Saturday, March 31, 2018

Mereology on Holy Saturday

This is a re-post from 2006.

A puzzling argument in Christopher Hughes's A Complex Theory of a Simple God:

At ST IIIa.52.3 he [i.e., Aquinas] maintains that the whole Christ was in Hell after His death and before His resurrection, and considers the following argument to the contrary: "The body of Christ is part of Him. But the body of Christ was not in Hell. Consequently the whole Christ was not in Hell" (ST 3.52.3, obj. 1). He answers: "The Body that was then in the tomb is not part of the uncreated person, but of the assumed nature. Accordingly, the fact that Christ's body was not in Hell does not preclude the whole Christ's being there" (ST 3a.52.3 ad 1). If the body in the tomb is not part of the uncreated person of Christ, then the body is not part of Christ, since the uncreated person of Christ is nothing other than Christ Himself. Aquinas' point here is not just that while Christ's body was in the tomb, it was not a part of Christ. (If that were his point, he would say that the body that was then in the tomb was not (then) a part of the uncreated person of Christ, rather than that the body then in the tomb is not a part of His uncreated person.) For Aquinas, neither Christ's body nor any of its parts are parts of Christ, although they are parts of His assumed nature.


[Hughes, A Complex Theory of a Simple God, Cornell (Ithaca: 1989) 250-251.]

Hughes understands this to mean that Aquinas holds that Christ as a person "never has any human bodily parts." Some of what Aquinas says, if not read carefully, could yield this conclusion, but I think a more careful reading gives us a better interpretation.

To understand Aquinas on this, we need to recognize that on his account of the descent into hell (hades), the whole person of Christ was in hades, because the soul of Christ was in hades, and the whole person of Christ was in the tomb, because the body of Christ was in the tomb. This last is a peculiar case. On Aristotelian principles, corpses usually have nothing to do (properly and strictly speaking) with persons: my body is really my body, but my corpse will not be my corpse in anything like the same sense. Indeed, my corpse will arguably not even be a body in quite the same sense. The case of Christ is a bit different, though. The divine Word assumes a human nature, which means that He assumes both body and soul. He didn't just assume a soul that happened to inform a body; He became flesh, assuming a body as well as a soul. Thus Thomas's point in the reply to the objection is that the person of Christ is not divided up into a body-part and a soul-part; rather, the person of Christ is wherever either the body or the soul are, because the person of Christ assumed both. The claim is not that the person of Christ has no parts (He does by way of the assumed nature), but that the person of Christ is not divided up according to the parts He has. The objector, after all, is claiming that since only part of Christ (the soul) was in hell, only part of the person of Christ was in hell, and Aquinas points out that this is an illicit inference. Instead, "the whole Christ was in the tomb, because the whole Person was there through the body united with Him, and likewise He was entirely in hell, because the whole Person of Christ was there by reason of the soul united with Him, and the whole Christ was then everywhere by reason of the Divine Nature." So the claim is not that the divine person has no parts, but that the divine person has no parts qua person (rather than qua person of this human nature). And as Hughes notes, Aquinas on occasion implies that Christ is constituted of a rational soul and a body (e.g., SCG 4.37). And this is not surprising, because Christ does have these. He has them by virtue of being a person with a human nature, just as we do. But this does not mean that when part of Christ is here and another part is there that Christ, as a person, is only partly here and partly there.

Granted, the distinction between the two can be subtle. But it makes for a considerable difference. On Aquinas's view, the divine Word on Holy Saturday was (1) everywhere by divine nature; (2) in the tomb by human nature insofar as it involved a body; and (3) in Hades by human nature insofar as it involved a soul. The Word was not divided up, because the Word is (1) divine; and (2) assumes the whole human nature and all its parts. So both the soul of Christ in Hades and the body of Christ in the tomb are the Word of God. It's just that they are the Word of God by virtue of being different parts of His human nature. The only thing death brought about was his ceasing to be a whole man, not his ceasing to be a whole person. Contrast this to a view in which the parts are not parts of Christ; then Aquinas's conclusion -- that the whole Christ is wherever soul and body both are -- could never get off the ground.

What Hughes is, in fact, doing is conflating two things that Aquinas sharply distinguishes: union of person and union of nature. Aquinas's point is always that the natures of Christ are united in and by a person, who has one necessarily and takes on another. Thus Christ exists, and by assuming the human nature, exists in human parts (body and soul). This contrasts with, say, the union of soul and body, which is a union of natures -- two things with certain features each become parts of a greater whole. Nor is this entirely strange. For some people, for entirely independent reasons, want to argue that in mereology we should distinguish the part-whole relation from the part-subject relation, as two different things. Parts divide up their wholes; but they don't divide up the subjects that have the parts. Rather, they (for lack of a better word) express them.

Cradled in the Swing of Change

Never to have had a brilliant dream, and never to have had any delirium, would be to live too much in the day; and hardly less would be the loss of him who had not exercised his waking thought under the influence of the hours claimed by dreams. And as to choosing between day and night, or guessing whether the state of day or dark is the truer and the more natural, he would be rash who should make too sure.

In order to live the life of night, a watcher must not wake too much. That is, he should not alter so greatly the character of night as to lose the solitude, the visible darkness, or the quietude. The hours of sleep are too much altered when they are filled by lights and crowds; and Nature is cheated so, and evaded, and her rhythm broken, as when the larks caged in populous streets make ineffectual springs and sing daybreak songs when the London gas is lighted. Nature is easily deceived; and the muse, like the lark, may be set all astray as to the hour. You may spend the peculiar hours of sleep amid so much noise and among so many people that you shall not be aware of them; you may thus merely force and prolong the day. But to do so is not to live well both lives; it is not to yield to the daily and nightly rise and fall and to be cradled in the swing of change.

Alice Meynell, "The Hours of Sleep", from The Spirit of Place, and Other Essays.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

To those who court their own ruin,
the message of the cross is but folly;
to us, who are on the way to salvation,
it is the evidence of God's power.
So we read in scripture,
I will confound the wisdom of wise men,
disappoint the calculations of the prudent.

What has become of the wise men, the scribes,
the philosophers of this age we live in?
Must we not say that God
has turned our worldly wisdom to folly?
When God shewed us his wisdom,
the world, with all its wisdom,
could not find its way to God;
and now God would use a foolish thing,
our preaching,
to save those who will believe in it.

Here are the Jews asking for signs and wonders,
here are the Greeks intent on their philosophy;
but what we preach is Christ crucified;
to the Jews, a discouragement,
to the Gentiles, mere folly;
but to us who have been called,
Jew and Gentile alike,
Christ the power of God,
Christ the wisdom of God.

So much wiser than men is God's foolishness;
so much stronger than men is God's weakness.



1 Corinthians 1:18-25 [Knox]

Thursday, March 29, 2018

On Teaching Metaethics in an Ethics Course

It seems to be quite common for ethics courses taught by philosophy departments to begin with some discussion of metaethical issues (usually concerned with relativism and subjectivism). I have found over the years that I am vehemently opposed to this, for reasons similar to the reasons why I would be vehemently opposed to starting an Intro or undergraduate Logic course with the theory of fallacies:

(1) It is an improper place to begin, simply by the nature of the topic.
(2) It involves treating a very advanced topic as if it were a foundational and elementary one, to pedagogical confusion.

With regard to (1): Metaethics is meta -- which is to say, it is a reflex discipline, involving a reflection on other fields. It is impossible to do it coherently unless one already has in hand something with respect to which it is meta. No one can properly assess any of the topics discussed in metaethics unless they have a reasonable degree of understanding about the field of ethics on which metaethics is reflecting. Before you are in a position to evaluate metaethical positions, you have to know what these positions would have to explain or explain way, and why -- which is to say, you need to know something about families of approaches to ethics, examined with respect to important, specific examples. Students are regularly thrown into debates about what ethics is doing when they haven't looked at enough ethics even to understand what people think ethics might be doing.

This ties into a related problem: insufficient motivation for the discussions. Torn away from the ethical questions that has led people to ask these metaethical questions in the first place, metaethics looks like a field of random and arbitrary questions. To understand why the questions are raised (and can be taken seriously), one must understand how they arise to begin with.

With regard to (2): Metaethics by its very nature deals with more complicated and difficult questions than non-reflective ethics. It deals with epistemological questions that need to be placed in the context of broader epistemological concerns; it deals with metaphysical questions that need to be placed in a broader metaphysical context; it deals with linguistic questions that need to be related to broader questions of meaning. It is an advanced topic, not an elementary one; it presupposes, rather than leads into, the essential building blocks of the major ethical approaches.


Now, of course, with regard to both of these concerns, people are going to say, "Well, it's relevant in this or that way," but of course it's relevant, just like set theory is relevant to everything you are doing when you are doing arithmetic, and you can re-describe everything in arithmetic in set theoretical terms; that doesn't mean that it's where you start in teaching it. You need to start with something that people can use; only then do they have the materials to engage in the 'meta' thinking. And, yes, of course, it may well be that in the course of teaching ethics it will make sense to touch on this or that metaethical point, but (1) this should arise out of the teaching of approaches to ethics in a natural way, not be shoehorned in as the starting point; (2) it should arise occasionally, i.e., in a piecemeal way as naturally demanded by the actual subject you are discussing; (3) at the level of an Ethics, as opposed to a Metaethics, course, you are almost always going to be raising these issues as questions for further thought rather than as discussions in their own right, and it should be handled in a way that recognizes this.

Thus an Ethics course should just stay focused on normative ethics and applied ethics. (Although I've noted before that there are problems with how applied ethics is often taught, as well.)

Aquinas for Lent XXXVIII

This sacrament is presented under two species for three reasons: first, indeed, on account of its perfection, because, since it is spiritual refreshment, it ought to be spiritual food and spiritual drink. For even bodily refreshment is not complete without food and drink. Hence he also says above: and did all eat the same spiritual food: and all drank the same spiritual drink (1 Cor 10:3-4).

Second, on account of its signification. For it is the memorial of the Lord's passion, through which the blood of Christ was separated from his body; that is why in this sacrament the blood is offered separately from the body.

Third, on account of the salutary effect of this sacrament, for it avails for the health of the body, and so the body is offered; and it avails for the health of the soul, and so the blood is offered. For the soul is in the blood (Lev 17:11).

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, Larcher, Mortensen, and Keating, trs., The Aquinas Institution for the Study of Sacred Doctrine (Lander, WY: 2012) p. 244. This is from the commentary on I Corinthians.]

And today is the end of Lent.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Aquinas for Lent XXXVII

For the day of judgment will be revealed in the fire which will precede the face of the judge, burning the face of the world, enveloping the wicked and cleansing the just. A psalm says of this: fire goes before him, and burns up his adversaries round about (Ps 96:3). But the day of the Lord which occurs at death will be revealed in the fire of purgatory, by which the elect will be cleansed, if any require cleansing: Job can be interpreted as referring to this fire: when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10). Finally, the day of the Lord, which is the day of tribulation permitted by God's judgment, will be revealed in the fire of tribulation: for gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation (Sir 2:5).

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, Larcher, Mortensen, and Keating, trs., The Aquinas Institution for the Study of Sacred Doctrine (Lander, WY: 2012) pp 61-62. This is from the commentary on I Corinthians.]

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Three Poem Drafts

Li Po's 'Down Zhongnan Mountain'

In even, down the mountain blue,
the light of moon my partner on the road,
my path behind in silvern view
is freight with shadow, load on load.
I pass the farmhouse of a friend,
whose children call from gate of hedge,
and through the bamboo jade descend
where vines are grasping clothing's edge.
Thus I am cheered by chance to rest
and with a friend to pass the bowl;
we sing with pine-winds from the west
till shining stars will reach their goal,
when, overcome by joy and thought,
we both have all the world forgot.

Satin White

Light is tinted argentine,
night is rich with hint of love,
sight on sight beneath the moon
white and bright pours down on us.
Lovely hinted shades of light
scatter through the moonlit night;
lovely, too, you are to sight,
dressed in gown of satin white.

How Much I Love Your Eyes

How much I love your eyes!
How desert bare
and parched my life gone by;
but you were there,
with springs of water pure
that sparkled clear
and gave me to endure,
restored by cheer.
You give a sidelong glance
from edge of eye;
it pierces like a lance
and I might die
save but for hint of smile,
and subtle tease,
and freshness free of guile
that seeks to please.
How much I love your eyes,
sincere and true,
the color of the skies,
that heavenblue,
with clouds of sunny day
and light of sun
that dances in display
where angels run.

Aquinas for Lent XXXVI

Three kinds of confession are necessary for salvation.

First, the confession of one's own iniquity: I said: I will confess my transgressions to the Lord (Ps 32:5), which is the confession of the repentant. The second is that by which a man confesses the goodness of God mercifully bestowing his benefits: sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things (Ps 98:11), and this is the confession of one giving thanks. The third is the confession of divine truth: everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven (Matt 10:32), and this is the confession of the believer....

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine (Lander, WY: 2012), p. 284]

Monday, March 26, 2018

Expelling Russian Diplomats

Yes, Minister! and Yes, Prime Minister! are the only guides to politics you ever need.

Aquinas for Lent XXXV

...since man should act according to reason, he is truly a slave when he is led away from what is reasonable by something alien. Furthermore, if he is not restrained by the yoke of reason from following concupiscence, he is free only in the opinion of those who suppose that the highest good is to follow one's concupiscence.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine (Lander, WY: 2012) p. 174]

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Fortnighly Book, March 25

In the 1890s, a sensational news story caught the interest of many in France. A mutiny had occurred aboard a French ship, called the Niuorahiti; the captain had been killed and the ship used for piracy. The suspects were two brothers, Lèonce and Eugène Degrave, who had assumed the names of Joseph and Alexandre Rorique (or Rorick, depending on the source); they were put on trial for murder and piracy. The brothers insisted that they were innocent. In the course of the trial it happened to come out that this was not their first incidence of international fame; they had heroically helped to save the crew of another ship. Their accuser was himself a dubious person who may have well been one of the mutineers. They made a very good impression at their trial. A very large number of people following the case by newspaper believed them to be innocent. But they were judged guilty of both murder and piracy and sentenced to death. The death sentence was eventually commuted to life of hard labor; Lèonce died in 1898, and Eugène was pardoned the next year, but eventually got into trouble in a smuggling operation that led to his murder.

The working title for Jules Verne's The Kip Brothers (Les Frères Kip) was Les Frères Norik, and it is quite certain from his correspondence that the work was based on the Roriqe affair. The romanticized version of that tale is interwoven with two more typically Vernian elements: geography of the South Seas and the newest technology for photography.

I had originally intended to do just The Kip Brothers but yesterday another work by Verne just happened to arrive in the mail: Travel Scholarships (Bourses de voyage). It tells the story of a group of schoolboys who, having received scholarships for an educational voyage in the Antilles, find themselves on a ship that has been highjacked by pirates. Despite the very different kinds of stories, the two make a natural pairing. The Kip Brothers is #51 and Travel Scholarships is #52 in the Voyages extraordinaires, so Verne's work on them would have overlapped, and they both come from his very late period. Neither was very successful, and, in fact, they were the last two of the Extraordinary Voyages to be translated into English: The Kip Brothers was first translated into English in 2007, and Travel Scholarships in 2013, as part of the Wesleyan Early Classics of Science Fiction series (which are, of course, the versions I will be reading). And, of course, they both involve pirates and adventures on the seas (one Pacific, the other Atlantic), in one form or another.