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.»

Mirek @Słupsk & @Lodz (last update on May, 3rd, 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...