Thursday, 29 July 2010

Need for an agent intellect

Aquinas on the need for agent intellect:
Aristotle chose a middle course. For with Plato he agreed that intellect and sense are different. But he held that the sense has not its proper operation without the cooperation of the body; so that to sense is not an act of the soul alone, but of the composite. ... But Aristotle held that the intellect has an operation in which the body does not share. Now nothing corporeal can make an impression on the incorporeal. And therefore, in order to cause the intellectual operation, according to Aristotle, the impression caused by sensible bodies does not suffice, but something more noble is required, for the agent is more noble than the patient, as he says. Not, be it observed, in the sense that the intellectual operation is effected in us by the mere impression of some superior beings, as Plato held; but that the higher and more noble agent which he calls the agent intellect, of which we have spoken above, causes the phantasms received from the senses to be actually intelligible, by a process of abstraction. (STh I.84.6 c. Pegis.)

Aquinas on Plato

Aquinas rejecting the principle that like is known by like (see De Smet):
Now it seems that Plato strayed from the truth because, having observed that all knowledge takes places through some kind of similitude, he thought that the form of the thing known must of necessity be in the knower in the same manner as in the thing known itself. But it was his opinion that the form of the thing understood is in the intellect under conditions of universality, immateriality, and immobility; which is apparent from the very operation of the intellect, whose act of understanding is universal, and characterized by a certain necessity; for the mode of action corresponds to the mode of the agent's form. Therefore he concluded that the things which we understand must subsist in themselves under the same conditions of immateriality and immobility.
 But there is no necessity for this. ... the sensible form is in one way in the thing whcih is external to the soul, and in another way in the senses, which receive the forms of sensible things without receiving matter.... So, too, the intellect, according to its own mode, receives under conditions of immateriality and immobility the species of material and movable bodies; for the received is in the receiver according to the mode of the receiver. We must conclude, therefore, that the soul knows bodies through the intellect by a knowledge which is immaterial, universal and necessary. (STh I.84.1 c. Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Vol. I. Ed. Anton C. Pegis. New York: Random House, 1945.)
See also STh I.84.2 c for more on why the principle that like is known by like is to be rejected. Here Aquinas concludes that the soul does not understand corporeal things by its essence; only God does.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

God's knowledge of everything

Aquinas on how God knows everything by knowing himself:
Hence many ideas exist in the divine mind, as things understood by it; as can be proved thus. Inasmuch as He knows His own essence perfectly, He knows it according to every mode in which it can be known. (STh I.15.2 c. The "Summa Theologica" of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part I. QQ. I-XXVI. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. 2nd rev. ed. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1920)

Aquinas on knowledge of sensible things

Augustine held that there is no communication from body to soul, but only from soul to body. Thomas Aquinas instead, in the De Veritate, has the following questions:
Does the mind know material things? (q. 10, a. 4)
Can our mind know material things in their singularity? (q. 10, a. 5)
Does the human mind receive knowledge from sensible things? (q. 10, a. 6)

Augustine's theory of divine illumination

In my effort to find texts in Augustine for my Philosophy of Knowing course, I had recourse to Gilson's study of Augustine. I find his treatment of Augustine's theory of divine illumination extremely interesting, though I must confess that I am merely skimming through it impatiently. Here are some excerpts:

... Augustine deliberately removes from divine illumination any knowledge which our intellect might abstract from the sensible and even denies that our intellect can have the sensible as its object. Only reason has dealings with the sensible; as for the intellect, it busies itself only with the intelligible order and has nothing to abstract from material things. The divine light it receives is not given it for that purpose. But, if illumination does not abstract, what does it do? [84. Clear distinction between reason and intellect. So, at least as far as Augustine is concerned, keep this very Platonic distinction in mind: reason deals with the sensible, intellect with the intelligible.]
Of this question we can say without exaggeration that it has tested the acumen of many generations of historians. The most obvious postulate for the problem is that there are no postulates. Augustine tells us neither how the intellect operates nor what it does. Some historians say simply that this is a serious lacuna; others, while admitting that Augustine said nothing of the sort, do their utmost to fill the lacuna by attributing to Augustine's thought an abstractive activity such as we have mentioned.... However, it seems to me that there is a simpler hypothesis to consider, namely that there is no lacuna here provided we look at things from Augustine's point of view and refuse to base our arguments on principles he did not accept. Actually, in Augustine there is no problem involving an Umsetzung (transformation) of the sensible into the intelligible. If he did not solve this problem, the reason was that he had no such problem to solve. If we insist that he solve it, then we do not fill a lacuna in his doctrine but change it into something else and in doing so take on ourselves the responsibility of foisting it on him. [84.]
Let us remember first of all that Augustine's interest lies not so much in the formation of a concept as in the formation of a knowledge of truth. In his teaching, everything happens as if there were no need to account for the general character of general ideas. Instead of finding fault with him for this or remedying this situation more or less arbitrarily, we might do well to see why he was not struck by the importance of the problem. 
Augustine thinks of the universe as matter in which the divine ideas / have implanted the intelligible.... Strictly speaking, the universe is intelligible to a mind that is capable of knowing it as such. Now it is very true that the world of things, by reason of its corporeity, cannot enter the mind, which is hierarchically superior to it, and for this reason abstraction properly so called is impossible in such a doctrine.There is no communication between substances in the direction of body to soul, but owing to the superiority of the soul over the body, there can be communication between substances in the direction of soul to body.... Because of this, the Augustinian soul can decipher directly, in the numbers of the changes undergone by its body, the numbers of the exterior bodies which produce these changes.... In order to have Aristotelian abstraction in Augustinism, we should have to find a place for the action of body on soul, and there is no place for it. In order to have in Augustinism a vision in God such as Malebranche proposed, we should have to do away with its direct communication of soul with body, and this is a power which Augustine always accorded the soul by reason of its transcendence alone. Between these two opposing conceptions, Augustinism remains what it was: a doctrine in which mind can read the intelligible directly in the image and consequently need do nothing more than discover where the source of truth is to be found. [84-5.]
As an historian, and he could be a good one, Saint Thomas saw clearly that, if we introduce an agent intellect into Plato's universe, it cannot have the same functions there as it had in Aristotle's universe. in an Aristotelian world, an agent intellect is needed to effect the intelligible, and this is the task of abstraction. In a Platonic world, on the other hand, an agent intellect is not needed to produce intelligibles because the human intellect finds them ready-made in its images; it is needed only to bestow the intelligible light on the understanding subject. Illumination of the mind by God in Augustinism, in Aristotelianism illumination of the object by a mind which God illumines; here is the difference between illumination-truth and illumination-abstraction. [86.]
Thus it seems true to say - salve meliore judicio - that illumination as Augustine saw it has as its exact point of application not so much the power to conceive as the power to judge, because in his view the intelligibility of the concept resides rather in the normative character which its own necessity bestows on the concept than in the general character of its extension. [91.] 

Monday, 26 July 2010

Memory, experience, art

Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I 980b 25 - 981a 6:
The animals other than man live by appearances and memories, and have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also by art and reasonings. And from memory experience is produced in men; for many memories of the same thing produce finally the capacity for a single experience. Experience seems to be very similar to science and art, but really science and art come to men through experience; for "experience made art," as Polus says, "but inexperience luck." And art arises, when from many notions gained by experience one universal judgment about similar objects is produced.

The philomythos and the philosophos

Aristotle, Metaphysics Book I 982b 12-20:
For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; ... And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of wisdom, for myth is composed of wonders)... 

Periagoge in Plato

Discovered the theme of periagoge, turning around, conversion, in Book VII of Plato's Republic (518d).

Voegelin insists of course that we must not exaggerate the meaning of this periagoge with Christian religious overtones. (Plato, Columbia, Missouri: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2000, 115; see

Still, what I am thinking of is Lonergan and the way he used the word conversion: intellectual conversion (ex umbris et imaginibus... I thought that was Newman, but it was perhaps Newman quoting Plato), moral conversion, religious conversion.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Crowe, innovation in theology

Crowe, "Theology and the Future: Responsible Innovation", Appropriating the Lonergan Idea (1989): headings:
The need of new categories in theology
The relation of the old categories to our new times
The foundations of the new categories
The precedent in our tradition for assigning these foundations
The subjectivity of this approach to doctrines and theology
The role of the community and of intersubjectivity in the process to counteract individualism. (266)

A neat, accessible summary / introduction to Lonergan's suggestions for a future looking theology.

Kierkegaard and objectivity

Wonderful gloss by Fred Crowe on objectivity as the fruit of authentic subjectivity: he brings in Kierkegaard.

The Concluding Unscientific Postscript has as subtitle: An existential contribution.
The two divisions of the volume are: The Objective problem concerning the Truth of Christianity" (less than 1/10 of the work), and The Subjective Problem.
The subtitle of the latter part: The Relation of the Subject to the Truth of Christianity.
Four examples of "thinking directed towards becoming objective", among which: "the problem of what it means to die." Not death as a universal topic, but an existential understanding of death.

Kierkegaard is followed up by Ignatius of Loyola and the Two Standards. And then Crowe becomes quite ill-mannered: he threatens to speak in oratione recta. Phil McShane would love this.

See Crowe, "Theology and the Future: Responsible Innovation," Appropriating the Lonergan Idea (1989) 273-4.

History and interpretation

Crowe clearly explains FS history as following the series of interpretations: you try to trace their sequence and find out what was going on. See his "Theology and the Future: Responsible Innovation," Frederick E. Crowe, Appropriating the Lonergan Idea, ed. Michael Vertin (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1989) 269.

Plato and the via analytica and synthetica

I was surprised and delighted to find Thomas' and Lonergan's via analytica and via synthetica way back in Plato... We are reading Book VI of the Republic in class these days.

The students found it baffling, and I must confess that I would have too, if not for my reading of Lonergan. But: right now, there is the 'connection' - without much understanding.

One way goes from 'assumptions' to the principles. That is the via analytica, I suppose. The other way begins from assumptions and goes on to draw conclusions. The via synthetica, I suppose.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Henri de Lubac, bibliography

For recent articles on de Lubac, see Gregorianum 78 and 83 and Revue des sciences religieuses 77.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

De Lubac and Lonergan

Raymond Moloney, "De Lubac and Lonergan on the Supernatural," Theological Studies (Sep. 2008). 17 Jul, 2010.

A sympathetic article. Moloney is director of the Lonergan Centre, Dublin. Proposes that Lonergan refines certain issues in de Lubac.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Lonergan and statistic procedures

I hate to say 'Lonergan, Lonergan' but I can't help this: to my knowledge, Lonergan is the only philosopher to have integrated statistical procedures and their implications into his philosophy...

Or perhaps he is the only philosopher to have acknowledged statistical procedures, and to have integrated the implications into a comprehensive type of philosophy that is a cognitional theory, an epistemology, and a metaphysics.

Kepler's laws

Time line:

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)
Galileo (1564-1642)
Kepler (1571-1630)
Newton (1643-1727)

Kepler discovered his laws by analyzing the astronomical observations of Tycho Brahe.

Newton subsumed Kepler's laws under his own laws of motion.

Kepler's laws challenged geocentrism and supported the heliocentrism of Copernicus, but did away with Copernicus' circular orbits and epicycles in favour of ellipses.

The laws:

1. The orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci.
2. A line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time.
3. The square of the orbital period of a planet is directly proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit.

Henri de Lubac

Just discovering the connection between de Lubac, Danielou and von Balthasar: the latter two were de Lubac's students.

Guy Mansini also acknowledges the de Lubac - von Balthasar link. If this is true, it means that de Lubac is (no longer) ultra but con. The web says that John XXIII invited him as peritus to the council, and that Paul VI and John Paul II both esteemed him deeply. This, despite the fact that he was banned from publishing (for about 9 years) after his Surnaturel.

One of the reasons for the furore around his work was also that he attacked Suarez - till then regarded as one of the bulwarks of Thomism. He showed how Suarez had commented on what are now known to be spurious works, falsely attributed to Thomas.

De Lubac co-founded Concilium, but broke with it when it became a journal of dissent rather than implementation of the council. He joined von Balthasar and Ratzinger in founding Communio, believing that the only way to renew theology was ressourcement or critical appropriation of the Church's tradition.

Back to the supernatural: I do not know what exactly de Lubac has said, and I know only very vaguely what Lonergan holds on the matter. But I do have the feeling that there is something to be chewed at here, and that Lonergan might have something very interesting to contribute... But: could it be that great minds have missed this all along? Can't presume... And: is there any study of the matter in Lonergan?

And: does Millbank fuse together what Thomas had so carefully distinguished (not separated) - the gratuity of creation and the gratuity of grace? (See

Interestingly, however, Millbank's reflections on the human being / human existence itself as gift seem to veer on Lonergan's reflections on operative grace / gift of God's love as creating the response (our love for God), or as itself being the response. But on this, see my blog entry on Charles Hefling. More to be studied here.

Another note: de Lubac was enormously interested in Maritain's work. Does Maritain take his natural / supernatural distinctions from de Lubac? What then of the religions?

De Lubac's properly theological influence consists in the re-Platonizing of theology, a re-Platonizing that has been developed and continued in the postmodern drive to avoid the strictures of Heidegger against onto-theology. (Mansini 597. References to: J. Komonchak, "Theology and Culture at Mid-Century: The Example of Henri de Lubac," ThStds 91 (1990) 579-602. Wayne Hankey, "Le role du neoplatonisme dans les tentatives postmodernes d'echapper a l'onto-theologie," La metaphysique: son histoire, sa critique, ses jeux, Actes du XXVIIe Congres de l'Association de Societes de Philosophie de Langue Francaise, 2 vols. (Quebec: Les Presses de L'Universite Laval, 2000); and "Neoplatonism and Contemporary French Philosophy," Dionysius 23 (2005) 161-189. Both articles to be found on Hankey's website.)

Systematic and non-systematic

I thought this morning's Philosophy of Knowing class (I was rounding off the chapter on Heuristic Structures) went well - which means that 'there occurred' certain insights and connections in the course of the class. Like our catechesis as an elementary example of non-systematic process, and the call of the congregation to make it systematic: the guys understood that quite readily, I thought.

They liked the "you cannot teach an old dog new tricks" - my apology for talking and not doing: my youth group catechesis is highly unsystematic! And the invitation to them, the students, to be the new dogs, the new puppies who will learn and master the new tricks.

Interestingly, then, after this exaltation of the systematic, the recognition that it is the non-systematic that is the womb of novelty. So founders like Don Bosco and Francis of Assisi as basically non-systematic persons, breaking out of established routines and initiating new paths. And Bonaventure (and perhaps Rua) as providing the necessary systematization that ensures longevity to a movement.

Mansini on de Lubac

There seems to be a sudden spurt of studies on Henri de Lubac. Just yesterday I found the following:
Reinhard Hütter. “The Natural Desire for the Vision of God: A Relecture of Summa contra Gentiles III, c. 25, après Henri de Lubac.” The Thomist 73/4 (2009) 523-591.

Guy Mansini. “The Abiding Theological Significance of Henri de Lubac’s Surnaturel.” The Thomist 73/4 (2009) 593-619.
Mansini calls de Lubac the most important theologian of the 20th century, because his work forms a watershed. (593)

He says that Lonergan with his Method in Theology aspires to be pivotal, but that one can easily be a Catholic theologian today without having to take a position on Lonergan. One cannot do that as far as de Lubac is concerned. (596, n. 7) Mansini, I think, is right; but only because Lonergan in Method is not doing theology, he is outlining a method for theology - and for all other disciplines.

It is interesting, however, to see how Lonergan emerges as a foil every so often in Mansini's article. Thus, for example, he outlines the theological territory after Vatican II into (1) those who agree with Chenu and the later Rahner on dogma, and also with de Lubac on the correctness of his theological anthropology and reading of St Thomas; (2) those who do not agree with Chenu on dogma but agree with de Lubac - Balthasar and the 'Communio' theologians; (3) those who agree with neither, and then comments in the footnote: the tragedy of Lonergan is that he tries to provide an inoculation against the historicism and relativism to which the first position (Chenu, Rahner, de Lubac) are prone, and at the same time save the scientific character of theology, which the second group has abandoned. (598 and n. 11)

Most interesting, Mansini notes Lonergan's 'theorem of the supernatural', and says that he has not found de Lubac referring to Philip the Chancellor in Surnaturel or in Augustinianism and Modern Theology, or in Mystery of the Supernatural. (612 n. 36)

But what exactly is de Lubac saying in his Surnaturel? According to Mansini, he does away with the need for the notion of pure nature as something that is not Thomist but Thomistic.

I simply have to get to the bottom of this.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Review of Guglielmi

Happy to see my review of Giuseppe Guglielmi, La sfida di dirigere se stessi: Soggetto esistenziale e teologia fondazionale in Bernard Lonergan (= Ai Crocevia 3) (Trapani: Il Pozzo di Giacobbe, 2008) published in Salesianum 72/2 (2010) 387-389. This is the first time I have something published in Salesianum. Perhaps I should send them something else, an article.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

ACPI 2009 papers on Violence and its Victims

Finished editing - more or less, if you don't take the 'toilette' into account - the ACPI volume on Violence and its Victims. George Panthanmackel sent me a fresh paper on Gender Violence, by Kochuthresia Payyapilly.

The editing has been quite an experience, but I am happy I managed to get down an introduction way back at the beginning of this year. It reads pretty well, though I think it raises some controversial issues about which I have to think more. One such is whether Puthenpurackal and Panthanmackel are holding for violence as part of human nature, and whether this is not a species of 'conflation of finitude and fallenness' of which Heidegger is guilty, according to Fred Lawrence.

Just now I am trying to get through the requested review of Robert Pen's output in preparation for his application for promotion to the post of Reader. After that: perhaps I need to get through Verbum once again, together with the ongoing reading of Insight as part of the preparation for the Philosophy of Knowing classes.

After that, the paper for the 2010 ACPI meeting on the dynamics of tradition and innovation in the Christian tradition. I plan to draw mostly on Lonergan, but I guess I will have to familiarize myself with other attempts also. Clarification by contrast. Lonergan has much matter in the middle years that needs to be exploited, though in a sense he is concerned with this dynamics all through his life: the transcultural mediation of Christian meanings and values.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Inverse insights and uniform motion

I have taken back the Philosophy of Knowing course from Ashley. Wasn't too keen on it, but there it is, and I am taking the opportunity to re-read Insight, and Verbum. The first impression is that both texts seem easier and more enlightening than ever before. Of course the class seems much slower, much less interested, not as bright as before. Yesterday I took 'higher viewpoints'. The maths did not appeal to them at all. Or perhaps I was too messy with my boardwork.

This morning I go on to 'inverse insights.' I remember how fascinated I was with this. The lack of intelligibility in uniform motion: Newton's first law, that a body keeps moving in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force. The idea that, if nothing else intervenes, it would keep moving to eternity, no need of energy, fuel, or whatever. The idea that motion does not need explanation, but acceleration. Physics then becomes a theory of accelerations rather than motions. The whole shift from Aristotelian to Newtonian physics. The setting free of investigation, and the consequent flowering of physics.

The other example - which I think I am still digesting - is the question about the trajectory of a coin falling to the floor in a moving train. (I wonder where I got that one.) What is that trajectory? It depends on the framework. W.r.t. the train, it is a perpendicular to the floor; whether the train is moving or not does not matter, provided the motion is uniform motion. From outside the train, it is a diagonal or a curve forward: very interestingly, the coin moves along with the train, even when it is itself 'free' of the hand or of the floor! From outside the earth, the trajectory would be even more complicated; and so on, from outside the solar system....

I think this exemplifies another aspect of the unintelligibility of uniform motion. No laws of physics are affected as long as the framework is in uniform motion / rest. Or: it does not matter whether the framework is in uniform motion or at rest.

Einstein's thought experiment might illustrate this better: two spaceships with no other reference point except each other. Moving at the same speed. Are they moving? Are they at rest? The point is: it does not matter. Uniform motion is relevant only w.r.t. some framework. Otherwise it does not matter.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Gispert-Sauch's Review of 'Brahman and Person'

Very generous review of Brahman and Person by George Gispert-Sauch in Vidyajyoti 74/6 (June 2010) 480, 474. Gispert calls it "one of the most important books, perhaps the most important, coming from India in the area of Indian and Western philosophy and theology in the last few decades."