Preview (first part) of a paper to be delivered at the Christopher Dawson Society Colloquium on the 29th July in Hobart, Tasmania.
The notion that creation reflects the order of God in different ways is a recurring theme in Christian thought. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Bonaventure and Aquinas, for example, all subscribe to some version of the classical worldview. According to that view, the universe reflects the mind of God insofar as it is a cosmos—a harmoniously ordered whole. The literary origin of the classical worldview in the Greek world is Plato’s Timaeus. In that narrative, the demiurge or divine artist works upon already existing matter, fashioning it in accordance with the eternal forms. Aristotle’s cosmology has a different emphasis. The origin of all motion and activity in the universe is the supreme perfection of the unmoved mover. The god, being most perfect, is engaged in the most perfect activity—divine theoria or contemplation. But nothing is fit to be thought by the god except the god himself. Therefore, reasons Aristotle, the unmoved mover is pure thought thinking itself. The divine mind is pure actuality, and for this reason everything in the universe is centred on it. All motion whatsoever is caused by the attractiveness of the divine perfection, the “lure” of pure thought thinking itself. Everything revolves around this supreme Good in a harmonious system of concentric spheres. As for the Stoics, they emphasise the immanence of the divine mind, and the organic unity of the cosmos. The Logos or divine wisdom is intimately at work in all things, gathering everything into an ordered whole or cosmos, just as the soul’s intimate presence throughout the material parts unites the body.
I’m not sure whether I’m married anymore, Joseph.
What do you mean, Phillip? Have you separated from Clare?
No. We do have our moments, but we are committed to each other. We were married in the Catholic Church. We believe marriage is a sacrament and that it cannot be dissolved.
So you are still married. What’s the problem then?
We are certainly married in the eyes of the Church. And we are married in a “natural” sense too. I mean: even if we didn’t marry in the Church, there would still be an objective union between us on account of the solemn promise that we made to each other before witnesses. What I’m not sure about is whether we are still married in the eyes of the law. I mean Australian law.
You’re being hysterical, Phil. When the legal definition of marriage was changed last year, that simply allowed another “type” of couple to get married. Same-sex couples now have the option of having their marital vows recognised under Australian law. Changing the definition of marriage didn’t annul any of the marriages that were already recognised in Australia before the change. If you didn’t get a divorce under secular law, then you are still married under secular law.
Previously (in Part 2) I claimed that
T1: Whatever the Spirit loves, it loves on account of loving itself.
Now another way of putting this is to say that
T2: Whatever the Spirit loves is taken up into the circular dialectic of the Spirit—into the Spirit’s life of self-love, its movement of self-return.
Some readers might worry that this sounds too much like Hegel already. There are numerous anti-Hegelian objections to T2; here I will mention only three:
(1) No dialectical movement of Spirit could possibly accommodate genuine difference and otherness.
(2) If God relates to things in the world dialectically, then God is neither sovereign nor self-sufficient—God needs to relate to things in the world in order to be fully God.
(3) If God relates to things in the world dialectically, then everything that happens in the history of the world happens by necessity.
In order to address these objections I will need to explain the meaning of “dialectic”.
Before I continue, I should point out that these reflections are unplanned philosophical explorations and “improvisations”. While I do proceed with a certain goal in mind, I cannot predict exactly which terrain I will end up covering and how long it will take to reach a satisfactory end-point. I raise a question, which leads me to another question (and so on), and in order to answer each question I often have to explore new ground. This means that I will sometimes lead the reader on a convoluted path. I hope the reader will bear with me. I will eventually circle back to address the questions raised earlier. I am working out, in real time, how to get from A to B. I am in the position of a hiker who is convinced it is possible to reach and scale a mountain which he already sees in the distance. But there is no neatly defined path, and the hiker often has to cut his way through wild flora.
In this post I offer some comments about philosophy and method in the light of this predicament. I argue that philosophy is closer to art than science. I draw heavily on the work of Martin Heidegger (various works) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (Truth and Method). I should also acknowledge the influence of Dietrich von Hildebrand, David S. Schindler, Hans Urs von Balthasar and John Milbank.
In the previous post I claimed that moral realism could only be true if there is a spiritual dimension which informs and determines reality as a whole. The idea that I was trying to convey can be communicated more clearly as follows. To be sensitive to (true) moral principles is to inhabit a spiritual “field” which orients us morally. This universal “field” or orienting principle repels us away from murder and indeed from anything that is evil; conversely, it lures us toward what is good. I went further than this though, and claimed that this field/principle is universal Spirit, and therefore universal Subject—something which cares how things go, something which evaluates, something with preferences. The Spirit has a consistent pattern of loving or willing. There are certain things which the Spirit delights in and approves of; there are other things which the Spirit recoils from and even condemns. Whatever is in the first category is good; whatever is in the second category is evil (I will return to this point).
Moral realism is the view that moral statements are true or false in relation to how things are in reality. Let us grant that “murder is wrong” is a true statement. For the moral realist, this statement is true just because it corresponds to an objective moral fact. Somewhere in the totality of reality there is some objective state-of-affairs S to which this statement corresponds, where S obtains independently of any human response to things (hence the “objectivity” of the moral fact). Even if every human being were totally amoral in his approach to other human beings—even if no human person ever felt (or knew) personally any moral repugnance toward the idea of killing someone else just for personal gain—it would still be the case that murder is wrong. Murder would still be illicit—it would still be something that, simply speaking, should not be done—even if all human beings were completely ignorant or insensitive in respect to this illicitness. For the illicitness of murder is somehow inscribed in reality; it does not depend on human evaluation or social convention. Human evaluation and social convention are “true” (says the moral realist) to the extent that they recognise this ontologically-grounded standard (that murder should not be done).
Is it possible for a human person to be truly happy? If so, under what conditions? One response is to say that we are happy to the extent that we are free in a “liberal” sense. To be happy is to be enabled internally (e.g., psychologically) and liberated externally (e.g., politically and economically) to do what we want—to pursue and attain whatever we happen to desire, to express and realise our preferences whatever they might be, to live our lives however we might want. More precisely, liberalism, as I understand the term, states that such freedom is a necessary condition for attaining happiness, while the attainment of what we desire—the realisation of our preferences, the actualisation of our preferred “lifestyle”—is that in which our happiness consists (or would consist). This is a “formalistic” understanding of happiness, in that no common rule or measure of happiness is admitted apart from the satisfaction of one’s desires, whatever those desires might be. If reality suits my will—if the facts of my life or situation match up with the “shape” of my desire—then I am happy. There is no need to adapt my desire or conform my will to some ideal measure or objective rule which stands over-against me: divine law, natural law, the order of being, or an objective hierarchy of values.
In response to those dangerous extremists who believe that a woman’s testimony against a man is ipso facto an unquestionable first principle in ethics; to the irrational mob who would stampede over the presumption of innocence, due procedure and the rule of law; to those rabid revolutionaries who would gladly dehumanise a man on the basis of his gender, political persuasion, “privilege” or class, and then destroy him – the logical outcome of which attitude is the return of the guillotine for conservatives (I would not be surprised if this is their unspoken fantasy) – and finally, to all those “intellectuals”, such as Martha Nussbaum, who in their desire for recognition by other chattering academics have steeped so low as to come to the defence of these mobsters: these words are for you.
Dr Brendan Triffett
© Brendan Triffett 2018-2019
All rights reserved.
St Michael the Archangel, defend us.
All rights reserved.
St Michael the Archangel, defend us.