Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nature versus art

I’ve been meaning to put the debate between Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) metaphysics and “Intelligent Design” (ID) theory aside for a time, but Vincent Torley and Thomas Cudworth have recently raised objections and questions (here, here, and here) to which I would like to respond.  I will have to do so at some length, I’m afraid, because Torley’s first post is itself very long, and because there are many background issues that need to be clarified before Torley’s and Cudworth’s remarks can be addressed.  In this post I will set out the relevant background ideas, and in a second post I will consider Torley’s and Cudworth’s points.  After that I intend to give the subject a rest for a long while – to the chagrin of some readers perhaps, but (I suspect) to the relief of many.

The issues that divide A-T and ID essentially boil down to the question of whether organisms and other natural objects are usefully thought of as “artifacts” of a sort.  So it will be crucial to remind ourselves of what A-T philosophers mean when they distinguish artifacts from natural objects, or “art” from “nature.” 

Let’s illustrate the distinction in terms of a simple example.  A liana vine – the kind of vine Tarzan likes to swing on – is a natural object.  A hammock that Tarzan might construct from living liana vines is an artifact.  The parts of the liana vine have an inherent tendency to function together to allow the liana to exhibit the growth patterns it does, to take in water and nutrients, and so forth.  By contrast, the parts of the hammock – the liana vines themselves – have no inherent tendency to function together as a hammock.  Rather, they must be arranged by Tarzan to do so, and left to their own devices – that is to say, without pruning, occasional rearrangement, and the like – they will tend to grow the way they otherwise would have had Tarzan not interfered with them, including in ways that will impede their performance as a hammock.  Their natural tendency is to be liana-like and not hammock-like; the hammock-like function they perform after Tarzan ties them together is extrinsic or imposed from outside, while the liana-like functions are intrinsic or immanent to them.

To put the point in terms of Aristotelian metaphysical categories, a liana vine is a compound of substantial form and prime matter (i.e. matter devoid of any form at all – something which for A-T is only an abstraction, since matter in the actual world always has some substantial form or other).  The hammock qua hammock is not such a compound.  Its existence involves instead the imposition of an accidental form on components each of which already has a substantial form, namely the substantial form of a liana vine.  The liana-like tendencies of the vines are instances of immanent or “built in” final causality or teleology.  The hammock-like tendencies of the vines are instances of extrinsic final causality or teleology imposed “from outside.”  A liana vine is a true substance.  The hammock is not a true substance, precisely because it does not qua hammock have a substantial form but only an accidental form.  It is a “substance” only in a loose sense.

A group of liana vines which has through chance taken on a hammock-like arrangement also does not count as a true substance either, any more than a pattern made by a trail of ants that looks vaguely like the word “No” is really the word “No.”  For while this arrangement is not an artifact (not having been deliberately constructed, as Tarzan’s hammock was), the resulting object still does not have the substantial form of a hammock (if there were such a thing as the “substantial form of a hammock”), but is a mere accidental arrangement of parts, like a heap of stones that has formed at the bottom of a hill over time.  So though in one sense it obviously occurred “naturally,” it is not a “natural” object in the sense in which nature is contrasted with art, since a tendency to work together in a “hammock-like” way is not inherent to the parts.

Now what’s true of a hammock (or a hammock-like chance object) made of living liana vines is no less true of a hammock made of dead liana vines, even though the difference between art and nature in this case is less dramatic.  For while the dead vines will not exhibit the growth patterns the living vines will (thus constantly threatening to upset the hammock-like function Tarzan has imposed on them) they still have no inherent or built in tendency to function as a hammock.  Being dead, they have lost the substantial form of liana vines, but they have not taken on the substantial form of a hammock (if, again, there were such a thing).  Rather, they have the very same substantial form that other bits of dead liana lying randomly around the forest have – the substantial form of a kind of wood, say.  Perhaps this substantial form gives them enough durability to make them useful to put together into the form of a hammock, but that does not mean that they now have a natural “hammock-like” tendency per se, only that they have a natural tendency toward a certain degree of durability (which might also make them useful for making lots of things other than hammocks). 

What is true of hammocks is from an A-T point of view true also of watches, cars, computers, houses, airplanes, telephones, cups, coats, beds, doorstops, and countless other things.  Like the hammock, they are artifacts rather than true substances because their specifically watch-like, car-like, computer-like, etc. tendencies are extrinsic rather than immanent, the result of externally imposed accidental forms rather than substantial forms. 

It should be obvious from this why the A-T philosopher has no sympathy for William Paley-style “design arguments” or for “Intelligent Design” theory.  For these approaches begin by comparing natural objects like organisms to such artifacts as watches or outboard motors, and for the A-T philosopher that is precisely not what they are.  To be sure, the A-T philosopher is happy to acknowledge that natural objects are in some respects comparable to artifacts – for example, both natural objects and artifacts exhibit teleology (even if intrinsic teleology in the one case, and mere extrinsic teleology in the other).  But that is by itself of no more interest than the fact that natural objects are also comparable to all sorts of other things – to fictional characters, say (insofar as both real horses and Mr. Ed like to eat apples, insofar as I and James Bond both like to drink martinis, and so forth), or to numbers (insofar as natural objects and numbers are in some sense both real, insofar as we can have knowledge of both of these kinds of thing, and so forth). 

Now it would be silly to say “Let’s suppose that natural objects are fictional objects and that the universe as a whole is a kind of fictional story, and on that basis argue for a divine Author who thought up these fictional objects” or “Let’s suppose that natural objects are numbers, and on that basis argue for a divine Mathematician.”  Natural objects are not fictional objects, and they are not numbers either, and it is a complete waste of time to pretend that they are for such purposes, even if just “for the sake of argument.”  This remains so even if it might for some other purposes be useful (as it is) to compare the world to a work of fiction and God to its Author.  The point is that this is not a good way to begin an argument for the existence of God, because the key premise of the argument is false and because the implications of the comparison it rests on are dangerously misleading if used as a way of developing a conception of God’s relationship to the world.  (For example, if we really thought of ourselves and other natural objects on the model of fictional characters, we might be tempted to an occasionalist view of God’s relationship to the world.)

Similarly, since natural objects are (for the A-T philosopher) simply not artifacts in the relevant sense, it is a waste of time to argue for a divine designer on the basis of the assumption that they are, even if this assumption is made only “for the sake of argument.”  For since the assumption is false, the argument will be completely useless for establishing the existence of anything, much less God.  And to the extent that we let ourselves be guided by this assumption in developing our understanding of God’s relationship to the world, we might be led into theological error.  (For example, we might think of God in crudely anthropomorphic terms as a mere extremely clever engineer, might think of the world as at least in principle capable of operating apart from God’s sustaining causality, as a machine operates in the absence of the machinist, and so forth.  I have discussed the theological problems with the “divine watchmaker” approach to conceiving of God in some of my earlier posts on Paley and ID theory, such as this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one.)

Notice that it would also be silly for someone to allege, in response to my claim that natural objects are not fictional objects: “You are denying that there is a divine Author of nature!  You are putting Thomism in bondage to atheism!”  No, I’m not denying that God is the Author of nature.  I’m denying that natural objects are fictional objects, and I’m denying that thinking of them as fictional objects is a good reason for thinking of God as the Author of nature.  It would also be silly to say, in response to my claim that natural objects are not numbers: “You are denying that God knows mathematics!”  No, I’m not denying that God knows mathematics.  I’m denying that natural objects are numbers, and I’m denying that thinking of natural objects as numbers is a good reason for saying that God knows mathematics. 

Similarly, when I say that natural objects are not artifacts, this does not in any way entail (contrary to what Vincent Torley had implied in the original version of a recent post) that I think that natural objects are not designed by God – on the contrary, I hold that they are designed by God.  Nor does it entail (contrary to what Jay Richards seems (perhaps unintentionally) to imply) that I would deny that when God creates them He does so in light of archetypes which pre-exist in the divine intellect – on the contrary, I would say He does create them in this fashion.  If to say that natural objects are artifacts designed by God were merely to say that God creates them and does so in light of archetypes pre-existing in His intellect, then yes, of course natural objects are in that sense artifacts designed by God.  But that is not all that the Paleyan or the ID theorist means when he says that natural objects are artifacts.  He means also that they are not natural objects in the A-T sense of “natural,” or at least that they should not be treated as such for purposes of arguing for a designer.  Rather, the Paleyan or ID theorist thinks that natural objects should be understood on the model of what the A-T philosopher means by an “artifact.”  (Certainly William Dembski has explicitly said that ID does so, and said also that ID operates with a “mechanical” – and thus non-Aristotelian – conception of natural objects at least for the sake of argument.  More on this in the next post in this series.)

From an A-T point of view, this is simply a muddle.  To say that this liana vine is a fictional object would be nonsensical.  To say that this liana vine is a number would also be nonsensical.  And to say that this liana vine is an artifact is nonsensical too.  Hammocks made out of liana vines are artifacts, but liana vines themselves are not and could not be.  The notion of an artifact presupposes the natural substances out of which it is made, so that (from an A-T point of view, anyway) it can hardly make sense to think of natural substances themselves as “artifacts.”  When God creates natural objects, then, He does not do so by virtue of making artifacts – not because there is any limitation on His power, but for the same reason that He does not create circles by drawing crooked lines and does not create a horse by making an animal with gills.  Circles do not have crooked lines, horses do not have gills, and natural objects are not artifacts, and that’s why God doesn’t make crooked circles, horses with gills, or natural objects that are artifacts. 

Nor does any of this entail either that animal species arose through evolutionary processes or that they did not so arise – that is a separate issue.  It might turn out that such-and-such an organism could not have arisen through natural selection.  But if so, this would not be because it is a kind of artifact whose parts are very unlikely to have been arranged except by a divine artificer, because organisms, being natural objects, are not artifacts in the first place, and (therefore) they don’t have parts with substantial forms of their own which may or may not have been brought together – either by a divine artificer or by impersonal evolutionary processes – so as to take on the accidental form of a certain kind of organism (in the way the parts of a watch come together to take on the accidental form of a watch).  That’s just a category mistake, a completely wrongheaded way of thinking of organisms in the first place, and no more promising as a way of understanding them than thinking of them as fictional characters or as numbers would be. 

As I have said, such thinking also has, from an A-T point of view, disastrous theological implications, and disastrous metaphysical and moral implications too.  If natural objects are “artifacts,” then they have no immanent final causality or teleology.  And if they have no immanent final causality or teleology, then they are not compounds of act and potency (since potency presupposes immanent final causality), and there is no basis for arguing from their existence to God as their Purely Actual cause.  If they have no substantial forms, then the soul is not the substantial form of the body, and the interaction problem looms (along with its materialist sequel).  If natural objects have no substantial forms or immanent teleology, then human beings (who are natural objects) have no substantial forms or immanent teleology, and the metaphysical foundations of classical natural law theory are undermined.  (These are large issues, but readers of The Last Superstition and of Aquinas will understand why the A-T philosopher regards the pulling of the thread of Aristotelian formal and final causes to unravel the whole sweater of traditional moral philosophy and theology.)

Given all of this, the mystery is not why so many Thomists are so critical of ID theory.  The mystery is why anyone thinks it mysterious that they are critical of it.  A-T and ID are simply incompatible at the level of fundamental metaphysics.  But Vincent Torley nevertheless demurs, and Thomas Cudworth raises a question of his own about my objections to ID theory.  We’ll turn to them in the next post.

84 comments:

George R. said...

Ed, you say that artifacts are accidental forms, which is true. And you say that natural things are not accidental forms, but are composed of substantial form and primary matter, which is also true. However, that which the IDers compare with artifacts are not the substances of natural things per se but are the integral parts of natural things, such as the eyes and the structure of the cell. Now the structures of the eyes and of cells are NOT substantial forms, but are, like artifacts, accidental forms, since they inhere in continuous quantity, and that which inheres in an accident is an accident. Therefore, when the IDers compare the parts of natural things to artifacts they are comparing accidental forms to accidental forms, and there is no incommensurability involved.

Vincent Torley said...

In your post, you define an artifact as something whose existence involves instead the imposition of an accidental form on components each of which already has a substantial form. Fair enough. But in my post of 18 April, I made it clear that I was defining an artifact simply as something whose powers are imposed on pre-existing matter from outside by a designer - where the matter in question may be either "second matter" (e.g. in the case of the hammock, where the object retains its underlying nature) or on prime matter (resulting in the production of something with a radically new nature). The first living cell, I argued, could only be regarded as an artifact in the latter sense - and for that matter, the first living member of any new natural kind (which, by the way, I do not equate with biological species). That's very different from your sense of artifact.

Rather than argue about definitions, I'd like to ask you a simple question: suppose, for argument's sake, that the account of God forming man from the dust of the ground was literally true (as you would surely concede it might conceivably have been). How, in your view, would God go about forming a human being from dust? What ontological changes would be required, and in what sequence?

Vincent Torley said...

Sorry Ed,

In my haste I forgot to attach an opening salutation. My apologies.

One Brow said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you for the post. It has clarified for me some issues that were never really clear from TLS.

Edward Feser said...

George R,

Hello, long time no see. I don't know why you say that eyes, cells, etc. have accidental forms. When they are in their normal state as parts of the body, they aren't even separate things at all, but part of the whole and their matter is informed by the same one substantial form that informs the whole.

Maybe what you mean is that when an eye is removed (say) but hasn't yet died and is capable in principle of being re-incorporated into the body -- in this case, for A-T it counts as a kind of incomplete substance -- then it has in a sense taken on an accidental form. But I don't see how this is relevant, because the accidental form it has in this case isn't something it has qua eye but only qua detached organ. It has nothing to do with the kind of thing it is naturally, any more than its taking on the accidental form of a green thing (as it would if you injected green dye into it) would have anything to do with what it is naturally.

Vince,

Hello, I am, of course, going to address the points from your recent post in my next post. For now, though, let me say a couple of things:

1. Yes, I know that that's how you define "artifact" in that post, but the Aristotelian conception of "artifact" is narrower than that, and as you know, my beef with Dembski is that he thinks that natural objects should be treated (at least for the sake of argument) as "artifacts" in this narrower sense. That's one reason I thought it important to set out the art vs. nature distinction at some length. (I realize that you claim I've got Dembski wrong too, but I'll get to that claim in the next post.)

2. Forming a man from the dust of the ground involves causing the prime matter which had the substantial form of dust to take on instead the substantial form of a man. I'm not sure what "sequence of steps" you have in mind. There's no sequence involved (nor any super-engineering -- God is above such trivia). It's just God "saying," as it were: "Dust, become a man." And boom, you've got your man.

(For the New Atheist types out there, no, this isn't "magic." Rather, it's something perfectly rationally intelligible in itself and at least partially intelligible to our finite minds once we do some metaphysics. It's just something that only that in which essence and existence are identical, that which is pure actuality, etc. is capable of, and we aren't. We have to work through other pre-existing material substances and thus have to do engineering and the like in order to make things. God, who is immaterial, the source of all causal power, etc. doesn't need to do that and indeed cannot intelligibly be said to do it.)

One Brow,

Hello, and thanks.

Maolsheachlann said...

"We have to work through other pre-existing material substances and thus have to do engineering and the like in order to make things. God, who is immaterial, the source of all causal power, etc. doesn't need to do that and indeed cannot intelligibly be said to do it."

But isn't God the primary cause behind every secondary cause? What's the difference? Is the creation of substantial forms a unique category?

Even if bodily organs are not things, they are surely parts and surely it's legitimate to investigate how the the parts came to form a whole, without being committed to any metaphysical view whatsoever?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Cudworth is a worthy name to be in this debate.

George R. said...

Ed, substantial forms inhere in primary matter, as you have said. But primary matter is prior to all categories of accident, including quantity, since substantial being itself is necessarily prior to accidental being. The forms of eyes and cells, etc., on the other hand, are clearly posterior to quantity, for they inhere in continuous quantity and, therefore, depend on it. Therefore, they cannot be substantial forms and are in fact found in the category of accidental qualities. Moreover, since nothing without continuous quantity can ever be perceived by the senses, substances per se are utterly imperceptible to us and can only be inferred from their proper accidents, with the former related to the latter as cause to effect. Therefore, as I said above, when the IDers compare the integral parts of living things to artifacts, they are indeed comparing accidental forms to accidental forms, albeit with one kind of accidental form caused by the substance to which it properly belongs, and the other caused by human art.

George R. said...

Just to clarify, my last post was in response to this comment by Ed regarding my first post:

"I don't know why you say that eyes, cells, etc. have accidental forms."

Francis J. Beckwith said...

I don't know if I'm clarifying or obscuring Ed's point, but here's a way to think about it. If God creates a toaster, he creates an artifact. If God creates a man, he creates an organism. The first is a collection of parts mechanically configured for a particular function. The second is a substance whose parts work in concert for the good of the whole. Each is a different sort of thing. Thus, to treat substances as if they were artifacts is in fact to treat nature mechanistically. So, the more Vince presses the analogy, the more he supports Ed's contention that the ID folks hold a mechanistic view of nature. On the other hand, the more one concedes that artifacts and substances are different kinds of things, the less ID because plausible as a philosophy of nature.

Anonymous said...

I know you grow weary of the A-T/ID debates and want to move on to other things, but I would encourage you to hang in there. Like the (granted, crude) scene from Shaun of the Dead with the line, "I'll stop doing it when you stop laughing." so you ought not to let up on the incompatibility of A-T with ID until it stops being true. It stinks to be one of few A-T'ers out there at all, but dems da breaks.

joescannura said...

It seems that certain substantial forms in the world have a certain kind of connection to artificial or accidental forms that does not make them entirely extrinsic.

The vines in your example are obviously useful as a substantial form to be placed into the accidental form of a hammock. But say the substantial form of whale or lava could never be fashioned into the accidental form of a hammock or a computer. So many substantial forms have a sort of intimate connection with certain accidental forms that make them amenable to our using them in such a way. Wouldn't this connection be created or kept going in some way by god? Wouldn't this in some way make such connections not completely "extrinsic"?

Hope that made sense.

Anonymous said...

This is very helpful and I largely agree, but I'm wondering how I would deal with a Thomistic text like De Potentia 6, art. 1, ad 12 (and really, the rest of the article too). From the perspective of the objects we are natural objects, but from the perspective of God, Aquinas seems to think that God is an artisan (and thus, implicitly, produces artifacts). From an A-T perspective, how do we deal with this?

Vincent Torley said...

Professor Beckwith,

I completely agree with your statement that a collection of parts mechanically configured for a particular function is qualitatively different from a substance whose parts work in concert for the good of the whole. The point I'm making isn't that living things are like artifacts; rather, artifacts are a pale imitation of living things. "Then why invoke them at all, if they're so different?" you might ask. Because living things are fiendishly difficult to understand, being in a category of their own, and because artifacts are about the nearest analogy to living things - and a very poor analogy at that - that our feeble minds can actually grasp. What both artifacts and living things have in common, though, is that complexity is one of their defining features. Because Thomists define living things in purely finalistic terms, they imagine that a simple life-form is possible. What ID proponents are saying is that in this universe, at least, it's not. This brief post explains why:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/
doug-axe-a-real-scientist-not-a-brain-dead-darwinist/

That's why we're so sure that no scientific discovery will ever falsify ID. Producing life forms is a difficult task, because the ratio of functional configurations to non-functional configurations is astronomically low, even with proteins. Hence, finding a path-way that leads to life is like searching for a needle in a haystack. If you really want a short, readable article that clarifies the background assumptions of ID, I suggest you read this one by "no-man", dated 26 April 2011 (sorry if the mechanistic language offends, but it's worth reading to the very end):

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/
id-predictions-foundational-principles-underlying-the-
predictions-proposed-by-jonathan-m-and-others/

May I suggest that the real point at issue between Thomism and ID is the relationship between form and finality, and whether life can be defined in purely finalistic terms. Thomists hold that final causes are logically primary, and determine all other causes (formal causes included): form follows function. ID proponents differ on this vital point; we consider that the complexity of a living thing's form cannot be boiled own or reduced to its final cause (as if one could, in principle, reverse-engineer the structure of a living thing simply be grasping its telos). Both form and finality are essential, irreducible and complementary features of a living thing.

Peter Youngblood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bilbo said...

Prof. Feser wrote: "2. Forming a man from the dust of the ground involves causing the prime matter which had the substantial form of dust to take on instead the substantial form of a man."

So the prime matter which has the substantial form of dust does not have the ability to take on the substantial form of a man, unless God causes it?

So it is at least theoretically and theologically possible that the substantial form of dust does not have the ability to take on the substantial form of a living bacterium unless God causes it?

Sorry, Ed, but I don't see the difference between this and ID, which insists that the evidence shows that non-living "dust" does not have the ability to become living organisms, unless someone causes it. The only difference is that you insist that God alone can do it, which most IDers would agree with, anyway.

As far as I can tell your objections to ID still remain very muddled. Your ability to clarify your position has once again failed. I'm sorry that it has. I was looking for clarity for a change.

Edward Feser said...

Bilbo,

With all due respect, I don't think the problem is with my exposition. You speak as if the dispute between A-T and ID is fundamentally over the origins of living things, such as whether they were made directly by God or instead came about through evolutionary processes. As I have said many times now, that is not what it is about. That is a separate issue.

What is at issue is the nature of living things. If we start with Aristotle's distinction between art and nature -- which I have now spelled out at length -- we can see that the difference between the views is that A-T puts living things on the "nature" side and ID on the "art" side. It's as simple as that.

Hence while an A-T philosopher qua A-T philosopher may or may not agree about whether this or that living thing came about via evolutionary processes -- again, a separate issue -- if he thinks it did not so come about, that will not be as a result of a line of argument that begins by regarding that living thing as a kind of "artifact" in the relevant sense.

If you still don't get it after all that, then as I say, I find it difficult to see how the problem is mine.

Edward Feser said...

Maolsheachlann,

1. Yes, God is the source of the power of secondary causes, but I wasn't denying that. God's creating a natural object doesn't intelligibly involve a kind of super-engineering applied to the re-arranging of materials, each of already has its own substantial form, into something having a new accidental form. Because in that case it wouldn't be a natural object.

2. A living thing is not made up out of its parts in the sense of those parts being definable apart from the whole and then coming together from the bottom up to form the whole. A-T fundamentally rejects that reductionist conception of living things in favor of a holistic analysis. The parts are what they are, in their normal state anyway, only by reference to the role they play in the whole.

Codgitator,

I don't know if Thomas bears any relation to Ralph...

Edward Feser said...

George R,

Like I said, if you want to say that an eye (for example) takes on an accidental form of "being a severed eye" when it is separated from the body, that is one thing. But to say that its being an eye even when in its normal state of functioning as part of the body involves having an accidental form, and in particular an accidental form comparable to that a hammock or a watch (or a part of a hammock or watch) has, is just bizarre. The eye is an organic part of a living thing, inherently "directed toward" the good of the whole. The parts of a hammock or of any other artifact are not like that. Hence an eye does not have an "accidental form" of the sort that parts of hammocks, watches, etc. do.

Frank,

Yes, exactly. People sometimes object "Why couldn't God make an artifact, like a 747?" And the answer is: "I never said He couldn't make an artifact. I said that living things aren't artifacts, and therefore when God makes living things He doesn't do so by virtue of making artifacts."

Edward Feser said...

Vince,

You write:

May I suggest that the real point at issue between Thomism and ID is the relationship between form and finality, and whether life can be defined in purely finalistic terms.

I don't know whether I'd agree with this -- it seems, for one thing, to operate with a different conception of "form" than A-T, and I'm not sure what "purely finalistic terms" means -- but in saying it you are conceding that A-T and ID are incompatible. Which is, of course, my point.

This is, as I've said before, a pattern I see over and over in this debate. I say "A-T and ID are incompatible." Then ID defenders say "No, Ed, you're wrong, wrong, wrong! They are perfectly compatible!" And then they say "But A-T says this and ID says that, and ID is right and A-T wrong!" To which I respond "But now you're conceding my point that A-T and ID are incompatible!" To which they respond "Oh no, Ed, you're wrong, wrong, wrong. They are perfectly compatible!" And the merry-go-round begins again.

Anonymous,

This is why I (and many of my readers, I think) are growing weary of this debate. It just seems to go in circles, and my critics keep saying I'm wrong while showing by the content of their views that I am not wrong. Few ID defenders (other than Steve Fuller, and maybe Lydia McGrew) want to just come clean and admit "Yes, A-T and ID are incompatible." At least not explicitly.

Edward Feser said...

joescannura,

What I would say is that certain natural objects have, by virtue of their properties, a suitability for being made into certain kinds of artifacts that other natural objects do not have. Hence liana vines are useful for making hammocks, and spider webs are not. But it doesn't follow from that, and I would be hesitant to say, that liana vines have of their nature a suitability for being made into hammocks as such. That makes it sound as if there is something in the nature of liana vines that "points to" hammocks, specifically, as opposed to durability, specifically. And liana vines do not inherently "point to" hammocks per se, though they do inherently have a degree of durability that makes them useful for hammock-makers.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous 2,

Peter Youngblood has already responded, but I'd add that, as I said in the main post, I have no objection to calling things divine artifacts or God a divine artificer IF all that means is that everything is made by God and made in light of the archetypes pre-existing in the divine intellect. And that is all Aquinas means. That is very different from saying they are "artifacts" in the sense in which artifacts are contrasted with natural objects.

People need to be careful in trying to pull "gotcha" proof texts out of Aquinas or any other writer. (I know you weren't trying to do this, Anonymous, but sometimes other people do.) The fact that Aquinas sometimes speaks of God as an artificer doesn't prove anything, because "artificer" means different things. You will also often find Aristotelian writers -- including Aristotle himself, and including me -- using artifacts as examples to illustrate the idea of formal causality. The reason is that artifacts (like the rubber ball example I use in a couple of my books) can provide a very simple and clear way to introduce the basic idea, after which the subtleties and complications (substantial versus accidental form, prime matter versus second matter, true substances versus artifacts, etc.) can be introduced. It would be silly for someone to pull out of one of my books the rubber ball example and say "See, Feser believes that all things are really a kind of artifact!" Similarly, it is a mistake for people to pull passages from Aquinas where he is addressing issues other than the art vs. nature distinction (such as, in this case, the question of God's power) while ignoring what he says when he does address the art vs. nature distinction (e.g. in his Commentary on Aristotle's Physics).

Again, I know that you realize this, Anonymous, but I thought it important to emphasize the point.

Daniel Smith said...

Ed: "Forming a man from the dust of the ground involves causing the prime matter which had the substantial form of dust to take on instead the substantial form of a man. I'm not sure what "sequence of steps" you have in mind. There's no sequence involved (nor any super-engineering -- God is above such trivia). It's just God "saying," as it were: "Dust, become a man." And boom, you've got your man."

Please comment on this Dr. Feser:

From "The Summa Theologica" First Part, Question: 91, Article: 2, "Whether the human body was immediately produced by God?":

"Reply to Objection 4: An effect may be said to pre-exist in the causal virtues of creatures, in two ways. First, both in active and in passive potentiality, so that not only can it be produced out of pre-existing matter, but also that some pre-existing creature can produce it. Secondly, in passive potentiality only; that is, that out of pre-existing matter it can be produced by God. In this sense, according to Augustine, the human body pre-existed in the previous work in their causal virtues."

From this I gather that the pre-existing matter that God used to form Man had the "passive potential" of life in it as "an effect" and that only God can activate that passive potential.

I've suggested elsewhere that this is the closest thing to common ground Aquinas offers to ID - that only God can make life from pre-existing (non-living) matter.

Do you agree with this assessment Dr. Feser? Or am I completely off the wall here.

Edward Feser said...

Daniel,

There are two issues here: How a living thing in general might come into existence, and how a human being, specifically, might come into existence. They must be treated separately because for A-T human beings have an immaterial aspect -- intellect -- that other living things do not have.

A-T holds -- and I hold (and have said many times) -- that the human soul, because of its intellectual (and thus immaterial) powers -- cannot possibly have arisen through purely material processes and (therefore) cannot possibly have arisen through purely Darwinian processes.

Re: the origin of living things in general, I have written a whole post on that which you can find here on the blog:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/04/id-theory-aquinas-and-origin-of-life.html

I am not going to repeat what I said there and there is no short way to summarize it -- you can read it for yourself if you want to know how A-T philosophers would address the question of how life might arise. A-T would definitely say there is no way in principle that life could have arisen from causes that in no way did not already have it within them. But this needs to be qualified in the ways I spell out in the post linked to.

Anyway, in both cases, yes, the matter in question would have to have at least the passive potency for life.

George R. said...

Ed writes:

"But to say that its being an eye even when in its normal state of functioning as part of the body involves having an accidental form, and in particular an accidental form comparable to that a hammock or a watch (or a part of a hammock or watch) has, is just bizarre."

Ed, there are two issues involved in this statement: 1) whether eyes, cells, and other integral parts of natural things are accidental forms, and 2) if they are accidents, whether they can be compared with artifacts, which are also accidental forms. I am not interested at all in the second issue at this time. With respect to the first issue, however, I’m going to have to insist that to deny that it is the case that integral parts are accidental forms is to reject the very foundations of Thomistic cosmology.

Thesis #10 of the Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses:

“Although extension into integral parts is a consequence of a corporeal nature, it is not the same thing for a body to be a substance and for it to be of a certain quantity. By definition, a substance is indivisible, not in the same way as a point, but as something which is outside the order of dimension. Quantity, which gives extension to substance, in reality differs from substance, and is an accident in the full meaning of the term.”

Are eyes indivisible? No. Are eyes outside the order of dimension? No. Do eyes presuppose and depend upon extension? Yes. Therefore, the eyes are not substance but accident. From a Thomistic point of view it is completely undeniable.

Moreover, if you try to claim that integral parts of things are substance and not accidents, you will put yourself in opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church. For her doctrine on the Eucharist maintains that the substance of the bread once consecrated in no way remains, but only its accidents. But insofar as the species has extension and is perceptible to the senses, it has in no way changed at all. Therefore, if the forms that inhere in extension are not accidental but substantial, then the substance of the bread has remained unchanged, and Church teaching is false.

Befuddled Rambler said...

Ed,

Thanks for once more sallying forth on this topic.

I am sympathetic to what Bilbo says. As he construes things, and I think he is right, all that ID arguments push for is the following:

P) non-living "dust" does not have the ability to become living organisms/exhibit biological complexity, unless some agent causes it.

But you both agree on this. The ATer says it is achieved through the granting of a new substantial form by God, while the IDer is strictly agnostic about the agent of what it is that the agent does - he merely thinks one is required.

You complain: "we can see that the difference between the views is that A-T puts living things on the "nature" side and ID on the "art" side. It's as simple as that."

But the IDer only does so for the sake of argument. He says this: "Let's suppose the naturalistic conception of living organisms and of their origins is correct. But wait! If such a conception is true, then anyone who holds to it is committed to believing some very improbable things occurred. Therefore, such a conception is false."

Now, the IDer might go on to say "This is best solved by positing God in an engineering sort of role." But that is strictly unnecessary. They might equally go on to say that "So obviously what we need here is intrinsic teleology."

So perhaps there are two elements to ID, and ATs can accept the first, but not the second. Does that seem fair?

Mr. Green said...

I'm not tired of the topic, even though it does go in circles a bit. The question won't go away, because saying what's wrong is only half the story: what would really be good is a solid Thomistic account of what does follow from ID, rather than what doesn't. After all, given the scientific side, something metaphysical has to follow (even if it's not what ID folk usually think follows). People won't let it drop because of the strong intuition that the way organisms differ from rocks, the way they encode "programming", etc., is philosophically relevant, and to suppose that an interpretation that is compatible with Thomism would have nothing interesting to say is not very plausible.

Mr. Green said...

To be sure, the A-T philosopher is happy to acknowledge that natural objects are in some respects comparable to artifacts [...].  But that is by itself of no more interest than the fact that natural objects are also comparable to all sorts of other things

Aha, but it is also no less interesting. The Big Bang may not prove the existence of God (Thomistically), but that doesn't make it uninteresting, nor is its interest merely scientific. (Any scientific truth must rest on a metaphysical truth, or it wouldn't be true. The philosophy cannot be less interesting, then; but it might be more interesting.) Just as Aquinas refers to all sorts of (bad, obsolete) science of his day in order to provide helpful examples, so some limited sort of comparison of organisms to machines and computer programs may be helpful in provoking some valid philosophical thoughts. To go back to Bilbo's theme in a previous comment, instead of getting carried away with whether we can "prove" God, surely the starting point should be to figure out what it does tell us. (Once we find that out, if it happens to supply a useful way to demonstrate the existence of God, great. If not, that's fine too.) That is surely the productive way to approach ID. So what correct metaphysics can we draw from those insights?

And to the extent that we let ourselves be guided by this assumption in developing our understanding of God’s relationship to the world, we might be led into theological error.  (For example, we might think of God in crudely anthropomorphic terms as a mere extremely clever engineer

I don't get this. One "might" be led in theological error by anything (even by reading the ST). One certainly is more likely to be led into more anthropomorphic errors by reading the Bible, but the conclusion is not that people ought not read the Bible, or that it must be read only by accomplished Thomists or something. The moral is surely that if we want to draw philosophical conclusions, we must do our philosophy carefully. Which again leads back to the question: if we carefully apply Thomism to ID ideas, what can we get out of it?

George R. said...

(Blogger devoured my comment the first time I posted it, so I'm trying again.)

(Blogger hates me.)

(I hate Blogger. If these attempts at posting are piling up somewhere, please delete them.)

Ed writes:
“But to say that its being an eye even when in its normal state of functioning as part of the body involves having an accidental form, and in particular an accidental form comparable to that a hammock or a watch (or a part of a hammock or watch) has, is just bizarre.”

There are two issues involved in this statement: 1) whether eyes, cells, and other integral parts of natural things are accidental forms, and 2) if they are accidents, whether they can be compared with artifacts, which are also accidental forms. I am not interested at all in the second issue at this time. With respect to the first issue, however, I’m going to have to insist that to deny that it is the case that integral parts are accidental forms is to reject the very foundations of Thomistic cosmology.

For instance, Thesis #10 of the Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses is as follows:
“Although extension into integral parts is a consequence of a corporeal nature, it is not the same thing for a body to be a substance and for it to be of a certain quantity. By definition, a substance is indivisible, not in the same way as a point, but as something which is outside the order of dimension. Quantity, which gives extension to substance, in reality differs from substance, and is an accident in the full meaning of the term.”

Are eyes indivisible? No. Are eyes outside the order of dimension? No. Do eyes presuppose and depend upon extension? Yes. Therefore, the eyes are not substance but accident. From a Thomistic point of view this is completely undeniable.

Moreover, if you try to claim that integral parts of things are substance and not accidents, you will put yourself, I’m afraid, in opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church. For her doctrine on the Eucharist maintains that the substance of the bread once consecrated in no way remains, but only its accidents. But insofar as the species has extension and is perceptible to the senses, it has in no way changed at all. Therefore, if the forms that inhere in extension are not accidental but substantial, then the substance of the bread has remained unchanged, and Church teaching is false.

BenYachov said...

>For her doctrine on the Eucharist maintains that the substance of the bread once consecrated in no way remains, but only its accidents.

What does that have to do with what Dr. Feser is talking about?

Transubstantiation is a supernatural act on the part of God during the Mass. It's not a natural phenomena in nature.

What does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Bilbo said...

Things we know:

(1) All living organisms are composed of the same physical elements that non-living things are composed of. They may also be composed of non-physical things, such as souls.

(2) Unless those elements are arranged in very specific ways, the organisms may not be able to function or reproduce.

(3) Very likely, there were no living physical organisms in this universe when it first came into existence.

(4) Very likely, when the first living physical organisms came into existence, they were made from pre-existing physical elements in this universe.

(5) If God made the first living physical organisms directly, then very likely He did so by causing pre-existing physical elements to come together in the necessary way for them to become living organisms.

(6) If ID is correct, then it is very unlikely that the pre-existing physical elements would have come together in the necessary way to become living organisms without the aid of an intelligent agent.

Is any of this incompatible with AT/Thomisms?

Will said...

I'm not getting the precise nature of the distinction between artifact and natural thing. (Be gentle; I'm not a philosopher.) Suppose a human being engineers something which can metabolize, reproduce, etc. (If viruses count, it apparently has happened: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/2122619.stm .) Since it has an intrinsic nature of doing what it does, and since its origin isn't the point, it would be a natural thing with a substantial form, right? And if not natural, what's the essence of "natural" -- or "having immanent final cause" -- that it's missing?

I'm also not getting how theistic evolution is metaphysically different from ID, since in each case God makes living things using natural processes.

I have no enthusiasm for ID for different reasons: irreducible complexity essentially argues from ignorance -- that if we can't find a way to reduce the complexity there must not be one; and specified complexity argues from an untested intuition that useful complex things can't happen by chance even w/ natural selection to push toward usefulness. But I'm not seeing how ID requires the abandonment of inherent final causes.

Anonymous said...

Bilbo,

(1) All living organisms are composed of the same physical elements that non-living things are composed of. They may also be composed of non-physical things, such as souls.

I think, oddly enough, this much may be in dispute. What these "physical elements" ultimately are seems like one point of dispute, isn't it? Are there intrinsic natures to these physical things, is the analysis of them reductive or holistic, etc.

Daniel Smith said...

Ed: "Anyway, in both cases, yes, the matter in question would have to have at least the passive potency for life."

Thanks for your answer Dr. Feser. I appreciate that the section of the Summa-T I quoted was dealing specifically with the human body. I'd like to think though, that Thomas' distinction re: active/passive potential may indeed apply to all of life.

I read Aquinas to say that only God can activate passive potency. Do you agree with this?

I guess the question then is whether the elements that make up living organisms have active potency for life or passive potency only.

From what I've seen of life on the molecular level, I'm pretty convinced that it is passive potency only.

Mr. Green said...

Will: Since it has an intrinsic nature of doing what it does, and since its origin isn't the point, it would be a natural thing with a substantial form, right?

Right. But the scientists in such a case haven't "built" life; they have found a new way to activate the natural powers or properties that can bring about that living thing. They may start out by manipulating things from the outside, i.e. applying external forms, but at some point everything will fall into place and there will be a new entity that has an intrinsic form rather than an externally imposed one. Of course, this is what happens any time an organism reproduces — natural physical processes occur until the moment when the new life form comes into being. The scientists are just finding another way to get there.

On the other hand, when scientists build a robot dog out of metal and plastic, they are imposing forms on substances that have no natural tendency to become a living organism, so the robot is only ever a machine.

I have no enthusiasm for ID for different reasons: irreducible complexity essentially argues from ignorance -- that if we can't find a way to reduce the complexity there must not be one;

But that's the opposite of what ID says: we do know how to get complexity — get a mind to design it. (And "pushing" towards "usefulness" seems to rule out chance by definition.)

George R. said...

Transubstantiation is a supernatural act on the part of God during the Mass. It's not a natural phenomena in nature.

What does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China?


Yachov, how’ve you been, buddy? Still giving the catechism lessons I see. Listen, I’ll explain to you all about transubstantiation, substance, accidents, tea and China tomorrow. I’ve got no time now.

Mr. Green said...

Prof. Feser: If natural objects are “artifacts,” then they have no immanent final causality or teleology [and] are not compounds of act and potency [and] there is no basis for arguing from their existence to God as their Purely Actual cause [and] the soul is not the substantial form of the body, and the interaction problem looms [and] the metaphysical foundations of classical natural law theory are undermined.

Hang on, if we're assuming a new definition of "natural" (one that's equivalent to "artifact"), then it is no longer obvious that human beings count as "natural", so it's not clear what happens to the interaction problem and n̶a̶t̶u̶r̶a̶l̶ artificial law. Or to be more subtle, what if some "natural" objects are artifacts instead, but some really are natural?

God can make machines, so he could create a "robocow", an entity that looks just like a real cow on the "outside" (that is, as far as we can tell from sense-perception, even by taking the cow apart and analysing it). The only difference is that robocow has no intrinsic form, God merely imposed one from the outside. Now, the existence of such a being would not disprove any ordinary Thomistic conclusions about natural objects. But it would be a mechanism, and thus the problematic ID arguments would work for it. Thus the arguments themselves do not contradict Thomism; though they are perhaps misplaced, because cows really are organisms, not machines. But that means we get something more than ID, but not less.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: I'd like to think though, that Thomas' distinction re: active/passive potential may indeed apply to all of life. I read Aquinas to say that only God can activate passive potency.

Yes, I think that's right. An active power can be activated by some nature, so angels could actualise certain potentials that we couldn't, while God can of course actualise any potential. Something that has no potential or possibility is, well, impossible — say, turning prime matter into a form — that just doesn't make sense. But there's no reason the prime matter underlying some water couldn't be turned into prime matter in wine. Human beings can't activate such a change, though (but if you have some water and a grapevine, then you could do it).

I guess the question then is whether the elements that make up living organisms have active potency for life or passive potency only. From what I've seen of life on the molecular level, I'm pretty convinced that it is passive potency only.

There's no way to see that, though, is there? You can't put a form under the microscope to examine whether it's internal or external to the item in question, so how could we ever know? To return to my robocow example, surely there's no way to tell whether something is an organism or a machine made by God (or even a machine not made by God). It's not a difference that is available to the senses, or to science, so the only way to find out would be to ask God.

(Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't assume cows really are organisms. There are common-sense reasons to do so, just as there are common-sense reasons to assume that you are a human being, even though I couldn't "prove" that you're not an android or an extraterrestrial or an angel appearing in human form or a hallucination. But qua philosopher, I want a more pedantic reason to think something is an organism or not.)

Vincent Torley said...

I think Will's question about the virus and Mr. Green's "robocow" scenario are philosophically interesting. Suppose God (or for that matter, an angel, or some very smart scientist) put together an organism one atom at a time. Would it be a real organism? Mr. Green thinks not. I disagree. Something that's physically identical to a cow, has to be a cow. (This argument wouldn't work for the production of Adam, because he had an immaterial soul.)

Having said that, I will concede that the antecedent is probably a physical impossibility. You can't put an organism together one atom at a time - it would fall apart long before you finished the task. Even if you did it very quickly, the intermediate stages still wouldn't be chemically stable. I suppose that God could prevent the intermediate structures from collapsing if He wished, though.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

In your article you argued that we should not be likened to fictional objects. In an recent article on "Divine Providence" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Hugh McCann proposes (see action 6) that we are all characters in a story written by God. The idea that we are characters in a storybook written by God is an intriguing one. At first blush, it sounds like something out of "The Matrix", but the notion is not as absurd as it sounds. There is a legitimate sense in which we can speak of the characters in one of J. K. Rowling's stories as making free choices, and as getting their just deserts for their good or bad deeds.

One obvious objection to McCann's "storybook" analogy is that we are real, but the characters in a story are not. But what does "real" mean here? The characters in a story are real to each other; while the author exists at another, higher level of reality. We can make stories, but it is certainly conceivable that we ourselves are characters in a story written by God, who, as the Ultimate Reality, exists in a level of reality beyond our own.

Another objection to McCann's "storybook" metaphor is that the characters in a story do not interact with their author, as we do when we pray to God. However, there seems to be no logical reason why an author of a book could not write a story in which the characters interacted with him or her. I believe some computer games already incorporate this feature. (Even back in the 1990s, children could buy Tamagotchi electronic pets, which asked their owner to feed them and "died" if their owner neglected them.)

Is McCann's idea crazy? Thoughts?

Mr. Green said...

Prof. Torley: Suppose God (or for that matter, an angel, or some very smart scientist) put together an organism one atom at a time. Would it be a real organism? Mr. Green thinks not. I disagree. Something that's physically identical to a cow, has to be a cow.

Well, I don't think how it's put together matters; or rather, it might not. I think that Aquinas would say that however the cow was put together, it would end up a real cow. (As you point out, "one atom at a time" is probably impossible; indeed, it might only be possible to "grow" a cow in some sense, which would more obviously make the result merely a twist on the way cows normally grow.) But there has to be a difference if "natural/intrinsic form" is meaningfully different from "external form/machine".

Whether anyone but God could make a robocow depends on the natures God has given to the various ingredients (if their nature is to form an organic cow when we put them together, then that's what will happen). But given that an organic cow is something different from a hypothetical (pseudo)cow-with-extrinsic-form, then God must be able to create either one. And if it was possible for us to build one (say, if you put certain ingredients together in a certain way), we wouldn't know whether the result had an intrinsic form or not.

Vincent Torley said...

Mr. Green,

Unlike Ed, I'm not a Professor or even an academic. I just happen to have a Ph.D. in philosophy, that's all.

I see from your response that you are a vitalist in a very strong sense of the word. It seems to me that there is a real problem with your position, however. Common sense might indeed tell us that we should assume a cow is a real one unless we have a strong reason to believe otherwise. But if we also know that cows are descended from one-celled organisms, and if (as Darwinians commonly claim) we have reason to believe that the first organisms were built one step at a time in the primordial soup, then on your account it follows that the first organism and all its descendants are what you would call robotic organisms.

For my part, I'd say that even if the first organism was constructed in a step-by-step fashion, it would still possess genuine intrinsic finality, if its parts were systematically co-ordinated to work for the good of the whole.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Vince,

Good question. I think I'll soon do a separate post on it in response.

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: But if we also know that cows are descended from one-celled organisms, and if (as Darwinians commonly claim) we have reason to believe that the first organisms were built one step at a time in the primordial soup, then on your account it follows that the first organism and all its descendants are what you would call robotic organisms.

Except I don't think the steps matter. God can make the rules any way he wants: "growing" a cow might produce an organism, while "building" one atom-by-atom might produce a mechanism. Or God could create a universe where "building" and "growing" both produce an organism. Or for that matter, He could have created a universe where "building" and "growing" both result in a mechanism. Of course God doesn't need to use steps; He could create a cow or a robocow ex nihilo.

For my part, I'd say that even if the first organism was constructed in a step-by-step fashion, it would still possess genuine intrinsic finality, if its parts were systematically co-ordinated to work for the good of the whole.

Organisms are often described in terms of being ordered for the good of the whole, but that cannot really be what "intrinsic finality" is, because we can build machines that act that way. It may be a typical characteristic, even a defining one before the age of robotics, but the hypothetical robocow — or simpler robots that we can and have already built — act for their own good. What the robots do not have is a single substantial form. (Unless, according to the rules God made for our universe, they do, in which case we've been "building" organisms without knowing it!)

George R. said...

Yacov writes:

Transubstantiation is a supernatural act on the part of God during the Mass. It's not a natural phenomena in nature.

What does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China?



Yacov, Ed is suggesting that the integral parts of natural things such as eyes, ears, hands, etc, are substance, whereas I am arguing that they are not substance but accidents. Now the Church teaches that after consecration the host retains none of the “substance” of the bread, but only the “accidents,” and she uses those same terms, which she received from scholastic philosophy. However, it is plainly obvious that the integral parts of the host have remained completely unchanged after consecration; even the molecular structure of the bread remains exactly the same. In fact, every possible perceptible aspect of the bread has remained the same. Therefore, according to the Church, all perceptible parts of the host must be accidents, just as I am arguing. However, if Ed is right, and the integral parts are substance, then the Church must be wrong, and her teaching on transubstantiation is erroneous.

BenYachov said...

The flaw in your logic is obvious. A consecrated host is STILL not a mere natural object. It is a unique supernatural creation via the supernatural act of transubstantiation.

Why can't the integral parts of natural objects be substance and the Eucharist a supernatural object be the exception that proves the rule having all perceptible parts be mere accidents?

It seems to me any configuration of substance and accidents that occurs by transubstantiation(which joins naturally incompatible substances & accidents miraculously) would have all it's perceptible parts be accidents.

But only the Eucharist is a product of transubstantiation and has that unique configuration.

So your argument is unconvincing.

BenYachov said...

Also the Body of Christ in the Eucharist is two substances. The substance of a natural human Body and the Divine Nature.

So you are comparing Apples N' Oranges and God.

George R. said...

Yachov, you really have to get a grip on reality.

The Church doesn’t teach that the substance of the bread is transformed into accidents, or that what was substance is now accident. What she teaches is that NONE of the substance of the bread remains, but only the accidents REMAIN. What was substance is GONE; what remains is accident. Everything pertaining to the bread either goes or stays. Nothing of the bread is transformed or undergoes any mutation whatsoever.

But leaving aside your ludicrous opinions on transubstantiation, it is also evident that my view of the distinction between substance and accident is reflected in the very foundations of Thomistic cosmology. I quote again Thesis #10 of the Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses:

Although extension into integral parts is a consequence of a corporeal nature, it is not the same thing for a body to be a substance and for it to be of a certain quantity. By definition, a substance is indivisible, not in the same way as a point, but as something which is outside the order of dimension. Quantity, which gives extension to substance, in reality differs from substance, and is an accident in the full meaning of the term.

No doubt you will not scruple to cook up some screwball interpretation of these words, as you have done in the past when faced with irrefutable evidence against your opinion. Nevertheless, I will advise you, for the sake of your mental well-being, not to do so, but rather to capitulate to my position, which is the correct one.

BenYachov said...

>The Church doesn’t teach that the substance of the bread is transformed into accidents, or that what was substance is now accident.

Where did I make that claim? So this is how you will play this game? You have no answer for me so you make stuff up to create a Red Herring.


>What she teaches is that NONE of the substance of the bread remains, but only the accidents REMAIN. What was substance is GONE; what remains is accident. Everything pertaining to the bread either goes or stays.

Yes I know how it works. The question you are now avoiding is how does this vindicate your original criticism? Clearly it doesn't hence the obfuscation on your part.

>Nothing of the bread is transformed or undergoes any mutation whatsoever.

What does any of this have to do with your original claim?

BenYachov said...

>But leaving aside your ludicrous opinions on transubstantiation,

I have no ludicrous opinions on transubstantiation. You OTOH are clearly so insecure you put words in my mouth because can't defend your original claims.

>it is also evident that my view of the distinction between substance and accident is reflected in the very foundations of Thomistic cosmology. I quote again Thesis #10 of the Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses:

Another Red Herring offered by someone who can't back up his claims. I see nothing in Thesis #10 that vindicates your original claim.

>Although extension into integral parts is a consequence of a corporeal nature, it is not the same thing for a body to be a substance and for it to be of a certain quantity. By definition, a substance is indivisible, not in the same way as a point, but as something which is outside the order of dimension. Quantity, which gives extension to substance, in reality differs from substance, and is an accident in the full meaning of the term.

So? What does this have to do with the price of tea in China again?

>No doubt you will not scruple to cook up some screwball interpretation of these words, as you have done in the past when faced with irrefutable evidence against your opinion.

I have no opinion. I merely gave reasons why I doubted your opinion. You have not answered me.
You seem to be afraid too.

> Nevertheless, I will advise you, for the sake of your mental well-being, not to do so, but rather to capitulate to my position, which is the correct one.

So you have no counter answers to my points. You attribute to me views I don't hold & now your argument is to simply blindly believe you?

Are you sure your not the one who needs to look after his mental health?

George R. said...

Yachov writes:
“Where did I make that claim? So this is how you will play this game? You have no answer for me so you make stuff up to create a Red Herring.”

Here’s what you said:

“Why can't the integral parts of natural objects be substance and the Eucharist a supernatural object be the exception that proves the rule having all perceptible parts be mere accidents?”

Okay. I’ll let you explain to me what on earth that supposed to mean if not “that the substance of the bread is transformed into accidents, or that what was substance is now accident.”

Bilbo said...

Mr. Green wrote: "but the hypothetical robocow — or simpler robots that we can and have already built — act for their own good. What the robots do not have is a single substantial form."

Is the robocow alive? If it isn't alive, could we that it isn't alive? Could something be alive and not have a single substantial form?

Bilbo said...

oops...that was "could we know that it isn't alive?"

George R. said...

Let's call a truce, Yachov. We're both descending into insults.

Bilbo said...

Prof. Feser wrote: "What is at issue is the nature of living things. If we start with Aristotle's distinction between art and nature -- which I have now spelled out at length -- we can see that the difference between the views is that A-T puts living things on the "nature" side and ID on the "art" side. It's as simple as that."

I still don't get it, I'm afraid. From what I can tell, you think that it is problematic (impossible? undignified? unnecessary?) if God immediately takes pre-existing material and makes a living thing out of it.

It doesn't matter to me whether we call the product "natural" or "art." The only point ID makes is that unless the pre-existing material didn't have the ability to make a living thing out of itself. Somebody had to make it happen.

Would it help if we said that the final cause of the pre-existing material is to be the material that is made into a living thing? And this would distinguish it from a liana vine, whose final cause is not to be a hammock?

Bilbo said...

oops...drop "unless"

BenYachov said...

Your the one who said QUOTE "Ed is suggesting that the integral parts of natural things such as eyes, ears, hands, etc, are substance, whereas I am arguing that they are not substance but accidents.".

I'm suggesting if you are right then I see no reason why what Ed is refering to applies to natural objects only and not to the Eucharist being a special case.

Of course this assumes you are interpreting Ed correctly which is doubtful but what can I do?

BenYachov said...

George.

Agreed no insults.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: "There's no way to see that, though, is there?"

Yes and partially No.

We can try to take non-living elements and combine them ourselves to see if we can activate their potential to live. If so, then these elements have active potential, if not, then they may not (or we may not be doing it right.)

Edward Feser said...

George,

You are equivocating on the word "accident." Yes, natural objects, like everything else, have "accidents" in the Scholastic sense of having what modern philosophers call "properties" (though in Scholastic philosophy a "property" is not any accident but only a "proper accident"). But that is not what is meant when we say that artifacts have only an "accidental" unity. "Accidental" in that case is being used in another sense, i.e. the sense of "non-essential" or "not reflecting the unity had by a true substance."

So, to use a standard example, having the capacity for humor is a "property" or "proper accident" of a human being because it flows from our rationality. But that does not mean it is "accidental" in the sense in which the arrangement of liana vines into a hammock is accidental. Quite the opposite: Having the capacity for humor follows from our nature, but being arranged in a hammock-like way does not follow from the nature of liana vines.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: Is the robocow alive? If it isn't alive, could we know that it isn't alive?

Depends on your definition of alive. I'd probably define life as something organisms have and machines don't. But the only difference between robocow and a living cow is that one has a single substantial form, and the other has an external form applied to a bunch of separate substances — and since you can't see forms, and since the properties or actions of both of them work out the same, we couldn't know. Since for Thomists, an organism by definition has a single substantial form, then the answer to "Could something be alive and not have a single substantial form?" is no.

Daniel Smith: We can try to take non-living elements and combine them ourselves to see if we can activate their potential to live. If so, then these elements have active potential, if not, then they may not (or we may not be doing it right.)

Suppose we combine some elements and get something that moves around and does whatever we were hoping for. How do we know that we've activated the potential of those elements to generate an organism, vs. activating their potential to make a machine? Since machines can be exceedingly complex, I don't see any way to tell the difference based on sensory or empirical observations. (And all human knowledge starts from the senses, though obviously we could get around that if God came and told us, say.)

However, you raise an interesting distinction there: maybe organism vs. machine isn't what we want to know in this case. Is it more fruitful to find out what powers the ingredients have (regardless of whether it's the power to form a living substance or a fancy machine)? That, as you point out, we can discover, by trying to activate their potential and seeing what happens.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: From what I can tell, you [Feser] think that it is problematic (impossible? undignified? unnecessary?) if God immediately takes pre-existing material and makes a living thing out of it.

No, there are two different questions here: one is by what manner something came into existence, and the other is whether the thing is a substance or not. God can cause substances to come into being any way He wants: He can create them directly out of nothing; he can create some natural substances of the same kind that act in such as way as to generate the being (e.g. an animal generating offspring), or he can create some natural substances of a different kind that generate it (e.g. some chemical soup that eventually evolves into that being); or He can take some existing matter and slap a new substantial form onto it (e.g. taking some mud and making Adam), etc. The being in question can be a living organism no matter which method God chooses.

On the other hand, God can also create a machine in any way too. Directly ex nihilo, or indirectly (e.g. by letting man assemble the parts), or whatever. So even if we were around before robocow and saw robocow come into being, we still wouldn't know whether it was an organism or a machine. At least, if I've got the Thomism right (I'm still waiting for Ed to tell me there's something unaristotelian about my robocow hypothesis!). When metal and plastic are manipulated in the right way, you get a machine. When acorns and dirt are manipulated the right way, you get an organism. It all depends on the natures of metal and acorns and dirt, etc. In another universe, with different laws (i.e. with different things that have different natures), putting stuff together would have different results.

The only point ID makes is that the pre-existing material didn't have the ability to make a living thing out of itself. Somebody had to make it happen.

This is one way where ID differs from Aquinas, then: for Thomas, all substances trace their powers and abilities back to the natures given them by God. (A cow is in this respect no different from a rock or an electron.) Once God has set up those natures, the things can indeed make living things out of themselves — that is, God does not need to intervene directly but can let objects act in their ordinary natural way. (In Thomistic terms, God is the primary cause, but creatures would be the secondary causes.) Or at least, things could be that way — obviously God could instead have chosen not to create a world with such powers, meaning that it would be necessary for Him to intervene miraculously. But Aquinas says God could do it either way.

Note that the salient feature here is the intrinsic final cause, which is why Thomas's Fifth Way works fine with rocks, and doesn't require something more complex like cows. The important thing is the intrinsicality, not the complexity. On the other hand, ID reverses that: it wants to argue based on complexity (well, and specificity and whatever else), and not on intrinsicality — in fact, by treating organisms like machines, it actually denies the intrinsic cause, imagining instead that organisms have machine-like external forms. So it gives up the part that Thomists really want (so that they can apply the Fifth Way) and gets something they don't want (hence the Profeser's warning about how, taken to its logical conclusion, it could even bring down the human mind and morality!).

(P.S. It just occurred to me to add a reminder that the "cause" in "final cause" has nothing to do with making something happen, or bringing something into being (that would be an "efficient" cause). "Cause" in this sense is something that a being has, as part of its nature. It has to do with where it's going, not where it came from.)

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: From what I can tell, you [Feser] think that it is problematic (impossible? undignified? unnecessary?) if God immediately takes pre-existing material and makes a living thing out of it.

No, there are two different questions here: one is by what manner something came into existence, and the other is whether the thing is a substance or not. God can cause substances to come into being any way He wants: He can create them directly out of nothing; he can create some natural substances of the same kind that act in such as way as to generate the being (e.g. an animal generating offspring), or he can create some natural substances of a different kind that generate it (e.g. some chemical soup that eventually evolves into that being); or He can take some existing matter and slap a new substantial form onto it (e.g. taking some mud and making Adam), etc. The being in question can be a living organism no matter which method God chooses.

On the other hand, God can also create a machine in any way too. Directly ex nihilo, or indirectly (e.g. by letting man assemble the parts), or whatever. So even if we were around before robocow and saw robocow come into being, we still wouldn't know whether it was an organism or a machine. At least, if I've got the Thomism right (I'm still waiting for Ed to tell me there's something unaristotelian about my robocow hypothesis!). When metal and plastic are manipulated in the right way, you get a machine. When acorns and dirt are manipulated the right way, you get an organism. It all depends on the natures of metal and acorns and dirt, etc. In another universe, with different laws (i.e. with different things that have different natures), putting stuff together would have different results.

The only point ID makes is that the pre-existing material didn't have the ability to make a living thing out of itself. Somebody had to make it happen.

This is one way where ID differs from Aquinas, then: for Thomas, all substances trace their powers and abilities back to the natures given them by God. (A cow is in this respect no different from a rock or an electron.) Once God has set up those natures, the things can indeed make living things out of themselves — that is, God does not need to intervene directly but can let objects act in their ordinary natural way. (In Thomistic terms, God is the primary cause, but creatures would be the secondary causes.) Or at least, things could be that way — obviously God could instead have chosen not to create a world with such powers, meaning that it would be necessary for Him to intervene miraculously. But Aquinas says God could do it either way.

Note that the salient feature here is the intrinsic final cause, which is why Thomas's Fifth Way works fine with rocks, and doesn't require something more complex like cows. The important thing is the intrinsicality, not the complexity. On the other hand, ID reverses that: it wants to argue based on complexity (well, and specificity and whatever else), and not on intrinsicality — in fact, by treating organisms like machines, it actually denies the intrinsic cause, imagining instead that organisms have machine-like external forms. So it gives up the part that Thomists really want (so that they can apply the Fifth Way) and gets something they don't want (hence the Profeser's warning about how, taken to its logical conclusion, it could even bring down the human mind and morality!).

(P.S. It just occurred to me to add a reminder that the "cause" in "final cause" has nothing to do with making something happen, or bringing something into being (that would be an "efficient" cause). "Cause" in this sense is something that a being has, as part of its nature. It has to do with where it's going, not where it came from.)

George R. said...

Ed writes:
“You are equivocating on the word ‘accident.’"

No I’m not. Allow me to explain.

First of all, I’m glad to see you acknowledge that integral parts of natural things are in fact accidents, which is, of course, true. You are also correct when you say they are what are known as “proper” accidents, for they immediately follow from substance of the thing. However, (and this is a crucial point, as I will show later), they are not themselves the substance of the thing, but are related to the latter as effects are related to their proper cause. I believe to this point we are in no disagreement.

Now let’s turn to artifacts. Artifacts are accidental forms imposed on pre-existing matter, as you say in your article. They are also, as you argue, in no way proper to the natural substances in which they inhere. So, even up to this point we completely agree.

But here’s where things become contentious: I argue that artifacts are not called “accidental forms” because they are in no way proper to the substances to which they belong, but because, as opposed to substantial forms, which inhere in primary matter, they inhere in determinate matter, i.e., secondary matter, i.e., matter insofar as it already possesses extension and its own properties. However, the proper accidents of natural things, to wit, eyes, legs, cells, etc, also inhere in determinate matter, i.e., matter insofar as it already possesses extension and its own properties and, therefore, are also called “accidental forms” in the same sense as artifacts are. In other words, any form received by determinate matter in ipso facto an accidental form, whether it be a proper attribute or not. So, from my point of view there is no equivocation whatsoever.

All that being said, however, I do acknowledge that there is a conceptual distinction between an attribute insofar as it is considered as an accident belonging to a substance and insofar as it is considered as an accidental form inhering in determinate matter. But the latter sense is compared univocally with artifacts.

Brandon said...

First of all, I’m glad to see you acknowledge that integral parts of natural things are in fact accidents, which is, of course, true.

It is in fact obviously false. Integral parts of substances are substances, albeit in a secondary way; that is, they are the substances themselves, incompletely considered. Aquinas is very explicit about this in a number of places (e.g., In Meta. 898 and 1263, for just two of many examples). Pretending that the integral parts of substances are accidents turns substances into Lockean unknown-somethings, not genuine Aristotelian subjects, and thus is an early modern aberration.

Vincent Torley said...

George R.

I think I can see what you're getting at. Extension is indeed an accident, but the parts of a body are parts of a substance. Thus a part is not an accident, but its extension is.

In the Eucharist, the extension of the bread and wine remain, but the bread and wine do not. Also, the parts of the bread and wine are no longer present, as parts belong to a substance. What is a "part" of bread? It's a piece of bread. What is a "part" of wine? It's a drop of wine. So after the consecration, there are no longer any pieces of bread or drops of wine.

Hope that helps.

Bilbo said...

Mr. Green: "Once God has set up those natures, the things can indeed make living things out of themselves — that is, God does not need to intervene directly but can let objects act in their ordinary natural way. (In Thomistic terms, God is the primary cause, but creatures would be the secondary causes.) Or at least, things could be that way — obviously God could instead have chosen not to create a world with such powers, meaning that it would be necessary for Him to intervene miraculously. But Aquinas says God could do it either way."

Then I would say that the empirical evidence suggests that God has chosen the second alternative for our world -- there's no evidence that the physical elements of life have the ability to come together and form a living organism without help from an external agent. If it's true that Aquinas could accept this, then shouldn't Prof. Feser?

Mr. Green, I'm curious what you think of my final question:

"Would it help if we said that the final cause of the pre-existing material is to be the material that is made into a living thing? And this would distinguish it from a liana vine, whose final cause is not to be a hammock?"

But speaking of liana vines, suppose it were possible to breed a species of liana vine that as it grows, shapes itself into a hammock. Would the final cause of this new breed be a hammock?

Also, if there is a block of marble that has the form of David in it, and Michelangelo's function was merely to reveal that form, then did that block of marble have the final cause of being the stature of David?

Bilbo said...

Also, back to the robocow, if there are no empirical differences between the living cow and the robocow, then what exactly is meant by "substantial form"? Would the robocow have sentience? Would a robohuman have consciousness?

Daniel Smith said...

Mr Green: "Is it more fruitful to find out what powers the ingredients have (regardless of whether it's the power to form a living substance or a fancy machine)? That, as you point out, we can discover, by trying to activate their potential and seeing what happens."

Yes, exactly. It would tell us whether these elements have active potential or passive potential for life - with the latter (according to Aquinas at least) only able to be actuated by God.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Small interruption, pardon me: Crude and Bilbo, I have made a few replies to the thread about natural selection and finality.

George R. said...

It is in fact obviously false. Integral parts of substances are substances, albeit in a secondary way; that is, they are the substances themselves, incompletely considered.

Brandon,
Certainly the term “substance” can be used in different senses and be applied to different things. But I’m talking about substance in the primary and unqualified sense, that which is called “first substance” by Aquinas and Aristotle, that which occupies Aristotle’s first category of being. It is in this sense that integral parts are excluded per se from substance.

Now I believe that I have demonstrated this to be the true position. I quote again from Thesis #10: “A substance is by definition indivisible.” But it is evident that integral parts, even the smallest, are divisible. Therefore, integral parts are not substance. The logic is obviously sound. So if you reject the conclusion, you must either deny the major or the minor premise. Which is it?

George R. said...

I think I can see what you're getting at. Extension is indeed an accident, but the parts of a body are parts of a substance. Thus a part is not an accident, but its extension is.

VJ,
The problem is that extension is a precondition for there to be any integral part at all. Therefore, an integral part cannot even be conceived of prior to extension.

Let’s take as an analogy a seal and the impression it makes in wax. Now the form of the seal, which we will compare to the substance, in no way depends on the wax, which we will compare to extension. However, the impression in the wax (the integral part) made by the seal depends completely on the wax for its being, and cannot even be conceived of without it. In a similar way do integral parts depend on extension. Therefore, since that which depends on an accident is an accident, integral parts must be accidents.

Vincent Torley said...

George R.

If integral parts are accidents which inhere in the quantitative accident of extension, and if the accidents of bread and wine remain after the consecration, then you are claiming that the integral parts of bread and wine (i.e. pieces of bread and drops of wine) remain after the consecration. I don't think that can be right. It surely makes no sense to say that after the consecration, bread is no longer present but pieces of bread are still there; or that wine is absent but that drops of wine are still present.

Parts are by definition things you can put together to make a whole. If all the parts of bread remain after the consecration, then so does the bread.

I agree with your point that parts presuppose the accident of extension. However, it does not follow from this that if the accident of extension is still present, the parts are still present. Rather, what follows is that if bread and wine had no extension, they would have no parts.

Vincent Torley said...

By the way, Thomistic Thesis #10 reads:

"Although extension in quantitative parts follows upon a corporeal nature, nevertheless it is not the same for a body to be a substance and for it to be quantified. For of itself substance is indivisible, not indeed as a point is indivisible, but as that which falls outside the order of dimensions is indivisible. But quantity, which gives the substance extension, really differs from the substance and is truly an accident" (italics mine).

The thesis does not show that substances have no parts. Rather, what it shows is that they only have parts for an accidental reason: they are quantified and hence extended.

George R. said...

VJ,
You seem to be arguing (although I may be wrong) that after consecration the extension of the bread remains, but the integral parts of the bread do not. This thesis is highly problematical, to say the least. It seems first of all to imply that integral parts are not perceptible to the senses; for all the perceptible aspects of the bread obviously remain unchanged after consecration. So if integral parts are perceptible, as I think they surely must be, their absence would be noticed. Secondly, how can you explain how it is that bare extension would look just like bread, or like anything for that matter? Clearly, if integral parts are substance, I see no reason to believe that the substance doesn't remain.

The thesis does not show that substances have no parts.

I never said that substances did not have parts. In fact natural substances MUST have parts. My argument is that they are not THEMSELVES parts. Just think of them as non-part part-possessors.

Vincent Torley said...

George R.

Thank you for your post. I am indeed suggesting that after the consecration the extension of the bread remains, but the parts do not. Integral parts are indeed perceptible, as you correctly point out, but that is because of their accidental properties - namely, their tendency to reflect light - and not by virtue of their substance per se. Wholes are perceptible for the same reason. You argue that if the integral parts were absent, their absence would surely be noticed, and you ask how mere extension can make a thing visible to the senses. I agree that extension alone cannot.

Here's how I explain it. Before the consecration, the bread and wine reflect light, enabling us to see them. After the consecration, the bread and wine are gone, so God reflects the light in their stead. God does what the bread and wine would normally do. The result is that all the appearances remain.

This explanation is different from Descartes', in that Descartes thought God causes us to perceive the shape, color etc. of bread and wine, effectively by causing us to hallucinate. In my account, nobody is hallucinating; God is just continuing to do the things that bread and wine would normally do. After all, SOMEONE or SOMETHING must still be reflecting light, after the consecration. And if it's not bread or wine, it must be God.

Brandon said...

It is in this sense that integral parts are excluded per se from substance.

This is certainly not consistent with much of Aristotle's, and thus much of Aquinas's, argumentation on the subject of substance and accident; your claim would mean that the many arguments about the snubness of noses are all simply irrelevant to the point. The integral parts of the substance are simply not the same as the accidents by which they are known, for precisely the same reason the substance is not the same as the accidents by which it is known. It is certainly true that substances are only accidentally divided according to extension and not per se; but that's merely a trivial result of the fact that quantity is an accident of substance. Obviously substances are only divisible quantitatively because they have the accident of quantity and not because they are substances; it doesn't follow from this that quantity rather than substance is divisible in these quantitative divisions.

Your mistake seems to consist in thinking that integral parts of a substance are simply divisions of extension itself. But this is certainly not true; to take just the obvious example, rational soul and body are integral parts of a human being, but they are not parts through a division according to extension. An integral part is merely that which makes for the completeness of the whole, such that the whole is not found in each part (as with subjective parts) and such that the whole is not present in each part (as with potential parts), but instead in all the parts taken together. (Likewise, division of extension does not automatically make for integral parts, for the simple reason that all parts are parts of wholes, and it depends simply on the wholes themselves.) It's the things that have integral parts, and integral parts need not even be extended. It's as if one insisted that really substances are located nowhere because only accidents have location.

George R. said...

Here's how I explain it. Before the consecration, the bread and wine reflect light, enabling us to see them. After the consecration, the bread and wine are gone, so God reflects the light in their stead. God does what the bread and wine would normally do. The result is that all the appearances remain.


VJ,

Very ingenious.

The problem is that not only are all the parts of the bread still perceptible to sight, they are also perceptible to the other senses as well. The bread still smells like bread, feels like bread, and tastes like bread. Moreover, it will still behave like bread under scientific observation. It seems to me that if you were to try to explain all these facts, you would inevitably have to adopt some form of Descartes’ ‘hallucination” theory.

However, the real weakness in your thesis that integral parts are not accidents is not theological, but rather metaphysical. Metaphysically speaking they simply must be accidents, because they are ontologically posterior to extension, which is an accident. Now I repeat, they are not accidents by reason of the cause of their form, which is substance itself, but by reason of the matter in which their form is received, which is matter determined by quantity and other properties. Remember, the definition of substance is the composite of form and primary matter. As soon as you’re talking about a composite of form and non-primary matter, you’re not talking about substance strictly speaking.

djindra said...

"If natural objects are 'artifacts,' then they have no immanent final causality or teleology."

Feser has gone through many paragraphs in preparation for this assertion yet he has still not laid the foundation to make much sense of it. The assertion seems to be based on the semantic game Feser plays with the word "artifact." That seems to boil down to yet another semantic assertion: Whatever God makes, that thing cannot ever, ever, not ever be labeled a mere "artifact." Attaching the "Made In Heaven" label to artifacts is apparently something no self-respecting god would permit. But are these non-artifacts made off-shore? Of course not. Feser won't dispute acts. He will not dispute the designer or the blueprints. Feser prefers managing labels, that's all. That's the depth of this particular dispute. Pure semantics. Pure image. It's not hard to see why Bacon had no patience with the Scholastics. It's not hard to see why modern philosophy rejected such trifling.

George R. said...

This is certainly not consistent with much of Aristotle's, and thus much of Aquinas's, argumentation on the subject of substance and accident; your claim would mean that the many arguments about the snubness of noses are all simply irrelevant to the point.

First of all, Brandon, it’s good to see that there’s somebody still reading The Commentaries these days.

Yes, Aristotle and Aquinas refer to the nose as substance, or subject, with respect to the accident of “snubness.” As I said above, the term “substance” can be used in several senses and be applied to certain things that are not strictly speaking substance. In this example, “nose” is fittingly called substantial, for it is immediately caused by substance, whereas “snubness” is the result of accidents, to wit, the genetic make-up of the person. Moreover, “snubness” depends on “nose” as accident depends on substance. So Thomas and Aristotle spoke well.

The integral parts of the substance are simply not the same as the accidents by which they are known, for precisely the same reason the substance is not the same as the accidents by which it is known.

True, substances are known by their accidents; but when you say that integral parts are also known indirectly through their accidents, I am guessing that you would like to argue that integral parts are known by their sensible objects, which are accidental to the parts themselves. If this is your drift, then I would say that you are cutting the bologna a little too thin. That which we know by sensible objects we can say we know directly, and must be distinguished from those things we can only know indirectly because they have no sensible objects.

George R. said...

It is certainly true that substances are only accidentally divided according to extension and not per se; but that's merely a trivial result of the fact that quantity is an accident of substance. Obviously substances are only divisible quantitatively because they have the accident of quantity and not because they are substances; it doesn't follow from this that quantity rather than substance is divisible in these quantitative divisions.

I’m having a hard time understanding this argument. You seem to be denying that substance is divisible per se, which I also deny. Then you seem to affirm that substance is divisible insofar as it has quantity, which I also affirm. If this is the case, then we are in agreement, and there’s nothing left to add. But then you go on to accuse me of denying that substance is divisible -- but in fact I completely agree with what you just said: that substance is indivisible per se and divisible per accidens. Where’s the conflict? Moreover, why do you consider these things to be trivial?


Your mistake seems to consist in thinking that integral parts of a substance are simply divisions of extension itself. But this is certainly not true; to take just the obvious example, rational soul and body are integral parts of a human being, but they are not parts through a division according to extension.

Now you’re rolling out the heavy artillery, the dreaded “rational soul.” Surely I’m not going to try to argue that the rational soul depends on extension and is, therefore, accidental to the human subject. Am I?

Why the hell not?

Yes, I say that insofar as the soul is the form of the body determined by extension, it depends upon this extension and is, therefore, an accident. The apparent difficulty, of course, is that if the soul is accidental with respect to the substance, and substance is being in the truest and most unqualified sense, then that would seem to mean that something in the person other than the soul has a higher mode of being than the soul itself. This would be absurd. Of course, the solution is that the soul insofar as it is the form of the extended body is the immediate consequence of the soul insofar as it is that which actualizes primary matter, i.e., substantial form. Therefore, I see no problem with considering the soul, in a certain way, as an integral part, depending on extension and accidental to substance.

Lee Faber said...

George, perhaps what you mean is that the soul is accidentally extended? In any case, your views as expressed on this thread are far closer to A-S metaphysics than A-T metaphysics. After all, Scotus thinks that bones and organs and whatnot all have forms that are all ordered in act-potency relationships to higher levels of form,, ultimately to the form of corporeity, the substantial form of the body (which in turn is in potency to the intellective soul).

George R. said...

Lee,
I don't think I'm taking the Scottist position at all, since I would say that Scotus does not appreciate enough the unity of the individual whole. In my opinion, “bones and organs” are not merely “ORDERED to higher levels of form,” but in fact ARE the highest level of form, i.e., the substantial form of the whole, but only insofar, however, as it is received in determinate matter disposed to receive it. It is the latter qualification alone that causes them to be accidents.

Troy Camplin said...

This is good stuff. My beef with ID is that for it to be true, God would have to be a bumbling idiot, incapable of creating a universe that can evolve on its own without his having to come in and fix the direction of things. That's no God I believe in.