Saturday, August 8, 2009

Augustine's Joy in Truth and Peirce's "A Neglected Argument"

I've been re-reading THE CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE. If you've read it before, perhaps you will recall that (in Book 10) Augustine asks a deceptively simple question: "But what do I love when I love [God]?" (tr. R. Warner, p. 214.) We will skip over the mere fact that a considerable portion of life's great mysteries would be resolved, if we could fill in the blanks following that question. Augustine himself took a cursory inventory of the ways we can become acquainted with "things," so that he could lead the reader to a seemingly hopeless conclusion: If God is not to be identified with anything that we can identify within the scope of human experience, it seems that God cannot be found. Let that sink in fully, so that you can appreciate the impact of the classical Christian answer to Augustine's "simple" question: "...when I seek you, my God, I am seeking the happy life." (p. 229--10/20)

In fact, Augustine is about to set out his version of St. Thomas' magisterial starting place in the SUMMA THEOLOGICA: "...[humanity] is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of [its] reason." (Part One, Question I, First Article) This is the central question for anyone who wants to appreciate what the Christian faith brings to the table intellectually. My guess is that not one in a hundred Christians can lay out the contours of either Augustine's or Thomas' teachings--the source for the classic answer to this primary question for anyone who wants to begin an honest inquiry into the intellectual tradition accompanying Christian faith.

But I digress. It is Augustine's response in his CONFESSIONS that I find most helpful. In seeking happiness, we seek God (if only we knew it): "How, then, Lord, do I seek you? ...when I seek you...I seek the happy life." (p. 229, 10/20)

Here's a very short outline of the rationale that supports that answer. Focus on the bold text for the overview.

a) "...we all want to be happy." (p. 230, 10/21)

b) [We all desire to know the truth.] "...if I ask anyone: 'Would you rather have your joy in truth or in falsehood?' he would say: 'In truth...'" (p. 233, 10/23)

c) [Combining the two universal human desires,] "...certainly the happy life is joy in truth..." (p. 233, 10/23)

d) "...that means joy in you, who are truth, God..." (p. 233, 10/23) [The rationale for the claim that God is truth: "We see the things that are, because you have made them, and they are, because you see them." (p. 349, 13/38) This statement voices a view of absolute Truth: Being emanates from the divine mind thereby perfectly accomplishing a correspondence of divine thought and all objects by positing the complete dependence of being on the divine mind. (Truth is often defined by such correspondence, even though the theory has never been successfully delineated.)]

This rationale is stronger than it might appear at first to a 21st Century intellectual. No one doubts that ultimate explanations must derive from Being itself. But Being itself is an abstraction, since we can only contemplate being in specific manifestations. Thus, those who want to stick to the facts as they can be confronted in the world will want to deny the meaningfulness of asking ultimate questions.

Here is Augustine's reply, and in answering his question posed at the head of this post, he is responding to the central claim of those who advocate scientism:

"Where then did I find you, so that I could learn of you? I could only have found you in yourself, above me. Place there is none; we go backward and forward, and there is no place. Truth, you are everywhere in session, ready to listen to all who ask counsel of you, and at one and the same moment you give your answer to every diversity of question." (p. 235, 10/26)

The gist is this: When we seek answers to our questions about the world, the world accommodates our quest. Being and truth do seem "convertible," and this "gist" is the same--as far as I can tell--as the underlying point in Peirce's "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God." The universe accommodates minds, and therefore works like mind. As was noted in a post on Peirce's argument, the human mind is in no respect able to counter an analogy with itself that depends on the working of the mind. (BTW: Using evolution to explain the fact doesn't blunt the surprising nature of the ongoing discovery of the amenability of being to mind. The evolutionary explanation is that we have adapted our minds to the underlying reality, in which case evolution supports the view that the underlying reality is amenable to mind, in the crucial respect at hand, and this is necessarily true of science generally. In fact, all scientific projects are instances of the Augustine/Peircian point of view: "I could only have found you in yourself, above me. Place there is none... Truth, you are everywhere..." The life of the mind is the life of faith, on this level, and in this sense the life of the mind is at the core of the Christian tradition. And yes, ironically, I say this while maintaining that not one in a hundred Christians know of this connection to the life of the mind.)

Perhaps this seems a bit too abstract to be absorbed into the biblical source of the Christian tradition, since the spirituality of the Bible is so concrete and (it is claimed) embedded in history. In fact, this disparity might explain the irony just noted.

It is to that disparity that my core insight in A THEOLOGY FOR ATHEISTS WILL is addressed.

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