Ethics: Philosophers and their Reasons

1.

Three ethicists go into a strip club, with gyrating scantily clad pole-dancers doing all those moves that come straight out of Bada Bing. Sorry, I am joking. It was only two ethicists…

The Kantian, on principle, cannot bring himself to make it through the door—he does not want to view women as merely means and not rational ends. In addition, when he runs through the categorical imperative, he is not convinced that he, a middle-aged portly chap, would like to be out there in his underpants struggling to go up and down the pole. As he pauses to universalize that thought-image of all those other portly comrades falling off poles, he thinks there is no way Kant himself would ever consent to going into the strip club, let alone strip down and climb the pole, even though Kant was skinny.

Once inside, the utilitarian is bent over an iPad, at the bar, trying to collate the relevant variables for the cost-benefits calculation he hopes to make, which include the general pleasure of the exclusively male audience as well as the situation of the pole dancers as wage earners, whether they like or dislike their job, and so on. He wants to interview the girls in their break about the cost/benefits involved, but the club has a strict rule of girls not talking about their work to customers—although, his university ethics committee has approved the survey tucked in his pocket.

The utilitarian also wants to factor in the negative effects on women generally, in this kind of behaviour—though here his calculative compass is a little disorientated, as he is unsure to what extent his female philosophical colleagues are a representative sample of women as such—there are four of them—they are all white (two are atheists, one is a non-religious Jew who is a supporter of BDS, and the other a lesbian Anglican). The female philosophers he knows disagree about pornography, though most are against it, and see the business as unethical. He is not sure whether pole dancing is pornography—and exactly how much it would matter if it were, or if it were more like prostitution and how it would matter if it weren’t.

He also wonders how much pain there might be in it for girlfriends or wives who “discover” their boyfriends/husbands were hanging out in this club, and whether attending the club crossed some moral line that the relationship had established. He starts to think he may need to get his hands on some sociological data about this point. He has decided to build his career upon utilitarianism because he doesn’t like the strict purity of Kantianism and the lack of attention to contingency; and he doesn’t like the elitism of the Aristotelian approach of his colleague, who thinks listening to death metal (which he still occasionally listens to in nostalgic moments), taking recreational drugs (which he is partial to, especially once the death metal is pumped up) and watching shows like Breaking Bad are a waste of one’s talents and communally toxic.

Like the utilitarian, the Aristotelian (who has beefed up Aristotle with some Hegel) finds the Kantian position too unworldly—and dangerous. The most famous Rousseauian, besides Kant, was Robespierre. And, as Hegel had pointed out, the desire to make humanity fit into the principles of virtue Rousseau dreamt up led to heads being treated like cabbages made for the chopping. The Aristotelian finds the whole thing rather sleazy, and the pleasures not really defensible. He, though, recalls Augustine’s and Aquinas’ view of prostitution, while a sin, it should not be outlawed because the city needs a sewer system.

2.

Let’s leave the ethicists wrestling with their problems, their own minds and each other, and ask why does it matter what they think and why would they think it mattered? The most obvious answer is that they think that their opinions about human behaviour are of social importance, and they think that a more rational solution to human decision-making, which impacts upon society at large, is a good thing. Moreover, they think these kinds of problems are reasonable, even if it is not at all obvious what is reasonable about a society in which locations are established for the purpose of scantily clad gyrating women on poles performing for (mainly) men drinking alcohol—though now thanks to some ethical consensus having legal teeth, said men won’t be able to smoke.

There may be some people who run through lines of a carefully considered argument before making a decision about what to do in a difficult situation, such as deciding whether climbing a pole in a seedy bar dressed in underwear and stilettoes is an immoral act. In such cases, the argument itself cannot be divorced from the various elements that have the potential to “trigger” or activate the invariably hidden or “unconscious” powers “making up” the “conscience” of the “inquirer.” Not all elements will trigger all in the same way—there is an inevitable variety of potential weightings that different characters/members of different groups/peoples with their different and innumerable experiences of life bring to the question.

Even, as we suggested above, the way one goes about approaching how to think about “the problem” of to what and to whom one is ultimately loyal is a mystery wrapped in a concatenation of constitutive characteristics of a person, group or people. Character also involves different “filterings”—filtering is the concomitant of consensus, and consensus of some fundamental appeals, is essential to a group’s spirit or character. Different spirits—different filterings, though there is ever a tension in sheer structure of a world-making aspect (recognizing property, providing security and having obligations), which crosses all sorts of different cultures (cultivations of a collective’s preferences, tastes, desires, habits, and potential). And filtering generally involves the interplay of the more stabilizing structural commonalities and diverse cultivations that are as much bound up with diverse contingencies of founding acts and traditions as sheer taste. All of which is to say—it’s complicated. Though the trick with all thinking is to know when to cut through complexity to identify a line or pattern of genuine simplicity, and when to focus upon complexity because the simple is misleading. I confess to thinking that the pole dancers are possibly better at knowing when the complexity is just blather than most philosophers.

We know philosophers love thought experiments, so that they can simplify a complex moral problem—the most famous one in recent decades is the trolley and the fat-man—the brief version: if pushing a fat guy off a bridge will make a trolley veer off the track so that the lives of five people stuck on the track will be spared—but fatty might lose his life: to push, or not to push that is the question? How far we have come since “to be or not be.” Having sat amongst philosophers proudly cogitating over this problem—never bothering to ask who fatso might be (Goering or Churchill?), or who the hapless (or extremely careless) five stuck on the trolley track are (a bunch of serial killers, grannies, university managers, or philosophers?), or what other information would give this silly sketch some resemblance of a genuine moral conundrum—I suspect that a room full of pole dancers would find catering to the desires of their leering sad sack voyeurs to be less an affront to their human dignity than having to listen to such a vacuous discussion.

But there is another issue—the aim of an ethical conclusion is frequently, indeed invariably, to control/transform/improve people through policy and legislation. That is to say it is almost inevitably a political issue; and in the thrust of democratic politics that also generally means a legal issue. Ethics today is invariably “law in waiting.” And there are all sorts of very serious questions to be made about laws that are as deeply ethically conflicted as the discipline of ethics itself—such as what exactly are the boundaries between private vice and public virtue?

The entire ideological conflict between classical liberalism and socialism hangs on this divide. Or, do private virtues always create public virtues? Machiavelli and de Mandeville, in very different ways, raise issues of the sort that should make us hesitate here. Or, what are the cost-benefits to the society of trying to calculate our private vices (presuming there is such a thing) and creating criminal sanctions? Do we just ride rough-shod over these utilitarian considerations because some of us think we have the rational position about the principle, and that the means and the reality, with all its moral quandaries, generated by acting according to the principle, should just be left to another day?

Might it be that the more we use our reason by asking reasonable questions, the more Russian dolls we find. And the more of them we find, the more lost we become through reason. Why should reason either be or lead to good? And if it is good, or always leads to good, is that just a lucky accident, or does that suggest a quasi-classical view of life as literally mind-full? Yet of one thing we can be sure; social problems demand solutions: in a democracy the matter of which ones has to do with their being raised. Which again is a political process.

Of the three positions I took as typifying ethical schools, there are, at least in their origins, somewhat different political connections involved. In the case of the Aristotelian, The Ethics was not conceived as a self-contained work, but as a work examining the kind of conduct required for someone to enter into political life, which was why Aristotle paired it with The Politics. The Politics, though, also took into account forms of political life which were far from healthy; and it considers how to make them more healthy, if not outright good.

Aristotle’s version of the natural supported the moderation (allowing for his historical context) that runs through his work. The idea that our judgment about the ethical should be completely free of any natural influence (i.e., Kant’s position) would, I think, have struck both Plato and Aristotle as absurd, though Aristotle might have seen it as an unfortunate residue coming from Plato’s two worlds. But then again, the Rousseauian idea that freedom consists in having a law which we give ourselves would have repelled Plato as much as Aristotle. And on top of this, both would have scratched their head about why freedom was now the axis of the ethical life. And the accompanying emphasis upon human dignity would have been just as perplexing—especially when it was simply extended to all by virtue of an act which required no action on the part of the person possessing it, viz., that person’s humanity.

The cleavage between classical and modern Enlightenment ethics, not surprisingly, is closely associated with the cleavage between the classical and modern, more specifically the Enlightenment, view of politics. And just as Aristotle is interested in identifying those qualities—the ethics—which need to be exhibited in the person entering into the political sphere of life, the enlightened modern principles of the moral life are also intended to act as the constitutional basis of a legitimate (hence rational) political formation. The reasoning, in Kant, is that the purely reasonable moral principles must be unsullied by any extra-rational condition (motive, desire, feeling etc.) which provide the pure disinterested ground for adjudicating on social harmony.

Rousseau, on the other hand, both emphasizes the natural character of empathy and the need for virtue to detach itself from the forces of selfishness that we are prone to as creatures conditioned by the laws and nature of civilization.

Kant is the more consistent metaphysician, and hence his greater reputation as a philosopher. But this is matched by Rousseau having the greater reputation as a political theorist. His theory of the general will, though, is also both the model and impetus for Kant’s categorical imperative, and the political endgame of the moral imperative. Kant was rigorously consistent in conceding that none could ever know if someone really acted out of a moral principle (the Kantian who didn’t go into the strip club may really have been worried at some deep level about how his partner or other philosophers back at the office would view him, if they found out). But such a concession does nothing to alleviate the common objection to Rousseau: that the general will requires that each of us leave aside our particular or vested interests, which is far easier said than done because most of us are oblivious to exactly what our interest involves.

The fact that academics, including moral philosophers, and students at the most prestigious universities in the Western world think that they know how to achieve the public good, and that we should obey them as they receive their salaries or prepare for lucrative careers is indicative of how much self-serving-ness is behind the idea of social justice and the public good today. Likewise, the Rousseau problem is that the kind of society he helped facilitate—a society in which ideas about the general will abound—has created a slew of people employed publicly and privately to identify, articulate, and implement “the general will”—along with the academics, the bureaucrats, journalists, teachers and politicians, and lawyers, and, perhaps most incredulously, actors and entertainers.

And, sorry to have to break it to you Jean-Jacques, such people cannot but help inject the very self-interest that the principle is designed to eliminate. They invariably design, enforce, and monitor policies, rules, narrative laws, etc., which shore up their entitlement. It’s a perfect circle of elite power formation in which the kind of legitimation that had evolved out of the need to survive and protect the group is replaced by a group whose power is built upon ideas and words. No wonder they wish to stop the spread of mis-information, which happens to be any information that does not receive their imprimatur. This should be obvious; and it is obvious to those who are either not part of that elite, or who wake up from their slumber and look at what a political mess this elite is making.

The Rousseauian/Kantian constitutionalist approach to the political also provides the philosophical grounding and rationale of institutions, such as the European Union, and UN. And the criticisms levelled at these institutions are also but variations of the critique just mentioned. The hiatus between institutional reality as a conglomerate of practices and practitioners and the ideal it is supposed to represent or express is indicative of a dualism that I think is inescapable—when we reference reality to an idea.

Even in instances where there is an acceptance that deontology of the Kantian sort is too stringent, contemporary ethical philosophy invariably devotes itself to mapping out what is rationally right and thus laying down what we ought to do—thus assuming that (a) we don’t really know what is right or wrong unless we receive philosophical guidance; and (b) that the philosopher has the right tool—reason—which he or she or they (pronouns themselves now being considerate philosophically serious matters) can wield well. This is as true today of Aristotelians as it is of utilitarians, though the problem I was alluding to above about utilitarianism lies in the open infinitude of its variables—and the most plausible way of solving the problem was to dissolve utilitarianism into economics. Of course, by dissolving worth into monetary value, utilitarianism risked losing connection with the sentiments which find expression in Aristotelian or Kantian types of ethics—but at least it was able to come up with a cost-benefit calculus that worked. However, while developments in economics were driven by utilitarianism (obvious in the most elementary premise of much modern economics, marginal utility theory), not many utilitarian philosophers would agree that the ethical problems they wrestle with should be left to the marketplace.

Generally, ethicists defer (most do so tacitly) to another branch of philosophy to decide exactly what reason is. But while that shifts one problem to the side, the other problem remains insurmountable—the ethicists have a very tough job getting other ethicists to agree with them.

But the fact that there is no one ethical theory which philosophers find universally convincing does not perturb the many philosophers who press on in the hope that they will or have found the proper principle and/or theoretical approach. The fact that they keep searching, after some two and half thousand years, might lead us to think there is no definitive answer waiting in reason’s cupboard.

Indeed, as philosophers keep searching, as problems spawn diverse groups of adherents, and as each more innovative philosopher stands alone with his/her/their own philosophy, we need to ask what is really going on here. One thing is definitely going on—”ethics” is a discipline of a profession called Philosophy, and to be a member of this profession requires that one keep “researching” and writing on one’s topic. So, there is definitely what Marxists call a “material” interest that keeps the debate going. There is also the question of what exactly is not only a philosophical argument, but a convincing philosophical argument about ethics? Would it have to—indeed, could it—convince everyone, for it to be seen as a definitive example of a convincing argument? In the case of the physical sciences, we have sufficient consensus of proof structures, and methodological procedures, so that practitioners of the discipline can generally share a common disposition toward the “evidence” at hand—but this is not the case in philosophy. And if it is not the case in philosophy, matters get no more “reasonable” the further we go outside the academy and into the world.

3.

Why then are we taking ethics seriously? In part it is because we take reason, understood as rational argument, as a means of orientation seriously. But philosophy has long disputed about whether our moral institutions may be a better guide than our reasons, or whether reason can be completely detached from our moral intuitions. Some philosophers like Hume, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche thus intertwine reason and intuition as simply intrinsic to action. So, as Schopenhauer puts it, willing and representing the world we participate in are part of the same process; or as Nietzsche puts it in Beyond Good and Evil (not without some unconvincing rendering of how he differs from Schopenhauer) “a genuine psycho-physiology” sees “thinking as only the relationship of these drives to one another.” Hence, from this perspective, to draw a sharp distinction between intuition (moral or otherwise) and reasoning is already to be subject to a philosophical prejudice. Thus also Nietzsche’s one page History of Philosophy in the Twilight of the Idols—”How the ‘True World’ Finally Became a Fable”—is “The History of an Error;” thus also the opening chapter of Beyond Good and Evil is entitled “On the Prejudices of Philosophers.”

Nietzsche embroiled himself in a great deal of pseudo-physiology (typically played down in post-Nazi/post-fascist readings of Nietzsche). And a major flaw in his thinking was that he was too prone to replicate the mechanistic metaphysicians with their distinction between primary and secondary qualities, instead of sticking to his own advice about staying with appearances—for the social world is so symbolically saturated. While it does not change the fact that we laugh and cry, bleed and die, it does mean that an enormous amount of what triggers responses in us that make us weep, laugh, harm or seek redress is due to social codes, roles, manners, and expectations, as well as economic and technological modes and processes.

One of the great downsides of the triumph of philosophical naturalism (somewhat countered in different ways by Marx, Nietzsche, and more especially Husserl and Heidegger) was that what had evolved as a metaphysic to deal with the specific problem of the interrogation and manipulation of nature, to serve human desires became served up as an answer to everything. To be sure, post-Marxist and post-Nietzschean (and hence post-structuralist) philosophers focus primarily upon the social character of Philosophy, a great deal of Philosophy carries on oblivious to the significance of sociality. This is evident as much in its grammatical undertow of the indicative and subjunctive moods, which facilitates the philosophical task of showing what the world is, what is wrong with it and how it can be fixed, as it is in what, at different times, commands its attentions.

The philosopher working on an ethical problem sees his activity as purposeful in itself, and the history of the practice of no more importance than the history of medicine to a doctor. Except medicine is an empirical science. The classical approach to ethics in both Aristotle and Plato is akin to this medical model. But while there are very powerful aspects to the classical approach; there are some equally powerful counter-considerations and hence criticisms. For example, the classical approach to the good is that it tries to harmonise what exists, even if it does so in the idealist manner of Plato in the Republic (assuming for the sake of this argument at least that Plato genuinely believes in the model he builds). But this means the good becomes an obstacle to the better.

I would not argue for a moment that the history of Western civilization has been one of constant and uniform progress; but I doubt that anyone who wished to return us to relationships of fealty, or take voting rights away from women or working-class men would be thought to be defending a position that would garner much consensus. But while I think what I have said is true of people whose lives involve all manner of investments and whose identity is staked around these boons of freedom—i.e., us—there are plenty of spokesmen for a restoration/creation of a pre-liberal society, such as advocated by members of the Taliban, ISIS, Hizb ut-Tahrir, who appeal to social possibilities and actualities which have appeal for them.

Some years ago, when I spent a lot of time watching, for example, the British Islamist Anjem Choudary attack modern British society and its freedom, while defending the virtues of past and future imagined caliphates and the social and political strictures and directives which he finds in the Koran and hadiths, it was very obvious that, though I thought him mad and bad, he was no less capable of drawing inferences or mounting arguments than anyone else. He and those sharing his “idea” of what human qualities, practices and institutions are really “good” and “true” and “beautiful” can easily be dismissed as mad and bad—but what good exactly do such classifications serve? He and those like him who speak and think and argue in similar ways, find audiences, convince others, who had previously never had any interest in the kind of appeals Choudary and Co. were making to the form of life they advocate.

4.

My discussion of philosophy and ethics has proceeded largely in keeping with the kinds of positions typically laid out by philosophy departments in the US, Canada, UK and Australia; that is, by departments that have come out of the Analytical tradition. But if I were to shift for a moment to connect the point I have just made about the collective rationalisation of, and commitment to, contingent values to the manner in idea-brokers, professionally invested in defining the specifics of the general will I mentioned above, then I think we can better see the kind of terrible paradox plaguing modern ethical thinking. That is, on the one hand it has sought to replace revealed truth with reason—and let us add that life itself is a revelatory process, and one great mode of revelation is the revelation of what kind of creature we are due to our very instincts (instincts themselves being “micro-reasoning” processes that we respond to), only to be confronted with the absolute failure to find any kind of compelling consensus that even those who defer to, and make a living out of, using their reason cannot achieve.

On the other hand, if we shift away from analytic philosophy but turn to the kind of philosophically driven hegemonic narrative that now passes for truth amongst the Western elite wishing to dictate how we should all behave, we see a certain confirmation of Hegel’s idea that reason is totalising and substantiating. Let me add immediately that I think Hegel is only right to the extent that what he calls “reason” is defective—defective by virtue of making itself primary when life teaches us again and again that reason is not primary. God is not reason writ large, and neither are human beings reason writ small.

But Hegel’s argument that reason is substantive, that it is dynamic and historically and socially saturated and not just an empty set of cognitive procedures, which we deploy to fathom experience or form extra-experiential claims about the morally good or the beautiful, strikes me as having trumped the position, still on view every time one witnesses analytical philosophers discussing ethics. If we accept this, then we will also apply Hegel’s critique of Kant’s moral theory to all variants of “principle”-style ethics, viz., the contingency has to be fathomed in light of its sociality and historicity; and this includes the contingencies which constitute our very selves.

The modern propensity to take seriously moral abstractions as political absolutes invariably contribute to a class of people who no longer seek the classical objectives of reason’s quest—the good, the true and the beautiful—they have become the instantiation of the good, the true and the beautiful. That’s where the entertainers come in—they ensure the good and true are not left hanging in the air, as they tie (ostensibly) rational moral commands and proscriptions to flesh, blood, desire—though, because they earn their living by pretending to be who they are not, they are also intrinsic to a world of image presiding over the real. That is, they represent the representations that the creators of value have laid out as pertaining to the public good—which is emancipation. This why they are as much an embodiment of Nietzsche’s higher men and women, as they are an expression of Plato’s philosopher kings, as of Kant’s instigators of the moral imperative, as the legislators of Rousseau’s general will. They are also the harbingers of Marx’s unalienated society and their further honing of who is oppressor and who is oppressed is predicated upon his primal model of class antagonism.

What we see here, and what I will continue to extrapolate upon, is a process of modern reason’s substantiation—a substantiation which reconciles vast contradictions, and which, in spite of the fact that our lives are built around contingency and encountering which defies any kind of Hegelian totalism, the philosophical contrivances, devoted to emancipating us, is an astonishing confirmation of Hegel’s principle of the dialectical development of identity within difference. For the spirit of our times conjoins philosophies that on the surface should be completely antithetical to each other, but which become variations of the one spirit of our own time. The great reconciliation, that is also a time of the great emancipation, was, in the formulation of Derrida and Agamben, “the to come.” It is both an intimation of the messianic and an instantiation of the true, good, and beautiful, as all the victims of the earth now finding their voice, thanks to our cultural moral/ethical leaders. It is Lenin and Lennon—“What is to be Done?” plus “Imagine” as ethical life. Everything important has become ethics, and the antinomian-ism of the ‘68 generation (the story has been well told in Julian Bourg’s From Revolution to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought) was just the vehicle by means of which jouissance/play/desire, etc. all became the ethical emancipatory key.

I have jumped into the way in which I think philosophy has provided a kind of unified consensus within a certain group—it is as I have also said a very Hegelian development—the fact that those making it frequently despise Hegel (Deleuze, for example, and Foucault) is completely beside the point, in so far as they were so caught up in their faith in their own ability and game that they were very poor judges of what they could be seen as doing by someone who was not interested in joining in their particular associations and priorities.

The above observation illustrates (even if we have not had to completely buy into the entirety of his system) the truth of Hegel’s argument that reason is substantive; that it is dynamic and historically and socially saturated and not just an empty set of cognitive procedures, which we deploy to fathom experience or form extra-experiential claims about the morally good or the beautiful. It also strikes me as having trumped the position still on view every time one witnesses analytical philosophers discuss ethics. If we accept this, then we will also apply Hegel’s critique of Kant’s moral theory to all variants of “principle” (style ethics), viz., the contingency has to be fathomed in light of its sociality and historicity; and this includes the contingencies which constitute our very selves, and the ethico-socio-political priorities of our age.

5.

This leaves us with the conclusion that our world is our world, and the reasons (in the sense of arguments, and not simply inferences) we have about it are stories we tell ourselves to console ourselves about it or help us change it. Ethics is but a particular means of making a story, to try and get people to act in one way rather than another. If we notice the philosophical stories which emerge in an age and which are responses to the problems of the time, by a group whose ways and means are very similar, we can see that their differences are not that different. Or rather, to become seriously different they have to step outside of the ideational consensuses that are intrinsic to the philosophical game they are involved in.

Thus, to ask why this particular “game” (the game of philosophy as such, and, more specifically, philosophical ethics, is being played is not irrelevant), it gives us pause to think about the game we (ethicists) are playing; why it commenced. For the hopes latent within it are very conspicuous in the origin: the classical ethical reasoning of Socrates and Plato. It is closely bound up with a need to legitimate itself—to differentiate philosophical reasoning from alternative types of pedagogical (which Plato represented as pseudo-pedagogical) speech, viz., poetic/sophistic/and oratorical speech. Plato saw these forms of speech as suffering from the same methodological deficiency, viz., lack of illumination from ideas, which have been espied by recourse to properly breaking down the one into its many parts and rationally reassembling them into a rational definition. Aristotle was a Platonist in so many ways, but he could not come at the theory of ideas. Yet he too hoped philosophy would solve the problem.

To repeat and develop my earlier point, if a philosopher ever solved the problem of the best or most rational way to live, he or she was no better at convincing other philosophers than our professionals today. Ancient philosophy proliferated with competing schools and doctrinaires, whose members Lucian depicted (apart from his sceptical-minded, robustly “common sense” position) in the second century, as nothing but a scrubby rabble, full of self-importance, spouting nonsense.

Indeed, there is quite a serious comic critique of philosophy running from Aristophanes’s Clouds to Lucian’s Hermotimus or the Rival Philosophers to Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel. It is interesting how closely it parallels the religious criticisms of philosophy that run from Tertullian, Tatian, to Pascal and Kierkegaard—for both critiques draw attention to how little we know, and how little reason itself helps us with the most pressing decisions that befall us: how at sea we really are. The comedian has us laugh at the absurdities of who and what we are, and frequently has us laugh at the pomposity of authority (or those who want to usurp it)—and how delusional we often are. The great religious thinkers also emphasize the absurd, but in connection with the miraculous-ness of creation transcendence and/or redemption.

But if philosophy can be criticised for not delivering on its promise, this does not mean that philosophy does not produce its “offspring,” does not have a legacy. Of course, it has. In the case of classical philosophy, its legacy is visible in the Roman Empire, in the works of grammarians and legal thinking. But where philosophy started to garner real power was not in the ancient world. In antiquity, it was not philosophy that pulled antiquity out of doctrinal and political conflicts, or forged a greater social or political unity that we might well call more ethical. Antiquity was changed far more by religion than philosophy. The solidarity of the underclasses throughout the Roman Empire was largely achieved socially by Christianity.

I would also venture that philosophy would have died out were it not for religion—Christian and Moslem scholars who were able to revive philosophy in a social world of tribes and imperial growth. There is, to put it bluntly, nothing natural about philosophy—even if the concept “nature” is a term favoured by classical philosophers. It is an exotic plant, which is the result of a plethora of highly unusual socio-political (there is nothing, as far as I can see quite like the polis in antiquity) and narrative innovation and conditions (the importance of poetry, the particular abstractions it generates, the discord within the Greek pantheon, most painfully expressed by Hesiod in the Theogony, underpins a search for a cosmic moral order).

Moreover, while nothing might seem to make more sense than the History of Philosophy as the story of a self-contained development of a practice beginning with the Pre-Socratics, moving through Classical Greece, Rome and the Middle Ages and then Modernity and the situation now. Yet what philosophy meant for the Epicureans, Stoics, neo-Platonists, the Scholastics, or the mechanistic metaphysicians, thinking about the universe as an object of scientific inquiry, is due to all manner of non-philosophical contingencies, especially historical circumstance and location.

The value of applying philosophy to contradictory legal and theological points, for example, was crucial in the introduction of Aristotle into Western universities; but that was predicated upon a proliferation of legal domains requiring some kind of systemic legal reasoning—while the Thirty Years War (and its English compatriot the Civil War), was pivotal in the emergence of Deism and the mechanistic metaphysical view of life that broke with all the mess of history, and that embroiled such geniuses as Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, and Leibniz. This does not mean that truth is reducible to the contingency of an origin, but philosophical truths are inescapably anchored not just to reality as such, but to the contingencies of communal life. And communal life is located not only in nature’s world, but the world of human nature—which is the world of nature as well as beyond nature: symbols and history.

The human world is as much a world of imagination, of taking nature and remaking it, including our own nature and our own growth. This is not a relativistic metaphysical claim, but an empirical one: for as we try to make the world one way rather than another, we focus upon features of our story which were invariably hidden from those looking in another direction. We are ever making ourselves and our world, and that making is formed by the surging and convulsions of living pasts incubating in the plethora of inheritances which we wake up to everyday, buried as they are in our language, our institutions and social choices and values, and the contemporary reactions to what appeals to or disgusts us, what we fight for or flee from, and the alternative futures which beckon or attract us.

In making our future, we invariably remake our past, the remaking of which also impacts upon how we remake our future. This relationship between past and future is further complicated by the crises and catastrophes which take place in the present, which makes us rethink our future and thus also our past, and so on. This temporal triadic interflow renders meaningless any idea of us being disinterested subjects (except on “special occasions,” as a methodological “moment”), or there being some mere object to be observed. What disinterest we may garner—as a member of a jury, or the observer of an experiment—makes sense only once we have portioned off a bit of life that matters for us. We cannot get completely out of our own way. We are always making ourselves in our own ways; we are our ways. But our own collective life-ways differ radically from each other precisely because different collective dreams, traumas and memories are not simply capable of being overlaid upon each other. This is also why to simply interrogate such conundrums in terms of ethical absolutes or relativism is to surreptitiously transform an anthropological condition into a metaphysical problem. No wonder the problem is insoluble.

The different trajectories and prejectives of different collectives have been described by Rosenstock-Huessy as being a problem of different time bodies. For living groups are entwined in their own temporal cadences: which is why suddenly bringing groups together who have no common sense of mourning or triumph is so fraught with problems. It literally takes time to make a new time together. Another way we can say this is that the social imagination is also intrinsically temporal. For our imagination is social to the extent it dwells on what we share or should share, and it is fuelled by regrets, fears, and pride in the past, and/or present, and/or future. It holds out promises so that we can have a tomorrow worth living or fighting for. This process effects all of us; but it makes no sense to render it as a process in which there are objective truths about us and the world that we must locate before we act. We live on the brink of trial and error. But our trials and errors, to repeat, are not ones that are simply conglomerates of facticity.

The fact is that we moderns, who do philosophy, share a certain common sense because we share a world. If we enter sympathetically into another world, as anthropologists do, we can see what matters and what makes sense in those worlds. And those terms “matters” and “sense” are apposite words pointing to a collective pre-philosophical understanding of collective life. To say “something matters” is to recognize that it materializes. To say it “makes sense” is to say it is sensory-forming, as well as meaning-forming. The making-sense of a world, or making things matter within the world, is a social process of mutual participation, a sharing of collective emotional and mental depth. It is a dialogical process involving shared filtering. To be sure this filtering and selection may happen in diverse ways—common opinion, or victors’ stamping and sealing events with their narratives. But even in such a case as the latter, it remains real only to the extent it is formative; and if a people cease to conform to a particular cluster of narratives, they will rethink their past and future. And they do not need to await the declamations of a philosopher masticating on an old saw to see what really matters in their lives.

Philosophy is but one means of making “such stuff.” Within modern times, it is astonishing at how much “stuff” can be traced to philosophy: without philosophy there would have been no scientific revolution, nor modern politics as we know it—for all the ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are incubating in the French Revolution—a revolution which was in its inception identified as a revolution of “philosophism.”

I do not mean to suggest that modernity is only built out of modern philosophy—that is not true. The combination of commercial revolution and a republic of civic virtue, which lays the grounds for liberalism, antecedes the ideas of the new metaphysicians and has its roots in theology, specifically Calvinism. Indeed, just as Medieval philosophy was nurtured within the bosom of a faith, the anticlerical philosophes of the Enlightenment are the progeny of Calvinism and monarchical and religious intransigence: the blood of the Huguenots, the animosity towards the Jesuits, the failure of the Catholic Church to reform, and the role of servitude the Church played alongside the nobility in walling off the crown from Paris and the country side. All these processes, and many more, conspired to transform what had become a class, the intellectual, into political actors seeking to make the state in their image.

Plato hoped that philosopher kings would save the polis, but it was the French philosophes who succeeded in enflaming the crowds and political actors who would wipe out the non-enlightened and thus illegitimate modalities of power which had been the bulwark of the European state. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man pays direct tribute to both Rousseau (it references the general will) and Montesquieu (it references the separation of powers).

But the French revolution more generally spawned faith in genius taking precedence over authority, in the rights of people to will their own future, unencumbered by the dead weight of traditions. Rights, reason, and national will seemed to effortlessly flow into each other, as if nothing were more obvious than our being able to publicly judge the worth of all authority and right. That the twentieth century would entwine these ideas into the most hostile and contradictory and ideological strands was not anything any eighteenth century philosophe seems to have envisaged. Yet surely socialism and communism were philosophical products, attracting all sorts of philosophical minds (Plekhanov, Bukharin, Korsch, Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Lukács, Althusser, Negri—to just take a small sample). While Fascism and National Socialism were anti-intellectual in all manner of way, nevertheless, they still managed to attract some of the greatest philosophers of Italy (Giovanni Gentile) and Germany (Heidegger and Carl Schmitt). The three ethicists and the philosophical dispute we considered at the beginning of this essay all look rather innocuous when compared to the more bloody philosophical contestations of modernity.

But philosophers have been no better at settling their political differences than their ethical differences. Possibly the only thing philosophers agree upon is that philosophy is a worthwhile activity, and that a society is better with it than without it. Though it is not only the conclusions that separate philosophers, it is even an agreement about what it is. The mainstream consensus, somewhat felicitously, concurs that there is but one major divide on this issue: that between Anglo/American-Analytics and Continentals. In the eyes of the majority of Anglo-American professional philosophers, one of them is rubbish the other philosophy. But this is a professional squabble. In fact, and to pick up an earlier point, faith in a method enabling us to be, as Descartes put it, “lords and masters over nature” so that we could live more comfortable lives (the objective of Descartes’ philosophy) has been tremendously successful (though if happiness as a variable is factored in as a criterion of success, its value plummets). Likewise, faith in the science of economics, which grew out of moral philosophy.

One feature of the metaphysicians of the scientific revolution, rarely given enough attention, is that it was predicated on the need to bring the imagination under the reign of the understanding—thus the importance of the facultative logic which is operative in Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Leibniz, and which culminates in Kant’s three Critiques.

But it was precisely because of the dangers of demanding and expecting too much of nature’s laws that moral dualism of the Kantian sort emerged as a reaction to the Spinozian and Leibnizian equation of freedom and necessity. Likewise, it was the recognition that humanity spiritually needed to do more than just know the world around it and try and act with dignity that led to aesthetics (a philosophical branch completely absent amongst the early mechanistic metaphysicians), becoming an important field of modern philosophical inquiry. Schelling and Hegel—on the continent at least—and Schopenhauer pushed these three great bastions of the true, good and the beautiful into previously unheralded territory—and after Nietzsche, they no longer made any sense. (Though the Anglo-American Analytic has remained far more tied to the metaphysics of the seventeenth century than the Continentals have.)

I want now to return to the contingencies which we put under the rubric of religion. For in the Western world, religion has largely been relegated to the domain of private belief, which is able to be expressed publicly only within certain sites allocated by the state. In this respect, the Enlightenment has triumphed over Calvinism, philosophy over faith. It is also because of this triumph that ethics takes on such importance—because we need orientation and, at least, within the public sphere, we need to compensate for the fact that the more “enlightened” we have become, the more disconnected we have become from each other culturally, socially, and spiritually. Philosophy would like to heal our fractured and fragmented world, but I fail to see how it can do so—for it is predicated upon a plethora of talents and conditions being met, which are held by few and of little interest to many. Not only that, philosophy as a discipline in itself the way it is practiced is but one further symptom of our fractured world. So too is the notion that there is something called religion as opposed to the “what is not religion.” The moment philosophy dictates what the gods should be (Hesiod, Xenophanes and Plato), the gods have already begun their flight. While Plato and Aristotle imbued the universe itself with a certain rational and moral purposefulness, the focus of the moderns is upon the motion of mechanisms, which means divesting all moral authority out of the universe—leaving it reside purely within the human subject via our communal sentiments and habits (Hume), will (Kant), history (Hegel), will to power (Nietzsche).

Everywhere we turn prior to philosophy, we see peoples who imagine the world/ universe as spirited or god-ed in some way. God/s, humans, world are the poles of the real which humans have traditionally addressed and confronted. The philosophical disposition asked after the nature and essence of a thing; but pre-philosophical humans supplicate themselves to, call upon, or summon traditional powers in order to carry out their lives. Most importantly, the kind of powers they are is not revealed through “observation” but through the kind of life one has. To the philosophical mind this is not satisfactory because it could be false: but what does it mean to say that a life is false? Are indigenous lives false? Hindu lives false? Does a false life not bleed and cry and laugh as much as a “true” life? To those who reply, but it is only the beliefs that are false— I reply but are we not already introducing a certain kind of fracturing technique when we look at gods as objects of “belief,” as if their existence was something that could be divorced from the kind of worlds in which certain names, rituals, practices and routines that sustained them and are sustained by them are made?.

The great problem with philosophical notions of truth as involving some kind of correspondence between intuition and concept (to put it in Kantian terms) is that the intuition we are asked to consider is itself a fiction. For we are asked to consider a living power as if it were a spatial and temporal power subject to a certain kind of reductive compositional analysis. But one has to accept already that spatial temporal powers and the kind of modelling accompanying them are the only powers that are real. Or else, if we wish to stay with Kant, they are either generated by reason alone or else fevered imaginations; that is, imaginings not curbed by the understanding which has slowly built itself up piece-by-piece with confirmable representations. And yet there is a Chartres Cathedral, there are pyramids and ziggurats, temples, frescos of Jupiter, prayers and curses to gods—a panoply of lived god-ed worlds, each revealing meaningful lives.

We might not see the world in the same way anymore, and while we might find all manner of aspects to them morally objectionable, they are not a whit less ontologically loaded than our world, with its own plethora of technologies, techniques and superstitions (does anyone—outside the beneficiaries of the discourse—not consider managerialism a superstition?).

A world is shot through with imagination, and the imagination is triggered by all manner of powers—emotions and traditions, panics and hopes, alternative futures. Our understanding is an important disposition that we may bring to bear upon our imagination; but it is a matter of faith whether it is better to trust it than our imagination. For our imagination may yield all manner of fruits that exceed our understanding. To be sure, if claims about processes are made which are clearly capable of a reductive analysis, then a true analysis may well occur—though even this is tricky. For what we are doing and what we think we are doing do not always match up. On the other hand, the world is full of shysters and rogues; but along with deluders are the self-deluded. The real test of a claim is frequently not to be found, though, in the terms in which it is made, but in the contribution to a certain kind of world which it makes.

Our world is not (as late Wittgenstein appreciated as well as anyone and which he used to overturn his earlier philosophy) a stock of items, a collection of facts which are all that are—we are facting and defacting constantly, imposing ourselves with our half-baked grasp of things and fully fledged confidence in what we want and believe. It is only some facets of the real that we may know, even with open-mindedness. On the other hand, there is no shortage of people and peoples who world themselves via their faith in magic of one sort or another—many have their livelihoods, much like the bureaucratic, political and legal spokesmen of the “general will,” implicated in the magical view of life they peddle. Where clear lines can be carved between “objects” and “subjects,” all well and good, then a certain philosophical disposition may comfortably affirm the importance of its existence.

But the economics, anthropological and sociological and political dimensions of any life-world implicate even the most dispassionate and empirically verifiable truths. The traditional way philosophy has tried to shore up its “understanding” of a more reasonable way to view reality is to break up reality into a plethora of potentially certifiable claims (again Descartes strikes me as the master puppeteer here). But I repeat it is one thing to sharply bring into question through naturalistic sound philosophical means the belief about the way the world is, and another thing altogether to question the persons who are making themselves and their world through their fantasy.

And this is where, like it or not, we all are bound together. There is no escaping the fantastical nature, not only of our existence, but of the meanings we give to our existence. Nowhere is this more obvious than in historical memory. While it is one thing to be able to argue that events, such as Caesar crossing the Rubicon, Columbus reaching America (even though, after three voyages, he died thinking he had reached the Indies), Bradman getting a duck in his last innings confirm that truth is not merely relative, there is no event of any real significance which does not contain such a massive array of interwoven processes (causes), aspects, and consequences that anyone who invokes reference to the event in making the case for others to join him or her in acting a certain way can avoid filling-in all manner of gaps.

We cannot face the future in any plausible way without reference to our understanding of the present which is itself saturated with historicity—and everybody’s historical memory is but bricolage and shard. All memory is episodic—and the episodic is always of bits and pieces. There was momentous irony in the fact that the general tendency to ahistoricism of the Enlightenment precipitated the Romantic reaction which led to historicism—but historicism rested upon the fanciful notion that the historian’s own interest in history had nothing to do with the historical facts being “discovered.”

We dwell in shadows and dreams as much in light. We are as moved by cries and sighs, roars and whispers as by reasons; and reasons themselves being inseparable from sociality and historicity are also “results” of cries and sighs, roars and whispers. We are a plethora of possibilities and powers that may be activated in countless ways and by all manner of invocations and declarations—will we really be better off if we curtail all these, so they conform to a certain modality of speech? Ultimately this is what philosophy is—a certain kind of speech, a cluster of grammatical proclivities and accentuations which open up some vistas of the real, but at the expense of others.

Being “at the expense of others” is part of the very raison d’être of philosophy—Plato’s fury at poetry for its implication in Socrates’ death is fortunately quickly recognized by Aristotle to be overstatement, and he more sensibly and generously concedes the importance of the poetic in our lives. The Platonic expulsion of poetry is echoed some two millennium later in the Enlightenment critique of religion.

The Enlightenment arc that runs from Descartes, through the French revolution and Napoleon’s “liberation” of nations from empire, then the subsequent waves of national liberations in the 19th century would flow into a century of World Wars that had much to do with philosophical faiths, particularly the faith in the political form that had been so strongly advocated by the philosophes—the nation. Kant’s contemporaries, in different ways, J.G. Hamann and Friedrich Jacobi both emphasized that faith penetrates our being so much that it cannot be ontologically severed; and Heidegger, though somewhat more coy about his theological debts, was doing something similar by trying to disclose the fundamental ontological disposition of Dasein.

But we do not need philosophy to tell us that the world that we live in is a vast entanglement of orientations and faithed ways of existence. Charles Taylor’s (and not only his) formulation of the “Post-Secular,” to describe the kind of world we in the West now inhabit, catches the reality that the secular mind-set is but one; and whether it is the most rational or not does not really amount to anything—for the whole question of what is reasonable means nothing, if it does not put reason back into the life-worlds of those who use reasons. Indeed, that is the issue that breaks the enlightenment hold—whether reason is something which is part of what we do, or whether we are part of reason. After Nietzsche, it is difficult for anyone to accept the metaphysical God of Reason. Yet, our so-called godless state has re-opened the matter of religion in the most interesting of ways.

I mentioned above the faiths behind the World Wars; and that raises a fundamental question of philosophical-anthropology which is all too often ignored because of the fairly ubiquitous acceptance within philosophical circles of the myth of the “free” self. Again, as with Nietzsche, the “self” is as much a myth as the sense of freedom, when it is transported from being a relatively useful way of expressing a certain narrative sense of identity (which not all human beings—babies, people with Alzheimer’s or brain damage, possess) to being a metaphysical claim about our nature. Just as we are responsive beings—something evident from the dependency into which we are born—we are also creatures who not only come into the world needing orientation, but whose existence is, in spite of all the routines of security we engage in to “protect our-selves,” metamorphic—a fact that is pressed home in sickness, in hardship, and in new relationships.

Rosenstock-Huessy had made the point in Practical Knowledge of the Soul that religion, like every other sphere of life, comes with its own speech-ways, and its linguistic practices and seals—prayers, office, ritual, and rites, and sacred names—but “its shrine preserves transformation itself, the secret of transformation.” That we are constantly being transformed is common to us all; but how we transform very much depends—and the different great religions of the world are testimony of how differently we as members of the same species may make ourselves. Likewise, the faith that bears us in our decision to carry on may be bearing us along very different life-ways. But that we are conscious of this process of being borne along and that there is faith (and by faith I do not so much mean a counter concept to knowledge, but rather trust) in the manner of the bearing is something that is intrinsic to religion.

In the main, philosophy has ignored the disposition of supplication that is intrinsic to transformation. The questions—all variants on the same question: Why did so many follow Hitler, Mao, Stalin as if they were gods? Or, why do so many join cults? Or why should/do I/ we determinedly remain true to the calling of my/our office?—all point to the deep-rooted need/desire to follow. Meaning is generally following; only very few completely open up a new pathway of reality—and this is no less the case for philosophers, however much they may consider themselves not Socratic or Platonic, who remain participants in a reality they “blasted” open.

A world is a semantic field, and names the means of our navigation within and beyond the world we are enmeshed in – semantic fields, where gods, humans and worlds were inextricable connected may, in some important ways, have been more luminous than the ostensible enlightened world where the gods are banished to the private realm of belief: even though, as my question above about fidelity to one’s professional office (one’s professional ethics) some power is still holding over one. The ethicist would like us to believe it is reason doing the holding; but I simply cannot see it that way. For once reason has been “de-metaphysicized;” it is no longer sufficiently equipped for such holding. Which is in large part why no matter how important the ethicists think they are—the overwhelming majority of people are responding to other voices in their commitments, in their relationships, and roles and offices, and spheres of solidarity.

Historically we know that the law precedes ethics. To be sure, politics as not merely the imposition or seizure or maintenance of authority, but as the institutional mediation of different interests leading to legislation begins with the Greeks. It is no accident that ethics, philosophy, and politics emerge within the one people—or rather with a certain social system in which relative freedom exists along with the division of labour and settled conditions of social reproduction. Law precedes ethics because a certain degree of sociality, division of labour and different interests, and the opportunity for social articulation enables peoples to articulate sufficiently similar concerns to arrive at common solutions. The solutions were not perfect; and in the fallout of the Peloponnesian Wars, they looked pretty terrible. But the terribleness did not lie in the lack of reason itself, but in the politically riven nature of the polis, a rivenness exacerbated by the sophists and orators, fuelling the flames of the assembly, so that practices that had been part of the community became out of control—execution, exile, property seizure and the like.

Our own age is a riven one. It is pure folly to think it can be saved by ethics or by philosophy. It can only be saved by shared commitments and healthy loves; the triumph of convivial and living associations over the purely commercial or mechanical; the imagination that reaches out and beyond closed associations so that the powers that have accrued over times and peoples freely circulate communally. Philosophy certainly has a role to play in this—it can assist us in sharpening our questions. But it can only do so if it recognizes that it is something within life not above it; a practice that cannot stand alone, a practice that is but one “moment” of a complex amalgam of interrogations and speculative conjectures that constitute what we somewhat misleadingly call the “human” or “social sciences.”

Life is not law—and unlike the authors of the Bible who scrupulously studied what occurs when we violate God’s commands, our philosophers have not even begun to take seriously the idea of there being laws of the spirit which are far more significant to us in our world-making than the laws of nature. Irrespective of our faith or philosophy, the most serious choices we have to make almost always come down to tragic alternatives. No one seriously responding to a tragic alternative would desire to elevate their choice into a principle. We who must build are constantly forced to choose between unpalatables; the philosopher glowing in the pure light of principle escapes the choke of tears and the palpitations of horror that come from the genuine circumstance. The grime of reality is reduced to the platitude of the classroom, the free and easy room where responsibility is primarily to consistency and purity of principle, to one’s own self-worth.

The moral law, says the moral philosopher Christine Korsgaard, is “the law of self-constitution, and as such, it is a constitutive principle of life itself.” Speaking of duty, Korsgaard gives these tellingly honest examples of the moral dilemmas faced by professional moralists: “We toil out to vote, telephone relatives to whom we would prefer not to speak, attend suffocatingly boring meetings at work, and do all sorts of irksome things at the behest of our friends.”

Oh, what bliss to be confronted by such monumental moral crises. But this too is a symptom of an elite that has no understanding of what is required to cultivate peace and contribute to a future that is never a creation of our design, and ever a reminder of the paltriness of our ideas, and the fragile and limited nature of what we and our reason can do.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


Featured: “The Post-Apocalyptic Selfie,” by David Whitlam, early 21st century.

Overturning Roe v. Wade: An American-style Conservative Revolution

The number one news story in the world today is not the Russian special military operation, or the collapse of the Western economy as an aside, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade constitutional guarantee of the right to terminate a pregnancy. Now the issue of abortion has been moved back to the states. And immediately the U.S. Attorney General of Missouri, Eric Schmitt, announced the decision to ban abortion. The decision blew up the U.S., and the whole globalist wing of that nation, having received such a blow, rushed out into the streets, howling and roaring, with an uncontrollable appetite for burning cars and looting stores. In my view, this is very serious.

The fact is that, until recently, the only branch of government in the United States that had not yet discredited itself was the courts. Their authority was indisputable for all political actors. It was believed that corruption and ideological lobbies had failed to fully seize control of the judicial system. And now the judges appointed under Trump have made their move. All of this requires the most serious reflection.

The fact is that there is not one United States, but two countries, and two nations with that name. And this is becoming increasingly obvious. It is not even about Republicans and Democrats, the conflict between whom is becoming increasingly acrimonious. It is the fact that there is a deeper division in American society.

Half of the U.S. population are supporters of pragmatism. This means that for them there is only one criterion for evaluation—things work or they don’t work. That’s it. And no dogma about the subject or the object. Everyone can think of himself as anything, including Elvis Presley or Santa Claus, and if it works, no one dares object. It’s the same with the outside world—there are no inviolable laws; do whatever you want with the outside world; but if it responds harshly, that’s your problem. There are no entities, only interaction. This is the basis of the core American identity. It is how Americans themselves have traditionally understood liberalism: as the freedom to think whatever you want, believe whatever you want, and behave however you want. Of course, if this leads to conflict, the freedom of one is limited by the freedom of the other; but without trying it, you won’t know where the fine line lies. Try it. Maybe it will work.

This is how American society was up to a certain point. And here banning abortion, allowing abortion, sex reassignment, punishing sex reassignment, gay pride parades or neo-Nazi marches were all possible, nothing was rejected from the get-go, whatever the outcome. And the courts, based on a host of unpredictable criteria, precedent, and considerations, were the last resort in problematic cases to decide if it worked or didn’t work. This is the mysterious side of Americans, completely unintelligible to Europeans, and also the key to their success—they have no boundaries at all, which means they go do wherever they want until someone stops them. And that is exactly what works.

But among the American elite, which is made up of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, at some point a critically large number of the wrong kind of people, the non-Americans, have been congregating. They are predominantly from Europe; often from Russia. Many are ethnically Jewish, but steeped in European or Russian-Soviet principles and cultural codes. They brought a different culture, a different philosophy to the United States. They did not understand or accept American pragmatism at all, seeing it only as a background for their own advancement. That is, they took advantage of American opportunities, but were not about to adopt a libertarian logic, alien to any hint of totalitarianism. In fact, it was these foreign elites who hijacked the old American democracy. It was they who rose to the head of the globalist structures and gradually seized power in the US.

These elites, most often left-liberal, sometimes outright Trotskyist, brought with them a position deeply alien to the American spirit—the belief in linear progress. Progress and pragmatism are incompatible. If progress works—great. If not, it must be abandoned. Here is the law of pragmatism—it works/it doesn’t work. You want forward, go ahead. You want backwards, no problem. That’s what freedom is in the American way. In the Old American way.

But the Old World emigrants carried with them very different attitudes. For them, progress was dogma. All history was seen as one continuous improvement, as a continuous process of emancipation, improvement, development, and the accumulation of knowledge. Progress was a philosophy and a religion. Anything was possible and necessary in the name of progress, which included a steady increase in individual freedoms, technical development, and the abolition of traditions and taboos. And it no longer mattered whether it worked or not. What mattered was progress.

But this represented an entirely new interpretation of liberalism in the American tradition. The old liberalism asserted—no one can ever impose anything on me. The new liberalism countered with—the culture of abolition, of shaming, of the total elimination of old habits, of sex change, of the freedom to dispose of the human fetus (pro-choice), of equal rights for women and races—which was not just a possibility, it was a necessity. The old liberalism said—be whatever you want, as long as it works. The new one countered—you have no right not to be a liberal. If you are not a progressive, you are a Nazi and must be destroyed. In the name of freedom, LGBT+, transgender and Artificial Intelligence, everything must be sacrificed.

The conflict between the two societies—the old libertarian, pragmatist society and the new neoliberal, progressivist society—has been steadily increasing over the past decades, culminating in the Trump presidency. Trump embodied one America, and his Democratic globalist opponents the other. The civil war of philosophies has now come to a critical juncture. And it is precisely a matter of interpretation of freedom. The old America sees individual freedom as something that excludes any external prescription, any requirement to use it only this way and not that way, only for that, and for nothing else. For example, only for abortion and gay pride, and never for the prohibition of abortion or the ravings of perverts. New America, by contrast, insists that freedom requires violence against those who do not understand it properly enough. This means that freedom must have a normative interpretation, and it is up to neoliberals to determine how to use it and how to interpret it, and by whom. The old liberalism is libertarian. The new liberalism is openly totalitarian.

And it is in this context that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion should be considered. It is in favor of the old liberalism and pragmatism. Note, it does not prohibit abortion, but only states that there is no clear solution at the federal level. The states can solve the problem however they want. But it means, no more, no less, that time is reversible. That it is possible to move in one direction, progressive; or it is possible to move in the opposite direction. As long as it works. So, it’s not about abortion at all. It’s about understanding the nature of time. It’s about the deepest divisions in American society. The point is that one America is, more and more blatantly, at war with the other.

The whole totalitarian dictatorial strategy of the globalist neo-liberal elite is being undermined by the Supreme Court, which is acting—somewhat like the Russian Bolsheviks—in the name of the future. Progress justifies everything. Until then, all decisions were only in one direction—in favor of individualism, egocentrism and hedonism. And suddenly the Supreme Court takes a sharp step backwards. Why was it allowed to do that? And once desperate old Americans, pragmatists and libertarians rejoice—the freedom to do what you want, not what progressives and technocrats say—to go in any direction, not just where the globalists force you to go, has triumphed again. And the brave Missouri attorney general has already shown what can be made of it. Bravo! This is a pragmatic revolution—an American-style conservative revolution.

And naturally, the whole globalist progressive rabble is about to be knocked flat on their asses. Something as important as Trump’s election has happened. The old America has counter-attacked the new America.

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12: 25). It’s coming soon…


Alexander Dugin is a widely-known and influential Russian philosopher. His most famous work is The Fourth Political Theory (a book banned by major book retailers), in which he proposes a new polity, one that transcends liberal democracy, Marxism and fascism. He has also introduced and developed the idea of Eurasianism, rooted in traditionalism. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitica.


Featured: “Builders of Ships – The Rope,” George Bellows; painted August 1916.

Dostoyevsky: The Taste for Literature and the Taste for Life

I remember the writers who gave me a taste for reading: Richard Matheson, Bram Stoker, Eiji Yoshikawa. Adventure and fantasy stories were my first literary loves; and both genres do have an unparalleled strength to capture imagination. The pleasure was always immediate: a mysterious or epic world opened up to us. Evil and heroic characters appeared there. A breathtaking plot, respecting certain codes specific to entertainment, was set up. Knowing how to appreciate such a narrative structure, enjoying the simple fact of opening a book, but also closing it, knowing that the story will continue the next day, this is what we could call “having a taste for reading.”

The “taste for reading,” I distinguish from the “taste for literature,” without discarding the hypothesis that the second is the maturation of the first. This “taste for literature” was given to me by Fedor Dostoyevsky; and I would like to show here that these are two different aesthetic events; that one can be awake to the first without being so to the second; that one can love to read without loving literature.

I discovered Dostoyevsky as a teenager. It was a purely chance encounter, almost a misunderstanding. But it had the charm of an encounter made without a go-between. As was the family tradition, I was on vacation in the Vendée, on the island of Noirmoutier. In the bookstore, where a few years earlier I had unearthed the novel, Stone and the Sword [first book of Musashi], I found myself intrigued this time by a name, “Dostoyevsky,” and by a title above all, The Possessed (it was only much later that I learned that this translation was incorrect and that it should be The Demons). Not knowing anything about the writer—the name vaguely reminded me of something—I thought I was in the presence of a fantastic work, a true story of possession. I bought the book hoping that this Dostoyevsky was a kind of Russian Stoker or Shelley.

What a surprise it was for me when I waded into those boring first pages (hardly the best beginning among Dostoyevsky’s novels), which had those exchanges, whose issues I did not understand, between Stefan Trofimovich (old idealist, father of Piotr Verkhovensky) and Varvara Petrovna (Stavrogin’s mother). I stuck it, however, for hours on end, waiting for the moment when the story of possession would occur. But nothing of that nature happened. In fact, something much more important appeared in the person of Stavrogin, a charismatic and shady character who dominates the novel with his fascinating presence.

It is a known fact that Dostoyevsky worked on his characters like no other writer; that he did so not by giving them a detailed physical description nor by placing them in a particularly coherent social and historical framework, but by giving them a deep psychology, in the sense of Nietzsche; and by playing on certain behavioral traits (gestures, manner of expression or, on the contrary, the unspoken). Some observers have made of this particular talent a pinnacle of “realism.” This is the case, for example, of the Welsh writer John Cowper Powys, who writes in his Dostoievsky (1946): ” I would add as a codicil that not only must what happens to the characters be of absorbing interest but the backgrounds, while entirely realistic, must have about them that something else without which, by some strange law of the mind, things do not remind us of that deeper reality of our own experience which must always remain on the brink of mystery.” In his eyes, the superiority of Dostoyevsky’s art over other realist novelists lies in the fact that it takes into account a dimension of reality often hidden, irreducible to the materiality of events. Dostoyevsky was able to show something that the others do not show, trapped by certain traditional codes of realism—codes that Dostoyevsky hijacked to transcend the genre and forge a realism “in four dimensions”: “Here we are at the heart of the problem: it is located between the ‘realism’ of Zola, say, or De Maupassant or Tolstoy or Hardy, and the more real realism of Fedor Dostoyevsky.” But is that what Dostoyevsky is all about? Is the issue only that of literary genre? Should we be satisfied with the fact that Dostoyevsky shows us “the mystery,” the hidden reality in a kind of overcoming of realism? In my opinion, it is something more powerful than that, which has to do with the very definition of literature.

Powys is right to make this point, but we think he does not go far enough. It is not enough to say that types like Stavrogin (based in part on the nihilist theorist Neshayev) or like Myshkin (after all, Christ is a historical figure) can be met in reality, can find a real equivalent in terms of intensity. It is necessary to go further and affirm—and here is perhaps the key to the mystery of literature—not only are exceptional historical characters not “novel characters,” but novel characters are exceptional “historical” characters. This is perhaps where Dostoyevsky’s genius lies in particular (but also that of a Balzac, despite Powys’ displeasure); and this is why his encounter with him is so disturbing.

By showing the mysterious dimension of the world, by exposing the souls of his characters, Dostoyevsky reaches a level of reality that is higher than the one we encounter in everyday life. This is why the meeting with Stavrogin is a shock (a shock that is renewed with Raskolnikov, Myshkin or the Karamazov siblings later). Dostoyevsky shows, through fiction, the essence of reality; that is to say, life. He does not only show us appearances, pretenses, social conventions, hypocrisy, which is the tragic and grey daily life of our reality. He shows the interiority of the soul. He shows the naked man. He exposes him in his greatest vulnerability. Dostoyevsky allows us to know his characters, not as we know others—since their interiority remains fatally inaccessible to us—but as we know ourselves.

In a strong sense, Dostoyevsky shows subjectivity. He manages to show what is usually invisible. André Suarès had already noticed this in his Dostoïevski (1911): “No power is closer to life. The great dreamers are the great living. Where they seem to be farthest from life, they still touch it more closely than others.” Or again, “Everything is interior. It is not even the thought that creates the world, by figuring it. It is the emotion which creates all life, by making it sensitive to the heart. The world is not even the image of a mind. The universe is the creation of intuition.”

This is what one realizes when confronted with the presence of Stavrogin: this unique character is indeed a “real man,” a living man. He is a real man because of the radical nature of his baseness, because of the unhealthy fascination he exerts on others, because of the absurdity of his behavior. For sure, a real hero of a novel would never have acted like this, with this ambiguity, this perpetual balancing between the greatness of the commitment and the emptiness of the conviction. Stavrogin expressed something extremely powerful and completely new for me—literature is the most adequate expression of reality, of life itself.

The encounter with Dostoyevsky, which I had first thought of as entertainment, as the possibility of reading a pleasant book on the beach, turned out to be something else entirely. From then on, I understood something new—books are not only there to amuse us, to give us aesthetic pleasure, nor even, as we trivially say, to make us think. Books, in so far as they are authentically literary works, are manifestations of reality. They are both the expression of a subjective life, that of the writer, and the concrete realization of a new “objectivity.” Stavrogin exists, like Raskolnikov or Prince Myshkin. But they exist in a certain way outside the world, outside the lies of the world. Or rather, trapped in the world’s theater, they drop a veil and participate in its indictment.

For Dostoyevsky, the world (both in the “worldly” sense and in the sense of the strict objectivity of what is visible) is the place of lies. This is what gives Dostoyevsky’s astonishing power—he teaches us, often for the first time, that the world as it is, is a scandal. This constitutes a sort of exit from innocence. The staging of abjection and injustice functions as a revelation. In Crime and Punishment, the hero Raskolnikov is the murderer of an old pawnbroker, while Sonia, a redemptive figure, has sacrificed everything for her family, even going so far as to prostitute herself in order not to starve. In The Demons, the hero Stavrogin rapes a little girl. Shatov, on the other hand, is killed while his child is being born. In The Idiot, Myshkin, a Christ-like figure and main character, is mocked for his benevolence. Nastasia Filipovna, the woman he loves, eventually marries his rival Rogozhin, who eventually kills her. Hyppolite, a young phthisic who wants to go on a rampage, is unable to commit suicide.

It is a commonplace to say that certain books or writers accompany us throughout our lives. But it would be a mistake to say that Dostoyevsky is a simple companion. He does not only accompany us in the world, he shows us the reality of the world. He brings with him the world as it really is by exposing the souls of men. He tears the veil of appearances to show a man, often mediocre, unhappy, sick, sometimes ignoble, sometimes fortunately close to sanctity. Dostoyevsky’s work constitutes, as we said, an indictment of the world and its hypocrisy. Hypocrisy in the social conduct, in the respect of certain hierarchies and, more generally, in the value that one can grant to men. Dostoyevsky asks this radical question: what is a man worth? Not in the lowly material sense of professional success, but in the sense of the purity of his heart, of his closeness or distance from the Christian model. And Suarez knew how Dostoyevsky answered: “He considered that the first in rank are often the last in life; and the last in the world, the first in the hidden soul of the world. There he learned to put himself above all appearances. There he made himself to live in depth—for all the work of Dostoevsky is a life in depth and, no doubt, in the secret truth, which is the only truth.”

With Dostoyevsky, the world of childhood, the reassuring cocoon—the one where the book is a fiction that we look at from the outside and that cannot reach us—suddenly collapses. It disintegrates before our eyes and reveals its nightmarish nature. This is perhaps the fundamental difference between “reading” and “literature.” The book, which constitutes a simple “reading,” can be closed, put on our night table, put at a distance of our conscience. Its history does not follow us afterwards, except perhaps in our dreams. The book, which belongs to “literature,” never closes. We start to read Dostoyevsky, but we never finish. His work becomes for the reader a perpetually turning page. The world that Dostoyevsky brings with him is not only a fiction, a repulsion imagined to make the readers shudder, it is the face of the world itself.

This is why Dostoyevsky was very critical of Turgenev, whom he considered a writer of good conscience. Dostoyevsky is the writer of the bad conscience! The writer of sin! That is why he speaks to us so much. Because we all know in the end that nothing is right. Or rather, every sane man knows that he has something to blame himself for. In 1928, Freud showed in his preface to the German translation of The Brothers Karamazov, “Dostoyevsky and Parricide,” that Dostoyevsky was fundamentally a figure of the sinner, that he was haunted by the idea of sin at the same time as by that of freedom. For the one does not go without the other; there is no sin without freedom; and, conversely, there is no freedom without sin. It is this very human tension that Dostoyevsky meditated on throughout his work, that he experienced in his flesh; and we with him.

Dostoyevsky obsesses the reader because he confronts him with his faults, with his most unavowable desires and with the vertigo of freedom. The latter offers man the possibility to do everything, to act beyond good and evil, to accomplish the greatest things, but also the lowest. But there is something that limits our use of freedom, and that is the consciousness of sin. To what extent can a free man assume to be a sinner? This is the question that Dostoyevsky’s characters ask themselves; it is the question that he asks himself; and it is the question that we ask ourselves.

Dostoyevsky shows the disturbing abyss implied by the very possibility of an unlimited use of freedom. But at the same time, he says: can you assume the odious character of such a freedom, of a freedom without God or in place of God? Can you assume the freedom of a Raskolnikov, a Kirilov, a Stavrogin? The first takes the path of redemption; the second commits suicide to show that he is God himself; the third, who believed he could make his conscience evolve in an amoral space, ends up hanging himself, caught up in his terrible sin: the rape of a girl.

The supreme act of nihilism—the outrage inflicted on the child (the most innocent of innocents), reveals the very failure of nihilism. Nihilism is impossible for man. It claims that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” But God does exist insofar as He is the condition of possibility of freedom itself. Pierre Boutang does not say otherwise when he writes in an article entitled “Stavrogin”: “When Stavrogin wants to explain, in his confession, the effect of Matryosha’s suicide on his existence, he cannot hold his own judgment within ethics. Despite his desire for the Cross, without faith in the Cross, he fails to be a Christian, to conceive of the evil and shame of his crime. No, in this fragmentation of inner time, he oscillates between an almost social, extremely low and diabolical idea of the act as ridiculous, and a metaphysical view, beyond ethics, but which can only lead to madness and death.”

For Dostoyevsky any attempt to evolve beyond good and evil is doomed to failure. And this is also the case of literature. This is why, as André Markowicz points out, his conception of literature is not aesthetic but ethical (or rather, contrary to the proponents of art for art’s sake, it identifies ethics and aesthetics). Dostoyevsky’s work cannot therefore be consumed as entertainment. Its goal is not to please us. It is fundamentally an indictment of the world and a revelation of the profound reality of existence. In his quest for truth, which is synonymous with the quest for God, Dostoyevsky tells us what man is. And with him we understand—it is through literature that we gain access to the radical interiority of life, that is to say, to the person of Christ who is the only beauty.


Matthieu Giroux is a Dostoyevskian sovereignist and the editorial director of PHLITT. This article appears through the generous courtesy of PHLITT.


Featured image: “Dostoevsky in St. Petersburg,” by Ilya Glazunov.

The Italian Street

Several years past I was granted a summer sabbatical in beautiful, sunny Provence. My base was a traditionalist Benedictine monastery where I was privileged to engage in a deep study of the ancient Roman liturgy.
My stay was accentuated by a somewhat fitting element of penance as well, for I happened to be there during a Mediterranean heat wave dubbed “Lucifer.” The unrelenting sun and soaring temperatures resulted in actual forest fires breaking out in the countryside very near to where I would take my daily strolls. My assigned monastic cell had no American-style air conditioning and it was necessary to close the heavy wooden shutters all day in a desperate attempt to stop the withering radiation from heating up the room to cooking temperature. It helped somewhat, I suppose, but the long-term effect was that I ended up baked like a clerical baguette in a monastic oven.

The Benedictines deserve great respect for their penitential lives dedicated to night and day Divine Worship under such hard-living conditions. That said, in short time I was on the road, zipping past Nice and heading Eastward. I broke for a brief visit to the magnificent Principality of Monaco. Pushing on, I was soon safely immersed in the cool sea breezes, culture, cuisine and Catholicism of Italy.

The “Italian Street,” if one might so call it, is a complex, somewhat tricky reality. This is uniquely the case for an American priest resolved to go about the entire time donning a cassock in public.

Many Italians, like the French, have been diminished by secularism. Yet there does seem to endure a particular warmth (or should I say, heat) for the Church. In bella Italia there is still a great deal of openness and friendly love for priests that brings out smiles. Still others appear indifferent but convey a not so subtle message: “Padre, you might think I’m ignoring you, but I am watching you out of the corner of my eye, so you’d better be on your toes! And if you pass the test I’ll buy you a limoncello, d’accordo?

Different than in reserved and sophisticated France, there is a Catholic exuberance in Italy that amicably endures. The towns are absolutely full of churches, sometimes one next to the other. There are charming little shrines to Our Lady on corners, on walls, on pillars, everywhere. And all have fresh flowers before them or perhaps a burning candle in testimony to some anonymous person’s Faith. There are always people at Mass, despite the statistics, and on my particular Sunday in the North that week the seaside church was happily packed.

It is tempting to conclude that an atheist in Italy is really just smarting in the face of the hardships of life. That is a danger for all of us of course. A deceased and famous Italian journalist claimed in life to be a “Catholic atheist.” Towards the end of her earthly tenure she was granted an hours long interview with Pope Benedict XVI. Emerging, she proclaimed him to be the greatest man in Europe. She died, if my sources are correct, with the Last Rites and bequeathed her library to the Gregorian University in Rome. As the saying goes, an Italian atheist maintains that there is no God, and the Madonna is His Mother!

Besides food, art, music, architecture and religion, the wonderful Italians have also perfected cynicism. It is almost an attitudinal art form, especially when at times it is directed at Holy Mother Church and the clergy. If one can stay ahead of this it keeps the conversation exciting. If not, it cuts to the heart.

Therefore, I knew it was taking a risk wandering about as I did. One such street cynic levelled a gratuitous barb at me as I ambled about admiring the elegant palazzi of Florence. He actually stopped square in front of me to score his point with maximal acidic effect. I was taken aback and wanted to be sure I understood, asking, “Signore, tu m’insulti?” (Sir, are you insulting me?). To which he hissed, “Per forza” (Of course!). There was no yelling, just an opportune jab at a priest. It really was that straightforward and uncomplicated.

But I quickly got on top of it, made a mental note of his gratuitous rudeness to a complete stranger, and we parted ways, almost in a business-like manner. I would go further and say that his brazenness was of the kind that quarrelsome family members exhibit. There is, after all, a great deal of operatic yelling in Italy. If a German were to do such a thing one might – well, let’s leave that to the reader’s imagination to decide. At any rate, I intuitively grasped that peculiar reality and saw no reason to engage. Plus, it was time to get an espresso since it was after lunch. There was no time to waste!

Yet another man crazily yelled out above the din as I walked along, “Morte alla Chiesa Cattolica! Viva Giordano Bruno!” I perceived this to be a rather perplexing exclamation, since Bruno is long dead (he was a heretic by the way, so think the details through a bit) and the Catholic Church lives on and on.

Shortly thereafter on the same busy street a man with slick hair pulled back in a pony tail and looking like Di Niro’s character in The Mission materialized in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a teaming crowd, grabbed my arm and yanked me to the side away from the thrall mob of tourists. I was a dead man this time for sure! But there was no stiletto between the ribs awaiting me. Rather, he just wanted to confess, right there in the street! You see, the mean old cynics are mixed right in with those who have genuine devotion. He quickly cancelled out his compadre’s brutishness.

In Genoa a man beckoned from a doorway set in a grungy back alley down which I had taken a wrong turn. He told me straight off how much he loved God, the Church and his parish priest. He was hurting terribly since his father had recently died an untimely death. He showed me the photo of his handsome family patriarch which he carried close to his heart. Italians know how to grieve a death. I blessed him and we went our ways.

As I entered the Cathedral of Genoa, the hometown of Christopher Columbus, an elderly, well-dressed man with the typical Italian balding pattern and sporting an elegant ascot stopped me on the steps. I presumed he had been in the church to pray and perhaps light a candle. But he was tainted by that biting cynicism which kept lunging intermittently at me during that week. He did not greet me so much as go off on a tirade about the “spazzatura” ruining his fair city. It’s an ugly word, and as he said it he pointed to the poor and downtrodden sitting on the church steps eating focaccia, which especially enraged him for some odd reason. They needed a “crack on the head!” he said. Scoffing, he added that the clergy would do nothing about it at all (Voi non fate nulla!)

There you have it: It was my fault and if I were serious about the spectacle on the church steps, not to mention the Gospel, I should go clunk their coconuts immediately! He was so extreme and dramatic that he was almost charming in a sit-com sort of way. I managed to say something reassuring, slipped inside the cathedral and found a glorious side altar where a kindly sacristan set me up for Mass.

In a parking garage as I left the city of Venice I spotted a young man feverishly digging in a garbage can. There were other people about so we could easily have missed each other. Yet we both looked up at the same time and our eyes locked. He was Italian. And he could not ignore a priest walking by, especially since I stopped and said, holding my thumbs to my first two fingers and shaking them up and down, “Amico, ma che fai!?” (My friend, whatever are you doing!?). He was desperate, caught in a complex web of problems partly of his own making, reduced to eating garbage because he could not ignore the elemental urge of his body simply to eat. He was a Catholic. He has a worthy name, it is Antonio. He believes in Jesus but his life is a disaster. Yet there was a brief moment of hope. He bowed his head as I gave him a blessing. We parted ways with his fear filled eyes burned into my heart. We think we ourselves could never end up in a such a state. I wonder though…

Every single day I was repeatedly approached by people begging. Now how is it that some who are evidently cultured are so adept at hurting a priest, even insulting him to his face, whilst the downtrodden practically come to us on hands and knees? I suppose the old bunioned cynic would scoff that the beggar just wants money (perhaps because that is what they themselves love) and sees an easy target in the clergy. Yet that in itself is a testimony to the clergy. The beggars see hope in the priest, even should it be through the confused lenses of their untidy lives.

I took the time to talk to each person who held out a hand. Some were quite dirty, some were horribly deformed, many were immigrants. But did you know that they all have names? They came from somewhere and have fears and hopes just like us, mingled with a torrent of complex problems that have landed them in their humiliating state. They are largely ignored and many told me that they are stung by the indifference of the throngs of people marching by with selfie sticks, Gucci handbags and touristic determination etched grimly on their faces to get to the next cultural marvel. Meanwhile Christ is languishing in the streets. How much more sublime it is to be a pilgrim rather than just a tourist.

In the train station of Florence a gypsy girl with dark brown eyes and braided hair came up to me and we began to talk. The gypsies are often despised in Europe. They are nomads and are quite discomfiting to the comfortable classes. But a gypsy has also been raised to the altars, Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla.

A cynic bellowed, “That’s right, just one!

Thank you, sir, for that contribution. Permit me to continue: the holy gypsy defended a Catholic priest who was being maltreated, which was not quite the fashionable thing to do in 1930’s Catalonia. He was subsequently awarded the palm of martyrdom by his leftist interlocutors.

Now the particular gypsy beggar girl with whom I was chatting had two babies, a husband and a name. And then, with genuine humanity, she even asked me how I was doing. The cynics don’t do that, except to find out if you spent too much on your shoes or something so they can judge the priest for being a phony. She was a Romanian Orthodox. I offered her a priestly blessing which she readily accepted, and with bowed head.

In the same train station an elderly bearded man in a beige tunic then approached me, begging. A few steps away stood watching protectively a burly Italian police officer who looked like Luca Brasi. I nodded to him as if to say “I’m OK, officer, grazie tanto.” The beggar was named Mahomet. He told me he was a Muslim from North Africa. He had great worry in his eyes and written in the lines of his face. He had a family, was weakening with age, had been a laborer but was now unemployed. He felt himself despised in Italy and he was hungry. We talked, and for quite some time. Before we departed ways, I offered him a blessing. He looked at me with uncertainty. I then stated forthrightly, “I am a Catholic priest. I am willing to call down God’s blessing upon you. But you must understand who I am and what I am offering you. And you must say yes freely.” His hesitation changed to resolution, he bowed his head, and said, “Yes, please bless me.” Then, laying my hands upon his head, and invoking the Name of the Holy Trinity and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, I imposed a Christian blessing upon this Muslim man in the midst of the packed train station of Florence. There was a pause, and as we parted ways he thanked me.

It happened. The encounter left me marveling at the movement of unexpected grace. Mahomet of North Africa does not know Francis M. de Rosa (with his many and admitted faults). To him I was just an anonymous priest, a man not even of his own kind. But there was a recognition that the priest represented a bit of hope right then and there. This is the power of the Gospel and this is the only true answer to the Muslim situation in Europe. We must show these strange newcomers the greatness of our Holy Religion and we must do so with supreme love and confidence. They too must find Jesus Christ. They too are called to the family of the Holy Catholic Church. On a large scale it is a very complicated matter, of course, and I do not want to be naïve or simplistic. Yet before me for those few moments there stood just a frightened fellow human being, whom age and fatigue and cruel circumstance had ground down to the point where he was forced to beg for bread to eat, in public, before all the hostile passers-by in the grungy train station of Florence.

In truth he needed more than the few coins I spared. He needed someone to look him in the eyes and ask his name. And in God’s Providence I myself needed to do so to encounter our common humanity that groans beneath the weighty woes of life in this Valley of Tears.


Father Francis M. de Rosa is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A graduate of Niagara University, the Ateneo della Santa Croce in Rome and Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. He also holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. He has published articles on bioethics in the Linacre Quarterly and the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. He was ordained in 1997 and is the pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Colonial Beach, Virginia and St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George, Virginia.


Featured image: “Italian Street,” by Dmitri Danish; painted in 2021.

The Genealogy Of Jesus

We are very excited to introduce an important undertaking in the area of Patristics and Church history. This initiative is the undertaking of Dr. Phillip Cuccia, who is a retired army officer and who served in armored and cavalry units before changing his job specialty to teaching Military History at West Point. He changed his job specialty once again to work in the Army attaché corps, serving in Italy at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He has a Master’s degree in security studies from Sapienza University in Rome and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Napoleonic Studies from Florida State University. He currently teaches history for Liberty University. He established the Eusebius Society in 2019.


Welcome to the Eusebius Society, whose mission is to promote the study of Patristics through learning and sharing about the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and other early Church Fathers, in order to gain a better understanding of the world of the early Christians and the Sacred Scriptures. My interest in writing about Eusebius and early Church history developed out of the intersection of my general interest in writing history and my interest in the mutual effect that culture has on religion and religion has on culture. I hope that these writings may spark some interest in the topic of the early Church Fathers, encouraging the reader to pursue further independent reading and study of the early Christian Church.

Eusebius is considered the first church historian. He was born about A.D. 260 and was probably a native of Caesarea, the limestone city built by Herod the Great on the coast of Palestine. Early in life, he became the disciple and close acquaintance of Pamphilus, a teacher who greatly influenced him. Pamphilus established at Caesarea a large and well-stocked library of theological books, which contributed greatly to Eusebius’ education. Eusebius had already published many books when he paused his own publications to help his tutor with composing the work, Defense of Origen.

In A.D. 309 Pamphilus and Eusebius were imprisoned as confessors of Christ. However, they continued to labor with their writings until Pamphilus was put to death for the Faith—a martyrdom which greatly affected Eusebius. When released from prison, Eusebius went to Tyre, where he honored his mentor’s memory by assuming the name Eusebius Pamphili “Eusebius, son of Pamphilus,” and contributed the sixth and final book to the Defense of Origen. Completing his tribute to his mentor, he wrote a Life of Pamphilus, which, like his part of the Defense of Origen, is lost.

In A. D. 311 Eusebius left Caesarea for Egypt where he was once again imprisoned, but only briefly, and the next year he returned to Palestine. It is unknown when he was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood but it is known that in A. D. 314 he was consecrated Bishop of Caesarea, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Although twice imprisoned, he toiled his whole life edifying his fellow Christians. His publication output was phenomenal: he is credited with no less than 46 works, some of them in 10, 15, 20 and even 25 volumes. He was not content to write books and forget about them, as he revised and enlarged them, putting forth newer and better editions.

As an introduction to the Eusebius Society, I thought it would be interesting to look at the genealogy of Jesus. St. Matthew’s Gospel gives an account of the genealogy of Jesus – the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and hence the first story in the New Testament. But St. Luke’s Gospel gives a totally different genealogy of Jesus. Why does Matthew give Joseph’s father as Jacob and trace a different genealogy from Luke’s gospel, which states that Joseph was the son of Eli?

Can they both be right?

Today people who dismiss the Scriptures because of this apparent discrepancy, are no different than people in ancient times who used it to dismiss Christian beliefs. Several early Christian authors responded to these criticisms. The Manichaeans used this discrepancy to promote their heresy. The Church Fathers Irenaeus, Augustine, Africanus, and Eusebius responded to the heretical writings concerning questions about these two divergent genealogies.

This quick video concerning these discrepancies aptly uses Eusebius’ writings as one of the possible explanations:

Eusebius explains in Book 1, Chapter VII of his Church History:

  1. “Matthew and Luke in their gospels have given us the genealogy of Christ differently, and many suppose that they are at variance with one another. Since as a consequence every believer, in ignorance of the truth, has been zealous to invent some explanation which shall harmonize the two passages, permit us to subjoin the account of the matter which has come down to us, and which is given by Africanus, who was mentioned by us just above, in the epistle to Aristides, where he discusses the harmony of the gospel genealogies. After refuting the opinions of others as forced and deceptive, he gave the account which he had received from tradition in these words:
  2. For whereas the names of the generations were reckoned in Israel either according to nature or according to law – according to nature by the succession of legitimate offspring, and according to law whenever another raised up a child to the name of a brother dying childless; for because a clear hope of resurrection was not yet given they had a representation of the future promise by a kind of mortal resurrection, in order that the name of the one deceased might be perpetuated—
  3. Whereas then some of those who are inserted in this genealogical table succeeded by natural descent, the son to the father, while others, though born of one father, were ascribed by name to another, mention was made of both of those who were progenitors in fact and of those who were so only in name.
  4. Thus neither of the gospels is in error, for one reckons by nature, the other by law. For the line of descent from Solomon and that from Nathan were so involved, the one with the other, by the raising up of children to the childless and by second marriages, that the same persons are justly considered to belong at one time to one, at another time to another; that is, at one time to the reputed fathers, at another to the actual fathers. So that both these accounts are strictly true and come down to Joseph with considerable intricacy indeed, yet quite accurately.
  5. But in order that what I have said may be made clear I shall explain the interchange of the generations. If we reckon the generations from David through Solomon, the third from the end is found to be Matthan, who begot Jacob the father of Joseph. But if, with Luke, we reckon them from Nathan the son of David, in like manner the third from the end is Melchi, whose son Eli was the father of Joseph. For Joseph was the son of Eli, the son of Melchi. [Eusebius quotes Africanus verbatim. In Africanus’ original Epistle to Aristides, it does in fact state “For Joseph was the son of Heli, the son of Melchi.” But Luke 3: 23-24 states “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of …” Africanus, and hence Eusebius, leaves out two generations skipping over Matthat and Levi.]
  6. Joseph therefore being the object proposed to us, it must be shown how it is that each is recorded to be his father, both Jacob, who derived his descent from Solomon, and Eli, who derived his from Nathan; first how it is that these two, Jacob and Eli, were brothers, and then how it is that their fathers, Matthan and Melchi, although of different families, are declared to be grandfathers of Joseph.
  7. Matthan and Melchi having married in succession the same woman, begot children who were uterine brothers, for the law did not prohibit a widow, whether such by divorce or by the death of her husband, from marrying another.
  8. By Estha then (for this was the woman’s name according to tradition) Matthan, a descendant of Solomon, first begot Jacob. And when Matthan was dead, Melchi, who traced his descent back to Nathan, being of the same tribe but of another family, married her as before said, and begot a son Eli.
  9. Thus we shall find the two, Jacob and Eli, although belonging to different families, yet brethren by the same mother. Of these the one, Jacob, when his brother Eli had died childless, took the latter’s wife and begot by her a son Joseph, his own son by nature and in accordance with reason. Wherefore also it is written: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ (Matthew 1:6) But according to law he was the son of Eli, for Jacob, being the brother of the latter, raised up seed to him.
  10. Hence the genealogy traced through him will not be rendered void, which the evangelist Matthew in his enumeration gives thus: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ But Luke, on the other hand, says: ‘Who was the son, as was supposed’ (for this he also adds), ‘of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Melchi’; for he could not more clearly express the generation according to law. And the expression ‘he begot’ he has omitted in his genealogical table up to the end, tracing the genealogy back to Adam the son of God. This interpretation is neither incapable of proof nor is it an idle conjecture.” [Eusebius, Book I. Church History]

Thus, Eusebius gives an explanation to this apparent discrepancy in the genealogy of Jesus. There are many apparent biblical discrepancies that people bring up today. By looking at some of the earliest Christian writings, one can discover logical explanations to various apparent inconsistencies.


Featured image: “The Root of Jesse,” attributed to Jan Mostaert, ca. 1500.

Vaccination As An Act Of Love?

We are very pleased to provide this excerpt from Fulvio di Blasi’s forthcoming book, Vaccination as an Act of Love? which appears through the kind courtesy of Phronesis Editore.

The advent of the so-called “anti-Covid vaccines” was marked by the largest institutional fraud in history, to the detriment of informed consent: a fraud made easier and more disturbing by the power that finance and politics wield today in the world of global communication.

This fraud triggered a time of unprecedented violence, hatred, and persecution against all those who expressed doubts, sought the truth, and never tired of defending their freedom. The schizophrenic and almost demonic paradox of this campaign of hatred and violence is that it was carried out under the banner of terms, such as “love” or “civic duty,” now devoid of any meaning other than the demagogic use (typical of totalitarian systems) of the terminology of good to carry out evil policies. Transforming good into evil and evil into good is the most the Devil could wish for; it is his greater enjoyment. For those who believe, it is easy to see the Devil’s hand in these times.

Vaccination as an Act of Love? retraces the foundations of the analysis of the moral act to rediscover what it means to do good or evil, both in the Christian tradition and in that of Western thought. The ethical choice presupposes adequate knowledge of all the relevant factors of the action.

Fulvio Di Blasi is a practicing lawyer who holds a Ph.D. in the philosophy of law. He is an expert especially in Aristotelian Thomist thought and natural law theory. He has taught at several universities, including the University of Notre Dame (USA), The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome), and the LUMSA (Libera Università Maria Ss. Assunta, Italy). He has more than 200 publications, including articles, editorials, books chapters, edited books, and translations.


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From The Pandemic To This Book

Since the pandemic began, I have resigned myself like everyone else to everything we all had to resign ourselves to. The first lockdown, the second lockdown, curfews, masks, hand sanitizers, work and family difficulties, the rules for going to Mass and to the supermarket, the abolition of travel and holidays, the new waves, the hopes for vaccines that, perhaps, would save us; and, again, the economic crisis, the monopolization of existential and mass media news, focused every day on the bulletin of deaths and infections, on new outbreaks, on new yellow or red areas, on the latest rules to follow, on the reactions of individual states, but also on some new TV show personalities, especially virologists and epidemiologists or those presumed to be such.

I’ve become familiar with things that I almost didn’t know existed before, at least from an existential point of view, but which have forcefully entered my daily sources of interest and information. Things like drug agencies, the World Health Organization, their protocols and conflicts of interest, emergency approval procedures, journals, and university departments of medicine. I reluctantly agreed to read and discuss all these things every day in social networks. I have also lived through new experiences of which I have a positive or still uncertain balance.

My young children have had contact with their parents that few children have ever had in our busy world. My baby girl was born just before the first lockdown. Thank God, we had just managed to repair the house from serious mold problems and to return there between the end of January and February 2020. I and my wife, who is also a lawyer and scholar passionate about culture and everything else, had never imagined spending such long periods of monastic isolation, work, and intimacy.

We too, at home, have had our waves and regulatory changes. There was that of pizza and homemade desserts. There was that of sports played with children on the terrace (also to work off sweets and pizza). There was that of the camping on the terrace, where we set up a large family tent on an artificial lawn for Christmas 2020, surrounded by solar-powered Christmas lights (the holiday budget was spent in 2020, and with better results, in this way). There was that of the giant terrace nativity scene, with water pump and waterfalls and real ornamental plants, built at home with the children by carving and painting polystyrene and wooden boards for the stable. There have been attempts at homeschooling, also with the help of heroic grandparents who have come over as much as possible, despite the curfews and occasional swab tests, also to allow us to isolate ourselves from time to time in a room to get some work done. There have been such beautiful and genuine family experiences that, at times, with my wife, we even were thankful for the pandemic, roughly with that spirit with which, in the Easter Mass, since St. Augustine, we refer to original sin in terms of felix culpa.

Smart working and the development of new online work options are certainly among the positive aspects of the epidemic. Today we have learned more about how many things can be done remotely with the technologies we have available. Smart or remote working allows many people, in many ways, to better reconcile their professional life with their personal and family life. Let’s hope there is no turning back in this area, after the emergency is over.

I think back on all this, not without ardor, to say that, even in the worst moments of the pandemic, I had never thought of making a professional effort to talk about it. Even when, taking seriously some of my wife’s perplexities, I had a second thought about vaccines and government policies, and when I began to study relevant sources of information with greater professional attention and to listen to online lectures and specialized conferences on the subject, I didn’t think even for a moment of writing a book about it. Even when the witch hunt against the so-called anti-vaxxers began, when the mass media and politics started to treat me, my wife, and many of our friends and colleagues who had doubts about vaccines and about the decisions to be made about them as if we were fools and idiots to mock and publicly insult…. Even in this predicament I didn’t think about writing a book on the subject. In fact, my initial reaction was the opposite. I decided to stop reading many newspapers or watching television and instead to concentrate on other books I was writing. Unfortunately, hateful excerpts of pseudo-journalistic talk shows conducted in the name of ignorance, arrogance and insult still tormented me through the clips that inevitably populated social media. Still, not even this additional pressure incited me to the point of turning everything I had studied and found out about the pandemic into a book. Posting some occasional ironic, outraged, or staggered comments on social media was enough to distract me so I could let it out and go back to my regular work.

There was one thing that broke the camel’s back, though, and it was not about my professional life but about my life of faith. Political institutions had breached their fundamental duty to respect the truth and freedom of their citizens. They violated the right of every free person to receive correct and honest information. They had tried demagogically to bend and control people’s will, intelligence, and conduct. Physicians, after the first wave of heroism, so charged with magnanimity and exemplarity, had finally allowed themselves to be harnessed and standardized downwards by a political power that wanted them to be bureaucrats who stayed far away from patients, at least until hospitalizations. They had allowed themselves to be replaced by sloppy and generic directives from impersonal government agencies, reduced to paper pushing, thus mortifying the exercise of a profession that always begins and ends with care and attention for the patient. Scientists had also failed by letting a generic, magical, and mystical reference to a higher and nonexistent entity called “Science” take the place—in the common feeling and in the demagogy of ignorant and unscrupulous politicians and journalists—of serious and real discussion among scholars and of critical thinking. Journalism had died, replaced by the will to power of those who have the media in their hands and decide to use the media only and exclusively to convince everyone of their prejudices and to make the masses conform to the decisions of the political class. But shouldn’t journalism be the bulwark of investigation and real democracy precisely in times when politics risks having too much free rein and too much power?

Yet, despite everything, despite all these failures, it was still enough for me to turn off the TV, close the online pages of the new regime’s newspapers, and concentrate on my family, my research, and my books.

One thing, as I said, finally stopped me from simply closing the door and staying at home doing my own thing: the failure of the church. I am referring, of course, not to the true Church, that is, to the Mystical Body of Christ, which lives in the mystery of His People, and which walks in history assisted by the Spirit of Truth. The true Church is the humanity of Christ, God incarnate who becomes a sacrament, who becomes the mystery of God’s presence among us. When God becomes man, matter becomes direct contact with the supernatural: “Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14: 9-10).

The Incarnation does not end with the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. The Incarnation remains until the end of time. It’s just that, after the Ascension, the sacramental mystery doubles. While two thousand years ago, we saw Jesus and, by touching His humanity, we really and mysteriously touched God, now we don’t see Him, but we really and mysteriously touch God by touching His sacramental humanity, which is truly present in His People. Whoever does not understand that the Church is the Body of Christ incarnate which continues to walk and act mysteriously in history with the legs and arms of His faithful has not understood anything significant about the Church. This Church, for a believer, can never fail. Men, however, are fallible and sinful. Even the righteous sins seven times a day, which is an important warning against any presumption and idolatry of personalities. Here on earth, no one is holy, and we all must always be very careful. Only the People of God as a whole are Holy, because they are the Body of Christ.

The church as a human institution is made up of men who are all fallible, starting with the Pope (except of course for those very rare times in history in which he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals). The Church as a militant People (that is, without considering those in Purgatory and Paradise) is made up of three types of faithful, all called to be saints in the same way and all cells of the Mystical Body of Christ: there are clerics (deacons, priests, and bishops), there are the religious (who make vows and who could also be clerics at the same time), and there are the lay faithful. Nobody is in the big-league team, and nobody is in little, or very little, leagues. The dignity of every believer is rooted in the call to communion with God and in letting Christ work in him to impact the history of the world. Clerics have an institutional responsibility, but if some or many clerics make a mistake, Christ will work more through other faithful, because the true, sacramental Church is never in the hands of any single person or group of mere men.

When I talk about the failure of the church in these times of pandemic, I am therefore referring to the failure of many clerics (not all, thank God), who should be talking about the saving message of the Gospel and the truths revealed by God and who instead talk about vaccines and of the green pass as if these things belonged to the depositum fidei. I speak of the failure of a church that generates ethical doubts about things that belong to the conscience and prudential reasoning of every faithful individual. I am speaking of a church that aligns and allies itself with political or economic power, mistaking its supernatural ministry for assistance to the dubious or questionable policies of the rulers of the moment. I speak of a church that remains silent in the face of demagogy and disinformation. I speak of a church indifferent to the persecution of so many righteous. I am speaking of a church that discriminates and generates conflicts among its own faithful for the benefit of the transitional policies of utilitarian rulers. I’m talking about a church that has turned its priorities and value hierarchies upside-down. Where are the atheists and anti-Catholics, who always scream at alleged medieval obscurantism, in these days when spiritual power and temporal power seem to inexplicably walk hand in hand?

When the “churchmen” praise politicians too much or rejoice too much in their attention or seek them too much or manifest too many inferiority complexes with respect to political institutions or no longer know how to distinguish the freedoms of the Church from the freedoms of politics, I become particularly worried. Clerics are no more intelligent than the lay faithful. It is often the other way around. And this is the reason why they make themselves so often ridiculous with the politicians and the powerful on duty. Many clerics have an inferiority complex because they do not feel equal to the world. Economics, politics, and science are too high for them, too unreachable, and, without realizing it, they end up kneeling facing the wrong way, no longer in the direction of the Altar. We lay people do not have these problems. We are the politicians, the scientists, and the economists. We cannot have any inferiority complex towards ourselves. And I am convinced that it is also for this reason that, in times like the present ones, in which the church of clerics is the victim of its own inferiority complexes and generates too much confusion and division among the faithful, the Mystical Body tends to inspire the laity more to the responsibility of distinguishing the boundaries of the depositum fidei, on the one hand, and of what belongs to Caesar, on the other.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, and that led me to this book, was hearing the greatest religious authority in the world say that getting vaccinated is an act of love, thus providing an assist to the political authorities who sought to proclaim that vaccination is a civic duty. At this point, the poor faithful Catholic who has doubts about the vaccine, and that he is also a good citizen, is surrounded. Is his doubt then an act of selfishness? Is it a temptation from the devil? Is it an act contrary to the common good? In addition to his own religious and political authority, he is at the same time discriminated against and persecuted by all with the complicity of the mainstream media. He has become the villain to be ridiculed as the selfish enemy of the common good, with the blessing of the Pope and the Presidents. All this is unacceptable and, in my own little way, it required me to at least put my professional skills to use in the service of the persecuted righteous.


Featured image: “Lucifer devouring Judas Iscariot, Brutus and Cassio.” Opere de Dante. Woodcut printed by Bernardino Stagnino, ca.1512.

A Pseudonymous Epistemology

There are those so convinced pigs fly and cows regularly hurdle the moon they would confidently bet your life on it. They are credulous to a fault, those who with absolute conviction “believe in the science” yet know nothing of the science. They lack, first and foremost, a meddlesome mind, being perfectly content, unquestioningly accepting the protestations of experts who smarmily admit to having no appetite for whatever they would profess, but rather, own an affectation for hubris embellished with a tankard of bravado and a truck of prevarication on a power trip to “bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

Chesterton points to this tendency of the facile mind for oversimplification and ready conviction, scrubbing the shine off truth, gilding what it knows nothing about. “They talk of searching for the habits and habitat of the Missing Link; as if one were to talk of being on friendly terms with the gap in a narrative or the hole in an argument, or taking a walk with a non-sequitur or dining with an undistributed middle.” To illustrate, Chesterton notes of professors of antiquities and prehistoric man: “Strictly speaking of course we know nothing about prehistoric man, for the simple reason that he was prehistoric. The history of prehistoric man is a very obvious contradiction in terms. It is the sort of unreason in which only rationalists are allowed to indulge.”

That people are so convincible, so mentally malleable toward accepting the provably absurd is a question desperately seeking, never finding a satisfying answer. Former Soviet KGB informant and defector, Yuri Bezmenov once described it as a decades long process of demoralization, what he called ideological subversion, that succeeded largely from the absence and lack of moral standards. There is a penchant to consider demoralization as a loss of confidence or hope, a deliberate process of dispiriting the soul, and such is entirely one claim for it. But, it is crucially important to note, the ideological subversion Bezmenov described was of a different sort, a manifest defenestration of the morals of a people, for in the process of demoralization, man loses a thing essential: the objective meaning for being.

Bezmenov claimed that for the demoralized, exposure to truth no longer had any perceivable effect; a person who was demoralized was incapable of assessing the accuracy or truth of any information presented. Even when showered with authenticated data, verified truth, facts backed up with documents, with pictures and hard irrefutable evidence, the thoroughly demoralized would refuse to accept the truth—until a military boot crushed him. Then he would understand but not before.

It is in the process of demoralization that man’s relationship with his Creator is destroyed, or, at a minimum, distorted beyond reason. Fulton Sheen (Religion Without God, 1928) foresaw this ideological assault on religion, culture, history and tradition; the abject purpose being the complete devaluation of the rational creature: man.

Present day religion is not in evolution, but in revolution. Evolution implies growth from a germ, revolution a rupture with a principle; evolution has antecedents, revolution knows not its parentage. When we say that there is revolution in religion, we mean not merely a break with the past, but an abandonment as well of much that is best in the culture and heritage of tradition.

Until a generation ago religion was generally understood in terms of man’s attitude toward a Supreme and Perfect Being; today, it is understood in terms of man’s friendliness to the universe or as “faith in the conservation of human values.” The term “God” is still retained by some thinkers, but it is emptied of all content and dissolved to fit every volatile idea and fleeting fancy. God has been dethroned, the heavens emptied, and man has been exalted to His place in fulfillment of an evil prophecy that some day he would be like unto God. Problems which once centered about God now revolve about man, and those which were concerned with man are now fused with the universe. Theism is reduced to humanism and psychology to cosmology, for there is no longer a distinction made between man and matter. God is humanized and man is naturalized. The science of physics and not the “flower in the crannied wall” has come to tell us what God and man are.

Then again, George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty Four) coined perhaps the perfect word for it.

—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it; in Newspeak, “doublethink.”

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.

It is pointless to point to the meanest error among those so convicted of their absolute absolutions; simply put, they are correct to the point of absurd infallibility, therefore, it is useless to argue, there can be no allowance for dissent or debate. It is as the psalmist pondered “But who can discern his errors” (Psalm 19:12)?

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) offered this insight (Conscience and Truth, 1991) comparing the guilt of the Pharisee to that of the tax collector.

No longer seeing one’s guilt, the falling silent of conscience in so many areas is an even more dangerous sickness of the soul than the guilt that one still recognizes as such. He who no longer notices that killing is a sin has fallen farther than the one who still recognizes the shamefulness of his actions, because the former is further removed from the truth and conversion.

Not without reason does the self-righteous man in the encounter with Jesus appear as the one who is really lost. If the tax collector with all his undisputed sins stands more justified before God than the Pharisee with all his undeniably good works (Luke 18:9-14), this is not because the sins of the tax collector were not sins or because the good deeds of the Pharisee were not good deeds. Nor does it mean that the good that man does is not good before God, or the evil, not evil or at least not particularly important.

The reason for this paradoxical judgment of God is shown precisely from our question. The Pharisee no longer knows that he too has guilt. He has a completely clear conscience. But this silence of conscience makes him impenetrable to God and men, while the cry of conscience that plagues the tax collector makes him capable of truth and love.

Ratzinger, with a well-deserved reputation for Teutonic sobriety, could on occasion evoke a wry humor. In a 1984 workshop at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, examining the relationship between the magisterium of the Church and theologians, i.e., theological experts, he quipped, “It is strange that some theologians have difficulty accepting the precise and limited doctrine of papal infallibility, but see no problem in granting de facto infallibility to everyone who has a conscience.”

Ignorance Is Strength

The sainted apostle Paul admitted what anyone who has matured into adulthood should readily acknowledge, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). These days, the pedagogy necessary to reach maturity, to grow up and relinquish childish ways has been usurped by those who would wield unconstrained power over the thoroughly demoralized. Far too many, through vincible ignorance, ideologically contrived, find themselves in Neverland willing to believe what they have been sold—fairy dust and flights of metaversal fantasy—never wanting to outgrow their childhood.

It is the ambition of post-modern philosophers pushing pseudonymous epistemologies to replace reality with conjured self-medicated fantasies via the digital metaverse; to churn the mind into gelatinous masses of human dross, entertained but never enlightened; controlled and manipulated by the few, as Lewis so accurately predicted.

According to Wesley Smith “The Great Reset is placing the world under control of invisible bureaucrats.” Smith writes of the growing dangers concomitant with the encroaching “rule by experts.”

What do I mean by “technocracy?” In essence, the word translates into “rule by experts.” But in its currently gestating iteration, it means much more than that. The looming technocracy threatens to impose substantial control over most important aspects of life by “experts”—scientists, bioethicists, and societal “influencers”—but it also poses the threat of iron-clad enforcement of cultural orthodoxies and policies, not only in law, but also via the voluntary actions of powerful segments of the private sector.

Technocracy is a soft authoritarianism. It establishes no gulags to imprison dissenters and pronounces no tyrannous executions to punish the rebellious. Instead, a technocracy smothers democratic deliberation by removing most decision-making about essential policies from the people (through their elected representatives) to an expert class whose decisions are based on their education and experience, and the data they think matter.

It is far too easy to ignore the expert, never questioning their expertise, never doubting their power to control what men must or must not think; the aim for man to never think at all. The truth as C.S. Lewis surmised in The Abolition of Man, is man’s “conquest of nature” meaning some men possess a power which is, “in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by.” Such men must inevitably—it is in man’s nature—wield such power “over other men with Nature as its instrument.”

There is another view worthy of consideration for it speaks to how such power over other men corrupts absolutely. Smith writes of the “quality of life ethic” in which a person needs to earn his or her value by possessing identified capabilities and characteristics. According to most bioethicists, Smith writes, “the most influential among them adhere more toward a “quality of life” utilitarian approach in which some lives count for more or are perceived as having a greater claim to legal protection than others.”

Here is the problem: Quality-of-life considerations are fine when they are a factor in medical decision-making—that is, does the patient think the potential harmful effects of a proposed treatment are worth risking to attain the health benefit sought. But it becomes a form of bigotry when the judged quality of a patient’s life becomes determinate of his or her moral worth.

Here is how the Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer explains the “quality of life ethic” as it pertains to life and death issues:

We should treat human beings in accordance with their ethically relevant characteristics. Some of these are inherent in the nature of being. They include consciousness, the capacity for physical, social, and mental interaction with other beings, having conscious preferences for continued life, and having enjoyable experiences. Other relevant aspects depend on the relationship of the being to others, having relatives for example who will grieve over your death, or being so situated in a group that if you are killed, others will fear for their own lives. All of these things make a difference to the regard and respect we should have for such a being.

Smith adds that the danger of such an approach should be obvious. “The standards Singer uses to measure human worth are his standards based on what he considers important and ‘relevant.” Such thinking is insane, irrational, and displays a level of ignorance no human being should ever claim. On such ignorance, Chesterton notes those who ought to be able to reason rightly so seldom are of a mind to do so. “It is necessary to say plainly that all this ignorance is simply covered by impudence. Statements are made so plainly and positively that men have hardly the moral courage to pause upon them and find that they are without support.”

Memory is fleeting and yet it first must be memorialized, it must be come by through honest effort, through reality experienced not imagined, otherwise, it is like Winston (Nineteen Eighty Four) struggling to remember even what year it might have been.

He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been quite like this. Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with balks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy garden walls sagging in all directions? … But it was no use, he could not remember; nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright-lit tableaux occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible.

Ignorance is strength but for whom? A thought must not be thought, a question never asked. Fear and anxiety are the external manifestations of a hypnotized society exhibiting Mass Formation Psychosis (MFP). According to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Mattias Desmet, there are four conditions for MFP:

  1. Lack of social bonds
  2. Lack of meaning making
  3. High levels of free floating anxiety. They don’t know why they are anxious and it is very distressing/painful for humans to experience because of the lack of control, resulting in risk of developing panic attack. They actively look for something to which they can attach the free-floating anxiety, something they can control.
  4. High levels of free floating frustration and aggression.

Whenever such social conditions exist, as they do now, the experts disseminate a narrative providing an object for the anxiety (White Supremacy, domestic terrorism, systemic racism, pandemics) and a strategy/solution (more power to the State) that will remove or diminish the object of anxiety, thus, all the free-floating anxiety attaches to the object suggested by the narrative, resulting in a willing participation in the strategy by the hypnotized masses. In effect, the people believe that by participating in the strategy they are in control of their fear and anxiety. When large groups of people participate in the strategy, it leads to a new social bond, new connectedness, a new solidarity, and this leads to a new sense-making in life. In other words, life becomes meaningful through the heroic struggle with the object of anxiety. As Erich Vieth explains:

Those caught up in the narrative don’t do so because the narrative is correct. Rather, they do so because they seek the new powerful social bonds. Many of the measures are not relevant or true, but they function as rituals in which people participate in order to connect to the masses of others caught up in the narrative. The more absurd and unscientific the … measures and the more that sacrifice is demanded, the better the measures function as rituals. This fits the general function of rituals: a behavior that you participate in not because it is functional … but to show to the tribe/collective that the collective is more important than the individual. You would be in error to think that as [these] measures become more absurd, more people will wake up to the insanity, but that is an illusion. The more absurd the measures become, the more blinded certain people will become.

During the Nuremberg Trial (1945) Hermann Goering was asked “How did you convince the German people to accept all this?” to which he replied: “It was easy… The only thing a government needs to turn people into slaves is fear. If you can find something to scare them you can make them do anything you want.” Perhaps it was Frank Herbert (Dune) who said it best: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”

According to a University of Minnesota health report,

Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately.

It is difficult to overcome fear, especially when you are surrounded by it. Power corrupts and fear is an awesome weapon in the hands of those who would wield it. And yet, it should never be forgotten that such corrosive power exists within each of us, the power over future generations.

C.S. Lewis (The Abolition of Man) stated it with alarming perspicuity:

In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them.

This then is the result of our progressive madness. We have successively been made weaker as we have engineered machines (technology with artificial intelligence) progressively stronger, more to our image and likeness. Our weaknesses, in the hands of the experts, will be our undoing. The greater our ignorance, the more terrible our fear; the greater our reliance on technological advances, the less in the image and likeness of God we appear to ourselves. Man thus becomes a poorly made, vulgar, dispensable machine. “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means… the power of some men to make other men what they please.” And what they please, their protestations to the contrary, is to make disposable machines of us all. Lewis said it with a bluntness that should shock us all.

But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger.

The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditionings, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have taken the ‘thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?

The last thing Lewis would have wont to say, I am sure, would have been “I told you so,” but he did tell us, and even the most naïve among us must surely recognize the truth of it now realized.

No longer do men look to the past as to their Golden Age; no longer do they have a memory of a Garden wherein man walked with God in the cool breezes of evening. The Golden Age is now placed in the future, but not one wherein man re-finds at the foot of a Tree the gifts he once lost there, thanks to a God-Man unfurled on it like a banner of salvation, but rather a future in which, due to a cosmic evolutionary urge, man not only makes but becomes God. Man in the supernatural state, it is said, needs no Redeemer as in the natural state he needs no God. As a result of this philosophy of self-sufficiency we have the strange modern phenomenon of a religion without God and a Christianity without Christ.

The Abstraction Of Man

In a bit of retrospective pique, I found it rather an unlikely miracle to discover the meeting of two of the greatest literary and philosophical minds of the twentieth century: G.K. Chesterton and the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Nearly a century in the past (1925), Chesterton introduced the first of what would eventually come to sixty-six books written by Dr. Sheen as he then called him, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy. In his introduction Chesterton recalled an “incident of a modern skeptical heroine going into a confessional box and telling the priest that she did not believe in his religion.”

He asked her what she did believe in and she said reflectively, “Well, I don’t believe in the Bible, and I don’t think I believe in the immortality of the soul, and I’m not sure that I believe in God,” and so on. And the unmoved cleric replied, “I didn’t ask you what you didn’t believe, but what you do believe.” “Well,” said the lady, “I believe that two and two make four.” “Very well then,” said the priest, “live up to that.”

Chesterton followed noting that it was probably around the same time that Ibsen would have been writing: “Who knows that two and two do not make five in the fixed stars?” This seems to me the cruces of the crises now before us. Just as Orwell imagined in Nineteen Eighty Four: we are terribly slow learners.

“You are a slow learner, Winston,” said O’Brien gently. “How can I help it?” he blubbered. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.” “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

“These are the times that try men’s souls” wrote Thomas Paine two-hundred forty-six years ago, then, evermore so today. The trying, however, is exacerbated by a foolish agnosticism that wills neither to acknowledge nor deny the very existence of the soul or God for the matter. In God and Intelligence, Sheen considers the nature of God as perceived by the nature of man, pointing out that the problem is much confused by a sort of sentimental version of the divine dignity of man. “As in every other modern matter,” Chesterton writes, “the people in question seize on the sentiment without the reason for it.”

This sentiment is a sediment; it is the dregs of our dogma about a divine origin. They begin by bowing down to man as the image of God; and then forget the God and bow down to the graven image. … It is the view that Being is Becoming; or that God does not exist yet, but may be said to be living in hopes. The blasphemy is not ours. It is enough for us that our enemies have retreated from the territory of reason, on which they once claimed so many victories; and have fallen back upon the borderlands of myth and mysticism, like so many other barbarians with whom civilization is at war.

The problem is generational: each succeeding generation grown in vitro weaker and, through ever more selective grooming, less ‘human’. It is as Lewis saw so clearly: “They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all.” Our humanity has been sacrificed at the altar of the Conditioners, the experts, in order for the high priests of Nature to “devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean.” It is ironic how as man conquers—or believes to have conquered—Nature, “we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammeled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity.” The evidence is obvious and yet, so few find themselves the least interested in the knowing. The preponderance of men prefer not knowing for they have been indoctrinated into believing ignorance is strength.

We no longer rule with the mind but with unquestioning sentiment. Reality and truth are what one is wont to make believe through the oracle of Oculus. “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.” As Lewis would claim, “those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse. We may legitimately hope that among the impulses which arise in minds thus emptied of all ‘rational’ or ‘spiritual’ motives, some will be benevolent.” It is a false hope doomed to utter despair. Lasciate ogne speranz, voi ch’intrate (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here).

Sheen wrote in God and Intelligence of the radically different ways of approaching God. The Intellectualist once argued for the God-proved-by-reason-to-be-existent while the post-modern argued that such a God was and is too far removed from human needs, therefore, the God-I-feel-I-can-use is of much greater value. “The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can use.”

Hence it follows that, although we cannot prove the existence of God, it does not mean that God has lost all His value. The idea may be “theoretically worthless,” it is quite true, but it still has a “regulative use.” Individual need is to be the judge of God. “The voice of human experience within us, judging and condemning all gods that stand athwart the pathway along which it feels to be advancing,” is the measure by which individuals prefer certain gods at one time and certain gods at another. Professor Leuba writes:

The truth of the matter can be put this way: God is not known, He is used—sometimes as a meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as object of love. If He proves Himself useful, the religious consciousness asks for no more than this. Does God really exist? How does He exist? What is He? are so many irrelevant questions. Not God but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is in the last analysis, the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.

There once was an age when man searched for truth no matter where it lay or how hard it rubbed raw the ragged scars of mindless preconception. Once upon a time, wisdom was an aching hunger seeking satisfaction, knowing (epistemology) what was true and real was the noblest of pursuits, the pursuit of knowledge attained through reason was held essential to becoming fully human. And no one cared to be considered subhuman or in the least inhumane. Not everyone could walk with Aristotle, argue Plato or Socrates, philosophize with Augustine or Aquinas, theorize as Galileo, hypothesize as Einstein, or follow faithfully the teachings of Jesus Christ. And yet, all could aspire to know more truth than yesterday, to dream of one day standing on the shoulders of such formidable ancestral giants and reaching the heights of heaven.

Man knew he had been made in the image and likeness of God; he could not explain it, but he knew it because the Church was God’s voice, instituted by Christ, the Word Incarnate, instituted to teach all that he had commanded. In order to fulfill its mission, the Church founded schools and universities where the fundamentals of education through rigorous research and open debate were not only encouraged, but rigorously defended. Reasoned argument was the overarching pedagogical approach to learning. Each successive generation passed on what was then known, with frustrated taunts to the yet to be discovered unknown, with the firm resolve that the next generation would add further wealth to the treasury.

Anthony Esolen, “Our Church and Our Elites” recently observed that at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, they teach students who read and discuss Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Shakespeare and Cervantes, Michelangelo and Rodin.

When the young Augustine was at Carthage studying rhetoric among other young men who strove for power and influence in the world of law, he happened upon a book we have since lost, the Hortensius, by Cicero. That book changed his life, because it kindled in him a hunger for wisdom, what the Greeks called philosophy. I guess that in a bad world, we need a Hortensius now and again.

Many other works belong, so to speak, to all the world, but the world has cast them aside, or slandered them, or mangled them beyond recognition. The world will have to turn to the Church not only for Christ, then, but for Cicero too, not only for wisdom regarding the things of Heaven, but for human wisdom about human things, not only for Paul, but for Plato. And more.

Alas, somewhere, somewhen the passing on has become passé, or perhaps, merely too much to bear repeating. Truth has become an itch one dares not scratch. Those obligated to pass on the accumulated wealth of knowing have found it easier and more entertaining to tilt at windmills and chase social butterflies than form novice minds so that they too can increase and pass on their ancestral inheritance. Disinherited from the past, each succeeding generation has become more an abstraction, further distanced from the knowing that was rightfully their inheritance of Nature and of Nature’s God. Lewis acknowledged as much when he said, “no generation can bequeath to its successors what it has not got.” As Walter Hooper wrote (1970) in the introduction to God in the Dock, “I can see that much of the ignorance today is rightly attributed by Lewis to ‘the liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel.’”

This is the truth that now confronts us: generation upon generation upon generation of the blind teaching the blind to see what they care not nor do not know. Consider an art class. The teacher knows little and cares less about art than what nose ring to wear—a reminder of the now ancient practice of ringing the snouts of pigs to prevent rooting in the dirt—or the insanity of asking what pronouns the students might most prefer. The students are told to paint, not an object before them such as a vase or lamp, but their internalized interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Totem Faces which they have never seen but contextualized through the impoverished eye of the pink-haired, thoroughly inked and illustrated instructor. Now, consider a subsequent art class where the students are instructed to express their internalized interpretation of the previous class’s internalized interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Totem Faces which they are not shown, have never seen, only described. And so on, generation upon generation upon generation. As abstract as Picasso’s art is, ever more garish gibberish would be the product of each succeeding generation of novel artistry.

Chesterton, speaking of prehistoric man, wrote of what we know and do not know; of what “we do know is that they did have pictures; and the pictures have remained.”

And there remains with them, as already suggested, the testimony to something that is absolute and unique; that belongs to man and to nothing else except man; that is a difference of kind and not a difference of degree. A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.

No matter how convinced one might be that a thousand monkeys given enough time sitting before a thousand typewriters might reveal the Word of God, it is but a foolish fantasy. The same must be said for the countless students who will to become “educators” by matriculating in pseudonymous studies of gender, ethnicity, identity, culture, multiculture, diversity, or the étudier du jour.

Thus, it is with the approaching abstraction of man. As man is confounded into abstraction, the value of man qua man becomes mundane, worth less, worthless. No more is individual man in the image and likeness of an unseen, unknowable God; man is crudely drawn and redrawn in the poorest image and likeness of his carnival mirrored self, as his Controllers deem sufficiently compliant and, to the end, but useful idiots.

The elites have been in the vanguard of cultural evisceration, in all kinds of ways. Only the Church can recover the abandoned land, and till it with love. By comparison with what people still within living memory once took for granted, there are now no dances, no socials, no local ball leagues, no community singing, few parades—and those but exercises in garishness and obscenity. And no genuine common life.

While I agree with Esolen in so far as the Church may be the only hope for recovery of the soil that has long been abandoned and now lies barren, the questions which must be asked are “Will it? Can it?” Where is the traditional Catholic stainless steel, the zeal to till the fallow soil, to catechize, to teach all the nations all that Christ commanded? I am reminded of a parable. Jesus once told the crowd:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold (Mark 4:3-8).

As Jesus explained, the sower (clergy) sows the Word but not all the seed will fall on fertile ground. That is as it must be, but if the sower refuses or neglects to sow the Word, it matters not where the seed may fall. If the sower prefers popularity, avoids or stirs controversy, speaks not of the existence of evil, bears false witness, mixes bad seed with the good and thus fouls the harvest: of what good will come of it. Likewise, if the sower knows nothing or little of the proper method for sowing, how fruitful the harvest?

Like the aforementioned remarks by Lewis, no generation of prelate (sower) can bequeath what they have not got. Over decades, liberal theologians and wastrel prelates have continually whittled down the truth of the Gospel, subjected the faithful to false or erroneous teaching, and promoted controversy by their personal behavior and public pronouncements they then hubristically nailed to the cathedral door. Jesus told Peter three times to feed his sheep. Tragically, too many of the current crop of successors have failed to feed their flocks a healthy meal.

It is generational. There are so few heroes anymore, no Thomas More (beheaded), no Stephen (stoned), Lawrence (grilled), Sebastian (clubbed), no Andrew (crucified) or Bartholomew (skinned). Fewer today: Clement Shahbaz Bhatti (gunned down), Annalena Tonelli (shot in the head) or Father Jacques Hamel (throat slit). Such as these seldom get any notice beyond the customary tabloid obituary. Those that are noticed seldom practice what they preach and what they preach is often heretical and at times nothing more than apostatizing rhetoric. And poor rhetoric anointed with the salve of heretical clerisy.

For the most part, it is vincible ignorance that fortifies their teaching; years of advanced education provides no assurance of proper preparation for the care and feeding of their appointed flocks. To put it bluntly, ignorance knows both saint and sinner, and yet, it would seem, so few have been given even a modicum of well-trained tongue. A cleric is equally as capable as a historian in propounding a pseudonymous epistemology, that is: uttering falsehoods and heresies. The only difference, the cleric proudly proclaims to be speaking in Persona Christi when in truth his breath smells of rotten eggs and sulfur and his silver-tongued oratory leads the flock on a crooked path to the very gates of Gehenna.

Lewis never identified the Conditioners, those high and mighty few who would form men into something more—but ultimately no longer—human. It is easy, far too easy, to recognize those who aspire to such a lofty throne. Be they heads-of-state or bureaucrat, rich as Croesus corporate oligarchs, or pompous hierarchs seeking earthly glory, they wear their green badge of C(onditioner) with overweening pride. They are in it for themselves; they are masters of their own unwinding, masters of none, even of themselves. They believe they are lords of the universe and hold such power over men to use and discard. Like Saruman standing atop Orthanc, they believe they are in command of all they survey, but they are but fools, ensnared by the Dark Lord Sauron who would rule them all.

This then is the conundrum of the times in which we find ourselves participating: there are signs everywhere of corruption, both societal and ecclesiastical. We could say never has there been such a time but that would be untrue. Less than six months before this aging soul breathed his first, the Venerable Fulton Sheen delivered a radio address (January 26, 1947), a sermon to begin the seventeenth year of the Catholic Hour. In it he spoke of what was “contained in the Papal Encyclical Divini Redemptoris: the all important subject of Communism.” He began by asking, “Why is it that so few realize the seriousness of our present crisis?” a question that remains on many lips today. He went on to answer and his answer should give us more than a moment’s pause:

Partly because men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times. If there is no fixed concept of justice how shall men know it is violated? Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world. The great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on. The tragedy is not that the hairs of our civilization are gray; it is rather our failure to see that they are. The very day Sodom was destroyed, Scripture describes the sun as bright; Balthasar’s realm came to an end in darkness; people saw Noah preparing for the flood one hundred and twenty years before it came, but men would not believe. In the midst of seeming prosperity, world-unity, the decree to the angels goes forth but the masses go on their sordid routines. As our Lord said: “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:38, 39) Well may Our Savior say to us what He said to the Sadducees and Pharisees in His time: “When it is evening, you say: It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then how to discern the face of the sky: and can you not know the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:2, 3)

The signs of our times point to two inescapable truths, the first of which is that we have come to the end of the post-Renaissance chapter of history which made man the measure of all things. More particularly the three basic dogmas of the modern world are dissolving before our very eyes. We are witnessing: 1) The liquidation of the economic man, or the assumption that man who is a highly developed animal has no other function in life than to produce and acquire wealth, and then like the cattle in the pastures, be filled with years and die. 2) The liquidation of the idea of the natural goodness of man who has no need of a God to give Him rights, or a Redeemer to salvage him from guilt, because progress is automatic thanks to science—education and evolution, which will one day make man a kind of a god as H.G. Wells said, with his feet on the earth and his hands among the stars. 3) The liquidation of rationalism, or the idea that the purpose of human reason is not to discover the meaning and goal of life, namely the salvation of the soul, but merely to devise new technical advances to make on this earth a city of man to displace the city of God.

Sheen finished his sermon with words still true and relevant now seventy-three years advanced: “The only way out of this crisis is spiritual, because the trouble is not in the way we keep our books, but in the way we keep our souls. The time is nearer than you think.”


Deacon Chuck Lanham is a Catholic author, theologian and philosopher, a jack-of-all-trades like his father (though far from a master of anything) and a servant of God. He is the author of The Voices of God: Hearing God in the SilenceEchoes of Love: Effervescent Memories, and four volumes of Collected Essays on religion, faith, morality, theology, and philosophy.


Featured image: “Gate,” by Pawel Kuczynski, 2016.

Ethics Of Anti-Covid Vaccines

We are so very pleased to present this excerpt from The Death of the Phronimos: Faith and Truth of Anti-Covid Vaccines, the recent book by Fulvio Di Blasi.

The great importance of this book lies in the many and essential questions that it raises about our current crisis. Questions such as:

  • Are vaccines a safe and effective remedy against Covid-19?
  • Are Covid Passports useful tools for pandemic prevention, or are they rather instruments of torture and the basis of social conflict in the service of political power?
  • Are agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) credible?
  • Can mainstream journalism be trusted?
  • What about pharmaceutical companies? Can we trust them?
  • And hat about “science?” What is to be understood by this term?

Fulvio Di Blasi is a lawyer and professor of mediation, accredited by the Italian Ministry of Justice. He also holds a PhD in Philosophy of Law from the University of Palermo, and is a well-known Catholic philosopher, with expertise in ethics and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.

He has taught, and carried out research, at various universities, including the University of Notre Dame (USA), The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome), the Internationale Akademie fuer Philosophie in the Principality of Liechtenstein, and the Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta (Palermo-Rome). He was also Research Fellow for the Italian National Council of Research (CNR), the highest governmental research institution in Italy, Research Associate at the Jacques Maritain Center (University of Notre Dame, USA), and Director of both the Thomas International Center (USA) and the Centro Ricerche Tommaso d’Aquino (Collegio Universitario ARCES, Palermo). He has also served as contributor, reviewer, editor, and board member for several philosophical, legal, and bioethical journals and book series.

He has over 200 publications, including God and the Natural Law, John Finnis, Ritorno al diritto, Questioni di legge naturale, Ancient Wisdom and Thomistic Wit: Happiness and the Good Life, From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, Vaccination as an Act of Love? The Epistemology of Ethical Choice in Times of Pandemic.

Make sure to pick up a copy of this important book—and get all your friends to buy a copy, too.


Anti-Covid vaccines and the pandemic are issues that now completely permeate our entire existence both as individuals and as citizens of single states and the whole world. They are complex issues, with a thousand facets, which are dealt with by many public and private subjects, parliaments and rulers, research agencies and institutes, the press, the media, scientists, and experts from various disciplines. It is impossible for the individual to form an adequate reference framework without learning to conveniently move between the various sources of information, clearly understanding their differences both regarding the specific competence of each source and regarding its quality and reliability. From whom should we learn the truth about vaccines and the pandemic? How exactly should we compare the numerous individuals providing information in the media and political market? What value should we give to the statements of the various people and institutions that tell us about these truths?

It is essential that we learn to answer these questions in a sufficient and reasonable way, because from the information that is transmitted to us depend, not just opinions on who will win a championship or on what will be the next seasonal fashion or on which are the most popular places for the holidays, but crucial decisions that each of us must make: decisions about our own health and that of our loved ones, about the common good, and about the fundamental rights and freedoms of the society in which we live.

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The underlying theme of this text, which unifies and delimits all the topics addressed, is the way in which we acquire the truths and certainties that guide our choices concerning vaccines and the pandemic. And, since these truths come indirectly or directly from other people, we need to ask ourselves specifically who are the people to turn to and what exactly they can tell us.

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The epistemological analysis of individual sources of information will lead us more and more towards the need for the deepening of another philosophical topic, this time related to so-called “virtue ethics”. In fact, the study of the reliability of the various individuals who talk to us about vaccines reveals, on the one hand, the many shortcomings and critical or problematic issues that characterize these people and, on the other hand, the profile of the ideal witness who, from my point of view, is glaringly absent in the current public debate on vaccines and the pandemic. I am referring to the Aristotelian phronimos, a mysterious character to most, but whom I hope my readers will eventually learn to know and appreciate and, why not, also love.

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For reasons that will become increasingly clear, this text, not only in the opening chapter, but also in the discussion of the individual subsequent chapters, methodically uses the legal science of witnesses in a court trial. This choice moves in parallel with the analysis of faith as a form of knowledge, which, as mentioned, I am about to explain in the first chapter. A correct epistemology of the way we relate to witnesses is essential to understand how to make ethical decisions in areas where our knowledge of the relevant factors depends on other people or institutions. In this book, all the most important sources of information on vaccines that we have will appear as if they were called or summoned by a judge, who, as the first formal act of his procedural science, must assess their reliability and their ability to testify.

The activity of the judge is epistemologically analogous to the activity of the moral conscience, which is in fact traditionally compared precisely to a judge. Many think that this is just a metaphor. It is not so. Conscience really works through a symmetrical rational path similar to that of a judge in a trial. The best way to visualize or analyze the path that rationally leads us to good decisions is therefore exactly to imagine ourselves as judges sitting in a courtroom where we find ourselves having to listen to witnesses and acquire all relevant documents and evidence.

Among the witnesses that will successively appear in our courtroom are pharmaceutical companies and drug agencies (Chapter 2), Science (Chapter 3), public authorities and the mass media (Chapter 4). Of all these witnesses, we will have to ask ourselves about which facts they can testify, or what they can actually tell us about vaccines. However, we will also have to ask ourselves about their reliability and credibility. We will do this by observing their criminal record and conflicts of interest, or their curriculum and modus operandi. When you have a possible witness in the courtroom, you need to understand as much as possible about who he is and how much we can trust him. In some cases, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the World Health Organization (WHO), or even the current functioning of medical science, this will give rise to various ideas regarding hypotheses for reforming some systems or some institutions.

This phase of our trial activity, so to speak, will also be a valuable opportunity to retrace together some very important and interesting judicial, political, or journalistic cases. However, it must always be borne in mind that when I refer to court cases or some specific issues of the vaccine debate of the past months or weeks I will only do so as an example and to the extent that this helps to evaluate the witnesses. My goal is not to offer an exhaustive treatment of single cases or events but to use elements of them exclusively for the specific purpose of evaluating the witnesses.

It should also be remembered that the activity of the judge who assesses the reliability of the witnesses is different from that of the judge who assesses the guilt of a defendant. In the second case, precise and consistent evidence is needed to reach a decision. In the first, a generic criterion of reasonableness is sufficient. It is the same with all the rules on conflict of interest. Those in conflict of interest may not have done anything wrong and could also, if called upon to testify (against their wives or against the company that pays them), tell the truth and nothing but the truth. It is best not to take risks, however, or not to put the person in a conflict of interest situation, or in a situation where he may be tempted to lie or to alter the truth. Nothing I will say in this book about the possible unreliability of some witnesses can be interpreted as an accusation of their having committed crimes or wrongdoing of any kind. An accusation of this type is not up to me, but to prosecutors. The case is different for offenses of a moral nature, which fall under my jurisdiction and on which I will not make allowances for anyone.

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In this regard, I must also clarify that, on an ethical level, I must always save the “internal forum.” I will often be very hard on sin but nothing I say will imply a judgment on the sinner, except in hypothetical terms. I could say, for example, that a certain person’s actions or statements are false or that they objectively generate hatred and violence. Yet the person may have acted in good faith, without realizing what he was doing, or out of ignorance.

I will be especially hard on the overall behavior of professional classes or sectors of society, which of course does not imply that there are no good people in those classes or sectors. Often, a wrong or corrupt system unknowingly makes even good people bad, which is all the more reason to express the condemnation of that system clearly. The harshness of moral condemnation is directly proportional to the corruption of the system and serves precisely to awaken the dormant consciences of good people. Analogically, it is the same positive rhetoric as the prophetic spirit of the Bible. The prophet must condemn with clarity and harshness proportional to the corruption of society, or the people of that society will not wake up from their ethical slumber. Applied moral philosophy, from my point of view, can never lose, at least in the most serious cases of social torpor, a certain prophetic spirit.

In my condemnations of the system (and never of individuals) I will often use biblical language and the image of the great prostitute. This is not meant as a personal insult to anyone. It is a strong prophetic moral condemnation with a precise conceptual connotation. The Apocalypse announces the fall of Babylon the great, which “has become a haunt for demons. She is a cage for every unclean spirit, a cage for every unclean bird, (a cage for every unclean) and disgusting (beast). For all the nations have drunk the wine of her licentious passion. The kings of the earth had intercourse with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her drive for luxury” (Rev 18:2-3). In the Apocalypse, however, Jesus fights with the double-edged sword of His mouth, with the truth (Rev 1:16). From this point of view, the great prostitute is society or that part of it which, in view of some advantage, fear, or vice, corrupts the truth and prostitutes itself to the falsehoods of the world.

Some people, because of their role or their profession, have a special duty to testify to the truth, or to speak with the double-edged sword of the Apocalypse. Towards these people, when they prostitute themselves, the prophetic condemnation is worse and more resounding. In many ways, at the intellectual level, the great prostitute coincides with the sophistry against which Plato lashes out through the mouth of Socrates. The Sophists are the experts, not of true argument, but of the winning one. They are the ones who return home in the evening happy, not because whoever listened to them learned something true and good, but because whoever listened to them was convinced that they were right.

Sophists are concerned with winning (in politics, with the audience, in commerce, in advertising), not in learning or teaching. They prostitute the truth for their own profit. There are, however, people who have drunk so much of the wine of Babylon that being called Sophists might even please them; it could give them the idea that deep down they are good at something: that is, at convincing and manipulating people. Biblical terminology, on the other hand, could create that positive discomfort that leads to a possible ethical conversion. Better therefore, at least in some cases, not to condemn the sophistication but the prostitution. And I will proceed accordingly.

****

This book is part of a larger work in several volumes aimed at addressing the problem of anti-Covid vaccines as an object of moral choice, both individual and collective. The first volume, which also includes the plan of the entire work, is Vaccine as an Act of Love? Epistemology of Ethical Choice in Times of Pandemics.

The overall architectural structure of this larger work is based on the analysis of ethical choices regarding vaccines in terms of object, circumstances, and end. As I explained in the introduction to the first volume, this type of analysis originates in Greek philosophy, develops above all in the tradition of Christian thought (also through canon law), and is now part of the fundamental structure of both civil and criminal Western law. In fact, the responsibility of the person in front of the law is measured on the basis of the identification of a human act defined objectively (will, theft, parking offense, etc.), of the assessment of the circumstances that influence in various ways the choice of that act, and of the analysis of subjective responsibility based on the intent of the agent (which can also be more or less serious depending on the circumstances).

For the purposes of this overall analysis, I had to distinguish between internal circumstances and external circumstances with respect to the “vaccine” object. In fact, there may be elements that influence the ethical choice to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated, but which do not relate to the characteristics of the vaccine as such. The present book concerns precisely these latter circumstances, the ones external to the so-called anti-Covid vaccines. These circumstances do not concern the vaccine or drug as such or its characteristics with respect to the good of health, but affect the ethical choice to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated—or to take this new drug or not, in whatever way it is defined and by any term it is referred to—based on other considerations.

With respect to the overall work, this book represents a part that conceptually and chronologically follows both the general explanation on the structure of the moral act (first part), the detailed explanation of the internal circumstances of the anti-Covid vaccines that I call structural and institutional (second part), and the explanation, in general terms, of all the epistemological issues involved in the whole question (which I also deal with in the second part). This book is partially independent of the analysis of other types of circumstances that I tackle in other volumes, but with which it is still intertwined in various ways. None of these volumes can be completely isolated from the others even if each volume maintains its own methodological and conceptual autonomy. This volume, however, precedes the last on the ends of the action, which, for various reasons, presupposes all prior analyses of the object and circumstances.

As I explain in the first volume, almost all the external circumstances that affect the choice to get vaccinated fall within the order of ends. That is, they concern the assessments of the good of health compared to different goods or ends. In the context of the analysis of the human act, the distinction between circumstances and ends is difficult, largely useless, and should in any case be delayed to a specific discussion of the agent’s intentionality and of the ends to which it aims. In the previous parts of the work included in the first volume, I made some hypothetical examples centered on the role of the Pope or other characters with public responsibilities who decide not to get vaccinated, or not to get vaccinated immediately, to convey or testify to a certain ethical message. In these cases, we could speak, from a third person point of view, of an external subjective circumstance that pertains to the role or office of a certain person. However, from the point of view of the agent, the choice indicates the preference for a certain hierarchy among the goods involved in the action: a hierarchy such that a higher good (such as that of faith) leads to overshadowing, at least temporarily, the good of health. It is therefore a topic that belongs to the analysis of the ends and intentionality rather than to the analysis of the circumstances as such.

With regard to anti-Covid vaccines, the only relevant external circumstances that I believe should be identified regardless of the analysis of the ends pertain, for the gnoseological reasons that I am about to explain, to faith. It is this, therefore, the strain of circumstances that will be the specific subject of this volume. Each of the following chapters is about individuals or institutions who in one way or another are or should be witnesses to the truth about vaccines for us.

Before leaving the reader to the individual chapters, I further clarify that, from my point of view, what I am talking about here is not enough for a prudent person, the phronimos (to put it in Aristotelian terms), to make a rational and good choice concerning the anti-Covid vaccines. The reason is precisely what I have just mentioned: that is, that the ethical choice implies the evaluation of both the object, the ends, and all the relevant circumstances, and not just of those (external) circumstances discussed in this volume. However, the themes developed here play a crucial role in enabling the ethical subject to rationally address the relevant sources of information to be used to form his own conviction. From this point of view, the volume holds a special methodological autonomy, and is perhaps the most essential for building the adequate framework within which to approach one’s choices wisely.

****

As always, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to make another small contribution in this world with the time and the talents that have been given to me. I thank my wife Francesca for the patience, support, encouragement, and enthusiasm with which she always deals with the things that concern our cultural commitments for the common good. With respect to the specific issue of anti-Covid vaccines and pandemic management, it was initially she who stimulated my critical approach and prompted me to study the relevant issues more in depth. I also thank my children, Riccardo and Ottavia, because their cheerful presence alone, even if it makes it difficult to concentrate, gives a joy and hope capable of overcoming any obstacle and fatigue. The other day I found Riccardo, five years old, drawing in a notebook while sitting on the sofa and who, as soon as he saw me, immediately told me that he too was writing a book. Ottavia (two years old) is at this moment on my lap, between me and the computer, enjoying herself while listening to kids’ songs on television and while I stretch my arms around her trying to reach the keyboard and finish this introduction. Deo gratias!

I thank my friend Mauro Ghilardini who was one of the immediate causes of this work because, since he decided to publish some of my posts on a blog, so many comments and requests for clarifications or insights followed that it was easier for me to think of writing a book than responding to a thousand posts online. I thank Francesco Zambon for the useful discussions on WHO and the management of the pandemic. I thank Marisa Gatti-Taylor Ph.D. and Steven Millen Taylor PhD—as well as a friend who needs to remain anonymous to avoid possible negative employment repercussions—for their precious editorial help and for their encouragement. Of course, I am solely responsible for errors and opinions expressed in the text. I thank all the friends, colleagues, physicians, and scientists who maintain rationality, integrity, and serenity in these times of collective panic and madness. I thank all the people of good will who do not give in to violence, insult, and social hatred and who never tire of demonstrating publicly for the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the human person. Finally, I thank all the bishops and priests who continue to preach the Gospel of Christ instead of the new vaccine and Green Pass religion.


Featured image: breaking of the sixth seal (Rev. 6), the Douce Apocalypse, ca. 1272.

On The dignity Of Man: The Idea Of The Good And Knowledge Of Essences. Part III.

Ayn Rand And Willard V.O. Quine On Analyticity

At that stage, I will develop my understanding of the issue of knowing whether definitions are true or wrong independently of reality (i.e., true or wrong in an apodictic mode); then on the issue of knowing whether material existence can be deduced from ideational essence. In this regard, I will compare and evaluate Ayn Rand’s and Willard V.O. Quine’s respective criticisms against the notion of analyticity (i.e., the notion of truth independent of reality by the sole operation of the logical laws admitted in some system of formal logic). Then I shall return to my assessment of Plato’s approach to the Idea of Good. Just as a statement allegedly true in an apodictic mode is a statement allegedly true in a mode independent of reality; a statement allegedly true in an analytic mode is a certain variety of an allegedly apodictic statement: namely a statement that the laws of formal logic are sufficient to make it true and to make it apodictically true.

In Viennese empiricism, two kinds of purported analytical truth are recognized: on the one hand, tautologies, i.e., statements which, in the eyes of a certain system of formal logic, are true by the sole operation of the accepted logical laws in the system in question. On the other hand, statements that are allegedly reducible—independently of reality—to a tautology via the play of the synonymy between two terms or between a term and a sequence of terms. Whereas the former are allegedly analytical by the sole reason of their tautological character, the latter are allegedly analytical by the sole reason of their alleged reducibility independent of reality to an analytical truth of the tautological type.

Faced with the notion of the existence of these two varieties of analytical truth, at least two questions arise: on the one hand, would a statement that, via the play of synonyms, would be effectively reducible (independently or not of reality) to a tautology have a meaning equivalent to the one of a tautology? On the other hand, are the laws of any mode of formal logic actually sufficient to make a tautology analytically true—and is the play of synonyms effectively sufficient to make a statement reducible (independently of reality) to a tautology? Whoever investigates the relation of definitions to reality cannot refrain from seeking the answer to those two questions: the former because, if a definition were indeed of a meaning equivalent to the one of a certain tautological statement, then a definition would be of no interest with regard to what the tautology in question already says; the latter because, if a definition were effectively reducible independently of reality to a tautological analytical truth (via the play of the synonyms recognized in the language), then reality would be of no interest in judging the truth of a definition.

A fault in the Randian critique against the notion of apodicticity (which it amalgamates with the notion of analyticity) is that said critique distorts the theses and arguments in favor of said existence to the point where it attacks ghosts. Here I will leave aside the tasks of listing and dissecting the many scarecrows of Ayn Rand on that subject. Another fault in the Randian critique against the idea of apodicticity is that it lacks a clear distinction between the generic entity and the singular entity; but the inclusion of a clearer (or completely clear) distinction on that subject does not require the Randian argument against the idea of apodicticity to be significantly overhauled.

The argument in question (especially developed in Leonard Peikoff’s article “The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction”) is, in essence, the following. A concept encompasses all the characteristics of its object and not only those that have to be included in its (true) definition; a concept and its true definition are therefore not true synonyms (any more than terms considered to be synonymous in a certain language are really synonymous—although neither Rand nor Peikoff, to my knowledge, say so openly). Accordingly, a statement associating a concept with a true definition is neither reducible to a tautology via the play of synonyms nor endowed with a meaning equivalent to a tautology. Yet the definitions are true or false depending on whether they are in agreement with the entities exhibited in the sensible experience—and in agreement with the logical laws objectively deduced from the ontological laws objectively exhibited in the sensible experience.

According to Rand, all human knowledge (including that of the ontological laws underlying the valid logical laws) is an account of sensible experience articulated according to logical laws deduced from ontological laws themselves known through sensible experience. A definition in agreement with the concerned entity is a definition that subsumes those characteristics of the entity that are best able to distinguish the entity in question in view of what is currently known about it through the sensible experience. Because a definition that correctly subsumes those characteristics (from sensible experience) is therefore in (perfect) agreement with reality, it cannot be refuted by progress in knowledge; it can certainly be complemented, not be refuted. Conclusion: there is no truth independent of facts; but any definition that correctly subsumes the characteristics best capable of distinguishing the object in view of the present state of knowledge about the universe is true—and true in an objectively undoubtable mode.

The Randian answer to the two questions mentioned above is therefore the following. On the one hand, there is no true synonymy because the meaning of a concept is its object taken from the angle of all of its properties. A statement that would be reducible to a tautology via the play of synonyms is absurd; but the meaning of a statement associating a concept with its true definition is actually irreducible to the meaning of a tautology. On the other hand, tautologies are not analytical (nor apodictic) but remain objectively certain when constructed from logical laws objectively grasped in sensible experience; just as definitions and those statements which are limited to associating terms deemed synonymous (for example, “no single person is engaged”) are not analytical (nor apodictic), but remain objectively certain when faithfully descriptive of the sensible experience.

The Randian criticism arrives to a partially true conclusion; but its argument is wrong on two levels, at least. On the one hand, a concept encompasses only those characteristics of its object that have to be included in the definition; but it does not only encompass them, it identifies them as constitutive of its object. Accordingly, a statement reducible to a tautology does have a meaning that is not equivalent to that of a tautology; but not for the reasons given by Ayn Rand.

On the other hand, a definition admittedly subsumes the characteristics that it considers best able to distinguish the correspondent concept’s object in view of what one currently knows or believes to know about the universe; but, in addition to the fact that it precisely amounts to subsuming those characteristics which seem to be constitutive, it does not render true nor objectively certain a hypothetical definition correctly subsuming the characteristics in question. To complement a definition always amounts to refuting it, just as to relativize it always amounts to refuting it.

For example, replacing a definition of the swan as “a large web-footed bird, with white plumage, long flexible neck” with a new definition of the latter as “a large web-footed bird, with white or black plumage, long flexible neck” amounts to relativizing the first definition; but to substitute for a definition of the swan as “a large web-footed bird, with white or black plumage,” a definition of the latter such as, this time, “a large web-footed bird, with white or black plumage, with a long flexible neck” amounts to complementing the first definition. In both cases, the second definition comes to refute the first.

Finally, I think the following answer is the correct one to the two questions mentioned above. On the one hand, if certain statements were effectively reducible to a tautology via synonymy, that reducibility would be no more independent of reality than it would make the statements in question equivalent in their sense to a tautology. A statement reducible to a tautology via synonymy is not impossible stricto sensu (as Rand wrongly asserts); but neither its reducibility nor its truth would be independent of reality. On the other hand, a tautological statement can neither be analytical nor true independently of the facts (since the logical laws themselves cannot be valid independently of the facts); just as no statement can be reduced to a tautology independently of the facts.

A mistake by Rand is to represent to herself that synonymy does not exist between a concept and its true definition (because a concept allegedly means its object taken from the angle of all its properties—and not only from the angle of all those properties that are to be related in its definition if true). But the fact is that such synonymy does exist (because the meaning of a concept is strictly confused with its object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties, those which are to be related in a true definition). As we will see more closely a few lines later, another mistake on her part is to represent to herself that sensible experience allows us to objectively grasp ontological laws that objectively establish valid logical laws; and that there are indeed statements that are true by the operation of those laws alone, but that those statements, though objectively certain, are not apodictic.

Quine’s criticism against the analytic-synthetic distinction, which is (quite in a convoluted, fuliginous mode typical of the so-called analytical philosophers) presented in his article, “Two dogmas of empiricism,” is carried out at two levels. Quine, who amalgamates the notions of analyticity (i.e., truth by the sole operation of logical laws independently of reality) and apodicticity (i.e., truth independent of reality), does not deal with the first above-evoked question but only the second one. On the one hand, Quine addresses the case of those statements that are claimed to be—independently of reality—reducible via a synonymy relation to a tautology (i.e., a statement that some system of formal logic holds to be true by the sole operation of the admitted logical laws in the system in question); and which are claimed to be thus inheriting the purported analytical character of the tautology in question.

Quine rightly points out that the notion that some statements are, independently of reality, reducible to tautological analytical statements via synonymy relations actually supposes the notion that synonymous terms are synonymous independently of reality—and that the notion that synonymous terms are synonymous independently of reality actually supposes the notion of a truth independent of reality. Hence a logical circle when it comes to elucidating, characterizing, the way a statement allegedly reducible to a tautological analytical statement would be indeed reducible to a tautological analytical statement. (Quine then rightly shows that any other conceivable way of alleging some statement to be reducible to a tautology results into a logical circle as well).

On the other hand, Quine addresses the case itself of tautologies and logical laws. He points out that the logical laws one resorts to at some point in the pursuit of knowledge are actually interdependent (and totally interdependent) with the whole of the ongoing scientific theories—and that the former are completely and only dependent on the latter and the latter, in turn, completely (but not only) dependent on the former. The logical laws are accordingly susceptible to be themselves revised when a new scientific theory with a better empirical corroboration comes to replace a former one. Hence the tautologies are neither analytical (i.e., true by the sole operation of the logical laws) nor objectively certain; but instead faced with the tribunal of experience themselves and objectively uncertain. Just like that criticism on Quine’s part is actually exaggerated on the issue of logical laws and tautologies, it unfortunately stops along the way on the issue of synonymies.

To be completely dependent (qualitatively speaking) on something is one thing; to be only dependent (either completely or partly) on it is another thing. The fact for some house under construction of being completely dependent on those specific bricks specifically available in some building-supply store is one thing; the fact for the house in question of being dependent (or partly dependent) on nothing else than those bricks—for instance, cement—is another thing. When two things are interdependent only to some extent, the dependence is either partial on both sides or complete only in one side; when they are dependent only of each other, the dependence is exclusive on both sides.

It is true that, if a statement were actually reducible to a tautology via the play of synonyms independently of reality, its analyticity couldn’t but be supposed by its reducibility; but Quine does not identify what is the reason for such impossibility. Namely that, when two terms (or a term and a sequence of terms) are in some language claimed to be synonymous with each other, the latter are actually synonymous depending on whether reality confirms (instead of refuting) what the considered language claims to be their synonymy.

As for the issue of tautologies (i.e., the issue of those statements that the logical laws one follows claim to be true by the sole operation of those laws), Quine’s claim that the logical laws (i.e., the rules one follows in the construction of reasonings in order to reason in a coherent mode) as they stand at some point are (completely) interdependent with the whole of the ongoing scientific theories—and dependent only on them (though not reciprocally)—is actually exaggerated.

Instead, the logical laws one makes use of at some point are obtained strictly as much through one’s empirical impression or empirical conjecturing as, besides, through one’s hypothetical suprasensible impression, through one’s hypothetical conjecturing from one’s hypothetical suprasensible impression, and through one’s hypothetical conjecturing from other hypothetical conjectures (whether they are borrowed—and whether they are scientific claims) from sensible experience, other hypothetical conjectures (whether they are borrowed—and whether they are also empirically conjectured) from suprasensible impression, and other hypothetical conjectures (whether they are borrowed—and whether they are also empirically conjectured) from sensible impression—and are therefore dependent to some extent (and only to some extent) on the ongoing scientific theories, but not only dependent on the ongoing scientific theories. While the latter are obtained strictly as much through one’s conjectures from one’s logical laws, as through one’s hypothetical sensible impression as through one’s hypothetical suprasensible impression, as through one’s conjectures from sensible experience as through one’s hypothetical conjectures from (hypothetical) sensible impression, as through one’s hypothetical conjectures from (hypothetical) suprasensible impression, as through one’s hypothetical conjectures from hypothetical other conjectures from (hypothetical) sensible experience, hypothetical other ones from some logical laws, hypothetical other ones from (hypothetical) suprasensible impression, and hypothetical other ones from (hypothetical) sensible impression (whether those hypothetical other conjectures are one’s conjectures or borrowed to someone else)—and are therefore dependent (in a complete mode) on one’s logical laws, but not only dependent on one’s logical laws. Hence the logical laws are interdependent to some extent (and only to some extent) with the scientific theories—and notably (but not only) dependent on them, and reciprocally.

Other problems with “Quine’s epistemological holism” should be addressed, which I’ll leave aside here. Regarding the question of whether a logical law can be objectively certain, O.W. Quine is right against Ayn Rand that no logical law can be objectively certain. The Randian ontology (which Quine, to my knowledge, does not address) is notably flawed in that it believes the traditionally admitted logical laws in formal logic (namely the laws of identity, non-contradiction, excluded-middle, etc.) to be deduced from ontological laws objectively grasped through sensible experience.

The fact is that sensible experience allows us to notice that those entities inhabiting our fragment of the universe are characterized with identity (i.e., the fact of being what they are—and only what they are—at some point in some respect), non-contradiction (i.e., the fact of not being both what they are and what they are not at some point in some respect), excluded-middle (i.e., the fact of being either something or something else, but not both, at some point in some respect), etc.; but allows us to notice neither that those characteristics are (either intrinsically or extrinsically) necessary in that moment of the universe nor that they are (either intrinsically or extrinsically) necessary in any moment of the universe nor that they are necessary in any entity inhabiting the universe at any moment of the universe.

Though the human mind can conjecture (from sensible experience) or have the impression (from sensible experience) that those characteristics are present in all entities at any moment and intrinsically necessary (in a strong mode), or come to the belief that they are present in all entities at any moment and intrinsically necessary (in a strong mode) following suprasensible experience (which is, at best, approximative), it cannot grasp those alleged omnipresence in time and space and intrinsic necessity through sensible experience. Just as both Quine and Rand are right that no logical law one makes use of at some point can be true independently of reality, both unfortunately miss the fact that is suprasensible experience (in some humans) and the fact that a logical law used, trusted, at some point in someone’s mind (whether it is one universally admitted in the community of scientists and scholars at the considered moment) is sometimes the fruit, notably, of suprasensible experience (or notably its fruit to some extent).

Another flaw in Randian ontology is that it conceives of the claim that the world is eternal (i.e., endowed with no temporal beginning and with no temporal ending) and intrinsically necessary as a claim merely describing an objective component of sensible experience. Yet sensible intelligence allows us to notice that there is existence around us, but not that “existence exists” in an eternal, intrinsically necessary mode; such claim is really a conjecture from sensible experience or an account of a sensible impression, not a description of all or part of sensible experience. Sensible experience does not even allow us to notice whether those entities around us are existent outside of the sensible experience we have of them, i.e., are existent as external rather than simulated entities.

Just like a concept correspondent with reality is one whose object with its constitutive properties such as posited in the concept’s attached definition exists in reality (whether one speaks of the material realm of reality), a concept not-correspondent with reality is one whose object with its constitutive properties such as posited in the concept’s attached definition lacks in reality (whether one speaks of the material realm of reality). (Since a concept’s meaning, i.e., its object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties, is socially held as synonymous with the concept’s socially attached definition, saying that a concept’s object is correctly or incorrectly posited, defined, in the concept in question is a convenient way of saying that it is correctly or incorrectly posited, defined, in the concept’s socially attached definition).

In contradiction with its own claim that no statement can be true or wrong independently of reality, the Randian ontology surreptitiously conceives of some kind of statement as being one wrong (and proven wrong) independently of reality. What the Randian ontology calls a “stolen concept” is a concept that, in some statement, finds itself used in such a way that the statement in question finds itself both asserting the validity of that concept (i.e., its correspondence with reality) and denying the validity (i.e., the correspondence with reality) of another concept on which “it logically and genetically depends.” According to the Randian ontology, the self-contradiction present in any statement stealing a concept B from a concept A is not only independent of reality; it proves (despite itself) the validity of the concept A (i.e., the correspondence of the concept A with reality).

Further, according to the Randian ontology, the Proudhonian statement that “property is theft,” as well as, for instance, the statement that “the laws of logic are arbitrary,” are such cases of a statement stealing a concept B from a concept A. While the allegedly self-contradictory character of the statement that “property is theft” allegedly proves the legitimate, not-stolen character of peacefully acquired private property, the allegedly self-contradictory character of the statement that “the laws of logic are arbitrary” allegedly proves the existence of objectively certain laws in logic. A fact worth recalling as a prelude to identifying the flaws of the Randian ontology on the issue of the “stolen concept” is that most concepts are endowed with a general meaning and sub-meanings, i.e., modalities of the general meaning, such as the general meaning itself taken in isolation. (The several sub-meanings contained in a same concept are not to be confused with the several concepts a same word subsumes).

Thus the concept of color includes a sub-meaning for which the correspondent definition in language is a “visual characteristic distinct from the size, the thickness, the transparency, and the shape”—as well as a sub-meaning for which the socially correspondent definition is a “visual characteristic associated with a wavelength.” (Since a meaning or sub-meaning is socially deemed to be synonymous with the socially attached definition, saying that the concept of color includes the sub-meaning, for instance, of a “visual characteristic distinct from the size, the thickness, the transparency, and the shape” is a convenient way of saying that the definition socially attached to one of its sub-meanings is as put above).

The statement that “the red is not a color” is one that the Randian ontology would qualify as a theft of concept. Said ontology would have us believe that, in “the red is not a color,” the concept of color is a necessary condition for the concept of red; and that the statement in question is thus rendered self-contradictory and that the contradiction in question proves the existence of “color” in the world.

The statement that “the white and the black are not colors” is also one that the Randian ontology would qualify as a theft of concept. It would have us believe that, in such statement, the concepts of white and black are “stolen;” and that their allegedly stolen character proves the correspondence of the concept of color with reality. Yet the statement that “the red is not a color” is admittedly self-contradictory (in that the concept of color—regardless of which sub-meaning for the concept of color is retained in the statement in question—serves as a necessary condition for the concept of red); but that self-contradictory character does not prove the concept of color to be correspondent with reality.

A statement saying two things that contradict each other does not prove the existence of one or other of those things—including when it comes to a statement both denying the correspondence (with reality) of a concept A and claiming the correspondence (with reality) of a concept B for which the concept A serves as a necessary condition. The self-contradictory character of such statement proves no more the correspondence of the concept A than it proves the correspondence of the concept B.

As for the statement that “the white and the black are not colors,” instead of such statement being necessarily self-contradictory, it is actually self-contradictory when taking the concept of color in the general meaning of “a visual characteristic distinct from the size, the thickness, the transparency, and the shape;” but not when taking that concept in the more precise meaning of a visual characteristic that—besides being distinct from the size, the thickness, the transparency, and the shape—finds itself associated with a wavelength. In such statement, the concepts of white and black find themselves “stolen” when it comes to the concept of color taken in the above-evoked general meaning, not when it comes to the above-evoked more precise meaning. Even when the concept of color finds itself taken in the above-evoked general meaning, the statement that “the white and the black are not colors” does not prove the concept of color to be correspondent with reality.

The Randian claim that a statement stealing a concept B from a concept A proves (despite itself) the correspondence of the concept A—and that those statements that are “property is theft” or “the laws of logic are arbitrary” accordingly prove the respective correspondence of the concepts of (legitimate) property and of (objectively certain) logic laws—is flawed at two levels. On the one hand, it misses the fact that a statement stealing a concept B from a concept A does not prove the concept A to be correspondent with reality; on the other hand, it misses the fact that a same statement can be both a statement stealing a concept B from a concept A when A or B is taken in a certain sub-meaning—and a statement making use of the concept B coherently with the concept A when A or B is taken in another sub-meaning. Thus if, in the statement “property is theft,” one takes the concept of property in the sub-meaning of “private property,” and the concept of theft in the sub-meaning of “the private property of what is given to everyone without any distinction,” then the use made of the concept of theft is actually coherent with the concept of property.

The statement “property is theft” is indeed to be taken then in the sense that “private property is the private property of what is given to everyone without any distinction, what allows to speak of private property as a theft of what is everyone’s property.” Likewise, if one, in the statement “the laws of logic are arbitrary,” takes the concept of laws of logic in the sub-meaning of “the laws one expects oneself and others to follow in the construction of reasonings,” and the concept of arbitrary in the sub-meaning of “the fact of not being objectively corroborated or, at least, of not being objectively certain,” then the use made of the concept of arbitrary is actually coherent with the concept of laws of logic. The statement “the laws of logic are arbitrary” is indeed to be taken then in the sense that “the laws one expects oneself and others to follow in the construction of reasonings are, if not deprived of an objectively corroborated character, at least deprived of an objectively certain character, what allows to speak of them as arbitrary.”

The Idea Of The Good And The Jump From Ideational Essence To Material Existence

In its investigation of the relationship of concepts (whether they are “stolen” or coherently used) to reality, the Randian ontology systemically misses the fact that concepts are corroborated rather than confirmed by reality; and the fact that definitions when updated are not left intact on that occasion but instead dismissed then rectified—whether the update consists of extending or relativizing them.

If we were to discover an animal that, without being a bird, would be endowed with a beak, then the definition associated with the (generic) concept of beak would be rectified from such discovery (rather than updated in a paradoxical mode leaving intact the definition). The concept in question would define, henceforth, its object no more as “a horny, teeth-less mouth only found in birds;” but instead as “a horny, teeth-less mouth like the one, for instance, of a bird.”

On that occasion, the concept of beak would evolve with its definition and, accordingly, the sequence of terms “a horny, teeth-less mouth only found in birds” would be no more claimed in the language to be synonymous with the term “beak.” Yet the Randian ontology would have us believe that, in the statement “I saw a kind of animal which looked like a bear except it was endowed with a beak like a bird,” the concept of beak is “stolen” from the concept of bird. The fact is that, in such statement, the concept of beak is implicitly updated in such a way that the use made of said concept in said statement is one coherent with the concept of bird (rather than one stealing the concept of beak from the concept of bird). Holding such statement does not prove that a beak is indeed a horny, teeth-less mouth that is notably (but not only) constitutive of a bird, which is also constitutive of a certain genre of animal that (except it is endowed with a beak like a bird) looks like a bear.

Yet the human knowledge of an individual material entity’s material essence (i.e., the sum of an individual entity’s constitutive properties over the course of its existence—whether those are generic or unique, and whether those are intrinsically necessary or extrinsically contingent or extrinsically necessary) only occurs through conjecturing from the sensible datum (or from sensible impression)—and through suprasensible intuition. It cannot occur through mere sensible intuition as the latter, while allowing us to touch, see, etc., some individual entities, gives us empirical access neither to the material essences of those empirically accessed individual entities—nor to their ideational essences.

While the material essence of an individual material entity is the sum of all the entity’s constitutive properties over the course of its existence, the ideational essence of an individual material entity, which finds itself inscribed in an ideational model, is the sum of all the entity’s properties over the course of its existence (including those properties that are accessory rather than constitutive). Humans could deduce the material essences from empirical intuition if—and only if—empirical intuition of the universe’s whole infinite content and whole past, present, and future history were possible to humans; but such mode of empirical intuition is impossible to them.

What they are left with if they are to grasp the material essences is the following two options. On the one hand, conjecturing what are those material essences from our sensible intuition of a certain portion of the universe—namely that portion of the universe that is empirically offered to us at a certain point of its history. (Induction is part—and only part—of such conjecturing process). On the other hand, grasping suprasensibly the ideational essences of the individual material entities—more precisely, the modeled constitutive properties inscribed within those ideational essences contained in ideational models. Both processes are doomed to be endless ones which can only obtain results that are, at best, approximative. Just like suprasensible experience can only grasp a deformed, mutilated echo of the ideational realm taken as a whole or of an ideational entity within it, sensible experience can only grasp a singular entity as it stands at some point, not its material essence nor the universe taken as a whole at some point nor the universe taken as whole in its whole past, present, and future history.

As for the (material) existence of some entity at some point of the universe, it is no more a product of the fact that the correspondent ideational essence includes the property of existing than it can be deduced from the fact that the concept for the singular material entity in question includes (if correctly constructed) the property of existing. The existence itself of God, whom I perhaps should clarify is not to be confused with what, following Plato’s wording, can be called “the Idea of Good,” cannot be deduced from the fact that the concept of God (if correctly constructed) includes the impossibility for God not to exist in an eternal mode.

In essence, Plato correctly referred to the Idea of Good as being itself not an ideational model for some hypothetical singular entity—but instead the ideational entity allowing for several ideational models to exist, to be what they are, and to be an object of knowledge. It should be added that the Idea of Good is, more precisely, a sorting, actualizing pulse that, while encompassing (and expressing itself through) the whole realm of the ideational models (both generic and singular), chooses in an atemporal, virtual mode which of the hypothetical material singular entities are to be concretized at some point in the material, temporal realm.

Also, it should be added that the universe taken as a whole—and perhaps each parallel universe taken as a whole—are a material, temporal incarnation of the Idea of Good (which thus serves as an ideational model for the universe taken as whole—and perhaps for other universes parallel to ours); and that the Idea of Good nonetheless remains completely external to the universe while incarnating itself into the universe. The same applies to those ideational models for possible singular material entities which are concretized—namely that they incarnate themselves into the correspondent material singular entities while remaining completely external to them and completely virtual.

While our universe is temporal and endowed with a temporal beginning from the nothingness, the Idea of Good whose incarnation it is is both atemporal (i.e., subject to a time in which past, present, and future are simultaneous) and eternal (i.e., subject to a time with no beginning and no end); but neither the Idea of Good nor the universe nor any material singular entity can have its existence deduced from its concept. The existence of a hypothetical material entity (within the universe) modeled in some correctly posited, defined, concept could be deduced from the inclusion of the property of existing in the concept in question if—and only if—the property of existing inscribed in an ideational essence were implied by all or part of the non-existential properties inscribed in an ideational essence. Just like the same applies to the universe, the same applies to the Idea of Good and to God himself: namely, that the (ideational) existence of the Idea of Good could be deduced from the fact its (correctly defined) concept includes its existence (in an eternal, intrinsically necessary mode with an eternal, intrinsically necessary permanence) if—and only if—its property of existing were implied by all or part of its non-existential properties; but an existential property has something to do with all or part of the non-existential properties neither in the Idea of Good nor in God nor in any hypothetical singular material entity modeled in an Idea nor in any material singular entity present at some point within our universe.

Our universe is not only made of the presence of those material singular entities inhabiting it at different stages of its history; it is also made of the absence of those material singular entities which, in an other scenario for the universe, would have been perhaps present but that, in the actual universe, are lacking at any stage of its history. Any (purely) fictional entity in our universe is an entity whose absence is a component for our universe; but not any absent entity is a fictional entity, i.e., an entity present in the fictional realm imagined in our universe. Whether an absent entity is fictional, its absence is an ingredient of our universe; whether it is fictional, its absence cannot be deduced from the fact its concept (if correctly posited, defined) includes its property not of (materially) existing.

Each ideational model in the virtual, atemporal plane includes a set of existential properties, i.e., a set of properties about whether the concerned modeled entity is modeled as an existing entity (and about the modeled mode of existence in the general sense for the concerned modeled entity—if the latter happens to be modeled as an existing entity); but the fact for a certain ideational model of including the property that the concerned modeled entity is endowed with existence does not render said entity an actually existing entity in our universe. Reciprocally, the fact for a certain ideational model, of including the property that the concerned modeled entity is deprived of existence, does not render said entity an actually inexistent entity in our universe. Just like, in an existent singular material entity, the property of existing is not implied by all or part of the non-existential properties, the presence of the property of existing in a modeled hypothetical entity is not implied by all or part of the included non-existential properties.

The fact that the presence of the property of existing in some ideational essence has nothing to do with what are the non-existential properties present within the ideational essence in question serves as a necessary, sufficient condition for the fact that the fact for an existent singular material entity of being has nothing to do with the fact for said entity of being what it is (in addition to its existential properties).

The only way for material existence of being deduced from the presence of the property of existing within the ideational essence would be that the property of existing included in the ideational essence is implied by all or part of the included non-existential properties; but none of the existential properties included in the ideational essence has something to do with the non-existential properties included in the ideational essence. If the fact for the ideational model of some hypothetical singular entity of including the modeled property of existing were a product of all or part of the non-existential properties modeled in the ideational model in question, then the hypothetical singular entity in question would be rendered materially existent by the sole presence of the property of existing within its ideational essence, then its material existence could be deduced from the sole fact its ideational essence includes the property of existing.

Conversely, if the fact for the ideational model of some hypothetical singular entity of including the modeled property of existing has nothing to do with all or part of the modeled non-existential properties inscribed in the ideational model in question, then the hypothetical singular entity in question is not rendered existent by the sole presence of the property of existing within its ideational essence, then its existence cannot be deduced from the sole fact its ideational essence includes the property of existing. The sorting, actualizing pulse that is the Idea of Good is instead what renders actually existent some modeled hypothetical singular entity endowed with the property of existing; just like it is what renders actually inexistent some modeled hypothetical singular entity endowed with the property of not existing—and some modeled hypothetical singular entity nonetheless endowed with the property of existing.

When selecting which immaterial, atemporal Ideas are concretized in our material, temporal universe, it is quite conceivable that the Idea of Good does not only get incarnated into our universe, but also into other universes parallel to ours. Thus it is quite conceivable that, in some universe parallel to ours, there can be found some singular entities that instead belong to fiction in ours and some fictional characters that are instead real in ours: for instance, there may be some parallel universe in which Tong Po and Attila are real, but Mohamed Qissi and Abdel Qissi fictional characters…

Conclusion—And The Idea Of The World’s Contingency

The “dignity of man” lies in his intermediate position between a beast (but one with chaotic instincts) and a being-like-divine (but who is only like-divine rather than divine strictly speaking). Whether when it comes to combatting bad magic in the name of good magic, or bad technique in the name of good technique, “the former is the most deceptive practice,” but “the latter is the deepest and the holiest philosophy.” “The former is sterile and vain,” but “the latter firm, trustworthy and unshakeable.” God does not only expect the human to hunt the material essences, the knowledge of which in humans can be approximative, but can never be achieved; he also expects the humans to co-create the universe alongside God himself, what is an endless task which asks to be carried out through knowledge, technique, and magic—and in complete submission to the laws that God established in its work and faces Himself.

The universe is neither meaningless nor God-forsaken; but the cosmic march proceeding under an ideational sun whose materialized light it is proceeds through mistakes which man as the bearer of a torch imitating the sun is expected to repair in complete humility to the sun. The question of whether the universe is contingent is, precisely, to be asked, on the one hand, from the angle of meaning: is the universe meaningful—rather than gratuitous, vain? On the other hand, it must be asked from the angle of factuality: is the universe’s existence intrinsically necessary, i.e., self-sufficient and inescapable? Yet the universe—in that it is God’s incarnation—is driven by God’s persistent, fallible attempt to engender increasingly higher order and complexity within the universe, an attempt that is carried out in turn for what is the tendency towards entropy in the universe’s isolated systems. Thus the universe is endowed with meaning—the meaning that is purposeful creation of order and complexity, in which the human is invited to take part. Also, the universe’s existence is endowed with a temporal beginning—and therefore devoid of that mode of intrinsic necessity that is the one consisting of existing in an uncreated, inescapable mode.

If the universe had created itself from nothingness without its existence being inescapable, then its existence would be neither intrinsically nor extrinsically necessary; instead it would be extrinsically contingent. If the universe had created itself from nothingness without its existence being escapable, then the universe’s existence would be intrinsically necessary (rather than extrinsically necessary, intrinsically contingent, or extrinsically contingent); but the involved mode here of an intrinsically necessary existence would be the one consisting of existing in a self-created (rather than uncreated), inescapable (rather than avoidable) mode. If the universe was a product by God, then the universe would be extrinsically necessary (rather than intrinsically necessary or extrinsically contingent); whether it was created by God as permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode—or instead as provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode or even as permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode.

For my part, I claim the universe was created by God—but created neither as an emergent property of God nor as a product of God, but instead as an incarnation of God. Though God’s self-incarnation is a relational intrinsically necessary property co-eternal with God, the universe’s existence is not eternal—but instead endowed with a temporal beginning. Though the relational, innate property that is God’s self-incarnation finds itself occurring in a strong intrinsically necessary mode, the universe’s existence is both intrinsically contingent (and therefore extrinsically necessary)—and permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode—with regard to God; and extrinsically contingent—and permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode—with regard to the nothingness chronologically prior to the universe’s chronological start.


Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He also worked on a (currently finalized) conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website:  gregoirecanlorbe.com.


Featured image: “Earthbound,” by Evelyn De Morgan, painted 1897.

On The dignity Of Man: The Idea Of The Good And Knowledge Of Essences. Part II.

Causality, Necessity And Permanence

Existence at some point in material entities is both endowed with an originated character (i.e., the character of finding its origin somewhere—whether the entity is created rather than uncreated); and with the character of being either permanent (i.e., doomed to continue) or provisory (i.e., doomed to end). Also, material entities (such as the human intellect represents them to itself in its impressions or in its conjectures, if not from sensible experience, at least from what it thinks to be sensible experience taken as such, i.e., naked, mere sensible experience) are engaged in causal relations; what is tantamount to saying that they’re endowed with causal relational properties. Though some men are able to have suprasensible access (to the ideational realm), their access is irremediably made, strictly, of “impressions” (i.e., illusions produced by suprasensible experience), which are approximately true at best.

As for the human intellect’s contact with sensible experience, it is (strictly) made of observations and of impressions (i.e., illusions produced by sensible experience, which look like sensible experience but are instead deformed echoes of what is actually observed). Yet Hume’s assertion, in essence, that the concept of (efficient) cause in the human intellect is the strict account of the impression of a sequence necessarily repeated identically that is only produced in it by the regular sensible experience of a chain repeating itself identically (under identical circumstances) is false on at least two levels.

On the one hand, that affirmation confuses the concept of (efficient) cause and the concept of an efficient cause whose effect is not only necessary at time t but necessarily identical to itself over the course of time. On the other hand, it is mistaken about the relation of the human intellect to sensible experience, which it wrongly conceives of as a strict relation of observation and impression by habit. One thing is to say that the impact of the ball with the pool cue is the efficient cause of the movement of the ball at time t, but another is to say that the impact in question necessarily causes the movement in question at the concerned time.

Yet another is to say that, if, in the future, the shock is repeated strictly identically under strictly identical circumstances, then the effect itself will necessarily repeat itself each time (and, each time, will necessarily repeat identically); regardless of the time the shock identically repeats under identical circumstances.

As for the relation of the ontological concepts of the human intellect (including the efficient cause—and the efficient cause jointly necessary and necessarily identical to itself under identical circumstances over time) to sensible experience, it is most likely that each ontological concept taken in isolation, whatever it may be, finds its complete origin, either in one or more human instincts, or in conjectures of the human intellect in contact with (naked) sensible experience, or in one or more sensible impressions (i.e., one or more impressions produced by the sensible experience on the human intellect), or in conjectures of the human intellect in contact with one or more sensible impressions, or in a legacy of the acquired culture, or in one or more suprasensible impressions, or in a mixture between all or part of those things.

Whatever its origin, the human intellect opts for trusting an ontological concept in its possession if (and only if) it judges the latter as being confirmed by the sensible (and hypothetically suprasensible) experience or judges it as being (highly) corroborated by the sensible (and hypothetically suprasensible) experience or judges it as being (highly) corroborated in the panoramic sense.

Even if the concept of (efficient) cause were actually the strict fruit of the account of a certain (sensible) impression made on the human mind, the presence of that concept in the human intellect cannot have as a necessary condition the account of the (sensible) impression made on the human intellect by the specific mode of chaining that is a chain of events repeating itself identically under identical circumstances; because any observed sequence making an impression on the human intellect, whether the sequence in question is repeated (and whether it is identically repeated under identical circumstances), would then be capable of producing the impression of the action of an efficient cause. But, although sensible experience is only able to corroborate our ontological concepts and the suprasensible is only made of impressions, the relation of the human mind to the latter is actually active (and not only passive, i.e., not only made of observations and impressions).

Our intellect is active towards them in that it assesses them and relies on them. Whether the human intellect confuses sensible impression with sensible experience when thinking some ontological concept (for instance, the concept of efficient cause) to be (highly) corroborated by sensible experience changes nothing to the fact that it then thinks the ontological concept in question to be (highly) corroborated by sensible experience; just like the fact that it confuses sensible impression with sensible experience when thinking some ontological concept (for instance, the concept of efficient cause) to be confirmed by sensible experience changes nothing to the fact that it then thinks the ontological concept in question to be confirmed by sensible experience.

Yet the human intellect doesn’t only endorse this or that ontological concept according to whether it thinks or not the latter to be empirically confirmed or (either empirically or panoramically) corroborated; it also tries to articulate them with each other in the way that makes most sense in view of each other, in view of sensible experience, and in view of corroboration in a panoramic sense. I intend to show (a few lines later) that those causal relational properties that are identically repeated when identical circumstances are repeated make most sense when understood as constitutive properties that are, besides, correspondent to intrinsically necessary dispositions that—in addition to their presence at the “substantial” level in the entity—apply to any moment witnessing the presence of some circumstances. I cannot say more about it for now.

Just like those causal relational properties identically repeated (when identical circumstances are repeated) are part of the constitutive properties of a (singular) material entity endowed with such properties, they’re part of the constitutive properties of a generic material entity endowed with such properties. Therefore they as much belong, so to speak, to the adequate definition for the concept whose object is the singular entity in question as they belong, so to speak, to the concept whose object is the generic entity in question.

The “eye of the world” that is the human (not in the sense that he is a way for the universe of seeing, knowing, the universe—either correctly or approximately—but in the sense that he is able, mandated, to approach exact knowledge of the universe without ever reaching it) is notably able (and mandated) to approach exact knowledge of the material essences in material entities without ever reaching said knowledge. (Approximative) knowledge of the “laws of nature” is, precisely, part of the (approximative) wider knowledge of “material essences.”

What “material essence” exactly means in the article is the set of the constitutive properties in a material entity (which—as I intend to develop a few lines later—are not all “natural” properties and are not all “substantial” properties). Grasping perfectly (or almost perfectly) a material essence in a material entity amounts to obtaining a perfect (or almost perfect) definition of the concept for the material entity in question.

When a material entity is rendered the object of a concept, the concept in question always means, indeed, the entity in question strictly taken from the angle of its constitutive properties, i.e., strictly taken from the angle of its material essence. As for the definition socially correspondent (in some language) to a concept whose object is a material entity, it exposes what the language in question thinks are the constitutive properties of the material entity in question. Hence the concept in question and its socially correspondent definition are held as synonyms in the language in question.

Part of the cognitive process leading to move closer to perfect knowledge of a material essence consists of selecting some socially admitted definitions and questioning their validity. It is worth specifying that pseudo-definitions must be distinguished from actual definitions. While the latter only deal with constitutive properties (and with the totality of the constitutive properties), the former deal with any kind of property.

Also, while the latter notably include ones socially admitted, which, in some language, are attached to correspondent concepts and accordingly held to be synonymous with the concepts in question, the former are of strictly private use. Just like the fact that some language deems some definition to be true (i.e., to expose adequately the totality of the constitutive properties in the correspondent concept’s object) doesn’t render the definition in question true, the fact that some language deems two terms or a term and a sequence of terms (when taken in a certain conceptual acceptation) to be synonymous (i.e., endowed with equivalent senses) doesn’t render them true synonyms. While a concept (strictly) means its object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties (setting aside for now the case of those concepts with meaning-modalities), its definition (strictly) exposes what the definition in question claims are the constitutive properties in the concept’s object.

Whether a concept deals with a singular entity (either material or ideational), a genre (either material or ideational), or a property (either material or ideational), its socially admitted definition (in some language) is socially deemed to be synonymous with its meaning, i.e., with its object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties.

For instance, if some language defines the genre duck as “a waterbird with a broad blunt bill, short legs, webbed feet, and a waddling gait,” then the term “duck” (when taken in the right conceptual acceptation) and sequence “a waterbird with a broad blunt bill, short legs, webbed feet, and a waddling gait” will be held as synonymous in the language in question. In other words, the concept duck’s meaning (i.e., the object referred to as duck taken from the angle of its constitutive properties) will be deemed to be synonymous with the meaning of the above-evoked sequence.

Just like any concept for a genre (whether it deals with a genre of ideational singular entities or a genre of material singular entities) deals with some of the generic properties of some singular entity, any concept for a singular entity (whether it deals with an ideational singular entity or a material singular entity) deals with the whole of the constitutive properties in its object.

The set of those generic properties in a singular entity (whether it is material or ideational) that are constitutive is only part of the constitutive properties; but, while the constitutive properties are only part of the properties in a material singular entity, all properties in an ideational singular entity are constitutive properties.

Just like any material entity is a singular (rather than generic) entity, any ideational entity is a singular (rather than generic) entity. Also, just like any entity (whether it is material or ideational) falls within some genres, the expression “generic entity” is only a convenient way of designating a genre to which some entity (either material or ideational) happens to belong. For instance, the singular material entity that is a singular duck belongs to the “generic material entity” that is the genre duck; and the singular ideational entity that is the singular Idea for some singular duck belongs to the “generic ideational entity” that is the generic Idea for the genre duck.

In both cases, the genre in question—instead of being an entity strictly speaking—is only a set of constitutive properties. Also, in both cases, those generic properties that are constitutive are only part of the constitutive properties; but, while the constitutive properties of a singular material duck are themselves only part of the duck’s properties, all properties in the singular ideational model for the singular material duck in question are constitutive properties.

A concept for an alleged singular entity (whether it is material or ideational) always deals (only) with the set of the constitutive properties in its object; but, while a concept for an ideational singular entity deals with all properties in its object (as all properties in its object are constitutive), a concept for a material singular entity deals with only some part of the properties in its object. The hypothetical entity modeled in an ideational entity must be distinguished from the ideational entity. Here I won’t deal with what are the properties in an ideational singular entity apart from those related to how it designs the hypothetically materialized entity modeled within it.

All properties in a genre or in a property are constitutive, not all properties in a singular entity; but here I will leave aside the case of those concepts dealing with a property (apart from noting that those concepts also deal with their respective object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties). Just like a same word can subsume several concepts (for instance, the word “duck”), a same concept can subsume several meanings—namely a general meaning and its several modalities (paradoxically including the general meaning itself taken in isolation).

For instance, the concept of color includes a general meaning for which the socially admitted correspondent definition is “a visual characteristic distinct from those visual characteristics that are the size, the shape, the thickness, and the transparency;” and subaltern, specific meanings—including one for which the socially admitted correspondent definition is “a visual characteristic that, besides being distinct from those other visual characteristics that are the size, the shape, the thickness, and the transparency, finds itself associated with a wavelength.”

If correctly constructed (what is tantamount to saying: if correctly defined), a concept for some material entity (or for some generic material entity) endowed with only one meaning is then perfectly mirroring the modeled constitutive properties inscribed in the ideational essence of its object (without the ideational essence containing only those properties in the modeled entity that are constitutive); just like, if correctly constructed (what is tantamount to saying: if correctly defined), a same concept for several material entities (or several generic material entities) endowed with a general meaning and some modalities for the latter is then perfectly mirroring the modeled constitutive properties inscribed in the respective ideational essence for the respective object of each of its meaning-modalities (without the respective ideational essences containing only those properties in the respective modeled entities that are constitutive).

Just like a good definition generally speaking (i.e., a good definition as much in the case of ideational as in the one of material objects, as much in the case of generic objects as in the one of singular objects, as much in the case of entities-objects as in the case of properties-objects, and as much in the case of real objects as in the case of unreal objects) strictly deals with the correspondent concept’s object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties (or with the constitutive properties of one of the correspondent concept’s objects), the set of the constitutive properties in a (singular) material entity form what may be called its material essence.

Yet a proper presentation of the way the essence in any material entity is subdivided into four distinct essences (namely the ideational essence, the material essence, the natural essence, and the substantial essence) requires preliminary partial presentation of the subdivision between the several kinds of property totally or partly present in any entity (whether ideational or material)—and of the subdivision between the several kinds of origin and of permanence (or provisority) for existence in an existent entity (whether ideational or material).

The properties in an individual entity (at some point) are notably classified as follows:

  1. Constitutive properties vs. accessory properties.
  2. Intrinsically necessary properties vs. intrinsically or extrinsically contingent properties.
  3. Extrinsically necessary properties vs. intrinsically necessary or extrinsically contingent properties.
  4. Unique properties vs. generic properties.
  5. Relational properties vs. non-relational properties.
  6. Existential properties vs. non-existential properties (i.e., qualities).
  7. Fundamental properties vs. secondary properties.
  8. Innate properties vs. emergent properties (whether in the general sense of posteriorly appearing properties—or in the precise sense of posteriorly appearing properties bringing about novelty in the world in terms of non-existential characteristics, i.e., in terms of qualities).
  9. Permanent properties in an intrinsically necessary mode vs. properties with an extrinsically necessary permanent character or an intrinsically necessary provisory character.
  10. Provisory properties in an intrinsically necessary mode vs. properties permanent in an extrinsically or intrinsically necessary mode.
  11. Compositional properties (i.e., about what the entity is made of) vs. formal properties (i.e., about how the entity is shaped from its matter).
  12. Dispositional properties (i.e., about what the entity would do if put in presence in some circumstances at some moment) vs. concrete properties.

As for the modes of origin and permanence (or provisority) for an entity, they’re notably classified as follows. 1) Intrinsically necessary entities versus intrinsically or extrinsically contingent entities. 2) Permanent entities in an intrinsically necessary mode versus entities provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode—or permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode.

An intrinsically necessary property of the strong kind is one that an entity (whether it is material), at some point, cannot but possess independently of what are the entity’s relations at any point of its existence (and independently of whether the entity has relations at any point of its existence); except the entity in question needs to be presently existent (if it is to possess the property in question), what requires some relations at some point before in the case of any entity different from God.

An intrinsically necessary property of the weak kind is one that an entity, at some point, cannot but possess independently of what are the entity’s relations at any point of its existence (and independently of whether the entity has relations at any point of its existence); except the entity in question needs to be presently existent and intact (if it is to possess the property in question), what requires some relations at some point before in the case of any entity different from God.

Just like the entity’s existence at the present time is a necessary, sufficient cause for any intrinsically necessary property of the strong kind that is then present in the entity, the entity’s existence and integrity at the present time is a necessary, sufficient cause for any intrinsically necessary property of the weak kind that is then present in the entity. An intrinsically necessary property (whether it is of the strong kind) that is dispositional is a modality of an intrinsically necessary property; but not any dispositional property is an intrinsically necessary property.

An extrinsically necessary property is one that an entity, at some point, cannot but possess due to the entity’s existence and to the combination, at some point before, between the entity’s existence, an intrinsically necessary property (for instance, a dispositional intrinsically necessary property) in the entity, and one or more relations in which the entity finds itself engaged at that anterior moment.

For instance, the property for a point mass, at some point, of exerting an attraction force towards another one that is “proportional to the product of the two masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them” is a relational extrinsically necessary property that is a forced product of the entity’s existence at that point and of the combination (at some point before) between the entity’s existence, another relational property (namely the presence of another point mass somewhere), and a dispositional intrinsically necessary property (namely the property of exerting an attraction force such as described above when another point mass is present somewhere).

An intrinsically contingent property is one whose existence, at some point, in an entity finds a necessary, sufficient cause in the fact that the entity’s existence at that point is added to the occurrence, at some point before, of a combination between the entity’s existence, an intrinsically necessary property in the entity, and one or more relations on its part at that anterior moment.

Just like any intrinsically contingent property is one extrinsically necessary, any extrinsically necessary property is one intrinsically contingent. An extrinsically contingent property is one that is present at some point in an entity as a random product of the fact that the entity’s existence at that point is added to the occurrence, at some point before, of a combination between the entity’s existence, an intrinsically necessary property, and one or more relations; but which finds in that fact whose random product it is a necessary (though not-sufficient) cause.

No relational property (except in the case of God) is one intrinsically necessary; but any relational property (except in the case of God) is either extrinsically contingent or extrinsically necessary. A property that an entity, at some point, possesses because of its present existence and of the combination (at some point before) between a free volition on its part, its existence, one ore more relations on its part, and an intrinsically necessary property in it is a modality of an extrinsically contingent property.

Just like a property that is, at some point, permanent is a property that is, at the considered moment, doomed to continue to exist in the entity without any interruption (so long as the entity will keep up being existent), a property that is, at some point, provisory is a property that is, at the considered moment, doomed to cease to exist in the entity, either in a determinate (or more or less determinate) future moment in which the entity will be still existent, or in an indeterminate (or more or less indeterminate) future moment in which the entity will be still existent.

An intrinsically necessary property (whether it is of the strong kind) is either permanent or provisory; just like an extrinsically necessary property is either permanent of provisory—and just like an extrinsically contingent property is either permanent or provisory.

A permanent property is either permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode or permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode; just like a provisory property is always provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode.

A property that, at some point, is permanent in a strong intrinsically necessary mode is a property that, at the moment in question, is doomed to continue to exist in the entity (so long as the latter will keep up existing) independently of what are the entity’s relations at any point of its existence (and independently of whether the entity has relations at any point of its existence); except the entity in question needs to be presently existent (if the property in question is to be presently permanent), what requires some relations at some point before in the case of any entity different from God.

A property that, at some point, is permanent in a weak intrinsically necessary mode is a property that, at the moment in question, is doomed to continue to exist in the entity (so long as the latter will keep up existing) independently of what are the entity’s relations at any point of its existence (and independently of whether the entity has relations at any point of its existence); except the entity in question needs to be presently existent and intact (if the property in question is to be presently permanent), what requires some relations at some point before in the case of any entity different from God.

Just like the entity’s existence at the present time is a necessary, sufficient cause for the permanence of any property that is presently permanent in a strong intrinsically necessary mode in the entity, the entity’s existence and integrity at the present time is a necessary, sufficient cause for the permanence of any property that is presently permanent in a weak intrinsically necessary mode in the entity.

A property that, at some point, is provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode is a property that, at the moment in question, is doomed to cease to exist in the entity (at a future moment—either determinate (or more or less determinate) or indeterminate (or more or less indeterminate)—in which the entity will be still existent) independently of what are the entity’s relations at any point of its existence (and independently of whether the entity has relations at any point of its existence); except the entity in question needs to be presently existent (if the property in question is to be presently provisory), what requires some relations at some point before in the case of any entity different from God.

The entity’s existence at the present time is a necessary, sufficient cause for the provisory character of any property that is presently provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode in the entity. A property that, at some point, is permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode is a property that, at the considered moment, is permanent because of the entity’s present existence and because of the combination (at some point before) between the entity’s existence, an intrinsically necessary property in the entity, and one or more relations on its part. Any property permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode is also permanent in an intrinsically contingent mode—namely that those things form a necessary, sufficient set of causes for its permanence.

An intrinsically necessary entity is one that, at some point, cannot but exist independently of what are the other entities in the universe (and in the ideational realm) at any point (and independently of whether other entities are existent at any point in the universe and in the ideational realm).

As for an extrinsically necessary entity, it is one that, at some point, cannot but exist due to the combination, at some point before, between another entity’s existence, an intrinsically necessary property in that other entity, and one or more relations in which that other entity finds itself engaged (at that anterior moment).

Just like an entity that cannot but exist in an eternal mode (i.e., in a mode devoid of any beginning in time and any ending in time) is a modality of an entity that is intrinsically necessary, an entity that is self-created but cannot escape its self-creation is another modality of an entity that is intrinsically necessary.

An intrinsically contingent entity is an entity whose existence at some point finds a necessary, sufficient condition in the fact that a combination occurs, at some point before, between another entity’s existence, an intrinsically necessary property in that other entity, and one or more relations in which that other entity finds itself engaged (at that anterior moment).

Just like any intrinsically contingent entity is one extrinsically necessary, any extrinsically necessary entity is one intrinsically contingent.

An extrinsically contingent entity is an entity that, at some point, finds itself, either existent because of the entity’s random self-creation from nothing at some point before, or existent because of the entity’s random apparition, at some point before, from a combination happening even earlier between another entity’s existence, an intrinsically necessary property in the latter, and one or more relations on the latter’s part; and whose present existence finds a necessary, sufficient cause in the fact of having been engendered in one or the other of those ways.

Just like God is an intrinsically necessary entity in an inescapable eternal mode, the universe is both an extrinsically necessary entity with regard to God—and an extrinsically contingent entity in a randomly self-created mode with regard to the nothingness preceding the universe.

No entity apart from the universe can be one, at some point, both extrinsically necessary (from some respect) and extrinsically contingent (from some respect). Just like an entity permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode at some point is an entity that, at the considered moment, is doomed to continue to exist independently of what are the entity’s relations (and independently of whether the entity has relations), an entity provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode at some point is an entity that, at the considered moment, is doomed to cease to exist at a future moment—either determinate (or more or less determinate) or indeterminate (or more or less indeterminate—independently of what are the entity’s relations at any point of its existence (and independently of whether the entity has relations at any point of its existence).

As for an entity permanent in an extrinsically necessary (but intrinsically contingent) mode at some point, it is an entity that, at the considered, is doomed to continue to exist because of the entity’s present existence and because of the combination (at some point before) between the entity’s existence, an intrinsically necessary property in the entity, and one or more relations on its part; and which finds in the set of those causes a necessary, sufficient set of causes for its permanence.

Just as an existent entity that is permanent at a certain moment is an entity that, at the concerned moment, is doomed to continue to exist without any interruption, an existent property that is permanent in a certain entity at a certain moment is a property that, at the concerned moment, is doomed to continue to exist without any interruption in the entity (so long as said entity will exist).

Just as an existent entity that is provisory at a certain moment is an entity that, at the concerned moment, is doomed to cease to exist either at a determinate (or more or less determinate) moment or at an indeterminate (or more or less indeterminate) moment, an existent property that is provisory at a certain moment is a property that, at the concerned moment, is doomed to cease to exist in the entity either at a determinate (or more or less indeterminate) moment in which the entity will still be existent, either at an indeterminate (or more or less indeterminate) moment in which the entity will still be existent.

Just as an existent entity, at a certain moment, is, at the considered moment, either existent in an intrinsically necessary mode, or existent in an extrinsically necessary (but intrinsically contingent) mode, or existent in an extrinsically contingent mode, an existent property in a certain entity, at a certain moment, is, at the considered moment, either existent in an intrinsically necessary mode, or existent in an extrinsically necessary (but intrinsically contingent) mode, or existent in an extrinsically contingent mode.

Just as an existent entity, at a certain moment, is, at the considered moment, either permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode, or provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode, or permanent in an extrinsically necessary (but intrinsically contingent) mode, an existent property in a certain entity, at a certain moment, is, at the considered moment, either permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode, or provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode, or permanent in an extrinsically necessary (but intrinsically contingent) mode.

Rings that, at any time, would render anyone who wears them immortal would provide an extrinsically necessary permanence to the human wearing them on his wrists at a given time; but a machine that provisorily keeps someone alive provides neither any extrinsically necessary permanence nor any permanence at all. The universe is permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode with regard to God; but permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode with respect to the nothingness preceding the universe. No entity other than the universe can be permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode.

In its general sense, “the mode of existence” for an entity here means the set of its existential properties over the course of its existence; but, in its stronger sense, here means the set of those existential properties over the course of its existence that are about the origin for an entity’s existence—plus those about whether and how it is permanent or provisory. Unless specified otherwise, the article will resort to that concept in that stronger sense exclusively.

The mode of existence (in the above-evoked strong sense), at some point, for an entity that is, at that point, existent is an existential innate property with strong intrinsic necessity and with strong intrinsically necessary permanence. Yet a material entity is endowed with four essences.

Firstly, the ideational essence—namely the sum of all the properties of an entity over the course of its existence.

Secondly, the material essence—namely the sum of all the constitutive properties of an entity over the course of its existence.

Thirdly, the natural material essence—namely the sum of all those constitutive properties of an entity over the course of its existence that are intrinsically necessary properties, whether of the weak kind or of the strong kind.

Fourthly, the substantial natural material essence—namely the sum of all those intrinsically necessary constitutive properties of the strong kind that are both innate and endowed with intrinsically necessary permanence of the strong kind.

The mode of existence (i.e., those existential properties about whether and how a material entity is necessary or contingent—and about whether and how it is permanent or provisory) is part of the substantial natural material essence. Just like not any existential property in a material entity is part of the substantial natural material essence, not any substantial natural material property is an existential property; but when a material entity loses all or part of its substantial natural material properties, it always loses its property of existing on that occasion—and reciprocally.

In other words, a material entity ceases to exist when (and only when) it loses all or part of its substantial natural material properties. Any substantial property is a constitutive property; but not any constitutive property is a substantial property. Any intrinsically necessary property is a constitutive property; but not any constitutive property is an intrinsically necessary property. Some generic properties are constitutive properties; but not any generic property is a constitutive property.

Some generic properties are intrinsically necessary; but not any generic property is intrinsically necessary. The natural material essence in a material entity is the sum of all the intrinsically necessary constitutive properties (whether intrinsically necessary of the strong kind) in the entity—including (but not only) those intrinsically necessary constitutive properties in the entity that are generic.

My quadripartite approach to the essence in a material entity allows solving a number of ontological problems—including (but not only) the problem of how and when an entity ceases to exist, namely, that a material entity ceases to exist when (and only when) it loses all or part of its substantial natural material properties, a loss that always brings about the one of the property of existing (though the latter is no more part of the substantial essence in a perishable—and, accordingly, provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode—entity than is the property of dying).

What is more, my approach to the essence in a material entity allows solving the ontological problem of the universe’s jump from nothingness. If someone has voluntarily put a hat on his head at some point and wears it right now, the property in him of wearing a hat is an extrinsically contingent property that is the random product of his present existence and of an earlier combination between an intrinsically necessary dispositional property (namely the ability to put and wear a hat in the ongoing context), existence, and several relations (including the relational property of finding himself in a place where the wind doesn’t prevent him from wearing a hat).

More precisely, it is a modality of an extrinsically contingent property that is an extrinsically contingent property associated with free will—namely the considered human’s free decision to wear a hat. So long as the hat remains pulled down on his head, the hat is then permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode.

As for the universe’s birth from nothingness, just like the toothpaste’s gush from the tube at some point is a non-existential extrinsically necessary property in the toothpaste, the universe’s gush from nothingness at some point (namely at the initial instant in our universe) is, with regard to the nothingness chronologically preceding the universe, an extrinsically contingent mode of origin for the universe that is an existential property intrinsically necessary of the strong kind in the universe.

More precisely, it is a modality of an extrinsically contingent existence that consists of existing in a randomly self-created mode. Yet the universe is (at any point) endowed with intrinsically necessary permanence of the strong kind with regard to the nothingness preceding it. The universe, when considered with respect to the nothingness chronologically anterior to the universe, is therefore a material entity endowed with the innate, intrinsically necessary (of the strong kind) property of being extrinsically contingent—and of being permanent in a strong intrinsically necessary mode.

A third ontological problem that my approach to the essence in a material entity allows solving is the problem of the ontological origin for what is commonly called the “laws of nature”—namely the inescapable regularities (when identical circumstances are repeated over the course of time) in causation from a material entity. I explain those regularities as follows.

Among those relational extrinsically necessary properties that are causal and correspondent to a dispositional innate property with intrinsic necessity (of the strong kind) and intrinsically necessary permanence (of the strong kind), some are unique to a number of times in which the circumstances are identically repeated; but the others apply to any moment in which said circumstances are identically repeated. While the latter are of what may be called a strong type, the former are of what may be called a weak type. While the latter are correspondent to a dispositional innate property with strong intrinsic necessity and strong intrinsically necessary permanence that is, in turn, of the strong type, the former are correspondent to a dispositional innate property with strong intrinsic necessity and strong intrinsically necessary permanence that is, in turn, of the weak type.

For instance, when the ball’s shock with the pool cue causes the ball’s movement, a relational property then present in the pool cue is a causal relational property that consists of causing the ball’s movement; and which is not only a causal relational extrinsically necessary property correspondent to a dispositional innate property with strong intrinsic necessity and with strong intrinsically necessary permanence—but one of the strong type.

In other words, it is a causal relational property that occurs as the forced product of the pool cue’s present existence and of the earlier combination between the pool cue’s existence, a number of relations on its part (including the shock with the ball), and a dispositional innate property (as much with strong intrinsic necessity as with strong intrinsically necessary permanence) that consists of causing the ball’s movement whenever some circumstances are present. Among the substantial natural material properties in an entity, those dispositional innate properties with strong intrinsic necessity and with strong intrinsically necessary permanence that are of the strong type precisely serve as the ontological foundation for the “laws of nature.”

The problem of knowing whether “existence precedes essence” in a material entity is a fourth ontological problem that my approach to the essence in a material entity allows solving. The problem is best understood when put as follows: does a material entity (whether it is endowed with a temporal beginning—and whether it is endowed with intrinsically necessary permanence) have its essence already predefined, preprogrammed, at all stages of its existence?

My take on that issue is the following one. Namely that, in a material entity, the ideational essence indeed precedes material existence (i.e., is indeed predefined, preprogrammed, at all stages of its existence); and that, in a material entity, the substantial natural material essence—and only the latter in the material essence—is also predefined, preprogrammed, at all stages of the entity’s existence.

In other words, while the ideational essence integrally “precedes” material essence, only that component in the material essence that is the substantial natural material essence indeed “precedes” material existence. All other components in the material essence—including the existential property about when the material entity in question ceases to exist in the case where the latter’s mode of existence includes the existential substantial natural material property of being provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode—find themselves “preceded” by material existence for their part. Since the properties covered by the natural material essence are dependent, if not on the entity’s material integrity, at least on the entity’s material existence, they are predefined at no stage of the material entity’s existence—though its existence is a necessary, sufficient condition for those natural properties in the material entity that are intrinsically necessary in a strong mode.

Correctly defining the concept to which some material entity is correspondent consists of correctly presenting those properties in the material entity in question over the course of its material existence that are constitutive—including (but not only) those constitutive properties in the entity that are intrinsically necessary (and therefore natural), whether the latter are intrinsically necessary in a strong mode.

As for correctly defining the concept to which some genre of material entity is correspondent, it consists of correctly presenting those properties in the genre in question that are constitutive; what amounts to (correctly) presenting the whole of the properties present in the genre in question (in that all are constitutive properties), whether they’re intrinsically necessary properties. I will address the respective issues of how a singular man and the generic man should be respectively defined at a later occasion.


Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He also worked on a (currently finalized) conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website: gregoirecanlorbe.com.


The featured image shows, “The Tribute Money,” by Masaccio; painted in 1425.