Saturday, January 30, 2010

Archival balancing acts

Added over the other things I do, I've recently becomes an amateur archivist. Since my wife is working toward her MLIS, I have some access to methods and best practices advice, but also mostly extra places to exert my own research proclivities. The collection I oversee is an interesting one, at many levels, but today I'm focusing on the simple quiddity of it. Typically, the archivist makes practice detereminations in processing with respect to two principles: respect des fonds, or collection-level organization, and original order, or accession-volume organization. Ideally, this works best when your accession volumes come out of the subject's filing cabinets, or a related subject's filing cabinets (as for example the former president of the archive's founding committee). Here's where our collection gets interesting: we work in nachschriften, lecture recordings, sermon recordings, donations of related articles ... and I get them in bags. Now, in my own mind I am aware that each of these bags is officially an accession volume in its own right. However, I also know that half of the bags come to me from archive committee staff who go about acquiring random donated pieces whose value they find worth keeping. I am further troubled by the simple fact that it seems like there was an initial genuine archivist involved, and since then the people in my position, and the committee in charge, have cared little for archive best practices beyond item care. Organization is the real bug in my bonnet.

Here's the thing: I'm troubled precisely when I think of this as an archive. As one in the classic sense preserved by the profession. But that's not what its purpose is. The archive exists for use and evangelism purposes as much (if not more) than it exists for strict preservation purposes. It has been handled in varying ways according to the varying expertise of its paid fellows, but always with more emphasis in their job descriptions on making the archive serve to keep its subject in living memory. And organization should therefore serve to make the collection more accessible, which it can do. But doesn't always do. And we're profoundly backlogged, if thought of in accessibility terms, basic knowing what we have terms.

So I'm troubled again, because in my own mind, it would be so much easier if I could document exactly what we have at a base level, organize it by item classification, and make it accessible like a regular library. This violates original order, but how much original order we have, and from whom, and how much respect any given order deserves, are real questions at this point. If the subject's original order were present, in a given accession volume, that would be one thing. But we hardly have much from the subject himself. I think the family has that.

I'm tempted by the fact that online cataloging makes it possible to "organize" in an infinite variety of ways a collection that has no strict physical organization principle. But I'm also old enough and focused enough on the tangible that I want some level of strict physical organization, too! I want to be able to walk up to a box and know what's in it, not know what it is I want and then where it happens to be. So maybe I'm more of a librarian than an archivist. But really, I'm neither, I'm a systematic theologian, who goes through life rearranging things to make them work better. It's what I do.

So, no answer, just getting the state of my brain aired out a bit.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

About Aquinas' proofs

Aquinas is all about 0. Nothing. The absence of something. Numerically, it can be seen from a certain angle that each of the proofs of God's existence is a proof redirecting thought from God as 1 in a chain that develops from 1 to all things (2, 3, 4, ...), to God as 1 in contradistinction to 0. Makes sense, given his Aristotle transmitters are Arabic philosophers. The entire world, and all time, lies within the infinite gradient between 0 and 1, on its way from formless nonexistence to existence as eminent form. Which aligns with the objections suggesting that difference is additive, or that any number of other distinctions that are properly gradients of being, are likewise additive. In point of fact, the motion of the universe in its parts from formless matter through desire to embodiment of ultimate form is the reduction of deficiency, but that deficiency is not 2 as opposed to 10. It is fractional being, lack of exemplary wholeness.

To invert directions, the universe runs on entropy, from maximal potential seeking its least entropic state. God is that which knocks the universe and its parts off of successive plateaus of entropic state toward actuality.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Notes through Aquinas: Part I Question 2

Article 1: Very nice answer to a misuse of Anselm's "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." Category mistake: God is not therefore that greatest thing which can be conceived, and even were God's conceivability to be necessary, God's existence is not therefore also necessary. Hypothetical maxima have no necessary existence. (The true value of Anselm's declaration is bound up in his own arguments, and taking it out of context rather misses the point.) This is by no means to claim the nonexistence of God, but rather that even if God's existence is self-evident, it is not necessarily self-evident to us. The difference is epistemological availability. STA talks about it in terms of knowing God's essence, which we've already said we don't have access to. So we rely on effects. Sacred doctrine is a posterior science reliant upon revelation and the transmission thereof. God can be denied, at which point we have nothing useful to say to one another. Non-self-evidence is simply an extension of the non-necessity of belief in this deity with whom sacred doctrine deals as object.

Bonus points for roots of "graced nature" in Rahner's theology: there is a basic knowledge of God, which is the eschatological blessedness of creation, but which is not therefore specific revelation of God's reality.

Article 2: alright, God's existence is not self-evident. Can it be demonstrated? Aristotelian logic: Abc, Aab, Aac. Objection two suggests that without knowing the essence of God, we cannot demonstrate that God is a _____, and therefore exists. Nor can it be demonstrated, as a) it is a non-demonstrated premise and b) by connection to faith it cannot be seen (obj. 1); further, c) it cannot be demonstrated from its effects because they do not share its nature (obj. 3). Ah, but the trick here is that we're not concerned with knowing about God a se in this question. The sole concern is whether God's mere existence can be demonstrated. STA says this is naturally epistemologically available, and not an articulum fidei. Further, we know well certain things that God has done, certain effects of God. Between this and posterior analytics, it is perfectly legitimate to say that God is that which causes God's known effects, and therefore exists. Essence is a question to be considered after we know this basic fact.

Article 3: oh, goodie: ( God \/ Evil ), plus shaving with Occam. And the five banes of everyone else's existence: first mover, first efficient cause, only necessary being, causative maximal substance (being with all possible perfections), and director of all non-sentient things toward their ends. As though these are philosophically undeniable, or at least commonly rationally understood. Even Occam will agree that God, as a single cause, is preferable to Nature and Will as separate causes. And power to bring ultimate good out of even evil things ... is this an argument?

It's hard for me to deal with this article because it has been made so banal. I need to get back to a place where I can understand why it works.

I can't help but think that this whole thing is still predicated upon acceptance of the existence of God even to have the argument. This is an internal-to-the-faith discussion, so its purpose seems entirely apologetic, but to whom? Who is the real opponent?

Notes through Aquinas: Part I Question 1

Article 1 leads us to the point that there is rational human knowledge and revealed divine knowledge, and that there is a theology affine to each. The theology of sacred doctrine is affine to revealed divine knowledge, where the philosophical discipline of theology is affine to rational human knowledge.

Two epistemological origins, but does the reply to objection 2 mean that STA thinks we get knowledge about the same matter through both? I.e. that both theologies bear on the same matter from rational and revealed perspectives?

All that is, is true; God is. But all truth is not handled sufficiently through philosophical science alone, which is to say through rational human cognition alone. Truth revealed by God (about the subject of theology?) is superior by virtue of immediacy to truth discovered by humans and perpetuated within rational systems. Divine revelation is necessary in order to secure the salvation of humanity in God (and so as not to simply leave it to the chance happening of rational discovery and the tainting of that knowledge by human error). This leads to the necessity of theology of sacred doctrine, as a science which learns from revelation, as standing alongside that science which learns from reason.

Article 2 bothers me. Music is to mathematics as doctrine is to revelation, as lower science is to higher science. But it has merely been asserted that revelation is a science to the same extent that mathematics is. God is the scientist who teaches us the higher science of revelation, from the principles of which we develop the lower science of sacred doctrine. But this rests upon a quote from Augustine and seemingly little else. It is self-evident that arithmetic and geometry are wissenschaftliche. It has not here been demonstrated that revelation is properly analogous.

The points of particularity versus universality I accept, on the consideration that many sciences which treat of universal principles produce demonstrable insights in practical fields which are plural, and not self-evidently related to one another. Besides which, every modern science, as modeling language, develops its models on the basis of properly accounting for myriad individual facts as data points through a model which also therefore is predictive of other data points. Which brings up another difference in our respective assertions of wissenschaftlichkeit: scientia as proceeding from self-evident principles is no longer part of our working set.

[Note to self: research medieval notions of scientia native to STA - check ibn Maymun and ibn Rushd as Aristotelian transmitters. Seems analogous to gnosis, connaissance]

Article 3: alright, fine, the infinite qualitative distinction and most other nominal qualitative distinctions are in point of fact irrelevant to the definition of sacred doctrine as science, since its wissenschaftlichkeit is considered on the basis of its origin in revelation. Whatever God chooses to reveal knowledge of, is properly subject of sacred doctrine. This formal unity is reinforced by the fact that sacred doctrine deals with everything it deals with through its fundamental position of dealing with God. (Same distinction between anthropology and theological anthropology.) Ooh, and this is a fun piece of assertion in response 2: philosophical science is to sacred doctrine as sense perception is to fundamental rationality.

Article 4: sacred doctrine only deals with the human and practical through its fundamental dealing with the divine and speculative. Methinks this is a bit of jostling for position, practical sciences being deprecated with respect to the speculative ones.

Article 5: nobler because of revelatory immediacy as certitude, and heavenly salvation as aim. A doubtful claim in itself, as it proceeds on purely religious grounds, but: Dubitability has more to do with the doubter than with the doubted. Proper relation of sacred doctrine to philosophy: Sacred doctrine depends on revelation as source, and on philosophy as paedagogical assistance. Even though we don't get to knowledge of God through philosophy, it is easier to teach knowledge of God through those philosophical means with which our reason is already familiar. Just as we should teach any subject through pedagogical means in which our students have already acquired skills. Consider the contemporary irrelevance of rote learning: it had once been the dominant practice, and now it is no longer functional. Why? Not because students have poorer memories, but because pedagogies of inquiry and interconnection are taught as standard from a young age. Neither is more or less "natural" to the subject; the Koine doesn't care how you teach it, but the students certainly do! Just so, philosophy is not "natural" to the knowledge of God, but was "natural" to the trained mind.

Article 6: Wisdom, through Aristotle, is a divinely inspired fundamental principle on the basis of which all other things are proved. And STA adds the caveat: human wisdom does not reach divine wisdom. But human wisdom is only truly wisdom when it is teleios, and therefore directed towards God as its fit end; sacred doctrine is therefore the highest human wisdom as it is directed most toward God. Furthermore, it does so through consideration of the principles laid down in revelation, which as divine knowledge is the highest wisdom of all. The knowledge of God as revealed is not proved by anything, but orders and judges the rest. The one who has God-given virtue judges by it (and this is better?); the student of doctrine judges by the science of sacred doctrine (and this is more common?).

Article 7: Well, yes, we're stuck working posterior to God, but we already said that: we depend on revelation. Rational philosophy frequently deals in causality-as-definition, of the form: a cause is that which produces its effects. The base claim, that a science knows what its object is - comprehends its object's essence - is false. Many sciences cannot claim to fully comprehend the essential nature of their object. Instead, they substitute the effects, properly attributed, for the otherwise inexplicable cause. And this is the root of a neo-Thomistic distinction: the economic and immanent trinities are one. We know who God is by what God does. This suggests that God's actions are essential parts of God's nature, as opposed to being accidental attributes that might or might not be. God is, and there is no God that has not done these things -- is this valid? Obviously taking God as a divine name in the very particular sense, and not as a generic noun covering a class of divine beings. In a set of one, are not all attributes arguably essential?

Oh, and God is the object of this science because we treat of everything else through God.

Article 8: Nothing is a matter for argument to one who will not accept its principles. Only one discipline is exempt from this, metaphysics, and even that requires concessions by the parties to the argument. Shades of Anselm, shades of Barth. Principles prove other things, and argument can only be made on the basis of principles. The articula fidei are used to prove other theological points, but are not themselves matters to be proven. We can argue with heretics and dispute individual doctrines, with recourse to legitimate methods of proof, but the best we can do with an unbeliever is answer objections. All arguments are from authority, as all principles and all reason stand on some authority at some point. The question is, what credence do we give these authorities? Fine, argument from authority is weakest of all, but that's because it is argument from human authority. Don't believe me? Fine! Why should you believe me? Who am I? But sacred doctrine isn't based on human authority, even if it uses it at subordinate points. Sacred doctrine is based on revelation, and if you do not believe God, we cannot argue, now can we?

The trick here is that we don't depend directly on divine authority, on revelation itself, but upon the authority of those to whom it was revealed, authority which consists solely in them having been recipients of revelation. We depend on scripture as a repository of transmitted revelation. STA leans on canonical authority to suggest that scripture is incontrovertible revelation. So what do we lean on, with what we know about the works called canonical? What do we do, now that we read and evaluate the canonical works just like literature? There is the principle of canon-within-canon, of defining a less-controvertible subset of canonical works. There is what Luther meant by that principle, which was essentially defining scripture by a theological understanding of Christ, a more abstracted canon not consisting of works. At this point, scripture points outside itself to the principle of faith, which breaks STA's reliance on an incontrovertible set of works. We lean on the God revealed to us through their stories, letters, and myths. So back to the authority of the author, but only through the tale told. Only through the message, the revelation transmitted, not through the human fact of receivership. And so, as STA says, we argue sacred doctrine from faith, and cannot argue it without faith.

Article 9: Once again, pedagogical necessity. Scripture and sacred doctrine make use of metaphors and analogies to created things because that's what makes sense to human beings, not because it is necessary to the subject. Don't mistake the necessities of teaching with the necessities of knowledge. And I love response 3: the believer is better protected from error this way, the instruction better fits such knowledge of God as we do have this way, and the truth is better protected from the unworthy this way. Go, analogies!

Article 10: Linguistic naiveté: words mean one way, or they aren't very scientific, are they? But the meaning is in the text, and all other meanings are drawn from the meaning in the text. It is not as though these meanings contradict one another, but they are all related by usage: our usage, the textual usage, or the stylistic usage of the author. Louw and Nida (among others) would say that this focus on words is designed to create misunderstanding. Meaning is conveyed by larger units, and different meanings pertain to units bounded in different ways. A word may have a range of meanings, but its meaning is determined by its usage in a phrase, its usage in a sentence, and its usage in phrases and sentences within larger units of discourse affine to a given language (colon, period, paragraph, &c.). Jesus is not rhema theou, but logos theou.


So: what is the nature and extent of sacred doctrine, this thing we've gone so far out of our way to apologize into legitimate existence? Essentially, the science of sacred doctrine works from the revealed knowledge of God, under the presuppositions of faith, developing truths about all things within its ambit as they are related to its proper object, God. Truths of reason and their philosophical methodologies are accidental to it, useful as long as they are useful, and principally so in explaining and teaching the science of sacred doctrine to minds schooled in rational philosophy. Poetry, metaphor, analogy, and other figurative methods are also accidental to it, for precisely the same reasons. Contingent necessities which are truly necessary only to the human, and not to the divine object or subject of the science itself. It is a fully legitimate science just as all other sciences, but superior to all other sciences by dint of its grounding in divine revelation and its orientation to God before all other things.