Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spinoza on final causes

Among the central themes of The Last Superstition is that final causality – teleology, purpose, or goal-directedness – is as objective a feature of the natural world as mass or electric charge, and that the arguments to the contrary given by various early modern philosophers are worthless. One thinker I did not discuss in TLS is Spinoza, who puts forward a critique of final causes in the Appendix to Book I of the Ethics. Spinoza’s metaphysics is notoriously idiosyncratic and has had few defenders, which is why I did not devote space to him in the book. His critique of final causality is closely tied to that metaphysics, and inherits its weaknesses. Still, Spinoza is one of the chief architects of modernity: the militantly secularist liberalism which has now displaced the milder and theologically-based Lockean brand of liberalism in the thinking of the contemporary Western intelligentsia has its roots in Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise. And his critique of final causality evinces some of the same fallacies and errors to be found in other early modern writers. So it’s worthwhile giving his critique a brief look.

Spinoza’s discussion has three parts: first, an account of the origins of belief in final causes; second, a set of arguments purporting to show that final causes do not exist; and third, a discussion of the implications of abandoning final causes for our judgments concerning good and evil, order and disorder, beauty and ugliness. Let’s consider them in order.

I. The genealogy of belief in final causes

Spinoza claims that belief in final causes springs from a projection onto the world of our own self-seeking desires. We are obsessively concerned with our own well-being – for example, with feeding, clothing, and sheltering ourselves. And this narcissism leads us to imagine that there are in nature something like the purposes we have, that water, animals, plants, and other natural objects exist for our sake, to provide us with the raw materials requisite to fulfilling our needs. Wondering how things could have come to be arranged so beneficially, we infer in turn that there must be supernatural powers lying behind the purposes we think we see in nature, whose interest is in making things go well for us.

Note how Spinoza foreshadows here what would become standard shtick among later secularist writers: debunking some hated idea by providing a “genealogical” account of it (Nietzsche, Marx, Freud), and dismissing metaphysical claims by attributing them to the “projection” of human interests (Feuerbach) or to anthropocentric bias (Darwinism).

Now even if such “just so” stories were plausible, any suggestion that they suffice to refute the targeted beliefs would commit the genetic fallacy. But Spinoza’s own “just so” story is not plausible in any case. Contrary to the standard caricature, the Aristotelian-cum-Scholastic attribution of final causes to natural objects and processes did not essentially involve identifying some respect in which they served human interests. Aquinas’s central argument for final causes is that without them we can make no sense of how efficient causes are possible. The basic idea is that if A regularly brings about B – rather than C, or D, or no effect at all – that can only be because there is something in the nature of A by virtue of which it is “directed at” or “points” to the generation of B specifically. This is an entirely general point about causation; it has nothing necessarily to do with human beings at all.

Another problem is that Aristotle – rather famously – believed in final causes without regarding them as deriving from any supernatural mind at all. He thought they were just there in nature, mostly completely divorced from any consciousness, and that was that. (He did, of course, believe in a divine Unmoved Mover, but his arguments here were based on efficient causality rather than final causality.) To be sure, the Scholastics would later disagree with Aristotle about this, and hold (as Aquinas did in the Fifth Way) that final causality must itself ultimately be explained in terms of the divine intellect. But the point is that there was from the beginning of philosophical reflection on final causes conceptual space left open for views very different from the one Spinoza seems to think is their inevitable concomitant.

Of course, Spinoza might reply that none of this constitutes anything more than an idiosyncratic departure from the “core” anthropocentric and theological sources of belief in final causes. But there are two problems with such a response. First, it seems to add to the genetic fallacy the fallacy of cherry-picking the evidence, arbitrarily putting aside possible sources of belief in final causes other than the ones Spinoza wants to recognize. Second, and related to this, it fails to address the actual arguments of writers like Aquinas and Aristotle, which, if they are sound, show that final causes exist whether or not Spinoza’s genealogical speculations are correct.

II. Arguments against final causes

Still, as I have said, Spinoza does offer arguments of his own against the existence of final causes. There are five of them. But we have already seen what is wrong with the first of them:

A. Spinoza’s account of the origin of belief in final causes shows they do not exist.

Spinoza’s first argument is that his genealogical account itself constitutes a disproof of the reality of final causes, but as we have seen, the account is dubious and any such argument would commit the genetic fallacy in any event. So let’s move on to his second argument:

B. The truth of Spinoza’s metaphysical system entails that there are no final causes.

The argument here is that Spinoza’s pantheistic metaphysics entails that everything that happens follows with necessity from Deus sive Natura via (a bastardized conception of) efficient causation, so that there is no work left for final causes to do.

One obvious problem with this argument is that it will have no force for anyone who rejects Spinoza’s metaphysics – which is pretty much everyone. Another problem, as Michael Della Rocca points out in his recent book on Spinoza, is that it is hard to see why God’s acting from necessity would exclude final causes or directedness towards an end: Why can’t we say that Spinoza’s God seeks to realize such-and-such an end, even if he does so of necessity?

C. The doctrine of final causes reverses the order of causation, making what is in reality an effect into a cause and vice versa.

The argument here is that a cause must precede its effect, whereas purported final causes come after their effects. For example, the oak is supposed to be the final cause of the acorn, even though the oak exists only after the acorn does.

One problem with this argument is that it simply begs the question. The defender of final causes will say that while causes must precede their effects in the order of efficient causation, the very idea of a final cause is that of a cause which, in a sense, follows its effect. Spinoza’s “argument” is really nothing more than a dogmatic insistence that all genuine causes are efficient causes.

Of course, someone might still complain that this feature of final causes makes them mysterious. But as Della Rocca points out, the efficacy of final causes can be made perfectly intelligible if we think of them as the intentions of an agent, in particular, of God. The oak can cause the acorn to be what it is precisely because it exists as an idea in the divine mind. This was indeed more or less Aquinas’s argument in the Fifth Way: that the vast system of final causes underlying the equally vast network of efficient causes constituting the natural world must ultimately be traced to the conserving action of the divine intellect, apart from whose constant ordering of things to their ends the entire causal structure of the world would instantly collapse.

This naturally brings us to Spinoza’s next argument:

D. The idea of final causes entails that God has ends, and thus detracts from his perfection.

There are several problems with this argument. First, as we have seen, not all defenders of final causality conceive of them as deriving from God: Aquinas does, but Aristotle does not. (Aristotle thinks of God as the final cause of the world, who moves it by virtue of being “desired” by it, but he does not think of God himself as having ends or putting them into nature. They’re just there.)

Second, even if final causes do depend on God, this objection would show, not that there are no final causes, but rather that a certain conception of God is mistaken.

Third, Spinoza is just wrong in any event to claim that explaining final causes in terms of God (as Aquinas would do even if Aristotle would not) necessarily detracts from God’s perfection. It would do so only if the point of realizing the ends in question were to remedy some deficiency in the divine nature. But the ends in question do not benefit God, who is already perfect, but rather his creatures, who are not. (It is true of course that the point of the creation as a whole is nevertheless to manifest the glory of God, but this is not because God needs to manifest his glory in this way, which he does not. Obviously this raises further theological questions, but the discussion then concerns which view of God to take, not whether final causes exist.)

Spinoza’s final argument against final causes is:

E. Purported explanations couched in terms of final causes inevitably reduce to appeals to ignorance, which explain nothing.

“For example,” says Spinoza in expanding on this objection, “if a stone falls from a roof on to some one's head and kills him, [defenders of final causality] will demonstrate by their new method, that the stone fell in order to kill the man; for, if it had not by God's will fallen with that object, how could so many circumstances (and there are often many concurrent circumstances) have all happened together by chance?” If it is suggested instead that the wind blew the stone off of the roof while the man happened to be walking by, the defender of final causes will ask why the stone fell at exactly that time. And so on. The only explanation the defender of final causes will accept is one that appeals to the inscrutable will of God. And yet this, Spinoza says, is no explanation at all.

Here again there are several problems. First, Spinoza’s scenario is a complete travesty of the Scholastic understanding of final causes. The view of writers like Aquinas, anyway, was not that nothing ever happens due to chance. Stones sometimes do indeed fall off of roofs and kill hapless passersby, entirely by accident. It is true that the Scholastic view was that even chance events presuppose final causality, but not in the sense Spinoza imagines. To take a stock example, when a farmer plows a field and discovers buried treasure, this event is correctly described as a chance occurrence, unintended by anyone. Still, this chance event was made possible by the farmer’s decision to plow and some other person’s decision to bury treasure at exactly that spot, neither of which was due to chance. In general, the Scholastics would say, chance events always presuppose, at some level, the operation of causal regularities manifesting (as all efficient causes do) finality or end-directedness.

Second, it is simply false to say that Scholastic explanations in terms of final causality necessarily reduced to empty appeals to an inscrutable divine will. For Thomists, anyway, to discover the end toward which something is directed is to discover something about its nature or essence, something which could not have been otherwise. If things did not have the causal powers they do in fact have, they simply would not be the things they are. We are not in the position of saying (for example) that eyeballs are for seeing only because God arbitrarily decided to make them for seeing, as if he could have made them instead for digesting food or for flying. Such pseudo-explanatory appeals to sheer divine fiat might be the logical outcome of the nominalist rejection of universals and essences, but they were no part of the Thomistic view of divine creation.

Finally, as Della Rocca points out, to complain that we do not know what God’s purposes are would not (even if it were generally true) be to show that he does not have any purposes, and thus it does nothing to show that there are no final causes.

All told, then, Spinoza’s arguments against final causes are about as good as those of the other early modern philosophers – that is to say, not good at all.

III. Implications of abandoning final causes

Where Spinoza does have something plausible to say about final causes is in his discussion of what would follow from abandoning them. Lurking in the background of his discussion here is the objection his critics would raise against his pantheism to the effect that Deus sive Natura would seem less than perfect if the evil and ugliness we see in the world around us were thought to follow necessarily from his nature. Spinoza answers that our ordinary conceptions of good and evil, order and disorder, beauty and ugliness derive from belief in final causes, so that if the latter is abandoned so too must the former be abandoned. And when that is done, we will see that we have no basis for describing anything that follows necessarily from Deus sive Natura as evil, ugly, etc. Such judgments reflect only our parochial concern with ourselves, rather than an informed understanding of our (relatively trivial) place in the larger scheme of things.

Here at last, I would say, Spinoza is right: Our ordinary conceptions of good and evil, order and disorder, beauty and ugliness – and indeed, any conception of these things – cannot survive the abandonment of final causes. And absolutely nothing that human beings might either suffer or perpetrate can consistently be judged evil, ugly, or disordered in their absence. That is precisely why the world has grown progressively uglier, more disordered, and more evil and irrational the more thoroughly it has assimilated the anti-teleological worldview of Spinoza and the other moderns.

22 comments:

Crude said...

One question I have about E. What is 'chance' in this context? It seems that an omniscient God would 'know' that the stone was going to fall and kill the man, and that omniscience and omnipotence would have to mean that God knew and permitted this to occur. Do you mean that the event wouldn't be considered an example of a 'final cause' because the event (a stone falling from a roof and killing a man) isn't one concerning a typical natural regularity (like a tree growing from an acorn, etc), even though God would be foreseeing and permitting it (for reasons we may not fathom)?

Athanasius said...

Another question Ed. You said:

"For Thomists, anyway, to discover the end toward which something is directed is to discover something about its nature or essence, something which could not have been otherwise. If things did not have the causal powers they do in fact have, they simply would not be the things they are."

Does the phrase "to discover something about its nature or essence" mean that final causation cannot be reduced to talk about the nature of the thing? Is there a residual in "final cause" that cannot be accounted for this way?

I suppose you deal with this in your book, but it's still in the post to Australia.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Crude,

Yes, that's what I mean.

Hello Athanasius,

What I mean is that final cause is included in the nature or essence of a thing but does not exhaust that nature or essence. For example, to describe the nature of a heart you need to make reference to the end it serves (pumping blood) but to other things too (e.g. the kind of matter out of which it is made). That's why the A-T tradition distinguishes four causes, even though the final cause is the "cause of causes" and determines the others.

Ricky 'The Hitman' Hatton said...

Hi Prof Feser,

We at least know that there are some instances of final causes. If I make a lawnmower there is a purpose that I have in mind while making it... and end to which the lawnmower is directed.
Would Spinoza state that even in this example there is no final cause?
If we think about final causes as the result of humans acting as agents would Spinoza deny that humans can act as agents?
And if he'll say only humans can act with intention but nothing else... then how would he account for mankinds ability to act with intention?

Spinoza's position seems self-refuting. Because if he's right, then his arguments really don't have an end/purpose. And if he thinks they do how does he know he's not just projecting and that in reality there is no content to them?

Darrin said...

Ed,

Still pouring over your work with great interest! I want to make a few comments/questions here:

1) Although your charge of genetic fallacy on Baruch here may be correct, he may in turn charge you with begging the question. As you illustrated, some kind of mind is necessary to root these final causes, even if this Mind built in the final causes to operate in and of themselves a la Aristotle (that Aristotle believed final causes - and forms - were inherent independent of his Divine Mind shows the Plato in him IMO).

2) On page 70, you define a final cause as that which underlies *all* other causes. Since it is in the nature of a (large) rock to kill a man within the identity of the context of its falling off a roof upon a man's head, then these combined natures are an efficient cause for the man's death, and therefore must have the corresponding underlying final cause under your view.

3) Although it is granted that living things (conscious ones, contra Rand on this point) have final causes in respect to goal-directed action, what goals do material things qua material possess? For instance, speaking overall, which is the goal of Alexander?

Alexander -> Alexander dies (natural) -> Alexander is buried (goal of a human) -> Alexander returneth to dust (natural) -> Dust made into loam (goal of a human) -> Loam constructed into a bunghole stopper for a beer-barrel (goal of human -> etc. etc. etc. (whether human or not).

It's really difficult to see the final cause of the material comprising Alexander here (not the final cause of Alexander in his whole respect, which is to serve the purpose of God as every human in their entire respect does). Does the final cause change whenever the stasis of Alexander's material/formal causes change? Do efficent causes serve no more than to change the content of a final cause?

4) Sometimes, a final cause inherent in a single object may be hard to determine. Take for instance an acorn: is its final cause to be eaten, or to spread the seeds that in turn entail future growth? Both seem important to me - this would mean a sort of dualistic final cause.

The Cogitator said...

I'm inclined to say, particularly in response to Darrin's points 2) and 4), that a multiplicity of final causes may be just as allowable in Aristhomism as a plurality of efficient causes is in relation to final causes. Meaning: a final cause can "conscript" numerous variable efficient causes to achieve one and the same end. Final causation is, then, metaphysically prior, but theoretically posterior, to scientific explanation. IOW, we parse and "constellate" the proper efficient causes in various natural cyscles/structures by way of their final-causal role in that event/system, but eo ipso recognize the final cause as somehow responsible for our finding efficient causes just as we did, and do, repeatedly on empirical investigation. An organic heart and a heart pump both achieve the same end, but by different efficient causes, and they do so by instantiating the same formal cause.

By analogy, I am suggesting, a thing may possess more than one final cause in reference to its agent. At the most basic (or, then again, most elevated) level, all things' final cause is God's glory. At different levels up (or down) the line, they may display other "nested" final causes. If multiple efficient causes can be "nested" in one final cause, I don't, at the moment (and, admittedly, under the influence of a fews Japaneses beerses), see why one thing's formal cause (i.e., its substantial structure) cannot possess/display more than one final cause.

Indeed, it seems that this substantial variability is just what science is after: under what conditions does a thing display certain dispositions, and what do those certain dispositions entail? A lump glass may not normally be disposed to blow up a lab, but if it is placed in other, less typical conditions (say, shot at super-high speeds into a vat of some volatile acid [??]), it may have just that disposition. There is, thus, dynamic interplay between all four kinds of causes.

Well?

Edward Feser said...

Hello Ricky,

Yes, Spinoza would have to say that the apparent ends we have are illusory, and that everything we do is, like everything else on his view, entirely determined by efficient causes. I agree that this sort of view is ultimately self-refuting, since when worked out it entails eliminativism about intentionality, which is incoherent.

Hello Darrin,

1. Where have I begged the question? Spinoza implied that belief in final causes necessarily goes hand in hand belief in supernatural forces looking out for us. I noted that historically there have been believers in final causes who did not associate them with supernatural forces. And even some of those who do explain them in terms of the divine mind (such as Aquinas) would hold that this is something that must be inferred, rather than being immediately evident. Finally, even these defenders do not think of the final causes of things as primarily concerned with human well-being. So Spinoza is wrong on three counts: belief in final causes need not be tied to belief in God or gods; even when it is, the link is not direct; and belief in final causes has no essential connection to seeing things as ordered to human well-being. Again, where in all this have I begged the question against Spinoza?

2. The rock does have causal powers built into it which give it an inherent tendency to break or crush objects of such-and-such a degree of fragility under such-and-such circumstances. So in that sense there is a kind of final causalty operative here. But that is different from having as a final cause the breaking of this specific guy's head at this specific time.

3. The goal of Alexander, as a _rational_ animal, is to understand the world around him, and ultimately to know God as the first cause and last end of the world. Of course, as a rational _animal_ he also has various subsidiary ends (eating, reproducing, etc.) but these are all subordinated to this overarching end. And this end is only compleetly fulfilled after death, since he has an immortal soul and is made for a life beyond this one.

Re: Alexander's matter, it has no determinate end, because matter qua matter is not a complete substance. It is only when the matter takes on a certain form that we have an actual substance which can be said to have an end. Hence e.g. when what used to be Alexander's matter gets absorbed into a tree, it is then part of a different substance with the sorts of ends distinctive of trees (e.g. taking in nutrients, sending out roots, etc.)

4. The acorn's end or final cause is to become an oak. It's just that other living things (e.g. squirrels or whatever) have ends which are at cross-purposes to those of the acorn, since it benefits them to eat acorns.

Darrin said...

1. Understood. My oopsie on not proofreading myself :)

2. Examining this notion, what is wrong with Rand's metaphysical view that existence means to have all these "final cause" properties as part of its sum-total identity?

3. That's right. So matter/form (I mistakenly left off the latter term) changes final cause states simultaneous with efficient causes to different states?

For example, let's say Rational Animal Alexander dies (efficent cause of corpse) -> Corpse with old Final Cause gone and new Final Cause as (perhaps) the shell that will return to Earth now present, with the change of such Final Causes brought about by the efficient cause of Alexander's corpse beginning to exist?

I think I have to agree with Aristotle that this is just part of the nature of Alexander's corpse now that Alexander is no longer a living creature taking goal-directed action. And yes, I don't mean in the semi-Platonic sense he did, but in my unshakable Randian metaphysical notion that it's just a part of the identity which, as Spinoza says, we mistakenly identify as a goal-directed action.

Doesn't entail God's nonexistence, though. I actually don't agree with the Primacy of Existence vs. Primacy of Consciousness bit, something Rand would kick me out of Galt's Gulch for in an instant. Still grinding this one through my brain in accordance with your Fifth Way argument; also am trying to recognize how formal causes aren't sort of "halfway present" metaphysically, waiting for the "other half" - a rational mind - to do the measurement-omission dance to complete the basis.

Darrin said...

P.S. This is a welcome breath of fresh air from TAG and all of its attendant Hume miners. :)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

Some people I know who hold anti-modern views seem to view modernism as ushering in not only a fundamentally false view of the world and human nature, but moral evil as well. I'm assuming you think this, too. I'd like to know more of your thoughts on the connection between the two.

Do you see Descartes and the other moderns' rejection of, say, final causality as itself immoral, or merely as an honest intellectual mistake, perhaps committed under the intoxicating influence of the rapid expanse of scientific knowledge in the early modern period? (Perhaps that's too simple; perhaps the rise of science in the early modern period was itself the result of an already changed view of the world at the philosophical level. But leaving that unsettled...) Or do you think it possible that Descartes et. al. had ulterior, perhaps unconscious, moral motivations, such as the casting off of natural law morality, which prompted them to develop new metaphysical systems which could serve as the basis for a new ethics more to their liking? (And if so, perhaps these desires for a different morality were evil.)

What about the Medieval man in the street or, more likely, in the countryside? Were his moral beliefs better than those of the average 21st century Westerner on account of his having been reared in a culture that affirmed final causality? I'm remembering Malcolm Gladwell describe his European ancestors as people who worked in the fields a third of the year and spent the other two-thirds of the year getting drunk, though I have no idea whether that's a description of peasant behavior in medieval or modern times, or whether it'd be accurate in either case. Switching from peasants to authority figures, do you think that the concept of final causality played a role in the thinking of people who went to war for good or bad reasons or in the thinking of rulers who treated their subjects well or badly, and that being convinced of final causality tended to tip the scales toward more moral than immoral behavior? I suppose my question is cultural and historical, so maybe it can't be answered here and a reference would do more good. I understand why, theoretically speaking, ethics has a surer foundation in teleology than mechanistic views, but I haven't put together how it's fit into people's lives historically, or whether someone's vice is somehow rooted in their denial of teleology which, since it's an abstract concept, it seems extreme to demand that the person on the street know about. (Or maybe it's not so difficult after all.)

Anyway, on a different note, in a pretty new book called Naturalism, Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro spend a fair amount of time in the early chapters discussing how we can't make sense of human behavior and experience without teleology, or namely reasons or purposes. I'm sympathetic with that view and with their attempt to thereby secure a place for free will. But while they try to overcome naturalism as a metaphysical obstacle to free will, they don't spend any time on the psychological difficulty, the old Socratic difficulty, of explaining how we can choose otherwise than in accord with our intellect's evaluation, which we don't control, of what is the best way to act. This psychological question always bothers me as much as the metaphysical one when it comes to free will. I believe Aquinas, for example, says that although our intellect does make an evaluation of what is the best way to act, and that although our will must choose the best path with which the intellect presents it, nevertheless the choice is free because the will is involved. But I suppose I don't see as free a will whose function is to necessarily choose (electio?) in favor of the best option presented to it by the intellect. Anyway, I only mention the issue because it seems to me like most discussions of free will are so slanted toward the teleology/mechanism question rather than the psychological problem, and I'm not sure if you think the teleology's answer to the one is simultaneously an answer to the other, or whether they have to be approached independently.

-Casey

Ricky 'The Hitman' Hatton said...

Hi Prof. Feser,
Thanks for the response.

So Spinoza is going to say that we don't actually act/build/design with an end in mind. At least not enough that we design things that actually do have final causes. Such as the final cause of a lawn mower is to cut grass.

That's absurd. Why would someone be so against final causes that it makes their own behavior incoherent?

Darrin said...

//But I suppose I don't see as free a will whose function is to necessarily choose (electio?) in favor of the best option presented to it by the intellect.//

It isn't free. The old Socratic difficulty begs the question in favor of compatibilism, because it assumes one choice must be made to prove only one choice can be made.

FreeThinker said...

I don't think any serious philosopher lends any credence to talk of final causes.
That's left in the dark ages for a reason.

I can see you're a Catholic philosopher. My only suggestion would be to read about the Dark Ages. I can't think of a single argument from that era that hasn't been debunked by Enlightenment philosophers such as Kant, Hume, Hegel and various others.
My only suggestion would be to read those philosophers.
I think you'll see that your "Argument for Final Causes" that you mention in your post has been dealt with in an more than adequate manner by the aforementioned philosophers.

Crude said...

Perhaps Prof Feser will read those philosophers, and write a book wherein he gives his thoughts about and responses to them. Maybe he'll even make a post about one of the philosophers he left out of that book explaining why their thoughts on the matters fail as well.

I mean, it's possible.

Brandon said...

FreeThinker,

You might want to read Hegel a little more closely; he argues for final causes, and on this point is usually understood to be advocating a (partial) return to Aristotle in response to Kant.

For that matter, Kant, for all the limits he places on them, accepts that there are final causes, too; he just thinks they are only involved where practical reason is also involved.

Eric said...

"My only suggestion would be to read about the Dark Ages. I can't think of a single argument from that era that hasn't been debunked by Enlightenment philosophers such as Kant, Hume, Hegel and various others.
My only suggestion would be to read those philosophers."

Freethinker, two suggestions:

1. Read 'The Last Superstition.' You'll find quite a bit about Hume there, and a bit about Kant. In fact, I'd wager you'd find that you don't know what you think you do about even 'a single argument from that era,' or about any of the supposed 'Enlightenment refutations.'

2. Stop referring to any period of time as the 'Dark Ages' unless you mean to suggest that we have scant historical data for it.

Ali said...

"Free Thinker" is just another pseudo intellectual New Atheist who thinks after reading Richard Dawkins he's qualified to speak about matters of Philosophy and Religion.

I suggests we leave the fools alone and focus on those who actually want to listen.

thomism said...

Dr. Feser,

This is nit-picking, but while Aristotle does not prove the reality of final causes from the divine causality (in the Physics), he does believe that every nature, without exception, does whatever it does, without exception, for the sake of making itself more like God:

"for any living thing that has reached its normal development and which is unmutilated, and whose mode of generation is not spontaneous, the most natural act is the production of another like itself, an animal producing an animal, a plant a plant, in order that, as far as its nature allows, it may partake in the eternal and divine. That is the goal towards which all things strive, that for the sake of which they do whatsoever their nature renders possible De Anima, II c. 4"

The last sentence, notice, is said of nature as such.

We can link Aristotle's claim to the kind of causality that the first mover has- since he moves all things by their being attracted to his beauty as to an end. See Metaphysics book XII chap. 7.

Aristotle is always sober and restrained, but he ends up with as many, if not more mystical and ecstatic conclusions than most people recognize. That's just where the sober and careful reflection led him.

James Chastek
(blogger makes me sign in as thomism)

Edward Feser said...

Totally swamped right now, folks, so some hit and reun replies:

Free Thinker, the others have said pretty much what I would have, only more politely.

Darrin, yes, when matter takes on a new substantial form or essence, the resulting new substance has a different final cause (or more precisely,a different set of hierarchically ordered final causes).

Casey, the motives of the early moderns were complicated and mixed. To some extent it was honest error, to some extent intellectual dishonesty, with more predomianting in some and the other in others. Re: your other question, the short answer is that modern people overestimate their own moral understanding and virtue and underestimate the moral understanding and virtue of their forebears. But again, that's just the short answer.

James, I agree. My point was just that Aristotle doesn't see final causes as somehow deriving from the Unmoved Mover's actively ordering things toward their ends, a la the Fifth Way. (Aristotle's God is too "snooty" and above it all for that!) But it is certainly true that he is nevertheless the end toward which everything else strives.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser would Spinoza be considered one who believes in exaggerated realism?

Diogenes said...

What about "conatus" - that force that exists in all things, the force that endeavors to persevere? I know Nietzsche thought that he had found a contradiction in Spinoza's thinking when he found this piece of teleology "hidden" - or so he thought. If the basis of your argument rests on the fact that Spinoza dismissed all final causes then I wonder what becomes of the argument now?

Pierre Bayle introduced Hume to Spinoza in such a way that Hume never took up the cause on his own. Lazy? Probably. But a travesty just the same. Your dismissive account of one of the greatest philosophers in history does you no great service. Your argument could be more objective - especially as a teacher of philosophy.

Edward Feser said...

Spinoza is explicit about rejecting final causes; that isn't some thesis of Spinoza-exegesis I made up. Hence, given that it is hard to see how "conatus" can be made sense of without final causes, the conclusion to draw -- as Nietzsche does -- is that Spinoza was (no doubt inadvertently) inconsistent. Why that is a problem for me rather than for Spinoza, I have no idea.