The Postmodernist Pope

When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything like a nail. The particular hammer I am wielding these days is that of postmodernism, while I prepare to write an article on rather surprising use of G. K. Chesterton within some postmodernist authors. Now, postmodern writing is deliberate designed to give the reader a headache, so it is with a sense of relief that I took a break to read the Pope’s latest encyclical, Spe Salvi. I was astounded to find the major elements of the postmodern critique of modernism were incorporated into this remarkable encyclical.

The postmodernists critique modernism, and especially Liberal Capitalism, on the grounds of modernism’s radical individualism and naïve notions of “objective” and “scientific” truth. The postmodernists insist on regarding the individual in his social setting, and they make language and culture the primary means for understanding humans. In other words, they make relationships the key to humanity. However, postmodernism has a real problem, in that it secretly accepts back that which it purports to reject; having rejected Enlightenment notions of truth, received from Bacon and Descartes and Hume, it then regards these as the only possible notions of truth and so ends rejecting truth itself. Therefore, its critique has nowhere to go except to nihilism or relativism. The postmodernist critique of the Enlightenment is very good, but lacking a clear alternative, it is a dead end. Indeed, the postmodernists attempt a critique of capitalism on the grounds of justice, but having relativized truth, such a critique must fail. As a practical matter, post-modernism ends up as hyper-modernism (for a description of how this works in practice, see Battling the Swooshtika). However, Christian thinkers can, and have, appropriated elements of the postmodernism into their thought because they have a more secure and older notion of truth, one that is not vulnerable to either the modernist or postmodernist attack. The Radical Orthodoxy movement especially has appropriated postmodernism to the advantage of the Church.

But then, no one is more radically orthodox than this Pope, and in this encyclical he shows that his orthodoxy—and the Church’s—is more than a match for both modernism and postmodernism. He is able to turn the best within each to the advantage of the Church and the believer. However, his critique is not solely directed outward; he uses the postmodernist language to critique a Christianity based solely on an individualistic and purely private notion of salvation; in other words, his critique is also a self-critique. Pope Benedict will not allow us to abandon the world to its own devices, while we sit by in splendid isolation. No, the Pope rejects the notion of the “‘salvation of the soul’ as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and …[a] project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others.”

While this community-oriented vision of the “blessed life” is certainly directed beyond the present world, as such it also has to do with the building up of this world—in very different ways, according to the historical context and the possibilities offered or excluded thereby.

The Pope begins this meditation by taking up one of the key postmodernist themes, that of language as primarily performative rather than merely informative, and this is especially true of the language of the gospels. What this means for Benedict is that:

The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.

What unites the informative and performative elements of the Gospels is the virtue of hope. Benedict here enters an argument that has raged since the Reformation over the proper understanding of Hebrews 5:1, “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen.” What does the term hypostasis mean here? In the ancient Church, it was translated as substancia, “substance,” something that actually existed. But beginning with Luther, it was translated by “assurance.” In other words, hope was demoted from the substantial order to the merely psychological. (Cf. my article, Lost in Translation: Hope and Hypostasis in Hebrews) For the Pope, hope is substantial, and this makes all the difference in the world:

Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.

The Pope goes on to demonstrate the shortcomings of the Enlightenment notions of progress and rationalism. Without Christian hope—and the God who is the substance of that hope—progress and rationalism become barbarism and irrationality. The modern world has sought its freedom by cutting itself off from the very source of freedom.

What this means is that every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs; this task is never simply completed. Yet every generation must also make its own contribution to establishing convincing structures of freedom and of good, which can help the following generation as a guideline for the proper use of human freedom; hence, always within human limits, they provide a certain guarantee also for the future. In other words: good structures help, but of themselves they are not enough. Man can never be redeemed simply from outside. Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it. On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that modern Christianity, faced with the successes of science in progressively structuring the world, has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation. In so doing it has limited the horizon of its hope and has failed to recognize sufficiently the greatness of its task—even if it has continued to achieve great things in the formation of man and in care for the weak and the suffering.

The Pope also addresses, under the aspect of hope, the themes of the last judgment and the end of man, and he does so in a way that unites justice and grace with the judgment, which is shown to be the judgment of love—all consuming and purifying love:

The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgment and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

There is much, much more here, and I can barely scratch the surface. This encyclical is but a day old. But I am convinced that it is an encyclical for the ages, one of those that will be read in generation after generation. It is an encyclical that not only addresses the Christian, but reaches out to those who, although they are concerned with justice, have held back from the faith, often because they found it too unfaithful to its own sources and too disdainful of the world. To these, the Pope says, “come home.”


dave Friday, December 14, 2007 at 1:39:00 AM CST  

When the only tool Pope Benedict has is Aristotelian logic, he inevitably treats processes as things and time as a property absent from truth. Thus Benedict has judged the Christian Bacon not by his actions, words and motives but by his (Benedict's) own Aristotelian understanding (in a Cartesian rationalist culture) of how other people with perversely different motives and understanding (notably the rationalising atheist Hume) have interpreted them in practice. Bacon took God's love and creation for granted; it was Hume who argued we couldn't and didn't need to know if it existed.

On the other hand, this article has led me a much clearer understanding of postmodernism and the subtlety of Benedict's reference to hypostasis.

On the former, I can now see the connection between the interpretation of information depending on the programming of the receiver decoding it, and the post-modernist's context-relative interpretation of words. What this overlooks is the grammatical significance of words and the shared convention of their use to indicate normal distributions of "meanings in practice" across diverse contexts.

On the latter, while I can now see Benedict's argument as a good stab at expressing the truth given the tools at his disposal, the point of it might be better conveyed by the analogy of "assuring" ourselves of the future outcome of a computer program by "proving" the already-existing program. However, without reference, it seems to be stretching the truth to take the interpretation of 'hypostasis' as "assurance" as far back as Luther. Likewise, John, you give the impression of interpreting "substance" in the modern fashion. My reading Aristotle is that he is talking about what we would call meaning, as in "the substance of what he said was ...". The meaning of the three persons of the Trinity is indeed the same: with the clue of one of them being "the Word", they are like the same meaning in the three different languages of existence, symbol and action.

Anonymous,  Thursday, March 6, 2008 at 8:33:00 AM CST  

I'm a couple months late, but here are a few comments.

“Process as things”:

Taking processes as having ontological primacy over “things” as typically understood (rocks, eggs, fish sandwiches and the like) is not a position that is associated with Aristotle (or Descartes); Heraclites perhaps; Leibniz and Whitehead certainly; Maybe even Plato; But not Aristotle, St. Thomas, or the generally tradition of the scholastics. Aristotle is careful to distinguish between the efficient cause (which describes a process in time) and the thing on which that cause acts (i.e. "things").

“Time as absent from truth”:

Now that most certainly is something that Aristotle maintained. In fact, I think it needs argument to show that the statement “Truth is time independent” is not a tautology, let alone that it is false. Unless I’ve left out some case of history, it is not until postmodernists associated with relativism and nihilism (both overly loaded “-isms”, I know) that anyone starts seriously advocating that Time was present in Truth. Even now, it is not a well represented position in the literature of either the analytic of continental traditions. But I would be eager to hear what argument you have for suggesting it.

"Likewise, John, you give the impression of interpreting "substance" in the modern fashion. My reading Aristotle is that he is talking about what we would call meaning, as in "the substance of what he said was ...". "

Perhaps Aristotle deserves your rereading. A substance in Aristotle is quite technical: it is that to which a predicate can adhere. It is “neither in a subject, nor said of a subject” (categories); it is the primary sense of ‘Being’ (metaphysics). Substance for Aristotle is a “thing”, it is “stuff” – both concrete stuff (like a rock) and abstract stuff (like Hope). With respect, might I suggest that your judgment on “Aristotelian Logic” and its limitations as an analytic tool is perhaps premature.

dave Friday, March 7, 2008 at 4:03:00 AM CST  


You end up by suggesting my judgement on Aristotelian logic may be “premature”, implying that it is right but needs putting better. I am very happy to agree! Until other people with different points of view become willing to entertain the possibility that I might be right, I am unlikely to find better arguments than those I have accumulated over more than half a century of Catholic [Newman/ Chesterton rooted] philosophical and scientific physio-logical studies. The more I know of Aristotle the more I admire him [or his school?], but the fact remains that, as a result of the development of instruments (including mathematical techniques) to aid and correct the evidence of our senses, we can now explain what he could only see happening. At one level that left him seeing the sun traversing the skies rather than being orbited by the earth; at another level he was able to show us how to reason correctly but not how to go about correcting misinterpretations and our inevitable miscalculations. No-one had explicitly articulated how to do that until 1948, although the time-dependent outcome was anticipated in navigation, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and indeed the everyday process of learning from our mistakes AFTER we have made them and realised that they ARE mistakes. Anachronism is one such.

Agreed also Aristotle et al didn’t assume processes had ontological primacy: they took things as given, not explaining exactly HOW God caused them to come into being. Perhaps I’m still the only person who has! However, if (as atomic theory and cosmological evidence suggest) the universe of things evolved from a Big Bang broadcasting God’s pre-material energy, then the explanation Chesterton inconsistently disliked and Whitehead failed to provide seems to be that energy can only be localised to form a thing by being attracted to itself (there being as yet nothing else), on the analogy of ocean spray or (as Chesterton put it) “a snake swallowing its own tail”. God surely made ALL things good, GKC; given this model I am sure Aristotle would agree his ‘substance’ ultimately refers to God’s energy.

I didn’t say “time was absent from truth”, my point being it was considered as a PROPERTY which could be present or absent. Many years ago an elderly priest, Fr Byrne, opposed my then simplistic understanding with what he described as a “medieval” definition of truth: “an adequate representation of the facts for the purpose in question”. What is adequate initially may cease to be as its purpose nears realisation; images may physically distort and symbols be interpreted as having different meanings in different [including historically different] contexts. The criterion ‘true’ is a convention; the issue is not whether it is itself unchanging, but rather whether a formulation of it which does not require us to take account of the possibility of changes over time can possibly be adequate

My own argument, then, goes right back to exactly what ‘true’ means in Aristotle’s logic. As regards conclusions it is conditional: IF the premises [interpreted as membership of an unambiguously defined species, set or class] are true then so is the conclusion. That is to say, not that the conclusion IS true but that the LOGIC is; if a premise is false, the same will be true of the conclusion. Formally, then, a correct formulation of Aristotle’s logic is indeed always (or timelessly) true. However, Shannon’s automation of it in 1938 showed that in practice (as in our brains) logic involves a communication system, which can itself go wrong and within which “noise” can in time corrupt the signals transmitted and hence the interpretation placed on them. Shannon’s error-correcting logic of 1948 used (or if necessary added) logically unnecessary information (like check digits enabling errors to be detected) and (by an additional negative feedback process effectively going back in time) correcting the data before it reaches its destination. Interpreting what actually happens in computer hardware using Shannon’s error correction logic, my conclusion is that the appropriate criterion is complex, i.e. two-dimensional like Chesterton’s cross-roads: ‘true’ stands for “computes true, with no errors detected”. Time here, though not directly stated, is implicit in the processes of computation and error-detection; it is “part of the logic” and only thereby predicated of the premises.

My criticism is certainly not of Aristotle, nor even (apart from his second-hand criticism of Bacon) of an aged Pope Benedict who has probably never even heard of Shannon. It is of academic philosophers and social scientists, teachers of politicians and governors, who have failed to grasp the educational, philosophical and methodological import of Shannon’s practical logic and communication theory, despite their attention being drawn to it in Warren Weaver’s introduction and despite the obvious significance of the marvels of information technology. (In the Wikipedia entry for "Shannon-Weaver Model", at ref 3 click "The Mathematical Theory of Communication"; see also the Amazon reviews of this book). You say it yourself: “Even now, [temporal logic] is not a well represented position in the literature of either the analytic or continental traditions”; in fact Hume’s Fork/Law, Russell’s Paradox, Gödel’s Theorem and Turing’s Halting Problem are still seen as limiting rationality rather than as challenges - despite Shannon’s complementary logics and consideration of temporal order enabling us to overcome them [in ways foreshadowed by Chesterton and reminiscent of Catholic pastoral practice]. Too much to explain right now, but do look up and think about the problems before asking me how.

As to what all this has to do with practical Distributism, the basic understandings of logic, morality, personality, communication and the reality that a disastrous form of political economics is being perpetuated by our accepting and recycling misleading information, have everything to do with it.


Jesse Saturday, March 8, 2008 at 4:10:00 PM CST  


A rich and interesting reply. There is much I want to say.

“The more I know of Aristotle the more I admire him [or his school?], but the fact remains that, as a result of the development of instruments (including mathematical techniques) to aid and correct the evidence of our senses, we can now explain what he could only see happening.”

I must, of course, agree. But I’m not sure if it is fair to extend this to say that Aristotle did not address how to deal with and correct for misinterpretations and miscalculations. I think he has a very cogent philosophy of science, including a clear method for identifying and correcting errors. I think an excellent example of this in history is the case of Galileo. Though a founder of the New Science and a contemporary of Bacon, Galileo was nevertheless a staunch Aristotelian in his method. Now Aristotle made a big mistake in his analysis of physical mechanics: he thought that heavier object fall faster then lighter ones. But he correctly identified that if a slow moving object was attached to a faster one, the former would drag the latter down to a slower speed – although we didn’t get a precise mathematical description until Leibniz/Newton. Galileo submitted the following argument to prove that Aristotle was wrong: Suppose you have a heavy object and a light object and you attach the two together. By the first Aristotelian claim, the single object that results from the attachment would be heavier than either of the component and thus fall faster; but by the second claim, the light object should slow down the heavier one if attached and thus the combined object should be slower. A straightforward contradiction and a classic Aristotelian argument.

Now Aristotle was a very firm empiricist. He says that once you identify such a contradiction you know that at least one the premises is false; go make empirical observations to see which one. And that’s just what Galileo did. And of course he found, though careful study of balls rolling on inclined planes, that object fall at the same accelerated rate regardless of weight – and calculated just what that acceleration was.

New as a matter of psychology, the so called inductive method of Bacon/Newton just isn’t true, and virtually any scientist or philosopher of science will tell you this. The position that we “start with the fact”, free from hypothesis or preconceived judgments, analyze them carefully, and then draw straight inductive conclusion is called naïve empiricism. Newton’s famous quote, “Hypothesis non fingo”, just isn’t how science is done – it isn’t even how he did science as we can tell from his notebooks. You start first with a creative hypothesis before ever going to the “facts”. The reason you go to the facts is to examine the hypothesis in terms of the necessary and sufficient conditions logically required for its truth. If the hypothesis is falsified by the facts, you take what you’re learned, and “hypothesis a higher hypothesis”. If you’re familiar with Plato at all, this should sound familiar: it’s the Socratic Method. Aristotle takes it for granted in his philosophy of science.

That’s a very specific example of how Aristotelian science goes about identifying and correcting mistakes in his philosophy of science.

On to processes. No one would deny that modern science has furnished us with more knowledge about mechanical (which is to say, Efficient) causation then Aristotle could have imagined. But I put it to you that modern science could stand to learn a lot from Aristotelian Physics, particularly in the arena of Material, Formal and Final causation. For instance, it quite common to confuse substance with material and assume that form is a temporary geometrical arrangement of the material. This tends to lead to reductive materialism – which, I submit, is quite false. Aristotle’s analysis in terms of categories of being, and hierarchical substances clarifies the meaning of “Emergence”.

I find it interesting, for instance, that at the very moment when the new science “overthrow” Aristotle’s teleology, it also gave a resounding proof of teleology. This will be a bit polemical, but I am referring to laws of inertia, momentum and universal gravitation. For Aristotle, the telos of a thing was its characteristic activity; the “movement”, in his special sense of that word, which a thing tended towards, but which is separate and unpredicted by that things material, efficient or formal cause. An example he used was that of a rock, which represented an object with minimal form and maximal material: rocks “want” to go towards the center of the cosmos (i.e. towards the ground). Now Newton, much to his own chagrin, proved that gravitational attraction does not have an efficient mechanism; things simply tended to attract one another rather inexplicably. Einstein makes the phenomena a little more explicable, but only further solidifies the fact that the tendency of material things requires additional principles (space-time curvature resulting from mass and the like) connected with, but not embedded in or predicted by the things themselves – which is precisely what a teleological cause is suppose to be. The hasty rejection of Aristotelian system by Bacon, in my option, was a major setback for science from which we have only recently begun to recover.

Well enough of that. On Truth and time: I apologize for misquoting you; it did so because I am hesitant to call Time a property in any technical sense, and so I imagined you were using the word casually. At any rate, you have clarified your position to me significantly. And it is one that is in fact represented in the literature, usually called contextualism. You have expressed the position well, but while I understand it, and where it is coming from, it is a position that I hardily disagree with. And since we are both in agreement that these sorts of questions are deeply relevant to practical distributism, even if they seem conceptually quite removed, I will explain to you just why I disagree with contextualism.

There are some things we know certainly, unequivocally and objectively to be true. Let me give you an example. I am typing on a keyboard. There, that is a certain and unequivocal piece of knowledge. But wait, you say, there are any number of objections I could put to you about why that might not be certain: perhaps you are sleeping, perhaps your senses fail you, perhaps that’s a gross simplification or misinterpretation of the data your senses are providing. But as G.E. Moore made clear, it is not necessary for me to address any such skeptical possibility in order to know that I’m typing on a keyboard – or many other facts that I intuit directly – because on the one hand, the arguments “cuts both ways” as it were. In my philosophy department we used to say, “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens”. Geeky, I know. But it’s true. And on the other hand, these sorts of intuitions we know better than we could possibly know the premises of any argument to the contrary. It is called, in the literature, a Moorean Fact, and it seems to me devastating to any epistemic position other then common-sense direct intuitive realism, including contextualism. That isn’t to say that context is irrelevant, but only that truth is the sort of thing which is definite and knowable independently of context.

There is a lot more to be said about your comment, but this is a start anyway.

Thanks for the reply. Cheers.


Unknown Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 8:41:00 AM CDT  

the Pope rejects the notion of the “‘salvation of the soul’ as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and …[a] project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others.”

While this community-oriented vision of the “blessed life” is certainly directed beyond the present world, as such it also has to do with the building up of this world—in very different ways, according to the historical context and the possibilities offered or excluded thereby."

One would like to remind Benedict that, as William Law said, The entirety of religion is the birth of Christ in the soul; and Boehme: "If Christ is not born in thy heart's core/Then thou art lost forevermore" -- quoting from memory. The point is that, finaly, no one can save anyone except himself and that, if he will have an effect on someone else's salvation, it will only be by virtue of his own salvation: nemo dat quod non habet. Or as Christ said: Seek ye *first* the kingdom of heaven. And -- one more from memory -- St. John of the Cross on those who try to save things before they are ready: sometimes they achieve a little more than nothing; sometimes they achieve nothing; sometimes they achieve less than nothing. In the final analysis, it is only the mystic, or the individual to the extent that he is a mystic, who accomplishes anything of lasting value.
The Pope begins this med

Dave,  Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 5:29:00 PM CDT  

For some reason "Resume" has brought my attention to his comment on Pope Benedict's new encyclical in the context of John Medaille's comments on a previous one. Was he, then, actually criticising my position rather than Benedict's, or Benedict's because he thought that was agreeing with mine? Or Jesse's previous misrepresentation of that, which I hadn't answered? In any case, he puts me in a difficult position, as I have felt a need to study and reflect on Benedict's somewhat Delphic letter before committing myself to any critique of it. Let me first respond to Jesse, then, before addressing his own apparently non-catholic comment (which is not far off outright denial of a doctrine of the "communion of saints" implied in 1 Cor 12 and stated in the Apostle's Creed).

Jesse, the point about Aristotle's (and hence in perverse ways Hume's and Moore's) method of dealing with error is that they take things as they are, whereas Bacon (whose physician was William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood) realised the need to take things apart to be able to see how they worked inside (or failed to and hence differed; so - notably - we are not all Humean "economic men"). The point of Bacon's "new" science (an epithet which by now should be referring to information science) was in any case undermined by Hume's premature denial of the possibility of communication and a physiological basis of psychology. Thus, when you say "Now as a matter of psychology, the so called inductive method of Bacon/Newton just isn’t true, and virtually any scientist or philosopher of science will tell you this", you are falling –like the vast majority of philosophers – straight into the modernist Humean trap. This can be evaded only by taking communication apart "to see how it works" and discovering thereby the embodiment of information, logic and purpose in a computer program. Having done that myself, I agree you have been typing on the keyboard, but not merely because that was stating the obvious. I agree because Chesterton and communications science have shown how it can have become obvious that the context of what you are saying (what you are seeing) is (contra Hume) a keyboard rather than merely your own perception; why "no man is an island" and isolating anything creates a context.

So is Resume right to deny the Communion of Saints? Surely, if we are parts of the Mystical Body of Christ, we may be like nerves unconsciously communicating information to other – to us unknown - parts of the body? Perhaps that (rather than a Humean psychological state) is what Resume has in mind when he talks about "mystics"? I myself have in mind St Paul saying he would willingly go to hell if it would save others. But what is this "soul" in the John Law quote? If it is information represented by the physical state of our living body then God (who promises resurrection of the body) will know all about it even when we are dead. Do we need, then, to believe in the Cartesian notion that it – rather than God-given energy – is the something IN US which "causes" the motion of our bodies? If not, Law's picturesque words would still be implying that "religion" – a word which deconstructs into our [gratefully, freely] committing or binding ourselves AGAIN – hinges on our believing that Christ has already freed us.

Turning to the new encyclical, I find something relevant to my discussion of Jesse
where Benedict is setting the scene in section 2. Message lengths here being limited, I'll have to come back to that.

Anonymous,  Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 5:37:00 PM CDT  

In section 2 of his new encyclical Benedict says:

"Hence the need to link charity with truth not only in the sequence, pointed out by Saint Paul, of veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse and complementary sequence of caritas in veritate. Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth".

The scientific language Algol68 was devised to require scientists to define their terms, which Benedict is not doing here. In any case, for a stupid computer to be enabled to determine whether some phenomena were truly classifiable as charity, an Algol68program would have to have already defined "charity" and suitable ways of encoding, checking and reproducing it. Thereafter, reciprocal four-level processes can be constructed, in one direction inputting data, picking out "charity" data, and storing a suitably encoded version of it, and in the other confirming its truth in the sense of checking that in practice the computer's [unconscious] understanding of the stored [known] data as "charity" causes no processing or output errors. Data output by one computer can of course be input by others (including humans), similarly programmed.

Truth here is expressed by our having faith in and acting on the data while [through time] it has no (or negligible) known errors; the data is "taken as innocent until proven guilty". What is significant about it is avoiding the consequences of errors in the future; post-Moore correspondence with or coherence among past facts is about water under the bridge.

My clumsy attempt to spell out the processing implications of what Benedict is saying made my extract from his prose look remarkably elegant! The price of that seems to be his omission of definitions and explanations, which is perhaps why, when I read the whole encyclical, it seemed over-dense and woolly. Nevertheless, the sample I have discussed suggests I shall not find much I will actually disagree with.

Unknown Monday, July 20, 2009 at 9:59:00 PM CDT  

Mostly to Dave, but also, again, to Benedict (if he is listening).

First, about me. I'm a simple man and haven't read many of the authors y'all mention. I did do my dissertation on Aristotle's idea of matter as dynamis, using, largely, St. Thomas as a guide (all the other commentators were, fortunately for my reading list, idiots, by and large.) So I do know from Aristotle, but I don't know the others; at least, it's been what, 30+ years since I read Hume and the other early moderns.

Back to Dave: Dave, sorry: I skimmed your entry and picked up what you present B to have said, and I was addressing B as if your presentation is an accurate one of his position.

BTW, "Aristotelian logic" is not some academic theory, it is an admittedly rather tedious analysis and presentation of how the mind works.

I took B's position tale quale, as is, according to the obvious meaning of the words; if B didn't mean what I take him to mean, then he or you or someone is guilty only of bad writing. If you, I apologize to him. If him, then what does he expect? (Let us here pause top conider Belloc: "Know exactly what you want to say, and say that, and not something else.)

More seriously now: my assertion, that one is principally and directly concerned only with the salvation of his own soul, and only secondarily and indirectly with that of others' souls, seems to me to be pretty obvious; after all, we have a control over our own souls that we don't over others'. I don't see how this affects the communion of saints.

And, it is entirely true that one cannot save others without first saving oneself. And I truly believe that this salvation of oneself is are far, far harder and therefore more prolonged task than most of us realize: "the kingdom of heaven is for none but the *thoroughly dead*, as Eckhart so dauntingly put it -- though ultimately, this death is but the death of our manifold illusions about ourselves and the world.

It is the mystics who have taken the trouble to travel this road of death to the goal of Life -- mors janua vitae; and this, and all the forgoing is basic Christian doctrine; and not only Christian, either. And, this journey is precisely the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord in the soul -- which of course is another discussion.

I mean soul as St. Thomas -- and Aristotle and all the other ancients used it; yes, Plotinus and Rumi, too, I can defend that.

I, for the record am Orthodox, but was born and raised a Catholic. But I am not speaking qua Orthodox, but simply qua Christian. I think Lewis would agree with me.

Dave,  Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 8:12:00 AM CDT  

Thank you, Resume, for ignoring my own stupidity in thinking you (rather than a stupid but pre-programmed computer) had reminded me of this debate. Thanks also for the resumé of your own background. There is a limit to what we can read, but two ways of dealing with it: focussing on the Greats as you seem to have done with Aquinas and Aristotle and I did with Newman and Chesterton; or reflecting critically on representative samples of other points of view in order to develop one's own. The obvious clash between Newman and Hume started me on the latter path. However, that has the obvious disadvantage that I only have representative samples of Aristotle and Aquinas (and these in translation), so I am always conscious their thought may have developed in ways I am not yet conscious of. "Aristotle's idea of matter as dynamis" sounds like one such. (I am all ears). Benedict has moved on since 2007.

What Belloc says ("Know exactly what you want to say, and say that, and not something else") should be taken as an ideal rather than a prescription. Chesterton suggests that only one half of our brain is attuned to words, the other being visual and imaginative; we grasp meaning when the two halves are able to talk to each other. I have the problem of being a visual thinker who has seen things other people have not, so they do not remember and cannot always imagine my intended meaning. Engineers have created so many unusual types of screw head that NATO has had to use Reference Diagrams to explain their names.

Aristotle's logic generalises genealogical "family tree" relationships. It is hard to realise, 400 years after Harvey discovered the circulation of blood, that then there had been no circuits: a generalisation of a circle in which continuity is everything, shape irrelevant. Even the idea of elliptical orbits had been a novelty; hot water central heating emptied into the local stream. A century of broadcasting, and of car electrics completing battery circuits via car bodies rather than obvious wires, have left most people still unable to imagine invisible information feedback circuits and therefore unable to understand the generalised meaning as against particular effects of logic circuits, control feedback circuits and error control. Aristotle's family tree logic goes from one generation to the next; it doesn't show regeneration as a circuital path, with sons following in their father's footsteps.

Applying this to "saving oneself"(Pelagianism?), there are two issues: whether the paths we travel were created by ourselves, or by Christ; and whether one should aim at happiness or at what causes it. Not being able to see where he is going, the navigator of a ship aims to align a compass with a course on a map, all three of these being pre-existing and possibly erroneous, e.g. positional drift may make the original course need correcting, while unmapped objects (icebergs?) may make it temporarily impracticable. Whatever his course, the navigator has to set it via information about his destination provided by others, and have it corrected via information feedback circuits representing the present (compass), past (accumulated drift) and the future (approaching "icebergs" or the wrong port). The "communion of saints" here is the ship's crew: the captain pursuing his course as agent of the owner with the assistance of his steersman, mate and lookout: each at different times "saving" the possibility of any of them reaching the correct port. Even an owner sailing alone is relying on the boat builder, the map-maker and God's Providence.

So what do you see the ancients meaning by "soul". My Catholic dictionary says 'The doctrinal decrees of the Council [of Vienne, A.D. 1311] were: condemnation that the soul is not "in itself and essentially the form of the human body" '. With 'condemnation' cancelling 'not', does this not mean what it says ( i.e. the interpretation I suggested)? But is it not also "of the essence" that form informs, and that information, unlike "concrete" existence, is shareable?

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