Divided Line

The sensible world: things and their reflections — mere opinions.

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.

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Universalia II

Thank you, Mr. Copleston.
(Frederick Copleston, (1907 – 1994). / CC BY-SA 1.0 / Contrast-enhanced)

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.

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Universalia

Imaginary debate between Averroes and Porphyry.
I could bet the subject would be the problem of universals.

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.

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What Things Themselves?

Please, look at the world instead!
(Gorilla Selfie, by Anthony Poynton)

I will not pretend here that I fully understand Existentialism, Phenomenology or Thomism — I am just a student climbing the first steps of a long, long ladder. But ignorance works well as a first filter. The blunt intellectual knife which is all I have to work with, for the moment, impedes a complex elaboration of thought that might justify all sorts of absurdities. So it is navigating (or drowning) amidst this ignorance that I ask this question: Why do the most subjective philosophies try to disguise themselves as objective? They do not look at the world; they look at themselves.

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The Objectivist Maritain

“I am not a neo-Thomist. All in all, I would rather be a paleo-Thomist than a neo-Thomist.
I am, or at least I hope I am, a Thomist.”

Jacques Maritain, “Existence and the Existent”, Introduction.
(The Temptation of St Thomas Aquinas, by Bernardo Daddi, 1338.)

Of course Jacques Maritain was not an Objectivist; he was a Thomist. But to be a Thomist, I learned, is to partake of at least the first (and, arguably, the most important) axiom of Objectivism: “Existence exists”. This makes my life much easier, now that I decided to present a non-existent paper on him at an upcoming conference.

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Four Categories of Being

I still have no idea what a substance is, and only a rough one of what a universal is.
But, at least, I do know what an accident is.

My last post on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” didn’t amount to much, I know. But now it will get worse. Because I need a long digression in order to prepare the terrain for that elusive thing which is understanding. Aristotle first defines substance in the “Categories“, a work usually considered to be prior in time to the “Metaphysics”, and one which should be read first too. There he explains the foundations of many terms he uses afterwards in all of the corpus. There is also where he introduces his famous ten categories of being. All I want here is to get to the first category, but allow me to walk the whole way there.

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What the Hell is Substance?

Is a horse a substance? Is a man? What about a statue of a horse and a man? Is its underlying matter the substance, or is it its form? Or is it the compound of both matter and form what a substance really is? Maybe there is no substance. Doubts, doubts and more doubts…

For the vast majority of my life, I have favored reading nonfiction over fiction, using the argument that since “truth is stranger than fiction”, why waste my time with “invented truths”? Needless to say that I was profoundly wrong. But I say that now just to explain why, during that same stretch of my life, I have read nonfiction as if it were fiction. I read it page by page, enjoying the mystery of understanding gradually unfold in front of my eyes, yearning to reach the end of the book as if the murderer of an Agatha Christy’s story would be revealed. It was this naive (not to say stupid) that I made a feeble attempt to face Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” three years ago. The trauma was so strong that only now I am recovering. Boy, I wish I believed in God or any lesser superstition! Because now I’ll need all the help I can muster to wrestle with this tome.

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The Forgotten Book of the “Metaphysics”

Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” begins by saying that “All men by nature desire to know.” He, of course, regarded as “men” a select few — the Greek citizens — not the majority of the Greek people made up of slaves — beings who had allowed themselves to be conquered, inferior beings — much less the non-Greek barbarians. Perhaps the problem is precisely this: most of us must be descended from slaves, and as Will Durant put it, it must have been slavery that prepared us for the habit of toil. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t work so hard and think so little. Because when I look around me, I do not see many people interested in knowing. In fact, I see almost no one.

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 4: Parmenides and the Logic of Immobility

“So [according to Parmenides] the world is simply a motionless, changeless, undifferentiated ball of tightly-packed matter. Now, needless to say, this is not the way that it appears to our senses.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 4.
(There is so much movement in the world, that it is hard to understand how Parmenides came to think there isn’t. However, there was logic behind his reasoning, and it posed a serious problem for philosophy. It took around one hundred years and Aristotle for mankind to come up with a solution.)

Heraclitus said “Change is obvious, therefore, to hell with logic.” Parmenides said, “Logic is obvious, therefore, to hell with change.” Still using Peikoff’s own words, Parmenides’ philosophy can be summarized by the principle “What is, is, and what is not, is not, and what is not can neither be, nor be thought about.” Hard to deny that logic.

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