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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

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.

The Fall Of A Nation

History records again and again that many world leaders think they and their kingdoms will last forever. They think in some cases that their armies will rule the world indefinitely for they are the greatest of all humans. Their nation will outlive and outperform all others.

But what is it that builds a nation? What are the ingredients that build a nation to be kind, generous, strong, and looking after the people that inhabit it? And what are the ingredients that destroy a nation? Second Chronicles 32 & 33 offers us a little insight into these important questions.
Manasseh was born 700 years before Christ and came to the throne at the age of just 12. His father Hezekiah was a good king, in that he built up the kingdom of Judah in the ways of God. We are told that “he did what was right in the eyes of God.” Hezekiah had woven into the fabric of Judean life the standards and values of Almighty God including the Ten Commandments. And because of this God was with him.

Manasseh, his son, was brought up in the faith from birth. He would have known the ways of God, the Scriptures and the Ten Commandments. But instead of following in the ways of his father, he followed in the wicked ways of his grandfather, Ahaz. Isn’t it profoundly sad when a son, or for that matter a daughter, chooses to abandon, and turn away from the faith of their parents? All those years of setting an example, bringing them to church, Sunday School, and praying for them, seemingly come to nothing.

Manasseh, during his wicked and godless reign of 55 years, successfully carried out three things to good effect. Number one, he obliterated the godly principles on which the nation was founded. Second, he encouraged and accelerated the growth of heathenism by allowing any form of godlessness to grow and prosper; Third, he instituted the persecution of the prophets; they were muted or killed. These are the things that destroy a nation.
Is it possible for one person to lead millions into untold evils? Yes, it is. Just one person, armed with an ideology can lead millions into untold evil. Manasseh did it. And he did it for a very long time. Of course, we don’t need to go back as far as Manasseh to see the evidence and outworking of systemic godlessness.

Josef Stalin was once a young man preparing for the Russian Orthodox Ministry. During training as a priest, he abandoned his faith to lead Russia on a purge where his Marxist regime slaughtered upwards of 20 million of its own people. To slaughter 20 million in the biggest country in the world, you need a lot of people to believe and implement your idealogy.

It was a Marxist philosophy with the core belief that there is “no God.” Stalin’s regime told the people a lie and brutally reinforced the lie. He and his regime lied and suppressed the truth. He and his cohorts denied people the truth. He systematically replaced the traditional orthodox belief by instituting Marxism. Marxism or the state would provide for and look after the people, from the cradle to the grave; Not God. God played no part in a person’s life or the state’s life.

On his death bed in 1953; as he lay dying, he raised a defiant clinched fist towards heaven. He died unrepentant. How did one person manage to lead millions into untold evil? Well, in days gone by, when many of the masses were illiterate and uneducated, people did not know how to think for themselves. In many ways they were easily led. The serfs or peasants were unable to think with logic and reason. Chairman Mao leader of the Communist Party in China had a similar approach as Stalin only he managed to murder around 50 million of his own people during the 1950 and 1960 purges.

It was Adolf Hitler, another tyrant in the same mould who said, “if you repeat a lie often enough it eventually becomes thought of as truth.” He started off by blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s woes and then justified it by gassing 12,000 a day.

Brainwashing people with ideologies is nothing new. Many influential people today clamour and exert pressure for the removal of any boundaries, any restraints, for a decent society to exist and any moral absolutes. Moral absolutes are seen as restrictive and abhorrent. The prevailing culture, mainly through education systems, are systematically brainwashing young, impressionable people into believing a lie – that there is no God. There is no such thing as sin or judgement, therefore, there is no need for salvation.

In the very beginning, God placed Adam in the garden of Eden and told him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” There was a restraint, a prohibition placed upon him. If you disobey, there will be consequences.
GK Chesterton said, “Before you tear down a fence, you need to ask first, why is the fence there in the first place?”

One of the ways a nation’s morality can be measured is by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, particularly the elderly and children. How are we treating the elderly in care homes and those isolated in various communities? Is it a level playing field compared with younger sick patients in hospital?

How are we treating our children? What are we doing to the lives of thousands of unborn children killed in the womb for no other reason than that in the vast majority of cases it is inconvenient for the woman? No thought is given to a perfectly healthy child. The NSPCC reports 1 in 5 children in Britain have suffered some form of severe maltreatment, which includes all sorts of serious abuse.

Manasseh destroyed the godly principles on which the nation of Israel was founded – God’s law. He actively encouraged the growth of heathenism, allowing all godless beliefs to flourish; and he brought about the persecution of the prophets. He shut the prophets down. It was a three-pronged attack with the sole aim of removing any trace of God from society. Manasseh worshipped Molloch, who required new born babies as living sacrifices. As the babies cried out the priests beat their drums louder to drown out the cries. Disposing of babies as a commodity to be killed marked where the nation was. It can’t go much lower.

Where a nation is encouraged to live life without any restraints, where there are no boundaries, no absolutes, no sense of personal responsibility – everyone suffers. In particular the innocent, the unborn, and the vulnerable.

The depravity reached a new low when Manasseh even offered his own sons in the fire of Gehenna outside Jerusalem. Once you begin tearing down the things of God, you build up the things not of God, because the void has to be filled by something. As GK Chesterton reminds us, “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” With all sin, wrong doing gives way to further wrong doing. It gets to a point where a person loses any sense of identity and sacredness.

Anthony Bourdain was a 61-year-old celebrity chef, who had it all. Money, fame, and food. In fact, he described it as the greatest job in the world. Yet in June 2018 his body was found in a Paris hotel room; he had tragically taken his own life. It was disclosed that he had been a heavy drinker and a heroin/cocaine addict most of his life.

A couple of years before his death, a member of the audience in one of his many TV shows asked him, “How could I get your job?” He replied; “Drop out of college, don’t concentrate, and do a lot of cocaine and heroin.” That was the helpful answer he gave to a young fan. Bourdain also said that he used his body as a play thing over the years.

In contrast, we have comments of the Apostle Paul on how we use our bodies: “Flee from sexuality immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually, sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?”
Two very different thoughts on how we use our bodies.

If a person violates the laws of God, he violates himself; and, sadly, the world actively encourages you to do just that. It’s all a bit morbid, isn’t it? But it’s happening all around us. Look at the evidence. There is no Utopia, as many idealists think, round the corner. Man has dreamed of this since the debacle of building the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Let’s ditch the negative and concentrate on what are the things that build a nation to be kind, generous, just and protecting of its people and others.

In fact, a lawyer in Luke 10 knew the answer. He told Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” Whatever we do and however we live our lives in any nation, it must begin and end with God. We give him our all; we live for him. The impact of this will greatly affect for the good how we see, understand and relate to others who live alongside us and beyond. When God brought the Israelites out from slavery in Egypt, he made it abundantly clear to them that when they obeyed his commands and precepts, he would be with them and things would work out well for them. The new nation would be a peaceful, wealthy and prosperous one.

But once they disobeyed him and chased after the idols and gods of other nations, they lost God’s special protection and blessing. Much of Deuteronomy speaks of God’s dealings with this new “nation.” The American film actor Denzil Washington recently released a video where he speaks about his faith in God and “Putting God First.” Something he says he has sought to do for most of his life. Life is relational. The strength and stability of any nation depends on our understanding of God as revealed in his word to all people.

In it, God tells us how to stop and prevent wars, how to solve problems, how to deal with sin and wrong-doing, how to avoid wrong choices, and be reconciled to others. How to deal with things we are drawn to we know are wrong.

How strange it is that the majority of people try to live their lives without the Bible. They wonder why their marriages fail, their bodies are in trouble, their minds are in turmoil, why they move from one mess to another mess, why they keep on making bad choices. And society suffers as a result.
William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa, John Newton, Martin Luther King Junior, Florence Nightingale, Michael Faraday, Billy Graham, Isaac Newton – like Abraham were friends of God who understood him as revealed through Scripture. All influenced the lives of many for good and thus the peace and prosperity of the nation.

What about this wicked man Manasseh? What happened to him? God often allows a nation to hit rock bottom morally and spiritually before He acts. And before God acts, He always warns. That’s why He sent the prophets time and again to Israel to warn them. In His great mercy He gives people a chance to turn away from their sin, and turn towards Him. When we see the lawlessness, the contempt for God abounds today; God is very much aware of what is happening. He is not blind or incapacitated to do something about it. It’s just a matter of His time before He acts. And act He will.

It was the same with Israel and its people. We are told, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.” The nation had become so God-resistant they did not want to know, they weren’t interested. God brings judgement on the nation because, He has a right to do so; He has the right to bring judgement on any nation on this planet; because “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”
God brings a foreign army, the Assyrians, against Israel. Manasseh is captured, shackled and brought to the Assyrian capital Babylon, where he is held as a prisoner. Manasseh gets a touch of his own medicine, being led about with a hook in his nose, and the people laughing at him. If we are honest with ourselves, we are probably thinking and hoping that God will destroy this wicked man in much the same way he destroyed the lives of countless others.

Be amazed to know that Manasseh repented of his wickedness and turned to God. What an amazing turnaround. Is this the same man? How could a perverted, worthless, evil, individual comparable to the likes of Stalin come to believe in God? The answer is through God’s grace. Grace is undeserved merit. No human being deserves God’s grace but through his mercy his grace is freely given to all, including someone like Manasseh. Despite what he did, the terrible crimes he committed, the killing of little children, God through His grace and love for this wretched individual still gave him an opportunity to turn from his wicked ways; which he did. Manasseh had sunk so low; he knew that he needed God more than anything else. God not only forgave him, He gave him a new heart, a new purpose, and a new life.

Tragically the damage was done to a nation after 55 years of systematically destroying any remnant of what was sacred and encouraging the growth of paganism, and persecuting the godly. Judah would not recover. It would take someone else to come and lead the nation in the ways of God. And God had already a young Josiah in place. Josiah would lead the nation back to where it should be. It just takes one person to lead a nation into untold evil; or, lead it to receive God’s blessing.


Alan Wilson is a retired Presbyterian minister, who lives in Northern Ireland.


The featured image shows, “King Manasseh in exile,” by Maerten de Vos; painted ca. 1550-1603.

Wittgenstein’s Philosophy Of Humility. Part II: The Philosophical Investigations And Thereafter

The edifice of your pride [LW’s emphasis] has to be dismantled. And that is terribly hard work (Wittgenstein, Culture and Value).

Philosophers tend to be a proud lot and why should they not be? After all, whereas the other sorts of thinkers and scholars, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, psychologists, biologists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, etc., each investigate their own particular region of reality, philosophers investigate the nature of reality itself.

The philosopher is not content to discover particular facts about this or that region of the world, e.g., that momentum equals mass times velocity. The philosopher has contempt for mere facts. The philosopher insists on asking the most fundamental questions one can possibly ask, e.g., questions about the very nature or essence of matter, mind, knowledge, language, logic, numbers, values, the divine, etc., questions that are prior to the questions of these other disciplines, e,g., metaphysics asks questions that are prior to those of mere physics.

Philosophers even refuse to be confined to reality and must also investigate the nature of unreal entities in literature, poetry, and dreams. Philosophers investigate both the nature of the real and the unreal. No self-respecting philosopher would limit themselves to the investigation of mere reality. There is literally nothing, neither being nor non-being, that escapes the philosopher’s scrutiny (and judgment).

Ludwig Wittgenstein, however, is something of an exception to the rule. Although Wittgenstein battled his own prideful feelings, one of the most basic motivations of his philosophical work in both his earlier and later periods, is to defend a more humble vision of philosophy, one that acknowledges the limits of human understanding.

In Part I of the present series, this case is argued for Wittgenstein’s Tractatus-logico-philosophicus, specifically, that his Tractatus is not a “proud” defense of the “omnipotence” of physical science as the “logical positivist” Rudolf Carnap and others believed, but, rather, that it is a humble reminder of the complete impotence of human reason to solve the deep “problems of life.”

However, in Wittgenstein’s second period, beginning with his Blue and Brown Books and Philosophical Investigations, but including his Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, Zettel, On Certainty and other “later” works, he develops a new philosophical view critical of his earlier Tractatus.

It may be a bit simplistic to distinguish an earlier and a later period in Wittgenstein but it should be sufficient for present purposes, for, as Norman Malcolm points out in Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, Wittgenstein makes this distinction himself. For simplicity, call these, respectively, Wittgenstein’s “early” and “later” philosophies and call the Wittgenstein of the “later” philosophy “(the later) Wittgenstein!” The present paper argues that Wittgenstein’s “later” philosophy represents a more consistent and refined philosophy of humility but the case is not quite the same for his earlier and later periods because his views have undergone considerable evolution.

I. The “Ethical” Interpretation Of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

In his correspondence with Ficker, Wittgenstein [says] that we [can] relate to language in three ways, two of which he considers legitimate, the third of which is not. We can assert what is or is not the case; we can be silent about [the] transcendental issues that arise in ethics and logic, concerning which we can only show things by our mode of procedure; or we can babble about the things we ought to relegate to pregnant silence. Alan Janik, Essays on Wittgenstein and Weininger.

Although Wittgenstein’s Tractatus has been seen, almost universally, as a treatise on the philosophies of logic, language, mind and science, and by Carnap and others, as “proudly” stating the “omnipotence” of the rational natural sciences, it is argued in the first article in this series that Wittgenstein meant what he said to Ficker, that the Tractatus is an “ethical” work, where the central part of its ethical” message is that the rational sciences are impotent to solve any of the great “ethical,” in a broad sense, “problems of life.”

The “ethical” interpretation also holds that although the vast bulk of the Tractatus is an extensive detailed account of all of the sorts of things that can be expressed in meaningful propositions, where the true meaningful propositions turns out to coincide with the (factual) propositions of the natural sciences (4.11), Wittgenstein told Ficker that the book delimits the “ethical,” broadly understood, by being silent about it. That sounds paradoxical but Wittgenstein’s idea is that by specifying precisely the domain of the (factual) natural sciences and drawing a line around it (the line representing the limits of meaningful language), he thereby shows that none of the important “ethical” “problems of life” (6.52) are even touched by anything within that scientific domain.

Wittgenstein’s method in the Tractatus may seem quite peculiar, even perverse, but not if one looks at it from his perspective. For, if one really believes that the “ethical,” broadly speaking, is “mystical” and “unsayable,” how does one mark out its limits? One cannot do it by listing all the “ethical” propositions because, ex hypothesi, the “ethical” cannot be expressed in propositions. One can only do this, therefore, by delimiting the domain of everything that can be “said” and then pointing out that there is nothing “ethical” in there. It is only in this way that one can “show” “by one’s procedure” that “the ethical” cannot be expressed in meaningful language (Tractatus, Preface, 6.54, 7). Anything else would be the sort of “babbling” about ethics that consumes the lives and careers many professors. But does he retain this view in his “later philosophy?”

II. The Official “View” Of Wittgenstein’s “Later Philosophy”

Don’t ask for the meaning [of a word], ask for the use (Wittgenstein, quoted in Garth Hallett’s A Companion to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations).

The very form of Wittgenstein’s “later” works, beginning with the Philosophical Investigations, is entirely different from that of his early Tractatus. Whereas the Tractatus is presented as a series of numbered “propositions [Sätze]” linked by a complicated, sometimes bewildering, numbering, system, Wittgenstein’s later works are usually, with a few minor exceptions, presented as a series of numbered paragraphs. The interlocutor in these paragraphs often moots a certain typical philosophical claim. This is followed, sometimes in the same paragraph, sometimes in later paragraphs, by a critique of that claim.

For example, Philosophical Investigations (para. 46) begins by raising the view that names really signify “simple” objects. Plato’s Theaetetus and unnamed works by Bertrand Russell (clearly Russell’s works on logical atomism) are cited as examples of other philosophers who held such views, but he could have cited his own Tractatus. This suggests that in the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein is often critiquing his own earlier views in the Tractatus.

The odd format of the Philosophical Investigations, therefore, conforms, to a degree, with Plato’s description in the Sophist (263e-264a) of thinking as “the soul’s dialogue with itself.” Wittgenstein confirms this: “Nearly all my writings are my private conversations with myself” (Culture and Value, p. 77). That is, Wittgenstein is often dialoguing with his own earlier self in the Tractatus. However, by occasionally citing other philosophers who have held similar views, e.g., Plato, Bertrand Russell, William James and others, (the later) Wittgenstein indicates that he is also critiquing certain recurring types of views in philosophy.

The formulation of these mistaken philosophical views is often followed by a critique of those views. The critique is seldom, however, to the effect, that the view is simply false. For example, in the case at hand, the discussion in para’s 46-47 of the view that names stand for simple objects is followed by a discussion in para. 48 of a kind of case in which one can say correctly that names stand for simples. What Wittgenstein describes in para. 48 is a “language game” in which there are 9 colored squares on a board, each of which can be “named “R,” “G,” “W,” or “B” (that is, respectively, “red,” “green,” “white” or “black”). Call this Game 1.

The point is that within the context of Game 1, the squares on the board do resemble simples in a sense because it is part of the rules of the game that each of the 9 squares is treated as a single indivisible (logically simple) patch and not a composition of more elementary parts. Each square is, so to speak, logically simple within Game 1 by virtue of its rules. Para. 48, however, goes on to say that one might imagine a similar “game” in which each square is treated as a composite of two triangles. Call this Game 2!

Thus, the square that functioned as a simple in Game 1, and, accordingly, was named “R” might, in Game 2, have to be described as “R/R” in order to indicate that each of the two triangles that make up the square are red. In Game 2, therefore, that same patch does not function as a simple but as a composite of two juxtaposed simple triangles!

The point Wittgenstein is making by using these kinds of examples is that the words “simple” and “composite” do not have an absolute context-free meaning as he had thought in the Tractatus. Rather, he now holds that what is treated as simple or composite is, so to speak, relative to the “language game” involved. The implication is that Wittgenstein’s own earlier mistake in the Tractatus was to assume that the “words” simple” and “complex” designate context-free absolutes closely associated with the very nature of logic itself. That is, the Tractatus purported to be talking, not about something that is simple according to some “human all too human” game (the expression from Nietzsche’s book of the same title), but about absolute simple objects that form part of “the logical scaffolding of the world” (Tractatus, 6.124).

Wittgenstein’s aim in his later philosophy is, therefore, analogous to Socrates’ mission, as Cicero described it in his Tusculan Disputations, to “call” philosophy from the heavens “down to earth.” Wittgenstein has come to see that his own view in the Tractatus had purported to escape the limitations inherent in the human condition and describe reality from some heavenly (impossible for human beings) point of view. Indeed, on the very first page of his Blue Book Wittgenstein uses Cicero’s precise language to describe his new Socratic mission in his later philosophy, that is, to bring the baffling questions about linguistic meaning “down to earth.”

(The later) Wittgenstein’s method is almost always the same. Whenever someone says something philosophically problematic, for example that each human being can know when they themselves are in pain but no one can ever know when someone else is in pain (Philosophical Investigations, para’s. 303), he asks whether that is how the relevant words, words like “consciousness,” “know,” “pain,” etc., are used in real life. His point is that many philosophical paradoxes are created when, so to speak, language “goes on a holiday” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 38), that is, when philosophers use words in novel ways dissociated from human life. Wittgenstein puts this quite forcefully at para. 194 of the Philosophical Investigations,

When we do philosophy we are like savages, primitive people [Wilde, primitive Menschen], who hear the expressions of civilized [people], put a false interpretation on them, and then draw the queerest [seltsamsten] conclusions from it.

Wittgenstein’s point is that when philosophers generate philosophical paradoxes they do not resemble themselves. Rather, they resemble “savages” that do not even know their own language! Surprisingly, the philosopher suffers from a lack of self-knowledge (an embarrassing failure because, beginning with Socrates, self-knowledge was supposed to be the philosopher’s specialty). Much alleged philosophical wisdom is in fact a kind of ignorance (about one’s self and one’s own language).

The philosopher draws these “queer” conclusions from ordinary civilized expressions because they are “bewitched” by their own language: “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language” (Philosophical Investigations, para.103). The grammar of natural language misleads one into making false inferences. For example, the grammatical similarity of expressions like “I have a thought in my head” with expressions like “I have a coin in my pocket” misleads one into incorrectly thinking that just as coins are objects that are in the pockets that contain them thoughts are also objects that are “in” the minds that contain them.

Compare the depth grammar, say, of the expression, “to mean,” with what its surface grammar would lead us to suspect. No wonder we find it difficult to know our way about. (Philosophical Investigations, para. 664)

The remedy for fake “philosophical” wisdom is always the same,

When philosophers [use words in perplexing ways] one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used that way in the language-game that is its original home?—
What we do is bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.
(Philosophical Investigations, para. 116).

One particularly important example of these vain metaphysical pretensions in the contemporary world is called “reductionism,” the attempt to reduce one sort of phenomena to another sort of phenomena, e.g., biology to chemistry and physics, or mind to matter, or values to social practices, etc.

Since (the later) Wittgenstein largely holds that each kind of “language game” generally plays a particular role in human life he holds that the philosopher should simply describe the way words are used in a language game and show what purpose that use has in the relevant “form” of human life (Philosophical Investigations, para’s 109, 124-126). As a consequence, (the later) Wittgenstein generally opposes the reduction of one “language game” to another, e.g., the “language game” of biology to those of chemistry and physics. For this reason (the later) Wittgenstein opposes “scientism,” that view that one “language game,” that is, the language of the natural sciences, takes precedence over all the others (See Gordon Baker and P.M.S. Hacker, Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning. Volume 1, p. 281).

The vain pretensions of “metaphysicians” are actually fed by the misuse of words. This misunderstanding of the “grammar” of one’s own language is misconstrued as a great discovery when in fact it is only a comical new way of talking disconnected from human life,

Let us ask ourselves: why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep [LW’s emphasis]? (And that is what the depth of philosophy is) [Philosophical Investigations, para. 111].

These vain pretensions can be corrected by demanding that metaphysicians explain the meanings of their words by reference to the uses of those words in their “everyday” “language-games.” In the following section, it is shown that (the later) Wittgenstein conceives of his attempt to combat the philosopher’s misplaced pride in explicit ethico-religious terms.

III. The Ethico-Religious Dimension Of Wittgenstein’s “Later” Philosophy

Here again [in thinking about the problem of other minds] we get the same thing as in set theory: the form of expression we use seems to have been designed for a god, who knows what we cannot know; he sees into human consciousness. For us, of course, these forms of expression are like pontificals which we may put on, but cannot do much with, since we lack the effective power that would give these vestments meaning and purpose (Philosophical Investigations, para. 426).

The philosopher “bewitched” by the problems of philosophy suffers from a lack of knowledge of how their own language works and, therefore, has a massive lack of self-knowledge of their own limitations. They have literally forgotten what they know in everyday life and must be “reminded” of it (Philosophical Investigations (para’s 89, 127, 253). The error generally takes a certain form. The philosopher believes they have achieved insight into a level of truth that far transcends that level available to ordinary human beings,

We are under the illusion that what is peculiar, profound, essential in our investigation resides in the incomparable essence of language. That is, the order existing between the concepts of a proposition, word, proof, truth, experience, and so on. This order is a super-order between—so to speak—super-concepts [all emphasis, LW’s] (Philosophical Investigations, para. 97).

(The later) Wittgenstein’s point in describing this order as a “super” order and these concepts as “super” concepts is that this order and these concepts are, so to speak, for use in the heavens, not by mere human beings down on the dark earth. Such super-concepts are, to borrow Aristotle’s words from Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics, “too high for man.” It would seem that the philosopher has a very hard time remembering that he or she is a human being as opposed to a privileged inhabitant of the bright celestial spheres. For example, Tractatus (6.124) purports to state the absolutely objective truth about “the logical scaffolding of the world” from what Hilary Putnam in Reason, Truth and History (p. 74) calls a “God’s eye” point of view,

The propositions of logic present [darstellen] the scaffolding of the world [Gerüst der Welt]. … It is clear that certain combinations of symbols … are tautologies. This contains the decisive point. We have said that some things are arbitrary in the symbols that we use and some things are not. In logic it is only the latter that express: but that means that logic is not a field in which we express what we wish with the help of signs, but rather one in which the nature of the natural and inevitable [die Nature naturnotwendigen] signs speaks for itself [aussprechen].

It is important to recognize that the Tractatus holds that no mere mortal wrote the Tractatus. The fiction that the mere mortal named Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus is needed for the purposes of publication where it is necessary, borrowing Bishop Berkeley’s expression from his Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, to “speak with the vulgar.” But, as the author of the Tractatus saw it, the book was, so to speak, dictated to him by “the natural and inevitable nature of the signs” (the tautologies) that “speak” for themselves. The only thing Wittgenstein had to do was figure out how to hear what “the natural and inevitable nature of” the signs was expressing to him.

The quasi-religious symbolism here should not be ignored. Wittgenstein was, so to speak, only the vessel through which the absolute necessary essence of the signs speaks. Further, since the tautologies are absolutely true, that is, trivially analytically true by virtue of the meanings of the terms involved (6.11), and since they “present [darstellen]” “the logical scaffolding of the world,” the Tractatus’ descriptions of the “logical form of language and the world” shares in the absolute necessary character of the tautologies that “present” it. There is no more room for human error here than if Wittgenstein had gone to the mountain and heard the Tractatus dictated to him by a voice coming from out of the heavens.

The moral is that the philosopher all too readily gets into the position of thinking that they can see the world as God would see it (see epigraph above). The author of the Tractatus feels entitled to this hubris because the views in the Tractatus are derived from the crystal-clear nature of modern truth functional logic itself. (The later) Wittgenstein gives this Tractatus-view as an example of one of those “grammatical jokes” mentioned in the preceding section,

Thought is surrounded by a halo.—It’s essence, logic, presents … the a priori order of the word: that is, the order of possibilities, which must be common to both world and thought. But this order, it seems, must be utterly simple. It is prior to all experience, must run through all experience, no empirical cloudiness or uncertainty can be allowed to affect it—It must rather be of the purest crystal. But this crystal does not appear to use as an abstraction; but as something concrete, indeed, as the most concrete, as it were, the hardest thing there is (Tractatus-logico-philosophicus 5.5563) [all emphasis, LW’s], (Philosophical Investigations, para. 97).

As shown in § II, Wittgenstein’s method in his “later philosophy” for combating this kind of quasi-religious hubris that he later came to recognize in his own earlier Tractatus is to ask how the words that make up such superlative philosophical claims, words like “knowledge,” “object,” “experience,” “structure,” “world,” etc., are actually used in real life. His aim, following Socrates, is to bring such superlative philosophical claims “down to earth” where the people who use those words live, and not just any place on earth, e.g., not just to the philosophy classroom that all too often remains sublimely other-worldly, but, into people’s homes and everyday lives where language meshes with human activities. Once one does so one always finds the same thing,

Of course if the words “language,” “experience,” “world,” have a use it must be as humble a one as that of the words, “table,” “lamp,” “door” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 97).

Wittgenstein’s “later” philosophy of language is, like that in his earlier Tractatus, a philosophy of humility. However, although Tractatus may have espoused a philosophy of humility, its residual hubris had to be purged. Indeed, it is an important part of (the later) Wittgenstein’s message that there is an important sense in which the philosopher needs to be humbled if they are to find the truth – just as the author of the Tractatus had to be humbled if he was to evolve and state a purified philosophy of humility in the Philosophical Investigations and thereafter.

Wittgenstein’s new method in his “later” philosophy is to demand of every philosopher, including the author of the Tractatus, that they show how one is to use their metaphysical words in everyday linguistic contexts, to show how the use of these words meshes with human activities. It is important to see that (the later) Wittgenstein does not object to any philosophical or metaphysical statements. In his “Big Typescript” (Philosophical Occasions, p. 161), he stresses that “philosophy does not lead me to any renunciation for I do not refrain from saying something ….” (The later) Wittgenstein is not led to “any” renunciation at all. The metaphysician is free to say what he or she will.

They might assert that “Reality is an illusion,” or that “Reality is not an illusion.” It does not matter what one asserts. One of (the later) Wittgenstein’s most important insights is that it matters not a whit what sentences one utters but only what role those utterances play in human life. If the relevant sentences have a role in human life, no matter what that role is, then those utterances have as much meaning, and the kind of “meaning,” determined by that role. If, however, those utterances have no actual use, no actual role in human life, then no matter how impressive those utterances sound, no matter, that is, how useful those utterances are for impressing undergraduate students, they have no genuine meaning for us.

Thus, what (the later) Wittgenstein will do in the case of each of these utterances is demand that the philosopher or metaphysician who made them explain how their words and sentences are to be used in actual concrete linguistic contexts, that is, explain what role they play in human life, for it is in human life, in human activities, that, borrowing a metaphor from the Tractatus (2.1515), language “touches reality.”

(The later) Wittgenstein provides a useful mathematical example of just such an utterance in the Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (IV. 9),

We only see how queer [seltsam] the question is whether the pattern … ‘770’ … will occur in the infinite expansion of π when we try to formulate the question in a quite common or garden way.

The context to this remark is the following. Let it be assumed that we have calculated the expansion of π up to several thousand places and have not come across the sequence “770.” Since π is an infinite sequence, the question arises whether that sequence “770” occurs anywhere further out in that infinite expansion. At Philosophical Investigations (para. 352) the interlocutor (who changes the sequence from “770” to “7777” (which has no bearing on the philosophical point) takes the “Platonist” view that although human beings may never know the answer to this question, one can be entirely certain that there is an answer, i.e., that the entire infinite expansion of π is already there, fully determinate, even though no human being will ever know it all,

“In the decimal expansion of π either the group ‘7777’ occurs or it does not—there is no third possibility.” That is to say, God sees but we don’t know.

Recall that this is the interlocutor’s statement, not (the later) Wittgenstein’s. Rather, (the later) Wittgenstein is criticizing the interlocutor’s invocation of the “God’s Eye” point of view. For the sake of example, take the negative claim that “770” does not occur in the expansion of π. (The later) Wittgenstein’s reply to the interlocutor is that they are uttering a statement that they literally do not know how to use. That is, as they admit, there is no conceivable circumstance in which they or any human being at any time could be in a position to assert that “770” (or “7777”) does not occur in the infinite expansion of π. For even if human beings have calculated the expansion of π to the one billionth place and not encountered “770” (or “7777”), it is always possible that somewhere further out, perhaps near one hundred trillionth place, “770” (or “7777”) occurs.

By contrast, (the later) Wittgenstein’s “use-criterion” of meaning requires that the meaning of words is limited by the human condition. Since no human being could ever conceivably be able actually to use the sentence, “‘770’ does not occur in the expansion of π,” that sentence has no meaning for us. Yes, it looks like a meaningful sentence. The grammar resembles that of a meaningful sentence. One gets certain images of long lines of numbers stretching into the distance when contemplating that sentence. However, since we can cite no “common or garden” circumstance in which we could actually apply it, it is cognitively meaningless for us! The philosopher, seduced by the possibility of speaking a certain picturesque way, can assert that “‘770’ does not occur in the expansion of π,” but such expressions “are like pontificals which we may put on, but cannot do much with, since we lack the effective power that would give these vestments meaning and purpose.”

Similarly, the claim that we might not be able to see the entire infinite expansion of π but that there has to be a determinate answer to the question whether “770” (or “7777”) occurs in that infinite expansion because God already sees the entire infinite expansion gets one no further. All one does in this case is substitute one statement that we do not know how to use about what God allegedly knows for another statement that we do not know how to use about what is not in the infinite expansion of π. These two related metaphysical statements are, in fact, a perfect example of what (the later) Wittgenstein means when he talks about language “going on a holiday,” that is, a holiday from human limitations:

We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk; so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 107).

The frictionless crystalline purity of the logical ideal in the heavens is always tempting. Unfortunately, that crystalline ideal in the heavens is not meant for human beings with their human limitations. The philosopher needs realize that they cannot, so to speak, fly with the gods and come, instead, back down to earth where they can humbly “walk” (i.e., speak and think in terms suitable to human beings).

The effect of (the later) Wittgenstein’s application of his “use-conception” of meaning is to undermine the vain metaphysical pretensions of philosophers. Human language is thereby brought down to earth. The beliefs of certain logicians, scientists and philosophers like Carnap in the “omnipotence” of human reason is exposed as “a superstition (not a mistake)” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 110), the superstition that linguistic meaning can be detached from the use of words in the world and contemplated purely intellectually. Indeed, this is not merely a “superstition.” It is exposed as a “grammatical joke.”

IV. Wittgenstein’s Method

It is not our aim to refine or complete our system of rules for the use of words in unheard of ways. … Instead, we now demonstrate a method, by examples; and the series of examples can be broken off.—Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem (Philosophical Investigations, para. 133).

The present interpretation is founded on the view that there are certain similarities, but also certain differences, between Wittgenstein’s views in his earlier Tractatus and the views beginning with his later Philosophical Investigations – specifically, that whereas both earlier and later philosophies defend a philosophy of humility, the view of the later philosophy is a more consistent and more refined view that eliminates some of the residual hubris of the Tractatus. One way to show this is to compare the way each of Wittgenstein’s two philosophies stands up to Carnap’s criticism that the Tractatus is inconsistent because Wittgenstein there tells us that whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent and then instead of being silent he writes a whole philosophical book.

Recall that Carnap’s criticism has a certain plausibility because the Tractatus does appear to “say” the things that it claims cannot be “said,” e.g., that “Objects are simple” (2.02). In order to be completely clear, recall that on the “traditional interpretation” of the Tractatus, Carnap is misguided. For, the “traditional interpretation” holds that the Tractatus is not really inconsistent because it only attempts to “show [zeigt]” these “unsayable” things. Yes, the way it uses language makes it look like it attempts to “say” what by its own lights cannot be “said” but this misconstrues the fact that the language in the Tractatus is, so to speak, “showing” language, not “saying” language. I believe that, with a lot of additional qualification and commentary, this “traditional” view is basically correct (See Richard McDonough, The Argument of the ‘Tractatus’, §’s VIII.2 and VIII.3). However, there is a sense in which the purified philosophy of humility and the associated more humble way of using language in Wittgenstein’s “later” philosophy escapes Carnap’s criticism at an even more basic level.

The reason is that whereas the Tractatus does make prima facia philosophical assertions, e.g., “Objects are simple” (2.02), it is essential to Wittgenstein’s “later” philosophy that it makes no philosophical assertions at all. (The later) Wittgenstein does not assert that objects are simple or that objects are not simple. He is not interested in denying his earlier views in the Tractatus, indeed, in denying anything at all: “What gives the impression we want to deny anything?” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 305). At para. 128 of the same work he implies that it is not even possible to state “theses [LW’s emphasis]” in philosophy.

Wittgenstein’s aim in the later philosophy is different than Plato’s in his Republic, Aristotle’s in his Metaphysics, Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason or Russell in his Lectures on Logical Atomism… and so on. All of these philosophers, and many others, attempt to state philosophical theses of one sort or another. Plato tells us in the Republic that physical objects are imperfect perceptible images of immaterial Forms. Aristotle in the Metaphysics tells us that the most ontologically basic category is that of substance. In the “First Analogy” in the Critique of Pure Reason Kant tells us that the quantum of substance in Nature is neither increased nor decreased. Russell in his Lectures on Logical Atomism (Chap. VIII) tells us that the entities physicists speak of, the smallest bits of matter like electrons and protons, are “logical fictions” and do not exist, and so on. Wittgenstein’s own Tractatus (1.1) tells us that the world divides into facts, not things. By contrast, (the later) Wittgenstein does not state any theses at all but only attempts, humbly, to provide one with a method for dealing with philosophical problems.

We remind ourselves … of the kind of statement that we make about phenomena. Thus Augustine [in his investigation into the nature of time] recalls… the different kind of statements that are made about the duration, past, present or future, of events. (These are, of course, not philosophical statements about time, the past, the present, and the future [All emphasis, LW’s] (Philosophical Investigations, para. 133).

Rather than, with Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Russell or his own Tractatus, pontificating about the nature of reality, (the later) Wittgenstein does not state any theses whatsoever about reality but only provides one with a method for dissolving philosophical puzzlement. This is why in para. 133 of the Philosophical Investigations he states that “Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem.” (The later) Wittgenstein is not attempting to solve any “single problem.” He does not attempt to solve the “problem of perception” and then move on to the “problem of the false proposition” and then move on to the “problem of the mathematical infinite” and so on. Rather, he provides his readers with a method that can then be used whenever anyone raises any philosophical problem whatsoever: “not a single problem!”

The normal situation goes something like this: Someone makes a philosophical assertion, perhaps that the basic objects in the world are logically simple. Call this assertion “P.” (The later) Wittgenstein neither affirms nor denies “P.” Rather, he asks what “P” can mean. He uses at least 3 techniques for showing what “P” might mean. In the first of these, he simply reminds this philosopher about the multiplicity of ordinary sorts of examples in which one might say that something is simple. The fact that there will normally be a many different contexts in which such assertions of “simplicity” are made is already enlightening for it breaks the grip of the idea that the word “simple” has some single essential sense: “The main cause of philosophical disease [Krankheiten]—a one-sided diet: one nourishes one’s thinking with only one kind of example” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 593).

In the second of these methods, (the later) Wittgenstein asks how one learned the meaning of that word: “In such a [philosophical] difficulty always ask yourself: How did we learn [LW’s emphasis] the meaning of this word (‘good’ for instance)?” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 77). In the case at hand, how did one learn the meaning of the word “simple?” It will normally turn out that one learns to use the word “simple” in a great variety of contexts using a great many of very different kinds of examples.

In the third of these methods, (the later) Wittgenstein asks whether and in what sense sentences using that word can be verified: “Asking whether and how a proposition can be verified is only a particular way of asking ‘How d’you mean?’ The answer is a contribution to the grammar of the proposition” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 353). Note that (the later) Wittgenstein does not here assume that all meaningful propositions can be verified. This is no logical positivist “verifiability theory of meaning.” The point is rather that if a proposition, for example about God, cannot be verified, this contributes to clarifying whether and in what sense it means something. It says something about the meaning of the statement, “you can’t hear God speak to someone else, you can only hear Him if you are being addressed (Zettel, para. 717),” that it cannot be verified in the way a statement about the movement of projectiles in gravitational fields can be verified.

The most important point for present purposes is that (the later) Wittgenstein makes no philosophical assertions whatsoever. Instead, he gives one a method, or, to be more precise, several methods, for showing what words and sentences mean: “There is not a [LW’s emphasis] philosophical method, though there are methods, like different therapies” (Philosophical Investigations, para. 133). (The later) Wittgenstein does not, for example, say with the Tractatus, that “Objects are simple” (2.02) or that “There are indeed things that cannot be put into words” (6.522).

Since (the later) Wittgenstein makes no philosophical assertions but only gives one several methods for examining philosophical assertions by reminding one of the ordinary meanings of the relevant words, the criticism Carnap made of the Tractatus, that it is inconsistent because it says that one cannot “say” philosophical things and then writes a whole book about what cannot be said, does not apply. Since (the later) Wittgenstein does not make any philosophical assertions, he cannot be accused of trying to “say” what cannot be said.

(The later) Wittgenstein really is silent about all these “unsayable” things and, therefore, is, in that sense, more consistent than the Tractatus. Carnap’s criticism of the Tractatus, that it tries to “say” what by its own lights cannot be “said,” fails completely against (the later) Wittgenstein’s more humble and consistent “later” philosophy. Both Wittgenstein’s “early” and his “later” philosophies are philosophies of humility, but this is perfected the “later” philosophy to the point that (the later) Wittgenstein’s silence about all the important “ethical” matters in the “later” philosophy is unbroken.

V. Wittgenstein’s “Later” Philosophy As A Personal Confession

For Wittgenstein, all good philosophy, insofar as it is pursued honestly and decently, begins with a confession. He often remarked that the problem of writing good philosophy and thinking well about philosophical problems was more one of the will than the intellect – the will to resist the temptation to misunderstand, the will to resist superficiality (Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, p. 365).

Although both Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and his “later” philosophy are philosophies of humility, the latter takes a very specific form not shared by the former. Whereas the former takes the form of a set of numbered “propositions [Sätze]” organized according to a curious mathematical numbering system, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations takes the form of a personal confession.

(The later) Wittgenstein hints this by beginning the Philosophical Investigations with a quotation from St. Augustine’s Confessions in which the “name theory” of linguistic meaning, also found in his Tractatus, the view that words have meaning by virtue of naming an object, is defended. Note, however, that (the later) Wittgenstein only raises this theory of meaning in order to critique it. He is, so to speak, confessing one of his earlier mistakes in the Tractatus. (The later) Wittgenstein could have begun the Philosophical Investigations with a quotation from other great philosophical works by Plato, Frege, Russell, or his own Tractatus that state versions of the “name theory” of linguistic meaning (Garth Hallett, A Companion to Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations,” pp. 73-74), but he chose a quotation from St. Augustine’s Confessions to hint that he was beginning a process of confession analogous to that found in Augustine’s Confessions.

To be sure, Augustine’s Confessions concern sins in the more ordinary sense of the word, such as lust and greed, whereas Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations concern the sorts of “thought-sins” he had committed in the course of his earlier philosophizing in the Tractatus period. These “thought-sins” might not be sins in the ordinary sense, but, as Monk points out in The Duty of Genius (p. 365), (the later) Wittgenstein thought that error in philosophy is not so much due to an error in intellect, e.g., a logical mistake, but to an error in will, specifically, a failure to resist the temptation to superficiality and making thinking easy for oneself with some completely unhelpful generalization, e.g., “All linguistic meaning is like naming an object.” (The later) Wittgenstein was influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche (Culture and Value, 9, 59) and his view here is similar, in some respects, to Nietzsche’s view, referring to philosophical thinking generally, that “Error is not blindness…. Error is cowardice (Ecce Homo, Preface, § 3).

Although (the later) Wittgenstein’s view is more cautiously stated, both agree that there is an essential ethical, in a broad sense, dimension to philosophical thinking. It is not the person with the highest IQ and education that is best suited to achieve philosophical wisdom, but, rather, certain “ethical,” broadly speaking, strengths of character, such as courage and determination, are required if one is to do so.

As a consequence, (the later) Wittgenstein felt that the errors he had come to see in his Tractatus reflected his own “ethical” shortcomings at the time he wrote that first book. Writing the Philosophical Investigations is, therefore, a very personal act for (the later) Wittgenstein. Just as he had stated many years earlier that writing the Tractatus is an ethical deed, so too, writing the Philosophical Investigations is a new “ethical” deed in which he confesses and corrects some of the mistakes he had come to see in his earlier attempt at an “ethical” deed.

(The later) Wittgenstein makes explicit that many of the specific “sins” he wishes to “confess” in the Philosophical Investigations were made by himself in the Tractatus. In the Philosophical Investigations (Preface) he states that he even wished to publish his Philosophical Investigations alongside his earlier Tractatus because he had become aware of “grave mistakes” in his first book and felt that “the latter [new thoughts] could only be seen in the right light by contrast with and against the background of my old way of thinking [in the Tractatus].” Note that this is an extremely strong statement. It is not merely the statement that it would be useful for understanding his “new” way of thinking in the Philosophical Investigations to compare it with the views in his earlier Tractatus but rather that if one is to understand his “new” thoughts it is necessary to compare and contrast them with those in the Tractatus. This advice has not always been heeded by scholars of (the later) Wittgenstein. (The later) Wittgenstein also explicitly mentions the criticism of his Tractatus in the body of the Philosophical Investigations (para’s 23, 97 and 114).

Although that one might balk at the idea that the Philosophical Investigations is, so to speak, (the later) Wittgenstein’s “confessions” of his earlier philosophical “thought-sins,” in fact, the notion of a confession plays a very large part in (the later) Wittgenstein’s conception both of an ethical life and of a philosophical life (where the latter requires the former). This is because he holds that “all good philosophy, insofar as it is pursued honestly and decently, begins with a confession” (Monk, The Duty of Genius, p. 365). This also illustrates his quasi-Hegelian view that “One must start with error and convert it into truth (“Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough,” in Philosophical Occasions, p. 119).

(The later) Wittgenstein believes this because he holds that we all live, so to speak, in a de facto state of sin and must struggle to escape it: “We don’t want anyone else to look inside us because it’s not a pretty sight in there” (Culture and Value, pp. 46). Since human beings exist in a de facto fallen state, achieving the philosophical truth requires a conversion from the false to the true, from the sinful to the sinless. Thus, the necessary form of a philosophical life is this: One must “convert” one’s present “sinful” state into a more ethical state.

Further, confession is important to Wittgenstein’s later philosophy because, as he wrote in 1931, “‘a confession’ has to be a part of your new life” (Culture and Value, p. 18). One might object that philosophy only concerns how one thinks, not what kind of person one is. However, although that might be the standard view, (the later) Wittgenstein disagrees,

Working in philosophy – like work in architecture in many respect – is really more a working on oneself. On one’s own interpretation. On one’s way of seeing things. (And what one expects of them). [Culture and Value, p. 16].

That is, writing the Philosophical Investigations is not merely (the later) Wittgenstein’s attempt to solve some academic philosophical problems (such as the “problem of the false proposition”). Since philosophy, like architecture, is a kind of working on oneself, on “one’s way of seeing things,” and since genuinely improving one’s self must begin with a confession, philosophizing, or, to be more precise, philosophizing “honestly and decently,” must begin with a confession.

If, however, one is to understand the sense in which the Philosophical Investigations essentially involves a confession of (the later) Wittgenstein’s earlier philosophical “sins,” one must understand how he saw the context, both external and internal (to himself), in which he makes this confession. In the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations, (the later) Wittgenstein is very pessimistic that the publication of the book will actually help anyone understand anything better,

It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another—but, of course, it is not likely.

It is significant that references to one’s own spiritual “poverty” and to “the darkness of this time” are expressions often used in religious contexts. For example, Augustine, in his Confessions, refers to his own poverty and the darkness of his own time. One can therefore infer that (the later) Wittgenstein sees an analogy between the spiritual “poverty” and the darkness” of his time with the spiritual poverty and the darkness of Augustine’s time. Specifically, (the later) Wittgenstein writes the Philosophical Investigations in full awareness of his own fallen state and the fallen state of the world in which he writes. These are together so bad that he does not merely doubt that his book will help anyone but he states that “of course” it is not likely his book will help anyone. The worldly situation is so dark that the pessimistic conclusion is simply taken for granted. It would not be “news” if no one learned from his book. It would be “news” if one person did.

This is not a man who proudly proclaims that his book will solve the problems or make the world a better place. Recall that he did do something like that in the Preface to the Tractatus when he stated that “I … believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the solution to the [philosophical] problems.” The tone in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations has become much more humble, even pessimistic and dark. Indeed, in a 1944 remark in Culture and Value, very close in his “later” period to the publication of the Philosophical Investigations, (the later) Wittgenstein gives a hint how he poorly thinks of his own fallen state,

The Christian religion is only for the man who needs infinite help, solely, that is, for the man who experiences infinite torment. The whole planet can suffer no greater torment than the single soul. The Christian faith – as I see it – is a man’s refuge in this ultimate torment. Anyone in such torment, who has the gift of opening his heart rather than contracting it, accepts the means of salvation in his heart. Someone who in this way patiently opens his heart to God in confession lays it open for other men too. In doing this he loses the dignity that goes with his personal prestige and becomes like a child. That means without official position, dignity or disparity with others. A man can bare himself before others only out of a particular kind of love. A love which acknowledges, as it were, that we are all wicked children. … We don’t want anyone to look inside us since it’s not a pretty sight in there. Of course, you must continue to feel ashamed of what’s inside you, but not ashamed of yourself before other men. No greater torment can be experienced than One [LW’s capitalization] human being can experience. For if a man feels lost that is the ultimate torment.

(The later) Wittgenstein could have departed the world, as Carnap saw him, as the proud author of the Tractatus, one of the most powerful philosophical books of the 20th century, and as the author of the Philosophical Investigations, a powerful sequel to the Tractatus that adds new dignity and pride to its author, the originator of two entirely different philosophical movements in the 20th century. That may be how others see (the later) Wittgenstein but it is not how he sees himself.

(The later) Wittgenstein sees himself in the “ultimate” and “infinite torment” of one who is “lost.” He does not suffer from the illusion, common among intellectuals, that because he has written great books he is a great man. Since he believes that our age is dominated, not by great cultural figures but by the “crowd” (Culture and Value, p. 6), he believes that the esteem in which he is held by his contemporaries is virtually meaningless. (The later) Wittgenstein knows, painfully, that he needs “infinite help.” He knows, painfully, referring to himself, that “it’s not a pretty sight in there [inside himself].” He knows, painfully, that he needs a “refuge.” He knows, painfully, that he needs “salvation.” But he also knows that in order to achieve his salvation he must be able to “open his heart to God in confession” and “lay it open for other men too.” He knows that in order to do this authentically he must “lose the “dignity” and “disparity with others” that goes with [his] personal prestige as the great philosopher and “become like a child.”

In fact, all of this language comes out of the Bible. The same language is also found in Augustine’s Confessions which Wittgenstein “revered” (Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir). One can give only a fraction of the Biblical references here. There are numerous references, as at 1 Peter 2:25 to the “lost sheep.” Luke 15:20 refers to being “lost” and then “found.” Psalms 31:10 refers to living in spiritual poverty due to one’s own iniquity. Isaiah 9:1 refers to the difficulties of living in a time of darkness. Proverbs 22:11 refers to the necessity of loving out of a pure heart. Matthew 18:4 states that anyone who humbles himself as a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven, which, in fact, is a way of stating (the later) Wittgenstein’s main point that humility, true humility, not posturing, is necessary for salvation.

In order to understand the Preface to (the later) Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations one must recognize its Biblical language. It is clear that he takes this Biblical language as describing his own fallen state. (The later) Wittgenstein believes himself to be suffering from spiritual poverty and living in a time of spiritual darkness. Since all changes in one’s life must begin with a confession, he publishes the Philosophical Investigations as a confession that constitutes the first step towards his journey of salvation. This is why he humbles himself in the Preface by explicitly confessing his doubts and his own spiritual poverty.

Even his remarks in the Preface that his “vanity” had been stung by seeing some of his ideas circulated in mangled or watered down form is a confession of his own tendency towards being prideful, something he must combat. And the final sentences of the Preface he confesses that he “should have liked to produce a good book” but “this has not come about” and he can no longer make it any better. Given his own view discussed earlier – that philosophical error is a failure of will to avoid the temptation towards superficiality – that is another confession of his “ethical” shortcomings.

One can only infer that just as he conceived of the publication of his Tractatus as an “ethical deed,” he also conceives of publishing the Philosophical Investigations as a new ethical deed, specifically, as the first step towards his new journey of salvation. The self-depreciating words in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations are not, therefore, simply the standard scholar’s statement of debt to others: “I was helped immeasurably by so and so and by so and so and by secretary so and so and typist so and so but of course all the errors are mine.”

Rather, in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations, (the later) Wittgenstein humbles himself by confessing in front of the whole world that he does not regard himself as the great philosopher who impressed Bertrand Russell and wrote the Tractatus but as, so to speak, a sinner who has given up any “official position, dignity or disparity with others” and has, so to speak, willingly “become like a child.” He has done this, so that he can offer the Philosophical Investigations to the world in the right spirit of an “open heart,” that is, with that “particular kind of love …that acknowledges that we are all wicked children.”

Note that nowhere in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations is it stated or implied that he will be successful in this new journey of salvation or that his confession will actually be given in the right spirit. To do so would be another act of pride. Rather, (the later) Wittgenstein’s words from the 1944 remark from Culture and Value describe his ideal confession, which does not mean that he can himself measure up to it.

On the other hand it is illuminating to recognize that (the later) Wittgenstein does not publically grovel in his confession in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations. The reason for this is that, as he also states in that 1944 remark from Culture and Value, one “must continue to feel ashamed of what’s inside you, but not ashamed of yourself before other men.” There is no need to grovel publically before other people because they are all “wicked children” too. If (the later) Wittgenstein grovels, it will be silently before himself or before God.

His remarks about suffering “infinite torment” in Culture and Value hint that he does grovel in silence: “No cry of torment can be greater than the torment of one man” (Culture and Value, p. 45). It is hard not to see that as an autobiographical remark. Indeed, if he were to publically grovel in his confession that could be seen as another act of pride: “Look at how great I am in the degree to which I can debase myself before the world by trumpeting my enormous torment!” Even the fact the he is confessing his former “thought-sins” in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations cannot be made explicit because there would be no point in doing so except to glorify himself. Thus, (the later) Wittgenstein does not even use the word “confession” in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations.

That the Philosophical Investigations is a confession is something that can only be “shown” rather than said out loud. That is, it can only be “shown by [his] mode of procedure” in, among other things, beginning the Philosophical Investigations with a quotation from a classic book of spiritual confession while being silent about the true nature of his own book (see the epigraph from Alan Janik to § I above). For, confession, if it is to be done in the right spirit, not proudly, must be done silently to oneself, before God, not trumpeted to the world. Thus, it is precisely his silence in the Philosophical Investigations about its status as a personal confession that “shows” that it is a philosophy of humility.

(The later) Wittgenstein does not even try, as he had in the Tractatus, to write a book filled with deep sayings about logic or mysticism. The time for posturing or, as he had earlier said to Ficker, “babbling” about these “ethical” matters is over. The time to impress the world with one’s deep sayings is long past. That is replaced by “a quiet weighing of linguistic facts” (Zettel, para. 447), that is, weighing the various kinds of statements human beings make about objects, facts, mind, knowledge, ethics, aesthetics, God, etc., while humbly remaining silent about one’s own views or virtues. If one is authentic only one thing is important at this point: “Attend to making yourself more honorable!” (Culture and Value, p. 30).


Richard McDonough is the author of two books, numerous articles, encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and book reviews. He has taught previously at Bates College, the National University of Singapore, the University of Tulsa, the University Putra Malaysia, the Overseas Family College, the PSB Academy, the University of Maryland, the Arium Academy, and James Cook University. In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, humanities and writing courses.


The featured image shows, “The Conversion of Saint Augustine,” by Fra Angelico; painted, ca. 1430-1435.

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

Here I intend not only to return to topics such as essence, apodicticity, and the impossibility to deduce material existence from concept—but to address and (positively) evaluate Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s take on the “dignity of man.” Let us start with reminding the reader that, in my approach to God, the latter is an infinite field of ideational singular models (with generic and unique properties) for singular entities (with generic and unique properties), which finds itself in presence of a (strictly) vertical time (i.e., in which past, present, and future are (strictly) simultaneous); and which finds itself unified, encompassed, traversed, and driven by a sorting, actualizing pulse that is itself ideational and which (in a strictly atemporal mode, i.e., in presence of a strictly vertical time) selects which ideational singular models are to see their correspondent hypothetical material entities being materialized at which point of the universe.

While the operation of that pulse is strictly ideational and strictly atemporal, the universe in which the ideational field incarnates itself is strictly material and strictly temporal (i.e., in presence of a strictly horizontal time, in which past, present, and future are successive rather than simultaneous). While incarnating itself wholly into the material, temporal realm, the one of the universe, God remains wholly ideational, atemporal—and wholly external to the material, temporal realm. While endeavoring to engender increasingly higher order and complexity in the universe, God is capable of mistakes in that task—mistakes which man is expected to repair in complete submission to the order that God established within the universe. Also, the atemporal operation of the sorting, actualizing pulse is completely improvisational, what leaves the universe without any predecided, prefixed direction.

The Dignity Of Man

The Mirandolian affirmation that the “dignity of man,” in essence, consists of his finding himself constrained and able to become what he freely decides to become, “like a statuary who receives the charge and the honor of sculpting [his] own person,” is not to be taken in the sense that the human being is a strictly formless, quality-less, matter who can become absolutely whatever pleases him. It is not to be understood either as the negation of the objectively beneficial or harmful character (for the accomplishment of the human being as a human) of certain things and actions.

In the Mirandolian conception of the human, the latter, instead of being completely formless, quality-less, is so only to the extent that he finds himself torn between the beast and the divine. Instead of his freedom being that of becoming absolutely whatever he wishes to become, it boils down to the one to “regress towards lower beings in becoming a brute, or to rise in accessing higher, divine things.” Instead of nothing being objectively good or bad for the fulfillment of the human as a human, certain things and actions—including temperance, the golden mean, free mind, obedience to the divine law, knowledge of the cosmic order, white magic, or literary, artistic creation—elevate him towards humanity (and thus towards a so-called “divine” character in the sense of the character of being like-divine, of being made in the image of the divine); others are degrading and change (or maintain) him into a beast, separating him altogether from his virtual humanity.

One cannot but notice the similitude with what is part of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s message when he says of the human being that he is “a rope stretched between the beast and the superman;” and that such is what makes him “great.” The conception of the human according to Pico della Mirandola, that of a tightrope walker between the beast and the human-as-divine, is not less similar to what will be the one according to Konrad Zacharias Lorenz and Robert Ardrey when they say of the human, in essence, that he is free to give in to the chaotic, suffocating voice of his instincts or to impose a creative discipline on himself with the help of civilization and of knowledge.

The Mirandolian approach to the human, in which the human’s “nature” lies in its “intermediate position” between the beast and the human-as-divine, and in which the human accomplishes himself, notably, through exerting, developing his ability to think in an independent, critical mode, has nothing to do with Sartrian “existentialism,” in which the human’s “nature” lies in its absence of the slightest “nature;” and in which, nonetheless, the human accomplishes himself, notably, through complete servitude (including intellectual) in an economically communist society. It has nothing to do either with Heideggerian “existentialism,” in which the human’s “nature” notably lies in a virtual role as “shepherd of the Being” that is (according to Heidegger) as much foreign to the crowning of the cosmos through knowledge or through technique as incompatible with any high level of technical development; and in which the human is called to accomplish himself, not as the “lord of the beings” (either in a cognitive sense or in the sense of technical mastery), but as the one who muses over the mystery of the presence of those things that are.

The human’s self-accomplishment does not occur through technique stricto sensu in the Mirandolian approach to the human (which, indeed, doesn’t really address the topic of technique—to my knowledge); but it genuinely occurs, for instance, through mastery over nature in a cognitive sense (i.e., through that kind of mastery over nature that is the knowledge of nature), while said mastery is thought in Martin Heidegger to bring absolutely nothing to the human’s self-accomplishment.

In the Heideggerian approach to the human, the latter indeed occurs, notably, through meditating over the mystery that there is “something rather than nothing;” but neither through crowning the beings with knowledge nor through crowning them with high technique, which Heidegger even envisions as indissociable from the “forgetfulness of the Being.” The Being is here not to be taken in the sense of an uncreated entity that can neither escape existence (in the general sense of being) nor escape existence in an eternal mode; but in the sense of what allows for existence in existent entities (whether they’re material entities, i.e., materially existent entities) without being itself an entity. The essay will resort itself to that definition when speaking of the “Being.”

How the Being is actually articulated with the sorting, actualizing ideational pulse is a topic I intend to address elsewhere; but, in that the ideational realm incarnates itself into the material realm (to which it however remains external), the presence of the Being as a background for the ideational realm incarnates itself into the presence of the Being as a background for the material realm (while remaining external to its presence as a background for the material realm). While a property is what is characteristic of an existent or hypothetical entity at some point (whether time is horizontal or vertical), a quality is a property of a non-existential kind, i.e., a property unrelated to the entity’s existence.

A certain modality of the theory of evolution has this negative characteristic (for the spiritual elevation of the human) that it reduces the challenges of the human existence, either individual or collective, to sexual reproduction (and the transmission of genes), thus evacuating the challenge for the individual that is the preparation of oneself for the life of the soul after the death of the body.

Another negative characteristic at the level of spiritual elevation is that the modality in question reduces nature to an axiologically neutral battlefield: a land that confronts us with fierce, ruthless physical struggle for the transmission of genes (either individual or collective); but which, remaining rigorously indifferent to human existence and suffering, no more assigns to humans some end to pursue, some model of life to endorse, than it mourns their earthly misfortunes or rejoices in it. The classic axiological ideal of the pursuit is accordingly evacuated—both at the group and individual level—of a life of moderation in accordance with what is allegedly nature’s expectations: the ideal of the pursuit of the golden mean both in the individual exercise of the mental and bodily faculties—and in the group’s organization and conduct.

A golden mean that nature allegedly assigns to us, the transgression of which is allegedly at the origin of most of our earthly ills. The ideal offered in return is that of savagery and excessiveness in the “struggle for survival” and for reproduction, whether it is those of the individual or of the group: Arthur Keith noting in that regard that the “German Führer” was actually an “evolutionist,” who strove to render “the practices of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.”

That said, not any modality of the theory of evolution is actually incompatible with the classic ethics of the golden mean—in that a modality (rightly) envisioning the group’s axiological valorization, expectation, of the pursuit of the golden mean both on the individual’s part (in his individual life) and on the group’s part (in its conduct and organization) as an inescapable ingredient to the group’s success in intergroup competition for survival is actually at work, to some extent, in the considerations of “eminent evolutionists” such as Ardrey and Lorenz.

The obvious failure of Nazi Germany in the collective struggle for survival is a testimony to the degree to which a group’s imperilment expands as the group deviates from the golden mean. As for the issue of knowing whether the idea of the universe as an axiologically positioned place, i.e., one ascribing us some duties (and some proscriptions), is incompatible with any possible modality of the theory of evolution, I believe my approach to God allows to think of the universe as a place both completely positioned axiologically and—as claimed in the theory of evolution—completely neutral axiologically.

In my approach, indeed, the universe is, on the one hand, completely neutral axiologically in its existence considered independently of the spiritual realm incarnating itself completely into the universe; on the other hand, completely positioned axiologically in its existence considered as an incarnation of the spiritual realm remaining completely external to the universe. What the universe (when considered as a divine incarnation) is axiologically about is, notably, creation; and the fulfillment of creation through the human being, notably, as the latter is made “in the image of God.”

It is worth specifying that human creation (in an intellective, mental sense) occurs as much, for instance, at the level of cognition (in a broad sense covering as much art and literature as physics, mathematics, philosophy, magic, etc.) as at the level of technique; just like it is worth specifying that human creation is never so great as when it occurs in the mode of an exploit. What is here called “exploit” is a successful deed that is both exceptionally original, creative, and exceptionally risky, jeopardizing (for one’s individual material subsistence), and which is intended to bring eternal individual glory to its individual perpetrator, whether the exploit occurs on the properly military battlefield or on the battlefield between poets, the one between entrepreneurs, the one between magicians, etc.

Properly understood heroism is not about readiness to die anonymously for something “greater than oneself;” but about readiness, instead, to self-singularize and self-immortalize oneself through holding an eternally remembered life of exploit despising comfort and the fear of death. Though Pico della Mirandola rightly conceives of cognitive creation (and independence) and of the golden mean as both constitutive of the human kind’s elevation, thus reminding his reader of those ancient aphorisms that are “Nothing too much,” which “duly prescribes a measure and rule for all the virtues through the concept of the “Mean” of which moral philosophy treats,” and “Know thyself,” which “invites and exhorts us to the [independent, creative] study of the whole nature of which the nature of man is the connecting link and the “mixed potion”,” he didn’t make it clear, sadly, that the human life is never so creative, independent mentally, never so held in accordance with the golden mean, as when it is a life of exploit.

It should be added that, when it comes to the pursuit of exploit (especially in the warlike, political fields), a man’s mental creativeness, independence, his inner equilibrium, self-discipline, are never so great as in the one who, quoting Macchiavelli, knows “how to avail himself of the beast and the man” depending on the circumstances, something that “has been figuratively taught to princes by ancient writers, who describe how Achilles and many other princes of old were given to the Centaur Chiron to nurse, who brought them up in his discipline.”

To put it in another way, when it comes to war and political fight, a man is never so distanced from the beast that stands at the other end of the rope towards the superhuman as when he finds himself oscillating between the beast and the man with complete flexibility and self-mastery; a point that is regrettably absent in the Mirandolian Oration on the Dignity of Man (but, fortunately, explicit in Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s The Prince).

Again, Nietzsche’s message doesn’t fail to present some similitude with Florentine thinking when (in his Posthumous Fragments) he says that “at each growth of man in greatness and in elevation, he does not fail to grow downwards and towards the monster.” Whether one speaks of “transhumanism” in the notion’s general sense (i.e., in the sense of the promotion of the human being’s “overcoming” through genetic, bio-robotic engineerings), the one I will refer to in the present article (unless specified otherwise), or in the specific sense of an “overcoming” through genetic, bio-robotic engineerings that is specifically intended to emasculate the human being instinctually and mentally, the transhumanist project is obviously incompatible with the Mirandolian, Machiavellian approaches to the human (just like it is with the Nietzschean approach—on another note).

Both Pico della Mirandola and Machiavelli (but also Nietzsche) were fully attached to an ethics of exploit with which transhumanism is fully incompatible (a fortiori in the case of the above-evoked specific modality of transhumanism, which I especially addressed in a previous article); just like both (though not Nietzsche) were fully aware that the human was God-established as a worthy master of the cosmos himself put under God’s aegis, an intermediary rank that transhumanism fiercely rejects in its rebellion against the cosmic order.

Though the human is God-mandated to crown the beings with knowledge and technique, he is also God-mandated to perform his creativity in the respect of the God-implemented order and laws in the cosmos; in other words, God-mandated to accept himself as being “made in the image of God” (rather than made divine stricto sensu) and to act accordingly. None of the God-implemented laws in the cosmos can be actually transgressed; but attempt to transgress them is, for its part, not only possible but an actual cause of many misfortunes for the human.

A plane or bird can no more afford to disdain gravity (if it is to fly) than a human society (if it is to be functional) can afford to dismiss, for instance, the law of the inescapability of genetic inequality in any sexually reproducing species; the law of the instrumental necessity in any vertebrate species of “equal opportunity” for the purpose of the group’s success (in intergroup competition for survival); the law of the impossibility of (rational) central economic-planning; the law of the impossibility of (rational) central eugenics-planning; the law that what can be measured in intelligence is only part of intelligence; the law of the impossibility for the human mind to progress in knowledge (or in any field) without making use of an independent, creative mode of thinking (which is neither measured by the “QI” nor measurable); the law of the impossibility for the human mind (as it has been made by—and positioned within—the cosmos) to do any correct, precise prediction on the consequences of genome-editing; the law of the impossibility for the human mind to gather all the information required for the purpose of eugenics planning (or semi-planning) or economic planning (or semi-planning); the law of the unavoidable perverse-effects of any state-eugenics measure of a coercive, negative, or engineering kind; the law of the impossibility for the human being to master nature (to the extent possible) without submitting himself to nature; the law of the impossibility for the human being’s suprasensible grasp not to be approximative at best; or the law of the impossibility for the human being to reach some knowledge of the cosmos (or of the ideational realm) other than conjectural.

It cannot be denied that transhumanism and the afore-addressed modality of the “theory of evolution”—along with other memetic edifices of the so-called Modernity such as Marxism, Keynesianism, Heideggerianism, or Auguste Comte’s “positivism”—are part of the spiteful ideological mutations that got involved in the human’s corruption over the course of the three last centuries. Almost no longer any “positivist” dares, admittedly, to support or take seriously the notion dear to the earliest positivists, from the time of Auguste Comte, that “science,” far from requesting the slightest imagination, boils down to conducting observations (of regular causal relations) and to inducing them within theories constructed in accordance with “the” laws of formal logic; and that science provides objective certainties instead of being actually conjectural and corroborated.

The other articles of the original positivist creed—just as illusory—nevertheless remain deeply engraved in contemporary “neo-positivists.” Just as the so-called positivist spirit represents to itself that nothing exists but what is knowable (under the guise of claiming to restrict itself to knowing what is within the reach of human knowledge), it represents to itself that nothing is knowable but what is completely observable and completely quantifiable, entirely subject to a perfect and necessary regularity (at least, when identical circumstances are repeated over time) and to the identity, non-contradiction, and exclusion of the third middle (at least, in a certain respect at a certain moment). In that, “positivism” is not only unsuited to the (irremediably conjectural) knowledge of the human being, a creature subject (to a certain point) to free will, in whom everything by far is not quantifiable (or completely quantifiable); it is just as much to the (not less irremediably conjectural) knowledge of atomic and subatomic creatures, which, while behaving in a completely quantifiable mode, nonetheless remain free from the exclusion of the third middle (as highlighted by Stéphane Lupasco), perhaps even subject to their own free will to some extent (if one believes Freeman Dyson, Stuart Kauffman, John Conway, Simon Kochen, or Howard Bloom).

Positivism is equally mistaken in its conception of science as an undertaking systemically distinct from metaphysics—and in its conception of science as the key to a total human mastery with regard to nature and to an infinite liberation of his creative and exploitative powers. Just as those theories in astrophysics which relate to the beginning of the universe (including the theory of the “Big Bang”) actually tackle, in that, the issue of the “first causes,” the interest that “science” has in the allegedly necessary regularities in the causal relations between material entities (in a broad sense including atoms), what is commonly called “laws of nature,” is never more than a modality of the interest in “essences” which occupies a part of ontology.

To say of material entities that they follow a perfectly necessary regularity in all or part of their causal relations which is inherent in what they are actually falls within the discourse on “essences.” As for the mastery over the universe that science is able to bring to man, it is no more total than science is able to provide objectively certain theories. Far from science being able to render the human a god, it can only render him “as master and possessor” of nature: render him as-divine within the limits assigned to science and to the human by the order inherent in the cosmos, an order to which human submission is necessary condition for the liberation (to the extent possible) of his own creative and exploitative powers.

A scientific statement is never objectively certain nor a strict description of the sensible datum; but is instead a conjectured, corroborated statement. Precisely, what defines a scientific statement is not its object—but the fact it is conjectured, corroborated, and the way it is conjectured, corroborated (namely that is panoramically conjectured, corroborated). A claim or concept is conjectured when it is guessed from something which objectively doesn’t prove it.

A claim or concept conjectured at an empirical level (what is tantamount to saying: a claim or concept conjectured in an empirical sense) means a claim or concept conjectured from sensible experience; just like a claim or concept conjectured in a panoramic sense (what is tantamount to saying: a claim or concept conjectured at a panoramic level) means a claim or concept conjectured as much from sensible experience as from some logical laws as from hypothetical sensible impression (i.e., from sensible impression perhaps) as from hypothetical suprasensible impression (i.e., from suprasensible impression perhaps) as from hypothetical conjectures from sensible experience as from hypothetical ones from sensible impression (i.e., from ones perhaps from sensible impression) as from hypothetical ones from suprasensible impression as from hypothetical ones from hypothetical other conjectures from sensible experience, hypothetical other ones from some logical laws, hypothetical other ones from suprasensible impression, and hypothetical other ones from sensible impression, whether those hypothetical other conjectures are one’s conjectures or borrowed to someone else.

A claim or concept is corroborated when it is backed in a way that (objectively) doesn’t confirm it nonetheless. Corroboration at an empirical level (what is tantamount to saying: corroboration in an empirical sense) for a concept or claim means its corroboration through sensible experience; just like corroboration in a panoramic sense (what is tantamount to saying: corroboration at a panoramic level) for a concept or claim means its corroboration as much through sensible experience as through some logical laws as through hypothetical sensible impression (i.e., through sensible impression perhaps) as through hypothetical suprasensible impression (i.e., through suprasensible impression perhaps) as through hypothetical conjectures from sensible experience as through hypothetical ones from sensible impression (i.e., through ones perhaps from sensible impression) as through hypothetical ones from suprasensible impression as through hypothetical ones from hypothetical other conjectures from sensible experience, hypothetical other ones from some logical laws, hypothetical other ones from suprasensible impression, and hypothetical other ones from sensible impression, whether those hypothetical other conjectures are one’s conjectures or borrowed to someone else.

The logical laws used, trusted, in one’s mind are completely interdependent with the universe such as empirically conjectured in one’s mind or represented in one’s sensible impression, such as represented in one’s hypothetical suprasensible impression, such as conjectured from one’s logical laws, and such as represented in one’s hypothetical conjecturing from one’s sensible experience, in one’s hypothetical conjecturing from one’s (hypothetical) sensible impressions, in one’s hypothetical conjecturing from one’s (hypothetical) suprasensible impressions, and in one’s hypothetical conjecturing from hypothetical other conjectures from sensible experience and from hypothetical other ones from suprasensible impression and from hypothetical other ones from sensible impression (whether those hypothetical other conjectures are one’s conjectures or borrowed to someone else).

The scientific claims and concepts (what is tantamount to saying: the scientific theories and concepts) sometimes think of themselves as being conjectured only from the sensible datum and corroborated only from the latter; but they’re actually claims and concepts panoramically conjectured (including from the sensible datum) and panoramically corroborated (including from the sensible datum). As for the metaphysical claims and concepts, they’re neither systemically conjectured in a panoramic mode nor systemically corroborated in a panoramic mode; but, when they’re empirically corroborated, they’re also panoramically corroborated (and panoramically conjectured).

Any scientific claim or concept is panoramically conjectured, corroborated; but not any panoramically conjectured, corroborated, claim or concept is scientific. A scientific claim or concept is a modality of a panoramically conjectured, corroborated, claim or concept that not only allows for not-trivial quantitative positive predictions expected to be repeatedly verified under the repetition of some specific circumstances; but sees itself doomed to get empirically disproved in the hypothetical case where all or part of those predictions would be empirically refuted at some point.

From White And Black Magic To White And Black Technique

Technique is here taken in the sense of any apparatus intended to increase the human’s transformative or exploitive powers—whether it is through extending, sophisticating the social division of labor or through devising, deploying new technologies or through organizing society in a certain way aimed at increasing said powers. Most opponents to technique claim that they have something only against preferring technique over meditation on the Being, i.e., meditation on the mystery of the existence of things; or that they have something only against after preferring technique over the moderation of sensitive, material appetites, or over “heroism” understood as the capacity to die for one’s community or for something greater than oneself. Precisely, an error on their part lies in their more or less implicit assertion that a high level of technical development (i.e., a high level of development in all or part of the aforementioned modalities of technique) is necessarily incompatible with the meditation on the Being, the mastery of the sensitive, material appetites, or the sense of self-sacrifice—as if there were a choice to do between high technique (i.e., high technical development) and one or the other of those things.

Another error on their part lies in their more or less explicit approach to Being, the glade of existence, as a closed, complete glade, which only asks the human to meditate on the fact that there is something rather than nothing, that there is a glade rather than the night. Actually, the Being is open, incomplete, waiting for the human to pursue what exists prior to the human and to make himself the brush-cutter and arranger of the glade. Technique is no more external to the opening of the human to the Being than a high level of technical development necessarily breaks said opening. Heidegger simply failed to notice that the technique opens us as much to the Being as does meditation of the fact of existence; and that the human fulfills his role of “shepherd of the Being” as much in the astonished consideration of the presence of things as in the cognitive, technical completion of the present things. Meditative astonishment at the mystery of existence is not doomed to disappear as knowledge and technique are boarding (and prolonging) what exists; but its vocation in “the history of the Being” is to stand at the side of technical development as asked by the Being itself.

Two things, at least, should be clarified. Namely that, on the one hand, the axiological, organizational hegemony of the market (which can only be majorly at work, not completely) doesn’t lead to the axiological, organizational promotion (either complete or major) of intemperance in society; and that, on the other hand, not all technique is good technic from the joint angle of the Being, of the divine order, and of the “human dignity.” (What is bad technique from the angle of the Being is also bad technique from those two other angles. Ditto for what is bad technique from the angle of the divine order—and bad technique from the angle of the “human dignity.”)

A society that is strictly industrious in its foundations, i.e., where the industrious activity (instead of the military one) is the dominant activity in the organization and the foundational code of expectations, is not systemically a society that notably values, expects, intemperance and which articulates its industrious activity around it notably. Such society is instead a modality of the industrious society. With regard to the modality where the market is largely liberated and largely hegemonic at the organizational and axiological levels, that hegemony of a largely liberated market not only does not imply that a complete or high intemperance is valued in the foundational expectations or put at the core of social organization; but, besides, is simply incompatible with such an organizational or axiological hegemony of intemperance.

A largely liberated market notably requires (as would be the case of a perfectly liberated market) for its proper functioning the presence of (quantitatively) numerous and profitable outlets, what notably requires the presence of a virtuous circle where high levels of savings obtained notably through high or perfect temperance create—notably through a correct entrepreneurial anticipation of the respective consumption and investment demands—high levels of entrepreneurial and capital income, themselves reinjected in part into savings and in part into consumption. The modality of an industrious society where the market is largely hegemonic at organizational and axiological levels (in other words, the modality of an industrious society that is the majorly bourgeois society) is therefore a modality whose code of expectations condemns the slightest intemperance (instead of encouraging or tolerating it) and whose organization is based on high or full temperance (rather than high or moderate intemperance).

What one may call the Keynesian modality of an industrious society, where the economic system is largely based on economic policy measures whose interference with the market intentionally encourages high levels of consumption (to the detriment of levels of savings which be high or moderate), is actually a modality that axiologically praises high intemperance notably and which notably relies on it in the organization; but that modality, precisely, is neither one where the market is majorly (or completely) liberated nor one where it is majorly (or completely) hegemonic in values.

It is true that a society where the market is majorly hegemonic (both organizationally and axiologically) is a society where the valued, expected code of conduct in the foundations of said society includes—apart from self-sacrifice on the battlefield in intergroup warfare—concern for pursuing as a priority, placing above all else, a perfectly temperate and perfectly responsible subsistence, which be so long as possible and which avoid danger as much as possible; but intemperance, whether high, complete, low, or moderate, is just as incompatible with such code of conduct as (strictly) high or complete temperance is indispensable to the organization of a society where a largely liberated market is largely hegemonic.

Just as the bourgeois code of conduct and indulgence with regard to such-or-such level of intemperance (were it the lowest) are wholly distinct (and even wholly incompatible) things, a (completely) Keynesian market and a widely liberated market are wholly distinct (and even wholly incompatible) things. Just as a largely liberated and largely hegemonic (axiologically and organizationally) market requires quantitatively numerous and profitable outlets for its proper functioning, it requires qualitatively numerous and profitable outlets: in other words, profitable outlets that are “diverse and varied” (rather than homogeneous). It is not only false that a largely liberated and largely hegemonic (axiologically and organizationally) market requires for its proper functioning a (strictly) complete or high intemperance; it is just as much false that a largely liberated and largely hegemonic (axiologically and organizationally) market requires standardized outlets for its proper functioning.

Whatever the level of liberalization of the national or global market, a double cause-and-effect relationship that is at work both in the national and global market is effectively the following. Namely that the more the profitable outlets are qualitatively numerous (i.e., diversified at the level of their respective attributes), the more they are quantitatively numerous; the less they are qualitatively numerous, the less they are quantitatively numerous. The highly standardized character of goods and services in the contemporary global market is precisely a dysfunctional pattern in the globalized market; and that dysfunctional motive is itself the consequence of the fact that, however globalized it may be, the globalized market is largely hampered juridically—and hampered for the benefit of a narrow number of companies and banks enjoying fiscal and legal advantages that are such that those companies and banks are largely sheltered from competition. Both at the national-market level and at the global-market level: the more competition is juridically locked, the less the profitable outlets are qualitatively, quantitatively numerous; the less it is, the more they are.

Just like a society that majorly prefers technique over exploit, i.e., which majorly disdains exploit for the benefit of technique, is majorly detrimental to the human’s elevation towards the superhuman, a society that completely prefers technique over exploit (as is the case of a majorly bourgeois society—and as would be the case of a completely bourgeois chimerical society) is completely detrimental to the human’s elevation towards the superhuman. Technique is not more to be preferred (completely or majorly) over exploit than the latter is to be preferred (completely or majorly) over the former. Both are compatible and should go hand in hand (as is the case in some modalities of a society completely warlike foundationally). Yet the opponents to technique err not only in their amalgamating disdain for heroism with disdain for temperance; but in their understanding heroism as a conduct incompatible with (high) technique—and as a conduct turned towards self-erasure and self-sacrifice through anonymous death (even while heroism is really about self-singularization and self-immortalization through exploit such as defined above).

What’s more, they fail to notice that the problem with technique is not only to be aware not to prefer technique over that to which it should remain not-preferred; but to be aware not to indulge into what can be called black technique or bad technique (in comparison with that kind of magic that can be called black or bad). Precisely, the distinction that Pico della Mirandola takes up (and clarifies) between two kinds of magic, the one which “entirely falls within the action and authority of demons” and the one which instead consists of “the perfect fulfillment of natural philosophy,” must extend to technique. Namely that, while the good, white technique is the one which is only the crowning of the natural order, the completion of the Being, the bad, black technique is the one which (were it unwittingly) works to transgress the natural order, subvert the Being. The former contributes to fulfilling the human as a being-as-divine, but the latter, working (were it unwittingly) to render the human divine, contributes to corrupting him and handing him over to the demons. The former really institutes the human as a fortunate co-creator alongside the divine, but the latter, indulging in the chimerical project of escaping the cosmic order and equaling the divine, only makes to condemn the human and his work to misfortune.

Just as bad magic, to quote Pico, is, rightly, “condemned and cursed not only by the Christian religion [of the type of Catholicism of Pico’s time], but by all laws, by every well ordered state,” the bad technique must be legally, politically, religiously condemned unambiguously. The transhumanist, so to speak, must be led to the stake just like the Keynesian. From engineering on the genome of embryos to those neuro-robotic implants undermining free will, from genetic planning to any coercive, negative, or engineering state-eugenics measure, from economic planning to any economic-policy measure undermining such things as inheritance, free competition, saving, or the freedom itself to do saving, demonic-type technique must be banned in its entirety; but good technique, the one which elevates us towards God and the superhuman, must be authorized.


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, “Herod’s Banquet,” by Filippo Lippi; painted ca. 1452 and 1465.

Josef Pieper On Prudence: The Mother Of Virtues

German Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper, had very much to say about the theological and moral virtues in a number of his writings. Of interest here are chapters in his 1964 collection of previously written studies, The Four Cardinal Virtues, wherein he organizes his material according to the schema of Saint Thomas Aquinas, viz., prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, assuring his readers that this order is not arbitrary, but logical — metaphysical, even.

That the first of the cardinal virtues is prudence is no accident, for it is the “mold” and “mother” of the other cardinal virtues, without which they would not be virtues.

This neglected and much undervalued virtue — Pieper considered it so even in 1959 (!), when he wrote the study on prudence — deserves to be thrust into our spiritual spotlight for at least two reasons: (1) aside from its own excellence and its necessity as a prerequisite to the other cardinal virtues, (2) it can assist us in assessing and countering the perverse and pervasive surrealism that we confront on a daily basis. But that surrealism itself, which obscures reality and is therefore a sort of “heresy against being,” must first be seen for what it is: an obstacle to prudence that must be removed so that we may become truly virtuous.

Regarding the historical artistic movement of surrealism, the source of my analogy, I will say only a few words. First, regarding the name itself:

Its aim was, according to leader André Breton, to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”, or surreality.

Here is Wikipedia’s general description of surrealism, giving also the revolutionary aims of its ideological partisans:

“Works of Surrealism feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. However, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost (for instance, of the “pure psychic automatism” Breton speaks of in the first Surrealist Manifesto), with the works themselves being secondary, i.e. artifacts of surrealist experimentation. Leader Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement. At the time, the movement was associated with political causes such as communism and anarchism.”

André Breton was a communist who eventually became an anarchist — an ideologue of revolution. Here is his description of the “pure psychic automatism” mentioned above:

“Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern” — First Manifesto of Surrealism (1924).

This is “thinking” bereft of Logos, art bereft of aesthetics, expression bereft of morals. Simply put, it is revolutionary irrationalism which necessarily leads to immorality. Numerous of Breton’s surrealist fellows were explicitly and monstrously anti-Catholic. I have no intention here to issue a blanket condemnation of all artists who incorporated some surrealist elements in their work (though it is mighty tempting!). It is the irrational and revolutionary character of surrealism as a movement that interests me, deliberately juxtaposing as it does the real with the non-real in order to make a “super-reality.”

The oligarchs who are bringing us the current Dystopian Fantasy PSYOP (and so much more) are anti-Logos revolutionaries, too, and they are, in the name of an Orwellian New World Order, presenting us with an ugly and deceptive juxtaposition of the real and the non-real worthy of Salvador Dalí at his strangest. Here, though, the craft of our current surrealist practitioners is neither art nor letters nor cinema, but a careful and atmospheric perception management which has its hapless consumers convinced that it is indeed reality. Say what you will about Dalí, none of his connoisseurs mistook his melting watches for real time pieces.

Before citing some illuminating excerpts from Josef Pieper, let me “cut to the chase” and present my readers with the simple thesis of this Ad Rem: Because the perception of reality as it is (or “true-to-being” as Pieper has it) is required for prudence, and because prudence is required for the other moral virtues, the embrace of pervasive surrealist narratives (e.g., among many others, “follow the [pseudo-] science,” “gender [actually, sex] is a social construct and can be changed”) renders prudence impossible. In so doing, it also renders justice, fortitude, and temperance impossible. It follows that the failure of so many of our ecclesiastical and temporal leaders to see reality as it is, to decide and judge based upon a “true-to-being” memory, explains so much of what is currently wrong with the world.

In light of this, the moral imperative for the Church and for all souls of good will is to strive to see reality as it is and to practice true prudence so that we can be genuinely just, brave, and temperate, not only in a natural mode, but, as Christians, in a supernatural mode, aided by grace and the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.

In the first chapter of The Four Cardinal Virtues, “The First of the Cardinal Virtues,” Dr. Pieper notes that contemporary ears (in 1959) will find it strange “that the virtue of prudence is the mold and ‘mother’ of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent” (p. 3). “Yet the fact is,” he insists, “that nothing less than the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man rests upon the pre-eminence of prudence over the other virtues” (p. 3).

And what is this “ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man”? It is Trinitarian:

“That structure is built thus: that Being precedes Truth, and that Truth precedes the Good. Indeed, the living fire at the heart of the dictum is the central mystery of Christian theology: that the Father begets the Eternal Word, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Word.”

By contrast, the modern conception of prudence strips it of its true nobility:

“To the contemporary mind, prudence seems less a prerequisite to goodness than an evasion of it. The statement that it is prudence which makes an action good strikes us as well-nigh ridiculous. … In colloquial use, prudence always carries the connotation of timorous, small-minded self-preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself. Neither of these traits is compatible with nobility; both are unworthy of the noble man.”

And because of this, “A ‘prudent’ man is thought to be one who avoids the embarrassing situation of having to be brave”. Worse, “To the contemporary mind, then, the concept of the good rather excludes than includes prudence.”

Dr. Pieper even laments the degradation suffered by Catholic moral theology on the subject (yes, in 1959): “At any rate, there is no doubt about the result: modern religious teachings have little or nothing to say about the place of prudence in the life or in the hierarchy of virtues.” Later, he has much to say in opposition to the exaggerated casuistry (a “science of sin”) that coincided with the eclipse of the authentic doctrine of prudence.

The great Occidental Christian view of man stands in stark contrast with these modern defects and excesses:

Classical Christian ethics, on the contrary, maintains that man can be prudent and good only simultaneously; that prudence is part and parcel of the definition of goodness; that there is no sort of justice and fortitude which runs counter to the virtue of prudence; and that the unjust man has been imprudent before and is imprudent at the moment he is unjust. Omnis virtus moralis debet esse prudens — All virtue is necessarily prudent.

In fact,

“Prudence is the cause of the other virtues’ being virtues at all. For example, there may be a kind of instinctive governance of instinctual cravings; but only prudence transforms this instinctive governance into the ‘virtue’ of temperance. Virtue is a ‘perfected ability’ of man as a spiritual person; and justice, fortitude, and temperance, as ‘abilities’ of the whole man, achieve their perfection only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfected ability to make right decisions. Only by means of this perfected ability to make good choices are instinctive inclinations toward goodness exalted into the spiritual core of man’s decisions, from which truly human acts arise.”

Moral goodness is radically dependent upon prudence, for, “What is prudent and what is good are substantially one and the same; they differ only in their place in the logical succession of realization. For whatever is good must first have been prudent” (p. 7). And this radical dependence implies that there is a sort of mutual interpenetration of prudence and the other virtues: “Ethical virtue is the print and seal placed by prudence upon volition and action. Prudence works in all the virtues; and all virtue participates in prudence” (p. 8). “Thus,” Pieper continues,

“…prudence is cause, root, mother, measure, precept, guide, and prototype of all ethical virtues; it acts in all of them, perfecting them to their true nature; all participate in it, and by virtue of this participation they are virtues.”.

“Truth” is, as Saint Hilary of Poitiers said, “declarative being.” When we men accept the truths of the natural or supernatural order, we unite our minds with the divine Mind who is Being itself. Among the truths that declare their being to us are moral imperatives, the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots,” which are not arbitrary, but are accommodated to man’s reason. (I am here reminded that the Natural Law is, to Saint Thomas, “nothing else than the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law” [ST I-II, Q. 91, A. 2], which is itself the product of the divine Mind.) Basing himself on Saint Thomas, Pieper declares that,

“All ten commandments of God pertain to the executio prudentiae, the realization in practice of prudence. Here is a statement that has become virtually incomprehensible to people of today. And every sin is opposed to prudence. Injustice, cowardice, intemperance are in direct opposition to the virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance; ultimately, however, through all these virtues, they run counter to prudence. Everyone who sins is imprudent.”

Pieper goes so far as to say that “the whole doctrine of prudence” is summed up in this “fundamental principle of Thomas Aquinas,” namely, “that ‘reason perfected in the cognition of truth’ shall inwardly shape and imprint [man’s] volition and action.” He hastens to add that the “reason” which is “perfected in the cognition of truth” is not exclusively unaided natural human reason, still less the unchristian pseudo-reason of the so-called Enlightenment, but a “regard for and openness to reality,” and an “acceptance of reality” — “both natural and supernatural reality.”

Therefore, truth, which we know to be the conformity of the mind to reality — to what is — is a necessary precondition for prudence and consequently for all virtue: “Certainly prudence is the standard of volition and action [that is, of willing and doing]; but the standard of prudence, on the other hand, is the ipsa res, the ‘thing itself,’ the objective reality of being.”

The passages from The Four Cardinal Virtues that I have cited so far all come from the book’s first chapter. I have not even gotten to Chapter Two, “Knowledge of Reality and the Realization of the Good.”

But this will not be our last adventure in prudence with Dr. Pieper as our guide. Already, though, we have enough material to support our thesis and show that the atmospheric and revolutionary “false narratives” which make for what I have here called a “perverse and pervasive surrealism” are all contraceptive of prudence and therefore of true virtue. Anything arising from such a defective grasp of reality is doomed to be more-or-less imprudent and therefore not virtuous in the true sense of any of the moral virtues.

Is it any wonder that things in Church and State are such as they are?


Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel.


The featured image shows “Prudence,” by Piero del Pollaiolo, ca. 1469-1472.

What A Piece Of Work Is A Man: Dostoevsky And Humanity

Your meeting with a book that became one of the most important books in life remains forever in your memory. And the writer who created that book becomes close to you, like family. Of course, this is not immediately understood, but only after the years go by. You return again and again in your memory to that day and hour when that cherished meeting took place. This happened with me when, as a student of the Urals University, I left the reading room all shaken after reading the novel, The Idiot. It seemed to me that my hair was standing on end, that my soul was as if struck, and it shook from the blow.

And so, from that same university winter, from age nineteen and for the rest of my life, the characters of Prince Myshkin, Nastasia Philippovna, Parfen Rogozhin, and others in that immortal novel entered into the very center of my heart. And later, throughout the course of my life did this novel and Dostoevsky’s fate call back to me, often determining turns in that course—at times even sharp turns.

This is what I want to tell you about today. Especially since we are in the “Year of Dostoevsky.”

Dostoevsky As A Herald Of Christ

After the second year of university, we students of the journalism school were sent for internships to the regional newspaper. I ended up in the town of Bogdanovich in Sverdlovsk province, at the newspaper called, “Flag of Victory”. I was supposed to write about the harvest, and how things stood with dairy yields. And after my ridiculous forays into the fields and dairy farms, my searches for people who were supposed to tell about the business (I could have gotten all this information over the telephone but I was “studying life”), barely alive because I either hitchhiked or used my own two feet, I flopped down on the dormitory bed to have at least a tiny rest. Then I rose early to write my reportage on the zealous work in the fields and farms.

And so, in the morning as I walked past the movie theater to the office, I saw an announcement for the film, “The Idiot”. I was stunned. All that day I only thought about getting to the theater as soon as possible to watch that film.

I watched it. And that same evening I set about writing my first review. I really regret that I didn’t save it. The editor stripped down my “creative torments” to mere notes. His conclusion was that it was “too long”. The newspaper was of a small format—culture and sports, weather, and all the rest that allowed it to pay for itself left but a small spot on the fourth column. Into that spot did they squeeze my ecstatic notes on the film. I’m sure that it must have looked crazy in that newspaper.

It was 1958; after all, the “thaw” had begun, and our dreams were swirling around something as yet unrecognized but definitely significant, and human—something pertaining not to the number of hectares of harvested wheat and rye, but to the life of the human soul.

I recall those notes because when I returned to Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), I had something to talk with my brother about. At the time, Anatoly was studying in the acting studio at the drama theater. Of course he had read The Idiot, and we watched the film together, then discussed it vigorously. In the theater, the excellent theatrical production of The Insulted and Humiliated was on, with Boris Feodorovich Iyin, a “people’s artist of the USSR”, brilliantly playing the role of Prince Valkovsky. And the young hero, the writer Vanya, was played by our favorite actor Constantine Petrovich Maximov, Anatoly’s teacher. He knew about my brother’s passion (besides Dostoevsky, we were voraciously reading the poetry of the “Silver Age” and had even organized an “Evening of forgotten poets”).

That is why he confirmed in the role of Andrei Rublev the totally unknown provincial actor, Anatoly Solonytsin, against the opinion of the entire artistic council.

But why does Prince Myshkin touch us so deeply, even stun us with his character, his fate? Why does Feodor Dostoevsky’s hero so stir us, despite the eccentricity of his actions? One critic has aptly compared Dostoevsky’s prose with “congealed lava”. Yes, he writes in such a way that his words as if erupt from the crater of a volcano, flow rapidly down the slope, wiping out everything on their path, and then congeal before our eyes, in our souls. The “golden pens” of the Russian literati, such as Turgenev and Bunin, even accused Feodor Mikhailovich of chaotic and sloppy writing.

Yes, Dostoevsky’s prose really was “unpolished”, as the author himself has said. But that is what makes it so remarkable and unique—its force and impetus. His characters are taken into “borderline” situations, when the “major” issues of life, as the author put it, are in the balance—into man’s existence in general.

Can a person in such moments of life talk without “choking on his own words”, in separate phrases? Moreover his heroes get entangled, and the entanglement comes from the fact that Dostoevsky is not afraid to show man’s “duplicity”, digging down at times to the most hidden depths of the soul. That is why his heroes say one thing but mean something entirely different, twist their way out of it and lie, while Prince Myshkin’s openness and childlike ingenuousness exposes them.

Just as do the exceedingly bold and “reckless” acts of Nastasya Filippovna.

Recall how she throws the bundle of 100,000 rubles Rogozhin brought into burning fireplace. One researcher of Dostoevsky’s works figured out that 100,000 rubles in Dostoevsky’s time would equal over a million USD today.

In the 1960s, out of romanticism I left for Kaliningrad to get a job on the whaling ship, the “Yuri Dolgoruki”. Because I was considered “unreliable” and therefore not someone who could be let out of the country, they didn’t take me out to sea. But I wrote my first stories about sailors “ashore”, and published my first book, with which I was accepted into the Soviet Writers’ Union. This took place at a meeting of young authors of the Northwest in Leningrad. There I saw the famous stage presentation of “The Idiot” with Innokenty Smoktunovsky in the main role.

I am not the only one who was stunned by the show. All who saw how Smoktunovsky played his role understood that a miracle was happening before their eyes. His Myshkin was naïve like a child, open, defenseless—and at the same time protected by the truth of Christ the Savior. It could even be that the actor did not understand that he was embodying on the stage a blessed one, whom everyone around him took for an idiot. Nor did the theater understand this. Years later, just before his death, on a lengthy television program the actor related that he roused the entire theater against himself because he continued to shape the role differently from how everyone—from the chief director down—was telling him to do it. He did it according to his heart’s urgings. The show’s premier was scheduled for December 31. It was four hours long. G. Tovstonogov was prepared for a failure, and that is why the premier was scheduled for New Year’s Eve.

For the first time in many years, the theater was half empty. But on January 1, news spread throughout Leningrad that in the Great Drama Theater a miracle had taken place. Then it became simply impossible to get a ticket. Because on that stage, for the first time in nearly century of godless rule, people saw authenticity of feeling, not human but divine truth, which shown in the actor’s eyes, in his inimitable intonation as he pronounced words about faith, love, and God. And the souls of all present in the theater opened up, empathized, wept, and laughed together with him.

Here is what Prince Myshkin says when Parfen Rogozhin asks him whether or not he believes in God:

“An hour ago, as I was returning to the hotel, I ran into peasant woman with her infant. The woman was still young, and the babe would have been about six weeks old. The child smiled at her, as she observed, for the first time since she was born. I looked, and the woman very, very piously, suddenly crossed herself. “What’s that, young lass?” I said (for I asked her about everything then). Well, she said it’s maternal joy for seeing her infant smile at her for the first time; for God has the same joy when He sees from heaven how a sinner starts praying to him with his whole heart for the first time. That is what the woman said to me in almost those exact words; and such a profound, such a subtle and truly religious thought, a thought in which the whole essence of Christianity is expressed in a moment; that is, the whole understanding of God as our own father… It’s a most important thought about Christ! A simple peasant woman!.. Listen, Parfen, you asked me just now and here is my answer: The essence of religious feeling doesn’t fit into any sort of discussion, any actions or crimes, any kind of atheism. Something is amiss there, and it will be that way for eternity. There is something on which atheism will forever slip up and miss the point. But the main thing is that you’ll most probably and clearly notice this “something” in the Russian heart—and that is my conclusion!”

When the show was over, for two or three minutes there was a sepulchral silence. Then the auditorium exploded in applause, shouts, and in such a pervading stormy ecstasy that’s hard to describe. This went on for twenty to thirty minutes. I was told that there were times when it lasted even longer. As the years passed, critics both in Russia and abroad (the presentation played also in London) understood that an event had taken place that was so huge, on a scale so significant that it’s hard to express in words. Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky stood before the people—alive, authentic, the man who is rightfully called a Russian genius.

The role of Prince Myshkin, I think, was the one for which actor Innokenty Mikhailovich Smoktunovsky was born. He played about a hundred roles in the movies. He acted in many good, even excellent theater productions. But none of them reached the heights of Prince Myshkin. The actor did not act, but lived on the stage the life, I repeat, of a man of God. He was also like that in real life—strange, and unfathomable for many. And in his best roles in both theater and film are heard those familiar intonations of Prince Myshkin—pauses, expressions of the eyes, gestures—of a man who is not of this world.

The [communist] party leadership also felt this, and that is why the performance was never videotaped. Only small snippets were saved for programs. Thank God, it was at least preserved on vinyl record disks, and a three-volume album was made available.

I still have my old “music center”, and favorite records. From time to time I listen to the recording of that amazing show, which during atheistic times told of a man who sacrificed his own life for the sake of his love of God and people.

What did Feodor Dostoevsky write about in his immortal novel?

To Guess At The Mystery

In a letter to his brother Mikhail, the seventeen-year-old Dostoevsky wrote:

“Man is a mystery. It must be unraveled, and even if you’ve spent you whole life unraveling it, you can’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am occupied with this mystery, for I want to be a man.”

That is how the young Feodor determined the purposed of his life even before he’d written his first short story, Poor Folk, which Belinsky read and then exclaimed ecstatically, “A new Gogol has appeared!”

Feodor Mikhailovich felt with his heart his purpose in life. It is important to determine this purpose, or it would be better to say, calling, which is the meaning of your life. It is important not to betray it, but to walk what is often a thorny path, but a path that calls to you to follow the call of your soul. I don’t in any way want to compare the scope of the great writer’s gifts with those directors and actors who had the fortitude to play and produce the author’s works in theater and film. But the yearning to express in their creative work the hidden mystery that is embedded in his great novels, remains the cherished dream of many. This would include such film producers as Andrei Arsenievich Tarkovsky. After his films, “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Andrei Rublev”, which brought him international fame, he wrote an expansive proposal for the screening of “The Idiot.” An anniversary date was approaching—in 1981 it was proposed to have a grand celebration of the one hundred years since Dostoevsky’s death, and 160 years since his birth. Tarkovsky had the idea of filming a television series. In his diaries he wrote, “Solonitsyn would be ideal for the role of Dostoevsky.” In his proposal he determined that the author of the novel, i.e., Dostoevsky, should play the role of the narrator. This actor, Anatoly, was entrusted with the role of Lebedev—that very liar who swears his love for the “excellent prince” but at the same time writes an “exposé” about him. Myshkin was to be played by Alexander Kaidanovsky, and Nastasia Filipovna by Margarita Terekhova. My brother and I were transported when talked about the work ahead. Anatoly was even ready to have plastic surgery in order to look more like his favorite author.

“How are you going to play other roles if you undergo such surgery?” Tarkovsky asked him.

“Why would I need any other roles, if I’ve played Dostoevsky?” my brother answered.

The surgery never happened, because Tarkovsky’s proposal was rejected. But Anatoly would yet experience the happiness of embodying the great writer’s image on screen—albeit in a film of a completely different scale.

The film was called, “26 Days in the Life of Dostoevky”.

I’ll tell you in a little more detail why in that memorable time an amazing “coincidence”, as it would seem at first glance, took place.

Anatoly was forty-five years old—just like his hero when in 1866 he dictated the novel, The Gambler (to a stenographer). Like his hero, after a family catastrophe Anatoly had proposed to a girl who was half his age. Like his hero, Anatoly’s love was requited—and she transformed the entire rest of his life.

And hadn’t Anatoly also worked under similar circumstances?

“Well, the novel will have to be rushed by post-horses”, Feodor Mikhailovich said to Anna Grigorievna [his stenographer and future wife].

And the film was also shot as if by “post-horse”. Anatoly was under pressure to make a down payment on a cooperative apartment, and he was in debt up to his ears.

When I arrived in Moscow and met with my brother, I read the scenario and told him about all this.

He smiled, “Do you think they know about this? They hired me as a serious and reliable professional, and that’s all.”

But in fact they didn’t just “hire” him so simply. N. T. Sizov, director of Mosfilm at the time, summoned Anatoly and asked him to help the group of “26 Days in the Life of Dostoevsky”. “People’s Artist of the USSR” Oleg Borisov, who was playing the leading role, had just left the group. Half of the film had already been shot, but the creative formats of the director and the actor, different from the very beginning, had now irreversibly diverged. My brother could not bring himself to refuse the requests of the general director, who had shown both attention and care towards the actor, and of the producer, who had produced Anatoly’s favorite films from childhood on. Anatoly knew that the picture would be filmed under tough deadlines—a plan is a plan, and cinema is also a production line. But as an actor, Anatoly always needed time to “rev up”, time to take on his role. Anatoly was also dissatisfied with much of the screenplay. But after all, we’re talking about Dostoevsky!

“I don’t have enough time… You see, I’m living in a hotel across the street from Mosfilm. We’re punching two shifts in a row… It’s an endless race… You know, the only thing that seems not so bad to me so far … One scene… Where he’s with students, where Anna has taken him. He talks about hard labor in prison, and argues with the youths… And then he has an epileptic fit… Only don’t tell anyone this, understand? (He always began with these words whenever he wanted to tell me something important.) Do you understand, they started applauding. The entire group… That’s not acceptable in filmmaking, it’s sort of against the rules of decency. But they applauded, and Zarkhi didn’t criticize anyone for it. Then another double, and again applause. It’s stupid of course. The guys explained that they couldn’t help it. Well, there you are, I’m boasting… But even without the applause I feel that the scene was successful.”

But that very episode was cut from the film—it supposedly “didn’t reflect the writer’s character.”

Our bureaucrats “of art”, as if they had a mine detector in their hands, always find the very best scenes or pages in books, which they simply must “delete as extraneous”. And this applies not only to the past—even today these “mine detectors” are still in their hands for some reason.

Nevertheless, the film was successful not only in our own country but also on the international level. It represented our film industry at the thirty-first International Film Festival in Western Berlin. Here is what the papers wrote:

“Outstanding in the film was the role by Anatoly Solonitsyn. In conjunction with the sincere ingenuousness of Evgenia Simonova, it all together gives us a glimpse into the creative mystery of those literary works of genius, and into the character of a great man who inspired the whole world’s admiration… (Die Welt).

There is no point in comparing the performances of actors in films and plays in which they played the same roles. Different times determine differently both the position of the producers and, correspondingly, the role of the actors. But there are “breakthroughs”, when the performer of the leading role refuses to conform himself to the will of circumstances, producers, or even collective opinion, and does not waiver from the path leading to understanding a man’s mystery.

So it was with Innokenty Smoktunovsky, who wouldn’t heed the “vulgar” advice of famous actors and a no less famous director, as he expressed it in the foregoing story I’ve told you concerning the play, “The Idiot”. He walked a torturous path to the hidden mystery of the man whom Dostoevsky named, Prince Myshkin.

So also was it with Anatoly Solonitsyn, who against all circumstances, both mundane and creative, was able by force of his God-given talent to break through to the secret of that author, who lived and created to the glory of God.


Alexei Solonitsyn is a prominent Russian actor and film script-writer. This article appears courtesy of Pravoslavie.


The featured image shows a portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky, by Ilya Glazunov; painted in 1968.

Which “Ecological Conversion?”

Ecological frenzy feeds on the fear of collapse and gives rise to many very different attitudes. Between the excesses, the integral ecology of the Church traces a path respectful of all balances which only achieves its full coherence in a process of conversion.

To make the libertine of thought feel how dizzying their emptiness is before the Everlasting, which understands them and which they can only try to understand, in order to prepare their souls for conversion – such is the famous approach of Pascalian apologetics. Fright as a propaedeutic. Anguish as a preamble to metaphysical conversion. And this is also the method of a certain ecology of the doom-and-gloom variety.

The call for “ecological conversion” is fueled by the anguish of collapse. It is necessary to describe a crisis so that the feeling of ecological urgency arises, and with it the call for a radical change of lifestyle, a reversal of perspectives. The almost metaphysical vertigo, which engenders the consideration of the fragility of life and its conditions of existence, therefore, seems to entail a religious attitude.

It is one of the paradoxes of our time to seek in ecology the most ultimate contradiction to its technical frenzy. As if the consumption of organic quinoa seeds could make modern humans forget their addiction to new technologies. The recent investitures of so many mayors bearing this label of ecology, during the last elections in France, revealed both the omnipresence of the question of ecology in people’s minds and the great diversity of realities that it covers. There is Cassandra with apocalyptic prophecies, aka, Greta Thunberg now consecrated as priestess and pythia of this new spiritual order, which has given rise to public demonstrations of disturbing fervor, when it does not use openly pagan voodoo rituals, as in the case, for example, of the term “Demeter” used in viticulture.

It may be enlightening to read on this subject, Murray Bookchin, a thinker who worried about the epidemic rise of a “spiritual” ecology, and according to whom ecological problems are emptied of all social content and reduced to a mythical interaction of natural forces. Even among some Christian environmentalists, it seems that the way to Heaven sometimes resembles a bike trail, so that the question arises whether the way is even now clearly understood. Thus the “Green Church” label recently set down by the French Bishops’ Conference might well raise questions. Should the epidemic rise of this spiritual ecology worry Catholics? Is it a prelude to a radical conversion of the soul towards its Creator and Savior, or an ersatz conversion within the Church itself?

It appears that the relationship that man has with the Earth, which welcomes and precedes him, brings to light three possible attitudes that engage the individual in various ways.

Surface Ecology

The first attitude is a surface ecology, well-intentioned but really just navel-gazing, and steeped in inconsistencies. This explains the paradox of the Whole Food movement in the United States, offering “organic” products from all over the world, and also prospering on the awareness of the undeniable ravages of an ultra-productivist agricultural policy on the other side of the Atlantic. The recent takeover of this sector by the giant Amazon shows how much the logic of the market has taken hold of this attitude to better serve increasingly hegemonic group interests. In La Cyberdépendance: pathologie de la connexion à l’outil Internet (Cyberdependence: Pathology of the Connection to Internet Use), the psychiatrist Philip Pongy writes: “Capitalism is a past master in the art of recovering everything, including its most critical and virulent opponents. Promoting conviviality on Twitter strengthens Silicon Valley. To talk about degrowth on TV is to serve the entertainment industry.”

Thus, the consumer who eats quinoa seeds and soybeans from the ends of the earth, after leaving the overheated gym, can afford good intentions at little cost. The attention paid to the nutritional quality of food from large-scale distribution only reinforces the domination of a system of culture and consumption, sinful in its very essence. This ecology in no way educates the selfishness of consumers, governed by their pleasure principle, but rather adorns their impulses with a green polish. It is therefore not a question of a conversion of the individual but of the exaltation of his desire. It is not surprising that this pageantry-ecology can culminate in the apology for PMA, or in protests, because the endocrine disruptors contained in the waters of the Seine from the contraceptive pills discharged by Parisians which are causing a sex-change in fish, thus promoting “gender fluidity” among the lower orders. The primacy of the individual at the expense of the Whole is thus the matrix of this first green imposture.

“Deep Ecology”

The obverse of this surface conversion, is the second attitude, which is not mistaken in calling itself “deep ecology.” This Malthusian and guilty ecology, far more ideological, makes the Whole triumph over the individual. Humans are too many; they are a parasite; potential polluters who can be easily intimated by their carbon footprint, and must be destroyed. The appalling number of vasectomy treatments, the new face of this thousand-headed hydra that is the culture of death, illustrates the dissemination of this thesis to the general public. This ideology of Greenpeace activists, who immolate themselves when a whale is slaughtered, or castrate themselves to avoid giving life, is part of a vegan and animalist movement ranging from the agit-prop of League 214 (which wants to highlight the suffering of animals by shocking acts) to the candidates of animalist parties that we saw appear during the last European campaigns. It is no longer a question of exalting the desires of the subject, but of refusing any preeminence of human nature.

In this new face of transhumanism, man is nothing more than the link in a chain of mammals, all equally capable of suffering, and therefore all potentially subjects of law. The regulations protecting farm animals are thus underpinned by the recognition of their sensitivity; that is to say, of their capacity to feel pleasure, suffering and emotions. In France, it is Article L214 of the Rural Code (codification of a law of 1976) which mentions their character as sensitive beings. In 2015, the Civil Code recognized that animals are sentient beings, who yet remain subject to the regimen of property. On January 29, 2021, the National Assembly adopted at first reading, with modifications, the bill aimed at strengthening the fight against animal abuse.

Integral Ecology

Consideration of the singular vocation of the human soul and the duties which bind it to Creation, which has no rights but towards which the human sou has duties, can resolve this antinomy. Man is not an animal like any other precisely because his freedom makes him capable of taking care of Creation that is entrusted to him. This answers the anti-speciesist.

Ecology can thus only be chosen in an integral way; that is to say, by involving all dimensions of existence, and by requiring coherence. Such a consideration, to which the luminous encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si, beckons, is therefore at the same time an ecology of nature, a human ecology and an ecology of peoples, with each of these three orders meriting its balance to be preserved by the application of a principle of precaution. Ecology, which seems dangerous when it abolishes all transcendence in order to spiritualize matter, takes on meaning if it opens a Franciscan path of poverty and sobriety that takes care of the common home by considering creation as the image of the Creator, a mirror of His greatness. The “ecological conversion” is therefore neither ontologically nor chronologically first – it is the consequence of the choice to follow Christ, so that the most successful model of ecological life is undoubtedly the monastery.


Maylis de Bonnières is a French educator in philosophy. (This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass).


The featured image shows, “Rocky Mountain Waterfall,” by Albert Bierstadt, painted in 1898.

The Necessity Of Christian Tradition

For a period of about three years in my late teens and early 20’s, I was deeply involved in a charismatic house church. It was a deeply committed group of people (some of us lived in a commune together). Our services could run for hours with very intensive Bible teaching. A feature of that time and the charismatic movement was a concern for the “latest word.” By that was meant new insights, new emphases, and a very heightened sense that we were hearing moment-by-moment what God wanted to say to His people. It was exciting. It was also exhausting. It was also spiritually problematic.

I will not describe all the problems (there’s not time). For myself, I had a growing sense of questioning and unreliability. If the Church is led by the “latest word,” then its reliability depends entirely on the personalities involved in bringing such news. A survey of the charismatic, pentecostal, and evangelical movements over the past 50 years would necessarily include the many failures of key leaders and of various dangers associated with ever-changing emphases and fashions.

My questions brought about a crisis of faith. I left that movement and floundered a bit, eventually settling into the Episcopal Church in a search for greater stability (mind you, this was the early to mid-70’s). Of course, that move was something of a jump from the “frying pan into the fire.” But my instinct was correct. Christianity is not rightly built on moment-by-moment updates, or “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). The history of the primitive Church is a consistent movement away from such excitement and towards the solidity of a reliable hierarchy grounded in a received body of teaching. Its instinct was that the locus of change was within the heart of each believer rather than a constant flow of fluctuating information.

The early heresies had just the opposite instinct. “Gnosticism,” a label invented by modern historians, was never a single thing. Rather it is a collective term for scattered individual teachers who promised new insights, exciting, even “secret” information, which would grant its adherents a quick passage to a higher existence. There is evidence that these teachers (almost always existing outside the eucharistic structure of the Church) were already a problem within the time span of the New Testament. Modern liberal thought has sought to describe these teachers as “alternate Christianties,” largely in an effort to discredit the traditional Church. Over time, these groups fell into silence, particularly in that they were deeply driven by single personalities. They lacked the institutional reality required for generational survival.

My abandonment of charismatic Christianity and move towards received tradition led me, over time, to Orthodox Christianity. It was a renunciation of the “latest thing” in order to embrace the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.” It was a movement from charismatic excitement towards sacramental stability. When people are young, there can be an excitement that surrounds dating, moving from relationship to relationship, dreaming of possibilities and riding the wave of romantic energy. That is a far cry from the daily life of a stable marriage extending through the years, giving birth and nurture to generations of children. Christianity, in its traditional form, is like marriage, not dating.

The most institutionalized element of Orthodox Christianity can be found in its worship. We have documents describing, in some detail, the structure of worship from as early as the 2nd century. It is worth noting that the word “Orthodoxy” is perhaps best translated as “right glory [worship]” rather than right opinion or doctrine. What the Church teaches is primarily found embodied in its worship. An old Latin formula has it: Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means, “The law of praying is the law of believing.” It explains how it is that Orthodoxy’s primary word of evangelism is “Come and see.”

There are roots for this understanding that run deep into the heart of the Old Testament. Exodus 25 describes Moses’ meeting with God on Mt. Sinai for a period of 40 days. In that encounter he is shown a “pattern” of the heavenly tabernacle, and given detailed plans for the building of the tabernacle and all that it contained. He is repeatedly told to build things “according to the pattern.” This heavenly pattern was of great interest within the writings of both Jews and early Christians. The instinct within that interest was that the heavenly pattern served as a template for God’s dwelling place among us. This was the understanding that marked the Temple in Jerusalem, and became a hallmark of Orthodox Christian understanding of worship, including the building itself. This pattern is itself an example of holy tradition. It was given by God [handed down] to Moses (not simply evolved through Jewish practices). But if what Moses saw was a “heavenly” tabernacle, then his vision was also of eternal consequence and merit.

Orthodox Christian practice recognized this fundamental layer of tradition. St. Paul describes Christians as the “temple” of God (1 Cor. 3:16). St. John’s apocalyptic vision centers around the temple in the heavens. The construction of Orthodox Churches has intentional parallels with the Jewish Temple, as do certain aspects of our worship. We speak of the Divine Liturgy as “heaven on earth,” and describe ourselves as doing here what is being done there.

“Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

This hymn was added to the Liturgy in the 6th century but represents a thought and understanding that is far older. Perhaps more striking, and echoing the deepest level of Orthodox tradition can be found in this excerpt from the first homily of St. Macarius. He looks at the imagery of Ezekiel’s chariot vison, often understood as an image of the throne of God in the heavenly temple. St. Macarius applies it to the soul:

And this that the prophet saw, was true and certain. But the thing it signified, or shadowed forth beforehand, was a matter mysterious and divine, that very mystery which had been hid from ages and generations, but was made manifest at the appearing of Christ. For the mystery which he saw, was that of the human soul as she is hereafter to receive her Lord, and become herself the very throne of his glory. (H. 1.2)

His thought is of a piece with St. Paul’s description of Christians as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

There is a dynamic present in these images that carries the very essence of tradition as a way of life. Modern thought imagines human existence and even its “improvement” as a process of ever-increasing personal choice and freedom. It is a product of the imagination in which the individual becomes whatever they might choose to be. It is a model well-suited to a market-driven world. In many ways, the constant change and “latest revelations” in many forms of contemporary Christianity, echo that instinct, with theological insights and biblical themes arriving as marketed ideas. Like clothing fashions, such changing insights help establish a spirituality that has its own sense of “coolness.”

In the spirituality of Orthodox Tradition the point is to receive that which has already been given. There is nothing new to be revealed (as information), even though what has been made known is constantly revealed as life-creating truth within the soul itself. It is a life grounded in the Divine Life both in the temple of the Church (in praise and sacrament) and in the temple of the soul. It is ultimately within the soul that we perceive the face of God in Christ. It is in the soul that we perceive Him in the least of those around us and serve them as our service to God. It is in the soul that we offer the Eucharist (our giving of thanks for all things) in union with the earthly/heavenly Liturgy of Christ’s Body and Blood.

There is a stability in this way of life, grounded in the stability of heaven itself (which never changes). That same abiding reality has weathered the storms of 2,000 years even as its saints and martyrs join themselves together with the souls who currently labor and fight on earth. It is not a movement, nor a revival, nor a new thing. It is stubbornly ignorant of market forces. It is a sweet promise and gift.

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.


Father Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


The featured image shows, “The Koimetesis” (The Dormition of the Virgin), ca. 1315-1321. Chora church, Constantinople.