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We may become angry and fall out with one another

Can there be an argument about absolute ends (Wittgenstein says there cannot be)? Is any proposition beyond the reach of Socratic questioning (Socrates says there are none)?

Background: questions and remarks in the context of logic of language (Wittgenstein's expression, but as my jargon). The page title is from Plato's Euthyphro 7d. And the remarks here are very rough draft.



Heretic and Fool

"The Moral Science Club"

[A professor from Oxford read] a paper on "Ethics".... So far as I could follow it, Wittgenstein's point was that although two people could always discuss the best means to an absolute end, there could be no argument about what were absolute ends in themselves. Hence there could be no science of ethics. (Cambridge University, Drury's note from 1929, in Recollections p. 99)

"On Certainty"

Is it wrong for me to be guided in my actions by the propositions of physics? Am I to say I have no good ground for doing so? Isn't precisely this what we call a 'good ground'?

Supposing we met people who did not regard that as a telling reason. Now, how do we imagine this? Instead of the physicist, they consult an oracle. (And for that we consider them primitive.) Is it wrong for them to consult an oracle and be guided by it? -- If we call this "wrong" aren't we using our language-game --

["You must bear in mind that the language-game is ... not based on grounds. It is not reasonable (or unreasonable). It is there -- like our life" (OC § 599). The giving of reasons in ethics and the accepting or refuting of them in Socratic cross-questioning by the natural light of reason alone -- That is what we call 'reasonable', 'rational'. In contrast, Wittgenstein held that the foundation of ethics ("absolute value") is not rational, that it cannot be put to the Socratic test.]

-- as a base from which to combat theirs?

And are we right or wrong to combat it?

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Through the Looking-glass iv, 25 KB

Where two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and heretic.

I said I would "combat" the other man, -- but wouldn't I give him reasons? Certainly; but how far do they go? At the end of reasons comes persuasion. (OC §§ 608-612)

To which I'd ask: what do you mean by 'persuasion'? Is the rhetorical, 'If the good man does evil, then what does the evil man do?' an example of "persuasion"? Is "Look and see!" persuasion: "If you look out the window, you will see that it is raining." We call anyone who isn't persuaded by a tautology or doesn't accept the method of verification "irrational" -- is that equivalent to "fool and heretic"?

The expression "won't listen to reason". We don't try to persuade ("combat") irrational people rationally. We either ignore them or go to war with them.

What does "at the end of reasons" mean? We do not call only one thing 'persuasion', but various things. E.g. persuading your friend to go for a walk when at first she doesn't feel like going. The reasons you give are not compelling; here persuasion is nagging. Above it is rhetoric: "Are you going to defend the complex proposition 'x is evil, and the good man does x'?" We call that persuasion too: Where is the border between the concepts 'persuasion' and 'proof'? Is there a sharp one (even where a proof has been given)?

And if a proof is not accepted, e.g. Humpty-Dumpty looking at Alice's calculation doubtfully. We dismiss this as stupidity -- or perversity. Reason can only reconcile the reasonable, not those who persist in thinking they know what they don't know even after they have been refuted (Plato, Apology 21c-d): not all human beings are rational. But maybe Wittgenstein contrasts those (the "language-game" of superstition) with us. "This (this language-game) is what we call 'rational'" -- and there is no alternative rationality, only rationality's antithesis, namely irrationality.

Is there really a difference between Socrates' position and Wittgenstein's -- i.e. is Wittgenstein really saying anything other than that the border between proof and persuasion is sometimes blurry? Wittgenstein's never changed his view, but he never gives an example of an argument in ethics ending this way. He says there are no ethical propositions -- well, but statements of fact are not the only kind of proposition, e.g. there are grammatical propositions (and Wittgenstein does use that form of expression). 'The good man harms no one' -- is that not an example of an ethical proposition -- of what everyone normally calls an ethical proposition?

Further discussion:

[Is it possible for there to be no common ground in ethics -- can a tautology be refuted by cross-questioning? | Wittgenstein's "absolute value" and the impossibility of ethics: if the foundation of ethics would be absolute values, and if absolute values cannot even be put into words, much less Socratic cross-questioned, then ... | Is logic (the method of reason, rationality) merely a "form of life"? | Wittgenstein's criticism of the method Socrates uses in ethics (as Aristotle and Plato define 'Socratic definition') may be just, but Wittgenstein offers no an alternative method | Ethics as exhortation rather than argument (Wittgenstein)]

Is common ground sometimes impossible (Wittgenstein) or always possible (Socrates)?

In Plato's Crito, Socrates says that if Crito agrees to the proposition that "neither to do wrong or to return a wrong is ever right, not even to injure in return for injury received", then they will use this as common ground for their discussion.

For I know that only a few people hold this view or will hold it, and there is no common ground between those who hold this view and those who do not, but they inevitably despise each other's views. (Crito 49b, tr. Grube)

Note that Socrates does not say, however, that if he and Crito disagree, then they will simply part ways, having called each other fools, but instead that if they don't agree, then they are going to have to cross-question the proposition they disagree about to see if either of them can refute it, and in that way arrive at common ground by common agreement either that the proposition is true or that cross-questioning has shown it to be sound-without-sense or false (i.e. that the proposition has been refuted), and only afterwards will they be able return to their original discussion.

Socratic ethics, in contrast to Wittgenstein's view of ethics, is thoroughgoingly rational, arguable from top to bottom, i.e. whether discussing the means to an end or the end itself, despite Wittgenstein's unproved claim that only the bottom is rational, i.e. arguable. Note that we may also become angry and fall out over the means to an end -- why shouldn't we also call each other fools at that point and end our discussion?

[Further discussion: Riscoperta Etica: the rediscovery of Socratic ethics.]


Clarification never ends, not if philosophy is a working on one's own understanding

Working in philosophy ... is really more a working on oneself. On one's own interpretation. On one's way of seeing things.... (CV p. 16)

I don't know what else philosophy would be. There are questions limited only by one's imagination to discuss in metaphysics, logic, and ethics, and why do we choose to discuss this rather than that question? The questions that are important to us as individuals -- is that not what Wittgenstein is talking about: do we not study philosophy (in contrast to the history of philosophy, which may be undertaken for many reasons) solely for the sake of our own understanding?

[Philosophers want to be apostles of a new word: "Look at things this way!" they say, but no one need be willing to look at things that way (ibid. p. 61).]

Does clarifying a philosophical problem make it go away?

Query: three things dominated philosophy that needed clarity.

I must take this query out of context, because I don't know its context. I'd say: (1) What is the meaning of a common name? because if its meaning is the common nature it names, then why are we unable to put into words what the common nature is? (2) Is the direct object of perception an idea in the mind? because as we normally use these words: 'idea' contrasts with 'perception' -- a perception is of something not in the mind; ideas alone are in the mind. (3) Is fundamental knowledge of things independently of experience possible? Maybe I would say those are the three I would choose. A fourth question might be: (4) Is ethics rational as Socrates describes it, or irrational as Kant (and Wittgenstein) describes it?

Which of those questions are questions in the logic of language, i.e. questions about how the word 'meaning' must be defined if we there is to be an objective distinction between sense and nonsense? I say "must" because an objective distinction must make meaning both public and determinate. It cannot be private and indeterminate.

Choosing a way of looking at things (question four, if that's what question four is) is not a logic of language question. Nor is the third question, for there are philosophical questions without answers, questions that show that man is not wise in what the "lover of wisdom" most wants to be wise.

Does clarifying a philosophical problem resolve it? Only if it was never a problem to begin with, but only a conceptual muddle, and I don't think you can say that's what every philosophical problem is. If the language of idealism is nonsense, that is not all that it is, even though our understanding of it may need to be revised.

The wisdom of Socrates, that man is not wise (although he thinks he is)

Query: philosophical wisdom. How are philosophy and wisdom connected?

Their relation is paradoxical: philosophy is both the love of wisdom and the absence of wisdom.

Query: wisdom and pursuit, meaning in philosophy.

Wisdom (sophia) in contrast to the pursuit of wisdom (philo-sophia), of the presumption of the sophist vs. the modesty of the philosopher.

Query: why did Socrates say wisdom begins in wonder?

But did he say that? Philosophy ≠ wisdom, unless the only wisdom is to know that you are not wise. And in that case wisdom ends in "wonder", i.e. perplexity, puzzlement, in wanting to know, but not knowing, in wanting to be wise, but not being wise. That is not the beginning of wisdom -- the conclusion comes at the end not at the beginning of an investigation -- but the end, the limit of wisdom according to the Socratic philosophy of Plato's Apology 23a-b.

Man thinks he is wise when he thinks he knows what the good for man is and therefore that he knows how man should live his life -- although he may not know this. Some think it wise to live in service of their bodies, indulging whatever appetites a soul under the rule of the body desires. Some think that wisdom is to live in fear of God's final judgment, while others think wisdom is to deny that good and evil exist and that there is an afterlife. Some men think that wisdom is to live an unexamined life, that "Life is worth living, but not worth thinking about". Others think that wisdom is to benefit one's friends and harm one's enemies (Republic 335a-c). Some say that wisdom is to obey one's own conscience, guided as that is by mysteriously known "absolute values". And so on and so on with men's beliefs about what wisdom is for man.

Even those men who reason as Socrates does that the good for man is to live in accord with the specific excellence that is unique and proper to man, namely rational moral virtue -- even they think that because they know this one thing, they also know other things that they do not know -- because a general principle must be applied in the particular case with a wisdom that man does not have, and thereby we err in thinking we are wise when we are not.

Socrates and Wittgenstein

Query: philosophy is the uncovering of nonsense. True or false?

If "nonsense" is defined to include both "sound without sense" and foolishness, 'foolishness' in the sense of self-contradictoriness, then refutation by Socratic cross-questioning is intended to do what the query suggests -- however, that is not the only possible outcome of Socrates' method, i.e. refutation, because agreement that a proposition is true is also possible. If the query is amended to read, "Philosophy is the uncovering of nonsense, truth or falsity", that would be correct.

For Wittgenstein, in contrast, philosophy is the uncovering of "sound without sense" without exception because philosophical propositions aren't true or false, but nonsensical (meaningless): the problems of metaphysics are not solved but dissolved into nothingness by being shown to be not real but only apparent questions about the nature of phenomena that are falsely suggested to us by language (Z § 458; PI §§ 464, 118).

Query: the philosophic mode concerned with the clarification of the meaning of words is what?

The trouble is: what does the query mean by 'meaning'? The logics of both Socrates and Wittgenstein are concerned with the definition of words (i.e. explanation of the meanings of words), but Wittgenstein's later logic is concerned with the conventional meaning of words only, which is 'meaning' defined by 'more or less arbitrary rules for using a word'. But Socratic definition, as found in Plato, is concerned with the essence of the thing named by the word -- that essence is the word's meaning, where essence is thought to belong to nature not to convention. That is the concern of Socratic definition in Plato, which thinks of logic as being given by nature (as in the TLP) not by convention (as in the PI). In Plato we would call Socratic definition metaphysics rather than logic, although the word 'metaphysics' did not exist until after Aristotle.

Query: Wittgenstein said that religion leads out of perpetual puzzlement.

It may bring peace of mind, but not by resolving philosophical puzzles, but rather by silencing them: something else becomes more important: "faith is trusting" (CV p. 72; cf. TLP 6.521, but what "cannot be put into words" (ibid. 6.522) does not belong to philosophy).

Query: the origin of philosophical questions.

This is the question Plato answered one way, Wittgenstein another, or rather Plato said the cause of perplexity is reality (as I said in Questions without Answers), whereas Wittgenstein said the cause of our perplexity is our not understanding the relation between grammar and sense and nonsense, that syntax is no sure guide: a syntactically correct sentence may be nonsense, and in philosophy invariably is, Wittgenstein said.


Orphaned Queries

Query: the beginning of philosophy is geometry.

The beginning of Platonic philosophy, by a possible analogy (comparison) we might make, although it was not Plato's own. Cf. Plato's reply to Diogenes about seeing "cupness": have you ever seen a geometric line, point or tangent? (Have you ever seen the muchness of much of a muchness? and yet you know of its existence.) An apt query maybe: "philosophy and axiomatic geometry and Plato", the shared picture of reality of their way of thinking, namely that fundamental knowledge can be gained independently of verification by experience.

Query: who and why is considered by Aristotle to be the first philosopher?

That Aristotle chose Thales shows again that Aristotle was more scientist than philosopher, indeed, I would not call him a philosopher at all: Aristotle wanted knowledge, not philosophical wisdom: Thales was more akin to a natural philosopher than to Socrates.

Reality and Organization

Query: real pictures of what our solar system really looks like.

That query only has meaning if the combination of words 'absolute point of reference' is defined language, whereas only 'relative point of reference' (an arbitrarily chosen Cartesian "point of origin") is. Instead, the reality of the "solar system" is what we see when we look at the night sky -- from some point of reference or another. That is the only reality -- not the various theories the human imagination has created to organize the heavenly bodies into a models, maps, and drawings.

The heliocentric model presents the overall simplest visual picture of the relationship between the celestial bodies that is consistent with what astronomers observe in the night sky. But that does not make that model a picture of "what our solar system really looks like".

Philosophy as straightening up a messy room, i.e. clarifying or revising concepts, which in philosophy appear a muddle

Query: Wittgenstein, tidying a room.

Is not "tidying", which is organizing, theory construction? E.g. assigning things to categories (shelves and drawers and closets) is organizing them, and of course there is more than one possible way to do this.

How are we to use the word 'theory' in philosophy -- because is there anything that cannot be called a theory in philosophy if all the philosopher really says is "Look at things this way!" (CV p. 61, a remark from 1947)? But that is only the beginning of it, because "this way" must yet be put to the tests of clarity and truth in Socratic cross-questioning, and that is logic not theorizing.

"Christianity does not organize nature"

Query: Albert Schweitzer, religion based on ethics.

Well, I don't think I would put it that way -- "based on ethics", unless maybe we add "rather than nature", but we must clarify that the foundation of Schweitzer's ethics, which is really the impulse to what is good and true, to all that is noble, and to love, which we call 'God', comes from what we find in our own hearts and in the hearts of other human beings (and in some animals in their affection for us), because love of the good springs from all these -- (Why the word 'heart' -- what is its meaning? E.g. is the impulse to what is good emotional only, the heart being the symbol of emotion, the mind of the intellect? But is there no specific excellence unique and proper to man? It is a tautology that it is good to be noble, bad to be ignoble, good to be reasonable, bad to be unreasonable, but is "man desires the good" also a tautology?) -- not from any other part of facts of nature (because, of course, our hearts are part of the facts of nature).*

[*Although this is not, and is not meant to be, "a proof of the existence of the God".]

Schweitzer: Christianity is an ethical religion rather than an explanatory religion: we cannot understand nature from the human point of view, which is the point of view of ethics.

"I believe in one God, the father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth" is anthropomorphic and explanatory rather than ethical. Why does the world exist? Because a superman has made it. The question, If God is almighty creator, then why has God made evil? which is the ethical question, is not addressed. Nowhere in the Profession of Faith is it stated that God is good.


A portrait is a portrait, not reality

The Gospels are attempts to understand who Jesus was. Their authors collected things that, by the standards of their thought-world (which included dreams and private revelations), were remembered to have been done or said by Jesus (Luke 1.1-4). They tried to answer the question: Who was this man Jesus, who seemed more than a man, who walked among us? And many different answers might be derived from the accounts they left us as the Gospels.

As with Socrates, I don't think it is possible to know the historical Jesus. We know Socrates only through literary portraits of him, and we know Jesus only though writings that are already works of theology, already works of religious reflection. We can either make our own portraits of who they were, or have some scholar or church tell us who they were. But that is all we can do, because the historical facts have been long the dust of history.

Or maybe I just don't have ears to hear. (Note: chapter and verse are cited to indicate the source of an idea, not as an authority for its truth.)

Judgment or Mercy

"It seems some men have nothing to offer God except their hatred of their fellow man"

Beware of turning Christ's bread into a stone to throw at your brother. (Pope Francis I. Matthew 7.9)

The pope has changed nothing except emphasis, away from judgment which Christ forbade, towards mercy which Christ demanded (Matthew 9.13).

Ecumenism is not more than the acceptance that God made all men to seek him (Acts 17.27), and that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8.38-39), the love of Jesus who died crucified for us, most certainly not our ignorance (Luke 23.34).

[I have written elsewhere that Jesus' great teaching is that the kingdom of God does not belong to any particular class or nation (or church), but to those persons and only to those persons who do God's will (Matthew 7.21), which is to love God with one's whole heart and to love one's neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22.36-40) in a neighborhood without boundaries (Luke 10.25-37). But first one must know this, and second one must know how to act on this, because to give anything more that mouth honor to "and love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Matthew 25.44-45) is not easy, especially as we do not live with the simplicity of the multitude John the baptizer answered (Luke 3.11).]

The pope has emphasized that the church of the poor is the only church of Jesus (Matthew 25.44-45), that it is the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37), not the rich man who passes by Lazarus at his gate (Luke 16.19-25), who is the Christian. But how many of us live as the rich man did, some through weakness, others because, as a Catholic sociologist has said, for some men their politics is more important to them than their religion.

But I don't think one Pope Francis, or twenty or even two-thousand Pope Francises, could transform the sybarite church into the church of the poor. It is infinitely easier to participate in ritual and babble on about what no one knows (namely theology) than to help an orphan man (van Gogh's expression for those no one wants was "the orphan men"), and infinitely easier to judge rather than love (but to condemn, John 3.17 says, is not why Christ was born).

Be you doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (James 1.22)

They urge [the Church] not to speak about God, but to throw itself body and soul into social problems ... But a Church such as this is of interest to no one. The Church is only of interest because she allows us to encounter Jesus. She is only legitimate because she passes on Revelation to us. (Cardinal Robert Sarah, 5 April 2019, tr. Zachary Thomas)

On the one hand, the Church without Christ is an absurdity: one doesn't need Christian sacraments to love one's neighbor as one loves oneself (to be "a doer of the word" in that sense). But on the other hand, is Jesus only the Lord if he is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Savior to those who do God's will and thereby gain eternal life with God? Or is Jesus the religious master because his teaching about what the good is for man -- namely, to love God with one's whole heart and to love one's neighbor in a borderless neighborhood as one loves oneself -- is true, both religiously (without argument) and philosophically (with argument)? And the Church exists to serve these two loves, but is the Church "without its supernatural" element "of interest to no one"? And if one will not or cannot (which is it? well, there is no way to know which it is) accept that element?

Cardinal Sarah seems to say, as the archbishop of Canterbury said to David Frost, that the essence of being a Christian is to believe in the Resurrection -- i.e. that if you do not believe that God became man and died crucified so that man's sins might be forgiven, that man might be saved from eternal damnation -- then what is the point of Christianity? And indeed, why participate in the sacraments of the Church if one doesn't believe in the creed the Church teaches.

What the God of Christianity is not

There is no discernible relation between the god of Nature and the God of Christianity, nor is there much relation between the God of Christianity and "the God of the philosophers and schoolmen". I have never been able to believe in Providence ("God playing god"), and "God as a working-hypothesis" (Bonhoeffer) does not belong to my thinking. And yet it seems all those things belong to Catholic Christianity. (And about this, as about countless other things to do with religion, I have no answer.)

The Laws of Nature

The God of Nature (in contrast to "the God of the philosophers and schoolmen") wills the laws of nature; the laws of nature are the God of Nature's will, a will that is amoral, pure creation and destruction in which there is no discernible moral purpose. And that is not what Christianity means by 'God'; it is not the answer to our question of the meaning of existence. The God of Nature is the god of natural science.

[Acts 17.27 applies to me -- in everything, because to seek God is to seek everything true and good -- as much as anyone. I am not anything religious nel senso stretto ("in the strict sense"). I might amend or adapt Arthur Stanton of Holborn's words this way: "... only being a human being I claim a right to hold my own opinions", to be, if that is what I am, a sheep of another fold (John 10.16). We have only the light that God has given us as individuals to go by. It's the precept "Test all things; keep what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5.21) -- applied in a universal, Socratic way, examining all things by the natural light of reason and experience alone. I don't see another way for a creature defined by the specific excellence that is proper and unique to man, namely discourse of reason.]

Neither fable, myth, nor edifying story

We contemplate our filial relationship with the Father in the Nativity scene ... [The Gospel of Christ is] the full revelation of God's plan for humanity [and not some] fable, myth, or edifying story. (Pope Francis, Angelus prayer, 5 January 2020 [Bracketed text from Vatican News])

But not historiography either, not as I am able to see.

"The Silence of God"

Beware of inventing a caricature of God, a scarecrow to keep watch over a barren field, one in which neither you nor anyone else believes.

During Advent this year 2019, I read Shusaku Endo's Silence (Kodansha, 1982 [orig. Japan 1966], tr. Johnston), but the story is not only about the God's silence (i.e. failure to intervene, to play god) despite the suffering of the silenced, hidden Christians, and the Lord's silence in the priest's heart to the question "Why is God silent?" but also about the meaning of Jesus' words to Judas: "What thou dost, do quickly" (John 13.27), although the meaning of both is the same and spoken by the author on the last page of his story, which is a long, sad journey to a beautiful end.

Thoughts now, some old, some apropos of Endo's book, others not. First old: God is not silent. God speaks in our hearts: love is there; the longing for the true, the good, for what is higher, for what is noble is there; compassion is there. (But this idea of finding God in our own hearts, i.e. in what is deepest in us, comes from A. Schweitzer or is a variation of that idea maybe.)

"But if you can believe that God became man ..."

Because the "idea of finding God in one's own heart" maybe is not enough: it is too distant, too abstract (i.e. inhuman). Christianity begins in a manger, with a helpless child, the infant Jesus, and ends with his death and resurrection -- but always he is a human presence in our lives. Even if we don't believe (although what does 'believing that God became man' mean exactly?) -- the picture is still there; it is the background of all we think when we think about God.

... on the body of the risen Christ the [wounds of Jesus] never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God's love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. (Pope Francis I, 27 April 2014, tr. Miller)

"And write with confidence, in the beginning was the ..."

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1.14). Is that the same thing as believing that "God became man"?

"In the beginning was the deed" (Faust i, and CV p. 31, a remark from 1937). But deeds without words are incoherent, as percepts without concepts. An impulse does not become human until it is brought within discourse of reason.

The deed is no more unambiguous than the word; like the word, the deed may have various meanings, or none at all.

The Word gives sense to the whole.

Nature and Good and Evil

God comes to us at the level we can comprehend Him: in the earliest stage He is the Lord God Who walks in His garden; Adam sees His back; He speaks from behind a burning bush. Thus to accuse, as the apostate of the story does, the Japanese peasants, or the peasants of any other land (e.g. Italy), of worshipping a different God from "the God of Christian teaching ..... The Japanese imagine a beautiful, exalted man -- and this they call God ... something which has the same kind of existence as man.... the Japanese cannot think of an existence that transcends the human" (Chapter 7) -- is not to apprehend this. (Even look at the symbol of our faith: it is not a blinding light we cannot see into but Our Lord nailed to the cross and a baby in a manger, and why did Luke choose that for his Gospel?)

From that stage of understanding we come next to the Faceless (i.e. immaterial) God, who although faceless is still the Lord God walking in His garden, holding the strings of the puppet master of the world, "all-powerful and all-good" and therefore, by the second Socratic test, all foolishness.

[Indeed, the existence of evil was the argument made against the existence of the Christian God, the Person, the Creator, by the enemies of the Christian faith in Japan, although their real objection was to the First Commandment, where God says: "Thou shalt have no other god [i.e. master] before Me" (Exodus 20.3), because it told Christians to obey their Christian priests rather than their Japanese feudal lords, this with the intention of overthrowing their Japanese lords and taking possession of the land.]

The Faceless God (in contrast to Pascal's "the God of the philosophers and scholars", and in contrast to the God of Nature about whom man knows nothing more than that the laws of nature are that god's will) is, as are all other conceptions of God, no more than an organizing-of-thought principle (a way of looking at things). If it sets your mind at rest to believe that what happens in the world is caused by a malevolent or at best capricious power, you can, of course, although I think it is delusional.

We might speak of a malice of the world .... The 'malice' of the object is a stupid anthropomorphism. For the truth is much graver than this fiction. (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 137 42a: 30.5.1948])

Or maybe the truth is kinder than this fiction. Maybe to be subject to natural law is more comforting than to be subject to a malevolent spirit (What is remarkable is that primitive man believes in malevolent spirits. A remark of Gilson's, that man is not willing to see himself abandoned in this world). If man were made in the image of the God of Nature, he would be a capricious sadist, conscienceless.

But Wittgenstein's "the truth is graver than this fiction" (CV p. 71, a remark from 1948) is also no more than an organizing principle; it has no more reality than the metaphysical doctrine of materialism has; it also is delusional. The truth is that the relationship between God and nature is unknown (and, according to Isaiah, unknowable, if knowledge has anything to do with understanding) by man.

It is only because God is not silent, but speaking very strongly in our hearts, that we ask why God is silent. "My ways are not your ways" is Isaiah's only response (Isaiah 55.8), and that means that our understanding of what we mean by the word 'God' is as yet immature: we are still groping our way in the dark (Acts 17.27). And how can we not know what we mean by a word? The grammar of the word 'God' just is that way.

Nature knows nothing of good and evil; Nature dwells in the eternal childhood of the Garden of Eden. It is man, not Nature, that is "made in the image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1.27), the meaning of which the serpent in the Garden explains: "your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3.5); but Nature's eyes are closed to good and evil. God does not speak through Nature -- or rather, if He does speak, it is in a way unintelligible to man -- but only through man.

Nature knows nothing of good and evil; Nature knows only the laws of nature, and God, having made those laws, does not play god; otherwise, evil would not exist; otherwise the disciples would not have fallen asleep in Gethsemane (Matthew 6.13). We are on our own with respect to Nature, and to imagine otherwise is to make ourselves dependent on something that will not be there when we need it. Against the natural world, we stand alone.

[Apostasy: A man can be tortured to confess that the sky is not blue. But the sky is blue for all that.]

Endowed with love, or not

God does not show his love by "coming to our rescue", but by endowing our hearts with the love of the good and true and noble, and our minds with discourse of reason. (And what of those God does not so endow, those without empathy, "low types"? This is the fatal flaw in Schweitzer's account, unless Jesus died crucified for many (as the text of the Catholic Mass says) rather than for all (but "many" is a notion "offensive to the moral and religious sense").

What can be said is that if you do not find the Christian God in your heart or in the heart of another, you will never find the Christian God: Nature is not love, but God is, and that is all we know about Him (1 John 4.8, 4.16; Gilson wrote that the arguments for the existence of ["the:] God ["of the philosophers and scholars"] are circular: everything in the Summa Theologiae is theology) .... But it seems then that most men do not find Him, and many who do find Him resist Him (like Jonah in the Bible). The proposition that no man is beyond redemption is an article of faith, not experience.)

Man and donkey alike

Lastly we imagine nothing, because we stop looking for Him where it is impossible for man to find Him: we cannot know "God the Father": He is beyond all our points of reference, too far for us to in any way imagine Him: we might as well try to swallow the sky. "My thoughts are as high above yours as the heavens are above the earth," Isaiah 55.9 has Him say: indeed, God does not even have thoughts, as thoughts (and this metaphor is the best that Isaiah can invent but nonetheless it is a comparison of incomparables in this respect), belong only to the human species: "Man [but here man as species, not as individual] is the measure of all things" -- only because he has no other standard of measurement (point of reference that is not human). "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard." The question is can the eye see or hear God in any way?

[And if donkeys conceived a God, that God would be donkey-like, because the donkey too is limited by its points of reference.]

Or I don't know if there is another stage. But at this stage in my thinking what I really want to say is that belief in a god of nature is superstition, the primitive superstition of always asking who rather than what is the cause of events. Evil is neither malevolence nor punishment, and good is neither benevolence nor reward. If it were Our Lord would not have died tortured and crucified.

"I might be able to believe in religion if I had ever seen it work but as far as I can make out when nature makes up its mind to have a drought all the prayers of all the blasted archbishops in the world won't make it rain ..." (Bruce Marshall, Luckypenny (1937), lxii, p. 445)

But that is a primitive conception of God: "God as a working-hypothesis", in this case as the explanation of good and evil events. But that is not an hypothesis that works, but rather when put to the test that proves its contrary, namely that our existence is a mystery without explanation from the point of view of our ethical thought-world, which is not the thought-world of our natural science.

The spirit of the Lord versus the spirit of this world

Do not give faith to every spirit, but test the spirits, to test whether they come from God. (1 John 4.1. Pope Francis, Homily of Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, 7 January 2020)

Of any impulse it can be asked: what is its source? Of course impulses to sensuality (e.g. gluttony, sloth, lust) come from the spirit of this world, not from the spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit. That is the only question that really matters when assessing them, as a Christian obeys only the impulses of the spirit of the Lord and rejects the impulses of the spirit of this world. (Cf. Augustine's "Whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done", but there are two things to love, not only of your neighbor as yourself -- but also of God, who is everything true and good --

-- everything which "this world and all it loves" (ibid. 2.17) is not: a sword may be good (natural virtue) for killing, but as killing is no good (moral virtue) neither is a sword made for killing good (moral virtue). The Christian good is moral virtue, whereas this world loves only natural virtue, which unexamined from the point of view of moral virtue may very be often moral vice.

That is a thought to disturb your peace of mind, to upset your complacency, your view that "surrendering to small sensual impulses is harmless". That is one source of vice (viciousness against God); the other is thinking that anything is more important than treating our neighbor with love (viciousness against neighbor).

The Good for Man

Is the good for man to love this world and all it loves or to love the kingdom of God? That is the only question: what the good is for man? And if the answer is the kingdom of God we know this only because God is not silent -- unless we ourselves silence Him by taking vice for virtue, as if the life guided by base instinct (i.e. the satisfaction of appetites) were wisdom (knowledge of the good) for man. But when we allow ourselves such things as gluttony, sloth, lust, imagining we can do this without harm, we think to substitute power over ourselves for rightness before God: we accept the third temptation the devil placed before Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4.8-10), but which like everything to do with the devil is a cheat, because what appears to be control over oneself is in fact loss of control over oneself, surrender of reason (moral virtue) to instinct (appetite).

The good for man is life in accord with the specific excellence that is proper and unique to man -- who is a being having discourse of reason and awareness of good and evil -- namely rational moral virtue. But what does that mean? Are there only tautologies as a guide -- and what kind of guide is that: truth is tautology? (It seems so, and yet "somehow" it doesn't seem possible.)

A science of religion

If God did play god, there wouldn't be religious faith; there would be religious science (hypotheses, predictions, predicted outcomes).

John Paul II "brought mankind to seek in Jesus the answer to the ultimate questions about life" (Javier Echevarría).

Of course it is a religious answer -- what other kind would there be if by 'ultimate questions' we mean our eternal questions, our life's meaning in our sense, not Socrates' sense (if, indeed, in the context of his world-picture, our sense is not nonsense)?


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