Saturday, September 25, 2021

Nature and Will

 I'm behind on a number of things, so the fortnightly book will probably be up tomorrow. But I've been thinking recently on something that I think I might start thinking more clearly about if I actually try writing it down; hence this post.

There is a not-uncommon high-level way of approaching the history of philosophy that follows problematic concepts and attributes all sorts of other problems to them. One popular one in recent decades has been univocity of being; poor Bl. John Duns Scotus gets all sorts of things laid at his feet for that: voluntarism, secularization, you name it. In reality, philosophical ideas don't really work quite like this; there is no guaranteed conservation of concept across philosophers, across schools of thought, or across cultures, and, what is more, concepts and ideas do not have effects in isolation. Terms change meaning over time and potential problems with a concept can be compensated for by other ideas, positions, methods.

Nonetheless, as is often the case, the approach is not wholly unfounded, because concepts and ideas do constrain what you can do. Positions and systems do not arise only out of historical influences but out of logical constraints, as well. What we can do is pick one and, assuming a fair degree of stability, identify the potential issues with it and compare it to how the history actually develops. This ties in to what I've previously called Abstract History of Philosophy.

Stability over long periods of time requires a relatively intuitive idea that can be expected to tie into a fair amount of common ground. So I think if you were going to do this kind of thing, 'univocity' is not a great choice; (1) it's a technical term in a particular field, (2) we know that this field, formal term logic, more or less collapses as a thriving field for several centuries, (3) we know there are several disruptions in how the term was understood and defined (Aquinas, Henry of Ghent, Scotus), etc. I think a better choice would be something like the exclusive distinction of nature and will. 

Distinguishing nature and will (or sometimes intellect) as causes is a longstanding practice. It's an intuitive idea; we do, in fact, make lots of distinctions between things made by nature and things made by choice of will. I think there's reason to think, however, that beginning with the late thirteenth century, as time goes on the distinction slowly becomes much more central and significant than it previously had been. And at the same time, it becomes more of a sorting rule: everything increasingly has to get sorted into the 'nature' group or the 'will' group. 

If we take this in the abstract, an exclusive distinction between nature and will has a number of obvious implications and imposes a number of constraints on what you can do. It divides the world into two, a logical region of nature-things and a logical region of will-things. Taking the division as exclusive rules out overlaps -- no natural will or volitional nature. What has will would have to be treated as a primitive -- there could no complete natural explanation for will, it's properties, or its actions. Likewise, things that are associated with will -- like purposes -- cannot share a common genus with things that are associated with nature. Things that might otherwise be seen as genera transcending the distinction -- like final causes or activity -- either have to be eliminated as chimeras or knocked onto one side of the distinction.

Something along these lines arguably did happen, for reasons that arguably do relate to the constraints in reasoning imposed by the distinction. The fate of final causes and exemplar causes are both reasonably convincing examples: as the nature/will distinction gets stronger and is treated more generally, they both get evaporated out of the natural realm and confined to the volitional realm. Even people who are very strongly committed to them increasingly locate them exclusively in the mind, which is not at all what had previously been the case, since they would originally have been seen as transcending any such division. It's important to grasp that this doesn't mean that natural finality or exemplarity get refuted; you will search in vain for such a refutation. Rather, the terms just stop being used in a way that ignores the division; even supporters slowly start redefining them to be on one side of the line. 'Final cause' eventually just begins to mean 'purpose'; the notion of immanent finality becomes much more rare, and people think of finality as always indicating something like artificial design; thus we enter the era in which the universe consists of things, undesigned in themselves, that must be explained by the will of God the designer imposing an artificial order on them. But other things get sorted out in similar ways; natural law is increasingly seen less as a natural than as a volitional scheme imposed on nature, ethics increasingly becomes wholly a matter of will and choice, etc. Two different kinds of theories of signs develop; they both inherit a distinction between natural signs and imposed signs. One, however,  which we find, for example, in John of St. Thomas (also known as John Poinsot), takes this to be a secondary distinction; the more important distinction is between formal and instrumental signs. This allows for a relatively unified theory of signs; the formal/instrumental division, though defensible in its own right, does not match the natural/artificial distinction. The other, which we find, for example, in Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz, takes the natural/artificial distinction to be fundamental. This gives a necessarily disunified theory of signs, since natural signs and artificial signs have to be fundamentally different, one being on the side of nature and the other being on the side of will. The latter approach, not the former, endures and spreads and influences people who have never even read the Baroque philosophers who explored it. We could add others.

If nature and will are mutually exclusive, then we seem forced to three general choices for how we understand mind (which is usually seen as will-related) and body (which is usually seen as nature-related): they can either be two completely different things, as in Cartesian dualism, or we can try to eliminate one as an otiose duplication, and thus get either idealism or materialism. If nature and will divide the world, we run into obvious questions about the border between them, and we run into the problem of how freedom of will meshes with unfree nature in our actual experience. Start with an exclusive division of the world between unfree nature and free will, and some kind of Kantianism seems inevitable.

Of course, history is much messier than the ideal. For one thing, archives and libraries exist, and older views keep popping up among people who bother to read old books extensively enough to see that they have options that are no longer considered -- people like, say, the Cambridge Platonists or Leibniz. This is very unsystematic and unpredictable, and even such people are usually interacting with and having to communicate with people who assume the distinction. But philosophical reasoning has to take into account evidence from the natural world and common experience as well -- even if there is sometimes an extensive delay in how it does so -- and assuming a sharp division will inevitably run us into situations in which we don't quite know how the world is supposed to relate to the assumption. Historically, the big problematic fact that stands in the way of easy division into nature and will is Life; we have reasons to put nonhuman animals and plants on the nature side (as the Cartesians do), but there are lots of things about them, especially about the beasts, that seem almost will-like. This helps further the rise of design arguments, as well, and accelerates their dominance, but it also pushes people to try to find other creative solutions to how animal and plant life fits into the equation. You can try to fit it on the nature side, like the mechanists; or you could think that perhaps that we just need to widen the will-side a bit to include vital activities as well as strictly volitional ones; or you could think that perhaps we need a trichotomy, not a dichotomy. The latter two seem to push us into different forms of vitalism. In any of the three cases, though, we are forced to do some stretching and reworking, since life's place in the division is just not immediately obvious once we lose both overlaps and most of our shared features. And of course, this is inevitable; sharp distinctions are not perfectly rigid, and while they impose constraints on problems, they get slowly deformed and reformed because of the problems, as well. At some point it will inevitably get stretched about enough that it is just a completely different thing than it was; but if my students are any indication, we've not reached that point yet.

None of this is definite enough to count as a causal explanation; it's more of a passing of an initial test by a rough hypothesis. It would make a fertile ground for further study.

It should be said that it's also an error to look at the history of philosophy in terms of easy condemnations. I think that the exclusive nature/will division is wrong if taken generally, but if you were to assume it, there are lots of situations in which it simplifies reasoning without any serious harm or makes it easier to investigate a particular aspect of the world. Ideas that last a long time, last because they are handy for things. And, of course, by exploring with an assumption, you can get positions that are very interesting in their own right, which in turn might make some discoveries easier. The human mind is an impressive thing; it can work wonders even with errors, and it is always wrong simply to dismiss a position because of a wrong assumption somewhere. Error doesn't prevent reasoning to genuine truths, especially given that nobody's views are completely erroneous; every so often, error is even a shortcut to new regions of truth that, proceeding from truth to truth alone, would be arduous to reach.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Two Poem Drafts

 Murder Ballad

In a little room I mark the turn of season
but with hardness in my heart do not regret;
'Repent your sins,' will whisper Christian reason
but stubborn human passion says, 'Not yet.'

Moses turned to blood the Nile waters;
at the power of the Lord, the great god bled;
but with the blood from Adam's sons and daughters
you'll never turn the Mississippi red.

I lost my lover to sudden plague of heartache,
with murder in my soul and stone in hand;
friend, 'ware the storm unleashed by heart's break
ere it ends with blood upon the sand.

The river Jordan washes out all evil
but the Mississippi hides the sign of crime;
friend, fear the whispers of the devil,
for every sin will show its face in time.

It took long years before her bloated body
broke free from stone and floated to the shore.
The respites of this world are short and gaudy
but hell, they say, will last forevermore.


The Great Art

In the beginning, the poet breathes upon the deep,
inspiration and expiration in the darkness;
then light shines through him, borne of the muse,
dividing the creative splendor from dark memory.
The mind leaps to the ends of the cosmos,
an order precipitates out of chaos.

Then comes the building, the unifying frame,
an overarching idea spreading like a firmament,
dividing thought from thought and word from word
so that there is order in the flow of water to water,
the sea and the rain relieved of confusion,
brought into pattern by pillar and sky-column.

Then in the materials structure is gathered,
made to be rigid in layer and in grade,
the good, solid ground on which may be planted
the flowers of figure and the blooms of poesy,
metaphor yielding metaphor after its kind,
a jungle-profusion well-rooted is thus crafted.

As the material flowers, the themes are adorned and made fair,
a pattern of thought beyond any flower-field,
like blooming sun the central truth grows bright,
like a meadow of stars the lesser truths are born;
eternity shines through this temporal wall;
through patterned theme is manifested what exceeds words.

Allusions and references populate the context,
meaning beyond meaning on the edges now creep,
winging beneath the themes, swimming in the deeps,
multiplying without end, as is their destiny,
blessed with a power of perpetual life,
an explosion of vitality both hidden and great,
bringing an ever-new surge of goodness.

The order is crowned as the poem is completed,
the perfection is crafted to finish the cosmos,
and like an instrument the whole proceeds,
as all is made one and the title is placed,
definitely giving direction to the forms and the flowers,
that the poem may meet the reader face to face.

Thus is finished the poem and all of its furnishing,
thus ends the poet's blazing with fire;
now there must follow the rest of the sabbath,
as expression is absorbed into peace and silence.
The poet looks forth, and lo! it is good,
and in the morning coolness he walks in verse gardens.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

For Life Itself Is but a Span

The Wants of Man
by John Quincy Adams


"Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long."
'Tis not with me exactly so;
But 'tis so in the song.
My wants are many and, if told,
Would muster many a score;
And were each wish a mint of gold,
I still should long for more.

What first I want is daily bread --
And canvas-backs -- and wine --
And all the realms of nature spread
Before me, where I dine.
Four courses scarcely can provide
My appetite to quell;
With four choice cooks from France beside,
To dress my dinner well.

What next I want, at princely cost,
Is elegant attire:
Black sable furs for winter's frost,
And silk for summer's fire,
And Cashmere shawls, and Brussel's lace
My bosom's front to deck, --
And diamond rings my hands to grace,
And rubies for my neck.

I want (who does not want?) a wife, --
Affectionate and fair;
To solace all the woes of life,
And all its joys to share.
Of temper sweet, of yielding will,
Of firm, yet placid mind, --
With all my faults to love me still
With sentiment refined.

And as Time's car incessant runs,
And Fortune fills my store,
I want of daughters and of sons
From eight to half a score.
I want (alas! can mortal dare
Such bliss on earth to crave?)
That all the girls be chaste and fair, --
The boys all wise and brave.

I want a warm and faithful friend,
To cheer the adverse hour;
Who ne'er to flatter will descend,
Nor bend the knee to power, --
A friend to chide me when I'm wrong,
My inmost soul to see;
And that my friendship prove as strong
To him as his to me.

I want the seals of power and place,
The ensigns of command;
Charged by the People's unbought grace
To rule my native land.
Nor crown nor sceptre would I ask,
But from my country's will,
By day, by night, to ply the task
Her cup of bliss to fill.

I want the voice of honest praise
To follow me behind,
And to be thought in future days
The friend of human-kind,
That after ages, as they rise,
Exulting may proclaim
In choral union to the skies
Their blessings on my name.

These are the Wants of mortal Man, --
I cannot want them long,
For life itself is but a span,
And earthly bliss -- a song.
My last great Want -- absorbing all
Is, when beneath the sod,
And summoned to my final call,
The Mercy of my God.

The quotation from the beginning is from Oliver Goldsmith's "The Hermit", also known as "Edwin and Angelina". Adams wrote the poem when one of his colleagues in Congress told him that several young ladies in the colleague's district had asked him if he could get Adams's autograph. John Quincy Adams was a member of the House very late in his political career; it was the last office he held, and he was in his seventies when he wrote the poem. I've occasionally come across longer versions. Here is a version with twenty-five stanzas. Here's one with twenty-four. But the abridged version above seems the most common; I'm not sure where it comes from, but my guess is that it was used for a school textbook, which then became the dominant version.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Some Links and Notes

* Mike L. Gregory, Kant's Naturrecht Feyerabend, Achenwall, and the Role of the State (PDF), is a really good article for anyone who is interested in the context of Kant's philosophy of law.

* Robert Elder, No, John C. Calhoun Didn't Invent the Filibuster

* James Simpkins, Nimrod vs. Abraham

* Richard Cross, Deification in Aquinas: Created or Uncreated?

* Cornelia H. Dayton, Lost Years Recovered: John Peters and Phillis Wheatley Peters in Middleton, examines recently uncovered evidence of a period of the poetess's life that had previously been obscure.

* Brendan Case's Bonaventure's Critique of Thomas Aquinas has been going around; I don't think it's a particularly good account of either Bonaventure or Aquinas on this point (and I think we should be wary of claims that one is 'critiquing' the other). Bonaventure is not a fierce critic of "efforts to baptize Aristotle", as is obvious to anyone who reads a great deal of him; Aquinas has an extensive Neoplatonist aspect, as seen by the fact that his major non-Scriptural influences are Augustine and the Dionysian corpus. They do differ in a number of major ways; difference is not always direct disagreement, and reading them as directly in opposition, when they are at least sometimes just responding differently to a common milieu, can distort the reading of both. While it's conceivable Aquinas read the Itinerarium, it's not as if Bonaventure was the only illuminationist he would have known. And it is noticeable that in at least one place, Case's argument for a strong opposition between Bonaventure and Aquinas depends on explicitly saying that Aquinas mischaracterizes his own account of the relation between the human intellect and the eternal reasons, and in at least one other case in saying that Aquinas is criticizing a position that is actually different from Bonaventure's. (Case, of course, takes Aquinas to have 'misconstrued' Bonaventure, but there is no reason to think that Aquinas was trying to construe Bonaventure in particular to begin with -- far more plausible would be that they are responding to similar kinds of potentially problematic positions, but, for example, Bonaventure might think they can be salvaged with some basic modifications and Aquinas might think not.) The article also thoroughly misconstrues the point of the 24 Thomistic Theses, which wasn't to "ensure conformity" but to reassure teachers that the theses that they were using to characterize Aquinas's teaching were reasonable statements of his positions. Case, I suspect, is confusing the theses identified by the Decree of Approval with some commentaries on it. The representation of Gilson almost borders on scurrilous, since Case neglects to mention that the Gilson quote occurs (1) immediately after Gilson explicitly says that there are necessarily many legitimate Christian theologies, that other theologians and Doctors of the Church may be right, and that the point does not disqualify other theological interpretations; and (2) immediately before Gilson goes on to explain that many theologies are accepted by the Church, any of which may be more suitable to some people all or some of the time, but that he means that Aquinas's has the distinction of universality. Trying to paint Gilson as making a bizarre claim in treating Aquinas as the Common Doctor is absurd; you can regard it as hyperbolic, but it is not in any way bizarre in context, particularly given how Aeterni Patris was often read.

But, in any case, the most serious problem with it (and, unfortunately, not exclusively with this article) is that Aquinas is a saint and a Doctor of the Church and Bonaventure is a saint and a Doctor of the Church, and you should be taking them both very seriously, not pretending that you have been granted authority to stand in condemnation over either; it's perfectly fine to find oneself with a greater affinity to one authority and to defend him robustly, even against another (should that arise), but you should not go around trying to turn theology into a team sport complete with fandoms.

* Oren Hanner, In Search of Buddhist Virtue (PDF), discusses what theory of virtue seems implied by Buddhist lists of virtues.

* Monica Chin, in File Not Found, discusses a problem that every educator comes to notice at some point: in an age of unparalleled information technology, students usually have no idea how some of it works. Of course, it varies considerably, but the problems become quite noticeable over time. 2017 does seem about right for some kind of shift, although I noticed long before that, that despite having access to databases and the like, students never used them unless you explicitly told them to do so. But around 2017 seems about right for when I started having students who had difficulty posting on a discussion board, and a lot of the problems have been linked to not having a clear understanding of threaded structure. As the article notes, this is less a matter of simply lacking knowledge and more a matter of having different skills, but I think there is room to be rather pessimistic about the end result, though, because the different skills they have are often in how to use entertainment and social media apps, which are not generally skills for doing serious work. What kind of general research skill is familiarity with Instagram? Perhaps some of it has to do with teaching philosophy, though;  complicated arguments most commonly have threaded or tiered structure, so not being able to understand different hierarchies in a structure, of which directory structure is one of the simplest, is a significant logical handicap. If you see a long argument as just a pile of arguments (a 'laundry basket', as the article puts it), then you are going to go very wrong. (I hadn't really thought of it before, but people often lacking a sense of multilayered structure would explain a lot of weird arguments I've had online the past several years.) In any case, the article seems to blame search engines, but (1) if my students are any indication, the difference is definitely not linked to any kind of improvement in search engine skills, (2) search engine skills have been around for quite some time, and (3) the real difference is almost certainly smartphones and apps.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Earth Is Such

What is the gold of all this world but dross?
by Nicholas Breton

What is the gold of all this world but dross?
The joy but sorrow, and the pleasure pain;
The wealth but beggary, and the gain but loss;
The wit but folly, and the virtue vain;
The power but weakness, and but death the life;
The hope but fear, and the assurance doubt;
The trust deceit, the concord but a strife,
Where one conceit doth put another out;
Time but an instant, and the use a toil;
The knowledge blindness, and the care a madness,
The silver lead, the diamond but a foil,
The rest but trouble, and the mirth but sadness?
Thus, since to heaven compared, the earth is such,
What thing is man to love the world so much?

Charles Mills

Charles Wade Mills (1951-2021) died yesterday; he did a great deal of important work in political philosophy and in philosophy of race. I only met him in person once, probably about ten years ago at something or other on the subject of standpoint epistemology. But he was a very charming man with an excellent sense of humor and an ability to condense complicated arguments in a vivid way. All of his work was extremely was interesting. He doesn't shy away from controversy, but he often had a good sense of the actual reasons why people might have for thinking it controversial, and made an effort to address those. 

He was also -- and this is a bit of quirky reason for respect, but it's one of mine -- he's one of the few academics I have ever come across who work on controversial topics like racism and colonialism who has been willing to look full in the face at the role that academics played and still structurally play in these things. For instance, it's all the fad to talk about colonialism and decolonizing, but academics have a tendency to fail to regard straightforwardly the way in which the modern university is the colonialist institution, and that it still functions very much as it did in the days of the colonial empires -- to be an academic is historically and in some ways even today still to be a participant in colonialism. (It is, frankly, refreshing in picking up Mill to find someone talk about such things who repeatedly ties it to evidence and assessment of facts about what he's talking about rather than to vague assumptions about how things must have worked.) But one of the notable features of Mills's entire approach was recognizing that something could be severely flawed and yet nonetheless still immensely valuable, and that when one recognized the flaws in (say) social contract theory or Kant, the next rational step was not simply washing one's hands of them but considering how one can learn from the valuable while correcting the flaws. This is more rare than you would expect; academics often erase their own complicity in things they criticize, and for whatever reasons critiquing a system or position or institution is not always treated in academia as an opportunity for learning from the same system or position or institution. I have my own criticisms of Mills's actual position -- it is a totalizing account like Hegelianism and Marxism, although not specifically dialectical, and I think runs smack into the common problems of 'this set of concepts captures the way the whole of our society really works' totalizing accounts and their vulgar cousins, the conspiracy theories -- but I think if something like such a position were viable, you'd have to build it like Mills builds his. And it is very well built; probably one of the most well thought-out philosophies of history and society in the twentieth century. His name doesn't seem always to be widely known even among academic philosophers, but I think it fair to say he was one of the most important academic philosophers of the early twenty-first century.

In any case, Liam Kofi Bright has an excellent tribute to him.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Music on My Mind

 

Blind Guardian, "The Curse of Fëanor".

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Mystery of Piety 1.2.3&4


(The following two sections were immensely difficult to write, and are still quite rough. The essential elements are solid, though.)

1.2.3 On True and Good

[I] As Aristotle says (Met 2.1), "Consideration of truth is in one way easy and in another way hard." Everyone in some sense knows something of truth in some way; but it is a matter that takes much study even to understand in part. True things are easy to find, but truth is difficult to search out.

MacIntyre suggests that there an adequate account of truth needs to fulfill three conditions.* First, it should make sense of a wide range of our use of the terms 'true' and 'false'. Second, "it needs to explain why we cannot but take truth to be a good, so that 'false,' whether predicated of a belief, a judgment, testimony, or a coin, or a friend, always has the gerundive force of 'This is something to be rejected.'" Third, it must particularly give us some understanding of what we mean when we speak of things like 'the truth' or 'the truth about X'.

One finds, these days, what are called 'theories of truth'. Thus some people propose what is called a correspondence theory of truth; they hold that for a belief to be true is for it to correspond, usually in structure, to a 'fact', which is understood as a composition of particulars, universals, and the like. Others propose what is called a coherence theory of truth, which is the position that for a belief to be true is for it to be part of a consistent and interrelated system of beliefs. Others have what is called a pragmatic theory of truth, holding that for a belief to be true is for it to be the result, in the long run  and perhaps at the limit, of relevant practices. Others, deflationists or minimalists, hold that talking of something as being true is either redundant or an expression of convenience for speaking about various propositions together. Others, closer to right than the rest, are pluralists hold that truth may be any of these things depending on the domain. But in reality, when one examines these theories, one finds that they are all not theories of truth but theories of how certain elements of reasoning, whether they are called propositions or beliefs or claims or sentences or something else, are best used. Thus correspondence theorists treat them as things whose use should be assessed according to fact-related evidences; coherence theorists as things whose use should be assessed according to the whole system of similar elements; pragmatic theorists as things whose use should be assessed according to their relation to certain practices. It is true, of course, that propositions can be matched to the world (correspondence), or linked to other propositions (coherence), or used for practical purposes or reached by inquiry (pragmatic), or, for that matter, used to assert propositions (deflationary). In reality, we know how propositions are to be assessed, because it is tied to their function, which is to serve as premises and conclusions in reasoning, which, given the nature of dialectic, requires that they be able to do all of these things. The theories are simply accounts, to the extent that they have any force at all, of how propositions fulfill a role in reasoning.

This would be where the dispute would need to rest except for one very important thing: truth as it concerns premises and conclusions, as such, cannot be the only, or even the fundamental kind of truth. We may assess how propositions function in premises and conclusions, for instance, by assigning 'truth values', but this can only be through something other than a bare arbitrary assignment. 

Truth itself cannot fully consist in any lists of propositions or claims, however assessed, because the 'true' applied to propositions, or sentences, or beliefs, or claims, is obviously derivative, getting its designation of 'true' by expressing something else that is true. These are things that must be assessed as true or false. Every assessment, however, would itself need to be true according to some true situation, and no list of propositions can be equivalent to the true understanding of them, nor to the true understanding of them as true, because understanding is not a list of propositions. We reason in order to judge better, and judge in order to conceive better, and do all of these things in order to understand better and to live better. And it is in the context of this that we assign truth or falsehood to propositions or beliefs, based on more fundamental ways in which truth appears in our understandings and our lives, as in knowing truly, or in acting truly (including speaking truly), or in producing that which is true to our intention and, in representative artifacts like poetic descriptions or paintings or maps, true to what is represented. Thus the 'theories of truth' mentioned above fail to be adequate in meeting any of the three conditions, especially the first. A painting may be true to its subject, a poem true to its theme; we can act truly or falsely, we can emote truly or falsely, we can hope truly or falsely, our characters can be true or false. And when we consider these, we find in them the presence of something common to them, which makes them true, that is nonetheless had in different grades and ways.

To see this, it is useful to start with being, since being is the first and most basic object of intellect. We may consider being in itself, but we also may consider being in light of being, in at least three major ways. First, we may consider being in light of its not being divided from being; that is, being as one. Second, we may consider being as that to which other being tends. Third, we may consider being as conformed to being, and this is the manner of thinking that is relevant to truth. 

We find in our experience that some beings are conformed to other beings; for instance, a being may be a copy of another, or an effect conformed to the disposition of its cause. Beings are not wholly separate; they imitate, reflect, simulate, and show the impact or influence of other things. However, one thing can conform to another in different ways and degrees; we see this, for instance, in a seal made in wax, in which the impression may be more or less clear, more or less complete, more or less distorted. In all such cases of conformity, we can speak of 'true' in some sense; the impression is more or less true to the seal, the copy more or less true to the original, and so forth.

It is with the intellect, however, that we most clearly see this conformity, not merely because intellectual apprehension is the conformity of being to being most important for human life, but because the nature of the intellect most clearly guarantees the convertibility of being and truth. Understanding is a kind of conformity of mind and what it understands; everything that is understood as being is such that its being is understood. Moreover, it is in the intellect that we find the most perfect conformity of being to being; as St. Thomas says (ST 1.14.1), Knowers are distinguished from non-knowing beings because non-knowing beings only have their own form, while it is of the nature of knowers also to have the form of another, for the species of the known exists in the knower.

We tend to think that the human intellect or understanding tends toward truth. What do we mean by this? When we know something, it is as if our mind is in some made equal to what we know, and this making-equal-to, or adequation, is where we find the basic notion of truth. (One more rarely finds, instead of 'adequation', 'comparation', which is making-even/equal-with.) The primary object of the intellect is 'what is'; when we think of this as 'what is true', we are generally thinking of it under the aspect of 'conformity of object and that of which it is an object'; or, in other words, we take 'true' primarily to name being qua object of apprehension by the intellect. But the apprehended is, as apprehended, in the mind of the one who apprehends. Thus while we primarily think of truth in the sense of the mind cognizing truly, we also apply the term to things insofar as they are cognizable by the mind. This relation to the mind can be essential or incidental. When a thing is essential related to the mind, it depends on it, as the artisan's handicraft is related to the intellect of the artisan; when it is incidental, the reverse is true and we take the mind in some way to depend on the thing. Essential is more fundamental than incidental, so things are said to be true simply speaking insofar as they are understood as related to an intellect on which they depend. Thus a poem is true to the poet's mind, and words may be true to the speaker's intention, and a sentence is true insofar as it is a sign of truth in the intellect. In the same way we can say that things in the natural world are true insofar as they conform to the divine mind for what they should be or, indeed, in certain circumstances insofar as they conform to our own mind. 'True' is reasonably and legitimately applied in many ways, then, because the conformity what is knowing and what is an object of knowing may take many forms. There are many interrelated kinds of truth. Because of this, as Aquinas notes, it is reasonable to think of the true in light of the several things involved in it. We can divide these up in different ways. Without trying to be exhaustive, here are some ways in which we understand truth.

(1) In one sense, being true is understood as the adequation of what is and the mind's judgment of it. Since it is in judgment that the act of understanding is complete, truth pertains most properly and naturally to judgment, but it does so in light of all that belongs to judgment in any way, and each of these, insofar as they contribute to judgment, give us something we reasonably consider true. 

We often divide intellectual matters into (1a) those that are reflective or speculative or theoretical and (1b) those that are practical or productive. There are many, many ways in which the conformity between mind and object can occur, but the ones that concern human life enough that we often think of them in terms of truth are those that involve the mind's most stable states, or intellectual virtues

(1a1) The intellectual virtue that is concerned with simple concepts is intelligentia or understanding; and when we apply 'true' in light of this we are thinking of it as a sort of truth of being precisely insofar as it manifests itself to the mind so as to be an object of the mind, or, as we more often call manifestative being, intelligibility. 

(1a2) The intellectual virtue that is concerned with interrelated complexes of concepts, or judgments, is scientia or knowing. This is perhaps what we most often mean when we talk about truth, because it is in judgment that the intellect grasps things precisely as true, judgments that are knowledge-judgments, or such that they approximate such judgments in some way (as in the case of true opinions). Thus Aquinas says (SCG 1.5.9 check), Truth is conformity of mind with being, according as it says that what is, is, and that what is not, is not. Understanding can be true, in the sense of conforming to being, but it is judgment that considers conformity of being to being, as such. As Anselm recognizes (DV 6), this includes indirectly most of what we call truth of the senses, since when we are misled or not on the basis of our senses, this is due to judgments about things that we sense. It also indirectly includes much of what we call truth when speaking of claims we make, for enunciated propositions and linguistic expressions are true insofar as they express truth of judgment; as St. Thomas says (ST 1.16.8 ad 3), A proposition not only has truth, as other things are said to have it, in so far, that is, as they correspond to that which is the design of the divine intellect concerning them; but it said to have truth in a special way, in so far as it indicates the truth of the intellect, which consists in the conformity of the intellect with a thing.

Both of these are truth in a theoretical sense. But practical truth should not be ignored, and has as much right as anything to the name.

(1b1) The intellectual virtue that is concerned with practical decision is prudence (prudentia). Prudential truth, or rectitude, plays an immense role in our lives. Thus when Anselm says (DV 2) that truth is rectitude perceived by mind, he takes 'rectitude' to include not only correctness in thought and speech but in volitions and actions.

(1b2) The intellectual virtue that is concerned with making something is art or skill (ars). Thus a novel is true to the novelists vision, or a sentence, which after all is something made, is true to the intention behind it. Likewise, a painter attempts to make a painting true to what is painted and a novelist attempts to make the actions of a fictional character true to the character.

(2) We can also reasonably call true that on which the adequation of this judgment is based, namely, what actually is; for the true is, as it were, implicit in what actually is in the way that what follows from a principle is implicit in the principle. For this reason Augustine tells us (Solil. 2.5) that the true is what is, and St. Hilary says (DT 5.14), as a generalizable principle, If a thing be fire, it must be true fire; while its nature remains the same, it cannot lose this character of true fire. Truth is in some sense primarily in the mind, because, as St. Bonaventure notes (DQSC 2.9), truth in the mind is the proximate source of knowledge, from which we recognize truth, but it would be an error to think that this means that the truth as what actually is, must be only metaphorically true; the truth as what is, is, as Bonaventure also notes, "the remote source of knowledge". Thus it is truth as had in mind that it is primarily truth, and truth as what is, is secondarily truth; but the whole point of truth is that both are connected.

(3) It is also reasonable to call true that by which we judge what actually is, as a standard, a template, or model; for what we often call the 'truth' is a standard or means of judgment. Thus an exemplar, for instance, serves as a kind of truth for what copies it, and we understand the copies in light of their conformity to the exemplar as their truth. In this sense as well truth is associated with light and illumination, for light is a principle of manifestation; and, indeed, sometimes truth in this sense is just called light. Thus Augustine in On the True Religion and elsewhere discusses truth as a standard of the arts and as a standard above the mind.

(4) We also sometimes call true what pertains to the mind in true judgment, when this is properly done. In this sense we speak of truth of character or moral truth, or of being true to oneself; likewise, we sometimes refer to virtues of honesty and truthfulness as 'truth'. Likewise, I think, it is in this sense that some people talk of standing up for one's own truth, since they do seem to mean this in a relativistic way but in the sense of that state of mind or character in which one most clearly recognizes or follows the truth.

All of these are cases in which we are understanding truth in terms of this conformity of mind and being; and thus none of them are metaphorical or figurative uses of the term 'true'. (One of the obvious problems with the common 'theories of truth' mentioned above is precisely that those who hold them take an absurdly narrow range of things called true, and then very often try to claim that all other uses are figurative; but it is always unexplained and inexplicable why we would have all these metaphorical uses if truth were what they claimed it to be.) In each case, truth is in some way the adequation of thought and thing. And all of these are important to human life and inquiry. For instance, they all play a role in classification, which requires that beings be understood in an adequate way, according to some adequate standard, and that we be able to distinguish these beings as truly this or that rather than merely apparently, and that we be honest and concerned with truth in classifying. Without truth and regard for truth we cannot classify. Indeed, for something to be classifiable at all is for it to be conformed to some standard, and thus to be true to type or to definition; classifiability is itself a kind of truth.

Whoever denies that there is truth thereby grants that it is not, and if it is not, the claim that truth is not is true; and if there is anything true or even recognizably truth-like, there must be truth. Thus there is necessarily truth. Truth is, moreover, perhaps the fundamental principle of all inquiry. As MacIntyre says ("Truth as a good", p. 205), "The mind's characteristic activity is enquiry and at the core of any enquiry is the task of distinguishing between the true and the false in order to arrive at 'the truth' about some particular subject matter." Inquiry is directed to finding what is true; it begins by recognizing some things as true; it proceeds by applying some truths to other truths. Different kinds of inquiry, whether theoretical, or practical, or productive, are differentiated by the truths they concern. Moreover, the progress of inquiry is often concerned with using truths that are within reach to get to truths that are principles, in the sense of sources of other truths, and that do not vary. We see this with measurements, which are truths about occasional things (like use of a particular measuring device) that are taken to be indicative of more fundamental truths that are not so occasional. And when we consider this, which follows from what we have said about the intellect, and when we see that inquiry may cover the whole expanse of being, we can also recognize with Aquinas (In Met 2.2), The term 'truth' is not proper to one class of beings only, but is applied universally to all beings. We can likewise see what is meant when people say that truth is the good of the intellect.

Truth has the aspect of knowability or apprehensibility; and anything to which the intellect can attribute being is to that extent knowable. It would be a mistake, however, to think that things must therefore be true because they are known; while we identify truths under the aspect of knowability, we often do so in a way that makes clear that we are identifying beings as sources of our own knowing rather than the results of it. That is, to say of a being that it is true is (among other things) to say that it makes our knowing possible in the way that it is true. This is tied to the relational character of truth. While truth is in some sense in the mind, what is in our mind has a foundation in reality, which is completed in our intellectual acts. Thus there is a sort of twofold convertibility of truth with being: truth considered as being in things is directly convertible with being, because it is just being insofar as it is knowable, and truth considered as being in the mind is indirectly convertible, in that the mind is in a sense all things insofar as it understands them.  For the knowing or apprehension relevant to truth involves conformity in the sense of receiving another's form precisely in the sense that it is that other's.

Things that are true have what they have in common in varying degrees and ways. We can recognize things as more true by considering (1) whether they vary less or (2) whether they are more causal. In the case of the first, we sometimes consider the invariance directly, by recognizing that something is true with fewer exceptions or limitations, or less approximation; and sometimes indirectly, by considering signs of its invariance, like the fact that it seems obvious to us or the fact that it is widely accepted. With regard to the second, knowledge of the true is had by coming to understand causes, so truths that are associated with causes are recognized to be prior to, and thus more properly true than, truths that are associated with effects. This is seen, among other things, in the fact that we often treat truths about things regarded as causes, like choices or laws of nature, as more explanatory and illuminating than truths about the things they cause. 

As truth is a concord of intellect and thing, when we consider it from the intellectual side, obviously truth can change, since, for instance, the mind can change its judgment about something, and things can change without our knowing it and therefore without our judgments changing. What once was true, say that Socrates is sitting, can become false, for instance, if he stood up. If there is an intellect that is itself immutable and that never is wrong, however, in such an intellect the truth is immutable. This is certainly not the case with our own. However, truths we know are not equally mutable; some of them are extremely stable on the part of the intellect, or the thing, or both. It is also the case that we regard more stable, less variable truths as more true. Therefore the mutability of truths shows a way in which things can be more and less true.

We find orderings of dependence between truths. For instance, the possibility of some truths seems to depend on other truths, as we might say that "John went to the store" requires "There was a store" for it to be even possibly true. Likewise, it seems common to hold that some truths are dependent on other truths. Thus demonstrative arguments seem to trace dependencies of truth on truth. If we call a truth on which other truths depend verificative, then it seems we can say that the more verificative a truth is, that is, the more other truths or verificates depend on it, the more true it itself is. Thus St. Thomas says (In Met 2.2), Whatever causes subsequent things to be true is more true. And while it might be controversial, one might even say that verificative-or-verificate is a disjunctive transcendental for truths; that is, that all truths are verificative, or verificate, or both. If we begin with verificate truths, we can recognize that there are verificative truths that are, thus far, more true; and these verificative truths may be themselves verificates, and thus depend on truths more true than they are.

We also find that everything that is can be understood in terms of the disjunction true-or-false. 'False' in this sense is not meant as a complete exclusion of what is true; rather, by 'false' is meant something true that has some kind of defect with respect to truth. The idea is that of true things, some can be more perfectly or completely true, while others are so more incompletely or defectively. Many of the things we call false are truths of this sort; as Augustine says (Solil 2.6), Now it is certain that which the eyes behold is not pronounced false unless it possess some likeness to the true. He gives the example of a man in a dream, who is a false man precisely because he is truly something like a true man but is not truly a man. Likewise in the waking world, if we confuse a man and a horse, the falsehood lies in the disparity between how the horse truly appears and how it truly is. Of this form of truth that can also be called false, Augustine suggests that there are two kinds: what feigns to be but is not (either because it is deceptive or because it is fictitious), which is the most obvious and proper case, and what tends to be but fails to be (representations and appearances), of which he says (Solil 2.15), And is not the false that which approximates to the likeness of the true, yet is not that which it resembles?

In terms of the transcendental disjunction, true-or-false, then, all false things have some truth or some kind. Of two false things, one may be more false than another; likewise, one thing may be more true than another. In addition, we recognize that some things are true per se and some things true per aliud, and that some things are true contingently and some are true necessarily, and in these cases we recognize that things true per se are more true than things true per aliud, and things true necessarily are more true than things true contingently.

So unavoidable is it to regard truth as admitting of gradation that even if we thought of truth as solely concerned with propositions, sentences, beliefs, and so forth, and accepted one of the 'theories of truth', we would be forced to recognize this, since correspondence, coherence, utility, and convergence to a result are all things that come in degrees or gradations.

However, to recognize different things as more and less true requires recognizing that  they have truth in common, which cannot be done without recognizing truth itself as the standard according to which they are more or less. Truth itself, however, would have to be most true in order to be such a standard. But we can recognize as well that what is most true is most being. Things are disposed in truth as they are disposed in being because the true and being follow each other: there is truth when what is, is said to be, and what is not, is not. Thus what is most true must be. 

This truth itself must be the source of all other things that are true. Among participating real things, truth is found in both mind and thing; in the mind according to the conformity the mind has with beings it understands, and in things both according as they participate truth itself and as they are able by their very being to bring about true apprehension of themselves in minds like ours. In other cases, as in truths about privations and negations, the conformity is between the mind in one action and the mind in another, as it understand things that actually are; but this too is participation of truth itself. As St. Anselm says (DV 7), There is truth in the being of all that exists, because all things are what they are in the Supreme Truth. Therefore all truths are from truth itself, and truth itself is most verificative.

In light of this, we can understand a puzzle about truth, namely, that we have reason to think both that there are many truths and that truth is in some way one. Insofar as we consider truths in various human minds, we find reason to think that truths are many, and we find the same when we consider truth of being, given the many different beings. But all truths participate truth itself, which is one.

From this we see that the true itself must be being itself, and vice versa, because it is by participating being itself that being is conformed to being, and all beings, considered as true, must get their being from the true itself. To be truth itself from which all other truth derives, however, is to be divine. We find this nicely captured in St. Augustine's work on free choice. In context, Evodius has agreed to recognize as divine what is higher than the human mind, as long as there is nothing even higher; by this standard, then, there must be something divine. As St. Augustine says (On Free Choice 2.15), If there is something more excellent than truth, this is God; if not, then truth itself is God. However, given that truth itself is being itself, there is nothing more excellent than truth itself. Likewise, Rosmini says (Consc 606), Truth, certainly, cannot appertain to the order of creatures; creatures can be true, but not truth.  We see this as well elsewhere, for instance, in Sikhism, to which God as the true itself is central. The Sri Guru Granth of the Sikhs famously describes God with the phrase (SGGS 1) "Sat Naam". "Sat" means 'True' or 'Truth', especially in the sense of truth of being. This has been interpreted in three ways. First, it can be interpreted as saying, 'His Name is True', that is the Name is a true name, or perhaps the true name. Second, it can be interpreted as 'Truth and Name', in which it expresses both the divine eternal truth and our capacity to know it. Third, it can be understood as "Truth is His Name". And, indeed, perhaps Guru Nanak, a consummate poet in his ability to condense a great deal of meaning into short expressions, originally intended it in all three ways at once; the concept of truth is used in ways similar to each elsewhere. Thus, for instance, we find (SGGS 1), "True in the primal beginning, True throughout the ages, True here and now, True, O Nanak, forever and ever" and (SGGS 2) "True is the Master, True is His Name -- speak it with love"  and (SGGS 6), "That and that Supersoul is eternal Truth. He is True and True is His Name" and many more. Thus there is no question that truth itself can be recognized as divine.

Mutability is one of the ways in which truth can be limited; but truth itself is unlimited, so truth cannot be mutable. Truth itself is also certainly imperishable; there are many arguments for this but the most famous is that which Augustine uses in Soliloquies (2.15), that if we assume that truth itself perishes, it would still have to be true that truth had perished; but nothing can true without truth itself. Thus we would get a contradiction; therefore truth itself cannot perish. Similar considerations would rule out its having a beginning. Thus truth itself must be immutable, for, as Augustine says (Conf. 7.11), That truly is which immutably is, and eternal, for as St. Anselm says (DV 10), If it was never able not to be true that something was going to exist, and never will be able not to be true that something has existed, then it is impossible that the Supreme Truth had a beginning or will have an end, and it must be simple, because truth itself must be wholly one. We may say then, with St. John XXIII (Pacem in terris), He is the first truth, the sovereign good, and as such the deepest source from which human society, if it is to be properly constituted, creative, and worthy of man's dignity, draws its genuine vitality, and with St. Paul (Rm 3:4), God is true, and with St. John (1 Jn 1:5), God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

From truths, therefore, we must conclude that there is a divine truth by which they are true. We can recognize certain additional things for this. First, other things must in some way be in conformity with divine being, because truth is conformity of being and being. What is more, truth itself must be intellectual, that is, it must be such that it can be said to understand, for truth is adequation or comparation of intellect and being. And third, we recognize that God is trustworthy. It is not uncommon for words concerned with truth to be associated with stability and firmness, as with the Hebrew, 'emeth. Nothing could be more firm and lasting, more enduring and stable, more trustworthy and faithful, than the true itself. This is, indeed, the foundation of faith; as Orestes Brownson notes ("Limits of Religious Thought"), "Faith rests on the fact that God is infinitely verax or true, and is himself prima veritas in being, in knowing, and in speaking; unless this fact can beknown from reason, faith cannot be an intelligent and reasonable faith." Thus we find written (2 Tm 2:13), If we do not believe, he continues faithful; he cannot deny himself. In short, God is steadfast and faithful by nature, which further tells us that he is most true.


[II] Being is the first and most basic object of intellect. We may consider being in itself, but we also may consider being in light of being, in at least three major ways. First, we may consider being in light of its not being divided from being; that is, being as one. Second,  we may consider being as conformed to being. Third, we may consider being as that to which other being tends. Some beings tend toward other beings in such a way that the being to which it tends completes its action in some way; this tendency and completion is relevant to thinking about goodness.

We can add one thing to another in three ways. (1) We can add some reality which is extrinsic. For instance, starting with a body, we can add blue to it, since the nature of blue is extrinsic to the nature of body. (2) We can add something as a limiter or determiner. For instance, if we start with the idea of animal, we add some determination (e.g., rational) to get the idea of a human being in particular. What is contained in the notion of human determinately and actually, is only implicitly and, as it were, potentially contained in the notion of animal. (3) We can add something notionally. Thus 'blind' adds something to 'man', i.e., blindness, which is not a real being but a lack conceived as a being of reason, a privation conceived on the model of (instar) being. 

When we are considering what good adds to being, however, we find some interesting results. In the sense given in (1), nothing can be added to being as such, there is no real being that is extrinsic to being as such. This way of adding something to something requires some definitely limited being. With regard to (2), things are different; being is found across categories, and being in each category adds something to being as such, namely, the limitations of a definite way of being. This cannot be the case with good, since good itself is not a genus, and, like being, would be divided into categories. Even if we focus on the direct case, something may be that to which another can tend in several different ways. Good must, accordingly, either add nothing to being or add something purely notional or rational. As being is the first object of the intellect, all other notions presuppose being, but 'good' and 'being' are clearly not synonymous. Thus good, in order not to limit being, must add to it something purely rational or notional. This can be either a negation or a rational relation. For instance, 'one' adds a negation to being, for it means undivided being. But true and good, being predicated positively, cannot add anything except a rational relation, that is, a relation in which something is said to be related which is not dependent upon that to which it is related, but vice versa. For instance, knowledge depends upon its object, but not the other way about. The relation by which the object is referred to the knowledge is a rational relation. The same holds true of all other things which stand to one another as measure and thing measured or as completing and able to be completed. The true and the good add to the notion of being a completing relation. 

One being can complete or perfect another in two ways. (1) According to its specific character. In this way the intellect is perfected by a being; but the being is still not in it according to its natural existence. 'True' adds this kind of completing relation to being; for instance, every being is called true inasmuch as it is conformed or conformable to intellect. For this reason, every account of truth appropriate to its subject matter appeals to conformity in some way. (2) Not only according to its specific character but also according to its real being. 'Good' adds this kind of completing relation to being; inasmuch as one being by reason of its actual being is such as to perfect and complete another, it stands to that other as something to which it tends. For this reason, every account of goodness appropriate to its subject matter appeals to tendency, desire, or will in some way. As St. Thomas says (ST 1.5.1), It is a clear that a thing is desirable only insofar as it is complete, for all desire their own completion. A being capable of directly completing another in this way is primarily called good; but secondarily something is called good if it leads to or follows from that to which something tends, since tending to a good can indirectly include these in its aim. Thus Aristotle tells us (Nic Eth 1.1), "Good is what all desire", but it would be a mistake to understand this as meaning that good is good wholly because it is desired; rather, good is being insofar as it is recognized in terms of other things tending toward it as a completion. While the will is only one kind of tendency, we see this very clearly in the case of will; as St. Thomas says (ST 1.20.2), Our will is not the cause of the goodness of things but is moved by it as by an object. Good is what all desire in the sense that things are desired because of something about them such that they are good. Good is that in which a tendency completes; it 'perfects' the tendency in the sense that beyond it there is nothing for that particular tendency.

While we may (and do) speak of good in light of any kind of tendency, it is with respect to the will that we most fully recognize the transcendentality of good. The will, as the practical desire appropriate to intellect, inherits the universality of the intellect; anything that can be that to which any other thing tends can be, in one way or another, something desired by will, as indeed, can the tendencies themselves. Likewise, goodness can be seen as intimately linked with truth; as Aquinas says (ST 2-2.180.1 ad1), From the fact that truth is the end of contemplation it has the nature of a desirable and lovable and delectable good. We might even call goodness the truth of a tendency. There is also a long tradition of regarding goodness as intimately linked with unity; we can think of goodness as a kind of integrity, and every integrity as a kind of goodness. Thus some, like Philip the Chancellor, have argued that goodness is a kind of indivision of the actual and the potential: goodness can be seen as actuality insofar as it is that to which something may tend, or can have a kind of potential with respect to it. We see this most clearly in human life, since over and over again we find that goodness has a sort of power to unite; communities and movements, for instance, are united by goods.

When we speak of something being bad, we may do so in two ways. In one way we call bad the subject that is bad; this subject is something that is. In another way we call bad the badness itself in the subject, and this is privation of good, not something that actually is. Understanding this is the sine qua non of any intelligent discussion of badness or evil. Properly speaking, good is desirable being, and is real to that extent; and bad is what is contrary to this. What is contrary to the desirable, however, cannot be something that is. More than anything else, being has the aspect of the desirable; everything inclines to being in some way. Thus being itself to this extent is good; and therefore badness is contrary to being. But what is contrary to being cannot actually be. Further, everything that actually is, inclines to what completes or perfects it, but everything to which something may incline to that extent has the aspect of good. Therefore everything that actually is harmonizes with good and is not in harmony with bad as such. Thus badness or evil is not something that actually is. Further, just as black is the contrary of white only because they have something in common, namely, that they are both colors, so too bad cannot be the contrary of any kind of good unless they have something in common; and what the bad and the good to which it is directly contrary have in common is that they both belong to particular good, one as privation, one as possession. Thus badness or evil as such is privation of particular good in particular good. Therefore badness or evil as such is not something that actually is, but rather the privation of particular good that completes some particular good that is its subject, or, as Augustine says (DCD 2.22), No nature at all is evil, and this is a name for nothing but the want of good.

Good is had in common in varying degrees. Very few people deny this, and the reasons for thinking it is true are quite certain. In Philebus (20c-d), Plato has Socrates identify three marks of goodness: completeness, sufficiency, and desirability. These are at least commonly attributed in one way or another to things clearly recognized as good, and are commonly treated as reasons to think something good. But all of these are found only relatively in most of the goods around us, and all of them, taken relatively, admit of degrees: one kind of good can be more complete than another, more sufficient than another, or more desirable than another. 

This fits, perhaps, with broader experience. Good and being are, as we have seen, the same as to subject and are different as to notion. We take good somehow to involve being desirable, but a thing is desirable to the extent it is complete, since everything tends to its own completion. It is because good has this aspect of what completes that we can account for a feature of it that might otherwise be puzzling, namely, that good extends to things that are, but also in some way to things that are not, at least in the sense that they can be. For having the aspect of completing or perfecting, it is not only that in which the actual finds its completion, but also that to which the potential tends. Act, however, completes and to that extent is good, for everything achieves fulfillment to the extent it is actual. What is potential has a natural tendency to receive actuality; but that to which a thing tends it tends to as good. Therefore what is compositely actual and potential participates good to the extent and in the way it participates act. And the potential is good insofar as it tends to act; which is seen in the fact that we esteem, love, and cherish things not only insofar as they are actual but also insofar as they are capable of being actual, and can thereby consider the potential important and desirable. Similar things can be said in terms of sufficiency.

Further, we find some goods that are limited by being mixed with evil in some way -- that is to say, they are deprived of something in such a way that their goodness is limited by the lack. Other goods are less limited in this way. Thus we have a communion of good in various degrees.

We all recognize, then, that some goods are less good or more good than other goods, a communion of good that requires the presence of something that can be had in common in different ways and degrees. Lesser good is related to greater good  by participation, for, as St. Anselm says (Mon 1), it is most certain and clear, for all who are willing to see, that whatsoever things are said to possess any attribute in such a way that in mutual comparison they may be said to possess it in greater, or less, or equal degree, are said to possess it by virtue of some fact, which is not understood to be one thing in one case and another in another, but to be the same in different cases, whether it is regarded as existing in these cases in equal or unequal degree. Thus, to allow for this variation of greater and lesser good, there must be something that is good itself, which good things participate.  

This is not uncommonly held; that is, it is part of the way that we use concepts of the good in our lives that we recognize such a standard. Many people try to suggest that this standard is only 'in the mind' as an ideal, something that does not exist but can only be thought. This is to attribute to it a being of reason rather than real being. However this line of thought will not work. Good itself must be being itself, and therefore must actually be. This is clear because goodness is being or actuality insofar as it is that to which something tends. As St. Thomas says (SCG 1.37), Actual being constitutes the notion of the good, and (ST 1.5.1), It is clear that a thing is good so far as it is a being, for actual being is the actuality of everything. Moreover, as St. Anselm says (Mon 1), all things, whether useful or honorable, if they are truly good, are good through that same being through which all goods exist, whatever that being is. But who can doubt this very being, through which all goods exist, to be a great good? This must be, then, a good through itself, since every other good is through it. That is to say, because the different goods participate the good in different ways, and they are good in the way they are, they must receive their good by being, and thus by participating being itself. Thus Boethius says (Cons Phil 3 pr 11), everything that is good is good by its participation in the Good.

The same reasoning shows that this good itself must be the cause of other goods, precisely because it is being itself. St. Anselm notes Mon 1), Since it is certain, then, that all goods, if mutually compared, would prove either equally or unequally good, necessarily they are all good by virtue of something which is conceived of as the same in different goods, although sometimes they seem to be called good, the one by virtue of one thing, the other by virtue of another, and again, all other goods are good through another being than that which they themselves are, and this being alone is good through itself. Any good that is not its own goodness is good by participation. What has being by participation presupposes something antecedent to itself, from which it derives the nature of goodness, so that either both the good and its antecedent participate the nature of goodness due to some other antecedent, or there is a first good. We must therefore at some point come to some first good, that is good not by participation in relation to something else, but by its essence. As Boethius says (Cons Phil 3 pr 10), as a rule there cannot exist a nature in any thing that is better than tis source; and for this reason I would conclude, by the truest possible line of argument, that a thing that is the source of all things is also in its own substance the highest Good.

Good itself, the source of all goodness in all other good things, is clearly what we would regard as divine. As mutability, composition, and temporariness are limitations of good, which good itself cnanot have, it must therefore be immutable, simple, and eternal. Further, the good itself is, simply speaking, that than which no better can be thought. Goodness is perfection with respect to a tendency, and to be perfect in this sense is to be that beyond which there is nothing for that tendency; but the good itself is necessary that beyond which there is nothing for all tendencies whatsoever. As Boethius says (Cons Phil 3 pr 10), the common conception of human minds grants that God, the ruler of all things is good; since nothing can be imagined that is better than God, who would doubt that that thing is good, than which nothing is better. But reasons shows that God is good in such a way that it also proves that the perfect Good exists within him.

 The good as such is, simply speaking, that than which no better can be thought. {the good is that than which no greater can be thought, for goodness is perfection with respect to a tendency, and to be perfect in this sense is to be that beyond which there is nothing for that tendency; but the good itself is necessary that beyond which there is nothing for all tendencies whatsoever}

Thus we find goodness attributed to God as the source of all other goodness in many places. St. Augustine says (Doct Chr 1.31), Every good of ours either is God or comes from God. St. John XXIII (Pacem in terris) says, He is the first truth, the sovereign good, and as such the deepest source from which human society, if it is to be properly constituted, creative, and worthy of man's dignity, draws its genuine vitality. The Third Synod of Toledo says, This Holy Trinity, indeed, is one God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, from whose goodness all creatures were established as good and the Council of Florence, in the Decree for the Jacobites says of creatures, They are good since they were made by him who is the highest good. Holy writ, too, recognizes this; Jesus says (Mk 10:8, Mt 19:7, Lk 18:19), None is good but God alone, but we are also told (1 Tm 4:4) that every creature of God is good, which can be reconciled if one understands that God is good itself and that all other good is good by participation. Recognizing God as good is the foundation of worship and devotion, as we see in 1 Chronicles (16:34), Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and in the Psalms (34:8), Taste and see that the Lord is good. And Damascene says (De Fide Orth. 1.9) that to call God 'good' is equivalent to the divine name in Exodus 3:14, He Who Is, because one cannot say of God that he has being in the first place and goodness in the second place.

Someone may object: If all things are good by the divine goodness, then everything would just be an expression of God. In considering this matter, it may be reasonable to consider the Platonist account of the Form or Idea of the Good, as St. Thomas does in his questions on truth (DV 21.4). The Idea of the Good, recall, is in Plato's Divided Line the limit of the line, that in virtue of which all the rest of the line is and is good. The Platonists thus said that all things are formally good by the first goodness as by a separated form; Plato in effect proceeded as if anything separable in thought were separable in themselves. Goodness is common to all good things and can be understood independently of any understanding of this or that good, so he treated goodness is separate from all particular goods, and he called it “good-in-itself” or “the idea of good". All things we call 'good' participate it. If, however, we consider two ordinary goods, call them A and B, we can say that they are both good, which requires that in some way we be predicating the same thing of both; but this thing that is the same cannot be identified with either. As a result we cannot say that A and B are good simply by virtue of imitating something else that is good, call it C; because then we would have to say that A, B, and C are good in the same way, by imitating yet another, and so forth. This is a version of the Third Man argument. There is this difference between the idea of good and that of man as we find it in the Third Man argument, which we have to consider: the idea of man does not extend to everything, whereas that of good does, both real and ideal, since even the very idea of good is a particular good. And so it is necessary to say that the very good-in-itself is the universal principle of all things. It therefore followed, according to this position, that all things are denominated good by the first goodness. There are, as Aristotle notes, reasons to think the forms of things are in the particular things themselves rather than separate from them. However, as we also noted in discussing participation, to recognize that the Platonic theory of Ideas itself has problems is not to address the more fundamental problem it was an attempt to address. In this case, there are many good things that have something in common in various different ways. But we can see now how this will be handled for goodness. The first goodness is the source of all other goods, and thus what derives from it is like itself. Therefore, when we call something good, we do not need to do so by referring it to an Idea of the Good, since it is good by what it has inherent in itself. Nonetheless, it is also is good as imitating the first goodness taken as the exemplar and source of all other goodness. In this respect the opinion of Plato can be held, as Aquinas says (DV 21.4), and he continues, We say, therefore, following the common opinion, that all things are good by a created goodness formally as by an inherent form, but by the uncreated goodness as by an exemplary form. Thus the fundamental problem to begin with was that two different kinds of explanation were treated as if they were the same. This addresses the objection with which we began, since it makes the same mistake, and assumes that because the divine goodness is first principle of every form of goodness, it is the form of the goodness in everything that is.

It is with this understanding that theologians have spoken of divine goodness as self-diffusive, a truth of considerable importance in discussions of creation, providence, sacrament, and more. For in some sense, goodness is the divine attribute most relevant when considering any matter in which God is cause. The claim does not imply that all things are somehow swallowed up in God and his divine goodness, but rather that God is of all things the most causal because he is the good itself. As St. Thomas says (1.6.4), All things are said to be good by divine goodness, which is the pattern, source, and end of all goodness, and the good, as we have seen, is convertible with being. Good is self-diffusive by nature and because of this nothing is more properly considered to be a cause than the highest good. And from that inexhaustible causality of the good itself, we and all our universe and all that is good in us and in it come, for, as St. Augustine says (De Doct Chr, 1.32), Inasmuch as God is good, we are; inasmuch as we are, we are good.


1.2.4 On Order, Beautiful, and Noble

[I] There are two senses in which we can use the term 'order'. In the first sense, order is a way of being related, namely, relation according to prior and posterior according to some principle. As Aquinas says (ST 2-2.26.1), Order implies that some things are in a way before and after; hence, wherever there is principle there must also be some sort of order. We can also call this 'ordering'. In the second, less common, sense, order is priority considered as the eminence or the grade of closeness to the principle. Thus we speak, for instance of things of a higher or lower order. In the former sense it applies to a series of many, at least a hypothetical many; in the latter, order is in the thing itself insofar as it is related to some principle. We are primarily concerned here with the second sense, although the two are linked to each other.

All ordering is related to unity, since to order things is to put them in a kind of unity; thus being of an order in the sense we are considering here is linked to being a kind of one. Further, everything that is, is in some way a principle or first, or is posterior to such a principle; indeed, if we do not take 'principle' too strictly, we can say that everything is a principle or first in some way, even if only a principle or first in an ordering of one. Thus 'order' is convertible with 'one'. It is clear as well from what we have said that order is interlinked with the disjunctive transcendental, prior-or-posterior, since ordering, which is based on order, is itself a unity of prior and posterior; to be of a higher order is to be at least a possible prior in some way, and to be of a lower order is to be at least a possible posterior in some way. Wherever we find ordering we find order of some kind, but this connects order to goodness, as well. As Plato says (Gorg 506e), "Is it not a certain inborn order (cosmos), which is built into everything, which makes everyman and everything good?" Further, goodness is being understood in light of the tendency of other beings to it, and this seems to indicate a kind of prior and posterior concerned with goodness itself. And it is common to recognize that truths can be of different orders, since our primary consideration of truth commonly takes them to be prior and posterior to each other; indeed, 'principle', i.e., source or origin, is an expression we commonly use in this connection.

As this is so, we can also recognize that there is a disjunctive transcendental dependent on order, namely that of ordering-order-or-ordered-order; that is to say, everything is an order insofar as it orders or as it is ordered. The ordering orders we customarily call 'higher', because human beings often think of that which orders most as being above, like the sun and sky, and likewise we customarily call the ordered orders 'lower', because we often think of that which is ordered as below, like the earth, but this is a metaphor. We could use other metaphors; for instance, we could (and sometimes do) say that ordering orders are 'more central' and ordered orders are 'less central', because we often think of things as getting their ordering from the center. It should go without saying, of course, that the same order could both be ordered by a higher or more central order and order a lower or less central order than itself. 

That things can be of higher and lower, or more central and less central, orders is obvious from the nature of the concept, given its close connection to the disjunctive transcendental of prior-and-posterior. This is also seen in the nature of inquiry; we take progress in inquiry to be an understanding of higher order, or more central order, if that is preferred, that is, from the posterior to the prior. Thus Scotus says (De Prim Prin 3.63), Indeed, O Lord, in wisdom you have made things so ordered that any reasonable intellect may see that every being is ordered. Since every being is ordered, it is clear that some beings must be prior to others, and thus of higher order.

Of course, we distinguish different kinds of order. Sometimes a thing may be of higher order incidentally; that is to say, it is prior in an ordering in which its being so is incidental to itself. For instance, if we arbitrarily put things in a certain ordering, the thing that is prior is so only for an extrinsic and arbitrary reason. Some things, however, are of a higher, or if you prefer, more central order by nature; as, for instance, when one is a precondition or a cause of another. There are ways of being a higher or more central order for every kind of cause; and some kinds of causes may, by being more fundamental, be of a higher or more central order than others. In such cases, being of a higher or more central order itself gives order to lower orders.  And since something can belong to distinct orderings, it can participate in distinct orders. Experiment is an obvious example, since it must participate both the intellectual order of the experimenter's art and the universal order, so that conclusions may be drawn about the latter from the experiment. Much of the art of experimentation is in aligning these two orderings in a way appropriate to the purposes of inquiry. The same may be said for any kind of product of artisan or artist, and, indeed, many other things. But despite all these things, it is clear that in each particular ordering or possible ordering there are higher and lower, or more central and less central, orders.

 In cases in which the ordering is incidental, the whole ordering is itself a lower order receiving its order from a higher order; thus, for instance, when we arbitrarily set up a series, the whole arbitrary ordering is a lower order than we who made it, and this is not an incidental ordering. In cases in which the ordering is not incidental, such that one order gives order to other orders, each lower order participates the higher order by whatever way it receives order from the higher order. This cannot go on infinitely, because the character of all lower orders is received from higher orders in which they participate; and as Scotus says (De Prim Prin 3.63), From the universal statement "Every being is ordered," then, it follows that not every being is posterior and not every being is prior, since in either case an identical thing would be ordered to itself or else a circle in the ordered would be assumed.

As everything is of some order, and as orders vary, there is then more and less in order, and a communion that must participate order itself.  There must be an order itself, which will thereby also be first order, which is simply first in that there is nothing prior to it. Thus Scotus says (De Prim Prin 3.63), there is some prior being which is not posterior, and is therefore first. But order itself, which is simply first, must also be being itself, because nothing is more properly the very first than being itself, which all other things presuppose, and which cannot be posterior to anything that is. And this first order must be the source of all other order, since other orders participate it.

It is clear that what is of first and highest order is fittingly regarded as divine. As mutability, composition, and the temporary are by nature such as to be posterior, what is simply first must be immutable, simple, and eternal. Thus God is said in Scripture (e.g., Gn 14:19, Dt 32:8, Ps 78:35) to be Most High, or, as it sometimes is in the Septuagint, God the Highest (cf. also Lk 8:28). The Psalmist tells us (Ps 97:9), For you, Lord, are Most High over all the earth; you are raised high over all the gods. And there were even pagans, Hypsistarians, who worshipped Theos Hypsistos, God Most High or Highest God, whom they also called Pantokrator, All-Ruler; some of them had good relations with the Jews and some of them became Christian. Thus it is not difficult to find people who recognize the simply first, highest in order, as divine.

Order and peace have an intimate relationship, so that because God is highest or first in order, he may be regarded as peace itself; as Aquinas says, (In DN 11.2), Divine peace passes to all, unifying all, through which all things are drawn back to a certain order. Order unites and harmonizes order below; and as St. Thomas also says, two things come together in the notion of peace: first, that some things are united; second, that they harmonize into one. The Dionysian likewise says (DN 11), Come, therefore, let us praise the divine and foremost peace of gathering with peaceful hymns. For it is unitive of all things and the generative and operative consensus and connaturality of the whole of things and The peace of perfect totality crosses to all existing things, according to its most simple and unmixed presence of unifying virtue, uniting all things and joining extremes to extremes through middles, joined according to one connatural friendship. Thus order and peace are one itself. Likewise, they are good itself, since we can say that all things tend toward the peace appropriate to them. Therefore, divine order is divine peace, which, as Aquinas says (In DN 11), makes all things cemented to one another: for there is nothing in things that does not have union with some other, either through agreement in species or in genus, or in any order whatever.


[II] Leonard Callahan divides accounts of beauty into three kinds.** One account you might have is that beauty resides wholly in the mind; another is that it is wholly in that which is beautiful; another is that it is in some way both.

(1) If we hold that beauty resides wholly in the mind, as those do who hold that 'beautiful' is just a term we use to describe an experience of things that please us, we seem to run into the difficulty that we do not attribute beauty only to experiences, but to things themselves; it is the face that is beautiful, not merely the experience of it, it is the sunset that is beautiful, not merely the experience of it. We love beautiful things, but loving beautiful things for their beauty is not reducible to loving our experiences of them; rather, we love the things themselves.

(2) If we hold that beauty resides wholly in that which is beautiful, as those do who hold that 'beautiful' is just a term that describes a certain kind of structure or quality in the thing, we seem to run into the problem that we do not attribute beauty only to structures or qualities, or any such thing, but that we do in fact take perceivability in some way to have something to do with beauty; for instance, people say things like 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. More widely, we take beauty to be something that is tied to manifestation.

(3) The third position is that it in some ways resides in both, and this is the view that has been mostly widely accepted, and that is behind the popularity of the description of the beautiful as that which pleases on being seen. That something like this must be the case can be seen on considering features associated with beauty

St. Thomas tells us in a famous passage (ST 1.39.8), Beauty includes three conditions: integrity or perfection, since those things which are impaired are by that very fact ugly; due proportion or harmony; and lastly, brightness or clarity, whence things are called beautiful which have a bright color. These three, which St. Thomas, like St. Albert before him, derives from the Dionysian discussion of divine beauty, certainly are commonly associated with the beautiful; while the Dionysian specifically regards proportion and splendor as effects of beauty, both Albert and Thomas take them to be conditions that the effects receive because they belong to the causes.

First, the beautiful has integrity or perfection. While there are many ways one can see something as a whole, to hold of something that it is beautiful requires recognizing that it is a whole or completeness of some kind, and its beauty is connected with its being whole. This is not a matter of stipulated unity; it has to be an integrity of the thing itself as the mind perceives it, although it could very well be that the thing has such an integrity as an artificial whole.

Due proportion or harmony (consonantia) by its nature depends on some cognitively discernible standard. Due proportion in action, for instance, depends on what is reasonable for the action. Likewise, due proportion in music requires balancing aspects of sound (notes, volume) in a way that is appropriate to other sounds, for the kind of music that is being made. This appropriateness with respect to what is due is found throughout the beautiful things we know. In mathematics, we might say of a theorem we regard as beautiful that it is elegant or balanced. The beautiful has an internally balanced form, of one kind or another, whether it be pure consistency, or symmetry, or convergence, or functional appropriateness.

A beautiful thing, insofar as it is beautiful, manifests itself. This is brilliance (claritas) or splendor. Many words associated at some point with beauty seem to be rooted in this aspect of beauty, as the Latin word 'species', the English words 'shine' and 'sheen', the German 'schön', the Finnish 'kaunis', the Quechua word 'sumaq', and so forth. And even this weren't true as a matter of etymology, it is seen clearly in poetic descriptions of beautiful things that we often associate them with light, shine, brilliance, refulgence, thereby expressing that they dazzle, enchant, or captivate our attention, or that they satisfy and refresh, as light can satisfy and refresh the sight. In mathematics, the relationships that we might call beautiful, we might also call clear, brilliant, luminous, and the like.

That seems most appropriately called beautiful that is a very appropriate, very apprehensible whole. These three conditions are related to another common description of the beautiful, as that which pleases on being seen. 'Pleases' here means not physical pleasure, but rather satisfaction, the completion of the act, in the sense that we come to rest in what pleases or satisfies.  The beautiful might be said to complete the mind, bringing it refreshment and repose and delight. To apprehend the beautiful is both to possess and be possessed by it; we dwell in beauty and it in us, because in regarding it our mind finds rest and joy. Thus Maritain says (A&S 5),  "Hence the three conditions assigned to it by St. Thomas: integrity, because the mind likes being; proportion, because the mind likes order and likes unity; lastly and above all, brightness and clarity, because the mind likes light and intelligibility."

Ugliness, on the other hand, clearly must be a privation of something that is needed for integral beauty, so that it is mutilated, dissonant, or dull. Even ugly things, however, must have some beauty in order to be ugly; pure ugliness would have to be a pure privation of conditions that are required to exist, and therefore cannot exist. Thus ugly things may be beautiful in themselves; they are just defectively so due to some privation. Further, ugly things may also be beautiful in context; as Augustine says (DT 6.10), An image is said to be beautiful if it perfectly represents even an ugly thing. From this we can see that one way for beautiful things to be more or less beautiful is to be more or less ugly.

As previously noted, some have wished to deny beauty a place among the transcendentals at all; this arises, I believe, from a failure to grasp that 'transcendental', even if we confine ourselves to convertible transcendentals, does not indicate a class of notions selected for their magical qualities, but any concept that is such that it cannot be contained under any genus; thus every term that is such that it crosses categories is transcendental. Failure to recognize this has led to an exegetical fiction in which 'transcendental' does not have the function of distinguishing from the merely categorical, but becomes a label for a specially favored collection of a few elite terms; the same error leads to other obvious nonsense, like claiming that each transcendental that adds relation to being must be associated with a unique power of the soul, or that all convertible transcendentals have to be connected in a rigid linear order, or that there can be a 'last transcendental', or similar confusions that mistake incidental features of discussions of transcendentals for what is being described by them. In any case, that the beautiful is transcendental is recognizable from many things. It certainly crosses categories Substances may be beautiful; and qualities especially may be beautiful; and actions may be beautiful; and positions may be beautiful; and vestments may be beautiful precisely as vestments; all of these are easy to recognize. classification itself in general seems to have a kind of association with intelligible beauty, as many inquirers and researchers can attest; good classifications exhibit a wholeness and well-orderedness that can enlighten and refresh the mind. In classification we can recognize things as having a beauty in their intelligible place; and thus it is not surprising that beauty itself, associated with goodness of classification, itself exceeds classification; no possible classification can be had that will adequately capture beauty. Further, it is convertible. Being is beautiful, being something that delights the mind; every being is beautiful insofar as it is, so that beauty is a maximally common notion. Thus the Dionysian quite clearly says that beauty is handed-on to all beings from supersubstantial beauty (DN 4) and St. Albert's and St. Thomas's interpretation of consonance and clarity as conditions of beauty on the ground that the Dionysian says superessential beauty is the cause of consonance and clarity in all things implies the same, as does St. Thomas's interpretation (In Div. Nom. 4.5), Every form through which something has being is a certain participation of divine clarity. We could add endless numbers of other testimonies that confirm this recognition, which is widespread even when not emphasized. It also is distinguished by a general mode of being, which St. Thomas explicitly mentions, since as that which pleases on being seen, it adds to good a relation to a cognitive power. But it is also established certainly by considering the relation of beauty to other transcendentals.

That beauty has a relation to one is seen in the status of integrity as a condition of beauty; but it is clear that human beings find unity, as long as it is appropriate and manifest, to have beauty in and of itself. Likewise, on the side of the mind, beauty is sometimes said to call the mind to unity.

Beauty is obviously not a synonym of goodness or truth, but beauty does in some sense connect the two, as seen in the fact that many languages do not sharply differentiate beauty from one of the other two. The beautiful and the good are in the same subject, for they rest on the same foundation, i.e., form. This is why the good is often praised as beautiful, and the beautiful as the good, and also why people often intermingle terms from each family. Thus the Dionysian says (DN 4), This good is praised by the holy theologians as beautiful and as beauty and as love and as lovable and whatever others are befitting namings of the beautifying and graciously had beauty. The good is specifically related to tendency, desire, appetite, or inclination, for, as the saying goes, good is what all desire. This makes it like the beautiful, for, as the Dionysian also says, all things desire the good and the beautiful according to every cause and there is not anything of existing things that does not participate the beautiful and the good. And St. Maxius says (Ambiguum 7), whatever is not good and desirable in itself, and that does not attract all motion to itself, strictly speaking cannot be the Beautiful. However, the beautiful has a closer relation to cognitive capabilities than the good, so it is possible to distinguish them. Beauty must be such that it can be appreciated, which is why Aquinas calls the beautiful what pleases on being seen; thus also St. Thomas says (ST 2-1.27.1 ad3), It pertains to the notion of the beautiful that in the view or cognition of it the appetite is stilled. Cognitive capabilities, of whatever kind, are best satisfied by things that are proportioned to them, so beauty is constituted by a kind of due proportion or consonance or harmony. And because knowledge involves assimilation of some kind, and because assimilation relates directly to manifestation of the form, beauty has a kind of clarity. Both consonance and clarity are themselves good, but there is beauty not in merely having them but in being knowable. Thus St. Thomas says (In Div Nom 4.5-6), Although the beautiful and the good are the same in the concrete subject, since both brilliance and harmony are contained under the good, nevertheless they are different notionally, for the beautiful adds to the good an order to the power that knows an object of this kind. Thus the beautiful is convertible with the good, so that St. Albert says (De Pul et Bon 1.2 ad 9), Beauty is never separated from good, but is distinguished from it by a distinct rational relation. We love both the good and the beautiful, but something is beautiful not because we can possess it by love but, being beautiful, it is such that in love our minds can rest in it.

The specifically cognitive character of the beautiful connects it as well to the true. Jacques Maritain captures this well (Art and Scholasticism, ch. 5), "The beautiful is what gives delight -- not just any delight, but delight in knowing; not the delight peculiar to the act of knowing, but a delight which superabounds and overflows from this act because of the object known. If a thing exalts and delights the soul by the very fact that it is given to the soul's intuition, it is good to apprehend, it is beautiful." The case here is the reverse of that with the good; the beautiful shares with the true that it has the relation to cognitive capability, but it is more concerned with the dwelling or resting of the mind on what is thus known than with the conformity itself. We see this in the special relationship of beauty to mathematics and truths of reason; these are especially beautiful because they satisfy the mind. Beauty consists in the splendor of appropriate congruity or harmony; and this at root is referred to reason, to which illumination and ordination both belong. Thus beauty is often connected to truth as light, that is, as manifestative, and some have called it the splendor of truth; it is the consonance and clarity of the truth as it manifests itself, and few things have so motivated people to inquire and study as perceiving this beauty.

Everyone recognizes that beautiful things can be more and less beautiful; they can be more or less beautiful due to the way in which they are a whole, or more or less duly proportioned, or more or less brilliant. In sensible matters, we find some things more beautiful than others. Even if we consider only the senses, we usually find things more beautiful in terms of sight and hearing than in other senses, because these senses provide the most material for our thought, and their cognitive richness gives the mind more in which it might rest. For the same reason we find some visible beauties more beautiful than others, and some auditory beauties more beautiful than others. But much of what we find beautiful in the senses is expressive intelligible things like symmetry, order, and balance; and when we consider these on their own in mathematical situations, those minds that are capable of appreciating them are able to recognize them as more beautiful; for the intelligible beauty here is the beautifying beauty and the sensible beauty is the beautified. We find something similar in cases of those beauties that suggest the intelligible beauties of virtue, as with a benevolent or wise face; if a face may be beautiful by suggesting wisdom to us, the wisdom it suggests to us more beautiful when we consider it in its own right, because it is beauty that beautifies a beauty that merely suggests it. Sensible beauty participates intelligible beauty. Thus intelligible beauty is more properly beauty than sensible beauty. The reason for this is is nicely stated by Maritain (A&S 5), who says, "The intelligence delights in the beautiful because in the beautiful it finds itself again and recognizes itself, and makes contact with its own light", and "Every sensible beauty implies, it is true, a certain delight of the eye itself or of the ear or the imagination: but there is beauty only if the intelligence also takes delight in some way." That is to say, intelligible beauty is more properly beauty because to recognize anything as beautiful is properly an intellectual act, and also because sensible beauty is beautiful insofar as it participates intelligibly beautiful things like symmetry, pattern, or symbolism. As the human mind is heavily reliant on the senses, it is natural for us to find much of our beauty in connection with the sensible world; but this does not make it a purely sensible matter, as we see in the fine arts, which are heavily guided by mathematical proportions.

As we find variations of beauty among beautiful things, there must be something in common among these variable beauties, with respect to which they are beautiful. This is beauty itself, in which they all participate in various degrees and ways. Beauty itself, however, must be being itself; for all beings are beautiful insofar as they are, and therefore they must receive their beauty from being itself. As the Dionysian says (DN 4), This one, the good and the beautiful singularly, is the cause of all the many beautiful and good things. Beauty itself, then, is not a mere ideal in the mind, but that from which all other beauty has its beauty.

Beauty itself, from which all beautiful things are beautiful, must be divine. And, indeed, the Book of Wisdom notes (13:2-3)that people have been misled into taking as divine fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circle of stars, or the violent water, or the lights of heaven because of their delightful beauty; and the author says in response, let them know how much better the Lord of them is; for the first author of beauty has created them. And a little later (13:5): For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. As St. Albert says (De Pul et Bon  2.1), Beauty is in God, and he is the highest and first beauty, from whom emanates the nature of beauty into all beautiful things, and God is cause of all beauty because He is the cause of harmony and brilliance. And likewise, Augustine says (Exp in Ps 145), When you have thought on the universal beauty of this world, does not its very beauty as it were with one voice answer you, I made not myself, God made me?, and speaking of how the position of the Platonists led them to the divine, he says (De Civ Dei 8.6), Since, therefore, they saw that body and mind might be more or less beautiful in form, and that, if they wanted form, they could have no existence, they saw that there is some existence in which is the first form, unchangeable, and therefore not admitting of degrees of comparison, and in that they most rightly believed was the first principle of things which was not made, and by which all things were made. Thus we may say with Maritain (A&S 5), "He is beauty itself, because He gives beauty to all created beings, according to the particular nature of each, and because He is the cause of all consonance and all brightness." Thus Augustine also says (Confessions 11.4), It was you, O Lord, who made these things; you are beautiful, thus they are beautiful; you are good, thus they are good; you are, thus they are.

The beautiful itself must be immutable, as mutability is a cause of variation for beauty and thus a sign that the beauty in question participates a higher beauty; for a similar reason, it must be eternal, for beauties that develop and fragile beauties that can perish are participating beauties. As Plato says (Symp 210e-211b), this beauty "always is, and neither comes into being nor passes away" so that "while all the other beauties share in this, in such a manner such that somehow, in spite of their coming into being and passing away, this beauty undergoes neither increase nor decrease, nor is it affected at all." Some have argued that beauty always requires composition, but this is clearly seen not to be true. As we move from beautiful sensibles to more beautiful intelligibles, we move from the more composite to the less composite; and this continues in considering different intelligible beauties. The reasoning is the same as for immutability and eternity: composite beauty by its nature is participating beauty, but beauty itself is participated and does not participate any higher beauty. Thus Plato says (Symp 211b) that it is "always just by itself, of one form with itself" and (211e) "simple, pure and unalloyed". 

Love is the natural and rational response to beauty.  "The beautiful is essentially delightful," says Maritain (A&S 5), "This is why, of its very nature and precisely as beautiful, it stirs desire and produces love, whereas the true as such only illumines." What is beautiful is loveable and makes us more loveable in the measure in which we love it. This is recognized by the Neoplatonists; as Plotinus tells us (Enn 1.6.7), "since it is itself supremely beautiful and the primary Beauty, makes its lover beautiful and lovable" and (Enn 1.6.9), "You must first actually become wholly god-like and wholly beautiful if you intend to see god and Beauty. Thus God, who is beauty itself, is loveable, lovely, and to be loved, in a way that makes other things lovely.


[III] What participates is more limited or restricted in some way than that in which it participates; in every participation there is an ordering of what has more completeness or perfection in some way and what has less, of what is less limited in its nature and what is more limited in its nature. In a sense, we may say that some things more perfectly transcend multiplicity without reduction.

We find that things are not equal in their capacity in a way that is not merely like one thing being faster than another. Rather, we find that one individual, without ceasing to be individual, in some sense includes more of being than another. An example of this is found in Xunzi (Xunzi, "Wang Zhi"),  "Fire and water possess force (qi) but are without life (sheng). Grass and trees have life but no knowledge (zhi). Beasts have knowledge but no rectitude (yi). Man possesses force, life, knowledge, and also rectitude. Therefore he is the most valuable (gui) being on earth." That is to say, when we consider things, there is a kind of completing activity associated with each; but life involves a kind of completeness or perfection that is irreducible to material force; cognition likewise involves a completeness distinct from life; and additionally we have yi, that is, the capability that makes articulation and division, or relatedly obligation, possible, and therefore rational and civilized society. Each of these things -- material activity, vital activity, cognitive activity, moral and political activity -- is something good, and that which is capable of them all is most precious (gui). This greater inclusiveness of completion or perfection, we can call nobility. 

Moreover, there are gradations in nobilities. Living things are more complete in their perfection than inanimate things, because they have a being capable of including more; they do not merely interact with the world, but that they make of it a vital environment. Cognition goes even further; even the most limited beast can bring in a massive amount of information about the greater world, on which it can act. It is as if to be an animal that can sense and think is to have not only one's material frame but a good portion of the greater world inside one. Rational beings can take in even more; they can reflect on underlying reasons and broader contexts, even considering the very origins of the universe and the laws of nature, counterfactuals and deontic principles, and more. To think of the world is more noble than merely to exist in it. As Aquinas says (In Lib caus 19), Bodies participate being only, while souls according to their proper nature participate further being and living, and intellects participate being, living and understanding. Further, as we move from inanimate to rational, we find that the typical actions are in some sense more fully possessed by the agents; inanimate objects merely maintain their coherence and similar things, but rational agents do this and can take rational, moral, and juridical responsibility doing it.

This gradation of nobility is something all human beings can recognize, and all of us to some extent do. There are people who are allergic to anything that suggests this, but they are liars if they wish to claim that rationally reflecting on experiments and astronomical observations in order to speculate about the nature of the entire universe is not a more expansive activity in its nature and scope than holding together like a rock. As Anselm says (Mon 4), If one observes the nature of things he perceives, whether he will or no, that not all are embraced in a single degree of dignity; but that certain among them are distinguished by inequality of degree. For, he who doubts that the horse is superior in its nature to wood, and man more excellent than the horse, assuredly does not deserve the name of man. Understanding is less limited than merely living; living is less limited than merely existing.

It would be an error, however, to think that there is somehow a single gradation, like a ladder or a chain, because we clearly find that things can be members of many different such gradations, depending on what you consider. We see this if we consider that being is the first object of the intellect. This being may be considered simply in itself; but when considering things qua beings, we find that some may reasonably be said to be more than others, as we have already seen. Second, we can consider it insofar as it can tend to something else. We see that to tend to something, to be active with regard to something, is in some sense more than merely being. But such capability for tending to other things shows gradation as well, and we recognize that living capabilities don't merely tend to things, but they adapt and modify and diversify their tending to things, while still doing so in a unified way. Third, we can consider it insofar as other beings are in some sense in it, that is, in terms of conformity of being and being. The most complete and inclusive such conformity is cognition, since in some sense the known is in the knower. Thus Aquinas says (ST 1.14.1), The nature of a non-knowing thing is greatly contracted and limited. However, the nature of knowers has a greater amplitude, for which reason Aristotle says in De anima 3.8 that the soul is in a certain sense all things, and of cognition and of life, he says (In Lib caus 18) that just as to have something formally and not materially in oneself, in which the nature of knowledge consists, is the noblest way of having or containing something, so to be self-moved is the noblest kind of mobility.

There are multiple ways one thing could be more or less noble than another, because things are noble insofar as they are, and in the way that they are. An ecosystem and a human person are nobler than a lobster, but by different nobilities; a herd is nobler than an individual member of it, but one cannot very well compare groups in general with individuals in general, like the entire population of zebras and a single elephant, because the manners in which they are noble is not the same. In a single being, the being is more noble than the qualities it has, which express only limited aspects of it, and the qualities are more noble than the things it does, which express only limited aspects of its qualities, but we would have to be more careful in comparing between two different beings, because there are many ways in which beings could be compared as to nobility. 

In a reasonable ordering, the more noble organizes the less noble. We see this with virtue, which, as St. Thomas says (ST 2-1.112.4), is said to be nobler through being ordered to greater good. It is also true in intellectual life and inquiry. Some insights are more capacious and expansive than others, bringing into a unity more of the intelligible; we see this as well in mathematics, which, of all fields that consider the physical world directly, draws under its wings those things that apply most widely and illuminate most deeply. We see this also in skills and crafts of making. Thus in literature, those works are most noble, and provide more of a standard, which exhibit a power of expressing more of a world, with its richness and unity; in painting and sculpture, those works are most noble which express more of what they depict by both explicit means and subtle indication; and in the art of experimentation, those experiments are most noble and most guiding that in their way have a power of manifesting more of the world as it is. We see, too, that those inquiries with more noble objects inherit something of the nobility of their objects, and embrace more in their way. All of these are in turn expressions of the nobility of the human mind itself, which, as Xunzi noted, is in part connected to its drawing together a convergence of many nobilities, but which also is in part due to its capacity to 'be all things'. Thus it has often been said, in reflecting on the nobility of the whole cosmos of which we are a part, that it is like a macrocosm, but the human person within it is in nobility like a microcosm, a little cosmos in his or her own right, an everything in a small package.

Some noble things are, as we have said, more noble than others in some particular way of being noble. From this we can recognize that there must be some first, unlimited nobility or nobility as such, in which such things participate.*** As Anselm says (Mon 4), if the distinction of degrees is infinite, so that there is among them no degree, than which no higher can be found, our course of reasoning reaches this conclusion: that the multitude of natures themselves is not limited by any bounds; thus, he concludes, reason convinces us that some nature is so preeminent among these, that it has no superior.  To recognize different things as more and less noble requires recognizing that they have nobility in common, which in turn requires recognizing nobility itself as the standard according to which they are more or less. 

This is not uncommonly recognized; even atheists sometimes take there to be a first or maximal noble, attributing this to the universe itself. However, every nobility in any given thing belongs to it according to its being. For instance, we cannot be noble according to wisdom unless we are wise. Thus the mode of a thing's nobility is according to the mode of its being. As St. Thomas says (SCG 1.28), Something is said to be more or less noble insofar as its being is contracted to greater or lesser nobility. Were there something, then, to which the whole power of being belongs, it would lack no nobility, and would be that than which nothing could be more noble. A first noble must then be infinite being. It would not be infinite in a quantitative sense, but in the sense that it would exceed anything that could limit its nobility. Everything that according to its nature is finite is determined to the nature of some genus, says St. Thomas (SCG 1.43); that which is nobility itself, and thus not merely first in nobility of a certain kind, must not be so limited. But infinite being is being itself, because it is being such that it is participated and does not participate. Therefore nobility itself, as that in which all more qualified nobility participates, actually is. It is clear likewise that, since all beings have their nobility as they have their being, all nobility derives from being itself, and therefore being itself must be nobility itself. 

We see as well as well that other noble things must participate nobility itself as effects, because, as Augustine says (Gen ad Litt 12), Agent is nobler than patient; that which is nobility itself must supremely be such as to be active and causal. We may consider this beginning from many nobilities, where these nobilities are simple perfections or nobilitative transcendentals; as Aquinas says (In Lib de caus 18), One does not proceed to infinity in any order of things, so in the order of beings something must be first, which gives being to all and in the genus of living things something must be first, and from this all living things have life and in the order of knowers as well, something must be first. That is to say, all nobilities receive their nobility from nobility itself, which is noble in such a way that it is not limited the way they are. We say that one thing has formally the nobility of another if the same nobility is attributed to them (although not necessarily in the same grade or degree), whereas we say that one thing has the nobility of another eminently if it has a nobility of which the other's nobility is a more restricted and derivative kind of nobility. All nobilities are traced to nobility itself, so that every nobility is in nobility itself, either formally, if it is a nobilitative transcendental, or eminently, if it is a kind of nobility that is essentially limited. As St. Thomas says (ST 1.4.2 ad 3), nothing of the perfection of being can be wanting to him who is subsisting being itself

It is clear, then, that the first noble, nobility itself, is divine. It cannot be composite, for, as Aquinas says (ST 1.82.3), the more simple and the more abstract a thing, the nobler and higher it is in itself; composition is a way in which nobility is limited. For a similar reason, it must be immutable, for the immutable is more noble than the ever-changing, and eternal, for that which of itself is without beginning and ending is more noble than the temporary. It must also be that than which no greater can be thought, since nothing could be greater than the first and most noble; as St. Anselm says (Mon 4), There is, then, necessarily some nature which is so superior to some nature or natures, that there is none in comparison with which it is ranked as inferior.

The nobility of material things, and even of the universe considered only materially, is a participating nobility, because material existence imposes limitations on nobility, since it restricts the scope of being of what is material. As St Thomas says (ST 1.14.1), The limitation of form occurs by means of matter and The more immaterial forms are, the more they approach to a kind of infinity, and again (ST 2-1.17.8), The more immaterial an act is, the more noble it is. What is more, we can recognize, as St. Thomas also says (ST 1.82.3), that the more abstract a thing is, the nobler and higher it is in itself, and abstraction divests of materiality. Thus nobility itself must be immaterial. On this ground, we can say that nobility itself is spirit and purely spiritual. This is because we use the term 'spirit' to speak of immaterial nobility. This is seen even in dealing with material nobility, because we take even material things to be more spiritual insofar as they can be understood as expressions of immaterial nobility, as when people take facial expressions to express virtues or even just thoughtfulness. For that matter, people even take material things to be more spiritual to the extent that they can be understood as separate signs of immaterial nobility, as we see in icons and church and temple architecture; indeed, this is an essential principle of religious art. Thus St. Anselm says (Mon 27), And since no worthier essence than spirit and body is known, and of these, spirit is more worthy than body, it must certainly be maintained that this Being is spirit and not body. And thus also it is said (Jn 4:24), God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and truth. The spiritual, being more noble, is less restricted in its scope of action and capacity than what is not spiritual; it is more free from restrictions. Thus we are told (2 Cor 3:17), The Lord is spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.


We may summarize, then. We find in the world that things are related by participation, which is the reception of the same in a different and partial way. We find also that some things that are shared in this way are such that they transcend all classification; these are transcendental terms. When we consider them, we come to those things that are preconditions for all classifiable things. The most fundamental of these is 'being'; however, there are others that are convertible with being, such as one, true, good, and the like, so that what is, is one, and what is one, is, and so forth. By reflecting on being, we come to recognition that there is a subsistent being itself that is participated by all other beings but does not have its being by participation. Likewise, from considering one, true, good, order, beautiful, and noble insofar as they can be recognized as transcendentals that involve participation, we come to recognize that there must be one itself, true itself, good itself, order itself, beauty itself, and noble itself; and by recognizing the convertibility of these transcendentals with being, we recognize as well that all such things must in fact be simply being itself. Thus we may, by considering participation, establish that there is some subsistent being itself from considering being, unity, truth, goodness, order, beauty, or nobility, and, further, this will continue for other transcendentals. Since participation genuinely occurs, and it is impossible for it to do so without something pure and per se that is participated, there must therefore actually be subsisting being itself, which is truth itself, which is goodness itself, which is beauty, which is nobility, and which is simply first, from which all other things have being, truth, and so forth. This is what all call divine. Therefore, we have demonstrated the existence of being itself, which is God. And we see too the wisdom of St. Paul's words (Phil 4:8), Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. For all these things may draw us back to God.

There is still more, however, that might be said about demonstrating God's existence, and more that we will say.

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* Alasdair MacIntyre, "Truth as a good: a reflection on Fides et Ratio", The Tasks of Philosophy, Selected Essays, Volume 1, Cambridge University Press (New York: 2006) p. 198.

** For discussion of these options, see Leonard Callahan, A Theory of Esthetic According to the Principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, The Catholic University of America (Washington DC, 1927), Chapter 2, and  Rev. Robert E. McCall, SJ, "The Metaphysical Analysis of the Beautiful and the Ugly," The Aquinas Review, Vol 3, No 6 (1996) 119-133; Callahan's discussion is better for examining the reasons why a purely objective account is inadequate, and McCall is better for examining the reasons why a purely subjective account is inadequate.

*** For more discussion that particularly looks at cognitive orders, see James Chastek, Levels of being as effecting unity, 27 July 2019, on Just Thomism [http://thomism.wordpress.com]; the idiom by which nobility is discussed there is "overcoming multiplicity." For a similar discussion with respect to life, see the beginning of St. Thomas's discussion in SCG 4.11; the idiom by which nobility is discussed there is 'the emanated as more intimate to the nature of what emanates'.