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On Architecture and Order

What is architecture? How can we define it? As a human art, it seems that we cannot conceive of what it is fully or properly without efficient and final causes: certainly it is by human beings, and somehow for human beings. But for human beings to do… what? What benefit does the architect render human beings in the production of his buildings? It seems that we need a good definition—a more precise definition—if we are to say whether the products of architecture are good or bad themselves.

Integral to architecture conception seems the broader notion of order. The work of the architect, that is, seems nothing if not the making of what has order. But where, and in what, does order germinate? Allow here a quotation of the architect and design theorist Christopher Alexander (4 October 1935—2022 March 17):

Excerpts from The Nature of Order:

The activity we call building creates the physical order of the world, constantly, unendingly, day after day. In the last five millennia, human beings have created millions upon millions of cubic yards of building, and millions of buildings, house, roads, and cities—entire worlds. Our world is dominated by the order we create.

But although we are responsible for the creation of order on this enormous scale, we hardly even know what the word “order” means. Our present idea of “order” is obscure. Although the word is often used informally by artists and biologists and physicians—usually to stand for some deep regularity we cannot quite define—we need a better understanding of the deep geometric reality of order. If we are honest we must admit we hardly even know what kind of phenomenon it is. Yet we build the world, producing its order, day by day. Thus we go on, willy-nilly creating order int he world, without knowing what it is, why we are doing it, what its significance might be.

In the 20th century we have passed through a unique period, one in which architecture as a discipline has been in a state that is almost unimaginably bad. Sometimes I think of it as a mass psychosis of unprecedented dimension, in which the people of earth—in large numbers and in almost all contemporary societies—have created a form of architecture which is against life, insane, image-ridden, hollow. The ugliness which has been created in the cities of the world, and the banality and pretentiousness of many 20th-century buildings, streets, and parking lots have overwhelmed the earth. Much of this construction is caused by developers, hosing authorities, owners of hotels, motels, airport authorities. In that sense architects might be considered blameless, since in some degree the ugliness of what has been created is caused by new relations between time, money, labor, and materials and by a set of conditions in which the real thing—authentic architecture that has deep feeling and true worth—is almost impossible.

But architects are not blameless. For the most part, architects have stood by, content to play their role s part of the 20th-century machine. They gild the lily of commercial development with pretentiousness. Many architects have raised the designer-conscious fashion of building to new levels, have invented absurd ways of thinking about architecture, have altogether poisoned the earth with an abundance of terrible and senseless designs which have few redeeming features.

I believe that we have in us a residue of a world-picture which is essentially mechanical in nature—what we might call the mechanist-rationalist world-picture. Whether or not we believe that we are subscribing to this picture, whether or not we are aware of the impact of its residue in us, even when we consider ourselves moved by spiritual or ecological concerns, most of us are still—I believe—to a greater or lesser extent in the grip of some residue of this mechanical world-picture. Like an infection, it has entered us, it affects our actions, it affects our morals, it affects our sense of beauty. It controls the way we think when we try to make buildings and—in my view—it has made the making of beautiful buildings all but impossible.

Selections from Christopher Alexander 1980–2002: The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe, Book One: The Phenomenon of Life.

This topic—the nature of architecture—cannot in fact be divorced from the question of the human soul, and, specifically, its development of habits. We live in a built-environment. The built-environment informs our perceptual behavior: how our eyes and ears are attuned, how we relate to the phenomena of places, distances; echoes and reverberations, how we are enveloped by air, by sound and silence, by light and shadow. Buildings envelope us every day, from waking to sleeping. We practice our daily behaviors at home or in offices, in coffee shops and grocery stores. Our religious cathexis depends in no small measure on the structure of our houses of worship. The weight of law finds its reflection in the gravitas of the courtroom and the houses of legislation.

Do we think enough about how these buildings come to be—and whether they are fitting to our being?

Philosophical Happy Hour

Interior from Havana, Cuba, free public domain CC0 image.

If you’d like to join us for a discussion of architecture and order in the built-environment, we would be happy to have you! Our happy hours are held (almost) every Wednesday from 5:45–7:15pm ET and are (almost always) open to the public. You can join the weekly mailing list by using the contact form here, or join directly by using the link on the right side of the screen here.

“The deepest and most important teaching of Classical Architecture concerns the human soul: before any other work it is necessary to forge your own soul, making it a temple of virtue and knowledge. Those who do not know how to build themselves, will never be able to build anything beautiful and noble.” 

Vitruvian man, from the edition of De Architectura of Giovan Battista Caporali, 1536

How and Why We Study Logic

Excerpted from the lectures given to the Lyceum Institute Trivium: Art of Logic Course.

“What more can be said about logic?”  I am acutely aware, as I pen these words that I pen them not to be read (even if someone other than myself might and does indeed read them), but to be spoken; to be given in a lecture, that is—a lecture for the Lyceum Institute, a lecture belonging to a course, and a course belonging to a holistic study of all three arts constituting the Trivium.  Though logic may be studied on its own, both as an art and as science, its greatest fruit comes when studied integrally with the other arts of the Trivium.  This sentiment—or rather, the mixed sentiments of hope, humility, and no small amount of trepidation, since I am myself well aware of my woeful inadequacy as a teacher, especially of logic—this sentiment finds itself grounded by the well-wrought intellectual insights of far wiser men: men such as R.E. Houser, John Deely, and John Poinsot, all of whom I consider my own teachers in this most difficult of subjects.  My failings, however, are not a reflection of their abilities: for I have learned logic through their printed works, rather than in-person instruction, and thus have not benefitted from direct correction.

The purpose of these lectures, indeed, is not to say anything new or novel about logic at all.  That does not mean there is nothing new to be said about logic, only that I am not here intending to say it.  Rather, these lectures aim—as is more broadly the goal of this course as a whole and of our first course of study of the Trivium in the Lyceum Institute—these lectures aim at displaying and explicating the art for a living audience.  They form part of a multi-party dialogue: between myself, as the instructor, and you, as the audience; between us, as a class, and the texts, which we read; and between the shared knowledge we gain and the knowledge we yet seek.  Between instructor and audience, there is formed a whole; between that whole, the class, and the texts, there is formed a second whole, that shared knowledge.  But knowledge, always and invariably, prompts new questions, an inquiry beyond itself.  These lectures are merely my own contribution… and rather a minor contribution, at that, in the grand scheme of this dialogue.

Our world—by which I mean not merely the physical environment of earth (though inclusive of it) but rather, more primarily, the specifically human environment of linguistically-perfused culture—suffers a problem of meaning.  I have addressed this problem in many other places.  We may redress this problem of meaning, however, only through language, and only if we conceive of language in the right way: not merely as an abstract system of arbitrarily-stipulated symbolic communications, ordered principally toward pragmatic ends and for the sake of manipulating that world to our ends (such manipulative bearing being one of, if not the, principal causes of our meaning problem), but rather as the way in which the true meaning of things comes to light in the first place.  For developing a facility with language so-conceived, we must study all three arts of the Trivium.  In the Art of Logic, in particular, we attend specifically to the illative relation, whereby we discover how language leads thinking through inference to truths not immediately evident—to truths obscured by malfeasant rhetoric or the will-to-power, to truths hidden by those who wish only to bend the world to their wills, instead of standing themselves humbly open to the real.

Sign up for the Lyceum Institute and join us in the study of Logic this Spring! Lectures begin 1 May 2023 and discussions on 8 May 2023. All members are welcome to take the Art of Logic course, at every level of enrollment.

On Definition and Language

“Nothing properly signifies itself.”

To signify: this is to convey something other, to something other. Signification thereby contrasts with representation by their respective extensions, which can be either “other-representation” or “self-representation”. When you see a portrait, this represents something other than itself, namely, the person portrayed. When you see that person herself, her visible being represents her very self. The good portrait accurately captures something of what is found in the self-representation. We measure portraits by their iconic sameness with their objects.

By contrast, when we read or hear words, an iconic sameness does not enter into their fittingness of other-representation. The word “sadness”, whether spoken or written, has nothing within its own being that corresponds to the emotion which it signifies. How then, does it signify that emotion? Some—deconstructionists—have opined that all such signification consists essentially in a willful imposition of the individual speaker; such that any auditor can willfully impose to the contrary. Were this true, it would be a disaster for human beings, for all solid meaning would disappear from our use of language. Definitions would be always ephemeral, always fragile. Thankfully, we do not need to fear the deconstructionists. We can, in fact, meaningfully define words. But we have to recognize that these definitions, though meaningful, are not absolute, nor do they possess an absolute fixity.

The Structure of Definition

John Poinsot—or John of St. Thomas—gives a definition of definition itself in his elementary logical texts. Here, I will ask some indulgence, for this is dry… but it also gives much-wanted precision. He writes:

Definition is “a linguistic expression explaining the nature of a thing or the signification of a term”. As for instance, if I say: “The human being is a rational animal”, I explain the nature of the human being, which is not explicated in the term “human”. And if I say: “White is having whiteness”, I do not explain the nature of “white”, but the signification of the noun, because this is the same as if I were to say: “‘White’ is a verbal signification of that which has whiteness”. The definition corresponds with the defined as its object, with which it is itself converted.

1631: Cursus Philosophicus, Artis Logicae Prima Pars, Summulae Lib.2, c.3 (R.I.19a 6–18): “Definitio est « oratio naturam rei aut termini significationem exponens ». Sicut cum dico: « Homo est animal rationale », naturam hominis epxlico, quae in illo termino ‘homo’ non explicabatur. Et cum dico: « Album est habens albedinem », non explico naturam albi, sed significationem nominis, quia idem est ac si dicam: « Album est vox significans id, quod habet albedinem ». Definitioni correspondet definitum tamquam obiectum eius, quod cum ipsa convertitur.”

In itself, this may not seem useful. But subsequently, Poinsot explains the conditions required for a good definition; the conditions required in order that something be defined; and finally, the divisions of definition into different kinds.

The three conditions for a good definition are: first, 1) that it proceed through genus and difference. Second, 2) that it be clearer than that which is being defined. And third, 3) that it should be neither redundant nor explain anything lesser in extension than the object defined.

The three conditions for something to be defined are: first, 1) that the object be one through itself, i.e., that it have a singular intelligible essence. Second 2), that it be universal and not include any conditions of individuality. Third, 3) that it be of a specific formal entity contained under some broader genus.

Finally, the divisions of definition fall into two categories, the second of which further subdivides into three. First, 1) there are nominal definitions. This is the kind of definition with which we are most familiar, for they are ubiquitous in our modern dictionaries. These definitions, like that given of “white” above, explain the signification of a term. Nominal definitions prove very useful: they help us to triangulate the meaning of words. And as Poinsot adds, etymology serves us greatly in producing good nominal definitions. But as he also writes, “often we are not able to explain the signification of a name except by making clear the thing itself.”

Thus, second 2), we have definitions of what things are (“quid rei”). These definitions divide into three categories: essential, descriptive, and causal. Essential definitions identify the intrinsic causal parts of a being: form and matter (also genus and species). Descriptive definitions orient toward what the essential being by identifying its proper accidents. Causal definitions specify extrinsic causal constitution: efficient and final causes.

Beyond the Structure of Definition

Merely stating the conditions and divisions of definition, however, gives us only the grounds for considering what makes definitions truly good. Many, for instance, might object to Poinsot’s conditions as being stuck in an antiquated cosmology of fixed and determinate biological species. Others might say, particularly given this apparent unfixity of the material cosmos, that our definitions never signify things, but only our ideas or concepts of them. Can we, that is, truly produce definitions that are essential? Can we have any definitions that are “real”—of things as they are in themselves? Or are all our definitions merely nominal—merely subjective?

Many today despair of being able to attain truth. The use of language appears as a pragmatic tool for communicating wants and needs, and painfully often, for manipulation of the audience. Artificial languages—those constituted by pure stipulation to signify with mathematic or programmatic precision—seem exemplary as means of such pragmatic and manipulative communication. But perhaps this despair springs not from the fallibility of our definitions, but our misunderstanding of definition itself. Perhaps, we ought to argue, a recovery of definition may be the only means to a recovery of truth.

Philosophical Happy Hour

If you would like to join us for a discussion of definitions, we would be happy to have you! Our happy hours are held (almost) every Wednesday from 5:45–7:15pm ET and are (almost always) open to the public. You can join the weekly mailing list by using the contact form here, or join directly by using the link on the right side of the screen here.

John Deely on the “Practical Value” of Logic

Peirce rightly speaks of the practice of boasting of the utility of this or that science as a “nauseating custom” (1898a, alt. ver. : CP 1.667). This is because the practice in question almost invariably is indulged in for purposes quite unrelated to the true character of the science in question or to the advance of scientific inquiry as such. Nonetheless, there is a legitimate general sense in which all the sciences, logic and ethics included, may be said to have a practical value, inasmuch as, in the light of understanding gained from any given inquiry, application of that understanding may be made to meliorate some state of affairs or other. It is essential, however, to notice that this general “practical value” is a consequence of theoretical understanding, and not something separate from or independent of a properly scientific—that is to say, thematic and systematized—study of, for example, the symbolic structures of thought, on the one hand (in the case of logic) and action, its motives and consequences, on the other (in the case of ethics). No doubt our practice of discourse will be influenced by a study of logic, and, if the study is sound, improved. But to aim at this improvement directly and from the outset is a fundamental blunder. It is no wonder that many courses in “critical thinking” amount to little more than an elaborate spelling out of the steps to go through m choosing the best refrigerator to buy for your home, or a hopelessly superficial skill in identifying and labeling “fallacies”. For this reason, one of the most notable students of logic (Joseph 1916: 10) went so far as to recommend that we abandon speaking of logic as an art, in order to make plain what is in fact the case: that any properly human practical value of logic is in consequence of its theoretical study, and not an end that can be attained directly. In this sense, any scientific study has a “practical value”.

But, while any scientific study has practical value in an indirect sense, the practical value of logic, even if indirect, goes beyond that of the other special sciences, and precisely for this reason logic is commonly viewed not just as a “general education” requirement, but as a “core requirement”—that is to say, as one of the foundations of liberal arts education even from the days when science in our modern sense had not yet been established or envisioned as part of the curriculum of schooling at any level. In other words, uniquely in the case of the science of logic, we are quite justified in speaking of its utility or “practical value” for reasons that are related both to the nature of logic as a science and to the advance of logic as a scientific inquiry.

The exceptional extent of logic’s indirect practicality becomes apparent in Joseph’s spelling out (ibid: 11) of the threefold rationale for the practical value of logic. Of the three elements he identifies in this rationale, the first logic shares with any science, as we have taken note. The remaining two, however, distinguish logic’s foundational character as permeating the humanities and the sciences alike—that is to say, the whole of our discourse.

The first practical value of logic in general education, the one it shares with any exact science, is that it demands a careful, systematic and precise treatment of its own subject matter, which tends to produce a habit resulting from an appreciative understanding of the need and importance of carefulness in the study of any subject.

The second practical value of logic, however, lies in an effect which the study of a special science like chemistry, physics, or biology, is not equally calculated to produce. This effect is a better realization of what general forms are latent in the language we habitually use (especially where it is a question of our natural language, hut also in specialized and “artificial” circumstances of discourses which… inevitably interface with and influence the prejacent natural language, ensuring its continual evolution, in fact, and expansion into new scientific fields), through becoming familiar with the task of examining our reasonings precisely to see whether their form is conclusive in itself in its contrast with the factual content.

The third practical value of logic is likewise commensurate with our discourse in its totality, whether everyday or scientific, theoretically or practically oriented: logic requires us to deal directly with what knowing is, insofar as there are standards implicit in thought itself by which it is possible to separate knowledge from opinion and also to distinguish levels or grades of both, thereby making us more alive and sensitive to, as well as more careful about, shortcomings in our own opinions and those others try to persuade us of.

I think we need not go as far as Joseph recommended in abandoning all talk of logic as an art in order to appreciate the difference between logica docens and logica utens and to appreciate the essential dependency of the latter on the former as far as it concerns an educational context beyond the exercise of practical reason. It is true that the theoretical study of logic not only can be but, in recent years, has been entirely divorced from the context of actual discourse in common experience. But this need not he the case (nor is it wholly new), and may even be regarded, in many instances, as a pedagogical aberration. Nor does the late modern artificialization of the context of logical study change the fact that there are indirect consequences of logical study for everyday discourse when the foundations of such study are properly established (a project toward which this book is mainly aimed). These consequences are nonetheless real, and become direct from the side of the theoretical understanding once acquired. There is nothing wrong with pursuing the theoretical study in such a way as to facilitate that indirect consequence, that overflow, as it were, into practical reasonings, and much to recommend such a pursuit, however much late modernity chose to eschew it. Indeed, what has always distinguished logic as a liberal art from logic developed as a science in its own right, without any regard for its connections with daily discourse, is just this way of pursuing properly logical study.

John Deely 1985–2015: Logic as a Liberal Art, 12–15 (not to be confused with Houser’s Logic as a Liberal Art).

Sign up for the Lyceum Institute before May 8 and you can join us in our study of Logic! Open to all members. Enroll here.

What is Music?

Few, if any of us, go very long without hearing music. We have available to us more hours of streaming than ever we could hear in several lifetimes. It sits available through every device; it attends nearly every commercial, every television show. The quality of a movie may be greatly enhanced, or perhaps even ruined, by the accompanying score. But what is music? We may define it narrowly, that is, with respect to its form as such: some articulation of sound as organized with pitch or rhythm for the purpose of being heard… and find this dissatisfying.

Antiquity’s Approach to Music

As with many questions, we have much to learn from antiquity. Saints Augustine of Hippo and Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius both wrote treatises on music, and for both—as for Plato—music formed an integral part of education. Within its doctrines were contained not only vocal and instrumental performance but also lyrical meter for poetry. And perhaps much more important, and much more telling, was the intrinsic connection of the musical to the moral.

…since there happen to be four mathematical disciplines, the other three share with music the task of searching for truth; but music is associated not only with speculation but with morality as well. For nothing is more characteristic of human nature than to be soothed by pleasant modes or disturbed by their opposites. This is not peculiar to people in particular endeavors or of particular ages. Indeed, music extends to every endeavor; moreover, youths, as well as the aged are so naturally attuned to musical modes by a kind of voluntary affection that no age at all is excluded from the charm of sweet song. What Plato rightfully said can likewise be understood: the soul of the universe was joined together according to musical concord. For when we hear what is properly and harmoniously united in sound in conjunction with that which is harmoniously coupled and joined together within us and are attracted to it, then we recognize that we ourselves are put together in its likeness. For likeness attracts, whereas unlikeness disgusts and repels.

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius c.505 AD: De institutione Musica, lib.1, c.1, in the translation by Calvin M. Bower, p.2.

Perhaps, if we wish to understand what music is, we should recover and re-examine these classical sources. But perhaps we can draw on some other sources, as well.

The Poles of Feeling and Intellectuality

One such source, and far from the only contemporary thinker deserving of consideration with regard to this question, is the late John Deely, who once offered a definition that may provoke an interesting conversation. He wrote:

An idealized system of prospective audial experiences which will evoke, sustain, or counter within an Innenwelt basic elements of mood, emotion, or feeling. Within this prospective, in fact, there is an analog range between the asymptotic poles of sheer feeling vs. sheer intellectuality, along which the system can be formalized in an endless variety of relational patterns, according to emphasis within which definite types or styles can be conventionally constituted (“classical”, “folk” “Indian”, “African”, etc.).

Definition of John Deely provided in a handwritten note to Eero Tarasti and his wife [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqUldV0D5DU @ 15:30]

As a quick explanatory note, the Innenwelt is “like a cognitive map that relates the self to the world of objects” (in the words of Kalevi Kull). To have asymptotic poles of feeling vs. intellectuality as evoked, sustained, or countered within the Innenwelt is to have one’s thoughts and feelings able infinitely to approach one another but never fully coalesce into a perfect unity; and conversely, to be repelled by one another, but never to be fully separated.

This definition hardly stands as definitive—and even in what it provides, there remains much to be clarified. But it is provocative nonetheless. As such, we would invite you to join us this evening for our Philosophical Happy Hour (from 5:45–7:15pm ET) to engage in a conversation about music: its nature, purpose, structure, value, and function in our human lives, from the mundane to the sacred and everything in between. Use the form below.

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John Deely on Deconstruction

Deconstruction, or deconstructive textual criticism, arose in the 20th century, primarily under the auspices of Jacques Derrida’s effort to destroy theories of cognition-independent meaning. The methodology is often employed to show apparent contradictions or ambiguities of meaning in various texts. It stands in radical opposition to rigid textual literalism. On the one hand, it does grasp something true about the nature of linguistic signification, and how the control we have over language allows for a certain slipperiness in our meaning. On the other hand, as John Deely here makes clear, deconstruction is a tool rather than a system, and turned into a system, becomes an absolute dead-end.

From a 2001 interview with Elliot Gaines:

…Sometimes a student asks, “What about deconstruction?” I point out to them, if you construct, say, a simple three-word sentence—kind of a caricature, but not too much so—you say something, you have an intention; you have what you say to realize that intention; and you have the aspect of the world with which the sentence connects. Now the first thing you do [in deconstruction] is you sever the author’s intention. It counts for nothing. The words, you give a life of their own. [Next] you sever the connection with whatever the words refer to. Now, you just have the three words. But it turns out you don’t just have three words, because if you look up those three words in the dictionary—let us say the first word has five definitions, the second word has nine definitions, and the third word has three definitions—now you’ve got twelve, seventeen little balloons that you can combine and re-combine in any ways that you like, and suddenly what seemed to be a straightforward statement is saying a whole bunch of things, some of which are sensible, some of which are non-sensible, and maybe almost none of which have anything to do with either the author’s intention or with the state of the world. It’s a very good way for loosening up texts. But it’s not a systematic program, because it can’t go anywhere—once the texts have been loosened up… then what? So you have an ad hoc technique.

[Transcribed from video below]

From Semiotics 2008:

Deconstruction is a project to which any and every text is thus (indeed!) a-priori liable. But, what needs to be noted—and what deconstructionist Derridean epigones so far have never noticed—is that the ultimate source of the passions in the environmental interaction (both cultural and physical) of human animals with material surroundings objectified in turn imposes indirect limits on the deconstructive process, just as more directly there is also need for consideration at times (though far from always, and deconstruction as a method marks a great advance in the understanding of this matter) of the “intentions of the author”. (Deconstruction as a process normally tends legitimately and systematically to leave out of consideration authorial intention as a factor in the construal of texts; yet there are times when such intention as textual factor cannot be omitted from consideration without some distortion of sense at critical junctures, so far as linguistic signs have not only a customary and iconic dimension but also and always a stipulative dimension as well, which is exactly what separates them within the class of “customary signs” from the purely customary signs of the “brute” animals overlapping within the semiosis of human animals, and conversely.)

Thus the omission in semiology (i.e., in the Saussurean model proposed for sign-in-general) of a signifié in the semiotic sense of “object signified”, which results in the complete elimination of things-as-they-are-in-themselves from the theoretical ambit of semiological analysis, is exactly what leads (not necessarily, but in the practice of thinkers mistakenly thinking that the Saussurean dyadic sign-conception is indeed a general model, which it is not) to the abusive and narcissistic excesses of deconstruction (mis)construed and (mis) applied as a “universal linguistic method”. This same blunder, expressed in several issues of the History and Theory journal over the last two decades, can be seen as the root of the dilemma in which some contemporary historians—falsely thinking that semiology as such is “postmodern”—find themselves unable to explain the difference between historiography and fiction. This again is a logical consequence of failing to recognize the duplicity of the notion of signifié hidden (or lost) in the dyadicity of the Saussurean proposal for the being proper to “sign”.

A valuable method and landmark contribution to the development of semiotic consciousness, deconstruction is but a tool among others for achieving textual interpretation, distortive however when it is (mis)taken for or (mis)represented as the “whole story” (or even “last word”) in the reading of texts. It is a preliminary step, more-or-less useful depending upon how rigid the reading of a given text has become or is tending to become (as, for example—to take an utmost extreme illustration—in the view of some that Koranic texts are not subject to interpretation, and so cannot even be translated into another language than their original).

Deely 2008: “Aristotle’s Triangle and the Triadic Sign” in Semiotics 2008, lxii—lxiii.

Brief Commentary

There are no signs which do not require interpretation. It is the very nature of signification that whatever object is signified, it is signified to an interpretant, and the interpretant is subsequently attuned to the object somehow from itself. This necessary interpretation does not mean that we lose the object. Rather, it means that we never receive the object purely and wholly as it is in itself. We compress, add, and relate other meanings to what we receive. I can express these modulations of meaning in new and different words. If I read something and try to say what it means in words other than those that I myself read, I am expressing an interpretation.

Put otherwise, texts are meaningful only in triadic relations. As Deely says above, there is the authorial intent, the text itself, and the aspect of the world intended. In deconstruction, we sever the text from intent and the world. This can be used to discern ambiguities or imprecision in the words, or to discover new potential connections. But, while authorial intent stands secondary in a text’s signification, it is not wholly irrelevant. Further, the connection of the text to the aspect of the world intended must be “reconnected”. Otherwise, we transgress the “indirect limits” of meaning imposed by the world itself. To posit, as I recently saw someone do, that “meaning is in the text” results in promotion of deconstructionism. Text, to be meaningful, must signify something other than itself.

I.M. Bochenski on the Concept of Formal Logic

Preliminary definition of the subject matter of the history of logic is hard to come by. For apart from ‘philosophy’ there is perhaps no name of a branch of knowledge that has been given so many meanings as ‘logic’. Sometimes the whole history of philosophy, and even knowledge in general, has been thus named, from metaphysics on the one hand, cf. Hegel, to aesthetics (‘logic of beauty’) on the other, with psychology, epistemology, mathematics etc. in between. With such a wide choice it is quite impossible to include in a history of logical problems all that has been termed ‘logic’ in the course of western thought. To do so would practically involve writing a general history of philosophy.

But it does not follow that the use of the name ‘logic’ must be quite arbitrary, for history provides several clues to guide a choice between its many meanings. This choice can be arrived at by the following stages.

1. First let us discard whatever most authors either expressly ascribe to some other discipline, or call ‘logic’ with the addition of an adjective, as for example epistemology, transcendental logic, ontology etc.

2. When we examine what remains, we find that there is one thinker who so distinctly marked out the basic problems of this residual domain that all later western inquirers trace their descent from him: Aristotle. Admittedly, in the course of centuries very many of these inquirers – among them even his principal pupil and successor Theophrastus – have altered Aristotelian positions and replaced them with others. But the essential problematic of their work was, so far as we know, in constant dependence in one way or another on that of Aristotle’s Organon. Consequently we shall denote as ‘logic’ primarily those problems which have developed from that problematic.

3. When we come to the post-Aristotelian history of logic, we can easily see that one part of the Organon has exercised the most decisive influence, namely the Prior Analytics. At some periods other parts too, such as the Topics or the Posterior Analytics, have indeed been keenly investigated and developed. But it is generally true of all periods marked by an active interest in the Organon that the problems mainly discussed are of the kind already to hand in the Prior Analytics. So the third step brings us to the point of describing as ‘logic’ in the stricture sense that kind of problematic presented in the Prior Analytics.

4. The Prior Analytics treats of the so-called syllogism, this being defined as a λογος in which if something is posited, something else necessarily follows. Moreover such λογοι are there treated as formulas which exhibit variables in place of words with constant meaning; an example is ‘B belongs to all A‘. The problem evidently, though not explicitly, presented by Aristotle in this epoch-making work, could be formulated as follows. What formulas of the prescribed type, when their variables are replaced by constants, yield conditional statements such that when the antecedent is accepted, the consequent must be admitted? Such formulas are called ‘logical sentences’. We shall accordingly treat sentences of this kind as a principal subject of logic.

5. Some logicians have limited themselves to the discovery, examination, and systematic ordering of logical theorems, e.g. many scholastic and mathematical logicians, as also Aristotle himself in the Prior Analytics. But logic so understood seems too narrowly conceived. For two kinds of problem naturally arise out of the theorems. First those about their nature – are they linguistic expressions, word-structures, psychical forms or functions, objective complexes? What does a logical law mean, what does a statement mean? These are problems which nowadays are dealt with in semiotics. Second, problems relevant to the question how logical laws can be correctly applied to practical scientific thought. These were dealt with by Aristotle himself, principally in the Posterior Analytics, and nowadays are the concern of general methodology. So semiotic and methodological problems are closely connected with logic; in practice they are always based on semiotics and completed in methodology. What remains over and above these two disciplines we shall call formal logic.

6. A complete history of the problems of logic must then have formal logic at its centre, but treat also of the development of problems of semiotics and methodology. Before all else it must put the question: what problems were in the past posited with reference to the formulation, assessment, and systematization of the laws of formal logic? Beyond that it must look for the sense in which these problems were understood by the various logicians of the past, and also attempt to answer the question of the application of these laws in scientific practice. We have now delimited our subject, and done so, as we think, in accordance with historical evidence.

But such a program has proved to be beyond accomplishment. Not only is our present knowledge of semiotic and methodological questions in the most important periods too fragmentary, but even where the material is sufficiently available, a thorough treatment would lead too far afield. Accordingly we have resolved to limit ourselves in the main to matters of purely formal logic, giving only incidental consideration to points from the other domains.

Thus the subject of this work is constituted by those problems which are relevant to the structure, interconnection and truth of sentences of formal logic (similar to the Aristotelian syllogism). Does it or does it not follow? And, why? How can one prove the validity of this or that sentence of formal logic? How define one or another logical constant, e.g. ‘or’, ‘and’, ‘if—then’, ‘every’ etc. Those are the questions of which the history will here be considered.

Ioseph Maria Bochenski, A History of Formal Logic

I.M. Bochenski’s History of Formal Logic presents a clear and systematic discussion of the major figures in the history of logic who have attended to problems in the above consideration, from antiquity to the early twentieth century, as well as a contrast between Western and Indian logic. We will use this text as a supplement in our upcoming Trivium: Art of Logic course (beginning May) which is available to all enrolled members.

Trauma, Sorrow, and Beauty: Maritain and Rouault on Art

On 13 April 2023 at 7pm ET, Dr. Thomas Hibbs (see event times around the world) will present the Annual John Deely / Jacques Maritain Lecture for the Deely Project at Saint Vincent College, in Latrobe, PA: “Trauma, Sorrow, and Beauty: Maritain and Rouault on Art” (Zoom link).

In his work on the crisis of the visible in contemporary culture, the philosopher Jean-Luc Marion argues that images typically operate as idols rather than icons. The images we encounter are “proportionate to the expectation of desire.” Such a culture excludes images that would engage us so as to transform our desires and lead us out of ourselves to transcendence. We need more than simply a reorientation of our vision. The new pedagogy of images cannot be straightforward or initially affirmative, since it must make us aware of our disorders, sorrows, and traumas. It will offer hope not through facile transcendence but through otherwise hidden paths at the margins of mainstream civilization. In the philosophy of art of Jacques Maritain and the art of his friend Georges Rouault, images take on the evils and afflictions of this world, its manifold traumas and sorrows, and trace a path toward beauty, gratitude, and joy.

Abstract of the Presentation

Thomas Hibbs is currently the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University, where he is also Dean Emeritus. Hibbs has published more than 30 scholarly articles and seven scholarly books, including three on the thought of Thomas Aquinas. He has also published two books on film and co-authored a book, Soliloquies, with the Japanese-American artist, Makoto Fujimura. A new book, Theology of Creation, is set to be published in August of 2023 by Notre Dame Press. He also has a book on Justice as Solidarity under contract with Word on Fire publications. Hibbs has published widely in the popular press, with more than 100 reviews and discussion articles on film, theater, art, and higher education in a variety of publications including First Things, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Atlantis, The Wall Street Journal, and National Review. He writes regularly for The Dallas Morning News.

About the John Deely / Jacques Maritain Lecture

The Annual John Deely / Jacques Maritain Lecture strives to make better known the work of these two great thinkers in the Poinsot-inspired tradition of Thomistic philosophy. Jacques Maritain wrote many insightful works on art. Indeed, I am reminded (as Dr. Minerd quoted from it recently) of this fascinating passage from “Sign and Symbol”:

in a work of art are found the speculative sign (the work makes manifest something other than it is) and the practical sign (it communicates a stimulation, an appeal); not that the work of art is formally a practical sign; it is rather a speculative sign which by superabundance is virtually practical… In the work of art… we meet with what can be called the direct sign (indicating an object) and the reverse sign (making manifest the subject).

Maritain 1937: “Sign and Symbol” in Ransoming the Time, 253.

Two things catch my attention here. First, the superabundance of the work of art that makes it virtually practical. Second, the notion of the reverse sign, which manifests the subject. I believe one sees this latter clearly in the work of Rouault. Trauma and sorrow appear in his faces. He shows beauty in a certain simplicity. This should be a fascinating lecture and Q&A!

For all those unable to attend in person, the session can be watched live on Zoom: “Trauma, Sorrow, and Beauty: Maritain and Rouault on Art”.

Exploration through Practical Signs

I apologize to the folks at the Lyceum for my long absence!  A new project that I’m beginning with my friend Fr. Cajetan Cuddy will hopefully help me to spin off some of this kind of content as I write on various Thomistic topics online.  But… I realize, also, that I’m not much of a “blogger.”  This is too long-form to be called that.  But, it is somewhat half-baked (perhaps three-quarter-baked), so it’s not quite “an article” either.  Ah, well….

Over here at the Lyceum, there is a great interest in the world of semiotics. And well… Here I find myself back close to the topic of the posting I made last year regarding extrinsic, formal causality and practical signs. For the upcoming annual American Maritain Association conference, I’m going to be giving a paper on the notion of practical signs, as a kind of draft for a chapter in a book I am (slowly….) writing.  I apologize for the conceptual overlap, but I think that an article laying out the theme in an essay by Maritain will be of use to the readers here.

Recovering the Practical Sign

The importance of doing this kind of recovery work regarding this topic is particularly clear to me. Based on conversations I had with our dear John Deely during his last days.  I’m sure a number of the readers here at the Lyceum are aware of the fact that early on in John’s life as an academic he had an important experience reading Maritain’s essay “Sign and Symbol,” published in French in Maritain’s Quatre essais sur l’esprit dans sa condition charnelle and in English in Redeeming the Time.  Although it was not the only factor leading to his later semiotic reflection, it was an important occasional cause that determined his later intellectual work.  In short: if John Deely could miss it, so will (and have) many others. 

Given the love of Deely here at the Lyceum, allow a bit of personal musing to open up this article.  One day at his house in Latrobe, John and I were talking about this or that—wherever his mind wished to traverse during those days when his powers had been hampered by his terminal illness.   As we were talking, I asked him: did you ever write anything explicitly about practical signs in John of St. Thomas?  He was a bit puzzled while trying to recall, and basically could not recount whether or not he did, though he did not believe that he did.

Truth be told, I somewhat expected this answer from him. I already had a sense that I couldn’t find this in his works. But afterwards, I went and checked as much as I could in his texts themselves and by way of a digital search of his works.  Obviously, his oeuvre is massive, so it is always possible that one might easily overlook something that is, in fact, contained somewhere in his works.  However, I could not find any substantive discussion of the topic of signa practica in those express terms and at any lengthy detail.  (It’s implicit in many places, but treatment of this theme in the Cursus theologicus of John of St. Thomas seems lacking.  I welcome any recovery projects that can show me where it is taken up by John in detail.  It would be an important point of continuity between his semiotic project and my own thought.)

Maritain’s “Sign and Symbol”

Thereafter I went back to read “Sign and Symbol” both in English and in French.  I was quite blown away by the central role, played by the topic of practical signification early in the essay, as well as in the lengthy endnotes included with the chapter.  I could not believe that John had overlooked this point, concerning which Maritain goes on at great length in the footnotes to the text.

As I work on this topic, I will be gathering together the various sources that I have stumbled across regarding the notion of practical sign.  Elsewhere, I will develop (in outline) some of the broader history of the language of “practical signs” as found in modern and medieval authors.  Here, in the spirit of connecting things to John Deely’s work, I am merely going to attempt to lay out Maritain’s own use of the term in “Sign and Symbol.”

If you have read this essay by Maritain, you are likely most familiar with the final section, dedicated to the notion of magical signs and “the nocturnal kingdom of the mind.”  In this latter section, Maritain is interested in developing the notion of functional “state” / “status” in order to provide a kind of epistemology of the human mind in a more primitive state, where the imagination (and cogitative power and memory) play a more emphatic role in the elaboration of knowledge than in a civilization in which abstract intellectual discourse has become culturally diffused.  The section is intended to develop certain themes in Lucien Lévy Bruhl and other authors concerned with questions of anthropology, as well as in Bergson’s Two Sources of Morality and Religion. Although this closing section of Maritain’s essay includes some important points regarding practical signs, I will be focusing on his earlier remarks therein, as well as his citations and comments in the end notes to the chapter.

At the start of the essay, Maritain opens with some standard discussion of signs as we find it in John of St. Thomas (Poinsot).  The readers here at the Lyceum are, deeply exposed to this topic, so I’m going to presume that you are at least generally aware of the important general outlines of Poinsot’s semiotics, especially as found in the Material Logic.  If I would point out one additional element, that is rather important here, Maritain notes how the (vicarious) objective causality involved in signs involves a kind of new mode or presence, the presence of knowability: through and in signs, precisely in their role of being signs, that which is signified becomes present, in a new manner of existing (p. 193).  Interesting developments of this theme can be found also in Maritain’s essay on language, found in the latter’s definitive form in the edition put together by Deely.  Through and in signs, other beings are themselves present, though in alio modo esse, through a cognitional (intentional-objective) presence.

Definition of the Practical Sign

Now, what is it that is signified by practical signs?  Action. For our purposes right now: human action involving above all the practical intellect, which judges and commands concerning the order that a human will should and must have in its activity.   Here it is important to note that technically the will plays an important role in constituting practical signs.  (So important is this factor that some, like Bl. Duns Scotus, would even go so far as to say—incorrectly to the Thomist’s eyes—that there are certain relations created by the will.) Nonetheless, insofar as the object of the practical intellect “is a known object, is something to be put into existence, something to be made concrete in action” (p. 195), the will plays a special role in the objectivity of practical signs.  Practical signs are destined to manifest “an intention of the intellect and the will” (197).  In other words, such signs are those which are used by the intellect in practical knowledge—whether artistic or moral—and are those signs which derive from the practical intellect’s activity (p. 197), which is destined, by its very nature, to be the (extrinsic-formal) source of the very intelligibility of the will.

So, practical signs are used by the practical intellect and also derive from its activity.  Thus, everywhere that there is human activity, we could say that the intelligibility of moral reasoning (and technical-artistic reasoning as well…) leaves an entire train of intelligibility in its wake.  You might think, for example, of something as simple as the plants that are sitting in the bay window of my office. They were put together by my mother-in-law for my kids to have something to watch grow as we enter spring this year. Technically, those plants have their own intelligibilities that can be manifested to intellects that are prepared to see such data.  However, we can also understand these plants as calling to mind the moral choice (and command) effected by my mother-in-law.   In other words, the planter (constituted as a kind of “moral whole”) can bring to mind something other than itself: not merely my mother-in-law, not merely other plants, but an act of human moral-intellection and freedom.  And what is more, this kind of sign represents a sort of “invitation” for my own moral intellection: “go and do likewise.”  In other words, we can apprehend the little planter as having a unified moral species, being as it is the embodiment of a past action.  It is not merely a physical specimen.  It is a moral specimen, and it signifies something other than itself, namely a particular kind of beauty-infused generosity toward by children.

Now, in “Sign and Symbol,” Maritain notes both natural-practical signs and conventional ones.  (One cannot help but think of Thomas Reid here, but ultimately Maritain is doing something much more speculatively grounded.)  Natural signs would include, he says, things like “gestures of supplication and command; smiles and glances laden with some intention or other,” etc.. (There are important connections here to what John Deely says, in Introducing Semiotics, about the various “entia rationis” that are formed by animals’ powers of estimation.)   Among conventional signs, Maritain includes “signs employed for the control of traffic or to aid navigation; gestures and formulas for taking oaths; military insignia; religious rites; etc.” (p. 197). (Here too, related topics can be found in Introducing Semiotics, and peppered all throughout Deely’s works.  Moreover, too, there are some examples of interest in the works of sacramental theology by Louis Billot, whose theory of sacramental causality is, however, problematic.)

Causality of the Practical Sign

At this point, however, it is very important not to commit the error that one finds all too often in more-superficial accounts of what practical signs are.  Under pressure from the needs of sacramental theology, especially regarding sacraments in the Christian order (in contrast, for example, to “sacraments of the Old Law”), quicker summaries of the divisions of sign will tend to ambiguously slur together sign-causality (which is “vicarious objective causality”) and efficient causality.  A good example of this can be found in the relatively schematic and sketched-out words of the 16th-17th century Irish-Bohemian Franciscan Friar Francis O’Devlin: “A speculative sign is that which causes its significate [in knowledge], as smoke in relation to fire and words in relation to things.  A practical sign is one that together causes and signifies, as the sacraments in relation to grace” (Philosophia Scoto-Aristotelica Universa [1710, p. 450]).

Or, in a more rigorously structured form, consider the following objection and response in John of St. Thomas’s Cursus theologicus.  In the argument he proposes against his own position, it is denied that the notion of sacrament as such (thus in its broadest acceptation, including more than the sacraments of the New Law) would be a practical sign, for this would seem, the “interlocutor” says, to foist efficient causality even on to sacraments of the Old Law, which, in fact, did not themselves involve efficient causal power. They did not of themselves confer such grace but, instead, merely signified the salvation that was to come in Christ (see ST III, q. 62, a. 6; q. 60, a. 2, ad 2; q. 61, a. 3).  They were be external signs of the internal working of God; however, they were not (according to the Thomist jargon), separated efficient-causal instruments of the Incarnate Word.

We are not here concerned with the details of the scholastic-theological theories of sacramental causality but, instead, with the particular claims regarding practical signs deployed in such debates.  Thus, Poinsot presents to himself this objection:

The notion of practical sign consists precisely in the fact that it brings about what it signifies (efficiat id quod significat).  However, not all sacraments bring about what they signify. Therefore, not all of them are practical signs.  The major premise of this argument is proven as follows: if a practical [sign] does not bring about what it signifies, it is, then to be numbered among speculative signs (invenitur in speculativis signis). Therefore, it is necessary that it involves something more than merely representing what it signifies; now, this additional element is to effect, that is, practically bring about (practicare) and enact (operari) that which it signifies.  Thus, it is necessary that a practical sign bring about what it signifies, for otherwise it is not clear what the notion of “practical” involves in such signs (Cursus theologicus, vol. 9 [Vivès], q. 60, disp. 22, a. 2, no. 116).

To this Poinsot responds, retaining the notion of practical sign for all sacraments, whether of the “law of nature” (outside of the Mosaic Covenant), the “Old Law,” or the “New Law”:

That a practical sign brings about what it signifies must not be understood as referring to physical and productive efficacy in esse (for this is not required for the notion of that which is practical) but rather refers to a quasi-moral efficacy—that is, a causality directing and ordering to an end.   And thus, the fact that a practical sign brings about what it signifies cannot involve something different than what holds true for the practical intellect.  Now, just as the practical intellect does not need to productively bring about something in order that it be practical but, rather, does so, as it were, by ordering and directing (and according to a moral ratio), the same holds true for the sign derived from practical intellection.  Thus, when a given sign is practical, this consists in the fact that it signifies, though not having representation as its end but, rather, sanctification or a holy work (opus sanctitatis).  However, that it bring about what it signifies and have [this] as its end is not of the essence of precisely what it is to be practical sign (non est de essential practice ut practicum est), though it is possible that such causality be found with it (ibid., no. 117).

Pushing the point, however, the objector says that such moral causality must, nonetheless, be in the genus of efficient causality:

A moral cause is truly efficacious.  Now, the practical intellect is concerned with deeds as its end, precisely as a moral cause, for it morally brings about what it signifies.  Therefore, by being practical, it is to be placed in the genus of efficient causality, at least morally.   Thus, just as it is of the essence of the sacrament to be a practical sign, it will also be of the essence of a sacrament to be a cause, and thus placed in the genus of efficient causality, at least moral efficient causality (ibid., no. 118).

In response to this:

Absolutely speaking, it does not belong to the nature of that which is practical that it be the moral cause of its object.  For as St. Thomas says in ST I, q. 14, a. 16, God has, simply speaking, practical knowledge of evils, but is not said to be the moral cause of evil.  Therefore, it suffices that the practical intellect order its object to a given work and not come to its end in knowledge of a reality, having it as its end.  However, it does not require that such ordering function as a cause in the manner of an efficient-causal principal but, rather, as ordering to an end that is a work, whether or not from this fact it is said to cause the latter (ibid. no. 119).

Thus, by way of summary, we might take his remarks earlier in the disputation in question:

The ratio of practical sign merely requires that it signify its significate as something to be given in practice, not by the causality of the sign itself but by the causality of another cause, though signified by this sign. For the ratio of sign merely requires the signifying of causation, not the causing of that which is signified. In other words, it suffices that it signify a reality not precisely so that it be represented or precisely as it is representable [as would be the case in speculative signs] but, instead, as it is caused and given [through practical agency] (ibid., no. 83).


The ratio of practical sign does not come from the fact it would exercise efficacy precisely because of its very nature as a sign (ex ipsa ratione signi), as though it had in itself the power of effecting but, rather, that is ordered to a work as to its principal end, whether this work is brought about by means of a power communicated to the sign itself, or joined to it from without, that is, by means of a disposition by the one who uses it, or something similar, as was explained earlier, especially since it is not of the nature of the practical intellect that it should have efficiency in the external object itself (ibid., no. 43; on the last point, cf. nos. 119–120).

Therefore, the point is clear: efficient causality is one thing, signifying causality is another.  And no matter how much one increases the force of the vicarious objective causality of signs, one will not get, from the causality of signs precisely as signs, a causality belonging to a different genus of causality. Although someone like Louis Billot, SJ had much of interest to indicate regarding the way that practical signs can, for example, bestow particular ranks and functions upon those designated by those signs (cf. Billot, De ecclesiae sacramentis [1914], 66ff), nonetheless, his solution, which posits a kind of half-way house of “intentional” causality seems to buy its sacramental causality on the sly, by trying to fuse together aspects of vicarious objective causality and efficient causality into a kind of hybrid. (On this topic, see Maquart, “De la causalité du signe: Réflexions sur la valeur philosophique d’une explication théologique.”)

Now, all that has been said here is summarized well by Maritain in “Sign and Symbol”:

In order to be practical, the intellect does not need to be drawn outside its proper limits as intellect.  It is within these limits, remaining intellect and without passing over to nervous motor influx that the intellect exercises its practical functions and deserves to be practical.

So also, in order to be practical the sign does not need to be drawn outside its proper limits as sign and thus become an efficient cause.  It is by remaining within the genus proper to signs (formal causality) that it exercises a practical function and deserves to be called practical: as making manifesting not precisely a thing but an intention and a direction of the practical intellect.  It is not as itself causing or operating something that the sign is active; it is as conducting or directing the operation by which the thing signified is produced or caused (Maritain, “Sign and Symbol,” 197).

For the purposes of this “article”, I will leave things here. As I keep writing, I will put together the various sources that are implicit in much of what I have said. There are a number of exegetical, historical, and philosophically speculative issues involved in these matters. They are of pivotal importance for articulating the nature of cultural realities. It is a great disappointment that the topic has not been discussed in any significant detail in the Thomist mainstream. Let us at least hope that those of us who take John Deely as a kind of master will do him the homage of filling out this important aspect of our day-to-day life amid the activity of the semiotic animal that is man.

Note from Dr. Kemple: if you are interested in John Poinsot’s semiotic, sign up for this seminar!