Wednesday, December 07, 2005

New Seminarian blog

This blog is from a good friend of mine who is taking some time off from seminary to discern his vocation in relation to his artwork. He really is a brilliant artist and much of his work was used throughout the seminary. He's now keeping a blog of his philosophy of art with samples. He's done some beautiful charcoal scenes from the movie, The Passion and of our late Holy Father. Please check out his blog. He's a dear friend and I'm glad to stay in touch with him in this way. I hope you'll find his work as inspirational as I have. He is equally inspirational in person.

Art Is Servant

God Bless you Dave!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Plenary Indulgence Attainable on Dec 8

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Plenary Indulgence Attainable on Dec. 8
Papal Decision for 40th Anniversary of Close of Vatican II

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2005 ( Benedict XVI is offering the faithful a plenary indulgence on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, the 40th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.

The indulgence was announced in a decree published in Latin on Tuesday, signed by Cardinal James Stafford and Conventual Franciscan Father John Girotti, penitentiary major and regent, respectively, of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

The document establishes that when the Pope renders public homage to Mary Immaculate in Rome's Piazza di Spagna, he "has the heartfelt desire that the entire Church should join him, so that all the faithful, united in the name of the common Mother, become ever stronger in the faith, adhere with greater devotion to Christ, and love their brothers with more fervent charity."

"From here -- as Vatican Council II very wisely taught -- arise works of mercy toward the needy, observance of justice, and the defense of and search for peace," adds the decree.

For this reason, the decree continues, the Holy Father "has kindly granted the gift of plenary indulgence which may be obtained under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion and prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff), with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin, on the forthcoming solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, by the faithful if they participate in a sacred function in honor of the Virgin, or at least offer open testimony of Marian devotion before an image of Mary Immaculate exposed for public veneration, adding the recitation of the Our Father and of the Creed, and some invocation to the Virgin."

At home

The document concludes by recalling that faithful who "through illness or other just cause" are unable to participate in a public ceremony or to venerate an image of the Virgin, "may obtain a plenary indulgence in their own homes, or wherever they may be, if, with the soul completely removed from any form of sin, and with the intention of observing the aforesaid conditions as soon as possible, they unite themselves in spirit and in desire to the Supreme Pontiff's intentions in prayer to Mary Immaculate, and recite the Our Father and the Creed."

On Dec. 8, 1965, Pope Paul VI, in closing Vatican II, dedicated great praise to the Blessed Virgin who, as Mother of Christ, is Mother of God and spiritual Mother of all mankind.

Latin at St. Mary's

I've been very impressed with how much we use Latin here at St. Mary's in Baltimore. We use Latin Mass parts every now and then, sing the Salve Regina after Rector's Conferences and after Evening Prayer during the Marian months, and we're now singing a Latin hymn during Advent Season as well. Latin class.

So...I'm trying to get one setup :)

I've got about 10 guys who are interested and we're meeting with the Academic Dean tomorrow to discuss it. I think he's favorable to it he just wants to make sure we're serious about it.

Here's a recent, pertinent article:

Benedict XVI Encourages Teaching of Latin
Greets Members of Latinitas Foundation

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 28, 2005 ( Benedict XVI encouraged the teaching of Latin, especially to young people, with the help of new methodologies.

The Pope made this proposal today when greeting the participants in a meeting organized by the Latinitas Foundation, a Vatican institution that promotes the official language of the Latin-rite Catholic Church.

The Holy Father, who addressed the participants in classical Latin, congratulated the winners of the Certamen Vaticanum, an international competition of Latin prose and poetry.

Benedict XVI said that this foundation must see to it that Latin continues to be part of the daily life of the Church, so that understanding of many of its treasures will not be lost.

The Latinitas Foundation, founded by Pope Paul VI in 1976, has the dual aim of promoting, on the one hand, the study of Latin and classical and Christian literature, and on the other, the use and spread of Latin through the publication of books in that language.

The foundation publishes a quarterly magazine, Latinitas, and every year celebrates the Certamen Vaticanum. The foundation has also published a dictionary, the Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis, containing more than 15,000 neologisms translated into Latin.

For those who ever wondered about the Latin equivalent for "computer," "terrorist" or "cowboy," there are now answers.

"Instrumentum computatorium" is the way the Latinitas Foundation refers to computers.

Those who sow violence and terror are called "tromocrates (-ae)"; while characters in Westerns are called "armentarius."

Some of the words of the Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis can be consulted on the foundation's Web page.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Eucharist and Marian Devotion

Eucharist and Marian Devotion
Perspective of Theologian Father Michael Hull

NEW YORK, NOV. 20, 2005 ( Here is the text of a talk given by Father Michael F. Hull, who participated in the recent videoconference of theologians on the topic of the Eucharist. The Vatican Congregation for Clergy organized the event. Father Hull is a professor of sacred Scripture at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

* * *

The Holy Eucharist and Marian Devotion
Michael F. Hull

Devotion to the Holy Eucharist and devotion to Our Lady are so closely bound as to be inseparable. As Mother and Son are united in an "indissoluble tie" ("Lumen Gentium," No. 53), so too devotion to Mother and Son are tightly linked. This is expressed most beautifully by the medieval religious poem "Ave Verum," immortalized as a motet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791.

In his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," the late Pope John Paul II devotes the sixth and final chapter to Mary, which he entitles "At the School of Mary: 'Woman of the Eucharist.'" Therein, the Pope points out significant parallels in the lives of Jesus and Mary.

For example, Jesus' words at the Last Supper -- "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19) -- echo Mary's words at the wedding at Cana -- "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5). Likewise, Mary's fiat to the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:38) prefigures the Amen of each communicant at the reception of Holy Communion.

Speaking of Mary's own reception of holy Communion after the Lord's paschal mystery, John Paul remarks: "For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the Cross" ("Ecclesia de Eucharistia," No. 56). "Mutatis mutandis," we are also brought to the foot of the Cross in holy Communion, where we are united not only with the Lord, but also with the "stabat Mater dolorosa."

Finally, we find Our Lord entrusting his Mother to St. John, who as the "beloved disciple" had such a prominent place at the bosom of Jesus at the Last Supper, and St. John to his Mother (John 19:26-27). Holy tradition recounts how Mary and St. John eventually settled at Ephesus, the place where Mary kept so much in her heart until her assumption (cf. Luke 2:33-35 and 2:51).

During the public ministry of the Lord, Mary is rarely in the foreground. Except for the wedding at Cana -- when Jesus prefigured his miracle of the Eucharist by turning water into wine at Mary's request (John 2:1-11) -- and at the foot of the Cross -- when Jesus concluded his passion (John 19:25) -- Mary is always in the background. Her presence is always pointing toward her Son. And that is the very heart of Marian devotion: a strong, omnipresent, and relatively silent expression of devotion to the will of God oriented to his and her Son.

Throughout the history of the Church, the saints have understood this truth. Two examples will suffice.

In the fourth century, St. Ambrose expressed the hope that all of his people would inculcate the spirit of Mary as a means to glorify God: "May the heart of Mary be in each Christian to proclaim the greatness of the Lord; may her spirit be in everyone to exult in God."

Similarly, 1,400 years later St. John Bosco had a vision of two pillars anchoring the bark of Peter in the midst of a stormy sea: the pillar of the Eucharist and the pillar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The larger pillar, that of the Eucharist, had the words "Salvation of Believers," and the smaller, that of Mary, "Help of Christians."

Mary is, indeed, the help of Christians, leading them to Jesus and the Eucharist. Devotion to Our Lady is always together with devotion to Our Lord, especially in the Eucharist, as the Church sings: "Ave verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine …"

Saturday, December 03, 2005

eighth paper

This is another paper for Philosophical Anthropology, mentioned here: Descartes' and Nietzsche's Understanding of the Human Person: A Critique and Contribution to Christianity.

Lemme tell ya, I was honestly shocked that I got an A on this one, I was prepared to get a low B at most. This is definitely the hardest paper I've worked on all semester, even moreso than my paper on the Goodridge Decision. My professor made many insightful comments on my paper, as he ususally does, but I won't put those here.

Really, all of my professors, on all of my papers have seen every hole in my logic. These have been very valuable. If you've read any of my papers on here and thought, "Well, hmmm, that doesn't sound right," odds are there was a comment made about it. If you're interested in these email me at matthardesty at hotmail dot com.

You'll also see, I'm a maniac when it comes to footnotes!

Here it is:

René Descartes, in “Part Four” of his Discourse on Method[1], states, “[B]ecause our senses sometimes deceive us, I wanted to suppose that nothing was exactly as they led us to imagine.”[2] This statement became one of the driving forces behind his effort to rectify what he believed was a system of doubts indoctrinated in him during his schooling as a child. Descartes, essentially dismissing the classics, the early Church Fathers, and Medieval scholasticism in the process, would devise a new method for discovering knowledge and truth. He would “raze everything to the ground and begin again,”[3] he said, by “building upon a foundation which is completely my own.”[4] This method would deny the senses so that then, freed from the doubts they bring, only “the things we conceive very clearly and very distinctly [would be] true.”[5] This would also further his argument for the “real distinction between mind and body.”[6] But, Friedrich Nietzsche, coming 250 years after Descartes, seems to dismiss Descartes by saying that his is just the typical “irritation and rancor against sensuality”[7] that has plagued every philosopher that has ever lived. But, this essay will show that Nietzsche’s opinion doesn’t exactly apply to Descartes. Descartes’ real purpose will be presented and then highlighted by Nietzsche’s opposing argument concerning the body in his “ascetic ideal.” Finally a conclusion will be made determining if any elements from either argument could be useful to Christian theology, a theology that is threatened by both philosophers.[8]

To be sure, the arguments Descartes posits for the doubting of the senses and thus the distinction between mind and body are baseless. In “Meditation Six” of Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes explains that the senses are suspect because of, for example, the “betrayal” of depth perception,[9] because some amputees have reported pain in their “phantom limb,” and because senses seem equally present in dreams as in wakefulness. But these are not deceptions, per se, as if the senses are inherently flawed, deceitful, or will to be malicious. They simply function according to the way God designed them and the world that they detect. Descartes himself states his trust in the order God has made and is even confidant that He is not a deceiver: “[F]rom the beginning, God made it such as it had to be”[10] and “it is impossible for God ever to deceive me.”[11] So how could his senses be absolutely deceitful?

In his search for “clear and distinct” truth, Descartes banishes from his knowledge everything he’s ever learned through his senses or by way of demonstration. This would mean the total erasure of any and all knowledge (and being) but Descartes escapes this absurdity by stating that one thing does remain: his res cogitans, his “thinking thing.” “[T]hought exists, it alone cannot be separated from me. I am; I exist – this is certain… I am therefore precisely nothing but a thinking thing.” From here he can conclude, “I am not that concatenation of members we call the human body.”[12]

He elaborates on the distinction between his mind and body in “Meditation Six.” Because Descartes has a clear and distinct idea of himself as a thinking thing only and a clear and distinct idea of his body as res extensa, an extended thing only, he can conclude that he is really distinct from his body and can exist without it. Because clear and distinct ideas come from God then it must be obvious that God intended to differentiate and separate the two.[13] Plus Descartes asserts that he recognizes distinct faculties in himself; imagining and sensing require and must belong to thinking only; and movement, shape, etc. require and must belong to a body only. Thus there is a “real distinction between mind and body,” with the mind being the sole and total source of essence and being.[14]

Again, this distinction is based on the assumption and assertion that radical doubting of the senses is acceptable. But we must not believe that Descartes was oblivious to this dubious foundation. Rather, he built it quite purposefully because it was necessary for his new vision and method for knowledge, one that he hoped would control the world and place man on top if it using mathematical physics. This is where he differs quite drastically from Nietzsche’s caricature of the philosopher.

In his work, On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche makes the case that religion and morality, especially in Christianity, are the enemy of life in man and keep him from fully expressing his will and experiencing the present at its fullest. He traces this back to the Jews who, rather than take on the morality of their conquerors, as was the traditional behavior, they resented their plight and devised their own morality.[15] In this resistance, their priestly caste succeeded in making their conquerors feel guilty for exerting the strength that they had by nature.[16] This caste then compounded the guilt by holding up their peoples’ weakness and lowly state as a virtue to be aspired to and followed. This “slave morality,” this “ascetic ideal,” has thus poisoned mankind from generation to generation.

The ascetics, as a people, retreat from life and deny themselves through “poverty, humility, chastity,”[17] and through other means in reaction to the suffering or constraint imposed on them by the various “masters” or obstacles in life.[18] Philosophers, a particularly sophisticated subset of the ascetics, retreat from life and moderate their senses not out of reaction to oppression but for higher truths, a higher realm, the gods and immortality.[19] This is the motivation behind the typical “philosophers’ irritation and rancor against sensuality.”[20] But, Descartes is no typical philosopher. He denigrates the senses not to escape this life but to control it, and he does it not to pursue the gods and the higher life but to become a god himself over this life.

For Descartes, even at “one of the most renowned schools of Europe,” knowledge and truth weren’t valuable in and of themselves, but only in so far as they yielded “everything that is useful in life.” He had a “tremendous desire to master them”[21] and “to distinguish the true from the false, in order to see [his] way clearly in [his] actions, and to go forward with confidence in this life.”[22] And what obstructed him from living “confidently”? In “Part Six” of his Discourse on Method, Descartes states his hopes for his method. He must be subtle here, to avoid eliciting a reaction to his work like that of Galileo’s, but his intentions are clear:

[I]t is possible to find a practical philosophy, by means of which, knowing the force and the actions of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us, just as distinctly as we know the various skills of our craftsmen, we might be able in the same way, to use them for all the purposes for which they are appropriate, and thus render ourselves, as it were, masters and possessors of nature.

Mankind, with his method, would also be able to enjoy “trouble-free the fruits of the earth and all the goods found there,” the “maintenance of health,” and freedom from an “infinity of maladies,” and even “the frailty of old age.” In this regard Descartes has little use for mankind (other than to further his experiments[23]), natural law, the Church, and God who would, if he were to have his way from his day forward, no longer be the masters of these domains. This shapes his entire life’s project, and offers little to Christian theology.

Now that we have used Nietzsche’s “ascetic ideal” to highlight Descartes, can we find anything in Nietzsche’s arguments that would be useful for Christian theology? On the surface it seems to be not so, as Nietzsche rails extensively on Christianity as not only a system of belief that tends towards or sometimes falls into the faults he finds with it, but one that essentially embodies those faults. For Nietzsche, Christianity is a religion of cowardice, passive-aggressiveness, and ressentiment (“resentment”)[24]. It builds comforting illusions to escape the hardships of this life and has developed an elaborate religiosity as a weapon against its oppressors. Christians have the same “will to power” as any other peoples only theirs is under the guise of truth, compassion, and justice.

Although the picture Nietzsche paints of Christianity is indeed a caricature, he is more useful than Descartes because his arguments are based on observations of behavior, rather than mere assertions and assumptions. So, we must be careful not to fall into his caricature, to become what Nietzsche thinks we are. Is our faith just a search for security? Is it merely a form of escapism? Is our asceticism merely hatred for the body, mere “death instinct,” mere “denial of life intensity”? Or does it aid us not only in attaining the “next life” but in enhancing our current life as well? We must also ask ourselves if our prayer and worship are founded on our belief that they are true or fear of the alternative if they are not true.[25] All of these challenges, if taken seriously, can be valuable in helping us maintain Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Merold Westphal, in his book Suspicion and Faith, mentions not only Nietzsche but also Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud in his particular challenge to Christianity. He says that we must

take the religious critiques of this unholy trio seriously rather than simply trying to refute or discredit them, to read them as a kind of Lenten spiritual exercise in self-examination… If there is more to the life of faith than self-deception in the service of self-interest, the best demonstration of this is not proof but practice.[26]

So we see that by understanding Nietzsche’s scathing challenges we can not only serve to check ourselves but address the currents of his thought in society as well.

[1] Any quotes from Descartes’ Discourse on Method or Meditations on First Philosophy will be from the work that combines the two, translated by Donald A. Cress, 4th ed., ©1998, Hackett Publishing Co. Hereafter referred to as either “Discourse” or “Meditations” depending on which part of the work is referenced.
[2] Discourse, “Part Four,” p. 18
[3] Meditations, “Meditation One,” p. 59
[4] Discourse, “Part Two,” p. 9
[5] Ibid. “Part Four,” p. 19
[6] This is the title of Meditations, “Meditation Six”: “Concerning the Existence of Material Things, and the Real Distinction between Mind and Body”.
[7] On the Genealogy of Morals 3.7, p. 106. Any quotes from Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morals will be from the work that combines it with Ecce Homo, translated by Walter Kaufmann, Vintage Books ed, Nov 1989, ©1967 Random House, Inc. Hereafter referred to as “Genealogy”.
[8] I arrived at the direction of this three-part thesis during conversation on the topic with Dr. Paul Seaton, St. Mary’s Seminary & University, and acknowledge his assistance here.
[9] Meditations, “Meditation Six,” p. 95: “Towers that had seemed round from afar occasionally appeared square at close quarters. Very large statues mounted on their pedestals did not seem large to someone looking at them from ground level.”
[10] Discourse, “Part Five,” p. 24
[11] Meditations, “Meditation Four,” p. 81
[12] Ibid. “Meditation Two,” p. 65
[13] Cf. ibid., “Meditation Six,” p. 96-97
[14] Cf. Discourse, “Part Four,” p. 19
[15] Cf. Genealogy 1.7, p. 33-34, “the Jews, that priestly people, who in opposing their enemies and conquerors were ultimately satisfied with nothing less than a radical revaluation of their enemies’ values, that is to say, an act of the most spiritual revenge.”
[16] Cf. Ibid. 1.13, p. 45, “To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.”
[17] Cf. Ibid. 3.8, p. 108
[18] Cf. Ibid. 3.13, p. 120, “the ascetic ideal springs from the protective instinct of a degenerating life which tries by all means to sustain itself and to fight for its existence.
[19] Cf. Ibid. 3.11, p. 117, “in that case, the case of the ascetic life, life counts as a bridge to that other mode of existence.”
[20] Ibid. 3.7, p. 106. Nietzsche also notes, “There also exists a peculiar philosophers’ prejudice and affection in favor of the whole ascetic ideal.”
[21] Discourse, “Part One,” p. 3
[22] Ibid. p. 6
[23] Cf. Discourse, “Part Six,” p. 35-36: “For, having the intention of spending my entire life in the search for so indispensable a science… I judged… to communicate faithfully to the public the entirety of what little I had found and to urge good minds to try to advance beyond this by contributing, each according to his inclination and ability, to the experiments that must be performed and also by communicating to the public everything they might learn in order that, with subsequent inquirers beginning where their predecessors had left off, and thus, joining together the lives and labors of many, we might all advance together much further than a single individual could do on his own.
[24] Cf. Genealogy 1.10, p. 36, “The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge… [I]n order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all – it’s action is fundamentally reaction.”
[25] The questions are from notes given by Fr. Bud Stevens on Nietzsche in Phil 501 Epistemological Issues in Theology, St. Mary’s Seminary & University
[26] This quote is from an excerpt of Suspicion and Faith in God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason edited by Thomas V Morris, ©1994 Oxford University Press, p. 223

another paper

I guess this would be my seventh paper, as I've kept count on this blog, but it's out of order in real time... I just forgot to put it up here.

This was for my History of Philosophy class, I got an A.

Leon Kass, in his book, The Hungry Soul[1], sets out to answer, among other questions, “What kind of ‘world relationships’ are entailed by the necessity of finding food? What, finally, is the relationship between what one is and what one eats?” “At stake in this inquiry,” Kass says, “is the adequacy or sufficiency of a materialistic explanation of metabolism and animal eating, and therewith of life as such.”[2] Kass breaks down the first chapter of this philosophical treatment of eating and being into ten parts. This essay will focus on the fifth part, “The Cause of Nourishing,” in which he discusses cause and responsibility vis-à-vis “metabolism and animal eating” and modern science’s explanation for these.[3] To be sure, the entire chapter (and the entire book for that matter) is rich with valuable insights and lessons both to the scientific community and to the common thinker. We will focus on the fifth part of chapter one, and the important lessons it holds, because it marks the start of a new tone in the chapter, and the book as a whole.

Kass begins by explaining that his reflections up to this point have “hardly broken new ground,” thereby implying that we should be familiar with what he has treated so far. If not, the reader is forced to wonder why and how his reflections have evaded us. Any good writer knows how to make his reader think, even about “the same ‘ol stuff.” Kass keeps us thinking throughout the entire work. After starting this part the way he does, he makes his reader suspect that a groundbreaking is eminent. But not only is he about to break new ground, he is about to enter into “controversial” territory. What he has treated so far should be of no surprise. Description and facts are more like surface coverage, explanation and cause take us to the real heart of the matter, literally and figuratively.[4]

Kass says that the act of nourishing not only drives performance, an action of the animal and man, but it is its own action as well, “one of the whole’s performances. As the many recent references to ‘self’ imply, an organism feeds and nourishes itself.” These references[5] to “self” include: “For the organism, unlike a machine, to nourish means to maintain as well as to fuel, and the organism is self-maintaining and self-repairing”[6] and “Nourishing is thus the activity of self-renewal as well as self-fueling, self-maintenance, self-healing, and self-maturation.”[7] These examples reinforce the idea of nourishing as an “accomplishment” and not just something that happens to or in an organism.

Here Kass also teaches us to think in terms of wholes with parts as even in this statement he gives the five parts of the nourishing-accomplishment: the “impulse to feed,” ingestion, digestion, absorption, and regenerative biosynthesis. Here also, he does not use the words “impulse” and “accomplishment” very lightly; he even puts the latter in italics. First, the word “impulse” comes from the Latin, impulsus, from the past participle of impellere, “to impel,” or “to push, strike against, drive forward, urge on.” And his use of the word “accomplishment” brings very human connotations with it: a sense of will, intention, volition, and as we’ll see very shortly, responsibility. Nourishing and metabolism are not just the processes that keep an organism alive, they are initiated by the very organism they sustain.

“What is in the organism that is responsible for these activities?” Again, Kass is invoking very common, human language to walk us through his points. How many times have we heard a mother ask her misbehaving child, “What’s gotten into you!”? What is in the child that is responsible for his actions? As was mentioned above, “This is, of course, the heart of the matter.” (emphasis mine) “At issue is the very nature and being of living things.” But, unfortunately, Kass states that this is a question “once much debated by philosophers, but now virtually neglected even by biologists.” Even by biologists! Of course philosophers would be consumed by such matters[8] but they are such a fickle crowd. But biologists!? Their whole science deals with “living things”! One can almost hear the underlying tone in Kass’s voice, making the comments above. With these three subtle words, “even by biologists,” he shows the folly of modern philosophy and science.

“Nothing less than a complete ontology[9] can answer the question [of the “very nature and being of living things”], and I am, quite frankly, unequal to the task” (emphasis mine). Here Kass introduces through his own witness the necessity for humility when entering into philosophical discussion. Socrates exhibited the same; for him wisdom was not in knowing all there is to know, but knowing his own ignorance and also being willing to inquire. Kass makes us wonder about his colleagues, “Is this humility in them?” A sort of intellectual pride must be at the heart of their experiments. At any rate, although Kass is “unequal to the task” he feels the question is important enough that we must do what we can to answer it and in a footnote he reassures us that the via media is always difficult, especially with matters as important as these.

The problem with society and its scientists today is that we want an explanation for every “organic change” we come across, we are not content with mystery. We must know what is “beneath” the change. We want to grab the change so we can hold it still and look at it from all sides, poke it, prod it, see what is under the hood, take it apart, dissect it, and put it back together again. If we cannot do that, it becomes a constant source of tension and grief. “When we ask about responsibility for metabolism, we are asking about such an under-lying cause, the stable something beneath or behind the flux.” In another footnote Kass implies that he uses the word “responsibility” rather than “cause” because we are not ready at this stage in the discussion to handle the 2500 years of baggage that this phrase brings. The good reader patiently proceeds.

Kass then says that “this question of responsibility or cause was first elaborated in classical antiquity” thus calling to mind the classics: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Then he goes right ahead and uses them in answering why, for example, the chair the reader is sitting in is “the way it is.” In Aristotle’s Four Causes, we see the Efficient Cause of the chair, its “from-what,” is the “carpenter-upholsterer who made it” and “his art and tools.” The Material Cause, its “out-of-what,” is “the wood or springs or cushioning.” The Formal Cause, its “what,” is “the shape or structure it displays.” And finally the Final Cause of the chair, its “for-what,” is “the use it serves, sitting.” These are all “modes of responsibility” and carefully bring us into the notion of cause.

Next, Kass moves into a more heavy-handed critique of modern science and its shrinking of the “notion of causation” to mean “only the moving cause or the efficient cause,” the first “Cause” we described above. For example, the Newtonian explanation for movement takes the easy way out: “[I]t proved easier to describe and quantify these changes than to identify the sought-for underlying substantive cause.” The modern scientist denies his very own innate capacity for wonder. He denies the “underlying substantive cause,” the “Why,” for an empty “How.” But this empirical tendency not only pervades the scientific community but the larger society as well. Kass states that the “common opinion” too has embraced these “laws of motion,” laws that at the end of the day, “do not explain motion or address its cause.” We force phenomena into our “preconceived parameters of space and time” rather than allow ourselves to be amazed.

Despite these difficulties, scientists are “by orientation” drawn to materialism and “[b]iologists are no exception.” Notice how Kass uses the phrase “by orientation” rather than “by nature.” He leaves an opening for science to change. If one is faced in the wrong direction, one can always change his “orientation” to face the right direction. Changing one’s “nature” is a whole different and eminently more difficult problem. Remember, “Descartes [a scientist] broke with his philosophical ancestors to present his doctrine of the ‘animal machine’ and a purely mechanical explanation of vital phenomena,” including “feeding, nourishing, and metabolism.” Descartes’ method, the modern method, wasn’t always the method. Kass is frustrated that modern biology has made such “enormous progress” by “eschewing all such speculation” of “form, or soul or purpose” in understanding “metabolism or, indeed any activity of life.” One can sense that he would like to put “progress” in quotation marks.

Kass then goes on, in the second to last paragraph of this part, to give examples of progress made in modern biology. He explains how scientists have figured out all of the pathways, structures, mechanisms, elements, processes, and “chemical bas[es]” of “ingestion, digestion, absorption, and regenerative biosynthesis” and even appetite! Any reader with some knowledge of philosophy will know that “appetite” carries with it quite a bit of baggage as well, but that did stop the modern scientist from clasping it under his microscope.

“[T]he whole is treated in terms of its ‘parts’” and this is how “most scientists vindicate their mechanistic and materialistic presuppositions, not only as heuristic[10] but as ontological hypotheses.” But isn’t an understanding of wholes and parts good? Isn’t that what Kass did in the beginning with the “nourishing-accomplishment”? Yes, but objects must be understood in a concept called the hermeneutic circle, when a whole is interpreted in light of its parts and the parts are interpreted in light of the whole, rather than primarily in one direction. Both directions in the hermeneutic circle, in the interpretation of an object, must be taken together. When this concept is not used, we come to a point where a flippant phrase like “you are what you eat” becomes serious science. Kass is the last one to make such a blunder.

In his closing paragraph of this part, Kass says, “Against the stream I want here to argue for the necessary supremacy of living form.” By saying he is about to embark “against the stream” he reminds his reader of the “controversy” he mentioned in the first paragraph. He has only scratched the surface. Kass also warns the reader not to interpret him wrongly; the “How” of metabolism is “both illuminating and useful.” But, now he will approach the “What” and “Why” by breaking out of his “form-material” discussion and moving toward one of “the relation of living form to its own material” which “differs markedly.” But in order to do this, we must first understand “form and material.” And so he sets us, and modern science, on a different orientation, to face the right direction.

[1] The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature by Leon R. Kass, M.D., University of Chicago Press ©1999. Any page numbers given in this essay are to be understood to come from this text.
[2] p. 20
[3] The fifth part, “The Cause of Nourishing,” is in the above book on pages 31-34. This essay is designed so that the reader can follow along with the Kass text. It steps through the fifth part, paragraph by paragraph in its analysis, so page number citations for each quote are omitted unless they reference a different part.
[4] Pun intended
[5] From the fourth part, “What Use Is Food?” p. 27-31
[6] p. 28
[7] p. 31
[8] Puns intended
[9] From the Gk. ontos “being” + logia “writing about, study of”
[10] From Gk. heuretikos “inventive,” related to heuriskein “to find,” meaning “serving to discover or find out”