Thomism, Synods, Heresy and the PRDL

Too much blog reading has caused many acquaintances to fall into hysterical fits concerning Church teaching and contemporary prelates.  Things were far worse in the fourth century and in the time of Honorius I.  It seems to me that people should spend less time on the Web and more time reading works written before 1700.  If you must use the Web, the best short discussions of Church and papal authority I know of are available through downloads that are linked from the Post-Reformation Digital Library.  See Dominic Banez, In II-II, q. 1, art. 10, dub. 2 (in Venice 1587, 183-212); Salmanticenses, Cursus Theologicus, tract. 17, disp. 4, dub. 1 (in Paris, 1879, vol. 5, 247-261).  Incidentally, Banez, pp. 194-196, explains clearly the errors of today's sedevacantists.  Banez is here: and the Salmanticenses here: .  If you must use the Web, use the PRDL!

On First Principles: That There be Some Informative Ones

Are there any substantive first (i.e. self-evident) principles? Substantive meaning informative: neither tautology nor mere principles of formal logic.

Some argue that there are none, that there can be none: Any given principle is either substantive or self-evident (exclusive disjunct).

The reason given is that in order to be grasped as self-evident, the principle must be so close to the Principle of Contradiction that it is practically a repetition of this principle. All such propositions are easily grasped as being necessarily true, and just as equally uninformative.

Conversely, all statements that are truly informative require, to be understood and affirmed as true, some theoretical framework which renders the principles grasped only within the framework to be hypothetical. Every such proposition is open to possible falsification (or further ratification) as the inquiry continues. Hence, no such proposition could be affirmed to be necessarily true.

I maintain that the above disjunct is not absolute. I suggest the following two arguments demonstrate that it is not absolute. The first is that the affirmation that this disjunct is absolute requires in practice the denial of the truth of the disjunct. The second is that some there are in fact some substantive self-evident principles.

First: If it were true that there are no substantive self-evident principles, one could not affirm with certainty that there is none. This is shown impossible on the very terms of the disjunct.

This proposition itself – Any given principle is either substantive or self-evident – is informative. It is not a practical repetition of the Principle of Contradiction. Therefore, if it were true, no one could affirm it to be true necessarily. Instead, one would have to wait for its further verification, or falsification, in which case one could not lay it down apodictically. Or, conversely, if one grasped that it—an instance of an informative proposition—is necessarily true, one would demonstrate that it—there are no substantive self-evident principles—is false.

Second: There exist seemingly mundane, but to me marvelous, truths of the perennial philosophy which are both informative and necessarily true. For example: Every animal moves itself. Informative because motion and animal are not the same concept, for the living mind (not the computer) thinks the one thing in aspects (and does not merely bundle properties). For example: Every man is risible. Informative because laughing and man are not the same concept. However, in the concept man we have the distinct ideas of rational and animal. Who is rational but of limited intelligence can grasp what is in place and can be befuddled at what is out of place. Who is animal has lungs and a voice box. Thus, who is both rational and animal has wherewithal bodily to express befuddlement: Can laugh. These truths do not yield supercomputers. But they are instances of real insight into a real world. And the discovery of these truths is just that, progress and discovery. It is progress to grasp what “animal” is and what “rational” is. Insights into reality. It is progress to put these insights together rationally. It is progress to come to a conclusion. Therefore, although these statements are analytic, so to speak, yet they exhibit real progress in our knowledge of the real.

Last piece of evidence in this brief: Consider the progression from Q. 2 of the Prima pars through Q. 11 of the same. Deductions that are informative, resting on inductions that are non-hypothetically penetrating.

Kasper and his critics

Back in April I wrote a post on the theological debate over reception of Communion by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics (that is, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics without annulments, who are not abstaining from sexual relations with each other). I presented some comments on this topic by John Rist. This will also be a topic of an upcoming synod in Rome.

Cardinal Walter Kasper is at the center of the debate. He has proposed giving Communion to some Catholics who find themselves in the situation described above (but who have taken certain steps and meet certain criteria). On Thursday he gave an interview with the Italian daily Il Mattino. In the interview he responds to his critics. I have some comments on the interview here.

Review of Amerini on Beginning of Human Life

There is a recent review of Fabrizio Amerini, Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life here:  The review author states that the Catholic Church teaches that the human soul is infused at conception, and seems to imply that there is a tight connection between the Church's teaching on abortion and the rejection of delayed animation.  Moreover, the author states that the debate is very heated.  It seems to me that I know several Catholics who believe in delayed animation, and think that the issue has no important ethical consequences.  I myself hold the second view.

I can't find any clear Catholic teaching concerning animation.  Fr. Wallace and Elizabeth Anscombe (see some of the essays in Human Life, Action, and Ethics) seem to be for delayed animation.  Fr. Wallace has some odd views in ethics (see his stuff on nuclear war) but Anscombe is more or less traditional.

I also can't see the direct connection between this issue and the licitness of abortion, unless maybe you knew the exact moment of animation and you thought that abortion is OK unless it is a clear case of homicide.

I have seen respectable theologians in the seventeenth-century argue that the abortion before animation might be licit in case of danger to the mother's life, but it seems to me that DS 1184 (Ann. 1679) prohibits it, although the danger seems to be from someone else and not from the foetus: ""Licet procurare abortum ante animationem foetus, ne puella deprehsa gravida occidatur aut infametur."  I can't really see why it would be OK even apart from animation.  It is obviously unlike a case of removing a cancer or an infected organ or limb.

At any rate, does anyone know of magisterial texts?  I can't seem to find any online.

Anselm's "ontological argument": faith or reason?

[I posted the following for our AMU philosophy blog yesterday but I thought that it might also be of interest to some of our readers here at Thomistica, so I re-post it here..]

It is sometimes alleged that Anselm's argument for God's existence in Ch. 2 of the Proslogion -- often called his "ontological argument" -- is not a purely rational argument but in some way depends on his Christian faith. It seems to me, however, that it does not depend on faith in any formal way. In this post I will suggest some reasons why someone might think differently and then argue that none of these reasons show that Anselm's argument formally depends on faith.

But before I do that, let me comment on a couple related issues. First, some people say that Anselm does not have only one argument for God's existence in the Proslogion but two. M.J. Charlesworth, for example, thinks that in Ch. 3 there is an argument that is logically independent of the argument in Ch. 2. I have no quarrel with that view but do not intend to take a position on it here. I only wish to consider the Ch. 2 argument. Second, Aquinas and others argue (for a variety of reasons) that Anselm's argument for God's existence in Ch. 2 is unsound. I too am skeptical of its soundness. But I am not interested in that question here.

I should also add that when I speak (perhaps infelicitously) of a "purely rational argument" in contrast to an argument that depends on faith (i.e., requires premises that can only be known through faith), I do not mean to imply that arguments that depend on faith are necessarily irrational. By a "purely rational argument" I simply mean an argument that only accepts premises from what reason can know by its own investigation of things without the aid of revelation.

So, let's move on to some reasons why people might think that Anselm's Ch. 2 argument depends on his Christian faith:

1. There is the prayer to God in Ch. 1. Rational arguments do not typically include prayers to God.

2. At the conclusion of Ch. 1 Anselm says:  "I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, -- that unless I believed, I should not understand." Obviously, is starting from faith and not trying to prove rationally anything held by faith. He is merely trying to understand what he believes.

3. At the beginning of Ch. 2 Anselm writes: "And so, Lord, do you, who do give understanding to faith, give me, so far as you know it to be profitable, to understand that you are as we believe; and that you are that which we believe." It would appear that Anselm is asking for God's assistance in his argument. But an argument made with God's assistance is an argument that depends on faith. 

4. Anselm follows the previous sentence ( "And so, Lord, do you, who do give understanding to faith...") with: “And indeed, we believe that you are a being than which nothing greater can be thought.” And Anselm will go on to argue that God exists in they way that he is believed to be (i.e., as something than which nothing greater can be thought). So, Anselm is going to argue that God exists under a certain description. That description comes from faith. Anselm's argument, then, depends on faith.

At best the the above arguments show a material dependence but not a formal dependence of the Ch. 2 argument on faith...

Ad 1. As a Christian, it is not surprising that Anselm should begin his reflection on divinity with a prayer. But this does not entail that the prayer is a formal part of his argument. I see no part of the prayer that supplies a proposition that is necessary for the conclusion Anselm reaches at the end of Ch. 2. Suppose a mathematician prayed before he worked out a math problem. Should we assume that the prayer is a formal part of his solution to the problem?

Ad 2. Again as a Christian, faith has a priority for Anselm. Christians believe in God and believe things about God not merely on the basis of having understood or proved them. Faith is a supernatural gift that imparts real apodictic knowledge of God. And if Anselm does not believe the truths taught by revelation – that is, if he does not take them to have any bearing on reality – then, indeed, he will not understand them. Still, none of this prevents Christians from seeing whether some of what they believe might not also be knowable by reason according to its native power. You might tell me, for example, that the square root of 2 is an irrational number and I might sincerely believe you. Even so, I could still try to prove this for myself.

Ad 3. Let us suppose this (as far as we know) counterfactual: God dictated the argument in Ch. 2 to Anselm. Would that necessarily make the argument beyond reason’s grasp? No. To use my previous example again, suppose that you have proved for yourself that the square root of 2 is an irrational number and then suppose that after you have worked out the proof several times God announces to you: “The square root of 2 is an irrational number” and then proceeds to explain the proof to you. But you already knew all of this without God teaching you. If the divine revelation of a truth were sufficient to make that truth inaccessible to reason alone, you could never have known about 2’s square root before God vouchsafed it to you, and yet you did know it before that.

Ad 4. While Christians may believe that God can be correctly described as that than which nothing greater can be thought, this fact by itself would not carry with it the impossibility of rationally demonstrating this truth. We could only settle the matter by actually attempting a rational demonstration.

But let's look at Anselm's argument itself. Here is the relevant part of Ch. 2:

And indeed, [Lord,] we believe that you are a being than which nothing greater can be thought. Or is there no such nature, since the fool has said in his heart, there is no God? (Psalm 14:1). But, at any rate, this very fool, when he hears of this being of which I speak – a being than which nothing greater can be thought – understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding; although he does not understand it to exist. For, it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the object exists. When a painter first conceives of what he will afterwards perform, he has it in his understanding, but be does not yet understand it to be, because he has not yet performed it. But after he has made the painting, he both has it in his understanding, and he understands that it exists, because he has made it. Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be thought. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that than which nothing greater can be thought cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be thought to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be thought, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be thought, is one, than which a greater can be thought. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be thought, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

 We could sum up the argument thus:

(i) God is that than which nothing greater can be thought.

(ii) Even the fool, who denies God, can have an understanding of that than which nothing greater can be thought.

(iii) Thus, that than which nothing greater can be thought exists in his understanding.

(iv) But it is greater to exist in reality than in the understanding alone.

(v) If that than which nothing greater can be thought existed in the understanding alone, something greater than it would exist, i.e., what exists in reality and not in the understanding alone.

(vi) But that is impossible (i.e., it is impossible for there to be something greater than that than which nothing greater can be thought).

∴ (vii) That than which nothing greater can be thought – God – must exist in reality.

Clearly, there is nothing in Anselm’s text nor in my summary of the argument that formally depends on faith in Christian revelation. To object that the second premise depends on Psalm 14 is idle because the dependence is only material. We do not need Scripture to tell us that people either do or could deny God’s existence. And, in any case, the argument only requires that someone can have an understanding of that than which nothing greater can be thought. It does not require that someone who denies God’s existence have this understanding.

Does Anselm anywhere tell us whether he thinks the Ch. 2 argument depends on faith? Let's remember that Anselm takes the Proslogion to be a continuation of the Monologion. In the preface to the Monologion he tells us that his monks asked him to compose arguments about God that did not depend on the authority of Scripture but on rational necessity. Then in the preface to the Proslogion Anselm explains that he is still trying to carry out this project. Hence, Anselm himself insists that he is not making any appeal to faith. And he will reaffirm this over a decade later when he observes in the De incarnatione Verbi that the Monologion and Proslogion were written "especially in order to show that what we hold by faith regarding the divine nature and its persons -- excluding the topic of incarnation -- can be proven by compelling reasons apart from appeal to the authority of Scripture" (Ch. 6).

So, why did I invent reasons why people might think that Anselm's ontological argument depends on faith instead of looking at the actual reasons that some of Anselm's interpreters give? This is a fair question. I think that the above exercise is useful for thinking through what is going on in Anselm's argument. But if I have time in the future, I will look at why some real people believe the argument depends on faith.