The School of Salamanca: Origins of Political Economy and International Law

At the beginning of the 16th century, Salamanca was a city of 20,000 to 24,000 inhabitants, with about 7,000 students (today there are 145,000, of whom 30,000 are students). Founded in 1243, the University of Salamanca is the third oldest university in Europe. In the Golden Age (1492-1681), Spain was the country with the largest number of university students in Europe.

The reputation of the University of Salamanca grew stronger from the 15th century onwards. It became a center of intellectual influence, the symbol of the Renaissance and of Spanish humanism. The great figures, such as Antonio de Nebrija, Fray Luis de Leon, St. John of the Cross, Luis de Gongora and many others studied there. Unlike the Universities of Valladolid and Alcala (the vanguard of Spanish Erasmism), which were mainly focused on theology, Salamanca was also oriented towards legal, political and economic studies. However, the School of Salamanca was above all a theological movement that had as its primary objective the renovation of theology.

[The two most complete works on the School of Salamanca are those of Juan Belda Plans, La Escuela de Salamanca y la renovación de la teología en el siglo XVI, and Miguel Anxo Pena González, La Escuela de Salamanca. De la Monarquía hispánica al Orbe católico].

The theological humanism of the School of Salamanca, and more broadly of the Hispanic Neo-Scholastic school (the scholastic tradition going back to the University of Paris founded around 1200), was an original synthesis of Thomism, Scotism and nominalism, enriched successively by Dominicans, Jesuits and Franciscans, but also by Augustinians, Mercedarians, Carmelites, secular priests, jurists and laymen. The period of its full flowering was from 1526 to 1604; thereafter, its influence declined and finally died out in 1753. At its peak, the trend in favor of Thomism as an orthodox line was very strong; but in the sixteenth century the intellectual atmosphere was open enough to allow the expression of very different concerns and visions. To illustrate this atmosphere, it is worth recalling that the universities of Salamanca, Alcala, Valladolid and Osuna were familiar with the work of Canon Copernicus, who defended heliocentrism with De Revolutionibus (1543). Its study was optional at the University of Salamanca in 1561 and its teaching was compulsory from 1594 onwards. This situation was not exceptional in sixteenth-century Spain, since the Casa de la Contratación de Indias, an institution created in 1503 to promote navigation, had a large team of royal astronomers and cosmographers fully aware of European astronomy.

[Eugenio Bustos, “La introducción de las ideas de Copérnico en la Universidad de Salamanca,” Revistas de la Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas naturales (67), pp. 235-253].

Francisco de Vitoria (1483-1546), the Master of Masters

It was the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria (1483-1546), who first contributed to the prestige of the School of Salamanca. Vitoria came from a family of converts. He first studied at the Universities of Burgos and La Sorbonne. He was thirty years old when he left Paris and returned to Spain. He first went to the University of Valladolid, then arrived in Salamanca in 1526, where he remained until his death.

[Since the 1980s, studies on Francisco de Vitoria have multiplied. In fifteen years (1980-1995), Ramón Hernández Martín (author of Francisco de Vitoria. Vida y pensamiento internacional) estimates no less than one hundred works have been published. See in particular, Francisco Castilla Urbano, El pensamiento de Francisco de Vitoria. Filosofía política e indio americano, and Simona Langella, Teología y ley natural. Estudio sobre las lecciones de Francisco de Vitoria].

The School of Salamanca, or “Hispanic School” (since there were many of its followers in Hispanic America), was not the result of a deliberate plan, or of a well-established project. It was a current of thought that was spontaneously created around a master. And this master-founder was Vitoria. For him, as for all his followers, if power is necessary for the State, its raison d’être and its finality can only be the common good. The Pauline idea that power comes from God was accepted by the whole of Christianity, but it gave rise to two opposing interpretations. For some, the monarch governs and imposes laws in an absolute manner, by direct delegation from God (a point of view later developed by James I of England and by Bossuet). In Spain, however, it was quite different, since the idea outlined by Isidore of Seville (560-636) at the time of the Hispano-Visigoths—that the monarch or the dominant oligarchy does not receive power directly from God, but indirectly through the people. This conception was theorized and concretized by the great masters of the School of Salamanca in the 16th and 17th centuries. In other words, for Vitoria, Francisco Suarez, Luis de Molina and so many other Neo-Scholastic authors, God does not grant power directly to the monarch, but only to the people, who freely transmit it to the king by means of a pact that can be modified. The power is “of human right;” it is not directly divine, and it can be more or less ample, according to a free pact. The king is not a mediator between the will of God and the people, but rather the people are.

Vitoria’s freedom of expression from his chair is astonishing. An example: the instrument that Spain brandished to exercise its dominion over the Indies was a bull of Pope Alexander VI, which gave the Crown of Castile a right over the lands and inhabitants of the Indies. However, in two of his famous re-readings (Relectiones) De Indis and De jure belli (1539) [Francisco de Vitoria, Leçons sur les Indiens et sur le droit de guerre. trans. Maurice Barbier, o.p., (Libraire Droz, 1966)], Vitoria simply asserts that the Emperor is not the master of the world and that the Pope is not the lord of the planet either. According to Vitoria, the papal bull does not legitimize either the conquest or the discovery. He asserts that the property of the Indians does not belong to the monarch, nor to the conquistadors, and that the Spaniards do not have the right to get their hands on the gold of America or to exploit the wealth of the continent against the will of the Indians. The emperor, he says, rules over a community of free peoples. Imperial laws are only just insofar as they serve to promote, conserve, and protect the indigenous people.

What are the illegitimate and legitimate titles of domination and conquest according to Vitoria? Illegitimate are the alleged powers of the Emperor or the Pope over the world; the right of discovery; the violation of natural law by the natives (anthropophagi, human sacrifices, incest, homosexuality, etc.); the acceptance of foreign domination by a minority of the rulers and the ruled; and finally, the alleged special gift of God. Legitimate only are: the right of people and the right of natural communication; the right to preach and to announce the Gospel freely; the tyranny of the native rulers, the agreement of the majority of the natives; the alliance and the call for help from friendly peoples; and finally, a point that seems to be debatable—the temporary incapacity of the natives to administer themselves. One sees that paradoxically the arguments that justify today the right of interference (the possibility for international actors to intervene in a State, even without its consent, in case of massive violation of human rights) are not so far from his own.

In short, according to Vitoria, the Indies should be considered a political protectorate. A protectorate justifiable only insofar as it serves the welfare of the indigenous peoples. On the other hand, Vitoria and his followers generally agree that individuals who have never been Christians should not be forced to become so.

The reaction of the Emperor, Charles V, was remarkably debonair and peaceful. He limited himself to sending a letter to the prior of the convent of San Esteban in Salamanca to urge his colleagues to show a little more restraint and caution in expressing doctrines that might offend the dignity of the Emperor and the Pope.

In his 13th lesson, De jure belli, Vitoria redefines the theory of just war, developed until then by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas. He states his three principles: One should not seek the occasions and causes of war, but should live in peace with men; the rejection of the Gospel is not a reason for just war. War should not be waged for the loss of the enemy, but for the defense of one’s country and so that peace may result. It is necessary finally to have a just proportion between the violation of the right and the evils generated by the war, and to benefit from victory with measure and moderation.

If Francisco de Vitoria is often considered the founder of international law, it is not because he invented the notion of the law of nations, the jus gentium (the Greeks and the Romans already used, in the relations between States, elements of a true system of international law, later developed by Saint Augustine, Saint Isidore and Saint Thomas), but because Vitoria was able to discover the fundamental laws of relations between men. His genius was to consider the law of nations as a natural law, common to all men and to all States.

The Disciples of Vitoria

A whole group of scholars soon became part of Vitoria’s lineage. About twenty names are famous, but about 80 deserve to be studied. They soon became the moral conscience of the Empire. Among them: Domingo de Soto, known for his theory of money and his renovation of the law of nation /jus gentium; Melchor Cano, who advised King Philip II to resist the temporal claims of the Pope; Tomás de Mercado, who studied the commercial exchanges between Spain and the Indies; Martin de Azpilcueta, former rector of the University of Coimbra, who was the first economist to correctly analyze the process of inflation caused by the influx of precious metal from the Indies.

To these names should be added those of Juan Gil de Nava, Pedro de Sotomayor, Juan de la Peña, Mancio de Corpus Christi, Bartolomé de Medina, Domingo Bañez, Juan de Guevara, Luis Sarabia de la Calle, Fray Luis de León, Diego de Covarrubias y Leiva, Bartolomé de Medina and Juan de Maldonado. Then, the names of a second generation, to which belonged the Jesuits Luis de Molina (who taught in Madrid and Coimbra), Juan de Mariana, and especially Francisco Suarez (1548-1617). The economic thought of these authors was new and original. Domingo de Soto maintained that the wealth of nations came from exchange and not from the accumulation of precious metals. He was thus clearly opposed to mercantilism.

[Raoul de Scorraille, François Suárez de la Compagnie de Jésus, d’après ses lettres, ses autres écrits inédits et un grand nombre de documents nouveaux, 2 vols.; Joseph H. Fichter, Man of Spain: A Biography of Francis Suárez; José Manuel Gallegos Rocafull, La doctrina política del P. Francisco Suarez (Jus, 1948); Mateo Lanseros, La autoridad civil en Francisco Suarez (IEP, 1949); Reijo Wilenius, The Social and Political Theory of Francisco Suarez (Societas philosophica Fennica, 1963); Jean-François Courtine, Nature et empire de la loi. Études suaréziennes; and A. Couartou-Imatz, La souveraineté populaire chez Francisco Suarez (Faculté de droit de Bordeaux, 1974)].

Luis de Molina explained that the right price is the price of competition, of the game of supply and demand; that the value attributed to things is subjective and not objective, as Marx, and Ricardo before him, would later say. For Molina, the right price is the market price; it is the abundance or scarcity of goods that determines their price and not the costs of production, work or risk, as was believed in the Middle Ages (via Duns Scott).

The masters of the Salamanca school criticized excessive taxation and price controls. Price controls can and should only be exceptional. They also clearly defended property, which is necessary for social peace; to deny it, to refuse it, according to them, is a heresy (Domingo de Soto), but it is not absolute; it can never be detached from its social function.

The thinkers of Hispanic Neo-Scholasticism condemned usury, but accepted moderate interest. They were therefore attacked, on the one hand, by Protestants and Catholics who demanded a return to the purity of the Church’s doctrine and who reproached them for softening the prohibition, and, on the other hand, by secular authors who accused them of hypocrisy because they sought exceptions to the principle.

These thinkers also made a distinction between citizens and foreigners. Luis de Molina is the very example of the scholastic author who today offers arguments to defend restrictions on the international market and immigration.

After the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria, the most famous author of the School of Salamanca is the Jesuit Francisco Suarez (1548-1617). His work was known throughout Europe in his time. It consists of 27 volumes (unlike Vitoria who did not publish anything during his lifetime, his re-readings being notes taken by his students).

Suarez is an anti-absolutist thinker. In his Defensio fidei (1613), he states the fundamental axiom of Neo-Scholastic theology: “No king, no monarch, has or has had according to the ordinary law, the political principate immediately from God or by the act of a divine institution, but by means of human will or institution” [Cited by Couartou-Imatz, L’État et la communauté internationale dans la pensée de Vitoria (Faculté de droit de Bordeaux, 1972), p.16]. Public power always comes from God, but it is given to the people who place it in the hands of an individual or an institution for reasons of historical circumstances. This being the case, only the authority that does not lose sight of its mission is legitimate—that mission being, the attainment of the common good and the respect of human dignity. At the heart of the Neo-Scholastic approach is the integration of theology, ethics, politics and economics. The Dominicans and the Neo-Scholastic Jesuits cannot be described as individualistic thinkers in the contemporary sense, even though their work demonstrates a constant concern for human dignity.

It is only from the beginning of the nineteenth century that several Spanish and European jurists, all specialists in international law, began to recognize the influence of Vitoria and his followers on the Dutch Protestant jurists, Hugo Grotius, and the German, Samuel von Pufendorf, who were then considered the only precursors of international law. Their influence on the works of the Italian jurist, Alberico Gentili, the German philosopher, Johannes Althusius, the French political theorist, Jean Bodin, and indirectly on the group of Scottish economists, headed by Adam Smith, is equally undeniable.

The precursory character of the School of Salamanca was more and more admitted from the turn of the 20th century. In France alone, the pioneering work of Ernest Nys (1894), Alfred Vanderpol (1911), Hubert Beuve Méry (1928) and Louis Le Fur (1939) should be recalled.

In the field of economics, however, it was not until another century later that the thinkers of the School of Salamanca were recognized as the founders of modern economics. For a long time, they were confused with the most vulgar mercantilism (which defended the idea that the possession of precious metals made the wealth and power of nations). It had even been said that the thinkers of the School of Salamanca, guided by their religious principles, had been unable to understand the mechanisms of the market and prices. But this was not true!

The works of Pierre-André Sayous, Joseph Schumpeter, José Larraz Lopez, Luis Martínez Fernández, Andrés Martín Melquiades, José Barrientos, Juan Belda Plans, Murray Rothbard, Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, Jesús Huerta de Soto, Raymond de Roover, Alejandro Chafuen, to name but a few, have shown that the thinkers of Hispanic Neo-Scholasticism described and systematized, long before the economists of the 19th and 20th centuries, and in an almost complete way, the theory of subjective value, the theory of marginal utility, the theory of prices, the quantitative theory of money, the phenomenon of inflation and the mechanisms of exchange. What is most surprising is that modern economic science has confirmed the conclusions reached by the thinkers of the School of Salamanca through theological and ethical reasoning, as early as the 16th century.

Many ultraliberal supporters of the Austrian School have sought to see in the Salamanca School the origins of the liberal school of economic thought.

[See Alejandro A. Chafuen, Christians for Freedom. Late Scholastic Economics/ Raíces cristianas de la economía de libre mercado ( Buey Mudo, 2009); Thomas E. Woods, The Church and the Market. A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy/ La iglesia y la economía. Una defensa católica de la economía libre ( Buey Mudo, 2010); André Azevedo Alves and José Manuel Moreira, The Salamanca School. For the opposite view, see Daniel Martín Arribas, Destapando al liberalismo. La Escuela Austriaca no nació en Salamanca (SND Editores, 2018)].

Some of the most feverish supporters even went so far as to assert that “God is liberal/libertarian;” perhaps in order not to be outdone by those who, like Camilo Torres or Leonardo Boff, saw in Christ “the first communist.” But this is to forget that the Neo-Scholastic authors never separated the economy from morality, from natural law and from God. And this also forgets that the principles of a just Christian order, juridical, political, economic and social, are in direct opposition to those of a liberalism that idolizes freedom and private property.

The Influence on Power

What was the influence of the School of Salamanca in the 16th century? On the Church it was undoubtedly very important. Members of the School of Salamanca were omnipresent at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). During its three stages, the Spanish participation amounted to a total of almost a thousand people, of whom 245 are known among the most prestigious figures.

What about political power? It is impossible to overemphasize here the close and privileged relationship that existed between the thought of Vitoria and his followers and the Spanish Monarchy. On November 20, 1542, Charles V promulgated in Barcelona the New Laws of the Indies. His decree abolished slavery and the encomienda and ordered that the Indians be considered free vassals of the Crown of Castile. But obviously the ideal ran up against the realities and the interests of the men. The pressure of the Spanish authorities of the Indies and the various insurrections (in Peru) compelled the emperor to modify partially the contents of his decree. But the influence remained however tangible in the more than 3000 laws of the Indies enacted by the kings of Spain.

A word about the Valladolid controversy, which in 1550-1551 pitted the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas against the humanist theologian, also a Dominican, Juan Ginés de Sepulveda. Sepulveda declared the domination of the Indians just in order to civilize them, to teach them religion without doing it by force and to have them respect natural law. Las Casas, on the contrary, was a pacifist. According to him, there was no legal title that could justify the Spanish presence in America. He proposed the restitution of lands, compensation for the Indians and peaceful evangelization. But his pacifism was perceived by the whole School of Salamanca as an unrealistic and irresponsible thought. In this, Vitoria was paradoxically closer to the realist or moderately Machiavellian (and not at all Machiavellic) Sepulveda, a fine connoisseur of Aristotle, than to the utopian Las Casas.

[Machiavellianism refers to a conception of politics that advocates the conquest and preservation of power by all means. The adjective “Machiavellic,” which has passed into common French parlance, refers to the dark and manipulative interpretation of Machiavelli’s best-known work, The Prince (1531). Thus “Machiavellic” is always sinister and nefarious. This is to be distinguished from the term “Machiavellian,” formed by contrast to designate the concepts stemming from Machiavelli’s political philosophy, without passing judgment. Thus, “Machiavellian” is realist philosophy in politics].

Today, scholars continue to argue about the position of the Salamanca School on individual rights. For some, the Salamanca masters represent a resurgence and development of an authentically Aristotelian and Thomistic framework centered on an organicist conception and objective natural law. For others, they are closer to the notion of subjective law centered on individual rights and liberties. For some, they are part of the most orthodox Catholic tradition; for others they break with it and anticipate modernity.

Are Vitoria and his followers at the origin of the modern conception of human rights? No, answers the philosopher of law Michel Villey. “Certainly, the Spanish scholastics had a great desire to impose their theology and their conception of a natural moral law on jurists; but to derive from it duties, obligations to be borne by the individual. They were agents of order. As for deducing from the dignity of nature the ‘rights’ of man, they were not ready for it, not having the taste for anarchy, because of their attachment to tradition.” According to Villey, human rights have their source in a deviated Christian theology; they are the product of modern philosophy, which emerged in the 17th century.

In any case, the legacy of the School of Salamanca is originality of thought, a combination of an organic conception of society, centered on the common good, with a prominent place given to the dignity of man and even to individual rights; a simultaneous defense of the right of the city and the right of individuals.


Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECDHe is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.


Featured: “Francisco de Vitoria,” by Daniel Vázquez Diaz; painted in 1957.

Conjuring Satan, Some Preliminary Remarks

These are some preliminary remarks to a major essay, entitled, “Conjuring Satan—False Transcendence and Counterfeit Words within an Age of War,” which is scheduled to appear in the January edition of the Postil.

I suspect that those who read and write for the Postil magazine see it as an alternative source of thinking for those who find that their concerns, interests and priorities are marginalized, if not ignored outright and/or denounced by journalists, academics and other ideas brokers who create, dictate and now seek to enforce through the control of media the narratives circulating within the Western global “townhall”/”public square.” It is a magazine that contains many disparate voices and points of view which are united by one common purpose: opposition to the fabrications that circulate in the global “hall/square.” Those fabrications, in spite of their diversity, also have one thing in common: they serve the interests of those whose wealth and power is of such a magnitude that they control (through funding, or, as Whitney Webb in her overwhelming and brilliant exposé One Nation Under Blackmail demonstrates, blackmail) governments, the human resource policies and major decisions of global corporations, and mobs ( now labeled as “communities”) pursuing their respective interests. Those fabrications are to thinking what global conglomerates are to businesses—monopolistic powers driving out all competing ways of doing things.

In the case of the narrative fabricators, their prestige is inseparable from their forging and circulating ideas, which is also to say that any claims, arguments, or even facts (and facts, of course, are inseparable from their meaning), that deviate from the ideas that support the fabrications have to be eliminated, discredited, or reformulated to discredit the author or speaker. The tactic of reformulation serves the purpose of ensuring ever greater control over our words and hence over our thoughts and communication, along with ensconcing the authority and professionality of those who monitor speech/ writing and decide what is permissible. It is a way of culling the dissidents from the technocratic new world in which an elite decide what must be done, who will do it, how it will be done, and who can say what about it.

The typical way of culling the dissidents is to discredit and denounce what is being said by claiming that it is something hateful, and that hate comes from being some sort of “-phobe” or “-ist,” and the hate of the -phobe or -ist is due to false information and delusional theories about non-existent conspiracies. It is because I despise this tactic, as well as the dreadful consequences that come from it, as well as what transpires along with it (the present war in Ukraine, at this moment, being the most conspicuous and awful example) and given that this topic addresses what I and others see as the diabolical nature of our hyper-sexualized, hyper-infantilized, hyper-idiotic and suicidally divisive culture that I want to address it directly and explicitly say that like hundreds of millions of people in the West I do not care what people’s sexual preferences are because sexual behaviour and preferences are a private matter as long as they do not violate the law.

In the West while laws surrounding involuntary sex—rape, for example, and defining the age of sexual activity- are generally uncontentious, laws which have decriminalized same sex relationships are, for good reasons, generally not opposed even by a great number of people who do not think that same sex relationships should be so normalized that school children should be taught that they might themselves consider pursuing same sex relationships. Generally people who think in this traditional manner do not approve of the means and mechanics of sexual pleasure being included in school curricula, believing that this is the business of parents not the state. Hence while as long as the majority think this way means that same sex will be viewed as not the norm, the larger issue is to what extent should the state be used to radically transform social norms. This transformation also inevitably leads to social polarization of the sort that is now the norm in Western countries, and which many non-Western countries (Russia just a few days ago) are determined to prevent happening in their country.

In the West the word prejudice is widely used to conceal the fact that sexual liberation comes at the heavy price of social polarization, and it may well be that the polarization will be of such a magnitude that it will completely rent asunder a society. Which, to repeat, is why entire peoples on this planet do not want to pay that price. For my own personal part I think policing sexual behaviour and choices (apart from rape, age constraints, and the like) is neither desirable nor socially congruent with other freedoms I value, such as freedom from blackmail, genuine cruelty, and discrimination. The vast majority of people in Muslim countries, if various Pew surveys conducted over the years, do not agree with me. Nevertheless like me, I can safely assume that several hundreds of millions of people in the West not only think this—for there is no mass movement “to turn back the clock” and outlaw same sex relations or transgender people – but, also like me, in their personal lives they love, and/ or accept, and befriend people who publicly identify as gay and/or trans. Also like me they do not agree with the way same sex and trans issues are currently politically framed by liberal progressive groups, parties and government officials and corporations, and how this framing coincides with the polarization and persecution, attacks and denunciations of those who do not think that all ideas and information, all that we know and value, think and say must conform to the idea that whatever is decided by “political leaders” of these “communities” must be accepted and complied with. On the contemporary politicization of trans issues as a weapon against all traditions allow me to quote Matthew Crawford whose brilliant substack work I have just discovered and recommend to all and sundry: “Almost nobody cares to hate transgender people unless they’re ruining sports, twerking in a public library, or demanding the right to lurk in the wrong bathrooms.”

Hence too the question of what constitutes cruelty—the most notable formulation of cruelty today being ensconced in the extremely lax and ideologically driven formulation of “hate speech”—and discrimination. The latter cannot be addressed with any clarity without taking into account social roles (which means social obligations) and words—which, albeit to contrary ends, is also recognized by what those who wish to completely destroy traditional social roles and the nomenclature that reflects those roles wish. One does not have to be heterosexual in one’s sexual taste to think that the terms discrimination and cruelty (specific acts of violence, as opposed to the expression of criticisms which people do not want to hear because they “feel” they are discriminatory and hateful) have now been turned into ideological truncheons for the creation of a global hell, and that the language of rights is a very dangerous, duplicitous and destructive language when unconnected from the thicker and frequently tacitly understood obligations -what Burke called prejudices – involved in the endurance of traditions. The danger with attempting to make reality fit our abstractions is the extent to which we have to kill reality to fit into the narrower confines of what we want: philosophers so deeply opposed in other respects such as Nietzsche and J.G. Hamann both recognized this.

It is also, to repeat, one thing to act upon “transgressive” desires and experiences and seek legal protection in doing so—which is by and large how gay sexuality was “embraced” in the 1960s and 1970s, and for many gay people still is—and another to insist that those very desires should not be not only tolerated or accepted but seen as building blocks for the construction of the family, the school, the military, and every other social institution. The objection to deeming certain sexual acts as transgressive is that this makes “marginalized” people second class citizens and prevents them from living their life-style openly. But the degree to which one weighs this claim tends to depend upon whether one is prepared to accept or ignore the counter-claim that every social role contains a sacrificial component, renouncing certain desires and actions and hence agreeing to a reduction in the array of possibilities that are commensurate with being able to act in that role: being a vestal virgin in a Roman temple required not having sex, being a Catholic priest requires celibacy, being a husband or wife, traditionally at least, has meant forsaking all others for sexual congress, being a husband has traditionally meant being married to a woman, being a man at certain times and in certain environments meant one could be conscripted into the army etc. Of course, it is not that uncommon for people to accept a role and defy the strictures require for its performance—priests not being celibate, spouses committing adultery, etc. While everyone knows that humans cheat and lie frequently, and that there are numerous motivations why someone may want to occupy a certain social role and office and not want to lose that role because they also follow through on the desires and impulses that the role or office demands they forsake, that is a very different issue from the social and political decision to dismantle an institution so that it better adapt to the truth that some fathers, mothers vestal virgins, priests etc. transgress.

Choosing or being born into a role means not only forsaking (or concealing) some kinds of actions other roles, making sacrifices to perform one’s social role.

The particularly modern Western triad of rights, emancipation, equality/ equity ignores this feature of social reality, and thus sets up an abstract and unreal way of talking about life. The normalization of the unreality of this way of life largely comes from the widely taught and widely held idea that all groups should have it “all”—i.e., be totally emancipated – and that the only reason they cannot is because white men can have it all. This is a fabulation, largely pushed by feminists in the 1970s and after (and now white cisgender feminists frequently finds themselves being denounced for the privileges they once said were exclusively male). It is a fabulation because it ignores the fact that traditional male roles—everywhere- have been bound up with adult males being required, when necessary, to sacrifice their lives to save the group. Feminists bolstered this fabulation that men have it all with the claim that war is a male creation (never mind that having it all is also bound up with being prepared to belong to the first group to be sacrificed for the community), thereby demonstrating that (a) they are either totally ignorant of or indifferent to the nature of primordial group survival and scarcity and (b) that ideational fabulations are expanded via rationalism and generalizations which suit the “will to power” of those invested in the fabulation, in this instance professional women wanting to achieve more power on the basis of their being rather than their achievement. The tactic of making sheer being, understood as identity, the condition of having has now extended to any group member making the case that their being be rewarded because it is the being of being disadvantaged (the clumsiness of the formulation is intended, because the thought process behind this is as clumsy as it is self-serving).

Because the language of the feminist movement (and we see the same pattern play in all identity based political movements) was so general—fight the patriarchy—very different issues, ones which really were a matter of discrimination and an economic protection racket for some men, and hence were areas where it was very hard to deny the rationality and moral legitimacy of those seeking legal and political redress, were mixed up with general and simplistic claims about the history of roles in society, and the desirable mosaic of economic distribution on the basis of gender, which required paying attention to holding or being employed in an office or position rather than one’s achievements for acquiring or performing within it. That was the beginning of what would become the greater problem of the undermining of a fundamental law of a person’s development, more precisely for the growth of the soul, and even more precisely it is an attack upon how transcendence features in a life. It is the complete inversion of what the self requires in order to transcend mere appetite and instinct. And it is that inversion of a law of the soul’s potential life that causes such personal and social destruction that concerns me when I focus upon how our modern sexualization of the self is a “satanic” commitment, a way of prioritizing death over life by taking an aspect of our being and making it something it simply is not. Thus I am not the slightest bit interested in people’s sexual actions as such, for while a sexual act may bring down a life, a family, a government or empire, and while any addiction which requires the sacrifice of all and everything to slake a particular desire imperils the soul, societies may well accommodate various sexual acts and preferences without having to insist that our institutions and culture must be rebuilt in conformity with making sexual pleasure the cornerstone of social and personal meaning. It is this modern value decision that I see as contributing to an ever greater degree of soullessness—which is another synonym for satanism.

I will discuss the literary and figurative forces that have sought and have largely succeeded to tilt the West in the direction of a satanic form of the individual and social heroism, and my brief is to attempt to encourage people to be more attentive to the evil we do and succumb to inadvertently, especially through making ourselves beholden to empty yet deathly destructive powers of our own imagination and understanding, to our pride. Some will see the term satanic figuratively, others literally—in the end I think that difference is so moot that it is unimportant, because the outcome is the same—the triumph of death over life. This world we are making in the West is predicated on mass death.

Most obviously it is predicated upon abortion being completely routinized. And to talk of the price paid for our sexualized culture being mass death of fetuses is no exaggeration. That the argument for abortion being a right, as was evident in the US in the recent Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health decision, is primarily about the danger to a woman’s life, or rape and only secondarily to the right to use it as a means of birth control is indictive of a tacit acknowledgement that the more sanctified language of rights may be compromised if it boils down to mere utility – consider how John Rawls the great champion of “distributive justice” makes the case why his rights based theory of justice is superior to any utilitarian based one. After all today almost every couple may watch the fetus form into a baby through various stages of its gestation- and is it not notable how our entertainment moguls regularly use the image of a fetus with a beating heart in its movies and television shows to demonstrate the extent of the love between parents, while the majority of the members of that very industry are so vocal about the right to terminate that very being because it is a matter of my body/ my choice? The appeal to the exception by pro-choicers is simply because abortion is very hard to reconcile with the idea that a growing fetus, which we can witness with our own eyes, while dependent upon and growing within the mother’s body, and who has its own tiny organs, may be extinguished because it is an economic burden upon the mother and father (if he is still around). That Western nations are, nevertheless, deeply divided over abortion is less significant than the fact that the scale of it is so great it is undoubtedly, and whether for good or ill, part of who and what we stand for.

There are two other major ways in which I think it reasonable to talk of our contemporary West being predicated upon death—one is the wars that it continually supports, the other is the push toward depopulation.

Conflicts over scarcity and territory and, somewhat more belatedly, faiths is a commonplace feature of the human story. What is particularly conspicuous about the wars involving the West today are that they not only take placed in far-away lands but they are made by others on behalf of beneficiaries in West. Just as the language of liberty prevails in an environment where liberties are increasingly diminished to fit global corporatist fiat and outcomes, the West presents itself as a means for peace when it manufactures one war after another. As with abortion, mass death is hidden and where it occurs the blame for it is laid elsewhere. Finally, just as vegans fail to see the consequences of their protests if they achieved their ends, viz. instead of living any kind of lives, cows, sheep, chickens etc. would not roam free, but be immediately reduced to a tiny fraction of their present number and, the few left, would be almost entirely living in zoos, the average person who accepts the globalist Malthusian need to depopulate the planet does not ask the question of how will that depopulation occur and who will make the decisions about who stays and who goes. It is one thing to note that there would be some population reduction accompanying greater wealth (presuming that occurs), which is a phenomenon that accompanies greater living standards, but the Malthusian argument is equally about resource control as much as population control as much as technological control. The idea that the scaling back of fossil fuel energy will automatically lead to the triumph of nonrenewable energy is not remotely as convincing as the idea that the scaling back of fossil fuel based energy will be a joker in the pack when it comes to pressuring governments into all adopting much lower populations to save the planet, because saving the planet has required scaling back energy, and, along with that food production. Maybe then the belated rage of populations will resemble something like the Chinese peasant rebellions of past times which periodically bought down dynasties.

Yuvsal Harari puts it plainly enough when he says, “fast forward to the early 2st century when we just don’t need the vast majority of the population,” and that “Humans are now hackable animals. The idea that humans have this soul or spirit, they have free will and nobody knows what’s happening inside me -so whatever I chose in the election of in the supermarket, that’s my free will? That’s over.”

And closely related to this is the replacement of the traditional family with the new family in which the natural process of birth only pertains to one type of family—the new types of family bypass nature, and in their bypassing, in their new kind of manufactured nature, the opportunity for technocratic control over who is allowed to give birth becomes inevitable. No wonder that many people today call this state of affairs in which the extent of control over life and nature and the concentration of that control within the elite decision making that is requisite upon the population accepting the authority and decisions of the decision makers satanic.

Against this backdrop, the politicization of the trans and gay movement, the push for gay marriage and the demand that gay and transgenders friendly materials be part of the school curricula, while on the surface being about a group’s right to social acceptance is a very conspicuous pawn in a larger game of social and population control. To be sure gays/trans people will seem to have want they want, but it is questionable whether the full extent of what we will all have will be what they or anyone apart from the “happy few” will want once they have what they really have. But this is precisely what the satanic always delivers—a big fact nothing that promises to be everything.

The follow-up essay is also about why it is neither stupid nor cruel to describe the way Western culture has conjoined the demand for complete emancipation within a narrative fabric in which non-being, lies, are integral to its formation and spread. While the essentialization of human identity based around a limited number of aspects—sexuality, race, and ethnicity – is intrinsic to it, in the main, it is sexualized identity which features both as the bedrock or being of the self as well as its apex. This is congruent with the great metaphysical turn of the seventeenth century seeking to build a new world by changing the names of what we experience to conform to a reality that is disclosed by the more stringent laws of reality discerned by the mind’s understanding. Such a turn, though, meant that the human world which is shot through by our makings that come from imaginings, stories, intimations, and more generally traditions are somehow less authentic and real than whatever world we might build anew, and what pertains to the understanding and imagination of the new builders.

Apart from the Cartesian and Lockean allowance of the various mental functions deployed to make sense of ourselves and the world, this turn also involved a substitution of the soul with sheer appetitive-ness and its satiation, making the avoidance of pain and the seeking of pleasure the polarities within which life’s meaning is to be played out. Although Kant was completely beholden to mechanistic science in his thinking about “experience” he was able to see that this polarity interfered with the grander claim about human dignity and the importance of its basis in freedom requiring that we are subject to laws that our own reason has concocted. That movement from appetites to rights ( almost two centuries before Rawls) was merely to replace nature’s raw stuff with our own abstractions. This has indeed made the new priest class who traffic in ideas about governance and freedom feel that their verbal wisps can eventually form flesh, but it has nothing to do with enhancing life itself.

I realize that clarifying the issues will still not stop those invested in ideological assault upon ideas that do not serve their interests and view of the new world and place within it, denouncing those who think like this as “-phobes” and “-ists.” But it is precisely because of the extent of thoughtlessness in the world that the world is in the turmoil it is, and our democratic societies all but dead and, more personally, that I pull myself away from my daily joy of playing guitar and singing to write essays on such terrible aspects of reality for the Postil.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen booksHe also doubles up as a singer songwriter. His latest album can be found here.


Featured: “Three Name Givers,” by Odd Nerdrum; painted in 1990.

Virtue as an Intensive Quantity in Aristotle

In much of my recent research, I have criticized modern philosophy for being un-philosophical, at least if, by the term “philosophy,” we mean the practice in which the Ancient Greeks engaged [See my Wisdom’s Odyssey from Philosophy to Transcendental Sophistry, Cartesian Nightmare: An Introduction to Transcendental Sophistry, and Masquerade of the Dream Walkers: Prophetic Theology from the Cartesians to Hegel]. At least two features essentially characterize ancient philosophy: (1) realism and (2) the problem of the one and the many. Much of my recent work has involved contrasting the essentially realist stance of the Ancient Greeks to the subjective idealist stance of modern thinkers. In this paper, I turn to a second mark of Ancient philosophy: the problem of the one and the many.

Many contemporary philosophers treat the problem of the one and the many as an isolated issue within Ancient Greek philosophy, as a puzzle that confounded early Greek physicists. In so doing, they display a severe misunderstanding of philosophy as the Ancient Greeks practiced it. This paper’s purpose is twofold: (1) to examine the way, in the Golden Age of Ancient Greek philosophy, Aristotle practiced philosophy in terms of relating a one to a many, and (2) to use this examination to throw light on Aristotle’s understanding of virtue.

While some contemporary thinkers might find my thesis shocking, glaring examples of the predominance of the notions of unity and multiplicity in the Ancient Greek mind fill the works of Plato and Aristotle. Consider, for example, how, in Plato’s Crito, Socrates disdains Criton’s suggestion that he consider what the “many” might think about whether or not he should leave prison. Socrates says his concern is not, and never has been, about the opinions of the many, but “of the wise, …of the one qualified person” (47B). Again, in the Meno, Socrates criticizes Menon for constantly giving him “many different” virtues in response to Socrates’ continued request that Menon tell him the “one” virtue that is in every act of virtue that makes a virtue a virtue [Meno, 72B-C, 74A-B, 79A-C]. In the Republic, Socrates criticizes Thrasymachos’ notion of power precisely because the supposedly powerful person that Thrasymachos describes lacks unity of mind, and is, in Socrates’ estimation, therefore, weak [Republic, Bk. I, 35IA-352B].

According to Socrates, single-mindedness makes an individual and a city strong [Bk. 2, 374B-D]. Hence, the healthy city for which he searches as the archetype in which to find justice is, as he says, one in which one man has one work because, he states, “it is impossible for one man to do the work of many arts well” [Republic, Bk. 4, 42lE-422E]. Socrates also tells us in the Republic that the healthy city, the only one of which we can “properly use the name,” is one city, not many. He adds, we must apply “a greater predication …to the others. For they are each one of them many cities, not a city” [Republic, 42lE-422E]. Finally, in the Gorgias, Socrates chastises Callicles, the sophistic politician, for loving the Athenian demos more than he loves the one universal human love to possess unity of soul. He states: “I think it better my good friend that my lyre should be discordant and out of tune, and any chorus I might train, and that the majority of mankind should disagree with and oppose me, rather than that I, who am but one man, should be out of tune with and contradict myself” [48lD-482C].

The case with Aristotle is the same. Aristotle considers philosophy to be identical with science. For him science consists of certain knowledge demonstrated through causes [Posterior Analytics, Bk. l, I, 7Ib8-30]. Science, or philosophy, studies a multitude of beings, a many, a genus, and seeks to demonstrate essential properties of the genus by reasoning according to necessary principles universal, or one, to the genus. For him causes are principles, and principles are starting points of being, becoming, or knowing [Bk. l, 41, 87a3I-bI7; Metaphysics, Bk. 5, I, IOI2b34.1013a23]. Aristotle, in turn, considers points to be ones, unities, or indivisibles. A point is a one or indivisible with position, principally spatial position or position in a continuum. A principle is, then, in some way, a one [Metaphysics, Bk. 3,4, IOOlbl-I002blO, Bk. 5,6, IOI6b18-32].

Aristotle further maintains that being and unity are convertible notions. In reality being and unity are identical. They differ only conceptually. We derive our concept of unity by adding to the concept of being the notion of indivisibility, just as we derive our notion of number from division of unity, of a continuum [Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 1,I003b22-34, Bk. 10, I, 1052aI5-1053b8, and 1053b23-24].

This Ancient Greek philosophical tendency to convert the notions of being and unity is crucial for understanding the nature of the Ancient Greek conception of philosophy and virtue. To recognize how crucial it is, we need only consider the extent to which Aristotle devoted attention to the notion of unity in his Metaphysics. Next to examining the notion of being, he devotes much of the latter part of his treatise to the notion of unity and its properties [Metaphysics, Bk. 10].

The crucial importance of the notions of unity and plurality in Aristotle’s philosophy also appears in his criticism of Plato’s notion of Forms and mathematical beings as “ones outside the many” that St. Thomas Aquinas says Plato used to protect the relation of demonstration to “eternal things.” In his Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Aquinas maintains that Aristotle understood demonstration to require that a one exist “in many and about many.” For Aristotle and Aquinas demonstration requires a middle term, a one that is the same in many, or a universal unequivocally predicable of a many. If no one something exists the same in a multitude, no universal exists unequivocally predicable of many beings. This makes demonstration, and philosophy, impossible [Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Bk. I, I. 19; Posterior Analytics, Bk. I, II, 77a5-9].

Aristotle’s division of the speculative sciences further supports my claim that we cannot understand his philosophy or Ancient Greek philosophy unless we understand all Ancient Greek philosophy as an extended reflection on the problem of the one and the many. Aristotle’s division of speculative philosophy is threefold: physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. Why? Aristotle was no Christian. He had no special affinity to a trinity. Why not seven speculative sciences, like the classical seven liberal arts? Or twelve? Or one hundred?

The answer lies in the fact that, for Aristotle, we take demonstrative principles from their subject, to which necessary, or per se, principles essentially belong. Aristotle maintains that science requires per se. predication. Per se principles consist of the principles of proximate substance and its essential accidents, accidents that have their cause in a proximate subject and necessarily and always inhere in the subject [Posterior Analytics, Bk. I, II, 75aI8-37. See Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Bk. 1, I. 14].

Because science, or philosophy, studies the many different ways many things relate to one proximate subject, it studies the way many things, more or less, share in the unity of a primary subject. Every science, not just metaphysics, chiefly and analogously studies the principles and causes of substances to understand the properties of the many species of which we predicate a genus [Metaphysics, Bk. 12, I, I069aI8-1069b32, Posterior Analytics, Bk. 2, 2, 90bI4-16]. Aristotle, in fact, tells us that ”there are as many parts of philosophy as there are kinds of substance” [Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 2, I004a2-3]. As Aquinas notes, “demonstration is concerned with things which are per se in something” [Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Bk. 2, I. 2].

For Aristotle, science chiefly studies the principles and causes of its proximate substance and its per se accidents, not just any substance and any accidents [Posterior Analytics, Bk. 2, 2, 90bI4-16]. Through these principles we come to know the proper accidents, or properties, of all the species that belong to the genus. For this reason, Aristotle maintains that no science investigates accidents as such. Take, for example, the art of home building. A completed house can have an infinite number of accidents related to it. It can be pleasant to some people, painful to others, helpful to some, harmful to others, and so on. The builder’s art bears only on those accidents that are essential properties of a house, such as its intrinsic shape and size [Metaphysics, Bk. 6, I, I026bl-25]. Hence, for Aristotle, the definition of a per se accident, like odd or even, mentions in its definition its specific subject, for example, number, which is essentially odd or even, while a non-per se accident, like the color white, makes no mention of an animal because animals are not essentially color specific [Posterior Analytics, Bk. 1,6, 75aI8-37].

Aristotle conceives the speculative sciences to be three in number precisely because only substance and its two intrinsic accidents, quantity and quality, can operate as per se principles. Quantity and quality actually inhere in substance and remain with a substance for the duration of its existence. All other accidents relate to substance through their relation to a substance’s quantity or quality. Hence, in some way, both these intrinsic accidents account for different ways in which a substance can be actually and intrinsically one, the different ways we can know substance to be per se, and, apart from substance, can know the different proximate subjects of science.

For Aristotle, then, in some way, the whole of philosophy and every science involves coming to know how a multiplicity is essentially one. As Aquinas notes, every science studies many things referred to one primary thing, a substance, with which it is chiefly concerned. It considers this thing analogously, that is, according to the same formal aspect and, also, according to different relationships, ‘just,” as he says, “it is clear that one science, medicine, considers all health-giving things” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 1, n. 544. See Annand A. Maurer (ed.), Commentary on the de Trinitate of Boethius, Questions V and VI. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Division and Methods of the Sciences, q. 6, a. 3, c., footnote 15].

Aristotle maintains as many species of being exist as species of unity exist, and that one science, metaphysics, has the job to study these species of unity, namely, ”the same and the similar and the other concepts of this sort” [Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 3, I003b36-37, Bk. 10, I, 1053b23-I04aI9]. Just as being is analogously predicable of all genera, since being and unity are convertible notions, Aristotle considers unity to be analogously predicable of all the different genera. Hence, he states that we may refer almost all contraries to unity as to their starting point [Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 3, I003b36-37, Bk. 10, I, 1053b23-I04aI9]. Aquinas explains Aristotle’s position in this way:

since being and unity signify the same thing …there must be as many species of being as there are species of unity, and they must correspond to each other. For just as the parts of being are substance, quantity, quality, and so on, in a similar way the parts of unity are sameness, equality and likeness. For things are the same when they are one in substance, equal when they are one in quantity, and like when they are one in quality. And the other parts of unity could be taken from the other parts of being, if they were given names. And just as it is the office of one science [first] philosophy to consider all the parts of being, in a similar way it is the office of this same science to consider all the parts of unity, i.e., sameness, likeness, and so forth [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 2, n. 56 I].

No science considers just any parts of being, however. Nor does it consider them in just any way. It considers a genus, an order of species. And it considers the genus relative to contrary opposites that compose it and to a first proximate substance to which, in different, relatively close and distant, ways, analogous ways, the members of the genus relate. Each science chiefly studies this substance.

Aristotle maintains that a genus is a kind of whole, one which, for philosophy, or science, primarily refers to the immediate, proximate, first, or proper subject of different per se accidents, or unities, within the genus [Metaphysics, Bk. 5,24, I023a26-32, and 26, I024a29-1024b4]. Aquinas explains that this sense of genus is different from the sense of genus as signifying the essence of a species. He says:

This sense of genus is not the one that signifies the essence of a species, as animal is the genus of man, but the one that is the proper subject in the species of different accidents. For surface is the subject of all plane figures. And it bears some likeness to a genus, because the proper subject is given in the definition of an accident just as a genus is given in the definition of its species. Hence the proper subject of an accident is predicated like a genus [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 22, n. 1121].

Surface is the immediate subject of all colors and plane figures. As such, it is the referential source of intelligibility of all surface bodies. All such figures are subjectified in substance by being proximately subjectified, and quantitatively unified, in a surface. Hence, when geometricians predicate surface of different plane (surface) figures they predicate surface analogously. In so doing, analogously they resemble logicians. When both geometricians and logicians predicate a genus, they include the genus in the species’ definition. Hence, geometricians also predicate in a way analogous to the way logicians predicate the genus that signifies the essence of a species. In both cases the definition of the species refers to its subject genus, its substance, for its intelligibility. But the substance of the geometrician is a surface body, not the essential definition of the logician.

Aristotle further maintains that one proximate subject cannot be reducible to another. Those things are generically diverse “whose proximate substratum is different, and which are not analyzed the one into the other nor both into the same thing (e. g., form and matter are different in genus)” [Metaphysics, Bk. 5,28, 1024bIO-I3]. Aquinas explains Aristotle’s meaning by referring the notion of proximate subject to subjectifying, or common, matters. Thus, he states: “[A] solid is in a sense reducible to surfaces, and therefore solid figures and plane figures do not belong to diverse genera, … but celestial bodies and lower bodies are diverse in genus inasmuch as they do not have a common matter” [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 22, n. 1125]. He adds, “In another sense those things are said to be diverse in genus which are predicated ‘according to a different figure of the category of being,’ i.e., of the predication of being [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 22, n. 1126]. He immediately notes, however, that the natural scientist and metaphysician consider a genus as the first subject of accidents, not as what is said of different categories of being, which is the way a logician considers generic diversity:

Now it is clear, from what has been said, that some things are contained under one category and are in one genus in this second sense, although they are diverse in genus in the first sense. Examples of these are the celestial bodies, and colors and flavors. The first way in which things are diverse in genus is considered rather by the natural scientist and also by the philosopher [that is, the metaphysician], because it is more real. But the second way in which things are diverse in a genus is considered by the logician, because it is conceptual [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 22, n. 1127. Bracketed material is my addition].

Within a different context, Armand A. Maurer explains Aquinas’s distinction between the way logicians conceive of a genus and the way natural philosophers and metaphysicians do:

From the point of view of the logician, material and immaterial things can be brought under the same genus (for example, substance), because he considers them only as concepts in the mind. From the point of view of the natural philosopher or metaphysician they do not come under the same genus because these philosophers consider the natures of things as they actually exist in reality, and in actual existence the substance of material things is not the same as that of immaterial things. Hence from a logical point of view, the genus of substance is predicated univocally of all substances; but from the point of view of the natural philosopher and the . metaphysician it is predicated analogically [Commentary on the de Trinitate ofBoethius, Questions Vand VI. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Division and Methods of the Sciences, q.6, a. 3, C., footnote 15].

Inasmuch as philosophy studies real being, or substance, as the proximate cause of per se accidents within a multiplicity of beings, or a genus, Aristotle maintains that every science studies opposites and first principles. That every science studies opposites is evident. Medicine, for example, studies disease and health. Grammar studies disagreement and agreement. Politics studies war and peace. Every science studies opposites because every science studies a multiplicity of differences according to a principle of unity.

Every science concerns itself with opposition, negation, completeness, and privation precisely because it studies substances through a principle: unity, and because opposition, negation, completeness, and privation are essentially connected to the concept of unity, or of being one. What is one is undivided, is not possessed of, is deprived of, division, and is the opposite of division or plurality. As Aquinas notes, we derive the concept of unity from the notion “of order or lack of division’ [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 2, n. 553]: The concept of unity entails, depends on, negation and privation, both of which are species of opposition. What is one is undivided, deprived of, and opposed to, division, or plurality. Our concept of “unity,” he tells us, includes an implied privation, “a negation in a subject,” like blindness in a human being [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 3, no. 564-566].

Some people might disagree with Aristotle and Aquinas, and maintain that we derive our awareness of plurality from a positive concept of unity. Aristotle himself claims that the one is the principle by which we know number [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 9, 10, 1052bI9-22]. Still, Aristotle replies to such an objection that the starting point of all of our knowledge, even our knowledge of notions like unity, cause, and principle, is our senses [Aristotle, Physics, Bk. I, I, 184aI7-2 I]. Our first perception is of composite things, a many, confusedly grasped as a one. Hence, we derive our concepts, definitions, and first awarenesses of first principles by negations of the way we sensibly perceive them as composite beings. Unity is the most primary privation, consisting of negation in a subject. Plurality stems from unity, and causes diversity, difference, and contrariety. Hence, we know first principles negatively in reference to the way we perceive their contraries [Aristotle, Physics, Bk. I, I, 184aI7-2 I. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 2, n. 553].

Indeed, Aristotle maintains that “all things are contraries or composed of contraries, and unity and plurality are the starting points of all contraries” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 2, 1005a3-5]. The reason for this is that contraries are differences, extreme differences that exist within a genus that relate as most complete and most deprived possession of a form. As such, contrariety is a kind of plurality, because difference is a pluralization of unity, and an opposition between possession and privation. Contrariety thus consists in the greatest distance of difference between extremes of species within a genus. The crucial points to note are that contraries are differences, that what is different is what is not the same, or not one, is multiple, and that differences involve opposition between possession and privation [Aristotle, Metaphysics, I004b27-1 005a13b, Bk. 10,3, 1055a32-39. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 4, no. 582-587].

For Aristotle, then, all otherness derives from pluralizing, unequalizing, unity. Unity, or what is undivided, in tum, is the ground of all sameness, equality, and similarity. Indeed, Aristotle thinks that sameness, equality, and similarity are analogous extensions and the proper accidents of unity. As such, they are the ground of all plurality, which, in tum, is the ground of all difference. For Aristotle, difference is plurality of unity, and the opposite of unity. The analogous extensions and properties of unity, however, are unities. To be the same, equal, or similar, therefore, is, analogously, to be one [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 4, I, I004a34-1 005a18. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 4, no. 582-587].

This means that to be different, unequal, or dissimilar is to be many, to be a plurality of unity. But the one and the many are opposed, are, indeed, together with being and privated being, the ground of all opposition and contrariety and are the primary contraries into we reduce all other contraries [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10,3, 1055a33-1055b39. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. Bk. 10, I. 6, n. 2058].

This being so, the principles of sameness, equality, and similarity and their opposites and contraries (difference, inequality, and dissimilarity) are the ground of all per se accidents and of the relative first principles of all the sciences. This must be so because they are the most fundamental oppositions between unity and plurality, the opposition which grounds all other oppositions and into which all others are reduced. And science studies the principles of opposition within a genus [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10,3, I054a20-1 055b39. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 4, no. I998-2022, 2035].

A main reason, then, that Aristotle divides the speculative sciences into three classes is because he maintains that three pairs of specifically distinct kinds of unity, plurality, and opposition exist (sameness/difference, equality/inequality, and similarity/dissimilarity) that serve as the ground of per se accidents and of principles of contrariety for understanding the proximate subjects of science, these proximate subjects being constituted by distinctive kinds of common matter.

Aristotle tells us that two of these common matters are sensible. The third is “immovable and imperceptible” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 12, I, I069a30-I069b3]. The two classes of sensible substance consist of perishable substances like animals and plants, and imperishable substances, like the movers of the celestial bodies, which physics investigates. The third class consists of objects with intelligible matter, that is, the objects of mathematics, and separate substances, that is, beings that can, do, or can be considered to exist apart from any and all matter [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 12, I. 2, nn. 2425-2426]. Hence, Aquinas maintains that “as many parts of philosophy” exist “as there are parts of substance, of which being and unity are predicated and of which it is the principle intention or aim of this science to treat” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 2, n. 563].

What makes these common matters proper subjects of science is more than the fact that they are common to a multiplicity: they comprise the matter of a proximate subject containing a specific principle of unity that grounds the per se differences and principles of opposition and contrariety within the limits of a proximate-subject genus.

Hence, as Aquinas says, “geometry speculates about a triangle being a figure having ‘two right angles,’ i.e., having its three angles equal to two right angles; but it does not speculate about anything else, such as wood or something of the sort because these things pertain to a triangle accidentally.” The reason geometry speculates about its subject genus in this way, through the principle of equality, and does not speculate about other sorts of likenesses or differences is because, as Aquinas adds, “science studies those things which are beings in a real sense, …and each thing is a being insofar as it is one” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 6, I. 2, n. 1176]. That is, the proximate subject of geometry, its common matter, is not material substance, but quantified material substance, is not body, but surface body. This body makes a substantial body to be a geometrical body. And equality is the quantitative principle of unity by which we grasp all the samenesses and differences that relate to a body as a continuum body, such as having three angles quantitatively the same as two right angles. In short, due to the relation they have to different common matters, sameness, equality, and similarity are the formal objects through which we conceive all the different sciences.

To put all this in another way, an assumption about proximate material substance underlies Aristotle’s notion of philosophy, and an assumption about unity underlies his philosophy of proximate substance. Beings that belong to the same genus share a common matter and a common unit measure through which we know them to be one [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, 4, I055a4-1 055a32. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 5, no. 2024-2026]. Indeed, Aristotle holds that, like the properties of sameness, equality. and similarity, ”to be a measure” is a property of unity [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 6, 1016b4-32. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 8, n. 432].

Aristotle maintains, further, that unity is the measure of all things [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, I052bI5-19]. Aquinas comments that the reason Aristotle makes this claim is because unity terminates division. That which is undivided brings division to an end, is that beyond which no further division exists [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 195 I]. Aristotle explains that we know those principles that constitute each thing’s substance by dividing or resolving a whole into its component parts, whether these parts are quantitative or specific (like matter, form, or elements of compounds). He says: “Thus, then, the one is the measure of all things, because we come to know the elements in the substance by dividing the things either in respect of quantity or in respect of kind” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1053a24-27].

Analogously, we can call knowledge and perception “measures” of things. Aristotle maintains that we can speak this way because we know something by knowledge and perception. “[A]s a matter of fact,” he claims, “they are measured rather than measure other things.” And he immediately adds that thinkers like Protagoras “say nothing… while they appear to say something remarkable, when they say “‘man is the measure of all things” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, I053a32-I053b3].

According to Aristotle, a measure is the means by which we know a thing’s quantity. That is, a measure is a unit, number, or limit [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, I052b20-27]. He adds that we first derive the notion of measure from the genus of quantity. From this we analogously transfer this notion to other genera. Hence, in a way, unity and quantity are the means by which we even know substance, knowledge, and quality. Hence, he states:

Evidently, then, unity in the strictest sense, if we define it according to the meaning of the word, is a measure, and most properly of quantity, and secondly of quality. And some things will be one if they are indivisible in quantity, and others if they are indivisible in quality; and so that which is one is indivisible, either absolutely or qua one [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, I053b4-9].

Aquinas comments that we find indivisibility in things in different, not the same, ways. Some things, like the natural unit which is the principle of number, or the natural length which is the principle of measured length, are definite and totally indivisible. Other things, like an artificial and arbitrary measure, “are not altogether indivisible but only to the senses, according to the authority of those who instituted such a measure wished to consider something as a measure” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 1953].

For Aristotle a natural body has per se unifying principles that differentiate it from a quantified body, and a quantified body has per se differentiating principles, per se formal objects, that differentiate it from a qualified body. Each of these bodies differs from the other according to a distinctive kind of unity that grounds distinctive kinds of contrariety and opposition based upon a distinctive kind of common matter.

The unity of a natural body is one composed of opposites, of matter and form that constitute a natural body as a material nature and as a substantial nature in the genus of substance. This body is not the same as a quantum body, the body which is in the genus of quantity, or as a qualified body. The natural body acts as the subject of the quantum body just as the quantum body acts as the subject of the qualified body.

Three properties of unity allow us to conceive of a natural body in this way: sameness, equality, and likeness (or similarity). These properties, in tum, give us a threefold division of speculative philosophy, based upon unity’s properties. Hence, Aquinas says that we distinguish the parts of philosophy “in reference to the parts of being and unity.” He maintains that, according to Aristotle, “there are as many parts of philosophy as there are parts of substance, of which being and unity chiefly are predicated, and of which it is the principle intention or aim of this science [that is, metaphysics] to treat.” According to Aquinas, “the parts of being are substance, quantity, quality, and so on.” In a similar way, he adds:

The parts of unity are sameness, equality and likeness. For things are the same when they are one in substance, equal when they are one in quantity, and like when they are one in quality. And the other parts of unity could be taken from the other parts of being, if they were given names.

That is, we divide philosophy according to the order of proximate natural subjects and the property of unity that constitute the necessary and sufficient condition for a proximate subject’s ability to be.

For example, Aristotle thinks that a substantial body emanates in three magnitudinal directions from its matter as a natural body. These dimensions are extensions, divisions, and arrangements of the natural body within terminal parts in different directions in place. They divide the natural body into parts that have a positional relation to each other and to bodies around them because position is contained within the notion of quantity [Aquinas, Commentary on the de Trinitate of Boethius, Questions V and Vi. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Division and Methods of the Sciences, q. 5, a. 3]. These emanations quantify a natural body as a magnitudinal, extended, quantum, or continuum body. “This extension occurs both intrinsically to a body inasmuch as it places limits upon it within terminal parts internal to its substantial matter and externally inasmuch as it places limits upon the substantial body in the way it relates to its surrounding place.” [Redpath, “Prescript,” in Crowley, Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy of Measure and the International System of Units (SI), p. xiii].

When a material substance extends in one direction it becomes a magnitudinal body terminated by a point, that is, a linear body reaching from one point to another point. When the substance extends in two directions, that is from one point to another and one line to another, the substantial body becomes a surface, or wide, body stretching from one line to another. When the substantial body stretches from one surface to another surface, it becomes a solid, or deep, body and has depth. In this way, a quantum bodily substance has three natural intrinsic unit measures and termini (a point, line, and surface) that constitute it as a quantum subject, a substance with a quantum, the extended spatial unity of which we call a quantum “equal.”

As Aquinas notes, three kinds of magnitude exist:

if magnitude is divisible into continuous part in one dimension only, it will be length; if into two, width; and if into three, depth. Again, when plurality or multitude is limited, it is called number. And a limited length is called a line; a limited width, surface; and a limited depth, body. For if multitude were unlimited, number would not exist, because what is unlimited cannot be numbered. Similarly, if length were unlimited, a line would not exist, because a line is a measurable length (and this is why it is stated in the definition of a line that its extremities are two points). The same things hold true of surface and of body [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. IS, n. 978].

Aristotle maintains that we derive our notion of measure from sensation, primarily from our sense awareness of number which arises from cutting a continuum. By cutting a continuum body, we divide it into a plurality of units. The unit that terminates the division is the limit of the division, an indivisible. Hence, it formally constitutes the division as a one and a number, an ordered plurality. A number is a limited plurality, a one, and a measure. Indeed, it is a measure precisely because it is a one, and therefore; is an indivisible and a limit. Hence Aristotle says, ”the one is the measure of all things” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1052b32-1053a23].

Since a measure is a one, just as unity is an analogous notion with accidental properties, which include being a measure, so, too, are continuous and discrete quantity. Aristotle contends that the common properties of continuous quantity are large, or big, and small. Of number, they are much, many, and large and little, few, small, and less. Of magnitude, they are, of length, or of a long body, long and short. Of a surface, or wide body, they are narrow and wide. Of a solid, or deep, body, they are high or deep, and low or shallow. Of quality, heavy and light, hot and cold. All these are relative unit measures, ways by which we comprehend an extended or qualified substance to be limited and one, and hence knowable [Bk. 5,12, 1020aI8-1020bI2. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5,1. I5, n. 981, and 1.16, n. 998].

Of all the accidents, Aquinas maintains that “quantity is the closest to substance” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. I5, n. 982]. Hence, of all the accidents, it is most per se. Quantity is a per se accident of a material body because it inheres in and emanates from the body’s natural matter. A quantum body can thus be the proper subject of philosophical speculation for the geometrician as a proximate subject of accidents proper to a point, line, and surface.

All the above points being true, someone might wonder what all this has to do with Aristotle’s notion of virtue? Its connection is simple. In a similar fashion to the way in which dimensive quantity causes a material body to emanate extensively through its matter to natural intrinsic unit measures and limits, Aristotle thinks that a body emanates intensively through its form to natural intensive magnitudinal unit measures and limits of ability, positionally related to each other. In this way, form constitutes a natural body as a qualified body, or a body with qualities, with limited and ordered abilities to act with more or less perfection, the proximate subject about which the Ancient physicist, metaphysician, and ethician can speculate, depending upon whether the matter in question is corruptible or incorruptible, or human possessed of the faculty of free choice.

Aquinas, following Aristotle, maintains that we can understand the term “perfect” in several senses. In one sense, a thing is internally perfect when it “lacks no part of the dimensive quantity which it is naturally determined to have.” In a second sense, we can understand the term internally to refer to ”the fact that a thing lacks no part of the quantity of power which it is naturally determined to have.” In still another sense, we can use the term teleologically to refer to external perfection, as, for example, when we say that ”those things are said to be perfect ‘which have attained their end, but only if the end is ‘worth seeking’ or good” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, L.18, nn. 1038-1039. See Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5,16, 10212bI2-1022a3].

Aquinas explains that we can say a thing is perfect in relation to this or that particular ability because:

[E]ach thing is perfect when no part of the natural magnitude which belongs to it according to the form of its proper ability is missing. Moreover, just as each natural being has a definite measure of natural magnitude in continuous quantity, as is stated in Book II of The Soul, so too each thing has a definite amount of its own natural ability. For example, a horse has by nature a definite dimensive quantity, within certain limits; for there is both a maximum quantity and minimum quantity beyond which no horse can go in size. And in a similar way the quantity of active power in a horse which is not in fact surpassed in any horse; and similarly there is some minimum which never fails to be attained [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 18, n. 1037].

Hence, we can analogously transpose all the concepts of measure that we derive from our awareness of being as dimensively quantified and one to measure and comprehend quality and other accidents as well, such as place and time [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1020315-33. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. I5, n. 984]. For example, we can speak of a color’s magnitude because of the intensity of its brightness, the magnitude of a sin because of the greatness of its offense to God, the quantity of perfection of an animal’s ability to see, hear, or run, or the extent of perfection of a person’s happiness, or one animal being higher or lower in its genus or species.

To grasp Aristotle’s view of philosophy more completely and to grasp how it more specifically applies to virtue and ethics, we need to recognize a basic distinction he makes metaphysically between two types of quantity. Many philosophers are familiar with Aristotle’s distinction between continuous and discrete quantity, continuous quantity being the proper subject of the geometrician and discrete quantity being the proper subject of the arithmetician. Metaphysically, he makes a more basic distinction between dimensive (molis) quantity and virtual (virtutis) quantity.

Continuous and discrete quantity are species of dimensive, or bulk, quantity. They result in a substantial body from the emanation of a natural substance’s matter to become a body divisible in one, two, or three magnitudinal limits or directions: length, width, or depth. Virtual quantity is a species of quantity that emanates from a natural substance’s form, not its matter. It emanates intensively, not extensively. And the accidental form “quality,” not dimensive “quantity,” produces it. Aquinas describes the distinction between these two forms of quantity as follows: “Quantity is twofold. One is called bulk (molis) quantity or dimensive (dimensiva) quantity, which is the only kind of quantity in bodily things…. The other is virtual (virtutis) quantity, which occurs according to the perfection of some nature or form.” He adds that this sort of quantity is also called “spiritual greatness just as heat is called great because of its intensity and perfection [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, q. 1, a. 42, ad 1. See also, Iallae, q. 52, a. I, c. For a more extensive treatment of the notion of virtual quantity in Aristotle and Aquinas, see Crowley, Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy of Measure and the International System of Units (SI), pp. 25-47, 249-260].

For Aristotle, in other words, forms and qualities have their own kind of quantity and magnitudinal limit, one that consists in the greater or less intrinsic perfection, completeness, or quantity of form, not in the extension of matter throughout parts within a spatial continuum. This quantum property of form enables the existence within a subject and a genus of the opposition between privation and possession that grounds all contrariety. Privation requires the disposition to have a form and the absence, in a definite subject at a definite time, of the form to which one is disposed [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 14 nn. 962-965]. The basis of contrariety is the opposition between privation and possession [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, 14 1055a33-1055bI8]. Hence, quality, or intensive quantity, as the foundation of all opposition and contrariety is, in a way, the ground of all science.

Furthermore, for Aristotle, virtues are qualities and qualities are of basically two kinds: (1) essential difference and (2) differences, or alterations, of bodies capable of motion, like hot and cold, heavy and light, black and white. This second sense refers to the way we generally use the term “quality” “of virtue and vice, and, in general, of evil and good [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 14 I020a33-1020b25. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 16, nn. 987-999]. Aristotle considers quality in this sense to be an accident related to motion, an intensive quantitative modification of something moved inasmuch as it is moved. Hence, regarding virtue and vice, he says:

Virtue and vice fall among these modifications; for they indicate differentiae of the movement or activity, according to which the things in motion act or are acted upon well or badly; for that which can be moved or act in one way is good and that which can do so in another (the contrary) way is vicious. Good and evil indicate quality especially in living things, and among these especially in those which have purpose [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 14 1020bI8-25].

Aquinas comments upon Aristotle’s reference to virtues and vices enabling us to move well or badly that the terms “well” and “badly” chiefly relate to living things and “especially” to those possessed of “choice. ” The reason Aquinas gives for this is that living things particularly act for an end and “rational beings, in whom alone choice exists know both the end and the proportion of the means to the end” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 16, n. 998].

Part of Aquinas’s point in the above passage is that quality modifies a motion or action in the sense that it places it within bounds and, in a way, gives it order and proportion, especially in connection to acting for an end. This point is crucial to understand in connection to the study of ethics as a science because, as a science, ethics must study a genus in relation to opposition between contrary members of a species, an opposition, like all oppositions, grounded in possession, privation, and limits.

Recall that Aristotle thinks that science studies one thing chiefly, a primary thing to which it analogously relates other things according to different relationships, that is, unequal relationships of possession and privation. Hence, the medical scientist chiefly studies health and its contrary opposite, disease, plus other things differently related, by greater and less distance, to health and disease, like diet, exercise, operating procedures, medical instruments, and so on. Analogous study of anything involves relating things using a common concept, or meaning, predicated according to greater and less distance to a common term, or numerically one nature, that is, according to more and less, excess and defect (all of which, in some way, are not equal, and, hence not one) to some one definite thing. No science, then, can proceed without considering the proportionate and unequal relationship of possession and privation that a multiplicity has to a chief proximate subject, to the maximum in a species, to a one to which other things are related as numerically one end [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 1, I003b 11-19. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 1, nn. 534- 544].

One reason this last claim is true is that Aristotle tells us substance is part of the subject of every science, not just of metaphysics. He also tells us that quantity is that by which we know substance, that a measure is that by which we know a thing’s quantity, that we first find unity as a measure in the discrete quantity, which is number, and that, from this category, we transfer the notion of a measure to other categories, like quality, time, place, and so on [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1052b 19-1053b8. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, no. 1937-1960].

In the case of quality, Aristotle maintains that we first perceive the notion of measure by comparing one thing to another and by noticing that one thing exceeds another in a specific quality, by noticing larger and smaller or more and less, which are inequalities and, as such, pluralities of unity. For example, we notice that one thing exceeds another in weight or heat [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1052b 19-1053b8. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, no. 1937-1960]. For Aristotle, however, equality and inequality are first and foremost divisions of numeral proportions [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 14, I020b26-1 021 al 4. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 1008]. Inequality is of two kinds: larger and smaller (or excessive and defective) and more and less. As inequalities, we cannot understand excessive and defective, larger and smaller, and more and less apart from reference to equality. Equality, however, is the measure of inequality, the means by which we know inequality [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 14, I020b26-1 021 al 4. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 1008].

Furthermore, in the case of quality, Aquinas maintains that we are incapable of directly comparing any two qualities. Quality as quality only directly relates to the subject in which exists. Its being is a referential being to its subject. We can only relate it to another quality (I) by referring one quality to the other as an active or passive potency of the other, as being a principle or source of acting or being acted upon (like heating and being heated) or (2) by referring one quality to another through reference to quantity or something related quantity, as, for example, when we say that one thing is hotter than another because its quality of heat is more intense [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 1008].

Aristotle’s teaching on contraries throws light on how we can compare two qualities quantitatively. For Aristotle contrariety is. a kind of opposition, one of the four kinds of opposition: (1) contradiction, (2) contrariety, (3) privation, and (4) relation [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10,4, 10555a33-1055b3]. Contraries are forms, extreme differences, or specific extremes or limits, within the same genus between which a mean, middle, or intermediary can exist. This mean or middle relates to both extremes as a one, intermediate, or midpoint between possession and privation. It is neither extreme, relates to both, and is opposed to both by an opposition of privative negation, not of contrariety, just as, for example, the midpoint between the extremely hot and extremely cold is neither hot nor cold but can become both or a morally neutral person is neither morally good nor bad but can become both [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10,4, 1056a10-30].

Furthermore, passage from one extreme to another involves an order of change, a necessary passage through the midpoint, which stands in a condition of equality in relation to both extremes, just as passage from the great to the small and the fast to the slow must be through what is equidistant from both. Hence, because the equal stands as a mean or midpoint between extremes of possession and deprivation of a form within a genus, we can use the equal as a measure for knowing both extremes [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 7, nn. 2059-2074. For extensive analysis of the way contemporary physical scientists use the equal as a measure, see Crowley, Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy of Measure and the International System of Units (SI)].

In relationship to the equal, which is a one, two opposites exist, comprising the unequal (in this case, excess and defect of some form). Analogously speaking, these inequalities are multiplicities or pluralities. This means that we can measure qualitative differences, or difference of intensity in possession of a quality, by comparing excessive and deprived possession to possession of equal intensity. We can compare one quality to another by relating both the qualities we wish to compare to a third quality that stands midway between them in intensity, much like we can compare the heaviness of two different bodies through use of a balance scale that compares their weight relative to a state of equilibrium. This qualitative state becomes the measure of the other two and the principle by which we know them.

In the case of Aristotle’s teaching about virtue and ethics we can easily see how Aristotle applies his teaching about the one and the many. Like all sciences ethics studies a genus of being grounded on a specific kind of matter: moral matter. Moral matter is qualified matter, matter modified by active and passive potencies. Specifically, it consists of opposing habits of human choice. Ethics studies a many, the many possible opposing acts open to human choice, to try to comprehend the qualitative potentialities and properties that constitute human choice, to comprehend the powers of the soul as motive principles that can act well or badly. This science seeks to understand what is human choice to comprehend choice as the principle and cause of the many free acts that human beings perform and to enable the person of moral experience to act better. To engage in this study the ethician must examine a multiplicity of human acts because we can only comprehend power and potentiality in relation to actuality.

According to Aristotle, all science seeks to understand its subject matter in terms of its principles and causes. He also says that the first, or maximum, in any genus is the cause and measure of all that is in the genus. This means that every genus contains a species that has a form existing in its most complete state. In this species we find the form most glaringly present, present in its maximum of intensive quantity. Hence, all science seeks to find this species of its genus to use our understanding of its powers and properties as a means for knowing the powers and properties of its more deprived members.

In the case of moral science, the maximum in the genus, the starting point of moral reasoning, lies in the habits of the prudent person and in reason’s general certainty that a greatest intensive quantity of qualified act exists for beings that possess the human form. The prudent person is the rule or measure of all moral science. As the contrary opposite of the imprudent person, the prudent person is the maximum in the genus of moral choice that we have to use to comprehend goodness about human action. As the privative opposite of the extremes of moral excess within the same genus, the prudent person is the intermediate, the equal, in the same genus, who acts Iike a balance scale to compare and contrast moral viciousness [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, Bk. 2,5, II06b36-1 10731, Bk. 3, 4, 1113a31-33. See, also, Joseph Owens, “The Grounds of Ethical Universality in Aristotle,” in Aristotle: The Collected Papers of Joseph Owens, pp. 148-164, and Richard P. Geraghty, The Object of Moral Philosophy According to St. Thomas Aquinas, pp. 56-61]. In this person we find (I) the quality of active human powers exercised with their maximum of intensive quantity, or completeness of form, human goodness, and (2) the balance, or equal state, between extremes of too much and too little intensive quantity of chosen action. For Aristotle, in short, moral science starts from the evidently accepted principle that all human beings by nature have a greatest or maximum human desire: to live well and a multiplicity of contrary and opposing habits of actions that moral science studies to find the principles for living well, the maximum of which we find achieved in the actions and habits of the prudent person.

“Virtue,” Aristotle tells us, “is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.” As a mean between two vices, virtue is an intermediate, equal, or right state, or state of intermediary intensive quantity, standing between, and opposed by an opposition of privative negation, not of contrariety, to two contrary vicious opposites of excess and defect of right measure in action and being acted upon [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. 2, 6, 1107al-8].

Hence, the courageous person is the intermediate between the reckless person and the timid. And a person who seeks to hit the mean between contrary vices must proceed toward the mean, toward the right measure, which is a specific intensive quantity of action that equals the best state of exercising our faculty of choice in the here and now [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. 2,8, 11109al-36]. Habituation of the good person determines the right answer in moral choice, the answer equal to the situation and an agent’s natural and habituated powers, precisely because this person has experience of virtue, of the equal in matters open to inequality, or plurality, of action [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. 1,2, 1095al-12, Bk. 1,8, 1099a13-24, Bk. 2, 6, 1106b36-1107a2].

This is not to say that moral science only studies the behavior of the prudent person. As Aquinas notes, Aristotle holds that every science chiefly studies one subject present, with different degrees of intensive quantity, in a multiplicity of different, opposite, and contrary beings. Secondarily and analogously it studies a multiplicity of other things that relate in varying degrees to this one subject. In the case of moral science, the one subject is human action as we find this extremely opposed in virtue and vice. But Aristotle thinks that the moral philosopher must also take into account and evaluate moral education and culture:

Paideia, meaning education and culture, is what equips the individual to make the right choice in each case and to grasp the ethical principles in a way that will allow them to function as premises from which conclusions may be drawn in the manner of an authentic science. Hence the importance of correct habituation from earliest childhood on [Owens, “The Grounds of Ethical Universality in Aristotle,” pp. 156-157].

In so doing, however, the ethician can never lose sight of the fact that (1) the chief object of moral science is a proper subject whose per se principles this science seeks to grasp, and (2) we can grasp no per se principle without reference to the notion of unity and intensive quantity.

In a similar fashion, without an understanding of the notion of intensive quantity, none of us can adequately grasp Aristotle’s notion of virtue and of philosophy, or the notion of virtue held by Socrates or Plato for that matter. If we modern thinkers wish abandon our tendency to confound philosophy with logic or with one or another brand of sophistry, if we wish to return to the practice of doing philosophy that the Ancient Greeks passed on to posterity, a practice we have largely, if not entirely, lost, we, too, will have to return to the Ancient Greek habit of thinking about the beings around us in terms of the problem of the one and the many and recover a better understanding of the role intensive quantity plays in comprehending the nature of this most perplexing puzzle.


Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website. [Portions of this essay were originally published in the International Journal of World Peace, Vol, 18. No. 1 (March 2001).


Featured: “Seven Virtues and Seven Liberal Arts,” by Francesco Pesellino; painted ca. 1450.

In the Footsteps of Pascal

Pierre Manent has published a new book, entitled Pascal et la proposition chrétienne (Pascal and the Christian Proposition). It is a rich and dense work which seems to us to be of the utmost importance. It is nevertheless a demanding work, and I fear that many of our contemporaries will not be able to penetrate it, so much has Christianity in particular and the question of God in general have become foreign to their preoccupations and even to their culture.

It is on this theme that Pierre Manent’s reflection opens. The doubt that assails Europeans, the self-hatred that they often manifest, the forgetfulness and even the rejection of their history, stem from the fact that “Europeans do not know what to think or what to do with Christianity. They have lost the intelligence and the use of it. They no longer want to hear about it” (p. 7). We no longer perceive the new radicality of Christianity, nor do we measure the change brought about, after the Reformation and the Wars of Religion, by the progressive implementation of the “sovereign State” which, in the name of a supposed philosophical and religious “neutrality,” has ended up monopolizing all authority, including the spiritual authority of “values”—”There is no law above that of the Republic”—so much so that the power of the Sovereign State has become limitless.

A Religion Like No Other

Now, it was in the middle of the 17th century that the sovereign State was being fashioned, and it is in this unprecedented context that Pascal, in an unfortunately fragmentary and unfinished way, reflected afresh on the “Christian proposition,” to use Pierre Manent’s expression, namely that of the Christian faith, of the very possibility of the Christian faith. Because of this reflection, Pascal is particularly adapted to our time, a precious guide, but a guide difficult to follow without a sure master to lead us. This is what Pierre Manent does in a pedagogical and luminous way, by developing for us the way Pascal envisages this “Christian proposition.”

We know that Pascal was very engaged in the quarrel between grace and freedom and that he chastised the Jesuits for advocating a more accommodating religion so as not to see so many lukewarm souls, indifferent to the Gospel, drift away from the Church—the parallel with a certain current situation will not escape anyone! Yet, Pascal pleads, Christianity is not a religion among others. He does not justify it by the authority of the Church or of Scripture, but by the unique fact that it alone “adequately accounts for the principal ‘contrariety’ of the human condition, divided between greatness and misery” (p. 361)—it alone also dares to go against some of the most universal springs of human nature, such as love of enemies or forgiveness of offenses. The dogma of original sin accounts for this “contrariety”: “Certainly nothing strikes us more harshly than this doctrine [of original sin], and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The knot of our condition takes its twists, and turns in this abyss. So that man is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is inconceivable to man” (Pensées, 122, quoted on p. 239-240).

The Enlightened Choice of the Heart

Pascal is not a theologian who seeks to rationally prove the existence of God. Faith does not need proofs; these are addressed to reason but it is not there that faith is decided: it is a gift of God who puts it in the heart of man. Pascal thus seeks to address the will—the famous “wager”—more than the intelligence, an approach which, nevertheless, is in no way opposed to reason: “The prophecies, the very miracles and the proofs of our Religion are not of such a nature that one can say that they are absolutely convincing, but they are also of such a nature that one cannot say that it is to be without reason to believe them” (Pensées, fr. 682, quoted p. 316). And Pierre Manent adds: “Nothing is more foreign to Pascal than the ‘leap of faith.’ He gives us rather a course of reason which leads us to a choice of the heart, of the knowing heart” (p. 361), because it is not a blind choice, but a reflected and enlightened one.

And yet, Pascal points out, few seem to make this choice: “The most significant fact is not the authority acquired by Christianity but, on the contrary, the theoretical or practical atheism of the immense majority of human beings, Christians included” (p. 365). Today even more than in Pascal’s time, the idea that the only great matter of life is the choice of God with what it implies for the salvation of the soul or its eternal loss does not interest many people. This brings us back to the problem of God’s grace being offered to all, and human freedom having that power to refuse it. “There is enough light for those who only wish to see, and enough darkness for those who have a contrary disposition” (Pensées, 139, quoted on p. 367).

To make the believer and the non-believer “live together” is not easy: the solution of modernity has been to push religion to the margins of public life. Pascal does not provide a political solution; but he does provide us with a demanding path, and one that is adapted to our time of incredulity: “And all we need to know is that we are miserable, corrupt, separated from God, but redeemed by Jesus Christ; and this is what we have admirable proof of on earth” (Pensées, fr. 402, quoted on p. 406).


Christophe Geffroy publishes the journal La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we are publishing this article.


Featured: “Blaise Pascal” portrait. Unknown artist, ca. 17th century.

Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution

We are so very delighted to provide this excerpt from After Justice: Catholic Challenges to Progressive Culture, Politics, Economics and Education, the latest book by philosopher Thomas A. Michaud.

Over the years, Progressivism has emerged as the dominate ideology of the West. In this book, Professor Michaud traces how this domination came about, wherein anti-Modernism and authoritarian strains coalesced into the Woke mentality that employs social and mainstream media to transform the “people” into a conformist, hive-minded ruling mob, driven by moral righteousness. This is an insightful book. Please support Professor’s important work and purchase a copy and consult the fully annotated version of this excerpt.

A cultural infrastructure of shared morality is necessary for the success of market economics. Traditional views maintain that religion is the nurturing source of the morality, which grows in the culture. The Progressive revolution aims to overturn Traditional morality and impose its social justice morality on culture. This article dissects and critiques the multifaceted Progressive revolution in the USA, while contrasting it with the Traditional view. It argues that the ultimate aim of the revolution is to redefine the human person through identity politics as a collective entity, which essentially liquidates the individual, conforms the person to social justice morality, and establishes socialistic economics.

The degree to which market economies are grounded on moral norms that are affirmed as metaphysically objective and universal, is the degree to which the market economies can flourish. Without such normative grounds, moral turpitude can corrupt a market economy, ultimately resulting in the economy’s collapse. The actors in the economy lose trust in each other; there is no mutual respect and honesty among them. Without moral norms, market commerce degenerates into gang war types of vicious “combat zones” wherein success means eliminating the competition, both economically and literally.

Throughout history market morality has been due typically to the influence of religion on culture. The moral norms of religion establish a cultural infrastructure for trust, honesty, fair dealing and moral accountability among persons acting in the market.

There is also an historical non-religious source of market “morality.” This is not a morality that is based on principles of honesty and mutual respect for the value and dignity of others. It is the “morality” of the dictates of a government authority exercising a “command and control” economy, which, in current times in the United States, is manifest in Progressive collectivist economics of socialism. The authoritarian collectivist government aims to establish, regulate and enforce what is “right” for commerce. Morality, in such collectivism, does not grow organically through the influence of religion, but is imposed on culture according to the ideological aims of the governing authority. As history has shown, however, command and control collectivist economies are not as long-lived or beneficial to persons as market economies that grow organically within the religiously nurtured morality of their culture.

The first two sections of this article will describe and contrast the Traditional view of religion as the source of cultural morality that influences politics and economics with the Progressive revolutionary aims to transform culture by imposing their ideological “social justice” morality of a collectivist political economy. The vicissitudes of the Progressive revolutionary agenda will be analyzed and critiqued in detail. The third section will expose a worrisome, fundamental philosophical problem with the Progressive agenda, namely the Progressive De-Personalization. This article will then finish with some remarks regarding what is at stake for the future of market-based USA political economy.

The Traditional View

Along with many other Traditionals, the late politico Andrew Breitbart believed that politics is downstream from culture, and culture is downstream from religion. To expand on Breitbart’s proposition, culture, especially morality, flows from religion, and politics and economics flow from culture.

Breitbart’s Traditional view of the relationship between religion, culture, politics and economics has a profound heritage including some of the United States’ founders. In his Farewell Address, George Washington, for example, stated,

“Of all the dispositions which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports these [are the] great pillars of human happiness. [Where] is the security for prosperity, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?… [Let] us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of a peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government.”

Washington could not be more explicit with his belief that morality flows from religion, and since morality is necessary for a free “popular,” democratic republic government, so too is religion necessary. His mentions of prosperity, property and happiness reveal his firm understanding that a free-market economy that allows for the pursuit of happiness does require a religiously based morality. His reference to religiously based oaths, such as swearing to “tell the truth, so help you God,” further reinforces the need for religious morality to maintain honesty and justice in, and the security of, a free nation.

Following Washington, John Adams recognized that the republic, freedom and prosperity depend on preserving a moral citizenry. Adams affirmed that, “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.”

Like Breitbart, Washington and Adams, the late Richard John Neuhaus, a 21st century culture commentator, observed that, “Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality and at the heart of morality is religion.” To encapsulate these views, the traditional position can be represented as:

RELIGION spawns MORALITY which influences CULTURE which influences POLITICS and ECONOMICS

In the Traditional view, morality, norms/standards for what constitutes a good or bad action, flows from religion and grows organically in culture. It is ultimately from religion and morality that persons develop their beliefs as to virtue vs. vice, what is the good/happy life, the importance of the family, the sense of individual accountability, and the personal responsibility for earning and stewarding wealth. The interrelationship between politics and economics is influenced by the culture, which, for Traditionals, results in a political economy that values free enterprise, market commerce, individual achievement, a limited government and individual autonomy. Traditionals highly value citizens as free individual persons whose liberty to pursue happiness and personal flourishing should respect morally all other persons and should be protected, and unabridged by their democratic republic. This Traditional appreciation of the individual person is precisely a main Progressive target for fundamental change as will be explained in the following anatomy of the Progressive revolution

The Progressive View

The late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan analyzed the difference between Traditionalism (conservatism) and Progressivism (liberalism) as such, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Moynihan recognized that in the conservative, Traditional, view culture is the driver of social success. He also recognized that for liberals, politics rule so that a culture that is not driven by their Progressive politics is damned and must be reformed to save it from its own backwardness. His insight illumines a basic conviction of the Progressive revolutionary strategy that politics can change culture and make it conform to the ideological ideals for an enlightened, “woke” society. The full Progressive agenda can be represented with the following summation.

POLITICS spawns ECONOMICS. Both spawn CULTURE (MORALITY) which in turn influences EDUCATION, the JUSTICE SYSTEM, and the MEDIA

This summation can be best explicated by offering a series of points that describe briefly its facets and the relationships among them.

  • For Progressives, collectivist politics is the prime mover for gaining power and control over society with their revolutionary agenda. Progressives’ devotion to their ideology is a type of religious zeal. They are indeed zealots, uncompromising ideologues who are convinced that their position has all of the answers even before questions arise. And if their political answers, solutions, do fail or do not yield immediate results, they tend to blame it on the backward Traditionals, the unsophisticated and obstinate religious right, or some constructed “force” beyond their control like climate change or a pandemic.
  • Progressive politics and their agenda itself are devoid of religion. In the name of their supreme value of social justice, religion must be excluded. No influential moral force greater than their ideology can be admitted. The unenlightened morality of Traditional religions must be deconstructed and substituted with their politically constructed “woke” morality: a social justice morality that serves their vision of collective unity.
  • Progressive politics wages its revolution with the weapon of economics. Through socialist dirigisme, economic policies create antagonisms between classes, races, ethnicities and genders. Progressives’ favored groups are those who are oppressed victims by past economic inequalities and inequities. They are given or promised privileged status through various government policies and programs. These groups’ allegiance to the Progressive agenda is fortified by such privileges.
  • Progressive economics secures their politics and engenders the change in culture they seek. They contend that without the social justice morality they promise, the nation will be overwhelmed by the many crises it faces. Only their political economic ideology will ensure true social justice. Janet Yellen, White House Cabinet Secretary for the Dept. of Treasury has bluntly stated this alarming warning, “The country is also facing a climate crisis, a crisis of systemic racism, and an economic crisis that has been building for fifty years… I believe economic policy can be a potent tool to improve society. We can—and should—use it to address inequality, racism, and climate change.”
  • As indicated, it is social justice morality that Progressives strive to establish as a substitute for Traditional morality in economics and in culture at large. Their social justice morality emphasizes compensatory and distributive justice. Compensatory justice aims to correct the past and present injustices to oppressed groups. They promote government “compensations” such as, reparations—financial and otherwise, affirmative action programs, and selective applications of criminal justice in regard, for instance, to rioting, property destruction, and looting. Distributive justice aims to correct inequalities and inequities suffered by oppressed groups in regard to earning and accumulating wealth. Again, government managed and, if need be, enforced examples include free college tuition, guaranteed basic income, universal medical care, housing, food/meal programs, childcare, and “tax the rich” progressive income taxation.
  • Progressive politics implemented by their socialistic economics according to their social justice morality, and the interaction of these factors generates revolutionary changes in culture. These changes are spurred on and spread by facets of culture led by Progressive activists. Public education, and much of private education, adhere to and inject Progressive ideology into their curricula and organizational leadership. The revolutionaries want education at all levels, but especially higher education, to be “government education” which promotes the Progressive agenda. For them, education, happily, is indoctrination, since educators and educational contents that oppose “The Agenda” are summarily cancelled.
  • Progressives believe that the justice system has been systemically unjust and must be reformed and saved by their social justice morality. The system must be repopulated with Progressive ideologues in such positions as police leadership, government prosecutors, and judges, especially in the higher courts including the US Supreme Court. With the moral standards of social justice, the legal system must be used, when possible, to reform economic issues, as well as criminal law, while advocating for and ruling in favor of the oppressed.
  • Education, the Justice System and the Media interact to form a collective unity that strengthens and advances the Progressive agenda. Their unified collective efforts are indefatigable; they seize every opportunity Progressive politicians create for them in order to sustain a “permanent revolution” that simply does not retreat. The media are an integral factor in the unceasing propagation of the revolution. They spread the message of the Agenda, so that the facets of culture maintain a collective focus. “Media” in this context has a broad meaning. It includes print media, social media, mainstream TV news, and entertainment media, such as streaming TV services (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Amazon, and HBO), sports shows (ESPN, CBSSN and FS1), and movie studios. TV series (comedies and dramas) and movies are filled with Progressive propaganda. In fact, if a series offers an alternative, more Traditional perspective, it risks cancellation. The Progressive scions of social media are uninhibited lords of their fiefdoms. “Un-woke” posts and individuals are cancelled if they communicate unenlightened views. The media’s collective prosecution of the “cancel culture” movement has indeed become a potent force in executing the permanent revolution.
  • The concept of “permanent revolution” is fundamental to the Progressive agenda. This Marxist notion was adopted and adapted by Leon Trotsky in the early 20c. Trotsky’s words, the underlined passages, can be paraphrased to express the Progressive aims: The Progressive permanent revolution accepts no compromise. The revolution can end only with the complete liquidation of Traditional culture. The permanent revolution is not a leap by the Progressives but the reconstruction of the nation under the dictatorship of the Progressives. Chairman Mao had similar ideas with his notion of Continuous Revolution, which was the guiding thrust of his Cultural Revolution. The Progressives’ revolution is not new to history. Collectivist/socialistic morality, economics and culture have happened before, but never have they entirely succeeded. They have not succeeded in the Soviet Union, not in Cuba, and not even in China, which is refashioning its communism in certain ways to expand its sphere of influence by engaging the global market economy.

The Progressive Depersonalization

The political is the personal and the personal is the political. This maxim was a slogan of the late 1960s feminist and student movements. It also expresses axiomatically the Progressives’ “identity politics” which is defined lexically by Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary as, “Politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, ethnic, social, gender or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns…” Identity politics according to Jeffrey Escofier “is a kind of cultural politics. It relies on the development of a culture that is able to create new and affirmative conceptions of the self, to articulate collective identities, and to forge a sense of group loyalty. Identity politics requires the development of rigid definitions of the boundaries between those who have particular collective identities and those who do not.” To offer some additional traits, identity politics is a politic of cultural change. The identity groups develop tribal boundaries, which may intersect with other identity groups that have suffered injustice and oppression, but boundaries absolutely exclude any group of non-victims, the oppressors. The identities define the self within the cultural collective. To self-identify with a collective requires group loyalty, typically a loyalty that replaces any Traditional aspect of culture, such as religious loyalty or patriotic commitment to one’s nation.

The wicked irony of “the personal is the political” axiom is, however, that it is precisely the personal, the sense of oneself as an individual, which the Progressive revolution aims to cancel. A society’s culture without a strong sense of the individual as essential to the person is bereft of crucial values like individual/personal autonomy and moral responsibility, self-reliance, individual/personal achievement and reward, and individual/personal property and wealth. These values are of baseline importance to Traditional culture but erasing and substituting them with ideologically charged collective identities enables the cultural transformation that Progressives desire.

The individual is a locus of rights and responsibilities. Our personal identity is who and what we become as individual persons. We become persons insofar as we respect those rights for others and ourselves and fulfill those responsibilities. Individuals grow and mature to become persons. Persons retain their individuality while realizing their responsibilities to themselves, families, communities and nation. Our freedom, self-determination, liberty, ambitions and aspirations are most perfectly fulfilled in the process of becoming persons.

The Progressive personal identity effectively liquidates the individual. The individual is not something real, the core of our self, but merely an epiphenomenon of our collective group identity. The collective group is the locus of rights and responsibilities. Our right to self-determination is nothing more than acting with and for the social justice’s sake of the collective. Our prime responsibility is to oppose the social injustice that our group and all of the other groups with which we intersect have suffered and are suffering. With the cancellation of the individual person, the Progressive revolution is able to employ strategically its social justice morality to provide opportunity, cover for establishing its socialist economics, and fundamentally transform the culture of the USA to create a new nation that has disposed of its Traditional history. The Progressives’ permanent revolution can abide no other outcome.

Final Remarks

The advancement of the Progressive revolution hinges on redefining the human person. Just as successful market economies need Traditional morality rooted in their culture, Progressives plant their ideological social justice morality in culture and nurture it with identity politics. Identity politics excises the individual and reduces the person to a collective entity, which then can be more easily manipulated by social justice morality and directed by the Progressive state. Socialist economics is a means for Progressive politics to command and control the culture and generate total cultural change. Full transformation of the culture requires widespread acceptance of the Progressive collective view of human nature.

The Progressive revolution aims to change the way in which people understand themselves, understand their very humanity as collective beings. If their revolution ultimately succeeds, it will have ongoing permanence since it will have to correct continuously lingering cultural issues. For instance, criminal guilt must become understood as the fault of some sort of injustice suffered by the perpetrator’s collective. Any beliefs in and efforts to earn private wealth and property would have to be rectified by the state. Moreover, even eschatological beliefs in personal immortality, an individual afterlife, would have to be challenged, probably suppressed, by the state.

The Progressive revolution against Traditional society is fomenting a civil war in the USA, albeit a cold war, but a war, nonetheless. Effective resistance begins with understanding the revolution’s anatomy, recognizing and rejecting Progressive “woke” political strategies and leaders as abetted by educational institutions, the justice system and the media. Progressives will not abandon their permanent revolution, though resistance can weaken it, perhaps even to the extent that it becomes nothing more than an annoying facet of the cultural fringe.


Featured: “The Awakening,” a poster by Henry “Hy” Mayer, published in Puck Magazine, February 20, 1915.

Concerning Consciousness, with Reference to Franz Brentano

With modernity a Copernican turn occurs in philosophy, as Kant observes, and the metaphysics that until then started from the question of the entity as entity, now starts from the subject. It is thus transformed into a metaphysics of subjectivity, as Heidegger rightly noted.

This metaphysics that is born from Descartes’ ego cogito has a second stage that is inaugurated with the detailed analysis of consciousness. And the first to study it in itself and in detail was Franz Brentano from 1860-1870, until he finally published his The Classification of Mental Phenomena (Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene) in 1911.

Let us begin with Brentano, a German philosopher of Italian origin who taught in Vienna. José Gaos, a Spaniard living in Mexico, who was Brentano’s first translator of Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874), affirmed that Brentano was a heteroclite philosopher; that is, he departed from the ordinary rules of what a philosopher should do or say. Thus, Brentano had as disciples and students important figures, such as Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, Christian von Ehrenfels, Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf, Kazimierz Twardowski, Anton Marty and many others—who excelled in phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Gestalt theory, object theory, language theory, logical positivism, symbolic logic, value theory, etc. Moreover, behind the Vienna Circle and the great contemporary studies on Aristotle (Jaeger, Ross, Owens, Zürcher, Aubenque) is the figure of the philosopher Marienberg.

But then why has Brentano not been studied in the universities as his contemporaries have, such as Stuart Mill, Nietzsche, Frege, Dilthey? Because Brentano subjected Kant to a merciless and severe criticism. He called Kant prejudiced by his a priori. He called him ignorant of the history of philosophy and mathematics. And this was not forgiven by the German universities and thereafter by the rest of the universities. Thus, it was that the Catholic universities, where scholastic philosophy is taught, ignored him thoroughly, even though Brentano was an excellent connoisseur of Thomas Aquinas whom he quoted assiduously and knew to perfection. [Without delving further, on the subject of conscience, he often resorts to Aquinas whom he cites in his support. It is a subject that has not been studied, the use of Thomas Aquinas in Brentano. It would be good if someone would do it]. All this explains why Brentano has never been studied. And if he is mentioned in the faculties of philosophy, it is only in relation to the intentionality of consciousness when Husserl and phenomenology are taught.

Let us now turn to the subject at hand.

There are at least two terms to speak of consciousness: consciousness and conscience. The first is closer to its Latin roots and indicates the capacity of the human being to know and perceive reality. And the second, which is in common use, indicates rather a knowledge of what is right or wrong. The former translates the German word Bewussbeit, which alludes to our capacity to have psychic phenomena and to realize that we have them and which refers to that special capacity we human beings have—often manifested in the form of an inner voice—to know what we should do and what we should not do.

Both terms are limited to the phenomena of knowledge in such a way that they do not contribute much to the study of consciousness itself or whatever its meaning may be. Brentano makes his contribution: “I prefer to use the word consciousness as equivalent to psychic phenomenon or psychic act.” Thus, psychic phenomena are those to which something is inherent. Consciousness is always “consciousness of.” As the great Spanish philosopher Xavier Zubiri maintained in his thesis on Husserl in 1921: “Brentano discovered that things are something independent of experience but consciousness is not something empty.”

The experience of psychic phenomena that are the constitutive of human consciousness and of which the rest of reality is the object or intentional correlate are lived as immediate and original evidence.
And these phenomena are true in themselves: “as they appear to be, so they are in reality; a fact attested by the experience through which they are perceived.” That is to say that each psychic act is lived as such before any conceptualization. This way of living the psychic is the true way of experiencing the real. And consciousness lives and experiences it at the same time, representatively, judicatively and affectively. Internal perception is infallible and there can never exist in us a psychic phenomenon of which we have no representation.

Thus, consciousness as a psychic act is composed of three fundamental kinds of psychic activities: representation, judgment and emotion, interest or love. If psychology, psychoanalysis and psychiatry are clear about this Brentanian liminal distinction, which he traces back to Descartes and J.S. Mill, they will advance on a sure step, otherwise they will get lost in a thousand confusing and sterile subtleties. Or worse, be harmful.

[In his Metaphysical Meditations III, Descartes calls “representations” ideae, “judgments” judicia, and “emotions” voluntates sive affectus. Aristotle calls the latter ορεζις, “desires,” and all the medieval philosophers “representations” and “judgments”].

In representing, something always appears to us. Thus, when we see something, a color appears to us; when we hear something, we represent a sound; when we imagine something, a product of the imagination, and so on. The purpose of names is to arouse representations: “We understand by representation not what is represented but the representing. This representing constitutes not only the foundation of judging, but also of craving and willing.”

Those representations, when we accept them as true or reject them as false, bring abouit the judging. And although representing and judging are phenomena of thinking, judgment cannot be reduced to simple representations or combinations of these. If I say “mountain of gold,” I express a representation; and as long as I do no more than that, I express no judgment.

As for the emotions or phenomena of love or interest, they comprise the phenomena that affect our appetite or will. And so, every judgment takes an object to be true or false, every emotion takes an object to be good or bad.

Basically, all three are different modes of reference of the consciousness to the object. The difference between them is that the intentional mode in judgment is to admit if it is true, or reject if it is false, while the intentional mode of reference in the emotions is to like or dislike.

Whereas in representing (the term best expresses the psychic act of representation) there can be no analogy, for I can represent to myself black or white, but I cannot represent to myself, for example, black or white in two opposite ways.

The internal experience of consciousness immediately shows the difference in the content of the three primary psychic activities.

It should be clarified that every psychic act is conscious because it gives itself a consciousness of itself; but at the same time it has a consciousness according to three modes: the representation of it, the knowledge of it and the feeling towards it. “Every psychic act, even the simplest, has a fourfold aspect from which it can be considered.” Thus, we can distinguish, even though the psychic phenomenon is unitary, a primary object (e.g., sound, the act in which we hear), and a secondary object (the phenomenon in which the sound is heard). The object of consciousness is only represented in the first place; knowledge constitutes a second moment, the same as feeling or interest because “representations are also the foundation of craving and feeling.”

Just as the content of a judgment insofar as it is true is admissible and as false rejectable, in the same way, in the case of feeling and liking, of sentiment and will, the good is pleasant and the bad unpleasant: “It is about the value or disvalue of an object.”

All these representations arise from the internal experience of these phenomena. This third kind of activity of the consciousness is not a judgment “this is to be loved or that is to be hated;” but it is simply a loving or hating that the internal perception shows us in an evident way.

At this point, Brentano argued that there is no fundamental distinction between feeling and will as proposed by Hamilton, Lotze, Kant and Wolff, among others, because the term appetite (apetitioI) is not adequate “to cover all psychic phenomena other than thinking,” so that the acts of joy and sadness cannot be considered appetitive acts.

[Brentano states in note 27 of Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint: “Only occasionally do we see signs of an emancipation from this tradition – of designating with the term appetite the psychic phenomena of feeling and will – for example, in Thomas Aquinas (cf. Summa theologicae I, q.37, a.1 and elsewhere) uses the term amare as the more universal name of the class].

To this also contributed the ignorance of the relation between representation and judgment that led to confusion about the relation between feeling and will. And he reproaches Kant for limiting the feeling of pleasure and displeasure “unilaterally to the judgment of aesthetic taste.”

If representation and judgment are psychic phenomena of a different class, and feeling and will are phenomena of the same class when the ideas of the true, the good and the beautiful are applied to them, they will correspond in this way: “The supreme perfection of the representative activity resides in the contemplation of the beautiful, whether through the influence of the object or independently of it”… The supreme activity of the judicative activity resides in the knowledge of truth, naturally and above all, in the knowledge of truths that reveal to us a rich fullness of being more than others… Finally, the supreme perfection of loving activity lies in the free elevation to the higher good.”

The ideal of ideals consists in unity of all that is true, good and beautiful whose representation shows infinite beauty, infinite truth and infinite goodness. “The triad of ideals (of the beautiful, the true and the good) can very well be explained by the system of psychic phenomena.”

We see once again, as it happened with other great philosophers of the twentieth century (Heidegger, Eugen Fink), how the classical theory of the transcendentals of the entity appears, although in a different form from that formulated formerly. In this case through the system of psychic phenomena of representation, judgment and emotional phenomena.

Moral Conscience—it is understood as the instance that deals with our own moral experience. Modern philosophy established it as the main mode of moral knowledge, as opposed to the “prudence” of classical antiquity and medieval prudentia. In introspection it allows us to delve into both our personal life and the life of the historical world. That is why when we speak of ethical questions, we speak at the same time of ourselves, of our experience, especially the older we get.

Moral conscience exists above all as an “inner voice” that guides us in our actions, but we cannot base ethics on moral conscience as Kant and the neo-Kantians tried to do, who, in order to understand ethics, started from the analysis of moral conscience. But this is not possible because we cannot free ourselves from the quantum of subjectivity of our conscience. And science cannot be built on subjectivity.

The philosopher does not draw the norms from himself but finds them in his vital situation; he finds them in that which governs the tasks of an epoch, as the most intimate conscience of this epoch. Of course, he can dissent and propose others, but this is only for a great philosopher who can leap over his time, thus contradicting Hegel’s saying that no one can leap over his time.

If we would like to use moral conscience as a norm, we must necessarily complete it with historical objectivity, with the great cultural systems; that is to say, great effective and affective nexuses that unite men to carry out historical achievements, in order not to keep reinventing the wheel. This explains the tremendous effort made by Hegel, the greatest philosopher of the metaphysics of subjectivity in his Phenomenology of Spirit, as a science of the experience of consciousness (1807), in order to justify the experience of moral and political consciousness.

Moral consciousness emerged as a process of emancipation from theology carried out by the Enlightenment in order to achieve with it an internal subjection of the modern subject. This was known by the term of the “principle of autonomy,” which began from the certainty of internal experience, and ended with the exaltation of the individual over the community, in an exaggerated liberalism: “I look after Number One”—in a society of exorbitant consumption and in a man transformed into a homunculus.

Moral conscience is there, present, it exists and we make daily use of it; but that does not mean that we can transform it into a norm, nor as a principle of freedom, for as Nicolai Hatmann, a former member of the Marburg School, observes very well in his magnificent Ethics: “One cannot make a conclusive argument for the freedom of the will from the phenomenon of the consciousness of freedom. Therefore, neither from the consciousness of self-determination, a more reduced consciousness, but qualitatively equivalent to it.”

And still less to raise it as a paradigm of universal history, as Hegel pretended in that enormous “sulfur factory” in which German idealism ended.


Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles.


Featured: “Man repels the Appeal of Conscience,” by Frederic james Shields; painted in 1910.

The 50 Greatest Philosophers are Western

It could be that the most important historical question that points to a monumental contrast between the West and the Rest is the following: why did Western civilization produce all the greatest philosophers in history? If we agree that philosophy, at least until the first half of the nineteenth century, covered every branch of knowledge and dealt with the ultimate questions about the nature of reality and the meaning of life, being and becoming, why there is anything rather than nothing, what is good and evil, what is the difference between knowledge and opinion, it follows that identifying the nationality of the greatest philosophers may be a most revealing factum in our evaluation of the comparative achievements of civilizations. One does not have to agree with Aristotle that the “highest good” is the pursuit of wisdom to take seriously his claim that, if “all men by nature desire to have knowledge,” and if the highest form of knowledge is expressed by philosophers, because, as Heraclitus said, “they are inquirers into many things,” then it can be reasonably stated that the civilization that produced the greatest philosophers is the civilization that achieved the highest.

The History of Philosophy = The History of Western Philosophy

When scholarly histories of philosophies began to be written after the mid-1750s, that is, histories based on a relatively comprehensive study of the sources, it was agreed that true philosophy began in sixth century BC in Greece when a group of men known as the Pre-Socratics introduced a new way of inquiring for the “causes and principles” of the natural world grounded on rational judgements rather than on legends, myths, or gods responsible for the happenings of the world. They generally agreed with Aristotle’s confident claim that Thales of Miletus (623-545 BC) is the first known “inquirer into nature” who can be distinguished from earlier poetical “myth-makers” such as Hesiod and Homer.

It is not only that histories of philosophy began their accounts with ancient Greece. These histories were almost entirely, if not completely, about the contributions of Western philosophers in the conviction that philosophy as a venture that relies on reasoned arguments for its truth claims—even in philosophers like David Hume who believed that “reason is the Slave of the passions”—is a uniquely Western achievement. G.W.F. Hegel’s “Lectures on the History of Philosophy” (1819–1831), which were given to students, and recently published by University of Nebraska Press in three volumes, devote a brief opening section on “Oriental Philosophy” and thereafter the three volumes are entirely dedicated to European thinkers, starting with Thales. For Hegel, the history of Western philosophy “shows us a succession of noble minds, a gallery of heroes of thought, who, by the power of Reason, have penetrated into the being of things, of nature and of spirit, into the Being of God, and have won for us by their labours the highest treasure, the treasure of reasoned knowledge.”

This conviction that philosophy was almost entirely a Western phenomenon was held by historians of philosophy from every school of thought until recently. The neo-Kantian Wilhelm Windelband, believing that philosophy concerns the “independent and self-conscious work of intelligence which seeks knowledge methodically for its own sake,” began his two volume classic, A History of Philosophy, published in 1892, with the ancient Greeks, without mentioning a single non-Western philosopher. Windelband believed that “the history of philosophy is the process in which European humanity has embodied in scientific conceptions its views of the world and its judgments of life” (p. 9). The historicist and existentialist Julián Marías, in his Historia de la Filosofía (1941), which went through countless editions, and was translated into English, also starts with the Pre-Socratics and ends with José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) without a word about a non-Western thinker—even though he says that “philosophy is a way of life,” which seems to fit with the “Eastern” tradition of seeing philosophy in terms of an inner or spiritual religious quest. The difference is that Marías thinks that philosophy is also about “knowledge” that “justifies itself [and] constantly demonstrates and proves its validity.” Therefore, philosophy is a way of life “that consists precisely of living according to a certain knowledge; therefore, this way of life postulates and requires this certain knowledge. It is this knowledge which determines the meaning of the philosophic life.” Of course, the word “knowledge” is also used in Eastern philosophies, but Marías agrees with the standard Western view that it was with the Pre-Socratics that “a completely new human attitude” emerged: a theoretic instead of a mythical attitude. The “mythic man” is enveloped by the surrounding world, lives in a world of things he can’t differentiate in terms of their properties and contrast to the thinking self. In contrast, the “theorizing” philosopher differentiates the knowing self: “instead of being among the things, he is opposite them, alienated from them, and thus things acquire a meaning of their own which previously they did not have” (1967: pp. 2-4).

The liberal-minded Will Durant, in his popular book, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Greater Philosophers (1926), profiles only Western philosophers. In a “Preface to the Second Edition,” written in 1962, we see the first inklings of multiculturalism, however, as Durant faults his book for leaving out “Chinese and Hindu philosophy,” even though he adds that Chinese philosophers were “averse to epistemology” or to inquiries into the nature of knowledge and how it is acquired. The analytical-empiricist philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his widely known book, History of Western Philosophy (1945), which was cited as one of the books that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, took it for granted that the history of philosophy should be about Western philosophers. Philosophy began with the Pre-Socratics because it is only then that we see speculations on the nature of things with “appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation.” Russell offered a chapter on “Mohammedan Culture and Philosophy” only to the extent that Muslims wrote commentaries on Aristotle. The Catholic philosopher, Frederick Copleston, in his magisterial work, A History of Philosophy, published in nine volumes between 1946 and 1975, began with Greece and stayed in Europe, including a volume on Russian philosophy, right to the end.

This Western-centric attitude was unquestioned until recent times. It was the typical perspective of texts for university students. Konstantin Kolenda’s Philosophy’s Journey: A Historical Introduction (1974) says that it was the ancient Greeks who “were able to think through to new, unorthodox questions.” “Mythical accounts about gods and about the world…do not necessarily concern themselves with the question of truth. Myth is something that is told and need not call for critical scrutiny, examination, justification. The idea of possibly discovering the true nature of reality behind the multiplicity of appearances and behind conflicting opinions is a most original and revolutionary idea in the intellectual history of man” (p. 5). It is not only that the ancient Greeks posed critical questions—“Is there some substance or some basic stuff out of which everything is made?”—but that their answers consisted of “reasoned” arguments. Not a single Eastern philosopher is included in Kolenda’s book.

In 1991, Norman Melchert published The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy, in which he tells students that the value of philosophy is that it teaches you “to believe for good reasons.” Opinions are as good as the reasons behind them. “That’s what philosophy is”: teaching students how to think “clearly and rationally.” Every philosopher in Melchert’s “great conversation” is Western. But didn’t Nietzsche say that the “will to power” lies behind the grandiose claims of reason? And didn’t Heidegger deny reason’s ability to reveal the nature of being? Both Melchert and Kolenda include these two great philosophers for their originality and immense impact on contemporary thought. These thinkers, I will add, did not rely on mandates and conventions, educated in a world of myths and fables. The Nietzschean argument that behind the claims of philosophical reason lay a primitive unconscious will to power, archetypes inherited from the past long before any rational consciousness, articulated in-through an education in the rationalist tradition of the West. Heidegger attempted to access being (Sein) by means of a rigorous phenomenological analysis of human existence in respect to its temporal and historical character, conducting meticulous exegeses of philosophical texts from the Pre-Socratics onwards through the writings of medieval and modern philosophers.

The Great Philosophers, a 1987 BBC television series presented by Bryan Magee, which was made available in a book of the same name, only discusses Western philosophers in its 15 episodes, beginning with Socrates and ending with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. It is true that in recent decades there have been noticeable attempts to accentuate the word “Western” in book titles in order to make it clear that it is not a history of philosophy per se. The Columbia History of Western Philosophy, edited by Richard Popkin and published in 2006, explicitly states that the book “has assembled 63 leading scholars to forge a highly approachable chronological account of the development of Western philosophical traditions”—from Plato to Wittgenstein and from Aquinas to Heidegger. At the same time, it says that “the Columbia History significantly broadens the scope of Western philosophy” to reveal the influence of non-Western contributions. There is a chapter “dedicated to Jewish and Moslem philosophical development during the Middle Ages, focusing on the critical role of figures such as Averroës and Moses Maimonides in introducing Christian thinkers to classical philosophy.” The book also acknowledges the influence of the Kaballah upon Spinoza, Leibniz, and Newton, and the influence of Moses Mendelssohn upon the work of Kant. Nevertheless, the focus remains entirely on the Western tradition; Muslims and Jews are included insomuch as they were shaped by this tradition and contributed to it.

The book, A New History of Western Philosophy, which consists of four separate volumes published between 2004 and 2007, by the British philosopher and theologian Anthony Kenny, also focuses on those works in the Jewish and Islamic tradition that became important to the Western tradition. I am certain that if Popkin and Kenny really believed there were Eastern, or African, or Aztec philosophers, who had made philosophical contributions as significant as Aristotle, Descartes, or Locke, they would have included them. Using the term “Western” was likely in response to politically correct pressures to avoid identifying philosophy per se with “Western philosophy.” There have indeed been very strong pressures since about the 1990s for a more “inclusive” history of philosophy—in a Western world dedicated to multicultural immigration. A recent, highly publicized book is Taking Back Philosophy (2017), by Bryan Van Norden. It condemns American universities for “failing their students by refusing to teach the philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and other non-Western cultures.” Without a background in Western philosophy other than reading a few books by members of the Frankfurt School, Van Norden demanded that Western philosophy be seen as merely one current among many equally gifted ones. In a much commented NYT’s article, under the threatening title, “If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call It What It Really Is,” he called upon universities “to look beyond the European canon in their own research and teaching.” As if aware that he lacked reasoned arguments to back his claim that Inca philosophy was as profoundly significant, Van Norden embraced Herbert Marcuse’s “repressive intolerance” idea in another New York Times article. We should tolerate leftist views only, for “justice dictates that access be granted to opinions and people…[that] benefit the community”—that is, multicultural communities. Those who disagreed with him were complicit with “nationalism” and “racism.” In support of him, Patricia McGuire, the President of Trinity Washington University, was direct in stating that inclusiveness in philosophy had nothing to do with the quality of non-Western philosophy: “Let’s face facts: there’s a Muslim Mayor in London, signifying the fact that even those who revere All Things British need to catch up with the now-settled reality of great diversity in contemporary life. The canon of learning should reflect that, including Philosophy.”

These mounting pressures to avoid “racist” exclusions of non-Western philosophers clearly account for A.C. Grayling’s decision in his otherwise great book, The History of Philosophy (2019), to include a “Part V: Indian, Chinese, Arabic-Persian and African Philosophy.” Grayling tries to argue that India, China, and Arabic-Persia developed schools of thought that discussed such perennial questions as what is truth, meaning, existence, and value – the truth, however, is that he has a hard time showing they did so in “intellectually rigorous ways.” At most, using his own criteria of what constitutes philosophy (which excludes religion, casuistry, apologetics, or beliefs devoid of sound reasoning) he shows that there was an incipient philosophical tradition in India, China, and, due to the influence of Aristotle, in medieval Islamic civilization. He does not demonstrate that in these civilizations (again with the exception of Islamic Aristotelians) there were sustained inquiries “into the nature of knowledge and how it is acquired.” While there were “inquiries into the nature of reality and existence” and into “what is good,” there were no treatises on what constitutes valid and sound reasoning. Moreover, it is implicitly obvious that Grayling’s account of these civilizations concerns an ancient or medieval period of creativity, consolidation of a few basic outlooks, followed by repetition or decline.

When it comes to “African philosophy,” Grayling finds himself in a quandary of his own making: “are there philosophical schools of thought in Africa that are distinguishable from traditions, religions, folklore, mythology, poetry, art and collections of maxims?” He can’t avoid suggesting that Africa did not produce a philosophical tradition. Only “if one attaches an extended and very loose sense to the label ‘philosophy'” it is possible to talk about African philosophy. But he cautions not to equate “denials of its existence” with “an implicit dismissal of Africa.” “There is much to discover in Africa, for example the rich and deeply attractive concept of Ubuntu.” This term stands for “kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion, caring.” While these virtues are not unique to Ubuntu, “it is appropriate that as humankind itself came out of Africa, so one of the best ideas about how it can flourish—the idea of Ubuntu—should emanate from there too.” This is actually how this otherwise very intelligent history ends: with a childish call upon whites to think about Ubuntu and with the implication that if whites want to go far, they need to practice Ubuntu towards the African migrants invading Europe.

The First and the Second List of the Greatest 50 Philosophers

Below is my list of the 50 greatest philosophers, all from the West. There are very strong reasons to exclude non-Western philosophers from this list. However, I have created a second list of the next fifty greatest, which do include a reasonable number of non-Western thinkers—insomuch as they had a profound impact on their respective cultures, and did contribute the best philosophies outside the West. How did I come up with these two lists? I did by trusting the authority of the histories of philosophy I have referenced above, including additional histories of both the West and the East to be cited below. Throughout my student days, undergraduate and graduate, and as a professor, I have read a sizable number of primary philosophical works in combination with many secondary books and articles. My own philosophical views have influenced to some degree the choices I have made, but overall I have relied on histories written by authors from a wide variety of perspectives, Kantian, Hegelian, materialist, phenomenological, empiricist, pragmatic, existentialist, analytical – and specialists in non-Western philosophies. I have also tried to bring out the best from ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary periods.

First List

  1. Abelard (1079-1142)
  2. Anaximander (b. 610 BC)
  3. Anselm (1033-1109)
  4. Aquinas (1225-1274)
  5. Aristotle (384-322 BC)
  6. Augustine (354-430)
  7. Bacon, Roger (1214-1292)
  8. Bacon, Francis (1561-1626)
  9. Bentham (1748-1832)
  10. Berkeley (1685-1753)
  11. Carnap (1891-1970)
  12. Democritus (460-360 BC)
  13. Deleuze (1925-1995)
  14. Derrida (1930-2004)
  15. Descartes (1596-1650)
  16. Fichte (1762-1814)
  17. Frege (1848-1925)
  18. Hegel (1770-1831)
  19. Heidegger (1889-1976)
  20. Heraclitus (535-475 BC)
  21. Hobbes (1588-1679)
  22. Hume (1711-1776)
  23. Husserl (1859-1938)
  24. James (1842-1910)
  25. Kant (1724-1804)
  26. Leibniz (1646-1716)
  27. Locke (1632-1704)
  28. Marx (1818-83)
  29. Mill (1806-73)
  30. Nietzsche (1844-1900)
  31. Ockham (1285-1347)
  32. Parmenides (b. 501 BC)
  33. Peirce (1839-1914)
  34. Plato (428-348 BC)
  35. Plotinus (204-270)
  36. Pythagoras (570-495 BC)
  37. Quine (1908-2000)
  38. Rawls (1921-2002)
  39. Reid (1710-1796)
  40. Rousseau (1712-1778
  41. Russell (1872-1970)
  42. Sartre (1905-1980)
  43. Schelling (1775-1854)
  44. Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
  45. Duns Scotus (1266-1308)
  46. Socrates (470-399 BC)
  47. Spinoza (1632-1677)
  48. Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
  49. Zeno of Lea (b. 489 BC)
  50. Žižek (1949 -)

This is a remarkable statistical fact. It needs to be emphasized this is not a comparison of the West against three or two other civilizations groups, but a competition of the West versus the Rest. Aside from the Muslim, Chinese, and perhaps the Indian world, no other culture in the world, not the Mayas, not the Aztecs, not the Khmer Rouge Cambodians, not the Tibetans, not the Aksum civilization, not the Egyptians, not the Assyrians, not the Bantus, not the Babylonians, not the Japanese, not the Koreans—NO other culture in the world, produced any great philosopher. Let it be repeated: this is not a list based on arbitrary, idiosyncratic, purely personal, or politicized assumptions. It is based on solid, widely recognized histories of philosophies. Before I go on commenting on this list, let’s take a look at my second list, created for the purpose of finding a way to include non-Western thinkers, for the sake of argument.

Second List

  1. Al-Farabi (870-950)
  2. Alghazali (1058-1111)
  3. Anaxagoras (500-428 BC)
  4. Aurelius (21-180)
  5. Averroes (1126-1198)
  6. Bonaventura (1221-1274)
  7. Bergson (1859-1941)
  8. Böhme (1575-1624)
  9. Boethius (480 – 524 AD)
  10. Brentano (1838–1917)
  11. Zhuang Zhou (369-286 BC)
  12. Comte (1798-1857)
  13. Confucius (551-479 BC)
  14. Collingwood (1889-1943)
  15. Davidson (1917-2003)
  16. Dewey (1859-1952)
  17. Diderot (1713-84)
  18. Dilthey (1833–1911)
  19. Dugin (1962 -)
  20. Dummett (1925-2011)
  21. Empedocles (490-430 BC)
  22. Epicurus (341-271 BC)
  23. Erasmus (1469-1536)
  24. Gadamer (1900-2002)
  25. Grotius (1583-1645)
  26. Habermas (1929-)
  27. Hempel (1905-1997
  28. Herder (1744–1803)
  29. Hsun Tzu (Xunzi) (298-238 BC).
  30. Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
  31. Kojève (1902 –1968)
  32. Lao Tzu (604-532 BC)
  33. Lucretius (96-55 BC)
  34. Luhmann (1927-1998)
  35. MacIntyre (1929 -)
  36. Malebranche (1638-1715)
  37. Mencius (372-289 BC)
  38. Montaigne (1533-1592)
  39. Mo Tzu (479-438 BC)
  40. Merleau-Ponty (1907-1961)
  41. Ricour (1913-2005)
  42. Rorty (1931-2007)
  43. Schmitt (1888-1985
  44. Scruton (1944-2020)
  45. Seneca (4 BC –65 AD)
  46. Sextus Empiricus (ca. 200)
  47. Spencer (1820-1903)
  48. Strauss (1899-1973)
  49. Thales (624-548 BC)
  50. Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi) (1130-1200).

If there is a bias in my lists, it is that I neglected philosophers of history (Spengler, Vico), philosophers of science (Kuhn, Nagel, Feyerabend), of mathematics (Hilbert, Lakatos), of language (Jakobson, Austin, Searle), of law (Pufendorf, Kelsen, Hart), of logic (Boole, Turing, Gödel), and social theorists that are no less philosophical than Chinese thinkers like Confucius (Montesquieu, Sorokin, Weber).

The Score

The score for the two lists combined is:

  • Europeans 80.5 = 80.5%
  • Jews 9.5 = 9.5%
  • Chinese 7 = 7%
  • Muslims 3 = 3%

If we add Jews to the European list, insofar as they were all educated in Europe, then the Western score is 90 = 90%. Augustine was a Berber according to Gerald Bonner’s authoritative biography Augustine of Hippo: “There is no reason to suppose that he was of any but Berber stock” (p. 36). Augustine was thoroughly educated in the West. The top four philosophical nationalities are the ancient Greeks, the Germans, the English, and the French. The fact that Indian philosophy can’t be divorced from India’s major religious traditions, or was never conceived as a separate intellectual pursuit, explains why I could not include Indian philosophers, great as they may have been as religious thinkers. Surendranath Dasgupta’s impressive five-volume work, A History of Indian Philosophy, published between 1922 and 1955, is fundamentally about Buddhism, Jainism, “the six systems of Hindu thought,” including the Bhagavadgita, the “most revered of all the Hindu texts,” the philosophy of Srikantha, which argues that the Shiva and the Brahman are the one and the same, and Saiva philosophy, which posits “the soul’s bondage within the fetters of existence.” Sue Hamilton, an expert in Indian philosophy, acknowledges that “what Westerners call religion and philosophy are combined in India, and that its philosophies are correctly referred to as soteriologies, or ‘system of salvation.’” The Indian philosophical tradition holds that “understanding reality has a profound effect on one’s destiny.” The attempt “to understand the nature of reality” is a “spiritual undertaking, an activity associated with a religious tradition.” The aim of Indian philosophy was to escape from consciousness, to obliterate the thinking self; and every philosopher, or every philosophical outlook, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, were preoccupied with the notion of reincarnation, the process of birth and rebirth, the transmigration of souls and the “release” of the soul from that process.

We know that a belief in rebirth/metempsychosis was held by Greek historical figures, such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato. But as Russell qualifies, the very Pythagoreans who believed that the “soul was subject to a sequence of transmigrations… gave rise to a scientific and more especially a mathematical tradition… in spite of the mystical element arising from the orphic revival.” Sue Hamilton agrees, adding that while in Western medieval philosophy the existence of God was taken to be true as an article of faith, attempts were made to separate truths established by means of reason alone, and to even establish the existence of God by means of reason. In modern times, Kant, a devout Christian, would go further by insisting that “what one could know for certain was strictly limited to what could be ascertained by means of reasoning…one could never have certain knowledge about issues of faith” (pp. 1-12). Nevertheless, Sue Hamilton, as is generally the case with Westerners who study Eastern thought, misleads readers with her view that Western philosophy “tends to be concerned with detailed and technical questions about kinds of logic and linguistic analysis” – whereas Indian philosophy is a “spiritual undertaking” about “big metaphysical questions” concerning the meaning of life and how to live one’s life in order to have an effect on one’s destiny. Van Norden also criticizes the notion that the West discovered the “one universal method of rationality.” Chinese philosophy has its own modes of reasoning and its own way of searching for the truth.

Let’s leave aside the fact that both India and China have now embraced the scientific rationality of the West, apparently with the conviction that this rationality is universally useful. The Western philosophical tradition contains the most reasoned critiques of the pretensions of reason in favor of alternative ways of finding meaning and making sense of the universe—intuitive, poetical, artistic, archetypal ways. The difference is that those philosophers who pointed to the limitations of reason would go on to develop alternative methodologies, or fully articulated philosophies, such as hermeneutics, phenomenology, and existentialism—by individuals well educated in the Western rationalist and empiricist traditions. I will return to this point below. Jacob Böhme, whom Hegel called “the first German philosopher,” and is included in my second list, had a major influence on Schelling, and German thinking in general, with his idea that an irrational force, the Ungrund, a groundless will, was the primary fount of being, not reason.

Seven Chinese philosophers out of 100 is more than enough. In China there are five major philosophical traditions: Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, the School of Names, the Mohists, and the Yin-Yang school. All these traditions emerged in ancient times, and thereafter, in what we called the “medieval” and “modern” eras, all we get are “neo” developments of these schools: “Neo-Confucianism” and “Neo-Taoism,” or philosophers who combined aspects of the various schools to produce slightly different ideas. The highly respected sinologist, Frederick Mote, goes as far as to say that every major philosophical outlook in China’s history occurred “within a revitalized Confucianism”—notwithstanding the role of Daoism and Buddhism. This is why I included only one philosopher that is not from ancient times, namely, Zhu Xi (1130-1200). Xi is indeed seen as the philosopher who “exercised the greater influence on Chinese thought,” except for Confucius, Mencius, Lao Tzu, and Hsun Tzu. He synthesized most currents within Chinese philosophy within a grand Neo-Confucian system, with his “most radical innovation” being the selection of “the Analects, the Book of Mencius, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean…as the Four Books, commenting on them, and making them the orthodox foundation of the Chinese civil service examinations from 1313 to 1905 (1963: p. 588-90).

Including other Neo-Confucians in the list would have been the same as including notable European philosophers who followed in the footsteps of prior great philosophers, such as the so-called Cambridge Platonists: Henry More (1614–1687), Ralph Cudworth (1617–1688), Benjamin Whichcote (1609–1683), Peter Sterry (1613–1672), John Smith (1618–1652), Nathaniel Culverwell (1619–1651), John Worthington (1618–1671), George Rust (d. 1670), Anne Conway (1630–1679) and John Norris (1657–1711). Including Neo-Taoists would have required including many gifted Cartesians: Antoine Arnauld, Balthasar Bekker, Tommaso Campailla, Johannes Clauberg, Michelangelo Fardella, Antoine Le Grand, Adriaan Hereboord, François Poullain de la Barre, Edmond Pourchot, Pierre-Sylvain Régis, Henricus Regius, Jacques Rohault, Christopher Wittich.

Should We Really Include Chinese Philosophers?

We may indeed ask: Is Confucius really a philosopher? After all, Confucianism is a “doctrine of worldly social-mindedness,” a guide for proper moral behavior for the scholar gentry class of China’s despotic bureaucratic state, a doctrine that, in the words of Joseph Needham, became a “cult, a religion, based on a kind of hero worship and borrowing from the cults of nature-deities and ancestor worship” (1997: p. 79). Confucius never asked questions about the ultimate nature of reality. The Confucian term “all under heaven” does not refer to the universe, the infinite, but is a term that denotes the geographical area associated with the political sovereignty of the emperor.

One could seriously argue that China produced individuals better described as writers of guidelines on how best to rule, how best to meditate, contemplate nature, combined with some allusions and illustrations about the “boundless” and about the ways of nature, without “elaborate reasoning and detailed argument.” These last quoted words are from Fung Yu-Lan’s A Short History of Chinese Philosophy. Yu-Lan, after stating that China has a rich philosophical tradition with contributions in logic and metaphysics; and after clearly stating that a “philosopher must philosophize…must think reflectively on life, and then express his thoughts systematically… [and offer] theories [that are] the products of reflective thinking,” (p. 2) goes on to say:

“The fact is that Chinese philosophers were accustomed to express themselves in the form of aphorisms, apothegms, or allusions, and illustrations. The whole book of Lao-tzu consists of aphorisms, and most of the chapters of the Chuang-tzu are full of allusions and illustrations. This is very obvious. But even in writings such as those of Mencius and Hsun Tzu, when compared with the philosophical writings of the West, there are still too many aphorisms, allusions, and illustrations. Aphorisms must be very brief; allusions and illustrations must be disconnected” (p. 12).

He adds that this way of thinking is “not articulate enough,” but that this “insufficiency” (“briefness and disconnectedness”) is “compensated” by the “suggestiveness” of the allusions (pp. 11-12). Yu-Lan is right that this lack of “elaborate reasoning” is “obvious” to anyone who reads Chinese philosophers. I will go further in saying that Chinese philosophy never rose beyond the pre-rational, mystical, poetical, bureaucratic, style of writing that prevailed in all cultures up until the ancient Greeks singularly discovered the faculty of reasoning and came to realize that there is a mind that reasons, and that this mind can generate its own rules of reasoning in conscious distinction to presuppositions from extra-philosophical beliefs.

This conscious differentiation of reason from its object, and appearance of free self-determination, this awareness by reason of itself as both tool and object of reasoning, reached its culmination in post-Kantian idealism, but it was Aristotle who did the most in ancient times to delineate what constitutes a proper philosophical statement about what there is and what constitutes a valid form of reasoning about why something is so. He invented formal logic, a precise language about reality, about what things can be said to be substances and the reasons why they are as they are. He showed that true philosophical statements are composed of basic categories—substance, quantity, quality, relationship, place, time—which express the various ways in which being is, and that these statements can be formulated to be subject-predicate statements. This is just a little part of what this incredible philosopher did.

In some ways Chinese philosophers resemble Pre-Socratic philosophers. Aristotle criticized the Pre-Socratics for failing to articulate fully criteria for differentiating faulty arguments from good arguments. This is what Aristotle sought to provide with his formal logic and the syllogism. Chinese philosophical statements are devoid of demonstrative reasoning. Chinese arguments lack clearly stated primary premises, with precisely defined categories. Actually, in fairness to the Pre-Socratics, even though they did not invent syllogistic reasoning, they did discover logos, that there is a rational order in the world and that humans have a faculty, nous, which they can employ in contradistinction to beliefs handed down without reasoned debate.

The words from Needham I cited above about Confucianism come from The Shorter Science & Civilisation in China: 1, which is an abridgment in three volumes of Joseph Needham’s magisterial project with the same title, which consists of twenty seven books dealing with the history of science and technology in China. Needham, still recognized as the most impressive scholar of Chinese culture, is the author of most of these books. While he was not keen about Confucian philosophy, he wrote admiringly about the Taoists, Mohists, and Legalists, claiming they made fundamental contributions to scientific knowledge, empiricism, and to a “mechanistic-naturalistic” conception of the world. He thinks that members of these schools rose above the “metaphysics” of philosophy. (Needham, by the way, was a Marxist who believed that science had rightfully displaced philosophy, and this is why he wanted to portray Chinese thinkers as harbingers of modern scientific thought. I reject this positivist downgrading of philosophy). As it is, all the passages that Needham brings up from Chinese philosophers strike me as poetical, mystical, and alchemical statements. The founding text of Taoism written by Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (300 BC) consists of a string of impressionistic statements about “the Way.” This book of five thousand words is as long as a magazine article. He claims that Lao Tzu wrote in a language similar to the proto-scientific language of the Pre-Socratics, citing the following:

“The ways of men are conditioned by those of the earth, the ways of Earth by those of Heaven, the ways of Heaven by those of the Tao, and the Tao came into being by itself” (90-1).

He cites many similarly worded passages from later Taoist texts; for example:

“All phenomena have their causes. If one does not know these causes, although one may happen to be right, it is as if one knew nothing, and in the end one will be bewildered…The fact that water leaves the mountains and runs to the sea is not due to any dislike of the mountains and love of the sea, but is the effect of height as such” (93).

But these statements are not at all “mechanistic” in outlook. They are not even at the level of the Pre-Socratic search for naturalistic causes. The way Taoists write about the Tao, the being that came to be by itself, lacks rigor; it is really a mystical way of apprehending a oneness that is complete onto itself, which they describe in hazy words, asserting that it is, but not deducing it. In contrast, when Parmenides wrote about “the One” he tried to deduce it from prior statements. Parmenides contrasts the expression that something is to the expression that something is not. He then argues that saying that something is not does not make sense since you cannot know what is not, and you can’t even express it. He writes:

“There are only two ways of inquiry that can be thought of. The first, namely, that it is (and that it is impossible for it not to be), is the way of belief, for truth is its companion. The other way of inquiry, namely, that it is not (and cannot be), is a path that none can learn at all. For you cannot know what is not, nor can you express it.”

Having said this, Parmenides follows up with his main point that only that which is can be thought about in a meaningful way, and only that which can be thought about can be:

It is the same thing that can be thought and that can be. What can be spoken and thought must be; for it is possible for it to be, but impossible for nothing to be…One path only is left for us to speak of, namely, that it is.
From here he infers that what we can say about the One is that it is eternal, indivisible, unmoving, that is, uncreated and indestructible. He offers a rational reason for making this inference, saying that if we say that the One became, or came into existence, or will cease to exist, then this would be the same as saying that it was not before it became, and that it will not be after it ceases to be, which would amount to making expressions about things which are not, which is impossible since you cannot know or say anything about what is not. Therefore:

[The One is eternal], for how can “what is” be going to be in the future? Or how could it come into being? If it came into being, then it is not. Nor is it, if it is going to be in the future. Thus, is becoming extinguished and passing away not to be heard of.”

Needham says that the paradoxes of the Mohist Hui Shih are similar to the paradoxes of Zeno. He cites this paradox from Shih: “The South has at the same time a limit and no limit.” But as I have argued elsewhere, paradoxes come in different degrees of difficulty; some paradoxes are “weak or shallow,” based on unfounded suppositions, faulty reasoning, or ostensibly vague wording. The philosophical evidence shows that Europeans conceptualized all the sophisticated paradoxes in history. The Western mind did so because it has a peculiar inclination to seek truths that don’t violate the self-legislated laws of reason, the law of contradiction, the law of excluded middle, and the law of identity. If a claim is illogically inconsistent, in violation of these laws, then the claim or the reasoning behind it must be reevaluated or rejected. This is why Europeans took Zeno’s paradoxes seriously, for they seem to suggest that one could reach a logically unacceptable conclusion on the basis of sound reasoning from apparently sound premises. They wondered whether these paradoxes revealed deficiencies in the way we reason, calling for improvements in our reasoning powers, a better system of logic and a more precise usage of language.

At the same time, however, some European thinkers did not conclude that paradoxes were mere expressions of faulty reasoning but a testimony to the limited nature of the human mind in its capacity to offer rationally consistent answers about the ultimate questions of the universe and life. Heraclitus came to the conclusion that reality was inherently contradictory and thus paradoxical. The intellectual culture of paradoxes in China was fundamentally different in degree of sophistication, the reaction of intellectuals to paradoxes, and the absence of philosophical reflections about the contradictory nature of the universe. The School of Names was the only one that brought up some paradoxical expressions, and this School remained an isolated moment in China’s intellectual history. The Confucians in control of intellectual discussions dismissed the paradoxical expressions of the School of Names as “bizarre expressions” that discouraged young minds from the proper use of language and the obligation of educated gentlemen to promote “ritual propriety and righteousness.”

Should we even include any of the major members of the Legalist school? As Frederick Mote says:

“Legalism is not a movement in philosophy. It is not concerned with truth. It is not reflective thinking on the great individual and social problems of life. It does not seek the general principles under which all facts can be explained. It is a system of methods and principles for the operation of the state, and even the state is given only the barest of ideological foundations. Legalists were content to justify their system by the single comment: “It works” (p. 108).

So, it looks like Hsun Tzu (298-238 BC), the founder of legalism, should be taken out from this list. Confucius too, and the Taoist mystics and the not so impressive Mohists. If we include the Legalists, then we should include many other European political philosophers I left out, starting with Machiavelli, Bodin, Cicero, Thoreau, Bakunin, Hooker, Calvin, Lenin, Harrington, Blackstone, Paine, Jefferson, Burke, Godwin, Constant, Madison, Gentile, Sorel, Oakeshott—to name some. Honestly, the 50+50 list is very conciliatory.

The Transcendental West Stands above the Embedded Chinese

Some sinologists believe that Chinese philosophers came to the realization—long before Western philosophers—that thinking inevitably occurs within a context and that it is not possible to transcend the culturally-specific context from which all thinking emerges. Among the publications which have made this case, the most comprehensive is Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture (1997), by David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames. This book draws a fundamental contrast between the “transcendentalism” of European philosophers and the “embeddedness” of Chinese thinkers. Early on in their history, this book tells us, Chinese intellectuals came to the “pragmatic” realization—well before Western pragmatism and hermeneutics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—that all thinking is “embedded” to a time and a place. Chinese abstained from the “naïve Western supposition” that intellectuals could transcend with their ideas the social context from which they emerged.

I believe it was precisely the transcendental capacity of Western thinkers to reason in terms of universal concepts independent of context that gave them eventually the “pragmatic” or “hermeneutic” ability to understand the ways in which knowledge-claims are culturally embedded. The West’s transcendental capacity did not spring out of the “human mind” as such, but out of its unique historical experience. The Chinese mind was embedded to its particular traditions and historical contexts without being self-aware of this, because the Chinese mind lacked a transcendental capacity. The transcendental capacity of Europeans did not emerge without historical conditions, outside a particular context, but developed over time, beginning in ancient Greece. The ability to generate “transcendental concepts” is the product of a culturally specific mind, which can only be understood by situating it within the specific background of Western history.

Hall and Ames believe there are no “universally human, culturally neutral grounds to which we can appeal as a basis of comparison of particular cultures” since any account will necessarily “presuppose something of the theoretical stance of the tradition from which the analysis and evaluation begins” (xii). Only a “pragmatic method” provides us with an escape from the Western arrogance of a “disembedded” or detached “I” capable of adjudicating over different traditions. We should rely on pragmatic thinkers such as George Herbert Mead, John Dewey, and Richard Rorty, for an appropriate vocabulary for understanding how the self is socially constituted. This pragmatism, they argue, fits right in with the Chinese perspective that the person can never be identified in abstraction from the social roles that define and constitute the person. Besides pragmatism, Hall and Ames mention hermeneutics and poststructuralism, as forms of thinking that allow us to overcome the dualistic thinking of the West with its separation of mind and matter, self and society, and its pretensions to a view that is objectively valid.

Don’t these two academics realize that pragmatism, hermeneutics, and poststructuralism are Western products? They acknowledge this in a low-key way, stating that these schools of thought arose late in Western history; and yet their entire argument is that Westerners have been unable to understand Chinese thinking because they have relied on dualistic ways of thinking. Their pragmatic and “historicist” method are the best way to apprehend the meanings of Chinese words and writings, against Western-centric readings, which judge other cultures in terms of such Western concepts as “mind,” “self,” “transcendence,” “person,” “subject,” “object,” which lack corresponding terms in the Chinese language or have very different meanings within Chinese culture. So, implicitly, without wanting to draw attention to the irony of it all, and perhaps without even knowing what they are doing, Hall and Ames rely on Western schools of thought to criticize Western-centric readings of Chinese culture.

The very academics who claim that we need to contextualize our thinking, because it is impossible to have a view from nowhere, fail to contextualize the particular historical roots of their way of thinking. What Hall and Ames fail to realize, and this includes every Western academic condemning Western logocentrism, is that the Chinese have never self-consciously thought about the way knowledge is context-bound, the way the consciousness, will, desires, and ideas of individuals are culturally situated. The Chinese mind has been unable to stand back from its cultural surroundings to reflect upon the ways it has been culturally situated. In contrast, the Western mind was able to develop methodologies to understand texts from different eras and different cultures, because this is the only culture that learned how to draw ontological distinctions between mind and matter, individual and society, the three parts of the soul, and so on, in the course of which this mind eventually developed particular sciences—physics, chemistry, biology, botany, sociology, economics, etc.—to explain different aspects of reality, and newly emerging properties, while also realizing that the concept of “man in general” is limited by historically determinate factors. The prior ability of ancient Greek philosophers to discover the distinctiveness of the faculty of the mind, the distinction between physis (nature) and nomos (law or custom) nurtured a transcendental outlook that allowed Western thinker to stand back from their context and view other cultural contexts in their own terms.

Therefore, it is not enough to say that all knowledge is historically situated, the expression of a particular people. If all knowledge is contextual, then all knowledge claims are equally valid. We have to ask why the West developed all the theories about how knowledge is context-bound, and why the West produced all the modern sciences. Self-conscious cultural relativism—a relativism in which subjects are not completely absorbed by their culturally specific world views—presupposes a subject that has come to a transcendental understanding of the relativistic views of other cultures, and is thus able to understand its own relativism, and in this way transcend it.

From a Piagetian perspective, as I argued elsewhere, we can say that the Chinese mind did not rise above the concrete operational stage, that is, above the third stage in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. While the Chinese mind showed signs of formal operational thinking in some of its mathematical operations and rationalization of state bureaucracy, it did so only at an elementary level. In stark contrast to Hobbes, who conducted a thorough study of Euclid’s Elements and the mechanistic science of Galileo in order to reach generalizations about the nature of political power, the ideas espoused in The Analects of Confucius, for example, are tied to actual historical times and personalities. As Burton Watson notes: “In the Analects, therefore, the reader will find no lengthy discussions of terminology or expositions of ideas. Instead, moral and political concepts are presented in terms of particular individuals, the teacher Confucius and the disciple or other persons with whom he is conversing and the particular circumstances under discussion” (2007: p. 7). Like the concrete operational mind, the Confucian mind was limited to thought concerning things that were available to immediate perception about past virtuous rulers; it did not seek to reach general rules, or understand cause-effect relations detached from particular contexts. The writings of Confucius consist of aphorisms advising future rulers and officials how the ideal gentleman should comport himself if he is to meet the established conventions set in the past, the roles and rituals the ideal gentleman must follow in order to rule properly according to the Way.

In conclusion, if I may end on a realistic-pessimistic note on the current situation in the West: as immigration replacement accelerates, and as the populations of Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, United States and other European nations, become thoroughly diverse, and the universities fulfill their current mission for “inclusiveness, diversity, and equity,” the teaching of philosophy will include as equally substantial names from all over the world. Already, as it is, research on the racism of Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Aristotle, and many other philosophers, is one of the most lucrative, grant collecting activities in academia. These philosophers will be taught less for their philosophies than for their sins in racism and their threats to an open, tolerant, and inclusive Western world. As Karl Popper had already insisted, “we should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.” While Popper did not call for the intolerance of these thinkers, he condemned and dismissed the philosophies of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel as nationalistic, xenophobic and intellectually worthless. It was only a few steps for Herbert Marcuse to construct his argument that any views that don’t accept the spread of cultural Marxism should be suppressed and outlawed.


Ricardo Duchesne has written a number of articles on Western uniqueness. He the author of The Uniqueness of Western CivilizationFaustian Man in a Multicultural AgeCanada in Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of Euro-Canadians.


Featured: “Seven Sages of Greece,” or “Plato’s Academy.” Roman mosaic, from the Villa of Titus Siminius Stephanus, in Pompeii; ca. 100 BC to 79 AD.

Derrida the Negator

There are posthumous editions that are only of secondary interest in relation to the work already known by their author. Such is not the case with this work, written by Derrida in 1960. It cannot be reduced to its sole pedagogical aim, which was to provide the learned correction of a dissertation subject given to his philosophy students at the Sorbonne, on a subject that is none other than a sentence written by Alain: “To think is to say no.” Indeed, in his Preface, Brieuc Gérard stresses that Derrida, then an assistant in “general philosophy and logic” at the university of the Sorbonne, enjoyed for four years “a complete autonomy as to the subject-matter of his courses and the organization of his directed works,” which ceased in 1964 when he was forced to follow the program of the agrégation of philosophy at the École normale supérieure of Paris. In virtue of this autonomy, proper to any enterprise of “general philosophy,” Derrida thus professed his own thought through those he taught. By the mediation of the philosophers that he summoned and discussed, according to a well determined direction leading to his master Heidegger, Derrida who became one of the greatest thinkers of “French Theory” gives us to read and to think the most important premises of his philosophy of deconstruction.

Deconstruction

The title given by Derrida to his four-session essay thwarts the reader’s expectations—instead of representing an apology of negation, in the logical sense of the term, it first follows faithfully Alain’s original proposal to lead to a thought of “neither yes nor no,” where the implications and presuppositions that organize the two affirmative and negative modalities of thought are deconstructed, that is to say, unpacked, and not eliminated. The opposition that Alain makes between thought and affirmation begins in fact, at first, by being translated in the terms of an opposition between thought and belief—for him, Derrida tells us, “the idea of proof as a technical instrument of truth is to be refused, because as soon as one says yes, one ceases to think and one begins to believe.” In this sense, Alain, more Cartesian than Descartes, would adopt an “ultraradicalism of doubt” which consisted in not using it to reach a certainty under the aegis of a veracious God, but on the contrary in remaining at “the hypothesis of the deceitful God and even of the Evil Genius to save thought and the initiation of thought… which has no initiation except in the “no,” hostile to any proof, to any definitive destination in the true.

Even before opposing the ready-to-think provided against it by “the world, the tyrant and the preacher,” the thought is thus constituted by a movement of negation: on the one hand, negation of appearance, insofar as to think, that is to say, to examine objects and to reflect on them, is to refuse to stick to what one perceives; on the other hand and above all, negation of what one holds oneself to be apparent, since “in order to see something, necessitates [already] a whole implicit work of selections, criticisms, questions;” that is to say, of negation of what one excludes in our perceptual sorting: “to believe everything, therefore to say yes to everything, is to choose to see nothing,” Derrida comments. To say yes, one must say no.

In fact, this raises an objection to Derrida, in that this total affirmation, instead of being only a total deprivation of the visible, can be, on the contrary, under different conditions of the rational or discursive thought, the way of access to the invisible itself. Doesn’t the naive “yes to everything” deserve to be measured and rethought by the “I choose everything” of Saint Therese of Lisieux?

Notwithstanding what the saint may object to in the dialectician, Derrida pursues Alain’s reasoning, whose antithesis does not fail to put classical skepticism out of the game: if belief signifies a halt in the movement of thought, its being put to sleep, it is only as “credulous thought.” On the contrary, faith, in its broad sense of an act of trust, is not naive credulity, but the inevitable presupposition of all awakened thought, of all thought that says no: “without a kind of primitive axiological adherence to the legitimacy of truth, it would not even be possible to challenge opinion in general… as a de facto breach of the truth.” In other words, to be able to deny, one has to feel that one has to do so: to say no, one has to have confidence in truth as an ideal against which an opinion can be refuted because it is wrong: “to say no, to doubt, to refuse, one has to want to, to decide to. It is a necessary fiat or a be that is a yes to the will to say no.” The actuality of doubt is based, if not on the ideal certainty in the truth, at least on a confidence in it. To say no, one must say yes.

By showing that thought says neither yes nor no, Derrida leads to the deconstruction of affirmation and negation. This in a double sense: by revealing, on the one hand, the negation supposed by affirmation (in the form of a sorting, a selection) as well as the affirmation supposed by negation (in the form of a confidence in one’s own project), he denies—on the other hand, the pretension of both to represent two modalities of thought, each one provided with its own and definite meaning. In so doing, Derrida challenges classical logic and ontology, which respectively make non-being and negation the symmetrical opposites of being and affirmation, in order to disseminate the meaning of these two opposites in the variety of their mutual implications.

Dissemination

While following Bergson, Derrida notes that negation in classical logic is not a negation; it is only a “modalization” of affirmation, since it consists in refusing an affirmation in the name of another implicit affirmation. For example, to say that such and such a table is not white is to affirm in disguise that the table is of another color. This is why, in the same way, the nothingness in the classical ontology is not a nothingness either, because if it is a nothingness; it is nothing at all; we don’t have to talk about it; it is thus, on the contrary, under the mode of “the haunting” that it means something: “it is necessary that the nothingness haunts being so that negation is possible.” The negation, logical or ontological, must therefore be rethought. By ending his course on Heideggerian phenomenology, Derrida announces what his philosophy will be based on: a renewed thought of negation. For a negation to be really such, in fact, it is necessary, while remaining discursive (without which there is no judgment), that it is the affirmation of nothing. For there to be negation, it must not be a contrary affirmation, but the contrary of any affirmation; consequently, not the determination or definition of any meaning, but the dissemination of meaning.

Derrida has indeed a neantizing conception of freedom. He repeats in his course that humanity experiences its freedom only through its power of “neantization” of the world, of negation of everything: “for my affirmative judgment to have a value of truth,” he says, commenting on Bergson, “it is necessary that I be free to choose for the truth and that I be able to say something other than what I say;” that is to say, to negate the truth. It is thus “by the negation or the thought of nothingness that the spirit authenticates itself as freedom,” he concludes. However, it was Bergson’s mistake, as well as Husserl’s and finally Sartre’s after him, to think negation incompletely: if, indeed, consciousness that denies all existence does not deny itself as existence (or as “being”), its negation is not complete. To affirm its freedom, the subject must be able to deny itself also, to include itself in the hyperbolic negation: “The most comprehensive phenomenological reduction, the most extended, the deepest anguish [will be able] to negate the totality of the world, the totality of the states, the totality of the regions of the being [only by negating also] the man, the for-itself, the consciousness included. It is thus necessary to exceed this opposition consciousness-world.

This is what Heidegger finally understood when, abandoning his theme of anguish, he refused to affirm the power of neantisation “from to be [or] from being,” and to think it on the contrary from “the difference between to be and being,” by which “to be shows itself by hiding itself in being.” Indeed, for Heidegger, nothingness haunts everything, since everything appears and disappears on a purely undetermined background—the fact that any phenomenon can appear and disappear indicates to us that any phenomenon always rests on an empty place; that nothingness is not the opposite of existence but its condition of appearance, as a blackboard allows any form to be drawn on it. But as long as we remain in the order of logically measurable language, this Heideggerian theory of “ontological difference” is an error, since logically speaking, “there is only difference within a genus, [and] being is not a genus.” To assume the ontological difference, it is thus necessary, for Derrida, to make language incommensurable, to subtract it from any possibility of logical measurement, by thwarting any attempt to fix meaning, to define it. Such was the Derridean enterprise of the “dissemination”—once deconstructed the sense of the words, necessarily, instead of recomposing what has been deconstructed, leave the elements of sense scattered, without a coherence definitively assignable to a system or to a given interpretation; it is necessary to let the elements show themselves scattered in an irremediable multiplicity and without substance. Derrida thus saveed the coherence of the Heideggerian phenomenology by exceeding it in a more radical theory—that of the meontological “differentiation,” true contrary thought of to be.

Unbinding

The “differentiation” that Derrida theorized consisted in substantiating the insubstantivable—not the fact of differentiating one thing from another, but the fact of deferring in time the meaning of a concept by its inscription, in a chain of other concepts. Against the traditional principle of identity which, at the foundation of the other principles (of contradiction and of the third-excluded), stipulates that “every thing is what it is,” “A is A,” the course “Thinking” is saying no; it intends to show that the two fundamental elements of language, the yes and the no, have no determined meaning—the yes is not a yes, the no is not a no, since their meaning is always deferred, awaiting donation through the diversity of their uses and their mutual implications. We thus understand why Derrida concluded his course by saying that Heidegger’s “ontico-ontological difference” “would allow us to really hear Alain when he says that ‘to think is to say no'”: this thought indeed opens a breach in the possibility of thinking a negation that is really one, by preventing any determination, any assignment of any meaning whatsoever to a given sign by disseminating it, by always ceaselessly deferring the sign from itself.

The Deconstruction inaugurated by Derrida is thus much more subtle, and therefore more pernicious, than what many contemporaries understand it to be by associating it, wrongly, with an enterprise of pure and simple destruction. Derrida does not destroy anything—he deconstructs to disseminate, to untie. He exhibits the constructions of thought and language, without suppressing them nor recomposing them, by leaving them “disseminated” out of any possibility of stable recomposition. To the antipodes of the philosopher Albert Leclère who, in 1901, defended in his Essai critique sur le droit d’affirmer (Critical Essay on the Right to Affirm) that “the thinking subject cannot consider thought without immediately noticing that it poses the existence of some reality,” concluding that “the reality of being, of metaphysical being, is a necessary affirmation of thought.” On the contrary, Derrida wrote, sixty years later, a succession of essays to show the necessity, for thought, of denying. All of Derrida’s originality is to see to it that this negation is a true negation; that is to say, not a contrary affirmation, but the contrary of any affirmation—this is why he considered that “to criticize a philosopher is a lamentable gesture” and, refusing all criticism, does not seek to refute but to dissolve the problems by taking care to never completely satisfy the need for comprehension, by thwarting all attempts at definition.

Derrida thus represents the most coherent attempt to dissolve the traditional philosophical “realism” of a Saint Thomas Aquinas, by denying to signs not only their connection to things, to which they refer (as the nominalists were content to do), but also their capacity to coincide with their own meaning. If, from this course, the sense is untied from the real (“the noem is nothing real since it is a sense,” he infers about Husserl), the sense announces itself similarly to be untied from itself in the justification of the thought as “saying no.” Thus, it is not excluded to think that Derrida completed, in the 20th century, the whole process of desubstantialization of language inaugurated by nominalism from the 14th century, completing the modernization of thought in an enterprise of final dissolution of meaning.


Paul Ducay, Professor of philosophy with a medievalist background. Heir to the metaphysics of Nicolas de Cues and the faith of Xavier Grall. Gascon by race and French by reason. “The devout infuriate the world; the pious edify it.” Marivaux. [This article comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT].


Featured: “Via Dolorosa,” by Sybil Andrews; linocut print, 1935.

Believing in the Marvelous: The Rediscovery of the Imaginary

The world of tradition is saturated with marvelous images that modern thought has often depreciated to the rank of “imaginary” productions of Man. This desacralization of the sign, which deprives the religious reference marks of any possible comprehension, is based however on a fundamental ignorance—that of the “imaginal,” of which the hermeneuticist Patrick Geay, in Hermès trahi (Hermes Betrayed) [1996], presents the rediscovery as the key for resolution of the disenchantment of the world.


Hermès trahi (Hermes Betrayed) is the name given by Patrick Geay to his philosophy thesis, published in 1996 and republished in 2010, to illustrate a quite decisive project—that of remedying the divorce of myth and reason, of mythos and logos, upon which philosophical modernism made the mistake of founding itself. Hermes is first of all a god—the god of secrets and stratagems in Greek mythology, son of Zeus and Iris. He is also and above all Hermes Trismegistus, author of a doctrinal corpus which Iamblichus said delivers the hidden science of all things, and which gave its name to “hermeticism,” on the refusal of which modern hermeneutics has built its project. Against it, the director of the journal of traditional hermeneutics, La Règle d’Abraham (The Rule of Abraham), sought to “judge a form of anti-metaphysical philosophy, [namely] critical philosophy,” by the yardstick of the “traditional doctrines” of which the work of René Guénon provides the method of comparison and understanding.

Deepening the philosophical rediscovery of religious symbolism by Jean Borella, Patrick Geay works on a metaphysical rediscovery of the “imaginal.” Largely forgotten, ignored, denied, and sometimes misinterpreted, the imaginal, solidly theorized by the Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi, nevertheless proves to be essential to the understanding of all that traditional religions conceal of the marvelous. By listening to the great visionary tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Patrick Geay abolishes the reduction of the imagination to the human imaginary, showing that it extends well beyond the limits that modern psychologism assigns to images and their genesis. In doing so, to use the words of the philosopher Bruno Pinchard in his Preface, the author restores the conditions necessary for understanding the “true laws of the constitution of the religious,” against the demystifying undertakings of materialism and neo-spiritualism found at work in the human sciences.

Demythologization

Modern religious thought is based on a serious hermeneutical contradiction—that of interpreting images and sacred texts without recognizing their sacred character. This contradiction has a name—”demythologization.” Initiated by the Protestant philosopher Schleiermacher, who reduced the interpretation of sacred texts to the simple “psychological and grammatical study of the works,” it consists in saving the relevance of sacred texts only by emptying them of all that is mythical; that is to say, extraordinary, miraculous, supernatural—in a word: sacred. Thus undertaken, hermeneutics contradicts itself—it wants to study the sacred without recognizing its sacred character, as Ricoeur admits when he justifies the “oblivion of the signs of the sacred” by the “loss of man himself as belonging to the sacred.” As soon as it is posed, the object of hermeneutics is removed from its study.

Marcel Gauchet tried to save this logical contradiction by conceiving of Christianity as “the religion of the exit from religion;” that is to say, a religion without the supernatural, a religion which, by its monotheistic affirmation, “contributes to placing the unique God outside and beyond the world of men.” For Marcel Gauchet, Judeo-Christianity would thus be the religion of the absence of God in this world. However, in so doing, the philosopher only completes a contradiction with an ignorance; for, as Patrick Geay points out, “this forced and distorting approach to Hebrew prophetism [ignores] the function of the Shekinah as the Presence of the Divine in the Tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant, which is recounted in Exodus. Marcel Gauchet’s interpretation of Judeo-Christianity also ignores “the very rich Jewish visionary literature, as found in the famous writings of the Merkabah,” as well as the symbolic profusion of “medieval Christian visionary narratives.” In sum, Marcel Gauchet reduces his conception of monotheism to its modern, heterodox version, which came out of the Protestant Reformation. From Paul Ricoeur to Marcel Gauchet, modern hermeneutics, by proposing to the human sciences the method of demythologization in order to satisfy “their claim to have knowledge of the religious,” has thus taken the risk of making them “systematically miss their target for lack of sufficient metaphysical and initiatory preparation” (Bruno Pinchard). This unpreparedness has for cause a progressive dismantling of the symbolic sign by modern philosophy, from nominalism.

The Great Split

The dismantling of metaphysical knowledge consisted in an increasing reduction and confinement of the faculties of the human mind, the stages of which Patrick Geay rigorously traces. As time went by, the image was less and less understood, because it was more and more separated from the idea. Starting with the nominalist William of Ockham, a Franciscan doctor of the 14th century, who held that “words are created by imposition,” “language is no longer the privileged reflection of being; ideas, concepts, the universal have no reality except in the soul” of individuals. In other words, “the names of things… no longer derive from their nature.” Ideas no longer have the value of objectivity and universality that the Neoplatonists of the early Middle Ages recognized—they are entirely mentalized, to be no more than psychological concepts. The word is no longer the real name of an intelligent thing (formally received by the intellect), but the conventional sign of a purely mental conception.

The nominalistic mutilation of the concept is pursued, in modern times, against the imagination. Initially, Descartes separated, in his sixth Meditation, imagination and conception (itself confused with intellection). His argument is the following: if there are things that one can both imagine and conceive, like the triangle, there are however things that one can conceive without imagining them, like the chiliogone (polygon with a thousand sides). Descartes, who differentiates the soul and the body as two distinct substances, takes advantage of it to found on his first dualism that of the concept and the imagination: “the imagination being naturally rather on the side of the body cannot succeed in conceiving any idea of what it simply puts in image, if it even succeeds in doing so.” With Descartes, the image no longer implies the concept in its existence; the imagination without the concept is indigent. Just as the body is, in itself, reduced to its mechanism, so the image is unintelligible by itself.

This split between the concept and the image is completed a century and a half later by Kant who, in his Critique of Pure Reason (A15/B29), bases his theoretical enterprise on the postulate according to which there are “two strains of human knowledge which perhaps start from a common root, but unknown to us; namely, sensibility and understanding; by the first one, objects are given to us; but by the second one, they are thought.” The consequence is obvious: as Geay notes: “this separation makes the corporeal world a neutral, empty form, since, according to Ilya Prigogine’s expression, nature is by it rendered ‘dumb.’” Indeed, for Kant, there is no real giving of meaning. There is only thought produced by the internal activity of understanding—the images that we perceive sensibly do not cause any thought in us; they do not deliver any meaning; but it is we who confer it on them: “in a priori knowledge,” Kant summarizes in his second Preface, “nothing can be attributed to the objects but what the thinking subject draws from himself.” The image is decidedly no longer intelligible, any more than beauty is for Kant a property of the object: “the universe is consequently reduced to the state of confused ‘matter’ to be organized; it is a priori dispossessed by Kant of its semantic content; that is to say, of an intrinsic symbolic structure that man would only have to unveil.” Philosophical modernity is founded thus, from Occam to Kant while passing via Descartes, on the big split between thought and the real, and within thought, between the concept and the image.

Several contemporary attempts, in the 20th century, were made to give back to the images their nobility, and to the images of the supernatural an interest against the materialist impoverishment of the world—Gaston Bachelard, in his “new scientific spirit,” as well as Gilbert Durand, within the framework of his “new anthropologic spirit.” However, impressed by the psychoanalytical theory of the imagination, their common mistake was to reduce the imagination to the fantasy of the human conscience or unconscious. For Bachelard, who saw in alchemical symbolism only an “immense sexual reverie…. a reverie of wealth and rejuvenation… a reverie of power,” while the religious imagination was only human poetry. For Durand, who confused traditional data with that of psychoanalysis, its “transcendental fantasy… remained locked in psychological categories… of ‘fabulation,’ whose ‘supreme meaning’ lay in euphemism; that is, in the human power of ‘improvement of the world.'” Patrick Geay’s conclusion is without clear: the revaluation of the image and the marvelous is not possible within the framework of the modern theory of the imagination, since it deprives of intelligibility any possible mythical content.

Remythologization

What modernity, timidly or resolutely, has dislocated, tradition, on the contrary, has reunited. On the one hand, the concept and the image are the two inseparable modalities of the same thing—the symbol. On the other hand, the symbol is, in its turn, inseparable from the reality of which it is the sensible sign—the idea. This second point can be understood by the fact that “if, in the rational mode, we can say that we know an object through its notion, it is because this notion is still something of the object; that it participates in its nature by expressing it in relation to us,” as René Guénon explained in his Générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues (General Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines) [III, 9], underlining here the realism of traditional logic. As for the first point, contrary to Kantian separation of the sensible given and the thought, Patrick Geay remarks that “there is no pure sensation which is not already an act of the consciousness.” Sensation is not unintelligent, because man perceives accidents (figures, colors, etc.) which never exist separately from a given essence, but which belong to it and thus inform us about it. This is why Saint Bonaventure noted that “all pleasure derives from a ratio of proportion,” just as beauty is objectively “an equation of numbers” (Journey of the Soul into GodItinerarium Mentis in Deum, I, 5). No more than the world according to the tradition is this homogeneous space of Galileo and Descartes reduced to extent; the images are not dumb matter, but on the contrary, “imprints” (vestigia), whose contemplation can lead us “to see God in any creature which enters in us and by the bodily senses” (II, 1).

The “despisers of the body,” to paraphrase Nietzsche, are therefore not the traditional and orthodox representatives of Christianity, but rather its modern innovators. For Tradition, the physical body is neither unreal nor autonomous, but it derives its reality from its iconic character: it is the image of an essence. Now the image is neither an obstacle to knowledge (iconoclastic error), nor knowledge itself (idolatrous error)—but its iconic means to reach the Idea of which it is the representation. If, therefore, the image puts man in contact with the world, and if this world has an organizing and creating principle (God), then the imagination cannot be reduced to a purely human faculty. Thus Ibn ‘Arabi recognizes three states of imagination—contrary to modern anthropological postulates that reduce imagination to the mere “combining imagination” (psychological) of Man, “it was necessary to conceive, beyond the human imagination qualified as imagination in conjunction with the subject (khayâl al-muttasil), a divine encompassing imagination, dissociable from the subject (khayâl al-munfasil), “having a subsistence in itself.” As the prototype of the human capacity to imagine, the absolute divine Imagination (khayâl al-mutlaq) is thus, so to speak, the container of the joint imagination.” If, therefore, the human imagination is contained in the divine imagination, the latter can allow itself to be contemplated by the former and reveal itself there, in accordance with its own coordinates of representation. The place of this contemplation is not imaginary, since it is not produced by human fantasy; but on the contrary by the divine intelligence—the imaginal belongs to the “creative imagination” of God. It is the intermediate world of the soul, where spiritual principles become sensible, where sensible bodies become spiritualized by being perceived in their principle. The “mixed constitution” of the imaginal thus corresponds to “the mathematical structure of the body of the world” that Plato looked at in the Timaeus as the mediation between the intelligible and the sensible.

“Solidary with a true metaphysics of the image, by which the Invisible is made visible,” the knowledge of the Imaginal and its “cosmological function, which is to unite the corporal plane to the spiritual plane,” is thus doubly required to understand the possibility of the perception of the divine as well as the religious function of the icon and of all sacred symbolism (illuminations, liturgical songs, architecture of the temples…)—for what is an icon or a sacred symbol, if not a spiritual body, or a corporeal spirit? Also, man is a fortiori called to become himself an icon; that is to say a saint who is the carnal image of the spirit, an incarnation of the universal truth. The problem of the imagination thus shows how much “the progressive oblivion of the esoteric tradition,” however “alone capable of allowing an in-depth illumination of religion,” is “the deepest cause of the metaphysical decline in the conscience of men.” The anti-metaphysical separation of mythos and logos is as false and arbitrary as is the anti-symbolic dualism of concept and image.


Paul Ducay, Professor of philosophy with a medievalist background. Heir to the metaphysics of Nicolas de Cues and the faith of Xavier Grall. Gascon by race and French by reason. “The devout infuriate the world; the pious edify it.” Marivaux. [This article comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT].


Featured: “Sir Isumbras at the Ford,” by John Everett Millais; painted in 1857.

On the Beautiful and Beauty

To speak of the beautiful and of beauty, we must first briefly provide a little history. The first to deal with the subject in depth was Plato, especially in two of his dialogues, Symposium and Hippias Major, where he states that “beautiful things are difficult” [khalepà tà kalá] (Hippias Major, 304e).

Since, then down to now, many attempts, experimental and practical, have been made to solve this problem, Plato instead places beauty in the hyperuranios topos, in the place of heaven of absolute realities and links it with the idea of good. Beauty is related to being and is founded in it. In the Hippias beauty springs from the splendor of form, and in the Symposium it springs from love, which is also the means to reach it. The beautiful is grasped through successive intuitions that begin with the sensible and rise to the true reality of the world of Ideas or Forms.

Aristotle gave birth to the philosophy of art, an activity that man carries out through intuitive reason, whose function is poetic and penetrating. Thus, for him, art imitates nature, which is where beauty has its seat. He establishes the canon of the philosophy of art with the ideas of clarity, harmony and proportion. Four centuries later came Plotinus (203-270 AD), who in the Enneads continues Plato’s thesis and affirms: “beauty is diffused by entering into matter.”

Then Christian philosophy, with St. Augustine (354-430 AD) in the Early Middle Ages, affirmed that “the infinite beauty and light and life [is] God Himself,” thus following Plato. This continued with Dionysius Areopagite who lived between the 5th and 6th centuries, and who in his much-commented-upon treatise On the Divine Names, in chapter 4 analyzes the beautiful in itself and in its relations with the good, affirming that in itself it has its origin in subsistent Beauty (God). And in its relations, it is a quality that lies in the form and manifests itself as the splendor of the same. Thus, Dionysius follows Plato’s version of beauty as splendor veri = splendor of truth.

It was not until the late Middle Ages that theologians and philosophers recovered the metaphysical treatment of the beautiful with their original theory of the transcendentals. But not all of them. For example, Thomas Aquinas does not take it into account when he enunciates it. Others do, such as, Alexander of Halles, St. Bonaventure, Robert Grosseteste, Vincent of Beauvais, Hugo of St. Victor.

With modern philosophy, the transcendent sense of the entity disappears and becomes subjective. With the appearance of romanticism, and the Sturm und Drang movement with the exaltation of the subjective, the direction in search of the beautiful was oriented neither in the form nor in the idea nor in the entity but in feeling.

Thus, the beautiful in Kant’s Critique of Judgment of 1790 is reduced to the judgment of taste—that which pleases without concept. And the sublime as the beautiful great.

A few years earlier, Baumgarten (1714-1762) had inaugurated aesthetics, a discipline later founded by Kant, and validated at the same time by Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) in his Breviary of Aesthetics (1912), thus reducing the beautiful to the fine arts.

Finally, contemporary philosophy reacted, and in its attempt to reconquer the real, especially from Hartmann and Heidegger, it sought the insertion of the beautiful in being. Thus, the Magician of Freiburg, in “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1952) affirmed: “Beauty is the “shining forth” for the “self-concealing being” in the work [as an increase of being]. Beauty is one way in which truth occurs.”

This analysis of the work of art leads us to ask ourselves how do we discern the beautiful. In the first place, we know that reality is reached on the basis of existence which is enveloped in the light of evidence; and as we know that evidence is that which is admitted without appeal, the beautiful in its singular existence is oriented to the one who is able to apprehend it and take pleasure in it. The sensible apprehension of the beautiful consists in a certain intuition of the internal senses that reflects pleasure as an indicator of beauty. Pleasure, Brentano affirms, is always of something and not in something. This affirmation carries in its essence the transcendence of the purely subjective. This intimate link, between pleasure and apprehension, becomes the detector of the beautiful. Thus, in the perception of the beautiful there is something of knowledge and something of pleasure. Thereby, things please because they are beautiful and not, as in subjectivism, that they are beautiful because they please. “Unlike technical objects,” the Latvian Nicolai Hartmann argues, “the aesthetic object has depth.”

We see how throughout this brief historical sketch the possession of beauty is disputed by three disciplines—aesthetics, philosophy of art and metaphysics. Let us continue with the latter approach.

The beautiful, τὸ καλόν = pulchrum, is the entity itself insofar as it is delectable and this is shown in simple contemplation without more. Thus, a rose is beautiful by itself and that is enough. [The ostensible and manifest concealment of the transcendentals from the consciousness of the great masters of current philosophy can be seen in Hans Georg Gadamer, knowledgeable as the best of classical metaphysics, who in a beautiful book The Relevance of the Beautiful (1987) makes no mention of the subject.] To look for a cause for it is to hide its pristine sense—the entity considered in itself, which pleases the sight and the senses. It pleases the apprehension, while the good delights our affection. There is the beautiful by nature which is independent of subjectivity and the art of the beautiful where the attempt is made to embody beauty. The ratio of the beautiful is clarity: splendor, as Plato said—splendor veri. The dialectical relationship in the work between opus (object) and labor (artist or observer) is the core of aesthetics.

The consequences are that these transcendental properties of the entity, so called because they go beyond any category, form a unity with it, are convertible with the entity. And when I say entity, I say essence, existence, one, true, good and beautiful. But how, if there are things that are ugly, others bad, false, broken or split, non-existent and imaginary? All this is explained by the lack of entity-ness of the entity to which they apply. A fundamental role is played here by the theory of sterēsis, the deprivation of being, according to which the ugly, the bad, the false and the broken are so because they lack being, they do not possess being in fullness.

But the being itself, the το ον η ον, it is a (unum) thing (res) that exists (aliquid), being true, good and beautiful. And this is the proposition that the metaphysics of today has to deal with. Here is our proposal.

The entity in itself is not a genus and therefore cannot receive determinations, but it has manifestations or aspects that become with it (ens et unum, verum, etc., convertuntur) and that allow us to study it, making it more evident.

This can be achieved not by making more scholastic distinctions, which have already been made and well made, but by shedding new light on these old wineskins. For example, how is the one different from the “one world?” Trust from the post-truth? The beautiful from the validation of the ugly? The other from the aliquid? The good from philanthropy? These are questions that the genuine metaphysician must answer. And if he does not, he is not a metaphysician.

Another example is that of existential philosophy (Existentiell in the sense of Heidegger) which aims to arrive at a metaphysics (and not Existentiell in the way of Jasper or Sartre), which wants to start from the singular, existing and concrete reality, through the awareness of each of one’s reality, one’s life, one’s actions and one’s world. And in this reality, one must distinguish between value of being and ways of being. Value = good is one such reality, while the modes are multiple. Entities, being such, are a subsistent whole and not parts of being; but they all participate in the value of being. And so each realizes the value of being according to its particular way. The ontological order is an order of participation.

To explore and exploit these dimensions of being is the task that future metaphysics owes itself and that great philosophers, such as those named above, have sketched but not fully explored. Metaphysics remains a discipline open to investigation, “a science yet sought”—επιστήμη ζητούμενη (episteme zetoumene), as good-old Aristotle asserted 2500 years ago.


Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles.


Featured: “Zeuxis Choosing the Models for his Painting of Helen from among the Maidens of Croton,” by François-André Vincent; painted ca. 1791.