I asked Kristor to flesh out the arguments that he made in “Kristor Promotes Ignorance,” wherein he claimed that we need ignorance to explain homo lapsus lest we fall for unacceptable metaphysical positions. He complied:
Here is an explication of the three jumps that occurred early in my last, that I thought each called out for some explanation. I apologize for the fact that it wanders a bit, and repeats itself from time to time. I apologize also for its great length. Rather than being a coherent, economical piece of argumentation, it is the record of an exploration of new territory, in which I encountered a number of new insights. Each time that happened, I saw fit to connect the novel concept back to what had gone before, and that had prepared its ground. That process in turn yielded new fruits. As you will see, what follows is itself an example of the stepwise, stumbling exploration of conceptual space that it discusses.
These are the three jumps:
1. How is the unintelligibility of evil related to the Socratic doctrine that ignorance is the factor of vice?
2. How is it that if ignorance is not the factor of vice, anamnesis is false?
3. How would the falsehood of the Socratic doctrine of anamnesis undermine the Aristotelico-Thomistic doctrines of Divine omnipotence and necessity?
Jump 1 is rather straightforward for anyone passing familiar with Platonism, I think. Perhaps I don’t need to spell that one out. Oh, what the hell, I ought to be thorough. If evil is utterly unintelligible, then ex ante ignorance about it is metaphysically necessary for any non-omniscient being: there is, metaphysically, no possible way that a non-omniscient being who has not yet experienced the wages of sin could even begin to know what they are, in any concrete way. Such an innocent being would not understand why it was a bad thing to be alienated from God, or to die, or to suffer, because all of those concepts (including “bad”) would be to such a creature utterly meaningless, incommensurable with anything he had ever known. For before he Fell, he would have known only unalloyed good. And as you pointed out, there is no way to make sense of evil in terms of good; but, unfortunately, there are no other terms available to us, whatsoever; the only terms we can possibly use – and this is an analytical truth – refer to gradations of Good. Evil is non-being, and what is not cannot be denoted by reference to itself, but only by reference to what it is not. That’s why we call it “no-thing.” So, there is no way to explain pain to someone who is utterly unfamiliar with it. To someone who has never seen green, but has seen red, we can say, “green is a color, the way red is a color, but different.” Our interlocutor will have some notion, however inexact, of what we mean by “green,” or at least of what sort of thing we mean by the term. But someone who has never seen at all will have no idea what we are talking about in saying “green” and “red,” and we will have no way to explain it to him. So with pain. Someone who has suffered burns, but never a broken bone, can have some idea how much a compound fracture would hurt. Someone who had never suffered would find suffering as such inconceivable. “Suffering” and “pain” would be empty categories to such a one – unless he were omniscient, and had always known what they signified.
An unfallen creature who knew what evil is like would never decide to Fall; but no unfallen creature can know what evil is like. So, Socrates is correct that ignorance of the true nature of vice, and therefore ipso facto also of virtue, is the source of our first turn to the former from the latter.
Jump 2 is harder.
There is a common objection to the doctrine of anamnesis, that asks, “If all of us already implicitly know all about trigonometry, why is trig so hard to learn? Why do we have to learn it at all? Why don’t we all just know it, without having to think about it and puzzle over it? The fact that we must in fact work very hard to understand trig means that we don’t all know from the get go about trig, or by extension about virtue and vice.” Now, this objection is easy to answer: that we know or instantiate all the eternal truths implicitly, by virtue of our mere participation in being, does not mean that we know or instantiate them all explicitly. One can’t be all things: one can’t wholly embody all the truths about vegetables, and also embody the truths about animals. Only some truths are compossible to, or in, a finite being. So also with a finite rational intellect: it cannot contemplate all truths at once, but must treat of them a few at a time, seriatim, and stepwise parse their relations, that stretch out infinitely far into the limitless conceptual distance. Such is our predicament, as worldly creatures.
St. Thomas argued that angels needn’t undertake this laborious process of ratiocination in order to know truths; he thought they knew all truths simultaneously and directly, by being in that relation to God proper to their natures – by being, that is, always immaculately turned toward him in love, worship and adoration. Directing their gaze unremittingly toward God, they directed their gaze toward the entirety of truth. Apprehending him, they apprehended that entirety in a single glance. And this is perhaps what the saints enjoy in the Beatific Vision. They see everything, both eternal and contingent, all at once. So, a finite being can know all the truths only by virtue of apprehending them in God. Thus to see all things through God, is to be unworldly. An unworldly being may participate in a world, of course, as the angels participate in ours, or the saints participate in Heaven; but does so through God. Unworldly creatures are oriented – an apt word – toward God, and their adaptation to a world is a derivate of that orientation.
For worldly beings, the relation is reversed. Worldly creatures are adapted to a world, and their orientation toward God is a derivate of that adaptation. They may enjoy the Beatific Vision, but they must do so by means of participation in a world – they must climb a Jacob’s Ladder. This is by no means an impossible feat, for everything that is tells the Glory of God. This is the Doctrine of General Revelation; and the factual truth of that Doctrine is in the first place the basis of our capacity as creatures to repent and turn to God. We are fitted to God, as wax to the mold; mens capax dei. In the second place, it is the basis of anamnesis. Thus natural theology, nature mysticism, and natural science all have a shot at genuine verisimilitude, and may offer access to truth, in just exactly the same way that human mathematicians have a shot at true mathematical insight. Nor, therefore, is sinfulness entailed by worldliness. Heaven is, after all, also a world. But the difficulty for worldly beings is that they are distracted by their prior attention to other creatures from the direct apprehension of all truth in God. Thus distracted, their vision is obscured; they see through a glass only, and darkly. This limitation of their vision does not entail their Fall, but does make it possible, and indeed not unlikely.
Furthermore, one needn’t turn first from unworldliness to worldliness in order then to Fall. Lucifer did not. He Fell from Heaven directly. All that is needed, in order to Fall, is creaturely freedom – or rather, technically, license – and ignorance of sin’s actual meaning – i.e., of its experiential character.
So far, so good: anamnesis has withstood that challenge. Worldly beings can know only a portion of the eternal truths at any one time. Thus it is impossible for worldly creatures to attain complete simultaneous comprehension of trigonometry, or of virtue and vice. No matter how much they may be able to comprehend at any one time, they cannot comprehend the whole of math, virtue, or vice. How could it be otherwise, since, as I pointed out in my last, no creature can simultaneously comprehend even the truths at work even in an internal combustion engine?
But NB that while “worldly creature” is not just a way of saying “Fallen creature,” nevertheless any creature of our world is ipso facto a bit infected with the Fall. Even the good and faithful subatomic particles that constituted Hitler’s body were forced by their fidelity to that portion of the Logos proper to their nature to a complete cooperation with his monstrous evil. A causal order requires of the creatures participant therein that they should account for each other, fully; only thus may a coherent world be stitched together. So, an evil particle anywhere in a coherent causal order queers the whole shooting match. All the other particles thereof are deflected from their paths toward the Good by the inertial influence of an evil particle. This is how all of us are infected ab initio by Original Sin. Original Sin is not at first our own; but we do inherit it, so that it is an aspect of our natural, Fallen constitution.
Now notice that at its very inception from God, every occasion of existence is innocent. So long as a novel occasion attends first to God – so long as it loves the LORD our God with all its heart, soul, mind and body – it will not Fall. But if such a novel occasion is taking up its place in a Fallen world, it will participate in that world’s Fall, by virtue of the necessity imposed upon it by its participation in any given world, that it conform itself to the causal order thereof. And to participate in a Fallen world is to forget God, at least a bit. It is to forsake the Beatific Vision. And this is something that a novel creature could elect for itself only on account of its ignorance of the full meaning of its decision.
The Fall is not just something that happened at the very beginning of things, that doomed all subsequent occasions, although it is that indeed. No. It is more. Like creation, the Fall is reiterated at each new moment. For think of it: what is it that prevents the world as a whole from a decision to repent completely of its sinful past, and turn to the LORD, right now, right this very minute? Nothing. Any creature may turn to God at any time, and live. So, all creatures could thus turn. They do not. The evil order of this world perdures. And this happens because the Fall is reiterated by each new creaturely occasion of this world. Such reiterations can occur only because each new creature, as wholly innocent at its inception, is ignorant ex ante of the consequences that must follow from a decision to Fall. Any creaturely occasion that fully comprehended the consequences for itself of a Fall from Grace would remain obedient; but no creature that has not Fallen can fully comprehend the consequences of such a Fall. No innocent creature is competent to such a decision.
How, then, is all this related to anamnesis?
The necessary integrity of all truths requires that the Socratic doctrine of anamnesis be true. Nothing can exist that does not implicitly express the whole truth. So, any truth is in principle necessarily available to the introspection of any existent being. But, finite creatures must ratiocinate in order to apprehend truth, and may err in so doing. They are, therefore, necessarily ignorant of the whole truth.
Yet when they discover the truth – and by “truth” I mean now metaphysical truth of the sort that Plato understood as the only object of what could properly be called “knowledge” – they find it completely compelling. Once grasp a truth, and thenceforth the notion of believing otherwise is impossible to entertain seriously, the effort to carry through upon it perverse and pointless. To see what I mean, try earnestly to believe with all your heart that 2 + 2 = 5.
This happens because the achievement of new knowledge is the recognition of truths we had already implicitly expressed by our very being. So, the compulsion that a truth discovered exerts upon us is a measure of the agreement engendered by our faithful credence therein, between our rational will and our whole being, and indeed between that will and being as such. When we learn a truth, we discover what we have always enacted by our very existence, but without ever having explicitly recognized the fact. Learning the truth, we learn more about who we truly are. We learn why we have acted always as in fact we have – and, often, why we have always wanted to act in a certain way, and failed.
If then it were really possible to disbelieve a truth once discovered, that would be tantamount to a bit of self-murder. It would be, not just amnesis, but amnesis undertaken willfully, purposely – undertaken, that is, in the full anamnetic knowledge that the undertaking of amnesis was not really meant, was a kind of lie. It would be a decision to embody falsehood and evil; but since these things don’t exist, that would make it an attempt to enact non-being. To enact non-being as such is not possible. Only positive goods can be enacted. Non-being cannot be instantiated.
And to intend amnesis would be to intend to instantiate non-being. It can’t be done. To demonstrate that this is so, try believing with all your heart that 2 + 2 = 5.
Here, then, is the reason that the falsehood of the Socratic doctrine that ignorance of truth is the factor of vice would entail the falsehood of the Socratic doctrine of anamnesis: if it were indeed possible to enact a contravention of a metaphysical truth, and really genuinely to believe that contravention after one had already discovered its falsehood, then that truth would not really be true, and one would not have embodied it implicitly from the get go, and thus would not already have known it implicitly, so as through anamnesis to discover it. If it is in fact possible for a fully informed being to disbelieve a metaphysical truth, then there just is no metaphysical truth, nominalism is true (despite the fact that “nominalism is true” is self-refuting), and knowledge in the Platonic sense – including anamnesis – is impossible.
So, in order to believe a contradiction of a metaphysical truth, an innocent creature would have to be ignorant of its truth. The only way to err, then, with respect to metaphysical truths – the truths of mathematics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, theology, metaphysics, and so forth – or to behave in contravention thereto, is on the basis of ignorance thereof.
This holds, NB, only for innocent beings. For beings who have already Fallen, the situation is much more complicated, and dire. For Fallen beings, it is quite possible to behave in contravention to the truth, despite their understanding thereof. Indeed, it is easy. God forgive me, I know this to be so. Operating under his own steam on the data of his history, a Fallen being cannot but replicate the Fall; cannot but destroy himself altogether in the end. Grace only can save such a one. Oh, LORD, make haste to help us.
On, then, to jump 3. How would the falsehood of the Socratic doctrine of anamnesis undermine the Aristotelico-Thomistic doctrines of Divine omnipotence and necessity? This one is really the most straightforward of the lot, once you have taken on board what I have just said about jump 2.
Being per se and all the truths thereof are both necessary and incontrovertible. If we could truly enact a metaphysical falsehood – by, e.g., saying truly that “2 + 2 = 5” – this would not be so. In that case, there would be no metaphysical truths. And, if there were no metaphysical truths or metaphysical necessities – these are just two different ways of indicating the same reality – then there would be, not only no Divine necessity or omnipotence, but no God.
There is much here to mine. I shall attempt to respond to at least some of Kristor’s points soon. Until then, please reflect, in all the good meanings of the word.
Here are the previous posts for this thread:
“Orthodoxy and Evolution”
“Kristor on the Fall”
“Kristor Promotes Ignorance”
Update: See my response with “Before Choice,” followed by “Kristor Poses Evil Problems.”