Monday, October 17, 2005

Critique of Contemporary Technology and Economy

Lecture 8 questions. And after this, paper time! I have an odd process for paper writing, which mostly occurs unconsciously. I read and take in as much relevant material as I can. I then occasionally think of the subject of the paper and consider some approaches. However, most of the processing isn't conscious until I actually start writing the paper. When I actually start typing, the thing comes out in almost a single stream, with perhaps a few short stops to regain my bearings.

As a former composition instructor, I know this is not the way the writing process is supposed to work, and I've certainly revised some essays given adequate time. A single paper assignment in a semester doesn't really provide adequate time. So I'll just stick with my own stewing method, thank-you-very-much.

What are the two reasons for preserving and cultivating our material environment?

One is practical. We need biodiversity because our ability to transform and use what is available in creation is directly connected to the availability of diverse species. We can't use what is no longer present in our environment (fossil fuels being the exception... sort of).

The other is aesthetic or contemplative. Through the beauty and wonder of biodiversity (that is, through creation), we come to understand the Creator. We can look at creation and ponder why the Creator saw fit to do what he has done. Contemplation of the beauty of creation gives us access to God's wonder, and through that wonder we can come to a greater understanding of God's nature.

Why is economics the architectonic technology?

I had to look at the definition of architectonic before responding to this.

Philosophy. Of or relating to the scientific systematization of knowledge.

And that tells me in relation to technology, so I thought that the other part (technology) of the compound might be key to understanding. Indeed it is.

The scientific method and material used to achieve a commercial or industrial objective.

(ASIDE: I think I'm beginning to reveal the unfortunate influence of analytical philosophy on my methods. I really like to understand the definitions of terms before I begin a proposition.

And by that I mean a philosophical proposition.

Shame on you.)

So, economics is the "scientific systematization" of "method and material used to achieve a commercial or industrial objective."

Essentially, technology is tactical. It deals with the interrelationship of resources toward a specific and often short-term end. Economics is strategic. It deals with the use of tactics toward a greater end. While tactics (technology) are geared toward solving specific problems, strategy (economics) are geared toward meeting a long-term end. Technology provides tools. Economics provides intelligence to use tools toward a long-term end.

What is the role of the fine arts in life?

Fine arts address the contemplative needs of people. While we have many practical means to address basic human needs, we have fewer means to address higher needs—the need to find a greater meaning to life than mere day-to-day existence, the need to understand our own being and the nature of the being who gives us existence. Fine arts help to take us out of our everyday existence and allow us to dwell in a realm outside of the practical, to transcend the basic needs and attend the higher intellectual needs.

Why are both socialism and capitalism inadequate economies to achieve the common good?

Socialism, depending on its form, either gravitates twoard totalitarianism (communisim) or toward utopianism (anarchism). I've sometimes thought (mostly in my prerervsion days) that some kind of anarchosynidcalism might work. However, anarchism is predicated upon the overly optimistic notion that people will be able to consent disinterestedly or at very least make bargains to ameliorate any unbeneficial arrangements. Frankly, people tend to be too selfish to act in a just fashion unless compeeled to do so by some kind of authority (the Spanish anarchism of the civil war notwithstanding. Tell the martyrs of the faithful that their interests were being respected). Such a system makes human dignity a matter of common consensus. When times become difficult, the value of human dignity degrades because there is no objective standard upon which it is based.

Communism claims the interests of "the people" but does so by degrading the value of the individual. It gives "the people" some kind of groundless being, an operative term with no substantial definition, and turns it to the benefit of the governing beauracracy. Such a government makes human dignity a nonvalue.

Capitalism gives primary dignity to humans as beings who interact with a market. Outside of their market interactions, they have little our no value. In such a system, humans have value only as entrepreneurs or as consumers. Such a system commoditizes all human skills, reducing human work to a relative value, hence, human existence to one of mere quantifiable worth.

Why is private property a human right but one subordinated to the common good?

Private property is legitimate when it is geared toward the sustenance of an individual and his or her family. People have an obligation to work, hence, an implied right to work. Given this obligation, they must have the means to work. Property is one of the means (along with human potentiality) for work. So people have a right to property so long as that property is used in a productive fashion. Physical property is finite, which means that one person's holding of property limits the property available to others. If the person holding a property does not use it to produce goods for others and does not need it for personal sustenance, he deprives others of the ability to either use the land for sustenance or to use it toward the common good. Such a right, if it were absolute, would eventually come into conflict with the basic right and obligation of man to work. Given the primacy of the latter, the former must be subordinate.

Critique of Contemporary Ethics and Politics

Lecture 7 questions. I have to say that I like where we're going, but I sure had to hoof a bit this weekend to catch up. I'll pay more attention for the next series of lessons. However, it also got me back into the swing of grad school. I'm hoping I can get back to my prior reading speed of 45 pages per hour. I'm at around 25 pages now.

Is an action morally good because authority commands it, or should authority command something because it is morally good?

The answer depends upon the nature of the authority. If the authority is temporal, then the only way to provide a stable system of morality is upon a foundation that is stable, and that requires some higher authority to which the temporal authority can refer. Otherwise, any ethical system asserted by that authority will be arbitrary. So in this case, authority would need to command something because it is morally good. However, if the authority is ultimate, perfect, all knowing, and all powerful, its very nature is the greatest good, so anything commanded would be morally good in its source. The question then becomes whether this authority is truly the highest and most perfect.

That said, our assessment of the moral good must be based upon our understanding. For us to make good moral decisions, we must have a clear and adequate understanding of the factors, including the nature of authorities dictating a behavior. We must base our decisions upon our rightly informed understanding of what is morally good, not merely upon the dictates of a self-proclaimed authority.

Why do we need not only a "decision-making ethics" but a "virtue ethics?"

"Decision-making" ethics tend to do what is most expedient or what is of benefit to the most parties involved (or at least those parties that have a vested and accepted interest). However, virtue ethics brings in the concepts of justice, temperance, and courage, which ensures that even means that are not popular are considered and given fair hearing. What is just and temperate is frequently not what is popular. Without a virtue-based ethic, justice and temperance would rarely get a hearing. Recognition for the need for these virtues in making ethical choices arises from another virtue, wisdom or prudence.

Why did John Paul II condemn "teleologism" or proportionalism in the encyclical "The Splendor of Truth" (Veritatis Splendor) ?

Proportionalism denies that objects can be intrinsically evil. They posit that objects have premoral good and bad values apart from circumstances and the intentions of the agent. So an object whose premoral values come out to be mostly good depend upon the circumstance and agent intent for their moral acceptability. The problem is that we can easily posit objects that have no premoral good values by all reasonable standards (rape, murder of innocents). Anything good in such acts would have to be as the end result rather than in the means themselves, so there could be no premoral good in them to justify the means. An object that has no premoral good is intrinsically evil. One instance of an object that has no premoral good undermines the entire premise.

Why must there be authority and obedience to just decisions by authority in any human community if it is to function well and survive?

Human society is based upon an implicit agreement that activities will be undertaken to benefit all parties involved. The sinful nature of man being a factor, there must be an authority to whom grievances can be addressed. If that authority undermines the implicit social agreement, it threatens both its own authority and the stability of society. If individuals refuse to acknowledge decisions simply because they do not find them of benefit personally, they too undermine the very assumption upon which society is based.

What is the argument for a "republic" as ordinarily the best practical form of government?

A republic is more likley to be able to represent the widest number of relevant perspectives in the determination of just law. It has a single ruler, but it also has a body of elected officials who are responsible for determining which laws will be enacted. Depending on the form of republic, the body of officials can counterbalance the power to the ruler by refusing what it sees as unjust legislation. Likewise, the ruler can often halt the enacting of laws passed by the representative group that it sees as counter to its interests. This division and balance of power tends to create dialogue and cooperation.

Republican forms of government, when properly employed, ensure that the populace has some means of altering the balance of power. Such forms guarantee that a single individual cannot wantonly impose his or her will without, at least, the consent of a representative body.

If I were a Cyborg...

Technician Hardwired for Efficient Observation, Ceaseless Obliteration and Immediate Destruction

UPDATE: Hmmm. "Ceaseless obliteration" and "immediate destruction" sound like premorally bad values to me.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Critique of Contemporary Understanding of the Human Person

Eeek! I just discovered that we were supposed to cover 5 lessons in the last month, not just 4 through 6. So I have two more to cover before I start my paper. Bad Theocoid!

Here are the questions for lecture 6.

What distinguishes human persons from animals?

While animals have consciousness (the ability to be awar of particulars), they are not able to gain abstract knowledge or insight from that of which they are conscious. While animals are aware and can act upon sense data, they cannot think about their knowledge and come to new knowledge.

What distinguishes human intelligence from the human senses, interior and exterior?

Human senses give us data. We gather this data from the outside world or from our own interior senses. Our intelligence helps us to filter out that data that is irrelevant, combine and process the data that is relevant, and come to new conclusions that would otherwise not be self-evident. While the brain can process and store sense data, it does not account for intelligence, which is self-conscious.

What is the relation between the soul and the body in the human person?

The body is our material presence, but our soul cannot be separate from it in the manner that the Platonists believed. We know ourselves as physical beings, and as self-conscious beings. However, the soul cannot itself be material, or it would have a location apart from the entire self. You could identify a location in the body as the seat of the soul (which is what Descartes attemnpted to do). The soul and the body are together the human being. To be human is to have body and soul together.

Is the human intelligence identical with the operations of the brain?

Operations of the brain are electrochemical functions. They are process by which the brain transfers data from one place to another. That is not human intelligence. Animal brains do the same. Human intelligence must be able to filter data, process it, and come to new insights. The ability to abstract from particulars is what makes human intelligence different from mere brain function. Granted, we can't demonstrate much of the former without the latter, but in animals we can see the latter without the former.

What is the distinction between cognition and affectivity in the human person?

Cognition is the ability to recognize and interpret sense data. Affectivity is the means by which we evaluate the sense data to make free choices. Affectivity (or feeling or emotions) is that which helps us to determine advantages, disadvantages, desirable or undesirable outcomes, and hence allows us to use our intelligence toward free choice. However, we must use both together. Affectivity with no use of intelligence makes us subject solely to our drives. If we can gather data but cannot act on our abstract knowledge to out advantage, we likely do not have free choice.

Friday, October 14, 2005

New Catholic?

Actually, I'm a cradle Catholic who grew up completely outside of the culture in a Catholic military family. As I used to say, all of the guilt, and none of the culture!


You scored as New Catholic. The years following the Second Vatican Council was a time of collapse of the Catholic faith and its traditions. But you are a young person who has rediscovered this lost faith, probably due to the evangelization of Pope John Paul II. You are enthusiastic, refreshing, and somewhat traditional, and you may be considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. You reject relativism and the decline in society that you see among your peers. You are seen as being good for the Church.

A possible problem is that you may have a too narrow a view of orthodoxy, and anyway, you are still a youth and not yet mature in your faith.

New Catholic


Traditional Catholic


Neo-Conservative Catholic


Evangelical Catholic


Radical Catholic


Liberal Catholic


Lukewarm Catholic


What is your style of American Catholicism?
created with

UPDATED: This thing's been messing up my side navigation bar, dad burn it!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Blogger Word of the Day for Oct. 9, 2005.

BORE from The Devil's Dictionary.

A person who talks when you wish him to listen.

Critique of the Foundations of Contemporary Natural Science

These are the questions for week 5. Fortunately the Dulles text actually arrived, albeit after three weeks of stalling by the original bookseller. I had to cancel my original order and reorder from Powell's, who had the book to me in five days.

Powell's Books rocks! Abebooks also rocks.

So, on to the questions!

What did the founders of modern science think about the relation of science and religion?

The founders of modern science—Galileo, Newton, Harvey, Descartes—were all devout men who believed that the study of natural science could lead us closer to God. It would make sense that studying God's creation would tell us something about the creator. In this sense, science is at the service of faith, not vice versa. We study the creation in order to come to greater knowledge of God.

What caused the break between modern science and religion?
Galileo's observations using his telescope confirmed the Copernican heliocentric theory of the universe. This theory contradicted the geocentric conception of the universe to which Aristotle subscribed. Galileo's observation of sunspots also contradicted Aristotle's belief that the sun was composed of something different than the matter which made up the Earth and our physical world.

Galileo's findings of error in the details of Aristotle's theories caused many to discard all of his thought and to search elsewhere for foundational thought for science. They turned to the earlier materialist, Democritus, who provided a mechanistic view of the universe. This mechanistic view posited that there really was no need for anything outside of the physical universe to explain its existence. It was always here in one form or another. As Democritus claimed, "Nothing comes from nothing" (Catholic Encyclopedia, "Materialism).

What is meant by the "foundational principles and concepts" of natural science?

Foundational principles and concepts are those assumptions upon which all further thoughts must be based. With Aristotle, the "foundational principles and concepts" are those that we derive from our sense experience. We know the world through our senses, and we can trust our senses to tell us about the world. With the empiricists, we only know our sense impressions, which somehow reflect sense objects in the real world. The problem is that if we only know reflections of real objects, we cannot know the properties of the object itself. A reflection distorts that which it presents (just as we see a reverse image of an object in a reflection and not the object as it really stands). For this reason, our sense impressions are not trustworthy. The problem with this view is that all means we have for scientific observation and measurement ultimately require us to interpret the raw data with the same senses, hence the same sense impressions. Eventually, this belief of the separation of object from impression leaves us eternally separated from knowledge of reality.

If we know only our sense impressions, we can know nothing outside of our minds. However, we do know things exist outside of our minds. Otherwise, our coming to knowledge of things outside of our immediate experience would be impossible. Therefore, we must be able to know things in the real world and not only our sense impressions.

Are natural science and religion on such different planes that there is no contact between them?

Natural science and religion complement each other. The former provides knowledge of things in our experience. The latter abuts the former and extends beyond our sense experience to things we cannot affirm through the senses. Natural science can provide a rational basis for faith. Our knowledge of change, of cause and effect, and of of potential versus actual reality all point to something in existence prior to our current material universe. In this way, natural science can support faith, by showing the necessity of something in existence outside of the material universe.

How is the Biblical view of creation related to modern science and the theory of the Big Bang?

The Biblical view of creation is a narrative explanation in poetic language that describes the rational thought of a prescientific people into the origins of the universe. It doesn't attempt to describe what is but provide a framework by which prescientific people could explain origin. Being narrative in poetic language, it uses the tools of narrative: metaphor, idiom, and other figures of speech. It also uses such idiom that was appropriate to the people of the time. It describes creation without the benefit of objective observation of other heavenly bodies and prior to the existence of matter.

The Big Bang theory is a view of creation from a scientific perspective using technical, precise language. It attempts to describe the "creation" of the universe in terms of observable cause and effect, based on observations that are inaccessible by the naked eye. It uses language that attempts to minimize figurative speech. It does not attempt to provide a framework outside of immediate observation and known physical laws to describe a process that took place billions of years ago. It does not attempt to describe origins prior to the existence of matter.

The Biblical account of creation and the Big Bang theory are two attempts from different perspectives that attempt to describe origins. However, once restricts itself to things that can be described in terms of matter alone, while the other does not. They represent two different perspectives for two different purposes for two different cultures.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Free Piglet!

Hat tip to With Issue for the image.

Blogger Word of the Day for Oct. 7, 2005

In light of recent controversies, today's word is

hog (from The New hacker's Dictionary)

1. Favored term to describe programs or hardware that seem to eat far more than their share of a system's resources, esp. those which noticeably degrade interactive response. Not used of programs that are simply extremely large or complex or that are merely painfully slow themselves (see pig, run like a). More often than not encountered in qualified forms, e.g., `memory hog', `core hog', `hog the processor', `hog the disk'. "A controller that never gives up the I/O bus gets killed after the bus-hog timer expires." 2. Also said of people who use more than their fair share of resources (particularly disk, where it seems that 10% of the people use 90% of the disk, no matter how big the disk is or how many people use it). Of course, once disk hogs fill up one filesystem, they typically find some other new one to infect, claiming to the sysadmin that they have an important new project to complete.

UPDATE: More details on the controversy here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Blogger word of the day for Oct. 5, 2005

crapulence (from

Sickness caused by excessive eating or drinking.

Excessive indulgence; intemperance.

The definition has less to do with my choice than the word stem. I guess this choice says more about my adolescent sense of humor than anything else.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Blogger Word of the Day for Oct. 4, 2005.

chomp (from the New Hacker's Dictionary)

To lose; specifically, to chew on something of which more was bitten off than one can. Probably related to gnashing of teeth. See bagbiter.

A hand gesture commonly accompanies this. To perform it, hold the four fingers together and place the thumb against their tips. Now open and close your hand rapidly to suggest a biting action (much like what Pac-Man does in the classic video game, though this pantomime seems to predate that). The gesture alone means `chomp chomp' (see " Verb Doubling" in the " How Jargon Works" section of the Prependices). The hand may be pointed at the object of complaint, and for real emphasis you can use both hands at once. Doing this to a person is equivalent to saying "You chomper!" If you point the gesture at yourself, it is a humble but humorous admission of some failure. You might do this if someone told you that a program you had written had failed in some surprising way and you felt dumb for not having anticipated it.

Okay, I acknowledge that this one is a stretch. I've been rilly rilly busy. I'll try to post something substantial (relatively, not Christologically speaking) tomorrow.