First day of Spring 2010

I had my first day of class for the Spring 2010 semester. I have to admit that I was sort of leary about the course on Plato I signed up for, but after having the direction of the course clarified today, I have to admit to being more than a bit excited about it. Greek, on the other hand, looks to be a bear for the first couple of weeks as I try and get myself back into gear. I have already determined that I am pretty much going to have to maximize all my free time for study in the near future to get myself to where I need to be on both of these courses. Both of these courses are going to be rather intense.

On a completely different front, even without school, I have been feeling rather beat down with the resurgence of my allergies, especially with dry, itchy, and at times painful eyes in addition to just feeling generally fatigued. I really need to get this under control immediately, since it is critical that I be able to read an extensive amount of material, in addition to my job, which is weighted on the data entry side of things. Hard to do that when you feel like you can barely open your eyes.

Anyway, this should prove to be another exciting adventure in Philosophy and Classics studies. And if all goes well, I may be graduating in a years time. Crossing my fingers.

Resolutions for 2010

Some things went well for 2009 nine, but for my resolutions, it didn’t go so well. I didn’t lose the weight I wanted, but at least I stayed the same. I’m going to try again this coming year to lose a little and get myself back to where I’d like to be.

I don’t think Hyang and I fought as bad this year, but we’ve had our troubles, especially when it comes to questions about my faith, or lack thereof. So, my other resolution this year is to try and read and pray every day. I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but I hope Hyang will at least be mollified by this good faith effort.

So, what went well in 2009? I finally got my act together, and am very happy with how well I did with school. I think I have made some big strides in getting myself to be a more disciplined student and person in general, and I am really hoping to carry this success with me into 2010. If I can keep it up, I can actually see some light at the end of the tunnel and may even graduate in the Spring of 2011. This has been so long in coming, with so many set backs and self destructive episodes, enduring it has been one of the most difficult things I have done in my life. Thank God for my precious, patient wife, who has supported me and encouraged me the whole way. Thank you Hyang.

Overall, I have to say that 2009 has been a good year for me, with less depression, more focus, and as a result, more success in the goals I wanted to achieve. I hope 2010 can be even more of the same.

Another Semester Finished

Well, I got through another semester. I think it was due to lots of coffee, and I won’t be able to do that in the Spring, so who knows how I’m going to make it through the next one.

Greek final was today. I did o.k., on it, but blew off my good study habits the past week since I finished my other class, and that hurt me. I’m going to try and keep studying through the break, at least Greek, but there is the concern that the school won’t offer the next set of classic Greek courses due to a lack of students signing up. I’m going to look into signing up this week (maybe this weekend?) and hopefully that will help. I’m not sure what my plan is going to be if it isn’t offered. I also need to figure out what else I can take, at least one more class, and work on my student aid to get some money to pay for all of it. So, doesn’t look like it will be a very restful Winter break after all.

Oh, and I have 13 alpha already started, and so should be publishing it soon, not that anyone cares during the break. I’m also going to try and revise once again my Greek page, since I think it could be done better after some reflection.

The next essay

Without even having received the first essay back, I feel compelled to already begin considering the next one. The three topics have been given as the basis for the next essay:

  • Discuss and critique Leibniz’s, Berkeley’s, and Hume’s views on the relationship between the mind and the body.
  • Discuss and critique Leibniz’s, Berkeley’s, and Hume’s views on the nature of perception.
  • Discuss and critique Locke’s, Berkeley’s, and Hume’s views on the nature of language.

This isn’t an easy choice to make, as I find all of the philosopher’s mentioned interesting, and the subject matter also compelling. One thing that I do need to look into is how well developed the various topics were with during this period. It wouldn’t do to discuss a matter that remained rather immature and underdeveloped by the thinkers in question. This is why I may be leaning away from language, since I don’t believe the subject was really considered all that carefully until after the period being studied in this course. As far as I can tell, the Augustinian view of language continued to be the predominant and largely unquestioned explanation. This would make for a rather uninteresting paper to try and analyze how the same basic and unsophisticated position was held by the three philosophers in question.

But we’ll have to see. I need to do a little more reading into their works before I can make that decision.

Final Exam Question 2

  1. How does Aquinas argue that we have free will?  Evaluate the success of his reasoning.  In the process of doing so, consider whether his arguments for freedom of the will remove challenges presented by divine providence, predestination, and reprobation.

Aquinas argues that a multiplicity of behavioral causes would be inexplicable if free will were not assumed to be operated on by them, including counsel, exhortation, command, and prohibitions. Yet we see uses of these constantly, both in our daily lives as well as in Scripture, with the rational expectation that they are meaningful and rational activities. In addition to this, he also sets forth that there are three classes of action. The first without judgment, such as the action of a stone when dropped. The second class of actions is made by judgment, but one that is informed by nature and involuntary. This is illustrated by the instinctual behavior of animals who react to threats without having reasoned out the dangers, but whose responses are dictated by the nature of the animal, whether to run in the case of weaker animals or to fight if the animal possesses such a capacity.

But with man, reason is the guide to judgment, or at least man carries with him the capacity to make reason his guide, and it is by virtue of his rational judgment that man is said to not only possess will, but a free will, for reason allows judgment to follow a diversity of paths, whereas the first two classes of action were limited by their nature, the first because its nature had no aptitude for making judgments, and the second because its judgments were singularly dictated by the natural instinct of the creature. Thus the rational nature of man dictates that he must necessarily possess free will.(I.83.1, respondeo) Opposed to this position, Aquinas sets for five objections: That man acts against his will, that man is incapable of willing things, that the will is not independent of God, that man is not the master of his acts, and that nature dictates mans ends.

To the first objection, Aquinas counters that our wills are moved by a multiplicity of internal factors, including appetite and reason(I.83.1, ad 1), and while the appetites use reason to formulate the means to their own ends by means of particular reason, they may also run afoul of reason, and resist it, should universal reason formulate an ends contrary to the designs of the sensitive, or instinctual, appetite.(I.81.3, respondeo) Given this, it is easy to see how a man might become conflicted between various desires competing for the wills judgment.

In responding to the second objection, Aquinas notes that while the will is free, its freedom is limited to its capacity to act. Hence, while not able to determine those acts outside of its ability, this does not impinge on its freedom within that class of actions in its grasp.(I.83.1, ad 2)

For the third objection, Aquinas argues that it is possible to have two causes for the act of the will, an immediate cause, and an ultimate cause. The will is the immediate cause of those actions of its own choosing, but that God, as the first cause of all, including the will, is thus the ultimate cause of all, including those actions which are determined by the free will. Thus, God wills the action to be, but he wills it to be so through the voluntary judgment of the will, even as he wills other acts to be determined by involuntary causes. He operates in all things in accordance to their nature.(I.83.1, ad 3)

The fourth objection is easily dismissed by Aquinas, who merely notes that to will something is not necessarily for that thing to come to pass, for there are a variety of external factors to the will that can effect the outcome. It is the choice, and not the execution of that choice, which is determined by us.(I.83.1, ad 4)

Finally, Aquinas answers the fifth objection by stating that while the general principles that man seeks are indeed independent of the will, such as the desire toward happiness, that these principles are in turn interpreted by the various temperaments and dispositions, and these in turn are subject to reason, by which man weighs and measures them, one against another, and so determines the final interpretation of the general principles as governed by man’s nature. Hence, man is free, insofar as he is free to interpret the governing principles of nature and then how he might implement that interpretation.(I.83.1, ad 5)

Does this explanation, however, rise to the level of satisfactorily securing justification for belief in a free will? I fear it may not. The reasons for this are simply that while he dismisses the Aristotelian principle that freedom necessitates self-sufficiency, it is insufficient to merely point out that something can be the cause of something else without being the cause of itself. Freedom, if it is to be free, must mean self-determination, and yet it is unclear how much self determination can be had when the act is necessitated by divine will. To merely state that it is accomplished through voluntary means is in no way sufficient to demonstrate that it is so. If God causes it, whether directly or through the mediation of some other intermediary cause, it happens of necessity due to the divine will being fully actualized. So long as God’s will extends not only to the will, but also to the objects of the will, it will remain a difficulty to demonstrate that the act was voluntary in any other manner than that the man was unaware of being thus moved by a necessity outside of his own being.

In addition to the above concerns, which I think one could have even if one was willing to grant the basic assumptions Aquinas brings to the question, one could also question the bright line he draws between natural instinct and reason. For while it is clear that humans have a superior capacity for reasoning (insofar as the determining criteria is judged by mankind), it is not clear that this is in some sense a distinct process from what is occurring in other animals. In fact, as Sextus Empiricus pointed out, even in something as apparently lowly as a dog, there appears to be some kind of faculty for reasoning at work and exhibited in a number of divergent circumstances.(Sextus, pg 50-51) Rather, what we seem to observe is instead of distinct types of appetites, natural and intellectual, we see a gradient of intellectual sophistication, with humans arguable at the apex of the scale, but distinguished only in by degree of complexity, rather than of a wholly other nature.

Thus, in as far as Aquinas is willing to attribute the actions of these other creatures as being involuntary and derived solely from their natural instinct, it seems entirely without justification to discontinue such a judgment merely because the creature being evaluated is ourselves. For we are not privy to the internal machinations of these other creatures, nor do we see our own mental activities so clearly that we can safely determine that they are voluntary and undetermined by our own natures. In fact, it would seem to beg the question, for it would appear that what Aquinas is attributing as indicating an involuntary judgment in other animals is exactly the sort of thing he says we have no choice over for ourselves, these general principles that dictate to us the fundamentals of our judgment and thus govern our wills. Yet, while one demonstrates the involuntary and irrational nature of the animal, in us it proves to be no impediment at all to liberty and volition.

References to The Summa Theologica of Aquinas are done using standard numbering of part, question, article, and article subsection.

Reference to Sextus Empiricus used pagation from Sextus Empiricus: Selections from the Major Writings on Scepticism, Man, & God, Edited by Philip P. Hallie and translated by Sanford G. Etheridge, New Revised Edition 1985, published by Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, IN.

Final Exam Question 1

  1. Describe the dialectical progression of Augustine’s beliefs in the Confessions prior to his conversion.  What theoretical positions does he adopt in books 2, 3, 6, and 7?  In what practical difficulties do they result, and how do these difficulties lead Augustine to revise his theoretical position?  What prevents Augustine’s conversion once he is convinced of the truth of Christianity, and how does his conversion take place?

Augustine’s intellectual journey begins before he is even aware of it, at a point of almost unthinking self gratification illustrated in his account of the pear tree theft.(2.4.9) At the time, his actions were committed with little to any forethought and certainly no theoretical position other than his desire to popularity, or at least notoriety within his social circle. Even years later, the incident seems to challenge Augustine’s ability to clearly characterize the motivations behind the act.(2.10.18) Augustine continued in this path of immediate and unthinking hedonism from his sixteenth year until the age of nineteen when he first encountered Cicero’s Hortensius, a transforming event in his young life.

It was in Cicero’s writings that Augustine first encountered the challenge of philosophy and heard its call to move beyond the immediate gratification of his senses and to reason out a path for his life. In its words, Augustine discovered a higher purpose and a new direction for his passions, which had heretofore been directed in the service of the whatever sensory pleasure had gained his momentary attention.(3.4.7) But while this new found love of for the transcendent moved him to investigate the Scriptures, he was not yet ready to accept its humble simplicity, either in style or content, and so he quickly looked elsewhere for the truth.(3.5.9) Yet, through all of the various twists and turns of his journey, Augustine acknowledges the early Christian upbringing that his mother ingrained in him proved to be an intellectual and spiritual anchor from which he was unable to drift far away from. (3.4.8)

It was for this reason that he soon afterwards fell in with Manichaeism, who simultaneously fed his craving for a more intellectual spirituality while retaining the outward effects of Christianity in the name of Jesus Christ and the Paraclete.(3.6.10) Especially attractive to Augustine at the time of his conversion to Manichaeism was their critique of what he then saw as the anthropomorphic crudity of Scriptural accounts of God as well as those customs exhibited in the Bible that were at variance with his own.(3.7.12) Yet Augustine notes that even after having rejected this anthropomorphic conception, he nevertheless continued to labor under some manner of materialist belief in God, good, and evil.(4.15.24)

This conversion to Manichaeism did not go unchallenged however, for Monica, his mother, began what was to be a nine year long campaign to return him to his Christian upbringing and a life of piety.(3.11.19) Her confidence in his eventual rejection of the Manichaean faith and a return to Christianity was a constant, yet oft overlooked, source of doubt in the mind of Augustine.(3.11.20) In addition to this, Augustine found that the philosophers too brought up many points of disagreement with his new found faith, for Manichaean works offered up voluminous writing on the matter of nature, of which many were contradicted or demonstrated to be evidently inferior to the calculations of the natural philosophers.(5.3.6; 5.5.8)

Another difficulty, and more fundamental to the Manichaean faith, was the difficulty of countanencing the struggle that the good Manichaean god had with its opposite, as Augustine illustrates by recounting the arguments of his friend, Nebridius. For he argued with the Manichaeans that if their god was endangered by evil, then it was subject to destruction and not incorruptible, an opinion not worthy of a god. And yet, if it was incorruptible and faced no threat from this evil, then wherefore did it carry on a clearly unnecessary struggle against an impotent foe, and through this struggle to be the cause of others suffering?(7.2.3)

These issues continued to vex Augustine for almost the entire nine year period in which he continued with the Manichaeans, constantly forestalled with promises of answers when the time would come that one of their great teachers, Faustus, would arrive with the answers Augustine sought.(5.6.10) Yet, when the time came, Augustine discovered Faustus to be an eloquent and even tempered man, but one ignorant of natural philosophy and incapable of putting to ease the concerns he had with the religion.(5.7.12) And with his hopes thus dashed, Augustine at last took his leave of Manichaeism only to be taken by despair and skepticism at seeing the past nine years of his life having been pursued in vain.(5.10.19)

It was his exposure to Ambrose after moving to Milan that Augustine began to see beyond the errors of the Manichaeans and to understand that Christianity might be capable of defending itself against the accusations which the Manichaeans leveled against them. It was here that Augustine first took note of the allegorical method of interpreting many of the passages of Scripture that had before vexed his understanding.(5.14.24) Yet, he continued in his skepticism, not because it was where his natural inclinations lay, but rather for fear of adopting a new error, seeing has he had been deceived for so many years while in the company of the Manichaeans.(6.4.6) Despite these doubts and fears, Augustine was sufficiently liberated to now proceed, however tentatively, towards towards his predisposition for Christianity(3.4.8; 6.5.7), by becoming a catechumen of the Church(5.14.24) and accept the teachings of the Scriptures on the basis of faith, yet still without knowledge.(6.5.8)

Not until his thirty-first year did Augustine find a path out of the gross materialist dualism that had for so long held his mind captive, found in the pages of the works of the Platonists wherein he discovered the concept of a spiritual substance(8.1.1) as well as a solution to the problem of evil that did not involve a competing substance with the goodness of God. For through the Platonists, it was shown that God, rather than being corporeal is in truth spirit and the foundation for the corporeal world.(7.15.21) And as for evil, it is located not in a competing substance with God, for all is from God, but is rather bound in the misguided will of man, whose desires are consumed by that which is not God, and is thus separated from the divine good.(7.16.22)

What remained then for Augustine was to but find the will to surrender his life to this newly discovered truth. And with this he struggled, for he was sorely entangled in the pleasures of the flesh, primarily with desire for women.(8.1.2) In making this final move, Augustine was assisted by two separate encounters, the first with a visit paid to Simplicanius, the father of Ambrose, who conveys to him the story of Victorinus, a renowned rhetorician and fellow philosophical thinker, who himself became a Christian.(8.2.4) The second visit, this time a chance encounter with Pontitianus, a fellow African and Christian, who upon observing Augustine reading the letters of St. Paul, recounted the tale of two fellows whose conversion was facilitated through the story of the Egyptian monk Antony, and were so moved as to abandon earthly ambitions and to dedicate themselves in like manner to celibacy and service to God.(8.6.15)

Thus armed with these two examples burning in his heart, Augustine fell upon the words of St. Paul after hearing the words of a child telling him to “take up and read”.(8.12.29) Having taken these words as admonition from heaven, he read the passage, which by chance exhorted him to throw off worldly living and to put on Christ, and seizing upon these words, he renounced all of his carnal desires and dedicated himself to God and his service in the thirty-second year of his life.(8.12.30)

All references are numbered according to conventional book, chapter, paragraph orderings for The Confessions of St. Augustine.