On the Heavens (Aristotle)

The primary difficulty with this work is we are so used to a Copernican cosmology that we almost can’t understand what he is saying. His conclusions we can dismiss outright. It might be well, however, to reflect on how he set the stage for cosmology for the next 2,000 years.

His geocentrism appears, and I say it appears because I don’t always understand what he is saying here, to hinge on the argument is that the earth can’t move. We’ll try to unpack that. The heavens cannot move because they are infinite, and an infinite body can’t move in a circle because it would have to move across an infinite range in finite time.

In language anticipating Christian theism, he says heaven is eternal. Well, true. He doesn’t mean by heaven what we mean by heaven, though. What is heaven? Imagine the boundary point between our world and the next (sky, maybe?). Heaven is the substance of the circumference.

Since heaven is eternal, and heaven always has a limit, this means the earth is eternal (283b). This also explains why the earth doesn’t move. If it moves, then it must have begun in time.


He introduces numerous fascinating discussions on the concept of “infinity” that are still in play today (271b). Quite rightly, he notes that an infinite cannot be traversed.

He believes that the earth is a sphere. Sorry, flat-earthers.


He rejects the idea of a plurality of worlds (278a) since only our world contains the entirety of matter.

He says the universe is spherical. I’m not so sure, given big-bang cosmology. It’s more of a funnel-shape.

“We take it for granted that the earth is at rest” (289b).

He says imagine that there are circles within circles. The circles closest within would take longer in the revolution. You don’t need modern science to know this is false. The Greeks ran track. Any runner knows that whoever is on the outer lanes has to run longer.

He rejects the idea of the earth spinning on its axis (296a).

Volume 2 of the Syntopicon (Adler)

Mortimer Adler regularly claimed that it was impossible to be educated before the age of 40.  If true, I would also suggest it is difficult to be educated without working through something like his Syntopicon.  The setup is the same as the earlier volume.    There is a ten page essay, topical indexes, and a recommended reading list.  This review will only outline his key topics, the various positions taken, and how the great thinkers interacted with their predecessors, if time permits.


Man is the only subject where the knower and the object known are the same (Adler 1).  Indeed, “the human intellect is able to examine itself.”

The Western tradition is divided on man’s essence.  The standard (and correct) view is that man differs from animals because he is rational.  His use of speech is a consequence of this rationality.  It is not the main difference.  If this is true, then there must be some distinction between reason and sense (5).


The mind is capable of self-knowledge. This is the difference between sense and intellect.  Senses do not seem to be aware of themselves (172). 

Following Aristotle, we see that if “the soul is the principle of life and all vital activities, so mind is the subordinate principle of knowledge” (173).  And the act of intellect moves as such:

1) conception
2) judgment
3) reasoning.


Adler wisely separates the principle of absolute government from monarchy, since republics and democracies can be as absolutist (205). Monarchy as an idea underwent a transformation in the Middle Ages. It did resemble an absolute system in one sense by giving power to one man, yet it placed supremacy of law in the hands of the people (207).  The only problem with this idea is that given its birth in feudalism, it did not last long in the modern age.

Hegel suggests a robust constitutional monarchy.  In this view the state is more of a corporation. The advantage of this view is that it is quite flexible with modernity and market forces  It doesn’t have any of the disadvantages that plagued medieval models.  On the other hand, it’s not always clear what Hegel is saying.

One and the Many

In line with Aristotle, unity is the first property of being.  All contraries are reducible to things like being/nonbeing, one/many, etc.  Moreover, unity belongs to the individual natural substance.  Man is a substance.  He is not made of other substances.  Machines, though, are.

This is somewhat different from Plato.  Plato’s view had problems.  The idea of the one is also one idea among many.  Plotinus corrected some of these problems.  For him, the one transcends being.  It also transcends intelligence, since knowing requires an object, which would introduce duality into the One.


Opposites do not simply distinguish, they exclude.

Plato: Everything has one opposite.  This was his idea in Gorgias and Protagoras on the unity of virtue.  This also illustrates the numerous subdivisions in Western taxonomies.

Aristotle: made the distinction between correlative opposites (double, one-half) and contrary opposites (odd/even).

Hegel: Unites opposites by reconciling their differences.  Every finite phase of reality has its own contrary.  For example, being and nonbeing imply and exclude one another.  They are united in becoming.


The words “if” and “then” indicate that reason is a motion of the mind from one alternative to another.

Plotinus: any form of thinking signifies a weakness.  It introduces duality.  Higher intelligences, by contrast, know by intuition.  Later Christian thinkers didn’t accept this extreme a view, but they did borrow his idea on intuition and applied it to angelic intelligences.

All the praise I gave of volume one also applies to this volume.

Aristotle for Everybody (Adler)

Adler, Mortimer J.  Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy.

Even with the advances in science, Aristotle’s shadow is unavoidable.  We still operate with concepts like “part,” “whole,” “motion,” “change,” etc.  Despite modern pedagogy in the university, we still use logic and assume it is valid.

“Great Divide”

First problem: What differentiates “all living organisms from inert bodies” (Adler 5)? From this we draw a line between some living organisms and others.  Aristotle keeps drawing these lines and classifying individuals.  In order to do this, he posits that each thing has a nature. He finally arrives at the conclusion that man is a rational animal.

On one side of the line are “bodies.”  On the other side are “attributes.” The key idea is that an attribute exists in a thing but not of itself.  A stone’s weight exists in the stone, but no one thinks that the weight of a stone exists on its own.  Moreover, a body changes; the attributes do not.  The attribute of hardness doesn’t become “smoothness.”  Rather, the stone becomes smooth.

We can best discuss man by seeing him in three different dimensions:

Man is:

Making (Beautiful).  This covers the metaphysical angle.

Doing (Good)

Knowing (True)

Man the Maker

A work of art is man-made. It is more accurate to say that man produces; he does not create.

Change and Permanence

The problem is how can something always be in a state of becoming, always in change, yet remain the same.  One type of change is motion (a change in place), alteration (a change in quality), and a change in quantity.  All of these changes take place in time.

The Four Causes

I can’t do any better than to quote Adler:

1. Material cause: that out of which something is made.
2. Efficient cause: that by which something is made.
3. Formal cause: that into which something is made.
4. Final cause: that for the sake of which something is made 

To Be or Not to Be

To understand Aristotle on being, we need a firm grasp of “matter,” “form,” “potentiality” and “actuality” (50).

Privation is a lack of a certain form. Potentiality is when you predicate the words “can be” of a thing.  A matter can lack a form but nonetheless have the potentiality for it. “Matter always has a limited potentiality for acquiring other forms” (53).

Man the Doer

Man usually acts towards a goal. This is practical thinking, thinking about means and ends. Means are the ways we achieve our goal or other means.  For Aristotle the end to which we aim is “living well.” However, when Aristotle says we are to aim for the right ultimate end, this isn’t relative.  There is an actual objective Good to which all seek to aim. People who do not aim for this objective end have disordered passions.

This is happiness.  It is important to note that ancient man didn’t consider those who were still living to be truly happy.

Man the Knower

“The senses are the doorway to the mind” (130). They are instruments, and in a nice turn of the phrase, the mind, too, is an instrument.  It is the “form of forms” (134). Thinking does more, as it also “relates the ideas it produces.”

The next chapter is on the laws of logic.  In some ways, that chapter alone is worthy of an entire review.  On the other hand, there isn’t much in it that isn’t also found in other logic texts. Some comments are appropriate, though.  For example, the term in both major and minor premises is the middle term. It functions to connect the major premise and the conclusion.

Moreover, if the major premise is negative, the conclusion must be negative.  A positive conclusion cannot follow from negative premises.

I recommend this book to any starter in philosophy.

The New England Mind: The 17th Century (Miller)

Miller, Perry.  The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954.

One reads Perry Miller for the same reasons one reads Edward Gibbon: the delightful prose and the breathtaking scope of his topic. Never go to Miller for accurate doctrine.  He gets much of it wrong.  That might not be accurate, though.  Miller has read the primary sources, and there are many of them.  How well he understood them is another question.

On Predestination

“….penetration of God’s sovereignty into his [the Puritan’s] personality” (Miller 17).


“Virtue is not, as Aristotle and the scholastics said, a mean between two ends, but an extremity itself” (46).

Peter Ramus

Many Puritans considered him as dying “equally for the cause of logic and of Christ” (Miller 117). Missionaries would translate Ramus and condense him down so the Native Americans could read him alongside the Bible.

Aristotelian systems divided the whole of logic into three parts: simple terms, proposition, and discourse (122ff). A simple term contains the predicable.  The key is that its logic didn’t focus on method so much as learning the predicables.

To Ramus most of this was unnecessary memory work and didn’t actually train the student to use systems and methods. By focusing more on method than memorizing predicables, a Ramist was able to show how the terms are interconnected, something Aristotelians could not always do.

Logic is divided into invention and judgment.  “Invention is the part in which are arranged individual terms, the concepts, the arguments or the reasons, with which discourses are constructed; in judgment are contained the methods for putting arguments together”(128).

Arguments can be either artificial or inartificial.  An artificial argument is the facts as they are observable (e.g., fire causes heat).   The argument is embedded in the thing itself. An inartificial argument is one whose cause is not immediately apparent.

The most important point is that the syllogism serves the axiom, not the other way around. This removes the tendency, probably common among scholastics, to reduce everything to syllogisms.  In other words, “judgment is made immediately from axiom, mediately from syllogism” (135).

Ramus went even further.  He simplified the syllogism “into two modes, which he called the simple and composite” (136). A simple syllogism is one of the standard three figures.  A composite is something like a hypothetical or disjunctive syllogism.  Whereas Aristotle emphasized the square of opposition, Ramus introduced the opposition in a catalog of arguments.

Ames: “Contradiction in the composite syllogism always ought to divide the true from the false” (138).

“Method proceeds from universals to singulars.”

Miller suggests that the division between Aristotelians and Ramists is like the one between nominalists and realists, with the former seeing logic as a product of the mind (146).

Invention: an act of faculty intelligence performed according to the law of truth.

Ramism ran headlong into a problem: how can one really assert the identity between arguments and things (155)?  They denied that concepts were merely mental and subjective, which would seem to be nominalism.  Both the medieval nominalists and the Puritans (at least as Miller reads them) believed in an almighty, albeit arbitrary God. By putting rationality in the nature of things, Ramus allowed the Puritans a God without the chaos.

Ames illustrated how art (i.e., the rule of making and governing things to their ends) moves from God to man: the mind of God → enacted by God → clothed with objects and forms → extracted from objects by the human mind.

While he was a Ramist, much of William Ames’ theology is quite Thomist.  He asserted divine ideas or “platformes” in the mind of God.  The idea of a thing preexists in the mind of God. Especially as relates to “art,” these divine ideas are the radii of divine wisdom (167).

“Affections” are “the instruments of the will as it embraces or refuses a thing” (253).

Ramus didn’t so much as attack Aristotle on rhetoric; he simply got rid of the unnecessary parts.  Ramus’s students, especially ministers of the Word, saw that forcing a sermon to fit the grid of “praecisio, significatio, extenuatiom digressio, progressio, regressio, iteratio, dubiatio” was useless, if not actually impossible (315).  Ramus argued that the logical form (which the student would have already covered in the dialectic) could carry the weight of the “rhetorical” aspect.  Ramus said a student was better off imitating Cicero than trying to reproduce an Aristotelian manual.

This view on rhetoric led quite naturally to the “plain style” of Puritan preaching.  By plain style they didn’t mean “ignorant.”  They meant setting forth the “reasons” and “use” of a text.

The Covenant of Grace

Here is where Miller gets in trouble.  He writes, “Accordingly, between 1600 and 1650, English Puritans were compelled, in order to preserve the truths already known, to add to their theology at least one that hitherto had not already been known, or at least not emphasized, the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace” (366). This statement is false on every level.

Maybe he isn’t saying that, though. A few pages later, he mentions that the covenant of grace was in earlier Reformers.  What he suggests, I think, is that the Covenant of Grace took on a new practicality among the New England Puritans who also happened to be Ramist, Federalist, and Congregationalist all at once (374).

The problem is not that Miller hasn’t read the sources.  I dare say few have read New England Puritanism as intensely as he did.  He limits his vision, though.  He is completely aware of any developments/origins of covenant theology outside of North America and some aspects of Perkins and Ames.

Theological Science (Torrance)

The Nature of Knowledge

Knowledge of God is a rational event (Torrance 11). It is knowledge in the proper sense of the word, understanding knowledge to be a “conscious relation to an object which we recognize to be distinct from ourselves but toward which we direct our thought as something intelligible and ascertainable” (13).

Open and closed concepts:

A closed concept is something we “can reduce to clipped propositional ideas.  An open concept is a reality that keeps on disclosing itself to us in such a way that it continually overflows all our statements about it” (15).

Classical mechanics is similar to closed concepts.  Their field is delimited by what is perceptible. Objectivity is thus bound to a certain causal determinism (295).

Theological concepts are open-ended toward God.

We must keep knowing and being together

Three Moments in the nature of knowledge

(1) God reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ in the media of our own creaturely existence and contingency (46).

(2) Christ’s work reconciles man and delivers him from his epistemological self-enclosure and restores him to true objectivity in God.

(3) Jesus provides us full and adequate reception of the truth (50).

The Interaction of Theology with Scientific Development

Theological science has God as its object, but not God in the abstract.  It deals with the heavenly father who enters into loving communion with his children (56).

Change in the doctrine of God

Medieval theology held to Aristotle’s unmoved mover.  This view of impassibility led to creation being seen as only objects of the eternal knowing and willing of God.  This fit in with a hierarchy of being which made it hard to deny the eternality of the world.

Nature, as a result, “was impregnated with ultimate causes” (60). You could read an eternal pattern of it.  That sounds good, but it left little room for the “contingency of nature,” making modern scientific experiments difficult.  As Francis Bacon pointed out, this overemphasis on final causes diminished the importance of physical causes.

Nature and Grace

The medieval world saw the nature sacramentally: we look through it to eternal realities.  This means, sadly, that nature has no scientific value in itself.

Knowing the Phantasms

Medieval Roman theology saw an active and passive intellect.  When I look at an object (species), I form an intelligible impression or phantasm (77). This might be inevitable to an extent, but what happens is that the phantasm forms a wall between my mind and the object.

The nature of scientific activity

Methods of Knowledge

Aristotle: science is characterized by unity and plurality (108). Problem of one and many.

Descartes: scientia universalis.  Apply geometry to all other special sciences. This led to a sharp distinction between observation and thought

Husserl: epoche, disconnecting phenomena from the objet, in order to acquire clear grasp of it.  It is a suspending of judgment.  Does not imply Cartesian doubt.

Dialogical Theology

The object of scientific theology is God in His Revelation (131).  “We know only as we are known….knowledge of God entails an epistemological inversion in the order of our knowing, corresponding to the order of the divine action in revealing Himself to us.”

God as object is still “the indissoluble Subject.”  “He is the Lord of our knowing even when it is we who know, so that our knowing is taken under command of the lordship of the Object, the Creator Himself.  We can only follow through the determination of our knowing by the Object known who yet remains pure Subject” (131-132).

God as Subject does not dissolve into subjectivity (as we understand the term).  Torrance: “The order is in the Object before it is in our minds, and therefore it is as we allow the Object to impose itself upon our minds that our knowledge of it gains coherence” (138).

The Nature of Truth

The Truth of God

Truth: the reality of things as they necessarily are, and as they ought to be known and expressed by us (142).  Yet it is not purely intellectualist.  We must avoid reducing truth to ideas and the reduction of truth to statements (142ff).

Truth as Personal Being.  Jesus as Truth is incarnate. This Truth is in identity with the Being and Act of God (144).

Calvin: Christ is clothed in his gospel (Inst. 2.9.3).  Christ does not come to us apart from his own self-revelation in word and deed (Torrance 146). Since Truth is both Being and Act, he communicates and interprets Himself.

Knowledge of God: it is given to us in this Man, Jesus, but we do not leave this Man behind when we know him in his divine nature (149).

Jesus as concrete universal: he is the eternal Son but in concrete terms (182).  When we know a concrete universal, we are not beginning with abstractions, but rather “with a focal awareness of it in its own power and wholeness, aided by analogical reasoning that directs us away from symbolic formality to what is concretely real and self-evidencing” (243).

Thesis: “theological statements have a reference beyond and above themselves, and are not true in themselves but have their truth beyond them” (183).  This is basically correct.  A true statement about the Trinity is not the Trinity.  To miss this point is to affirm nominalism.  This is like Wittgenstein’s observation that we cannot produce a picture of the relation of a picture to that which is pictured” (Tractatus 4.01ff). 

N.B.: “Knowledge is real only as it is in accordance with the nature of the object, but the nature of the object prescribes the mode of rationality we have to adopt towards it in our knowing” (198).

Problems of Logic

Problem: What is the relation of knowledge or speech to being (204)?

The Logic of God

The Logic of God is the eternal Logos in the flesh.  Torrance: “Knowing the truth involves on our part a corresponding movement in space and time, a dynamic, living, active relationship…with the Truth increasingly, so that there can be no genuine knowing the Truth or speaking the Truth without doing the Truth” (209).

This chapter is probably the most difficult in the book.  Torrance explores numerous themes in philosophy of mind, mathematics, and logic.  Many of these discussions are quite fascinating, and Torrance’s grasp of the literature of mid-20th century philosophy of mind discussions is nigh encyclopedic.  Unfortunately, I think he attempts too much.  One point of interest, however, is his use of Godel’s incompleteness theorem.

Every system is necessarily incomplete since it contains within it propositions or sequences that are not definable from within the system.  This is why mathematics must always resort to another form of rationality:  that of language.  We are always moving between different logical levels.  For example, Aristotelian logic is workable to an extent, but it has to be transcended.  Something similar is at play with the dynamic between Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry.

There is the natural logic of everyday speech.  Then there is the meta-language of symbolic logic, which then gives rise to a meta-meta-language.  This top-tier language is useless for communication, but quite powerful in pursuing deductions (259).

This might be a way to save Kierkegaard’s poorly-phrased “leap of faith.”  In these logical systems one must always take a “trans-logical step” (261).

Bonhoeffer’s Apollinarianism: he desired to maintain the independence of the Lordship of God as subject.  Insists that knowledge of God is possible “only if God is also the subject of the knowing of revelation since, if man knew, then it was not God that he knew” (Act and Being, 92).  This is Apollinarian when applied to the humanity of Christ (Torrance 292 n1).

Subject, Object, and Person

Torrance gives an illuminating account of how the concept of person has shifted over the centuries:

Patristics:  he actually doesn’t define it here, but you can piece it together from his other writings.

Augustine: the person is realized in the interior of the soul.

Boethius: the person is a logically derived concept from a specific philosophy. The idea of substance is now a logical subject.

Descartes: the subject is now split off from the object and person is now self-consciousness.

More Biblical Notions of Person

Richard of St Victor: Person is ontologically derived from the Trinity.  (Ironically, for all of Richard’s rejection of the Greek term hypostasis, he comes to about the same position with person being a unique entity).

Duns Scotus: Active agent, voluntary object of thought.


Review: Aristotle’s Organon

Included within this larger work are several major treatises.  Every critical thinker would do well to study “Categories,” “On Interpretation” and the first and last parts of “Topics.”  Posterior Analytics is interesting while Prior Analytics is highly technical.

Categories is the intro text to Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or so said some essay from Plato.Stanford.Edu said.  Good enough for me.  It is short and clear.  It also gives us the grammar for later Christian theology.

Some things are predicable of a subject but never in a subject.  By “being present in a subject” Aristotle means “incapable of existence apart from a subject” (2, 1a).

Substance is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject.  

  • Primary: The individual man or horse. (this-ness)
  • Secondary: the species man; the genus animal.

Key point: everything except primary substances is either predicable of a primary substance or present in a primary substance.  The proposition “the man is an animal” is necessarily true, but not the reverse.  Further, the species is to the genus as the subject is to predicate.

A primary substance has no contrary, for what can be the contrary to an individual man? Yet, while remaining numerically one it can admit contrary qualities.

Chapter 6: What is Quantity?

It is either discrete or continuous.  Time, for example, is a continuous quantity.

Chapter 10: Opposites

Things are opposed in four ways:

  1. Correlatives
  2. Contraries
  3. Privatives to positives
  4. Affirmatives to negatives

Chapter 12: Being “prior’

There are four senses in which a thing can be “prior:”

  1. Time.
  2. Numerical sequence
  3. Order in a list
  4. Natural priority

On Interpretation

Every proposition must contain a subject and a verb.  

Contradictories: the opposite denial of an affirmation. The affirmation is of a universal character.  The denial is not. One must be true and the other must be false.

Universal: that which is of such a nature that can be predicated of many subjects

Contrary: the positive/negative proposition of a universal character.

Prior Analytics

Goal: state the moods and nature of the syllogism made from possible premises.

A perfect syllogism: when the last term is contained in the middle premise as a whole, and the middle is either contained in, or excluded from, the first as in or from a whole, the extrames must be related (24a 34).

Major term: the term in which the middle is contained.

All premises in the mode of possibility are convertible to each other (32a 24). “It is not possible” = “it is impossible” = “it is necessary not to belong.”

Posterior Analytics

This is a more readable treatise than the previous one.  His thesis is that not all knowledge is demonstrative.  Our knowledge of immediate (i.e., not mediate) premises is independent of demonstration (72b).  Logical demonstration is an inference from necessary premises.

From there Aristotle moves to some comments on essences.

Essential attribute: it belongs to its subject as an essential element (like a line in a triangle).  They “inhere” in the subject.  This gets tricky. When Aristotle says “inherence,” does he mean they exist “within” the subject?  

With this knowledge Aristotle explores how a middle term in a syllogism, one that is necessary, leads to universal knowledge (75b).

Every syllogism is affected by means of three terms.  For example, A inheres in C by means of A’s inhering in B and B’s inhering in C.

More on substance-language.  Predicates which signify substance signify that the subject is identical with the predicate or a species of the predicate.  For example, if A is a quality of B, then B cannot be a quality of A.  You can’t have a quality of a quality.

The Heart of the Matter is the Middle Term

“Quick wit is the faculty of hitting upon the middle term instantaneously” (89b). The middle term in a syllogism can sometimes be seen as the “Cause.”

Sophistical Refutations

This is a guidebook on how to refute Hellenic sophists.  Very technical.

Poetics (Aristotle)

Idea: The unity of a plot does not consist in having one man as its subject.  For example, “an infinity of things can happen” to one man, but that doesn’t mean there is a unity to the action (1451a 16ff).  Since poetry (e.g., literature) is an imitation of action, it must represent one action and the several incidents attendant to it.

The poet must describe what is possible or necessary but not what just happened, otherwise he would be a historian. Poetry must deal with universals.  The story or plot should drive the verses (or style) rather than the other way around. An episodic plot, which is a poor one, lacks any probability of necessity in the sequence of its actions.

Definition of Tragedy: an otherwise just, if average man, has an error of judgment and the world comes crashing down on him.  The hero must go from happiness to misery.

“Poetry demands a man with a special gift for it, or else one with a touch of madness in him.”

“A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility.”

If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Morris, Tom.  If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business. New York: Holt, 1997.

Greatness is rooted in simplicity. Former Notre Dame philosophy professor Thomas Morris takes the insights from philosophy and applies them to the business world.

Goal of the book: catch the wave of wisdom at work and create the right environment “for ultimate motivation in the workplace” (Morris 9).

Aristotle’s insight: everyone in life is chasing after happiness, however it is defined.  Morris lists three basic views:

  1. Pleasure; this is unrealistic, since most people in the workplace don’t experience one long, uninterrupted wave of pleasure.
  2. Happiness as personal peace: this is a better view but it still runs short.  We do not grow in a state of pure equilibrium.
  3. Happiness as participation in something fulfilling. It is a joy of creating and participating.

The Four Dimensions of Human Experience

  1. Intellectual (Truth)
  2. Aesthetic (Beauty)
  3. Moral (Goodness)
  4. Spiritual (Unity)

Key Point: each dimension corresponds to a foundation of human excellence ().


“Truth is that mapping of reality that corresponds to the way things are” (25). Knowledge, obviously, is vital to business.   

Truth implies, pace materialism, that men have minds.  If men have minds, then we can’t organize the workplace in such a way to think they are mindless machines.

Knowledge might be power, but people draw the wrong inference.  It is power, but this power only expands when knowledge is shared (36).  When you benefit others, you benefit the network in which you are already embedded.


Beauty might not seem relevant to the bottom line, but aesthetics is usually tied with job performance and satisfaction. In any case, the reverse is true.  Soul-killing environments usually affect performance.  Think of the Soviet Union.  Or in a slightly more humane way, think of Ron Swanson’s office in Parks and Recreation.  He has visitors sit in a chair in front of a mounted shotgun.

Beauty isn’t something as simplistic as “being pretty.” Rather, beauty provides the structure and soil for growth and flourishing.  This leads to Aristotle’s observation that the polis (or business) is a collaboration or partnership for living well (103).


Goodness and ethics are about creating strength for making proper decisions (120). If ethics were nothing but rules, we’d need infinitely more rules (145).  Therefore, ethics needs virtue, or “that deep wellspring of ethical tendency that joins the wisdom to create in us….moral character” (151).

Morris then provides advice on how to create a social context in which virtue flourishes:

  1. Moral mentors: Network with sages.  You can’t just show a new employee the ropes.  He might just hang himself. A good mentor cultivates good decision-makers.
  2. The importance of small details: Take care in little things. Whenever you make a decision, you are always becoming.
  3. Moral imagination: Cultivate a perceptive imagination.   Great art (usually literature) sparks our “imaginative abilities to perceive the ethical implications of what we are doing” (167).


His final section on unity weaves the three transcendentals together.


This is one of those few books that communicate rare, spiritual power. It is the best book on applied ethics I have ever read.

Muller notes on Divine Will, part 2; Aristotle and Aquinas


Aristotle and Aquinas

Main idea: Aristotle never set aside the principle of bivalence but instead presumed a distinction between “definitely true” and “indefinitely true” propositions (88).  A human being can have opposing potencies, and even when one is actualized, the contrary potency doesn’t disappear but remains as a potency.

The Medieval Reception

It isn’t simply “either we are free or God knows everything.”  Rather, as Augustine pointed out, there is an “order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God” (Civ. Dei 5.9).


Let’s take the statement, what will be tomorrow is necessary.  The medievals understood this statement to be mean: “Whatever is, when it is, cannot be in the same moment other than what it is” (Muller 107). To anticipate later discussions, while the future may not be “up for grabs” from God’s point of view, it is nevertheless contingent.

There is also a distinction between necessity and certainty.  Necessity is lodged in the thing known and certainty in the knower.


Aquinas held that not all effects have necessary causes.  Aquinas maintained free choice by saying rational beings have the potency to more than one effect.  We have a simultaneity of potencies (SCG III.72).

Aquinas and Divine Power.

Muller then discusses the standard distinction of absolute vs. ordained power. This undergirds how God is said to relate to the world, and the world order itself is contingent result of God’s free willing (Muller 121).

Since this created order is contingent, “God has created contingent agents that act or cause effects contingently” (123).  As a result, we have the potency to do otherwise.  We should also point out the language of “determined” in the medievals.  They weren’t thinking about the determinism vs. libertarianism debate.  Determined simply meant the “terminus whether a quo or ad quem of a causal sequence has been identified” (130).

Therefore, per a future contingent, it is “undetermined” not in the sense that God is not aware of it, but that it doesn’t have a determinate cause.  God knows future contingents as “hypothetically necessary, as the effects of contingent causes” (131).

On Beginning to Read Philosophy Sources

This is a fly-over view of approaching philosophy.  It is overly simplistic.  On the other hand, it is a useful handout in seeing different philosophical movements.  The first part are basic texts that every educated Westerner must read.  The second are snapshots from the Russian sociologist Aleksandr Dugin.  I do not endorse Dugin’s larger projects, but he does a good job reading postmodern philosophy.

Key Texts

Plato.  I recommend the Great Dialogues translated by Rouse.  It gives you the Republic plus a few others.  Being is now an Idea. It is that which is placed before man.  Ideas are always across from man.  There is a “gap.” Man is always “before” (across) the ideas.  Thus Heidegger’s conclusion: man (being) is no longer in the world, but across from it.  Man is pre-sented before the world, which means Ideas have to be re-presented to him. Truth is now correspondence between Idea and Object.

Aristotle, Categories/Organon.  It’s a good intro to his metaphysics without getting bogged down.  And I would study Aristotle’s table of being in metaphysics.  It gives you the gist of it.

Augustine, Confessions.  Pay attention to chapters 8, 10-12.

Thomas Aquinas.  I don’t really know where you should start.  It’s too much of a cliche to just begin with the 5 Proofs, but that’s also probably the easiest place to start.

Descartes.  Meditations is a fairly straightforward read. Everything is is re-presented before the Subject.  Descartes calls these beings objects (115). A subject must have an object to stand before it

Locke.  At least read Book IV of his Human Understanding.  It’s actually funny in parts.

Berkeley.  Despite his apparently bizarre philosophy, he is a good writer.

Hume. Dialogues on Natural Religion.

Hegel.  This is a tough one.  I actually don’t think Philosophy of History is all that hard.  Spend some time with a good intro to Hegel and you will be alright.

Marx. Early Philosophical Writings.  Marx stays true to the metaphysical topography. He has a subject (society, class) and an object (matter, product, thing).  Marx correctly noted that Machenschaft created alienation. His solution is to use techne (objects) to overcome the alienation.

Nietzsche.  Most people like Zarathustra.  I was underwhelmed.  I liked Genealogy of Morals, though.

Heidegger.  Probably don’t start with Being and Time.  My personal favorite is the Harper Perennial edition of his Major Works, which gives you snippets from Being and Time, along with his better essays.

Postmodernism and Beyond (From Dugin, see above link)

Starting with Plato’s forms, philosophical man has had a leitmotif, often dual in structure, to explain reality.