Conservationists vs. Animal Rights Activists

The Guardian notes an important difference between conservationists, willing to cull invasive species to preserve biodiversity, and animal rights activists:

Ultimately, however, despite sharing a passionate concern for other organisms, conservation and animal rights groups base their actions on a profoundly different philosophy. Conservationists value species; animal rights campaigners cherish the life of each individual animal.

From a Thomist perspective it is clear that the conservationists are correct. Man is the only animal who is “for his own sake,” since man alone has reason and will, and can therefore understand the good to which he is ordered. Irrational animals exist primarily for the sake of their species, through which the wisdom of the Creator is manifested. As Pope Francis put it:

Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.

Terrestrial and Celestial Motion

Copernicus and Newton both deny the Aristotelian theory of two kinds of natural motion, but they do so in opposite ways. Aristotle had argued that there are two kinds of natural motion. There is one kind for the corruptible things below the sphere of the moon namely in a straight line (up or down), and another for the supposedly incorruptible bodies above the moon (in a circle). The difference makes some sense because corruptible things have a beginning and an end (like a straight line), and incorruptible things don’t (like a circle).

Copernicus denies the distinction, and claims that there is only one kind of natural motion: circular motion. Straight line motion is only a corrective that happens when something has been removed from its proper place. Thus Revolutions, I,8:

A simple body possesses a simple movement—this is first verified in the case of circular movement—as long as the simple body remain in its unity in its natural place. In this place, in fact, its movement is none other than the circular, which remains entirely in itself, as though at rest. Rectilinear movement, however, is added to those bodies which journey away from their natural place or are shoved out of it or are outside it somehow… Therefore rectilinear movement belongs only to bodies which are not in the right condition and are not perfectly conformed to their nature when they are separated from their whole and abandon its unity. Furthermore, bodies which are moved upward or downward do not possess a simple, uniform, and regular movement—even without taking into account circular movement… Therefore, since circular movement belongs to wholes and rectilinear to parts, we can say that the circular movement stands with the rectilinear, as does animal with sick.

He thus elevates the earth, as it were, to the status of a heavenly body.

Newton thinks the symmetrical opposite: motion is as it were “natural” when it is in a straight line. Curved motion comes about by the composition of straight motions. He thus brings the heavenly bodies down to the level of terrestrial things. Thus Principia III,4: the moon is a thrown rock.

Modern astronomy thus begins by elevating the terrestrial (Copernicus), but reaches its classical form by degrading the celestial (Newton).

Hegel’s Platonism

Hegel’s admiration for Aristotle is well known, and he is often (though rather misleadingly) said to have revived serious philosophical consideration of potency and act. But there is at least one important matter on which Hegel sides with Plato against Aristotle.

In his Lectures on Natural Philosophy, Duane Berquist points out that Plato and Aristotle disagree on their answer to the following: ‘Does truth require that the way we know be the way things are?’ Plato answers ‘yes’ to this question. And therefore, since he notices that our knowledge of mathematicals (for example) is unchanging and separate from matter, he concludes that there are subsisting forms in reality, unchanging and separate from matter. Aristotle, on the other hand, answers ‘no’ to the question: he argues that the mind knows things in abstraction from matter, so that we can have unchangeable and universal knowledge of things that are in reality changeable and particular.

Hegel, like Plato, implicitly answers ‘yes’ to the question; he things that truth requires that the way we know be the same as the way things are. And since he notices that our knowledge begins with a vague and confused notion of being, and that it becomes more definite and distinct through a dialectical process of negation and negation-of-negation, he comes to the absurd view that reality itself begins with vague, potential, and unconscious being (rather than with God as pure act and perfect thought), and that being comes to itself through a dialectical history. As I have noted before, this leads Hegel into an error equivalent to that of David of Dinant.

The Benevolence of Friends

But when two men discover that they share the same vision; the same deepest insights and loves… [t]hey begin to spend more and more time together and to love each other more and more. When their love has ripened so that they always delight in each other’s company, and desire and do the best things for each other, and rejoice and sorrow with each other, and think about and love and do the same things together— then they are called friends. Such time friends are so closely united that they almost have only one life between them. For they are of one mind and one heart since they always think about and love and do the same things together whenever possible. Hence they identify each other’s happiness with their own, since happiness for each of them consists in their shared life together. This is as far as possible from ordering the other’s happiness to their own, for this would mean distinguishing it from theirs as a part or means to it. But on the contrary they identify each other’s happiness with their own as a common good to strive for together. So, for example, when someone wishes to drink tea and listen to music with his friend he does not wish his company for himself as a private good, but rather wishes their being together and enjoying the tea and music together as a common good for both of them together. [Susan Burnham [Waldstein], “Whether Happiness is the Ultimate End of Every Human Action” (BA Thesis, Thomas Aquinas College, 1978), pp. 34-35].

Finis cuius and finis quo

St. Thomas distinguishes between two senses of the end: finis cuius (the end of which or for which), and finis quo (the end by which). The finis quo is the activity by which I attain to an end. For example, eating by which I attain to the end of ice-cream, or knowing by which I attain to the end of knowledge. The finis cuius usually means the end itself that I attain by my activity, for example ice cream, or knowledge. Thus St. Thomas writes:

As the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 2), the end is twofold—the end for which (cuius) and the end by which (quo); viz., the thing itself in which is found the aspect (ratio) of good, and the use or acquisition of that thing. Thus we say that the end of the movement of a weighty body is either a lower place as thing, or to be in a lower place, as use; and the end of the miser is money as thing, or possession of money as use.

The grammar here might seem a little puzzling. Why is ‘the thing itself’ in which the ratio of good is found indicated by the genitive pronoun, cuius? Why is it not indicated by the accusative, as being the direct object of the activity that attains to it? Why do we not say finis quem, the end which, rather than the end of which? Wouldn’t the finis cuius be more appropriately applied to the one for whom the end is a good? Say I have a person who wants ice-cream. Wouldn’t the most logical way of dividing the end be to say that we have an end by which (eating), an end which (ice-cream), and an end for which (the person)?

In fact, if we look at St. Thomas’s commentary on the passage of Aristotle’s Physics referred to in the quote above we see that there he does use finis cuius to mean the beneficiary of the good:

It must further be noted that we use all things which are made by art as though they exist for us. For we are in a sense the end of all artificial things. And he says ‘in a sense’ because, as is said in first philosophy [Metaph. XII:7], that for the sake of which something comes to be is used in two ways, i.e., ‘of which’ (cuius) and ‘by which’ (quo). Thus the end of a house as ‘of which’ (cuius) is the dweller, as ‘by which’ (quo) it is a dwelling.

What is going on here? I think the key is the remark that he makes at the beginning about art. ‘For we are in a sense the end of all artificial things.’ Here he is considering the products of art as useful or pleasant goods. And useful and pleasant goods are ordered to those who use or enjoy them. That is, the one using or enjoying such a good is really better than the good attained. But when we are talking about the primary case of the good: the honorable good (bonum honestum) we are talking about something that is really loved for its own sake. In loving an honorable good we are not directing it to ourselves—even though we are certainly the beneficiary of it, and we delight in it—but rather we are directing ourselves to it. Thus, a person loves the honorable good of truth not only more than his own knowledge of the truth, but in a sense, more than his very self. He is willing to give his life for the truth. Hence it is fitting to use the genitive finis cuius primarily to refer to the the thing pursued as an end itself. Because it is that which is primarily for the sake of which (cuius causa, or cuius gratia) an action is done. In the case of useful or pleasant goods, the person is himself the primary end, and can be called finis cuius, but in the primary instance of good, it is the good thing pursued that is the true finis cuius for the sake of which all is done.

Orientation and the Vertical

In practical sense experience, the vertical field appears to be the field of the common world in which we find ourselves thrown together with objects. And the horizontal field, by way of contrast, appears to be the field of our experience in this world. We orient ourselves in our horizontal field by orienting ourselves in respect to objects we find in this field, which is itself centered in us. But we orient ourselves in our vertical field by orienting ourselves in respect to the field itself, which is not centered in us; we find ourselves near the ground, near the bottom of the vertical field, in like manner with the objects around us. As active percipients we are, to be sure, at the center of a low-ceilinged practical field of vertical movement. What we must stoop to reach, appears “down;” and what we must stretch or leap to reach, appears “up.” But the point is that this entire practical field of vertical movement is itself perceived to be at the lower end of a downgraded vertical field directed from the heavens to the earth.

Being oriented in respect to the vertical field itself, we can be properly or improperly so oriented. That is, we can be right-side-up or up-side-down in it. The vertical field is the field in which our body direction is oriented. On the other hand, being oriented in respect to objects in our horizontal field but not to the horizontal field itself, it makes no sense to speak of a generally proper or improper horizontal orientation. That is, it makes no sense to speak of our being left-side right or front-side-back. For our orientation in our horizontal field, whatever it may be, is what first gives this field its order; its order must be consonant with our orientation in it. What is to our left is eo ipso the left-hand region of our horizontal field, and so for the other quadrants. The horizontal field of objects is the field of our body direction.

We may be improperly oriented in respect to objects in our horizontal field, not facing them when we should; but we cannot be improperly oriented in respect to our field itself. We may, more- over, be disoriented in respect to some objects in our horizontal field, lacking all sense where they are while still retaining a sense of an ordered horizontal field about us. A disorientation of this sort is the only failure of orientation possible in respect to our horizon- tal field. Any further disorientation involves a disappearance of the field itself; a loss of the sense of its order, not merely a sense of the loss of our right order in respect to it. I may sense that I am upside- down in the vertically ordered field; and I may try to “right” myself, bring myself into an upright, proper and effective orientation in this field. But I can have no corresponding sense of an ordered horizontal field in respect to which my body direction is out of order.

Objects thus appear to be encounterable and determinable only in virtue of our appearing to be thrown together with them, stuck with them for better or worse, in the vertical field of a common world. Active determination of an object in the horizontal field of our experience is our way of accommodating ourselves to it as in the same vertical world-field with it. The particular determination or significance that is effective is the one that meets the requirements of our living with the object in a common vertically ordered world. It is our contribution to actually bestow this significance on the object. But it is the world’s contribution to set the heaven-earth ordered stage on which, and conformably to which, this bestowal is possible.

There is then a phenomenological priority of the world-field—in which we must orient our off-centered selves—over the horizontal field of our self-centered experience in the world. This priority is reflected by the phenomenological priority of balance over poise; that is, the priority of our capacity for proper vertical orientation, in the world, over our capacity for effective orientation toward objects in our horizontal field of experience in the world. Balance in the vertical dimension may exist without poise in respect to circumstantial objects; but poise in respect to circumstantial ob- jects is impossible without balance. Poise is our capacity to cope effectively with circumstantial objects. We first have this capacity in virtue of our ability to stand erect, to balance ourselves in the vertical world-field. The equi-poise of balancing ourselves makes us capable of the directed-poise for responding effectively to our circumstances. Directed poise flows from equi-poise as from a gyroscopic center of our activity. As soon as we lose the central equi- poise of balance, our directed poise issuing from it flies off into an uncontrollable clumsiness. But our central equi-poise need not be lost by withdrawal back into it of all circumstantially directed poise. Our capacity to stand up21 normally gives us the capacity to act; but not vice versa. An effective poise or stance is an effective balanced poise. But good balance is not a well-balanced poise (in respect to something in our circumstances). (Samuel Todes)

Why do apples fall?

All of us have had the experience of falling, and we fall just like apples.  We don’t have to speculate about how apples fall as though examining a specimen under a microscope, because we can see the event “falling” from the inside.  Before we study science or philosophize about nature, even as children we grasp the falling of other bodies by sympathy, by identifying imaginatively with the falling object sometimes even to the point of feeling vertigo when we see an object fall from a great height or flinching when we see bodies about to collide.

From this insider’s perspective, we know that there is a big difference between falling and being pushed. When I am pushed, pulled, or thrown, the experience is of having something done to me. But when I roll off a ledge and fall, the sensation is of my own body falling. The falling comes somehow from within; it is my body’s own thing.

But we must attend carefully here: each of us is a house divided.  While the body rushes downward, some inner animal claws and scratches to prevent the fall.  Think of the high dive:  I walk to the edge, look down, and my reason issues an order to my limbs:  “Jump!”  And yet I do not jump, because animal-me cringes away from the dizzying height to cling to the diving board.  This same animal-me resists mightily when I roll off a ledge:  rational-me may judge that everything will be fine; mineral-me falls from within; but animal-me cries out in betrayal.  The desires of the mineral are against the animal, and the desires of the animal are against the mineral.

So when I say that the body falls of itself, this is not to say that everything within me owns the fall.  But beneath my animal outrage at the victory of my lowest nature, I can still see that there is a vital difference between falling and being pushed or pulled.  It’s all the same to animal-me:  push, pull, or fall, animal-me resists with tooth and claw.  But the experience is entirely different for that side of me that I share with the rocks.  At that level, the falling is mine:  I own it. (Jeremy Holmes)

Cf. the latest episode of The Josias Podcast.

“It seems that we were better in our childhood”

Born into this world, an infant inherits two essential needs. The first is for meat, drink and sleep. These are the requirements of the flesh, without which the body cannot be the house of the soul and will not grow in height and strength. The other is a craving for knowledge. A baby will grasp at brightly coloured objects, it will put them in its mouth, taste them and press them against its cheek. It will start at the sound of a pipe. Later, when a child hears the barking of a dog, the noises of animals, the laughter or weeping of people, it gets excited and asks about all that it sees and hears: «What’s that? What’s that for? Why is he doing that?» This is but the natural desire of the soul, the wish to see everything, hear everything and learn everything. Without trying to fathom the mysteries of the universe, visible and invisible, without seeking an explanation for everything, one can never be what one should be — a human being. Otherwise, the spiritual life of a person will not differ from the existence of any other living creature. From the very beginning God separated man from beast by breathing the soul into him. Why then, on growing up and gaining in wisdom, do we not seek to gratify our curiosity, which in childhood made us forget about food and sleep? Why do we not tread in the path of those who seek knowledge? It behoves us to strive to broaden our interests and Increase the wisdom that nourishes our souls. We should come to realise that spiritual virtues are far superior to bodily endowments, and so learn to subordinate our carnal desires to the dictates of our soul. But no, we have been loath to do that! Raving and croaking, we have not moved farther than the dunghill next to our village. Only in our childhood are we ruled by the soul. When we grew up and gained in strength, we rejected its dictates, we subjugated our soul to the body, and contemplated the things around us with our eyes, but not our minds; we do not trust the impulses of the soul. […] There is not a flicker of fire in our bosom nor any faith in our soul. In what way, then, do we differ from animals if we perceive things only with our eyes? It seems that we were better in our childhood. We were human then, for we sought to learn as much as possible. But today we are worse than the beasts. An animal knows nothing and has no aim in life. We know nothing, but will argue until we are hoarse; defending our obtusity, we try to pass off our ignorance as knowledge. (Abai Kunanbaev, Book of Words, Word 7)