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Hidden Hours

This post presents a quick reflection on rediscovering the hidden hours—the hours that we lose in each day. Who among us has not found him- or herself wishing for an extra hour or two in the day? For many, there seems so much to get done, and so little time in which to do it. Indeed, for many this will always be the case. I know myself that I will die long before I can read all the books. But the more-to-do than can-be-done should not dissuade us from doing. If anything, it should give us motivation to do more yet.

As Catholic readers will know, we are now in the liturgical season of Lent. In observation of this season, one takes on small mortifications, penances, and attempts to increase one’s charitable relation to others: in time, goods, services, etc. It is not uncommon to focus on the small mortifications, usually some pleasure which one gives up for these 40 days. It has been, in my own life, a usual consequence of such sacrifices that I discover new goods. This year I am fasting both from social media and from word games on my phone (the NYT Crossword and another game I regularly play on the app). Suddenly, I find myself not only with a greater amount of clock time each day—taking out all those little moments of distraction—but with a greater sense of command over how I move myself throughout the day. Other things move me less, and thus I am more in possession of myself.

(Quite coincidentally I started playing chess on my phone—the Lyceum has started a chess club. This quickly started eating back into the time. Subsequently I have limited the app to work between only the hours of 6:00—11:00pm.)

True Convenience

The conveniences of our modern technology often result in an inconvenient way of life. I suspect this appears true without explanation. But to elaborate, briefly: the word “convenient” comes from the Latin verb convenire, meaning, “to come together”. Often, Latin scholastics use the participial form, conveniens, to mean “fitting”, and even to describe a kind of argument—the argument from “fittingness”. It is good that my phone allows me to play chess with a real human being despite not having a known nearby willing opponent. But it is not fitting that I be able to play with multiple opponents all at the same time, all day long.

Two or three minutes spent on one’s phone here and there throughout the day does more than add up to hours. Rather, it knocks one out of the natural rhythm of the day. In other words, our days have fitting and unfitting rhythms. Phones are not the only devices, of course, which do this. The computer has many ways to distract us also. Truly, it is death by a thousand cuts.

This point deserves more than I can give it now. Doubtless it will play a prominent role in our planned 2024 seminar on Technology (a frequent topic for the Lyceum). But suffice it here to say that—if our technology is not to distort our lives, if our conveniences for this or that particular activity are not to destroy the convenientia of our whole lives—we must reflect more thoughtfully on what our lives are ordered towards and how those technologies distort that ordering.

Using our Time Wisely

I rather dislike the notion of “using” or “spending” time. The phrase is useful; but it, too, is unfitting. For time is not a resource. If one cannot store it, one cannot spend it. We misconstrue what time is by thinking of it this way. If we make “good use” of time, it is by the motions which we direct ourselves to perform. But, in truth, we can only “spend” our time wisely if we orient ourselves to goods that are timeless. Truth and love do not wane with the passage of minutes or hours, years, decades, or even centuries. Steadfastly holding ourselves to them, we, too, will find that our days contain hidden hours, retrieved not by better “time management” but by a fittingness of our thought.

Wholes and Parts: A Thomistic Refutation of Brain Death

In the first Lyceum Institute Colloquium of 2021, we present our own Michel Accad, MD, who will take us through a discussion of “brain death” as a supposed criterion for determining the presence of life in a human being. This colloquium lecture is based upon and expository of a paper Dr. Accad published in 2015, available here, and which you are all encouraged to read. There is also a response by Jason Eberl, PhD, and a further rejoinder to said response by Dr. Accad.

ORIGINAL PAPER ABSTRACT: I propose a refutation of the two major arguments that support the concept of “brain death” as an ontological equivalent to death of the human organism. I begin with a critique of the notion that a body part, such as the brain, could act as “integrator” of a whole body. I then proceed with a rebuttal of the argument that destruction of a body part essential for rational operations—such as the brain—necessarily entails that the remaining whole is indisposed to accrue a rational soul. Next, I point to the equivocal use of the terms “alive” or “living” as being at the root of conceptual errors about brain death. I appeal to the Thomistic definition of life and to the hylomorphic concept of “virtual presence” to clarify this confusion. Finally, I show how the Thomistic definition of life supports the traditional criterion for the determination of death.

Lay summary: By the mid-1960s, medical technology became available that could keep “alive” the bodies of patients who had sustained complete and irreversible brain injury. The concept of “brain death” emerged to describe such states. Physicians, philosophers, and ethicists then proposed that the state of brain death is equivalent to the state of death traditionally identified by the absence of spontaneous pulse and respiration. This article challenges the major philosophical arguments that have been advanced to draw this equivalence.

Dr. Accad’s lecture is now available to all members at the Lyceum Institute. The live question and answer session will be held on 9 July 2021 (Friday) at 6:30pm ET/3:30pm PT. Colloquia lectures are released the year after publication at the Lyceum, and Q&A sessions are reserved for members. For information on signing up for the Lyceum, see here.

Hope in a Nihilist World

Often, we speak of despair as something not that we do but something which seizes us, as a force outside of ourselves.  We conceive of despair as a blackness, a void, an emptiness into which we fall, into which we are dragged.  The more we find ourselves to experience something missing in our lives, no matter what we do or in what we place our hopes, the more we incline to despair.  And thus, despite the love of the true and the good rooted in our deepest natural yearnings, we submerge ourselves in a black meaninglessness.

So how are we, today, to find hope–that of which despair is a rejection and a loss?

This is the first lecture in the Ethics: Good Life seminar, posted in full:

Ethics: The Good Life – Against the Nihilist Noise

If you would like to attend the rest of the seminar — discussion sessions begin on 1/16 — you can sign up here. This seminar is being offered for as little as $20 for the full eight weeks, so it’s quite a steal.