Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Critique of Divine Illumination (DRAFT)

Remarks on Augustine’s Doctrine of Illumination and Aquinas’s Aristotelian Reply:

A Logical Critique based on remarks by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his 1929 publication and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

In sections of Augustine’s City of God and his On Free Choice, Augustine argues for the existence of internal knowledge and the doctrine of illumination. In the process he discuses the discreet nature of individual internal senses and the notion the real objects are un-changed by our perception of them. In doing so he presented a unique set of epistemological and ontological view points where truth itself becomes the eternal and unchangeable that we know simply as God. It should be clear though in time that a great deal of doubt can be cast on Augustine’s position in so far as logic is considered the primary means for describing the laws of reason.

Augustine wished to show us that God represented that which our reason was not only inferior to but also that which has no superior.[1] In this way God is truth it self. As humans though we are not eternal or unchanging and certain laws of reason are needed to allow our limited reason to discover truth. These laws are reveled to us, according to Augustine, ‘by the inner light, of which bodily sense knows nothing.’ This position which Augustine presents is dependent on the ability for individuals to sense certain laws of reason. The primary example put forward by Augustine is the science of numbers. “The science of numbers is there for all reasoning persons, so that all calculators may try to learn it, each with his own reason and intelligence.” In the case of numbers we must ask whether we gain our understanding of them from the laws of reason, which are revealed to us by the illumination of God, or through the bodily senses.

Augustine states that “…even if I did perceive numbers with the bodily sense I could not in the same way perceive their divisions and relations.” This statement is made in rejection of the position that we perceive numbers in images of visible things by way of the corporeal senses. The argument is that if such was the case how would I know with certainty that two distinct quantities will all ways yield the same result when added (i.e. seven plus three equals ten always)? An important point to be raised would of course be could we not imagine a world where seven and three was not equal to ten? As it though, the world being as it is, could we not extract such laws from the visible world? The idea that seven and three equals ten in the end is clearly the application of some set of logical rules which yield the laws of reason. But can such laws of reason provide us with an explanation of the senses that would allow us to prove that the science of numbers is such.

Wittgenstein held many views in his life from the Tractates to the Philosophical Investigations. In 1929 Wittgenstein published the second and finally piece of writing published in his life time, a paper titled Some Remarks on Logical Form. In this paper Wittgenstein makes some extremely interesting remarks about the way numbers are perceived in visual representations. Augustine was originally a professor of rhetoric, because of which he place a great deal of importance in the nature of how symbols such as words represented things in themselves.[2] In his work he pursued elaborate accounts of how ‘signs’ found in scriptural texts can be interpreted along with the Sacramental acts of the Old and New Testament seen as signs signifying the nature of things. He went as far to state that he wanted to make clear “that things signified are of greater importance then their signs.”[3] Wittgenstein become intensely focused on how atomic propositions where signs representing visible things. In doing so, in his 1929 paper, he constructed an interesting view of the logic dictating how such propositions where signs. Signs in which the occurrence of numbers where essential and unavoidable.

This paper was later rejected by Wittgenstein as worthless. It still remains a remarkable insight into the nature of reasoning through logic. Wittgenstein wanted to show how the logical investigation of phenomena could be explained symbolically. This is a necessary exploration for any one who wishes to claim access to the laws of reason as they are presented in logic. In the paper Wittgenstein asks us to imagine a square, P, defined on a two dimensional surface. The statement ‘P is red’ requires a logical representation which automatically entails a set of coordinates to restrict the area of the square, a measure of time, and some indication of the degree of the color. This is because any theory of knowledge must be constructed not a priori, but a posteriori from the visual experience of the thing in question.

The area P then can be represented by some proposition like ‘RPT’ where R is the degree of color, P the position of the thing, and T the time which the impression was made. The degree of the color which is my internal impression can not be analyzed into a logical product of single statement of quantity and a completing supplementary statement. This is because the relation of difference in degree is an internal relation and is represented internally between to statements of degree.[4] When we are told the temperature is twenty degrees we do not also ask if it is ten degrees. This is because of the exclusive nature of measurements of degree.

Is this inner relation the inner light which Augustine suggests in his doctrine of illumination? Perhaps not, although here Wittgenstein may be suggesting that the inner relation which Augustine speaks is found within the bodily senses. Let’s for example look the case where two individuals have mistakenly identified P as being two distinctly different colors. One claims that the area P at a given time is red ‘RBT’, the other claims that it is blue ‘BPT’. How can we explain this contradiction?[5] We are unable to define the colors red and blue by any property of exclusion so we are left show how the structure of a given statement ‘( )PT’ can have only one input. Wittgenstein shows that logic alone, or as it stands, can not provide for the logical exclusion of cases where both individuals are correct. This shows a deficiency in our symbolism as perfect notation will have excluded such statements by definite rules of syntax. As such we are at this point with out an ultimate analysis of the phenomena in question. If the most basic logical system can not explain the discreet nature of the senses how are we to claim access to the laws of reason at all? And with out such laws of reason how can we in Augustine’s view be capable of God or recognizing truth?

If the senses are discrete, in so far as I know only what I see and you know only what you see, and we have no clear system of language or symbolic representation[6] of what we observe how can we claim to know where for certain the laws of reason are originated from our private inner illumination? It could be claimed that sense numbers are perceived in the logical propositions and statements describing visual experiences that the bodily senses do provide for the laws which dictate their relations. The value of doing so still remains unclear to us, unless by some means we can show that the bodily senses cause the thing it self, other wise unchanged, to change on account of being perceived. Augustine claims that,

“It is evident that things which we perceive with the bodily senses without causing them to change are by nature quite different from our senses, and consequently are common to us both, because they are not converted and changed into something which is our peculiar and almost private property.”

There stands today a theory within modern physics which claims that what we perceive is converted and change by our perceiving of it. This theory is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Theory. This theory stands as the cornerstone of the Copenhagen conception of particle physics and is highly disputed. In our case it is only necessary to understand a few key aspects of the theory.

Heisenberg applied the concept of anschaulich, the idea that a physical theory, or law reasoning within the physical world, comes when we grasp in all simple cases the experimental consequences qualitatively and see that a given theory leads to no contradictions.[7] This concept establishes his theory as one of ontological significance as Heisenberg claims the “the path of a particle comes into being because we observe it.”[8] This is because our measuring of a quantity, according to Heisenberg, gives that quantity meaning by creating a value for that quantity. It would seem that from this, and along with Wittgenstein’s 1929 paper on logic, that we can determine laws regarding the nature of things from the bodily senses alone. Of course the remarks made here only open up the possibility of determining laws a posterior, based upon the senses, and dose not in anyway prove conclusively that this is the case. The point here is only to cast doubt on the principle of illumination as the source for our laws of reason as represented by logic.

The true problem with Augustine becomes one of showing where exactly the illumination provided by God accrues. This is the same problem faced by all Platonists; they realize that something about our sense of an object can not be transferred into a purely intellectual quality. Wittgenstein realized the problems faced when attempting to intellectualize the world of sensible objects in the Tractates. It was in this work that he found that the world had to be made of more then simple facts represented by atomic-propositions. Originally Wittgenstein had hoped to derive from language a metaphysical theory which did not require an explanation of being in and of it self. Aquinas noted these difficulties in Augustine by way of the theories of Democritus and Plato as interpreted and critiqued by Aristotle.

Democritus’s Materialism and Plato’s theory of the forms are by no means reflections of Wittgenstein’s Tractates, but they both present some key short comings inherent in all three theories and that of Augustine’s doctrine of illumination. As Aristotle points out Democritus was correct to point out the importance of the senses as they are affected by physical objects through the discharging of the senses.[9] He failed on the other hand to notice that the intellect has an operation independent of the body. Plato correct in pointing out that the senses are distinct from the intellect but failed to note that all intellectual concepts must originate from the senses and the intellect in a composite form. Aquinas demonstrates an eight step process by which simple apprehensions become intellectual objects according to Aristotle.

Through this process we move from first intentions into sensible species, or physical objects with intelligible elements, through the sense organs to sensible species impressed on the mind. These impressed sensible species become one common sense which forms a phantasm or unified image representative of the object. At this point a distinctive line is drawn between passive material quantities and the agent intellect. After passing this line the object in question becomes an intellectual quantity within in the potential intellect. According to Aristotle the mind is everything, and the potential intellect can represent any possibility and is possessive of the actual idea of an object. This process of abstraction clearly draws our attention to the distinction between objects and symbolic representation in the mind.

This is also true of Wittgenstein attempt at logical representation. Wittgenstein attempts to draw a line between the symbolic nature of the intellect and the physical things which make up the world. Augustine attempts to draw a line between the physical agent and the laws of reason themselves. The problem with Wittgenstein, Augustine, and Aquinas is that there is no line between the sensible and the intellectual. The reason immaterial can not effect the material is because both are intellectual and physical simultaneously. No object can be said to exist without being at the same time intellectualized, and for humanity no intellectual quantity can be conceived of out side the physical limitations of the body.[10]

The eight stages demonstrated by Aquinas are deceiving, in that they attempt to hold the process of intellectualizing physical thing to specific geographical locations between the physical world, the senses, the mind, and the soul. Imagine for a moment you are standing in the middle of the London Underground during the early 1930’s. You want to know how to get some where on the other side of London. The map you would be looking at would be very perplexing, a maze of train lines map out based upon geographical positions. Determining which station leads to which via such a map would have been painful at best. Although in 1933 because of the brilliance of Henry Beck, a draftsman for a London engineering firm, it became a whole lot easier.[11] Beck designed a map where stations where displayed along brightly colored lines fixed to an octagonal grid. All geographical or special positioning was thrown out. This diagrammatic approach is the perfect symbolic approach to how sensible things are intellectually recognized.

Each of the steps out lined by Aquinas must be seen as transitional stations along the path intellectual understanding. Attempts at pinning each station to a place in the physical world or the mind are nothing more then an outdated form of Cartesian Dualism which services no purpose in discovering the nature of knowledge. It may help in defining the limits of a given proposition but even this remains unclear from what Wittgenstein demonstrates. The only purpose for orienting the path between sensible objects intellectually conceived and intellectual objects would be one similar to Beck’s placement of the Themes on the London Underground map. It offers us nothing more then a helping hand in understanding where the abstract process of achieving knowledge fits within our view of the world.

In the end Augustine can not claim that divine illumination comes at a specific point in the logical process of discerning laws of reasoning or intellect. Instead the process of intellectualizing the senses is as whole should be claimed as a form of divine illumination. All sensible things, rightly perceived, can then be viewed as truth it self.

[1] On Free Choice, II iii 7 – xv 39

[2] According to Rist (1994) his education is rhetoric, caused Augustine to consider long-standing Stoic and Epicurean disputes about the nature of signs, verbal and otherwise…

[3] Augustine: The Master 9.25

[4] Wittgenstein also provides a logical demonstration for why this is.

[5] City of God, Augustine uses the example of an individual to be mistaken as a proof for the existence of the self.

[6] Clearly I have not exhausted all possible logical systems, but I have shown a key feature of the failure of logical representations of the world in so far as the fail to capture private sensations.

[7] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[8] Heisenberg, 1927, p.185

[9] Aquinas’s Interpretation of Aristotle from Summa theological I.84.a.6-8

[10] These assertions are similar to and inspired by Daniel Dennett’s multiple draft theory of conciseness, the claim that there is no single place, or Cartesian theater where conscious thought occurs.

[11] Fiell 1998, pg. 98 Design of the 20th Century

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