Man lives amidst shadows. He creates opinions about things that he is not even sure if they exist. And even these things are not entirely real. The scientist can transcend the flawed world of the senses — of the things as they appear to us — and elaborate hypotheses about reality. But only the philosopher comes to see the light and, from it, he can see things as they really are. This is the Platonic theory about the world, a fascinating blend of theory of knowledge and metaphysics.
If there is a world full of objects that are independent of my own body or mind, and if I can only know them through the effects they have on my body’s senses, in turn causing mental states of awareness in my brain where these objects are represented, how can I ever know that these representations correspond to the objects or, in other words, that my perceptions correspond to reality?
I have the potency to act. I have the potency to write. Every one has. Only the perfect act has not potency anymore. An act is relative to its proper potency. The perfect act relative to the potency of writing is the Iliad, Moby Dick, Dune. Potency is imperfection. Most acts are also imperfect, only less. The prototypical imperfect act of writing is what I am doing right now.
Historical modernity and modern philosophy are not in sync. The former begins at that great confluence of inventions, conquests, and discoveries that characterize the second half of the 15th century, most importantly, Gutenberg’s press, the fall of Constantinople, and the discovery of America; the latter begins only in the 17th century with Bacon, Hobbes and Descartes. The Renaissance humanism of the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as the Protestant Reformation can be regarded only as a transitional period leading to modern philosophy proper in the 17th and 18th centuries. After Kant dies (1804), we can say that reason has failed, and that the foundations of the irrationality so pervasive today begin. It is that period of growing irrationality from Kant to after the Great Wars that we will call here contemporary philosophy; the period after that, you can give it the name you want.
Maybe it is the terrible mood I am right now, but it was very hard to read Jacques Maritain today. If I want to present a paper in the upcoming conference I need to find something to write about him. But, now that I just finished reading “Christian Humanism”, my impression is that I just listened to Catholic sermon.
As we saw in Porphyry’s quotation in Universalia, he abstained from the fight for the truth about universals. But by referring to the problem only with respect to genera and species, I think that he might have created another problem, a bias in the study of universals that crossed the whole of the Middle Ages and onwards up to our times to befuddle our ignorant minds on the topic — my ignorant mind, at least.
“Honesty” is the refusal to fake reality, that is, to pretend the facts are different from what they really are. If rationality is commitment to reality, honesty is the rejection of unreality. The rational man recognizes that existence exists; the honest man, that only existence exists.
Beginning with Socrates and especially Plato, the “problem of universals” (called universalia by logicians of the Middle Ages) has plagued the history of thought to this day. But what was — or rather, what is — exactly this problem? Is there really a problem? I put this idea in my head that I need to devote myself to this problem, but the truth is that I still do not fully understand its importance. What I would like to be able to do is to convince a complete layman in philosophy that he should be interested in this problem. At the moment, I find that completely impossible. Below, I reproduce some definitions of the problem I found online just to start thinking about it. The road ahead will be arduous, so I’ll start slowly.
Integrity is loyalty in action to one’s convictions and values. As Ayn Rand put it, the man of integrity may “permit no breach between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions….” But to keep all your value-judgments ready at hand amid the turbulence of everyday life is a volitional task. And a hard one. You need to hold the full context of your knowledge in focus while retaining your long-range purposes in front of your eyes all the time. The only way you can do that is if you have integrated your knowledge and purposes into principles.