Sunday, September 20, 2020

Modern philosophy and the scholastics

For many years I was intrigued by the thought of Edith Stein. Of course one reason for the curiosity was her conversion from Judaism to Christianity in the times when Jewish thought flourished (take Martin Buber's thought as only one example), the second was her decision to leave her Jewish family and become Catholic nun in a very strict, contemplative order. 
But it was still the most mysterious to me how she, coming from the school of Edmund Husserl, evolved into a domain of neo-scholastics...
To understand this, I started to read her "Finite and Eternal Being"...

From the outset, I was so deeply intrigued by this book, that I decided not to comment on it, but rather to collect the thoughts and ideas I found interesting. So, this post is a collection of quotes from Edith - quotes I collected while reading it. I found it intellectually more honest than trying to comment on something I still need to understand better than I do now....


To begin, let's see her own, deeply honest admission, made in the introduction to the book:

"This (...) seems especially appropriate in the case of the author of this book: Her philosophical home is the school of Edmund Husserl, and her philosophic mother tongue is the language of the phenomenological thinkers. She therefore uses phenomenology as a starting point to find her way into the majestic temple of scholastic thought."

I'm excited to discover how does she go along that path ...

First discovery is ... of the amazing clarity and objectivity Stein approaches philosophy with a deliberate distancing from faith and religion. The rigor she is applying to that distinction, comes, from St. Thomas Aquinas himself, and from many of thinkers of the "thomistic" tradition, like Jacques Maritain.

When writing about the goals and functions of philosophy she says:

"It is one of the function of philosophy to elucidate the fundamental principles of all the sciences"
However, when she goes into the relation between philosophy and a religious doctrine, she remarks:

« Whatever derives from the synthesis of theological and philosophic truth bears the imprint of this dual source of knowledge, and faith, as we are told, is a "dark light". Faith helps us to understand something, but only in order to point to something that remains for us incomprehensible. Since the ultimate ground of all existence is unfathomable, everything which is seen in this ultimate perspective moves into that "dark light" of faith, and everything intelligible is placed in a setting with an incomprehensible background. That is what Erich Przywara means when he speaks of a reductio ad mysterium.»
The intro, and its chapter "Is there a Christian Philosophy" is an amazing proof of the author intellectual honesty. Now, to the essence ...

In "Act and Potency as Modes of Being"  Stein writes:

«My own being, as I know it and as I know myself in it, is null and void [nichtig]; I am not by myself (not a being a se and per se), and by myself I am nothing; at every moment I find myself face to face with nothingness, and from moment to moment I must be endowed and re-endowed with being. And yet this empty existence that I am is being, and at every moment I am in touch with the fullness of being. »
and later adds:

«Existential anxiety accompanies the unredeemed human being throughout life and in many disguises -- as fear of this or that particular thing or being. In the last analysis, however, this anxiety or dread is the fear of being no more, and it is thus the experience of anxiety which "brings people face to face with nothingness." »

In "Individual and Universal Nature":

«As a matter of fact, that which is the ultimate ground of all intelligibility also makes possible all linguistic understanding and all linguistic communication. We therefore now conclude that all names are actually and ultimately expressions of essences.»
 

In §10, "Universals":    

«The knowing mind is an individual actuality; the thing known, on the other hand, can as such by its being known never become such an individual actuality. It merely becomes something that is encompassed by the mind, something pertaining to the mind. The mind encompasses it and possesses it as transcendent. The thing known is not "mine" in the same sense as is the knowing. My knowledge is mine exclusively: It cannot simultaneously be the knowledge of another human being. But what I know—and this means not only the object of knowledge but also the known according to the manner in which it is known (e.g., in a specific conceptual formulation) can also be known by others. My knowing it does not withdraw it from any other person's knowledge.»

«Every human being possesses his or her own "conceptual world" which may coincide more or less not only with the real world but also with the world of ideal concepts and with the conceptual worlds of other human beings.

Because the known nature quid is the identical element that we find in a multiplicity of individuations, we are able to attribute to it the meaning of universality. For the same reason it is possible to pay no heed to the conditions of its individuation; this paying no heed  is implicit in the meaning of universality and is called abstraction.

The known nature quid is as such neither universal nor individual. It cannot be duplicated in the realm of essential being - and this it has in common with the individual. But it is communicable and admits of individualizations and this distinguishes it from the individual. It cannot be duplicated in the realm of essential being — and this it has in common with the individual. But it is communicable and admits of individualizations — and this distinguishes it from the individual in the full sense of the term and makes it possible to ascribe universality to it. 


These last observations show clearly that our own answer to the problem of universals goes somewhat beyond the position of moderate realism without, however, going as far as Platonic realism (in the traditional interpretation). We do not ascribe to the essential quid any being in the manner of real things. It would seem that our own point of view is closest to that of Duns Scotus.»

 

In part IV. Essentia-Substance-Form and Matter

« This form-matter relationship, as described by Aristotle, became decisive for the understanding of the created universe and determined the entire thinking of the Middle Ages.»

« Thus for artists there exist archetypal forms or images (Urbilder] which they must seize and the being of which is independent and a precondition of their workmanship. Here we are dealing with pure forms, and they may make it possible for us to grasp the meaning of a form that is unrelated to a particular matter.»

«Being active or being operative is that highest degree of the being of that which is, to which the faculties or capabilities of existents are ordained.»
« In the mind of the artist the idea flashes, attracts the artist, leaves the artist no rest, urges the artist on to create. And in a similar manner an "attraction" seems to issue from that which stands above the living being as its end and perfection, an attraction which directs and guides the development of the living being. This attractive force may be felt not only in the mature human being, but from the time of the first awakening of reason. And the image of what the individual is to become may be grasped more or less distinctly and the individual's free acts may-in the striving for perfection and self-education-be informed accordingly. »

«However, that which is before and after is grounded in something deeper which determines the entire process of evolution and leads it toward the end. And this something we have called the essential form (Wesensform). In the essential form is alive that purposively directed power to which the actualized essence owes its existence if and whenever it corresponds to the end.»
 

« Both worlds (pure and essential forms), rather, in accordance with their origin, point to that same primordial reality that also accounts for and makes intelligible their interrelation. Comprised and incorporated in the unity of the divine logos, the pure forms are primordial prototypes of all things in the divine mind, which places them into existence and which has inscribed in them their end-structure [Zielgestalt]. 

In this sense we may then speak of the being of things in God, and St. Thomas calls this being in God a truer being than the one which things have in themselves. The causality of the eternal primordial archetypes is simply the creative, sustaining, and ordering efficacious action [Wirksamkeit] of God, and the actuality of these archetypes is the divine actuality or rather super-actuality.»
 

«...we should then have to regard the divine essence not merely as the mover of the universe as a whole, but as linked in a specific manner with every created thing and being. This point of view makes it necessary that there be a peculiarly strong and close interrelation between the archetypal and essential forms. Plato's and Aristotle's doctrines of form suffer, it seems to me, from the defect of Plato's laying undue stress on the archetypal form and of Aristotle's placing too much emphasis on the essential form.

And the reason for this deficiency in both instances I see in the fact that to both philosophers the idea of creation and its sequel, the divine sustenance and directive governance of the created universe, remained unknown.»

« Paradoxically enough, the determinateness of matter lies in its determinability.»

« And where we said before that the particularity of matter was basic [grundlegend] in the structure of the whole with respect to everything in which this particularity manifests and actively asserts itself, we must now say that what is ultimately basic is the form which forms matter »

« And finite existents lag behind the highest degree of being which they could potentially attain in still another respect. This second lagging behind is due to the status naturae lapsae (the state of fallen nature), i.e., the general corruption of all things in the fallen state. Thus, even the splendor of “gold has been dimmed." (Lamentations 4:1) There is henceforth a split or crack (Bruch] even in the determinateness of the essences of things. They are still a mirror of divine perfection, but the mirror is broken. There is a discrepancy between what things essentially ought to be and what they actually are. And there is, moreover, a disproportion between what things could essentially come to be and the state to which they can actually attain. »
« Every human work was meant to be not only useful (i.e., to serve human ends) but also beautiful (i.e., to be a mirror of the eternal). » 

« Linguistic metaphors often express an inner relationship that exists between different genera of existents as well as a relationship between finite existents and the divine archetypal reality. »


« We hold that even the lowest material structures are an inseparable unity of matter and form (a form that molds matter, or of formed matter, i.e., a matter that is determined in its particularity). These material structures would be nothing unless they were thus determined in their quid [Was]. Their very being would be annihilated. Their being is truly one, because this oneness is conditioned by form and matter. The primordial “efficacious ontological principle” [beurirkende Seinsgrund] which they owe their being is the divine creative act, and the being of this act differs from the being of every created thing.»
« It is my conviction that here (MS: in an awakening of life) we find ourselves face to face with the greatest of all mysteries and miracles of life. The mere fact that things which are alive cannot come from things which are dead, but only from that which is itself alive, and that life defies all to “produce" it artificially or synthetically—this fact alone is enough to arouse our awe. But what makes us see in life the mysterious revelation of the Lord of all life is the much more significant fact that all those "devices" of animate nature which aim at life do not actually produce it. They merely prepare for it and make it possible for it in each individual instance to spring, as it were, from a hidden primordial source. »

« ... there is in living beings a manifold of material elements held together, permeated, and molded into an organic whole by a superior, living form-a whole which is proportioned in accordance with the structural law of that superior form. The superiority of the form over the matter manifests itself in the preservation and evolution of the identical structural whole in the continuous process of “material change" (Stoffwechsel = metabolism).

The being of the form is life, and life is the forming of matter in the three stages of: transformation of the structural material elements, self-formation, and reproduction.»

« The specific being of living beings is distinct from both body and mind (spirit) by virtue of the fact that living beings must first acquire possession of their essence or nature. That which is alive [das Lebendige] is distinguished from purely material natures because it has a "center" of its own being, i.e., a soul or what we may call a "be-souling principle" (if we want to reserve the term soul for that personal soul which does not make its appearance until we arrive at the individuals and personally formed human totality) »

« The soul comes out of nothingness and yet bears within itself the power for being: "This is why its nature is in a peculiar manner 'unfathomable' (in the sense of being a bottomless abyss) and "creative." According to its own ontological ground, the soul is placed in “nothingness," and yet, out of this same soul, the entire substance draws its being and its selfhood." »

« The particular nature of the soul also suggests a possibility of harmonizing the contraries of matter and mind (spirit) with the previously discussed trichotomy of body, soul, and mind (spirit). The confrontation of matter in the sense of that which fills space) and mind (spirit) reveals an ultimate contrast with regard to content between two different realms of actuality. »

 

In part V. Existents As Such (The Transcendentals)

«And finally, are only material [dinglich] realities independent, autonomous existents or must independent, autonomous existence also be attributed to ideal objects»

 « ens, res, unum, aliquid, bonum, verum, pulchrum »

« With this latter observation (ms: of form) we believe we have grasped the real distinction between form and content (or fullness). The two belong together. Wherever we get hold of a content, we seize it together with its form. A "content" can neither be nor be intellectually conceived without some form, even if it is a form of the most general kind. The form is, as it were, the contour of the content and thus pertains to the content in the manner in which the encompassing spatial structure pertains to a material thing. The forms can be intellectually abstracted and conceptually grasped, but they have that peculiar emptiness and poverty which characterizes them forms.

Every existent is fullness within some form. To examine and describe the forms of existents is the task of that discipline which Husserl called formal ontology. »

 «... there is still another "emptiness," one that is indicative of a separation from a factual (sachlich] foundation. When I speak of "some or any object," these expressions admit of a factual understanding. What is meant finds its fulfillment in the empty form of the aliquid. The expression "non-existent object," on the other hand, admits of no fulfillment. It corresponds to empty thought.» 

 « We have previously pointed out in a different context that every existent has a meaning [Sinn] or - in scholastic terminology that every existent is intelligible, i.e., something which can "enter into" a knowing intellect and can be "embraced" or "comprehended"[umgefassen] by a knowing intellect. It seems to me that this describes the nature of  transcendental truth. The terms intelligere, "enter into," and "comprehend" express a  mutual being-ordained [Zuordnung) of intellect and existent. »

 « This is why the artist, who penetrates through the purely external and factual to the primordial archetype (Urbild), can present more of the truth than the historian who remains within the limited circumference of external data. The work of the artist who succeeds in depicting the true Urbild and at the same time remaining within the bounds of tradition will be truer even in the sense of historical truth than the work of a historian who does not penetrate beyond the surface of external facts.»

 In part V, §13 "Divine Truth"

« We are here face to face with a matter-of-factness the reasons or causes of which we are unable to penetrate.  And such an ultimate, impenetrable fact is for us the differentiation between necessity and contingency which we find even in the realm of essential being. 

It seems to me that it indeed transcends the possibilities of natural reason to demonstrate that the cause of this differentiation lies in the divine essence. Even the attempt to harmonize the simplicity of the divine being with the manifold of the ideas bears the marks of a reason illumined by faith, a reason which impelled by the words of revealed truth seeks to grasp mysteries which defy and confound all human concepts.»

In part V,  §19, "Beauty as a transcendental determination"

« The beautiful indeed implies a relationship of a peculiar kind. It is distinct from truth (understood as an accord of knowledge and existence), and it is distinct from goodness (understood as an accord of striving and existence), and yet it has something in common with both. 

Like truth, beauty signifies that something is known [ein Erkanntes] in a large sense of knowing, and this something causes satisfaction when seen (visa placent). Thus, in contradistinction to the known truth, the something is not only known, but pleases (visa placent). And this pleasing means for the spirit a resting in the attainment of the end, as it is similarly experienced in the fulfillment of a striving. In this respect, then, goodness and beauty coincide. »

« An existent is perfect when it is wholly what it ought to be, when nothing is wanting to it, and when it has attained to the highest measure of its being. This perfection denotes the congruity of the existent with the divine idea which is its archetype (Urbild], (Wesen-swahrheit, essential truth), and simultaneously with the divine will (We sensgutheit, essential goodness). Whatever is perfect is true, good, and beautiful. »

« We meet this splendor in the world of sense in the radiance of physical light, without which all sensuous beauty would remain hidden from us. We meet it in the radiance of color and in the loveliness of physical forms and bodies.
But this splendor is by no means confined to the world of sense. There is spiritual beauty. There is the beauty of the human soul, whose "ways and actions are duly measured and ordered in accordance with the intellectual clarity of reason." The closer a created being is to the divine Urbild, the more perfect it is. This is why intellectual and spiritual beauty range above sensuous beauty. And because the human soul by divine grace is drawn near to the divine being in an entirely new sense, the splendor which grace pours out over a human soul surpasses all purely natural brightness and harmony.
»

 

Part VI. "The Meaning of Being"

« When we conceive of an essence [Wesenheit] or of a meaningful structure [Sinngebilde] as fulfillment of the something, the corresponding being is essential being. This latter we understood as the unmoved (non-temporal) unfolding of that which is contained in the unity of the meaning. In the case of simple essences, this unfolding is a simple being-spread-out [Hingebreitetsein] and thus a being manifest [Offenbarsein] to the understanding gaze of the spirit which comes to rest in the understanding. »

«A special difficulty is presented by the concept of “nothingness" or of the nought [das Nichts), which seems to have an intelligible meaning but which is not an essence. It not only has no full meaning, but not even an empty meaning in the sense of an empty form that could be filled—as in the case of the something. In the nought we have an empty meaning that cannot be filled, and it thereby reveals its “essence-less nature" [Wesenlosigkeit]. This is why non-being pertains to the nought rather than being, and everything that can be predicated of it is in the nature of a negation.»

 

«Being, as the unfolding of a quid, denotes not only the effluence and confluence of the contents of this quid, but simultaneously the quid's being manifest (or becoming manifest [Offenbarwerden]) or its being intelligible for some knowing mind. (All being as such is true being). 

Furthermore, being, as the unfolding of a quid, means that being occupies its apportioned place within the totality of all existents and thereby contributes to the perfection of this totality. (All being as such is good being.) Finally, it means that being is ordered according to a definite structural law and is thereby in accord with an ordering mind whose knowing is correspondingly or proportionately ordered. (All being as such is beautiful and rational [vernünftig] being).»

« But despite these prerogatives, the being of the I is deficient and by itself null and void (nichtig). It is empty unless it is filled with content, and it receives this content from those realms—the "external" and the "internal" world—which lie "beyond" its own sphere.

Its life comes out of one darkness and moves into another darkness. 

There are lacunae in it which cannot be filled, and it is sustained only from moment to moment. And thus we see that while the being of the I is separated from divine being by an infinite distance, it nevertheless owing to the fact that it is an I, i.e., a person-bears a closer resemblance to divine being than anything else that lies within the reach of our experience. If we remove from this being of the I everything that is non-being, this will make it possible for us to conceive-albeit only analogically-of divine being. »

Part VII. "The Image of Trinity in the created world"

§2 "Person and spirit [Geist]"

« On the other hand, where an existent is ruled by and behaves in accordance with an intelligible lawfulness which it yet cannot understand, we speak of a hidden or latent intellect. And we call a creature rational or endowed with an intellect [vernunftbegabt] when it can understand the lawfulness of its own being and can act accordingly. This requires ratio [Verstand), i.e., the gift of understanding, and liberum arbitrium [Freiheit], i.e., the gift of molding one's actions out of one's own self.

If then to being-person there pertains the gift of rationality or intelligence, the person as such must possess reason and freedom. And we thus arrive at the distinction between ego and person and are justified in saying that not every ego need be a personal ego. On the other hand, every person must be an ego. It must be inwardly aware of its own being, since this is implied in the gift of intelligence. »

§2 "The Human "Being-Person"

«The human soul as spirit rises in its spiritual life beyond itself. But the human spirit is conditioned both from above and from below. It is immersed in a material structure which it be-souls and molds into a bodily form. The human person carries and encloses "its" body and "its" soul, but it is at the same time carried and enclosed by both. The spiritual life [geistiges Leben) of the human person rises from a dark ground. It rises like a flame that illumines, but it is a flame that is nourished by non-luminous matter. And it emits light without being light through and through. The human spirit is visible to itself without, however, being thoroughly transparent. It is capable of illuminating other things without being able to penetrate completely into their being. We have already learned a few things about the darkness of the human spirit...»
« Whatever is bodily [leiblich] or of the body is never merely so. What distinguishes the body [Leib] from a mere physical body (corpus) is the fact that the body is be-souled. Where there is a body, there is also a soul. And conversely, where there is a soul, there is also a body. A physical body without a soul is nothing but a corpus [Körper) and no longer a living body [Leib]. A spiritual nature [Geist-wesen] without a corporeal body is a pure spirit, not a soul. Anyone who refuses to attribute a soul to plants should not speak of a plant body either. Rather, such a person will have to use a different name to distinguish these animate material structures from those which are inanimate or lifeless.»
And this passage is deeply personal (I think I know to what it relates, but I prefer not to say it explicitly):
« For example, it may happen that I believe I have "overcome” some painful experience, and I have long since forgotten it. But suddenly some new experience brings it back to my memory, and the impression which this earlier experience now makes upon me as well as the thoughts which it now evokes make me realize that it has been working within me all the time and that, moreover, without it I would not be what I am today.»

§2 "The image of the Trinity in Non-Personal Animate Beings"

« In plants, formation is no more than a mere forming of matter [Stofgestaltung). Plants have not yet attained to the state of "being their own selves" and thus of forming themselves from within. The animal soul has reached that stage. It continues, like the lower forms, in the spatial forming of matter, but beyond this its life is an internal movement and the forming ofa soul structure [seelische Gestalt]. »

 « With the awakening of an inner life, an entirely new kind of image relationship to the Deity appears: a relationship which is an analogical counterpart of the duality of an inner personal life and a self-transcending forming of an external world. And this inner life bears within itself the seal of the Trinity.»

« A conscious life of the soul in the depth of its interiority is, of course, possible only after the awakening of reason. At the time of  this awakening the soul already bears the stamp of what has previously happened in it and to it. The soul is thus not capable of comprehending itself from the very beginning of its existence and of understanding the precise condition in which it was at the beginning. Its natural life is moreover directed from the outset toward dealing with the world and toward its active insertion in the world. This is why the natural direction of the soul life is a going-out-of-itself rather than a turning-into-itself and an abiding "in and with itself." »

« Mystical infused graces impart to the soul an experience of what faith teaches on the indwelling of God in the soul. Those who seek God guided by faith are by their own free effort setting out on the same road and are headed for the same goal to which the mystic is drawn by the grace of infused contemplation. They withdraw from the senses, from the "images" of memory, and even from the natural activities of intellect and will, into the empty loneliness of their inner life to abide there in the darkness of faith-in a simple, loving lifting up of the eyes to the hidden God, who is present under a veil. Here they will rest in deep peace because they have reached the place of their tranquility—until it may please the Lord to transform faith into vision. This, in very sketchy outline, is the "Ascent of Mount Carmel" as taught by our holy father St. John of the Cross. »

« All the forms of corporeal structures are in a stage of "transition" from personal spirit to space-filling matter. They are ways or means by which the spirit forms itself into space. These forms pertain to the spirit as its products and in their ascending scale from the lower to the higher ones—they bear within themselves more and more of the nature of the spirit. Where there is found an internal individual life—such as in the animal soul-a preliminary stage of spiritual life has been attained. »

« This consciousness is not an individual act, not an experiential unit. Nor is the self-conscious ego an object. This means that at this stage there are as yet no opposites of knowledge and an object known, as there are in external and internal apperception.

We mentioned before that the primordial, undivided ego-life already implies a cognitive transcending of the sphere of the pure ego.  I experience my vital impulses and activities as rising from a more or less profound depth. The dark ground from which all human spiritual life arises—the soul-attains in the ego-life to the bright daylight of consciousness (without, however, becoming transparent). »

« And the human ego is so constituted that its life rises out of the dark depth of the soul. The illuminable darkness of the soul makes it understandable why self-knowledge (in the sense of knowing one's own soul) must be regarded as a gradually increasing possession. If such a gradual acquisition is to be a real task, it must be presupposed that the eventual possession is achieved freely. The primordial kind of consciousness, which is integrally associated with all ego-life, is simply given without being initiated by an act of will. But this primordial consciousness may pass over into cognitive activity which as such is free. And because it is free, the passing over into it must also have been freely attainable from the outset.»

« But it is nevertheless true that only those who live collectedly in the depth of their personalities are able to see even the "little things" in their larger context, and—measured by ultimate criteria—these persons are the only ones capable of evaluating these little things correctly and of ordering and regulating their attitudes and actions correspondingly. Their souls are on the way to the ultimate formation and  perfection of their being. On the other hand, in those who only occasionally enter into the depth of the soul and who habitually abide on the surface the depth remains inarticulate and cannot mold the outer layers with its forming power.
Moreover, it is probably that some human beings never attain to this ultimate depth. Not only do they never attain to the perfection of their being and to the thorough formation of their souls in the sense of a determinateness of the essence (Wesensbestimmtheit], but they do not even gain that “initial" or "preliminary" possession of themselves which is a presupposition for any self-possession in the full sense.»

 

«When human beings actually withdraw from all these surface activities into the interiority of their souls, they find most assuredly not nothing, but there is nonetheless an unaccustomed emptiness and quiet. Listening to “one's own heartbeat," i.e., to the inward being of the soul, cannot satisfy the vital actual impulses and urges of the ego.

The ego will therefore not tarry long in this region unless it is held fast by something else, unless the interiority of the soul is filled with and moved by something other than the external world.

And this is precisely what the masters of the inner life of every age: They were drawn into the innermost center of their being by some force stronger than the entire external world, and they thus experienced the breaking through of a new, mighty, superior life-a life supernatural and divine.» 

« Mystical infused graces impart to the soul an experience of what faith teaches on the indwelling of God in the soul. Those who seek God guided by faith are by their own free effort setting out on the same road and are headed for the same goal to which the mystic is drawn by the grace of infused contemplation. They withdraw from the senses, from the "images" of memory, and even from the natural activities of intellect and will, into the empty loneliness of their inner life to abide there in the darkness of faith-in a simple, loving lifting up of the eyes to the hidden God, who is present under a veil. Here they will rest in deep peace because they have reached the place of their tranquility - until it may please the Lord to transform faith into vision. This, in very sketchy outline, is the Ascent of Mount Carmel as taught by our holy father St. John of the Cross.»

  

 Mirek @Słupsk & @Lodz (last update on September, 18th, 2021) 

Modern philosophy and the scholastics

For many years I was intrigued by the thought of Edith Stein. Of course one reason for the curiosity was her conversion from Judaism to Ch...