Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dietrich von Bonhoeffer: an Ethic of Resistance - Armed Opposition

Jason Paul Seaux
Fr. Thomas Gwozdz, SDB, Ph. D.
PHI 303 Ethics
19 November 2007

Dietrich von Bonhoeffer: an Ethic of Resistance — Armed Opposition

Hanged at Flossenbürg on the ninth of April 1945, for conspiring to kill Hitler, Dietrich von Bonhoeffer was the spiritual leader of the German antitotalitarian resistance (Mengus S134). He was not predisposed to resistance by his upbringing, his faith, or his national traditions. Nor was his decision to enter Divinity School to prepare for Christian ministry driven by political reasons. He was a deeply spiritual man, who committed himself to a “relentless pursuit of God’s concrete commandment”, who “[if] he drew attention to himself…” “it was more through submission than resistance” (S138-S139). Yet his demeanor would change slowly, moving from a position of passive resistance, as witnessed by his radio broadcast in February 1938, in which he called Hitler the “Verführer” or the seducer (S140), to the decidedly active resistance, which led to his trial and eventual execution (S141). Why this change? How did he, as a Christian, justify the assassination of Hitler? It must be kept in mind that Bonhoeffer’s Ethiks cannot be separated from his involvement in the resistance movement or his involvement with the resistance movement separated from his Ethiks — they are intimately linked.

It all began for Bonhoeffer, while at Union Theological Seminary, in New York, when the Nazi government banned persons of Jewish origin from ministry within the church. He simply could not tolerate this action. Seeing the church as the “most natural ally” of “authentic humanity”, Bonhoeffer writes in a farewell letter to Reinhold Niebuhr: I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…. Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. (Gesammelte Schriften 1:320, qtd. in Mengus S142)

So Bonhoeffer sees the Church as the instrument of salvation for the German people from a corrupt and evil government, which will destroy Christian civilization if left unchecked.
It is at this point in his life that he begins to develop and to write his Ethiks (S143). As most philosophers and ethicists begin their works, they discredit or point out those things upon which their theories are not contingent. Bonhoeffer too begins in this way. In the first chapter of his Ethiks, “Ethics as Formation: The Theoretical Ethicist and Reality”, Bonhoeffer gives a litany of concepts by which an ethical choice could be made, each of which he sees as insufficient or altogether incapable of providing the free person with concrete courses of action. “His position [against each of these] is characterized by an unusual search for concreteness and a pronounced attention to reality” (S138).

He says that through reason men have failed to “perceive either the depths of evil or the depths of the holy” and “blind[ed] in their desire to see justice done to both sides they are crushed between the two clashing forces and end in achieving nothing” (“Ethics 4”). Ethical fanaticism he finds even more distressing, because the fanatic, who believes that he can oppose evil “with the purity of his will and of his principle” attacks the symptoms of evil rather than the evil itself (4-5). The man of conscience, says Bonhoeffer, is torn between difficult choices, “becomes timid”, and chooses to bandage his conscience with lies so that he may avoid despair (5). Though it would seem as though duty would bring decisiveness to the “multiplicity of possible decisions”, duty itself cannot lead to an ethical choice, because the burden of responsibility lies, in the end, with its giver and not with its receiver and executioner. “The man of duty,” says Bonhoeffer, “will end by having to fulfil [sic] his obligation even to the devil” (5 emphasis added). Neither can “absolute freedom” be considered as a fruitful means by which to make an ethical choice, because, in his supposed freedom, man may “easily consent to the bad, knowing full well that it is bad” so that he may avoid what is worse (6). However, in so doing, he blinds himself to the worse and to the better, so that his options become ambiguous. Through private virtuousness some try to evade the task of making a public stand. While such a man does not steal or murder, and within his abilities he does what is good, he avoids even needed conflict and so remains deaf and blind — self-deceived about the reality of good and evil, he thinks himself capable of remaining beyond “contamination through responsible action in the world” (6). Bonhoeffer says, “these are the achievements and attitudes of a noble humanity”, comparing them to Don Quixote, who did not see the reality that was before his eyes (6-7).

After Bonhoeffer has discredited those means which he sees as insufficient, he moves on to what he sees as the only truly effective means, saying that we must “replace our rusty swords with sharp ones” (7). He gives as man’s new weapons simplicity and wisdom. For Bonhoeffer,
To be simple is to fix one’s eye solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted and turned upside-down. It is to be single-hearted and not a man of two souls, an άνήρ δίψυχος (Jas. I.8). Because the simple man knows God, because God is his, he clings to the commandments, the judgments and the mercies which come from God’s mouth every day afresh. (7)

Looking only to God and never to the world, the simple man “is able to look at the reality of the world freely and without prejudice”. The man of simplicity is no longer attached to principles, but is liberated from the troubles of ethical decision (7).

For Bonhoeffer, the man of wisdom sees things as they really are — in their most fundamental and essential aspects. He is wise insomuch as he sees reality in God. “To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things” (7). Bonhoeffer says that the well informed man is not by necessity the man of wisdom. Having too many facts may cloud one’s perception of the truth. “To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom” (7). The wise man knows that reality can be helped by God alone. To look freely at God and at reality is to join simplicity and wisdom together. “There is no true simplicity without wisdom,” says Bonhoeffer, “and there is no wisdom without simplicity” (8).

Having said earlier that it is necessary to look at both God and reality in the same instance, Bonhoeffer offers the further clarification that it is not possible so to do while the two are so violently ripped apart and seemingly set against each other. Fallen man can only look wonderingly from one to the other, but not at both simultaneously. How then is man to achieve the union of simplicity to wisdom? It is at this point, where it seems as though all will fall apart in his Ethiks, that Bonhoeffer drives the wedge deeper between those systems that he earlier discredited and his own. He divorces his Ethiks altogether from secular ethics, and joins it firmly to the Christian faith (8). For him, the operative element of his ethical system is Divine Revelation, but more specifically Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, man can “no longer see God without the world or the world without God. God has joined himself, in an immanent way, to His Creation and cannot thence be separated.

This leaves one to ask, how does this apply to resistance and planned assassination? In the writings of Bonhoeffer, one finds little which denotes anything directly related to the assassination attempts, but copious amounts are found about his concept of resistance — radical resistance. Raymond Mengus opens his essay entitled, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Decision to Resist” with the sentence: “Resistance does not happen unless persons actually resist” (S134). This sentence sums up Bonhoeffer’s frustration with those systems of ethics which he discredits at the beginning of his Ethiks. For him they did not provide concrete answers and did not move people to concrete and real action. We find, in an essay entitled “After Ten Years”, which Bonhoeffer wrote from prison, this explanation: Who stands his ground? Only the man whose ultimate criterion is not in his reason, his principles, his freedom or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these things when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and exclusive allegiance to God. The responsible man seeks to make his whole life a response to the question and call of God. (Letters and Papers from Prison 19 emphasis added)

As a pastor, Bonhoeffer considered it his vocation not only to have compassion on those who were “victims of exalted men”, but also to do what he must to stop them (Letter from Latrimal dated 6 March 1946, qtd. in Mengus S137). As God cannot be separated from his Creation, neither can Christ be separated from his Church (Ethics 9). So therefore, we are not Christs, but if we want to be Christians we must show something of Christ’s breadth of sympathy by acting responsibly, by grasping our “hour,” by facing danger like free men, by displaying a real sympathy which springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. To look on without lifting a helping hand is most un-Christian. The Christian does not have to wait until he suffers himself; the sufferings of his brethren for whom Christ died are enough to awaken his active sympathy.
Bonhoeffer, as both a citizen and Christian served his fatherland best through his radical opposition of those who would destroy the Christian society — the very life and morality of the German people. Pastor Bonhoeffer a “practitioner of responsibility for others before God, could do no less…” (Mengus S146).

The Problem of Universals: a Survey

Jason Paul Seaux
Dr. Jeffery Bell, Ph. D.
PHI 302 Medieval Philosophy
22 April 2008

The Problem of Universals: a Survey

Throughout the Medieval Period, the question of ‘universals’ was a problem for many philosophers, with most of them fitting into one of three camps of semi-opposing views, namely the realists, the conceptualists, and the nominalists. While the idea of ‘universals’ existed at least since the time of the ancient Greek philosophers, most notably in Plato and in Aristotle, the problem seems to be introduced to the Medievals by Porphyry who lived at the cusp of the Medieval Period. In his introduction to Aristotle’s Categories entitled the Isagoge. Porphyry writes, “I shall not say anything about whether genera and species exist as substances, or are confined to mere conceptions; and if they are substances, whether they are material or immaterial; and whether they exist separately from sensible objects, or in them immanently (Porphyry, in Preface to Isagoge).

Though it seems at first to be a problem of epistemology, which it is in a way, Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, in his article entitled What is the Problem of Universals?, claims that it is not, writing: “a natural understanding of the Problem of Universals is as the problem of the One over Many ”. Which if Rodriguez-Pereyra is correct, makes the Problem of Universals a problem of Metaphysics, namely a question of being. Rather than try to solve the Problem of Universals, here shall be put forth a survey of philosophical thought on the problem according to three major philosophers from the period in question. These will be delineated categorically into the three main schools of thought: the realists, the conceptualists and the nominalists, with a representative philosopher from each school.
Before beginning with the survey of the medieval philosophers it is necessary to put forth the defining characteristics of the three schools of thought. Realist philosophers hold “that universals are real and exist independently of anyone thinking of them” (“Realist.”). In dealing with the realists it is much simpler to adopt their terminology than to continue with the term ‘universal’. Beginning with Plato we see the term ‘form’ being applied to that which is universal. Among the realists this term has perdured until today, finding its way into modern Thomistic philosophers such as Jacques Maritain and W. Norris Clarke, S.J. Within this group of thinkers there are further subdivisions, generally those who hold that the ‘form’ is beyond the thing (Platonic realists) and those who hold that the ‘form’ is in the thing (Aristotelian realists). Conceptualists, on the other hand, hold that universals exist only in the mind and have no external or substantial reality (“Conceptualism”). The final school of thought — the nominalists hold that “various objects labeled by the same term have nothing in common but their name”, so that ‘universals’ have no independent existence, but exist only as names (“Nominalism”).

I. Realism
Early on in the Problem of Universals, there developed a rift within the realist camp, all the way back with Plato and Aristotle. And so it is fitting that the two sects of this school of thought are so named: Platonists and Aristotelians. However, since the quarrel at hand is not with the ancients but the medievals, those who adopt only parts of the platonic view are more properly called neoplatonists since they do not adhere to Plato’s teachings in its entirety, but make major adaptations to it, so as to render it compatible with their respective theologies (Gerson). But regardless of these adaptations, it is a distinctively platonic understanding of the ‘Problem of Universals’ which begins the whole issue, as mentioned in the introduction, namely that of Porphyry and his contemporary Plotinus.

Despite Porphyry’s failure to answer the question, Plotinus is definitive in his answer to the ‘Problem of Universals’ (Baird 29). Plotinus in his teaching held that true reality exists only beyond the physical world. This ‘true reality’ is infinite and indescribable by words since words are inherently finite. Adopting Plato’s words, he calls this ‘true reality’ the ‘Good’ or the ‘One’. He makes the case for ‘universals’ as remote, namely the ‘Good’ or the ‘One’, arguing from the transcendental of Beauty. First he posses the question, “Are they all made beautiful by one and the same beauty or is there one beautifulness in bodies and a different one in other things?” (Plotinus 31). He says, “Nearly everyone says..., being beautiful is being well-proportioned and measured”. If this is the case, he says that only “composite things” can be beautiful. Against this point he argues that beauty cannot be in things themselves, because “a beautiful whole can certainly not be composed of ugly parts: all the parts must have beauty”. “Surely we must say that being beautiful is something else over and above good proportion, and good proportion is beautiful because of something else?” So Plotinus ends by saying, rests upon the material thing when it has been brought into unity, and gives itself to parts and wholes alike. When it comes upon something that is one and composed of like parts it gives the same gift to the whole: as sometimes art gives beauty to a whole house with its parts, and sometimes nature gives beauty to a single stone. So then the beautiful body comes into being by sharing in a formative power which comes from the divine forms. (Plotinus 32)
Later on when writing of the beauty of the soul as the form of the body, he says, “for since it is a divine thing and a kind of part of beauty, it makes everything it grasps and masters beautiful” (35 emphasis added). While Plotinus does not go as far as Plato in insisting in a separate “world of Forms”, he clearly holds that the forms are transcendental and are beyond the physical realm. The Platonic realist holds then that ‘universals’ exist in reality, not in the thing itself, but in some transcendent reality.

On the other side of this school of thought regarding ‘universals’ are the Aristotelian realists, who in the Medieval Period are exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas lived during what could be said to be the transitional period leading up to the Renaissance. During this time the ancient Greek writers were being rediscovered, with Latin translations of the Greek and Arabic text of Averroës and Avicenna making their way through Europe. Aquinas eventually ended up in Paris, where he studied under Albertus Magnus who was one of the foremost proponents of the rediscovered Aristotelian writings. It was under the tutelage of Albert that St. Thomas Aquinas was first introduced to the writings of Aristotle. They were a perfect match. Aquinas’s methodical stolidity came together in an almost perfect harmony with the deliberateness of Aristotle’s writings to form one of the greatest minds of the Late Middle Ages. It is not sufficient to say that Aquinas was influenced by the writings of Aristotle, but in large part he seemingly adopted them as his own (Baird 307). This is most clearly seen in the Metaphysics of Aquinas, which is a Christian adaptation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

For Aquinas, to talk of ‘universals’ is to talk of ‘essences’. For Aquinas the problem of universals is one of the relationship of genera to species. In his treatise on being and essence entitled De Ente et Essentia, Aquinas formulaicly deals with this problem. As in most of his writings, Aquinas begins by giving the positions of others and systematically integrating them or discrediting them. He intimates that according to the Avicennaian interpretation of Aristotle ‘form’ and ‘essence’ are the same. Aquinas although he was heavily influenced in his philosophical formation by his reading of Avicenna’s commentary on Aristotle, makes a departure from the Avicennaian tradition when he writes regarding matter and form:We cannot say, however, that either of these is the essence of the thing. That matter alone is not the essence of the thing is clear, for it is through its essence that a thing is knowable and is placed in a species or genus. But matter is not a principle of cognition; nor is anything determined to a genus or species according to its matter but rather according to what something is in act. Nor is form alone the essence of a composite thing,... (Aquinas, De Ente et Essentia, Ch. 2)

Aquinas then moves to argue that ‘essence’ cannot simply be something “super-added” to the hylomorphic union, because it would therefore be an accident and something extraneous. He says therefore “that the term essence, used with respect to composite substances, signifies that which is composed of matter and form.” “This is the quiddity of a thing.” Here Aquinas introduces what seems to be a weak point in his argument; he even points it out himself, writing, “But because matter is the principle of individuation, it would perhaps seem to follow that essence, which embraces in itself simultaneously both form and matter, is merely particular and not universal” (Aquinas). This entails that ‘universals’ have no definitions. However, as is so common to his style, Aquinas introduces this difficulty only to bring about a greater distinction. He clarifies saying that ‘mater’ as it has been considered up to this point “is not the principle of individuation”. Only what he calls ‘signate matter’ is the principle of individuation. He says, “Signate matter is not included in the definition of man as man,...” but only in the definition of particular things, calling “signate matter[,] matter considered under determinate dimensions”. “Hence, the essence of man and the essence of Socrates do not differ except as the signate differs from the non-signate.” From this point Aquinas goes on to delineate the difference of ‘essence’ in terms of ‘genus’ and ‘species’, writing, “the essence of a genus and the essence of a species differ as signate from non-signate”. “Therefore,” he writes, “genus signifies indeterminately the whole that is in the species and does not signify matter alone”. Genus is derived from matter, but it is not the matter and includes all that is similar from particular to particular. He finally ends by writing, “essence is found in substances and in accidents” and by ‘essence’ he means ‘universals’ (Aquinas). Therefore it is understood that for the Aristotelian realist universals are in the things which they signify.

II. Conceptualism

Marking the middle point between realism and Nominalism is the school of thought called Conceptualism. As such, one would tend to guess that Conceptualism does not make ‘universals’ into real entities existing either in another realm or in real things; nor does it make ‘universals’ out to be merely the names by which things are called. Conceptualism indeed makes ‘universals’ to be mere concepts in the mind, by which particular things are recognized as part of a kind. These concepts are more than the mere words or names by which things of a kind are called, but are the whole mental collection of similarities and dissimilarities derived from our sense perceptions of particular things (Baird 154-155). It is important to avoid crossing over into a Kantian Conceptualism, in which concepts are not based in reality.

Despite having a teacher who held that ‘universals’ were nothing but “vocal wind”, Peter Abelard, took the middle ground in the ‘Problem of Universals’, a position which today is called ‘Conceptualism’ or ‘Moderate Realism’ (Baird 154-155). In his work entitled Logica “Ingredientibus”, Abelard, as a result of his reading Boethius and Aristotle, begins by posing three questions. His first question is: “Do genera and species really exist or are they simply something in the mind?” The second is: “Granting they do exist, are they corporeal or incorporeal?” The final question is: “Do they exist apart from sensible things or only in them?” (Abelard 156). In his solution to the ‘Problem of Universals’ Abelard modifies the meaning of ‘universal’ adding a semantic aspect to its being primarily ontological, epistemological, or theological (Klima). In answer to the first question, Abelard answers, a matter of fact they do serve to name things that actually exist and therefore are not the subjects of purely empty thoughts. But what they name are the selfsame things named by singular names. And still, there is a sense in which they exist as isolated, bare, and pure only in the mind... (Abelard 163).

Answering his second question he says that ‘universals’ are both corporeal and incorporeal (163). They are corporeal by the nature of the things to which they point, and incorporeal because of the manner in which they signify things discretely as non-individuated. To his third question he answers that some exist in sensible objects, while other do not. But in answering this question another is raised, namely, “Do universals designate only sensible things, or is their something else they signify?” (164). To answer this question Abelard proposes the situation of a thing which has passed from being into non-being. Here the rose while it existed had predicated of it the universal ‘rose’, however, once the rose ceases to be, ‘rose’ as a concept continues to have meaning for and in the mind “even though it names nothing” (164). Therefore, for Conceptualism, ‘universals’ are concepts which exist in the mind, but are grounded in and derived from a sensible reality, perduring in the mind after the particular which it signifies has passed out of existence.

III. Conceptualism

The nominalists, unlike the two preceding schools of thought, hold that ‘universals’ have no basis in reality, so that the “various objects labeled by the same term have nothing in common but their name” (“Nominalism”). Exemplar of this school of thought during the Medieval Period is the English philosopher William of Ockham, who writes in the first part of his Summa Logicae, “the common term ‘universal’... is predicated of every universal and is opposed to the notion of a particular” (443). Ockham goes on to write, that the word “particular”, which signifies the ‘one’ cannot also serve to signify the ‘many’. From this he posits that “every universal is one particular thing and that it is not a universal except in its signification, in its signifying many things”. He argues therefore that there are two kinds of universals, universals by nature and universals by convention. It is universals of the second kind which Ockham posits exist only in the mind, saying that “a spoken word, which is numerically one quality, is a universal; it is a sign conventionally appointed for the signification of many things” (444). He goes on to say that no universal is a substance, but merely an intention of the mind, “which is identical with the act of understanding” (445). Which leads him to write, “For every one agrees that a universal is something predicable of many, but only one intention of the soul or a conventional sign is predicated” (446). He ends his argument by writing, “...propositions occur only in the mind, in speech, or in writing; therefore, their parts can exist only in the mind, in speech, and in writing” “Therefore,” he writes, “universals cannot conceivably be substances.”

IV. Conclusion

In summation, these three schools of thought concerning the ‘Problem of Universals’ served to spark much debate and was the cause of much contention among the Medieval philosophers. This diversity of positions has lead to a more holistic view of ‘universals’ by modern Aristotelians and Thomists. Each school of thought has its good points and bad points. Realism emphasizes that the root of our understanding of the world is grounded in the things experienced themselves, whereas Conceptualism shows the importance our capacity for abstraction plays in the process of cognition of real things. Nominalism has helped us to develop a semantic that is rooted in reality, through which we have been able to develop a comparative study of linguistics. No one of these systems is perfect, but studied together we are better able to understand the process by which we are able to know the world around us, and by which we are able to communicate what we experience to others.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Paine: Christian values, and a patroit betrayed

Paine: Christian values, and a patriot betrayed
By Ken La Rive

I present to you here one of the most amazing people associated with our American revolution. He was considered in his time to be a Democrat, but if he were alive today his thoughts would be considered Moderate Republican. So far left has our Democratic party become that Mr. Paine wouldn’t recognize it, and he wouldn’t be trying to get prayer out of schools, or the Ten Commandments out of public buildings. Though he saw the real dangers associated with both Secularism, and the division of Church and State, (one primary reason a lot of our ancestors fled their original homeland), but beyond that, Paine saw the real need for a unified moral code that only Christianity possessed.

Back then both parties stood for the working man, family principles, morals and ethical values based on Christian principles, small business, Capitalism, and balanced trade, that most Republicans of today hold dear and fight for. Strange, but it seems from my readings of original text and letters that it is quite evident, on a social level, that the two party’s ideals were a lot closer in reasoning than they are today. Though many of our founding fathers considered themselves Deists, Christian values were set in place by their own hand.

The far left today advocate what can’t be denied as Socialism, and looking at a span of fifty years it becomes quite evident. In essence, Socialism is the taking from the working class and giving to the non-working class, for the good of the whole. It didn’t work for Communist Russia, and it won’t work for us. Our legal system is so full of loop-holes, and there are so many societal problems never seen before, we must, for the survival of our very ideals, take pause and reflect on what labels we call ourselves. Never have the two parties been so divided, and never have the American citizen been as confused as to what party they associate with. We owe it to ourselves and the good of our country to look closely before we vote. Let’s let Thomas Paine reintroduce to us to what we once were…

The works of Thomas Paine was kept alive a hundred years ago by a controversial writer, Bertrand Russell. In his essays he once again gave life to Paine, his writings, and his amazingly adventurous life. The essence of what I have written here is a reflection of that work.

In his time he was sought to be executed by both Pitt and Robespierre, and Washington himself, in Paine’s hour of need, did nothing to help, actually disassociating himself with him. It is said that both Pitt and Washington hated him because he was a democrat, but it was a lot more complicated than that. In my opinion, the power struggle in a brand new nation was huge, and the search for a road that many differences could travel together was an enormous challenge. Many voices were raised, some in praise, some in critique, and some in protest. Paine found himself constantly teetering on the wobbly fence of the times.

With a letter of introduction from Ben Franklin he came to America and soon became editor of a journal. Paine preached democracy. A prolific writer, his first grand attempt, in 1775, was a very forceful article against slavery. It is said that because of his writings Jefferson inserted a draft into the Declaration of Independence, which was subsequently cut out. At that time slavery was sill in existence in Pennsylvania, and not abolished for another five years. It is also said that Paine wrote the Preamble for that Act.

Paine was one, if not the first, to advocate full division from England. Some of those who actually signed The Declaration of Independence thought concessions with Britain could still be made. In 1775 Paine wrote: “I hesitate not for a moment to believe that the Almighty will finally separate America from Britain. Call it Independency or what you will, if it is the cause of God and humanity it will go on. And when the Almighty shall have blest us, and made us a people dependent only upon him, then may our first gratitude be shown by an act of continental legislation, which shall put a stop to the importation of Negroes for sale, soften fate of those already here, and in time procure their freedom.”

Paine took up the cause of America, publishing stirring manifestoes under the label of “Common Sense.” It was a great success and helped to win the war, as his style of writing brought the ideals to the common man, the everyday worker. As the towns of Falmouth and Norfolk still smoldered by a British torch, Washington wrote to a friend in January 1776: “A few more of such flaming arguments as were exhibited at Falmouth and Norfolk, added to the sound doctrine an unanswerable reasoning contained in the pamphlet Common Sense, will not leave numbers at a loss to decide upon the propriety of separation.”

In our earliest dark days of the Revolution Paine wrote a string of pamphlets called “The Crisis” that circulated heavily, and brought hope to those fighting, and on the home front. “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

For a time, Paine became the most popular writer in America, and Washington actually read “The Crisis” to his troops. Any paper or publication would have paid him great sums for his work, but he gave it all for free. Praise may well have been enough, more likely he felt his work’s impact to be of a higher order, as Washington wrote to him: “…living sense of the importance of your works.”

At the end of the War of Independence, Paine’s penniless standing was recognized, and one state legislature voted him a sum of money, and another an estate, so that he could live in comfort. His mind was of a restless and creative type however, and to him leisure comforts brought on a lethargic domineer. With the same energy and insight he gave to politics he now gave to engineering, and developed models of his ideas for using iron to build bridges. This brought him to England where he was well received by Burke, the Duke of Portland, and other distinguished Whigs. He set up his large model in Paddington, and engineers came from all around to see his creative concepts. From there he went to France at the same time the Bastille fell and Paine was stirred by the opportunity for freedom these sweeping changes brought. Lafayette gave the key of Bastille prison to Paine to give to Washington, but Payne wrote Washington that he would have to send it by another carrier, as his business in France was not yet complete. In his long letter to Washington he excitedly stated what he saw in France: “The early trophy of the spoils of despotism, and the first ripe fruits of American principles transplanted in Europe.”

What better place for Paine than a revolution, and while he gave attention to his bridge; he wrote what cemented him as a Democrat of the time, “The Rights of Man.” This individual work was blasted by anti-Jacobin opposition to be radically subversive, and yet is read today as mild and to the point. The main positions, however, are complicated but for the well educated of the times, i.e., contemporary political thought, and French history. In essence, he wrote in two parts, published in 1791 and 1792, and his friend Burke agreed …that the revolution of 1688 bound Britton forever to the sovereigns appointed by the Act of Settlement. (Type in ACT OF SETTLEMENT in Google.) This idea was plausible, and showed that it was impossible to hold posterity enslaved, and that constitutions must be designed by ratification to change with the times presented. Clearly written, his ideas were pure genius, and needed for the times. He said that governments “…may all be comprehended under three heads. First, superstition. Secondly, power. Thirdly, the common interest of society and the common rights of man... The first was a government of priestcraft, the second of conquerors, the third of reason.”

Now his time from fleeing England to France is very complicated and very exciting. I suggest an essay of about twenty pages from Bertrand Russell called “The Fate of Thomas Paine,” published in 1935, where a true precise rendering of Paine and his life is drawn. Russell identified with Paine, as both men were persecuted for their thoughts, mostly about religion, and other ideas thought radical for the times.

Paine was imprisoned and narrowly escaped the guillotine in France. An American Federalist minister, Governor Morris, sided with England against France. At the same time Washington was secretly promoting Jay’s treaty with England, and didn’t come to Paine’s aid. Payne escaped only by a slim chance. Though Paine didn’t know that Morris did him far more harm, when Payne found out that a statue of Washington was commissioned after his death, he wrote the sculpture’s artist:

Take from the mine the coldest, the hardest of stone,
It needs no fashion: it is Washington.
But if you chisel, let the stroke be rude,
And on his heart engrave-Ingratitude.

This letter to Washington, written in 1796 shows the anger and bitterness that remained with Paine to his death: “And to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship (for you have done to me, and that in the day of danger) and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an imposter; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any”

Just before his eminent arrest in France, Paine set out to write another work, entirely different from politics and Engineering, “The Age of Reason.” This composition got the attention of a faction of humanity who had previously been neutral, the Church. In this Paine critiques the Old Testament from a moralistic point of view. Probably this, above all that Paine had done, got the attention of Russell, who throughout his life is known as an Atheist. Today, however, few clergy would disagree. He starts off chapter one with: “I believe in one God, and no more: and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.” Seems tame and true, but the clerics of that day took grave offence for putting the Israelites in a bad light.

According to Russell, Paine was consistent with these ideas to the day he died. His words inspired and influenced the American Revolution by instilling a cohesive process of thought easily understood by the masses. He was shunned by his former friends and patriots when he finally returned to America, from fleeing France and a long illness. His voting privileges were taken away three years before his death, on the grounds of being a foreigner. Accused of “immorality and intemperance” he spent his few remaining years alone and in poverty... But then, finally, it is the men that he has inspired who pick up his clear ideas today. His self sacrifice went unrewarded in his time, but today his writings are seen for what they are, pure insight. Even his most controversial writing “The Age of Reason” might not lift an eyebrow of a Cardinal today.

Russell wrote: “…to this day his fame is less than what it would have been if his character had been less generous. Some worldly wisdom is required even to secure praise for the lack of it”

It is said that few people attended Paine’s funeral in 1809 and that Clergy invaded his room trying to convert him. He said, “Let me alone: good morning!” Interesting footnote was a man named Cobbett who was imprisoned along with his wife for illegality publishing Paine’s work. Cobbett is the one responsible for bringing Paine’s bones back to England, where he was more kindly thought of, but finally did not give them up. They remained in his effects until 1836 and passed through many until a Unitarian Minister by the name of Rev. R. Ainslie in 1854 came into the picture. He confided with a friend that he had the skull and right hand of Thomas Paine. Though he further evaded all inquiries after that, Thomas Paine’s bones were never seen again.

Woodcut of Thomas Paine.

The Problem of Time by Jason Paul Seaux

Jason Paul Seaux
Fr. Tom Gwozdz, SDB, Ph. D.
PHI 302 Metaphysics
22 April 2008

The Problem of Time: “Of What Nature Is It?”

Since the ancient Greek philosophers, ‘time’ has been a problem for the human intellect. As humans we have an insatiable desire to know the ‘being’ of things which we experience in the world, going beyond the question of merely “what is it?” to the questions of “how and why it is at all?”, so too have we desired to know time. For the ancient Greeks, time was based in the relationship of change to the Whole. Plato, for example, held that time is merely a moving image of Eternity – an Eternity which in reality was conceived by him to be timeless (Gunn 180). Aristotle goes on to define time as “number of motion in respect to ‘before’ and ‘after’” (The Physics, 219b.1). Professor J. Alexander Gunn, in his article entitled The Problem of Time, says, “[Aristotle] failed to distinguish the use of the term ‘time’ as concept from its use as percept” (Gunn 180). In like manner, Professor Gunn, critiquing the ancients, believes that the concept of time did not receive sufficient attention until the 20th century. However, science, in the 20th and 21st centuries, has attempted to define time in terms of a radical objectivity, and so has tried to make into an object something which, in fact, is more properly a subject (Zemach 144). And so the philosophical question, “what is time?” still persists today. As metaphysicians we see that the question which needs must be asked is even more fundamental – “What is the ‘being’ of time?” The problem in answering this question is that we are contiually trying to make time into that which it is not, namely a real being. To properly answer this question we must move beyond this tendency, which may be proported by many as merely a semantic choice, and realize that what is real in ‘time’ is the changing of real existent things.

Time it seems, since the very beginning of its philosophical discussion by the Greeks, has been divided into both subjective and objective aspects. This division of time into these two aspects, which various philosophers call by different names, such as: subject and object, concept and percept, mental and real, psychological and physical has often been done in ways which either radically separate the two aspects (destroying one of them) or radically unify them (making them one and indistinguishable from the other) (Gunn 182). Fr. W. Norris Clarke, S.J., in his book The One and the Many, defines the being of time as “a synthesis of real and mental being, founded in reality, existing formally in the mind” (Clarke 162). This definition of time will be taken as the standard by which the other definitions will be measured, because as we have admitted in class, Clarke’s definition seems to be the most holistic, seeing ‘time’ in its two aspects without their destruction or radical unification.

As said above, time, as it has come to be known today, has two aspects, which we discuss under various names that indicate the same aspects. Use of different terms is merely meant to accentuate particular understandings of the dual nature of time (Gunn 180-181). The definition of time’s duality as subjective and objective, for example, is meant to highlight its relative inaccessibility through the human senses. Time is seen to be subjective, insomuch as it is an issue of the ‘inner sense’, where judgments of time are made through intuition “of the relation of the order of our perceptions to the order of objective events” (Gunn 181). Time, defined in terms of concept and percept, views ‘time’ from an epistemological standpoint. On an epistemological basis, Gunn commenting on Bosanquet says, “the time problem [is] the meeting ground for extremes of thought, both realist and idealists” (Gunn 182). As found in Clarke’s own definition, time is a synthesis of mental and real being (Clarke 162). When Clarke writes, “Real change by itself is not enough to generate time”, he hints at the fact that time exists formally in the mind – in the consciousness, and seemingly removes the possibility that time can extist as something real (162-163).
As if the problems that philosophy had discovered regarding time were not sufficient, the late 19th and 20th centuries ushered in two new aspects: time as psychological and time as scientific, with each aspect proposing its own mutually incompatible definition of what is supposed by most people to be the same thing. The problem is that they are not. Psychological time is disinct from physiological time, in that psychological time is the experience of the passing of time or more precisely the experience of change which is relative to a mental state. In various mental states inidividuals may experience time as passing faster or slower (Clarke 166). W. Norris Clarke gives several examples of such altered mental states. Two such states include “dream time” and “mystical states”. In “dream time”, much change seems to happen in very small periods of “clock time”.1 In mystical experiences, Clarke says, “[we] even transcend time entirely into a kind of intense timeless presence” (166). In this it is clear that although our perception of time is “founded in reality” it is only so loosely, in that at least in the present ‘duration’ there is an awareness of the events which are happening therein and they are experienced in the order in which they are happening in reality. This looseness is in the perception thereof by individuals, who indeed experience similar durations dissimilarly, in regards to the rate at which each experiences change therein.

Modern science throws a curveball into this idea of ‘looseness’. There can be no temporal differential in a single spatio-temporal event. This flows from the principle of Physics in which two tangible objects cannot occupy the same point in space-time (Van Flandern). Again here in science, the problem of time as mental vs. real being rears it head. Most scientists hold that ‘time’ is a measure of change, simple and not a problem. However, the physics of the 20th century, beginning with Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, who published an Nobel Prize winning paper explaining the dialtion of time in relation to mass and velocity, sought to make time into a real thing such as the other forces of nature. Most hold that this is a problem of semantics rather than a problem of metaphysics on the part of the physicist who hold to the Lorentzian Theory of Relativity, in that their metaphysics is developed out of faulty semantic, namely they treat change and time as one and the same.

Yet in this plethora of distinctions, each of these sets of terms aims at a single definition of time, namely that time is a conscious awareness of a continuum of change in real things, “not merely the perception that things have changed, but a distinct perception of their changing”, in which we are able to distinguish between past and present and anticipate the future (Gunn 182; Leighton 561). In this there is yet another problem created for time, namely “What are past, present, and future?”, “How do we know them?”, “Where do they exist?”. Joseph A. Leighton in his article entitled Time, Change, and Time-Transcendence defines past, present, and future as durations within the continuum of time (Leighton 562). He goes on to define each of these temporal durations individually, beginning with the present. For Leighton, the present is always a specific duration “filled with a definite content of feelings, ideas, movements of attention,” and perceptions which serve to define the present moment as distinct from the rest of the temporal continuum, known as such by distiction from the “no-longer” and the “not yet” (Leighton 562; Gunn 183). Although the present must be of a specific duration, there need not be a definite awareness of such duration in the actually experienced present. “In truth,” Leighton writes, “in the actual present the self transcends change or mutually external time-lapses, through the act of synthesis by which it grasps a succession as one and continuous” (562). Yet, the present remains known only by intuition, in that as soon as it moves into the intellect it is in fact no longer present but past.

In the next section of his article Leighton goes on to define that temporal duration which we call ‘the past’. For him the past exists in the “living ‘now’ of experience” as a “reconstruction made by a thinking self ” (563). Therefore the present reality of the past depends on a filiation of interest and meaning in and with the present synthetic activity of a self. Any reconstruction of the past is dependent on the necessary assumption of a persistence of process or continuity of movement. The past, therefore, now lacks real being, in that it exists only in the mind as a reconstruction of former real actually happened events in continuity with the present.
If the past exists in the mind only as a recocstruction of former events, what exactly is future, if it is not the mere opposite of past? Leighton defines future as “the present forward-reaching”, which depends on the present in the same way as the present depends on the past. (564). “It is the incipient tension of developing, and as yet unsatisfied, interests, desires, [and] meanings” (564). He uses the analogy of a classically trained musician sight-reading a piece of music. The musician knows the melody (a continuity of notes) by his remembering the past notes, measures, and phrases, now hearing the present note, and, by means of anticpation, the note that is to follow. As he continues to play the pieice of music, his ability to accuratly anticipate future notes increases, he may even reach a point at which he can accuratly anticipate whole measures or even phrases of music, yet this skill remains anticipation and not knowledge, for that which he anticipates he has not yet encountered. Therefore the future is an anticipation of what is to be, founded in the present duration, in continuity with the past.

In summation, suffice it to say that as we develop a metaphysics, we must tackle time in such a way that we do not simply end in saying that it does not exist at all. For example, science and physics often end in either trying to make ‘time’ a real being or denying that it can exist all together. Rather we must seek a median approach similar to that of St. Thomas Aquinas as echoed by Fr. W. Norris Clarke, S.J., seeking to give it the clarity that Professor Joseph A. Leighton gives it. Time becomes a problem for metaphysics, science, and physics only when we try to force it to fit into a nature which is not its own. So long as we allow time to be “a synthesis of real and mental being, founded in reality, existing formally in the mind” time can be a meeting ground for First Philosophy and the Natural Sciences (Clarke 162).