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Thursday, March 31

April 1, 2016

WWTWWT: Today we talked about free will, as expressed in the perennial philosophical question: do we have it? We responded to a “Minority Report”-style scenario and discussed its implications, which are an echo of the question raised by Boethius (and many others) — how can we have free will if there is an omnipotent God?

Boethius’s answer to this dilemma cites the concept of what we’ll call the “eternal now” — that God exists outside our timeframe. The linear concept of time does not apply to God, and therefore, using the idea of what is to happen in “the future” is too limiting an idea; specifically, the idea that God knows what is to happen and therefore can “predict” the future.

(This is a clever concept, but it does open the door for a problem that we’ll explore in more depth next week: that simply saying something is unknowable to us — in the sense that it’s difficult for us to comprehend what it really means to exist in all times simultaneously — means we may be more dependent on faith, rather than reason, for our knowledge of God.)

That brings us to Aquinas, the greatest of the “Scholastic” philosophers. His job was similar to St. Augustine’s, but where Augustine had to reconcile Christianity to Platonic thought, Aquinas had to contend with the newly-recovered philosophy of Aristotle (which had mostly gone missing after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and had been returned to Europe via the Arab world).

Aquinas did this — if you’re making a list of the smartest guys who ever lived, he’s probably Top 10 material — in part through his concepts of existence and essence.

For example, we all know what a unicorn is — what its essence is, in other words. It’s white, has a single horn, etc. That’s in spite of the fact that a unicorn has no existence, because it’s an imaginary creature. So essence doesn’t automatically mean that something exists.

Objects that actually exist, then, have both an essence and an existence. When you die, you have lost your existence — but not your essence.

These two terms are similar to Aristotle’s concepts of potentiality and actuality. Potentiality is like essence. Actuality is like existence. And just like an object cannot actualize its own potential — for example, a rubber ball can’t melt itself, and you can’t just will yourself to know Chinese — a object can’t just go from essence to existence. (Or else there’d probably be a lot of unicorns running around, and fan fiction would become something completely different.) Therefore, Aquinas’  idea of a creator would be a being that is pure existence — or just being, itself. (Or, similar to Aristotle, a being of pure actuality.)

It’s important to note that Aquinas was less concerned with whether the universe had a beginning (he thought it did, like the book says) than with what keeps it going. If change (that is, motion) is constant, then there must be something sustaining it from outside our experience. And that something, Aquinas thought, was a being of pure existence, or what he called God.

No assignment for Tuesday, but we are leading up to a midterm, either next Thursday or (more likely) Tuesday the 12th.

Book History: Today some of you finished up your book of hours. If you were absent or didn’t finish, plan to do so on Thursday. Otherwise, read The Gutenberg Revolution. Here is the book, if you lost your copy:

Gutenberg Rev Part 1

Gutenberg Rev Part 2

You need to have this read by next Thursday (4/7). I pushed it back one class meeting because the book of hours took an extra day. There will be an assessment.

Siren: April copy stuff &c.

Prompt: Four entries due for Tuesday.

Survey: CNF:

Survey: Screenwriting: 

Sat in on Mr. DeFade’s Jazz Improv class. Talked about how to talk to people.

I have not yet set a due date for the biographical sketches, but it won’t be next week. Stay tuned. You ARE responsible for interviewing at least three other people for this sketch. Hopefully I will have the transcripts finished for Monday, and we can start talking about how you should proceed. We’ll also talk about attributive verbs and how to reproduce quotations, since you will doing some fair amount of that in your sketch.


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