d’avoir des bonnes personnes en place pour les diriger durant les débuts de l’église. Mais, j'aimerais suggérer qu’une telle réponse démontre un manque d’humilité sur notre parte, c’est-à-dire, cette réponse assume que les membres de l’église aujourd’hui ont plus de sagesse, et sont plus capable de choisir des bons dirigeants que les membres de l'église ancienne. On ne peut pas se permettre de pensée comme ceci. L’homme n’a pas changé, son cœur est toujours mauvais. Donc, il va falloir prendre le temps d'examiner ce question comme il faut. Il y a deux points a remarquer avant de défendre ce point.

Premièrement, j’aimerais suggérer que Dieu à mis en place, à travers Paul, le moyen par lequel il allait protéger son église. Ceci est, d'ailleurs, la contexte dans lequel on trouve la liste des qualifications pour être ancien (1 Tim. 3:15). Dieu, à travers Paul, à mis en place des anciens dans tous les églises (voit : Actes 14 :23, Tit. 1 :5), et, par la suite, il a donné, à travers Paul, deux listes de qualifications (voit : 1 Tim. 3 :1-7, Tit. 1 :5-9) par lesquelles les anciens déjà en place pourraient être en moyen de choisir ceux qui allait les remplacer. De plus, Jésus nous a ordonné (Matt. 28 :19-20) de faire des disciples, le moyen par lequel des jeunes hommes, qui vont, un jour, devenir des anciens, sont formés pour qu’ils soient qualifié pour en devenir.

Deuxièmement, j'aimerais suggérer que les qualifications pour devenir ancien sont assez exigeantes. C'est-à-dire, ce n'est pas n'importe quel homme qui peut se qualifier pour être ancien. Notez la liste en 1 Timothée: « Cette parole est certaine: Si quelqu'un aspire à la charge d'évêque, il désire une œuvre excellente. Il faut donc que l'évêque soit irréprochable, mari d'une seul femme, sobre, modéré, réglé dans sa conduite, hospitalier, propre à l'enseignement. Il faut qu'il ne soit ni adonné au vin, ni violent, mais indulgent, pacifique, désintéressé. Il faut qu'il dirige bien sa propre maison, et qu'il tienne ses enfants dans la soumission et dans une parfaite honnêteté; car si quelqu'un ne sait pas diriger sa propre maison, comment prendra-t-il soin de l'Église de Dieu? Il ne faut pas qu'il soit un nouveau converti, de peur qu'enflé d'orgueil il ne tombe sous le jugement du diable. Il faut aussi qu'il reçoive un bon témoignage de ceux du dehors, afin de ne pas tomber dans l'opprobre et dans les pièges du diable. (1 Tim. 3 :1-7) » En Tite la liste est semblable, mais, avec quelques précisions: "s'il s'y trouve quelque homme irréprochable, mari d'une seule femme, ayant des enfants fidèles, qui ne soient ni accusés de débauche ni indisciplinés. Il faut en effet que l'évêque soit irréprochable, comme intendant de Dieu, qu'il ne soit ni arrogant, ni coléreux, ni adonné au vin, ni violent, ni âpre au gain; mai qu'il soit hospitalier, ami du bien, sensé, juste, consacré, maître de lui, attaché à la parole authentique telle qu'elle a été enseignée, afin d'être capable d'exhorter selon la saine doctrine de de convaincre les contradicteurs. (Tite 1:6-9)" Cette liste de qualifications devrait nous aider à comprendre pourquoi c'est les anciens qui devrait nommé les anciens. 

J’aimerais suggérer que ce moyen pour nommer des anciens n’est pas juste biblique, mais que c’est aussi très sage. Si je peux illustrer avec un exemple. Si tu deviens malade, est-ce que tu t’en vas voir le garagiste? Il est bon pour réparer des voitures, pourquoi pas des humains? Non, tu t’en vas voir un médecin, quelqu’un qui est qualifié pour te guérir. Mais comment est-ce que tu sais que le médecine est qualifier pour te guérir? Il a reçu ses diplômes qui sont la preuve qu'il est qualifier pour t'aider. Qui décide qu'il devrait recevoir un diplôme? Ses professeurs qui ayant transmis les connaissances nécessaire pour guérir des humaines ont vue que le médecine à bien compris les connaissances en question, et sais comment les appliquer comme il faut. On demanderais pas à la garagistes, ou le vendeur chez Walmart de juger des compétences du médecine, ils ne sont pas compétente pour savoir ce que ca prendre pour être médecine. Qui est qualifier pour dire qu'un garagiste est un bon ou un mauvais garagiste? Le médecine? Non, un autre garagiste! J’aimerais suggérer qu’on peut appliquer ce même principe au choix d’un ancien. Qui est mieux placé pour choisir celui qui va devenir un dirigeant spirituel? Quelqu’un qui ne se qualifie pas pour être ancien (selon la liste en 1 Tim. 3 :1-7) ou quelqu’un qui est ancien parce qu’il est qualifié pour être ancien? J’aimerais suggérer que la réponse est, basé sur le principe qu'on voit ci-haut, qu’on doit faire confiance à celui qui est qualifié, et non, à celui qui n’est pas qualifié. Donc, on dirait, le principe qu’on voit en Actes 14 :23 et Tite 1 :5 semblerait être non-seulement le moyen que Paul a utilisé; On dirait que c’est le moyen le plus sage.

Est-ce que ça veut dire que les membres de l’église ne sont pas du tout impliqués dans le processus? Pas nécessairement. Le Nouveau Testament nous encourage à veiller les uns sur les autres (Héb. 10 :24), et, elle nous rappelle que les anciens ne sont pas au-dessus des reproches. (Paul explique à Timothée la bonne façon d’amener un reproche contre un ancien en 1 Tim. 5 : 19-22.) De plus, il n’y a pas de limite qui est donné dans la Bible sur combien d’Anciens une église peut avoir. L’important, c’est qu’un ancien est qualifié (selon les listes en 1 Tim. 3:1-8 et Tit. 1:5-9) et que chacun serve selon ses dons. Alors, les anciens sont redevables premièrement à Dieu (1 Pie. 5 :1-4 ), deuxièmement, l’un à l’autre (Actes 20 :28), et troisièmement, à l’assemblée (1 Tim.5 :19-22).

Alors, ceux qui vont diriger l’église devrait être mis en place par ceux qui dirige déjà, parce qu’ils sont des hommes sages, qui sont irréprochable, fidèle, sobre, modéré, réglé dans leur conduite, hospitalier, propre à l'enseignement, ni adonné au vin, ni violent, mais indulgent, pacifique, désintéressé, et, entre autres, qu'ils reçoivent un bon témoignage de ceux du dehors.

Pour plus de réflexions à cette sujet regardez le lien suivante: Une Pensée sur la Gouvernance de L'église - Réponse au Questions

What it means to be a Human Person – Part 2 – Where to start

In order to understand what it means to be human we must begin by studying humans. We need to see what they are. The approach that I am suggesting is an empirical approach to knowledge.  For example, in the Summa Theologiae Thomas Aquinas waits until Question 12 to discuss how it is that mankind comes to knowledge, albeit imperfect knowledge, of God.[1] He has already discussed Gods unity, eternity, immutability, immanence, infinity, goodness, perfection, simplicity, and existence. Having discussed these issues he then looks back upon the knowledge that we acquired, and asks the question, "How did we attain this knowledge?" To many philosophers, and theologians, this order may seem counter-intuitive. Those who might think so are tempted to say, “How can you even talk about what God is like until you have established that you can know what God is like and how it is that you come to such knowledge?” This type of thinking is exactly why many contemporary theology books begin with Bibliology and Methodology. They wish to set down the basis for our knowledge of God, to prove that we can in fact know him and how we come to knowledge of him, before they begin talking about what God is like.
This philosophical attitude, by which the philosopher or theologian feels that they must prove the possibility of, and manner of, attaining knowledge in theology, is paralleled (and most likely inspired) by a similar attitude in most philosophical endeavors since Descartes. In his book, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Etienne Gilson shows that Descartes, seeking a sure foundation for knowledge, over against the skeptical problems, decided to begin with the skeptical problems. That is, before he began discussing reality he decided that it was necessary to proof that we could know reality. He answered the skeptical problems with an argument reminiscent of Augustine’s argument against the skeptics, and then built his entire philosophical system on that foundation. If I doubt that I exist, I at least know that I doubt; if I know that I doubt then I know. If I know, then I exist. However, as Gilson points out, “Every one is free to decide whether he shall begin to philosophize as a pure mind; if he should elect to do so the difficulty will be not how to get into the mind, but how to get out of it.”[2] 
The skeptical problems of Descartes, and his methods of getting around them, have influenced philosophers, in one way or another, since Descartes first began philosophizing with the skeptical problems. In fact, if you look at most contemporary textbooks for epistemology you find just this order: either you begin with the skeptical problems or you begin by seeking justification for knowledge. Both of these methods begin with knowledge, and then try to prove that we can know some sort of mind-independent reality, in some way.[3]
A comment by Étienne Gilson in his book, Réalisme Thomiste et Critique de la Connaissance, is particularly a propos at this point, “Ou bien on partira de l’être en réaliste, et l’on aura aussi la connaissance, ou l’on partira de la connaissance en idéaliste critique, et l’on ne rejoindra jamais l’être.”[4] Descartes' problem, and the problem of any philosopher who wants to begin with the critique of knowledge, is that he is unable to get from the existence of his own intellect to the existence of the real world. As Gilson attempts to show, in his book The Unity of Philosophical Experience, ever since the time of Descartes philosophers have been trying to get back to the real world, however it seems that they have been relatively unsuccessful. Gilson suggests a different approach to knowledge, “Ce qu’il faut, c’est qu’au lieu d’être une condition de l’ontologie, l’épistémologie croisse en elle et avec elle, étant à la fois explicatrice et expliquée, la soutenant et soutenue par elle, comme se soutiennent mutuellement les parties d’une philosophie vraie.”[5]
As we have seen, the thinking of contemporary theologians and many philosophers of epistemology is clearly inspired by the critical philosophers who think that we must establish the fact that we can possess knowledge before we can talk about what we think that we know, and how we know it. One of the problems with such an approach is that there is no such thing as "knowledge in a vacuum". Knowledge, in order to be knowledge, must have an object. Which is to say, you have knowledge of something. “The critical philosophers—following the program of Descartes—attempt to subject the instruments of knowing to a searching analysis in order that they might establish (if possible the reliability of human knowledge itself; once they have established this reliability to their own satisfaction, they turn to other philosophical issues; they begin with the evidence of thought; they terminate (perhaps) in the evidence of being.”[6] These philosophers set out on a journey that can only end in skepticism. 
We, however, will begin by studying the human person. Afterwards we will be able to ask how it is that we came to knowledge of the human person; then we will be able to tweak the method, and use it to come to even deeper knowledge of what it means to be a human person. 


[1]Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (1948; repr., Notre Dame, IN: 1981), 1:48-59.

[2]Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience (1937; repr., San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 156-57.

[3]See for example: Louis P. Pojman, What Can We Know?, 2nd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadworth/Thomson Learning, 2001), v. Robert Audi, Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge, 2nd ed. (2003; repr., New York: Routledge, 2004), contents, vii.

[4]Étienne Gilson, Réalisme Thomiste et Critique de la Connaissance (Paris : Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1947), 156. “Either we begin with being as a realist, and we will also get knowledge, or we begin with knowledge and we will never arrive at being.” [Translation is mine.]

[5]Étienne Gilson, Le Réalisme Méthodique (Paris : Pierre Téqui, 1936), 15. “What must happen, is that instead of being a condition for ontology, epistemology must grow in it and with it, at the same time explaining and being explained, supporting it and being supported by it, just as the parts of a real philosophy are mutually supportive.” [translation is mine]

[6]Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Man’s Knowledge of Reality: An Introduction to Thomistic Epistemology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1956), 17-18.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What it means to be a Human Person – Part 1 - Introduction

I would like to discuss some ethical issues, such as abortion, marriage, etc. However, I realize that unless I lay down a foundation for these discussions, I will be simply voicing my opinion. Frequently we discuss ethical issues without ever asking the more basic questions of what it means to be a human person. (Behind this question there are some questions that are even more basic, such as, what is a nature, what does it mean to exist, and is there a common nature that all humans share or is there some other way of understanding the similarities that we see between humans? Some of these questions may be answered along the way.) 
It seems that in order to decide whether it is right or wrong for a human person to act in a certain way, or to develop a certain character, we must first know what it means to be a human person. In light of this fact, we will spend some time, in the following posts, discussing what it means to be human. (Some of what I have to say comes directly from my Master's Thesis.) I would like to delve deep into these questions so that when we have finished we will have laid a foundation for objective moral values, and not just opinions. Once we have laid these foundations we will be able to discuss the moral issues that we are confront us on a daily basis.

Follow the links below to access each of the following parts of this blog series:
Part 2 - Where to Start
Part 3 - Important Terms
Part 4 - Thinking Empirically
Part 5 - Mans Place in the Spectrum of Living Things
Part 6 - The Philosophy of Human Nature
Part 7 - Is a Human Person One?
Part 8 - Human Characteristics
Part 9 - The Human Person and Change
Part 10 - Hylomorphism
Part 11 - Defining Matter
Part 12 - Naturalisms "Matter" is Void of Content
Part 13 - The Thomistic Definition of Matter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

David Bostock on suicide in Plato's Phaedo - Part 2

In the last posting we looked at two formulations of an argument about suicide. In order to understand this post I suggest that you refer to Part 1.

Bostock seems to think that premise 1 is generally accepted by most people, he says, “Even if you hold that death is the end, you may still find it difficult to say what is wrong with suicide. After all, there is nothing very surprising in the thought that some unfortunate people live such wretched lives that their life is not worth living, and they would, therefore, be better off dead (p. 16).” He goes on to point out that Socrates accepts, in general, the idea that some people would be better off dead, namely, philosophers. His reasons are not, of course, due to the wretchedness of their lives, but due to what Socrates thinks awaits them on the other side of death. On such an account, should we not fit Christians into this picture? After all, Paul, in Philippians 1:21-24, says that though his earnest desire is to be with Christ, he is convinced by the needs of the church at Philippi that it is more profitable for him to stay alive. “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Phil. 1:23-24).”

That being said, I seems to me that (aside from the fact that Paul is not, here, approving suicide) there is a problem with the thought behind premise 1. The problem can be brought out by a question. What is it about the people in question, that brings us to the conclusion that they would be better off dead?

A whole list of things should automatically come to mind. Perhaps it is their circumstances, their character, their location, or some other accidental feature of their existence. (I am here using the term accidental as the opposite of essential.) The question that must immediately follow, upon the positing of any accidental feature, is whether or not anything that is only accidental to a person’s existence can be a sufficient reason to morally obligate the person in question to commit suicide. Aristotle, in the Nichomachean Ethics (see The Basic Works of Aristotle), asked similar questions about the different things that are often conceived of as being the ultimate purpose for man’s life. The ultimate answer is no.

What kind of circumstances would be necessary, such that, any human person that is put in those circumstances would be morally obligated to commit suicide? I would suggest that there are none. One might suggest that someone in a comma, or who has been medically declared to be vegetable, is in a circumstance that morally obligates them to commit suicide. However, it does seem that, at least in this circumstance, ought implies can.

Could location morally obligate someone to commit suicide? It seems, at least at first glance, that the most that “location” can obligate is a change of scenery.

What about Character? I would suggest that evil people are, in a sense, already committing, what I would term, existential suicide. That is, they are worse off than the people they are harming; they are, bit by bit, destroying themselves. Their character is being, bit by bit, eroded away by their evil acts. Evil, like rust, is eating away at their character, and removing, in a sense, every bit of humanity from them. So, in a sense, they are destroying themselves. I would suggest, however, that so long as they are alive, there is some good in them and that by that very fact they are not better off dead. It seems unnecessary, but I would like to add that it seems repugnant to think that people who are, in general, good, would be better off dead. However, perhaps someone would disagree with me.

It seems to me that there is, therefore, no accidental aspect of a person’s being by which we are justified in saying that the person in question would be better off dead. I would like to suggest that the only other option is to say that due to the person’s nature they would be better off dead. This, however, would seem to condemn the entire human race to death by suicide, because it seems that all mankind share a common nature.

In conclusion, it seems that premise 1 is false, as there is no way to determine that any given person would be better off dead.

The second problem that I see with the second formulation (premises 4-6) is Bostock’s understanding of the term “self-interest”. It seems to me that a distinction should be made between what is commonly known as “selfishness” and “self-interest”. It seems to me that selfishness is the vice of self-interest. Which is to say that, a person that is “self-interested” is concerned about their person, their being; on the other hand, a person that is “selfish” is concerned only about their appearances. This distinction is vital to the question of suicide. A person that is self-interested will seek to be virtuous. A person that is selfish will seek to appear virtuous.

I would suggest that a self-interested person, when going through difficult circumstances, rather than seeing suicide as the appropriate, good, and by consequence, virtuous, measure to take, would see that perseverance is the virtuous action. Perseverance through hardship builds character, and that is what is best for the person in question. A person who has bad character is not worried about acting virtuously. However, if they could be brought to realize that their actions were wrong, and, in fact, that they were destroying themselves; then they would, I hope, realize that the most virtuous action is, not suicide, but a change of character, by acting virtuously.

It seems to me, then, that even if we could, for the sake of argument, allow that some people would be better off dead, we would be driven to the conclusion that it is not self-interest, but selfishness that would drive those people to suicide. In the end the question comes down to whether you wish to build character or just escape with your mask intact.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

David Bostock on Suicide in Plato's Phaedo - Part 1

David Bostock, in his book Plato's Phaedo, sets out to examine the discussion about suicide that is found at the beginning of the Phaedo. He begins by outlining the two main premises that are accepted by Socrates and company.

(1) Some people are better off dead, and

(2) No one should ever commit suicide (p. 16).

Bostock notes that, in and of themselves, these two premises are not contradictory. However, if we add the following third premise, then these two premises, says Bostock, are contradictory.

(3) “If anyone ought to do something, then doing it is good for him (p. 17).”

It seems that the main idea that Bostock wants to get across, in the third premise, is that one should always do what is best for oneself (that which is in one’s own interest or that which is done out of self-interest). However, premise 3 is worded such that it should be read as follows: “If someone has a moral obligation, then it is good for that person to accomplish that moral obligation.” Such a logical formula cannot be inversed and made to say, if some action is good, or best, for a person, then they are morally obligated to do it.” In an if-then formulation, the part following the “then” could come about without the part following the “if”. This is to say, something might be good for someone, without it being morally obligatory for that person to achieve it. Therefore, there does not seem to be a contradiction due to the addition of premise 3. That being said the question is still interesting. Perhaps we could rephrase this formula, and look at the question of suicide in a different light.

We will change our formula so that it reads as follows:

(4)   Some people are better off dead.

(5)   One should always do what is best for oneself.

(6)   Therefore, some people should expedite their own death.

This does not seem to be exactly what Bostock is saying, but, it does seem to be what he is implying. Looking at the problem from this angle Bostock is uncomfortable with the conclusion (premise 6), and claims that there is a problem with premise 5. (Note that premise 5 is the exact opposite of Bostock’s formulation in premise 3. Premise 5 says “If something is good, or best, for someone, then they are morally obligated to achieve it.”) Bostock goes on to expose, and criticize, a couple solutions to the problem posed by the above formula. However, giving us no final solution, he leaves us to think about the question. Is there something wrong with the premises above, or are some people morally obligated to commit suicide?

             I would suggest that the problem is not in premise 3, or its counterpart, premise 5. It seems to me that the problem lies in two places: premise 1, and in Bostock’s understanding of “self-interest”. In the next post I will explain why I think that there is a problem with premise 1.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

La beauté: est-elle objective ou subjectif?

Il faut dire que tout ce qui existe est beau d’une façon ou un autre. La beauté d’une chose n'est pas le même type de beauté qu'on voit dans une autre chose. Pour exemple, un couché de soleil est beau, un giraffe est beau, quand les feuilles d'arbres changent de couleurs, c'est beau. Mais chacun des exemples ici donné est beau dans un facon differente. Dans tous les exemples ici donné, ainsi que tout autre exemple qui pourrait être donné, une définition courte de la beauté serait que la beauté est ce qui fait plaisir quand on la contemple.

  Il y a trois aspects à la beauté: de l'ordre, excellence de forme, et, qu'on est capable de la contemplé. Toutes qui existe, d'un facon ou d'un autre remplis ces trois aspects. Si on dits que quelques choses n'est pas beau, c'est parceque la chose en question est déficiente dans un des trois aspects ici donné, ou, parce qu'on la pas assez contemplé.

  Souvent quelqu'un qui n'a pas pris le temps de contempler quelque choses (ie - une chanson, ou un piece d'art) vas dire qu'il ne la trouve pas beau. Mais, quelqu'un d'autre vas trouver cette même choses beau parce qu'il aurait pris le temps de la contemplé. Parfois ca peux prendre des années, même toute une vie de contemplation profonde avant qu'on réalize qu’une telle chose est réelement beau. Alors, la contemplation est primordiale à la découverte de la beauté. Si je peux appliquer ca à Dieu, c'est quand on prend le temps de vraiment contemplé Dieu qu'on voit la profondeur et la grandeur de sa beauté. Mais quelqu'un qui ne prends pas le temps de le contemplé pourrait être répulsé par des attributs de Dieu qu'il ne comprend pas (ie - Richard Dawkins).

  De l'autre côté, c'est possible qu’une chose perdre la beauté parce que ce chose manque un des trois aspects mentionné en haut. Mais, même une chose qu'on dirait n'est pas beau, pourrais être beau d'un autre facon, si on prenait le temps de la consideré. Pour exemple, pour moi, je trouverais qu'un vielle porsche 911, tout plein de rouille, est laid, mais, un mechanique, pourrais regarder la même voiture, voir sa potentielle, et parle de sa beauté. Ce que je veux montrer ici est que la beauté est toujours présent dans n'importe quelle chose qui existe, s'agis qu'on prend le temps de la contemplé. Alors, la réponse a ta question est que la beauté n'est ni defini par la société, ni par l'individue. La beauté est dans la chose. Étant vue que Dieu est la source de tout ce qui existe, alors tout ce qui existe est d'un facon ou d'un autre beau. La beauté peux etre perdu par la corruption de la chose, et si cette chose continue de se corrompre, il va éventuelement cessé d'exister. À ce point il aurait perdu toute beauté.

  Il y a un sens dans la quel on peut dire que la beauté est dans l'oeil de l'observateur. J'ai déjà demontrer que la beauté est vue par la contemplation, alors, celui qui ne contemple pas assez, ne verrais pas la beauté qui est dans la chose, celui qui la contemple assez verrait la beauté.

  Ce que je dis ici a des grands impactes dans notre évangélisation, dans notre vision de soi, etc. Étant vue que la beauté viens de Dieu, et que tout ce qui existe est beau en vue du fait que toutes est tenue en existence par Dieu, alors, il n'y a aucun homme, femme, ni enfant qui est laid. Chaque humaine est beau, même ceux qui sont la pire criminelle aux mondes ont une certaine beauté. Quoi que parfois nous ne voyons pas la beauté d'un personne comme Hitler, Dieu voit la beauté qui est la, et Dieu désire que ce personne donne sa vie a Dieu, pour que Dieu peux faire resortir la beauté qui est si bien caché. Alors, on ne devrait jamais regarder un personne en disant qu'il ou elle est laid. Si on dit qu'un personne est laid, c'est parce qu'on ne la pas contemplé assez, on ne la pas vue avec les yeux de Dieu.

  Dernièrement, une personne peut tranquillement perdre sa beauté (il ne pourrait pas le perdre jusqu'à sa mort) s'il néglige son santé physique, émotionnelle ou spirituelle. C'est pour sa qu'on dit qu'un personne qui s'est négligé physiquement n'est pas beau, mais que même un personne qui a un structure physique qui est plus large, s'il/elle ne se néglige pas physiquement, est beau/ belle. C'est la même pour la vie spirituelle, et émotionnelle. C'est pour ca que quand on voit quelqu'un qui néglige sa vie spirituelle, on trouve que, même si la personne est belle physiquement, il y a une certaine laideur en lui.

Monday, June 20, 2011

the purpose of this blog

In this blog I will be posting my thoughts on philosophy and theology. As a philosopher I am seeking truth, and will be presenting arguments for the claims I make. I would ask that, when you read my thoughts, you do not allow your emotional attachment to a certain claim distract you from objectively examining the arguments that I present.
As I am bilingual I will be posting, sometimes in french, sometimes in english. If you cannot read my thoughts in the language that they are written in, there are plenty of online text translator programs that you can use (such as google, or babblefish).
I welcome discussion on my views as long as it is relevant, respectful, and objective. Arguments from authority are the weakest arguments that can be used, so, I will not respond to a post that says, "your view is wrong because...says that it's false." Any post that is disrespectful, irrelevant, or vulgar will be removed.
I hope that you will take the time to read my thoughts, and to interact with them.

Dave
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