Duccio di Buoninsegna, Nativity (1308-11), National Gallery of Art, Washington

Proclamation of the Birth of Christ
  • The twenty-fifth day of December.
  • In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
  • the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
  • the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
  • the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
  • the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king;
  • in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
  • in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
  • the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
  • the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
  • the whole world being at peace,
  • in the sixth age of the world,
  • Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,
  • was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh.
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

O Emmanuel

Fall 2009 Papers

Here are the links to the papers (with brief summaries) that I wrote this semester.

1: "Omne Quod Movetur, Ab Alio Movetur: An Exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas's Demonstrations for the Beginning of a Rational Ascent to God From Motion."

The cosmological proofs from motion all depend upon the "motor causality principle," namely, every thing in motion is moved by another. I provide here an exposition of St. Thomas's demonstrations of this principle from the ratio of the physical continuum (from Physics VII.1) and from act and potency (Physics VIII.5, SCG I.13). These demonstrations are shown to provide sufficient grounds to answer certain objections and clarify the science they belong to.

2: "Why Is the Angle In A Semicircle a Right Angle? An Examination of the Aristotelian Logic of the Middle Term."

Aristotle argues (Prior Analytics I.23) that all arguments either proceed through syllogism or can be reduced to syllogism. A fortiori this applies to scientific demonstration, and praecipue (it would seem) to mathematics. I examine two approaches to understanding Aristotle's use of the semicircle right-angle theorem, and argue for the proper demonstrative structure for this demonstration.

3: "Follow What Is Common To All: Hobbes, Civil Science, and a Common Wealth of Public Words."

This paper presents a critical review of the core of Phillip Pettit's Made With Words, an examination of Hobbesian civil science. I first present the Hobbesian model of the idealized civil state (i.e. that under Leviathan) and then critique its foundations as interpreted by Pettit. Hobbes's understanding of the public use of language and speech is built upon a circular argument. This relates ultimately to the way in which the rational mind is present in the world, and the world is present to it.

4: "The Passion of a Generous Promethean: Cartesian Monastic Ethics and the Mastery of Nature."

In this paper I examine a fundamental tension between the scientific (Baconian/Promethean) project of the mastery of nature and a stoic ethical view in Descartes' philosophy. The former advocates eliminating restrictions in the natural order, the latter advocates accepting them within a broader program of attaining psychological tranquility. This tension is first found in Discourse on Method, and further articulated in The Passions of the Soul. After examining a proposed solution to this dilemma, I argue that the tension is ultimately unresolvable, and that Cartesian ethics can instead only provide an account for a monadic kind of happiness.

O Rex Gentium

O Oriens

O Clavis David

O Radix Iesse

O Adonai

O Sapientia

1) "Accident" is said of many.
2) "Accident" is not said univocally.
3) "Accident" is not said equivocally.
4) Therefore,"accident" is said analogously.
5) Names are used analogously in virtue of some first use, which is referenced in every other use.
6) The only thing all accidents have reference to in their account is that through which they inhere in substance.
7) All accidents inhere to substance through quantity.
8) Quantity is the only accident through which all other inhere in substance.
9) Therefore, quantity is the prime analogate of "accident".


Immaculate Conception with Saints Francis and Jerome, Augustine, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure
(b. 1462, Firenze, d. 1521, Firenze)

Pope Pius IX
Apostolic Constitution issued on December 8, 1854.

God Ineffable—whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly"—having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word. This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so lover her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.

Supreme Reason for the Privilege: The Divine Maternity

And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To her did the Father will to give his only-begotten Son—the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by him, the Father loves from his heart—and to give this Son in such a way that he would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother and it was from her that the Holy Spirit willed and brought it about that he should be conceived and born from whom he himself proceeds.[1]

Liturgical Argument

The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin—a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God—and thus has never ceased to explain, to teach and to foster this doctrine age after age in many ways and by solemn acts. From this very doctrine, flourishing and wondrously propagated in the Catholic world through the efforts and zeal of the bishops, was made very clear by the Church when she did not hesitate to present for the public devotion and veneration of the faithful the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin.[2] By this most significant fact, the Church made it clear indeed that the conception of Mary is to be venerated as something extraordinary, wonderful, eminently holy, and different from the conception of all other human beings—for the Church celebrates only the feast days of the saints.

And hence the very words with which the Sacred Scriptures speak of Uncreated Wisdom and set forth his eternal origin, the Church, both in its ecclesiastical offices and in its liturgy, has been wont to apply likewise to the origin of the Blessed Virgin, inasmuch as God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.

Ordinary Teaching of the Roman Church

These truths, so generally accepted and put into practice by the faithful, indicate how zealously the Roman Church, mother and teacher of all Churches, has continued to teach this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Yet the more important actions of the Church deserve to be mentioned in detail. For such dignity and authority belong to the Church that she alone is the center of truth and of Catholic unity. It is the Church in which alone religion has been inviolably preserved and from which all other Churches must receive the tradition of the Faith.[3]

The same Roman Church, therefore, desired nothing more than by the most persuasive means to state, to protect, to promote and to defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This fact is most clearly shown to the whole world by numerous and significant acts of the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors. To them, in the person of the Prince of the Apostles, were divinely entrusted by Christ our Lord, the charge and supreme care and the power of feeding the lambs and sheep; in particular, of confirming their brethren, and of ruling and governing the universal Church.

Veneration of the Immaculate

Our predecessors, indeed, by virtue of their apostolic authority, gloried in instituting the Feast of the Conception in the Roman Church. They did so to enhance its importance and dignity by a suitable Office and Mass, whereby the prerogative of the Virgin, her exception from the hereditary taint, was most distinctly affirmed. As to the homage already instituted, they spared no effort to promote and to extend it either by the granting of indulgences, or by allowing cities, provinces and kingdoms to choose as their patroness God's own Mother, under the title of "The Immaculate Conception." Again, our predecessors approved confraternities, congregations and religious communities founded in honor of the Immaculate Conception, monasteries, hospitals, altars, or churches; they praised persons who vowed to uphold with all their ability the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. Besides, it afforded the greatest joy to our predecessors to ordain that the Feast of the Conception should be celebrated in every church with the very same honor as the Feast of the Nativity; that it should be celebrated with an octave by the whole Church; that it should be reverently and generally observed as a holy day of obligation; and that a pontifical Capella should be held in our Liberian pontifical basilica on the day dedicated to the conception of the Virgin. Finally, in their desire to impress this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God upon the hearts of the faithful, and to intensify the people's piety and enthusiasm for the homage and the veneration of the Virgin conceived without the stain of original sin, they delighted to grant, with the greatest pleasure, permission to proclaim the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in the Litany of Loreto, and in the Preface of the Mass, so that the rule of prayer might thus serve to illustrate the rule of belief. Therefore, we ourselves, following the procedure of our predecessors, have not only approved and accepted what had already been established, but bearing in mind, moreover, the decree of Sixtus IV, [4] have confirmed by our authority a proper Office in honor of the Immaculate Conception, and have with exceeding joy extended its use to the universal Church.[5]

The Roman Doctrine

Now inasmuch as whatever pertains to sacred worship is intimately connected with its object and cannot have either consistency or durability if this object is vague or uncertain, our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs, therefore, while directing all their efforts toward an increase of the devotion to the conception, made it their aim not only to emphasize the object with the utmost zeal, but also to enunciate the exact doctrine.[6] Definitely and clearly they taught that the feast was held in honor of the conception of the Virgin. They denounced as false and absolutely foreign to the mind of the Church the opinion of those who held and affirmed that it was not the conception of the Virgin but her sanctification that was honored by the Church. They never thought that greater leniency should be extended toward those who, attempting to disprove the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, devised a distinction between the first and second instance of conception and inferred that the conception which the Church celebrates was not that of the first instance of conception but the second. In fact, they held it was their duty not only to uphold and defend with all their power the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin but also to assert that the true object of this veneration was her conception considered in its first instant. Hence the words of one of our predecessors, Alexander VII, who authoritatively and decisively declared the mind of the Church: "Concerning the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, ancient indeed is that devotion of the faithful based on the belief that her soul, in the first instant of its creation and in the first instant of the soul's infusion into the body, was, by a special grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and the Redeemer of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin. And in this sense have the faithful ever solemnized and celebrated the Feast of the Conception."[7]

Moreover, our predecessors considered it their special solemn duty with all diligence, zeal, and effort to preserve intact the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. For, not only have they in no way ever allowed this doctrine to be censured or changed, but they have gone much further and by clear statements repeatedly asserted that the doctrine by which we profess the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin is on its own merits entirely in harmony with the ecclesiastical veneration; that it is ancient and widespread, and of the same nature as that which the Roman Church has undertaken to promote and to protect, and that it is entirely worthy to be used in the Sacred Liturgy and solemn prayers. Not content with this they most strictly prohibited any opinion contrary to this doctrine to be defended in public or private in order that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin might remain inviolate. By repeated blows they wished to put an end to such an opinion. And lest these oft-repeated and clearest statements seem useless, they added a sanction to them.

Papal Sanctions

All these things our illustrious predecessor, Alexander VII, summed up in these words: "We have in mind the fact that the Holy Roman Church solemnly celebrated the Feast of the Conception of the undefiled and ever-Virgin Mary, and has long ago appointed for this a special and proper Office according to the pious, devout, and laudable instruction which was given by our predecessor, Sixtus IV. Likewise, we were desirous, after the example of our predecessors, to favor this praiseworthy piety, devotion, feast and veneration—a veneration which is in keeping with the piety unchanged in the Roman Church from the day it was instituted. We also desired to protect this piety and devotion of venerating and extolling the most Blessed Virgin preserved from original sin by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, we were anxious to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in the flock of Christ by putting down arguments and controversies and by removing scandals. So at the instance and request of the bishops mentioned above, with the chapters of the churches, and of King Philip and his kingdoms, we renew the Constitutions and Decrees issued by the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors, especially Sixtus IV,[8] Paul V,[9] and Gregory XV,[10] in favor of the doctrine asserting that the soul of the Blessed Virgin, in its creation and infusion into the body, was endowed with the grace of the Holy Spirit and preserved from original sin; and also in favor of the feast and veneration of the conception of the Virgin Mother of God, which, as is manifest, was instituted in keeping with that pious belief. So we command this feast to be observed under the censures and penalties contained in the same Constitutions.

"And therefore, against all and everyone of those who shall continue to construe the said Constitutions and Decrees in a manner apt to frustrate the favor which is thereby given to the said doctrine, and to the feast and relative veneration, or who shall dare to call into question the said sentence, feast and worship, or in any way whatever, directly or indirectly, shall declare themselves opposed to it under any pretext whatsoever, were it but only to the extent of examining the possibilities of effecting the definition, or who shall comment upon and interpret the Sacred Scripture, or the Fathers or Doctors in connection therewith, or finally, for any reason, or on any occasion, shall dare, either in writing or verbally, to speak, preach, treat, dispute or determine upon, or assert whatsoever against the foregoing matters, or who shall adduce any arguments against them, while leaving them unresolved, or who shall disagree therewith in any other conceivable manner, we hereby declare that in addition to the penalties and censures contained in the Constitutions issued by Sixtus IV to which we want them to be subjected and to which we subject them by the present Constitution, we hereby decree that they be deprived of the authority of preaching, reading in public, that is to say teaching and interpreting; and that they be also deprived ipso facto of the power of voting, either actively or passively, in all elections, without the need for any further declaration; and that also, ipso facto, without any further declaration, they shall incur the penalty of perpetual disability from preaching, reading in public, teaching and interpreting, and that it shall not be possible to absolve them from such penalty, or remove it, save through ourselves, or the Roman Pontiffs who shall succeed us.

"We also require that the same shall remain subject to any other penalties which by us, of our own free will—or by the Roman Pontiffs, our successors (according as they may decree)—shall be deemed advisable to establish, and by the present Constitution we declare them subject thereto, and hereby renew the above Decrees and Constitutions of Paul V and Gregory XV.

"Moreover, as regards those books in which the said sentence, feast and relative veneration are called into question or are contradicted in any way whatsoever, according to what has already been stated, either in writing or verbally, in discourses, sermons, lectures, treatises and debates—that may have been printed after the above-praised Decree of Paul V, or may be printed hereafter we hereby prohibit them, subject to the penalties and censures established by the Index of prohibited books, and ipso facto, without any further declaration, we desire and command that they be held as expressly prohibited."[11]

Testimonies of the Catholic World

All are aware with how much diligence this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God has been handed down, proposed and defended by the most outstanding religious orders, by the more celebrated theological academies, and by very eminent doctors in the sciences of theology. All know, likewise, how eager the bishops have been to profess openly and publicly, even in ecclesiastical assemblies, that Mary, the most holy Mother of God, by virtue of the foreseen merits of Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, was never subject to original sin, but was completely preserved from the original taint, and hence she was redeemed in a manner more sublime.

The Council of Trent

Besides, we must note a fact of the greatest importance indeed. Even the Council of Trent itself, when it promulgated the dogmatic decree concerning original sin, following the testimonies of the Sacred Scriptures, of the Holy Fathers and of the renowned Council, decreed and defined that all men are born infected by original sin; nevertheless, it solemnly declared that it had no intention of including the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in this decree and in the general extension of its definition. Indeed, considering the times and circumstances, the Fathers of Trent sufficiently intimated by this declaration that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from the original stain; and thus they clearly signified that nothing could be reasonably cited from the Sacred Scriptures, from Tradition, or from the authority of the Fathers, which would in any way be opposed to so great a prerogative of the Blessed Virgin.[12]

Testimonies of Tradition

And indeed, illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify that this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, which was daily more and more splendidly explained, stated and confirmed by the highest authority, teaching, zeal, knowledge, and wisdom of the Church, and which was disseminated among all peoples and nations of the Catholic world in a marvelous manner—this doctrine always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine. For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grown only within their own genus—that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning.

Interpreters of the Sacred Scripture

The Fathers and writers of the Church, well versed in the heavenly Scriptures, had nothing more at heart than to vie with one another in preaching and teaching in many wonderful ways the Virgin's supreme sanctity, dignity, and immunity from all stain of sin, and her renowned victory over the most foul enemy of the human race. This they did in the books they wrote to explain the Scriptures, to vindicate the dogmas, and to instruct the faithful. These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind—words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, "I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed"[13]—taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.[14]

This sublime and singular privilege of the Blessed Virgin, together with her most excellent innocence, purity, holiness and freedom from every stain of sin, as well as the unspeakable abundance and greatness of all heavenly graces, virtues and privileges—these the Fathers beheld in that ark of Noah, which was built by divine command and escaped entirely safe and sound from the common shipwreck of the whole world;[15] in the ladder which Jacob saw reaching from the earth to heaven, by whose rungs the angels of God ascended and descended, and on whose top the Lord himself leaned[16] in that bush which Moses saw in the holy place burning on all sides, which was not consumed or injured in any way but grew green and blossomed beautifully;[17] in that impregnable tower before the enemy, from which hung a thousand bucklers and all the armor of the strong;[18] in that garden enclosed on all sides, which cannot be violated or corrupted by any deceitful plots;[19] as in that resplendent city of God, which has its foundations on the holy mountains;[20] in that most august temple of God, which, radiant with divine splendors, is full of the glory of God;[21] and in very many other biblical types of this kind. In such allusions the Fathers taught that the exalted dignity of the Mother of God, her spotless innocence and her sanctity unstained by any fault, had been prophesied in a wonderful manner.

In like manner did they use the words of the prophets to describe this wondrous abundance of divine gifts and the original innocence of the Virgin of whom Jesus was born. They celebrated the august Virgin as the spotless dove, as the holy Jerusalem, as the exalted throne of God, as the ark and house of holiness which Eternal Wisdom built, and as that Queen who, abounding in delights and leaning on her Beloved, came forth from the mouth of the Most High, entirely perfect, beautiful, most dear to God and never stained with the least blemish.

The Annunciation

When the Fathers and writers of the Church meditated on the fact that the most Blessed Virgin was, in the name and by order of God himself, proclaimed full of grace[22] by the Angel Gabriel when he announced her most sublime dignity of Mother of God, they thought that this singular and solemn salutation, never heard before, showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit. To them Mary is an almost infinite treasury, an inexhaustible abyss of these gifts, to such an extent that she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction. Hence she was worthy to hear Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exclaim: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."[23]

Mary Compared with Eve

Hence, it is the clear and unanimous opinion of the Fathers that the most glorious Virgin, for whom "he who is mighty has done great things," was resplendent with such an abundance of heavenly gifts, with such a fullness of grace and with such innocence, that she is an unspeakable miracle of God—indeed, the crown of all miracles and truly the Mother of God; that she approaches as near to God himself as is possible for a created being; and that she is above all men and angels in glory. Hence, to demonstrate the original innocence and sanctity of the Mother of God, not only did they frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent; but they have also exalted her above Even with a wonderful variety of expressions. Eve listened to the serpent with lamentable consequences; she fell from original innocence and became his slave. The most Blessed Virgin, on the contrary, ever increased her original gift, and not only never lent an ear to the serpent, but by divinely given power she utterly destroyed the force and dominion of the evil one.

Biblical Figures

Accordingly, the Fathers have never ceased to call the Mother of God the lily among thorns, the land entirely intact, the Virgin undefiled, immaculate, ever blessed, and free from all contagion of sin, she from whom was formed the new Adam, the flawless, brightest, and most beautiful paradise of innocence, immortality and delights planted by God himself and protected against all the snares of the poisonous serpent, the incorruptible wood that the worm of sin had never corrupted, the fountain ever clear and sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the most holy temple, the treasure of immortality, the one and only daughter of life—not of death—the plant not of anger but of grace, through the singular providence of God growing ever green contrary to the common law, coming as it does from a corrupted and tainted root.

Explicit Affirmation . . .

As if these splendid eulogies and tributes were not sufficient, the Fathers proclaimed with particular and definite statements that when one treats of sin, the holy Virgin Mary is not even to be mentioned; for to her more grace was given than was necessary to conquer sin completely.[24] They also declared that the most glorious Virgin was Reparatrix of the first parents, the giver of life to posterity; that she was chosen before the ages, prepared for himself by the Most High, foretold by God when he said to the serpent, "I will put enmities between you and the woman."[25]— unmistakable evidence that she was crushed the poisonous head of the serpent. And hence they affirmed that the Blessed Virgin was, through grace, entirely free from every stain of sin, and from all corruption of body, soul and mind; that she was always united with God and joined to him by an eternal covenant; that she was never in darkness but always in light; and that, therefore, she was entirely a fit habitation for Christ, not because of the state of her body, but because of her original grace.

. . . Of a Supereminent Sanctity

To these praises they have added very noble words. Speaking of the conception of the Virgin, they testified that nature yielded to grace and, unable to go on, stood trembling. The Virgin Mother of God would not be conceived by Anna before grace would bear its fruits; it was proper that she be conceived as the first-born, by whom "the first-born of every creature" would be conceived. They testified, too, that the flesh of the Virgin, although derived from Adam, did not contract the stains of Adam, and that on this account the most Blessed Virgin was the tabernacle created by God himself and formed by the Holy Spirit, truly a work in royal purple, adorned and woven with gold, which that new Beseleel[26] made. They affirmed that the same Virgin is, and is deservedly, the first and especial work of God, escaping the fiery arrows the evil one; that she is beautiful by nature and entirely free from all stain; that at her Immaculate Conception she came into the world all radiant like the dawn. For it was certainly not fitting that this vessel of election should be wounded by the common injuries, since she, differing so much from the others, had only nature in common with them, not sin. In fact, it was quite fitting that, as the Only-Begotten has a Father in heaven, whom the Seraphim extol as thrice holy, so he should have a Mother on earth who would never be without the splendor of holiness.

This doctrine so filled the minds and souls of our ancestors in the faith that a singular and truly marvelous style of speech came into vogue among them. They have frequently addressed the Mother of God as immaculate, as immaculate in every respect; innocent, and verily most innocent; spotless, and entirely spotless; holy and removed from every stain of sin; all pure, all stainless, the very model of purity and innocence; more beautiful than beauty, more lovely than loveliness; more holy than holiness, singularly holy and most pure in soul and body; the one who surpassed all integrity and virginity; the only one who has become the dwelling place of all the graces of the most Holy Spirit. God alone excepted, Mary is more excellent than all, and by nature fair and beautiful, and more holy than the Cherubim and Seraphim. To praise her all the tongues of heaven and earth do not suffice.

Everyone is cognizant that this style of speech has passed almost spontaneously into the books of the most holy liturgy and the Offices of the Church, in which they occur so often and abundantly. In them, the Mother of God is invoked and praised as the one spotless and most beautiful dove, as a rose ever blooming, as perfectly pure, ever immaculate, and ever blessed. She is celebrated as innocence never sullied and as the second Even who brought forth the Emmanuel.

Preparation for the Definition

No wonder, then, that the Pastors of the Church and the faithful gloried daily more and more in professing with so much piety, religion, and love this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, which, as the Fathers discerned, was recorded i the Divine Scriptures; which was handed down in so many of their most important writings; which was expressed and celebrated in so many illustrious monuments of venerable antiquity; which was proposed and confirmed by the official and authoritative teaching of the Church. Hence, nothing was dearer, nothing more pleasing to these pastors than to venerate, invoke, and proclaim with most ardent affection the Virgin Mother of God conceived without original stain. Accordingly, from ancient times the bishops of the Church, ecclesiastics, religious orders, and even emperors and kings, have earnestly petitioned this Apostolic See to define a dogma of the Catholic Faith the Immaculate Conception of the most holy Mother of God. These petitions were renewed in these our own times; they were especially brought to the attention of Gregory XVI, our predecessor of happy memory, and to ourselves, not only by bishops, but by the secular clergy and religious orders, by sovereign rulers and by the faithful.

Mindful, indeed, of all these things and considering them most attentively with particular joy in our heart, as soon as we, by the inscrutable design of Providence, had been raised to the sublime Chair of St. Peter—in spite of our unworthiness—and had begun to govern the universal Church, nothing have we had more at heart—a heart which from our tenderest years has overflowed with devoted veneration and love for the most Blessed Virgin—than to show forth her prerogatives in resplendent light.

That we might proceed with great prudence, we established a special congregation of our venerable brethren, the cardinals of the holy Roman Church, illustrious for their piety, wisdom, and knowledge of the sacred scriptures. We also selected priests, both secular and regular, well trained in the theological sciences, that they should most carefully consider all matters pertaining to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin and make known to us their opinion.

The Mind of the Bishops

Although we knew the mind of the bishops from the petitions which we had received from them, namely, that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin be finally defined, nevertheless, on February 2, 1849,[27] we sent an Encyclical Letter from Gaeta to all our venerable brethren, the bishops of the Catholic world, that they should offer prayers to God and then tell us in writing what the piety an devotion of their faithful was in regard to the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. We likewise inquired what the bishops themselves thought about defining this doctrine and what their wishes were in regard to making known with all possible solemnity our supreme judgment.

We were certainly filled with the greatest consolation when the replies of our venerable brethren came to us. For, replying to us with a most enthusiastic joy, exultation and zeal, they not only again confirmed their own singular piety toward the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, and that of the secular and religious clergy and of the faithful, but with one voice they even entreated us to define our supreme judgment and authority the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. In the meantime we were indeed filled with no less joy when, after a diligent examination, our venerable brethren, the cardinals of the special congregation and the theologians chosen by us as counselors (whom we mentioned above), asked with the same enthusiasm and fervor for the definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God.

Consequently, following the examples of our predecessors, and desiring to proceed in the traditional manner, we announced and held a consistory, in which we addressed our brethren, the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. It was the greatest spiritual joy for us when we heard them ask us to promulgate the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God.[28]

Therefore, having full trust in the Lord that the opportune time had come for defining the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, which Holy Scripture, venerable Tradition, the constant mind of the Church, the desire of Catholic bishops and the faithful, and the memorable Acts and Constitutions of our predecessors, wonderfully illustrate and proclaim, and having most diligently considered all things, as we poured forth to God ceaseless and fervent prayers, we concluded that we should no longer delay in decreeing and defining by our supreme authority the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And thus, we can satisfy the most holy desire of the Catholic world as well as our own devotion toward the most holy Virgin, and at the same time honor more and more the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord through his holy Mother—since whatever honor and praise are bestowed on the Mother redound to the Son.

The Definition

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."[29]

Hence, if anyone shall dare—which God forbid!—to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

Hoped-For Results

Our soul overflows with joy and our tongue with exultation. We give, and we shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, because through his singular grace he has granted to us, unworthy though we be, to decree and offer this honor and glory and praise to his most holy Mother. All our hope do we repose in the most Blessed Virgin—in the all fair and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world: in her who is the glory of the prophets and apostles, the honor of the martyrs, the crown and joy of all the saints; in her who is the safest refuge and the most trustworthy helper of all who are in danger; in her who, with her only-begotten Son, is the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix in the whole world; in her who is the most excellent glory, ornament, and impregnable stronghold of the holy Church; in her who has destroyed all heresies and snatched the faithful people and nations from all kinds of direst calamities; in her do we hope who has delivered us from so many threatening dangers. We have, therefore, a very certain hope and complete confidence that the most Blessed Virgin will ensure by her most powerful patronage that all difficulties be removed and all errors dissipated, so that our Holy Mother the Catholic Church may flourish daily more and more throughout all the nations and countries, and may reign "from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth," and may enjoy genuine peace, tranquility and liberty. We are firm in our confidence that she will obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger; that she will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that here may be one flock and one shepherd.

Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless. Because, while bearing toward us a truly motherly affection and having in her care the work of our salvation, she is solicitous about the whole human race. And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.

Given at St. Peter's in Rome, the eighth day of December, 1854, in the eighth year of our pontificate.

[1] Et quidem decebat omnino, ut perfectissimae sanctitatis splendoribus semper ornata fulgeret, ac vel ab ipsa originalis culpae labe plane immunis amplissimum de antiquo sepente triumphum referret tam venerabilis mater, cui Deus Pater unicum Filius suum, quem de corde suo aequalem sibi genitum tamquam seipsum diligit, ita dare disposuit, ut naturaliter esset unus idemque communis Dei Patris et Virginis Filius, et quam ipse Filius, Filius substantialiter facere sibi matrem elegit, et de qua Siritus Sanctus voluit et operatus est, ut conciperetur et nasceretur ille, de quo ipse procedit.

[2] Cf. Ibid., n. 16.

[3] Cf. St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haereses, book III, c. III, n. 2.

[4] C.A. Cum Praeexcelsa, February 28, 1476; Denz., n. 734.

[5] Decree of the Sacred Cong. of Rites; September 30, 1847.

[6] This has been the constant care of the Popes, as is shown by the condemnation of one of the propositions of Anthony de Rosmini-Serbati (cf. Denzinger, nn. 1891-1930). This is how the 34th proposition runs (Denzinger, n. 1924): "Ad praeservandam B. V. Mariam a labe originis, satis erat, ut incorruptum maneret minimum sesmen in homine, neglectum forte ab ipso demone, e quo incorrupto semine de generatione in generationem transfuso, suo tempore oriretur Virgo Maria." Decree of the Holy Office, December 14, 1887 (AAS 20, 393). Denz. n. 1924.

[7] Apost. Const. Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum, December 8, 1661.

[8] Apost. Const. Cum Praeexcelsa, February 28, 1476; Grave Nemis, September 4, 1483; Denz., nn. 734, 735.

[9] Apost. Const. Sanctissimus, September 12, 1617.

[10] Apost. Const. Sanctissimus, June 4, 1622.

[11] Alexander VIII, Apost. Const. Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum, December 8, 1661.

[12] Sess. V, Can. 6; Denz. n. 792. Declarat tamen haec ipsa sancta Synodus, non esse suae intentionis, comprehendere in hoc decreto, ubi de peccato originali agitur, beatam et immaculatam Virginem Mariam Dei genitricem, sed observandas esse constitutiones felicis recordationis Sixti Papae IV, sub poenis in eis constitutionibus contentis, quas innovat.

[13] Gn 3:15.

[14] Quo circa sicut Christus Dei hominumque mediator, humana assumpta natura, delens quod adversus nos erat chirographum decretia, illud cruci triumphator affixit; sic Sanctissima Virgo, Arctissimo et indissolubili vinculo cum eo conjuncta, una cum illo et per illum, sempiternas contra venenosum serpentem inimicitias exercens, ac de ipso plenissime triumphans, illus caput immaculato pede contrivit.

[15] Cf. Gn. 6:9.

[16] Cf. Gn 28:12.

[17] Cf. Ex 3:2.

[18] Cf. Sg 4:4.

[19] Cf. Sg 4:12.

[20] Cf. Ps 87:1.

[21] Cf. Is 6:1-4.

[22] Cf. Lk 1:28.

[23] Ibid., 42.

[24] Cf. St. Augustine: De Natura et Gratia, c. 36.

[25] Gn 3:15.

[26] Cf. Ex 31:2.

[27] Cf. Ibid., n. 19ff.

[28] Cf. Ibid., n. 27ff.

[29] Declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus doctrinam quae tenet beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae conceptionis fuisse singulari Omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam. Cf. Denz., n. 1641.

A new resource

Ed Feser gives a nicely articulated hermeneutic principle, stated below:

"The arguments of great philosophers of the past need to be understood, not only in the context of their times, but also in light of how later thinkers built on them. For an argument can contain, inchoately, real insights which only later thinkers were able to spell out adequately; and we will miss these insights if, overly fearful of anachronism, we insist pedantically on reading the argument in isolation from this later tradition. What ultimately matters in philosophy is not exactly who said exactly what, exactly when and exactly how. What matters is what is true, and whether an argument is likely to lead us to it. Anachronism, then, while a danger, is a less serious danger than loss of truth. To think otherwise is to abandon philosophy for mere scholarship. (Scholarship has its place, of course. But its place is to serve the ends of philosophy."

However, there must be some further principle whereby one is able to judge the strength (or defect) of the author in his original thought so as to distinguish the confused universal (or inchoately stated principle) from the determinate and distinctly stated interpretation. What is this principle? Here is one proposal. Here is mine (not necessarily in contradistinction to the prior proposal): philosophical wisdom.

I don't have time to give a full description of how the talk went, but in short I was very happy with it. Below is the paper, a response from Dr. Robert Miner of Baylor, and my (outline) reply to him-- a reply which deals mostly which his proposed alternative solution to mine as proposed in the paper. One thing which Robert empathized after the Q&A was that his comments were more "pedagogical" in the sense that he was more concerned with helping me see that some aspects of the paper need changing if I were interested in reaching a broader audience. This suggestion is fair, as I am working primary in a Thomistic framework for the paper.

Short PECE 5000 paper ACPA
Rober Miner Commentary

My Miner Response

Revised Thesis Preface

This is the revised draft of the preface to my thesis. I might not include it at all, but it was helpful pre-writing. Please let me know what you think, including whether or not I should include this, or something like this. Thank you!

The following thesis is admittedly much influenced by the thought of Aristotle. While Aristotle's influence can be seen in many ways in this thesis rather overtly, nevertheless there is an underlying principle which is at work that cannot (and should not, to my mind) be addressed during the course of the thesis properly speaking. Most generally this principle is that there is an order to the various philosophical disciplines. While there is much to be said about this order, most specifically the order with which I am concerned is the Philosophy of Nature precedes Metaphysics, or first philosophy, in the order of learning.
As contemporary commentator Glen Coughlin claims, “If there is to be any understanding of metaphysics as Aristotle conceived it, or even of Aristotle's conception of metaphysics, it will have to be preceded by a careful study of natural philosophy...” This is for the simple truth that immaterial being does not evidently exist and according to Aristotle “If there were no substances other than those formed by nature, physics (natural philosophy) would be the first science.” Further, it is through the study of mobile being that we arrive at our understanding of immaterial being, as in Aristotle's De Anima, that presupposes much of the Physics. Also at the end of the Physics Aristotle concludes to the first mover and states “Therefore it is apparent that it is indivisible and partless and a thing having no magnitude.” Our knowledge of immaterial being is largely knowledge by negation. The Physics, therefore, concludes to immaterial being, and can say no more about it since its object if mobile being. It is from here that one is must begin first philosophy, or metaphysics.
From these considerations it is clear that in the order of learning, Natural Philosophy must precede Metaphysics. This is simply how to move from the more known to the less known. This is a formative principle behind this thesis.
Throughout this thesis I will be focused on treating the methodology of Natural Philosophy as a natural philosopher, not a metaphysician. The principles I intend to resolve to in order to make my argument will belong to the disciplines of Logic and Natural Philosophy. This approach has both weaknesses and advantages, yet it is important to maintain.
The possible weaknesses that can be encountered by such an approach is that there may be metaphysical objections or problems to some arguments, that will not be sufficiently dealt with. This does not mean that the arguments should lack their proper certainty, or not conclude properly, but rather that there may be what Aristotle terms, ἀπορία, that cannot be resolved, which nevertheless does not disprove what was said.
The great advantage of this approach is that it will assure a narrow and focused discussion that will not be weighed down by digression or confusing side arguments that do not immediately pertani to the task at hand. This will mean that this thesis will likely end with more questions than it began with, but as long as the questions with which I end are different from the ones I began with, I shall consider my work successful.

This is paper that I wrote for a couple of classes last semester. So far it has been warmly appreciated by the ones who have reviewed it and I am thinking about submitting a modified version for my writing sample to doctoral programs. I realize that it is rather long, but if you get the opportunity to read it I would appreciate your criticisms and comments.


Thomas Nagel's influential article, What is it like to be a bat? poses a standard by which all other discussions about the mind-body problem must now be measured. His straightforward and honest critique of reductionism as it is now pursued, especially in the mind-body problem, opens up pathways for dialogue on this matter which formerly might not have been admitted. An important aspect of his article is what he calls a “speculative proposal.” It is here he that suggests another way to bridge the gap between subjective and objective. This solution relies on developing a new phenomenology that would allow us to describe mental events with new concepts.[1]

The enunciation of this difficulty, namely the gap between subjective and objective, is a relatively recent occurrence in the world of philosophy. Nevertheless, the problem though differently formulated in ages past, has been present from the beginning of philosophical inquiry. Classical thought framed this question by asking something like the following: “How do we know things?” or perhaps more pointedly, “How do we know natures?”[2] Prominent among such philosophers is Aristotle, who established a nuanced epistemology which at once allowed for knowing things, and yet respected the limits of our knowledge. St. Thomas, taking Aristotle's lead, establishes an even clearer description of how we know the natures of things and this largely in his historic work De Veritate.

Now the classical formulations betray a very different sort of hermeneutic than what we are confronted with in Nagel's question. The philosophies of Aristotle and St. Thomas have traveled over great distances and times, and are perhaps seen as strangers to the contemporary discussion. It is necessary for us, therefore, to at once respect the differences of the authors and not assume that all are on common ground, and yet to bring these minds together in a productive way that will shed light upon the question at hand. Therefore, this paper will not be a refutation of any one position, but rather we will bring in classical thoughts for the explanatory power of some of their positions, and then bring together the observations of Nagel, and St. Thomas and Aristotle to suggest further conclusions.

Already, from what has been said, it seems that the question of how to bridge the gap between the subjective and objective might be aided by a contribution from our classical visitors, namely, the idea of natures. It is with a view to the Aristotelian-Thomistic view of natures and how we can know them that makes it seem to my mind, that Nagel's hope for a new phenomenology of new concepts will ultimately be frustrated. Nevertheless, using principles that Nagel has put forth in this article together with Thomistic and Aristotelian insights, it is possible to see that this gap, in a way has already been bridged, and in another way, can never be bridged.

In order to address this question I will first discuss Nagel's critique of reductionism and his “speculative proposal” for what a different mode of reductionism might look like. I will attempt to argue that Nagel's hoped for reform must either reduce to the kind of reductionism he critiqued or that it can never be attained. To fully argue this last point I will suggest that what Nagel really wants is what Aristotle and St. Thomas call nature. Consequently, any sort of reductionistic mode of proceeding has, as it were, an infinite distance to traverse. I will then manifest the impediments to knowing natures according to a Thomistic epistemology and how the gap between the objective and subjective is thus crossed and yet not crossed. Having shown the “negative” side of the argument, I will then make a positive argument about what would be necessary according to a Thomistic conception of mind to know natures as Nagel seems to want to. I will suggest that St. Thomas would argue that the kind of knowledge that Nagel is searching for is akin to angelic knowledge. Finally, I will propose a possible exception to the limitations on humanity's inability to bridge the gap between subjective and objective with regard to human persons.

Nagel, Reductionism, and Natures

Nagel's article focuses on consciousness as the phenomena which, as he says, “makes the mind-body problem really intractable.”[3] He points to mental phenomena as the particular aspect of the mind-body problem which is very poorly understood. This leads to what I consider to be the thesis of his paper: “And careful examination will show that no currently available concept of reduction is applicable to [mental phenomena].” [4]

The next paragraph of Nagel's article is very important as it resolves to a common principle. While the tone of the paragraph takes on an hypothetical sense, nevertheless I think that Nagel is appealing to fundamental experience that we cannot soon deny. We will look at this paragraph more carefully below. For now, it is important to point out that Nagel here claims that “conscious experience is a widespread phenomena,” and that “fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is to be that organism.”[5]

Nagel goes on to describes this as “the subjective character of experience.”[6] Nagel begins to point out that current reductive analyses are not up to the task of accounting for this experience as they are “logically compatible with its absence.” He goes on to say “It is useless to base the defense of materialism on any analysis of mental phenomena that fails to deal explicitly with their subjective character.”[7]

Nagel then makes it very clear that his critique of reductionism is by no means driven by a desire to move away from physicalism, but rather to point out what rigors such a reduction must obtain to account for this, seemingly, undeniable experience. In order to illustrate more fully what he means Nagel turns to bats. He has very good reason for choosing bats to manifest his point. They are sufficiently close to us on the phylogenetic tree and yet their mode of experiencing is very obviously different than our own.[8] A sign of this is that bats depend on echolocation. It is therefore, as Nagel points out, not sufficient for me to imagine what it would be like for me to behave as a bat, he “wants to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat.” [9]

I will let Nagel's own words describe more fully what it is he is looking for:

“We cannot form more than a schematic conception of what it is like [to be a bat]. For example, we may ascribe general types of experience on the basis of the animal’s structure and behavior. Thus we describe bat sonar as a form of three dimensional forward perception; we believe that bats feel some versions of pain, fear, hunger, and lust, and that they have other, more familiar types of perception besides sonar. But we believe that these experiences also have in each case a specific subjective character, which it is beyond our ability to conceive.” [10]

Nagel then briefly touches upon the relation of facts to conceptual schemes. He rightly acknowledges that this is a large topic and he by no means intends to address it fully. He merely points out that, “Whatever may be the status of facts about what it is like to be a human being or a bat, or a Martian, these appear to be facts that embody a particular point of view.”[11] Nor does he hold that this is just a matter of the “alleged privacy of experience to its possessor.” He says that the point of view is a type. It is possible, according to Nagel, to describe the quality of experience of another person.[12] However, he admits that this objective ascription of experience is only possible for someone sufficiently similar to the object of ascription.[13]

The discussion in the article then turns to the dichotomy of a reductionist attempt to grasp subjective experience. Reduction's usual mode is to move away from the subjective to the objective. Precisely what is sought here, however, is the subjective experience. Thus, such a move towards the more objective seems ill suited to the task. Nagel goes so far as to say, “If we acknowledge that a physical theory of mind must account for the subjective character of experience, we must admit that no presently available conception gives us a clue how this could be done.”[14] A little further on Nagel seems to capture the essence of the problem when he says, “Does it make sense, in other words, to ask what my experiences are really like, as opposed to how they appear to me?”[15]

He closes his article with his speculative proposal that was mentioned above, that it may be possible to close the gap between the subjective and the objective. He claims that this can be done if one were to develop an objective phenomenology that is not dependant on empathy or imagination. “Though presumably it would not capture everything, its goal would be to describe, at least in part, the subjective character of experiences in a form comprehensible to beings incapable of having those experiences.”[16]

With all due respect to a very adept thinker, it does seem that Nagel is attempting to hold together that which he just destroyed. His striking critique of reductionism seems to far out weigh the slim hope proposed by this hypothetical new phenomenology. Nagel wants to hold on to physicalism even though he has seemingly silenced it forever. He is right to say that it is a “mistake to conclude that physicalism must be false.” Nothing he has said as dealt it a death blow. He has merely effectively dismissed it as source for ever really explaining what it is to be something. It cannot obtain this. It has nothing to say on the matter. So also, this new phenomenology, on which Nagel pins his rather slim hopes, will either reduce to that which he just critiqued, or is simply impossible.

When Nagel speaks of trying to “develop concepts that could be used to explain to a person blind from birth what it was like to see,”[17] it is as if he is hoping that this new phenomenology will give humanity a new kind of consciousness, the likes of which we cannot grasp in our present condition.

The problem with this view, is that this new consciousness must develop from our current consciousness. What is more, it can only ever be artificial, and at root will have to resolve to the consciousness that is given as a fact of human existence. To put it another way, an attempt to describe the first person experiences of another must always resolve to our necessarily third person descriptions of objective claims. Therefore, it reduces back to the kind of reduction he just dismissed as insufficient for the task. We must be resigned to this undeniable given of our consciousness.

It is here that I wish to turn to our two guests from the 4th century B.C. and 13th century A.D. While I am afraid that I will here neglect Nagel as long as he is holding on to his physicalism, it is not my purpose to disprove such a theory here. I do intend to argue, however, that what Nagel is really seeking is the Aristotelian-Thomistic concept of nature; and while this will not answer all his wants, it will give a cause for the insufficiency of reductionism and offer an explanation for certain limits on well we can know others.

I will here quote in full a paragraph that we briefly referenced in the above summary.

Conscious experience is a widespread phenomenon. It occurs at many levels of animal life, though we cannot be sure of its presence in the simpler organisms, and it is very difficult to say in general what provides evidence of it. (Some extremists have been prepared to deny it even of mammals other than man.) No doubt it occurs in countless forms totally unimaginable to us, on other planets in other solar systems throughout the universe. But no matter how the form may vary, the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism. There may be further implications about the form of the experience; there may even (though I doubt it) be implications about the behavior of the organism. But fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is to be an organism -something it is like for the organism.[18]

In this paragraph Nagel reveals that he wants the “what it is to be” of an organism and to really grasp that with his mind.

Compare this with a claim by Aristotle, “Nature is a certain principle and cause of moving and resting in that in which it is, primarily, in virtue of itself, and not accidentally.”[19] Prima facie, these claims have very little in common. While respecting the obvious differences, let us look more carefully at Aristotle's claim. First of all, this arises in the context of his Physics and here he is studying mobile being. [20]Consequently, his definitions are going to pertain to this end. Notice, however, that he holds that it is in the thing primarily, in virtue of the thing itself, not accidentally. In other words, the nature pertains essentially to the account of what a thing is.

A little further on Aristotle begins to explain analogous uses of the term nature. In particular he identifies nature with the form or species of things. “Whence, in another way, nature would be the form and species of things which have in themselves a principle of motion, [which species is] not separable except according to account. What is from these is not nature, but by nature, e.g. man. And this [form] is more nature than the material.”[21] The form, however, is the actuality or, the what is to be of the thing and this he identifies with nature. We see, therefore, that Aristotle's account of nature is much closer to what Nagel wants than it may have first appeared.

We should note that this use of nature is far different from our common idea of Nature, as in Mother Nature. For Aristotle (and St. Thomas, as we will see below), nature is not some existing force encompassing all non-human creation. Rather it is an intrinsic principle of the thing; the what is to be of something. Consequently, rather than speaking of Nature, we will speak of natures, or a nature.

Here we will turn to St. Thomas in order to see a concise account of the final developments of the use of the word nature.

“[Essence] is also called by another name, nature, by taking nature according to the first way of those four ways which Boethius assigns in De Duabus Naturae, namely, according as everything that is able to be grasped of each thing by the intellect is able to be called nature. For a thing is not intelligible except through its definition and essence.[22]

Thomas says further, “Nevertheless the same name nature taken in this way signifies the essence of the thing according as it has an order towards some proper operation of the thing; since no thing is without its own proper operation.”[23] Therefore we see that the Aristotelian-Thomistic concept of nature is the what it is to be a thing that Nagel wants to possess so thoroughly. However, while acknowledging that we can know these natures in one way, both Aristotle and St. Thomas are quick to point out, at the same time, our inability to understand such natures perfectly. In particular, St. Thomas in his De Veritate, indicates several impediments to knowing the natures of things.

The rest of this paper, therefore, divides into two main parts. The first will be to point out the limits of knowing the natures of others. The second will point out the possible exception to understanding the subjective experiences of others in the case of the human person.

Impediments to Knowing Natures

In order to understand the impediments to knowing natures, it is necessary to give a brief (very brief) outline of a Thomistic epistemology. For St. Thomas, the object of our thought is things. First of all we sense some thing. From this sense impression we form a phantasm which is the likeness of the thing. Finally we abstract the essence of the thing from the phantasm, and thus we know the thing itself. It is important to note here that the essence is an immaterial principle, first of the thing, and then as known by the intellect. Knowing, for the St. Thomas, is the immaterial possession of another as other.

A corollary principle that is derived from this is that to the degree something is immaterial is to the extent it is knowable.

With this brief outline we can then begin to consider the impediments there are to knowing the natures of things. There are seven impediments to knowing natures, and some of these have variations under them. First of all there is the thing itself. A dog, for example, is a composite being, composed of matter and form. To the extent, therefore, that the dog is material, it is not knowable. Therefore, we cannot posses the what it is to be this dog since we cannot possess it wholly as other.

The nature of the thing must be expressed through its sensible accidents.[24] These sensible accidents, therefore, must attempt to express the nature of the thing, even though they may not be able to express the nature fully. Often, no single accident is sufficient to express the nature of the thing. Consequently it requires a number of accidents taken together in order to express the nature.

These accidents are sometimes not adequate to express the nature of the thing. This can either be what is intended by the nature, or by some defect in the nature. In the first case it is clear that some things by nature attempt to deceive as to what their nature is.[25] Take, for example, the insect the walking stick. It is an insect, however, in order to deceive predators, etc., its nature is not adequately expressed by its accidents so that it looks like a twig. As to the second case there are some occasions where the thing is deformed so dramatically that the nature of the thing is only discerned with great difficulty. Such a thing might happen in the case of sever dismemberment.

These are the three impediments to knowing a nature that can arise on the part of the thing itself. There are also, however, impediments in the medium. All sensing must be done through a medium.[26] This medium might not be well suited to transmit the sensible accidents of the thing. For example, trying to see what color a thing is under a black-light, or attempting to hear during a wind storm. In both these instances, the medium is ill suited to transmit the sensible accident of the thing.

This brings us to the sense organs of the thing itself. There are occasions when the sense organ itself is not capable of receiving the sensible accidents of the thing in a way sufficient to grasp the nature of the thing. This deficiency can be in three ways: first, according to nature, second, according to defect and third, according to habituation. An example of the first way is found when the eye by nature can only see so far, or within such a light spectrum. Consequently, for a man, the sensible accidents of a thing that is a mile away might be received in a poor way due to the power of the sense organ, whereas an eagle might be able to perceive it quite clearly. The second way arises when the sense organ is damaged either wholly or partially. The third way is found when we sense something that we are not accustomed to seeing or that we are not accustomed to seeing in a certain way. Here, the habituation of the sense organ might make it unable to adequately receive the sensible accidents of the thing.

Once the sensible accidents have been received it then belongs to the common sense to unite these accidents. The common sense however, can fail either according to defect or according to habituation. Defects in the common sense most often are seen to arise with some sort of brain damage. Habituation of the common sense, similar to habituation of the senses, can cause someone to not observe something because they are not expecting it.

Then a phantasm is formed of the thing. This phantasm is a likeness of the thing but can become abstracted from particular determinations of the thing, such as determinate dimensions. Therefore, while it is certainly a likeness of the thing, and the essence of the thing itself is present in the phantasm, nevertheless, it is present under and through this indeterminate likeness.

The agent intellect abstracts the essence, or nature of the thing, from the phantasm. While the agent intellect does this unerringly, it does not necessarily do it completely. This imperfection can arise on the part of the object, as has been seen, or on the part of the agent intellect itself. When the imperfection is on the part of the object, the agent intellect can only abstract what is clearly present. Thus, if the sensible accidents of a thing are poorly expressed through an improper medium and at a great distance, the intellect might only be able to abstract something like “a being.” It seems possible also, that some agent intellect might be stronger than another, and therefore more apt to abstract the nature of the thing.[27]

Finally the will can effect our knowledge of nature. According to the scholastic dictum, all error lies in the will. That is to say, one might want to know a thing so much that he neglects to be attentive to what he actually knows of the thing and presume to make more determinate statements than is in accord with what is in his intellect. This is not a movement by the intellect, but a movement of the will. This can cause us to cease reflecting on experience because we imagine that we know something that we do not. This in turn will make it so that we do not strive to reflect on our experience more carefully and understand the natures of things better.

At the end, this process seems to be quite perilous to ever knowing a nature. While this must be granted, nevertheless, it will behoove us to see what kind of knowledge we have at the end of this process. This knowledge is not quite so intimate a knowledge as Nagel seems to be wanting. We are still separated from the thing itself. However, we are able to recognize an instance of this nature versus that nature, in most instances. For example, I am not usually puzzled as to whether the thing in front of me is a dog or a cat. I feel quite certain that they each have a different nature. I am prevented, however, from giving a proper definition of each. To be frank, any definition is going to be a description of accidents which to pertain to the nature more directly.

Moreover, there may be cases where I can be confused about the nature of the thing before me.[28] This is clear from the litany of impediments given above. These hard cases should not be the measure. For example, I may be confused about whether a venus fly trap is a plant or an animal, but that does not mean that I do not know what an animal or a plant is, or that I cannot recognize them in most other cases. Again, looking above to all the possible impediments, we should not be surprised to run into difficult cases. Exceptions are not the foundations of knowledge.

This is not at all the same as a reductionist view. The reductionist wants to reduce the 'what it is to be' to such a description and he is justly criticized by Nagel. The Aristotelian-Thomistic position agrees with the reductionist to this point: we might never be able to give a better definition of the thing than to describe its more essential accidents. This is as far as the two positions will go together. The Aristotelian-Thomistic position might be content with such description as what we can say as to the definition of a thing, but it will insist that this is not the, ‘what it is to be’ a thing. We are naming things that flow from the essence of the thing, even if we do not grasp it perfectly. We can recognize natures, give accounts for them, but we cannot fully grasp them.

Therefore, we see that there are seven impediments to knowing the natures of things, some of these necessary; others, possible, and still others, likely. There are three on the part of the thing itself: it is a composite, the nature of the thing is expressed through sensible accidents of the thing, and these can sometimes deceive, either through defect, or intent. On the part of the medium through which the sensible accidents must be sensed it may be unable to adequately carry the sensible accidents to the sense organs. The subject who is desiring to know likewise can cause impediments to knowing the nature of the thing. First on the part of his senses, and second because he must abstract the essence of the thing. Finally, because his will can blind him to his own experience.

Therefore, we see that there is a certain way in which the gap between the subjective and objective is crossed, in that we have the nature as understood is the same as the nature of the thing, essentially. However, since we must know the nature through our senses, the way we grasp the nature of the thing will always be impeded. Nagel's desire to “know what it is like for a bat to be a bat,” appears to be impossible for us to satisfy. To see what it would entail to possess such a knowledge, we must look to intellects that are something more than human.

Angelic Knowledge

The subject matter of this section might be quite distressing for a physicalist, such as Nagel was when he wrote the article we are here considering. Be that as it may, St. Thomas would hold that the kind of knowledge that Nagel is seeking about natures belongs to the angels. Nagel wants to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat; he wants an objective first person view, a perspective inside the very consciousness of a bat. As we saw, a Thomistic epistemology does not give a favorable impression as to the likelihood of ever obtaining such knowledge. Therefore in order to better appreciate the limitations and achievements of human knowing we will set it in contrast to an angelic mode of knowing, as conceived by St. Thomas. What is important about this consideration is not to discuss angels. In fact, one need not even necessarily believe that there are such beings in order to see the three main points of this section: first, that an Arisotelian-Thomistic view of knowing leaves room for different modes of knowing. Second, human knowing is by no means an exemplar. Third, the kind of 'first person' knowledge of the mental events of another is a mode of knowing proper to angels. Thus, even if angels are here considered only hypothetically, nevertheless we can see what it would take to know things as Nagel seems to want to.

Angelic knowledge is possibly the most difficult and most essential part of the study of the angels. The difficulty is trying to understand beings that in a way are like us, and in another way are completely beyond us. In order to get as close as possible to Nagel's first person experiences we want to address how it is that these glorious beings can consider the actions of men. Are they constantly present among us, watching? Or perhaps this is superstitious medieval fancy, and they know us only because they reason to our existence from their own. Both of these accounts are lacking, but hold some element of the truth. As will be shown, angels, according to a Thomistic account know individual human acts through intelligible species handed down to them by God.

We shall proceed by following, for the most part, St. Thomas' own order of treatment of angels as found in his Summa Theologiae. St. Thomas does not have an article which directly pertains to angelic knowledge of human actions. Therefore, as my topic is far narrower than his treatment I will of course skip those articles that are not to my purpose. First we will consider the medium of angelic knowledge. Then, skipping angelic knowledge of immaterial things, we will proceed directly to the knowledge of material things. There will then be a brief discussion of human actions in general and then the argument for the thesis. We will then take a brief moment to dwell on the consequences of the preceding arguments.

A medium of knowledge is the species through which an intellect knows some thing. Now in man, as is seen in Book III of Aristotle's De Anima, knowledge is had through a universal species that is abstracted from a phantasm in the imagination, present there from an object sensed. This cannot be so in angels. Angels are held to be pure intellects, i.e. separated forms that are their own natures.[29] Consequently, the medium for angelic knowledge must be more carefully examined.
That the angel might be distinguished clearly from God, it should be made clear that he does not know all things through his own substance; for the angel possesses a particular substance, and this substance does not contain the perfection of being in itself. As the Angelic Doctor says himself,

However, the essence of the angel does not comprehend in itself all things, since the existence of a essence is determined to some genus and species. But this is proper to the divine essence, that is infinite in itself simply and comprehends the perfections of all things. Therefore, only God knows all things through his essence.[30]

Therefore, it is clear that the angels must know by some other medium, and that their intellects must be perfected by some species in order to know.[31]

Already, from what has been said, we can see that it is not through some abstracted species that an angel knows. As St. Thomas says, “The species through which an angel understands is not taken from things but is con-natural to them.”[32] St. Thomas argues that human souls, since they are united to matter, are perfected through matter, otherwise their union with matter would be in vain. However, angels are not in matter in any way. Therefore, in order for angels to be perfected by some intelligible species, it must come from an intelligible “efflux,” that comes from God directly.[33] This is not surprising insofar as God is the cause of being and perfection of all things.[34] Therefore, God as he is causing things in existence is at the same time informing the angels with the intelligible species of the existing things.

Now, St. Thomas says that the species of things are con-natural to the angels. It is not that the species come from the very nature of the angel, it is that the nature of the angel requires species to obtain its perfection. Note that St. Thomas makes his argument through perfection, but he is not speaking of the supernatural perfection of eternal beatitude, but simply the perfections which belong to a thing. For example, if God were to create a lion and put no other animals on earth, this would be highly unfitting. To eat meat belongs to the nature of the lion. Therefore, it is con-natural to the lion that there be some animal to eat, otherwise the nature is in vain and cannot obtain its natural perfection. So also, the angel must have some intelligible species granted to them by God directly, otherwise they can in no way obtain their natural perfection and their nature is in vain.

It remains then to see how angels are able to know singulars. Necessarily then, we must take under consideration things in matter. St. Thomas argues from the order of things in nature. The superior beings are more perfect than the inferior and contain the perfections of the inferior eminently, wholly and simply. This is as much to say, anything a man can do, an angel can do better. There is a gradation in the order of things. God is the source of all things and all perfections. The angels are nearest to God in the order of being. St. Thomas then says,

Thus, therefore, all material things are in angels, preexisting simply. Indeed and more immaterially than in things themselves; but more multiplied and more imperfect than they exist in God.[35]

St. Thomas then concludes, in the same place, that since God knows material things, then the angels know them by some intelligible species given by God.

It is important to emphasize that, while God is the cause of being of things, and thus it is clear that creatures exist in Him above all things, the angels are not a cause of our being. Their knowledge of us is given to them directly by God, not as though they are necessary agents of His causality,[36] but because in order for these creatures to know it must come from God, not from creatures simply. See how clearly St. Thomas puts it in his reply to the first back in Question 55, Article 2

In the mind of an angel there are similitudes of creatures, not indeed, as taken from the creature, but from God, who is the cause of creatures and in which the first similitudes of things exist. Whence Augustine says in [The Literal Interpretation of Genesis] that just as the ratio by which a creature is fashioned, first is in the Word of God before it is fashioned in the creature, so the same ratio is made first in the intellectual creatures [i.e. the Angels] and then is itself fashioned in the creature.

We can now consider how angels know singulars. St. Thomas begins his discussion of this question by addressing two common errors. The first of which is the outright denial of knowledge of singulars in angels. This is against the Catholic faith, which holds that angels minister to individual humans; these we call guardian angels. Others have stated that angels know singulars through universal causes. St. Thomas shows that this does not end the difficulty, because to know through universal causes is not the same as to know the thing in the here and now. He gives the example of the astronomer knowing through causes that an eclipse is going to happen, but does not know it in its singularity unless he senses it.[37]

St. Thomas again appeals to the superiority of angels to show that they must know singulars if we do, since there is a certain perfection in knowing singulars in the here and now. He therefore argues that God causes all things, not just universally, but in their very individuality; is the cause of each individual substance. Therefore, even the very individual must exist in God preeminently. Socrates, exists in God first and foremost. Thus the angels know Socrates in his very singularity through a species given by God.[38]

Human actions are caused by God's agency through the will. Human actions begin in deliberation. This deliberation is about the means to the final end which belongs to man by nature. The deliberation necessarily results in choice.[39] That choice terminates in action. It is important to realize, in order to avoid the Pelagian error, that God must be the cause of any and all actions because there is in fact some being there. Moreover, that the first movements of deliberation are caused by God's direct action upon the human will There is no human action without God's causing it immediately, just as there is no being of any sort without God's causing it directly.

We are left, therefore, with the question of how angels can know these particular actions of men. Remember above what St. Thomas concludes about angelic knowledge of singulars, that it is precisely the thing its singularity, the here and now, that the angel knows. This follows for all kinds of being caused by God. As was discussed above, God is the immediate cause of being of every action. Therefore, the angel knows individual actions of men as made known to them by God himself, through some intelligible species.
There is an inclination is to say that angels must in some way make the individual actions of man present to himself in some immaterial way, even though it cannot be asserted how it is done. This view supported by considering the way demons are able to judge human thoughts by outward appearances. For as Augustine says demons “sometimes are able with the greatest facility learn man's dispositions, not only through speech, but also as conceived in thought when the soul expresses them by certain signs in the body”[40]. It seems therefore that the angels (and demons) are able to somehow consider man's actions directly. Moreover, to say that the knowledge is from some intelligible species of the individual it seems that one necessarily falls into some form of determinism. Angels would be able to conclude to individual actions from the intelligible forms of individuals. However, as St. Thomas argues, angels are unable to know that secret thoughts of men. For the will is moved by God alone and directly.[41] Therefore angels cannot perceive the principle of human action, so likewise, they cannot conclude to human actions from intelligible forms of individuals. Therefore, it seems that angels must in some way understand the individual human action from the man's action directly and since there is no form to abstract, the angel is not knowing it through abstraction, and thus this does not contradict what was said before.

The source of this difficulty seems to arise from the mode of human knowing. We know particulars directly from the particulars as sensed. This seems to us the most direct and simple way to know things. However, like most things man does, this is backwards. God knows things perfectly since He knows things in the order of being and through the cause of being, i.e. Himself. Angels, even naturally speaking are much more like to God than we are, and also know according to the mode of being. As was shown above, they cannot abstract. There is no agent or passive intellect, nor imagination in which to hold a phantasm.

The solution lies in this: God is the cause of being for every being, even accidental being. Therefore, He is even the cause of the being of actions. Therefore, as He is causing the action to be, sense there is some new ens, qualified though it may be, he reveals this to the angel through an intelligible species. Not that the angel sees this particular action as necessarily resulting from what is to be Socrates, but rather, since there is this particular man Socrates, he must necessarily act in some particular way here and now. The ens Socrates, is the occasion for the ens running, or cutting in Socrates. The angel cannot see into the deliberation of Socrates, but he is able know the action of Socrates as caused by God directly.

This is a mind blowing and staggering conclusion. We can imagine that an angel must be flooded with virtually infinite number of intelligible species as every single creature in the world, and every accidental being belonging to it (list the categories of a given moment) at every moment. However, this not simply the case. St. Thomas shows that an angel cannot understand many things at the same time. For the unity of an operation requires the unity of the object. Angels cannot know all things at once, because they are not infinite. Therefore they are only able to have one object for the operation of their vis intellectiva. To fill this out we can look at St. Thomas' consideration of whether the higher angels understand by fewer species. He argues that since God understands all things through himself in an absolute unity, inferior creatures know through many. Thus, those that are closer to Him know must by so much the fewer species understand all intelligible things. Therefore, his intelligible species are more universal.[42] Angels, therefore are not then attentive to all particulars accept in so far as the fall under the account of the universal species that they are considering.

Let us consider some speculative corollaries of this to help put the magnificence of this mode of knowing into perspective. Some have suggested that the highest angels are able to understand all creatures through the single species, created being. This does not seem unlikely especially considering what Dionysius says about the first hierarchy of angels in Chapter 7 of The Celestial Hierarchy.

They [Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones] are perfect then not because of an enlightened understanding which enables them to analyze the many sacred things, but rather because of a primary and supreme deification, a transcendent and angelic understanding of God's work. They have been directed hierarchically not through other holy beings but directly from God Himself and they have achieved this thanks to the capacity which compared to others is the mark of their superior order. Hence they are found next to perfect and unfailing purity and are led, as permitted, into contemplation regarding the immaterial and intellectual splendor.

Dionysius is here speaking of the beatified angels, but what is most telling is that he attributes their proximity to God to “the capacity which compared to others is the mark of their superior order.” It is not hard to imagine, then, that the higher angels can take up the entire universe in a single glance; that they are so powerful that the universe itself is able to be a locus of their power. Through the one species, created being, they understand the natures of every created being now in existence. Thus, the spiritual realm is vastly beyond our own meagre material existence.

In light of the above it would behoove us to take a brief look at angelic intelligible species. Intelligible species is not said univocally of man and angels, but analogously. First, consider that every intelligible species we possess carries with it the account of abstracted, and therefore universal. Angels labour under no such deficiency. They do not require that something be made universal in order for it to be understood. They understand it precisely in its particularity. The greatest angels are able to grasp Socrates-ness through the species created being.

We therefore see according to St. Thomas' thought that angels are subsisting intellects. From their nature they must receive intelligible species con-natural to them from God directly and these species are of all created being, even accidental being. Therefore it is through these species handed down by God that they understand human actions in the here and now. In this way, they can have knowledge through the cause of even particular actions. Among particular human actions we can include many of the phenomena proper to consciousness. Angels, therefore, are able to have objective knowledge of even first person experiences.

This conclusion seems to correspond with what Nagel wants in his knowledge of things. Nagel is emphatic that he is not just “adverting here to the alleged privacy of experience to its possessor. The point of view in question is not one accessible only to a single individual. Rather it is a type.”[43] So also the knowledge that angels have of individual human acts cannot violate the “inner sanctum” of human consciousness as St. Thomas points out when he says that angels cannot know the secret thoughts of men. This would seem to keep them from knowing what it is like for Socrates to be a man. However, they are still privy to what it is like for a man to be a man.

A Speculative Proposal

In this section I am going to follow Nagel's lead and offer my own speculative proposal. My own speculative proposal will at first look very much like Nagel's: there may be a way that man is able to more fully bridge the gap between the subjective and objective. I will go further with Nagel and say that its success seems to depend upon the development of a phenomenology. At this point, however our paths diverge. Nagel wants a phenomenology that would still lie in physical considerations. The phenomenology that I would look to is that which may subsist in the relationships between two human persons.

While an Aristotelian-Thomistic epistemology seems to exclude the kind of knowledge that Nagel wants as a possibility for human intellects, nevertheless, it does leave open a possibility that Nagel himself seems to suggest, namely, that knowledge of another's first person experience may be more realizable the more similar it is to ourselves. As was quoted above Nagel holds, “the objective ascription of experience is possible only for someone sufficiently similar to the object of ascription to be able to hold this point of view.” Nagel the goes on to state the principle negatively, “The more different from oneself the other experiencer is, the less success one can expect with [being able to hold the point of view of the other].[44]

It seems to me that an Arisotelian-Thomistic view would allow for such a position, but determine it more. This view holds that every human person has the same nature. That is to say, each instance of a human is likewise a distinct instantiation of human nature, but each instantiation is essentially the same. There is, however, a great deal of difference between each instantiation. This difference is not in the nature, but lies somewhere else.

According to St. Thomas, the principle of individuation is matter. While this is the principle of our individuation, it by no means needs to be considered as the perfection of our individation. We are not merely distinct individuals, we are unique. Now the perfection of the uniqueness of each instance of a human nature, belongs to the personhood of that nature. It is here that we find what St. Thomas holds to be the incommunicable part of our existence.

It seems, therefore, quite possible to imagine that the inter relationship of persons can provide for a more intimate knowledge of the experiences of the other. There is not the impediment of knowing a different nature. It seems possible, therefore, that there may be a chance to bridge the gap between subject and object in a more profound way.

I would be surprised if this entailed finding new concepts and ways of describing color as Nagel seems to want. Rather, the kind of development, as I see it, would develop a kind of empathy between persons. Perhaps philosophy and science will still only be able to describe this kind of knowledge. I can imagine that this kind of empathy will be found to be pre-philosophical. Perhaps this kind of knowing has actually been going on from the beginning, and I am merely reinventing the wheel. For, it was in the beginning that “Adam knew Eve, his wife.”[45]


We began this paper with a summary of Thomas Nagel's article, What is it like to be a bat? In the summary of this article we pointed out his critique of physicalist reductionism, but I attempted to emphasize that what Nagel was really trying to get to was the 'what it is to be' of a bat. It was in his quest for this where he found reductionist theories wanting.

From this we turned to Aristotle and St. Thomas, both of whom held a concept of nature. As we saw, this is not an idea of nature like Mother Nature, or some mysterious presence/force. Rather, it began as “a certain principle and cause of moving and resting in that in which it is, primarily, in virtue of itself, and not accidentally,” and finally developed into “the essence of the thing according as it has an order towards some proper operation of the thing.”

We then had to consider in what mode we understood these natures and consequently examined the seven major impediments to knowing natures. There are three on the part of the thing itself: it is a composite, the nature of the thing is expressed through sensible accidents of the thing, and these can sometimes deceive, either through defect, or intent. On the part of the medium through which the sensible accidents must be sensed it can possibly me unable to adequately carry the sensible accidents to the sense organs. The subject who desires to know likewise can cause impediments to knowing the nature of the thing. First, on the part of his senses; second, because he must abstract the essence of the thing; finally, because his will can blind him to his own experience.

This led us to look at angelic knowledge. For, while the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of human knowing seems to point to something less than what Nagel was seeking, we saw that waht is required for such knowledge is proper to angelic intellects. These immaterial beings are subsisting intellects, and from their nature they must receive intelligible species con-natural to them from God directly. These species are of all created being, even accidental being. Therefore it is through these species handed down by God that they understand human actions in the here and now. In this way, they can have knowledge through the cause of even particular actions. Such knowledge would therefore extend even to certain mental events.

Finally, I made my own speculative proposal, pointing out that since between two human persons there is not a difference in nature, it may be possible to have greater knowledge of another's first person experience, though this knowledge may take on something different than what belongs to philosophical or scientific pursuits.

Therefore, the question of bridging the gap between the subjective and objective is not so neat a problem as we might hope. According to classical thought, Thomas Nagel will have to be content with something less than what he has hoped for in his inquiry into the 'what it is to be of things.' Perhaps also, the sheer ability of the Aristotelian-Thomistic account to explain why we cannot get to the 'what it is to be' of things may be cause enough to consider more carefully their thought.


[1] Nagel, Thomas. What is it like to be a Bat? From The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974);435-50. I am using the article from a personal source; therefore the page numbers referenced will not correspond to the afore referenced publication.

[2] Cf. Aristotle, De Anima, III, 5.

[3] Nagel, What is it like to be a Bat?, p. 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 2.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p. 4.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., p. 6.

[15] Ibid., p. 8.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p. 1.

[19] Aristotle. Physics or Natural Hearing: William of Moerbeke Translation Series. Translated and edited by Glen Coughlin. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2005.

[20] Ibid., I, 2.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Aquinas, Thomas. De Ente et Essentia, Cap. I.: [Essentia] etiam alio nomine natura dicitur accipiendo naturam secundum primum modum illorum quattor, quos Boethius in libro De Duabus Naturae assignat, secundum scilicet quod natura dicitur omne illud quod intellectu quoquo mod capi potest. Non enim res est intelligibilis nisi per diffinitionem et essentiam suam.

[23] Ibid., Tamen nomen naturae hoc modo sumptae videtur significare essentiam rei, secundum quod habet ordinem ad propriam operationem rei, cum nulla res propria operatione destituatur.

[24] Aquinas, Thomas. De Veritate, Q. 1, a. 10, c.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Aquinas, De Veritate, Q. 1, a. 12 c.

[28] Cf. Ibid.

[29] Aquinas, Summa Thologiae, pp. Q.. 50, aa. 1,2,4,.

[30] Ibid., pp Q. 55, a. 1. c. Ipsa autem essential angeli non comprehendit in se omnia, cum sit essential determinate ad genus et ad speciem. Hoc autem proprium est essentiae divinae, qua infinita est, ut in se simpliciter omnia comprehendat perfecte. Et ideo solus Deus cognoscit onia per suam essentiam. Though an interesting question, we will leave aside what is meant by an angel being determined to a genus and species in this paper.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid. a. 2.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. pp. Q. 57, a. 1: Sic igitur omnia materialia in ipsis angelis praeexistun, simplicius quidem et immaterialius quam in ipsis rebus; multiplicius autem et imperfectus quam in Deo.

[36] This is not to say that God cannot use angels as a mediation for His direct causality, but it is not necessary. Furthermore, it seems that in certain ways God cannot use the angels to cause at all, such as in the case of esse We will avoid this digression.

[37] Ibid. a. 2.

[38] Ibid.

[39] This assuming that the deliberation comes to an end. One might be able to imagine a case where someone is in the grocery store indefinitely, but there is not need to dwell on what is on the least part.

[40] De Divinatione Daemonum as referenced by St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, pp. Q. 57, a 4.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., Q. 55, a. 3.

[43] Nagel, What is it like to be a Bat? P. 2.

[44] Ibid. p. 3.

[45] Genesis 4:1.

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