Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Razor Boy

Will you still have a song to sing
When the razor boy comes
And takes your fancy things away?

Steely Dan, “Razor Boy”

If Descartes was the father of modern philosophy, the medieval philosopher William of Ockham was the great grandfather.  Superficial histories of thought would attribute this meta-paternity to the so-called “Ockham’s razor” principle.  But there was nothing distinctively Ockhamite about that, and nothing terribly revolutionary in it either.  On the one hand, the basic idea is as old as Aristotle and can be found in various medieval authors.  On the other hand, the specific formulation usually associated with Ockham – “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity” – first appears centuries after Ockham’s time, and the label “Ockham’s Razor” appears only in the nineteenth century.  (See William Thorburn’s article “The Myth of Ockham’s Razor”)  And while the old Razor Boy did cut away the foundations of medieval thought, it was not (contrary to what Christopher Hitchens thinks) on the basis of some kind of proto-scientific rationalism, but rather in the name of an anti-rationalist authoritarian theology. 

The Condemnations of 1277 had been directed primarily at the Averroist interpretation of Aristotle.  One worry was that Averroes’ determinism threatened God’s freedom to act within the created order.  Some at the time feared that even Aquinas’s theology locked God within a rationalist box, limiting Him to acting only in accordance with the essences of things.  If it is of the essence of fire to generate heat, even God could not make it do otherwise; if it is of the essence of human beings that adultery and hatred of God are bad for us, even God couldn’t make them good for us.  For the Thomist, this does not put any real limits on God’s power, since omnipotence does not include the ability to make contradictions true.  Nor does it rule out the possibility of miracles.   All the same, Ockham would have none of it.

Aquinas took the view that “will follows upon intellect” (ST I.19.1), that reason is more fundamental than volition.  Ockham reverses this “intellectualist” position in favor of voluntarism, which regards will as prior to intellect.  Hence while Aquinas took God to will only in a manner consistent with the necessary truths entailed by the essences of the things His intellect apprehends, Ockham makes the divine will primary and rejects essentialism as incompatible with its supreme freedom.  To be sure, he does not go so far as to hold that God’s actions can violate the law of non-contradiction.  But by denying that things have essences, Ockham was able radically to shrink the domain of actions that would be ruled out by that law. 

Ockham is typically regarded as a nominalist, though some would argue (rightly in my view) that he is better regarded as a conceptualist.  Either way, his anti-essentialism entailed a rejection of realism about universals, and this position was ultimately rooted, not in the “razor” principle, but in his theological voluntarism.  For God’s will to be supremely free and omnipotent, there must in Ockham’s view be nothing in the nature of things that could limit what he might command.  Hence Ockham held that God could in principle command us to commit adultery or even to hate Him, and if He did so these things really would be good for us.  He could also break the causal connections that ordinarily hold between things:

Whatever God produces by the mediation of secondary causes, he can immediately produce and conserve in the absence of such causes… Every effect that God is able to produce by the mediation of a secondary cause he is able to produce immediately by himself.  (Quodlibet 6, q. 6, in Quodlibetal Questions, at p. 506)

It follows from this that it cannot be demonstrated that any effect is produced by a secondary cause.  For even though when fire is close to combustible material, combustion always follows, this fact is, nevertheless, consistent with fire’s not being the cause of it.  For God could have ordained that whenever fire is present to a close-by patient, the sun would cause combustion [in the patient]… Thus, there is no effect through which it can be proved that anyone is a human being – especially through no effect that is clear to us.  For an angel can produce in a body everything that we see in a human being – e.g. eating, drinking, and the like… Therefore, it is not surprising if it is impossible to demonstrate that anything is a cause… (Opera Theologica V, 72-93, quoted in Marilyn McCord Adams, William Ockham, Volume II, p. 750)

Now this would seem to entail that causes and effects are inherently “loose and separate,” as Hume would later put it.  So too does this passage:

Between a cause and its effect there is an eminently essential order and dependence, and yet the simple knowledge of one of them does not entail the simple knowledge of the other.  And this also is something which everybody experiences within himself: that however perfectly he may know a certain thing, he will never be able to excogitate the simple and proper notion of another thing, which he has never before perceived either by sense or by intellect. (In I Sent., q. 3, fol. D2, recto. F, quoted in Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, pp. 70-71)

Indeed, Ockham also says things that seem to imply a “regularity” theory of causation, as when he writes that:

That is the cause of something which, not being posited, the thing does not exist, and being posited, the thing exists.  (Expositio in Libros Physicorum, fol. 123c, 203a, quoted in Julius Weinberg, A Short History of Medieval Philosophy, p. 260)

Accordingly, some have attributed to Ockham a proto-Humean conception of causation; for instance, Etienne Gilson makes this suggestion in The Unity of Philosophical Experience, and Harry Klocker develops the theme in chapter 1 of God and the Empiricists.  Now, as Marilyn McCord Adams has argued, when all the textual evidence is considered it is clear that things are more complicated than this, and it would certainly be a mistake to characterize Ockham’s position as “Humean” full stop.  (See chapter 18 of Volume II of her book William Ockham.)  Still, there are in Ockham’s voluntarism and anti-essentialism the seeds of doubt about our ability to know objective causal connections; and a proto-Humean conception of causality is fairly explicit in later Ockhamite thinkers like Nicholas of Autrecourt. 

Also relevant is Ockham’s view that the reality of final causes cannot be proved philosophically, apart from revelation:

If I accepted no authority [i.e. the truths of faith], I would claim that it cannot be proved either from propositions known per se or from experience that every effect has a final cause that is either distinct or not distinct from its efficient cause.  For it cannot be sufficiently proved that every effect has a final cause.  (Quodlibet 4, q. 1, in Quodlibetal Questions, at p. 246)

And even then Ockham tends to reduce final causality to a kind of efficient causality.  (See Klocker, pp. 24-27 for a useful discussion.)  For Aquinas, it is final causality that is “the cause of causes,” and, in particular, a precondition of the intelligibility of efficient causality.  For unless an efficient cause inherently “points to” or is “directed at” the generation of a certain particular effect or range of effects as its final cause, there would be no reason why it in fact generates that particular effect or range of effects rather than some other, or rather than no effect at all.  Hence if we cannot know final causes through reason, or if there really is no such thing as final causality distinct from efficient causality, then neither have we any way of making efficient causes intelligible.   Again, the Humean puzzles about causation loom.

Naturally, all of this tends to undermine causal arguments for the existence of God.  To be sure, Ockham himself didn’t go so far as to deny that one could argue for some sort of first cause,  but he didn’t think we could get, through philosophical arguments alone, to the conclusion that there is only one such cause, or that it is free, infinite, or even the cause of all things.  For those conclusions we need to rely on faith.  Nor, in his view, can we prove the immateriality and immortality of the human soul – unsurprisingly, given that the traditional Platonic and Thomistic arguments for the soul’s immateriality and immortality depend crucially on realism about universals, which Ockham rejects.  Here too he thinks faith must suffice.  If traditional natural theology goes by the board in Ockham’s philosophy, so too does natural law.  Given Ockham’s voluntarism, morality can only rest on arbitrary divine commands rather than human nature, and these commands can in turn be known only via divine revelation.  Once again, only faith can in Ockham’s view do the job Aquinas thought reason capable of.

Nor, where ethics is concerned, is fideism the only consequence of Ockham’s voluntarism.  Reversing Aquinas’s subordination of will to intellect made of the human will too something radically autonomous, rather than being of its nature oriented to what is objectively good.  And this entailed a new conception of the freedom of the will.  As Servais Pinckaers has put it, in place of the “freedom for excellence” emphasized by Aquinas – that is, freedom for the pursuit of the ends set for us by nature – Ockham put a “freedom of indifference” – indifference to the good or indeed to any particular ends at all:

With Ockham, freedom, by means of the claim to radical autonomy that defined it, was separated from all that was foreign to it: reason, sensibility, natural inclinations, and all external factors.  Further separation followed: freedom was separated from nature, law, and grace; moral doctrine from mysticism; reason from faith; the individual from society. (Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, p. 242)

Of course, Ockham did not intend thereby to advocate libertinism.  But having made arbitrary divine commands the only possible source of morality, Ockhamism was bound to lead to libertinism once belief in God lost its hold on Western civilization – as such belief was bound to do given the fideism Ockham had put in place of natural theology.

Moreover, even such morality as Ockham leaves us with is radically transformed.  As Pinckaers argues, in the absence of any conception of an end toward which the will is naturally directed, the focus of moral reflection tends to turn toward the individual act, isolated from considerations about the overall character of the moral agent or the way the action might promote or impede the agent’s flourishing or happiness.  When coupled with Ockham’s grounding of morality in arbitrary divine commands, moral theory was thus bound to come to emphasize law as such rather than the realization of a good defined in terms of our natural end, and obligation as such rather than the virtues which facilitate our realization of that good.  In short, just as Ockhamism, when shorn of its theological commitments, prefigures Hume in metaphysics, so too does it prefigure Kant – that “catastrophic spider” – in ethics.

And that is only the beginning.  As Michael Allen Gillespie argues in his recent book The Theological Origins of Modernity, the Renaissance humanists’ revolution in culture, Luther’s revolution in theology, Descartes’ revolution in philosophy, and Hobbes’s revolution in politics also have their roots in Ockhamism.  With the humanists this was manifested in their emphasis on man as an individual, willing being rather than as a rational animal.  In Luther’s case, the prospect of judgment by the terrifying God of nominalism and voluntarism – an omnipotent and capricious will, ungoverned by any rational principle – was cause for despair.  Since reason is incapable of fathoming this God and good works incapable of appeasing Him, faith alone could be Luther’s refuge.  With Descartes, the God of nominalism and voluntarism opened the door to a radical doubt in which even the propositions of mathematics – the truth of which was in Descartes’ view subject to God’s will no less than the contingent truths of experience – were in principle uncertain.  And we see the moral and political implications of nominalism in the amoral, self-interested individuals of Hobbes’s so-called “state of nature,” and in the fearsome absolutist monarch of his Leviathan, whose relationship to his subjects parallels that of the nominalist God to the universe.

In other ways too the Ockhamist God and human monarchs are comparable.  As Paul Tillich notes in his A History of Christian Thought, Ockham’s pulverization of all reality into a collection of unrelated individuals also had a tendency to turn God into merely one individual among others, albeit a grand and remote one.  God is, on this conception, no longer Pure Being, pervading and sustaining the world at every moment, but merely a superhuman external spectator, arranging things from outside.  In short, the classical theism of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas is replaced with a forerunner of “theistic personalism” or neo-theism.  And when this is combined with the nominalist and voluntarist conception of God as an unfathomable will given to issuing arbitrary commands, one can see why the atheist might think of God as a kind of cosmic Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il – an accusation that is unintelligible when made against the God of classical theism.

But then, even Ockham’s God has lost His throne in our democratic age, when every man is a “sovereign individual,” his own king, his own priest, and indeed his own deity.  For the modern liberal autonomous self is something like Ockham’s God writ small – a little bundle of sheer willfulness, unrestricted by the demands of reason or of an objective moral order, and forever asserting his “rights” to the objects of his appetites, as if the mere assertion sufficed all by itself to generate said rights.

As Richard Weaver said, “Ideas Have Consequences.”  Indeed, the consequences of Ockham’s ideas, specifically, were the focus of Weaver’s famous book.  They were all bad.  As you ponder the Razor Boy’s monument – needless to say, it’s all around us – knock back a consoling Scotch whiskey to the melancholy strains of the second track from Countdown to Ecstasy.  No one really knows for sure what the song is about anyway, so – in good voluntarist and nominalist fashion – we might as well just stipulate that it is about Ockham:

73 comments:

Leo Carton Mollica said...

Oh man... I just read the bit of Hitchens' book where he talks about Ockham. Please, please, please tell me the whole book is not that stupid!

Thanks, anyway, for the interesting post on Ockham, with whom I'm only slightly acquainted. Do you have any recommendations for reading (about) him?

Edward Feser said...

Please, please, please tell me the whole book is not that stupid!

Sorry, Leo, you know I can't tell a lie...

Do you have any recommendations for reading (about) him?

For an introduction, you can never go wrong starting with Copleston's History, which offers a substantial but accessible treatment of Ockham in volume III. The Cambridge Companion to Ockham is useful too. There's also a readable new short book on him, Ockham Explained by Rondo Keele, which I've only just started. And check out the online Stanford Encyclopedia article on him too. A selection of Ockham's writings is available from Hackett, under the title Philosophical Writings.

Jonathan said...

There are systems of thought, such as Hoppes argumentation ethics or Rothbard's conception of ratiaonl ethics, which do not require reference to God and appear to me to 'work'.
Maybe they do not realise the metaphysics they build their reason on could be argued to point to a God but nonetheless, you can read their logic, and arrive at a rational ethics that if followed would not lead to any of the ills of relativism.

Maolsheachlann said...

You really need to come up with a "Feser's razor"....such a wasted opportunity if you don't.

Roger Oleniski said...

Thank you for the amazing post! Very interesting!

I became your fan since the first time when I read your blog!

Greetings from Brazil!

Roger Oleniski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ismael said...

Unfortunately one of the main 'flaws' of Ockaham was indeed his dislike for 'rational theology': ie he believed that theology is a matter of revelation and faith alone and not of 'reason'.

So it's quite ironic if atheists 'quote' Ockham, since he'd be the first to despise their rationalist ways. (LOL)


I think that some 'fundamentalist Christian' denominations, probably by mere chance alone (sola accidentia XD), seem to share some of Ockham views, like the example that Feser gave: if God ordered us to commit adultery it'd be good.

dguller said...

Here's the dilemma. Using pure reason, how does one decide which account of God is correct? Aquinas' or Ockham's?

Brandon said...

dguller:

Aquinas and Ockham have the same account of God -- they both accept Catholic doctrine on the matter. What they disagree about is what you are calling "pure reason"; Aquinas has a more robust account of reason than Ockham does.

dguller said...

Brandon:

>> Aquinas and Ockham have the same account of God -- they both accept Catholic doctrine on the matter. What they disagree about is what you are calling "pure reason"; Aquinas has a more robust account of reason than Ockham does.

Feser writes:

“Aquinas took the view that “will follows upon intellect” (ST I.19.1), that reason is more fundamental than volition. Ockham reverses this “intellectualist” position in favor of voluntarism, which regards will as prior to intellect. Hence while Aquinas took God to will only in a manner consistent with the necessary truths entailed by the essences of the things His intellect apprehends, Ockham makes the divine will primary and rejects essentialism as incompatible with its supreme freedom.”

So, Aquinas argued that in God, the will follows the intellect, and Ockham argued that in God, the intellect follows the will.

How do we decide which is correct, using the tools of philosophy?

Brandon said...

So, Aquinas argued that in God, the will follows the intellect, and Ockham argued that in God, the intellect follows the will.

Yes, but in both cases this is what one might call the order of conceptual explanation; and that is determined by the fact that they differ on the role of reason/intellect with respect to the will (and other things). Thus your question,

How do we decide which is correct, using the tools of philosophy?

is unanswerable as stated because their actual disagreement is over what the proper account of reason is (which is what determines what counts as the tools of philosophy in this context). Whose account of the tools of philosophy are we going to assume?

dguller said...

Brandon:

>> Thus your question, How do we decide which is correct, using the tools of philosophy? is unanswerable as stated because their actual disagreement is over what the proper account of reason is (which is what determines what counts as the tools of philosophy in this context). Whose account of the tools of philosophy are we going to assume?

Then how do we resolve this contradiction (i.e. will before intellect, or vice versa)? If there is no agreed upon method to decide the truth, then is it ultimately about personal preference? And isn’t that awfully subjective? How to proceed?

Brandon said...

Then how do we resolve this contradiction (i.e. will before intellect, or vice versa)? If there is no agreed upon method to decide the truth, then is it ultimately about personal preference? And isn’t that awfully subjective? How to proceed?

I'm not sure why you think the only alternative is personal preference. Obviously if the real dispute is caused by differences in their accounts of reason and intellect, that's where you'd go to examine the matter. In effect, you look at the dispute between realism and nominalism or conceptualism (which Ed raised several points), although this is arguably only the central issue in a larger dispute about what happens when we understand and reason.

That is, if you and I were to disagree fairly extensively about whether this or that was a good argument, or about what we could actually include from this or that principle, or about whether an argument really established its conclusion as necessary, or whether we could know something by reason alone, then the natural thing to do is to look at why I think you should have my account of proof, principles, demonstrations, and pure reason, and why you don't -- because otherwise, we'll probably not be able to get farther. Something analogous is going on here. We can't decide the issue of whether "pure reason" or the "tools of philosophy" favor Aquinas or Ockham except by actually looking at who has the better position on pure reason and the tools of philosophy themselves.

Brandon said...

I should add, that I'm assuming in that last sentence that we're not short-circuiting things in some way -- e.g., comparing the philosophical end results with Catholic theology to see which fits best. But Ockham and Aquinas, although both Catholic and accepting a broadly Catholic position, don't entirely agree on how Catholic theology should be applied to arguments, either, so that would just get us into another set of disputes.

Also, it should have been 'conclude' rather than 'include' in the first paragraph.

Lee Faber said...

For an anti-rationalist, Ockham sure makes a lot of arguments.

I think there may be some unclarity regarding the difference between "voluntarism" and "intellectualism"; using terms like "follow" and "prior" suggests that the difference between the two positions is the order in which their respective operations occur which isnt the case. As far as I can tell, all scholastics agree that the intellect is "prior" to the will in its operation, for the intellect is an apprehensive power and the will is not. Even the most extreme voluntarists need the intellect as at least a sine qua non cause of the will, for it supplies the material which the will wills. The debate between "intellectualism" and "voluntarism" is, I think, over the less clear notions of which power is "primary" or "more noble" and whether the will can will against the dictates of the intellect.

dguller said...

Brandon:

>> I'm not sure why you think the only alternative is personal preference. Obviously if the real dispute is caused by differences in their accounts of reason and intellect, that's where you'd go to examine the matter. In effect, you look at the dispute between realism and nominalism or conceptualism (which Ed raised several points), although this is arguably only the central issue in a larger dispute about what happens when we understand and reason.

Okay. That’s fair.

>> That is, if you and I were to disagree fairly extensively about whether this or that was a good argument, or about what we could actually include from this or that principle, or about whether an argument really established its conclusion as necessary, or whether we could know something by reason alone, then the natural thing to do is to look at why I think you should have my account of proof, principles, demonstrations, and pure reason, and why you don't -- because otherwise, we'll probably not be able to get farther. Something analogous is going on here. We can't decide the issue of whether "pure reason" or the "tools of philosophy" favor Aquinas or Ockham except by actually looking at who has the better position on pure reason and the tools of philosophy themselves.

Okay. That also makes sense.

But specifically how does one determine whether in God the will or the intellect is primary? I’m all aboard for examining logic, reason, proof and so on, but how does that help one determine this specific information about God? After all, there are good reasons for God to have the will as primary, and there are good reasons for God to have the intellect as primary. How do you decide which reasons are better? Personally, I feel like it comes out as a wash, and there is no way to decide the matter using the tools of reason and philosophy alone. Maybe this is because the concepts of “will” and “intellect” are fundamentally human qualities, and that we use them by analogy with the divine, which inevitably loses the requisite precision necessary for metaphysical arguments?

Brandon said...

dguller:

Whether one explains divine actions primarily in terms of intellect or will would depend, if one can prove that God has both, on one's account of how intellect and will relate to each other generally. Whether there really are good reasons for primacy one way or another would have to be the result of close examination of the precise reasons given in each case; rough overall assessments just get us back to personal preference. What really matters, though, is consistency, evidence, proof; and superficially good reasons might turn out not to be so good on close examination.

The complexity of the issues is something people often forget when dealing with the scholastics, like Aquinas or Ockham. We're dealing with systematic thinkers who systematize on a truly massive scale: there are no quick refutations because so much goes into the analysis and argument. (It's also why late scholasticism gets more and more and more and more complicated and technical.) An issue like this might require looking at and assessing hundreds of arguments over dozens of topics, if not more. Tackling the arguments of medieval scholasticism is not for the faint of heart.

Edward Feser said...

dguller,

As Brandon indicated, the way to resolve the dispute in question would be first to resolve the dispute over universals, and I would say that the correct view on that issue is realism (for reasons I set out elsewhere, e.g. in The Last Superstition).

Lee,

I never said that Ockham was "anti-rationalist" full stop. Of course he wasn't. I said he was an anti-rationalist in theology, specifically. And even there I don't mean he was in no sense whatsoever a rationalist -- obviously he gives arguments. The term "rationalism" is used in different ways, and in this case the point was that Ockham is critical of what might be called a "rationalist" approach to theology and ethics, in the sense of an approach that supposes reason capable of discovering a great deal on it own and without resort to divine revelation.

dguller said...

Brandon:

Okay, that is fair. But do you find it strange that despite centuries of arguments, disputation and close study and analysis, there is still no consensus on this issue? And I am not talking about universal consensus, because there will always be thinkers outside the mainstream.

What I wonder is whether much of the arguments are guided by the intuitions that these thinkers have about how their psychology operates, and they then use those intuitions to project onto God’s mind to assist in understanding how it works. I mean, once intentional structures modeled on the human mind are inserted into the discussion, then doesn’t it inevitably become polluted by anthropomorphism? And couldn’t that be the source of the confusion, i.e. people have differing intuitions about how the mind works?

dguller said...

Feser:

Thanks. I'll first read up on that subject in your book(s), and then maybe make some comments once I'm more up to speed on the issue.

Shooting in the dark totally sucks.

Brandon said...

dguller,

I don't really think it is strange. It's not as if it's an easy area of philosophy (Aquinas and Ockham would both deny that philosophical discussion of God is easy), and in philosophy people can try things out that seem at first to be very promising but turn out on extensive analysis (sometimes, perhaps, requiring more than a lifetime) to have problematic implications. You have similar issues in ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of science (e.g., realists and anti-realists), and, in short, every important area of human life. If you handle the Big Topics, it's almost inevitable, precisely because they are so big: they are in many cases centuries-or-millenia-of-hard-thought big. Plus, it's not as if there's no agreement even between people as diverse as Ockham and Aquinas. For instance, there are arguments that Aquinas thinks are demonstrative but Ockham does not, but that Ockham will still treat as probable, and they're both Catholic, and so forth.

On anthropomorphism, I think that will simply depend on what the best account of how we draw inferences about God is. If it's a straightforward matter of simply having intuitions about human beings and applying them to God, that's certainly anthropomorphism, but it's also not something you'll find in any major scholastic, because the emphasis on argument will always guarantee that each step has to be supported by other things. Because of that, neither Aquinas nor Ockham are in any danger of being anthropomorphists about the divine will and intellect. In general, you only get anthropomorphism when things are attributed to God simply because they are attributed to human persons. (Ed sometimes argues against what he calls theological personalists, and arguably some of them do run this danger.) Likewise, I don't think anyone would accuse Ockham of simply going on his intuitions of how his mind works; they'd be operative, of course, just as personal preference always has a role in how we argue, but scholastic standards of argument are too high for that to be the whole story.

dguller said...

Brandon:

Thanks for the clarification. That was actually quite helpful.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr Feser,

Can you please help me square the the statement "if it is of the essence of human beings that adultery and hatred of God are bad for us, even God couldn’t make them good for us." with God's test of Abraham, commanding Abraham kill Isaac as a sacrafice?

It would seem:
Doing that which is consitant with ones essence is good.
Killing one's ownchild is be against one's essence
thus killing ones child is always bad, even if God commands it

Varin said...

Hello Dr.Feser! I've purchased three of your books and look forward to finishing The Last Superstition. Although this isn't relevant to your recent blog, but I wanted to hear about what you thought about Chris Hallquist's review of The Last Superstition? He does seem to be quite arrogant to supposedly "Refuted" Aristotelian Metaphysics. Much thanks and look forward to hearing from you.

BenYachov said...

Murder(i.e. when a human unlawfully kills another human) is to be against one's essence. Murder is intrinsically evil. But not killing per say.
God by definition cannot murder since all life belongs to Him and it is thus not unlawful for him to take Life. Any life.


As for killing one's own offspring what if my son is trying to rape and murder my wife or daughter?

What if I tried to stop him and the only way he would stop while fighting him was to kill him?
Well I would be dead inside from enduring such a tragic horror but logically I wouldn't have done anything intrinsically evil which would be against my essence.

OTOH in God's test of Abraham the LORD does not in fact allow Abraham to carry out the command.

So it's a bad example.

But of course God the Word does fulfill it by becoming incarnate as a descendant of Abraham who is sacrificed.

BTW don't bother bringing up Jepthah's daughter. God never commanded that clown to kill his daughter.

Anonymous said...

BenYachov

Thank you for your reply, but I'm not quite sure I follow the reasoning you provide. Can you please expound?

You state " God by definition cannot murder since all life belongs to Him and it is thus not unlawful for him to take Life. Any life." Yet the story I have questions about represents a father killing his child who not "trying to rape and murder wife or daughter". It is not God taking someone's life using his divine providence but rather HE is ordering someone to take a innocent (relatively) person's life. It is a divine command to perform the murder.

You are of course, correct God did not allow Abraham to carry out the killing; however, it doesn't appear Abraham was aware that this was merely a test. Perhaps my question is better stated, something more like:

Ought Abraham have refused to murder his own innocent son because it was against his nature even though God Commanded the act?

BenYachov said...

>It is not God taking someone's life using his divine providence but rather HE is ordering someone to take a innocent (relatively) person's life. It is a divine command to perform the murder.

The definition I used for murder was the unlawful killing of a human being by another human being. Humans have no intrinsic right or authority to take another human's life. Even if it's taking the life of an evil doer much less an innocent.

Hypothetically if God who is by Nature the Authority over life and death in fact authorizes me to kill someone, anyone, by divine public revelation, then by definition the killing is lawful not unlawful thus it is not murder.

>Ought Abraham have refused to murder his own innocent son because it was against his nature even though God Commanded the act?

Tradition & Scripture would tell us that Abraham knew God already promised him that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars. God already told him threw Issac this would happen. Thus Abraham either suspected God would stop him or reasoned He would bring his son back to life in order to fulfill the promise.

Abraham's job at that point was to simply trust God to keep His promise which He already made and to obey Him he owes absolute obedience too.

Hope that helps.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

It would seem:
Doing that which is consitant with ones essence is good.
Killing one's ownchild is be against one's essence
thus killing ones child is always bad, even if God commands it


Natural law is immutable and non-transgressible with regards to its primary precepts, but nevertheless admits of change with regard to secondary precepts derived therefrom. The precept against murder falls under this second category. See ST, I-II:94:5.

Anonymous said...

Leo Carton Mollica and BenYachov,

Thank you for explanation and link to proper section of Summa Theologica. They help tremendously.

ST, I-II:94:5 states: " For whatever is taken by the command of God, to Whom all things belong, is not taken against the will of its owner..whatever is done by God, is, in some way, natural,"

This appears to indicate that divine command does supersede the morality derived from a thing's essential nature which contradicts Dr Feser's statement "if it is of the essence of human beings that adultery and hatred of God are bad for us, even God couldn’t make them good for us." In fact adultery is directly addressed "In like manner adultery is intercourse with another's wife; who is allotted to him by the law emanating from God. Consequently intercourse with any woman, by the command of God, is neither adultery nor fornication."

Am I misunderstanding something?

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anonymous,

I think it was unwise for me to use adultery as an example, because there are complicating factors having to do with divine positive law that go beyond merely the natural end of our sexual capacities and thus complicate the moral situation. A better example would be something like lying or homosexual acts, which any Thomist would say are directly contrary of their very nature to our natural end (as sexual intercourse with any particular woman is not) and thus could not be commanded even by God. (That is not to say that these acts are worse than murder or adultery. The moral gravity of the acts involved is a separate question.)

BenYachov said...

@Anon

"Natural law is immutable and non-transgressible with regards to its primary precepts..."

Someone who believes in Divine Command Volunteerism would claim God could by a Divine Command authorize actions against natural law in regards to it primary precepts.

Such as "commanding" two dudes to "marry" and commit unnatural acts.

The examples you have given are not examples of natural in regards to it's primary precepts.

Lee Faber said...

I think some unclarity might have crept into the conversation regarding "essence" and "end". It's not at all contrary to my essence to go and kill my awesomely cute two-month-old baby or go on a rampage against muslims. My essence is that of a rational animal. Things contrary to my essence might be having six legs, or existing as an angel. But killing babies or whatnot is contrary to final end, which is the vision of God.

TomGissel said...

All,

Thanks for all the information. Its clear I need to learn more about primary precepts. Do you have any suggestions with regards to the best starting point to explore this subject more fully? (I would be great if an articulate philosopher could blog about it :) )

Michael Sullivan said...

And while the old Razor Boy did cut away the foundations of medieval thought, it was not (contrary to what Christopher Hitchens thinks) on the basis of some kind of proto-scientific rationalism, but rather in the name of an anti-rationalist authoritarian theology.

I'm not an expert, but I don't recall anything proto-scientific about Ockham at all. He thought of himself as a good Aristotelian, like all the post-c. 1250 mediaevals.

The funny thing is that the really proto-scientific guys, Like Robert Grosseteste or Albert the Great or Roger Bacon or Dietrich of Freiburg tended to fall (for scholastics) closer to the Platonic side of the spectrum.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@TomGissel: I'm working on such a blog post at this very moment! :)

@Michael Sullivan: You should check out Chris Hitchens' defence of his proto-scientist interpretation of Ockham here. It's a hoot!

TomGissel said...

Leo Carton Mollica,

Thanks, I look forward to reading your blog.

Asim Shahzad said...

Very very nice post and very great information. This blog is very intresting and informative. keep it up dud!!!!!! very nice work

Anonymous said...

Edward Feser said,

"... Ockham’s God has lost His throne in our democratic age, when every man is a “sovereign individual,” his own king, ... priest, and ... deity. For the modern liberal autonomous self is something like Ockham’s God writ small – a little bundle of sheer willfulness, unrestricted by the demands of reason or of an objective moral order, and forever asserting his “rights” to the objects of his appetites, as if the mere assertion sufficed all by itself to generate said rights."

What, as you imply, is especially interesting about this logical dynamic is: That as all teleology is stripped away, and reason becomes a mere instrumentality in the service of a will driven by appetites, the actor himself fades into the background; leaving standing, ultimately, what?

An unexamined appetite - not subject to any rule of objective reason - in the service of ... what again?

The logic is apparently: nothing but itself.

The unexamined and un-subjected appetite or urge seems to stand as self-justifying, and the human will itself reduced to a vehicle for its expression.

There may be some end held in view by the "human actor", but per definition it cannot be anything that is intrinsically rational, as there is no extrinsic form to proportion or direct the particular end's choice.

Who, or what, if we are used to thinking in terms of persons, is now really doing the willing?

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser: "In Luther’s case, the prospect of judgment by the terrifying God of nominalism and voluntarism – an omnipotent and capricious will, ungoverned by any rational principle – was cause for despair. Since reason is incapable of fathoming this God and good works incapable of appeasing Him, faith alone could be Luther’s refuge."

Dr. Feser,

I love your books - through which I discovered Thomism - and thoroughly enjoy your taking apart of modern philosophies but... what a bizarre account of Protestantism! Let's examine these statements one by one:

"an omnipotent and capricious will, ungoverned by any rational principle"

Protestant faith is based on scripture. Scripture says "God is good", and "God is love", and "God is light and in him there is no darkness". This is not consistent with a "capricious will, ungoverned by any rational principle". That's a gross mis-characterization. The protestant believes God is just as bound by his own traits as the thomist does.

"Since reason is incapable of fathoming this God"

Aquinas said the same thing. Reason can tell us that God exists, but revelation (faith) is needed to actually know God.

"and good works incapable of appeasing Him"

This is the Apostle Paul's argument. In fact it is the central tenet of the gospel, for without it, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes unnecessary. All men are sinners. No act of man is sufficient to excuse transgressions to an Almighty God. Thus the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus alone is sufficient to reconcile man to God. Faith in that sacrifice then, is the requirement - not our own preponderance of good works.

"the prospect of judgment by the terrifying God of nominalism and voluntarism... faith alone could be Luther’s refuge."

Faith alone is Luther's refuge but not for the reasons you've outlined here. If man can know God purely through reason (contrary to the scriptures) and appease God purely through good works (again, contrary to the scriptures), then the death of Jesus was in vain and his blood was spilled for naught.

Maybe, just maybe, you might want to spend a little more time reading the bible. I've read countless blog posts here and can't remember the last time you quoted the bible in defense of an argument.

Aquinas spent a lot of time pondering scripture. Just sayin'...

djindra said...

Let's get this straight. Some mixture of nominalism, anti-essentialism, fideism, and theological voluntarism destroyed faith in the reasonableness of cause and effect. Ockham sowed "the seeds of doubt about our ability to know objective causal connections." This leads to "Humean puzzles about causation."

Yet, paradoxically, Feser is immune. Confronted with the task of living in a post-Ockham world, Feser still finds a tidy series of causes and effects:

Cause: Ockhamism. Effect: Luther. Next: "every man is a 'sovereign individual,' ..., and indeed his own deity." Next: man becomes "a little bundle of sheer willfulness, unrestricted..." Next: He's "forever asserting his 'rights' to the objects of his appetites."

Cause: "Ockham’s pulverization of all reality into a collection of unrelated individuals." Effect: God is "merely one individual among others, albeit a grand and remote one."

Cause: Ockhamism. Effect: Calvinism. Next: "conception of God as an unfathomable will given to issuing arbitrary commands." Next: People "might think of God as a kind of cosmic Saddam Hussein." Next: Atheism.

You get the picture. Feser has strung together great chains of cause and effect. There are so many here, it could take days to unravel them. They're flimsy but he's making them. I assume some readers believe they exist -- all post-Ockham; all occurring in our modern age when, according to Feser's Straussian-like propaganda, we moderns shouldn't be able to do this.

This is philosophy with a mission. It's on a mission to restore a glorious past when the masses were under control. That freedom of submission, the "freedom" of tyranny, has, unfortunately, been replaced by a new freedom. Feser wants to call the new freedom "libertinism." Whatever we call it, however Feser chooses to spin it, people value their new freedom. So tyrants sulk and Feser feels their pain.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@djindra:

It's on a mission to restore a glorious past when the masses were under control.

Yeah. Right. Totally Spot on, oh voice of reason: universals in re are a plot to subject the masses to the control of... who, exactly? I guess the reason I don't see the connection is that I'm just so deluded by my masters.

That freedom of submission, the "freedom" of tyranny, has, unfortunately, been replaced by a new freedom.

Incidentally, how much have you read of Aquinas' writings on tyranny?

Anonymous said...

djindra, writes:

" ... according to Feser's Straussian-like propaganda, we moderns shouldn't be able to do this. This is philosophy with a mission. It's on a mission to restore a glorious past when the masses were under control. That freedom of submission, the "freedom" of tyranny, has, unfortunately, been replaced by a new freedom. Feser wants to call the new freedom "libertinism." Whatever we call it, however Feser chooses to spin it, people value their new freedom. So tyrants sulk and Feser feels their pain. "


Following the link that led to your blogger.com profile, Don, and then to your "Conquackery" web site, it became immediately obvious that you have managed to gather more responses by trolling Feser's web site than you have ever have managed to gain on your own.

What wasn't quite so obvious was the libertarian flag [apparently of convenience] you are sailing under here.


Maybe you should write up a little polemic on the topic of "Leo Strauss vs Ockham" over there on Conquackery; and, then invite Edward to critique it. If he's interested, and when he's done considering the views on Ockham of more estimable commentators such as Etienne Gilson, or P.V. Spade, he just might indulge you.

Or not.

djindra said...

Leo Carton Mollica,

Yeah. Right. Totally Spot on, oh voice of reason: universals in re are a plot to subject the masses to the control of... who, exactly? I guess the reason I don't see the connection is that I'm just so deluded by my masters.

It's curious that you would ask that question of me since Feser claims such powerful influence for philosophy. That's the whole point of his post. Bad ideas have bad consequences, right? But I'll give you my answer anyway. Philosophers imagine themselves to be considerably more important and effective than they really are. But that doesn't keep them from trying. And it doesn't stop me from pointing out their motives.

Incidentally, how much have you read of Aquinas' writings on tyranny?

That's like asking if I've read the Bible's writings on tyranny. They may or may not exist. That doesn't stop some from using the text for tyrannical purposes.

Jinzang said...

So Professor Fesser's books are going to cause a resurgence of interest in Neo-Thomist philosophy, which in turn is going to cause the Catholic Church to re-establish its spiritual and political hegemony and form a new world tyranny. I haven't heard ravings like this before outside the pages of a Jack Chick comic. Might as well argue that reading Hobbes will lead to the restoration of absolute monarchy.

Better trolls please.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

Philosophers imagine themselves to be considerably more important and effective than they really are. But that doesn't keep them from trying. And it doesn't stop me from pointing out their motives.

Really? Really? Rea-ea-ea-eally?? Do you honestly expect me to believe that by defending the reality of universals Dr. Feser intends to subject the masses to tyranny? Tyranny under whom, exactly? And how is this plot supposed to work, anyway?

Anonymous said...

djindra, whatever it is that you're smoking, I want to give it a try.

I bet it'll help me understand this new conspiracy, which of course involves the Catholic Church, the Jews and the Federal Reserve. Only science can save mankind from this dangerous cabal.

funnyatheists said...

Good stuff djindra, keep it up. I know a guy who knows a guy that can get you some good tinfoil. The guy is a nominalist though, so when he says it is good stuff... be modestly realistic about it.

djindra said...

Leo Carton Mollica.

Do you honestly expect me to believe that by defending the reality of universals Dr. Feser intends to subject the masses to tyranny?

Feser practices a partisan philosophy. He writes from a conservative point of view. His post above is right out of neocon/theocon Weigle's The Cube and the Cathedral. In another recent post he attacks liberty. He doesn't make any secret about his political leanings. Not every "conservative" turns to Fox News for their ammunition. I don't expect people around here are naive.

Anonymous said...

djindra: your trolls are weak, bro.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

So, djindra, you really are incapable of expressing your (bizarre and irrational) views on Ed's work without resorting to cheap and overblown rhetoric ("attacks liberty," "neocon/theocon")? And you really want us to believe that his sole philosophical aim is the endorsement of conservatism? And you are claiming (without argument, of course) that conervatism must be "tyrannical"? Sorry, but even J was better than this.

Goodbye.

Jan said...

djindra is either trolling or he's crazy. Admittedly, this line is quite good though:

"So tyrants sulk and Feser feels their pain."

Anonymous said...

>>Jan said...
djindra is either trolling or he's crazy. Admittedly, this line is quite good though....


djindra is not crazy neither is 10101001 they are winning

Anonymous said...

"djindra is not crazy neither is 10101001 they are winning"

Stupidity wins. You have a point.

Anonymous said...

I've lived under Eastern European secular atheist tyrants. I'll take Catholic 'tyrants' over those and emerging European Commission tyrants (modified form of the Soviet Union), any day. That's not to say that the Church ever had that much influence anyway.

Tony said...

Faith alone is Luther's refuge but not for the reasons you've outlined here. If man can know God purely through reason (contrary to the scriptures) and appease God purely through good works (again, contrary to the scriptures), then the death of Jesus was in vain and his blood was spilled for naught.

Daniel Smith, you made some good points, but this one isn't one of them. The Protestant theme (and Luther's) that salvation is from faith alone is not Biblical. The Letter of St. James makes it most explicitly: faith without works is dead. But the same truth is found elsewhere: not all those who cry "Lord, Lord" will be saved, but those who DO THE WILL OF MY FATHER. Certainly all men are sinners, but Christ's effort was not merely to save us in the midst of our sins, but to raise us up above our sins so that we cease to be enslaved to sin: be you perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect. Those who, with faith, do the will of the Father out of love are born of God, because God is love (John), and so they rely on faith but NOT ALONE on faith, contrary to Luther.

romishgraffiti said...

Ed, you seemed to have struck a never with our rebel tyrant overlords.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

I've lived under Eastern European secular atheist tyrants. I'll take Catholic 'tyrants' over those and emerging European Commission tyrants (modified form of the Soviet Union), any day.

That's a cute kind of stupidity. Let's select the best tyranny -- as if those are the options.

Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. said...

That's a cute kind of stupidity. Let's select the best tyranny -- as if those are the options.

He never said those are the only options. He said that, IF those were the only options, he'd prefer the Catholic tyrants.

Anyhow, everyone here knows your preferences, comrade.

dguller said...

Quick question:

I'm reading Feser's TLS, and I'm wondering about whether it is possible for a formal cause to be identical to a material cause, or are they always different?

Thanks.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

dguller:

The material cause of a thing is, by definition, what is potential as regards determination by a form, so no, material and formal causes cannot coincide.

What examples were you thinking of where they might?

dguller said...

Leo:

I was thinking about the hydrogen atom. Materially, it is just a single proton, and its form is ... a single proton. Or am I missing something?

Daniel Smith said...

Tony: "The Protestant theme (and Luther's) that salvation is from faith alone is not Biblical. The Letter of St. James makes it most explicitly: faith without works is dead."

This is a strawman argument because it mixes the act of salvation with the life we are expected to live after we come to believe.

Jesus death is the ONLY sufficient recompense for the sins of mankind against an Almighty God. That sacrifice is what the bible tells us to have faith in - not our own good works. If that is not the case, then WHY DID JESUS DIE ON THE CROSS?

The fact that we are told to live righteous lives after we believe in God has nothing whatsoever to do with the act of salvation. It may very well show that we are not true believers, (in which case we are not "saved" anyway - so the point is moot), but works are never said to save us or to pay the price for our sins. Works are evidence of belief (which is James' point.)

Dr. Feser always chides atheists (and rightly so) for not understanding or misstating the arguments they rail against, yet he seems to do the same thing: arguing against a poor caricature of Protestantism.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

dguller:

No, a separate proton would be composed of Prime Matter and the form of proton-hood.

dguller said...

Leo:

>> No, a separate proton would be composed of Prime Matter and the form of proton-hood.

I guess where I find it confusing is that a substance is a combination of form and matter. I understand form to be what a thing is and matter is what it is made of. When you look at hydrogen, it is a single proton. That’s it. When you add another proton, it is helium. That’s it. I don’t see the need to add anything else to this account. Saying that it is prime matter with the form of proton-hood just seems needlessly complicated. Also, it would have to “one proton-hood”.

I guess I have a hard time understanding that there is our concept of hydrogen, a hydrogen atom, and then a third entity called the form of hydrogen. In the world, there is just a hydrogen atom, and in our mind, there is the concept of a hydrogen atom. Why the need to postulate a third entity that mediates between a concept and an object? And how can the same entity be in a material entity and a mental entity?

Leo Carton Mollica said...

dguller:

Also, it would have to “one proton-hood”.

I am confused as to what you mean.

When you look at hydrogen, it is a single proton. That’s it.

Think of it this way: when you have a proton, that is all you have; there in nothing "in addition" to the proton. But to say that there is a proton just is to say that Prime Matter is determined by a certain form. A proton simply is a form/matter composite, like any other material being.

In the world, there is just a hydrogen atom, and in our mind, there is the concept of a hydrogen atom.

But if the atom is to really be a hydrogen atom, there must be something in it as constituting its hydrogen-ness. Otherwise, we would have no reason to call it a hydrogen atom.

And how can the same entity be in a material entity and a mental entity?

Well, if not, what is it in our thought of a hydrogen as making it to be a thought of hydrogen? If reality is to correspond to our thoughts, there must be something wherein they correspond, something common to both. (Wittgenstein, no friend of Thomism, makes this point emphatically in the TLP: no common element of both thought and world=no realism, no realism=craziness.)

dguller said...

Leo:

>> I am confused as to what you mean.

Well, a hydrogen atom is just a single proton. It is not just prime matter and proton-hood, because that would be the case for helium, as well, and then hydrogen and helium would be the same, no?

>> Think of it this way: when you have a proton, that is all you have; there in nothing "in addition" to the proton. But to say that there is a proton just is to say that Prime Matter is determined by a certain form. A proton simply is a form/matter composite, like any other material being.

Okay.

>> But if the atom is to really be a hydrogen atom, there must be something in it as constituting its hydrogen-ness. Otherwise, we would have no reason to call it a hydrogen atom.

And there is. There is the fact that it is a single proton. That is all there is to being a hydrogen atom. Adding “hydrogen-ness” doesn’t add anything to it.

>> Well, if not, what is it in our thought of a hydrogen as making it to be a thought of hydrogen? If reality is to correspond to our thoughts, there must be something wherein they correspond, something common to both.

Not necessarily. There must be a correspondence and relationship between the concept and the object, but why take the correspondence to be a third entity. Take a man and a woman who are married. Their relationship is “married”. Is “married” a third entity in addition to the man and woman?

I would say the same thing about true thoughts that we have. A proposition “p” is true if and only if p. So, “hydrogen has a single proton” is true if and only if hydrogen has a single proton. And that’s that. Nothing more is necessary. There is no need to look at our thoughts and the objects of the world according to a cookie cutter analogy where the form is the heart-shaped cookie cutter, and it makes an indentation upon our thoughts and matter, which is what allows us to have a thought of “heart” and heart objects. I think that is the wrong analogy to use, and is quite misleading.

I actually agree with much of what Aristotle wrote about potentiality and actuality, and form and matter, but when he takes form to be a separate ontological entity in and of itself, then I have some problems with that. So, there is a way that things are in the world, and our thoughts, when correct, correspond to how things are in the world, but this mutual correspondence is just a relationship between two things, and not another entity itself.

>> (Wittgenstein, no friend of Thomism, makes this point emphatically in the TLP: no common element of both thought and world=no realism, no realism=craziness.)

Wittgenstein never said that the logical form of the world, which is mirrored in the logical form of our propositions, was a third entity between them. As H. O. Mounce says in his commentary on the TLP, “this would be very misleading, because it would suggest that logical form is some extra fact binding things together. Logical form, however, cannot be stated in this way. Rather, it shows itself in things fitting together … what holds together the links of a chain? Nothing, except their fitting together. Their fitting into one another is how they hold together” (p. 19). In other words, in the same way that a ball joint fits into a socket without there being any third entity present, so the logical form of our propositions fits the logical form of the world.

dguller said...

Leo:

And one more thing, related to Wittgenstein. One of his most important ideas, which actually carried over from the TLP to the Philosophical Investigations, was that it is not true that all our words must refer to entities. He focused on logical and mathematical terms in his earlier work, but later expanded the examples. So, sticking with the TLP, he argued that the “&” in “p & q” was not some independent entity that “p & q” participate in, or whatever, but that “&” was just the term for a specific set of truth conditions for “p & q”. In other words, if p is true and q is true, then “p & q” is true. In any other case, “p & q” is false. That’s all there is to it, and there is no need to postulate another entity called “&-ness”.

In his later work, he would include the use of the word “no-one”, for example. So, when I say “no-one is coming”, this sentence looks superficially like “John is coming”, and I would be tempted to think that they have the same underlying structure and thus just as “John” is an person, then “no-one” must also be a person. Then I would be forced to try to find someone who is no-one, and be puzzled by the paradox of something being nothing and nothing being something. And all of this is because I made an error in how I used the sentence “no-one is coming”. It does not mean that there is someone that is identified as “no-one” who is coming, but that there is no-one coming. Period. No more philosophical puzzles.

Relating this to talk of forms, we certainly can speak of forms as being shared between our concepts and objects, but sharing implies being some entity that is being shared. In other words, “the form is shared between the concept and the object” looks superficially like “the orange is shared between John and Sue”, but that does not mean that it has the same underlying structure. In the latter, the orange is an entity that is shared, but that does not mean that in the former, the form is equally an entity, and we may be mislead by having the wrong picture of language in this case, and it is a picture that Wittgenstein repudiates at the very beginning of the Philosophical Investigations, calling it the Augustinian picture of language as always having its terms correspond to some entity in the world.

dguller said...

>> (Wittgenstein, no friend of Thomism, makes this point emphatically in the TLP: no common element of both thought and world=no realism, no realism=craziness.)

Wittgenstein never said that the logical form of the world, which is mirrored in the logical form of our propositions, was a third entity between them. As H. O. Mounce says in his commentary on the TLP, “this would be very misleading, because it would suggest that logical form is some extra fact binding things together. Logical form, however, cannot be stated in this way. Rather, it shows itself in things fitting together … what holds together the links of a chain? Nothing, except their fitting together. Their fitting into one another is how they hold together” (p. 19). In other words, in the same way that a ball joint fits into a socket without there being any third entity present, so the logical form of our propositions fits the logical form of the world.

djindra said...

Leo,

what is it in our thought of a hydrogen as making it to be a thought of hydrogen?

Our thought of hydrogen is irrelevant. Hydrogen exist whether we think of it or not, or whether we think properly of it or not. My thoughts of H-1 will be different than a chemist's or physicist's thoughts of H-1. And none of us need to be 100% correct in those thoughts.

Hydrogen is an interesting example of how "essence" eventually becomes indistinguishable from the material thing itself. At this level, all H-1 atoms behave the same. For all practical purposes, they are their essence.

dguller said...

Another thing.

If the form of a substance is its nature or essence, and when we reflect upon a substance, then we hold its form in our intellect, then how can we be wrong about the nature or essence of so many natural phenomena that we intellectually studied? I mean, if when I abstract from natural substances in my intellect, then I hold the identical form that exists within the substance in my intellect, then how can I be wrong about anything?

This may be helped with an example. Take how sickness occurs. People understood that human beings get sick and die, which means that they must have possessed the form of sickness in their intellect, but they failed to know that sickness could be caused by bacteria and viruses, and instead focused on imbalances of the four humours. How could they have the identical form of sickness as what actually exists in a sick organism, but fail to know this important bit of information?

Michael Sullivan said...

If anyone's still reading, here's a post about Ockham's Razor and the Scotist-formulated "anti-razor":

http://lyfaber.blogspot.com/2011/03/anti-razor.html

Jaime said...

Curious that you quote or mention Christopher Hitchens numerous times throughout your blog posts, and yet his blog does not appear on your blogroll. Why?

http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/hitchens/

Randy said...

So we have Ockham and Aquinas out there in the 14th century. You explain well why accepting Ockham's theory cause things to come off the rails. But you don't say why so many accepted Ockham and rejected Aquinas. Especially Luther. If Ockham's image of God was fearful to him then why not simply say that image was wrong. He was an Augustinian monk. It does not seem to me that Augustine would have liked Ockham. Why did Luther?