The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for December, 2007

Happy New Year!

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 31, 2007


We just finished watching a fireworks display put on by our hometown. It was definitely the second best display I’ve ever seen (not that that’s saying much, after all, how many woodchucks from Hicksville have ever seen a really awesome fireworks display)

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Check out my other site

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 30, 2007

On my other site, CATHOLIC BOOKWORM, I have just added five online books by the great 20th century Thomisitic Philosopher, Jacques Maritain.  Click on the PHILOSOPHY PAGE to find them.

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(Part 3) On the Fundamental Difficulty of the Philosophy of John Locke (Article 5)

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 30, 2007

Article 5

The difficulty found in explaining the origin of the idea of substance is the same as that which I have stated in another form.


The impossibility of deriving the idea of substance from the sense arises, as we have seen, from the fact that such derivation is possible only through a judgment, for making which we must necessarily be in possession of a universal, which the senses cannot give: I mean the idea of existence.

Now anyone who reflects on this matter will perceive that this is the same difficulty which I have propounded in connection with the origin of ideas generally; for the whole of that difficulty was reduced by me to this one question, ‘How is our first judgment possible, supposing that we have not the knowledge of some universal, have not some idea, innate in us?’


Indeed, how could that judgment be possible when it is in the very nature of a judgment to make use of a universal, and therefore to presuppose it in our mind?


Antecedently to our knowledge of the universal, therefore, the making of any judgment about our sensations, or the causes which produce them, is utterly out of the question.


But if this is so, our understanding will never be able to advance ever so little beyond the sensations; for to deprive this faculty of the power of making judgments, is to take away from it all its activity, and to doom it to a state of absolute inertness; and therefore to disqualify it entirely from forming to itself any universal, because every such formation is only the effect of a judgment.


To illustrate this by example, we will suppose that m senses are acted upon by some sensible agent-a tree, a stone, and animal, &c.  I shall forthwith  experience the sensations which that agent produces in me- the sensation of color, of size, of form, of motion, &c.  Now, so long as I am only a passive recipient of these sensations, so long as they remain pure modifications of my sensitivity, unaccompanied by any action of my understanding, I have not conceived of any being in an intellectual way.  To conceive it intellectually, I must make a judgment by which I say to myself, ‘Here is something endowed with such and such qualities’ (the qualities perceived by my senses).  Now by pronouncing this judgment I simply attribute existence to a real thing of which my senses have perceived only the being itself.  The universal applied here to the sensations is that of existence; but if I had not the knowledge of the universal previously, I could not apply it, and therefore could not perceive anything intellectually; since to perceive a thing intellectually is nothing but to judge that thing exists.

But this universal idea of existence, or being, cannot be supplied by sensations; and why? because they do not contain it; for the existence of the sensible qualities which produce the sensations is not in them, but in the being (the substance) of which they are accidents, and which is entirely different from them.  Hence they cannot be intellectually perceived by themselves alone, but must be perceived in that being (that substance).  Here is the whole of the difficulty to which Locke himself bore witness by his inability to derive the idea of substance from sensations.


But the difficulty, in the form in which I have proposed it, extends a great deal further than this.


It is a fact, certified by observation, that we have no intellectual perception of any sensible thing except through an interior judgment by which we say to ourselves, ‘This thing exists;’ and it is equally a fact that, in order to pronounce this judgment, we must be possessed of the idea of existence, which we add to the qualities perceived by the senses.


This alone, in the first place, is an insoluble knot for those who imagine that all ideas can be drawn from the senses; and the same knot is found in the formation of every idea-the idea of tree, of stone, of an animal, howsoever determinate it may be,&c.  For in the formation of these ideas, as also of intellectual perceptions, a judgment in which we make use of the universal idea of existence is always necessary, because by them we affirm something as existent.  But, for the reason already given, this idea cannot be had from sensible qualities, and consequently cannot be had through sensation.


Therefore the formation of particular ideas, or, to speak more accurately, of intellectual perceptions, is inexplicable unless on the admission that we have, antecedently to them, the universal idea of existence.


We are therefore well justified in saying that the philosophers of the school of Locke have not carried their analysis of ideas far enough for them to see the truth which I have pointed out-namely, that there is not a single idea, even though relating to a particular, which has not in it a universal, at least the idea of existence.  For to have, say, the idea of tree, referring it to a particular tree; and intellectually to perceive a tree is the same thing as to judge a tree existent; and to judge this is the same thing as to assign the tree to the class of things that have existence.  Wherefore a sense-perception is not an idea until that which the sense perceives is classed, so to speak, among the thing existing, either actually or potentially; which cannot be done without the idea of existence-that is, of the class in which that thing is placed.  But the philosophers of whom I speak were entirely unconscious of this truth.  They supposed that there really were particular ideas without any universal or common element in them.


In arguing, therefore, with these philosophers, I would tell them that, on this their supposition, the forming of universals by means of abstraction is a sheer impossibility.


In fact, how shall I extract universals from particular ideas which, by the hypothesis, do not contain any universal at all?  Is not this a manifest self-contradiction?


However, in the opinion of our philosophers, nothing is easier than the making of this abstraction.  All you have to do (say they) is this: When you have an idea of a tree, of a stone, of an animal, or of any other particular thing, observe what each of these things has in it of ‘common’ and what of ‘proper.’  Fix your attention on the common, totally apart from the proper, and that is the universal you were seeking for,  Do you wish to form the idea of existence?  Forget all the other qualities; think only of that quality which, in the objects known to you, is the most common of all, and the thing is done.


I shall not stop to number the many inaccuracies contained in these sentences, but shall confine myself to what is sufficient for bringing out in full view the difficulty of which we are speaking.


I answer, then: You want me, in reflecting upon the particular ideas which I have of a tree, of a stone, &c., to fix my attention upon such of their qualities as are common, and to separate them from those that are proper.  You assume, then, that each of these ideas is composed of two elements-the ‘common’ and the ‘proper;’ for otherwise you could not expect me to find these elements on them, nor, consequently, to fix my attention on one in preference to the other.  You are, then, in contradiction with yourselves; for your supposition was, that the particular ideas contained nothing universal, and that I, having as yet no universal, could obtain it by means of those ideas.


The truth is, that these philosophers are taking unwarrantable liberties with the rules of logic, now asserting one thing, and the next moment implying the contrary; first by maintaining that we begin with particular ideas received only from the sensations, and then assuring us that we shall find in these ideas the universals which they have just told us are not in them!


And if they had supposed (as they should have done) that in the particular ideas some universal is contained, it would have been their duty to assign to the universal an origin different from the sensations which contain nothing but what is particular.


But what could have been the origin of this illusion of the followers of Locke?  I believe it to have been this, that they never properly realized to themselves this simple truth, that the sensations as well as the ‘sensibles,’ considered by themselves and independently of our understanding, are particular in such a manner that they contained positively nothing but particular qualities; and that a common and universal quality exists in our understanding only.  Of this truth I shall have occasion to say more in the future.  Having failed to notice it, our philosophers fell into the blunder of attributing to the thing perceived that which was only in the understanding; and from this first blunder the others came of themselves, because the error was carried from the beginning of the calculation down to the very end, of it, to the ultimate result.


Let us trace out the way in which the first error, unconsciously admitted, went on communicating itself, as if by a natural reproduction, from one proposition to another down to the last.


First error: ‘The things perceived by the bodily senses have really in them something common independently of the manner in which the are perceived by the understanding.’

Now, if the ‘common’ be really in the things themselves, and not in the understanding, it is clearly superfluous to seek in the understanding for the origin of the ‘common.’


Second error:  ‘The two elements of which the things are composed-i.e. the “common” and the “proper”-pass into the sensations so soon as the things are perceived by the senses.’


This is a necessary sequel of the above.  Assume that the sensible qualities, as perceived by the senses, contain the ‘common’ as well as the ‘proper,’ and you are bound to say that the sensation perceives both of them.


Third error: ‘If the sense receives into itself and perceives that which is “common” in the things, as well as that which is “proper,” the origin of particular ideas is easy to explain.’


Very easy, indeed, when the sense is supposed to supply us with both elements which compose those ideas (see note 1)


Fourth and last error: ‘From the particular ideas on can readily abstract universals.’


Just so.  We only require for that purpose to divide the two elements contained in these ideas, and to bestow our attention on the ‘common,’ exclusively of the ‘proper.’


All these consequences are unimpeachably correct if the first of the above propositions is true-namely, that the ‘common’ and the ‘proper’ really exist in the thing perceived by the bodily senses.  In fact: first, it is indubitable that universals can be drawn by analysis from particular ideas, if it be true that the universals are contained in them.  Second, it is indubitable that the particular ideas, composed of ‘common’ and ‘proper,’ can  be obtained from sensations alone, if it be true that the sensations themselves are the compound result of these two elements.  Third, and lastly, it is indubitable that the sens perceives the ‘common’ as well as the ‘proper,’ if it be true that these are real elements entering into the composition of external things and their sensible qualities.


The capital sin of all this reasoning is in the final proposition.


The common has no existence outside the understanding.  It is an element of our ideas, not a real element of external things.  The existence of things is purely individual and proper, and so are all their other qualities; for the word common implies a relation seen by the understanding between several objects, and a relation is not even a species of quality, so that it may exist in a real thing.  It belongs to the order, not of things, but of thought.


If, then, the universal (the common) is found only in ideas, and if in external things there is an existence purely particular and proper, the question is, ‘Whence do we get our knowledge of universals?’


Not certainly from external things, which have it not to give.  And yet none of us is without the knowledge of universals.  Therefore, the origin of that knowledge must be in the understanding itself independently of sensations.  This argument seems to me unanswerable.


Now, the difficulty proposed by me reduced itself to this very question, ‘How is it possible for the understanding to have the knowledge of universals?’


It is a fact, I said, that a person whose intellectual faculties are at all developed makes judgments.  Therefore, he must at some time or other have begun making them.


There is no middle term here, no gradation; to pretend that there is would be a mere dream of the imagination.  I must either say to myself, ‘This which acts upon my senses exists,’ or not say it.


Let us , then, go back in thought to the very first of our judgments.  For making it we already stood essentially in need of a universal.  But we could have only have drawn the universal through reflection (1) on our sensations, (2) on our particular ideas.  Not, however, on our sensations, because the universal was not in them; therefore on our particular ideas.  It will then have to be supposed that we began to judge after having acquired some particular ideas.  But either these ideas contained the universal, or they did not contain it: if they did, it remains to be explained whence it came into them.  If they did not contain it, the difficulty returns.  Take it, therefore, as you will; this difficulty cannot be got over except on the assumption that the common or universal is supplied by the understanding itself, and that this faculty carries with it something not received from the senses.


Thus would be solved the first part of the question which I have proposed in this work-namely, ‘Whether the human understanding has something innate in it?’  There would remain the second part-i.e.: ‘Assuming that the human mind has in it something innate, in what does that something consist?’


But the answer to this may already be surmised from the things which I have said, and which clearly point to the idea of being as that universal whence all universals originate.  Nevertheless, before treating professedly of this matter, I must fulfill the promise I made, of passing in review the principal philosophical systems concerning the first part of the present inquiries.




1.  The self contradiction with which I have charged the Lockists would always remain, even though all this reasoning which they raise on a shaky basis were strictly accurate.

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(Part 2) On the Fundamental Difficulty of the Philosophy of John Locke Articles 3&4

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 29, 2007

Article 3

Without the idea of substance the development of our intellectual life would be impossible (see note 1).
Now, if Locke, instead of examining whether the idea of substance does exist, had directed his attentnion to the question whether it can exist, he would very soon have become convinced that its necessity is such that it cannot but exist.

Without this idea it is impossible for us to make any reasonings either in though or speech.  Locke himself acknowledges that if forms the general subject of human discourse.  Apart from it we should not be able to conceive the existence of anything, corporeal or spiritual.  But we do conceive it; therefore we possess the idea of substance.

Concerning this, a distinguished Italian philosopher writes as follows:- “The idea of substance must have greatly embarrassed Ideologists had they reflected on it in good faith.  They taught that we perceive nothing but our own modifications.  The consequence of this would be either that we have not any idea of substance, or that this idea must be in us independently of our sensations.  The first of these suppositions is belied by our intimate consciousness, and by the very language of Locke and Condillac.  These philosophers confess that we are obliged to imagine an unknown something as sustaining the sensible qualities, which is the same as to admit that we have, somehow or other, a notion of substance, independently of the sensations.  Say what you will about this being a vague and obscure notion, you must needs allow that it is the center to which all the sensible qualities are referred by us, and that, without it, we could never for the idea of any sensible object.’  (see note 2)

Article 4

Why the idea of substance cannot come from sensation alone.

But whence the  impossibility, acknowledged by Locke himself, of accounting for the idea of substance by means of sensation alone?  I am sorry to be obliged, at so early a stage of these inquiries, to enter upon the difficult task of submitting to analysis the idea of substance; for I would very much rather have reserved it till near the end, when my way would have been considerably smoothed by the previous treatment of easier topics.  But, as I have no alternative, I shall endeavour to do it as clearly as I can.

The difficulty, then, lies in this: every sensation we experience, whether external or internal, is purely an affection of our own-a modification of the feeling or sentiment which we naturally have of ourselves-a passivity; and in the receiving of it our understanding has no part whatever.  A substance, on the contrary, cannot be conceived by us except as a thing which subsists in itself; which is in no way a modification, but is itself a subject of modification; and which therefore cannot fall under the perception of our senses.  Hence the idea of substance is entirely different from the idea of sensation.  The properties of the one have nothing to do with the properties of the other.  Consequently, this idea cannot be contained, nor therefore found, in sensations.  But I will point out more distinctly some essential differences between the idea of sensation and that of substance.

First difference: A sensation is an accident subsisting, not in itself, but in us; a substance subsists in itself.

Second difference: A sensation is a modification of the sentient subject; while a substance my be the sentient subject itself.

Third difference: A sensation is the result produced by that which affects our sensitive organs.  The substance of bodies, on the contrary, remains in our thoughts after being divested of all sensible qualities; which shows that it is something beyond the mere sensible. (see note 3)

In short, the substance (i.e., of bodies) is conceived by us through the following reasoning:- ‘The sensible qualities could not exist without a support.  But the sensible qualities exist; our sensations advertise us of the fact.  Therefore, that which supports them-the subject to which they belong, and which is called substance-exists also.’

The sensations simply advertise us of the presence of the sensible qualities; they do not go any further.

To deduce from these qualities the necessity of substance is the work of the understanding; and this faculty deduces it on the following principle:- ‘The sensible qualities cannot exist without a support.’

But whence does our understanding draw this principle?  Certainly not from the experience of the sensible qualities, since the support of which we speak never falls within that experience.

How come we, then, to affirm with such absolute assurance, not only that the support exists, but also that it must exist?  We could not do so unless (1) we knew what a support (a substance) is, or, which is the same thing, had the idea of it; (2) unless we possessed in us a rule whereby to discriminate between that which cannot exist without a support and that which can; (3) unless we applied this rule to the sensible qualities, and found them to be of that class of things which cannot exist without a support, a subject to which they belong.

Hence the whole difficulty which is met with in explaining the origin of the idea of substance, consists in finding a satisfactory answer (which Locke himself felt unable to give) to the question, How is it possible for us to make the above-mentioned judgment, ‘the sensible qualities cannot exist without a support’?

Now, if we examine the three things which we have said to be necessary for the making of this judgment, we shall find that there is only one of them which is not supplied by the senses.

In fact, the third of those things is the act by which, applying the rule to the sensible qualities, we judge that they necessarily demand a support.  Now, this judgment can be made as soon as our mind is in possession (1) of the said rule, and (2) of the idea of support

But the idea of support is already included in the rule.

To make this plain, let us suppose that our mind is possessed of some principle in virtue of which it understands that the sensible qualities cannot exist by themselves alone.  From this principle it is easy for the mind to draw at once the idea of support-i.e., of something (whatever that may be) which is found united to the sensible qualities and renders it possible for them to subsist.

All that remains to be discovered, therefore, is, ‘How our mind can be possessed of, or form to itself, a rule or principle authorising it to judge that “the sensible qualities cannot exist by themselves alone.”‘

 Now, this rule is of a major syllogism, and might be worded thus: ‘Accidents cannot exist by themselves alone;’ the meaning of which formula is that the mind sees an intrinsic contradiction between the idea of a certain species of things called accidents, considered by themselves alone, and the idea of existence.

The analysis, therefore, of this rule gives us two elements: (1) the accidents, and (2) the idea of existence.

The accidents themselves are furnished to us by the sensations, since they are only the sensible qualities.

What the sensations do not and cannot furnish to us is the universal and pure idea of existence; that idea which mixes itself up with all our reasonings; and this is where the point of the difficulty lies.

To recapitulate:

The idea of the substance of external bodies cannot be formed otherwise than by a judgment.

This judgment is made by means of a rule.

This rule, when analyzed, is found to be the compound result of two elements-that is to say, (1) the accidents, and (2)the idea of existence.

The accidents are supplied to us by the sensations.

The idea of existence, on the contrary, is a universal which cannot possibly come from the sense.  Consequently, on the supposition that all our ideas are derived from sensations alone, the idea of substance remains inexplicable. Excerpted from THE ORIGIN OF IDEAS, Vol 1, by Blessed Antonio Rosmini.  Public domain boo

Text in normal script are the notes which Rosmini himself made.  Text in italics represent my notes.

1. The word ‘substance’ is derived from the Latin ‘sub stans’, which means ‘to stand under.’  Locke basically denied that substance had real existence, rather, it was a product of the mind.  This was disastrous to his philosophyTo get some idea of the importance of substance consider this quote from Maurice de Wulf:

(let us take as a particular example) “a particular oak tree…This particular individual thing possess many characteristics: it has a definite height, a trunk of cylindrical for and of definite diameter, its bark is rugged, or ‘gnarled’ as the poets say, its foliage is of a somber color, it occupies a certain place ion the forest, it leaves exercise a certain action upon the surrounding air, and itself is influenced by things external to itself by means of the sap and the vitalizing elements which it contains.  All these are so many attributes or determinations of being (existence), or, to use the scholastic terminology, so many ‘categories,’-quantity, quality, action, passion, time, space, relation.

“But all of the above categories or classes of reality presuppose a still more fundamental one.  Can anyone conceive of being ‘courageous’ without someone who is courageous?  Can one conceive quantity, thickness, growth, and the rest, without something-our oak tree in the above instance-to which they belong?  Neither the action of growing, nor the extension which comes from quantity, can be conceived as independent of the subject.  This fundamental subject Aristotle and the schoolmen after him call substance.   The substance is reality which is able to exist in and by itself (ens per se stans); it is self-sufficient.  It has no need of any  other subject in which to inhere, but it is also the support of all the rest, which therefore are called accidents,-id quod accidit alicuri rei, that which supervenes on something.” (The philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas)  
2.  Galuppi, Lettere filosofiche, &c., Messina, 1827.

3.  It may also be said that the mere sensible (whatever that may be) is not a substance, because without the addition to it of the perception of the understanding it is not yet a being, as will be said latter: whereas the term substance includes the idea of being.

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(Part 1) On the Fundamental Difficulty of the System of John Locke Articles 1&2

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 29, 2007

Article I

The System of Locke
It must be confessed that the celebrated Locke perceived the difficulty of which we are speaking more imperfectly that any other philosopher, or at all events he did not seriously consider it. We shall nevertheless find that he also fell in with it in the coarse of his investigations. (concerning the difficulty Locke failed to perceive, see the PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT)
This philosopher with the greatest bonhomie imaginable assures you at the outset that all our ideas are derived from sensation and reflection, in the same way, one might think, that the waters of the reservoir are supplied from two large fountains.

Article II

Locke, when coming to account for the origin of the idea of substance, stumbles upon the difficulty, but does not perceive it.

Having thus taken the principle of his system for granted at the very commencement, Locke proceeds to apply it, passing in review the various species of ideas, and showing how their formation can easily be explained by sensation and reflection alone.

To test the principle of a system by its application is, undoubtedly, a thing much to be commended; for it is the only proper way of ascertaining if the principle be sound, or, if not, of discovering where its weak points lie.

In fact, it was during this process of application that Locke stumbled upon the difficulty. Among the various species of ideas which came in his way there was also the idea of substance; and by no amount of ingenuity could he, on the ‘sensation and reflection’ principle alone, account for the production of this idea.

Placed in this dilemma, what did he do? Rather than admit that his fundamental principle was defective, because insufficient to account for the formation of all our ideas, he boldly took it upon himslef to assert that the idea of substance was a mere dream!

‘I confess’, he says, ‘there is another idea which would be of general use for mankind to have, as it is of general talk, as if the had it; and that is the Idea of Substance, which we neither have nor can have by sensation or reflection.’

The reasoning of Locke, put in the form of a dialogue, would come to the following:-

Locke: The origin of ideas, like everything else, must be discussed on the basis of facts.

Opponent: Nothing could be better; but pray what are the facts you would start from?

Locke: Sensation and reflection.

Opponent: Well, but how do you, from these two faculties, derive the idea of substance?

Locke: It cannot be derived from them; therefore it does not exist.

Opponent: Pardon me, but I am unable to see the force of your deduction. Sensation and reflection are certainly two facts; but it is also a fact that we have the idea of substance. Now, by what right do you exclude this third fact, simply because it happens to be out of harmony with the two which you have selected as the basis of your philosophy? Questions of fact are not to be settled by reasoning, but by observation. You, on the contrary, start from reasoning in order to deny fact. You say the idea of substance does not exist because it cannot exist, and it cannot exist because it is not derived from sensation and reflection. Is this not going counter to the method which you have, and very properly, laid down for us all? According to this method, you ought to have examined, first, if the idea of substance exists; and if you found that it does exist, you ought to have said, ‘therefore it can exist.’ Any one fact is as much a fact, and therefore as much entitled to recognition, as any other fact. This rule of justice you have clearly violated. From a desire to hold fast by your favorite theory, you have unduly extolled some facts at the expense of others, and I must therefore, on these grounds, be permitted to call your argument a blunder.

I do not see how this reply could be validly gainsaid by a follower of the school of Locke. (excerpted from THE ORIGIN OF IDEAS, Vol 1, by Blessed Antonio Rosmini. Public domain book)

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Notes on the Moral Philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas part 1

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 28, 2007

#1  Man, as a free and rational agent directs his actions for the attainment of some end (see Summa Theologica Ia-IIae, q 1, art 1)

Those actions are properly human which are characteristic of man as man.  Now he differs from irrational creatures in having lordship of his acts.  Such acts are properly human.  But man is lord of his acts through reason and free will, whereby he chooses to do what he does.  Other actions of his may be called actions of a man, but they are not properly human, since they do not proceed from that deliberate will which is characteristic of man as man.  And since every power is directed to its appropriate object, and the object of the will is some end, some good, it is evident that human acts are for the attainment of some end.  This end may be last in execution, but it is first in the agent’s intention.  It is therefore called the final cause.

The very action itself may be the ultimate end, but still is voluntary.  The human power called the Will may produce something objective to itself, as walking or talking for some remoter end; or it may will the action for its own sake.  Then this action is the end which the will aims at. (Excerpted from ELEMENTS OF MORAL THEOLOGY, by John Jay Elmenderf.  Public domain book)

We mean here by end the purpose for which a thing exists; the end of an act is the purpose for which that act is done.  For instance, some may read a certain book for pleasure; others for instruction, others again to practice obedience: the act is the same, the ends are different.

Every human act is done for an end.  For a human act is an act of the will, and the will cannot act unless the intellect proposes to it something to which it may tend, i.e., some good.  The will is only another name for the rational appetite-that is, the power tending to a good which the intellect proposes to it.  The good intended is the end of the act.  Hence, every act is done for an end.  You may argue that you have no special intention, e.g., in reading; that you read merely to kill time, to be busied with someting, ect.; nevertheless, you act for an end or purpose, the end in this case being to kill time or to find occupation.

We do not say that the end intended is always a true good, but only that it is always good after a manner; that it is at least an apparent good, and aimed at because apprehended as good (See ST Ia-IIae, q8, art. 1).  It may be conceived as good in itself, worth tending to for its own sake, or as a means conducive to some good.  (excerpted from A BRIEF TEXT-BOOK OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY by Charles Coppens.  Public domain book)

Every human act is done for some end or purpose.  The end is always regarded by the agent in the light of something good.  If evil be done, it is done as leading to good, or as bound up with good, or as itself being good for the doer under the circumstances; no man ever does evil for sheer evils sake.  Yet evil may be the object of the will,  not by itself, not primarily, but in a secondary way, as bound up with the good that is willed in the first place. (MORAL PHILOSOPHY, OR ETHICS AND NATURAL LAW by Joseph Rickaby.  Public domain book)

Here we have, as a matter of fact, reason for the same terror that engulfs a man at the beginning of his study of God. The terrific complexity of man’s life and man’s activity might well seem an overpowering assignment for the limits of one volume. The scope of those activities, stretching from ocean to ocean, from pole to pole, from the earliest beginnings to the limitless future, would be far too much to touch upon, let alone plunge into, if man were not man. Because he is man, there is an element of unity that binds together the whole sweep of man’s doings as closely as his nature binds the individual; there is a common harmonious note that reveals the meaning of the whole apparently discordant chorus.

The key to the mystery of human life is happiness

That note of unity and harmony is human desire. The same force that has driven men apart, that has set nations at one another’s throats, that has wiped individuals and races off the face of the earth, is at the same time the one great focal point of human agreement and harmony. All men agree on this — they want what they want. And because of this desire, men act. In the attainment of what they want we have the essential notion of happiness. It is not pleasure, not enjoyment, but the possession of the object of desire which constitutes happiness. And in this sense all men want to be happy. Happiness is the key to the mystery of human life, of human activity.  (A COMPANION TO THE SUMMA Vol 2 by Walter Farrell, O.P.  Public domain)

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On The Nature Of The Difficulty To Be Overcome In Explaining The Origin Of Ideas

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 27, 2007

The fact, then, which I propose to explain is that of the existence in us of ideas or cognitions.

We all know many things, we think of many things: in a word, we have ideas.  I do not now inquire what ideas are, contenting myself with the notion which is commonly attached to this word.  But, whatever these ideas be, I want to know how or whence it is that they are found in our mind.

This is a question which everyone can ask of himself, but to which not all are equally able to reply.  It is the celebrated question of the origin of ideas, whereon the schools and philosophers of all ages have been divided.

To indicate as breifly as possible, where its difficulty lies, I reason as follows:-

In order that we make a judgment, our mind be already in possession of some universal.

For instance, when I say, ‘this sheet of paper is white,’ or, ‘this is a wise man,’ my affirmation supposes in me the knowledge of the universals called whiteness and wisdom; for otherwise I could not attribute the predicates to these particular subjects rather than to others.

It would take a long time to demonstrate by induction that this applies invariably to all judgments; but it could always be done with a strict logical accuracy.  We may therefore lay it down as an incontrovertible truth, that a judgment is nothing but an intellectual operation by which we join a given predicate with a given subject; and hence that in this operation-

(1) We take the subject and the predicate as two things mentally distinct; that is, such that we can fix our attention upon one of them exclusively and thus distinguish it from the other.

(2)  We recognize that these two things are united in fact; that is, we fix our attention upon them, not as separated, but as joined together in the relation of predicate and subject.

Such being the operation called judgment, we can see that it implies, first of all, knowledge of a predicate distinct from the subject, and that without this knowledge the judgment would be impossible.  Now, a predicate distinct from the subject is always a universal; for as long as it is not actually united with this or that particular subject, it is capable of being united with many, indeed with an infinite number of possible subjects; which is precisely what we mean by the term universal as applied to ideas.

But if no judgment can be made without our being already cognisant of some universal, the question arises: How do we come by the knowledge of universals?

A very little reflection will suffice to show that there are only two ways in which this knowledge could be aquired-that is, either through abstraction exercised on a particular idea, or through judgment.

Abstraction may draw the universal from a particular idea by doing three things:

(1) Dividing that idea into the two elements of which it is composed-i.e., (a) the common and (b) the proper;

(2) leaving aside the proper; and

(3) fixing the attention on the common alone, which is precisely the universal about which we are here inquiring.

Now, we must recollect that the particular idea is in us antecedently to these three intellectual operations, else they could not be performed on it, and that their object, therefore, is, not to cause the common to exist in our mind, but simply to observe it in such a manner that it may be seen by its pure self alone.

Therefore abstraction cannot account for the formation of universals, as certain philosophical schools have erroneously supposed.  It can only serve for the purpose of disengaging them from heterogeneous elements, and placing them before our attention in a perfectly isolated state.

It only remains to say, therefore, that universals are formed by means of a judgment.

But we have already seen, that every judgment presupposes in us the knowledge of some universal (42).  In fact, a judgment is nothing but an act by which we apply a universal to a given subject, or, in other words, assign this subject to a class of things determined by that universal.  For example, by judging that a certain individual is virtuous, I place that individual in the class of things known to me under the general name of virtue: and the same must be said of all other judgments.

If, then, we cannot begin to judge except by making use of a universal, it is manifestly impossibel to explain the formation of all universals by means of judgments.  We must needs assume that antecedently to all our judgments we know some universal which renders possible to us the making of judgments, and, through them, the formation of other universals.

Such, in a few words, is the difficulty which presents itself to those who wish to explain the origin of ideas without prejudices of school or without vulgar assumptions.  This difficulty will show itself more and more clearly as we proceed; and those philosophers who think that they can derive from the senses alone all the ideas which observation and consciousness certify that we are possessed of will see what a hard task they have undertaken.  (Excerpted from THE ORIGIN OF IDEAS by Blessed Antonio Rosmini

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Notes on Matthew’s Genealogy 1:1-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 27, 2007

1:1 The book of the begetting of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Latin: Liber generationis Iseu Christi filii David filii Abraham.
Greek: biblos genesis Iesous Christo, huios Dabid, huios Abraam

The opening verse of Matthew’s Gospel is to be understood as a title. Unlike modern authors, who employ the use of a title page, or, at the very least, separate the title of their work from the text by placing it atop the page, ancient authors used other methods. Those who wrote in Greek alerted their readers to the fact that they were employing a title by several literary devices: (1) a title always stood at the head of what was being entitled; (2) a title had no verb, either explicit or implied; (3) a title never began with a definite article. Matthew 1:1, Mark 1:1, and Revelation 1:1-2 are all titles, but, unlike the last two mentioned, Matthew’s title is not given to the whole book, rather, it is used to designate the genealogy and subsequent birth narrative.

To modern man, reading a genealogical list is probably about as exciting as reading the county tax roll; but with many ancient peoples, such was not the case. Among the Jews, a persons family history is, at the same time, ones own history of God’s dealing with you and yours. Further, for certain classes of people, such as priests and royalty, genealogies were important for establishing ones claim to priestly or royal office. I have read somewhere that priests who wished to serve in the temple at Jerusalem were required to prove their heritage all the way back to Aaron; and that their wives had to prove that their Aaronic pedigree was at least five generations long. At the time of Ezra, after the end of the Babylonian exile, when the temple was being rebuilt and the priesthood reorganized, some who could not adequately prove their priestly heritage were “put from the priesthood” (Ezra 2:62).

Son of David. Though the actual genealogy begins with Abraham (vs 2) David is mentioned first in the title. No doubt this was done for added emphasis, in view of the importance of the kingdom and kingship themes in this Gospel. In this Gospel the title is used a total of 9 times in relation to Jesus, and once of St Joseph. Equivalent terms include “Messiah” (Greek, Christos= Anointed One. Used 14 times), “Emmanuel” (meaning “God is with us”. See 1:23; also 28:20), “King” (used several times in direct reference to Christ, and by allusion in some parables), “the one who is to come” (11: 3).

Son of Abraham. Abraham makes his appearance in salvation history immediately after the scattering of people and the confusion of tongues which resulted from the sin of Babel (see Gen 11). The promises to Abraham, therefore, are the beginning of God’s redemption of humanity from that situation. It is through Abraham that all the peoples of the earth will find blessing (Gen 12:3); Kings will stem forth from him (Gen 17:6), a prophecy which begins to find fulfillment in David, and is brought to fruition in our Lord, through whom we reign:

908 By his obedience unto death,444 Christ communicated to his disciples the gift of royal freedom, so that they might “by the self-abnegation of a holy life, overcome the reign of sin in themselves”:445

That man is rightly called a king who makes his own body an obedient subject and, by governing himself with suitable rigor, refuses to let his passions breed rebellion in his soul, for he exercises a kind of royal power over himself. and because he knows how to rule his own person as king, so too does he sit as its judge. He will not let himself be imprisoned by sin, or thrown headlong into wickedness.446 Catechism of the Catholic Church

1:2-16 Abraham bgot Issac; and Issac begot Jacob… After the initial opening, mentioning that Abraham begot Issac, all subsequent births (except that of Jesus!) are introduced with the term “and” (and Issac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot… ect). The Greek is a primary particle (“de”, pronounced “deh”) which can be employed as either an adversative or a continuative; the latter being its usage here. By not employing it in relation to Christ’s ancestry the Evangelist hints at the uniqueness of Christ’s birth. This is further emphasized in 1:18 where the particle is used as an adversative introducing the birth narrative of Jesus. Every relationship in the genealogy is designated by the word “begot” and, after “Abraham begot Issac” with the word “de” as well; except when we come to Jesus, who, in addition to what has been said about “de”, is not said to be begotten of Joseph. This raises the question “how was Jesus born?” and, “how is he son of David?” Complicating this further is how the genealogy ends at 1:16, “And Jacob begot (Greek, egenneseu) Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born (Greek, egennethe).” Throughout the genealogy the accusative case of gennao, which is egenneseu, has been used, but with the birth of Christ the nominative case is used: “Divine intervention supplants the order of nature” (FIRE OF MERCY, Vol. 1, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis). Finally, the “of whom Jesus was born” is feminine, thus relating the birth of Jesus to Our Lady rather than St Joseph. All of this serves to highlight the importance of the word “de” in the adversative in verse 18: ‘Now (“de”) this is how the birth of Christ came about.” It wasn’t like the other births; it was a virgin birth (see 1:16, 23, 25).

In addition to Mary, four other women are mentioned in the list. According to the Old Testament and/or Jewish tradition, the four women were all pagans. Since it was forbidden first by custom, but also by the Mosaic law, that Jewish men marry pagan women, their inclusion is thought to emphasize the theme of sin. In this regard it should also be noted that three of the woman, Rahab, Tamar, and Bathsheba (“the wife of Urriah”) were all involved in some kind of sexual sins. Furthermore, some other real stinkers are mentioned in the list; including the murderous and idolatrous king Manasseh. Perhaps all of this is to be seen as an apologetic or a polemic in support of the virgin birth. If God can maintain his promise in spite of sexual sins and murder, then he can certainly fulfill that promise through a virgin birth.

1:17 Fourteen generations…fourteen generations…fourteen generations… The division of the genealogy into 3 parts consisting of 14 generations each is clearly artificial. A comparison of this genealogy with others of the Abraham/David line shows that Matthew has purposely left out some names to achieve the symmetry. Thus, for example, between the names Jehoram and Uzziah the names of three kings: Ahaziah, Jehoash, and Amaziah, are excluded. Two things should be noted here: (1) the word “begot” can be used of direct ancestors who may not be immediate ancestors; in other words, a grandfather, or a great-grandfather can be said to have begotten a grand/great-grand son; (2) Genealogies often functioned as more that merely historical records; they sometimes had symbolic value often based on numbers and structure (see the introduction to Genesis in the NEW CATHOLIC COMMENTARY ON HOLY SCRIPTURE). Various suggestions have been made as to why St Matthew divides his genealogy into three sets of fourteen. The most commonly accepted explanation is based upon Hebrew gemmetria. As in Latin, letters in the Hebrew alphabet also served as numbers. The numerical value of the consonants of David’s name (Hebrew has no vowels in its alphabet) equals 14: D=6; V=4; D=6. The fact that there are three sets of 14 generations is probably meant to convey the idea of fulness.

If one counts up the generations mentioned in the third section, one finds only thirteen, not fourteen generations; this has led some scholars to conclude that A scribal error took place very early in the copying stage of the Gospel. Others think that we are to understand that Jesus, the thirteenth generation, inaugurates the fourteenth as “the Christ;” in other words, Christians from the time of the resurrection to the second coming make up the fourteenth generation.



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Notes on John 1:2

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 27, 2007

Most of the Biblical notes on this site are my own, however, what follows comes from a public domain work.   To view the previous entry on John 1:1 go hereTo view my personal notes on John 1:19-51 go here, here, and here.


1:2 The same (or that one) was in the beginning with God.

Latin: hoc erat in principio apud Deum.


The emphatic opening of verse 2 (Greek, houtos) reiterates and gives added emphasis to the opening verse with its three great truths; i.e., the Word’s eternity, His distinct personality, and His essential unity with the Father. “Various attempts have been made by the Unitarians to escape the invincible argument for a Second Divine Person which these opening verses of our Gospel contain. Thus, they put a full stop after the the last “erat” of verse 1; and, taking the words in the order in which they occur in the Greek and Latin, make the sense of the third clause: “and God was.” Then they join “verbum,” the last word of verse 1, with verse 2: “This Word was in the beginning with God.” But even if we granted to the Unitarians this punctuation of the verses, the sense of the third clause would still be that the Word was God, and not that God existed. For “Deus” (in Greek, theos without the article), in the beginning of the third clause ought still to be regarded as the predicate, with “verbum” of the preceding clauses as the subject. This follows not merely from the absence of the Greek article already alluded to, but also from the absurdity of the Unitarian view, which supposes that St John thought it necessary, after telling us that the Word was with God, to tell us that God existed!


Others have tried to explain away the text thus: At the beginning of the Christian dispensation the Word existed, and the Word was most intimately united to God by love (but was not God). But, (1), they still have to explain how the word is declared creator in verses 3 and 10; (2), the statement in verse 14: “and the Word was made flesh,” implies transition of the word to a state different from that in which He existed “in the beginning;” but the time of the transition is just the commencement of the Christian dispensation, which cannot, therefore, the time referred to in verse 1 as “the beginning.” (Most of the above has been taken, with some modification by me, from THE HOLY GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN by John McIntyre. The book is in the public domain)

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On the defect of the philosophy of John Locke

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 26, 2007

The revolution of ideas brought about by Locke and his followers does not,  properly speaking, consist in any great restoration of philosophy, but in having drawn forth this science from the secluded enclosure of the schools, and thrown it open to the general public.

In this I recognize, not so much a personal merit of this author, as a need universally felt in the age in which he lived, and which, were it even for this alone, will be forever memorable.

For my own part, nothing could delight me more than the prospect of seeing all men share in the knowledge of the highest truths-a knowledge which is so powerfully calculated to elevate the mind and ennoble the heart.

On the contrary, it fills me with pain and sadness to think that truths so excellent in themselves and so congenial to the human intelligence should be, as it were, monopolised by a small circle of individuals, as though none but themselves had a right to possess them.  Is there not something odious and hurtful to human feelings, in a science which, under the pretence of being scholasitc, envelopes iteslf in mystery; which seems to hate the light of day; which wears all the appearance of a sect, with a language, or rather jargon, of its own, and forbidden to the rest of men, and which assumes an ambitious, or at least a strange and exclusive, tone, as if it had some great secret to conceal, or some dark ends to accomplish?  Why should this science, which boasts of being the mother of all the arts, keep itself allof from, and sullenly refuse to hold friendly intercourse with, the human family?  Has it, then, like some beast of a new species, impenetrable lairs, where to abide in solitude, from fear lest its interests should suffer by being mixed up with those of the world at large?  Or has heaven bestowed the gift of reason on a few individuals only?  And shall, therefore, the great bulk of mankind for ever have to be led, like a flock of sheep, by the command or the rod of those favored ones?  Must men be for everlasing debarred from judging in a body or pronouncing on matters on which their own dignity and happiness depends?

These thoughts, which are so easily awakened in candid minds, makes one feel the liveliest gratitude for those who labor with the intent of placing the very highest truths within reach of the greatest number, and who on this account seek to unfold and present these truths in language best suited to the general comprehension.  For if this were well and successfully done, the masses would be able o enjoy in some way the lovable aspect of those truths, and would rise to that better condition which was heretofore attainable only by the more subtle-minded, more inquisitive, or more fortunate few.  Moreover (and this would be a great blessing), the masses, by bringing their collective judgment to bear on the interminable disputations of the learned, might perhaps speak out with such an overwhelming weight of authority as would effectually recall these disputants to more profitable occupations and sounder ways of thinking; and this especially when they saw them-instead of working for the true benefit of the individual and of society-wasting their time in catching at worthless sort of celebrity which consists merely in vain and momentary triumphs over opinions adverse to their own.

But while a good instinct of our nature irresistibly prompts us to applaud intentions so humane, and to wish them God speed, when we ask oursleves the question whether they will ever be fully realized, can our answer be in the affirmative?  I should be afraid to say so.  But to expect that the generality of men could in a short time be taught to philosophize, and to philosophize on the most arduous subjects, on which the learned themselves-a very limited class comparatively-have never as yet been able to agree, nay, have frequently accused one another of not even understanding the question in debate, seems so great a stretch of philosopical credulity as to make the notion appear almost Utopian.  If it has been found so extremely difficult to generalise eves so modest an institution as that of elementary schools, where little more is imparted than reading, writing, and cyphering (and the institution is not quite general as yet), how can we hope that philosophy can be not only presented to the masses in a language adapted to their capacity, but understood by them, and understood aright?  And, what is very much more, can we believe that the masses will attain to so high a degree of philosophical proficiency as would qualify them to sit as a vast assmebly of judges on the respective merits of divergent philosophical views?  In any case, if so flattering a notion as I am here referring to can be entertained at all, its fulfilment must  certainly be remanded to a future so distant from our time, and so indefinite, that the most sagacious mind would be unable to fix it with anything like approximation.  And even such a future as this- the thought of which will nevertheless be dear to all lovers of the human race-I would hesitate to hint at, were it not from fear lest I might thus be placing arbitrary limits to human perfectibility and to the workings of Divine Providence.

But let us return to Locke and his school.

It was but natural that, in sudenly offering the boon of philosophy to the masses, not yet prepared to receive it, and in presenting it in the vernacular, one should give it a character somewhat in unison with the modes of reasoning proper to the masses themselves.

This is why the philosophy of Locke (1) exhibits everywhere evidences of an incomplete observation, and especially in regard to those fact which require for their detection a most vigilant attention to what passes within us, and sometimes an attention involving several orders of reflection-a task for which the great majority of men are utterly unfit; (2) it exhibits a pitable want of discernment in distinguishing those facts which are characteristic or constitutive of different species, from such as are only accidental varieties within the same species.  As a general rule, the writers of this school are very industrious in collecting together facts similar in kind and in multiplying examples of them, but are extremely negligent in indicating their several species; (3) it hardly ever sees where lies the real knot of the question, and hence is very prone to despise the labors of former philosophers; thus giving up the precious legacy of truths bequeathed to us by past ages.  When speaking of the great thinkers, who did their best to find a proper solution of the most thorny questions, it peremptorily sets them down as dreamers; for it does not understand either the reason of their efforts or the necessity of the expedients to which they had recourse in order to overcome the difficulties seen by them.  Accordingly, it dismisses their theories with a few words uttered with a show of dignity, perhaps even with a smile, congratulating itslef on being exempt from such bad taste in philosophy.

Hence the defect of this school, especially in its earlier stage, consisted in over-confidence, or in pretending to explain the facts of the soul by means of insufficient reasons, much more than in the opposite extreme.  But when, latter on, it adherents were made aware of certain difficulties which had not been seen at the beginning, they put forth all their ingenuity in the attempt to solve them, and then they never seemed to be satisfied with any solution.

In consequence of this defect, the philosophy of Locke was held in low esteem by some great men of his time; but having obtained the popular favor, and the support of a sect which was just then gaining the ascendant by proclaiming itself the friend of the people, it succeeded in effecting a brief but almost universal triumph in public opinion.

At the period in which it appeared there were circumstances most favorable to it.  Scholasticism had become, so to speak, rotten to the core; and Descartes had already given its death-blow by substituting in its stead some profound thoughts, but too few for filling the place of that complete philosophical system of which the world stood in need.  It was natural, therefore, that as the masses were growing more familiar with the cultivation of letters, and rising in social importance, their opinion should come to preponderate, not only in questions touching their material interests, but also in matters relating to philosophy.

Of the defects which I ascribe  to the school of Locke, some little specimen will be seen in the question which I am about to treat.  Fro, having to make good my contention that human reason has only one Form, which I call the Form of Truth, it will be my duty to demonstrate that on this principle alone can we avoid the two great stumbling-blocks which have so far proved fatal to the diverse theories broached in modern times.  And, first of all, I shall have to speak of those systems which do not assume what is necessary for explaining the origin of ideas; then of those which assume a great deal more than is necessary; and, lastly, I shall have to prove that the theory which assigns one only form to human reason, by steering a middle course between those two extremes, keeps equally clear of both, and that of all the complete explanations of the facts of which I speak, it is the simplest, and that which makes the fewest suppositions.

As, however, what I am here pledging myself to do is, not to give a theory on everything which takes place in the human soul, but only to explain the origin of ideas, I must, before proceeding further, describe as concisely and as clearly as I can the intimate nature of this fact, that so the reader may see the true state of the question, as well as the knot which renders its solution a matter of no ordinary difficulty. (Excerpted from Antonio Rosmini’s THE ORIGIN OF IDEAS.  The work is in the public domain)

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