Saturday, 22 September 2018

Notes on Metaphysics and Politics

Politics and ethics must be resolved to metaphysics. The subject matter of political or ethical science is not properly metaphysical; yet, as all the lower sciences are resolved to metaphysics, so must politics and ethics be resolved. The subject matter of the natural sciences (i.e. physics and biology) is not properly a metaphysical subject matter; yet all things are metaphysically constituted, so even the object signified by the subject matter of physics may be studied metaphysically, considered under a different formality. E.g. man may be studied as an object of natural science insofar as he is a being of matter and motion; he may be studied as an object of metaphysics insofar as he is simply a being. Object and subject-matter are not synonymous: the same object (a being) may be studied by two different sciences, insofar as those sciences relate to it under distinct formalities, constituting it as a different logical subject matter for each science. 

Political science is not the same as metaphysics, for it has a different subject-matter and a different goal: it studies not being as being, but human action as such; yet insofar as human action is related to being, as such it does indeed pertain to metaphysics. This is not to identify politics with metaphysics, but to resolve politics to principles which can only be provided by metaphysics. The political or ethical philosopher knows how to act as man only because he knows what is the perfection of man’s being – the good by which his being expresses and fulfills itself. Meta-physics knows man as being, as a participant in being as such; consequently it knows what his perfection is, insofar as it knows being as such in relation to what is the perfection of being as such: the good itself. Metaphysics is the search for the causes of being as such: knowledge of the perfection of being is knowledge of its final cause. This, indeed, is how Aristotle culminates his pursuit of the metaphysical science.

Man is a being, because man exists; but he is man because his existence is conditioned and lim-ited by a certain mode of being, an essence, which is a peculiar potency with respect to the act that is existence, which together make him a being. Being is not univocal; it is analogous. Thus, although metaphysics differs from the lower sciences by considering being as such, it can only know being in its unity by simultaneously assimilating and separating from its knowledge of the particular modes of being. Metaphysics assimilates the particular and limited knowledge that has particular modes of being for its object, e.g. the knowledge gained by the natural sciences. This knowledge is not properly metaphysical, nor is metaphysical knowledge the same as natural science; yet natural science is resolved to metaphysics, and metaphysics must assimilate the knowledge gained by natural science – these are in fact the converse of each other. The study of human nature as one particular mode of being, a mode of being that is one-of-a-kind and not uni-vocally being with respect to (for example) mere physical being, is one such category of knowledge that can and must be assimilated and resolved to metaphysical knowledge. Accordingly, the theoretical study of human nature against the backdrop of which alone ethics and politics are possible is indeed relevant to metaphysics, and must be shown to receive its principles from metaphysics. Conversely, metaphysical knowledge itself is perfected in the degree that the metaphysician knows human nature as such in being as such. 

Knowing metaphysically what is the ultimate final cause of being, and knowing in relation to being what is the nature of the human being in particular, the philosopher may transition from speculative to practical intellect: the question for the practical philosopher, having transitioned from metaphysics, becomes how to attain the final cause of being, and more specifically, the final cause of the human being. These questions are related, because ultimately the final cause of being and the final cause of human being are the same thing: and the answer to the latter question can only be resolved in relation to the former. Ultimately, the perfection of man is only a moment, a stage, granted a highly significant stage, of the perfection of all being in the divine final cause of all things.

Metaphysics reveals what is the perfection of man, which is hierarchically manifold and ultimately one. Ethics and politics reveal what are the practical steps that a human being and a human society might take in order to attain that perfection. The ethicist and politician cannot perform their philosophical task without metaphysics: only through metaphysics do they know what is the perfection they seek; and they even gain remarkable insight into the ontological nature of the steps that must be taken, since metaphysics reveals not merely the ultimate goal, but also the intermediate goals, the many stages of metaphysical goodness and perfection in respect to being. Just as the perfection of man is itself an intermediate stage within a whole structure of perfections ordered to the ultimate final cause, so there are many intermediate stages between man’s proper perfections and the perfection enshrined in the ultimate final cause. Philosophical anthropology, especially one that is metaphysically guided, has much to say on the many kinds and grades of human perfection: perfection of his lower, middle, and highest faculties; the participation of his lower faculties in his higher faculties; the participation of his higher faculties in a mode of operation that is not even properly human (i.e. angelic operation); the various relations of his faculties to lesser and greater objects, i.e. external goods. Etc. Speculative or theoretical philosophy reveals not only the Good, but the goods of being, and of specific kinds of beings, and of human beings. To the ethicist, this store of theoretical wisdom becomes a guidebook, a map of goods to be acquired, of choices to be made, etc. He takes this wisdom and applies in the infinitesimal circumstance; he unites the universal principle with the contingent situation of factual, historical existence. He teaches and practices the virtue of prudence.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Back from Hiatus - And What a Hiatus!

After a two-month period of silence on this blog, I have much to report, but little energy or time to report it. These two months have been eventful in many ways - I have left Belgium to return to California, taking a gap year in the midst of my studies of philosophy at the University of Leuven. During this gap year - in little more than a month's time - I will be getting married, Deo Gratias. The plan is to be married in the Old Rite, of course, though the church space in which we are to be married is situated so that we cannot have the mass ad orientem. It is a loss to the traditional liturgy, but also a definitive improvement upon that which is normally experienced in this and the average parish. 

During these two months, I have become embroiled in several battles against liberalism, offering my voice on such sites as Twitter, Facebook, and the Josias, in defense of the Catholic traditional of social and political thought. That has been and will continue to be an adventure. This blog is a bit more esoteric, usually, than is accessible to the people who need to be engaged on pressing issues, from a principled standpoint. I have found that I can reach more people on those other social media platforms, as long as I do not let myself be trapped in the Web - and that itself is a struggle! Technology has many advantages, but many pitfalls as well. In our age, it is one of the most effective means of evangelization and witness; but it is also one of the most effective means of distancing souls from nature, and from other persons with whom they are more immediately connected. 

Before leaving Europe, I traveled to Rome and to Paris - I traveled far too little during my whole year in Europe, so in the last months I found myself obligated to see at least these two centers of  historic Christendom. I saw and learned much on these visits. In both cities I saw the ancient and huge monuments of the Catholic tradition, looming like giants amidst a sea of tourists. I went to Rome to see my faith, literally set in stone, concrete and immense in its presence. The Roman basilicas especially overwhelmed me with their mosaic images, in which the history of salvation seemed to come alive and shape the very atmosphere of the place. I witnessed the celebration of the ancient vigil of Pentecost at the parish of Santissima Trinita Dei Pellegrini, and the mass of Pentecost Sunday celebrated by Cardinal Raymond Burke at the parish of Gesu e Marie. The whole experience - not just these liturgies - was profoundly liturgical, even where there was no liturgy being celebrated in the churches I visited; even where I was not visiting churches, but standing in front of the profane monument of Vitorio Emmanuelle. Likewise, in Paris, not only was it a profoundly symbolic and even quasi-liturgical experience to walk into Notre Dame (or into Chartres Cathedral, on the one day when I could make an excursion from Paris). Even to see the Pantheon - temple of the Enlightenment - or the monuments to liberte, fraternite, and egalite, was a symbolic act of remembrance: on these sacred grounds have acts of profanity also been committed, yet the Church still stands in some places amidst the signs of pagan ruin. 

The juxtaposition of the City of Man and the City of God: this I witnessed especially in Paris, city of Saints and anti-Christs, heart of the eldest daughter of the Church, and center of the perversions of Enlightenment liberalism and modernism. France has spawned both the most staunch traditionalists and the worst modernists. The tense intimacy of these opposed domains has long been observed by the patriarchs and teachers of the Catholic tradition: Christ, St. Paul, and in the most detail St. Augustine, have observed this juxtaposition. It is a juxtaposition that comes in many forms: in times of Christian flourishing, the Church has set herself clearly above the world, in clear distinction and rulership. In other times, as can be seen in Paris, the City of Man exercises its dominion, yet the Church barely but steadily continues to breathe. Paris in this way represented to me the modern world as a whole, where the Church no longer appears to bear the sacred and revered authority which once was recognized in her. The Church - the People of God - has been exiled. 

In the Old Testament, there are countless tales of God's city being destroyed and resurrected - his people being exiled into the city of man, where they are surrounded by corruption, where they cannot worship in their age old traditions in the safety of their temple, with the freedom of their God-given ritual. The Babylonian exile represents the severance of God's people from their home, which is the entire body of their traditions of worship, law, custom, and morality. For several decades, we have been losing our traditional rites of liturgy as Catholics, the rigor of our laws and morals, the depth of our ancient identity. We do our best now, in this strange city where we cannot live or worship according to our own traditions; but our best is still poor compared to the life we lived in and surrounding the old Temple in Jerusalem. Every Sunday, I do my best to contribute to the liturgy by cantoring at the Novus Ordo, singing a little bit of ancient chant, and I consider this a sacred activity. But in the psalms I sing, I sometimes have to hold back tears of intense nostalgia; it is often like I am singing of my very inability to sing the songs of old Jerusalem: "By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept..." (Psalm 136). This past Sunday it was ever more poignant, in part because of the recent revelations of the moral decay in which the Church of today is so deeply immersed. It struck me again that we have been exiled to Babylon. We have seen our own city submitted to the destruction of the Chaldeans; we have lost our temples and their ancient rites of worship; we have followed false gods and false shepherds and suffered for it; we lived for generations in a place that is not our home.

But God always promises restoration. In Jeremiah 33, he promises to restore his people to their former joy, after they had been destroyed and desecrated by the Chaldeans. "They will be my people and I will be their God." He promises that they will once again sing his praise - I read this and I thought of the liturgy - and that the young brides and bridegrooms will join in this song of praise - I thought of my forthcoming marriage in just over a month - saying: "Give ye glory to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his mercy endureth forever." (Jeremiah 33:11). The intense nostalgia for Old Jerusalem is accompanied by hope - hope for the restoration and rejuvenation of the right worship of God. Our Church desperately needs this restoration. The Church has died many times, but happily, as Chesterton quipped, she has a God who knows His way out of the grave.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Note on Legalism

Legalism is a real problem. But it seems to me that many do not clearly perceive exactly what the problem of legalism is. The accusation of rigid legalism is bandied around without enough discernment or discrimination; it is often an all-too-easy way of dismissing traditional or conservative defenses of objective moral law, or defenses of traditional practice, etc., without adequate consideration of the merits of these positions in themselves. On the other hand, it is undeniable that there are legalists, and many of them are indeed traditionalists; although I think we might be surprised that many legalists of a far more dangerous sort are also found on the side of the spectrum that is quite opposite to the traditionalists. But before we start making such accusations, we ought to understand what law really is, and thus what the legalistic abuse of law really is - and what are the right parameters for legitimately making the accusation of legalism.

Law is a principle of order, insofar as it is a judgment of practical reason, promulgated by the right authority, for the sake of the common good. In classical philosophy, the common good is twofold: the extrinsic common good, which is ultimately God, and the intrinsic common good, which is the act by which a community or multiplicity possesses God, or ordains itself towards God as its extrinsic final cause. In a community, this act is inherently bound up with the hierarchical order of the multitude in relation to God. Another word for this order is peace, the right harmony of parts amongst themselves within a multitude. It is this order or peace of which law is the rational principle. Indeed, in a certain way order or peace almost consists of law, inasmuch as the order or parts entails the order of the lower to the higher, i.e. the order of all that is sub-rational by reason itself. The judgment of reason is a cause of order. This judgment, in practical matters, is generally what is called law. 

To follow the law with diligence, when it applies, is not legalism. Too often the accusation of legalism is thrown at those who advocate nothing more than diligence and fidelity to the law. The anti-legalist wishes to assert, to the contrary, that the law is not in any strict sense truly binding. On the contrary, law without its binding force is no law at all; a law is not merely a guideline or a rule of thumb: if it applies, it is binding.

However, a judgment of reason is a complicated thing, and the relationship between reason and practice is likewise complicated. A judgment of reason is something abstract and universal; but the more determinate it is made, the more is it capable of being subject to exceptions. Reason must therefore operate not at merely one level of universality, but at many: for at a lower level of universality, an abstract law will apply to fewer individual cases, even if it may be said to apply to many or even to most cases. But in those cases that occasionally arise which fall outside the sphere of such a lesser judgment of reason, appeal must be made to an even more universal law, precisely so that the particular case might be addressed more easily and with greater flexibility. But even this flexibility is always limited, because there is always some law, even a more remote and universal law, that has a bearing upon it.

In other words, laws are more or less universal, and more or less specific. Indeed, many laws are quite specific, especially in the case of human laws, civil or ecclesiastical. Framed as law, they are given the appearance of inflexible standards of practice; and yet precisely because they are more specific, in that proportion they must be more flexible. They are but determinations of a higher and more universal law; and this higher law, precisely in virtue of being more universal, is something relatively indeterminate - or rather, it is capable of many determinations. One aspect of legalism might be the failure to recognize that more a specific judgment of reason cannot be the one and only way of determining the more universal law; there are other ways to do so, and sometimes it is necessary to seek out those other ways, when extraordinary circumstances arise. The legalist is inflexible at a level of specificity where such inflexibility is inappropriate.

But how does one know when such inflexibility is inappropriate? Again, one must make a judgment of reason - not a judgment of desire. In other words, one must make a judgment that the application of this specific law to this particular circumstance is contravened by a higher law, which may call for another, or even an opposite, prudent course of action in that circumstance. But it is crucial that one can only make this judgment by appealing to a legitimately higher and more universal law. One cannot merely appeal to desire, or to love, or even to legitimately good things when their good is merely conditional upon a higher good. Since law is for the sake of the common good, and since goods are more or less common (which is why laws are more or less universal), one can only judge it right to contravene or disobey a specific law if it is truly in the interest of the greater good to do so. Legalism fails to recognize the interest of the greater good when it calls for a course of action that falls outside of the judgment of a particular law, though it does fall within the judgment of a more universal law combined with prudence. But equally, many who wield the accusation of "legalism!" fail to recognize that it is not just any good that may exempt from the obligation of a specific law, but only a good that is greater than that to which the specific law itself is ordered.

These distinctions are absolutely necessary in order to safeguard both law and legitimate exceptions to the law, so as to avoid both a rampant liberal disobedience on the one hand, and a rigid and overbearing legalism on the other hand. 

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Politics, Virtue, and Beauty

I am a firm believer in the inseparability of politics and ethics from aesthetics. Virtue and virtuous living are also a matter of living beautifully, for the good and the beautiful are convertible, even if they are different aspects of the same reality. Indeed, one of the many crises of modernity is that politics has been separated from ethics: we no longer look for virtuous men, in choosing those men who will be our leaders, but for clever and cunning men, or perhaps merely assertive and aggressive men, regardless of their virtue. Our politicians glory in their vileness. But another and less noticed aspect of this crisis is that both politics and ethics have been divorced from aesthetics - virtue itself has been divorced from beauty. I believe that this actually corrupts virtue itself, and makes it into a parody of itself. 

What do I mean by this? Everywhere one looks, on the modern political battleground, there is no concern for culture. On the side of the "liberals," culture is an appendage, perhaps a pleasantry to be enjoyed, though not really understood, by the elite who have time for such frivolities, but hardly anything that is substantially relevant to the politics and ideologies to which they are primarily committed. On the side of the "conservatives," concern for finer culture is practically non-existent now; the meaning of conservatism has strangely morphed from the preservation of culture to the defense of "free speech" and a blunt resistance to liberal bullying. The political battles themselves, as has become painfully evident in recent years, have quickly devolved into an ugly contest of vile persons against each other: no longer do the guardians care for virtue, wisdom, or the visible form of these things, which is beauty. Plato would be appalled by such a politics. 

Many will accuse me and my concern for beauty of mere sentimental superficiality: I seem to care not for substance, but merely for image, the external and transitory surface beneath which lies all that really matters. How does one respond to such an accusation? I can only respond that such persons have lost all sense of the integral unity of the fabric of reality. What is political order itself, but a ray of beauty manifested as the pleasing harmony of persons, societies, and institutions? What, indeed, is virtue itself but a form of beauty inhering in the person? What is physical beauty - which these puritans would dismiss as superficial and irrelevant - but another instance of the same perfection, a sister of virtue and social harmony (peace)?

Being is said in many ways; also the Good is said in many ways. The perfection by which Being becomes Good thus manifests itself in all beings capable of goodness. The metaphysically-attuned soul will not attend only to one or two of these many senses of being; being himself about being (dasein) he is about the whole of being. Plato identifies the philosopher as he who loves the whole of wisdom - not some part of it, i.e. a particular art or science. Even ethics is only one part of wisdom; even politics is only one part, though an architectonic part. But to be architectonic, indeed, means that this one part is still relevant to and affected by all the other parts. A metaphysical soul will not be concerned only with metaphysical truths; he will also be concerned with physical truths, since these have a bearing on metaphysics itself. The philosophic soul is not concerned only with being, or only with the good, or only with the truth - he is concerned with all of these together. He is of course therefore concerned also for beauty.

Being is a plurivocal whole - it is a whole, and thus a unity, but a unity with many voices. Discard any of these voices, and one has neglected the whole. To say that everything is connected, and everything is relevant to everything, is to utter something so true that one falls quite short of the very truth expressed in such a saying. The man who sins against prudence, a virtue, since against harmony, a property of beauty, and indeed a perfection of being. Such a sinner has silenced one of the voices of being, namely prudence; but thinking he could do so and go unnoticed, he silenced also the voice of beauty and goodness. Harmony is a property of beauty, and virtue is a good. He has also offended the truth: for prudence is wisdom, and wisdom orders things according to logos, the intelligible truth of being.

The political virtue is prudence, par excellence, practical wisdom - the virtue which puts things in order. Political prudence puts society in order, it is an organizing principle. The only good politician is the prudent man - just as the only virtuous man is the prudent man: the man who judges rightly concerning what it is fitting to do. In consequently doing, a man performs a human act. In doing so well, according to the direction of his prudence, a man acts virtuously; and in ordering other men to each other, as parts of society, putting them into their proper place in relation to the whole, the prudent politician leads other men to act well like him. The political leader's function is to lead others to virtue. There is nothing more obvious than this.

But his role is also to lead men to think rightly concerning beauty, as Plato says in the Republic. Plato is not typically concerned to make sweeping distinctions between when it is appropriate to speak of virtue and when it is appropriate to speak of beauty; or when, indeed, it is appropriate to speak of anything. Nearly all of the Platonic ruminations on questions of metaphysics occur in the context of trying to decipher the meaning of various activities, arts, and virtues - e.g. justice in the Republic, or love in the Symposium. These are also the contexts in which beauty appears as a subject of discussion. In many of these dialogues - Republic, Symposium, Phaedrus - the virtuous man, and/or the philosopher, is revealed as a kind of lover; and he is a lover of beauty itself, just as he is a lover of wisdom. The philosopher-king is concerned with perfecting the city, just as the philosopher is concerned with perfecting his soul - just as any virtuous man is concerned with perfecting the activity which is his, in accordance with the eternal archetypes of perfection which he contemplates by the philosophic act. Although there is certainly a movement of escape from mere images to the really-real, there is also in Plato a sharp movement of making the images themselves, of bringing them closer to their Forms, of making them more perfect. The philosopher is also an artist. He makes things beautiful by bringing them into communion with beauty itself.

The politicians of our day have no such concern; they do not wish to make things beautiful. They wish only to make affairs convenient for the attainment of very limited and individualistic ends - ends which necessarily and arbitrarily impede the ends of other individuals. Politicians have their own ends, and they have all the power; they care only to compete with other holders of power, and to limit the power of their subjects, to manipulate the great mechanism of the State in which persons are merely cogs in the machine. Politics is not a matter of beauty, but of "equilibrium" of powers - and equilibrium that is nonetheless only ever imposed by a power that stands outside that equilibrium, being greater than all other powers. All of this is painted with the colors of "personal autonomy" - it is modern liberalism - when really it dehumanizes persons, rids them of the capacity for virtue, and rather than allowing form to shine as something beautiful in things, merely forces things into a willed order by an act of violence. The modern politician, in other words, is none other than Thrasymachus, the unbridled "spirited man" of the Republic, the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes. The modern political landscape is dominated by this figure of Thrasymachus the Leviathan. It matters not whether one looks to the "left" or the "right" of the political spectrum: it is all the same. A politics that is neither virtuous nor beautiful, nor even attempting to aim at these - one begins to doubt whether there is anything of the true finesse of the political art to be found in these times.

Monday, 4 June 2018

A Philosophy of Mediation

Metaxology at Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini, in Rome, Italy

In any dichotomy, or in any form of dualism, the tension of opposites is resolved, or at least released somewhat, by some form of mediation. Mediation is the ground for the possibility of harmonious differences, the transcending of the either-or option, the all-or-nothing. The subject and the object enter into relation to each other by meeting in the middle, the metaxu, which is also to enter somehow into each other: the object is internalized in the subject, and the subject turns outward to "become," somehow, the object, to take on its form. But not only the dualism of subject-object, but also that of body-mind: every level of this relationship only reaches the other through a structure of mediation. There is a middle in which matter and spirit interpenetrate each other, and into which they enter with progressive degrees of intensity. Likewise, again: immanence-transcendence is a dualism that is overcome by mediation, by passing through the middle, by seeking out with finesse those dynamisms which lie between the operations of immanence and transcendence, and into which these latter operations always seem to "stretch" themselves. 

There are many forms of dualism, just as there are, in fact, many kinds of dualities. The terms or correlatives of the various dualities are more-or-less proximate to each other, and thus require a more-or-less intensive stretching to "meet in the middle." Certainly, the more remote are the terms of such dualities, the greater is the risk of falling into dualism: the positing of things in unmediable opposition to each other. But there is always this risk in any duality. The greatest of all such dualities is that of creature and Creator, finitude and the infinite, man and God. The dualism that many have perceived in this duality is the greatest "gap" that philosophers have ever felt the need to bridge; and they have often attempted to bridge without observing the complex and many layers of mediation that would be needed to do so. They did not appreciate enough the sense of being in the middle

William Desmond explains how, not appreciating the middle, philosophers have made three generic types of mistakes, all amounting to a kind of reductionism. These three types of mistakes, though mistakes, nonetheless point to aspects of the truth which must be preserved if the middle is to be fully appreciated. The three: 1) radical univocity, 2) radical equivocity, and 3) what is called dialectic, which is the attempt to reduce equivocities to a higher level univocity. 

A radical univocity addresses dualism by denying duality altogether. It does not so much solve the problem of bridging the gaps of dualism as deny that there is any gap to be bridged, any separation to be mediated. A univocal mind may thus rest confident that he may enter into relations with his God at "the flip of a switch," that he may correspond to his God in a one-to-one correlation. He needs no help; he presumes proximity to God. 

A radical sense of equivocity, on the contrary, gives in to the dualism and despairs of mediation at all; it too avoids bridging the gap, not by denying that there is a gap, but denying the possibility of bridging it. The equivocalist is rarely a theist; or if he is, he is also a deist; he is very often an agnostic, and he feels inescapably condemned to his agnosticism. 

Dialectic, as exemplified especially in Kant and Hegel (and taken to great extremes in, for example, Feuerbach), is what Desmond might call a "counterfeit double" of genuine mediation, since it seems to account for both equivocity and univocity. Yet it does this by subsuming equivocity, absorbing it, into a higher univocity. If it is mediation, it is self-mediated otherness - which is to say, the gap between the self and the other is bridged by acknowledging the other only as an equivocal version, so to speak, of oneself. Ultimately, dialectic returns to the self. In other words, dialectical mediation is one-sided, it does not fully dwell in the middle. In Feuerbach's interpretation of Hegel, this is the ultimate possibility of a kind of Christian atheism, in which "God" is not ultimately and irreducibly an other, a transcendence, but an self-othering image of man, a mere projection of the self. Dialectic is like univocity in that the self needs no other by which it comes to transcendence; but it is like equivocity in that the self becomes other to itself, only to bring the other back into itself. The self is an inherent contradiction: the dualism as dualism is internalized in the self, and thereby claimed to be "mediated."

Desmond emphasizes a fourth alternative, which tries to do justice to univocity and equivocity without either subsuming the one under the other, or reducing being to one or the other. This fourth alternative is metaxology: speaking about the middle, the between, the metaxu. Plato teaches us that man is something between: neither real nor unreal, neither knowing nor completely unknowing, neither God nor [beast? - check the Symposium]. This is why Plato is not a dualist, though he struggles with finding the right language to express the dynamic reality of the between. The best language, indeed, that Plato could conjure is precisely the ambiguous, perhaps highly metaphorical, language of betweenness itself: participation. We participate in what is real, in what is divine, in wisdom, because although we cannot say unqualifiedly that we are wise, yet we seem to have wisdom somehow in part or in a contracted way. We genuinely approach it, and we may always approach it; and yet we fall short, and we always will fall short of it. The Platonic ideal, as in the ideal city of the Republic, is not some inaccessible utopia that must be despaired of obtaining; nor is it a problem that can be neatly solved and exhausted by anything like a mathematical formula. There is no room for either optimism or pessimism in such a philosophy: there is hope and confidence, yes, for we genuinely may approach and continue to approach, approximate, or instantiate the ideal - there is real gain here; and yet we are still subject to contingency and the transitory nature of things, in which nothing lasts forever, or where in order to approximate the ideal we must inevitably struggle against forces of decomposition. There is mysticism and asceticism in such a philosophy: mysticism in the ever hopeful progression towards inexhaustible mystery; asceticism in the struggle to maintain oneself in that progression.

Metaxological mediation perseveres in the middle, between the self and the other, acknowledging their irreducible distinction and yet their integral though mediated relation. What are the forms of such mediation? The ancients and the medievals had an instinctive sense of mediation through hierarchical participation. Hierarchy was not merely the opposition of the good and the bad, but the progression from the lesser to the greater, and vice versa, and the possibility of the greater harnessing the lesser and bringing it to itself. There is not here the illusion of grandeur that seems to constitute dialectical self-mediation through self-otherness. There is the reality of grandeur, instrumentalizing and thus dignifying things with participation in itself, by a kind of sacramentality. Things in the world are not just things in the world; being in the between, they are also carried beyond the world and themselves, and carry indications within themselves of this beyond. The interplay of determinate singularity and indeterminate universality indicates something overdeterminate, something indeed too much for singularity, and too determinate for universality (taking "universal" and "singular" in an Aristotelian logical sense). A kind of oscillating and vibrating song seems to echo from this ongoing movement in things, a more and less, a back and forth, echoing more than itself, echoing also something which transcends all distinctions between the universal and the singular, from which all such distinctions flow.

This is a complex choreography, a graceful and multi-dimensional ritual, a polyphonic canticle, in which the echo and glimmer of absolute transcendence is heard and seen. All the levels of being resound harmoniously in this plurivocal between. It is a cosmic symphony. To neglect any participant in this symphony would be to compromise its integrity; and yet it is no complete system, enclosed on itself, for it always seems to leave room for the more that echoes as an overtone from an unseen place. Indeed, the reductionistic, univocalizing neglect of any part of this complex choreography might itself be the death of the inherent openness that characterizes such a hierarchy. To reduce to one dimension that which is indefinitely multi-dimensional is to close the system on itself, and to deny the need for mediation. Paradoxically, the opposite equivocalizing tendency to simply decompose the order into a random mash of unrelated parts has the similar effect of denying mediation. There is also the dialectical denial of this ritual, more complex than any simple univocalizing or equivocalizing tendency, but still reducing to the same thing: the retreat of all forms of mediation. For dialectical self-mediation is still no real mediation; it is a counterfeit and a pretense. 



I wish to make a liturgical observation stemming from all of this. What we have witnessed in the modern age of liturgical reform is a large-scale denial, or counterfeit, of metaxological mediation in the liturgy, the result of trends that were univocalizing, equivocalizing, and dialectical in the Hegelian sense. These trends were not unconnected: the dialectical way is both univocal and equivocal in a sense, inasmuch as it subsumes the sense of otherness into the self's own othering of itself. When the liturgy becomes a mode of self-affirmation, it risks the self-idolatry to which Hegel's dialectic seems to lead. The community's celebration of itself in God is one version of such self-consumed dialectic. It is an exaltation of immanence that risks making a counterfeit of genuine transcendence. 

For example, the reduction of metaxological modes of speech, which often veer into the poetic, is one instance of univocalisation. These modes of speech are, in Desmond's term, metaphorical, analogical, symbolic, and hyperbolic. Far less, with such univocity, does the liturgical voice seem to exceed itself in hyperbolic and exaggerated praise, nor depart from simple literalism into images and figures, or from monotonic verbiage into the motion of song. (Or if there is song, there are "hymn-sandwiches," played to tunes hardly uplifting but merely sentimentalizing, another form of univocity perhaps.) The liturgy takes the form less of a drama and more of a univocal discourse, an attempt to "bridge the gap" by creating a sense of immediacy with God, a sense of direct accessibility and clear conceptual recognition. This is the univocal "bridging of the gap" by way of simply denying the "gap," paying no attention to the gulf that really does separate man from God; and thus losing, along with the "gap," the hierarchical forms of mediation by which alone that duality can be integrated.

There is also a perverse equivocity in this reformed liturgical dialectic: the otherness that is thus subsumed into the self, the making of the self into an other. The self others itself in its own self-determining autonomy; it becomes itself according to its own idea. It expresses itself in determining itself. This is where Hegel is the inheritor of Kant's concern for radical autonomy. This gives way to the seemingly endless "optionitis" (as it is called by Peter Kwasniewski) which pervades the modern celebration of the liturgy: the radical sense of freedom and spontaneity with which priests and congregations are allowed to celebrate their liturgies, the wide range of options they are given to choose from, the indeterminacy of the liturgy which they are allowed to determine for themselves at will. This is equivocity, quite literally: the Church now voices her song of praise without a unity of song, but with a multitude of often randomly self-determined voices

All of this is to observe the near-vanishing of metaxological forms of mediation from the liturgy, the vanishing of the sense of being in the between. Gone, or reduced to a minimum, is the sense of approaching heaven, being even at its doorstep, and yet being not yet there. There is either a sense of being only here, on the earth, or there is a counterfeit of being there. 

The traditional liturgy, by contrast, is full of a sense of hierarchical mediation: clear distinctions, for example, between multiple liturgical roles, which interact with each other at different levels, in different functions, and at different moments of the liturgical act. There are priestly roles: consecration, blessing, the delivery of the mysteries; there are extensions of the priestly roles - deacons and acolytes - who assist the priest in the performance of their roles; there are choral roles and congregational roles. There is likewise a clear distinction between areas of the liturgical space: a place for the congregation, a place for the choir, a place for the clergy. But there is also communication between them: the congregation approaches the sanctuary for the communion, the priest enters and exits from the nave, the congregation and choir sometimes sing together, sometimes they do not. There is interaction, yet there is no trespassing of the congregation into the choir or the sanctuary, or of the choir onto the altar, etc. 

The traditional liturgy is a ritual full of images and symbolic gestures: signs of the cross, bows and genuflections, extension of the priestly hands, positions of the priestly fingers, lighting and extinguishing candles, fire and water, bread and wine, salts and oils, bells and incense, purification of vessels, processions and choreographed motions, the use of specific spaces and orientations, etc. Images likewise populate traditional liturgical architecture and art - figures from the natural world, archetypes and histories from the biblical narrative, geometric designs of obscure symbolism, not to mention the obligatory presence of the archetypal geometric figure of the cross at the center of the church. Things which are useful in the liturgy are never merely useful; utilitarianism is a species of univocity, of the practical sort. They are poetic and symbolic; they are metaphors and analogies of God, angels, men; of being, life, wisdom; of virtue and vice, holiness and sinfulness; knowledge and ignorance. This is nothing other than the metaxological way: the acknowledgement that we are dealing with realities that, though we might be able to name them, exceed what we communicate by naming them literally. Hence we need a multiplicity of mediating forms by which we enter into the space of the between, wherein we neither presume to directly access what is out of proportion to our reach, nor despair of accessing it altogether; and neither create what is only a counterfeit double of it. The traditional liturgy provides just this space of the between; we need only enter into it, participate in it. 

Saturday, 2 June 2018

In Defense of Equivocity

There are undoubtedly bad kinds of ambiguity, potentially misleading, instruments of compromise between truth and falsity. But it is important, in seeking to avoid this ambiguity, not to thereby lose appreciation for the internal ambiguity of truth itself. This is not merely an appreciation for ambiguous statements of truth; there is an inherent ambiguity in being itself. Being is not only said in many senses; it is itself plurivocal. Or perhaps, prior to our own saying of being, being speaks itself in many voices. It sings itself in many songs, and in rich polyphony. This is a dense but ordered and harmonious ambiguity - not a chaotic and contradictory ambiguity.

It is easy to mistake an ordered ambiguity for a contradictory one. Modern philosophy has seen the rise of many forms of dualisms, predicated on a rigid either-or philosophy. The moderns saw these dualisms as problems to overcome, and many superhuman efforts were made to bridge many gaps - neglecting the possibility that order and hierarchical distinction (unity in multiplicity) does not entail opposition; either that, or the resolution to dualism was simply to accept the possibility of real and radical contradiction.  In other words, the moderns have tended either to radical univocity or incoherent equivocity, in response to the problem of dualisms: a refusal of plurivocity on the one hand, and a refusal of unity on the other hand.

It is necessary to affirm both the unity and the complex, though ordered, equivocity of being. In a certain sense, this is what the medieval conception of analogy, which has its roots in Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists, was meant to convey: unity in difference. Analogy allows the philosopher to use words or names of God in a way that cannot be correlated one-to-one with the application of those same names to creatures. But it goes further than this too: even among creatures, words and names cannot be used with such absolutely simplicity. Being is said in many senses, said Aristotle: substance, quality, quantity, etc. These things all are; but to say so is not to say absolutely one thing, for the very is-ness of things differs. But there is a first sense of is, which is that which applies to substance: that which exists, or subsists, self-sufficiently.

Aristotle was no merely univocal philosopher. But certainly, from him the scholastics inherited the tendency to try and distinguish equivocal (or analogical) words into their many meanings, so as to be able to decompose equivocity into a multitude of univocities. There is some use to this, but it must be seen more as an unfolding of the density of being, rather than as an analysis of it into its component parts, as if it were a mechanism. To unfold the density of being, by making distinctions, cannot be useful except ultimately so that the original unity, as a unity, may also be better comprehended also as densely rich with meaning. The scholastic makes distinctions, but ultimately so that he might draw things back into a unity, having seen their right order to each other in distinction. In this way, he approaches God's knowledge of things - I say he approaches it,  for the density of being is potentially infinite.

Of course, there is always in this process the risk of error due to the inherent ambiguity of the equivocal nature of being. This risk is heightened by the deliberate use of words to conflate and twist the order of multiple meanings that inhere in the equivocal. One may utter an ambiguous statement, and especially a series of ambiguous statements, using words whose meaning has not been clarified, attaching attributes (predicates) to them which belong to them only at a certain level of meaning, while failing to distinguish other levels of meaning at which the same might not apply. This is the abuse of equivocity. Some philosophers, whom Plato would call the sophists, glory in this twisting of words; they glory in the thought that being is something twisted and incoherent, chaotic and equivocal without rhyme or reason, inherently deceptive and unintelligible.

The point is that ambiguity as such is not something to be avoided - indeed, it is unavoidable. And to this extent, the risk of error and misunderstanding is unavoidable. The true philosopher must brave the darkness of possible error which confronts him. He can cast a light with his intellect, but there will necessarily be shadows of ignorance where the light does not fall. The equivocity of being is inherent in the fact that there are shadows covering those aspects of being which have yet to be known - they are not false, but unknown, until they are illumined in succession. But the philosopher will not be a sophist: he will not conflate the light with the shadows, or conflate the various lights which cause different shadows, or despair of the possibility of integrating his successive illuminations of the dark into one vision of knowledge.

The sophists of the modern age love to conflate light and shadow, or to conflate the shadows of different lights with each other, or to despair of light altogether. This allows them to use their words with greater potential for harmful deception. But the proper reaction to such sophistry is not to fear ambiguity as such - it is not to fear and flee from the shadows, but to continue to seek illumination, and in doing so to embrace the multiplicity of meanings in the right order to each other. Their unity will not be brought about, like that of the sophists, by tossing them into an inharmonious mixture; but by ordering them rightly to each other, according to their proximity to the Being that contains them all.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Two Images of Social Order

Although the prominence of churches throughout the city of Rome, and in most medieval or older cities, may be understood less now than in earlier times, one can still perceive a profound symbolic sense of the hierarchical superiority which the Church possesses over the temporal order, in a Christian society. In many of the traditional cities, the town centers are marked by churches; the space before the church was the place of gathering of the citizens. The church was not engulfed in the secular market; they were kept distinct, yet the Church ruled over all. The temporal order was not contravened by the spiritual, though it was harmoniously subordinated to it in a single, integral society. This was a Christian kingdom, the City of God.

Fr. Francis Duffy
By contrast, in Times Square, there is a single statue of a cross, almost invisible, engulfed by the looming, sky-scraping symbols of consumerism and secularism (towers of Babel?). This cross is actually the back-side of a monument to Father Francis Duffy, whose image is sculpted on the other side. Father Duffy was a Catholic priest and chaplain in the military, and the highly decorated military cleric in U.S. history. Incidentally, he was also the ghost-author of a letter by Alfred Smith, a Catholic who was running for President in 1927. In this letter, Duffy (in the voice of Smith) pays high tribute to the notion of religious liberty, in defense of Smith's campaign, assuring his reader that "I should be a poor American and a poor Catholic alike if I injected religious discussion into a political campaign." (Source

These are two images of social order: one, the integralist, in which the spiritual reigns over the temporal order, and they work together in hierarchic harmony towards the salvation of men, the "business of the peace and the faith"; another, the liberal, in which the spiritual is demoted to the status of merely one among many individualistic options, swamped in an ocean of pickers-and-choosers - mere private consumers - all at the mercy of the sovereign State.