50th Post: Thoughts on Blogging and Sens Homines

This present post marks the fiftieth on my blog, with the first real post having been published this past April. In all honesty, at that point I didn’t really expect to make this into something regular, and I hardly anticipated keeping it up for very long; but now I write around twice a week and doing so is one of my greatest pleasures. I love the reading, studying, and research involved, I love the process and struggle of writing, and, perhaps most of all, I love receiving responses from people, both complimentary and critical.

I think, in fact, that one of the main reasons I started blogging was to hear and consider the thoughts of people with very different view points from my own. My ideal in blogging is not just to have a platform for expressing myself, but rather to have a platform for conversing and engaging with others about things that are important to me. Reading, studying, and thinking pushes me and forces me to grow, but there is something about communicating with other people that adds a whole other dimension and depth to seeking truth.

A quick note: my posts are long. I know. At least relative to many blogs. My apologies to those who prefer shorter, quick posts, but I just cannot bring myself to sacrifice carefulness and thoroughness for brevity. One of the most frustrating things to me about popular apologetics work is its often media-like tendency to appeal to intellectual short-attention spans by taking short cuts and not adequately addressing or dealing with the material in an honest or complete way. I want to avoid that at all costs. I want to consider the best and most difficult objections to arguments for my own position; and I want to examine the best and most forceful presentations of arguments for positions other than mine. Anything less than this is intellectual dishonesty.

I have changed dramatically since I began blogging, and blogging itself has played a very large part in this. The goal was always to seek truth. I consider the journey of pursuing truth integral to what it means to be human. That, along with a few other, more personal reasons, is why I chose “Sens Homines”, Latin for “being human”, as the name for the blog. If you haven’t read the About page recently, I’d encourage doing so in order to get a fuller understanding of the meaning behind the name and its relation to the purpose of this blog. My understanding of what Being Human entails has evolved and grown since I started, much for the better.

So far, the range of topics of my posts has been fairly limited, and not without reason. I’ve written mainly on 1) the existence of God, 2) the person of Jesus, and 3) various related philosophical issues, often by way of a direct reading and analyzation of some of the great human thinkers. My own conception of this is that I’m building something, however slowly, and however long it takes. Writing paragraph by paragraph analyzations of each chapter of Aristotle’s Physics is tedious work. But without this foundational understanding of the ideas, everything else collapses.

I will, of course, be continuing to write about these things often, but I’d also like to expand. I especially want to begin (probably in a few months from now) writing about ethics and various ethical theories/systems, and perhaps philosophy of mind. If anyone has any suggestions for topics about which to write, I’d be more than happy to consider them.

Thank you to all those who read and respond. It truly means a lot!

Advertisements

Chesterton and Aquinas on Thanksgiving

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude”, wrote G. K. Chesterton [1]. Chesterton was one who understood both the gravity and the soaring joy of thankfulness. Gravity because giving thanks strikes at the very heart of what it means to be fully human; joy because giving thanks is necessary for being truly happy. In fact, giving thanks is perhaps one of the simplest and most certain ways to produce real happiness.

To see this twofold nature of understanding gratitude, consider these further Chesterton quotes. First, the seriousness of gratitude:

“The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them” [2].

The very aim of life is appreciation? If we understand appreciation as recognizing, enjoying, and properly responding to the good in something, then yes, absolutely appreciation is the aim of life. For the very purpose of mankind’s existence is to know God and to seek God as his ultimate end. And this includes love and obedience to God, which in so doing cultivates virtue within us, and from virtue flows true flourishing and happiness as human beings. Appreciation involves finding the good in things, in everything, and God just is the good of everything, since He is The Good Itself. God is man’s beatitude. And everything is good inasmuch as it flows from and is directed towards fulfillment in God. Recognizing, enjoying, and properly responding to this beauty and goodness in things, which reflects the Beauty and Goodness of their Source and Creator, is the very reason for which we exist.

So St. Thomas Aquinas says:

“All things desire God as their end, when they desire some good thing . . . because nothing is good and desirable except forasmuch as it participates in the likeness to God” [3]

From this follows Chesterton’s next quote:

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” [4].

Thanks are the highest form of thought, because all thought is directed towards knowing, and the ultimate object of all knowing is again God Himself. To know the nature of something that exists is to know its Source and Creator, and the proper response to recognizing this is simply wonder and thankfulness at its very existence.

Again, gratitude is just the appreciation of things as they are, appreciation of the good in things. Unfulfilled desires are the cause of misery; so to be content in, and to rejoice in, things as they are, recognizing even the smallest flower petal as a gift full of more infinite goodness than we could possibly imagine, without heedlessly desiring more because we realize what we have been given is vastly more than we can even comprehend, is the surest road to happiness. To recognize that each blade of grass beneath our feet is the brushstroke of God as Creator and Being Himself is to open forth a gushing fountain of unending mirth.

In question 106 of the “Second of the Second Part” of his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas considers gratitude as a virtue under the cardinal virtue of justice. This particular question asks “Whether a man is bound to give thanks to every benefactor?” First Aquinas presents six objections to an affirmative answer. Then he responds with a single verse:

On the contrary, It is written (1 Thess. 5:18): ‘In all things give thanks'” [5].

A larger portion of the same passage of scripture reads:

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, ESV).

It is no accident that giving thanks and rejoicing are placed together, because they are intrinsically interwoven actions. It is also worth pointing out that they are both commands.

Aquinas’s full account of the nature of gratitude is much longer, more complex, and more technical. But here we’ll give just a brief look:

“Every effect turns naturally to its cause; whereas Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i) that ‘God turns all things to Himself because He is the cause of all’: for the effect must needs always be directed to the end of the agent. Now it is evident that a benefactor, as such, is cause of the beneficiary. Hence the natural order requires that he who has received a favor should, by repaying the favor, turn to his benefactor according to the mode of each” [6].

In other words, we give thanks for gifts or favors received. And all gifts or favors are given by an agent, who is the cause of the recipient being a beneficiary of that favor/gift. And all effects are naturally turned/directed towards their causes, so every beneficiary ought to be turned towards his benefactor, the act of which is thankfulness. God is the First and Final Cause of all that exists, including man. Thus man’s “natural order” is to be turned to God in thankfulness. Writes St. Paul:

“For in him [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16, NIV, emphasis mine).

God, in Christ, created all things for Himself, to be directed towards and to reach fulfillment in Himself. Elsewhere, Aquinas discusses how justice is the cardinal virtue of giving to things that which they are owed. And as a virtue “annexed” to justice, gratitude is lesser; because gratitude is all that we are able to give God in return for his gifts of creation and salvation, but the gratitude of man could never equal even a small, minuscule portion compared to the immense, immeasurable value and greatness of God’s gifts. And that is the meaning of grace. Existence and salvation are God’s gifts to man; but man could never hope to repay to God either of these things. Gratitude is all we have to give in turn. Giving thanks, in its fullest sense, is what man owes to God; but it is hardly a drop compared to the infinite, raging ocean depths of what we truly and totally owe Him. Everything is what we owe Him; our own finite thanksgiving is all we have to offer. And even that is already His.

So if you want happiness, if you want to be fully human, then “in all things give thanks”, for in doing so you grasp the very nature and proper order of existence.

 

Notes

[1]. Quotes found online: <https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/11/27/5-quotes-from-g-k-chesterton-on-gratitude-and-thanksgiving/&gt;.

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 44, Art. 4. Taken from online source: <http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1044.htm#article4&gt;.

[4]. See link for Chesterton quotes above.

[5]. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. 1265-1274. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Coyote Canyon Press, 2010. ebook. II-II, Q. 106, Art. 3.

[6]. Ibid.

The Person of Jesus Part 6: The Gospels as Sources

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the four canonical gospels as historical sources for the life of Jesus. But first, a brief note on how historicity works. Scholar Craig Keener writes:

“It should be understood that when historians speak in terms of probability, we speak only of what can be ascertained by historical methods. We lack historical evidence for most of what has happened in history; no one claims that nothing happened except what we can demonstrate by historical means. As scholars often point out, studies concerning the historical Jesus merely sort available historical evidence according to historical methods; they cannot bring us fully face-to-face with the Jesus who lived, taught, and died in the first century CE. They are useful, however, in providing a way that historians as historians can talk about Jesus, and a critical minimum of assumptions that both Christians and non-Christians can use in dialogue about Jesus” [1].

It is extremely important to understand this last point: that historical method can only give us a critical minimum of information about Jesus, not all that there is to know about him. Not every single point in the gospels can be historically verified; but that does not render them unhistorical in the sense that we ought to think they never occurred. But, as we’ll come to see, there is a somewhat surprising amount of information about Jesus contained in the gospels that can be verified to fair degree.

So, to begin, what exactly are the gospels? Continue reading

Further Thoughts on the Unimpressiveness of Humans Argument for Atheism

A few weeks ago I posted an article on an argument for naturalism/atheism that focused on the unimpressiveness of humans. To my own pleasant surprise, that article became the most read post ever on my blog, and I received a good amount of response, including an email from Jeffery Jay Lowder himself, who was extremely helpful and kind. This post will take a look at some of the responses, and then offer a reply in return. Continue reading

Outlined Version of the Contingency Argument

Here is an outlined version of Aquinas’s Contingency Argument for the existence of God, also known as the Third Way. This is just an outline. The full series of articles can be found here, here, and here. Refer to those for the whole, in depth explanations and defenses of the various premises.

The first part of the argument is to establish the existence of at least one necessary being. There are two branches of interpretation for this part. This is the first:

  1. In our experience there are beings which are generated and corrupted
  2. Beings which are generated and corrupted are “possible” beings (or contingent beings); they have the possibility to either exist or not exist
  3. Possible beings have a natural tendency towards corruption (losing their form)
  4. Given sufficient time, all natural tendencies are realized
  5. Thus anything that has a natural tendency towards corruption will necessarily, at some point in time, go out of existence
  6. If all beings were possible beings, then, given infinite past time, all beings would have gone out of existence by now
  7. If all beings had gone out of existence, then nothing would exist now.
  8. But things do exist now
  9. So not everything that exists can be a possible being. There must exist something, at least one thing, which is impossible not to exist: a necessary being.

Continue reading

Second Dialogue On the Nature of Love

*This is the second post in a series imitating Plato’s “socratic dialogue method.” The first post can be read here. All characters and events are fictional, and are used to convey philosophical arguments.

Thomas: So we have established, based on our conversation, that love is an “active will for the good of another.” But you expressed some doubts about this?

Reuben: Yes, I am not entirely sure what it means. And I am beginning to wonder if perhaps it is not entirely true.

Thomas: Well, to see if that is so, let us retrace some of our steps.

Reuben: That would be helpful.

Thomas: You began by saying that love is a particular emotion.

Reuben: I did.

Thomas: And we agreed that absolutely love is good? Continue reading

Aquinas’s Contingency Argument Part 3: Necessary Beings

This is the third and final post in a series on Aquinas’s Contingency Argument for the existence of God, also known as the Third Way. The argument that we laid out in the previous post goes like this:

  1. There are beings that exist which have the possibility to either exist or not exist (meaning that they have a natural tendency towards corruption or losing their form).
  2. Beings which have the possibility to either exist or not exist will necessarily, at some point in time, go out of existence (because given enough time, all natural tendencies are realized).
  3. If all beings are possible beings in this way, then, given infinite past time, all beings would have gone out of existence
  4. If all beings had gone out of existence, then nothing would exist now.
  5. But things do exist now
  6. So something, at least one thing, must exist which is impossible not to exist, a necessary being.

These premises were introduced and defended in the last post. I also mentioned there that there are two main branches of interpretation which take different routes. The argument above is the first interpretation. Its crucial distinctiveness lies in holding that we are assuming infinite past time, and that not only do all things individually have a tendency towards corruption, but that all things together have a tendency towards being corrupted together. The combination of these points assures us that if everything that exists is a possible being, then nothing would now exist.

The second branch of interoperation holds a somewhat different understanding. Continue reading