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.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Analytic Cri de Coeur: "Death to All Thomists!"

THE POLISH PHILOSOPHER Józef Maria Bocheński (1902-1995) is selected by Steven A. Long in his book Natura Pura as an example or type of what happens when one joins analytic method, particularly its extreme logicism,* to Thomistic realism. Bocheński's interest in analytical methods began even before the "linguistic turn" which so deeply affected it.** Bocheński's struggle with logicism and his Thomism represents for Long an illustration of "a Catholic mind wrestling with one of the most formidable of the material influences of the analytic movement, namely that of logicism." Long, 122. What ultimately happened is that the logicism sort of overwhelmed his traditional philosophic thought, reducing his philosophy to meta-philosophy, prophesizing in a sort of "emblematic significance" how analytic philosophy negatively affects ontology and metaphysics. What is it that caused this professed Dominican to turn from his philosophical roots in Catholicism and Thomism and to consider Christian philosophy among the superstitions of the world and salute his philosophical confreres with the salutation, "Death to all Thomists!" is something we need to know if for no other reason than to avoid it.***

Józef Maria Bocheński (1902-1995)
"Quomodo cecidisti de caelo lucifer qui mane
oriebaris corruisti in terram qui vulnerabas gentes."

Bocheński tried to link both ontology and logic in his book Logic and Ontology, and offered a formulation of ontology and logic that, "if it had been correct, would certainly have made analytic philosophy the natural heir to scholasticism." Long, 122 (citing to Bocheński's "Logic and Ontology"). There was, however, in Long's view, something deeply flawed in the Bocheńskian effort. It was the reduction of philosophical method to a logical meta-philosophy, which resulted in the negation of philosophical method, thus undermining the entire philosophical enterprise.

Bocheński viewed ontology as a sort of rumen and reticulum, a depository of cud, which is later burped out and chewed again by logic. "Logic is the systematic, formal, axiomatic elaboration of this material predigested by ontology." (quoted in Long, 123). There is here given a preeminence to logic which does not belong to it. Logic, as Long observes, is derived from ontology, and ultimately from reality. Ontology, and working backwards, reality, does not derive from logic. "[I]t is more correct to point out that the logical first principles derive from ontology. In other words, logic receives its first principles metaphysics, and metaphysics and ontology unfold these first principles in relation to being as such in all its causal reticulations, whereas logic unfolds them with respect to rational entailment as such and more generically in abstraction from actual existence." Long, 123. That is to say, logic is derived from reality and then works on the abstraction of reality which give rise to concepts. Logic does not work on the real. Logic is not some sort of "super ontology." As Long explains:

It is not the case that ontology is merely "prolegomenon to logic" with the latter [logic] serving as a "super ontology" of real and ideal entities, and ontology merely a rough initial approach to the real. Sed contra, the very distinction of real and logical is a real, i.e., a metaphysical distinction. It is only secondarily a logical distinction. . . . [B]ecause everything is inetelligible in proportion to its actuality, such that the object of knowledge is either the real, or that which is possibly real, or that which stands in some conceptual or ideal relation to these (e.g., genus, species), logic necessarily receives its first principles from metaphysics. Hence, the principles of metaphysics and ontology are the most formal principles, because act is most formal in being, and it will belong to the metaphysician to judge the logical principles to being.

Long, 123. Logic does not precede reality. Reality precedes logic. And metaphysics or ontology is the mediatrix between reality and concept, and is further the midwife to logic. Logic is thus doubly grounded (or at least should be doubly grounded) in reality: first through its derivation from reality and secondly through the concepts with which it works. To suggest that logic is what allows to determine the real is to get this, as one may colloquially say, bassackwards.
[T]he difficulty is that Bocheński's argument is not true. Logic is not ontology, but rather it receives its first principles from metaphysics, and the whole subordinate realm occupied by logic is only intelligible owing to its ordering and relation toward the real. It is for this reason, as St. Thomas and Aristotle both teach, that it belongs to the metaphysician to judge of the relation of the logical principles and categories to being.
Long, 124.

Logic was given some sort of super-preeminence in Bocheński's thought, a sort of "divine spark" within us that is absolutely unmoored from reality and, indeed, is the butler that ushers us into reality. Bocheński is supposed to have said "Outside logic there is only nonsense." Long, 126. **** This is manifest absurdity. And it is philosophically all wrong. The intellectual grasp of being does not come from logic. The intellectual grasp of logic comes from being. Logic is not "a sort of super-transcendental object indifferent to being and nonbeing." Long, 124. No, rather "nothing is intelligible save owing to its relation to being (including logic)." Long, 124.

The seed of corruption thus sown, Bocheński's development was not an evolution, not progress, but a sort of devolution, a regress. Thus Bocheński reduced philosophy to meta-philosophy and began to visualize "Christian philosophy" as a non-scientific "worldview," and not anything rigorously "scientific." Long, 125. This is what Long calls "the hangover from the revolutionary phase of the analytic movement, and the half-life of its effects."

Bocheński . . . in his development, more and more tended to view anything outside logic as mere ideology, and to fall into a thoroughgoing logicism so extreme as to forget that the prime principles of logic are ontological prior to, and as a condition for, their being logical principles. With this error, it was a short step simply to fall into detailed logical considerations more and more remote from foundational ontological and metaphysical analysis.

Long, 126.

It therefore seems that Bocheński's project was doomed to collapse the Thomist philosophy with which he sought to append the analytic method.***** It was as if he expected the cancer cells of analytic method to make the corpus of Thomistic philosophy whole. And what happened to Bocheński is emblematic of those who followed in his footsteps or sought, in their own manner, reconcile analytic method with traditional philosophy.
Bochenski wished to defend Thomistic philosophic theology and metaphysics, and this indeed did function for him as a sort of background velleity [wish]--but ever more remotely, and as less and less formally dispositive with respect to actual philosophic activity. This is more or less the course that Catholic engagement with analytic thought (with certain exceptions, it is true) followed until comparatively recently: a minor key acknowledgement of metaphysics and natural philosophy that over time is progressively overlain and supplanted by logical analysis operating upon an evidentiary basis drained of its ontological content.
Long, 129.

What happened to Bocheński who at one time was well-grounded in Thomistic philosophy is even more catastrophic to one who is less well-founded on any realistic philosophy. Exposure to analytic thought is mind-numbing, heart-chilling, wonder-killing, and love stifling. While Thomism and analytic thought need to engage, the Thomist that dares to enter where angels fear to tread needs to remember that ontology precedes logic, and that the no man's land between the boundaries of Thomism and analytic thought where the dialogue occurs does not define Thomism.

*Logicism may be defined as the thought that mathematics and, by extension, philosophy is reducible to logic. Thus the treatment of philosophical issues proceeds in a manner that treats it as the subject of formal, logical, and conceptual analysis, one even prescinded from reality. According to Long, logicism "is not philosophy," but rather, a "widespread meta-philosophy sociologically rooted in the residue of the earlier revolutionary analytic movements regard to which it constitutes a sort of post-factual epiphenomenon." It is a ripple of thought after the rock of analytical method has been thrown in the pool of the philosophy of realism.
**The "linguistic turn" is a reference to the development in Western philosophy where philosophy focused primarily on the relationship between philosophy and language. (The reference hales back to the so-called "epistemological turn" which refers to Descartes' revolution in philosophy regarding how humans know things and upon what human thought is ultimately based.) Though not the originator of the term (it may have come from the Austrian philosopher Gustave Bergman), the term itself was popularized by the American philosopher Richard Rorty in his 1967 anthology of essays which he edited and entitled The Linguistic Turn: Essays in Philosophical Method. Very broadly, philosophy affected by the "linguistic turn" focused on language as constitutive of reality, a position which seems to be counterintuitive and certainly contradictory to traditional Western philosophy where words function as labels attached to concepts, concepts where are abstracted from perception of the real world. Traditionally, the word "apple," for example, corresponded to the concept of "apple" in the human mind, which in turn corresponded to "apples" in the real world. Kant's critique placed doubt between the "apple" in the world (the thing in itself) and the conceptual "apple" in the mind, arguing that we did not really know the "apple" out there, we only knew the "apple" in our mind. The "linguistic turn" went further and addressed the link between the concept of "apple" in the mind and the word "apple," argued that the word "apple," which is really a matter of convention, itself affected in some manner the concept of "apple" in the mind, and hence was determinative of, or at least significant factor in, of our perception of reality. If "apple" had been defined more broadly by convention (say to include "pears") our perception of reality would be significantly affected since we would not recognize differences between what we conventionally call "apples" and "pears" without the convention. At the extremes, some take the position that anything not given a name in language is by definition inconceivable (having no name and therefore no meaning to us). Without a name, therefore, we have no concept, and the unnamed cannot be conceptualized in the mind, and therefore cannot be said to be part of human reality. To be part of human reality, the concept has to be articulated by language, and, so ultimately, all is determined by language. This view is obviously opposed by philosophical realism, which is the essential kernel of Thomism and Aristotelianism.
***On the "Death to all Thomists!" matter, the story as recounted by Professor David Solomon, Director of the Notre Dame Center of Ethics and Cutlure, is told in Long, 257, n. 20. The observations of Bocheński on Christian philosophy are from Jan Wolenski as quoted in Long, 128.
****Long quotes from Professor Jan Wolenski's views.
*****The effect on the rich and central concept of analogical thinking in Thomism was particularly harmed by
Bocheńsk's efforts to create a "logical formalization of the doctrine of analogy along the lines of a mathematical isomorphic function." Long, 130. To cram analogical thinking using univocal mathematical concepts is to corrupt analogical thinking. In mathematics, a variable, say A, is always univocally A. In analogical thinking, a variable, say "light," is not univocally "light." The "light" to the eye is different than the "light" of reason in man's mind is different than the lumen propheticum, the "light of the prophets," is different than the lumen gloriae, the light of glory," is different than the "Light from Light," the Lumen de Lumine, we call Christ. The term "light" is used neither univocally or equivocally in all these instances; the term "light" in every case encompasses differences and likeness with the other cases; the term "light" is therefore used analogically. Light is not a univocal concept like saying A=A; rather, it is something like saying a=A or even ا=a=א=α ('alif=a=aleph=alpha); nay, it is actually a kind of thinking which goes beyond even that. The relationship is not one of equality, but one of "analogical likeness or 'fusing together' . . . of essentially differing rationes in a proportional unity." Long, 132. In short, the analogia entis cannot be bottled up in a mathematical jar.

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