Thursday, January 28, 2010

“Go to Thomas!”

Ite ad Thomam!” the popes have taught us; “Go to Thomas!” Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas. As you sip your Aquinas in celebration, you’ll want something to read. Naturally, you’ll include some choice selections from the Summa Theologiae or the Summa Contra Gentiles. Then you might take a look at Michael Augros’s article responding to “Ten Objections to the Prima Via. Or dip into Ralph McInerny’s Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Or ponder Jacques Maritain’s useful summary (from his book St. Thomas Aquinas) of papal statements on the authority Aquinas’s teaching has within the Catholic Church. Or read something else if you must. Don’t forget to begin with St. Thomas’s student’s prayer. Later, sing one or another of his beautiful Eucharistic hymns. Contemplate his virtues. Indulge in a little triumphalism. And as you say a bedtime prayer to the Angelic Doctor himself, don’t forget to ask his intercession on behalf of philosophers and theologians. Believe me, we need it.

23 comments:

Victor Quiros Vargas said...

Today is a wonderful day! I am in joy since the moment I woke up and I, indeed, will ask for Thomas's intercession on behalf of every philosopher and theologian. I know it's not easy to speak up in a world that has abandoned formal and final causes and hence the notion of an objective moral - natural (essential - inherent) order of things.

George R. said...

I read some of Prima Via by Michael Augros hoping to find an adequate response to the “inertia” objection. I didn't.

It is not sufficient to simply say that Aquinas and Aristotle considered that objects move naturally to their natural place. For this does not explain how they are moved. It’s like explaining where babies come from by saying that they happen naturally – which is true, but it hardly sheds much light on the issue.

Furthermore, this explanation ignores a more basic principle of Aristotle which states that the agent of change, as long as change is taking place, must be in contact with the patient, i.e., that in which change is taking place. Therefore, things moved to their naturally place still must be moved by another which is in contact with it until the motion is completed.

Anonymous said...

"It is not sufficient to simply say that Aquinas and Aristotle considered that objects move naturally to their natural place. For this does not explain how they are moved. It’s like explaining where babies come from by saying that they happen naturally – which is true, but it hardly sheds much light on the issue."

That would be true, if that is all he said on the issue. He additionally said that Thomas meant “Omne quod movetur ab alio movetur” in the sense that for everything that is moving, there must be something which set it in motion, not necessarily “Everything in
motion is being moved by another.”

"Furthermore, this explanation ignores a more basic principle of Aristotle which states that the agent of change, as long as change is taking place, must be in contact with the patient, i.e., that in which change is taking place. Therefore, things moved to their naturally place still must be moved by another which is in contact with it until the motion is completed."

He addressed this in the body of the piece:"

"It is Hume, not Aquinas or Aristotle, who defines a cause (in the
sense of a mover) as something in “constant conjunction” with what it
moves or effects.16 When Aristotle defines a mover, he does not
define it as what is in constant conjunction with the mobile, but as
what first began some motion.17" (p 11)

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dGw0VjeMDg

John Farrell said...

Aquinas is a great wine! Oh...and also a notable philosopher.

:)

George R. said...

Anon,
Since every part of a motion is motion just as much as the beginning, if you say that a thing must be moved by another only at the beginning of the motion, then you must admit that not every motion requires a first mover.

As for you second point, if David Hume said that about motion, then he said well. Aquinas also says, on numerous occasions, that action (of the agent) and passion (of the patient) are present in all motions, from beginning to end.

jack said...

strictly speaking its his feast day in the Novus Ordo calander, still gotta wait another month or so for it in the traditional calander

tlamb said...

Dr. Feser.
I recently got your book Aquinas and am reading through it right now. It's incredibly good.

anon said...

Ahh...converts.

Anonymous said...

George R.

"Since every part of a motion is motion just as much as the beginning, if you say that a thing must be moved by another only at the beginning of the motion, then you must admit that not every motion requires a first mover."

Why must I admit that? That an object in motion will stay in motion unless a force acts upon it does not mean that it was never set in motion to begin with. Even in the thought experiment of a ball moving forever throughout a void, the person thinking of the though experiment initiated the motion. That is why Aquinas's First Way is not effected by even the universe being eternal.

"As for you second point, if David Hume said that about motion, then he said well. Aquinas also says, on numerous occasions, that action (of the agent) and passion (of the patient) are present in all motions, from beginning to end."

I made my second point in response to your second point, which, if I understood it correctly, objected to what you called a principle of Aristotle, which it was not. Now you are agreeing to it as a principle of Hume? I am afraid I don't understand your objection.
Is it that physical motion is not a change, because "agent of change, as long as change is taking place, must be in contact with the patient"? I believe Aquinas had a more robust sense of motion than physical motion. Anyhow, could you please explain your second point more clearly? I do not want to misrepresent you.

~The same Anon as last time.

thomism said...

George R,

So your claim is that Augros responded to "the inertia objection" by saying nothing more than "natural things move to a natural place" Really? That's all that was relevant? There wasn't that long section about how, irrespective of whether inertial motion is violent or natural or doesn't exist, it does not change the truth of the first way?


Give 'em another read. Seriously, I knew the guy.

James Chastek

George R. said...

Why must I admit that? That an object in motion will stay in motion unless a force acts upon it does not mean that it was never set in motion to begin with. Even in the thought experiment of a ball moving forever throughout a void, the person thinking of the though experiment initiated the motion. That is why Aquinas's First Way is not effected by even the universe being eternal.


Anon,
Let me give an example: Say you threw a stone off a hundred-story building. You initiated the motion, true. But the stone’s subsequent passing between the 90th and 80th floors, is that not motion? Of course it is. So if the stone passing between the 90th and 80th floor is not being moved by another, then the motion taking place between those floors has no first mover, and God cannot be demonstrated by this motion.

I made my second point in response to your second point, which, if I understood it correctly, objected to what you called a principle of Aristotle, which it was not.


Aristotle taught the same thing. That’s where Aquinas got it from. Motion for Aristotle was the reduction of the mobile object from potency to act, and nothing can reduce itself to act. This was a bedrock teaching of Aristotle.

James Chastek,
I have to admit I read only a few paragraphs. It did not seem to be going in the right direction, so I figured I'd raise the objection.

I plan to read the rest tomorrow.

George R. said...

Just to clarify, Anonymous, when I say “first mover,” I mean first mover in an essentially ordered series that would be the cause of the stone’s motion between the 90th and 80th floors. The first mover is not the initial mover.

TheOFloinn said...

Say you threw a stone off a hundred-story building. You initiated the motion, true. But the stone’s subsequent passing between the 90th and 80th floors... is not being moved by another....

As I understand it, it is being moved by the Earth's gravity, which would count as another. Then we have to ask what caused the earth to have gravity, in virtue of which the motion takes place.

Further, dropping a stone off the building is not essentially orderes, as I understand these things. (Which I may not.) The Dropper of the Stone could be whisked from the universe and set down in Middle Earth to fight orcs, once he has released the Stone. It's like A gives birth to B. B does not depend upon A's continual action to possess her generative powers. Neither does the stone depend upon the Dropper. (In fact, it might also be said that the dropper was not the actual cause of the motion in the first place. The dropped stone was always moved by the Earth's gravity.

Violent motion is different. The stone will not naturally fly up unless something gives it that motion.

You'd have better luck with throwing a stone in outer space. But even there, we say it is in "free fall." It's still falling, but it has enough horizontal vector that it does not fall faster than it reached the horizon.

Squirrel Boots McKenzie said...

Are there other traditions of thought coming from Thomas Aquinas?

I've recently been interested in Dr. Feser's approach (the Thomistic approach).

But not long ago I was listening to Dr. Peter Kreeft speak. He was saying that his thought is influenced by Aquinas but said something along the line of how Thomists just muddy up the understanding.

Are there two different schools of thought? Is anyone familiar with Dr. Kreeft enough to know why he might make that statement?

Thanks.

George R. said...

James Chastek,
I read the rest of that section by Michael Augros. In my opinion, most of the problem can solved by unpacking and making sense of the following passage from the same section:

Accordingly Aristotle designates as the “mover” of a natural
motion whatever in some way initiates it, even if it is not thereafter
continuously acting upon the mobile throughout its motion. Conversely,
Aristotle and Aquinas both admit that the nature of a natural
body is in some sense an active principle of its natural motion, and that
it is continuously conjoined to the natural body whose nature it is, and
yet they do not call it the “mover”:

"Just as other accidents follow upon the substantial form, so too place,
and consequently moving to a place; but not in such a way that the natural
form is a mover, but rather the mover is the generator which gives such a
form, upon which such motion follows." (Commentary on Physics II, Thomas Aquinas)

If a natural body “moved itself,” this would mean that it initiated
its own motions, which is true only of living things.19 What is it that
initiates the downward motion of a heavy body (or the mutual ap-
proach of two bodies)? Certainly not itself, but rather whatever it was
that gave it the inclination to move thus, i.e. whatever generated it, just
as the “mover” responsible for the burning of the building is not so
much the fire as the one who produced the fire. Its motion or tendency
to move begins when it begins to be, and since it does not begin its
own being, neither does it begin its own motion. (Of course, such
natural motions can be impeded, and thus the natural motion can also
be initiated or begun in some sense by whatever removes an impediment
to such a motion.


Augros at first seems to be conflating the "generator" with the "initiator;" then he seems to be properly distinguishing between the two. This is the key; for the generator as the principle of the form and motion of the mobile object would be the mover of the object throughout the motion, whereas the initiator only moves the object at the beginning.

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser,

I bought The Last Superstition, Aquinas and Philosophy of Mind and am reading the first two now. Excellent so far!

I was wondering, given the amount of misinformation about Aquinas out there, have you ever thought about editing some of the terrible information on Wikipedia about his arguments?

Like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinque_viae

Anonymous said...

Squirrel boots I think this is what you're looking for:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/10/thomistic-tradition-part-i.html

Michael said...

George R:

You bring up a very good opint.

I wrote my master's thesis precisely on the prima via, with emphasis on the objection from inertia.

See Fr. Joyce's (in my view, conclusive) solution (scroll to "argument from motion"):

http://maritain.ND.edu/jmc/etext/pnt03.htm


(if you can get a hard copy of the book, the third edition has an appendix, pgs. 607-611, where he answers further objections; I address this in my thesis)

Michael said...

The first sentence should read "point"

George R. said...

Michael,
Thanks for the link. Fr. Joyce’s work seems very much worth studying.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, Ed!

Augros needs to "Go to Thomas." One cannot overcome the inertia objection by granting it, which is what he seems to due. Acceleration needs a cause, and that it what the initiator of motion does, at least in a Newtonian view, and for Augros as well. But motion depends on its parts, as Aristotle proves, and EVERY part needs a mover to explain the "bit" of newly acquired act. An initiator only causes the first part of the motion, but does not explain why the mobile CONTINUES to move after the initiator has stopped influencing the mobile, which is the whole problem that inertia is supposed to eliminate.

Anonymous Aponymous

Anonymous said...

Every thing in the universe is in the process of motion/change, therefor the whole universe is in motion, from the smallest identifiable particle/force/wave to whole galaxies and all living things into the eternal past. So how could all this motion/change be without a First Unmoved Mover, Itself unmoved and not a part of the universe, since in an eternal universe there would be no first mover?