Metaphysics, part one

Metaphysics was one of my favourite classes this semester. I'll provide highlights of what we learned:

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that thinks about what is common to every being, every thing that exists; it asks what are the universal properties of being as such. It looks at the deep underlying bond of unity among all beings, despite all their distinctions: that they are.

It is based on the supposition that being is understandable (intelligible). Though this can't exactly be proven, it is a reflection of human experience. Our mind has an insatiable appetite to know and understand, so it is only natural that things are understandable. Everything we accomplish is based on the assumption that being is intelligible, so to deny the intelligibility of being is folly.

One of the basic datum of metaphysics is the principle of sufficient reason: every being must have the sufficient reason for its existence in itself or in another being. If we didn't maintain this principle, then we wouldn't be able to problem-solve--it maintains that beings must have causes (or explain themselves).

We were introduced to the distinction between existence and essence: existence is the existence of a thing, and essence is the subject which exists.

We can know the world as it really is, though not completely. We can really know the world because beings by their nature reveal themselves, what they are like--otherwise we wouldn't know them, which we do. But we can't completely know the world because no single act of a being can completely express its nature, and we have a limited capacity for comprehending all the information conveyed by an action.

We saw the shift from ancient and medieval philosophy to modern philosophy: prior to the shift, there was a focus on objects studied, to a focus on subjects, the person's interior experience of being. In modern and contemporary philosophy the concern is how minds work, whereas before, philosophers could actually get to knowledge of beings.

The participation doctrine of St Thomas Aquinas is that the bond of unity among all being is that they all participate in the act of existence, which derives from God.

Essence and existence are distinct (not the same, nor do they come from the same source in the being) but inseparable metaphysical co-principles. If they were not distinct, then every being would be the same thing. They are inseparable because they cannot exist apart from each other; one's existence depends on the other, and vice versa. Existence is the principle of similarity among beings: every being has existence. Essence is the principle of dissimilarity.

Review of Rhetoric

In Rhetoric we looked at a couple speeches I found worthwhile. The first is Mama T’s (Bl Teresa of Calcutta’s) speech on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, which you can read here. The thesis of her speech was that true peace is love; it is of the heart. She chose to highlight the threat to peace that is abortion: "These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing - direct murder by the mother herself."

The second noteworthy speech was what I presented on in class: Pope Benedict's speech to Parliament at Westminster Hall, available here. The subject was the role of religion in the public sphere; his thesis regarding this is that "the role of religion in political debate is...to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles."

Early on in the speech, Benedict refers to St Thomas More. This man was sentenced to death in the very place Benedict was speaking. He was one of the few high-ranking persons to openly oppose Henry VIII and his Reformation; he is an example of subordinating duty to the state, to duty to God. Though he was a servant of the king, he ordered this service rightly in relation to his servitude to God.

Benedict later shows how religion and reason must go together, and not be separated. Religion without reason has led to the errors of sectarianism and fundamentalism, while reason without religion had led to the slave trade, Hitler and Stalin. Both of them are faulty on their own, so they need to go hand in hand.

He reminded the British of their valuing tolerance, non-discrimination, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion, and then showed how their recent actions towards Christians have violated these values: for example, wanting to get rid of public celebration of Christmas and arguing that Christians in public roles (eg health-care professionals and legislators) should have to act against their conscience.