Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Aquinas and Human Action


Aquinas on the Stages of Human Action, Fr. James Brent, O.P. (Part 1; Part 2)

Following are some notes from this two-part talk (all quoted items are paraphrases, hopefully reasonably accurate):

It is taken for granted that human agents have free will or free agency – we have the experience, day to day, of being confronted with options and being able to opt between such options.  This offers a truncated picture, a picture of lower appetites.

This is David Hume’s “reason,” when he wrote: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”  It is the reason of lower appetites – if one can even call it reason.

Human beings also have higher appetites, to perceive the order of reality: reason.  We have the ability to live according to the reality perceived by reason.  Life goes beyond fulfilling our lower appetites; it is about living in accord with the reality of reason – integrating our passions according to reason.  There is more to being human than merely fulfilling our lower appetites.

Why is this so?

Reality is a world of form and finality: entities – the things of nature – have substantial forms and final ends.  We do not live in a mechanistic universe.  All human action is for the sake of an end – a proximate end, but also an ultimate end.  The ultimate end is happiness. (Fr. Brent will define this later)

There is an objective end for human beings as human beings.  Proper reason aims toward this objective end.  Without an objective end, or purpose…well, this is the world we certainly occupy today, where every behavior – including murder – is justifiable and justified.

No, reason, in any human sense, is not merely a slave to the passions.

Humans, unlike other animals, act based on intellect and will.  To varying degrees, other animals lack these same abilities.  Intellect is the capacity to know the truth, including the truth about the good – and there is a true, objective answer to this question of what is good – what brings us happiness.  We are able to know the truth about the good; Augustine calls this “wisdom.”

It is interesting: those who do not hold that there is objective value and objective truth at the same time have difficulty stating what is good.  The best they can do is to say avoid evil – with evil usually defined as “don’t be Hitler.”  By that standard, we are all pretty much saints.

Free will is not a power preceding the intellect and will.  It is a capacity proceeding from intellect and will operating together or jointly.  Intellect and will each make their contribution, and from this comes free will.

Of course, free will proceeds from will.  Free will also proceeds from the intellect – the capacity to know the truth.  The will and the intellect must act together.  This isn’t a different truth for each of us.  It is the truth of our objective end as human beings.

The will cannot not will happiness.  Every human being desires to be happy; this is not a matter of free choice.  By nature, we want to be happy – the ultimate end, beatitudo.  We might err in what constitutes happiness, but this is an error of the intellect. 

It is everyone’s answer to the question: what do you want, what do you want in life, what do you want for your children?  I want to be happy; I want my children to be happy.  But not everyone holds the proper definition of happiness – this is due to an error of the intellect.  And it is on this point that Thomas will say (I believe I have this right) that we have free will toward our proper ends – because free will proceeds from knowing the truth.

Our free choices regard means; the end – happiness, beatitudo – is not subject to this same free choice.

A wide variety of means are available to us when pursuing any given end – even the ultimate end.  In the means, we have free choice.  In the ends – we have the objective reality that we are human, made with a purpose, or telos.

Yes, it is an ethical story – according to Thomas, we are embedded in an ethical story.  The question of “why be moral?” makes no sense to Thomas.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Priestly Caste


Jonathan Pageau had a conversation with Dr. Paula Boddington, who has done work in the field of developing a code of ethics for artificial intelligence.  A few excerpts….


We are the Priests

Of the Temples of Syrinx

Our great computers

Fill the hallowed halls

-          2112, Rush


Artificial intelligence is creating a new priestly class.  AI – the making of a body that can host intelligence.  This is the work of God…or the gods.  We sacrifice to that creator-god, we trust it – Google, Facebook, the algorithm, etc.  It is the leaders, the tech elites, of these entities that are the new priestly caste; the will of the god manifests itself through them – these priests.

The priestly caste informs the people, telling them to look at the god – look to the statue, look to the AI.  AI is giving power to this priestly group.  The culture war is a war for what comes up first in a search on google. 

What happens when this priestly class figures out that humans need an artificial god to worship, to go along with the artificial intelligence that have created?  Something above the priest – not hidden, but to be known?


We’ve taken care of everything

The words you read

The songs you sing

The pictures that give pleasure

To your eye


How is it that tech companies are bringing about the Kafka state – the insane, bureaucratic, communist, totalitarian state; you don’t even know who to talk to, there is no human on the other end of the line, you don’t know how to appeal.  They game the system by making all of the rules opaque.

I have been thinking about this recently.  Are the tech companies more powerful than state governments?  On the one hand, it seems the answer is yes.  Except that the state can, at any time, crush the tech companies – break these up, destroy the wealth of the founders, etc.

The power remains with the state.  The state uses these tech companies.  Bribes are paid, via central banking largesse, driving up the net worth of the tech elites; these elites know the game.  The stand at attention, knowing that at any moment the multi-billions, tens-of-billions, and even hundreds of billions could be gone tomorrow if they decide not to play the game.


One for all and all for one

Work together

Common sons

Never need to wonder

How or why


Boddington: Intelligence is the capacity to reach your goals – that intelligence is just instrumental, utilitarian.  It is just used to maximize or increase happiness.  It fits into an Enlightenment ideal of reason – we are making progress, a Steven Pinker type view.

Pageau: I actually don’t mind that way of seeing intelligence – the capacity to reach your goals.  It’s just that there are higher goals and there are lower goals.  The materialist, Steven Pinker world is after the lower goals – the world of whims and desires, pleasures and pain.  Whereas virtue and the good, in the Christian or Platonic sense, is actually the goal – the goal of reality. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold


Kind Hearts and Coronets, 1949: "Revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold."

The Godfather, 1969: Don Corleone nodded. "Revenge is a dish that tastes best when it is cold," he said.

Star Trek II, The Wrath of Kahn, 1982: Kirk, old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb, "Revenge is a dish best served cold"?

-          (Source)

Then we have Sheldon, from The Big Bang Theory:

Sheldon Cooper: bortaS bIr jablu'DI' reH QaQqu' nay!

Wil Wheaton: Did that guy just say "Revenge is a dish best served cold" in Klingon?

Stuart: I believe so. 

Wil Wheaton: What is wrong with him?

Stuart: Everyone has a different theory.


Following are select executive orders signed by Biden in the first days of assuming office:

January 20, 2021: Biden Cancels Keystone XL, Halts Drilling in Arctic Refuge on Day One

January 20, 2021: Biden's advisers have compiled a list of more than 100 rules and policies developed by the Trump administration that it sees as targets for review, CNN has learned. Each of the policies relate to environmental conservation and climate change and are linked to an executive order Biden intends to sign on public health and the environment.

January 20, 2021: Paris climate accord: Biden announces US will rejoin landmark agreement

January 27, 2021: Biden aims for comprehensive climate approach as he halts new oil and gas leases on federal land

Just two weeks later:

February 10, 2021: Extreme cold straight from the Arctic to plunge south to Gulf of Mexico

February 14, 2021: Cold and snow grips much of U.S., from Seattle to Texas to Northeast

February 14, 2021: Frozen wind turbines hamper Texas power output, state's electric grid operator says

February 15, 2021: Frozen wind turbines, soaring spot electricity prices: How the Artic freeze is roiling Texas’ energy market

February 15, 2021: Winter Weather, Record Cold Grips Much of Central-Southern US

February 16, 2021: Millions struggle without power as cold snap grips US

Where do we turn?

February 16, 2021: As nation freezes, fossil fuels are keeping the lights and heat on

Just to demonstrate that this stupidity knows no borders:

February 12, 2021: Berlin’s Electric Busses Fail to Run in the Cold

February 13, 2021: Germany Desperate For Coal Power, As Wind & Solar Power Fail


It seems Gaia, the goddess to whom the climatists offer worship, is not without a sense of humor.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Neither Hot Nor Cold


Revelation 3: 14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Origin of the creation of God, says this:

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have no need of anything,” and you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked

I watched the first fifteen minutes of Jordan Peterson’s discussion with Gad Saad.  That was that.  Before coming to this video, and its short hold on my interest, a review of some of the work Peterson has done since his return from his illness.

The first of these discussions which I commented on was with Douglas Murray – two people that in the past would have held quite an interest for me.  It was clear that both men were working to distance themselves from the right – the same right that has placed both men on the map.

A false position was offered by Peterson, regarding those who believe the recent presidential election was a fraud: you have to believe that the entire US establishment is corrupt, and that Donald Trump is a saint.  It is total nonsense, of course, as one can view the system as corrupt and Trump far less than perfect.  So, no, you don’t have to believe Trump is a saint if you believe the election was fraudulent.

There was no discussion about truth, only about the need to keep faith in the institutions.  An interesting point coming from someone who broke on the stage on the back of dealing with the meaning crisis – without truth, meaning in life is impossible; I should say: without truth, life is impossible.

I held some sympathy for Peterson after this video (albeit, while watching most of it, I was unable to finish it); the man came off of what seemed to be a very debilitating illness.  As he said, he has had his bravery beaten out of him.  I get it.

The second of these discussions which I commented on was with Matt Ridley.  Despite Ridley (and, increasingly, Peterson) focusing solely on the material gains since the Enlightenment, Ridley does note that he is slipping into pessimism regarding various government energy policies.

Peterson will have none of that: don’t go there.  Despite whatever is true of governmental policies, we need to uphold the story.  We need to put our faith in man.  This used to be a problem for Peterson, who always said we had to look up for meaning.  Now, he says we must look down.

Well, the current discussion with Gad Saad…fifteen minutes and I quit.  Peterson asks Saad: why are you focused on the extremes of the left?  Saad explains himself.  But why are you focused on the extremes of the left?  Saad tries again, using an analogy.  Yeah, but why are you focused on the extremes of the left?

This was then followed by Peterson once again offering his analysis of those who believe the recent US election was fraudulent: you have to believe that the entire US establishment is corrupt, and that Donald Trump is a saint. 

Peterson was made rich, and became wealthy, on the back of his discussion of meaning.  This loss of meaning is inextricably linked to the success of the left in destroying language, destroying gender, destroying truth.  Peterson understood this, and it is for this reason that he gained some traction with those who hold to conservative and Christian values.

Peterson understood that there was a downside to the Enlightenment, that the gains in materialism must be weighed against the loss of meaning.

Both of these he has thrown away.  I am not sure what his unique selling proposition now is, other than trading on the name he made for himself in his skyrocket to fame.


Peterson is trying very hard to get in the good graces of those who control polite conversation – polite meaning acceptable with all the right people.  He will fail.  He has demonstrated that he can’t be trusted; he is responsible for bring to the broader public a conversation that is not allowed.

He will succeed at alienating many of those who found him a consistent voice – not perfectly so, by any stretch (the topic of Faith Goldy came up, unapologetically, in the short part of this video) – but consistent by most human standards.  

He had already alienated the mainstream academia and media; he now discards meaning and truth.  What is left worth listening to?  Nothing much that I can tell.

I have heard that Peterson will be talking with Jonathan Pageau.  I will watch that discussion.  I am pretty sure that I can count on one of the participants remaining consistent, and I look forward to seeing how Pageau responds to Peterson’s change.

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Illiberality of Modern Ideas


In actual modern Europe a freethinker does not mean a man who thinks for himself. It means a man who, having thought for himself, has come to one particular class of conclusions, the material origin of phenomena, the impossibility of miracles, the improbability of personal immortality and so on. And none of these ideas are particularly liberal. Nay, indeed almost all these ideas are definitely illiberal, as it is the purpose of this chapter to show.

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton (ebook)

Chesterton proposes that on every matter insisted upon by the modern (for his time, and more so in our time) liberals, these will result in the illiberalizing of social practice.  Keeping in mind that this book was written in 1908, when Europe was at its peak in terms of realizing classical liberal ideas, Chesterton presciently saw where this road would lead. This is noted in Jacques Barzun’s work, From Dawn to Decadence:

Two writers, Chesterton and Belloc, did express alarm at the coming of The Servile State, but they were not heeded in the tumult of violent ideas and events.

Regarding Chesterton, the evidence is to be found in many chapters of this current book – including the one I am covering in this post.  Regarding Belloc, The Servile State is a book authored by Belloc in 1912, in which he repudiates the convergence of big business with the state.  We see, all too obviously and a century too late, where this road has led.

Chesterton offers that every contemporary proposal to bring freedom to the church is simply a proposal to bring tyranny to the world.  The only solution to this problem is what Chesterton calls orthodoxy. 

I may, it is true, twist orthodoxy so as partly to justify a tyrant. But I can easily make up a German philosophy to justify him entirely.

Chesterton refers back to the previous chapter, where he demonstrated that the only logical negation of oligarchy was the idea of original sin, as all men are backsliders – an idea which has been negated by those who consider themselves to be liberal.  In this chapter he will address a few more similar ideas.

Miracles: it is believed more liberal to disbelieve in miracles than to believe in them.  But how limiting has this become.  Our disbelief in miracles has reduced our belief to the materialism that has proven that free will is an illusion.

In their doubt of miracles there was a faith in a fixed and godless fate; a deep and sincere faith in the incurable routine of the cosmos.

The liberal idea of freedom can only be realized by holding onto the idea of miracles.  If reform or progress means the gradual control of matter by mind, a miracle is simply the swift control of matter by mind. 

The similarity of all religions: we are taught that the main world religions are similar in what they teach, differing only in their rites and forms.  Chesterton offers that the opposite is true.  All main religions have similar rites and forms: priests and temples, scriptures and alters, sworn brotherhoods and special feasts.  They differ in what is to be taught.  He draws this out especially in the comparison of Christianity and Buddhism.

Chesterton separates the arguments for this belief in the similarity of the teachings of the two in two kinds: first, some resemblances are common to all humanity, so there is no reason to claim this as something special between Christianity and Buddhism; second, some resemblances are not resemblances at all. 

To the first: both Christ and Buddha were called by a divine voice from the sky – as if the divine voice might otherwise come from a coal-cellar; both had something to do with the washing of feet – as if having feet was such a differentiating feature among men; both approve of mercy and self-restraint – yet these are common features of all major religions.

To the second type, he points to the renting of the robe – to be found in both cases.  Yet the renting of the robe of the Lama is done out of respect; for Christ, it was exactly the opposite.  Both offer a way out of sin, but the way out is quite different in each.

Chesterton draws this out by looking at the difference in art:

No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open.