Saturday, September 28, 2013

In Defense of Henri de Lubac

Ed Feser's recent post, Natural Law or Supernatural Law, continues his tendency to regard de Lubac as a kind of arch-enemy. The accusation, which he has raised before, is that de Lubac tends to absorb the natural into the supernatural, abolishing the distinctions between the two.

There seems to me little resemblance between the portrait of de Lubac that Feser sketches and de Lubac himself. De Lubac strongly distinguished between the natural and supernatural orders. Take his brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace (Ignatius Press 1984). De Lubac states that the "supernatural remains forever unnaturalizable ...," it is "that divine element which man's effort cannot reach (no self-divinization!) ...." (41). Or again, "between our human nature and our destiny [i.e., the supernatural] there lies an 'infinite disproportion.'" (32) Over and over again, de Lubac emphasized this "infinite disproportion" between the orders of nature and the supernatural. 

The Problematic of Aristotle's Metaphysics

In order to orient the inquiry of the Metaphysics, Aristotle begins with the traditional opinions about the causes of things as a whole, and draws out their inherent difficulties. This, in part, follows from his general dialectical method: he does not begin with first principles and deduce from them a universal philosophy, but begins with the traditional beliefs that he has inherited. In one sense, this method takes into account the "thrownness" of the philosopher; that is, the fact that the philosopher is always historically situated and does not have immediate access to objective truths from which he can begin his philosophy. To start in any other way covertly imports one's inescapable intellectual inheritance into the inquiry, and allows this inheritance to be acknowledged and addressed up front. This gives Aristotle's dialectic an advantage over any deductive metaphysics, in that his starting points need not be incontrovertible.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Metaphor in Practice

"[The Israelites] waged war against a foreign nation. The text calls those combining against them Amalekites. For the first time the Israelites were drawn out fully armed in battle array... Moses, standing on a hilltop far away from the furor of battle, was looking up toward heaven with a friend stationed on either side of him.

"Then we hear from the history the following marvel. When Moses raised his hands to heaven, those under his command prevailed against their enemies, but when he let them down, the army began to give in to the foreigner's assault." St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses (HarperSanFransisco, 2006) 17.

"Moses's holding his hands aloft signifies the contemplation of the Law with lofty insights; his letting them hang to earth signifies the mean and lowly literal exposition and observance of the Law." Id, 75.

St. Gregory's bold assertion of the superiority of the non-literal exposition of the Law of the Old Testament over the "mean and lowly literal exposition and observance of the Law" doubtless runs contrary to the instincts of some of the hermeneutic traditions arising after the Protestant Reformation. The literal exposition tends to lead to a more univocal meaning, regulated by the text itself, giving epistemological certainty as opposed to a method that would lead to a multiplicity of meanings that must be judged on the basis of extra-biblical criteria. If the Bible serves as the epistemological foundation of all things Christian, then the Christian would be desirous of finding a method that grants definite certainty, that can be clear enough to delineate those beliefs and practices which may be permitted, and those that may not be. St. Gregory's hermeneutic undermines this certainty.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Aristotle on Phusis

Aristotle does not limit motion to change of place, to growth and decay, to alteration, or the like; for motion, while it encompasses these things, cannot be thought of as one sort of motion that all other sorts of motion can be reduced to (i.e., motion cannot be alteration, while all other forms of motion can be reduced to alteration). Neither can the sorts of motion, added together, tell us what motion itself itself is -- any more than listing different virtues can answer the question of what virtue itself is -- and so Aristotle must give an account of motion that goes beyond listing different sorts of motion, or collapsing different sorts of motion into a single kind of motion; or to put it another way, Aristotle must explain motion as such.

In III:1 of the Physics, Aristotle defines motion as "the being-at-work-staying-itself of whatever is potentially, just as such" (201a10-20) and again as the "being-at-work-staying-itself of what is potentially, whenever, being fully at work, it is at work not as itself but just as movable" (201a15-30). The definition might be formulated in a more paradoxical (and troubling) way: motion is the activity of potentiality; and thus one might conclude Aristotle's definition directly contradicts itself, for actuality and potentiality ought to be opposed to one another--at least on the superficial reading.