Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I wonder if this is the right video...

This is one of my compositions, played on the organ at St. Gregory the Great seminary, by me. At least, I think that is what it is.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Its the End of the End of the World as We Know It

They say that feelings don't count as evidence. Who is they? I have a feeling that I don't know. But one thing that I do know is that feelings are a useful tool to lead us to things...even evidence. So, let me begin with a story.

Two days ago, I watched most of the movie "Equilibrium," most meaning the important three quarters. In some ways, it is a very good movie, one that points out yet another way in which an intelligentsia and a sheepish population can produce a horror. For those of you who don't know, in the world of "Equilibrium," the rulers have produced and mandated with death a drug that, according to the movie, stops pain, war, and sorrow by stopping feelings. I think it's more like it stops them by stopping feelings, Chestertonian moments, wonder, Dasein awareness, and I-Thou relationships. (Philosophy may begin in wonder, but logic definitely does not, considering that an absence of feelings does not prevent the main character from believing a cloaked variation on the Final Cause argument.) Regardless, the resistance movement regards the ability to exercise their gifts (I almost said God-given, but in the context of this particular movie, which is under suspicion of being slightly anti-Christian; that is a question for another day) as a right which it is worse than death to not be able to exercise. The main character joins them, has a few Chestertonian moments, kills the ruler, and liberates the world. A bit formulaic perhaps, but if you're following an archtypical story, there's going to be a few repeated elements. And that's usually a good thing. Why then, did I feel so unhappy for about an hour and a half after watchin the movie? There's the fact that Equilibrium follows the formula that stipulates that the story must be interrupted every so often for a sequence of slowed-down, over-dramatized violence, but I don't think that that is enough to account for such a thing.

I think that the real reason, following Chesterton's comments on Isben in Heretics, is that "Equilibrium" does not really provide an arresting vision of a world with what the resistance is fighting for. There are those one or two moments where you realize, by something as simple as the character touching a stair-rail, just how vital life beyond the drug is. But there's no happiness: no member of the resistance is ever seen doing something happier than reading Yeats. Even the room of hidden forbidden objects, with its snow globes and Beethoven LP's has no people enjoying themselves. More importantly, it has no religous symbols, instead it has small pictures of scantily dressed women. The captured resistance member says that she lives to feel...and although she mentions love she doesn't say or even imply just how much she loves, or Who the object is.

Unfortunately, this absence of happiness is compounded by the shallowness of all the characters. Only the main character and the woman who converts him have more than a functional role in the story, leaving the world with feelings almost as empty as the world without them.

Like Isben, Equilibrium warns of the horror of evil, and does so effectively. Like Isben, Equilibrium does not know what goodness really is. Like Chesterton, I find it quite lacking.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Snow

Give light a shape; when merely it reflects
From anything, it carries not itself
But like a word it humbly genuflects
And it is lost in bush, or tree, or shelf:
Unto whatever’s seen it gives a pass
And dies unto the solid, colored form.
Take all the world and cover it in glass!
In sparkling hints that their weight misinform
So that the eye, when seeing what seems dust
Does gladly say that there is Something More.
It feels, but does not know, it, rather, trusts,
That “Shapeless blobs” have really shapes galore.
Why does a whitened world our minds awake?
Because this thing called snow is light with shape.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Prelude to the use of Diotima’s Eros as a form of “Philosophic” knowledge

Preliminary note: There is nothing necessarily sexual in Diotima’s Eros. If you want to know more, read Plato’s Symposium, the Song of Songs, the Definition of Literature post, or there are a great deal of other similar things that you might find profitable.

“The greatest philosopher is unable to grasp the being of a single fly.”
--St. Thomas Aquinas

To which we respond, “how is this quote true?,” a question that includes “what does it mean, how do we prove it, and what are we missing in our knowledge?

There is one obvious answer: existence is a mystery for two reasons:
A. Each individual being is linked to the whole of reality by at least God’s creative act. But God, one of the causes of the thing known is infinite and unknowable. Therefore, nothing is completely knowable.
B. Existence itself is a mystery. It cannot be given an essential definition. To one who looks long and hard enough (and I know this from sense and phenomenological experience), existence elicts a sense of wonder, even from things well-known. And wonder implies ignorance (Josef Pieper).
a. “There is an is!” –G.K. Chesterton.
b. “Why should there be being, and not nothing?” --Martin Heidegger

Essence is also a mystery, or at least an ultimately undefinable, analogous to the mystery revealed by the Fallacy of the Perfect Dictionary.

In the art of logic, the clearest knowledge of a thing includes an “Essential Definition.” One who knows a thing by essential definition knows the type of thing (genus) that it is as well as that which separates this kind of thing (species) from other species of the same type necessarily and always (specific difference). For example, the essential definition of square is “A rectangle with all sides equal.” Rectangle is the genus, all sides equal is the specific difference, square is the species.
What is missing from an essential definition? What is not grasped? When one knows a thing, the mental representation of what the thing is is in the intellect. What the thing actually is, not just the representation, is in the thing itself, and in the Mind of God, for God knows all things as maker. For true and complete knowledge, it seems that an essential definition is incomplete.
Consider an angel. Each angel is, in itself, a species. This means that the “what-it-is” is identical to the individual angel (this is different from, say, an orange, where what the orange is is different from the individual orange). If the essential definition of this angel were equivalent to having the what-it-is of the angel in the mind, than everyone who knew the essential definition would have the angel in their mind, which is absurd. Therefore, there are cases where an essential definition is not complete knowledge of an essence (the essence is the what-it-is).
With material things, one can never completely know the particular, because this would imply that the particular is in the intellect. But an intellect that knows oranges obviously does not have real oranges in it.
Even with essences of material things, the so-called “essential definition” can never be known to be complete knowledge. What an essential definition does is say “Everything with genus A and specific difference B is a C.” This statement is known to conform with what C is. The idea that every C necessarily is genus A with difference B does not imply that every C only necessarily is genus A with difference B. Because the idea in the mind that is the essential definition is not the cause of what C is (the cause of what C is is the essence of C, that to which the definition conforms), the essential definition is knowledge that provides a perfect test for C’s essence, but is not necessarily identical to C’s essence.
Hence, intellectual knowledge has been shown to be possibly insufficient. Therefore, we can justifiably investigate the knowledge gained through the Eros loved by Diotima.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Inspired by a passage in the Office of Readings...I wish I could remember which one!

The flowers send forth fair odors from their eyes
The sight of the gardener, the one whom they love
Causes their scent, song and soul of their selves
To throw itself in loving ecstasy
Towards His Divine Face.

Praise Him!

He treads by the river
The grasses savoring every soft step.
His gazes upon His beloved Lily-flower
Her perfumes grow ever greater,
Her whiteness ever purer.

Praise Him!