Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Radio Free Aquinas

I’ll be on The Frank Pastore Show on KKLA Radio on Thursday, December 8 (tomorrow) from 5 - 6 pm PST to discuss The Last Superstition and Aquinas

UPDATE: It was a great show.  The podcast is now available on Frank's site.


  1. I hope you really get a chance to express your ideas this time.

  2. Bing Bong! This is the Dumb Ox coming to you LIVE at the top of the hour here on WSTA and it is c-c-cooooooold outside today so remember to double up on the clerical vestments! We've got the latest bingo results and updates on fish fry fridays coming up soon along with the latest on what's wrong with Duns Scotus but first let's ease you into your wednesday morning drive time with some Steely Dan!

  3. Speaking of Duns Scotus, I'd love to see Professor Feser engage the guys at The Smithy blog, who are rather critical of the Thomist/Neo-Orthodox/Conventional narrative on the Scotsman.

  4. Anon,

    i'd agree. i think the most serious critical engagements with a-t philosophy come, not from atheists, whether old or these new gnu tards, but rather from other fellow scholastics, like e.g., bl. duns scotus or f.suarez, and etc.

  5. Will there be any downloadable content for those who are unable to listen to this event live?

  6. I'm with Mike D.
    Will it be downloadable?

    Don't make become beastie on ya!!

  7. I'm with Mike D.
    Will it be downloadable?

    I assume so. And then you can sample it, Paul's Boutique style!

  8. Dr. Feser.... as long as I get to hear the Sounds of Science on it.

  9. "Now here we go dropping science, dropping it all over... 'Cause I've been droppin' the new science, and I've been kickin' the new k-nowledge. An M.C. to a degree that you can't get in college... It's da soooouunds of sciiiiiii-ENCE! The sooooouunds of sciiiii-ENCE!"

    Yes, it would make a great soundtrack to a post on scientism. Few lyrics in the middle of it, though, that really ain't too family-friendly...!

  10. I like Feser more and more.

  11. Better, much much better show from that pointless exchange with Sean Faircloth.

    Speaking of that though, I remember you, Dr Feser, saying to him (Sean) "why Christianity rather than Hinduism, Why Christianity rather than Judaism...... if you want a reading list I can give it to you....." While such a list would be a waste on a dogmatic ideologue like Faircloth, you wouldn't mind to give the list to this interested reader?

    Again, excellent show with KKLA, I especially enjoyed the personal story behind Aqunias and Agustine. It certainly adds a human face behind all their work and makes it all that more enjoyable.

  12. Here is the podcast:

  13. In the interview, you go over the First Way. I have read this argument dozens of times, but I continually come up empty when trying to fill in the blank concerning what precisely God is supposed to be moving. Aquinas gets as far as the hand moving the stick, but he does not pursue that (mercifully concrete, albeit brief) chain of causation any further. Precisely when is God supposed to enter the picture and cause motion? If he does so, as the argument claims, then it must be in some concrete situation. I believe Anthony Kenny suggests here (or is it with respect to the Second Way?) that what is being moved by God, as Aquinas understands it, is the outermost sphere described in the medieval view of astronomy Aquinas subscribed to, since the motion of that sphere could not be attributed to any other cause. There's more to say on that, but the point is that he suggested a concrete physical instance in which God would be required to cause motion.

    So, which individual mover can we not point to as having a non-divine mover that set it in motion? Note that some of these non-divine movers might be temporally prior to the motion they initiate; for example, my hand moves up to cover my face because a split-second before my mind registered a ball coming toward me. (Motion of a mind material or immaterial, as you like it.) The temporally prior motion of the mind causes the temporally posterior motion of the hand, just as the motion of the ball caused the subsequent motion of the mind.

    If every motion can be explained thus, then just where is God supposed to be entering the picture? I believe the greatest service Thomists could do to the project of rehabilitating the First Way (if there is any interest in that) is to concretize it by suggesting some concrete causal contact points between God and the physical world. I would love to see this done! (Hence why I wrote this.) But to be honest, I am skeptical that this task can be plausibly carried out. I understand that the Five Ways are supposed to be "metaphysical" and as such invulnerable to scientific findings, but their being metaphysical doesn't exempt them from the requirement that they explain something about the world that really needs explaining. I'm not sure anything needs to be explained here, especially if we assume, with Aquinas, that there can be a temporally infinite chain of movers. If we trace the chain up vertically, at some points it will bend backward (i.e. back in time), like a staircase.

  14. TimLambert,

    He is (as BenYachov and other readers of this and many other blogs know) completely psychotic. And, from the looks of it, is probably the same guy as our "new " psychotic TruthOverFaith. Please continue to ignore him.

  15. Will do!!
    Thanks for the tip.

  16. Anonymous,

    You bring up good questions about Thomas’s First Way. I agree, it’s really difficult to find a satisfactory explanation for it. For this reason, I’ve given it quite a bit of thought on my own, and I’ve found that perhaps the easiest way to find a solution is to start from the conclusion and work backwards.

    Now the conclusion is that God must exist, for all causes of motion must depend on one principle of motion, without which they would not be able to move anything. Therefore, if the proof is valid, then nothing can be its own principle of motion, except for God. Let’s see if that’s true.

    Using the man/hand/stick/stone example we can see right away that the stone cannot be its own principle of causing motion, since it does not cause motion at all but is merely moved. It’s also obvious that the hand and stick are not their own principles of causing motion, since they are only causing motion by being moved themselves. Neither can the man be considered his own principle of motion; for if the man were his own principle of motion, he would always be causing motion. But since he is sometimes not causing motion, there must some principle that reduces him from potentially causing motion to actually causing motion, and this principle must always be causing motion. So, might, perhaps, something that is always causing motion be its own principle of motion? Well, it would have to cause motion from all eternity; for if there were a time when it was not causing motion, something would have to have caused it to cause motion, and this would be a truer principle of motion. So, might, perhaps, something that has caused motion for all eternity be its own principle of motion? Well, it could, if it is also “that for the sake of which” it causes motion; for if it were to eternally cause motion for the sake of something else, that something else would be the cause of its causing motion. Therefore, Aristotle in the Metaphysics teaches that the First Mover and the Final Cause are one.

    Now this argument may be open to objections. And the main one I see is that even conceding that, say, “the man” is not his own principle of causing his hand to move the stick, why is it that the principle that reduces him from potentially causing motion to actually causing motion must be an eternal principle of motion? Why can’t it instead be another contingent cause like himself, which happens at present to be in act insofar as it is causing him to move his hand?

    But here is a simpler example: Consider a magnet that is in potency to moving something metal. Now it can’t reduce itself from potency to act, but wouldn’t it be reduced from potency to act simply by bringing a bit of metal close to it? So where is the need for an eternal principle of motion?

    I'll have an answer to this objection to follow.

  17. So, can a bit of metal brought close to a magnet reduce the latter from potentially causing motion to actually causing motion? I say no.

    Certainly it accounts for part of the reason why the magnet goes from potentially moving to actually moving, but it is not a sufficient reason. For only that which is actually causing motion can reduce that which is potentially causing motion to actually causing motion. The bit of metal, which is merely in potency to being moved, possesses no such actuality.

    Another way to look at it is that the metal interacts with the magnet only insofar as the latter draws it toward itself. But when the magnet is only potentially drawing the metal toward itself, there is no interaction. So, if the metal were to reduce the magnet from potentially causing motion to actually causing motion, it would have to do so before there be any interaction between the two, which is absurd.

    But if you have any objections to any of these things I’ve said, please feel free to fire away.

  18. anonymous, re: will being moved - st i ii 9 a4

  19. George R.,

    Thanks for your well thought out response.

    When you stated what you take to be the "main" objection to the First Way, you asked why that which causes the motion of a man (I assume by this we mean the motion of his mind, broadly construed, which in turns causes the motion of his hand) cannot be just another worldly non-divine ("contingent") cause. That was my question too: what prevents us from explaining every instance of motion by reference to a proximate, worldly cause of that particular motion? Where must (in the strong sense of "must") God be brought in?

    I take it what you said about the magnet was intended to answer this question, but I'm not sure I completely understand how it was supposed to do this. You didn't draw this conclusion, but are you implying that God is what causes the magnet to cause the metal to move toward the magnet? (Even if that's not what you were saying, Thales said the gods were present in magnets, so this is pretty exciting for its novelty at least.)

    You think, as far as I was able to tell, that there's an explanatory gap regarding the magnet: what can make it start to draw the metal to itself? I don't think we need to overthink this, though. The magnet exerts a magnetic pull by its very nature, by which I mean it always does so, whether or not metal is close to it. In this sense it is very much like Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, who causes motion while not moving. In our example, all that happened was that the metal in question got close enough to the magnet so that it was drawn toward it by the magnet's magnetic pull. The magnet undergoes only what they call a Cambridge change: it goes from not moving metal to moving metal, but in undergoing this Cambridge change, nothing in the magnet itself changes (which, if anything had, would constitute an Oxford change). (Background: In one of Plato's dialogues someone comes up to Socrates and says that he's now taller than Socrates whereas before he was shorter, though Socrates' height is no different; they have a discussion about whether Socrates himself has changed. I believe it was Geach who said that Socrates underwent only a Cambridge change, while the other man underwent an Oxford change.)

    In the case of the magnet, our description of this change from not moving metal to moving metal just captures one of the magnet's new relations (i.e., its relation to the nearby piece of metal). Because nothing happens "in" the magnet when it begins to move the metal, I don't think it's right to describe the magnet as undergoing a change of the sort the First Way says must be caused by another thing in motion. I don't think God, or anything else, has to move or change the magnet so that it can begin to move the metal when the metal gets close enough to it for that to happen.

  20. papabear,

    I read the article by Aquinas on whether the will is moved by something outside itself. He says:

    "Wherefore though the voluntary act has an inward proximate principle, nevertheless its first principle is from without. Thus, too, the first principle of the natural movement is from without, that, to wit, which moves nature."

    Of course Aquinas thinks that God is the first mover of the will. I believe he means this in the following sense. Just as God created earthy things like stones (and all of these fall naturally downward (rather than because of gravitational pull -- the medievals didn't know about that)) and just as He created airy things like fire (which naturally move upward away from Earth), so too He created man's essence, which comes packaged with a will that aims (i.e. naturally moves) toward the good as such.

    In the last article of the question he says:

    "Now the cause of the will can be none other than God. And this is evident for two reasons. First, because the will is a power of the rational soul, which is caused by God alone, by creation, as was stated in the I, 90, 2. Secondly, it is evident from the fact that the will is ordained to the universal good. Wherefore nothing else can be the cause of the will, except God Himself, Who is the universal good: while every other good is good by participation, and is some particular good, and a particular cause does not give a universal inclination."

    So in the First Way, are those motions Aquinas thinks must be traced up to God ultimately just natural motions, such as the motions of the elements, as well as the motion of the will? This would make the First Way a lot like the Fifth Way.

  21. Anonymous,

    Your points are well taken. You seem to perceive the same difficulties as I do. However, I think your dismissing my example as being an instance of “Cambridge change” as opposed to “Oxford change” may be a little hasty. Remember, the change I was referring to, I.e., the change from potentially causing motion to actually causing motion, pertains to one of the Ten Categories of Being, namely, the category of action. Therefore, real being is coming to be when that change takes place, and it has to accounted for.

    Nevertheless, your objections are not without force, and I don’t at present have an airtight answer for them.

  22. Professor Feser, that podcast was golden. Of course, it was WAY too short but I congratulate you on articulating some important points about Aquinas that even taught the host a thing or two. I've asked Pastore to have you back soon.

    I'm in my second read of Last Superstition and it's the best book I've read since Lamb's Supper by Scott Hahn. Keep up the good work, and Merry Christmas.