Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Being and Natural Law: Tarantulas and other Nightmares

WE CANNOT POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND THOMISTIC ETHICS without understanding the metaphysical basis for it, in particular, the basis or foundation of human knowledge. According to Dr. Knasas, our sense of moral obligation comes to us because we are "intellectors of being" and "willers of good." But before we can talk about "intellection," we must talk about "sensation." In the Thomistic realist epistemology, "intellection presupposes sensation." All knowledge comes a posteriori, that is, it follows from contact with reality, and the first contact with reality is sensory.

Since at least the Enlightenment, and Descartes' dream, Locke's empiricism, Hume's skepticism, and the Kantian critique, realistic epistemologies such as St. Thomas's have been much deprecated. The Thomistic epistemology remains that of the "man-on-the-street," but in the minds of modern philosophical faculty, it is without question the minority view, perhaps even largely considered in disrepute. But Dr. Knasas is not so quick on dismissing St. Thomas's "immediate, or direct, realism." He tackled the two principle objections to philosophical realism, the Cartesian "hallucinatory" or "dream" objection and the objections of the Empiricists which are based upon the lack of reliability of the senses, especially the "relativity of perception."

Is what is in my mind reality, or a dream or hallucination? How am I to know? Perhaps we are dreaming of being before Dr. Knasas, a figment or phantasm produced entirely within the confines of the mind, and bearing no relationship, no link with anything real.

Real Tarantulas and Imaginary Tarantulas

Knasas's response to the Cartesian suggestion that we cannot affirmatively establish that we are not in a dream-like state begins with the notion of "image," for it is through the cognitional device of "images" that we "imagine" hallucinations, dreams or conscious imaginings. Cognitional devices such as "images," Dr. Knasas suggests, have within them an "'intentional' charge," which is a sort of built-in capacity that allows us to step back or "reflect" on these images or ideas and "uncover" or discern them as images. We see them as being a step away from reality, at least when we compare them with reality. Ideas do not have the immediacy of immediate perception, of immediate contact with the real world. Thus, we can "imagine" tarantulas crawling on our back and we shudder in fright, but at the same time this "image" of tarantulas crawling on our back has within it this "'intentional' charge" that allows us to reflect and uncover the image of tarantulas on our back as an image, and not as something immediately tied to the real. In a similar way, an act of remembering, which elicits a "memory," brings forth a similar cognitional device to an image, and this "memory" also has this "'intentional' charge." We are able to distinguish memories from reality. Those cognitional devices, such as memory and images, that come packed with this "'intentional' charge," this ability to "reflect and uncover" them as being something other than an immediate contact with the real, are called by Dr. Knasas (who follows Yves Simon in this regard) "ideas."

We dream, hallucinate, and imagine through these ideas, and the "'intentional' charge" that is part and parcel of them allows us, at least if we are not mentally ill, to reflect and uncover the fact that they are ideas, and not real. More importantly, we can also be aware that we are not having such ideas. We can reflect and uncover the fact that, in experiencing the real, there are no such ideas--such as images of dreams or memories in acts of remembering--going on. We can therefore distinguish between awareness of real things directly and immediately, and an awareness of things that come to us through ideas such as memory and images.

Dr. Knasas believes that an error indulged in by many neo-Thomists is their insistence that sensation also works through "ideas," that reality is mediated to the mind through "ideas," just like imagining, dreams, hallucinations, and acts of memory. "Fortunately," Dr. Knasas notes, "the reflexively ascertainable truth is that sensation does not include ideas," at least not as defined by Dr. Knasas as those cognitive devices that have this "'intentional' charge." Though there may be a superficial similarity, there is in fact a huge difference between "ideas," and the Thomistic doctrine of sensory cognitional liknesses, "the 'sensible impressed species," the species impressa, which is man's sensory and cognitive contact with reality. "The sensible impressed species is the very form of the real thing as it is in the knower." Unlike ideas, the species impressa requires the presence of the object before the knower. We are able to distinguish between the species impressa and the idea, whether the idea be the result of the images of dreams, hallucinations, or imagination, or the result of memory elicited by an act of remembering.

It is in a manner such as this that a Thomist can respond to the Cartesian suggestion that we cannot distinguish between reality and a dream.

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