More from Metamorphoses

My original post on the Metamorphoses was quite some time ago. I have in the past few weeks been working on another passage from this work with my high school students. One thing which I have observed in this current run has been the beauty of Ovid’s poetry. I don’t know why I missed this before; maybe I was not as strong in the language as I am now.

This bit which will follow is from book 11, lines 85-145. It is the story of Midas and the golden touch. Something which struck me as constantly presenting itself in the following lines is Ovid’s reference to Midas’ desires and actions. He simultaneously gives his own impression of the action and Midas’ opinion of the action, resulting in such statements as “doomed reward.” Also, he uses the present tense throughout the text. I think in this he relates how the story was already known by most of the intended audience, so they would be listening to his version specifically to hear how he would present it. His retelling serves more as a narration to a story already playing in the minds of the listener, so it makes more sense to be told in the present tense. This is not to say that he only uses the present tense. He mixes the tenses to great effect, especially using the perfect tense to indicate the timeless aspect, akin to the Greek aorist.

Book XI


And this is not enough for Bacchus: he even abandons those fields
And with a better band of his followers, seeks the vineyards of Timolus
And even the Pactolus River, although it was not golden at that time
Nor was it valued for its sands.
The normal crowd flocks thither, a crowd of Satyrs and Bacchae,
But Silenus was not present. Lumbering around under the influence of years and neat wine,
Phyrgian rustics grabbed him, and with a garland restrained him,
To Midas the king they led him, the man to whom Orpheus of Thrace
With Eumolpus of Athens had revealed Bacchus’ rites.
This one at once recognized his companion and ally in the mysteries,
With the arrival of the guest, he spent the festival joyfully
He kept it for five days twice, and nights too.
And now the eleventh morning star had drawn together the celestial band of stars
When the king comes joyfully into the land of the Lydians
And brings back Silenus to his youthful foster son.
To this one the god, rejoicing in his foster father’s return gave a welcome gift
The choice of a reward, an doom-filled thing indeed.
That man, destined to abuse the gifts, said: “Do this:
Whatsoever my body should touch, shall become yellow gold.”
Bacchus nods his assent to the preferred gifts and sets free the harmful rewards
And he was saddened, because he had not sought a better one.
The happy one walks off, the Berecynthian hero rejoices in his bad turn
And he tests the reality of the promise by touching everything.
Scarcely believing himself, from a low green bough
Did he pull down a growing green branch, but the branch was become golden;
He turns a rock in the soil; the rock also pales into gold;
Then he turns over a clod of soil, when it came into his powerful contact
It become a heavy nugget. He plucked dry grains of wheat,
They were nuggets of gold; he holds a fruit plucked from a tree,
You would think that the Hesperides had given them.
If he moved his fingers to the heights of the doorposts, they seemed to gleam golden.
Even when that man had washed his hands in watery waves,
The water flowing from his hands would have deceived Danae
That man holds his hopes in mind just barely, thinking of all his golden possessions
For the man rejoicing did the servants set a feast,
Tables heaped with rich food, lacking not even roasted beans.
But then, if that man touched with his right hand Ceres’ sacred gift of grain
Ceres’ sacred gift immediately grew hard.
But if on the other hand, he tried to pluck the rich food with greedy teeth,
A yellow shell covered the meal when his teeth touched it;
When he mixed wine, the gift of Bacchus, with pure water
You would see it flow, liquid gold, through his lips.

A man terrified was he, at newness of the evil, both wretched and rich
He tries to flee the wealth, and he hates what he had once wanted.
No bounty soothes his hunger; dry thirst burns his throat
He is tormented by the hated gold just as he deserves,
Lifting his hands and shining forearms to heaven,
“Grant forgiveness, father Lenaeus! We have sinned,” he cries,
“Have mercy, I pray; take away this splendid damnation!”
The gods are kind; Bacchus restored the man who confessed his error
He set free the gifts given as a guarantee of their agreement
“So that you do not remain covered in the foolishly desired gold,
Go,” he said, “go to the river near the great city of Sardis
Going against the flowing waters through the Lydian mountain ridge
Take the road, until you come to the source of the river,
Plunge your head into the foaming source, whence gushing waters flow
Plunge your body too, wash out your crime as well.”
The king went under the water as commanded, the golden power
painted the river, it came from his body into the river;
Now also is the origin of the ancient gold mine established,
the fields grow hard with gold, becoming pale by wet globs of dirt.

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In February 2013, Steven Poole reviewed Professor Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, a book whose subtitle Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False more clearly indicates the rationale for its great and vociferous criticism by the intellectual community.  In this treatise, Prof. Nagel attempts to resurrect teleology, for “the mind-body problem has more serious ramifications for evolutionary science than ordinarily accepted.”[i]  Mr. Poole attempts to present an objective critique and his own account for the hostile response.  In the process, he reflects the misconceptions and errors inherent in the modern empirical sciences and their relationship with philosophy, with physics in particular.

Mr. Poole begins his critique by stating his own version of teleology.  He truthfully states that teleology grants to all things a natural end, a τέλος, to which they tend.  Thus the acorn tends to the mature oak, the boy to the man, the puppy to the dog.  Objectivity fails, however, when he states the common and mechanistic misconception of the τέλος as reverse causation, such that like Marty McFly, the τέλος reaches backwards in time to bring about a certain result.  He also suggests an alternate explanation of τέλος, that it implies intention in the thing or its creator.  One may object that he only states the positions of modern intellectuals without holding them himself, but his later statements prove this false.

Aristotle himself directly refutes the concept of τέλος as only implying some sort of mind in the thing or its creator.  He states in the Physics, “It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating.”[ii]  He proceeds to use the arts as an example, which example Thomas clarifies when he states that art has a purpose inherent within it, yet neither the art nor the artisan deliberates.  Indeed, one who must deliberate is not a true artisan.  He concludes, “An agent does not deliberate, not because he does not act for an end, but because he has the determinate means by which he acts.  Hence since nature has the determinate means by which it acts, it does, not deliberate.”[iii]  As for the other misconception as to the final cause, one must look to the modern desire and determination that all causes have sensibly accessible and measurable foundation.

Any serious thinker will acknowledge that not all things can be measured.  He who denies this ought to explain the repulsion generated upon viewing an image of Auschwitz.  No one can measure repulsion, although he can measure its signs.  These signs cannot be repulsion because other unrelated occasions generate these signs. For example, nausea is a common sign of repulsion, yet some estimate over 700 different causes of nausea, many unrelated.[iv]  As Peter Kreeft’s Socrates says, feelings imply immateriality in men.[v]  If immaterial feelings can affect men, then it is certainly possible that immateriality can affect materiality.

Mr. Poole’s misconception of the final cause requires an explication of the four causes of any natural thing, for he seems to have a single definition of cause.  Before this happens, it is necessary to briefly state what a natural thing is.  A natural thing is that which has a nature, which Aristotle defines as “a source or cause of being moved or of being at rest in that to which it belongs primarily.”[vi]  When he says, “to which it,” the “it” refers to the cause of being moved or being at rest.  A cause also must be understood as the explanation for a thing’s existence.  Every natural thing has four causes: the material cause, the formal cause, the efficient cause, and the final cause.  The material cause is the matter from which something comes to be.  The formal cause is that from which something has a determined quiddity.  The efficient cause is that by which something comes to be.  The final cause is that for the sake of which something comes to be.  Although earlier a distinction has been made between natural and artificial things, still artificial things provide a more easily understood example of the four causes.  In this case, it suffices to consider Michelangelo’s David.  In this statue, the marble serves as the material cause, for the statue is made “out of” marble.  The image of David serves as the formal cause, for the image of David “informs” the marble from a block into a statue.  Michelangelo serves as the efficient cause, for by his sculpting marble was given the image of David, thus becoming a statue of him.  The final cause would be whatever reason Michelangelo made the statue.

Whatever reason motivated Michelangelo did not have an actual empirical aspect, yet one must admit that he chose all the other causes from it.  If, for example, the desire for fame was the final cause, then Michelangelo chose marble and the image of David because he considered them, as material and formal causes, as the means by which he (as efficient cause) might attain the most fame.  Yet, such a treatment of final cause has certain weaknesses as a refutation of Mr. Poole’s concept of it.  He states, “Teleology seemed to imply an intention to pursue such an end, if not in the organism then in the mind of a creator.”[vii]  In the case of David, teleology implies exactly this.  Yet teleology does not imply this alone, for it has three types: simple termination, perfection, and intention.  Perfection as an aspect of final causality can be likened to maturity or a thing coming to its full potential, as has been discussed earlier.  Nothing conscious within the boy guides him to manhood; he becomes a man whether he desires it or not.  Mr. Poole only recalls intention as τέλος, yet in natural things it seems the least common.  In believing this, he even posits, “If matter has purpose, maybe that’s because it has mind as well?”[ix]  To most intelligent readers, such a sentiment screams sarcasm, and perhaps Mr. Poole has such an inflection.

Nevertheless, Aristotle confronts this confusion almost exactly, saying, “It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating.  Art does not deliberate.”2  Professor Shields elaborates, “Musicians do not stop to deliberate in the middle of a performance about which violin string to press.”[x]  As the good professor himself realizes, one may object to this example, for the artist himself has a mind and has trained himself in his art.[xi]  Earlier in the Physics, however, one can find a solution to this difficulty; Aristotle cites non-animals, for the plant does not have a mind, yet its roots travel downwards rather than upwards, towards the water.[xii]  The rock does not have a mind by which it falls to the earth, but a certain aspect of it “attracts” it to larger objects.  Thus, simple termination.  Most people subconsciously show their belief in this aspect of teleology when they make such statements as “The heart is for pumping blood,” even Mr. Poole himself says this when he wonders whether teleology is scientific.  Man’s very inability to rid his speech of teleological language would indicate that teleology exists.

Prof. Nagel’s teleology, as Mr. Poole puts it, “is merely a law-like tendency in the universe that somehow loads the dice in favour of the appearance of consciousness.”[xiii]  He had advanced this theory, because he cannot determine the link between the activities of the brain and human consciousness.  He is correct in assuming that the mechanistic laws of the universe cannot explain human consciousness.  Yet he strays too close to intelligent design, this earns especial disregard from Mr. Poole.

Prof. Nagel questions evolutionary biology because its questions of probability seem to “fly in the face of common sense.”[xiv]  Mr. Poole responds with the claim that “it is and has always been the job and the glory of science to fly in the face of common sense.  If a theory that is robustly supported by evidence conflicts with your common sense, you had better adjust the latter.”[xv]  In the first place, such smugness belies an ignorance of history; the philosophers rather than the scientists have the distinction of clinging to their beliefs when contrary to common sense.   One must recall the various pre-Socratics, such as Parmenides, who with Zeno denied motion, Heraclitus, who denied stability, Plato, who denied that the world is real, and countless other philosophers whose theories “fly in the face of common sense.”  Indeed, Webster says that common sense is “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.”[xvi]  According to this definition, common sense would change upon the robust support of evidence.  The supposed opposition to common sense championed by Mr. Poole results from a failure by scientists to explain their positions, not a failure of common sense.  Should one doubt that two parallel lines meet at infinity, he need merely perform the mathematical calculations to resolve his doubt; the same cannot be said of philosophical theories.

Both Professor Nagel and Mr. Poole display an incredibly common error in their understanding of probability and evolutionary biology, which mistake ought to overshadow the petty disagreement over the greatest opponent of common sense.  Many men know the scenario: an infinite amount of monkeys on typewriters will eventually write the works of Shakespeare, or something to this effect.  As Cicero says, it makes as much sense as throwing a box of letters on the ground and expecting them to form the Annals of Ennius.[xvii]  Nevertheless, if there was infinite amount of time and an infinite amount of monkeys, the works of Shakespeare would be duplicated.  Yet even these words err, for the infinite number of monkeys would not produce the works of Shakespeare even if they produced every letter in the correct order.

This may seem contradictory, but most men have been infected with a misunderstanding as to the true meaning of chance and causality.  Chance cannot be a cause.  Take the example from Aristotle, of a man going to the market to buy food and meeting a friend.[xviii]  All will admit that the man met his friend by chance, but no one will say that chance itself caused him to meet his friend; rather, he will say that the desire to buy food caused him to visit the market.  In the same way, a bag of letters spilled on the ground which letters form the complete works of Shakespeare, would only form them by chance.

Even if one should object that chance could serve as a cause, he will still lack an organizing principle, something to make the letters into the works of Shakespeare.  Nothing inherent in the letters forms them into the works of Shakespeare, and a breeze or an earthquake could rearrange them.  Should a Spaniard happen upon the letters, he would not even consider them the works of Shakespeare, but rather pile of unrelated letters.  The organizing principle, therefore, is extrinsic to the letters, only becoming something due to an external agent.

This principle of organization has further implications with living things.  All doctors admit that a collection of all human body parts is not a living man.  Anyone who has attended a wake will declare that the dead body is not the same living; something different lies in the coffin.  Nothing within the parts of a living thing forces it to work with the other parts; there is rather something else, which can be called the substantial form.  Therefore, this can be concluded: even if probability should agree and chance serve as cause, a collection of things could never become a living thing, just as an explosion in a graveyard will not assemble a living human.

Mr. Poole quotes Professors Cox and Forshaw’s claim that “the principle that things tend to their lowest energy state is what drives the formation of everything from water to DNA.”[xix]  The statement may seem innocuous, but it contains another pernicious misconception of modern science, s.c. that the laws which describe the causes of phenomena, cause them.  Thus is said, “The principle…drives the formation.”21  Yet it is impossible to discover a principle actually driving the formation of anything; a principle is a description and no one can produce a “law of physics” in any corporeal form.  All such laws exist only in the minds of the knowers.   The second law of thermodynamics, for example, states “in any cyclic process the entropy will either increase or remain the same.[xx]  Neither entropy nor processes exist without a subject; no one will claim that there is an entropy floating around, or a process; entropy and processes happen in things, with reference to things, real and measurable things.

To further identify these “laws” or “principles” and that which they govern, it is necessary to exposit the hylomorphic system first expounded by Aristotle.  At a very basic level, no one will deny that two types of things exist: things which exist independently, and things which exist in others, but not independently.  The former can be called “substantial” and the latter “accidental.”  A Latinist will know that “substantial” comes from the words “sub” and “stans,” which mean “under” and “standing” respectively, while accident comes from the word “accido” with the meaning of “to come to pass.”[xxi]  The substance, or substantial thing, is that which “stands under” the accidents, e.g. the things which “come to pass.”

No one will deny that everything which exists can be otherwise, or everything is potentially something else.  A statue of David is a statue of David, but it is potentially gravel; a tree is a tree, but potentially ashes.  One can call the “potentially-something-elseness”, matter.  There are two types of matter.  Matter can be potentially something else entirely, and this is called “prime matter;” or it can be potentially something else accidentally, in that it takes on a new accident, and is thus called “subject matter,” the thing which is “thrown under.”[xxii]  Yet a thing is not merely its potential for change, but something which has completed its change.  The aspect of a thing at which the change to another substance entirely ceases is the substantial form (which has been mentioned above as the imposer of order on matter), while the aspect of a thing at which the change to another accident ceases is the accidental form.  Ashness is the substantial form of ash, and redness the accidental form of the red thing.   Thus, all substantial things are composites of primary matter and substantial form as substances.

A substance can have many accidents; a man can have black hair, then red hair, then yellow hair.  The man persists through all these, which distinguishes between substantial change and accidental change; an accidental change does not make the subject into another thing, while a substantial change does.  From these points, it becomes evident that the laws of science are not substances: no one can distinguish the “matter” or the “form” of a law.  No one can conceive of a scientific law having accidents or undergoing any type of change; perhaps they are accidents.

One can, as Aristotle, divide accidents into nine categories: quantity, quality, time, place, relation, disposition, raiment, action, and passion.[xxiii]  Every substance has a combination of accidental forms applied to him (or in act) at every moment of his existence and is constantly undergoing accidental changes.  It cannot be that a substance does not undergo accidental change.  Such a substance would never change in any of the abovementioned nine categories; never change its place, its action, its raiment, its disposition, etc.  An accident can be described by scientific laws.  It seems, therefore, that some scientific laws and mathematical describe accidents.

Other scientific and mathematical laws, such as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, do not concern one substance, but more than one.  These ones, then, describe the interactions between substances, but they do not drive the interactions.  The drive comes from something inherent to the substances, something called nature.  The definition of nature must be recalled from above, “a source or cause of being moved or of being at rest in that to which it belongs primarily.”7  Seeing motion and rest, one must resist the concept of locomotion beginning or ending.  Motion is any type of movement, such as the movement to love or hate, or any kind of accidental change.  The nature, however, because it is only the source of primary motions, is not the only agent of motion; other things can as well, such as outside agents.  Regardless, the interactions between two things result in occurrences based on the nature of the things involved, and these interactions are described by laws.

Mr. Poole rejects the thesis that matter has a mind for perfectly fine reasons.  He declares that its conception of consciousness forming from the collation of matter has no ground, and thus doubts it.  Yet he doubts it, not after well-reasoned reflection, but because “it seems difficult to investigate experimentally.”[xxiv]  He immediately suggests reinterpreting teleology as mechanistic causation; this, however, changes the rules of the game in the midst of the contest, and cannot stand scrutiny.  In doing this, he falls into an error faced by Aristotle in the Physics II.8 198b16ff, wherein Aristotle confronts those who hold to a position surprisingly similar to Darwinian macroevolution.  He refutes this concept by reminding his readers that chance (which fuels all evolutionary theory) cannot serve as a cause; it is not reliable enough.

Mr. Poole’s penultimate argument against teleology is its inability for scientific testing.  Here, he repeats the Cartesian emphasis on sensory knowledge which has been refuted already in this paper.  He seems to place his final argument against teleology in theodicy.  He rejects teleology because it gives man a meaning to his existence, a meaning based on inherent moral truths.  He cites Professor Nagel as holding to teleology because “it produces conscious creatures just so as to produce value”[xxv] which he considers synonymous with good/evil.  Then he rejects this thesis because he sees the lack of balance between good and evil as evidence against a value-based τέλος.  Yet he anthropomorphizes the universe to make this happen.  He forgets that all the “evil” of nature completely follows the laws thereof.  No animal does evil, for all animals follow the laws of nature in their activity.  Only men cause evil by violating these laws, but it must be noted, the laws of nature do not bring about evil; only the violation thereof.  Much remains to be said on this topic, but theodicy is too complicated a discussion for this paper, as well as beyond the bounds of natural philosophy.

The review ends with a depressing question as to the true τέλος of the universe, whether it may be a gradual heat death.  This question too natural science cannot answer; it is the realm of ethics.  Mr. Poole’s failure to depart from his misunderstanding of teleology turns his review of Professor Nagel’s book into an expression of the many fundamental errors infecting modern science.  Aristotelian causation and hylomorphism are foundational principles for any true knowledge, yet Mr. Poole’s rejection of them, and the depressing conclusion to his review, shows forth the ultimate emptiness of contemporary science.

[i]Steven Poole, “Your point is?” Aeon Magazine, February 11 2013, accessed February 15, 2013,

[ii]Aristotle, PH. 199b26.

[iii]Thomas Aquinas, Commentaria in octo libros Physicorum, lib. 2 l. 14 n. 268

[iv]“Differential Diagnosis For Nausea: Poisoning (Specific Agent),” DiagnosisPro, accessed April 22, 2014,

[v]Peter Kreef, The Best Things in Life: A Contemporary Socrates Looks at Power, Pleasure, Truth & the Good Life (Downer Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1984), 116.

[vi]Aristotle, PH. 192b23.


[viii]Michael Plas, “What does perfect mean?,” Motley Musings, February 25, 2014, accessed May 1, 2014,


[x]Christopher Shields, Aristotle (London: Routledge, 2007), 73.


[xii]Aristotle, PH.  199a27.




[xvi]Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., s.v. “common sense.”

[xvii]Cic. Nat. D., 2.37.

[xviii]Aristotle, PH., 196a1-5.


[xx]R. Nave, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics,” Hyperphysics, accessed May 1, 2014,  

[xxi]Carlton T. Lewis, An Elementary Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), s.v.v. “sub,” “sto,” and “accido.”

[xxii]Lewis, s.v. “subicio.”

[xxiii]Aristotle, Cat., 1b25-2a10.



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Friendzoning and the Great Heresy of Catholic Dating Culture

The friendzone…so terrible a thing and so easily entered. I am sure that many have seen the countless memes made by bemoaning their fate as friendzoned men. Let me assure you; the friendzone is a terrible thing. However, one common trait of all protestations against the friendzone is its animus against the female aspect. Yet I declare that everyone in the friendzone, has placed himself there.

To be sure, it is almost always the girl who actively places the guy into the friendzone with those terrible words “you’re like a brother to me.” However, I would posit that no girl does this randomly. It arises from a fallacy of dating culture which has infected the Catholic community in particular at Catholic colleges such as Christendom and Franciscan University. This fallacy has been appropriately named as “headshot dating.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the practice of seeking to marry the first person dated. Don’t get me wrong…if you marry the first person you date, that amazing. Yet the fact is, most people don’t marry their first date. I say that this idea rises from an overly strict interpretation of the adage “you only date to find a spouse.” Many people take this to mean that one should not date someone unless he wants to marry the same. This is not false; however, it is false that one must be ready to marry that person. Dating is the process by which one discerns marriage. No one would discern about discerning the priesthood, so why should he discern about discerning marriage?

This fallacy of dating has a particular danger for men. I have often heard it said that one ought to “become friends before dating.” While I do not deny that being friends is essential to dating, I do deny that one must become friends before dating. I think here the difficulty arises in a determination of what dating itself entails. Dating is, at base, a practice of doing certain things with a certain person towards whom marriage is not a distasteful prospect; this may be done in group or alone. Therefore, one need not be ready to “put a ring on it” before he asks a girl on a date; he and she must merely consider marriage a possibility. Thus, it is possible to date anyone at least once. Now, if this man has went on a date with a certain girl, and he finds that he quite enjoys her company as a woman with whom marriage is possible, he will ask for another date, and if the girl also enjoys his company as a man with whom marriage is possible , she will accept. After several dates, it is customary to declare that the couple is dating.

Here is where many say that friendship is necessary for dating, for they believe that a date means physical expressions of affection. Yet I declare this false. It is the height of foolishness to engage in physical affection, even in a steady dating relationship, before a solid friendship is developed. Far too often do a couple go on one date, decide to go on other based on raw physical attraction, decide they’re dating, and then engage in all sorts of physical affection. After this it is quite possible to develop a genuine relationship, but more common is a relationship based on physical attraction and an addiction to the various chemicals released by such physical shows of affection. Therefore, neither man nor woman can determine whether one genuinely likes the other as a person or as a body.

It is much more prudent to form a friendship–perhaps acquaintance would be a better term–in which a marital relationship is a distinct possibility without any physical expressions of affection until marriage is an actual possibility as a result of this relationship. Men mostly err–and place themselves in the friendzone–when they attempt to a form a friendship in which marriage is never mentioned as a possibility. The man tries to become “just friends” first; however, when by trying to become “just friends” he succeeds, the object of his affections view him as just that, friends. Since she always saw him as “just a friend” and he had always shown his objective as being “just friends,” that’s what he happens.

Now, formulae for leaving the friendzone have often been given. They all have on conclusion; someone must act to leave. One party must declare his affection. Men will often say, “If I tell her, then I’ll lose her forever.” Well, you may…but how would that be different from your current status? Right now you’re only using the girl, only acting with the hope that she will eventually realize that your true feelings for her. But how will she ever know? She thinks, and you’ve said many a time, we’re only friends; every single thing you do, everything by which you try to imply your true feelings, seems to her as expressions of deep friendship. Unless this girl is incredibly perceptive, she’ll take your actions at face value.

On the other hand, if you declare your feelings for her you may lose her company. But you’ll be out of the friendzone; if–wonder of wonders–she does not refuse your company, then she’ll at least take your actions for what they are, attempts to win her heart. Or even better, you may have placed her in the friendzone too, and it will be the best day ever. Yet if she does not, then you’ve lost her company, but you never really wanted just her company, so you’ve haven’t lost anything. Finally, the explicit denial of a possible relationship will go far for your own recovery, and open you mentally to the many other available women.

As you can well see, friendzoning is a natural result of the great fallacy of Catholic dating culture. The only way to prevent it is an honesty in men and women when they begin any sort of relationship with a romantic intent. Of course, romance can develop from friendship, but never when romance is the unstated intention of the formative efforts.


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What does perfect mean?

Perfect…we use this word incredibly often, yet do we really know what it means? Of course, in modern parlance it means “flawless,” reference to any dictionary will prove this. More importantly, when one says that something is perfect, it is precisely “flawless” which he means. Other definitions do not matter, for this is the one which has primary place in the mind.

Considering this, it is no small wonder that students of ancient Latin and Greek have difficulty learning the perfect tense. To them, being told that the perfect tense indicates past action brought to completion makes no sense. Many just tell themselves that “perfect” is equivalent to “past” in Latin grammar.

A simple reference to the etymological section of the dictionary definition for “perfect” will reveal its arrival in English from the Latin perficio through Anglo-French. A further reference to An Elementary Latin Dictionary reveals that explains this word as a compound of per and facio, meaning, “finish, complete, bring to completion.” An examination of Aristotle’s original Greek text reveals that his Latin translators use perficio to translate τελέω, and reference to Liddell’s Greek dictionary supplies similar meanings of “complete, fulfill, accomplish, fulfill” for this word.

In the very words of the Philosopher, one can find confirmation of these definitions. In Metaphysics V, Aristotle gives three meanings to perfection: first, something outside of which a single part cannot be found; second, something whose ability and goodness admits of no further improvement in its class; third, something which has attained its goal (Aristotle, Metaphysics 5.16.1021b12-25).  Thomas continues in the tradition of the third meaning, stating, “Every single thing is said to be perfect inasmuch as it attains its proper end”(Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, II-IIa, Q. 184, A. 1, co.).

From these considerations, it is not difficult to conclude why the modern definition of perfect implies flawlessness; the thing which has attained completion would be assumed to have nothing wrong within it, thus being flawless.  One can only attribute contemporary failure to appreciate the full nuance of this word to a lack of appreciation for Latin and Greek

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The Confessions

The Confessions of St. Aurelius Augustine

In thirteen books

Book I

I. 1

You are great, O Lord, and greatly praiseworthy: great is Your strength and Your wisdom is beyond numeration.

Man wishes to praise You, a part of Your creation, showing forth his mortality, divulging the testimony of his sin, the testimony that You oppose the proud.

Yet nonetheless, man, a part of Your creation, desires to praise You.

You excite man that he may desire to praise You, for You have made us for You and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

Allow me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to call You or to praise You, whether first to know You or call upon You. Yet who, not knowing You, calls You? For he who does not know You can invoke another in Your place. Can it be that You are invoked, that You may be known? How then shall they call on Him, in whom they do not believe? Or how shall they believe without preaching? They shall praise the Lord who seek Him. For seeking, they shall come to him and coming to Him, they shall praise Him.

Let me seek You, Lord, calling You, and let me call You believing in You: for You have been preached to us. My faith calls You, Lord, which You have given me, which You have breathed into me through the humanity of Your son, through the ministry of Your preacher.

IV. 4

What are You, my God? What are You, I ask, but the Lord God? Who is Lord before You? Who is God, but our God?

He is the greatest, best, most powerful, omnipotent, most merciful and just, most secret and most known, most beautiful and most strong, stable and incomprehensible, changeable and changing all things, never new and never old, renewing all things; he is always acting and always still, gather but not lacking, bringing, filling up, and protecting, creating and feeding, completing, striving, although he lacks nothing. You love, but not with passion; You are jealous and secure; You repent and do not hurt; You are angry and peaceful; You change all things, but not Your plans; You receive what You find, but You never lost it; You are never poor, but rejoice in gains; You are never greedy, but exact a price. Man overpays You, as You require, but what does he have which is not Yours? You return a debt owed to no one, You pay a debt no one lost. What do we say, my God, my life, my sacred sweetness? Or what does another say, when he speaks of You? Alas, to those keeping silence about You, since the talkative have been dumb.

VI. 7

But still, You permit me to say much about Your mercy, myself being dust and ashes still You permit me to speak, for behold it is Your mercy, not man my mocker, to which I speak. Maybe You ridicule me, and You shall pity me when You turn to me. Indeed, what is it that I wish to ask, Lord, except what I do not know, whence have I come here, into that I call mortal life or living death? I do not know. The consolations of Your mercy support me, as I have heard from the parents of my flesh, from the one of whom and the other in whom You formed me in time: for I do not remember.

Behold, the consolations of human milk received me, neither my mother nor my nurses filled their own breasts, but You gave me the nourishment of an infant through them according to Your arrangement and riches, allotted to the foundations of the world. For You allowed me to refuse anything more than what You gave me, and by feeding me, to make me desire what You gave them: for they were willing to give to me because of that foreordained affection, wherewith they did abound from You. For good for them was my good from them, which was not from them, but through them: obviously, all good is from You, O God, and from my God is my whole salvation. I noted this later, when You were calling to me through these very things, which You grant inwardly and externally. For then I learned to suck and relax in pleasure, and to weep at the offenses of my flesh—nothing greater.

VI. 8

Later I began to laugh, first while sleeping, then while awake. Thus, it is indicated of me concerning myself and I believed it since we see other infants: for I do not remember these actions. Behold, I understood little by little, where I was, and I wished to reveal my desires to them, through whom they might be satisfied, and I was not able, for my will was within, they were without and not by any sense of theirs did they enter my mind. Thus, I threw about my limbs and cries, the signs like my will, the few signs I was able, and the kind of signs I was able: for they were not representative of the truth. When it did not comply with me either because I was not understood or desired harm, I became angry with my elders, not being subject to me, and with children, not serving me, and I punished myself on them by weeping. I have learned infants are thus–which I was able to learn–unknowing infants revealed to me that I was such an infant more than the nurses knowing me were.

VIII. 13

Did I not come proceeding from infancy to this place in childhood? Or rather, did it come to me and follow infancy? Nor did it depart, by whom did it leave? Nevertheless, it was not already. For I was not an infant, who does not speak, but I was already a speaking boy. I remember this, whence I was taught to speak, I realized later. Indeed, the elders did not teach me, exposing words to me in any fixed order of instruction, as letters at little while later, but by own mind, which You gave me, my God, when by groans and various cries and various motions of my limbs, I wished to relate the sensations of my heart, that it would obey my will. I was not well able to put forth neither everything that I wished nor everything to which I willed. I grasped with my memory when they called a certain thing and when according the voice they moved an object to them: I saw and I remembered that this thing which was called by them that sound which they uttered whenever they wished to indicate this thing. That they meant this was revealed by the movement of the body just as by the natural signs of all men, which are created by the face, the movement of the eyes and other parts of the body indicating through act and the sound of the expression, the affections of the mind in questioning, thinking, rejecting, and fleeing from dangers. Little by little I gathered words thus placed in their places for various meanings and the words of which things were signs frequently having been heard, my mouth accustomed to these signs, through these words I made known my desires.

So with those, among whom I was, I communicated signs for declaring my desires, and I, the shrill one, entered the boisterous society of human life, depending on the reputation of my parents and the assent of great men.

IX. 14

God, my God, what miseries and afflictions I found there, because it was proposed rightly for me, a boy, to live, to obey the advisers, so that I may flourish in this world and excel in the loquacious arts for the honor of men and for the false riches by fawning! Then I was given to a school, that I might learn literature, in which what was useful I, the wretched one, was ignorant. Still, if I was lazy in learning, I was beaten. Indeed, this was praised by the elders, and the many before us on the road had prepared a painful journey, through which we were forced to travel, by much effort and sorrow as befits the sons of Adam.


However, what were the causes, why did I hate Greek, into which I was immersed as a boy? Indeed even now this has not been known enough for me. For I earnestly loved Latin, not what was of the first master, but that which they who are called grammarians taught. For those first elements, in which they taught to read, to write, and to count, I had no lesser oppressive and painful aspect than all the Greek letters. Yet whence comes this, except from sin and the vanity of life, since I was flesh, a spirit walking and not returning. For certainly those first writings were better, because those first letters were more fixed, writings which came to me and was born and I had it, that I may read, if I find something written, and I myself may write, if I wish, how those readings, in which I was forced to remember the countless wanderings of Aeneas, my own forgotten: and to mourn Dido’s death, since she killed herself for the sake of love, nevertheless with my very self dying apart from You in these thing. God, my life, I most miserably bore it with dry eyes.


For what is more miserable than a wretch not lamenting his very self and weeping for the death of Dido, which happened by loving Aeneas, but not weeping for his death, which happened by not loving you, God, the light of my heart and the bread of the interior mouth of my soil, and the virtue impregnating my mind and the inner depths of my reasoning? I did not love you, and I fornicated apart from you, and I resounded everywhere with fornication: Hooray! Hooray! For the friendship of this world is fornication from you; hooray, hooray was said, that it shames if a man is not thus. I did not lament these things, but I lamented Dido, killed and striving for the end with a sword, myself following the lowest things of your creation, you forgotten, earth going to earth; if I was forbidden to read it, I was pained, because I was not reading what pained. In such a madness, those books were supposed more distinguished and fruitful than those by which I learned to read and to write.


Now let my God declare to my soul, and let your truth declare to me: it is not thus, it is not thus; that earlier teaching is absolutely better. For behold, I am more willing to forget the wanderings of Aeneas and all such sorts than to read and write. While moreover, veils hang over the thresholds of the grammatical schools; yet those veils do not indicate more honor from secrecy than a protection from error. F They man not cry out against me, whom already I do not fear, while I confess to You what my soul wishes, my God, and I acquiesce in the condemnation of my evil ways, since I love your good ways; may not the sellers of grammar, rather the buyers, cry out against me, because if I asking should place before them whether it is true that the poet says Aeneas came to Carthage at some time, the unlearned shall respond that they do not know, the learned, however, shall also deny that there is a right answer. Moreover, if I should ask in what letters is written the name “Aeneas,” all these men, who learned these things, respond to me a right answer following that pact and agreement whereby men confirm among themselves such signs. Likewise if I should ask which one of these things, reading and writing or those poetic fictions, anyone could forget with greater detriment to this life, who would see what he would respond who has not entirely forgotten himself?

Therefore, I continually sinned as a boy, when I placed those insanities before these more useful things because of love, rather I hated the latter things, I loved the former things. Truly “one and one are two, two and two are four” was already an insufferable ditty to me, and the sweetest spectacle of emptiness was a wooden horse filled with soldiers, the burning of Troy, and the very ghost of Creusa.

Book II

I. 1

I wish to recall my foul deeds accomplished and the fleshy corruptions of my soul, not because I love them, but because I love You, my God. I do it for the love of Your love, recalling my most worthless life in the bitterness of my reflection, that You may sweeten me, You the sweetness not deceptive, lucky and secure, a sweetness gathering me from moral confusion, in which piece by piece I had fallen, I vanished into many things as long as I turned away from You. Indeed, I burned to get my fill of evil pleasures in my adolescence and I dared to grow wild in various dark passions, my beauty withered away and I decayed in the presence of Your eyes delighting in myself and desiring to delight the eyes of men.

II. 2

What was it that delighted me, if not to love and be loved? Yet the mean from soul to soul, within which is the luminous boundary of friendship, was not held, rather clouds were breathed out from the murky desires of the heart and the bubbling spring of adolescence, and they confused and obscured my heart, so that the serenity of love was not distinguished from the darkness of lust. The two boiled in confusion, destroyed my unstable age on the dangerous precipice of lust, and immersed it in the abyss of infamy

Your anger had weighed down upon me, and I did not know. I had become deaf through the clanking of the chain of my morality, the penalty for the pride of my mind, and I was going far from You, and You permitted me; You threw me out and gave me free rein, I wasted away and boiled over by my fornication, and You were silent.

O my late rejoicing! You were silent then, and I was again going far from You into many places, into many sterile causes of sorrow through arrogant degradation and restless weariness.

Yet I, the wretched one, burned, following the violence of my dissolute nature, abandoned by You. I broke all You laws and did not escape Your punishments: for who of mortal men could? For You were always mercifully present, though raging, and sprinkling all my illicit pleasures with a terribly bitter discontent, that thus I might seek to be without discontent and, when I was able to do this, I might not find anything before You, O Lord, before You, who commands suffering, who strikes, that You may heal, who kills us, lest we perish by You.

Where was I and how far was I exiled from the delights of You house in the sixteenth year of the age of my life, when the madness of licentious lust took power over me, through the infamy of men (illicit things, though, through Your laws) and I gave myself entirely to it? For it was not the care of my parents to save me, being ruined, through marriage, but the only care was that I learn to give a speech in the best manner and to persuade with words.

III. 5

Indeed, in that very year, my studies were interrupted, during the time in which the expenses of the rather long distance from Carthage prepared me to return from Madaura, the neighboring city in which I had already began to live for the sake of learning literature and oratorical grace, because of an ambition greater than the ability of my father, a citizen of Thegaste, a man of very modest means.

To whom do I say these things? Not to You, my God: yet I say these things before You to my own kind, to mankind—in however small a part it can be included in these words of mine. Why do I write this? Clearly in order that everyone and I may read these words and we may ponder out of what depths it must cry to You. What is nearer to Your ears, if a heart is confessing and life is from faith?

For who then does not lift up that man with praise, my father, because he spent on his son beyond his fortune, even whatever was necessary for studies by traveling? For there was no such concern among the many rich citizens for their children, while at the same time, my father was not concerned as to how I grew concerning You or how I was chaste, provided that I was cultured or rather uncultured, away from Your care, O God, who is the one, true, and good lord of Your field, my heart.

III. 6

Yet introduced to leisure during that sixteenth year because of domestic necessity, I began to be at rest from all classes with my parents, the briars of lust overthrew my head, and nothing was holding back my hands.

III. 7

Alas for me! Did I dare to say that You were silent, my God, when I went so far from You? Were You then thus silent to me? Whose words were they, if not Yours through my mother, Your faith, which You sang in my ears? Nor did anything thence descend into my heart, that I might contemplate it. Indeed, she wished, and I remembered that I had been warned in private with great solicitude, lest I fornicate and especially lest I commit adultery with the wife of another.

These warnings seemed effeminate to me, to obey which I should have blushed. Yet they were Your warnings, and I did not know and I thought that You were silent, and she spoke, through whom You were not silent to me, and in her You were despised by me, by me, Your son, the son of Your handmaiden, Your servant. But I did not know and I went headlong into total blindness, so that I was ashamed of my small faults among those of my peers, because I heard them discussing their own shameful acts, and the more bragging there was, the greater was the shameful deed, and it was pleasing to act not alone in lust, truly too it was rewarded with praise. What is worthy of censure if not vice? I did not find fault, I became rather vicious, and when was there not at hand a crime by which, committed, I might equal my depraved companions, I pretended I had done what I had not done, lest I seem more low, in which I was innocent, and lest I be considered more common, in which I was more chaste.

IV. 9

Your law certainly inflicts punishment, O Lord, the law written in the hearts of men, which iniquity the law does not even erase: for what thief endures a crime calmly? Not even the wealthiest man permits a theft forced by scarcity. I desired to commit a crime and I did nothing forced by necessity except by the scarcity and loathing of justice and the superfluity of iniquity. For I plundered it, which overflowed to me and was of much better quality, and I did not wish to delight in the fruit, which I approached for theft, but by that a theft and a sin committed.

There was a pear-tree near our vineyard, laden with fruit, without an inviting appearance or taste. We, most wicked Young men, advanced at the dead of night to pick them, and carry them away, until we had prolonged the game like a plague in the areas, and we carried the mighty burdens thence, not to our feasting, but rather for throwing to the pigs, even if thence we had eaten something, while nevertheless what was pleasing in itself was done by us, to whom it was not permitted.

VIII. 16

Which enjoyment did I, the wretched one, have then in these things, which I now recollect, ashamed, certainly in that crime, in which I loved that evil deed, nothing else, when both the crime itself was nothing and by it I was so wretched? Still, I did not do that alone—so I remember my feelings then—I did not do that thing alone at all. Therefore, I loved then also the gathering of them with whom I did those things. Therefore, I did not love another thing by any means more than theft; more correctly, it is nothing indeed, because also the band is nothing.

Why is the thing true? Who is it, who teaches me, except he who illumines my heart and clears its shadows? What is it which comes to me in my mind, to ask, to examine, and to consider that if then I loved that fruit, which I had stolen, and desired to enjoy, if this were enough, furthermore I alone could commit that iniquity, by which I reached my enjoyment, and I did not enflame the itch of my lust by association with guilty minds? Yet since there was no pleasure in those fruits to me, it was in the very crime, which the company of those sinning with me committed.

Book III

IV. 7

Among those wreckers, though at an immature age, I became acquainted with books of eloquence, in which I desired to excel for a damnable and vain end, for the joy of human praise, and presently in the ordinary course of study, I had come to a book that Cicero, whose language almost everyone admires, but not the heart. Yet that book contained his exhortation to philosophy, and is called Hortensius.

Truly, that book changed my mind, O Lord, and it changed my petitions and vows to You, it created my other desires. Suddenly every vain hope became vile to me and I desired everlasting wisdom with an unbelievable yearning of the heart, and I decided to rise, that I might return to You. Indeed I did not use that book for sharpening my tongue—which book I seemed to purchase with my mother’s funds, since I spent the nineteenth year of my life with my father dead two years before—not therefore for sharpening my tongue did I use that book, and it had impressed on me not its style but what it was saying.

IV. 8

How I burned, my God, how I burned to fly from earthly things back to You, and I did not know what You were doing with me! For wisdom is with You. However, the love of wisdom has the Greek name of philosophy, in which love that book enflamed me. They who are corrupting me through philosophy, their errors colored and disguised with a great, alluring, and honest name, and almost everyone else, who was of those and earlier times, are condemned and revealed in that book, and there is the salutary admonition of Your spirit manifested through Your good and pious servant: Beware, lest anyone deceive You through philosophy and vain deceit, following the tradition of men, following the origin of this world and not following Christ, because in Him lives every fullness of divinity corporeally.

As You, the light of my heart know, I was delighted at that time, because these apostolic words were not yet known to me. Still I delighted by this alone in those exhortations, because I was excited by that discussion, set afire, and I burned such that I loved , sought , pursued, held and embraced strongly, not that school or the other school, but wisdom herself, whatever she might be. This thing alone broke me in glowing ardor, because the name of Christ was not there, since Your mercy following this name, O Lord, this name of my savior, Your Son, in Whom my tender heart had piously drunk of very milk of my mother and deeply retained; whatever had been made without this name, however learned, polished, and true, did not seize me.

V. 9

Therefore, I decided to direct my thoughts to sacred scripture, and I decided to see how they were. Behold, I see a thing not disclosed to the proud nor revealed to boys, but lowly to entrance and lofty to progress, covered in mysteries, and I was not such, that I could enter into that and incline my neck to its progress. For I speak not now as I felt then, when I directed myself to that Scripture, on the contrary, it seemed undignified to me, which I compared to the dignity of Tully. For my swollen head fled this kind of thing and my brilliancy did not penetrate its interior. Yet, these books were truly this way, which increase with children, but I refused to be a child and I seemed swollen with great pride in myself.

Book VI

III. 3

And I was not yet groaning in prayer, that You might come to me, but my spirit was eager to seek and restless to examine, and I supposed Ambrose himself happy according to the world, whom so many powerful men so honored; his great celibacy seemed laborious to me. What hope he bore, what struggles he had against the temptations of his very excellence, or what solace in adversities, and his hidden mouth, which was in his heart, how it chewed upon the savory delight of Your bread, and I had not known to guess it nor had I experienced it.

He did not know my passions and the pitfall of my attempt. For I was unable to ask of him what I wished, as I wished, since I was kept away from his hearing and his mouth by the clusters of busy men, whose weaknesses he served: when he was not with them, which was a very small amount of time, he was restoring the body with necessary sustenance or restoring the soul with reading.

Yet when he read, the eyes were led across the page and the heart probed the sense, but his voice and tongue was quiet. Often, when we were present—for who was not forbidden to enter, rather it was the custom that anyone coming to him be announced—we saw him thus reading silently and never otherwise, sitting in long-lasting silence (for who dares to be a burden to one so intent?) we left and we inferred that in the little time which he received for refreshing his mind, freed from the noise of other responsibilities, he did not wish to be distracted by other employments and possibly avoid them, lest if that author whom he was reading should state something unclear, and it be necessary to explain or discuss some other difficult questions to an attentive and perplexed listener, and having spent too much time on such a task, he would read fewer volumes than he wished, although it was more likely that he read silently to save his voice, which was made hoarse for him most readily. Still, for whatever reason he did it, that man certainly did it for a good reason.

III. 4

But certainly, no opportunity for asking was given me, which I desired so greatly concerning Your sacred mouthpiece, his heart, unless it was something brief. However, this deep anxiety of mine strongly sought him at leisure, into whom they might be poured, and they did not ever find him. When indeed every Sunday I heard him rightly preaching the word of truth among the people, he proved to me more and more that it was possible to unravel every adroit knot of calumny, which those deceivers fastened to us against the divine books.

IV. 6

I also rejoiced, because the old writings of the law and the prophets were related to me reading not in that light, where previously they seemed absurd, since I criticized Your saints for holding them; truly, however, they did not thus hold them. I, joyful heard Ambrose often saying in his popular sermons, as though he were most urgently commending a rule: the letter kills, but the spirit gives life, when he lifted the veil of mystery and revealed spiritually those words, which seemed literally to teach perversity, not saying that which offended me, he taught them, although whether they were true, I did not know at the time. I was holding my heart from every assent, fearing the precipice and I was more killed by the suspense. For I wished that I was as certain of these things which I did not see, as I was as certain that seven and three are ten. I was not so insane that I thought that not even this even could be known, but certainly I wished to be sure about everything else, whether corporeal things which were not before my senses, or spiritual things, concerning which I was unable to ponder except corporeally.

I could be healed through believing, so the purified sharpness of my mind might be directed in a particular manner into Your truth, remaining forever and lacking nothing; but as it usually happens, the man experienced in goodness fears to entrust himself to the bad doctor, thus was the state of the health of my soul, which certainly could be cured through believing and, lest it believe falsehood, it refused to be worried, resisting Your hands, You who have constructed the medicine of faith and scattered it upon the sicknesses of the world, and bestowed so much efficacy on those.

X. 17

Nebridius also, who had left his country near Carthage and had left Carthage, where he was most frequently, from his family farm, having left home and a mother not following him, he came for no other reason to Milan, except that he might live with me in the most ardent pursuit of truth and wisdom, he, ardent investigator after the beautiful life and the most keen examiner of difficult questions, equally sighed and doubted. The mouths of three needy men were both exhaling their want among themselves and waiting for You, that You might give them food in due season. In all bitterness, which in accordance with Your mercy followed our secular acts, darkness opposed us seeking why we experienced these things, and we, moaning, were dejected, and we said: “How long will this be?” We frequently said this, and saying this we did not abandon these pursuits because a certain thing did not show itself, which we grasped in those things left behind.

XI. 18

Anxiously reflecting, I was greatly amazed at how long a time it was since my nineteenth year, when I began to boil with an eagerness for wisdom; disposing me, having found this, to reject all the vain desires, false hopes, and deceitful follies. Behold, I already bore the thirtieth year in that filth, hesitating in my desire for delight in the present circumstances fleeing and destroying me, while I said: “Tomorrow I shall discover it; behold, it will be made manifest, and I shall understand; behold, Faustus shall come and explain everything…”

XI. 20

When I said this and those winds buffeted and pushed my heart here and there, time passed, and I delayed to be converted to the Lord and I deferred living in You from day to day and I did not defer dying to myself: loving the blessed life, I feared that in its proper place and fleeing from it, I sought it. For I thought that I would be exceedingly wretched, if I was deprived of a woman’s embraces, and I did not anticipate the medicine of Your mercy for healing this very infirmity, for I had not experienced Your mercy, and I thought that continence was in one’s own powers, which I did not feel that I possessed, since I was so foolish that I did not know, as it is written that “no one can be continent, unless You gave it.” Certainly, You would have given it, if I should have badgered Your ears with internal groans and casted my concern to You with solid faith.


VI. 13

I shall narrate and admit to Your name, Lord, my Helper and my Redeemer, how You removed me from fetters of lust, by which tightest bond I was held, and from the servitude of secular troubles.

I was acting with the usual growing anxiety, and daily did I sigh to You, I was frequenting Your church, however much time was free from these troubles, under which burden I groaned. Alypius was free from legal work after his third accession, anticipating to whom he might sell counsel again, as I was selling the skill of speaking, whether by this skill he might be able to be supported by teaching. Nebridius, however, had yield to our friendship, that he might teach as an assistant to Verecundus, a most intimate friend of ours, a Milanese citizen and grammarian vehemently desiring and demanding upon our friendship help from our faithful number, for which he was in great need. Therefore, a desire for reward from it did not attract Nebridius—for he was able to derive greater, if he wished, from literature—but he, the mildest and dearest friend, through his good nature refused to despise our petition. However, he performed that duty most prudently, taking care lest he become known to great men according to the course of this world, by these measures avoiding all disquietude of the soul, which he wished to have free and at leisure for as many hours as he could, for seeking something concerning wisdom, by reading or listening.

VI. 14

Consequently on a certain day—I do not recall the cause by which Nebridius was absent—behold a certain Ponticianus came to our house, to Alypius and myself, a fellow citizen, insofar as he was an African, serving highly at Court, I did not know what he wished of us. He stopped, that we might converse. By chance, above the gaming table, which was before us, he saw a book: he got it, opened it, and found the Apostle Paul, unexpectedly and certainly; for he had thought something of books, the profession of which wore me down. Then smiling at me and considering me in a congratulating manner, he was amazed, because he had suddenly discovered these words, and these words alone, before my eyes. He was obviously a faithful Christian and was often to You, our God, prostrated at church in frequent long prayers. With whom, when I had revealed that I devoted the greatest care to those scriptures, a conversation began, narrating the very tale concerning Antony the Egyptian monk, whose name shone excellently among Your servants, but escaped us until this hour. When that man discovered this, he stopped at this part of his discussion, introducing so great a man to the ignorant ones and wondering at our very ignorance. Hearing Your most manifest wondrous works in right faith and the catholic church, we were amazed at such a recent memory, and so near to our time. We were all amazed; we, because they were great, and he, because they were new to us.

VI. 15

Thenceforth, the discussion of this was passed onto the congregations of monasteries, the customs of Your sweet order, and the fruitful wastelands of the desert, of which we knew nothing. There was a monastery at Milan under the care of Ambrose filled by the good brothers beyond the walls, and we had not known. He persisted and was speaking until now, and we, attentive, were silent. When it happened, I do not know, as he said that he and three other companions—certainly at Trier, when the Emperor was captivated by the afternoon games—had left to walk into the gardens near the walls and there, as they walked, one separated with him and the other two likewise separated and parted in a different direction; the other wanderers came upon a certain cottage, where certain poor servants of Your spirit, of which kind is the kingdom of heaven, dwelt and there they discovered a book, in which was written the life of Antony. Which book one of them began to read, and to be amazed, aroused, and he planned while reading to take up such an excellent life and having abandoned worldly office, to serve You. However, there were among them, those whom they call “special agents.” Immediately filled with the love of holiness and sober prudence, angry with himself, he turned his eyes to his friend and said to him: “Tell me, I beg You, what are we striving to attain by all our efforts? What are we seeking? For whose cause do we serve? Can our hope be greater in court than that we might be friends of the Emperor? And there, what is not fragile and full of peril? Through how many dangers is it sought to even greater dangers? How long thither shall it be? However, if I wish, I can be a friend of God now.

He said this and returned his eyes to the page, confused by the new life coming forth: he read and was changed within, where You looked; his mind was freed from the world, as shortly it was seen. On the other hand while he read, the turbulence of his heart turned about, sometimes he groaned, he separated and determined the better things, and said to his friend as if already Yours: “I have already broken myself from those our hopes, and have decided to serve God, and I shall begin this from this hour, in this place. If it grieves You to imitate me, do not oppose me.” That man answered that he would remain an associate for such a reward and for such business. Both men built a tower at the appropriate cost of abandoning all their things and serving You.

Then Ponticianus and the man with him walked through the other parts of the garden, seeking them, they found them in that place, and discovering them, they prompted them to return, because the day had been declining. But, their plea and proposition having been told—in whatever manner the desire rose in such excellent men and was strengthened—they sought lest they be a nuisance to them, if they refused to join themselves to them. Ponticianus and his fellow changed nothing from before, still lamented themselves, as he said, and piously rejoiced in them and committed themselves to their prayers, and they returned to the palace trailing their hearts on the earth. However, those men remained in the hut, fastening their heart to heaven.

Both men had fiancées: which after they heard this, also consecrated their virginity to You.


Ponticianus narrated these things. However, during his words, O Lord, You turned me about to my very self, turning from behind my back, where I had put myself, while I refused to pay close attention to myself, and You placed me before my face, that I might see how shameful I was, how deformed and vile, defiled and ulcerous. I saw myself, and I shrunk from myself, and there was not a place whither I might flee from myself. If I tried to avert the appearance from myself, that man was narrating what he narrated, and You again placed myself opposite me, and You thrust me into Your sight, that I might discover my iniquity and I hated it. I had known this, but I had ignored, restrained, and forgotten it.


Then truly, the more I was loving those two men, as I heard a beneficial change, which gave themselves entirely to You for healing, the more I was hating my detestable self compared to them, because many of my years had disappeared with me—perhaps twenty years—since from the nineteenth year of my life by reading the Hortensius of Cicero, I had been excited to the pursuit of wisdom, and having condemned earthly happiness, I postponed that I might have leisure to investigate wisdom, of which not the finding, but the seeking alone ought to have been preferred to finding the treasures of a king and nation and instantly overflowing the pleasures of the body. I, such a wretched Young man, wretched in the beginning of my adolescence, also sought chastity from You and I said: “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For I feared lest You heard me swiftly and You swiftly healed me from the sickness of concupiscence, which I preferred more to satisfy than to destroy. I came through the crooked ways from the superstitious sacrilege, indeed not fixed in it, but as if preferring it to other things, which I sought not piously, but I attacked inimically.


Therefore, I had pretended that I, having put off secular hope, delayed from day to day to follow only You because a certain other thing did not appear to me, to which I might direct my zeal. The day came, when I stood naked and he rebuked my conscience in me: “Where is the voice? Truly You said that You refused to abandon the load of vanity on account of the uncertain truth. Behold, it is certain, and still those things press You, and with freer shoulders they shall receive wings, who thus did not waste in seeking nor contemplate these things for ten years or more.”

I considered these things within and I was violently dismayed by a terrible shame, while Ponticianus was speaking such wonderful things. With the conversation and the occasion by which he came terminated, he left, and I went to myself. What did I not say in myself? With what blows of thoughts did I beat my soul, that it might support me, attempting to follow You? It struggled, it refused, and it did not explain itself. All the arguments were consumed and overcome: the soul remained in silent fear and dreaded to be held back as if death from the flow of custom, by which it melted into death.

VIII. 19

Then, in that great dispute of my inner self, which I had boldly incited with my spirit in our apartment, in my heart, just as disturbed in my expression as in my heart, I came upon Alypius, and exclaimed: “What are we enduring? What is this, which You have heard? The ignorant rise and snatch heaven, when behold we with our heartless doctrines wallow in flesh and blood! Can it be that because they have went before, it shames us to follow, or does it not shame us even to follow?” I do not know in what manner I spoke, and my passion snatched me from him, while he was silent, staring astonished at me, for I did not speak as usual. The forehead, cheeks, eyes, complexion, and the manner of the words spoken which I displayed greatly bespoke my mind.

There was a certain little garden at our inn, which we used as we used the whole house: for the host, the master of the house, did not dwell there. Thither the confusion of my heart took me, where no one impeded the ardent quarrel which I undertook with myself, until it should end in which way You knew, but I did not: yet I was healthily insane and dying in a living manner, knowing what I was of evil and ignorant as to what I would be of good in a little while.

Therefore, I withdrew into the garden and Alypius followed me, for my secret was not, when he was near. Or rather when did he thus abandon my weakened self?

We sat as far as we could from the house. I groaned in the riotous spirit, resenting the indignity, because I did not enter into an agreement and a pact with You, my God, into which all my bones said I must enter and has risen with praises to heaven. It does not go there by ships, chariots, or walking, even as far from the house in that place where I was, where we were sitting. For not only to go, but also to arrive there was nothing other than to wish to go, but to wish bravely and honestly, not to twist and toss this partially wounded will, a struggling will, a part advancing and the other falling back.

XI. 25

Thus I grew sick and tormented, accusing myself by habit most stridently, twisting and turning myself in my chains, until I severed them all, from which small bonds I was presently held. Yet, I was still held. You pursued me in my hiding, O Lord, redoubling the strict merciful blows of fear and shame, lest I again delay and not sever that very bond, small and of small means, which remained, and it both grow again and fetter me more strongly.

For I said within myself: “Behold, it happens now, now it happens,” and with the word I was already moving towards decision. I already nearly did, and I did not, still I did not fall back into the former ways, but I stood very near and I waited. Again I tried, and by a little I was not quite there, not quite by a little, I was already grasping it and holding it: I was not there, neither grasping it nor holding it, hesitating to die to death and live to life, and the worse that had long grown in me was stronger in me than the better, so unaccustomed to me, and the nearer that point in time, at which I was to be something else, approached, the greater terror it instilled; yet it did not strike me back and it did not divert me, but it suspended me.

XI. 26

The trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities held me back, my old friends both shook my fleshy raiment and murmured: “Are you leaving us?” and “From this very moment, will we not go with you forevermore into eternity,” and “From this very moment, this and that will not be permitted for you forevermore into eternity.” What things were they suggesting in that which I called “this and that,” what things were they suggesting, my God? Which things avert your mercy from the soul of your servant! What humiliations they suggested, what vices! I heard them already less than half, not as though openly contradicting me by opposing me to my face, but as though murmuring behind my back, and I withdrew from them criticizing as if by stealth, that I might rest. Still they held up my lazy self from being torn away and shaken from them, from jumping across where I was called, while impetuous custom called to me: “Will you be able to live without these things?”


Yet most tepidly did it say this. For the chaste dignity of continence was uncovered on that part, in which I had directed my face and whither I trembled to cross, a dignity serene and not dissolutely cheerful, honestly alluring, so I might come and not doubt, and extending a tender hand filled with a multitude of good examples for supporting and embracing me. There were so many boys and girls, there were numerous youth, every stage of life, both severe widows, and aged virgins, and in all was continence herself, not at all sterile, but the fruitful mother of the children of joys from You, O Lord, her Spouse.

She smiled upon me with encouraging derision, as if she said: “Can you not do what these men and women do? Truly, can it be that those men and women are able to act in themselves, and not in the Lord their God? Their Lord God gave me to them. Why do you stand on yourself and not stand? Throw down yourself to him and do not fear; he will not slip away, so you fail; throw down yourself secure, He will remove and heal you.” I blushed exceedingly, because I still heard the murmurs of those trifles, and I waiting about, loitering. Again that friend, just as if she spoke, said: “Turn a deaf ear to those your foul members upon the earth, that they might be mortified. They speak delights to you, but not as the law of the Lord your God.” This dispute in my heart was entirely myself against myself. Alypius, all the while near to my side, awaited the end of my unfamiliar disturbance silently.


When truly the noble consideration drew from the hidden depths of my soul and amassed my entire misery in sight of my heart, a mighty storm rose bearing a vast shower of tears. That I might pour forth the whole tempest with its sounds, I rose from Alypius—solitude suggested itself to me as more fit for the business of weeping—and I withdrew more remotely than that his present circumstances could be burdensome to me.

I was thus there, and he knew: for I do not know what, I suppose I had spoken, in which speaking, the sound of my voice appeared already teeming with tears, and so I had risen. Therefore, he remained where we were sitting, greatly astounded. I prostrated myself under a certain fig tree (I do not know where) and I shook off the straps of weeping, and rivers rushed from my eyes, an acceptable sacrifice to You, not indeed with these words, but with this intense meaning I said to You: “But You, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, will you be angry in design? Do not be mindful of our former iniquities.” For I thought that I was held by them. I cast forth the miserable cries: “How long, how long, shall I say ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow?’ Why not now? Why is the end of my indecency not at this hour?”


I said this and I wept with the bitterest contrition of my heart. Then behold, I heard a voice in the vicinity of the house with the singing tone of one saying and repeating—whether a boy or a girl, I do not know—”Take up, read; take up, read.” Immediately, with a changed expression, I, most eager, began to think whether boys in any kind of playing were accustomed to sing in such a manner, and it did not happen at all anywhere that I heard, and with a repressed attack of weeping I rose, interpreting that it was nothing more than a divine order to me, that I might open the book and read the first chapter which I found. For I had heard of Antony, that he had an admonition from a reading of the Gospel, at which perchance he had been present, just as if what was read was said to him: “Go, sell everything which you have, give it to the poor and you will have a treasure in heaven; then, come, follow me,” and that by such a prophecy he was immediately converted to you.

There, I returned to that place where Alypius sat, aroused: for there I had placed a book of the Apostle, when I had risen thence. I grabbed it, I opened it and I read the chapter in silence, where first my eyes had fallen: “not in carousing and drunkenness, not in fornication and buggery, not in contention and rivalry, but clothe yourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ and make not a provision for the flesh in concupiscence.” Further I did not wish to read, and further was not necessary. Immediately, as though with the end of this sentence, a light as if of security poured into my heart, all the darkness of doubt scattered.


Then having interposed either a finger or I do not know other sign, I closed the book and already with a tranquil expression betrayed my whole experience to Alypius. But he indicated what happened in himself—because I did not know. He sought to see what I had read: I revealed it, and he also observed more than I had read. I did not know what followed. However, it continued: “however, truly take the infirm in faith.” He applied this to himself, and he told me. Yet he was strengthened by such an admonition, and without any unruly delay he took to himself an agreement and proposition good and most agreeable to his character, in which from me he did differ very much for the better for a very long time.

Thereupon we advanced to my mother, we proclaimed: she rejoiced. We told her how it came to pass: she rejoiced and triumphed; she blessed You, Who are mighty to act further than we desire or understand, because she saw You had granted her far more than she was accustomed to ask with wretched and doleful groans. For you converted me to you, so I did not seek a wife nor any hope of this secular age, standing in this rule of faith, in which faith you had shown me to her twelve years earlier, and you converted her sorrow into a more fertile joy than she had desired, more dear and spotless than she sought from grandchildren of my flesh.

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Selections from the Metamorphoses of Ovid

Book I


My mind intends to speak of forms changed into new bodies.

O gods, inspire the work which I begin—for you changed yourselves and those things—
And establish my poem perpetual
From the first source of the world to my time.

The Four Ages (I.89-150)

Golden did it first arise, the age which with no vindicator

But of its own accord and without law was cultivating faith and moral rectitude.
Punishments and fear were absent; neither were threatening words joined to fixed bronze,
Nor did the suppliant crowd fear the words of his judge,
But they were safe without a champion.
The pine tree, fallen from its mountain, that it might see foreign world,
Had not yet descended from its mountains into the bright waves,
And nothing save his own shores had mortal man known.
Not yet did deep ditches seal towns.
There were no trumpets of straight bronze nor horns of bent bronze,
There were no helmets, no swords; without the use of a soldier,
The carefree nations continued their peaceful repose.
Also herself, free from rake and untouched nor wounded by any plow,
Through herself the earth gave all things,
And contented with food produced with no cultivating,
Men were gathering the fruits of strawberry trees and mountain strawberries,
Cornel berries and mulberries stuck in hard brambles,
And the acorns which had fallen from Jupiter’s broad-leafed trees.

Spring was eternal and with warm vapors,

Placid Zephyrs were fondling the flowers born without seed.
Likewise, the unplowed earth was producing fruit
Nor was the renewed field aging with bountiful harvests.
At one time the rivers were flowing with milk, at another with nectar,
And golden honey was dripping from the green oak.

After that, with Saturn sent into gloomy Tartarus,

The world was under the power of Jupiter, the silver generation succeeded,
Worse than the golden, more precious than tawny bronze.
Jupiter contracted the time of ancient spring,
And through winter, summer, changeable autumn, and short spring
In seasons four he measured the year.
Then first with dry heat did the burnt air shine,
And icicles hang.
Then first did men enter homes; their homes were caves,
Dense shrubs and twigs entwined by bark.
Then first were cereal seeds covered in long rows,
And bowed  under the yoke, young oxen groaned.

A third one followed after that,

A bronze generation, more fierce in tempers and to horrible weapons quicker,
Nevertheless not a criminal age; the last is of hard iron.
Immediately, every evil broke into an age of a lesser ore.
Propriety, truth, and faith fled,
In whose place entered fraud, trickery, deceits,
Strength and wicked lust of possessions.
They gave sails to the winds and the sailor had not yet known them well,
And the keels which long had stood in the high mountains
Leapt in strange waves.
A thing previously common like the lights of the Sun and the breezes before,
A careful surveyor has measured the earth with long lines.
Nor for crops and nourishment due was the rich earth being asked,
But there was a journey into the inmost parts of the earth.
Those riches which the earth had hidden and moved into Stygian shadows,
Were excavated, the stimuli of evil deeds.
Now had harmful iron produced gold more criminal than the sword.
It produces war which fights everywhere
And brandishes clattering weapons with a bloody hand.
One lives by plunder; host is not safe from guest nor guest from host,
Father-in-law is not safe from son-in-law; even the affection of brothers is rare.
A man threatens the death of his wife, the wife of her husband.
Terrible stepmothers mix ghastly aconite,
The son seeks his father’s years before his time.
Piety lies conquered, and the Virgin, the last of the gods,
Astraea leaves an earth dripping with slaughter.

The Flood (I.253-312)

Then Jupiter was about to shower lightening onto the whole earth

And he feared lest perchance the heavens totally absorb the flames
From the fires on earth and the length of the world burn.
He also remembers that it is in the fates
That that the time will appear when the sea, the Earth, and the throne of heaven
Burns—seized by flames—and the bulk of the universe, having been attacked, suffer.
The bolts are returned, by the hands of the Cyclopes fabricated.
A different punishment is pleasing: to destroy the mortal race under the waves
And to drop storm clouds from the entire sky.
Next he seals off the North Wind in the Aeolian caves
As well as whatever winds dispel the drawn-up storm clouds,
And he sends forth the South Wind.  On wet wings the South Wind flies forth,
A terrible visage covered in pitch-black fog.
A beard heavy with rain, a wave flows from his hoary whiskers,
Mists are sitting on his forehead, his wings and breast drip dew.
And when Jupiter presses the hanging rainclouds with a wide hand,
A crash is made; hence from the heavens are cast heavy rain.
The messenger of Juno, dressed in various colors,
Iris draws up water and brings nourishment to the clouds.
Crops are flattened and the prayers of the husbandman lie in ruins,
The vain labor of long years perishes.
Nor is Jupiter’s ire contained in his heavens,
But his blue brother aids him with helpful waves
He calls the rivers here, after they have entered the homes of their tyrant,
“Now is not the time,” he said, “for an extended explanation,
Pour forth your strength: such is the task.
Break open houses and with the dyke removed,
Drop all restraint from your courses.”
He had commanded.  They return and open their mouths at the sources
They roll themselves in unbridled flight onto the plains.

The one himself struck the earth with his own trident,

But it trembled and from the motion it made a waterway.
The extended river rushed through the open fields,
It seizes the orchards along with their crops, the sheep, the men,
And homes, and despoils the shrines with their sacred things.
If any house remained and standing firm was able to resist
The whole evil, still higher waves cover
This roof and towers lie hidden sunken under the whirling waters.
Now the sea and the land had no distinction:
Everything was the sea, shores were also absent from the sea.

One man occupies a hill, in a hooked boat sits another

And he rows there, where recently he plowed.
That man over crops or the tops of a submerged farmhouse
Sails, here seeks a fish in the top of an elm.
Fixed in a green meadow, if chance has it, is the anchor
Or curved keels caress vineyards below.
And where just recently graceful nannies ate grass,
Now there ugly sea-cows place their bodies.
The Nereids marvel at the sacred groves, cities, and homes under the sea,
Dolphins hold the forests and brush against high branches,
They hit the tumbling oaks.
A wolf floats among sheep; the waves bear tigers and tawny lions;
The strength of a tusk was not useful to the carried away boar
Nor swift legs to the swept away stag.
With land long sought, when he is able to stop
On wearied wings he falls into the wandering seas.
The immense power of the sea had covered hills,
Strange waves were beating upon the pointed mountains.
The greatest part of creatures are seized by a wave; whatever the waves spare,
Long starvation subdues those through weak nourishment.

Daphne and Apollo (I.452-507)

The first love of Phoebus was Peneus’ Daphne,
which not slothful chance but Cupid’s savage rage gave.
Delius recently, proud because he overcame the serpent,
Had seen this one bending the curved bows strung with a string
“What good is it to you, wanton boy, with your strong weapons?”
He had said, “Such burdens are fitting for our shoulders,
We who are able to bestow sure wounds on the wild beast and the enemy
Who just now covered swollen Python, pressing so many fields with his pestilential belly
with innumerable arrows.
Be content to stir up some lovers with your marriage-torch,
Do not claim our honors!”
Venus’ son to him “Phoebus, let your bow pierce all things
Let mine hit you and as much as animals yield to a god,
So is your glory less than ours.”
He said, and with feathers ruffled by crushed air,
The energetic one halts at the shadowy citadel of Parnassus
And from an arrow-bearing quiver produces two arrows
Of many functions: one causes flight from love, the other causes love.
The latter is gold-gilt and shines at the sharp tip;
The former is dull and has lead below the shaft.
The god fixed the latter in the Peneid nymph; but with the former
He strikes Apollo’s marrow, through bone transfixed.
Now the one loves, the other flees the name of a lover.
In forest retreats, captive animals’ lairs
And in hides the rival of unwed Phoebe rejoices.
She was restraining her lawless hair with a band.
Many sought her.  The girl, intolerant of those seeking the unattainable
And desiring no part of men, roams unknown lands,
Nor did she care for what Hymen is, Love is, or what marriages are.
Often her father said, “Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law;”
Often her father said, “Child, you owe me grandsons.”
That woman, hating the marriage torch as if a crime
Had covered her beautiful face with a modest blush
And hanging on the neck of her father with fawning arms,
“Allow me, beloved father,” she said,
“To enjoy perpetual virginity.  A father gave this before to Diana.”
He certainly yields.  But that beauty of yours forbids that you be what you desire.
Your form is incompatible with your vow.
Phoebus loves and desires the marriage of Daphne since he has seen her,
Whatever he desires, for that he hopes, and his oracular powers deceive him.
As the light burdens are burned from the ears of grain
As the hedges burn by torches, which the traveler
Either moved too much or already abandoned by the light,
Thus the god leaves enflamed, thus his breast
Is totally burnt and he nourishes sterile love with hope.
He sees that the unadorned hair hangs on a branch,
“How, if they should be arranged?” he says; he sees the eyes
Glittering with sidereal fire, and the lips, which are not sufficient to have seen;
He praises the hands, the fingers, and the arms
He praises the bare upper arms, the middle more than the part;
If anything escapes notice, he supposes it better.
More swiftly she flees than a gentle breeze lest she pause at these recalling words:
“Nymph, I pray, daughter of Peleus, remain!  An enemy does not pursue you;
Nymph, remain!  As a lamb flees a wolf, as a hind flees a lion
As a dove flees an eagle on trembling wing,
Each flees an enemy; love is the cause of my pursuit!

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How do I know that I know?

The eponymous character of the Meno introduces the Debater’s Argument after suffering various setbacks in the pursuit of virtue.  As a solution to this apparent paradox, Plato offers the theory of recollection.  Plato did not introduce the Debater’s Argument to philosophy, and his solution was not the only one proffered.  In Posterior Analytics, Aristotle rejects Plato’s solution as well as another popular solution before supplying his own.  Of these, Aristotle’s solution best proves this argument false.

Plato presents the Debater’s Argument in this manner:

“How will you look for it, Socrates, when you do not know at all what it is?  How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all?  If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing that you did not know?

I know what you want to so, Meno.  Do you realize what a debater’s argument you are bringing up, that a man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know?  He cannot search for what he knows—since he knows it, there is no need to search—nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for.”  (Meno, 80d)

Socrates responds with Plato’s famous theory of recollection because he cannot accept the implications of this argument’s conclusion, which would make men idle and fainthearted.  He disproves the first premise by challenging the assumption that man cannot learn what he already knows.  He states that the immortality of the soul provides it with the knowledge of all things, and that the teacher merely aids the learner in the recollection of this knowledge.  This theory of recollection enables Plato to reject the Debater’s Argument and preserve the validity of the philosophic life.

The theory of recollection has several advantages at first glance.  As Socrates demonstrates immediately following his revelation of the theory, one can teach another without ever giving him knowledge.  He guides a slave boy to know the square root of eight through a series of questions, and Meno himself admits that the boy had never learned geometry.  If the knowledge had not been given to the slave boy, he must have already had it without being aware of it.  This theory also recognizes that one cannot come to know what he does not already know, for the man who recollects something, does know it without knowing that he knows it.  For all this, the theory of recollection seems an adequate solution to the Debater’s Argument.

As strong as Plato’s theory may seem, a close examination reveals many weaknesses.  The strongest obstacle lies in its reliance on an existence for the soul before human life.  As Socrates says, “during the time he exists and is not a human being he will have true opinions which, when stirred by questioning, become knowledge” (Meno, 76a).  Even with this objection eliminated, or with reincarnation accepted, the theory of recollection does not provide an ultimate source of knowledge; it merely states that at some time in the life of the soul, it learns.  When Plato sees that some knowledge exists in man, seemingly source-less, he attributes it to a priori knowledge; as Alpharabius realizes, man acquires some principles without any awareness and because of this he does not recognize their empirical character (Black 2008, 22).  In a similar manner, the man born to an enslaved father will not know of his family’s past freedom and consider his family perpetually enslaved.  Aristotle continues in this manner in the Prior Analytics.  He states, “along with the process of being led to see the general principle [man] receives a knowledge of the particulars, by an act (as it were) of recognition (67a22).  Here he suggests that Plato confused the instantaneous syllogistic process following sensory knowledge with recollection (Gifford 1999, 13).  Plato alone, however, did not possess the only solution to the Debater’s Argument.

In the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle describes a solution to the Debater’s Argument.  Some men proposed that when someone says that he knows something, he does not mean that he knows it absolutely, but that he knows it of every instance of which he is aware.  Thus the man who knows that every pair is even does not know that every pair is even, but that every pair which is knows to be a pair is even.  Aristotle has little patience for this solution.  He answers that the man declaring that he knows by a demonstration, declares that he knows absolutely, not that he knows in part.  As Thomas observes, “in the premises no proposition concerning number or straight line is stated with the addition, ‘which you know,’ but it is stated of all without qualification” (Expositio Libri Posteriorum Analyticorum, lib. 1 l. 3 n. 5).  It remains for Aristotle to answer the question in his own manner.

Aristotle proves in the Posterior Analytics that innate knowledge is impossible.  To do this, he discusses demonstrable knowledge and proves that it is the most exact and sure type of knowledge which a man may acquire.  Innate knowledge, he says, would be more exact than demonstrable knowledge.  Such a thing is impossible due to the nature of demonstrable knowledge.  The man who possesses demonstrable knowledge has knowledge without qualification, or absolute knowledge.  This man knows the explanation behind a thing and that it is necessarily so.  This type of knowing must be true knowledge, for anyone who believes that he has the truth thinks in this manner.  Besides truth, demonstrable knowledge has five other characteristics; it is “primary, immediate, better known than, prior to, and explanatory of the conclusion” (71b21-22).  Each of these characteristics aids Aristotle in the disproval of the Debater’s Argument.

That demonstrable knowledge must be true hardly needs to be proven; one cannot know something without qualification if that thing does not exist.  It must derive from primary premises and be immediate because anything else than primary and immediate premises would have a demonstration of its own.  An immediate and primary premise needs so explanation; it is something natural, which as Aristotle says in the Physics, is so evident that the man who needs to prove it has “an inability to discriminate what is known because of itself from what is not” (193a6).  It must be explanatory because no one considers a thing known if he does not have its explanation.  To explain something, the knowledge must be prior to the thing by nature (to say that something is prior by nature means that it had to exist before it could be perceived).  The knowledge must be better known by nature than its conclusion because one always has a better understanding of causes than the effects.  With demonstrable knowledge possessing all these characteristics, one sees that demonstrable knowledge is that of which the knower is completely convinced.

Aristotle continues to discuss how demonstrable knowledge is necessary.  Something is necessary when it belongs in every case, of its own right, and universally.  To belong in every case means that it “belongs not merely in some cases, or at some times, as opposed to others” (Posterior Analytics, 73a29-30) but in every case.  To belong of its own right, a thing must belong to its subject in what it is, as line belongs to triangle or point to line.  It may also contain the subject in its definition while belonging to the same subject, as straight and curved belong to line.  To be universal, the knowledge must be applicable to anything of which it can be said.  Thus, demonstrable knowledge is necessary.

As said above, Aristotle considers it absurd to believe that man possesses innate knowledge, for it would be a type of knowledge of which the knower is unaware, but more exact than demonstration (Posterior Analytics, 99b27-29) and demonstrable knowledge is such that man cannot possess it without being aware of it, as the reasons given above have proven.  One can scarcely admit that one who possesses demonstrable knowledge will be unaware; each of the characteristics given above implies one’s awareness of their possession.  The opposite cannot be true, that man acquires knowledge without prior knowledge, for that has also been proven impossible.  With Plato’s theory of innate knowledge proven false, his theory of recollection can no longer stand.

Aristotle gives his solution to the Debater’s Argument at the beginning of the Posterior Analytics.  He observes that one can come to know what he already knows, if he comes to know it in a different manner than he already knows.  It is only absurd to say that one seeks to know something in the same way as he already knows it, as the man literate in English learning to read English.  In this manner, he agrees and disagrees with Plato that one cannot know learn something if he does not already know it.

The question remains as to the nature of learning, as to what man comes to know.  With absolute knowledge and absolute ignorance proven impossible, something must remain, for man certainly learns.  Until the nature of learning has been uncovered, any solution to the Debater’s Argument lacks teeth, for the conclusion of the Debater’s Argument is that man cannot learn, and while Plato’s theory has its faults it does solve the argument.  As Professor Barnes says, Aristotle does not deny that the learner does not know what he seeks (Barnes 1994, 88).  He knows it; he does not know it.  Thomas likens it to potency (Expositio , lib. 1 l. 3 n. 5).  Aristotle calls this “potential knowledge.”

In the Physics, Aristotle defines a potential thing.  A potential thing does not exist in act, but only in potency.  Potential knowledge exists just as matter exists.  Unformed matter never exists apart from form, but it still exists.  In a similar way, unknown knowledge never exists until it is formed by some formative principle.  In man, this formative principle is the agent intellect while the unformed knowledge is the passive intellect.  The passive intellect is the part of man which may know everything, but actually knows something.  To come to know something, the agent intellect must extract the universal from a thing already perceived by the senses—and thus known in a particular sense—and impress it upon the passive intellect, which comes to know in a universal sense.  In this manner, the man who comes to know already knew it from sensation, but never had it impressed upon his passive intellect.  Thus Aristotle may be said to have solved the Debater’s Argument by answering that when man comes to know, it is not from actual knowledge or actual ignorance, but from potential knowledge.  If it is from potential knowledge, then he knows particularly and does not know absolutely while the thing known still exists particularly.

In addition to these proofs, Aristotle’s solution also better explains Socrates’ example from the Meno.  The slave in question already knows potentially the square root of eight.  At the same time, he does not know it, as he shows when he gives a mistaken answer.  If actual knowledge of the square root existed in the slave, he would never have erred, for innate knowledge would be true and impossible to deceive.  If the knowledge were demonstrable, he would not have answered falsely due to its characteristics.  He knows the square root of eight potentially.  Socrates’ questions provide him with particular things from which he gains sense knowledge of the square root in a particular instance.  When enough of these particular things have been presented to the slave, he makes the logical conclusion about the individual instance of the square root of eight along with a simultaneous conclusion about the nature of all square roots of eight, to which Plato makes the conclusion noted earlier by Professor  Gifford, that Plato confuses instant logical conclusions with innate knowledge.  Thus one perceives that Aristotle’s solution to the Debater’s Argument not only solves it, but explains Plato’s example better than his own theory.

From these examples, it is evident that Aristotle and Plato have provided the two main solutions to the Debater’s Argument.  Plato says that man has innate knowledge acquired during a time before life and in this way knows without knowing that he knows.  Aristotle holds that man has potential, but not actual, knowledge of things and thus knows without knowing that he knows.  The third solution, that man does not state his absolute knowledge of things by his statement of knowledge, easily fails.  Of the two remaining, Aristotle has the best.  Not only does his solution provide an ultimate source of knowledge in material things, not only does it explain Plato’s example better than Plato, but it also renders Plato’s theory of innate knowledge impossible to hold.  In any estimation, the combatant who renders his opponent immobile attains the crown, and thus does Aristotle.


Barnes, Jonathan, trans. 1994.  Posterior Analytics.  2nd ed. Clarendon Aristotle Series.  Oxford: New York: Clarendon Press.

Black, Deborah.  2008. “Al-Fārābī on Meno’s Paradox.”  In In the Age of al-Fārābī: Arabic Philosophy in the Fourth/Tenth Century, edited by Peter Adamson, 15–34.  London: Warburg Institute.

Cohen, S. Marc, Patricia Curd, and C. D. C. Reeve.  2011.  Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle.  4th ed.  Indianapolis: Hackett.

Gifford, Mark.  1999. “Aristotle on Platonic Recollection and the Paradox of Knowing Universals: Prior Analytics B.21 67a8-30.”  Phronesis XLIV, no I (February): 1–29.

Kenny, Joseph, ed. 2013.  Expositio Libri Posteriorum Analyticorum.  Translated by Fabian R. Larcher.  Accessed November 30, 2013.

McKeon, Richard, ed. 2001.  The Basic Works of Aristotle.  The Modern Library Classics.  New York: Modern Library.

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Biblical Monarchy

Those who consider pure democracy to be the best form of government are often encouraged by I Samuel 8, wherein the Israelites ask for a king, and God says:

“Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” I Sam 8:7

One would think that God is rejecting monarchy as a whole, preferring Israel to be ruled by the Judges. Yet one cannot jump so quickly to this conclusion. God did not reject monarchy absolutely, but only at that time. In Genesis 49:10, He states:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Since Judah had been promised the scepter, no one but a member of the tribe of Judah could be the King of Israel. Until the generation of David, however, no member of the tribe of Judah was fit to fulfill the role of King. The Book of Deuteronomy forbids illegitimate children from participation in the public life of Israel for ten generations, and Judah’s children were illegitimate. David was a member of the eleventh generation from Judah, and thus able to occupy the throne of Israel.

This is why God says that Israel had rejected Him when they wished for a King, because He had ordained that a certain man be the King, and this man was not ready yet.

See Deacon Joseph Gleason’s posts here and here for a more complete explanation.

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The Latest Catholic Fashion Trend: Discernment

To discern about discernment is rather stupid, so don’t do it.

The Latest Catholic Fashion Trend: Discernment.

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What is a Ruler?

In the first book of The Republic, Thrasymachus and Socrates discuss that the nature of justice. As a part of this discussion, Thrasymachus declares that justice is the advantage of the stronger. A good law is therefore one which helps the ruler, and a bad one harms him. Yet such conditions would make the impossible, possible; a law could be both just and unjust. If Thrasymachus is correct, then when a ruler errs, and makes a law which harms him, it would be unjust with regard to his making of it but at the same time it would be just with regard to the subjects, for whom justice is the following of laws.

To evade this conundrum, Thrasymachus introduces a more nuanced approach, one which ultimately undermines his position. He states that the ruler is only a ruler insofar as he rules, or expresses the τεχνή (skill) of ruling. Socrates jumps on this, and proceeds to prove that a ruler insofar as he rules, rules for the advantage of his people.

A τεχνή, says Socrates,  seeks the advantage of nothing save that of which it is the τεχνή.   If a ruler is a master at the τεχνή of ruling, and if a τεχνή rules over and is stronger than the things of which it is the τεχνή, than just as a doctor does not seek his own benefit but that of the body and the captain does not seek his own advantage but that of his sailors, so also the ruler as ruler does not seek his own benefit but that of his people.

It may be objected, as Thrasymachus does, that experience shows men treating their people like sheep. That which man calls justice, always harms him while that which man calls injustice, always helps him. Socrates replies just as an eye cannot fulfill its end with its virtue impaired, so also cannot men. The virtuous man will fulfill his end rightly, and the vicious man will not. Justice is a virtue of the soul, so the just man will live well. It never profits a man to live unwell, so it can never profit a man to live unjustly.

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