Monday, January 4, 2010

The interaction problem, Part III

In a couple of previous posts (here and here) we have examined the famous “interaction problem” facing Cartesian dualism and its origins in the impoverished conception of causation the early modern philosophers put in place of the Aristotelian-Scholastic conception. But as Bill Vallicella rightly notes, whatever we think of the interaction problem and of Cartesian dualism’s ability to deal with it, it cannot be regarded as a reason for preferring materialism to dualism. For materialism faces an interaction problem of its own.

Part of the problem is that even if we identify mental events and physical events, mental properties seem to have no causal relevance. Suppose a sensation of pain is identical with such-and-such a neural firing pattern. The way it causes you to moan and to nurse the damaged body part is by triggering further neural processes which result in the flexing of the relevant muscles. In that case, though, it is the electrochemical properties alone that are doing the causal work, and the distinctively mental aspect – the experienced phenomenal character of the pain itself – seems epiphenomenal. This is called the “mental causation problem” and it is the aspect of the interaction problem for materialism that Bill focuses on. It arises in different ways for different varieties of materialism. (It threatens Donald Davidson’s anomalous monism, for example, because of his principle of the anomalism of the mental.)

But this isn’t the only way the interaction problem arises for materialism. It arises also because the mechanistic conception of the natural world makes body-body interaction as mysterious as mind-body interaction. And again, it does so because of the impoverished conception of causation the moderns put in place of the older Aristotelian-Scholastic conception.

The Aristotelian-Scholastic account of causation was rich in theoretical subtleties and carefully worked out distinctions. It included, not only the famous doctrine of the four causes – formal, material, efficient, and final – but also the act/potency distinction, the notion that causes and effects can sometimes be simultaneous, the distinction between causal series ordered per se and causal series ordered per accidens, the distinction between primary and secondary causes, the idea that causation involves the cause communicating something to its effect, an emphasis on substances rather than accidents or events as true causes, and so forth. But as Kenneth Clatterbaugh notes in The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy 1637-1739, in the century or so between the time of Descartes’ work on the subject and that of Hume, virtually all of the characteristic theses of the Aristotelian-Scholastic account of causation were gradually abandoned. Of the four causes, only efficient causation was left, and in a radically modified form. Substances and their inherent causal powers were abandoned and causation was regarded instead as a relationship between events. Nothing was taken to be communicated from cause to effect and in principle anything might follow upon anything else.

What resulted, naturally, were the skeptical puzzles of Hume. The notion of causation as an objective feature of the world became problematic at best and unintelligible at worst. As I argue at length in The Last Superstition and Aquinas, and have discussed more briefly in earlier posts (e.g. here and here), this was inevitable given the abandonment of final causality. If there is nothing in a cause that inherently “points to” or is “directed at” the generation of a certain effect or range of effects, there is ultimately no way to make sense of the fact that it does indeed generate just that effect or effects.

Hence the fact that a material cause brings about just the material effect or effects it does becomes no less mysterious on the modern, mechanistic account of nature than mind-body interaction does. This is the reason bizarre theories like occasionalism and pre-established harmony had the cachet they did among some of the early moderns. The motivation was not, as is sometimes supposed, to find a way to salvage mind-body dualism. It was rather to find a way to deal with the fact that any causation at all in the natural order – even that between material bodies – seemed impossible given the new conception of nature.

But haven’t many contemporary philosophers tried to solve the puzzles about causation raised by the early modern philosophers, especially Hume? Indeed they have, but as I have shown in TLS and Aquinas, when they have attempted to provide a realist account of causation, the tendency has been to appeal to notions – inherent causal powers, “physical intentionality,” dispositions, and so forth – which essentially involve a return to something like an Aristotelian conception of nature. Clatterbaugh cites the example of Wesley Salmon, who in Four Decades of Scientific Explanation argues that genuine causal processes involve a “transmission” of “information,” and even of “structure,” from cause to effect. Like some of the other contemporary writers I’ve cited before (Armstrong, Molnar, et al.), Salmon does not realize that he sounds like a Scholastic.

The “interaction problem,” then, is not a problem for Cartesian dualism per se but for modern metaphysical positions in general, including materialism. Accordingly, its existence has no tendency whatsoever to provide an argument in favor of materialism over dualism. What it does provide is an argument in favor of a broadly Aristotelian-Scholastic metaphysics over any modern, mechanistic would-be replacement.

32 comments:

David Kennedy said...

Hi Ed. Just a quick question about simultaneity of cause and effect. You talked about the [A-T] "notion that causes and effects can sometimes be simultaneous".

Why is it only 'sometimes'? My first reading of TLS led me to believe (perhaps wrongly) that cause and effect are always simultaneous in A-T metaphysics.

This seemed a very appealing notion, since it eliminates any "spooky" gaps between cause and effect (how, for example, can causes transmit their delayed effects into the future, without the cause actually extending into that future?).

It also eliminates any problems with physical relativitic theory in different frames of reference, since simultaneous events are simultaneous in all frames of reference. If cause and effect were generally temporally separated, there would be cases where cause and effect were reversed in different frames of reference, which would be weird.

Or am I mixing up metaphysics and physics here? Is it the case that A-T metaphysics allows for delayed causality, but does not require it, while physical theory is a tighter but contingent constraint?

David Kennedy said...

On second thoughts, ignore that second-last paragraph. If you accept the relativitic principle that causal effects can't propagate faster than light, the problem of reversed causality doesn't arise in relativistic theory, so the whole paragraph is a red herring!

The rest of OK though.

Jime said...

Hi Ed. Just a quick question about simultaneity of cause and effect. You talked about the [A-T] "notion that causes and effects can sometimes be simultaneous".

Why is it only 'sometimes'? My first reading of TLS led me to believe (perhaps wrongly) that cause and effect are always simultaneous in A-T metaphysics


Hi David,

Perhaps Dr.Feser will correct me, but as far I understand TLS explanations on causation, cause and effect are simultaneous when they're part of a essentially ordered causal series.

They're not always simultaneous, because in case of accidentally ordered causal series, some efficient causes of the causal chain could not to exist.

But in cases of essentially ordered causal series, efficient causes have to be present to produce the effect.

Is in this sense that God is the first cause of finite things or entities.

In A-T metaphysics, efficient causation refers to things or entities, not to events (as in Hume). Also, in A-T, causation exist objectively in things, while in Hume's causation exist only in the mind.

In the context of critizing Hume's views on causation and its implications for survival after death (or immortality, if you want) I wrote this post:

http://subversivethinking.blogspot.com/2009/12/david-hume-causality-or-causation-mind.html

I argue there that Hume's conclusion that consciousness will dissapear after death is inconsistent with his own subjetivist ideas on event causation.

Jime said...

Just to qualify my above comment:

"But in cases of essentially ordered causal series, efficient causes have to be present to produce the effect"

What I mean there is that in case of essentially ordered causal chain, all of the parts (or links) of the chain has to exist to produce the final effect.

In the case of accidentally ordered causal series, the inmediate efficient cause of the effect is independent of the previous parts of the causal chain, because that efficient cause has in itself all it needs to produce the effect.

Also, this inmmediate efficient cause, even if a part of a accidentally ordered causal chain, is simultaneous to the effect, because cause and effect (when the efficient cause is immediate) are two part of the same phenomena or event.

This is how I've understood Dr.Feser's views on causation in TLS.

Anonymous said...

"It also eliminates any problems with physical relativitic theory in different frames of reference, since simultaneous events are simultaneous in all frames of reference"

You corrected yourself on the reversal of cause and effect (only happens in Einstein if faster than light signals are possible), but the above sentence is also wrong. Two events which are simultaenous in one reference frame aren't necessarily so in another. They would only be simultaneous in all frames if the two events also occurred in the same place as well as at the same time.

Going off on a bit of a tangent, I always thought that relativity supports the notion that God is outside of time looking at the universe (past and future) as a whole, since otherwise there's some awkwardness in defining what reference frame He is in, given that He is everywhere. Possibly not a controversial notion here (I don't know), but I know there are some Christian philosophers these days who defend free will and the doctrine of God's omnicience by saying that God doesn't know what people will do in the future (they redefine omniscience to say that God can't know what it is metaphysically impossible to know). They seem to think God is passing through time just like us, which seems a little awkward if you think of it relativistically, since He is also everywhere and you'd have to define a given reference frame as the Divine one. (Presumably it'd be the one where the microwave background is isotropic, but this mixing of theology with physics seems, well, ridiculous to me. )

Anonymous leftwing lurker

TheOFloinn said...

The classic example of relativity was Einstein's electrocuted cows. Imagine several cows munching grass along an electric fence. Two will do to make the point. Call them Bossie-1 and Bossie-2.

The fence is turned off.

Assume electricity travels down the wire at the speed of light. Bossie-1 is munching one light-second down from the power house. Bossie-2 is munching one light-second farther. And Einstein is observing one light-second farther still.

Along comes farmer Hans, who throws the switch turning on the electricity.

At 1 second, Bossie-1 jumps.

At 2 seconds, Bossie-2 jumps AND Farmer Hans sees Bossie-1 jump.

At 3 seconds, Einstein sees Bossie-1 AND Bossie-2 jump AND sees Farmer Hans throw the switch.

At 4 seconds, Farmer Hans sees Bossie-2 jump.

From Hans' POV, the cows got zapped 2 seconds apart, starting two seconds after he threw the switch. From Einstein's POV, they were zapped simultaneously and simultaneously with the throwing of the switch.

(BTW, notice that Hans and Einstein would come up with different values for light speed. Hmmm.)

Seems to me this is only a problem when we forget there are intermediate causes. Because Bossie-1 really did jump one second after the switch was thrown. And Bossie-2 really did jump a second after that. The "privileged" reference frame is that centered on the actual causal encounter, and an actual causal encounter requires "touching" of some sort. The switch touches the electrodes, which touch (closes) the circuit, which...

We like to say that A->Z when really it is A->B->C->...->Y->Z.

Anonymous said...

TheOFloinn--

All your cows and observers are in the same reference frame, just at different points in it. They're in the same frame because their velocities with respect to each other are zero. Also, in relativity there's a distinction between when you see something and when you calculate it happened. So your Einstein observer would see the switch thrown and the cows being electrocuted all at the same time, but after making some distance measurements he would calculate when those events happened and he'd realize that though he saw them at the same time, they happened at different times. In this case, because everything is occurring in the same reference frame, Einstein's analysis of the real times when things happened would be the same as Farmer Hans, and a common sense pre-Einstein analysis would work (you don't need Lorentz transformations for this, in other words). The weird Einsteinian effects kick in when you start comparing how people see things when they are moving with respect to each other. Then even after careful calculations and measurements, they disagree on distances and time intervals.

I haven't read him, but I think William Lane Craig might have done some analysis of relativity and what it might say about theology. I'm a layperson (so take with a grain of salt), but I don't think there'd be a problem if one just accepts what I think is the classical approach--God stands above, so to speak, our space-time continuum and sees it all at once. But some of the modern Christian philosophers seem to think that view doesn't work (for one thing, they say it eliminates free will) and they have this view of God being within time and having a "Now" just like us. That's a problem if God is also found everywhere, because the events taking place "now" in one reference frame aren't the same as the events taking place "now" in another, so which "now" is God's "now"? I suppose one could pick the cosmological reference frame where the microwave background is isotropic, but I find all this physics and theology mixing weird and implausible.

Anonymous said...

So as not to mislead anyone, I mentioned William Lane Craig because I think he has some physics background, but I'm not sure what position he takes on God's relationship with time. I was thinking of others when I said that some say God is not outside time, but experiences past and present with us.

David Kennedy said...

Anonymous is right to say that simultaneous events aren't simultaneous in all frames of reference. What I should have said is that simultaneous and co-located events are simultaneous and co-located in all frames of reference.

One Brow said...

Based on other comments I have seen on this site, Dr. Feser does not feel true simultaneity is needed in A-T metaphysics. He even defines an essentially ordered series without using this notion. That he then went on to use a version of "simultaneous" nine times in five pages to describe this relationship is probably metaphorical.

Edward Feser said...

Hello all,

Actually, One Brow, what I've said is that it is the instrumental nature of the causes the First Way starts out with that is doing the philosophical work, rather than their simultaneity per se. That doesn't mean that simultaneity isn't relevant at all, but rather that it isn't what is fundamental.

Hence, to take a crude illustration, suppose you've got a 1950s science-fiction style time gateway. On your side of the gateway it's Jan 5, 2010; on the other side it's Jan 5, 1910. So, if you stick just your hand through the gateway, your hand will be in 1910 while the rest of you will be in 2010.

Now, suppose you take a paintbrush and start painting a wall here in 2010. This would be s stock example of instrumental causality: The brush causes the wall to change color, but only because it is being used by the hand as an instrument to do so. It has no independent causal power to do it. It also so happens that the brush's motion and that of the hand are simultaneous, by any everyday criterion. But notice that the instrumental character of the brush's causality does not change at all if this ceases being the case: If you stick the brush through the gateway and start painting a wall back in 1910, there is an obvious sense in which the motion of the brush -- certainly of the bristles, say (if we imagine a part of the handle is with you in 2010) -- and thus the effect of the wall being painted is not simultaneous with the cause, the motion of the hand, since the former now exists in 1910 and the latter in 2010. But it remains the case that the brush and the bristles are instrumental relative to the hand. The fact that the brush can do nothing by itelf has no essential connection to the simultaneity of the hand's action, even though in the standard, ordinary examples the primary and instrumental causes do tend to be simultaneous.

Similarly, the central point in the sorts of examples an argument like the First Way starts with is that the casues in question are instrumental and thus cannot be made sense of apart from appeal to a first cause. The reason for using "simultaneous" was to emphasize that this has nothing to do with tracing a set of independent or accidentally ordered causes back to a temporal beginning point a la the kalam cosmological argument, but rather with tracing dependent and essentially ordered causes "downward" to the most fundamental level of reality, that of a purely actual (and thus eternal) uncaused cause.

Edward Feser said...

(Continuing)

Qualifying all this in light of relativity, etc. complicates the exposition, but it does not change the essential point at all. Nor would it be to the point for someone to object "But in that case, maybe the uncaused cause of the world itself exists back in 1910, or in 1000000 B.C., and is causing the present world from that point in the past." For remember, the whole analysis rests on the act/potency distinction. Any sort of change -- more abstractly, and more philosophically satisfactory IMO, any reduction of potency to act -- must necessarily be traced to that which is pure actuality. And what is pure actuality is outside time altogether. Hence it doesn't exist merely in 2010 or 1910 or 1000000 B.C., but eternally.

Saying that the ultimate cause of the motion of the hand, the firing of the neurons, etc. must exist simultaneously, here and now (as I do in TLS), is just shorthand for this. The crucial point, though, is that what the First Way is saying is that any actualization of a potency necessarily traces to a purely actual cause. The point of all the stuff about sticks, stones, hands, etc. is just to introduce the concepts, and the exact physical details are not ultimately important, because the argument does not stand or fall with them.

Hence questions about relativity theory, whether there is some slight temporal gap between the hand moving and the stick moving etc. are irrelevant. What matters is: Is there any actualization of a potency at all in the world? If yes, then boom, you've got your purely actual uncaused cause. Whether we think in common sense terms or instead trace the causes around through some convoluted four-dimensional spacetime structure is beside the point. As earlier generations of Thomists used to emphasize, you don't need to get into any sort of high-falutin' description of the large-scale structure of spacetime to see this. You can focus on anything -- an umbrella, your left shoe, a piece of lint, anything. That e.g. the shoe exists at all is due to the fact that the leather making it up is actually a shoe rather than a catcher's mitt, that the leather exists at all is due to the fact that the matter making it up is actually leather rather than suet pudding, etc.

Or you can take it down to the simplest physical particle. Suppose one such particle were all that existed, that it didn't move through space so that there is no question of local motion, etc. Even this isolated, motionless particle (in the local motion sense of "motion") will, on an Aristotelian analysis, be a compound of prime matter and substantial form. And that means that its matter is actualized in this particular way rather than that way, which fact can be accounted for only by something else which is doing the actualizing (something which must be other than the matter by itself -- which is pure potentiality and thus cannot do anything -- or the form by itself -- which by itself has no reality apart from the matter instantiating it). Again, boom, you've got your purely actual uncaused cause, and no question arises about relativity, simultaneity, etc.

mpresley said...

David Kennedy said... Anonymous is right to say that simultaneous events aren't simultaneous in all frames of reference.

The problem (to my mind) about discussing anything happening at non-terrestrial speeds (i.e., light), events at the atomic/sub-atomic level, or events on a massive scale (universal gravitation) is that these "observations" really have nothing to do with our day to day experience. They are either "manufactured" in a lab under special conditions, and/or explained mathematically (or using specially prepared geometry). It is a big question as to how we can realistically relate these things to what is happening to us in our usual non-relative world, and whether, from a human perspective, it really matters at all.

One Brow said...

Dr. Feser,

As I noted in part five of my series, I agree that temporal simultaneity is not what you claimed to need and the relativisitc physics don't change the nature of your argument. I feel it falls apart in other aspects. The claim there has to be a terminus at all was not evidenced, and the notion that there has to be a single action, as opposed to the various potency-to-act each providing the motive force for the next link in the chain, seemed unnecessary and unempirical.

Edward Feser said...

The claim there has to be a terminus at all was not evidenced, and the notion that there has to be a single action, as opposed to the various potency-to-act each providing the motive force for the next link in the chain, seemed unnecessary and unempirical.

Well, I don't know what to say other than that you don't seem to understand what a causal series ordered per se is. The "various potency-to-act" stages in such a series cannot account for the next link in the chain for the simple reason that no link has any independent power in the first place. That's what it means to call them "instrumental." It's only the first member which is moving anything in the strict sense, and doing it through them others.

TheOFloinn said...

John Lukacs once commented on a passage of Tolstoy [iirc] in which the writer said that no one can understand what makes the locomotive move without understanding how the wheels turned, how the piston rods cranked, how the steam generated pressure and the firebox heated the water to steam, and so on.

Lukacs' comment was that Tolstoy thought of everything except the engineer.

One Brow said...

No, I understand that at no point in the per se is there an independently activated force, and the counter-argument proposes no such item. Rather, at each point, having been activated, each member of the series merely provides the motive power for the next member of the series to be activated. This is no very different than the classical argument. Rather, the disagreemnt is that, since there is no evidence for a terminus, there is no reason to presume that there needs to be an initial actor.

Anonymous said...

One Brow,

Leaving aside the question of whether there's any evidence for or reason to believe in a terminus, what evidence is there for (what I suppose you're arguing) an infinite series without a terminus? It seems to me that by your own reckoning here, either explanation is supported by the evidence and reason.

One Brow said...

Anonymous,

I agree that I have presented no evidence for the absence of a terminus. I'm not even sure what form such evidence could take. As soon as someone presents a per se that has actually been traced to a terminus, either beginning or ending, then I will certainly consider that all such sequences have one. As it is, absent even one example, I am reluctant to say that such things are universal.

Occasional Commentator said...

One Brow,

I have to admit to being a bit baffled by your objections. Are you claiming that a per se causal series has never been observed, or that such series may exist but have never been traced empirically back to a first cause?

If it's the former, I think I get where you're coming from: the A/T theory of causation is wrong and we're all simply awash in Heraclitus's river. If it's the latter, though, I fail to see how such an objection could have any force. One would no more expect to "see" Aristotle's Unmoved Mover through a microscope (or telescope, for that matter) than one would expect to "see" gravity. Certainly we can observe the effects of gravity--as we can that of the First Cause--but as for GRAVITY itself...?

One Brow said...

Occasional Commenter,

It is closer to the latter. However, I'm not asking for a microscopically available series, just one that can be metaphysically justified step-by-step will do. For example, a nerve cluster in the brain that is activated without being stimulated by another nerve action must be activated by an outside source. It seems to me that once you start tracing forwards or backwards alnog the per se series, there really is no terminus. There may occasionally be a local end, but even then you basically have a lattice structure of causes related to other causes, and some part of the lattice always continues indefinitely.

Occasional Commentator said...

Hi One Brow,

So if I get you right (and please correct me if I'm wrong) your objections rest on the belief that reality is an ever-shifting matrix of fundamental particles that are always in motion, always changing. What we experience as "change" is really just a macro-instantiation of the constant change taking place at the atomic/sub-atomic level? Formal/final causes, act/potency, essense/existence: these are purely human notions that at best have vague descriptive power and at worst are a verbal veil that cloaks the truly "real"? For instance, I am a "man" by human convention alone; in the world of the fundamentally real, I am actually 10 to the 28th power of atoms.

Again, if I have misread you in any way I apologize. But doing away with the A\T concepts above are the only way I can see of getting around St. Thomas's First and Second Way.

One Brow said...

Occasional Commenter,

I welcome the questions. I have not been studying this nearly long enough to say I have settled opinions, and serious questions and thought certainly help me clarify things. You have grouped a great many things together, that I would at this point separate.

Are we just billions of particles? I believe in supervenience, for now. I think at the base level this is what we are, but just as a house is more than the bricks, etc. that do into it, so we are more than our atoms. I think that ideas, feelings, etc. are real, or at least realish, things that describe certain aggregates of patterns in brain stimulation.

I am still having trouble figuring out exactly what formal and final cuases are supposed to be doing, frankly. I have asked others what the difference is between a form and a description, or between a final cause and a property/behavior. I acknowledge that descriptions exist and can classify matter, various types of matter have certain properties, etc.

I think the act/potency idea is an interesting way to look at reality and is potentially valuable.

My understanding of the First and Second Way, currently, is that they rely on the impossibilities of an infinite series of one thing or another. I don't find an infinte series to be implausible. One of the few areas I do understand moderately well is mathematics, so I feel I am on reasonable ground there.

Hopefully, I have been clear that I really don't know, for now, whether certain arguments are really valid or not. I only claim that I am unconvinced by them, and try to give reasons why I find them unconvincing. But, I'm sure it will be many years of study before I understand anything well enough make more general statements.

One Brow said...

Occasional Commentator,

Please accept my apology for getting your handle wrong in the previous comment.

TheOFloinn said...

OneBrow said
Are we just billions of particles? I think at the base level this is what we are, but just as a house is more than the bricks, etc. that [g]o into it, so we are more than our atoms.

One Brow then asks:
I am still having trouble figuring out exactly what formal and final cuases are supposed to be doing

After having just answered it himself. A formal cause is the difference between a pile of bricks and a house. The one has the form of a pile; the other the form of a house.

Both chlorine and sodium are made up of the same matter, to which we have given the names proton, neutron, and electron. What distinguishes them and gives them different [emergent] properties is the number and arrangement of their parts; i.e., their forms.
+ + +
As for final cause, IIRC, that is the tendency-toward of any thing. For example, evolution tends toward a multiplicity of species [in general] and toward better fitness to a niche [in conjunction with a niche]. Ponderable matter tends toward a point of minimal gravitational potential. A tiger cub tends toward an adult tiger. The existence of final causes is demonstrated by the existence of physical laws of nature.

The thing that is hard to shake is the unexamined assumption that cause means a certain kind of efficient cause.

All scientific laws are descriptions. They describe how things happen. E=mc^2 or s=0.5gt^2 and so on. (The farther we get from the physics of motion, the less well this suit of clothing fits. Physics-> chemistry-> biology-> By the time we get to the social "sciences," mathematical laws are mere statistical associations.)

+ + +
One Brow writes:
My understanding of the First and Second Way, currently, is that they rely on the impossibilities of an infinite series of one thing or another. I don't find an infinte series to be implausible. One of the few areas I do understand moderately well is mathematics, so I feel I am on reasonable ground there.

Then you should know that the difference is between the abstracted properties of ideal objects like planes, Noetherian rings, or systems of differential equations and the abstracted properties of physical objects like boards, trees, or stellar clusters. The former can obviously go to infinity. They have no physical existence, do not take up space or time, etc. It was the existence of a physical infinity that is problematical. For example, the heights of adult Frenchmen may be modeled using the Gaussian distribution. But the Gaussian distribution goes to infinity in both directions, so there is a finite probability of a Frenchman twenty feet tall. But the tallest known human being was 8'11". Real world processes do not seem to match the extreme values of mathematical models.

That said, the infinity argument depends on the non-existence in an infinite series of a first cause. Where the series is ordered essentially, each cause obtains its power from the present existence of a prior cause. (That is prior logically, not prior in time.) If there is not first cause, the second cause does not have the power to act; hence the third cause is powerless; hence... there is no motion in the world, a contradiction. Therefore, the series cannot be infinite, but must terminate in a first cause that is entirely actual. Being entirely actual etc. etc.

I am only a mere spectator. My own specialty is in mathematics, which is far closer to metaphysics than is physics.

One Brow said...

TheOFloinn,

After having just answered it himself. A formal cause is the difference between a pile of bricks and a house. The one has the form of a pile; the other the form of a house.

Is there any more to it than being a description? If formal causes are nothing more than descriptions, their metaphysical role becomes entirely passive. What's the difference between saying "that has the form of a ball" and saying "that object is spherical and bouncy"?

Both chlorine and sodium are made up of the same matter, to which we have given the names proton, neutron, and electron. What distinguishes them and gives them different [emergent] properties is the number and arrangement of their parts; i.e., their forms.

I am aware of efficient-cause reasons for this difference. How does the formal cause come into play? What difference does it makes in how the properties are expressed, that is not explained by efficient causes?

It was the existence of a physical infinity that is problematical.

That is the claim.

For example, the heights of adult Frenchmen may be modeled using the Gaussian distribution. But the Gaussian distribution goes to infinity in both directions, so there is a finite probability of a Frenchman twenty feet tall.

So the model is imprecise, as models generally are.

If there is not first cause, the second cause does not have the power to act; hence the third cause is powerless...

If the causal chain is infinite, there is no first, second, or third member. If the sequence is a lattice instead of linear, there is not even a unique chain.

TheOFloinn said...

One Brow saith:
Is there any more to [formal causes] than being a description?

No scientific law is more than a description. Look, see! This is how heavy bodies fall in a vacuum: they fall in this way: s=0.5at^2
I said:
chlorine and sodium are made up of the same matter, ... [What] gives them different [emergent] properties is the number and arrangement of their parts; i.e., their forms.

One Brow replies:
I am aware of efficient-cause reasons for this difference. How does the formal cause come into play? What difference does it makes in how the properties are expressed, that is not explained by efficient causes?

a) Formal "causes" are more properly formal "becauses." The Greek term did not mean "cause" as moderns understand it: as a particular sort of efficient because.

b) Formal causes are not hypotheses put forth to explain some phenomenon in competition with efficient causes from a rival supplier. They are part of a complete understanding.

c) An auto mechanic need not understand thermodynamics to repair an engine, after all; so many people need not understand formality to obtain practical results.

d) Efficient causes cannot explain why glass shatters when struck by, say, a brick. A plastic window will not so shatter, for example; nor a rubber one. The brick is the efficient cause of the shattering. It presses in on the glass, causing the glass to move. But the shattering occurs because glass has a brittle nature. Nowadays we say "amorphous atomic structure" rather than "brittle nature," but that is only because we are better able to describe forms these days. What it amounts to is that glass has a particular form and because it has this form, it receives the action of the brick in a different way than a plastic pane (or even than safety glass.)

Similarly chlorine reacts easily with alkali metals precisely because of its form: it lacks one electron in its outer shell and alkalies have one valence electron. A "free" electron would behave very differently: it would emit electromagnetic waves, lose energy, and finally fall into the nucleus. But when part of a whole atom, the electron obeys quantum rules, stays in its assigned orbit, and makes only certain allowable transitions. IOW, how the object behaves is mediated partly by its participation in a whole object. Emergent properties are the best argument for formal causes. Whole-istic thinking can be helpful.

the Gaussian distribution goes to infinity in both directions, so there is a finite probability of a Frenchman twenty feet tall.

One Brow: So the model is imprecise, as models generally are.

You had claimed that physical infinities were possible because you could conceive of mathematical infinities. To wit:
...they rely on the impossibilities of an infinite series of one thing or another. I don't find an infinte series to be implausible. One of the few areas I do understand moderately well is mathematics...

So I merely pointed out that mathematical infinities, being abstractions from ideal objects, did not obligate the physical to be infinite, let alone the metaphysical.
+ + +
If there is not first cause, the second cause does not have the power to act; hence the third cause is powerless...

One Brow wrote:
If the causal chain is infinite, there is no first, second, or third member.

And hence no ith member, no (i+1)th member, ... and hence no present member, a contradiction. You got it.

One Brow said...

Is there any more to [formal causes] than being a description?

No scientific law is more than a description.


That's not an answer.

a) Formal "causes" are more properly formal "becauses." The Greek term did not mean "cause" as moderns understand it: as a particular sort of efficient because.

b) Formal causes are not hypotheses put forth to explain some phenomenon in competition with efficient causes from a rival supplier. They are part of a complete understanding.


Describe how they complete understanding, in a way that is any different from just describing an object.

d) Efficient causes cannot explain why glass shatters when struck by, say, a brick. A plastic window will not so shatter, for example; nor a rubber one. The brick is the efficient cause of the shattering. It presses in on the glass, causing the glass to move. But the shattering occurs because glass has a brittle nature. Nowadays we say "amorphous atomic structure" rather than "brittle nature," but that is only because we are better able to describe forms these days. What it amounts to is that glass has a particular form and because it has this form, it receives the action of the brick in a different way than a plastic pane (or even than safety glass.)

You say above that formal are not in competition with efficient causes. Then, you offer an example where, instead of using the efficient cause of the distribution of energy, or lack thereof, in glass vs. plastic you use a "form" to explain something. This is very confusing.

You had claimed that physical infinities were possible because you could conceive of mathematical infinities.

More specifically, understanding mathematical infinities leads to noticing that the arguments against physical infinites are generally invalid. I don't claim there is proof that such infinities exist.

And hence no ith member, no (i+1)th member, ... and hence no present member, a contradiction.

I am unaware of any valid proof that no ith member => no present member.

Jonathan said...

(Tweaked my Question 2b slightly):

Dr. Feser wrote above: "Or you can take it down to the simplest physical particle. Suppose one such particle were all that existed, that it didn't move through space so that there is no question of local motion, etc. Even this isolated, motionless particle (in the local motion sense of "motion") will, on an Aristotelian analysis, be a compound of prime matter and substantial form. And that means that its matter is actualized in this particular way rather than that way, which fact can be accounted for only by something else which is doing the actualizing (something which must be other than the matter by itself -- which is pure potentiality and thus cannot do anything -- or the form by itself -- which by itself has no reality apart from the matter instantiating it). Again, boom, you've got your purely actual uncaused cause, and no question arises about relativity, simultaneity, etc."

I'm really trying to internalize the Unmoved Mover section of TLS, so I'm glad you gave the ultra-focused example above. My questions are:

(1) How do we know that "Aristotelian analysis", with its various concepts, is true?

(2) Regarding your example of a stone being pushed by a stick being pushed by a person, how would you answer someone who says that the first cause in the "essentially ordered causal series" is not an Unmoved Mover but (a) the person's will, or (b) random motion of atoms bumping into each other?

Jonathan said...

Actually I think I figured out the answer to (2a) (if we follow the chain of causation, whether the person's will makes an appearance or not, we eventually get to atoms and quarks and must keep going down the chain) and to (2b) (we must consider what causes the strong force, weak force, etc., and thus must keep going down the chain).

But I would still be interested to know your thoughts on (1).

TheOFloinn said...

(b) random motion of atoms bumping into each other

That is rather unlikely to produce the same effect "always or for the most part."

Jonathan said...

@TheOFloinn - Good point.

Does anyone have a good answer for (1), i.e., how do we know that Aristotelian concepts (act/potency, the 4 causes, form/matter) are the true view?

Do we just "try it" and see how well it fits reality? i.e, see whether it leads to fewer "problems" than more modern philosophies?