Divine Comedy

Monday, 04-19-2021

 

Since God’s mind is in no danger of breaking from tension, He has no need to frolic, and since nothing can take Him by surprise, it might seem that He would take no interest in humor.

If that’s how it is, I wonder why He created rational beings who do have a sense of humor.  Besides, for someone who doesn’t need to hear jokes, He surely cracks a lot of them, as when he asks at Job’s expense, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?”

Nor is His humor just in words.  If one of the reasons for making ants was to reprove sluggards with the spectacle of diligence, and one of the reasons for making stars was to fill our minds with awe for the Divine power and artistry, then is it too much to suggest that one of the reasons for making apes and monkeys – or even, as some think, to make us from them -- might have been to humble and amuse us?

Besides, He enacts comedy in history:  Not only in the sense that for all its sorrow, He has ordained a happy ending, but also in the details.  Really, now -- “the last shall be first, and the first last”?  What more unexpected, what more divine comedy could there be than that?  Even though the discrepancy does not catch Him by surprise, He plainly enjoys it.  If we never laugh with joy about His arrangements, we are missing something.

Related:

The Test of Humor

Annals of Limerick

Shaggy Dogs and Historians

Why Only Human Beings Laugh

A New Mirror for Princes

Monday, 04-12-2021

 

Thomas Aquinas distinguished between everyday tyranny, which merely neglects the common good, and extreme tyranny, which, in the name of something or other, attacks it. Though one should always hope for better, I would say that everyday tyranny is pretty much the norm in most times and places. The great challenge is to resist the onset of the extreme sort, which in our day tends to have an angry but utopian tinge.  I neither expect nor demand a classless society.  I do cherish a few modest hopes:

That the ruling classes not be so ossified and self-perpetuating as to resist the circulation of new elements into their ranks, and of old elements out of them.

That they not be so secure in their position that they can hold common people in utter contempt.

That they not be too clever at disguising such contempt as service to the masses.

That they not believe too much in their own virtue.

However, that they believe in the reality of virtue, recognizing the age-old morality they did not invent, even if they do not practice it personally.

That's actually quite a lot, and more than we enjoy at present.  It would help, I think, to teach it.  I would love to see a comeback in the genre of literature that did, which in much earlier times was called Mirrors for Princes.

 

The Common Good with Condiments

Thursday, 04-08-2021

 

Some weeks ago I mentioned my then-upcoming Conversation , “Flavors of the Common Good,” with the Common Good Project, an initiative of the Law School, University of Oxford, England.  When we did the talk early in March, the sound was terrible, but we’ve fixed the audio problem and re-recorded.

So if you tried to catch the original version but couldn’t make out my words, try the re-do, which not only sounds much more clear but is also, I think, more fun and more interesting.  Natch, it’s also listed on my Talks page.  Happy listening!

 

I Think, Therefore It’s So

Tuesday, 04-06-2021

 

If you can identify as a woman in a man's body, or a black person in a white person’s body, then why stop at sex and race?  Some persons say they identify as cats.  Some have even asked to have their limbs amputated because they identify as paraplegics.

Fitting slogans for the identity movement may at first present a little difficulty.  “Power to the People” is no longer acceptable, because not all beings identify as people.  “Everything to the Entities” might do for now; let’s work on it.

It has rightly been said that we must stop discriminating against women who don’t have vaginas and men who don’t have penises, but let’s not forget fish who don’t have gills, like my neighbor Ed, a proud 68-inch trans trout who stands on two legs and fights prejudice every day.

And from now on, all dictionaries must be written as fill-in-the-blank.

What have we come to?  We used to rebel against injustice; now we rebel against the order of the created universe.  As human beings before our day understood, “an opinion is true or false according as it answers to the reality.”  Things aren’t true when they correspond to our thoughts; our thoughts are true when they correspond to things. 

Related:

“Truth and Correspondence (Part 1 of 2:)

“Truth and Correspondence (Part 2 of 2)”

Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law

 

He Has Destroyed Death

Sunday, 04-04-2021

 

Enter then, all of you, into the joy of our Lord.

First and last, receive alike your reward.

Rich and poor, dance together.

You who fasted and you who have not fasted, rejoice together.

The table is fully laden:  Let all enjoy it.

The calf is fatted:  Let none go away hungry.

Let none lament his poverty;

for the universal Kingdom is revealed.

Let none bewail his transgressions;

for the light of forgiveness has risen from the tomb.

Let none fear death;

for death of the Saviour has set us free.

He has destroyed death by undergoing death.

He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.

He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.

-- St. John Chrystostom, Paschal Homily

 

Are Women More Emotional than Men?

Sunday, 03-28-2021

 

Women are commonly held to be more emotional than men.  I think this statement is grossly misleading, but as with all plausible mistakes, at the bottom of it lie a few misunderstood truths.  Like what?

1.  Obliviousness.  To feel something is not the same as to know that one is feeling it.  Even when a man has the same emotions as a woman, he is likely to be less aware that he is having them.

2.  Selectivity.  Though men are not less prone to emotions in general, they are usually less prone than women are to feeling certain emotions at certain times – although more prone to feeling certain others.

3.  Pride.  Men also tend to be more disgraced than women are by feeling certain emotions at certain times -- although prouder of feeling certain others.

4.  Shame.  Finally, men tend to consider it more shameful than women do to display certain emotions at certain times -- although more honorable to display others.

The other emotional differences between men and women are equally important but more subtle.  For both sexes, good deliberation requires help from well-trained feelings:  We need to feel the right things, toward the right people, in the right ways, on the right occasions, to the right degrees, and because of the right considerations.  This being the case, it cannot simply be the case that to be rational is to be unemotional.  But although, for both sexes, reasoning and emotion are connected, the deliberation of men tends to be connected with emotion somewhat differently than the deliberation of women is connected with it, and this is entirely fitting.

Why?  Because a man is a rational being who is in potentiality for fatherhood, but a woman is a rational being who is in potentiality for motherhood.  So, for example, a woman may be just as courageous as a man, but ideally, her courage is differently inflected, because she is rightly more fearful of harm to her body than he is.  After all, hers carries the future of the human race in a way that his does not.  She must be willing to protect her body for future generations; for the same reason, he must be willing to risk his.

Related:

Burning Minds, Thoughtful Feelings

 

Artificial Things

Monday, 03-22-2021

 

Query:

I have a question for you about artificial things and their dependence on the human intellect.  Thomas Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologiae (First Part, Question 17, Article 1) that "natural things depend on the divine intellect, as artificial things on the human."

How would someone like St. Thomas understand a dam that a beaver builds or a nest that a bird builds?  Can some artificial things depend on things without intellect?

 

Reply:

Glad to respond.  St. Thomas recognizes, of course, that a beaver makes a dam.  However, to call the dam “artificial” is a little ambiguous, because by “artificial things” St. Thomas means things that are the result of a finite being's rational planning and deliberation, and the beaver’s work isn’t that.  Rather it is a natural product of activity that the beaver does not understand, just as the apple is the natural product of an activity that the tree does not understand.

Of course the beaver, unlike the tree, has a mind, and in that respect it is much more like us than the tree is.  However, it doesn’t have a rational mind.  Plants seek their ends automatically, without even knowing what these ends are.  Animals “know” their ends in a sense, but not in the reflective sense; they do not grasp the concept of an end.  We know them, pursue them, and know that they are ends – we know them not just as felt impulses, but as meanings, as rational purposes, as reasons for doing what we do.

The beaver doesn’t ask itself “Why am I doing this?”  It isn’t intelligently participating in God’s providential care for it, as we are when we take thought for our lives and for those persons and matters that are entrusted to us.  Deliberately directing ourselves to purposes is a property of man, for though subrational things also act for purposes, only man does so under his own agency and direction.

For this reason, St. Thomas says that although, in a sense, all creatures participate in the Wisdom by which God created and governs the universe, man participates in it “in a more excellent way.”

Related:

Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Happiness and Ultimate Purpose