The Turn to the Subject, who Participates – in defense of both immediate & mediated virtually unconditioned knowledge

No, we can’t know everything via human dynamisms of immediacy & mediacy, but, by golly, we can indubitably know some things, for all practical purposes, from each of them.

We know this from – not a neo-Kantian “a priorism” but – a robustly “a posterioriturn to the subject, who participates cosmically & arguably eternally.

Dynamisms of immediacy like Polanyi ‘s tacit dimension, Newman’s illative sense, Maritain’s connaturality, Lonergan’s notion of being, Fries’ nonintuitive immediate knowledge, Aristotle ‘s intuitive induction, Peirce’s abductive instinct & common sense, as well as faith’s noesis as pistis, each immanently presupposes irreducibly triadic normative patterns of inference & participation.

While such immediacy presents prior to some developmental experiences of mediacy (personal acculturation) & to some cognitive operations (understanding & judgment), they’re constituted by adaptations (fast & frugal heuristics) … adaptations that express a 2 million year accumulation of successful understandings & judgments, all made by the coevolution of brains & symbolic (hence triadic) languages.

What I am arguing is that what we refer to as cognitively immediate is, in a very real sense, essentially mediated, only diachronically via a collective (phylogenetic) memory of cumulative past understandings & judgments, now operating in our hardwired but open-ended processes, i.e. abductive instincts with built-in triadic deductive logics that respond algorithmically to (variously novel) inductive experiences. This is otherwise distinct from, but integrated with, the triadic inferential cycling of mediated knowledge, which progressively & developmentally deepens our understandings & advances the efficacies of our judgments, i.e. realizing human authenticity.

Admittedly, that’s not an infinite biosemiosis of an eschatological community of inquiry, but, heck, I’m willing to work with it, despite its ineluctable fallibility & intrinsic biases.

I’m going to go out on a limb to suggest we can know:

the existence of other minds;

the laws of noncontradiction, excluded middle & identity;

reality is intelligible to a marked degree;

humans are intelligent to a modest extent;

common sense understandings of causation are meaningful;

AND that the ubiquitous belief in the Ens Necessarium is eminently reasonable!

The irreducibly triadic normative patterns of

inference include abduction, induction & deduction & of

participation include existential, co-creative & formal acts,

which reduce essential, material & final limited potencies, respectively representing natural, hypostatic & theotic logics.

Also, triadically:

eco-semiotics of ousia – what does home (cosmos) mean?

eco-logy of hypostatic logoi – how do homemakers (Christs) make homes?

eco-poetics of energeia & theotic poiesis – why is this (Cosmic Christ) the way home?

See: οἶκος & λόγος: a gloss | Reflections on Ecosemiotics, Ecopoetics & Apologetic Theology: Reading the “Signs of the Times”

Per the logic of immaterial hypostases, such substances, neither formal nor repeatable, are indifferent toward & irreducible to essences, whether primary (essential) or secondary (theotic) natures.

Material hypostases may involve a whole different ball of quarks. Can’t say.

Yes, I’m a godforsaken positivist & empiricist – just not, respectively, the logical or radical type!

Discussion: However much fallibility & bias afflict us, such that, proximately & inferentially, we can’t indubitably know everything, because we enjoy an holistic dynamism of immediacy from 2 million years of adaptations, it’s silly to say that we can’t indubitably know anything!

In my view, we’re gifted, via a coevolution of language & brain, a holistic dynamism of immediacy, a privileged approach to & notion (not grasp) of being, an immanent dynamical normative pattern in the structures of our consciousness.

A hyper-fallibilism lacks justification.

That holistic dynamism already operates symbolically, however tacitly & anticipatorily, prior to our developmental experiences of mediacy, personal acculturation, understandings & judgments.

What ails Peirce’s grounding can be cured by situating his semiotic within Lonergan’s method, perhaps?

The more I read CSP & Lonergan, the more complementarity I perceived between their cognitive theories. Both prescribed antidotes to skepticism, naive realism, Cartesianism, knowledge as direct intuitive act & nominalistic pragmatism. So, less daylight tween ’em than I was taught.

Lonergan does more clearly relate knowing to being?

re: remote criteria of truth to ground judgments, BL’s ‘talking things out‘ & CSP’s ‘community of inquiry‘ converge.

re: proximate assertions, some relate CSP’s ‘exhaustive investigation‘ to BL’s ‘virtually unconditioned.’

What is truth? or Who?

How well can we understand understanding?

How much insight can we have into insight?

Is there a relationship that necessarily (vs only probably) obtains between our indispensable methodological presuppositions and metaphysical verities?

When one asserts that a belief is truth-indicative, has one presupposed that other beliefs are necessarily truth-conducive?

When one asserts the virtually unconditioned, whether regarding probabilities or certainties, has one necessarily presupposed the strictly unconditioned?

In the same sense that the principle of falsification, itself, is not falsifiable, what about the principle of fallibilism? Might it be fallible?

Just because some arguments self-subvert when parodied or can be reduced to absurdity, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily false? Just because other arguments survive parody and don’t seem absurd, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily true?

Some of these questions risk the conflation of distinct conceptions, so can confuse.

To talk about knowledge, we must first talk about truth.

Falsification, fallibilism, understanding, insight, immediacy, mediacy, methods, the virtually unconditioned, parodies & reductiones refer to knowledge.

Our theories of knowledge presuppose, & their principles inescapably must refer to, realities like the strictly unconditioned, nondeterminacies, necessities, metaphysical verities, in a word, truth.

Some theories & principles of knowledge have circled back to saw off the same ontological branches wherein their own epistemological eggs are nestled.

The best axioms gift us – not only a home to hatch those eggs, but – fruits of a goodness we can taste & a beauty we can see, with a truth that neither can be nor need be derived or proved, for its own givenness in turn donates the very possibility of goodness & beauty, themselves, and of knowledge, itself.

Taste and see the goodness of the Ens Necessarium.

What’s Grounded & Justified & How?

Categorially, necessity, contingency, nondeterminacy, determinacy, self-determinacy & indeterminacy, all successfully refer. We know this, for all practical purposes, immediately. This guarantees a modicum of intelligibility of reality, consistent with a foundherentism.

The virtually unconditioned can indeed ground our empirical judgments.

Unanswered & of profound existential import, though, is the nature of any putative necessaria, e.g. an ens necessarium. Such answers may turn on mereological realities, e.g. whether reality’s parts suffice to explain the whole or not. An eminently reasonable leap of faith is pragmatically justified (e.g. fallibilist, pragmatic, semiotic realism; abduction of the Ens Necessarium).

I am strongly tempted to suggest that virtually refers only to putatively practically exceptionless realities, both the empirical & normative.

My Mon-Arche-I-tectonic Shift

The reflection, below, is in dialogue with Eclectic Thoughts on Holy Trinity: Person, Essence, Energy, and Stuff Like That .

Thanks for generously sharing, Robert, and Father for providing this forum for all, including us nonacademic anawim. I love grappling with this stuff as hard as it is for, on my daily walks, it feels very much like prayer.

Your essay evokes analogies to the way I have appropriated Charles Sanders Peirce. I say analogy because his modal ontology applies to finite, determinate being. His category of firstness or possibilities roughly maps to essence or ousia or quiddity. He’s no essentialist but neither does he countenance nominalism. As a moderate realist, that essence would only ever be encountered in his category of secondness or actualities, roughly mapping to existents or hypostases or haecceities (think act = efficient & potency = material cause). His realism comes in via thirdness, a category of generalities, which maps roughly to probabilities or relations, which actually mediate (think teloi, where act = formal & potency = final cause) between firstness & secondness. One can see from those act|potency dynamics why this only applies analogically to Actus Purus.

No divine ousia could be abstracted, as it’s only ever eternally instantiated in divine hypostases, where the act|potency analog is pure act.

Of course, the determinate being of creation, as a whole & even in rational creatures’ theotic realizations, would, as vestigia & imago Dei, present as effects proper to no other known causes, leading us to our abductions of the Ens Necessarium, to Whom, aided by both general & special revelation, we could only make successful references but could not fashion definitions (think idioma of hypostases & propria of ousia). Our essential references would be strictly apophatic negations: nondeterminate, noncomposite, nonfinite, etc, predications we casually toss around as if we comprehend them, when their intelligibility, propositionally, barely leads to an analytic conceivability. But GOD is such a LARGE reality (Peirce says we should avoid the fetish of saying He “exists”), that a meager informative intelligibility can go a long way performatively & dispositionally (like on my prayerful walks or when I first prayed the Credo in Latin as an altar boy). Discussions like these, even disagreements within dogmatic contours, to me, aren’t arguments but prayers. Think pragmatic semiotic realism.

Whether the unity is substantial via ousia, hypostatic in the Father via principium or dynamical in the Trinity via synergy or all of the above, our logical analytics, which manipulate propria & idiomata, energeia & economies, remain strictly epinoetic & ananoetic, propositionally, but our metanoetic & theotic encounters in Word & Sacrament & Creation lead us to partake of the divine synergy & to be incorporated in the divine nature, where trinitology yields to trinitophany, evoking psalms, hymns, prayers, creeds, all manner of worship & all types of ongoing conversions.

But good worship & good conversion, good fellowship & good behavior, will only ever best be fostered if we get good Trinity-talk right. That’s why I defer & demur. (Think of a fugue of orthodoxic, orthocommunal, orthopathic, orthopraxic & orthotheotic dispositions. Oremus!

Another evocative analog to me between Peircean approaches & trinitology comes from his speculative grammar, wherein, for his modal ontology, one can map – not only the act-potency dynamics, but – at least, insofar as this grammar is applied to determinate being, to our applications of first principles (noncontradiction & excluded middle or PNC & PEM).

For possibilities, PNC folds & PEM holds; actualities, PNC & PEM both hold; probabilities, PNC holds & PEM folds.

This all prescinds from a metaphysic of necessity to a more vague-general phenomenology or meta-ontology to guide syntax, semantics & contextual realities that present indeterminately (viz. in an epistemic-ontic omelet, where we can’t always say, a priori, whether our ignorance derives from the methodological advances & constraints of in/determinability or ontological revelations & occultings of in/determinedness.)

Anyone, who’s ever toyed with alternate cosmogonies, quantum interpretations or philosophies of mind, will recognize these epistemic-ontic omelet phenomena and how those competing interpretations represent our analytic-semiotic attempts to technologically unscramble those phenomenological eggs.

What of necessity as a modal category? Wherein all of the first principles would hold, including identity, with variously weak or strong versions of the principle of sufficient being [PSR]?

Here we reach the threshold of the abduction of the Ens Necessarium? Here we see Russell & Copleston debating primordial mereology viz. fallacy of composition? Here we encounter Leibniz and a pantheism that derives from a PSR on steroids?

Next we see Hawking taking the square root of imaginary numbers (axiomatized by taking the square root of negative one) to predicate a finite but unbounded universe, as well as others, who propose a plurality of worlds, a multiverse or even an ultimately thoroughgoing formless abyss?

But we also find Anselm, Augustine & Aquinas, Basil, Bonaventure & von Balthasar, Cappadocians, Chalcedonians & Christmas!

How we axiomatically predicate putatively non/determinate realities, hopefully looking over our epistemic shoulders at Godel-like constraints, Agrippa’s trilemma & a robustly aporetic intuition, will algorithmically steer us away from either, on one hand, an unmitigated nihilism, which “grounds” an ultimate epistemic idealism, ontic nominalism, evaluative voluntarism, vulgar pragmatism & moral relativism (you recognize the litany of bogeymen of a radically deconstructive postmodernism), or, on the other hand, a thoroughgoing pantheism, with its mindboggling implications for all notions of – not only divine, but -creaturely freedom.

What’s most at stake, then, for those who properly thread the needles of non/determinate & in/determinate realities, are precisely our notions of freedom.

And how we ground them primordially & ultimately, as well as dispose ourselves to them, contingently, will profoundly impact our quotidian existence.

It seems to me that many arguments – regarding what precisely was and remains at stake in those tensions still playing out between our patristic, scholastic & modern schools – turn on whether or not we imagine the Fathers & Medievals were mostly trying to solve, on one hand, the One & the Many, or, on the other, the Mystery of Freedom, both divine & creaturely, as all we most deeply cherish derives from its putatively coinherent gratuities, what we celebrate in our lives as Love.

I hope I have unpacked enough to hint that such a tension represents a false dichotomy.

Let me unpack a few more trinitological implications of my Peircean architectonic.

Numerically, if not ontologically, I suggest that (where > indicates a conceptual greater than vis a vis a sheer number of putative concepts to be limned existentially)

  • Being (possibilities, essence, ousia, quiddity, epistemic vagueness) >
  • Reality (actualities, existents, hypostases, haecceities) >
  • Relations (probabilities, necessities, teloi, ontic generalities, non/determinacies & in/determinacies) >
  • Existence (determinate & composite beings)

If we reify a sphere of pure being, we might predicate its ontic extremes either in terms of a formless void or tehomic abyss or in terms of a platonic plenitude of forms, neither “essentially” a no-thing-ness but, instead, a realm of infinite possibilia or potentialities not otherwise in potency to act.

“Potentialities not in potency” makes for a great analytic conception until one recognizes it’s inherently self-contradictory, unsurprisingly though if, per one’s speculative grammar, noncontradiction has folded, leaving only the implicit ontological imperatives of the excluded middle: Choose! Determine! Act!

“To Be or Not To Be,” that is the question!

Here we, the Many, are faced with the Existential Disjunctive, but only proximately & derivatively.

Ultimately & primordially, there must be some One, a Who, a Person, a Pure Act, existentially & hypostatically, to freely answer that call, then, to donatively gift being to One-self, pivoting from nondeterminate emptiness as the unoriginate Source of – not being, itself, but – relationality, itself, as self-determinate, which is one’s relationship to one’s self, one’s very existence, One’s hypostasis choosing One’s essence.

Alternatively, I suppose a tehomic realm of dynamical nondeterminate material is certainly conceivable. It would perdure in an eternal flux of ever-emergent but merely ephemeral teloi, for example, presently in a radically entropic, materio-energetic, spatio-temporal configuration, as might just so brutely happen. (See unmitigated nihilism, above).

Or, of course, there’s pantheism.

That’s the Existential Trilemma of our three mereological-metaphysical-sufficient reason tautologies: nihilism, pantheism & all manner of needle-threading theistic conceptions, switching metaphors, trying to navigate the radically nondeterministic nihilistic or radically deterministic pantheistic existential shoals, trying to adjudicate, with some modicum of epistemic warrant, between those equiplausible worldviews and various competing theistic stances.

At least, some suggest they’re equiplausible, but those, in my view, seem to subscribe to either a thoroughgoing nominalism or a radically naïve realism, both which, per my pragmatic semiotic realism, caricature our otherwise inherently axiological epistemology.

I address, elsewhere, how such forced, vital existential options become “live” through a combination of epistemic warrant & normative justification. And it doesn’t involve epistemic adhocery, just the ordinary furnishings of our epistemic suite: perinoetic, ananoetic, epinoetic, metanoetic, etc

Confronted with “Why is there not rather nothing?” or “Whither the One & Many?” or “Of whom & how can we predicate ‘freedom’ or even define it?” — I’ve suggested they reduce to a single question, even though there are many putative answers.

Wise guys know that, for The Answer, all roads lead to Bethlehem, prior to Cappadocian & Roman excursions. And our responses begin, dispositionally, in a gnosis discovered on our knees, before the post-experiential processing of our episteme of participatory imaginations, long before the cognitive map-making of our doxastic propositions.

What flows algorithmically from such a Mon-Arche-itectonic as I hinted at above?

We set aside both a nondeterminate nihilum of ultimate nothingness & a wholly determinate one-thing-ness of necessary being or being-itself and consider – not a nondeterminate ground of nothingness, but – a nondeterminate ground of emptiness (a Christological intuition from The Tomb), freely choosing (in absolute ontological freedom) to Supremely Be (a Paterological intuition from both general & special revelation, onto-theologically & theo-ontologically), freely or Self-determinately (substantially unoriginated) originating & spirating, on One hand a generated Son & on One hand a processing Spirit, as Trinity donatively gifting both the gratuity of creation and, to rational creatures, the gratuity of grace (Pneumatological intuitions from both the coeternal via vestigia & our theotic realizations and sans filioque).

Elsewhere, I address grace as transmuted experience, following my late Jesuit friend, Don Gelpi.

All of our theophanic & trinitophanic sensibilities & intuitions, taken together, would reflect how our theotic transformations, while they are not patterned after Ascensions, are exemplified in the Assumption (a Mariological intuition).

As I begin to close, now, I would summarize by suggesting that the substantial, hypostatic & relational unity of the One — known, however imperfectly, in divine propria, idiomata & synergies, experienced as divine energy & economy as we partake in One Mission & are incorporated into One Bread, One Body, One Lord of the Many — is communicated to us via a quintessential semiosis – what Peirce would call icons, indexes & symbols. But others, like Andrew Robinson & Christopher Southgate, have told that story.

What I have set forth are my Peircean Trinitophanic Preambulae, which remain meta-ontological, bracketing any root metaphors du jour, as I remain, substantially, in search of a metaphysic, just like the rest of Christianity, at least, those who bring an aporetic sense and apophatic sensibility to the Divine Essence, because, really, it’s no-thing.

Much Ado About Nihil – a taxonomy of in/determinacies

Nondeterminate Emptiness (e.g. ground of Tillich & Neville, Ens Necessarium of Peirce)

Nondeterminate Nothingness (e.g. nihilum, ex nihilo)

Indeterminate Being (e.g. tehom)
• uncreated
• created
• lapsarian

Determinate Being (e.g. probabilistic in/determinacies as variously in/determinable and/or in/determined in degrees; as absolutely and/or relatively self-determinate)

A Cajun Credeaux – as believed consistent with any number of theo-cosmogonies, metaphysics & trinitologies

Hypostasis of the Father = idioma of the unoriginate originator (principium)

necessarily (per esse naturale) or, alternatively, freely (cf Eclectic Orthodoxy), originating (as self-determinate dynamis-actus),

possessing divine ousia as referenced, not defined (via negativa), via apophatically predicated propria &

gratuitously (per esse intentionale) creating determinate being, thereby

revealing Himself as Creator, including both pneumatologically (idioma of Spirit proceeding) from the via vestigia in the divine gratuity of creation (per general revelation) & Christologically (idioma of Son begotten) from the via positiva in the divine gratuity of grace (per special revelation), thereby

communicating with determinate being via the Godhead’s singular trinitarian synergy and

offering special intimacy (Abba) to rational beings via theotic participation in that divine economy & incorporation into that divine nature, illuminated by divine energeia.

More is fleshed out here in my collaboration with Amos Yong.



A new phase in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church began formally with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the Pan-Orthodox Conferences (1961-1968), which renewed contacts and dialogue. From that time, a number of theological issues and historical events contributing to the schism between the churches have begun to receive new attention. In this context, our own North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation was established in 1965, and the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches was established in 1979. Although a committee of theologians from many different Churches, sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, studied the Filioque question in depth in 1978 and 1979, and concluded by issuing the “Klingenthal Memorandum” (1979), no thorough new joint discussion of the issue has been undertaken by representatives of our two Churches until our own study. The first statement of the Joint International Commission (1982), entitled “The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Trinity,” does briefly address the issue of the Filioque, within the context of an extensive discussion of the relationship of the persons of the Holy Trinity. The Statement says: “Without wishing to resolve yet the difficulties which have arisen between the East and the West concerning the relationship between the Son and the Spirit, we can already say together that this Spirit, which proceeds from the Father (Jn. 15:26) as the sole source of the Trinity, and which has become the Spirit of our sonship (Rom. 8:15) since he is already the Spirit of the Son (Gal.4:6), is communicated to us, particularly in the Eucharist, by this Son upon whom he reposes in time and eternity (Jn. 1:32).” (No. 6).

Trinity & Metaphysics

McInerny sees us as Characters in Search of Their Author. Like Pip in Great Expectations, we are beneficiaries in search of a Benefactor. Like the Empty Tomb, our Empty Mangers during Advent instill — not lost meaning or unintelligible references, but – Great Expectations!

Practical upshot is that neither revelation nor metaphysics gift us with an exhaustive, descriptive definition of the divine hypostases. But the former gifts us w/adequate character references, while the latter aspires to adequate phenomenological references w/categories that – even if only intelligible to a modest degree, propositionally, are profoundly impactful, dispositionally, & eminently actionable, existentially.

Apophatic references to divine esse, metaphysically, only ever clear the epistemic stage of half-gods that God may appear.

Noncomposite esse or simplicity tells us, ergo, what God is not as well as not like. Such attributes, even taken together in a cluster concept, increase descriptive accuracy, only by eliminating impostors & idols, not by providing terms to be used in sylly syllogisms.

Our successful references, then, both metaphysical & revelational, allow us to distinguish relations, ad intra & ad extra, impersonal & personal, re both propria & energies of ousia as well as idioma & economies of hypostases, as the causes of otherwise inexplicable vestigial & theotic effects, respectively, in the divine gratuity of creation, generally, & gratuity of grace, specially.

Like the Empty Tomb of Triduum & Empty Manger of Advent, as unoriginate originator & sole source of the Trinity, the Godhead – the Father has a freedom grounded in – not an indeterminate nothingness, but – a nondeterminate emptiness, that eternally implicates the Son & Spirit.

The Metaphysics of Authentic Freedom

Probabilities refer to formal causes as acts in potency to final causes, where, modally, noncontradiction [PNC] holds & excluded middle folds [PEM], while actualities refer to efficient in potency to material, where PNC & PEM both hold.

Via probabilities, we prescind from both logical & ontological necessities & take a fallibilist stance to each indeterminacy we encounter, not a priori casting it as an epistemic in/determinable or ontic in/determinedness, recognizing each may contribute in terms of degree.

Emergent complexities confront this moderate realism, presenting it w/novel properties & indeterminacies. We then disambiguate any vague conceptions of telos into teloi, recognizing that different forms may be variously im/potent re the actualization of their associated ends.

Formal actualizations of various ends or finalities might be conceived in terms of traveling epistemic distances to overcome ontic privations, the latter conceived in terms of an entity’s freedom “to be” what it “ought” via a real-ization of ought-henticity, no longer deprived.

Conceptions of teleonomy thus needn’t be taken as deflationary of teleology, but neither are they sufficient to distinguish the more robustly telic realities from the weaker forms (double entendre) & less complex ends, e.g. end-stated “whereby”s vs end-intended “in order to”s.

Somewhat paradoxically, then, authenticity cast as freedom translates – not into auto-nomy of being, but – into the oughts of being, which, for a human, who aspires to real-ly be, will then get actualized only if one heeds certain imperatives of be-coming.

Habitual practices, often counterintuitively, gift freedom. Good habits “form” virtues, which may take on the outward appearance of enslavements, but otherwise truly indicate the fullest realization of an inner freedom that allows one to effortlessly & self-forgetfully be _____.

Habits marked by such an effortlessness & self-forgetfulness distinguish the robustly teleo-logical from the merely teleo-nomic & teleo-matic habits, which, divorced from divine logics of transcendental imperatives, will devolve into those self-indulgent efforts known as vices.

Thoroughgoing nominalists remain ignostic re teleology, having no need for that hypothesis, a stance ultimately dissolving into nihilism. Essentialistic naive realists, w/a fully deterministic telos & no epistemic distance to travel, in their own way, deny authentic freedom, too.

re PNC & PEM in the “actualizing condition” of generality

cf Bradley, James (2009) Beyond Hermeneutics: Peirce’s Semiology as a Trinitarian Metaphysics of Communication. Analecta Hermeneutica, 1. pp. 56-72. ISSN 1918-7351

An “Axiological” Epistemology is a Redundancy

Per an axiological epistemology, each value-realization movement requires several epistemic moments, each necessary & none, alone, sufficient. Each epistemic moment is methodologically autonomous in its distinct probe of reality, but, together, they’re all axiologically integral.

For example, one might say that love happens when what’s good frees us to unitively recognize the true and realize the beautiful.

Recapitulated more technically, we could say that unitive goals are met when the normative liberatively mediates between the descriptive & interpretive to effect the evaluative, all of this in our crossing of epistemic distances & overcoming of ontic privations as our speculative & practical reasonings remain integrally intertwined.

In each of these methods, there have been long-standing formalistic tensions. To wit: Unitive goals (agapic vs erotic, rationalism vs fideism vs ignosticism) are met when the normative (absolutist vs relativist) liberatively mediates between the descriptive (essentialist vs nominalist) & interpretive (realist vs idealist) to effect the evaluative (intellectualist vs voluntarist).

Those dyadic tensions, however, represent a caricature of human epistemology, as if we must somehow consider ourselves either infallibilistic, naive realists, on one hand, or radically deconstructive postmodernists, on the other.

What seems to otherwise be going on with our shared common sense & sensibilities, instead, suggests that our unitive goals (Bernardian love per fides et ratio) are met when the normative (moral realism & probabilism) liberatively mediates between the descriptive (semiotic & critical realism) & interpretive (fallibilist realism) to effect the evaluative (intellectualist voluntarism).

We reject, too, therefore, any epistemology that overemphasizes the logical & ethical, while underemphasizing the aesthetic. Indeed, I subscribe to both Scotus’ primacy of the will and Peirce’s aesthetic primacy, wherein aesthetics precede ethics which precede logic. I also buy into Jack Haught’s aesthetic teleology, wherein novelty plays an integral role in amplifying beauty (although I don’t employ his metaphysic). Especially see chapters 8 thru 10 in Haught’s Cosmic Adventure.

Neither Scotus nor Peirce nor Haught flirt with a mere voluntarist approach. They’d all affirm an intellectualist moment even in a spontaneous, human co-creative appropriation of novelty in the pursuit of beauty, as they’d all recognize & affirm how an aesthetic teleology harmonically orders the true, the unitive, the good & the liberative.

Natural Theology & Natural Law -however otherwise weak, at least- defeat Nihilism

In science, faith & quotidian life, epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can normatively adjudicate any competing responses using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty.

The hermeneutical spiral, above, recapitulates Lonergan’s transcendental imperatives & functional specialties.


To wit:

De-liberatively, regarding our references, descriptively & interpretively, epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can adjudicate, normatively, any competing responses, using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty, evaluatively.

De-liberatively (cosmos & mythos – be free, be loving, be-loved per both temporal & ultimate teloi) …

regarding our references …

descriptively (logos or perceptionbe aware in research & communications) & …

interpretively (topos or understandingbe intelligent in interpretation & systematics) …

epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can adjudicate …

normatively (ethos or actingbe responsible in dialectics & foundations), any competing responses, using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty

evaluatively,(pathos or judging & decidingbe reasonable in history & doctrines).

I must stipulate with Hart & Milbank that any rivalry between ultimate worldviews, say nihilist vs theological, cannot be logically coerced. Reality remains far too ambiguous for us & way too ambivalent toward us to compel belief through speculative reason, alone.

With the Thomists, I would insist that, even stipulating that nihilism has not thus been refuted, philosophy well demonstrates the reasonableness of natural theology as an equiplausible competing worldview.

For me, Thomism’s reasonableness remains indispensable over against any thoroughgoing fideism, much less, nominalism, idealism, voluntarism or relativism.

I do not receive Milbank as coming from some Thoroughly [Post]Modern Millie, but, instead, take (eisegetically) his postmodern critique as an admonition to avoid the temptations of dueling hyper-formalisms in countering those insidious –isms.

This is to recognize that —

no essentialistic framing will finally foreclose nominalism, descriptively;

no naïve realism will convincingly defeat idealism, interpretively;

no intellectualistic speculation will logically overcome voluntarism, evaluatively;

no absolutistic insistence will compellingly obviate relativism, normatively; and

no rationalistic appeals will definitively refute fideism, existentially.

But what amount to epistemic misfires for some are but caricatures for others, whose

1) descriptive probes include semiotic & moderate critical realisms;

2) interpretive heuristics employ a metaphysical fallibilism;

3) evaluative dispositions engage an irreducible triad of logos-pathos-ethos, e.g. Aristotelian eudaimonia, Augustinian beatitudo or Thomist summum bonum;

4) normative propositions allow some degree of ethical pluralism grounded – not in an insidious relativism or vulgar pragmatism, but — suitable epistemic humility, metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism ; and

5) philosophical preambula vault fidei past the threshold of equiplausibility.

Thomism’s reasonableness thus gets vaulted philosophically past the threshold of equiplausibility by the valid & coherent arguments of natural theology & natural law. (And its deontological conclusions should be considered at least as modest as its ontological commitments are tentative). There, philosophy culminates in either the theological preambula fidei & its general precepts or a nihilistic cosmogony.

Any “competing” theological or nihilistic mythos would come after a normatively justified existential leap.

Past this threshold of epistemic warrant, speculative reason yields to practical reasoning under uncertainty. The speculative arguments between essentialism & nominalism, realism & idealism, intellectualism & voluntarism, absolutism & relativism and fideism & rationalism have previously been transcended by a fallibilist, critical realism.

Normative justifications commence and can lead either to the fideistic, voluntaristic dichotomy of a theological versus nihilistic mythos or to an existential disjunction, where rational equiplausibility principles, albeit often implicit, adjudicate a decision to “live as if” that which is (more so, perhaps, they who are) the most life-giving & relationship-enhancing, the most beautiful & good, the most unitive & liberative, will — first & proleptically, i.e. proximately & temporally, as well as eventually & eschatologically, i.e. ultimately & eternally — also happen to be the most true.

This constitutes meta-discourse, however inchoate or implicit, whether variously held provisionally or confidently, yes, prior to special revelations, and yes, on tradition-transcendent grounds. Importantly, this needn’t be formal discourse or what can sometimes devolve into sylly syllogisms, but more often, via our participatory imaginations, comes from our common sense & common sensibilities, from connaturality, an illative sense, a tacit dimension, intuitions & informal abductions.

The most problematical arguments of natural theology are rationalistically grounded in naïve rather than critical realisms. The most problematical arguments of the natural law are a prioristic, rationalistic, deductivistic, biologistic, physicalistic & infallibilistic, especially as they move from general precepts to specific concrete norms, particularly because of epistemic hubris and the lack of a more inductive, personalist relationality-responsibility approach. But the abuse of natural theology & natural law is no argument against their proper use.

The questions that beg?

What constitutes the most life-giving, existentially?

How do we define & measure the most relationship-enhancing? The most unitive, interpretively & orthocommunally?

Where’s the most beautiful instantiated, evaluatively & orthopathically?

And the most good realized, normatively & orthopraxically?

And the most liberative, metanoetically & orthotheotically?

These are not questions that yield to an armchair cognitive map-making but which must actively engage participative imaginations that are naturally embodied, historically situated, socially embedded, culturally bound, politically immersed & transcendentally horizoned.

Of course it’s incredibly problematical to apply our ortho-metrics to competing worldviews, precisely because their instantiations are so very particular & traditioned.

But I wouldn’t want to defend the notion that nihilism remains in that competition?

Finally, Between an overly pessimistic Augustinian interpretation & overly optimistic transcendental Thomism, perhaps a Goldilocks theological anthropology can be articulated:


Gelpi recognized both as donative realities – a gratuity of creation & gratuity of grace, the Spirit’s universal presence (e.g. nomicities) & particular presence, where Grace is mediated via transmuted experience, where, for example, Kerygma matter immensely.

This discussion continues here:

Where in the World is Sophia? —a Sophiological footnote

The created grace Gelpi refers to would be constituted by reality’s actualized potencies, eternalized teloi (both temporal & ultimate teloi) of Peircean thirdness, efficient materialities of secondness, connaturalized indeterminacies of firstness, existentialized essences, formalized finalities, participatory intimacizations eternalized, all temporal realities coaxed forth Pneumatologically, Christologically & Paterologically via Divine Energies as would account for effects as would be proper to no known causes.

Every trace of human goodness, for example, eternalized, i.e. every beginning of a smile & all wholesome trivialities!

Whether interpreted in Platonic, Neoplatonic, Aristotelian, Thomist, Scotist, Palamitic or Peircean categories (and I cross hermeneutical bridges between them all), collectively & dynamically, these cumulative actualized potencies or eternally realized divine teloi may represent Sophia, who participates in the Divine Energies in a perichoretic Divine Dance.

In The Wisdom of God, Bulgakov spoke of two Sophias, one created and the other uncreated. She to whom I refer above would be the created Sophia in her participatedness. While I affirm the Divine Energies per a formal distinction, I must defer to others regarding the manner of viewing Sophia in Orthodoxy. And still wonder just how we might best account for ecstatic visions of Sophia.

See more re this theophany:


This body of work largely comprises my project, which I refer to as Pan-semio-entheism, because, as a systematic theology, while it is metaphysically realist, it prescinds from any given metaphysical root metaphor (substance, relational, process, experience, etc) to a phenomenological meta-heuristic.

See: Amos Yong With John Sobert Sylvest, “Reasons and Values of the Heart in a Pluralistic World: Toward a Contemplative Phenomenology for Interreligious Dialogue,” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 20:2 (2010): 170-93

Contra Ethical Chicken Littles

Ethical slippery slope arguments deserve serious but not facile engagements. Below is a consideration of why some such arguments are oversimplified.

There is a taxonomy of slippery slope arguments [SSAs]. It distinguishes causal from logical arguments and further separates arguments per their results, arbitrary & horrible.

Causal arguments are concerned with domino-like effects. Logical arguments explore the in/consistency of rules, whether grounded in casuist, principlist or even consensual ethical decision-making approaches.

An arbitrary result is deemed objectionable by the mere fact that an argument has employed some type of slope. A horrible result refers to an argument which would permit morally repugnant outcomes.

Ethical slippery slope arguments are often of the logical-horrible variety.

Others have well-treated the logical in/consistencies & un/soundness that can afflict/bolster all manner of ethical SSAs. I will discuss, below, why we shouldn’t overstate the influence that formal argumentation has on societal maxims, rules & norms, why, for example, various case-holdings won’t inexorably unravel the moral fabric of society or, switching metaphors, send a rapid succession of taboo-boulders rolling down the ethical slopes of a culture’s moral highlands. I will also discuss whether the introduction of some degree of arbitrariness should a priori deligitimize an ethical decision-making approach.

The degree of consensus regarding humanity’s most general precepts remains largely sufficient to norm a modicum of public peace, public order, public justice & public morality, extending, for example, even to international declarations regarding human rights and to international law & treaties.

The more specific & concrete application of such precepts become much more problematical for thornier issues, e.g. bioethical realities regarding gender, sex & life issues.

A society’s laws & rules reflect a shared public reason & shared evaluative dispositions. It’s this overlapping consensus of mid-level principles & these mutual intuitions of common sensibilities that, together, constitute a relatively stable, wide, reflective equilibrium of moral reasoning.

Over against any Ethical Chicken Little hysteria, then, an ethical pluralism, grounded in a fallibilist epistemology & probabilist deontology, notwithstanding some unavoidable degree of inconsistency, need not explode into an ethical incoherence or moral relativism, much less trivialism.

Pluralistic societies can have different cohorts of naïve realists, each which may subscribe to its own particular, foundational moral theory with its distinct metaphysical commitments. Such cohorts will tend to imagine that a pluralistic society’s moral slopes are far more slippery than they actually are because they fail to recognize the limited relevance of their own theories & commitments to a given society’s maxims, rules & norms. They also tend to ignore the resilience & relative stability of the above-referenced reflective equilibrium, grounded as it is – not just in formal logic, but – in deeply felt evaluative dispositions, common sensibilities & ethical intuitions, which certainly can reflect an inchoate grasp of the natural law, secured by connatural inclinations. This remains the case even when such a grasp of the natural law remains rather difficult to articulate by formal argument (and not just difficult for the vox populi but also for the ethical literati).

Such a stable reflective equilibrium will generally stand in the way of any cascading of consensually, morally repugnant outcomes, when otherwise specific incremental changes are effected in societal rules & norms.

This is to recognize that Ethical Chicken Littles will too often make much ado about their own arguments, which are not more universally compelling, sometimes, because their logic is simply flawed, if not due to validity, then, by unsoundness; sometimes, because certain maxims, rules & norms have established their coherence & resiliency less so by formal argumentation, more so by innate connatural inclinations & subconscious social formations.

As with other apparent inconsistencies, dilemmas, aporiae or paradoxes, human common sense & sensibilities can often evade ethical conundra, practically, via reductio ad absurdum, while patiently abiding either their dissolutions via paradigm shifts or resolutions via dialectics.

We may not be able to formally articulate why a putative outcome would be impossible, improbable or absurd using a robustly truth-conducive triadic inference, but we can, most certainly, very often employ a veritable multitude of weakly truth-indicative abductions, logically, as well as evaluative dispositions & ethical intuitions, axio-logically, which, when bundled together into a preponderance, evidentially, can sufficiently justify a solidly probable moral proposition.

Over against any notion that slopes afflicted by degrees of arbitrariness must simply be avoided, we must recognize that we are ALREADY on such slopes, ubiquitously so. Such a notion could not survive the parody of purging all moral discourse of references to reality’s manifold & multiform dis/continua.

Thus, even among those who subscribe to a particular foundational moral theory as well as its deeper metaphysical commitments, the more critical (less naïve) realist cohorts will not overestimate the slipperiness of various moral slopes, for they recognize:

that our appropriations of moral realities ALREADY often involve approximations;

that our fallible grasps of moral realities ALREADY require the use of concepts that are not wholly essentialist but variously clustered, vague or fuzzy;

that human symbols, icons & indexes are ALREADY seldom going to be wholly nonarbitrary;

that the human mind ALREADY must often transcend rational formalities with common sense and informal & paraconsistent logics (see note below) in order to avoid absurdity & trivialism.

To the extent that epistemology models ontology, this variety of ethical approximations (conceptual, semiotic & logical) implicates various ontological dis/continuities, regarding – not only the spatio-temporal, materio-energetic continua of physical entities (e.g. age-related, developmental, genetic, non/strict identities), but – the causalities of physical events, including various teloi (e.g. teleopotent, teleomatic, teleonomic & teleologic).

For example, whatever one’s paradigm regarding non/strict identities, even an essentialist account might best resort to a conception of deep & dynamic formal fields.

The above taxonomy of SSAs & categories of axiological epistemology can still be rather insufficient, relying as they do on an implicit canon of common sense that can’t always be taken for granted. This is especially true, again, as we move from general precepts to their more specific, concrete applications. See, for example: An anthropological exploration of contemporary bioethics: the varieties of common sense. Turner L. , J Med Ethics. 1998 Apr;24(2):127-33.

N.B. From:

If the mind is able to reason around contradiction without absurdity, then paraconsistent machines may be better able to model the mind.

Defending consistency, or denying the absurdity of trivialism, is ultimately not the job of logic alone. Affirming coherence and denying absurdity is an act, a job for human beings.

Put another way, a paraconsistent logician can say that a theory is inconsistent without meaning that the theory is incoherent, or absurd. The former is a structural feature of the theory, worth repair or further study; the latter means the theory has gone disastrously wrong. Paraconsistency gives us a principled way to resist equating contradiction with absurdity.