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What Is Wrong with the World?

“What’s wrong with the world?”  Countless thinkers have asked this question, especially over the past century-plus, and they have asked it over and over again; to the point that few in recent years seem to ask it any longer, even for the purpose of adopting the thinnest veneer of rhetorical posturing.  No. Today, almost everyone seems pretty well-decided about what is wrong in the world. As such, their questions aim at means to rectifying those wrongs rather than at understanding what they are.

Taking such an aim ignores, however, that most hold only opinions about what is wrong, for very few hold any knowledge about what is right.  Not knowing what is right—and by knowing is meant not merely “feeling” something to be right or wrong, but being able to articulate what causes the act or practice to be good or bad—we can only react to certain things as wrong.  The reaction might be correct (that is, appropriate) or incorrect (inappropriate).  Someone might react, for instance, with disgust at exposing children to sexually-suggestive performances.  Someone else might laud this exposure.  The former is correct; the latter, not.  But if the former reaction cannot be explained, cannot be grounded in a causal explanation, it will have difficulty justifying itself in a world where the sense of the natural has been evaporated in a cultural confusion, in a culture which has grown increasingly separated from the ordination of nature itself.

Aristotelian Revival

To ask, then, “what is wrong with the world?” one will receive a myriad of answers based on feelings—some of which answers may be correct, others which may be incorrect; but the grounds for both will appear almost equally instable in efforts at communication.  The only means of resolution, then—when confronted with the inevitable conflict between opposed reactions—becomes violent conflict.  But such a resolution is, at best, temporary.  New differences of reaction will arise, even under (perhaps especially under) the most totalitarian and authoritarian of regimes.

What then, are we to do?  Where does the answer lie for our cultural conflicts?  It lies, as suggested, in an understanding of the good (i.e., that in accordance with which a course of action is right).  We can do no better than to begin by returning to Aristotle. We must rediscover his wisdom, and strive as best we can to understand the truths he reveals as they illuminate our struggles today. Chiefly, Aristotle teaches us the necessity of virtue. This rediscovery of virtue should not, as some would understand it, require a “strategic retreat” from the world. Rather, the rediscovery teaches us how to live in a world that might hate us for our virtues—and love us in spite of that hatred.

Virtue of Community

Last year, I read (among many of his works), Byung-Chul Han’s Disappearance of Rituals. At the very outset of the text, Han writes:

Rituals are symbolic acts.  They represent, and pass on, the values and orders on which a community is based.  They bring forth a community without communication; today, however, communication without community prevails.

2020: Disappearance of Rituals, 1.

Doubtless, we can observe the absence of ritual readily in the prevalence of communication without community. Such communication, arguably, fails even to be communication in truth. Indeed, Han here evokes the specter of paradox. There cannot be community without communication. A community coalesces around something common, which does not come into being without communication.  But the exaggerated point remains valid: that distinct, particular acts of communication are not needed when there exist rituals which contain that commonality and communicate it to the community. Explicit linguistic communication finds itself required less when ritual has already established commonality.

Ritual requires definition, of course—and defense of such a definition exceeds the intent of this post. But succinctly, we might say that every ritual comprises an external habit. There may be private or internal elements as well, of course; but rituals are performed. As such, they concern a holding of oneself with respect to the world.

I believe it would do much good if we could see that good rituals result from virtue. Perhaps we can identify—causally—that the absence of true community constitutes something wrong with the world today. Perhaps, recovering virtue, we can recover true community.

Virtue: Ethics

What does it mean to be good as a human being? Modernity, all too often, has treated this as a problem to be solved. That is, we tend to view moral failings as simply in need of the right solution, the right education, the right program. Morality, however, is something that belongs to the individual. It is a matter of internal habit, not a matter of an external system.

[2023 Winter] Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision

All of us, it seems, today bear a heavy burden of being. Increasingly, we may find it difficult to rise from our beds and confront the day: indeed, even for those who persevere, it is a perseverance, it is a confrontation. The world challenges our fortitude. But why?

We might assign, and justly, many different causes for the increased burden: politics, news, the increased saturation of our lives by notes of strife and conflict; the ubiquitous screens which threaten our hold on reality. But behind these many immediate causes of fragmentation lies a deeper darkness. For our burden is caused not by the what of our lives, but by the why. More truly, it is the absence of a why. Put in other words, even those who have a strong sense of purpose as individuals suffer from the broader cultural nihilism. We are not pure individuals, after all. We cannot but be affected by our friends, family, even our casual acquaintances.

Thus, our burden comes from what we might call a nihilistic background cosmological image: the widespread belief that the universe is inherently meaningless, and that any meaning assigned to things, relationships, or events, is the product of human invention. The universe looms dark and empty. The earth is small and fragile, and we human beings even more so.

In stark contrast to such nihilistic presuppositions—which have leached into the fabric of our late-modern culture—shines the cosmological vision of St. Thomas Aquinas. Many might disregard, out of hand, the cosmology of someone living still under belief in a geocentric model. Indeed, the particulars of St. Thomas’ background image were inaccurate. But, despite the particular shortcomings, we can, by examining how he arrived at his understanding of the universe, that the vision still today applies to our own cosmology. Rather than a dark, empty void, bereft of meaning and purpose, we can discover the cosmos yet retains a meaningful structure: and in this, I believe, we discover hope—and a lightening of our burden.

This is an introductory seminar. View the syllabus here and learn more about Lyceum Institute seminars here. Participants will be challenged but need no prior experience. Digital copies of all readings will be provided.

Schedule

Discussion Sessions
1:15pm ET
(World times)
Study Topics &
Readings

January
14
Week 1: Governance of the Universe
Lecture: Humility in the Pursuit of Wisdom
Readings:
» Aquinas – Expositio in Symbolorum Apostolorum, preface & c.1.
January
21
Week 2: Vision of Creation
Lecture: Aquinas contra Nihilism
Reading:
» Aquinas – Summa contra Gentiles Book II (SCG.II), c.15-24.
January
28
Week 3: Necessity in Creation
Lecture: The Proportionality of Creation
Reading:
» Aquinas – SCG.II, c.25-31.
February
4
Week 4: Limits of Reason
Lecture: The Eternal and the Temporal
Reading:
» Aquinas – SCG.II, c.32-38.
February
11

BREAK
February
18
Week 5: Distinction of Being
Lecture: Diversity of Beings
Reading:
» Aquinas – SCG.II, c.39-45.
February
 25
Week 6: Intellect in the Cosmos
Lecture: The Audience of Creation
Reading:
» Aquinas – SCG.II, c.46-55.
March
4
Week 7: Goodness and Perfection
Lecture: The Constitution of Goodness
Readings:
» Aquinas – Summa Theologiae (ST) Ia, q.4-5.
March
11
Week 8: Perfection and its Relations
Lecture: Threefold Relationality of Perfection
Readings
» Aquinas – ST Ia, q.6, a.3-4 and q.45, a.7-8.

Registration

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

Aquinas Cosmological Vision

[2023W] Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision – Benefactor

Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more.

$200.00

Aquinas Cosmological Vision

[2023W] Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision – Patron

Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).

$135.00

Aquinas Cosmological Vision

[2023W] Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision – Participant

Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.

$60.00

[2023 Winter] Ethics: Virtue

What does it mean to be good as a human being? Modernity, all too often, has treated this as a problem to be solved. That is, we tend to view moral failings as simply in need of the right solution, the right education, the right program. Morality, however, is something that belongs to the individual. It is a matter of internal habit, not a matter of an external system.

Put in other words, we might say that the ethically-righteous course of action consists in how we hold ourselves. There is no checklist. There are no solutions. Actions of moral consequence are all unique, unrepeatable. No one is confronted with the same moral difficulty twice. In order to deal with them rightly, we must ourselves be good.

It is precisely this—being good—that Aristotle pursues in his Nicomachean Ethics. This great masterwork, which will be read in its entirety across this 8 week seminar, develops the concept of virtue (that is, in this context, human excellence) through understanding the characteristic activity which is proper to the human being. We will pursue Aristotle in this course with some supplemental readings, expository and provocative lectures, and weekly discussions.

The Aristotelian approach to the question of moral righteousness stands in contrast to many of the presuppositions of today. This seminar will challenge many of our preconceived notions about what it means to be good and how this is achieved.

This is an introductory seminar. View the syllabus here and learn more about Lyceum Institute seminars here. Participants will be challenged but need no prior experience. Participants are required to use a copy of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Preferred translations: Bartlett and Collins or Joe Sachs.

Schedule

Discussion Sessions
10:15am ET
(World times)
Study Topics &
Readings

January
14
Week 1: Happiness and the Good
Lecture: The Work of a Human Being
Readings:
» Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1.
January
21
Week 2: The Nature of Virtue
Lecture: Action and Affection
Reading:
» Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2—Book 3, c.5.
» “On Moral Philosophy”, Yves Simon.
January
28
Week 3: The Moral Virtues
Lecture: Moral Greatness
Reading:
» Nicomachean Ethics, Book 3, c.6—Book 4.
» “The Virtue of Courage”, R.E. Houser.
» “The Virtue of Temperance”, Diana Fritz Cates.
February
4
Week 4: Justice
Lecture: Due Proportionality
Reading:
» Nicomachean Ethics, Book 5.
» “The Virtue of Justice”, Jean Porter.
February
11

BREAK
February
18
Week 5: Intellectual Virtue
Lecture: Prudence and the Unity of Virtue
Reading:
» Nicomachean Ethics, Book 6.
» “The Intellectual Virtues”, Gregory M. Reichberg.
» “The Virtue of Prudence”, James F. Keenan, S.J.
February
 25
Week 6: The Struggle for Virtue
Lecture: Striving for a Coherent Life
Reading:
» Nicomachean Ethics, Book 7.
March
4
Week 7: The Good of Friendship
Lecture: Hierarchy of Friendships
Readings:
» Nicomachean Ethics, Book 8—Book 9, c.6.
March
11
Week 8: The Hierarchy of Happiness
Lecture: Unitive Goods of Human Life
Readings
» Nicomachean Ethics, Book 9, c.7—Book 10.

Registration

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

Ethics: Virtue

[2023W] Ethics: Virtue – Benefactor

Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more.

$200.00

Ethics: Virtue

[2023W] Ethics: Virtue – Patron

Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).

$135.00

Ethics: Virtue

[2023W] Ethics: Virtue – Participant

Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.

$60.00

Marshall McLuhan on the History of the Trivium

…the history of the trivium is largely a history of the rivalry among them for ascendancy.  Ancient grammar was at odds with the dialectics of Plato and, especially, of Aristotle, as the art of interpreting phenomena.  As the method of patristic theology, grammar enjoyed uninterrupted ascendancy until the revival of dialectics by Gerbert, Roscellinus, and Abelard in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  With the decadence of dialectical or scholastic theology in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries both grammarians and rhetoricians surge forward again, finally triumphing in the work and influence of Erasmus, the restorer of patristic theology and of the grammatical humanistic discipline on which it rests.  On the other hand, the war between the dialecticians and rhetoricians began as soon as the Sophists attempted to make dialectics subordinate to the art of persuasion.  Plato and Aristotle were the greatest enemies of the rhetoricians, not so much in rejecting rhetoric, as in asserting that as an art it had no power to control dialectics.  The Stoics, however, are the main defenders of dialectics against rhetoric after Aristotle.

Marshall McLuhan, 1943: The Classical Trivium, 42.

A point which will be focused on in the present unnamed Lyceum trivium project (being constituted by a series of lectures and discussion sessions which will result either in a video, text, or other public-facing production: see more on our approach to the Trivium here), the conflict of “ascendancy” among the arts of the trivium is a subtle point to which few have drawn attention as well as McLuhan. One difficulty I see emergent from the history of their rivalry is a certain blindness to their unity. What makes something one? An indication hinted at here—whether intentionally or not—is the point of “decadence” in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries among the scholastics. This decadence itself is a point in need of exploration and exposition, for, certainly, while those under the influence of Ockham and other nominalistic theories were undoubtedly decadent in their dialectical practice, given that they had abandoned the essential principle of unity between thought and things, it is also true that other scholastics were not so decadent, though they may have been quite elaborate in their use of dialectic nonetheless. (See, for instance, the great work being done on the thought of the Conimbricenses.)

The opposition of grammar, dialectics, and rhetoric, that is, has never rendered robust intellectual fruit when one attempts entirely the suppression of the others. Each must be understood as an integral part of a whole. What remains a question—which we will explore explicitly in the second of our lectures and discussions—is how these parts are united and oriented as a whole. This question requires also, antecedently, a consideration of what the trivium aims at; for every unity is governed, in some way or another, by the end for the sake of which it exists. This question was the focus of our first session, wherein it was discussed that the arts of the trivium, as tools of reflection upon thought, are tools whereby we manifest in language what is true. This truth is not merely factual (i.e., of the literal and measurable), but revelatory of being.

And so the question becomes: through which of the arts do we best orient ourselves towards what is true, without leaving behind the others?

Musings on Extrinsic Formal Causality and Practical Signs

This is not quite how I envisioned this first blog post turning out… Originally, I had considered writing something on the issue of the political common good, focusing on the plurality of common goods in relation to the political exercise of social justice in its original and true sense (namely, the right ordering of various goods within a social whole).  Oh well… That will be my next posting.

I am in the midst of working on a monograph devoted to a topic dear to my heart, concerned with (broadly speaking) the being of culture, exposited in line with a rigorous Thomistic metaphysic.  I am at a point of writing where I need to discuss the topic of extrinsic formal causality.  Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to write a blog post that teases out some of the ideas that will eventually enter into that particular chapter of my work.

The Platonic and Neo-Platonic universe is one that is dominated by the notion of extrinsic formal causality.  According to a kind of somewhat pedestrian, “kitchen table” Platonism, which philosophy professors often teach their undergraduate students, the world would be a kind of imitation of the transcend realm of the Forms or Ideas.  However, as any astute reader of Plato himself knows, many seeds for Aristotle’s own thought are found all throughout the written expression of the master’s thought, from which he drank for so many years.  Thus, in the Timaeus, we find the need to posit (by way of myth) a “receptacle” into which the form would be reflected (thus inserting material causality into the Platonic metaphysic), as well as the famous “Craftsman” (or “Demiurge”), who looks at the Forms and places them into the matter-receptacle(s), thereby making mutable copies of the immutable ideal realities (thus inserting efficient causality into the metaphysic).  Although Neo-Platonism would more clearly articulate the role of a kind of cosmic teleology, with all things going forth from the One and magnetized to return thereto (to the degree that this is possible), Plato’s conception of the Idea of the Good no doubt is the seed for such reflection on universal metaphysical gravitation.  (Think of how powerfully such teleology is expressed in Aristotle’s own account of the particular causality exercised by the First Cause when he discusses this not in the Physics but, rather, in the Metaphysics.)

But, with all of that being said, the most powerful of causes that operates on the Platonic and Neo-Platonic mind is extrinsic formal causality: the “really real” is to be found in the Ideas, with everything else being a copy thereof.  Thus, the world is full of copies and images, derivative realities whose intelligibility points to an external source upon whose model they were fashioned.  The Christian mind would readily develop this Platonic insight into the philosophical-theological metaphysics of the “Divine Ideas.”

It is, however, all too tempting for Christian philosophers to rush to the heights like this.  It comes from a laudable and pious sentiment.  But, the bright light of theological concern can tend to bleach out the importance of more quotidian realities.  Thus, among scholastics, one will most often speak of the “artistic idea” by which an artist fashions his or her work.  But such discussions are a kind of quick scaffolding for the sake of accomplishing the real construction: just enough elaboration so that one can then move on to the “truly important topic” concerning the Divine Ideas, the artistic exemplars of all created beings.

However, let us consider phenomena that are far more down to earth.  As I sit here typing, I see all sorts of things in my office.  A mug of coffee sits at my right.  Pens sit next to papers.  Slightly behind me, alongside the wall, there is a piano with a music book open, instructing me on the harmonization of a Bach chorale.

The last example is instructive (and, of course, purposely chosen).  Note the verb in the final clause: the book is instructing me.  Obviously, the sense of this verb is not the same as when it is used in its proper sense, referring to the activity of a teacher in relation to his or her students.  The act of instruction involves a kind of efficient causality.  But, for all that, is the transfer a mere metaphorical rhapsody?  No, for the most essential aspect of teaching is the act of presenting ideas before the mind of another, the “presentation of the object” to be known.  And this is something that the music text does to the person who has eyes to see.

Let us presume that I have never seen this harmonization of the “Darmstadt” melody before.  As someone who can somewhat plunk away at a piano, I have the agentive capacity to interpret music so as to then “transfer” its “message” to the tips of my fingers.  But, I cannot so transfer the “Darmstadt” melody until I know it.  In other words, my playing this melody depends, for its very being, upon the details intelligibly arranged on the paper.  And what is dependence in being?  It is a relationship of effect to cause.  My performance of this melody today must be “formed” by the message of the music pages.  My agency receives its form from outside of me—it is influenced by a causality that is, at once, extrinsic and formal.

In its merely “natural” being, the book of chorales is of use for starting a bonfire.  If civilization were to collapse, and if all modern Western music notation were to be forgotten, these properties would remain.  But, to the eyes of cognitional human agents, with a certain cultural and habituated ability to actualize the intelligibility that has been placed in these signs, the book is a window on the soul of a particular kind of music.  It pulls the musician into its orbit and expresses an intelligibility that is there in the paper—but in alio modo esse, according to another manner of existence.  It provides the “measure”, the right proportioning (at least in general terms), for my music playing.

And if one has eyes to see, one will realize that even blank paper itself also exercises this sort of causality.  In a literate culture in which writing upon paper is a possibility, a blank piece of paper is seen for the artifact that it is.  It is a practical sign of a kind of activity.  When viewed within the particular cultural context of sign interpretation, it is a kind of invitation to activity, it specifies a kind of activity: qua paper, this is something to be written on.  Sure, it can specify other activities too: make paper airplane from this, or cut out shapes from this, etc.  But the point remains, insofar as it brings into our minds the possibility of a practical activity—that is, insofar as this artifact is part of the relation-complex that leads my mind beyond the paper to a given kind of activity—the paper, precisely in this relational structure, becomes a sign, a practical sign.

We are surrounded by practical signs directing our action—they are everywhere.  They perfuse the world.  And although this kind of causality is exercised most clearly in human agency, where choice intervenes so as to constitute new forms of intelligibility, there is a real sense in which such extrinsic formal causality perfuses lower forms of activity as well.  When several trees interact with their environment so as to “communicate” with each other through their root systems, the various fungi and elements that take part in these processes have intelligibility as part of a kind of organic communication system only if one takes into consideration the life pattern of the trees in question.  In other words, the intelligibility of this system of activity, precisely as a unified system of activity, derives its intelligibility from the particular organic capacities of the plant life in question.  Even here, there is a kind of “extrinsic information” which gives an intelligibility that is not merely present in the uncoordinated activity of the parts of this now-active plant communication system.

But, I have gone on too long already.  I merely wanted to tease about on this topic to get a feeling for where the mind might go when writing on it.  Hopefully, though, this musing begins to get you thinking.  You’ll never look at the world the same again: the edge of the road is a practical sign (exercising extrinsic formal causality) telling you not to drive over it; the dashes between lanes indicate to you a kind of legal driving pattern; a driveway is an invitation to drive there and not on a lawn; a door handle is an invitation to turn and open a door; and in just the right context, a steep and open snowy hill begs you to ski down it.             

Extrinsic formal causality is everywhere, for the world is perfused with signs, both speculative and practical.  Let him who has eyes to see see.

Fall Seminar Previews

METAPHYSICS: THE DEPTHS OF ACT & POTENCY

“In long Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white birds were now all flying towards Ahab’s boat; and when within a few yards began fluttering over the water there, wheeling round and round, with joyous, expectant cries.  Their vision was keener than man’s; Ahab could perceive no sign in the sea.  But suddenly…

Metaphysics: The Depths of Act & Potency

THE FAULTS OF MODERN PHILOSOPHY

This is not a seminar about modernity, but about modern philosophy—and, specifically, about the fundamental flaws (or faults) which characterize modern philosophy’s thinking.  These flaws, once recognized, show their effects everywhere today: in the endless fragmentation of world, mind, self; in the intransigence of political discourse, the widening cultural divides, the polarization of extremes, and…

Science: The Faults of Modern Philosophy

SEMIOTICS: PEIRCE AND THE MODERN SPIRIT

“The last of the moderns,” writes John Deely of Charles Sanders Peirce, “and the first of the postmoderns.” Why this switch, this flip, between modernity and postmodernity? The question of postmodernity’s meaning and definition is altogether another issue: but one which we can understand only inasmuch as we first understand rightly what modernity is, or…

Semiotics: Peirce and the Modern Spirit

[Fall 2022] Metaphysics: The Depths of Act & Potency

“In long Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white birds were now all flying towards Ahab’s boat; and when within a few yards began fluttering over the water there, wheeling round and round, with joyous, expectant cries.  Their vision was keener than man’s; Ahab could perceive no sign in the sea.  But suddenly as he peered down and down into the depths, he profoundly saw a white living spot no bigger than a white weasel, with wonderful celerity uprising, and magnifying as it rose, till it turned, and then there were plainly revealed two long crooked rows of white, glistening teeth, floating up from the undiscoverable bottom.”

-Melville, Moby Dick
Chapter 133: The Chase—First Day.
Download the Syllabus
View the Syllabus

While preparing a lecture on the contribution made by Thomas Aquinas to the historical development of semiotics—particularly as it helped move understanding past the initial contributions to a Latin theory of signs constituted by Augustine of Hippo—I found that nothing was more central to the advance of this narrative than the Aristotelian doctrine of act and potency.  To understand the efficacy of a sign, that is, we need to understand relations, and to understand relations, we need to understand act and potency.

As I took one brief dive after another into the relevant texts of Aquinas—most especially his Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle—I fleetingly glimpsed what seemed an endless series of wonderous observations, each more than the last deserving of a thorough investigation.  This seminar provides an opportunity for all interested to join collaboratively in making such an inquiry.

Act and potency, I must admit, have together always seemed a doctrine that—despite long familiarity with the teaching—has escaped me for its depths.  The two interrelated concepts are indefinable, but not for lack of intelligibility; indeed, they are so rich that all description leaves us infinitely short of having exhausted their meaning or their pertinence to our lives.  To think of potency is to think of what is intelligible only in the light of act, but not as itself an act; to distinguish passive and active potency is to get a foothold on the nature of change, but through something itself unchanging.  It is through the change from potency to act that we come to know what anything is; and, indeed, such a change is how knowledge itself is realized within us.

If we are to explain being—to know being—we must know and be able to explain the distinction between those elements which divide it all. We must peer beyond what eyes can see.

Ten minute lecture preview
Discussion Sessions
3:30pm ET

(World times)
Study Topics &
Readings

September
24
Week 1: Form as Cause of Being & Knowing
Lecture: Principle of Substance, End of Knowledge
Readings:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VII, c.17.
» Aquinas’ Commentary on the Metaphysics, lib.7, lec.17 (§1648–1680).
» Owens’ Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, c.12 (375-77).
October
1
Week 2: Form as Principle of Composite Being
Lecture: Intelligible Relations of Form and Matter
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VIII, c.1-2.
» Aristotle’s Physics, Book II, c.1.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.8, lec.1-2 (§1681–1702).
October
8
Week 3: The One and the Many
Lecture: Infinite Material Plurality
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VIII, c.3-6.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.8, lec.3-5 (§1703–1767).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.13 (379-99).
October
15
Week 4: Definition and Distinction of Potency
Lecture: Discerning the Meaning of Potency
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 1-2.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.1-2 (§1768–1794).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.14, parts I-II (403-06).
October
22

BREAK
October
29
Week 5: The Grounds of Potency
Lecture: Potency and Possibility
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 3-5.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.3-4 (§1795–1822).
November
 5
Week 6: Analogical Primacy of Act
Lecture: The Speaking of What Is
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 6-7.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.5-6 (§1823–1843).
November
12
Week 7: Explanatory Primacy of Act
Lecture: The Existing of What Is
Readings:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 8-9.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.7-10 (§1844–1894).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.14, part III (406-409).
November
19
Week 8: The Divisions of Being
Lecture: The Governance of Truth and Falsity
Readings
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 10.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.11 (§1895–1919).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.15 (411-41).

This is an advanced seminar. View the syllabus here and learn more about Lyceum Institute seminars here. Participants should have at least basic familiarity with Aristotelian physics and Thomistic psychology before enrolling.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

Registration is closed.

Introduction to Philosophical Principles

Introduction to Philosophical Principles: Logic, Physics, and the Human Person

What good is living? I know a man we’ll call “James”—successful, secure in his career, his family, his hobbies, his religious belief—who claimed not that he was depressed at this stage of his life, but that he found himself nevertheless asking frequently: “Is this all there is?” Then he discovered philosophy. It was not an immediate love; indeed, it was discovered as a requirement for his graduate business program. But, seeking out help, he found more and more to read. More and deeper questions arose. He found his philosophical inquiries were not simply aligned with success in the course, but sprung up from his own life experiences, his own encounters with the world. He became philosophically curious. He wanted to know. To understand. A deeper reality opened up for him; one of inexhaustible meaning.

Philosophy—real, true philosophy—is transformative. It will not make you successful in the world, but it will answer a question that all the success and security never can: what is the good of being alive?

In the nihilistic, “post-truth” context of late modernity, we might despair of finding an answer to that question. The odds seem against us, especially in the absence of success and security. But even the faintest glimmer of the answer—the dimmest light—gives us something that cannot be taken away by the worst the world has to offer.

I first met James at a coffee shop in 2016 to help him with the graduate course. We have since met almost every week for six years—sometimes two or three times in the span of a few days—to discuss philosophy. Our talks have ranged over the distinctions of Plato and Aristotle, of Descartes and Locke, the neglect of scholasticism, the influence of Islamic thought, the value of the Conimbricenses, the genius of João Poinsot and Charles Sanders Peirce, the breadth of Thomas Aquinas, the nature of culture and society, the threats to truth, and much more besides. These conversations, deep though many of them are, have opened more inquiries than we will be able to explore in a lifetime.

This book, now in a second and much expanded edition (with over 100 pages of new material) does not mirror my conversations with James. But it does mirror the endless joy of discovering meaning, a condensed breadth of philosophical learning, and the desire to understand, to answer the question: what is the point of living?

I hope you will read it. I hope you will enjoy it. I hope it will spark a similar philosophical curiosity in you. The text is divided into three main parts: Logic, Physics, and the Person. Each presents what I think are the essential principles for gaining a habit of philosophical reflection. These three parts are supplemented by an extensive series of Glosses, which provide deeper questions and connections to the historical traditions of philosophy from which the ideas in the main text were composed. These glosses serve as suggestions of other places to look for questions about topics such as time, motion, knowledge, causality, signs, and more.

Maybe you don’t think it’s a book for you. I could try to convince you otherwise, but either you have a hunger to ask the question or you don’t. But even if you don’t think it’s for you, I bet you can think of someone in your life who does have that hunger. [Link to book]

Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy and the Form of Health

The colloquium lecture delivered in September 2020 by Dr. Michel Accad, MD, “Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy and the Form of Health” is now available to the public. You can listen or download below (full lecture at the bottom). Please consider supporting the Lyceum Institute if you enjoy this lecture! Your donations allow us to support the pursuit of philosophy and dedicated thinkers like Dr. Accad in their research, teaching, and publications.

Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy and the Form of Health

Michel Accad, MD

Preview – Michel Accad, MD: Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy and the Form of Health

In the fourth of the Lyceum Institute Colloquia, we present Dr. Michel Accad, MD, a cardiologist and practitioner of internal medicine (see Dr. Accad’s site here), who presents for us some of his thoughts on the insights that Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy brings to an understanding of health and the practice of medicine.  This lecture lights upon the history of philosophy and the human body and challenges the commonly-accepted mechanicist and reductionistic views of the human body as a mere machine–grown out of a Cartesian view–in contrast to the classical Hippocratic theory, which encourages an approach to the body as a whole.

If you enjoyed this lecture, please consider supporting the Lyceum Institute with a small donation.

Lyceum Schedule [7/26-7/31]

Weekly Schedule of Events

7/26 Monday

  • Exercitium Linguae Latinae (2:00-2:30pm ET). Legemus ex Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata ut melioremus nostrum locutionem et augeamus familiaritatem vocabulis.
  • Semiotics: An Introduction (6:00-6:45pm ET).  The second discussion of the week for the Semiotics seminar–what do we mean by “reality”?  Or “belief”?  How are they related to “truth”?  These are our questions this week: and here, pulling together some of the varied threads we have seen in the previous weeks, we will see how the right understanding of signs can lead us from thought to truth itself: and all the benefits thereof.

7/27 Tuesday

  • Ex Sancto Thoma (9:30-10:00am ET).  Legemus ex ‘De principiis naturae‘ Sanctus Thomae et convertit in linguam Anglicam; practicum bonum et utile est!
  • Philosophical Happy Hour (5:30-7:00pm ET). Join us for drinks, conversation, lively debates, and get to know the Lyceum Institute and its members!  Open to the public: use the “Send Us a Message” form here (write “Happy Hour” in the message box) and we’ll see you on Teams!

7/28 Wednesday

  • Exercitium Linguae Latinae (2:00-2:30pm ET). Legemus ex Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata ut melioremus nostrum locutionem et augeamus familiaritatem vocabulis.

7/29 Thursday

  • Ex Sancto Thoma (9:30-10:00am ET).  Legemus ex ‘De principiis naturae‘ Sanctus Thomae et convertit in linguam Anglicam; practicum bonum et utile est!
  • Elementary Latin Class (6:00-7:00pm ET).  Week three of our new introductory Latin Class, proceeding through Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata.  If you are interested in learning Latin, check out the class!  It’s not too late to sign-up!

7/30 Friday

  • Open Chat (9:30-10:15am ET). Our regular Friday-morning open chat, allowing conversation between those in the West and those in the East–bridging the international community of the Lyceum Institute.
  • Exercitium in Lingua Latina (11pm-12am ET).  Etiam exercitium in Lingua Latina!  Ista hora conveniens Orientalibus est (11am Manila time).

7/31 Saturday

  • Intermediate Latin Class(10-11am ET).  Fabulam Daedeli et Icari Syra narrabit ad Quintum, et legemus et convertemus in linguam Anglicam, ex capitulo XXVI in Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata.
  • Seminar Discussion Sessions: Week 8 of 8.
    • ​​​​​​​Science: Aristotle’s Organon (1-2pm ET).  Concluding with a look at key chapters in Book II of the Posterior Analytics, we will see precisely how it is that a knowledge of causes leads to a scientific knowledge–and inquire into the scope and possibility of such a knowledge’s attainment and certitude.
    • Semiotics: An Introduction (3-4pm ET).  Among the words one finds in all the key texts of Charles Sanders Peirce, “continuity” perhaps holds a principled place of importance: for the fundamental doctrine of Peirce is not his semiotic, but his synechism: his belief that the universe holds no gaps, no hard and fast distinctions in the occurrence, existence, and intelligibility of phanerons (or, we might say, “phenomena”).  It is to the thinking through of this synechistic principle that we turn our attention in this the final week.
    • Thomistic Psychology: World and Passions (5-6pm ET).  We have spent most of our time looking in this seminar at specific treatments of the passions themselves; but now we must constitute our understanding of these passions into our understanding of the world: a consideration of how thinking, which is always world-oriented, is modulated by these passions.  Here we combine an oft-neglected text of Aquinas with the thinking of John Deely.