Marcel de Corte on Charles De Koninck

Over at The Josias we have published a new translation of a wonderful essay by Marcel de Corte on Charles De Koninck. It begins with de Corte’s memories of meeting De Koninck, whom he loved and admired. They were both of Belgian peasant stock, although De Koninck was Flemish and de Corte Walloon. (Hence the “De” in De Koninck is capitalized and means “the,” whereas the “de” in de Corte is not capitalized and means “of”). He goes on to give profound reflections on De Koninck’s realism, and the way in which his practical philosophy depended on his speculative realism.

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.