Ontological Integrity & the Possibility of Actuality

If reality were not coherent through and through – if, that is to say, the Many things were not integral in some One – then there could be no world. There is a world, in which every one thing is completely coordinated to every other; so reality is coherent, and integral in and as some One.

Notice that finite creatures are incapable of the infinite calculation needed to achieve an integral coordination of things. The One in and as which things are integrated must then be itself infinite. It must furthermore be eternal; for, as constituting by itself the mundane forecondition and matrix of all the items that go to make up any worlds and their temporal orders, it must be prior to all such orders, and to their constituents. Such orders then, and all the Many, supervene upon that One.

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The Beauty of Being

Commenting on a recent post about Beauty, Shenpen suggested that I had got terribly mixed up about the difference between the map – our feelings of beauty – and what’s really out there, which we feel is more or less beautiful. He said two quite disparate things, at and to make quite different points in his argument:

… what can [it even] possibly mean that beauty is objectively real? That a pretty flower objectively has the same physical properties we think it has?

… “beauty” is not even a property of things, but a property of sensations in our minds.

These two statements resonated together in my mind, after I had read and responded to his comment. Their conjunction got me started.

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The Great Metaphysical Heresies

The Great Christian Heresies crop up again and again, and the Church will probably have to deal with them all the way out to the eschaton. They tempt the mind because they are simply easier to take on board than many of the most difficult and mysterious Christian doctrines, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Being easier to make sense of, they seem to make more sense. And they all start from, and partake of, some kernel of theological truth. This too increases their credibility. But they are all errors.

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The only way that our apprehensions of beauty might not be illusory is if they are possibly true – if, that is to say, the beauty we apprehend in things is objectively real, regardless of our apprehensions, so that our apprehensions of it can then be either accurate, or not. But as only finitely scient, creatures cannot establish what is objectively real. They can establish, rather, only what is real to them in their partiality and incomprehension. They can establish, to put it plainly, only what is subjectively real. So it is beyond our powers to establish objective truths of any sort, such as mathematical truths. At most, we can discover them (this incapacity of ours to establish objective truths is but a department of our incapacity to create objects of any sort – to bring things into actual existence from nothingness). So then likewise also with beauty. We don’t establish it, but only apprehend it – or, fail thereat.

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Wrongheaded Reduction Redounds

When you explain something away, the explanation is no longer about anything, for the explanation has deleted the thing explained from among the things that are real, and that are therefore amenable to explanation. But this means that the explanation itself signifies nothing. Statements of the form, “x is nothing but y,” then, are strictly meaningless. If there is no such thing as x, but only y, then there is no relation between x and y, and so no way to explain such relations. If there are no unicorns, then we might be able to discuss and explain the *idea* of unicorns, but not unicorns themselves, there being no such thing to explain. Explanations of fabulous things are all themselves fabulous.

So, technically, eliminative materialism is just meaningless noise. Thoroughgoing eliminative materialists do not disagree with this statement.

Proper reduction never explains away; rather, it increases the specificity and concreteness of our understanding of things. So, not, nor anything like, “thoughts are nothing but neuronal firings,” but rather something like “thoughts are manifest in neuronal activity.” That thoughts are manifest in neuronal activity deletes no jot of the ontological facticity of thoughts. On the contrary; it fleshes out that facticity.

Ignorance, Responsibility, Forgiveness

Why does God forgive our sins? Why doesn’t he hold them against us? Why, indeed, has he paid for them himself?

Well, he’s omniscient. So he knows why we sin. Furthermore, he knows full well that we don’t know why we sin, or even (often) that we do sin. He said so from the very cross where he hung in the agony of his forgiving.*  Having shared in it, he knows our weakness.

The real question, then, is not why God in his infinite goodness and mercy, his boundless compassion and sympathy, his perfect comprehension of our predicaments, forgives us who are so confused even about the springs of our own acts (let alone his). How could it be otherwise, with such a being? No, the question is why we sin.   Continue reading

The Order of Memory is the Order of Being

This is the third in a sequence of three essays examining aspects of reality from a Traditionalist perspective. The two previous essays took as their topics education and its relation to faith; and, the other, revelation and its relation to reality. The present essay, “The Order of Being is the Order of Memory,” assumes the conclusions of the two preceding essays, which it rehearses briefly in the first paragraph.


In the Philosophical Fragments (1843) Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855) explores the existential paradox that while men must live their lives forwards they can only understand their lives backwards. Kierkegaard’s observation is far from being an item of attention-grabbing rhetorical cleverness: It explains both the precariousness of cultural transmission across time and the difficulty of philosophical maturation in the individual; it also throws into brilliant clarity the absolute dependence of the individual on the line of cultural transmission. In his study of Order and History (1956 – 1986), Eric Voegelin (1901 – 1985) carefully traces out and analyzes the historical process, which he calls “symbolization,” by which Western Civilization gradually and arduously constructed its adaptation to the absoluteness of reality, reaching an acme in Christian revelation only thereafter to embark on a long decline. In respect of Kierkegaard in the essay that I devoted to the Philosophical Fragments, I focused on education, arguing that modern education, which likes to teach to the test, is not truly education because education requires faith and modern educators have banished faith from the curricular horizon. (I referred not to any particular faith – but, as I wrote, to “the very structure of faith.”) In respect of Voegelin in the essay that I devoted to him, I focused on the modern rejection of revelation, arguing that phenomena are indistinguishable from apocalypse and that a rejection of revelation entails a rejection of reality. I characterized the modern rejection of reality, moreover, as a recrudescence of archaic cult-activity, complete with the scapegoat ceremony.

Voegelin’s “symbolization” is an activity, spiritual and intellectual, carried out “forwards,” but its beneficiaries only understand it “backwards.” In understanding the history of the symbols, indeed, the inheritor places himself thematically with respect to the endeavor; he acquires a relation to the past that transforms his notions both of himself and his social-temporal situation, enriching them and making them more real. In this way, readers may understand Kierkegaard and Voegelin as conducting complementary analyses. The former elucidates the way in which the individual subject, in opening himself to inherited experience, redefines himself; the latter elucidates the way in which the collective subject, opening itself to reality, creates cultural order and bequeaths it to posterity, so that later individuals might orient themselves with respect to that order. Both the individual and the collective forms of self-understanding concern memory, that function or organ of consciousness that permits the formation of identity and insures its continuity beyond a fleeting moment. The philosophical investigation of memory suggests furthermore that the Order of Being is the Order of Memory.

Ancient peoples regarded memory as divine or supernatural. Memory is thoroughly bound up in Antiquity with the Cult of the Dead, whose constituency cries out for commemoration. In ten-thousand-year-old Çatal Hüyük in Central Anatolia the dwellers lived in apartments built over the sepulchers of their ancestors. The past – in the form of the dead – was physically ever-present to those living people. At mealtimes, the dead ate around the hearth with the living, receiving blandishments of food and drink, as the documented custom elsewhere permits one to infer. For the archaic Greek poet Hesiod (Eighth Century BC), memory was not personal, but self-evidently transcendent and godlike. The Muses, who taught Hesiod about the generations and order of the gods, were the daughters of a personified Mnemosyne (“Memory”), their mother, and the chief Olympian deity Zeus, their father. In the Invocation of the Theogony, Hesiod, whose name translates as “the poet,” writes, “From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing, who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon, and dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and the altar of the almighty son of Cronos, and, when they have washed their tender bodies in Permessus or in the Horse’s Spring or Olmeius, make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon and move with vigorous feet.”

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Nominalism on Steroids

If as the libertines insist sex has no inherent meaning of its own regardless of what we might think, then it can mean “only” whatever we happen to think. Say with modernity that it were so. In the first place, then, a sexual act that had been at first understood by the participants as agreeable, and indeed urgently desired by all of them, might later be understood retrospectively by one or another as rape (or vice versa, for that matter); and no assessment of its sexual meaning at any time, by any one, could be rightly construed as in any sense true. But in the second, the inherent meaninglessness of the sexual act would entail the utter vacuity of the term “rape,” as denoting a peculiarly sexual crime. Rape would then be an empty category, and reduce to the more basic, asexual category  of assault.

But assault is likewise vulnerable to a similar nominalist reduction to morally meaningless contact: not inherently problematic, but only subjectively so. I.e., not really problematic at all. It’s just atoms meaninglessly hurrying about, nothing more.

Under a nominalist epistemology, no juridical procedure then can ever arrive at a verdict that can be properly characterized as such – as, literally, a true speech (vere dictum). If there’s no truth about acts in the first place, such truths cannot be apprehended or spoken of, nor therefore may there be any justice done about them. But if justice be impossible, so is society. All that is then available to us from each other is war.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The Structure of Reality is the Structure of Revelation

This essay follows a previous one on the relation of education to faith; it is the second of three essays intended to critique the prevailing modern worldview of the West’s ubiquitous liberal regime by demonstrating the narrowness and insipidity of liberal views. I argued in “The Structure of Education is the Structure of Faith” in favor of several pre-modern ways of viewing education. I rehearse that gesture again, this time in respect of the prevailing modern sense of the encompassing reality in the context of which people must live their lives. A third essay, following this one, will deal with memory considered as an institution.

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The Structure of Education is the Structure of Faith

Thomas F. Bertonneau

This is the first in a series of three essays intended to critique selected aspects of the prevailing modern worldview of the West’s ubiquitous liberal regime. In the present essay, I am interested in the prevailing modern view of education; I argue that various pre-modern ways of understanding education address their topic with a good deal more penetration than that achieved by the modern view, which tends to insipidity. In a follow-on essay to this one I will address the question how revelation is related to reality; a third essay will devote itself to a discussion of memory considered as an institution.

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