Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Maybe a Spark


Beginning with the Peterson, Pageau, Vervaeke and Baron conversation, mentions of Thomas Aquinas began to enter the room.  Since then, this has been happening more often.  It happened several times in this conversation between Matt Fradd and Jonathan Pageau.

Pageau is famously known for talking about patterns.  I have noted that patterns, in this sense, is not any different than purpose.  I find that patterns are nothing more than purpose in action – as long as one recognizes that inherent in every being is a purpose common with other beings of a like type.  Hence…patterns.

But now Pageau is making the connection overtly.  He uses the words purpose and teleology.  He has often mentioned this idea of a return to Aquinas.  But, just as in the conversation with the four, hosted by Peterson, no direct mention in this conversation with Fradd of natural law.  And this time, I lay the blame of Fradd, who cannot be oblivious to the connection (his channel is called Pints with Aquinas, for goodness’ sakes).

But…baby steps.  I have waited several years for the conversation to at least crack the natural law door open.  I believe it is inevitable that eventually those involved in this conversation will come to find the common point for all of them is to be found in the natural law ethic. 

Through it, the question of where we should aim is answered; the question of how we should act is answered; the question of who we are is answered.  These are the questions being asked in the discussion, and natural law points to answers for each of these.

Living a life in accord with the natural law ethic gives meaning in life – in other words, the cure for the meaning crisis.


Jonathan Pageau gave a lecture for an event put together by the Montreal Jung Society.  During the Q&A, he was asked “How would you work with the problem of inclusive / exclusive categories in these times?  Where do the movements of cancel culture or Black Lives Matter feed, or how to make sense of these movements?”  Dangerous and loaded questions. 

The entire section is about twelve minutes long, and is worth listening to directly.  Pageau replies:

One of the things we are seeing is out of control versions of this identification system or this system of communion.    Woke culture understands the problem of exclusion.  The problem is, they want to account for everything.  They want everything to fit. 

I would say except for straight white Christians, whether male or female.

The problem is, that’s impossible.  It’s even a dangerous thing.  There are lots of ancient traditions that speak to this: in Jewish law, you have to leave a fringe on your vestment, or you have to leave the corners of the field untilled for the strangers.

All of these patterns make clear that you can’t have a system that is both coherent and complete at the same time.  You can’t.

Perhaps you can if you consider human beings as perfectly interchangeable cogs in a machine.  (Hint: meaning crisis.)

What’s happened is that people want to make inclusivity the only value, because of the problem of exclusion. 

See my earlier post on Pageau’s thoughts on a speech by Tim Cook of Apple.

And so what happens, and what I am going to say is going to seem radical to some, what we are seeing in this process is the actual destruction of the world.  This type of thinking can actually destroy the world. 

Wait, don’t despair.  He sees an alternative:

Or lead to absolute tyranny.

Feel better?

One or the other, or, maybe, one causing the other.

He then describes a basketball team, the purpose of which is to win a championship.  But, no!  The purpose is inclusion! 

Now, imagine you do that for every single reality, for every single communion: the purpose of your group is inclusion.  So you sacrifice the purpose of the group for inclusion, and you end up doing that in all aspects of reality.  But what you are doing is devouring the purpose; you are eating it.  It is becoming eaten by this thing.

It’s a monster.  The potentiality is infinite – you need to let all this potential in: “this is wrong, you are excluding this potential; you need to let it all in.”  It’s like a sea monster that comes up and devoirs the identities. 

People are trying to make inclusivity as the tyrannical system itself.  It seems like that’s not possible, but that seems to be what is happening.  Inclusivity is going to turn into tyranny. 

That gesture is going to create something like absolute scapegoats.  Those that will refuse to participate in this highest, weird principle of inclusivity, will be absolutely excluded.  It is the only sin, and it is an unforgiveable sin.

Again, the system desired by Tim Cook of Apple.

We are moving toward that, and it’s kind of scary to see it happen.

The topic naturally moves to the concept and reality of discrimination.  Continuing with Pageau:

The idea that discrimination has become an absolute evil is insane; it’s an insane moment.  You discriminate all the time.  You are constantly discriminating.  It’s a normal aspect of reality.

Jordan Peterson interjects, “this means an assault on our ability to distinguish between that which is higher and that which is lower.”  The look on Peterson’s face when he says this, like a sudden realization.  I know he knows all of this, but perhaps, through the presentation made by Pageau, Peterson was able to summarize the picture much more clearly for himself.

Pageau offers that the Christian system is self-healing on such issues.  At the top of the hierarchy is identity, but above that is sacrifice.  The pyramid is self-emptying. 

The highest thing is the king, and the very highest thing is the martyr.  And that’s super important to understand that. 

In order for the leg of a chair to be the leg of a chair, it has to sacrifice itself to a higher purpose.  It can’t just be a leg of a chair; it has to participate in a higher pattern.

We have lost the capacity to sacrifice ourself for a higher good, and the capacity to sacrifice ourself for our own parts.  Even the chair has to sacrifice its purity in order to exist.  All chairs have aspects of it that aren’t the pure chair.

This isn’t a Nietzschean will to power – nothing like that.  The real hierarchy ends in self-sacrifice.  That’s why the Cross is at the top of the hill.

This is how the system can balance itself out.

Another example he offers: the quarterback of a football team.  Yes, he is at the top of the hierarchy.  But in order to be successful, he has to sacrifice himself for something higher, the good of the team, and for something lower, the betterment of his teammates.

What is another way of describing this sacrifice that is at the very top of the hierarchy?  Beatitudo: love through other-regarding action.  It is the only highest value that can withstand corruption – this is precisely how and why the Christian system is self-healing.  One moves higher up the pyramid by being better at love.


So, maybe a spark.  Everything in this dialogue is moving toward overtly naming the natural law ethic.  Aquinas has entered the room, but now the points must be connected.

Unfortunately, the two Catholics who have recently entered the conversation haven’t yet made the connection.  If Catholics do not, who will?


  1. I have 2 Mises Institute videos in my queue of Judge Nap discussing natural law. My hope is that he is talking about the natural law of Aristotle and Aquinas. I will keep you posted if his talks are helpful.

    1. He confuses Natural Law and Natural Rights a bit but Natural Law can only happen when Natural Rights are respected.

    2. "...Natural Law can only happen when Natural Rights are respected."

      I think it is the other way around. The way you describe says the non-aggression principle will result in good ethical behavior.

      Instead, "Natural Rights can only happen when Natural Law is respected."

      Good ethical behavior allows for a society that respects the non-aggression principle.

      Politics is downstream from culture.

  2. Timothy Gordon talks about natural law fairly often (author of "Catholic Republic" & "The Case for Patriarchy"). He's also had several discussions with Matt Fradd, though not with Pageau to my knowledge.

  3. Vatican II rejected Thomistic theology; the Novus Ordo abandoned it. The "Catholics" in the conversation are children of that revolution. They won't make the connection because they do not see their world in that way.

    1. It's interesting you say this. I have listened to several dozen lectures from Aquinas 101. Only a handful touched specifically on natural law - these were very good, but it was only a handful.

    2. Correct. To be fair, the Dominicans are still invested in Thomism for obvious reasons, much in the same way that the Jesuits still are invested in "The Spiritual Exercises," despite the Society bearing almost no resemblance to that founded by St. Ignatius. But both organizations have been remade by the "spirit of the council" which holds "human rights" sacrosanct above natural law.