The Incarnation and Boethius’ Hierarchy of Knowledge

The ancients and medievals were fascinated with the concept of hierarchies. In fact, for many of them, the very fabric of their worldview was essentially hierarchic. All things were seen as originating from God as their source, and being directed toward God as their final end/good; and within this framework the entire universe was held as existing in ordered, purposeful relationships. This understanding of reality as ordered/hierarchic manifested itself in nearly every aspect of life and thought: family and community structure, political systems, ecclesiastical organization, theology, philosophy, and, as we’ll see, epistemology.

Pseudo-Dionysius wrote of the celestial hierarchy of angels, mirrored in the Church’s own hierarchy. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of the hierarchy of existing beings, from inanimate objects, to living plants, to animals, to rational humans. Plato had explained reality as ordered from the material to the immaterial and ultimately to the Form of the Good. For all these classical thinkers, their belief in an ordered universe expressed itself through hierarchical relations.

Boethius was certainly no exception. Continue reading


A Thomistic Argument from Desire: Part II

In Part I, we established that:

  1. All humans have ends for the sake of which they act, and these ends are “goods” which we desire.
  2. Every object/end/good that we desire is desired either for its own sake, or for the sake of some further end.
  3.  There cannot be an essentially ordered infinite regress of desires that are for the sake of some further end; so, for any ordered series of desires, there must be some ultimate end, which is desired for its own sake, and towards which all the other desires are directed. This final end underlies all the other desires, and points them to itself. It is the “principle moving the appetite”.

The next question is whether there could be multiple “last ends” corresponding to various different series of desires. It seems clear that for any series of desires there must be a last end, but we often have different series of desires. For example, one morning I may desire to eat breakfast, and I desire that because I desire satisfaction for hunger, and I desire that because I desire health, and I desire health because I continue to desire living. At some point I will have reached the end of that particular chain of desires. But later that day I might desire to read a book, and I might desire that because I desire to gain knowledge, and I desire that because I desire to understand the nature of things, etc. This is a distinct chain of desires from the previous one, and so the question becomes whether these distinct chains can arrive at distinct ends, or whether all the chains will ultimately converge on one single, ultimate, last end. Continue reading

A Thomistic Argument from Desire: Part I

A few months ago, I posted an Augustinian Argument from Desire, which attempted to use material from the writings of St. Augustine in order to address what I felt to be the principle problems for any “argument from desire” for the existence of God. The Augustinian version is interesting and, I think, deserves to be fleshed out more fully; but in this post I am beginning a new project: a Thomistic Argument from Desire. This is primarily going to be an endeavor of research, not defense. In other words, I am going to be delving into material from St. Thomas which I am inclined to think can plausibly be constructed into a successful argument, but which I have not as of yet completely mapped out. I have a general idea of what I think the flow and structure of the argument will perhaps look like, but that is certainly liable to change. Furthermore, my presentation of the argument will largely take the form of exposition. For the most part, I think the argument is pretty much already there, at least materially and implicitly, in the writings of St. Thomas, and my task will be concerned with drawing it out. Continue reading

An Augustinian Defense of Hell

Of all Christian doctrines, the doctrine of Hell is seemingly the easiest to attack, hardest to defend, and most shied away from by theologians, philosophers, and apologists. It’s seen as an outdated, despicable, morally horrendous scare-tactic that is a significantly embarrassing blot on the claim to believe in a perfect, loving, good God. It’s rarely discussed in a serious philosophical setting, except in the brief work of skeptical writers presenting arguments against its moral justification. Christians may offer some general responses to the sentiment behind these arguments, but for the most part are just content to pass by and focus on other, “easier” and less taboo topics. It is now somewhat standard fare for people to assume that Hell is a settled issue; it’s often just taken for granted that Hell is indefensible and morally repugnant and hence that it’s almost not even worth critiquing or defending. Continue reading

An Existential Argument for the Resurrection from St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius, in his beautiful De Incarnatione, presents an argument for believing in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. It is, one should note, primarily an existential argument for the resurrection, rather than a purely historical one as is most often defended today; but I don’t think this makes it any less powerful. Indeed, most people probably find existential arguments more compelling than purely historical arguments, insofar as working through the latter can involve much difficulty and abstraction, whereas the former have the potential to be directly experiential in nature.

First, St. Athanasius points to the martyrs and their willingness to die for the faith as evidence that Christ has in fact “trampled death”. But then he continues Continue reading

An Augustinian Argument from Desire

What follows is, I believe, a novel argument for the existence of God. It is drawn almost entirely from the writings of St. Augustine, but though the line of thought is his, he does not seem to use it as a positive instance of natural theology. It is in this sense that the argument, as I’m using it here, is somewhat new.

Naturally theology is often divided into distinctive branches or types of arguments. These include families such as cosmological arguments, moral arguments, or teleological arguments, along with some other, less common ones as well. Of this latter sort, I’d suggest, there is the branch of “arguments from desire”. I consider these as less common just in relation to professional philosophical work; but, among popular apologetics, they are seen more frequently. Furthermore, they are quite common just in terms of their natural appeal and emotional effectiveness. It seems plausible that a good number of people believe in God and subscribe to some religious tradition on the basis of a kind of implicit, perhaps even subconscious argument from desire within them. Continue reading

Third Dialogue on the Nature of Love

*In light of Valentine’s Day, a third dialogue on the nature of love. The first can be read here and the second here. All characters and events are fictional, and are used to convey philosophical arguments. My own personal views are not necessarily reflected by the views of any characters or statements herein; the dialogue is just meant to work out and develop some thoughts.

Thomas: So do we now understand what love is?

Reuben: I think we have a start.

Thomas: What more would you want to say? We have agreed that love is the active will for the good of the other, and that the emotions follow the will, but that the emotions also feed the will, and the will is directed towards certain emotions.

Reuben: I agree that this is one account of love. But I wonder if it is the whole of love?

Thomas: What could there be beyond this?

Reuben: Before I answer that, I have another question.

Thomas: Ask it!

Reuben: We said much earlier that love cannot be a desire, since desire results from some need or incompleteness within ourselves, and hence to desire another must ultimately be selfish, merely wanting to use the person as a means to an end of our own emotional fulfillment.

Thomas: We did indeed say this.

Reuben: But must it be true that all desire as such results from some need or incompleteness within us? Continue reading