Friday, September 16, 2022

The Surprise of Human Adulthood

In recent years I've from time to time heard the lament that the adults aren't in charge anymore, as they were for example in the middle of last century. Along the same lines it's been said of a good person in an otherwise irresponsible organization that he or she is "the adult in the room." Certainly there does seem to be of late a dearth of people willing to put aside their own peculiar interests for the greater good.1

This conception of adulthood stands opposed to adulthood in the broader animal kingdom. Adulthood for most animals is primarily about sexual maturity. Indeed being ready for sexual reproduction is so essential to adulthood that the adult form of some insects cannot even consume food, but can only really move about and mate.

The irony is that the monomaniacal obsession with mating is precisely what keeps many humans from behaving like "an adult", in the human social sense of being responsible.

Humans are unusual that way. Reaching adulthood means the ability to set aside the activity that our bodies have sexual matured to engage in. There's a sense in which being an adult requires being able to reach back to that freedom from concern with mating that is characteristic of the juvenile stage of life.2 I think that's why preserving the sexual innocence of children is important: it gives freedom to the subsequent adult.

An additional point to be made concerns the irony of celebate Christian priests being called "father", when their celebacy is precisely what prevents them from being fathers in the primary sense. Such men are fathers because their celebacy frees them (or should) from the constraints of physiological parenthood, and allows them to act in a detached way for the greater community. They are fathers because fatherhood itself is not about mating (despite in its primary sense usually being a consequence of mating), but is most essentially a posture of care over others from a position of emotional detachment.3


1. Critical theories are no help in this regard, because they claim (self-contradictorily) that it's impossible for anyone to rise above their peculiar interests.

2. This is also true just in physiological terms. Human form is relatively unspecialized and undifferentiated compared to other animals (we don't have fur, claws, fangs, etc). So human bodies retain characteristics of earlier, undifferentiated stages of morphogenesis.

3. Spiritual motherhood is similar, but detachment is more characteristic of fatherhood in its various senses.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Cartesian-Baconian Influence on Liturgy

A friend highlighted this Evening Prayer intercession for the Liturgy of the Hours (Thursday of Week IV):

Lord, it is your will that men use their minds to unlock nature’s secrets and master the world, – may the arts and sciences advance your glory and the happiness of all peoples.
Give us light, peace and security, Lord.1, 2

"That men use their minds to unlock nature’s secrets and master the world": For me, this phrase has too many overtones of Decartes and Bacon.

Descartes says his purpose is

[...] to discover a Practical, by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us, as distinctly as we know the various crafts of our artizans, we might also apply them in the same way to all the uses to which they are adapted, and thus render ourselves the lords [or masters] and possessors of nature. And this is a result to be desired, not only in order to the invention of an infinity of arts, by which we might be enabled to enjoy without any trouble the fruits of the earth, and all its comforts, but also and especially for the preservation of health [...] 3

Francis Bacon reveals his purpose by describing himself as

come in very truth leading you to Nature with all her children to bind her to you service and make her your slave.4

"Master" the world, indeed. Bacon elsewhere advocates vexing nature to reveal her secrets.5

Both Descartes and Bacon justify mastering nature in order to (in Bacon's phrase) "relieve man's estate", which is fine. But as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, “What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.”

The Latin original of the prayer is revealing:

Qui voluísti ut hómines ingénio suo secréta naturália investigárent ad mundum regéndum, — da ut sciéntia et artes ad glóriam tuam et ómnium felicitátem dirigántur.
Da lucem, pacem et salútem, Dómine.

The phrase of concern "ut hómines ingénio suo secréta naturália investigárent ad mundum regéndum" translates something like "that men should investigate natural secrets with their ingenuity in order to rule the world". As the song says, Everybody wants to rule the world.


1. English and Latin text from iBreviary.

2. It would be interesting to know the origin of this line from the Liturgy. Just from the face of it, I'm doubting it's an inheritance from the preconciliar Liturgy and suspecting it's a Bugnini device. I could be wrong, but from my brief investigations, it appears the intercessions didn't exist before the Council.

3. René Descartes (1596–1650). Discourse on Method. Part VI. (emphasis added)

4. Francis Bacon. "The Masculine Birth of Time" in Benjamin Farrington, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 62.

5. Bacon, Novum Organum, Bk. 1, Aphorism 98.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Strawberry world

Spring has sprung and strawberries are everywhere. Real strawberries are sometimes sweet, but usually mostly sour. It's strange the way the flavor I tend to associate with "strawberries" is more characteristic of confections like candy or ice cream. It's a bit like life and love.

So strawberries don't become "strawberries" except by adding loads of sugar. Many indications these days say that all the added sugar in our diets is unhealtful and killing us. So we make strawberries the perfect creatures of our imagination at our peril. That too is like life and love.

Friday, April 15, 2022

What Price

If you could experience a period of elevated creativity and fruitfulness along with unparalleled emptiness and suffering, would you do it? What if both aspects of that period were necessary for the continuation of the world, or its redemption from descent into chaos?

There's a saying that's been going around in a meme:

Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, weak men create hard times.1

The Hollywood heresy (its principal heresy anyway) is that any effort that is momentous or significant is readily appreciated as such by the public at large and probably also emotionally invigorating to those engaged in it.2 The reason for the current cultural corruption is that too many people believe that heresy. But any worthwhile effort has a price to pay.

It's been said before. The problem with the present age is that the people in charge are not adults. Adults put aside their own wants and desires for the good of others, even the common good. They pay the price.

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)


1. Attributed to G. Michael Hopf, in his 2016 novel Those Who Remain. But decades ago, Professor Kreeft said something similar in a talk. To my inquiry he noted that the similar phrase he likely used ("Hard times produce saints, and saints are for hard times") is a common sentiment.

2. This principle is another example of the principle that the medium is the message, or at least a close neighbor. The entertainment industry's view of the world is basically its business model. My recent viewing of Free Guy brought this to mind, but it's a common enough trope on screen for the hero to save the world to instantaneous and unanimous applause of the masses.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Abraham and Aristotle

I've been listening to the History of Philosophy podcast. One thing that has struck me with some force is the great similarity of the three Abramhamic religions in taking up Plato and Aristotle, especially Aristotle. The Jews have Maimonides, the Muslims Avicenna, and the Christians Aquinas as the most prominent philosophers of their respective faiths, and these men might fairly be called followers of Aristotle.

And each of these faiths has contributed something unique and valuable to Aristotelian thought. I think of Avicenna in particular, since he was the first to apply Aristotle's distinction between essence and existence to metaphysics, and in particular to the unique Existent that is the transcendant God of Abraham. I hadn't know that fact before; he is not popularly credited for this advance among Christians who, say, study Aquinas.

As has become more and more apparent over the years with the secular world in ascendancy, these three faiths already share so much in common, most prominently belief in the an omnipotent, all-wise Creator. Yes, there are deep differences and these are not to be glossed over. But it would be of mutual advantage—and advantage to the health of the broader world—if they would cooperate more. Aristotle, it seems to me, would be a sound reason for gathering for cooperation people who don't normally mix. If we are going to build peace in this world, it ultimately has to be based in reason, not force, since reason is how we build agreement that is co-natural to everyone involved, that is, rooted in our nature as rational animals.