Introduction to the Body-Mind Problem: Aristotle on Causality, Substance, and Accidents’

Epicurus

  1. Further, the whole of being consists of bodies and space. For the existence of bodies is everywhere attested by sense itself, and it is upon sensation that reason must rely when it attempts to infer the unknown from the known. And if there were no space (which we call also void and place and intangible nature), bodies would have nothing in which to be and through which to move, as they are plainly seen to move. Beyond bodies and space there is nothing which by mental apprehension or on its analogy we can conceive to exist. When we speak of bodies and space, both are regarded as wholes or separate things, not as the properties or accidents of separate things.

 

  1. Again, of bodies some are composite, others the elements of which these composite bodies are made. These elements are indivisible and unchangeable, and necessarily so, if things are not all to be destroyed and pass into non-existence, but are to be strong enough to endure when the composite bodies are broken up, because they possess, a solid nature and are incapable of being anywhere or anyhow dissolved. It follows that the first beginnings must be indivisible, corporeal entities.

 

  1. Again, the sum of things is infinite. For what is finite has an extremity, and the extremity of anything is discerned only by comparison with something else. Now the sum of things is not discerned by comparison with anything else: hence it has no extremity, it has no limit; and, since it has no limit, it must be unlimited or infinite.

 

Aristotle, Physics, Bk 2

  1. Of things that exist, some exist by nature, some from other causes. By nature the animals and the parts exist, and the plants and simple bodies (earth, air, fire, water)—for we say that these the like exist by nature.
  2. All the things mentioned plainly differ from things which are not constructed by nature. For each of them has within itself a principle of motion and of stationariness (in respect of place, or of growth and decrease, or by way of alteration.  On the other hand, a bed and a coat or anything else of that sort, qua receiving these designations—that is, in so far as they are products of arts—have no innate impulse to change

Aristotle, Categories

  1. Substance in the truest primary and most definite sense of the word is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject; for instance the individual man or horse.
  2. Substances are most properly called substances in virtue of the fact that they are the entities which underlie everything else, and that every else is either predicated of them or present in them.
  3. It is a common characteristic of all substance that it is never present in a subject.
  4. All substance appears to signify that which is individual.
  5. One and the self-same substance, while retaining its identity, is yet capable of admitting contrary qualities.

 

Link to a Hillsdale discussion of Aristotle’s Four Causes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdEzyA2HGnY

Consciousness, Body-Mind, and Aristotle’s De Anima:

Presented by Dr. Ron Muller

Monday evenings 7:30-9:00 pm via Zoom: June 3, 10, 17, 24.

Register Now


Background:

From the earliest times, we have sought to understand the nature of man and our role in the cosmos.   At first, we found explanations in the realms of myth and legend reflecting the yearnings of the human heart and captured in the imaginings of the poets and sages.  Ancient religious traditions built upon these intuitions and developed systematic explanations of the meanings involved with the great challenges of life—the struggle for existence, the tension between good and evil, and especially the purpose of life itself in the face of death and eternity.

In the sixth century B.C., the ancient Greeks took another approach.  They began to investigate the natural world using common sense and analytic reasoning rather than metaphor and poetic imagination.  Philosophy was born as they searched for knowledge and understanding based on what is most evident to our natural human reason, beginning with the question— what is the truly real, what is the most excellent form of being?  Metaphysics, the philosophy of being, was born in this way as thinkers sought to understand the reasons and causes of things.  Focused at first on the natural world, they identified the principles of atomic theory and showed that the universe is a complex of innumerable, extremely small particles which cluster together to form the physical reality of our experience.    

A century and a half later during the great “Golden Age” of Greece, philosophic interest shifted focus as philosophy turned to questions concerning the nature of man, the principles of ethics, politics, and issues about living well and being happy. In the climate of ideas defined by Socrates and the Sophists at the time some taught that man by nature is a rational animal who excels in his existence by seeking truth, acting justly, and living virtuously.  But others argued, alternatively, that morality is simply social convention and that true virtue is the advantage of the stronger in being successful in life. While Socrates showed, through the dialectical method, the logical implications of true judgments, the Sophists embraced the atomist legacy of the Pre-Socratics along with the conclusion that there is no true success in just actions nor bad results for unjust acts because upon death, a man dies, his soul departs his body, and his consciousness is no more.  By being unjust towards others, one may prosper by greater wealth, power, or fame; injustice rather than justice is the formula for a good life.  Accepting the atomist theory, the Sophists embraced the materialist assumption that both the good man and the bad man are living beings whose consciousness ceases absolutely with the death of the body because the body causes the soul.  Plato, on the other hand, was influenced by the earlier Pythagoreans who argued for the immortality of the soul and an eternal destiny.  Seeking to understand the nature of life and the nature of a living, Aristotle addressed the issues in his extraordinarily influential work, De Anima, a work later embraced by St. Thomas Aquinas as the philosophic foundation for a proper understanding of man consistent with Christian theology.

In this historical context, we see philosophic inquiry illuminate the body-mind issue to show how natural reason confirms the truths revealed by theology.  Generally, reflection begins with understanding how factually a person is a composite of matter and spirit, body and soul, the material and the immaterial.

On the one hand, the body is an extremely complicated matrix of different organs and complex structure and chemistry which carry on life functions –if the body is alive.  If the body is dead, its components, lacking a unifying life principle, begin to break down, break apart, disperse, and dis-integrate.  Unlike the body, the life force which animates the living being is not itself a bodily element, but rather, an immaterial or incorporeal entity.  In metaphysical terms, it is the efficient cause of the life of the living organism because it causes the whole to live; also, it’s the formal cause of the living organism because through the life function it directs, it determines the kind of thing, the nature, or the essence of what the living being is.

In human beings the life principle is called the “soul,” derived from the Greek psuche (ψυχή). meaning life or breath; Also referred to as body-soul, the body-mind problem seeks to understand the relation between these two components in human persons.  “Soul” is referred to as “mind” in body-mind because the life principle in human beings has (among many others) the distinctive power of self-awareness and self-determination.  We identify consciousness with our minds because we are constantly aware of ourselves as each being the “self” of a personal life, a unique persona, and metaphysically a distinctive “who” possessing personhood and self-awareness, –in short an individual personality.

For reference: Terms and Concepts

In addition to the terms mentioned above, other philosophic concepts and distinctions are important for addressing the questions below which the course will consider in the light of the historical background.  These include the concepts of: consciousness, psyche, and ego, telos and teleology, nature, essence, or suchness, the principle of sufficient reason, condition and cause, and epi-phenomenalism.  Especially important are Aristotle’s teaching on the four types of causality, substance and accident, and hylo-morphism (his view of form and matter). 

Questions and issues

To understand the nature of life generally and the nature of the human person specifically, the course will address these questions and issues:

  1. What is the cause of a living being? Is the principle of life found in matter or in an immaterial animating principle?
  2. Is the life principle or soul caused by the body or does the body cause the soul? Is epi-phenomenalism correct that the mind and spirit are simply by-products of the organization of matter?
  3. Hasn’t it been shown that genes cause us to do things, confirming that physical events in the body cause our actions despite the illusion of free will?
  4. Is Aristotle correct in his analysis of the powers invested in the animating life principle and his distinction between the vegetative, animal, and rational souls?
  5. Is the body-mind problem in fact a non-issue for the reason that only mind exists and that, as the tradition of metaphysical idealism contends, the reality of a physical world is an illusion? Was Berkley correct that we only know impressions or ideas in the mind?
  6. According to Aristotle, can the soul exist beyond death?

Texts:

Find the readings from public domain works by the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas.

For more information:

Please contact Dr. Muller at abb303@gmail.com or 248 410-3575.

The Christian Worldview

Seeking to know the “natures of things,” James Patrick spent a lifetime exploring the insights of the major disciplines of theology, philosophy, literature, and history in search of a comprehensive picture of God, man, and the cosmos.  In the spirit of Newman’s Idea of a University, he devoted himself to identifying the most important truths which, taken together, constitute the best, the wisest, and the most complete understanding of those things which are the most important to know in human life.  He saw that these are foundational truths which teach us about ourselves, our responsibilities, and the purpose of our lives—truths that are the intellectual foundations, the considerations, values, and principles which inform our actions and make sense of who we are and what we will become.   These are the elements which taken together constitute the world view or ultimate context according to which everything has meaning.

Dr. Patrick formulated his best judgment about these ultimate meanings in his final work, The Making of the Catholic Mind, in which he showed that no other explanatory system can challenge the logos of Christian understanding.  He showed that judgments reached through natural reason about creation, being and non-being, matter and spirit, necessary and contingent realities, causation, essence and existence, and objective values resonate with the revelation of the Judeo-Christian tradition embodied in teaching of the scriptures, the prophets, and the words of Christ on the one hand, and the meanings and themes of the human imagination conveyed through myth, poetry, and legend on the other.

No other attempt to explain why things are as they are or why they happen as they do can rival the Christian worldview.   For example, the Hegelian philosophy proposing that all being is a pantheistic  expression of an over-arching world spirit fails to account for the real differences between things and strips individual human action of ultimate meaning as Kierkegaard explained.  The Buddhist conception of the world similarly reduces reality to the status of mere appearance and denies the irreplaceable metaphysical uniqueness of each human personality.  Similarly, Hinduism proposes that the end of human striving is the emptying out of consciousness despite the fact that the human heart yearns for conscious, eternal union with the good and other persons, as Plato saw.

Existentialism opined that ultimately everything is absurd because of death and mortality, a consequence of the erroneous view that moral values are human inventions.  Islam similarly promotes an inaccurate ethical understanding sanctioning hatred, anger, and injustice if they are willed by Allah who can command anything because he is beyond good and evil.  And modern scientific materialism, arguing that everything is nothing more than matter in its various forms and machinations, denies the reality of the personal self, meaning in life, and objective goods and evils.  The worldview that emerges is a universe of meaningless “stuff” that accidently comes alive in order to causally determine the activities of human life, make us invest great feeling and meaning in how we live, and then see everything negated as pointless.

Last week we discussed Newman’s view of how—ideally–university discussions seek to integrate the best conclusions from all the fields of study to arrive at a comprehensive, systematic understanding of how all things participate in the unfolding dynamic of cosmic reality.  The work of the true university is to show how all the elements of reality play a critical role in the fulfillment of the whole.  Only when theology is represented as a discipline and its teaching included in the curriculum can an accurate understanding of the cosmic dynamic be achieved.  Only when theology is involved can humankind develop a veridical understanding of the roles, the principles, and the meanings of a true worldview, because only through the lens of Christian theology can we understand why and how we exist, the reasons for our existence, and the values and meanings which we should pursue.

As believers, the Christian worldview is the background of ideas which accounts for the fundamental phenomena of existence.  Sometimes these ideas exist in the background of consciousness; for example, the idea of matter as unliving, existing independently of the mind, possessing properties such as a center of gravity, specific density, and mass, and created by God.  But sometimes the ideas of the Christian worldview are fully present in consciousness as we are become aware of the reality of human freedom when we are required to make critical choices.  We experience an intense understanding of how the ultimate goodness of human beings is a function of virtuous willing when found in friendship, love, and fidelity and in its tragic absence in the unhappiness of moral failure and guilt.  

The Christian worldview shows the deep connection between the natural order—the realm of contingency, change, and time on the one hand, and the supernatural order—the realm of eternal necessity, the Holy Trinity, and the eternal status of human souls, angels, archangels, powers, and dominions, on the other.  It is because Christ revealed to us these the supernatural meanings that illuminate and give context to our natural understanding that the Christian worldview gives us the full “picture.”

Given the importance these natural and supernatural truths let us recall the most important that are answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the really real? In all reality, what is the most real form of being?
  2. Why does God exist?
  3. How do we know that God is all good, all powerful, and all knowing?
  4. Did God create the world? In fact, isn’t it true that matter has always existed and the universe has gone through several cycles of expansion, contraction, and sequential “big bangs”?
  5. If we say that “from nothing, nothing comes” is a necessary rational principle, isn’t the teaching of the creation of the world ex nihilo irrational?
  6. Why did God create a material world?
  7. Why did God create man?
  8. For what purpose do human beings exist?
  9. Isn’t it illogical to say that miracles can occur–like the parting of the Red Sea, the Great Flood, or Jonah being swallowed by the whale? Aren’t the laws of nature fixed and unchanging?
  10. Why is there evil in the world? If God is all powerful and all loving, why does He not intervene to alleviate human suffering?
  11. Why should we accept the Bible as the word of God? Isn’t it true that elements in the Genesis account are very similar to other Middle Eastern mythical accounts?
  12. Wasn’t God overly harsh to condemn all men to death just because of the failings of Adam and Eve?
  13. Why did Christ have to suffer such an agonizing death just to redeem the world? Was there no other way?
  14. Why did Christ teach us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies? Isn’t this unnatural?
  15. Is gluttony really all that bad?
  16. Is it really true that faith and reason are never in conflict? Isn’t Kierkegaard correct that the epitome of faith and belief is when one accepts as true something that from the point of view of reason is irrational and absurd?

Great Books and Great Ideas

Of all the things that inspired Dr. James Patrick, perhaps nothing was more central than the love of learning which led him through the course of a long life to a profound understanding of human existence as ordered to God.  He saw so clearly and embodied this insight so completely in his own person: that being human is to be embarked on a metaphysical quest “to know and love God, to serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the world to come.”  It is a quest that begins with identifying those things that are the most important to know and of pursuing wisdom with steadfastness, diligence, and perseverance. 

As we know, it’s not an easy task; it involves the complex challenge of arriving at an appreciation of the genuine principles, insights, and facts necessary for a genuinely human life.  It involves delving into the study of theology, philosophy, and history, taking inspiration from the imaginative visions of the poets, and considering the factual claims, counter-claims, and implications of experience put forth by politics and economics, biology, chemistry, physics, and astrophysics.  And it entails identifying a comprehensive world-view of consistent and mutually implied great and small truths locating man in the vast metaphysical cosmos of reality.

To think about these things is to think about the subjects of the liberal arts, the studies which examine why things are as they are, as Aristotle explains, “…why the fire is hot, not simply that the fire is hot.”  These are the studies undertaken just for the sake of knowing the answer, knowledge, that is, which is sought for its own sake.  These studies are different from those seek knowledge for some practical purpose or need like how to build roads or bridges or how to mow the yard.  They are the sciences or organized fields of study which aim at the discovery of wisdom, the best and most profound knowledge possible.  Seeking this kind of knowledge is the highest purpose of the university.  The sciences which seek this knowledge are called the liberal arts because they are freely undertaken by free men and women who search for truth unencumbered by concerns for utility or necessity or by being governed by ideology. 

This is not to say that liberal learning is impractical or not really beneficial.  Quite the contrary, liberal studies illuminate the most important meanings in life and orient the person to what is good and significant in human existence.  They teach us how to excel in the task of personhood and of rising to the challenges of becoming the most excellent persons we may be.  Achieving this level of self knowledge and an understanding of one’s purpose in life is an invaluable asset for living life well amidst struggle, hardship, and tribulations.   Liberal studies sharpen our abilities in discernment, logical analysis, and the ability to discern the important from the unimportant.

Dr. Patrick discovered liberal learning in his undergraduate days at Auburn and later at the University of the South at Sewanee.  He came to see that universities are depositories of the greatest insights discovered or revealed to humankind, places where the great ideas are preserved in the writings, manuscripts, letters, lectures, and remarkable historical documents which we call the great books.  These works situate us in the great drama of human history, they tell us who we are, how we got here, what we are about, and what our duties are to ourselves and others.  He reveled in the ideas proposed by the great thinkers, wanting (as we all should) to appropriate the best and allow their meanings to find a home in his own life and outlook.  He saw that the spirit of learning is transformative for the human soul endowing it with images and insights which dispel concern, anxiety, and the fear which comes from ignorance.  Those of us who knew him well remember how he exemplified this truth– becoming through study, thought, and tireless energy–the magnanimous or great-souled person that he was.

Liberal studies are described as liberal or “free” studies in several senses.  Again, they are free in the sense that they are not bound by a need to produce a product or by a commitment to respect a certain ideology.  They are free in this sense to consider whichever subjects or issues they choose to pursue.  This is the reason that medieval disputations distinguished between debates that were addressed to a certain issue (and constrained to stay on point) and those which were “quoadlibet” or free to pursue any issue of interest “as they may wish.”  Liberal studies are also described as those pursued by free men and women especially those of the citizen class of free societies who determine their own interests and pursuits, the “self-commanding” men and women described by Pericles. 

Liberal studies are also free in the sense that they free the person to reach conclusions on according to his or her best judgment.  They invite the person to “reason things out,” to exercise discernment, and to judge things according to the available evidence.  Liberal studies challenge us to think for ourselves, see for ourselves, and defend our conclusions through discussion and debate.   Liberal studies in this way open our minds, engender creativity and inspiration, and allow us to imagine progress and a better world.

This was certainly Dr. Patrick’s experience. We remember fondly how we respected his unapologetic embrace of the truths he saw, and his determined, unbending commitment to the principles he identified.  He committed himself to the life of learning wholeheartedly because he saw that the excellence of the human person lies in the recognition of truth and the will to follow it without compromise.

At Sewanee and through his doctoral studies at Trinity College Toronto, he gained an appreciation of university learning inspired by the British tradition of arts and letters from the founding of Oxford in the late 1200’s to Newman and the Tractarian movement in the nineteenth century to the splendid thinking of Chesterton, Belloc, Lewis, and Tolkien among many others in the twentieth.  In his work The Magdalen Metaphysicals he described the climate of ideas in Oxford in the early years of the 1900’s which pitted men like F. H. Bradley and R. G. Collingwood, who accepted to some extent Hegel’s emphasis on spirit, against the emerging empiricists and analytical thinkers like A. J. Ayer, G. E. Moore, and Bertram Russell on the other.  In these men he saw and developed a deep respect and admiration for the way they lived resolutely in the light of the truths they saw.

Following his experience of the Oxford tradition of learning, his study of the religion based curricula of the earliest American universities, his appreciation for Newman’s The Idea of a University, and his own experience at the University of Dallas, Dr. Patrick developed a keen sense of what the intellectual life of a true university entails. Here are the essential elements which he taught us concerning learning in the liberal arts tradition, the spirit of the true university:

The university is about discovering what is true. Its razon d’etre is the search for truth and while many additional benefits flow from this search, the university cannot deviate from this mission without losing its essential character.  It is a place where scholars and students come together to discuss, dialogue, reflect, criticize, and critique the great ideas of the best thinkers as expressed in their great books, taking these texts as the starting point for myriad on-going conversations and reflections.  This process has the essential form of a conversation between teachers and students wherein learning happens when points of view are exchanged, compared, diagnosed, and evaluated.  The works which constitute the curriculum are chosen from a larger canon of insightful texts which embody the values, insights, and truths which most convey the enduring and abiding meanings about man, God, and the cosmic order.  The canon of texts forming the curriculum represents a judgment of the collegium of scholars that the works convey these abiding meanings or eternal truths –and not on the basis of gender, race, or the ethnicity of the authors.  The curriculum presupposes that a student has a sufficient background to be able to participate in the work of the institution especially with regard to a formation in classical languages and literatures, but a student can qualify for admission to studies largely by demonstrating a genuine desire to engage the ideas concerned.

The goal of the curriculum is to offer students the opportunity to engage the great ideas conveyed by the great books in such a way that they can profit as much as each is able to do so.  The curriculum is a course along which each student journeys, engaging the great minds and the great ideas, reflecting upon them, and seeing the implications for his or her personal understanding.   Dr. Patrick explained this by saying that the curriculum allows each student “to take away as much as possible.”  Every student is an individual; but the curriculum attests to the universal principles about human nature which transforms each of us according to our individuality.

Newman’s The Idea of a University, published as a mission statement for the proposed Catholic University of Ireland in the year 1854, articulated the important elements of learning which largely formed his vision.   First, one must turn to learning for the discovery of truth and possess the intention to submit to what one learns.  One must possess a reverence for truth and the humility to accept its conclusions even when these conclusions are inconvenient or uncomfortable.  Moreover, one must not pursue ideas for the sake of power or prestige, but rather in the spirit of recognizing that knowledge is a good in itself.  (On this point, Dr. Patrick endlessly objected to Bacon’s assertion that the seeking of knowledge is important because it gives us power over nature.  Similarly, we see unhappily how university professors too often develop theories, write, and profess not to illuminate but to use their positions for political advantage or popular esteem.) 

Learning challenges the student to endeavor to discover, articulate, and advance statements which accurately describe reality.  Because truth is the property of a statement which is “adequate to reality” as the Scholastics explained or which “corresponds” to reality, university learning is about identifying those ideas which actually describe reality itself. 

As logic teaches, we express ideas through statements or judgments which are also called propositions or assertions.   They are logical or ideal entities (as we learned in grammar) consisting of a subject and a predicate.  The subject term is what the statement is about, the predicate term is a description or characteristic which is either affirmed or denied of the subject.   Logically, every statement proposes or asserts an objective relation between the subject and predicate terms.  Statements are true when what they propose is actually the case in reality. 

Understanding this we see that inquiry and scholarly investigation is about determining which statements “tell it like it is” about the myriad realities we think about—the elements of the cosmos, plants, animals, principles, laws, poems, historical events, human beings, political movements, good and evil, the soul, God, angels, or anything else in the great universe of being.  We seek to know, in other words, “the natures of things.”

Seeing this as the purpose of university learning, Newman appreciated the difficulties of arriving at truth about the many complex issues and realities we experience.  Especially, the challenge is to marshal evidence in support of the most accurate insights which led him to insist that university brings together students and professors conversant with the best thinking of the different disciplines to propose, examine, debate, and conclude on the best conclusions.  He saw that the evidence supporting the truth of propositions comes in different forms; some is found in the testimony of history and theology, some is found in the empirical evidence of the natural sciences, some is found through imagination in poetry and literature, and some is found in the clear evidence of natural reason.  In its most splendid expression, the university assembles its scholars to address the great questions to debate and refine the best conclusions possible.

This, too, was Dr. Patrick’s vision which was realized in the College of Saint Thomas More where students were welcomed to join the academic fellowship to contribute to this task. The work of the College involved reading the great books wherein arguments are made in support of the great ideas (statements, judgments, or propositions) about the natures of things, ideas that are the most transformative, ideas that live in our souls and imaginations, ideas which guide us towards becoming the best persons we can be.  As Dr. Patrick often commented, the purpose of the College was to be a place which kept these ideas alive.

 

 

 

Quotes from Newman

From Historical Sketches

  1. “If I were asked to describe as briefly and popularly as I could, what a University was, I should draw my answer from its ancient designation of a Studium Generale, or “School of Universal Learning”….Accordingly, in its simple and rudimental form, it is a school of knowledge of every kind, consisting of teachers and learners from every quarter.  Many things are requisite to complete and satisfy the idea embodied in this description; but such as this a University seems to be in its essence, a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse, through a wide extent of country.”

 

  1. “It is the place to which a thousand schools make contributions; in which the intellect may safely range and speculate, sure to find its equal in some antagonistic activity, and its judge in the tribunal of truth…It is a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected, and rashness rendered innocuous, and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge…         It is the place where the professor become eloquent, and is a missionary and a preacher, displaying his science in its most complete and most winning form, pouring it forthwith the zeal of enthusiasm, and lighting up his own love of it in the breasts of his hearers.”

 

From The Idea of a University

  1. “That alone is liberal knowledge, which stands on its own pretensions, which is independent of sequel, expects no complement, refused to be informed (as it is called) by any end, or absorbed into any art, in order duly to present itself to our contemplation. The most ordinary pursuits have this specific character, it they are self-sufficient and complete:  the highest lose it, when they minister to something beyond them.”

 

  1. “The principle of real dignity in Knowledge, its worth, its durableness, considered irrespectively of its results, is this germ within it of a scientific or a philosophical process.”

 

  1. “Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such is its own reward.  And if this is true of all knowledge, it is true also of that special Philosophy, which I have made to consist in a comprehensive view of truth in all its branches, of the relations of science to science, of their mutual bearings, and their respective values.”

 

  1. “I say, a University, taken in its bare idea, and before we view as an instrument of the Church, has this object and this mission: it contemplates neither moral impression nor mechanical production; it professors to exercise the mind neither in art nor in duty; its function is intellectual culture; here it may leave its scholars, and it has done its work when it has done as much as this.  It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.”

What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

This famous question by Tertullian has long been understood to raise the issue of the relation between faith and reason.  It points to the issue of how the conclusions of philosophy, based upon mankind’s natural reasoning ability, should be considered in relation to the wisdom and insights revealed by Christ, insights and truths based on His divine authority which constitute the foundations of theology, faith, and Christian belief.

Tertullian, who lived from 155 to 220 a.d., is remembered as the “Father of Latin Christianity” and for his polemical writings against heresy during the early years of the Christian faith.  His rhetorical question was meant to challenge the tradition of Greek philosophy centered in classical Athens by suggesting that it could contribute little to the fullness of ultimate truth—about God, man, and the world—revealed by Christ and coming from the Judeo-Christian tradition of Jerusalem.  Heresy arises from those who judge their own thoughts and conclusions to be more trustworthy than the teaching of Christ, which as Scripture explains, confounds the presumption of the arrogant and “vain philosophy.”  Tertullian wrote extensively against the heretical tendencies of the time.

Being well-versed in the theological and philosophical traditions of the Church, Dr. Patrick addressed the issue by first rejecting the so-called “two truth” position, advanced notably by the Arabic philosopher Averroes, that opposed truths could both be true despite simultaneously asserting contradictory positions. This position is echoed today when some contend that “my truth” is different from “your truth.” Historically it was asserted when Copernicus advanced the helio-centric view of the solar system, some contending that scientifically the earth moves around the sun, but scripturally the heavens revolve around the earth.

Recalling Christ’s words that “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” believers rightly understand that all true statements are consistent with one another and that whatever is true is one field of study or according to one discipline of learning must be true universally.  This was Tertullian’s position that the “wisdom” of Greek philosophy could not be accepted and contributed little if it was in conflict with the manifest truth of revelation. His insight was absolutely correct that all knowledge is consistent with what is divinely revealed.  But in attacking the inaccuracies of mistaken views from the Greek philosophic tradition, he leaves the impression that all knowledge gained through natural reason is useless and unreliable.  He seems to assert that because the sublime truths of revelation constitute the pinnacle of what is important to know, all other knowledge is unimportant.

On the other hand, as Augustine saw, many insights of Greek philosophy were genuinely consistent with faith.  He showed that while many erred, others demonstrated the excellence of God’s gift of reason to mankind and how this give could arrive at great understanding through the principles of correct reasoning.  Augustine, for example, pointed to the ethical insights of Socrates and Plato regarding justice and the soul’s yearning for God and immortality.  He showed the inadequacy of skepticism and asserted that humans can indeed arrive at truth despite being oftentimes in error.  He disputed the Manichean world-view regarding the origin of evil, and he affirmed the reality of free will.   

One way to understand the development of thought after the coming of Christ is to understand that scholars sought to evaluate the truths of the new theology as compared with the established insights of the Greek tradition.  Christian thinkers undertook this task, but so, too, did Jewish and Islamic thinkers who asked about how their religious traditions should be understood in the light of natural reason. Early Islamic commentators raised the question of whether the teachings of the Koran were also validated by human reason, suggesting that the principles of natural justice as found in law and politics—principles that were commonly understood as the rational foundations of commerce, for example, — were codified in the Koran.  Similarly, they asked about issues regarding the relations between peoples, the obligations of rulers to those ruled, and ultimate questions about the origin of the world itself, showing that these could be illuminated by reason in addition to the teaching of the Koran. Some went so far as to suggest that reason should be used to exegete difficult passages in the Koran where competing interpretations had developed. Reason could help determine whether the meaning of a passage, for example, should be understood literally or allegorically.  In some parts of the Islamic world, a rationalistic understanding of Muslim spirituality emerged, but in others we find a violent and powerful rejection against any role for reason in understanding the Islamic faith.  While some, like Averroes, argued that faith and reason should be employed to gain a full understanding of Islamic thought, staunch religious leaders argued that since the Koran came directly from Allah via the archangel Gabriel it was perfect in every respect, contained all the principles of interpretation, and that it was human folly to think otherwise. The view developed that using reason to understand the Koran was counterproductive and that only trained religious scholars could comment on its proper meaning.

In Christian circles, the Platonic tradition was predominant in Augustine, Boethius, and Eriugena until late in the first millennium when discoveries of long-forgotten manuscripts in Greek monasteries and translations from Arabic sources in the Iberian peninsula began to expand knowledge of Aristotle’s thought for the Latin Christian west. Newly available Aristotelian works on metaphysics, politics, ethics, rhetoric, the cosmos, and the soul demonstrated a wealth of philosophic understanding that had not been available to Tertullian and the early Church fathers. With great insight and erudition, Thomas Aquinas undertook the task of evaluating how and whether Aristotle’s conclusions –based on reason alone without the advantage of revelation—were consistent with Christian thought. Aquinas’ master work the Summa Theologiae is heralded as the great synthesis of classical and Christian thought showing that the truths of faith and the truths of natural reason are never opposed and that while arrived at differently are complementary and mutually supportive.

For example, the Biblical account of the origin of the cosmos teaches that the eternal God created the world bringing it to be out of love and a benevolent intention.  This truth conveyed by scriptural tradition shows that the world had a beginning in time and that it came to be by a creative act.  In a similar way, Aristotle had maintained that by understanding how the things of the physical universal are contingent beings–things that do not have to exist, but which in fact do exist—their reality and actual existence can only be possible because they are brought into being by a necessarily existing being.  Hence he argued that reason teaches that there must exist a first cause or prime mover which alone can explain the factual existence of material universe, ourselves, and all therein.  In this way, what the believer accepts on the basis of faith in the testimony of scripture is also confirmed through reasoning powers of the human intellect.

In his work the Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas undertakes to show how natural reason supports the truths of the Christian faith, pointing out that arguments based on faith in the authority of Christ are rejected by believers from other faiths who do not accept the testimony of the scriptures.  He goes on to show that natural reason is a great ally of the faith showing that its conclusions and insights are not irrational or nonsensical.  Rather they support faith positions concerning the existence of God, the importance of virtue, and the elements of a happy life—not only because they are based on the teachings of Christ, but also because they are based on the intellectually luminous insights of logical thinking.  From this, we reach the great insight of the Scholastic tradition that faith and reason are compatible and never in opposition.  The believer can be re-assured that the articles of faith are never irrational or absurd, that they make sense, and that if the Church counsels them as worthy of belief, we can be confident that they affirmed both by the testimony of tradition and by right reason.

So to Tertullian’s question: What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? We see that the answer is everything.  Philosophical reasoning supports and deepens our understanding of the true faith.  It clarifies the errors and misconceptions of those attacking Christian tradition and demonstrates that we enjoy an enlightened understanding of our place in the universe. True philosophy undermines the erroneous contentions of materialism and the mistaken claims of evolutionary theories which posit the impossible development of life from the un-living or the personal from the impersonal. Similarly, it demonstrates that certain knowledge can be achieved not only in mathematics and logic but also with regard to ethics and metaphysics, 

These considerations led John-Paul II to remind the world of the importance of philosophy in his encyclical Fides et Ratio where he argues that faith and reason are like the two wings of a dove allowing it to take flight. Just as faith prevents philosophy from becoming self consumed (as Tertullian pointed out about some ancient traditions), so too does philosophy keep faith from devolving into superstition and fideism (the contention that faith alone teaches what is true). Regrettably, John-Paul wrote, the world has become overcome with self-absorption and relativistic theories which distort and undermine the inspiring truths of the faith. What is needed, he explains, is a renewed respect for philosophy as an autonomous science and an understanding of the genuine truths of metaphysics. 

Ideas Have Consequences

In Remembrance of Dr. James Patrick

Remembered thoughts and ideas…

  1. Ideas have consequences
  2. Saving Western Civilization
  3. Reality has a form.
  4. We must always respect the forms of things.
  5. Renewal of the Common Tradition
  6. They argue “Everything is itself and everything else” or simply “Everything is everything else.”
  7. Sex and violence are the best things on TV.
  8. Nepotism is the second highest principle.
  9. One should always remember that …
  10. Row!
  11. A father who beats you is preferable to one who is absent.

Quotes from Richard Weavers Ideas have Consequences for discussion

  1. “This is another book about the dissolution of the West.”
  2. Two themes “It is here the assumption that the world is intelligible and that man is free and that those consequences we are now expiating are the product not of biological or other necessity but of unintelligent choice.” And Weaver’s “belief that man should not follow a scientific analysis with a plea of moral impotence.”
  3. The process is complicated by the “Whig theory of history, with its belief that the most advanced point in time represents the point of highest development, aided no doubt by theories of evolution.”
  4. “It is the appalling problem, when one comes to actual cases, of getting men to distinguish between better and worse. Are people today provided with a sufficiently rational scale of values to attach these predicates with intelligence?”
  5. “There is ground for declaring that modern man has become a moral idiot. So few are those who care to examine their lives, or to accept the rebuke which comes of admitting that our present state may be a fallen state, that one questions whether people now understand what is meant by the superiority of an ideal.”
  6. “Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals.”
  7. Ideas have consequences. For Weaver the dire state of modernity began with the advent of nominalism. “It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.”
  8. Nominalism gave rise to empiricism and “fact” denying that there are forms in things, essential natures, and valid distinctions—between good and evil, natural and supernatural, man and nature—resulting in the ‘…abandonment of the doctrine of original sin. If physical nature is the totality and if man is of nature, it is impossible to think of him as suffering from constitutional evil; his defections must now be attributed to his simple ignorance or to some kind of social deprivation. One comes thus by clear deduction to the corollary of the natural goodness of man.”
  9. The result was the view that “…it was proper that [man] should regard as his highest intellectual vocation methods of interpreting data supplied by the senses… Thus it is not the mysterious fact of the world’s existence which interests the new man but explanations of how the world works. This is the rational basis for modern science, whose systemization of phenomena is, as Bacon declared in the New Atlantis, a means to dominion.”
  10. Ideas have Consequences “Materialism loomed next on the horizon… With the human being thus firmly ensconced in nature, it at once became necessary to question the fundamental character of his motivation. Biological necessity, issuing in the survival of the fittest, was offered as the causa causans, after the important question of human origin had been decided in favor of scientific materialism.”
  11. Next came economic determinism. “The social philosophers of the nineteenth century found in Darwin powerful support for their thesis that human beings act always out of economic incentives, and it was they who completed the abolishment of freedom of the will. The great pageant of history thus became reducible to the economic endeavors of individuals and classes; and elaborate prognoses were constructed on the theory of economic conflict and resolution. Man created in the divine image, the protagonist of a great drama in which his soul was at stake, was replaced by man the wealth-seeking and-consuming animal.”
  12. “Finally came psychological behaviorism, which denied not only freedom of the will but even such elementary means of direction as instinct.”
  13. “[Man] is in the deep and dark abyss, and he has nothing with which to raise himself. His life is practice without theory. As problems crowd upon him, he deepens confusion by meeting them with ad hoc policies. Secretly he hungers for truth…”
  14. “This story is eloquently reflected in changes that have come over education. The shift from the truth of the intellect to the facts of experience followed hard upon the meeting with the witches… Logic became grammaticized, passing from a science which taught men [to speak truly] ui to one which taught to speak correctly] or from an ontological division by categories to a study of signification, with the inevitable focus upon historical meanings. Here begins the assault upon definition: if words no longer correspond to objective realities, it seems no great wrong to take liberties with words.”
  15. Thus “modern man has about squandered his estate.”
  16. And “…in the face of the enormous brutality of our age we seem unable to make appropriate response to perversions of truth and acts of bestiality.”
  17. Hope “Hope of restoration depends upon recovery of the “ceremony of innocence,” of that clearness of vision and knowledge of form which enable us to sense what is alien or destructive, what does not comport with our moral ambition.”
  18. But “We must consider that we are in effect asking for a confession of guilt and an acceptance of sterner obligation; we are making demands in the name of the ideal or the suprapersonal, and we cannot expect a more cordial welcome than disturbers of complacency have received in any other age,”
  19. “I shall adhere to the classic proposition that there is no knowledge at the level of sensation, that therefore knowledge is of universals, and that whatever we know as a truth enables us to predict.”
  20. “In the final reach of analysis our problem is how to recover that intellectual integrity which enables men to perceive the order of goods.”

Recovering the Metaphysical ideal

  1. In the Chapter entitled “The Last Metaphysical Right,” Weaver begins by explaining that “The remaining chapters therefore present means of restoration” and “I have endeavored to make plain in every way that I regard all the evils in our now extensive catalogue as flowing from a falsified picture of the world which, for our immediate concern, results in an inability to interpret current happenings.”
  2. But he warns “nothing substantial can be done until we have brought sinners to repentance,,, Once man has regained sufficient humility to confess that ideals have been dishonored and that his condition is a reproach, one obstruction has been removed.”
  3. What is necessary is “…the underpinning of metaphysic.”
  4. For Weaver the principle conclusions of metaphysics have been vanquished—all that is, except the principle of private property which he sees as the “the last metaphysical right remaining to us, The ordinances of religion, the prerogatives of sex and of vocation, all have been swept away by materialism, but the relationship of a man to his own has until the present largely escaped attack.  ? In seeking protection against an otherwise omnipotent state, the opposition must now fall back upon the metaphysical right of private property.”
  5. “Private right defending noble preference is what we wish to make possible by insisting that not all shall be dependents of the state.”
  6. It is important to note that private property alone can reform education. This is because “Nothing is more certain than that whatever has to court public favor for its support will sooner or later be prostituted to utilitarian ends. The educational institutions of the United States afford a striking demonstration of this truth. Virtually without exception, liberal education, that is to say, education centered about ideas and ideals, has fared best in those institutions which draw their income from private sources. They have been able, despite limitations which donors have sought to lay upon them, to insist that education be not entirely a means of breadwinning. This means that they have been relatively free to promote pure knowledge and the training of the mind; they have afforded a last stand for “antisocial” studies like Latin and Greek.”
  7. Excellent analysis of public education. “In state institutions, always at the mercy of elected bodies and of the public generally, and under obligation to show practical fruits for their expenditure of money, the movement toward specialism and vocationalism has been irresistible. They have never been able to say that they will do what they will with their own because their own is not private. It seems fair to say that the opposite of the private is the prostitute.”
  8. “It is, on the contrary, important to keep substance in life, for a man’s character emerges in the building and ordering of his house; it does not emerge in complaisance with state arrangement, and it is likely to be totally effaced by communistic organization. Substance has a part in bringing out that distinction which we have admitted to be good; it is somehow instrumental in man’s probation.”
  9. “And, underlying all, there is for us in this critical battle against chaos the concept of inviolable right. We prize this instance because it is the opening for other transcendental conceptions. So long as there is a single breach in monism or pragmatism, the cause of values is not lost …Therefore one inviolable right there must be to validate all other rights.”
  10. “We are looking for a place where a successful stand may be made for the logos against modern barbarism.”