No Beauty We Could Desire: Thoughts on Beauty and Faith

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"Truth knows that she is a stranger on earth and easily finds enemies among men of another allegiance, but she knows that her race, home, hope, recompense, honour, are in heaven."


Tertullian, Apology

I'm reading Kent Dunnington's excellent book Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice.  He questions whether it makes sense to treat addiction in medical terms, as a disease.  I'm finding this a helpful way into a Christian concept of freedom that's compatible with divine sovereignty.  This is from chapter 1. 

We can imagine [how defenders of the disease concept of addiction might explain that idea.] "Our argument is really quite simple.  Drug abuse leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain.  Changes in behavior that can be traced to changes in brain structure and function are involuntary.  Therefore, the behavior of persons with addictions is involuntary.  And therefore, addiction is more akin to a human disease than a type of human action."

     This is indeed a simple argument, but is it sound?  It looks valid, so we must ask if its premises are true.  The first premise seems beyond dispute: ample studies demonstrate that the abuse of drugs changes the structure and function of the brain.  The problem with the argument comes in the second premise, which claims that changes in behavior that can be traced to changes in brain structure and function are involuntary.  The premise is problematic because, if it were true, it would turn out that all sorts of activities that we consider voluntary are in fact in involuntary.  For instance, studies show that the brain structure and function of skilled musicians are transformed by years of practice.  But surely this does not entail that, at some point, skilled musicians cease to be voluntarily engaged in playing their instruments.  Surely it does not entail that playing the cello may cease to be something a cellist does and becomes something a cellist suffers, a kind of disease.


“We love we know not what, and therefore everything allures us.  As iron at a distance is drawn by the loadstone, there being some invisible communications between them, so is there in us a world of Love to somewhat, though we know not what in the world that should be.  There are invisible ways of conveyance by which some great thing doth touch our souls, and by which we tend to it.  Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation and desire of some Great Thing?” – Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditation

Sir Thomas Browne

"[I]n this Mass of Nature there is a set of things that carry in their Front, though not in Capital Letters, yet in Stenography and short Characters, something of Divinity, which to wiser Reasons serve as Luminaries in the Abyss of Knowledge, and to judicious beliefs as Scales and Roundles to mount the Pinacles and highest pieces of Divinity.  The severe Schools shall never laugh me out of the Philosophy of Hermes, that this visible World is but a Picture of the invisible, wherein as in a Pourtraict, things are not truely, but in equivocal shapes, and as they counterfeit some more real substance in that invisible Fabrick."


(C. S. Lewis marked this passage in his copy of Browne's Religio Medici.)

(How do I know?  Because I visit the Wade Center. Highly recommended.)


"There are certain powers in human nature which seem to hold a middle place between the organs of bodily sense and the faculties of moral perception: they have been called by a very general name, the Powers of Imagination.  Like the external senses, they relate to matter and motion; and, at the same time, give the mind ideas analogous to those of moral approbation and dislike."


Mark Akenside, introduction to The Pleasures of Imagination