Friday, January 7, 2011

Oderberg’s Real Essentialism

If you want to understand how Aristotelian metaphysics might be defended today at length, in detail, with rigor, and in conversation with contemporary science and analytic philosophy, it is really essential that you read Real Essentialism. (Cute, no?) I have recommended David Oderberg’s excellent book many times, and now I have another excuse to do so insofar as my review of it has finally appeared in the latest (October 2010) issue of Faith and Philosophy. (Not available online, I’m afraid.)

See also Tuomas Tahko’s recent review. And from the other reviews:

“[Real Essentialism] presents vigorous and wide-ranging arguments in defense of an Aristotelian metaphysical scheme … This book puts forward many unfashionable views. But it argues for them with vigor and erudition.” Crawford L. Elder, Analysis

“Oderberg … exemplifies the unfortunately rare combination in analytical philosophy of rigorous and historically informed argumentation … This book places hylomorphism squarely on the table for discussion.” Sebastian Rehnman, Review of Metaphysics

“A major intellectual achievement… I can particularly recommend, for those interested in such matters – as many metaphysicians presently are – his very well informed discussion of powers and laws of nature, which raises important objections to many current accounts of these.” E. J. Lowe, The Philosophical Quarterly

52 comments:

Tuomas said...

Come to think of it, I should've submitted a review to some journal as well. I guess I could still do it. Real Essentialism is certainly essential reading!

Damien S said...

Yes, it was a big plus to get Jonathon Lowe's endorsement of it as he is quite perceptive on these issues.

Ed

I noticed that Lowe didn't like Oderberg's take on prime matter. I tend to think C. B. Martin's 'Limit View' is more plausable than prime matter.

monk68 said...

Tuomas / Ed

In his review, Tuomas says:

"Later on, Oderberg makes another specification in passing, which I also support: our epistemological access to essence does not rely on any ‘special insight’ or ‘intellectual intuition’, but is rather a combination of perceptual information and intellectual abstraction from that information (via a consideration of form, according to Oderberg) (p. 31). On related note, this makes essentialism a fallibilist position — something that is often overlooked in anti-essentialist accounts."

Isn't "intellectual abstraction" itself something like a "special insight" or "intellectual intuition"? As I understand St. Thomas, intellection “just is” something of a mystery – chalked up to a participation metaphysics. Of course, I understand why one might complain that such an explanation (“mystery” or “participation metaphysics”) does not sufficiently fill-out the epistemological story; leading Tuomas to say:

"an epistemic gap remains between essential properties and the essence itself.”

I suppose that I don’t quite see why Tuomas or others think it so needful to fill in this explanatory gap (nor am I sure it ever CAN be filled in). “Essence” seems as mysterious as “prime matter”. If one maintains that neither of these are entities in their own right – “entity” (thing?) being a term reserved only for their substantial combination – then how is the WHAT question, in relation to “prime matter” and “essence”, even meaningful? What epistemic discovery do we really with regard to terms which we already concede do not point to entities in any ordinary sense? When we press to understand WHAT “prime matter” and “essence” are, ISTM that they ultimately appear to be terms we use to notate the juncture at which God conserves finite being in existence. That our intellectual engagement with this juncture might turn out to be functional, yet perpetually non-exhaustive and elusive of complete explication, does not trouble me greatly, and even seems a likely state-of-affairs. The difficulty of grasping these two notions in metaphysics is has an empirical counterpart in difficulty of grasping substantial reality at the level of quantum physics. We approach a substance (it seems in both metaphysics and empirical science) through its properties in an innumerable number of ways; all of which point to the fact that some reality/Reality somehow stands behind the repeated particular experience of a common array of properties. Yet, we may never come to an exhaustive explanatory grasp of just “what” that “reality/Reality” which “stands-behind” is. But perhaps this is not such a surprise/problem if the “reality” or “essence” is not after all a thing or “entity” in the ordinary sense, but rather a point at which a “Whom” actively creates in the here and now? I suppose I am asking why it must be philosophically disconcerting to embrace an epistemic situation or story in which we know THAT a unifying principle/Principle stands behind a consistent array of properties, while admitting that we cannot sufficiently comprehend (and therefore communicate) WHAT exactly, that principle/Principle is?

Nick said...

Oh to be employed again and have income to buy books....

George R. said...

monk68,
I’ve got a question for you. Let’s see if you can answer it. Assuming that substance is the composite of substantial form and prime matter, which are its principles, and assuming the these principles do not exist as beings themselves, since the principles of beings cannot be beings themselves because then these principles would require principles ad infinitum, how, then, do these principles exist? For they must exist somehow, otherwise they couldn’t cause anything. Now I don’t think the explanation for primary matter is that difficult; prime matter is nothing other than determinate matter insofar as it is in potency to all forms. Substantial form, however, seems to be more tricky, and that’s my question to you: How does substantial form exist before the composite substance is generated? For example, how does the substantial form of a horse exist before the horse? It can't exist as, say, the papa horse, because the papa horse is a being, whereas principles aren't. So how does it exist?

Nick said...

I would say it exists virtually in the mind of God. God knows of horseness before he creates a horse just like he knows Gabrielness before he creates Gabriel.

Also, you have a misunderstanding of substance. Substance does not have to contain matter. Angels don't.

Anonymous said...

So, from reading this blog, it's clear that, in the world of analytic philosophy, Aristotelianism is having contemporary arguments proffered in its favor.

Are there any similar such arguments being made for the contemporary relevance of some sort of Platonism? I'd really like to know whether there are other forms of essentialism currently being defended besides Aristotelian-Thomistic essentialism.

monk68 said...

@George,

"prime matter is nothing other than determinate matter insofar as it is in potency to all forms."

But how is that saying anything meaningful? A non-Aristotelian analytic type is just going to say that you renamed "prime matter" as "determinate matter". What does it mean for a thing/principle/ to be "in potency to all form" or more succinctly "pure potency"?

As to the question about form or essence insofar as it exists prior to a particular instantiation; I believe the usual Thomistic response is, as Nick explained, that a form a virtual thought in the mind of God. This is an appeal to participation metaphysics in which Divine thoughts (the one's which God chooses to effect) are the forms which “in-form” prime matter yielding a "substance". Aquinas, so far as I understand him, locates Plato's forms in the Divine intellect.

But what I am confessing is ignorance. None of that goes to the point of my post, other than to, once again, expose the fact that it seems very, very difficult to comprehend or explicate WHAT prime matter or forms/essences are in themselves. The former, because it is hard to conceptualize some "thing"/principle which is simply "pure potency" (what possible intellectual category do we have for grasping "pure potency"?); the latter because the mere statement that “a form is a Divine thought”, hardly represents an exhaustive comprehension or explanation of what a Divine thought might be, in itself. We might possibly appeal to the analogy of being in both cases in order to defend such explanations, BUT that would only affirm that such terms are, in principle, only knowable in an analogous way, rather than in a univocal way. It would amount to an admission that we must settle for a degree of epistemic mystery on such points.

Both of these metaphysical “sub-strata” terms (prime matter and form/essence), may be just the sort of terms which defy exhaustive epistemic comprehension and explanation. We might know a posteriori THAT some explanation for “a consistent experience of the same array of properties in relation to a substance” obtains; but we may never know exhaustively WHAT that explanation is, beyond vague descriptions like "determinate matter insofar as it is potency to all forms" or "finite instantiations of Divine thoughts".

Pax

monk68 said...

I am actually more interested in gaining thoughts from others about the impact of a potentially non-resolvable

". . . epistemic gap . . . between essential properties and the essence itself.”

with regard to the current interaction between modern analytic philosphy and Aristotelian metaphysics

jt said...

If the dual sub-strata of hylemorphism are each problematic, why not argue for the simpler monistic answer that the things that exist and are in God's mind are ideas, as did Berkeley?

If anon wants a modern metaphysics heavy on Platonism, he might check out process philosophy.

George R. said...

Nick:
I would say it exists virtually in the mind of God. God knows of horseness before he creates a horse just like he knows Gabrielness before he creates Gabriel.

That’s true. I don’t see how it can be denied. But more precisely, how would substantial form exist as an immediate principle of a particular horse? After all, you're not suggesting that God creates every individual horse ex nihilo, are you?

More Nick:
Also, you have a misunderstanding of substance. Substance does not have to contain matter. Angels don't.

Right again. I was just thinking of composite substances.

Monk68:
None of that goes to the point of my post, other than to, once again, expose the fact that it seems very, very difficult to comprehend or explicate WHAT prime matter or forms/essences are in themselves.

With respect to prime matter, I don’t see the big epistemic problem. It’s matter insofar as it is in potency to all forms. That’s what it must be; that’s what it is; and that’s all it is. Where’s the mystery?

On the other hand, essence does seems to be more mysterious. As you point out, we are able to know THAT it is, but WHAT it is more tricky. However, we can still know many things about essences. We can know that they inform prime matter; we know that they are what a thing is in the most unqualified sense; we know that they are indivisible and not subject to change, motion, or evolution; and we know that they are the cause of the unity of all the attributes of thing. In other words, we are hardly talking about an epistemological dead-end. Nevertheless, it seems we can only have a partial understanding of what exactly particular essences are. This is because we can only perceive essences indirectly through their effects, i.e., their proper attributes. So you and Toumas are right, “an epistemic gap remains between essential properties and the essence itself.” Still, a great deal about them can be known.

Nick said...

George: That’s true. I don’t see how it can be denied. But more precisely, how would substantial form exist as an immediate principle of a particular horse? After all, you're not suggesting that God creates every individual horse ex nihilo, are you?

Reply: No. Not at all. I'm just saying the form is only actualized when it is combined with matter to form this particular horse and part of the horse is dependent on the matter. The difference is not in the essence but in the matter.

Tuomas said...

@monk68

You asked about the need to resolve the epistemic gap between essential properties and essence itself. I agree that this may be a difficult gap to bridge, but I do think that it is necessary for a viable theory of essence. Note that this doesn't require certainty, as I noted in my review and as Oderberg seems to think as well, essentialism is a fallibilist position.

The reason is really quite simple: just like science, which is also fallibilist, essentialism needs a method. That is, there must be a fairly reliable methodology that we can use to inquire into essences. Otherwise we have no means to judge when we have indeed grasped a genuine essence.

It is easy to illustrate why such a method is needed. Consider the classic debate about the essence of water -- is it H20? The answer, it seems to me, has to do with whether it is a part of the essence of chemical substances that they have their molecular structures essentially. But there are a number of different suggestions as to what the real essence of chemical substances is. How are we supposed to decide which theory is correct, i.e. describes the essence of chemical substances most accurately, if there remains an unbridgeable epistemic gap between a bundle of essential properties (which may or may not be a part of the essence of chemical substances) and the true essence of chemical substances?

Were this gap unbridgable, then I see no choice but adopt a bundle theory of essence, which is exactly what Oderberg wishes to avoid.

That essences are not entities in themselves does not remove the concern; laws of nature are not entities either but we'd better have an explicable epistemic access to them as well.

George R. said...

Nick, you haven’t cleared up the difficulty. Either God does create every individual horse or he doesn’t. Now if he doesn‘t, how can the idea of “horseness” in the mind of God be the cause of “horseness” in individual horses? And if he does, what becomes of secondary causes in nature?

Nick said...

George. God can create a horse through efficient means or he can create them through instrumental means, such as setting it up as horseness being something passed on.

How that happens entirely can be difficult to say, but that there are many actualizations of horseness I would not deny.

Nick said...

Tony: And my understanding is that religions, in order to be successful, often instill in their believers the notion that theirs is the one true religion.

Reply: Somehow, you think this deals with my point. If the God of Christianity is true, all gods that are non-triune is false. Of course, many teach theirs is the one true religion. So? That doesn't make it true or false.



Tony: In the same way that you are not interested in an argument for Zeus, I am not interested in your argument for your God. You understand this heuristic perfectly well. When someone presents me with good evidence to believe in the existence of the Christian God, I will be glad to listen to that evidence.

Reply: I have given you the first way of Aquinas and you have rejected it knowingly without understanding it. If you want to give a real argument for Zeus's existence, feel free. I've already explained why I reject Zeus. In a polytheistic system, he's a part of reality and thus his being is grounded in another.



Tony: Wow. Some positive evidence that what you claim does not exist?

Reply: Reading comprehension is still good.

Tony: I can offer plenty of examples of lack of evidence, failed hypotheses, etc, but I don’t believe it’s possible to offer positive evidence for a claim like atheism.

Reply: So you admit you hold to a worldview with no positive evidence behind it? I suppose you fault believers however for not having positive evidence.

Tony: But since you bring it up, what positive evidence that God does not exist would you accept? Please answer this question, or I will assume that you were being disingenuous.

Reply: Any kind. You can argue for a necessary contradiction in God for instance. I figure it's your stance. You should know the reasons why God doesn't exist.



Tony: I’ll call BS on that one. Explanations are meaningful,

Reply: I never denied that.

Tony: and do some or all of the 9 things that I provided a link to earlier in this post. Neither you, nor anyone on this comment thread yet, has offered a meaningful explanation of the claims that something like gods and angels exist.

Reply: Your inability to understand my argument does not make it meaningless. I have told you I don't accept the natural/supernatural distinction and posit God as the supreme being and the cause of being in all others.

George R. said...

How’s this, Nick?:
“Horseness,” which is rooted in the mind of God, is the final cause of the fertilization of the egg of a female horse by the sperm of the male horse.” In the same way, “muleness,” also rooted in the mind of God, is the final cause of the fertilization of the egg of a female donkey by the sperm of the male horse.

Therefore, the principle of substantial form is nothing else than the final cause of the process of generation, which is exactly how Aristotle saw it. Therefore, substantial form causes generation AND NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Generation causes the composite of substantial form and matter but never substantial form itself. Therefore, Darwinism is patent rubbish.

Nick said...

Sounds good to me. Not a problem for me either since I'm not a Darwinist.

George R. said...

"Not a problem for me either since I'm not a Darwinist."

I didn't think you were, Nick. I just couldn't resist a gratuitous jab at that absurd theory.

Nick said...

All good. I do however when I debate someone accept Darwinism for the sake of argument if need be. I don't claim to know the science behind it and unlike certain people who think being an expert in science qualifies them to speak on theology or philosophy *coughs* Dawkins *coughs* I prefer to not speak where I do not know. Grant my opponent as much as I can of his worldview, and still demolish him.

jt said...

Since you altar boys keeo insisting on ghosts in God's control, I highly recommend you simplify to Berkeley's monistic Ideaism.

George, if prime matter is just the atoms and quarks and photons, etc., you are still talking about entities with essences - already formed matter, not prime at all.

Berkeley gives good ghost.

E.R. Bourne said...

I learned much from Oderberg's book and would also recommend it to anyone interested in a rigorous defense and explication of essentialism.

Tuomas, I enjoyed your review and found your insights illuminating. I have a question concerning it, though. Can we not avoid the problem of an epistemic gap by admitting a distinction between the order of being and the order of knowing? It might be that the human intellect understands what a mammal is by an encounter with sensible accidents and some essential properties which do not themselves constitute the essence of mammals, but, ontologically speaking, essence is prior to all of these things for the very reason that it is responsible not only for the existence of certain properties but, more critically, their unity. Any sort of bundle theory seems inadequate if we desire to know not just why mammals have fur, lactate, etc., but why they have all of these things as present in one substance in a non-accidental way. Our knowledge of essence might be gained through properties (a vague term), but the properties must depend upon essence because it is what makes something a mammal and not a mere collection of mammalian properties.

BenYachov said...

Essences are not subject to change, motion, or evolution in so far as they apply to individual entities but they can be destroyed and succeed by some other thing.

Hydrogen + Oxygen = water and so forth.

Thus I see no reason why mutation in the offspring of animals and extinction of animals who have incompatible survival traits over a long period of time leading to the eventual production of a new "species" is excluded by fixed essences.

I am of course speaking philosophically. Wither the processes I mentioned do in fact work scientifically in changing species over time I will leave the Darwinists and the militant ID crowd to knife fight it out I DON'T CARE.

Thus I see no cogent metaphysical argument mandating species fixism per say.

Of course the biological definition of species and the philosophical one might not be equivalent.

A mule doesn't have the same essence as a horse or a donkey but it does come from them.
So in principle I don't see how species can't over time with the process of evolution beget other species which would have essences.

God would guide this process via His Divine Providence.

OTOH if there is a good Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysical argument against evolution it most likely comes from asking how a species that has a vegetative soul (like a germ) might have descendants who have an animal sensitive soul? Oderberg thinks that's a problem and His argument moved me slightly toward the creationist side on that one.

Naturally the human soul cannot be the product of natural evolution. Only God alone can create it.

BenYachov said...

It is also worth considering whether any organism with a phenomenological awareness, such as mammals, could have descended from any species lacking phenomenology. The reason is again the general metaphysical one of how a species could bestow what it did not possess, no matter how much its genotype mutated. Evolutionists will reject the very idea that there could be metaphysical obstacles in the way of such a transformation. I cannot take the matter further here....

BenYachov said...

The above previous post in bold is from the book.

So it this one.

"there may indeed be other metaphysical constraints on what sorts of evolution could take place, assuming any has, apart from that related to the origin of life or of human nature.

Tuomas said...

@ E. R. Bourne

Thanks, I do like the idea that essential properties ontologically depend on essences. I also find it plausible that we gain knowledge through essences via essential properties. But the problem here is that we may have reasons to think that a given bundle of essential properties is dependent on any number of real essences. So I think that the epistemic gap remains: we must somehow be able to determine which essence(s) it is (are) that a given essential property is dependent on.

We can distinguish between the order of being and knowing, but if we claim to have some knowledge about the order of being, we ought to have a story about how we came to possess that knowledge. Knowledge of essential properties gets us only so far. In fact, if we have no way to trace those essential properties back to the essences that they are dependent on, how do we even know that they are non-accidental?

I think Oderberg is probably right about the problems concerning a bundle theory of essence, but this is why I find the epistemic issue all the more pressing.

jt said...

*but this is why I find the epistemic issue all the more pressing*

Essentialism has been around as a speculative explanation of reality for around 2500 years. So don't get too concerned that it presents any pressing issues.

Even the recent popes were/are metaphysical phenomenologists.

David said...

Oderberg: "It is also worth considering whether any organism with a phenomenological awareness, such as mammals, could have descended from any species lacking phenomenology. The reason is again the general metaphysical one of how a species could bestow what it did not possess, no matter how much its genotype mutated."

I don't follow all the claims that evolution might not be compatible with Thomism, seeing as Aquinas himself not only thought that it was possible, but in fact thought that it was true. Sure, he didn't believe in Darwinism, but he and his contemporaries certainly believed that something with a certain essence could by its nature generate a creature with a completely different essence. Of course, modern Thomism has, er, evolved somewhat, so maybe this rejection is a new idea, although I don't see how the principle is something Aquinas could have just got wrong.

I guess part of the confusion lies around this issue of not bestowing what you don't possess; in one sense, that clearly must be true, but on the other hand, it's quite a vague and hard-to-grasp concept. (It's not a literal bestowing: e.g., God does not have to "possess" matter to "bestow" it on a material creation.) The mutations here aren't even the interesting part: organism A has matter to bestow on some offspring B (that's easy); but it also is responsible for the form of B. How can it bestow a B-form when it has itself only an A-form? Well, obviously in some sense it does have a B-form as well. How does a robot make a car? It contains the form or "blueprint" for the car — not informing its own matter, or it would be a car; but implicitly, "encoded" in its programming. There's nothing magical about this. A robot A can assemble a car B. A bird A can build a nest B. A pile of garbage A can generate a fly B. This is all standard Aristotelianism, surely?

Of course, we must recognise that the metaphysician's "species" need not correspond to the biologist's "species". There will presumably be some overlap or similarity, but each uses concepts and definitions that are suitable to his own field. A cat gives birth to a baby cat, and a mutated cat gives birth to a mutant. To the essentialist, the mutated offspring may have a distinct and separate essence from its parents; to the biologist, the differences may be so subtle that to him they are all simply "cats". At some point (e.g. when they can no longer interbreed), the biologist will consider it worthwhile to come up with a new name; while the metaphysician has had the need to distinguish all along between the forms of cat1, cat2, cat3, etc. And none of this addresses the issue of how evolution actually does happen, or how much, or whether God chose to use it or when, but it at least has to be metaphysically possible.

awatkins69 said...

To be quite honest, although I like Oderberg's book a lot, especially for its discussion on prime matter, powers/dispositions, and biology/psychology, I was somewhat disappointed with his explaining of essence. Can someone tell me if this is an acceptable way to understand essence? I might be completely wrong on this, but if not, then I may have some understanding:

For some object X the essence of X is the truthmaker of the proposition "The definition of X is [such and such]."

I believe that essences are not just definitions, right? Rather, they're aspects of reality. Is this okay? Thanks.

awatkins69 said...

And what is the difference between essence and form?

George R. said...

Awatkins,
It seems to me that what Oderberg is saying is fine. He’s not saying that essences are just definitions. Nor is he saying that the content of the definition exhausts the content of the essence. He’s only saying that the essence is the cause of the definition’s being true.

David said...

Awatkins69: An essence is a form — an essential one as opposed to an accidental one. (So your essence or substantial form is the form of Humanity, while you also have accidental forms such as Dark-Hairedness, etc., etc.)

As for Real Essentialism, I confess to being a bit disappointed by the book myself. It's well written; the language isn't clumsy or stodgy, although that doesn't mean I was always able to follow the ideas clearly. (I suppose that could be because the ideas are complex, or because I am simple, although it didn't feel like the confusion of being in over my head.) Of course, that raises the question of who was the expected audience for the book; some parts felt like a general overview meant to introduce the reader to essentialism, and other parts felt like more advanced arguments meant to defend and convince a knowledgeable reader. That means in some places I was left wanting more detail, or less vague arguments; and in others, I was missing explanations or basic definitions. I really wish it had been broader in its background, or more rigorous in its argumentation (or both).

The relation between essences and definitions in one area in particular I found lacking. We need to know the essence of an object X to understand what X is; and we need to know the definition of the word "X" to know what the word means (that it's referring to an X). But we can't discuss an X without talking about "X", so the distinctions and correspondences need to be spelled out very carefully. Does the essence of jade cover both nephrite and jadeite? Well, we have to look at the minerals in question and see what they're like. But what minerals qualify as jade? We have to know what "jade" means. But how can we know what the word means until we know what jade is, so we what to which substances the word applies? (cf. Tuomas's point about the epistemological gap.)

Vincent Torley said...

David

I have to respectfully take issue with your assertions that Aquinas "Aquinas himself not only thought that it [evolution] was possible, but in fact thought that it was true" and that while Aquinas didn't believe in Darwinism, "he and his contemporaries certainly believed that something with a certain essence could by its nature generate a creature with a completely different essence. "I don't know whether you have read my online reply to Professor Michael Tkacz or not. It's at http://www.angelfire.com/
linux/vjtorley/thomas1.html. In particular, you might like to have a look at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/
thomas1.html#smoking8 and scroll down to part (d), which contradicts your claim that Aquinas believed that something with a certain essence could by its nature generate a creature with a completely different essence. For non-living substances, Aquinas would have happily affirmed this: but for living creatures, Aquinas repeatedly affirmed that like begets like.

Vincent Torley said...

David,

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 72 art. 1, reply to obj. 3, where he discusses the works of the sixth day in the Genesis account, Aquinas writes: "In other animals, and in plants, mention is made of genus and species, to denote the generation of like from like."

In his Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, Book II, lecture 7, paragraph 204, Aquinas writes: "For it is clear that a thing is not generated from any seed whatsoever, but man from a determinate seed, and the olive from a determinate seed."

To be sure, Aquinas allowed that new species could be produced from existing ones through hybridization (e.g. when a mule results from a horse mating with an ass), and he also thought that putrefaction could generate new species (Summa Theologica I, q. 73 art. 1, objection 3). However, Aquinas also expressly taught that existing species did not evolve into new species over time. He believed that the original species of plants and animals had been created in the works of the six days, and that they would last until the end of time, when the movement of the heavens will stop (see his Quaestiones Disputatae De Potentia Dei, Question V, article IX).

Vincent Torley said...

David,

The foregoing quotes from Aquinas contradict your claim that he believed that something with a certain essence could by its nature generate a creature with a completely different essence. For non-living substances, Aquinas would have happily affirmed this: but for living creatures, Aquinas repeatedly affirmed that like begets like.

Whether a modern Thomist can accept some form of evolution is another matter. In Part Two of my online reply to Professor Michael Tkacz (see http://www.angelfire.com/
linux/vjtorley/thomas2.html ) I suggested four reasons why Thomism and Darwinism don't mix, even if the latter is construed as a purely scientific theory. In the light of the spirited exchange of views on this forum during the past couple of weeks, I will concede that my first and fourth reasons do not conclusively rule out Darwinian evolution. I'm willing to allow that if you try hard enough, you can combine a belief in A/T essences with Darwinian evolution, and with Aquinas' belief that for each and every kind of organism in the natural world, each and every one of its characteristic features was personally designed by God - although it takes quite a bit of intellectual gymnastics to do so.

I do insist, however, that Aquinas' teaching that all of God's works are perfectly made, in relation to their proper ends (Summa Theologica I, question 91, article 1) is totally incompatible with Darwin's citation of faulty designs in Nature, as evidence for evolution. Additionally, Aquinas' repeated affirmation that "God and nature do nothing in vain" is at odds with he neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, which asserts that at least some bodily parts found in animals (e.g. the pelvic bones found in some snakes and whales; the wings of kiwis; and the eyes of blind cave fish) are completely redundant, and serve no purpose whatsoever. For more details, please read my online reply to Tkacz - I don't wish to take up valuable space on Ed's blog by repeating myself ad nauseam. Peace.

awatkins69 said...

@George: Thanks. If what you say is correct, and "the essence is the cause of the definition’s being true" then I think my account of essence is acceptable. And of course, when we speak of "definition" we're talking about metaphysical definition based on a genus+specific distinction.

I think what I say lines up with the fact that we should not consider essences as entities or substances which are over and above the things that have them. I still may be wrong on my account though.

@David: Alright, so substantial form is basically the same as essence, right?

Thanks guys.

BenYachov said...

Vincent Torley,

Let me just say I think you are a good guy & you are sincere in your faulty claim that Thomism and Darwinism don't mix.

But the simple problem with this claim is that you fail to distinguish between Aquinas' theological beliefs, his philosophical beliefs and his beliefs about natural science which he held as a private scientist.

Certain extremist Traditionalist Catholics will claim the unanimous belief among the Church Fathers in geocentracism is comparable to the concept of the Unanimous Consent of the Father Principle in theology. But most pre-Vatican 2 writers I read say geocentracism was the view of the Fathers as private scientists. Not as testimonies of doctrine. Since virtually all the Fathers held to the Augustinian Principle that if a particular interpenetration of scripture contradicts the know facts of science then the interpretation must yield.

In a like manner we simply don't believe that Aquinas' view that a Fetus forms from Menstrual blood mixing with Semen which he got from Aristotle's faulty science can be equated with Thomism.

BenYachov said...

Thus Aquinas views that ""For it is clear that a thing is not generated from any seed whatsoever, but man from a determinate seed, and the olive from a determinate seed." have no meaning in terms of his philosophy anymore than any geocentric views or faulty views on biology he might have held.

The burden of proof here is to show that Aquinas based solely on hismetaphysics(sans science) argued for species fixism & or against any type of species tranformism. Much like Oderberg argues certain things in evolution might be rules out purely on metaphysical grounds(as I have already quote here on this tread).

Cheers!

BenYachov said...

Damn this blog my post was eaten!!!!!

George R. said...

Yachov,
What, you've got a problem with geocentrism now?

BenYachov said...

I guess my post wasn't eaten?

>What, you've got a problem with geocentrism now?

Well.....I guess if one can believe Jesus was a lying shmoe (i.e. he put an exportation date on Matt 16:18 sometime around the 1960's or later) one will believe in anything.

OTOH denial isn't just a malfunction of Radtrads.

I hear PZ Myers still insisted Sarah Palin was responsible for the shooting in AZ even as evidence is presented to him the Perp is an Atheist anti-religious nutjob(not unlike Myers).

Vincent Torley said...

Ben Yachov,

Thank you for your comments. I do appreciate that Aquinas' fallible scientific views are quite distinct from his theological teachings. I have yet to receive a reply on the two theological points I mentioned. First, Aquinas' teaching that all of God's works are perfectly made, in relation to their proper ends (Summa Theologica I, question 91, article 1) is totally incompatible with Darwin's citation of faulty designs in Nature, as evidence for evolution. Second, Aquinas' repeated affirmation that "God and nature do nothing in vain" is at odds with he neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, which asserts that at least some bodily parts found in animals (e.g. the eyes of blind cave fish) serve no purpose whatsoever. Please respond.

Domini Canes said...

To whoever posted that comment about geocentrism under "George R.": you are being uncharitable and abusive. Just because somebody denies evolution does not give us grounds to mock him like that.

Vincent Torley said...

Ben Yachov,

Thank you for your comments. I am well aware of the difference between Aquinas' fallible scientific views and his philosophical and theological teachings. Please see my last post to David, especially the last paragraph. Could you please explain how Aquinas' teaching that all of God's works are perfectly made, in relation to their proper ends (Summa Theologica I, question 91, article 1) is compatible with Darwin's citation of faulty designs in Nature, as evidence for evolution. Could you also please explain how Aquinas' repeated affirmation that "God and nature do nothing in vain" is compatible with the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, which asserts that at least some bodily parts found in animals (e.g. the eyes of blind cave fish) serve no purpose whatsoever. I'd like to know.

BenYachov said...

>Could you please explain how Aquinas' teaching that all of God's works are perfectly made, in relation to their proper ends (Summa Theologica I, question 91, article 1) is compatible with Darwin's citation of faulty designs in Nature, as evidence for evolution.

VJ there is no way philosophical Darwinism is compatible with Thomism. Nor do I have any reason to believe Darwin's philosophy of
science & his false Mechanistic belief that there are only two causes in nature instead of four is correct. Also I have no reason to believe Aquinas classic understanding of perfection is in anyway identical to Darwin's idea.

Aquinas believed God could only create relative perfection not absolute perfection(since only God is absolutely perfect and how can God logically create another uncreated eternal being? He can't!). I bet Darwin had Paley in mind not Aquinas since both Paley and Darwin where Mechanists & both believed in a "God" who was an artificer who organized dead matter because said matter had no inherent powers of final causality?

BenYachov said...

>Could you also please explain how Aquinas' repeated affirmation that "God and nature do nothing in vain" is compatible with the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, which asserts that at least some bodily parts found in animals (e.g. the eyes of blind cave fish) serve no purpose whatsoever. I'd like to know.

What does the article you cite say?

Reply to Objection 2. This argument considers natural alteration which proceeds from a natural agent, which acts from natural necessity. For such an agent cannot produce different dispositions, unless it be itself disposed differently. But things done by God proceed from freedom of will, wherefore it is possible, without any change in God Who wills it, for the universe to have at one time one disposition, and another at another time. Thus this renewal will not be reduced to a cause that is moved, but to an immovable principle, namely God.

Reply to Objection 3. God is stated to have ceased on the seventh day forming new creatures, for as much as nothing was made afterwards that was not previously in some likeness [Cf. I, 73, 1] either generically, or specifically, or at least as in a seminal principle, or even as in an obediential potentiality [Cf. I, 115, 2, ad 4; III, 11, 1]. I say then that the future renewal of the world preceded in the works of the six days by way of a remote likeness, namely in the glory and grace of the angels. Moreover it preceded in the obediential potentiality which was then bestowed on the creature to the effect of its receiving this same renewal by the Divine agency.

I don't get how Summa Theologica I, question 91, article 1 is not compatible with evolution.

BenYachov said...

BTW VJ I believe evolution (species transformism via natural processes) is compatible with Thomism (& as feser points out slightly helped).

There is no way I believe any philosophical description of nature based on mechanistic errors is compatible with Thomism.

So please don't conflate Darwinism(blind mechanisms govern the world with no final causality in nature) with evolution.

I hate mechanism. Since I read Dr Feser's book I hate almost as much as I hate false Theistic Personalist "deities" vs the True God of Classic Theism.

George R. said...

Domini Canes:
"To whoever posted that comment about geocentrism under "George R.": you are being uncharitable and abusive. Just because somebody denies evolution does not give us grounds to mock him like that."

I get the joke. Good one.

But I'd rather be the butt of jokes than just another yes-man of the Zeitgeist.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ben Yachov,

Thank you very much for your response. I think I have a much better idea of where you are coming from now, and I'm glad to hear that you're not a Darwinist in even the scientific sense of the word, but simply an evolutionist. For my part, I'm an evolutionist of sorts too - I believe in common descent. I'm inclined to think that God helped evolution along at certain points by injecting extra information into certain creatures - e.g. at the time of the Cambrian explosion - but if you prefer to believe in a front-loading God who did it all when the first cell was formed, I'm cool with that. Thanks again.

BenYachov said...

>Darwinist in even the scientific sense of the word, but simply an evolutionist.

I believe God can via the concept of Divine Providence guide evolution.

I can believe morphology and macro-species transformism can come about by mere natural processes without any supernatural intervention in either the correct Thomistic sense or the incorrect Humian one(i.e. violate the laws & such bulls***). Save the creation of the human soul.

I can believe the neo-Darwin that natural selection alone can account for these things but I reject the metaphysical naturalist concept of "random", blind or unguided.

BenYachov said...

>I'm inclined to think that God helped evolution along at certain points by injecting extra information into certain creatures.

I can accept the above happened by purely natural processes willed by God providentially. I don't think it's necessary to believe God supernaturally intervened at all in evolution except to create the Human Soul.

As Aquinas taught us God can work in a secondary manner threw natural processes.

Darwin's "objection" you cited can be used against any Theist, Evolutionist or ID'er. But it's based on a faulty mechanistic view of teleology. One must simply reject Paley & Mechanistic teleology as just plain wrong.

pluviosilla said...

Damien writes:

I noticed that Lowe didn't like Oderberg's take on prime matter. I tend to think C. B. Martin's 'Limit View' is more plausible than prime matter.

This probably has nothing to do with C. B. Martin's theory, but it has always seemed to me that the notion of prime matter is a kind of limiting case. Aquinas himself says prime matter is nothing (or next to it).

Seems to me that the "principle" of matter is simply the recognition that the search for the forms that are building blocks of substance (atoms, quarks, strings, facts, states of affairs) has no conclusion. We cannot drill down to the bottom. There is no bottom.

There seems to be a kind of "linear" bias, figuratively speaking, in this kind of reductionism. We get a Cartesian clear idea of the building blocks or leggos of the cosmos, then by combining in various ways, we think we will get reality as we know it, as a kind of aggregation, as it were, of all the building blocks.

But matter is opaque, and the structures that inform it are not just aggregates, but the non-linear product of complicated recursions and feed-back loops, and any consistent formal system used to describe the cosmos falls victim to the (incompleteness) limits those formalities are subject to. As James F. Ross points out in "Christians Get the Best of Evolution" we can't even model irrational numbers like pi starting from a formal system like ZF set theory, much less the ultimate constituents of matter.

The notion of prime matter is just the pill we take for a Platonist cold.

Anyone who wishes to tell me why I'm wrong is cordially invited to do so at the James F. Ross Study Group or the James F. Ross Study Forum

John Strong
E-mail: pluviosilla@gmail.com