This is the last of the series on Aquinas. I hope this was helpful; I found it fascinating and I learned a lot about everything from logic to God to how my faith can be applied to many areas of life. Any requests for the next theologian?
Let’s get started. Today we’ll cover politics and Renick’s summary.
Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, wrote, “How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”
The question is, “Can it ever be right to disobey the laws of the state? Is breaking the law permissible if the laws themselves are unjust?” Based on Paul’s thoughts in Romans 13 as well as Augustine’s in The City of God, until Aquinas, most Christians said no. Indeed, Augustine wrote, “Thus it happens, but not without God’s providence, that some are endowed with kingdoms and others made subject to kings.” Since God made them king, your are disobeying God if you disobey the king. If this wwere the case, revolution and civil disobedience would be morally wrong.
However, Aquinas, in his book On Princely Government, says that just as all people do, kings and rulers have the end of pursuing the good – God. If they don’t, by definition they are no longer the king or state since the definition of these is to pursue justice and the good.
Referencing Aristotle, Aquinas discusses six different forms of government. They are ranked by how closely they achieve the end of pursuing the good and justice.
Second is aristocracy, which is “rule by a few individuals who all are seeking the common good – God.” This is second because it is not as efficient as a monarchy – each of the individuals may have different goals in mind for the common good and so debate and compromise lower efficiency.
Next is polity – “rule by the many.” Here again, all have the best for society in mind, but since there are many of them, it is even more inefficient than aristocracy.
Fourth is democracy, which is “the least unjust of the unjust forms of government.” Why unjust? Because unlike a polity, instead of having the common good as a goal, the many seek self-gain instead. They are voting in their own self-interest rather than society’s. Democracy is the least bad, though, because the endless debate and compromise mean very little bad gets done. Aquinas was not far from the truth – the American government was set up with checks and balances to help prevent moving too quickly toward unjust ends.
Next on the list is Oligarchy, or rule by a few individuals with selfish motives. It is worse than democracy because it is more efficient at pursuing unjust ends.
Finally, the worst form of government is tyranny. This is basically a king that pursues selfish ends. It is very efficient at pursuing the bad, which is why it is the worst of all.
This seems contradictory – rule by a single individual is both the best and worst form of government! Aquinas believes in taking the chance because he feels that humans are basically “good enough to rule justly,” and most people are good, so most of the time the ruler will be good. also, Good is stronger than evil – there “is only one ultimate good (God) yet as many evils as there are individual goals and ends. God and its supporters are unified; evil tends to divide.” So, good usually beats evil. This, he reasons, is why it is best to support government by one person and take the chance they could be a tyrant. He would later qualify this view in Summa Theologica,” saying that a mixed form of government, with an elected monarch, an elected aristocracy, and a polity that would check them and elect them, is best. The Founding Fathers, of course, used Aquinas as one of their inspirations when drafting the Constitution, using checks and balances on each branch of government. Regarding a tri-partite government, Aquinas writes, “Such is the best government, formed by a good mixture of kingship, in the sense that one person is the chief, and aristocracy, in the sense that many men rule according to virtue, and polity (that is, the power of the people), in the sense that leaders can be elected from among the populace, and further, the choice of the rule belongs to the people.”
This idea of Aquinas’s is not that of divine right of kings. The king in Aquinas’s system gets the right to govern from the people and must be obeyed only if he pursues God. If not, he’s not really a king anyway; instead, he’s a tyrant. A tyrant need not be obeyed, nor an oligarchy, nor a democracy – when they are unjust. You must do what is right, even if the government says to do something wrong. However, there are times an unjust government should receive obedience, because “rebellion is often more costly than bearing up under tyranny.”
You will naturally obey a just government if you are a just person – it comes, wait for it, naturally. And only unjust laws will be hard for you to obey because you are naturally just. An unjust law is not a law because the essence of a law, Aquinas writes, is to be “an ordinance of reason directed to the common good.” It is morally required to disobey an unjust law.
This, Renick says, was an extraordinary thing for Aquinas to write, because at that time, with belief in the divine right of kings, he stated that the people needed to use their reason and intellect to decide if the ruler was right or wrong. Indeed, he wrote, “Nor should the community be accused of disloyalty for deposing a tyrant, even after a previous promise of constant fealty, for the tyrant lays himself open to such treatment by his failure to discharge the duties of his office as governor of the community, and in consequence his subjects are no longer bound by their oath to him.”
Thus it was that Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, wrote, “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of [its] ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government,” and King wrote, “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything…the freedom fighters did…was ‘illegal.” For these two and Aquinas, “the ‘law ‘ is by definition that which is just. An unjust law is no law at all. The concept,” Renick concludes, “is a simple one; the implications are, quite literally, revolutionary.”
Aquinas’s ideas have become mainstream, but their attribution has been lost. Renick points out that exalting reason, questioning authority, human rights, natural law, war codes, intentionality in crimes, and double effect are all Thomist ideas. Reading Aquinas, though is difficult because his works are usually quite long, and there are over 60 of them. In the Summa itself, there are 38 treatises, divided into 3.120 articles – nearly 10,000 objections posed and answered (the Summa is written in a question and answer format).
Aquinas starts each case “with a series of objections to the answer he will eventually adopt to the question.” The objections are not Aquinas’s beliefs. Next comes a series of “on the contraries”, where Aquinas “cites authors who have taken up the opposite position on the same question.” Finally, Aquinas’s answer begins with “I answer that…” where he states his own beliefs. He then concludes with “replies to objections,” where he deals with each of the objections brought up one by one.
He quoted a wide range of people; he dealt with a wide range of issues, including “the nature of the incarnation and the significance of baptism…the centrality of the virtues and the problem with lying…what constitutes a habit and when does fear cause human decisions to become less than voluntary,” and many more.
Aquinas writes, “The human mind can understand truth only by thinking.” God made us thinkers, it is a sin to not use this ability. Renick concludes, “The concept is simple; the implications are extraordinary.”
Another year, another book list. I read less book this year than last, but over two thousand more pages! Here’s the list:
78.) Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla – David Kilcullen
In a recent Twitter conversation with Justin Pickard, I referred to myself as a “conservative futurist.” He said he would be interested in what that means and I promised to write a blog post about it. This is my attempt to do so.
Looking back over my social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, blog) you can see that I am a Christian, and nominally a libertarian. Those two alone put me at odds with many of the futurists I read, and especially with many Transhumanists who seem to believe that anyone who believes in God is opposed to them and trying to hold back humanity.
That’s not a debate I want to get into because it’s too polarized and neither side is going to change its mind no matter how well the other side argues. Instead, I want to touch on a few issues that commonly come up in Futurist conversations and describe where I might be positioned on them.
First, and probably most controversial, I am a global warming skeptic. Note that I did NOT say denier, which is a derogatory term used by those who are convinced. Does global climate change happen? Absolutely, and in cycles through time. Are we causing global warming? I’m not so sure. I’ve seen evidence that contradicts it, and seen good arguments against it. Enough so that I’m not convinced. It will be interesting to see if many of the scenarios used for planning that assume global warming will be useful after all.
Second is artificial intelligence. Ray Kurzweil (link to Kurzweil) and others believe that within forty years we’ll have created computers that will be super-smart and capable of thinking – that will, for all intents and purposes, be alive. I am, again, skeptical. First, I think it’s a long way from creating a computer program that evolves to one that can think for itself. Even Watson cannot do much without tweaking it’s program – which is done by human programmers, not by itself. Second, (oops, here come my religious beliefs) I don’t believe that it’s alive unless it has a soul. Does this mean I think all research should stop? Of course not – the smarter we can make them, the more help they’ll be. I just don’t believe that any computer (or robot) will ever be truly alive.
Third is life extension. I’ve read quite a bit on this, (links to books) and pay special attention to the blog of Sonia Arrison. I’ll be honest though: I believe that there’s a limit set in the Bible for us. As a matter of fact, a recent article notes an average of 114 years. I believe we can extend the healthy part of our lives up until then, but remain unconvinced that we can extend it much beyond that – and I don’t believe immortality is a possibility in any way, including “uploading.” Especially at our current state of technology, but even beyond, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to use a silicon-based matrix to represent the human brain. (I would love to be proven wrong, of course!)
That’s just several areas where my beliefs affect my view of the future. What about you? Do you lean more toward a transhumanist view of the future or more towards a “conservative” view of the future? If you believe in some sort of supernatural diety, how does that affect your view?
I read quite a bit last year, with an emphasis on linguistics, Counterinsurgency, complexity, and mathematics. Fiction, as always was scattered throughout the year. Lots of good links below; I encourage you to check them out, along with the reviews I did of several of them…
1) Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Guide to Learning and Brain Development from Birth to Adolescence – Jane M. Healey, Ph.D
2) Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) – Jeffrey Kluger
3) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
4) A New Kind of Science – Stephen Wolfram
5) Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power – Robert D. Kaplan
6) The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity – Richard Florida (My review here)
7) Language: The Big Picture – Peter Sharpe (my review here)
8) Understanding Physics: Volume 1: Motion, Sound, and Heat (Understanding Physics) – Isaac Asimov
9) Seven Firefights in Vietnam – John A. Cash, et al. (My review here)
10) Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages – Guy Deutscher (My review here)
11) Chaos Theory Tamed – Garnett P. Williams
12) Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity – John Gribbin (My review here)
13) The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa: With E. D. Swinton’s “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” – Michael Burgoyne and Albert Marckwardt (My review here)
14) The Age of the Unthinkable , Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It – Joshua Cooper Ramo
15) The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) – Graham Greene
16) Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq – Patrick Cockburn
17) Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life – Len Fisher
18) Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language – Seth Lerer (My review here)
19) Migration: Species Imperative #2 – Julie Czerneda
20) Euler’s Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology – David S. Richeson
21) Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (My review here)
22) Chicago Blues – Edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann
23) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Dan Pink
24) The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why – Richard E. Nisbett
25) Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer – Mireya Mayor (My review here)
26) A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines – Anthony Bourdain
27) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World – Liaquat Ahamed (My review here)
28) Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions – Lisa Randall
29) The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way – Bill Bryson
30) Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents – Robert A. Cutietta
31) Thought Contagion – Aaron Lynch (My review here)
32) Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia 2) – C.S. Lewis
33) Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
34) Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (Open Market Edition) – Duncan J. Watts
35) The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention – Guy Deutscher
36) Hardwired – Walter Jon Williams
37) The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been . . . and Where We’re Going – George Friedman
38) Almost Human: Making Robots Think – Lee Gutkind
39) Understanding Physics: Volume 2: Light, Magnetism and Electricity – Isaac Asimov
40) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) – Robert B. Cialdini
41) Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
42) The Secret Servant (Gabriel Allon) – Daniel Silva
43) Pittsburgh Noir (Akashic Noir) – Edited by Kathleen George
44) Freedom (TM) – Daniel Suarez
45) Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots – Gareth Branwyn
46) The Traveler (Fourth Realm Trilogy, Book 1) – John Twelve Hawks
47) Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back – Douglas Rushkoff
48) Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource – Peter Rogers and Susan Leal
49) Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants – Dennis Okholm
50) Counterinsurgency – David Kilcullen
51) Hunter’s Run – George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham
52) The Killing Ground (Sean Dillon) – Jack Higgins
53) One Shot (Jack Reacher, No. 9) – Lee Child
54) The Hard Way (Jack Reacher, No. 10) – Lee Child
55) Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart – Mark E. Eberhart
56) Earth Strike: Star Carrier: Book One – Ian Douglas
57) Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and the Peloponnese – Robert D. Kaplan
58) The Post-American World: Release 2.0 – Fareed Zakaria
59) Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer – Novella Carpenter
60) The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization – Bryan Ward-Perkins
61) The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century – Thomas X. Hammes
62) Four Colors Suffice: How the Map Problem Was Solved – Robin Wilson
63) How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel – Piers Bizony
64) The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives – David Bainbridge
65) The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World – Peter Schwartz
66) The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine – Francis S. Collins
67) The Scar – China Mieville
68) The Profession: A Thriller – Steven Pressfield (My review here)
69) Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature – Marcus du Sautoy
70) The Five Chinese Brothers (Paperstar) – Claire Hutchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese
71) Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America – Matt Taibbi
72) How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too Late — A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents – Linda and Richard Eyre
73) The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris – David McCullough
74) Havoc – Jack DuBrul
75) Sundiver (The Uplift Saga, Book 1) – David Brin
76) Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy – Steven Metz
77) The Rest of the Robots – Isaac Asimov
78) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things – William McDonough and Michael Braungart
79) 7th Sigma – Steven Gould
80) 50 Mathematical Ideas You Really Need to Know – Tony Crilly
81) The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life – Thomas W. Malone
82) Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier – Edward Glaeser
83) Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself – Dan Pink
84) The Future of Management – Gary Hamel with Bill Breen
85) 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith – Sonia Arrison
86) The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics – Karl Sabbagh
87) Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (Great Discoveries) – David Foster Wallace
88) The Final Warning (Maximum Ride, Book 4) – James Patterson
89) Re-read Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean
90) The Caryatids – Bruce Sterling
91) Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality – Jonathan Weiner
92) Mathematical Mysteries: The Beauty and Magic of Numbers (Helix Books) – Calvin C. Clawson
93) The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity – Amir D. Aczel
94) Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes – Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
95) Reamde: A Novel – Neal Stephenson
96) The Poincare Conjecture: In Search of the Shape of the Universe – Donal O’Shea
97) Euclid’s Window : The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace – Leonard Mlodinow
98) Millennium Problems – Keith Devlin
99) The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
100) Godel’s Proof (Revised Edition) – Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman
101) Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon #8) – Daniel Silva
102) The Bourne Legacy – Eric van Lustbader
103) Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus – John Eldredge
104) Count Down: The Race for Beautiful Solutions at the International Mathematical Olympiad – Steve Olson
105) The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets – Alan Boss
I’ve been going through a paradigm shift lately. Hate to use such a clichéd term, but there it is. All my reading, all my thinking, it’s all hammering home the same lesson: I have to create the life I want. No one is going to give it to me, and it’s not out there already waiting for me to find it. It doesn’t exist yet, and it’s up to me to make it happen.
Some telling things: What is my ideal lifestyle? If I had all the money I ever needed in the bank, what would I do day to day? I do not have answers to those questions right now. And that is a serious freaking problem.
I’m pondering becoming a futurist, getting a degree in Strategic Foresight.
From Christine Comaford-Lynch’s book, a couple of things:
1.) Supreme Confidence, gigantic, absolute, quiet confidence has to come from within and it cannot be validated by others because it’s there no matter what others think. How many times do I have to learn this lesson?
2.) She talks about business plans. So often, she says, people have this plan:
a) Develop widget
c) Make millions
Where b is undefined but basically tells how you are going to pull this off and get from A to C.
For me, in the past, it’s been like this:
a) Get degree
c) Go to Mars, become successful in business, become a pastor, or I dare say, a futurist.
Well, what’s B? It was never defined. And that’s why I’ve been in a series of jobs I don’t care about, why I’ve never gotten to do the things I want to do. My plans are never complete. I get a harebrained idea, launch into it with a big cool goal and never figure out what goes in between. It’s like playing chess and moving your first pawn to D4 and ignoring the rest of the moves to checkmate. Usually, you’re the one that gets checkmated as you react tactically to the other players moves.
In other words, strategy counts. Where are you going, and how are you going to get there? This doesn’t mean having a rigid plan. Instead, you need to have options. If this doesn’t work, what will you do? If you end up here, how will you get to there? Once you get the degree, then what? What options do you have? How will you act on those options? More importantly, are you sure that those options will give you the lifestyle you want? Is it possible that starting this path will lead you to something else you haven’t thought of, good or bad?
A lot to think about. But key and critical to making the right decision for a change.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Christian and I believe in praying about it. But two things: First, God gave us a brain so we could use it, and with that brain came free will. We can choose, whether it’s a good choice or poor choice, He lets us make it. He’ll work out His plans no matter what we do. Second, my track record on praying before has not worked that way – usually it’s after I make the decision and commit that I have an idea that I did the right or wrong thing.
Like I said, a lot to think about.
Many years ago, before I married my wife, I had a problem.
I had no idea how to be a man. I always thought that when I grew up I’d be mature, confident, in control. But I wasn’t, and most of the time I was just muddling through. I wasn’t doing well with women, so I joined a Christian dating group, and at one event, I asked a girl out. She said no, she didn’t date, and said it was because of a book by Josh Harris called I Kissed dating Goodbye.
Naturally, I (and many others interested in the same girl) went out and bought the book.
To be honest, I didn’t think much of his philosophy. Your mileage, of course, may vary. But what did impress me is the last part of the book where he talked about making yourself ready for your wife. Improving your character, getting right with God, useful skills, that sort of thing.
I took a good long look at myself and I wasn’t happy with what I saw. So I started to read, prolifically, and work on my social life. Then I got married and had a kid. Now I’m working on my career.
I won’t lie and say I have it all figured out – I’m not sure anyone ever really does. But I’d like to share my learnings in an occasional series of posts. My next post will mention some of the books I started with, and some of the lessons I learned from them.
Stick around. I think you’ll find it interesting!