Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Summa

The real world has been kicking my butt keeping me busy, so I haven't had much time for blogging.

As I said before, reading the Summa have been a long time brewing. I bought the 5-volume set about a year or so ago, but I have had Timothy McDermott’s “Concise Translation” for about ten years. If you don’t know already, the full text of the Summa is on the net. I have to tell you, McDermott’s translation makes it a lot more accessible. If you went through the Summa and condensed each article to a paragraph cutting out the “Objection 1….Objection 2…. On the contrary…I answer than…” format and summarizing it as a good student of philosophy would do and cutting out technical terms as much as possible, at the end, you would have McDermott’s Concise Translation. It is marked such that you can easily refer to the full text if you want to see the objections and responses etc, but if you want to cut to the chase, you have McDermott’s translation.

It still requires some straining of the brain, but it makes it much easier for the Peeping Thomist. It is well over my head, but I’m trying to practice what Mortimer J. Adler prescribes: “You do not understand the book perfectly. Let us even assume—what unhappily is not always true—that you understand enough to know that you do not understand it all. You know the book has more to say than you understand and hence that it contains something that can increase your understanding. [Doing the job of reading] is done in only one way. Without external help of an sort, you go to work on the book. With nothing but the power of your own mind, you operate on the symbols before you in such a way that you gradually lift yourself from a state of understanding less to one of understanding more. Such elevation, accomplished by the mind working on a book, is highly skilled reading, the kind of reading that a book which challenges your understanding deserves.”

Like I said, I’m trying. I have no guilt about consulting the glossary in Peter Kreeft’s Shorter Summa and the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy to make sure I understand the symbols. Anyway, all that being said, although I could have easily thrown in the towel already as in the first 90 pages (fifty-something pages of the translator/editor’s introduction and fourty-something pages of the Summa) I found multiple occasions to feel stupid, I keep going. I have four things to say to anyone thinking about reading the Summa: 1) You won’t feel any more stupid than I do reading it, 2) I recommend this translation as a starter—this coming from one who has made multiple attempts at reading the Summa—as it is doable 3) the moments of feeling stupid are balanced with moments when something else makes sense and provides a deeper understanding about something you’ve thought about before, and 4) This book like few others is worth the effort.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

If God is Good......?

Rodak, Paul, Dick, (Just noticed he wasn't on my blogroll) and I have been having a most enjoyable conversation regarding the problem of evil. What is nice is that we have been having a rational exchange of ideas. Although we do not always agree, our minds meet and grasp one another's arguments. I love it! The latest question is the following, posed by Rodak:

"If God is all-good and all-knowing, how can evil exist in a world He created?"

Here is my answer:

We know happens one moment at a time as they occur. Got knows things all at once because he is outside of time. To know something happened, will happen, oris happening, is not to make it happen. I know what happened on September 11, 2001. Does that mean I caused it?

Imagine that I have a time machine and can travel into the future. Imagine also that (as happens in every story involving time travel) time stops when I travel. If I travel all through the future and make video tapes of everything that happens in every place for the rest of time and I create a collection of videos in the present. I know everything that is going to happen and can access any video to see what is going to happen in the future. Do I now control the future—or just know it in advance?

I have gotten to know my friend very well. I have learned how he “ticks,” if you will. When something happens, I know how he will act. He has a girlfriend and I know that he is going to break up with her in the next couple weeks, although he does not. I know that another friend sent him an e-mail which he has not read yet, but when he reads it I know exactly what he is going to do: he is going to fly in to a fit of rage and is going to send a nasty e-mail back. Am I making him break up with his girlfriend? Am I making him write a mean e-mail?

I know that America is going to suffer an economic decline and is going to decline in power and military strength. This knowledge is based on my study of world history and international political trends. Do I control the American economy? Do I control American power?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How Should We Improve Our Minds?

How does a person best go about improving his mind? That has been on my mind a lot lately. There is so much to know, and so much we need to know, yet so little time. Since everyone in the U.S. is entitled to an education, education is under valued (like the right to vote), and it is dumbed down so that everyone can be crammed through the system regardless of whether their interests and abilities lean toward academics or toward a trade or something else.

But even without a deficient educational system, if we are to have a government by, for and of the people there has to be an informed citizenry. They need have a knowledge of history, philosophy, the social sciences, economics, religion etc. In a truly ideal world everyone would be educated. That exists only in Utopia. But the author of Utopia, who was a practical man, often said, what you can’t make perfect, make as little imperfect as possible. In a somewhat less ideal world there would be at least a few good people who would look out for the others. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in either.

Maybe it’s just our country: we’re all rich by world standards, over weight, we have pill for everything, maybe we think we don’t need our fellow man’s help so we don’t help him; we don’t need the quid pro quo thing so we just look out for ourselves. And because we are rich and fat, and powerful we forget about how our grandfathers worked in the fields and in factories and felt they were doing well if their family didn’t starve to death, and our 6x great grandfather had to come over the mountain and meet the British before the British came over the mountain and raped their wives. Anyway, we are pretty apathetic at this point. So I guess more encouraging that St. Thomas More’s admonition is the one from Mother Theresa: “God doesn’t call me to be successful; he calls me to be faithful.”

But where to start and what course to follow? That has been irking me for a while. Part of me says to recall what St. Augustine said, “We learn better in a free spirit of curiosity than under fear and compulsion.” Part of me says I need to read about things I don’t want to read about like American Foreign Policy and Bioethics, and I need to learn how to best approach such complex issues, not from my gut but to find the right way whether my gut agrees or not. And there are times when a person needs to keep studying a subject even when it becomes tedious
Well, I think I have begun to find some answers….for me. First, I think I learn better in a discussion or debate. For one, sometimes we don’t appreciate an idea unless we have something to compare it to. I think this is one of the reasons that converts whether they be to Capitalism, or communism or to a religion, tend to have so much zeal: because they have seen both sides and struggled through from one to the other. Second, if a person challenges my faith (be it religious of political) it forces me to learn my faith, and to see the gaps in my belief that need to be bridged. As it happens, I started blogging to find people who were interested in discussing the same books and ideas. I’ve met some great people so far.

Second, and this has been a long time coming (over ten years), I’ve decided to read the Summa Theologica. Well, I’m reading a concise translation. Timothy McDermott translated the Summa and reformatted it into a more normal flow of writing than the “Objection 1….Objection 2…. On the contrary…I answer than…” format. It contains the all the meat and cuts out only things that are of only historical interest. I solemnly swear that I will read it once. It’s only 600 pages (In Aquinas’ format it is 3,000 pages). I ought to read it 3-5 times, but we’ll see. It’s not that I don’t want to read the Summa, it’s just that I really have to stretch my brain to follow it.

But the Summa is only half of the story. I am thinking I want to follow what might be called the “Jazz” method of self-improvement. I don’t know if this applies to all Jazz. In fact, what I’m thinking about may actually be better described as Boogie—anyway, on the piano, the left hand plays a steady tune while the right hand goes crazy. With part of my time, the mornings, I’ll try to engage in more steady, determined reading, while in the other part, the evenings, I’ll read whatever piques my interest: worldview, natural law, bioethics foreign policy, something someone tells me I ought to read.