Friday, March 30, 2012

What is a soul?

To be more precise, what is a human soul?  Or to be even more precise, what is a human being?  For that is really the key question; and I sometimes think that the biggest obstacle to understanding what the soul is is the word “soul.”  People too readily read into it various erroneous notions (erroneous from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, anyway) -- ghosts, ectoplasm, or Cartesian immaterial substances.  Even the Aristotelian characterization of the soul as the form of the living body can too easily mislead.  When those unfamiliar with Aristotelian metaphysics hear “form,” they are probably tempted to think in terms of shape or a configuration of parts, which is totally wrong.  Or perhaps they think of it in Platonic terms, as an abstract universal that the individual human being participates in -- also totally wrong.  Or they suspect that since it is the form of the living body it cannot coherently be said to subsist apart from that body -- totally wrong again.   So let us, for the moment, put out of our minds all of these ideas and start instead with the question I raised above.  What is a human being?

To ask what a human being is is to ask what the nature of a human being is.  What makes human beings the kinds of things they are?  What makes them distinctive?  What sets them apart from other kinds of thing?  To answer this it is useful to consider those kinds of thing which, on the Aristotelian-Thomistic view, come just below and just above human beings in the hierarchy of reality: non-human animals, and angels.

An animal is something which by its nature not only exercises vegetative powers like taking in nutrients, growing, and reproducing, but is also capable of sensation and imagination, of appetite, and of locomotion or the ability to move itself in response to the promptings of appetite and in pursuit of what it senses or imagines.  Particular kinds of animals will, given their natures, exhibit this repertoire in their own distinctive ways.  For instance, land animals will exercise their locomotive powers by walking, hopping, or slithering, fish by swimming, and (most) birds by flying; and each will do so by means of its own distinctive organs -- legs, fins, wings, and so forth.

Now of course, not every single individual animal will perfectly exercise the capacities that are natural to it, or even actually possess the organs that are its natural means of exercising them.  A dog might injure or lose a leg, or even fail to develop legs in the first place because of some prenatal defect.  But it is still of the nature of such a dog to have legs, and to walk and run with them.  In the extreme case, we can even imagine a dog which (as a result of an accident, say) has lost not only its legs, but its sense organs and higher brain functions, and is kept alive through intravenous feeding -- reduced, in effect, to a portion of its vegetative functions.  All the same, the nature of such a dog, no less than that of a healthy dog, is to have sense organs, legs, and all the rest.  That the dog has been prevented from realizing that nature doesn’t change the nature itself; and should the dog be somehow restored to health and functionality, it is precisely those doglike attributes that it had lost that would be restored to it, rather than some other attributes.

Consider now an angel, which stands on the other side of the metaphysical divide marked by human beings.  An angel is, by nature, a creature of pure intellect, which entails -- given that, as Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers argue, intellect is necessarily immaterial -- that an angel is essentially immaterial.  (The wings, white robes, and long blonde hair are symbolic -- suitable for children’s prayer books but not for metaphysics!)  Being immaterial, angels cannot be damaged or physically malformed the way an animal can.  (Of course, angels can be morally defective -- there are fallen angels, after all -- but that is a failure of will, which is an immaterial power that follows upon intellect.)   Indeed, being immaterial, they have no tendency toward corruption at all.  They are of their nature immortal.  

And now we come to human beings.  A human being is by nature a rational animal.  That is to say, a human being is something which by its nature exercises both the animal powers of nutrition, growth, reproduction, sensation, appetite, and locomotion, and the intellectual and volitional powers possessed by angels.  Hence it exercises powers of both a material and an immaterial sort.  For that reason it is to a large extent capable of damage and malformation, as an animal is; but not completely so.  In particular, a human being can be damaged to such an extent that it completely loses the organs of its animal and vegetative powers, and thus cannot exercise them at all -- to such an extent that only its intellectual and volitional powers remain.  But those intellectual and volitional aspects of human nature, precisely because they are immaterial and thus do not depend on any corruptible material organ, cannot themselves perish, any more than they can in the case of an angel -- though they would be impaired given that the human intellect’s normal source of data is the sense organs, which are material, and given that its activity is normally carried out in conjunction with imagination, which is also material.

Now what we’d have in the case of a dog which had lost its legs, its sense organs, and its higher brain functions is the stub of a dog, the bare minimum consistent with the dog’s surviving at all.  The nature of such a poor creature would not have changed, but it would have been reduced to realizing only the smallest fragment of what would naturally flow from that nature.  You might almost say that it had been reduced to little more than the nature itself, with almost nothing in the way of a manifestation of that nature.  And a human being damaged to such an extent that it could exercise none of its animal capacities and retained only its intellectual and volitional faculties in an impaired state would, you might say, be a stub of a human being, the bare minimum consistent with a human being’s surviving at all -- a human being reduced to little more than its nature, with almost nothing in the way of a manifestation of that nature.  The key difference would be that whereas the severely damaged dog of our example could also go on utterly to perish, this stub of a human being could not.  It is immortal, though the full human being is not, which is why resurrection is necessary.  (To be sure, God could annihilate this “stub,” just as He could annihilate anything; but as with an angel, nothing in the natural order could destroy it, because, being immaterial, it would have no inherent tendency toward corruption.)

Now such a stub of a human being is what a soul is, or a disembodied soul anyway.  This is why Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers often call a disembodied soul an “incomplete substance” -- not because they are trying incoherently to fudge the difference between a Cartesian res cogitans and the idea of the soul as a kind of form, but because a disembodied soul relative to a living human being is like a legless, senseless, brain-damaged dog relative to a healthy dog.  The severely damaged dog is in an obvious and natural sense an incomplete substance, and the disembodied soul is an incomplete substance in just that sense -- it is an incomplete, damaged human being.  

This is also a way to understand the sense in which the soul is the substantial form -- that is to say, the nature -- of a human being.  A nature or substantial form is not a Platonic abstraction.  It exists in a concrete individual thing, as its principle of operation and the source of its properties.  It is there as long as, and only as long as, the individual thing itself is there.  But when the operations and properties in question are prevented from being manifested, what we are left with in effect is the principle or source without that which flows from it.  Thus to reduce a human being to the bare minimum consistent with its being there at all is to reduce it as far as possible to its nature or substantial form -- that is, to its soul alone.

Some might insist that if the intellectual and volitional powers of a human being persist in even an impaired form after the animal powers have been destroyed, this must be because the former inhere in a substance distinct from that in which the latter inhere, as Descartes held.  But this is like saying that since the stub of a dog would continue to exist in the absence of its legs, eyes, ears, etc., it follows that the stub in question (an eyeless, earless, brain-damaged torso) and the legs, eyes, ears, etc. are all distinct substances.   And they are not; rather, they are all aspects of one substance -- the dog itself -- and can be made sense of only by reference to that one substance.  Similarly, that the impaired intellectual-cum-volitional stub of a human being would continue to exist in the absence of its animal powers does not entail that the stub in question and the animal powers must be grounded in distinct substances.  They are not; rather, they too are aspects of the one substance -- the human being himself -- and can be made sense of only by reference to that one substance.  

I noted in a recent post that those beholden to scientism tend to reify abstractions -- to abstract the mathematical structure of a concrete physical system and treat it as if it were the entirety of the system, or to abstract the neurobiological processes underlying human action and treat them as if they were the whole source of human action.  I also noted that while those prone to scientism are notorious for this, Cartesians are guilty of reifying abstractions too.  Specifically, they abstract from the one substance that is a human being its intellectual aspect and its animal aspect and make of them two substances -- putting asunder, as it were, what God and nature had joined together.  And when they finally recombine them, what they are left with is nothing human at all, but a bizarre shotgun marriage of angel and animal, or ghost and machine.  But sometimes a man is just a man. 

158 comments:

Jonathan said...

Why does a dog not have a soul based on the reasoning that a man has?

Anonymous said...

@ Jonathan:

A dog has a soul... a so-called 'animal soul', which is tied to the body being a corporeal form, hence it's a mortal soul: when the dog perishes, so does his form.

The same goes for a plant who has a so-called 'vegetative' soul.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I find the answer to be terribly defective. In asking what a soul is, shouldn't you do what Socrates does and asks "What is that common quality of courage that exists in every situation that calls for courage". This OP starts the definition of what a Human being is. What a human being is, is NOT the definition of soul.

What is the definition of soul that meets the requirements of the possession of soul of plants, animals and humans. What answers that is the definition of soul!

Socrates went thru the principles of definition in his elenchus. Sadly, the principle of consistency is missing from the OP. The definition of soul should be equally valid for plants, animals and human beings.

Soul is plainly, life force. It is life itself! All living things have souls. The difference between the three grades of living things is the accidents adhering to that soul. All souls come from God. God made living things different from dead things. Soul is what animates dead material since all living bodies are nothing but animated dead material.

The human soul, which was God-breathed into Adam, is a life force that has an extra capability of reason since we are made in the image of God. Soul, as living life force, is not only the shape of the thing it inhabits but also its powers.

Any definition of soul must meet all the conditions that it is applied to. Sadly the definition in the OP does not meet that Doric/Socratic criteria. (For Socrates borrowed from the Dorians.)

Monster said...

"...intellect is necessarily immaterial -- [therefore] an angel is essentially immaterial."

This based on a false premise. Intellect is not immaterial, it comes from the brain. There is no evidence, Biblical or otherwise, that an angel is a purely intellectual being, without substance. You may argue that God is immaterial and intellectual, but God is unique, and no one can truly understand the nature of God anyway.

"...and the intellectual and volitional powers possessed by angels. Hence it exercises powers of both a material and an immaterial sort... But those intellectual and volitional aspects of human nature, precisely because they are immaterial and thus do not depend on any corruptible material organ, cannot themselves perish..."

They do depend on a corruptible material organ, known as the brain. Humans do not have intellect without functioning brains.

"Now such a stub of a human being is what a soul is, or a disembodied soul anyway."

If this is the case, then how do animals also possess a "soul"? In Genesis 2:9, we see that Adam named every living "soul", or "creature". The word used in Hebrew is nephesh, the word for soul (psuche in Greek). Again in Genesis 9:10, we see creatures called "souls", or nephesh.

If you see the usage of nephesh (Hebrew) and psuche (Greek) throughout the Bible, you'll see that it means "life". From the OT we can gather that both animals and men are said to have nephesh, or "souls". Psuche, the Greek word used in the Septuagint to translate nephesh, is used several times in the NT to denote life. Matthew 2:20 (sought the young child's life), Mark 8:35. Psuche is actually translated around 40 times into "life" in the KJV. I believe the soul is simply the "spark of life" that animates us. Thus is it used interchangeably with "creature" and "life" throughout the Bible. So your assessment is partially correct, the body needs the soul to function, otherwise it's just material. Thus the reason we are warned not to fear those who can kill the body but not the "soul", or in other words, fear not the ones who can destroy your body temporarily, for they can't keep you from the resurrection, in which our "souls", or "lives", will be returned.

Ray Ingles said...

This post's sidelong mentions of Platonism brought up a question for me. I'm working my way through TLS, and I'm not following why Feser rejects Platonism so vehemently. (Based on the prose, I wonder if it's just that vehement rejection is the only type of rejection he knows. :-) )

As a support for forms existing in general, he points to things like mathematical and geometric truths, and propositions in general. Don't have the book handy, but he points out how something like "2+2=4" is true regardless if anyone recognizes that.

Then he goes on to propose Scholastic Realism, where "2+2=4" exists as a thought in the Mind of God. But this doesn't seem quite right. Is the idea that if, per impossible, God forgot or didn't know that proposition, it would cease to be true? He just laid out a case for that being true regardless if anyone recognized it...

No, I can see something like a Platonic realm existing (call it the "Platonish" realm). Not in the sense of a form having causal power, though - the concept of a triangle doesn't make the Flatiron building triangular. Those truths exist, but in a different way than, say, the matter that makes up the Flatiron building exists.

Feser mentions the third man argument, but I don't see it as a major problem. For example, Feser points out that there are both rational animals and non-rational animals, and thus the 'Platonic Form' of 'animal' would have to be both rational and non-rational.

But if we give up the idea of (from the Wikipedia link above) uniqueness, there's no problem. The "Platonish realm" would be a phase space of sorts. In this model, 'animal' would be that region of phase space which comprises those forms that "exercise[] vegetative powers like taking in nutrients, growing, and reproducing, [and also powers of] sensation and imagination, of appetite, and of locomotion or the ability to move itself in response to the promptings of appetite and in pursuit of what it senses or imagines". Such a region would then contain rational and non-rational subregions, without paradox.

BenYachov said...

>Then he goes on to propose Scholastic Realism, where "2+2=4" exists as a thought in the Mind of God. But this doesn't seem quite right. Is the idea that if, per impossible, God forgot or didn't know that proposition, it would cease to be true? He just laid out a case for that being true regardless if anyone recognized it...

If the argument is per impossible isn't the answer by definition absurd?

Claiming per impossible 2+2=4 ceases to be true is equivalent to saying reality ceases to be real or true.

God is Unconditional Reality.

>He just laid out a case for that being true regardless if anyone recognized it...

You are treating God here as a being alongside other beings. It can't be true unless reality is true.

See what I'm saying Gee?

Well you are trying so I will spare you my rage against the Gnu shtick.

Cheers.

JJS said...

Hi Ed,

A few questions:

1. At death does the human being cease to be? You say that at death, the human being is a damaged and incomplete substance. But if a human being is a rational animal, and if death is the perishing of the corruptible "animal" part such that only the intellect or will 9anyting else?)remains, would it not be more accurate to say that at death there is no longer a human being and that resurrection is the resurrection of the human being and not just the body?

2. In what sense is the disembodied soul an "I"? Will I be me as a disembodied soul? Without a body, is there anything to distinguish me from other pure intellects? Does a "me" require expression through a body? If there is no body, is there still a "me"?

3. If an angel is a "pure intelligence", are we, when separated from the body, an intelligence that somehow is less than pure? If an angel is intellectual and will essentially, and if we become at death intellect and will that was once joined to a body, then in fact are we, in the intermediate period before resurrection, no different than angels, at least as far as our intellect and will are concerned?

4. If we are to become human again with resurrected bodies or if we at the resurrection become complete substances again, then the animal part would somehow need to be conjoined with the "soul". But if we are to have resurrected bodies like Christ, then these bodies would have to be incorruptible. We would then seem to need an incorruptible animal nature: we would need to be immortal. Would we become immortal by nature, then? If we become incorruptible by nature (would we not have to be?), and we are now corruptible by nature (are we not?), then does not the resurrection effect a change in our nature? Would we then become something other than human beings?

5. There seems in Christianity to be a sense in which departing this life is a real boon-- witness St. Paul who said it was better to depart and be with Christ than to remain on earth. Presumably he was speaking about the period before the general resurrection. Is it better to be a disembodied soul with Christ than to be complete substance here on earth, Presumably it is better to be a resurrected human being than to be a dismebodied soul with Christ. But is not the interim period nothing but a catastrophe? In the interim period, are like a soldier who has lost all virtually his territory in battle and been reduced to a small corner of the territory, but is with his general who will lead him to reconquer, and the hope of reconquest is better than the struggle to retain what was sure to be lost? Just an image: I am trying to understand how the intermediate state could be better than the present state.

Thanks.

21st Century Scholastic said...

@W.LindsayWheeler: the soul is the form of the body. This goes for man's soul, an animal's soul, and a plant's soul. No problem at all.

@Monster: the philosophical 2Soul" is not the same as the biblical "soul". In the Bible, the human soul is called his "spirit" (hebrew ruach; greek pneuma) while "soul" refers to the whole compound. To inquire deeper, see this thorough study: http://www.tektonics.org/qt/sleepy.html

@Ray: >>>the 'Platonic Form' of 'animal' would have to be both rational and non-rational.


So it would be contradictory; and nothing having contrary properties in the same place and at the same time could ever exist. Indeed, this is one of the major problems for platonism.

Anonymous said...

Gentlemen,

After having waded through the first few chapters of The Last Superstition I still know next to nothing about philosophy, so please bear with me if I should sound naive and artless.

I have a couple of questions I hope some blogger may try to answer.

In what sense is the nature of man, (or any other thing) different from definition of man?

If the nature, or definition of human, is being a rational animal would a rational inhabitant of some remote galaxy be human as ourselves?

Indeed being immaterial, they have no tendency toward corruption at all. They are of their nature immortal. (concerning angels)

But a soul of a dog is immaterial too, yet it is not immortal.

Somebody cares to answer these questions?

T.H.

Ray Ingles said...

BenYachov - "If the argument is per impossible isn't the answer by definition absurd?"

Take it up with Feser, who uses 'per impossible' quite freely in TLS.

Ray Ingles said...

21st Century Scholastic - Um, well, yeah. Which is why I wrote, well, the entire last paragraph of the comment you responded to.

Edward Feser said...

W. Lindsay Wheeler,

This is a blog post, and its point is merely informally to suggest an alternative way of approaching at a question I've addressed more formally many times (e.g. in chapter 4 of Aquinas).

BenYachov said...

@Ray

Perhaps you need to clarify something for me.

>BenYachov - "If the argument is per impossible isn't the answer by definition absurd?"

>Ray:Take it up with Feser, who uses 'per impossible' quite freely in TLS.

You said "He just laid out a case for that being true regardless if anyone recognized it...".

By "anyone" did you include God?

goddinpotty said...

Among the many traditional ideas that Darwin blew up was the idea that organisms have an essential nature, and that dog-nature is wholly distinct from cat-nature or whatever. Instead, every organism is an intermediate form, whose ancestors were similar-but-different and whose descendants will also be similar-but-different. And all living things can be linked by these relationships, so you are linked by a chain of these relationships to apes, cats, dogs, and every other creature. So, no essential natures in nature, sorry. Why anyone would want to cling to this obsolete way of thinking when clearly better alternatives exist is a mystery to me.

Even if you do buy into this kind of thinking, I am at loss to understand how, if the soul is "a substantial form of a human being", and substantial form "exists in a concrete individual thing, as its principle of operation and the source of its properties", and "is there as long as, and only as long as, the individual thing itself is there" -- how does that square with the notion that the soul is independent of the body and persists somewhere floating around after death? The only way I can make any sense of things is that there must be a third thing: there is body, there is soul, and then there is "the human being" of which the soul is the substantial form and principle of operation, but is not the body because it has some kind of existence after death for the soul to attach itself to. Have I got that right?

Anonymous said...

Hello! I'm REALLY confused. If the human soul is the form of the body, but the intellect/will survives the decomposition of the body, then what is the intellect in relation to the soul? The soul "disappears" at death but the intellect survives, right (because the intellect is immortal)? Does that imply that the intellect is not the soul, but some other "substance." Please help.

Another question I have from reading Aquinas: If the mind is material, the conception of another form would convert the mind to that form, right? Since the mind does not convert to that form, then the mind must be immaterial, correct? However, why doesn't that follow in the immaterial realm? If Michael (who has an immaterial form) thinks about Gabriel's immaterial form, Michael doesn't turn into Gabriel. I know Dr. Feser is arguing that would be the case with matter, but why doesn't that hold in the immaterial realm?

I'm in the zygote stage of learning here, so any assistance is greatly appreciated.

Edward Feser said...

Hello JJS,

1. Well, is the dog torso of my example a dog or not? I'd say that it is -- it's not suddenly a different kind of animal, after all -- even though it is obviously very very far from a dog in its normal state. And if we gave it some science-fiction- medicine style injection that restored it to perfect health, it would surely be wrong to say that the dog had gone away, been replaced by some other type of thing, and then returned, or that the restored dog was a new dog. It would be the same dog the whole time. Though there's also an obvious sense in which we'd want to say that while reduced to a torso it was barely a dog.

Something similar seems to me to be true of the postmortem soul. It's not a new and different substance, and when it is held accountable for the deeds of the human being whose soul it is it is not some different person who is being rewarded or punished. So it seems clear that what we have is in a sense the same human being limping along in a severely reduced state. Though so reduced that we naturally want to say that it is barely a human being.

2. There's an "I," and its character is different from those of other disembodied selves in just the ways that would naturally follow from their all having lived different sorts of lives while they still had their bodily powers.

3. Human souls are still different from angels because their natural mode of knowing is, unlike that of angels, by means of sensation and imagination, and in other ways too their natural orientation is bodily. That's why they are not and cannot be pure intelligences, and it's why the resurrection is necessary.

4. The incorruptibility of the resurrected body is a consequence of the fact that through divine assistance the soul will have greater dominance over its matter and prevent it from taking on another form. (See Book 4 of Summa Contra Gentiles.)

5. Well, it's better (for those who aren't damned) in the sense that the soul after death is no longer capable of changing the basic moral orientation of its will (either toward or away from God). So, the souls of the blessed are better off in the sense that their eternal bliss is assured. But better still is such bliss in a restored body. That's why in Christianity (unlike in the Phaedo, say) death is an enemy, and the hope is for a resurrection. The resurrection isn't some optional tack-on, but the whole point.

BenYachov said...

@goddinpotty

Your "argument" is morally equivalent to Skeptic's anti-science argument.

Found here.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/to-louse.html#more

Here is a penny buy a clue.

Edward Feser said...

GIP,

Darwin showed no such thing. The naturalistic metaphysics so often read into evolution assumes such a thing. That's all. Very very common error, but an error all the same. Glad to have cleared it up for you.

goddinpotty said...

It's not really a metaphysical question. The concrete, objective, very observable scientific evidence demonstrates evolution and the relatedness of organisms, which can now be made even more concrete and specific with genomics, which makes it possible to tell exactly how and when organisms diverge on the genetic level.

This does not prove anything metaphysical about forms one way or another, but it seems to me it makes the idea more problematical. If the physical, organic beings are continuously variable in the way science shows, what does that mean for forms? If there is an essential nature of dogginess that only dogs have, how do you figure out the form of neighbors of dogginess, like wolves, wolf-dog hybrids, evolutionary cousins like hyenas, ancestral canine forms like Eucyon, and all the intermediates?

My answer is that you can't, and the "form of dog" is a clearly useful epistemological construct but not a well-defined and distinct ontological category which you have implied. But I would like to hear your answer.

Edward Feser said...

Well, as you say, "this does not prove anything metaphysical about forms one way or another." But you don't even explain how it makes the view in question "problematic." It sounds like you're taking as your target a very common Platonic straw man that has nothing to do with what Aristotelians mean by a substantial form -- something like a "Form of Dog," understood as a necessary and sufficient list of characteristics, floating free of concrete individual dogs.

Aristotelianism starts with concrete substances. Here's an animal, here's how it operates, and it wouldn't do so unless there were some internal principle by which it did. That's its substantial form, and whether it has one has nothing to do with how many other animals (transitional species or otherwise) happen to exist. That might be relevant to determining how precisely to characterize its substantial form -- obviously, comparison with other specimens is relevant to such questions -- and to how it is related to other animals taxanomically, etc., but those are different matters from the question of whether it has an internal principle of operation which will manifests itself in such-and-such a way unless prevented.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

Well, why didn't you say it was an alternative explanation in the blog post?

The soul of humans have always been immortal. Upon death, the soul is released, flies, to the heavens--or hell, depending on its state upon death.

I would think that one's personality, gender, race, memories, character, virtue, intellect, will, emotion and feelings all remain in the soul!

Upon resurrection, our bodies are returned uncorrupted and perfected. The soul of animals and plants are dissapated upon death. The life force melts away.

I would not even Hazard the guess that God can and could do away with any human soul. Once He thought of Humans---He had to bring them into existence, for it says, (Wisdom 1.14) "For he created all things, that they might have their being"! Once God brought a human soul into being, He can NOT take it out of being. That is why there is a Hell. That is why all souls are immortal as the Greeks thought. For The Good is in Existence. 'To Be' is a Good. God can not go against that. Existence is a good and God can not deny that.

Upon resurrection, the soul and the body of the saved are perfected and corrected. The damned are resurrected as well and then thrown away into hell.

James said...

The most recent few posts do bring an issue to mind that has confused me (though please bear in mind that I’m not acquainted with the relevant literature). What does it mean that some object has type A rather than a closely related type B? Consider someone born with a genetic anomaly such that he possesses only one leg, a trait which he would pass down to any descendants. As an instance of type human he clearly comes up short, but presumably a one-legged person can succeed and flourish as a one-legged person; for the sake of comparison why do we favor one type rather than another? Why does the category of one-legged-person lack the ontological status of two-legged-person?

Or does it? If so, does that mean (say) that I am a bad one-legged person?

21st Century Scholastic said...

@Anonymous [March 30, 2012 11:30 AM]:

>>>In what sense is the nature of man, (or any other thing) different from definition of man?

The nature of a thing is an expression of that thing's essence, its definition is the *verbal* expression of its essence.

>>>If the nature, or definition of human, is being a rational animal would a rational inhabitant of some remote galaxy be human as ourselves?

Some thomists (the majority?) think so. For example, David Oderberg argues that in Real Essentialism; see here: http://books.google.it/books?hl=it&id=gO_40ZwgdkMC&q=ranimals#v=snippet&q=ranimals&f=false

>>>Indeed being immaterial, they have no tendency toward corruption at all. They are of their nature immortal. (concerning angels)

But a soul of a dog is immaterial too, yet it is not immortal.

That's because its operations depend wholly on matter, while a human's intellectual activities do not.

@Ray: uh, sorry! Being in a hurry, i've badly misread you post.

Anonymous said...

@21 Century Scholastic

The nature of a thing is an expression of that thing's essence, its definition is the *verbal* expression of its essence.

Sorry, but this is just piling up words upon words.

An expression needs a medium to act in.
I could agree that words, or “verbal”, as you prefer to call it, is a medium for the definition of an essence to expresses itself.
But in what medium does the nature of a thing express itself? And if there is such a medium why does the essence-of-the-thing needs the nature-of-the-thing to express itself? Why doesn’t it do it directly? Your explanation is question begging.

That's because its operations depend wholly on matter, while a human's intellectual activities do not..

I am not sure I understand what you are saying. Besides, human intellectual activities depends on brain, which after all, is very much matter.

All the same, thank you for responding to my questions.

T.H.

goddinpotty said...

You were the one who introduced the notion of "the form of a dog" as a Platonic-like ideal entity that somehow transcends the characteristics of individual dogs. If every organism can have a form (in your sense) that is custom-tailored to its physical form, then I guess there is no problem with that.

But in that case your notion of form doesn't seem to be doing very much. Your whole argument was based on the idea that their are essential features of forms that are independent of the particular imperfections of actual material entities.

You seem to want to have things both ways, and as a result your notion of form (and the whole argument of this post) is incoherent.

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser: ...a very common Platonic straw man ... something like a "Form of Dog," understood as a necessary and sufficient list of characteristics, floating free of concrete individual dogs.
Aristotelianism starts with concrete substances...


I'm wondering how the Aristotelian form can be considered as any kind of basis for 'good' or 'bad' then if each individual form is nothing more than that?

I can understand how a dog can be considered 'good' if it conforms more perfectly to the Platonic form (abstract idea) of a dog. I can't understand how a dog can be considered 'good' within the Aristotelian concept given here. It would seem, from what you're expressing here, that every form is an individual form and thus not a part of some over-arching abstraction against which individuals could be judged either better or worse. So a dog with no legs would theoretically just be instantiating its own form.

If that's the case, then it's the same with humans: a criminal is just a 'criminal form', a saint is just a 'saintly form' and so on. There would be no good or bad humans because each human has its own form and its own nature.

I just don't see how you can avoid moral relativity without embracing some Platonism.

What am I missing here?

Ray Ingles said...

BenYachov - See here, where Feser states "And human nature -- and thus, at least to a large extent, morality -- would be what they are even if, per impossibile, God did not exist (just as the periodic table of the elements would be what it is even if, per impossibile, God did not exist)."

This seems to contradict TLS on page 90, where he says "there are serious problems with understanding [forms] according to Plato's version of realism - as abstract objects existing in a "third realm"... At the same time, it is also hard to see how they could exist apart from any mind whatsoever...".

Now, as I've stated, I don't see the "serious problems" with Platonism to be insuperable anyway, so I'm more comfortable with Feser's "per impossible" than apparently you are.

BenYachov said...

@Ray

I 'm not sure whay you are talking about at this point? I don't have a problem impossibile arguments.

You originally said "(1)Then [Feser] goes on to propose Scholastic Realism, where "2+2=4" exists as a thought in the Mind of God.

(2)But this doesn't seem quite right.

(3)Is the idea that if, per impossible, God forgot or didn't know that proposition, it would cease to be true?

(4)He just laid out a case for that being true regardless if anyone recognized it...

My point is God is only compared to His creations analogously not unequivocally.

I thought you where claiming regardless if anyone recognized it 2+2=4 would still be true. Your implication being, I thought, even if God per impossibile didn't recognize it 2+2=4 would still be true.

Your mistake was, I thought, making an unequivocal comparison between God & "anyone"? You can make an unequivocal comparison between God & Reality/Existence. 2+2=4 is true because it is within reality. For it to be not true is to question reality.

But you can only make an analogous comparison between God and creatures.

Are you following me? Yes or no?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed. Thanks for an interesting post. Here's my difficulty as regards the human soul. As I understand it, in Aristotelian-Thomistic hylomorphism, the substantial form of a body is envisaged as the realization of some underlying potential (in this case, prime matter). But it should be quite clear that under this definition, a form cannot have any kind of subsistent operation in its own right. It is "adjectival" so to speak, and an agent is a noun. Thus to say that the substantial form of man thinks makes no sense.

Putting it another way: back in the sixties, the Dutch theologian used to refer to the soul as the livingness of a living body. I can understand what it means to say that a living body thinks, but I have no idea what it means to say that "livingness" thinks.

Considerations like this make me wonder if Aristotle's over-reacted against Plato's philosophy, and that for man at least, a Platonic model might be nearer the truth.

BenYachov said...

@Ray

As for this other "contradiction" (March 30, 2012 8:27 PM) I don't get it?

QUOTE"I have elaborated upon all of this in an earlier post, to which the interested reader is directed. The point to emphasize for now is that though there is a sense in which God is the ultimate ground of morality (if only because he is the ultimate ground of everything), the proximate ground of morality is human nature, or at least human nature as understood in light of a classical (and especially Aristotelian) essentialist and teleological metaphysics. And human nature -- and thus, at least to a large extent, morality -- would be what they are even if, per impossibile, God did not exist.END

He is not discussing the nature of Universals or addressing the idea Universals exist as thoughts in the Mind of God.

In the original post Feser is merely pointing out Human Nature is the proximate ground of morality so even if we discount God as the ultimate ground of everything morality & human nature would be what they are regardless of God's existence. He is not discussing Platonic Forms or Platonic Realism like he is on Page 90 along with Universals. So you are equivocating again I think.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Vincent,

Well, A-T doesn't say that any substantial form by itself, full stop, does anything. Angels, after all, are forms without matter, but not mere forms -- each of them is a form plus an act of existence, and thus a particular thing. Same with the postmortem human soul.

Edward Feser said...

GIP,

I started out the original post explicitly saying: "Even the Aristotelian characterization of the soul as the form of the living body can too easily mislead. When those unfamiliar with Aristotelian metaphysics hear “form"... perhaps they think of it in Platonic terms, as an abstract universal that the individual human being participates in -- [which is] also totally wrong."

Now if you could still think even after that that I was talking about Platonic forms, then I'm afraid the problem is not that I said anything incoherent but that you are not reading what I wrote very carefully. And perhaps that you just don't know a whole lot about A-T. No sin in that, but it's better to know something about it before making accusations about "incoherence."

goddinpotty said...

I'm reading you carefully, and you appear to be contradicting yourself or changing the meaning of terms constantly. To me, that's incoherent. At the very least, you don't seem to be capable of expressing your ideas in a clear and understandable manner.

And you aren't answering my questions, so I guess you aren't interested in explaining yourself.

Anonymous said...

@ Monster

You are making a huge mess here...


This based on a false premise. Intellect is not immaterial, it comes from the brain. There is no evidence, Biblical or otherwise, that an angel is a purely intellectual being, without substance.


First of all we are not discussing 'revelation' of the Bible here. So any biblical reference is irrelevant.

Second the rational intellect of the humans CANNOT simply be reduced to 'The Brain'.

See for example Ross' paper on this:

http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf

and so has Feser (see his own book "Philosophy of Mind").

No doubt part of the human intellectual activity is related to the brain (and no one says otherwise, certainly not Feser), at the same time 'The Brain' cannot fully explain the human mind and human thought.

----

The reasons that Thomas Aquinas (and others) give that Angels are pure spirit, are rooted in philosophy, although they do not contraddict the Bible either.

an angel is a purely intellectual being, without substance

????

Angels have "substance" too, of course. Not a material one, however.

---

"They do depend on a corruptible material organ, known as the brain. Humans do not have intellect without functioning brains."

I think you should read what Feser writes again, and what Ross writes.



---

"If this is the case, then how do animals also possess a "soul"? In Genesis 2:9, we see that Adam named every living "soul", or "creature". The word used in Hebrew is nephesh, the word for soul (psuche in Greek). Again in Genesis 9:10, we see creatures called "souls", or nephesh."

Again did you actually READ what Feser wrote?

Since the soul is the form (in the A-T meaninf of the word) of a living creature, also plants and animals have souls, a vegetative and and animal suol as they are called (which corresponds to the biblical Nephesh, one might add).

Such souls however are not immortal and perish with the death of the plant or animal.

Since Humans have an immaterial and thus immortal soul the soul continues to exist even if the body (or even just the brain) is detroyed, i.e. even after the death of the 'material' pert of the human being.

Anonymous said...


Among the many traditional ideas that Darwin blew up was the idea that organisms have an essential nature, and that dog-nature is wholly distinct from cat-nature or whatever. Instead, every organism is an intermediate form, whose ancestors were similar-but-different and whose descendants will also be similar-but-different. And all living things can be linked by these relationships, so you are linked by a chain of these relationships to apes, cats, dogs, and every other creature. So, no essential natures in nature, sorry. Why anyone would want to cling to this obsolete way of thinking when clearly better alternatives exist is a mystery to me


This is truly the kind of nonsense that destroys true science.

What you are doing is confusing different terms, such as nature intended by a biologist and nature intended by a philosopher.

Darwin and evolution did NOT in fact nor debunk the idea of 'essential nature' nor the idea of 'final causality'.

Only some people draw such conclusions which are, sadly, veryn very sadly, NON-SEQUITUR, i.e. they do not follow from the premises or, sometimes, they are just mere rhetorical tautologies and circular arguments.


Why anyone would want to cling to this stupid way of drawing conclusions in such an irrational way is the real mystery.


It's not really a metaphysical question. The concrete, objective, very observable scientific evidence demonstrates evolution and the relatedness of organisms, which can now be made even more concrete and specific with genomics, which makes it possible to tell exactly how and when organisms diverge on the genetic level.


Too bad that Fesere was not arguing against evolution, hey! Nor does Feser argue that animals, hence natures, cannot evolve (i.e. change with generations).

I'm reading you carefully, and you appear to be contradicting yourself or changing the meaning of terms constantly. To me, that's incoherent. At the very least, you don't seem to be capable of expressing your ideas in a clear and understandable manner.

And you aren't answering my questions, so I guess you aren't interested in explaining yourself.


No one is more deaf than those who do not wish to hear.

Perhaps you should REALLY try to read, or learn how to, since I do not think this is Feser fault you do not understand him, but yours.

He is not changing the meaning and he HAS explained himself several times.

Strangely you seem to try to crawl now into ‘ad hominem’ attacks against Feser, now that your own arguments have been debunked.

Want a good ad hominem, I got one for you: “You ought to call yourself “My brain is in the potty”’.

At least my ad hominem was funny (although I doubt you’ll get the joke).

21st Century Scholastic said...

>>>Sorry, but this is just piling up words upon words.

An expression needs a medium to act in.
I could agree that words, or “verbal”, as you prefer to call it, is a medium for the definition of an essence to expresses itself.
But in what medium does the nature of a thing express itself? And if there is such a medium why does the essence-of-the-thing needs the nature-of-the-thing to express itself? Why doesn’t it do it directly? Your explanation is question begging.

Maybe a pratical example will help: take iron. The nature of iron is the expression of its essence (in this case, "being a metal with atomic number 26"). For instance, we say iron conducts electricity according to its nature.

The definition of iron, instead, will be precisely "a metal with iron number 26". It's the proposition that i use to convey to your mind the idea of iron (and the "medium" is... language, of course!); if we didn't have words, i could know what iron is, but i couldn't communicate it to you.

>>>I am not sure I understand what you are saying. Besides, human intellectual activities depends on brain, which after all, is very much matter.

We say it doesn't; at least, not completely. Perception surely depends on the presence of a brain (and sense organs), but intellectual activity doesn't. A soul may reason even apart from the body - and that's what it does, after death.

To see why, please see Thomas Aquinas' arguments (brilliantly explained by prof. Feser in his book, "Aquinas") and Ross' paper linked above by anonymous [March 31, 2012 5:02 AM].

W.LindsayWheeler said...

One thing left out in this discussion is Virtue and the Soul.

One part is that we don't take any material thing with us when we depart this earth. But what we do take with us is Virtue. Virtue clothes the soul. When the Soul appears in Heaven, it brings with it the virtues earned/gained on earth. Soul is not just intellect. It is the person. Within the personality is gender and race. And ontop of this Virtue. The Soul is clothed in virtue.

It is also marked by Baptism--or the lack of it. The Soul is marked and carries with it, its mark of distinctions. Soul is not just intellect, or will. It is the person in its totality, in its virtues, in its marks of grace, (or lack of them), and its human form.

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser: It sounds like you're taking as your target a very common Platonic straw man that has nothing to do with what Aristotelians mean by a substantial form -- something like a "Form of Dog," understood as a necessary and sufficient list of characteristics, floating free of concrete individual dogs.

Aristotelianism starts with concrete substances. Here's an animal, here's how it operates, and it wouldn't do so unless there were some internal principle by which it did. That's its substantial form, and whether it has one has nothing to do with how many other animals (transitional species or otherwise) happen to exist.

I wish I were more eloquent. If I were maybe someone would take my questions seriously...

I still don't understand how morality can be based on the Aristotelian concept of form outlined here.

Just within this thread, every time 'soul', 'essence', 'nature' or 'form' are appealed to, the terms are used in the Platonic sense - even by Aristotelians. When someone talks about the 'nature of a dog', they are not talking about the nature of an individual, unique, concrete dog but rather the commonalities within the species 'dog'. Same thing with the 'essence of iron' - we judge whether a substance is 'iron' or not by the commonalities it shares with the species 'iron'. This is an abstraction, a Platonic form. It is definitely NOT what Dr. Feser referred to in his answer to goddinpotty.

So with human beings, we talk about morality based on natural law. Doesn't the concept of natural law derive from the Platonic sense of human nature? Isn't 'human nature' an abstract idea that we humans are judged to 'do well' or 'do poorly' at?

Doesn't the Aristotelian concept of 'form based on an individual concrete substance' open the door to moral relativity? Who's to say whether this human being more perfectly conforms to 'the form of a human' when the term 'form' is based on 'this concrete human being'?

My 'form' (in the Aristotelian sense) is the form of "Daniel Smith" - a white male, sometimes lazy, interested in music, heterosexual, meat eating, not much of an outdoor person, etc and etc. That's MY form. In that sense then, I conform perfectly to my form - therefore I am a 'good' Daniel Smith. The same could be said for anyone and everyone.

No, no, no, no, NO. Forms must be abstractions or else all morality is relative.

I stand ready to be corrected.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I would agree with Daniel Smith, that Aristotle referred to himself as a Platonist. He was fine tuning Platonist teachings.

But the Natural Law of Plato is not the Catholic Church teaching on the Natural Law. The Natural Law in Plato is what is "according to nature". It is the metaphysical laws that undergird and produce the cosmos. The Natural Law in Plato is the Logos. Logos is just another name for laws of nature, or natural law. The Greeks wrote it three ways all of them synonomous. It originally had NOTHING to do with morality but with the metaphysical laws discovered in nature. That is why one runs into this "according to nature" in Platonic texts.

Anonymous said...

Edward,

I am a little confused in regards to your claim about animals having imagination. How is it that animals are said to have imagination? My understanding is that imagination is unique to humans. Can you please elaborate on that?

some kant said...

Hey Ray, how is it going?

I'm working my way through TLS, and I'm not following why Feser rejects Platonism so vehemently.

Does he do that? Mind that I read TLS a year ago, but I don't remember seeing such a strong reaction against Platonism—at least not if you compare it with his thoughts on other positions, e.g. nominalism.

I think his main point is that you can be a realist without endorsing Platonism. Aristotelianism appears more moderate, and certainly more palatable to modern sensibilities.

Kahn said...

A poster named "Mr. Green" posted the following a while back, and it succinctly captures why I cannot subscribe to the extremely "integrated" A-T conception of a human soul if I want to hold on to freedom:

"The problem is that if we're too integrated, we won't have room for freedom. Integrity of the body-soul unit(y) means that there's no outside force (that is, no efficient cause outside of the material realm) that is "pushing our neurons". But integrity of physics, that is, the deterministic sequence of efficient causes, means that our actions were predetermined long before our intellect (working as a whole person) could lead our will (working as a whole person). I don't think the Mediaevals really addressed this problem exactly because they never had the notion of a fixed, deterministic set of natural laws. But we do, and if the physical sequence of efficient causes is independent of the rational sequence of understanding and choosing, then why can't they come into conflict at some point?"

Anonymous said...

@21 Century Scholastic:

"The definition of iron, instead, will be precisely "a metal with iron number 26". It's the proposition that i use to convey to your mind the idea of iron (and the "medium" is... language, of course!); if we didn't have words, i could know what iron is, but i couldn't communicate it to you.

As far as I can see you are saying that the essence of iron is “an element with atomic number 26”and the definition of iron is "a metal with atomic number 26".

Well, I’m sorry, but for the life of me I can’t see the difference between the two.

Otherwise I had no problem seeing what the “medium” of definition is, so I don’t understand why you’re trying to enlighten me on this instead of responding to my question that still, is: “…why does the essence-of-the-thing needs the nature-of-the-thing to express itself?” A question which was set off by your assertion that nature of the thing is the expression of its essence.

"Perception surely depends on the presence of a brain (and sense organs), but intellectual activity doesn't. A soul may reason even apart from the body - and that's what it does, after death."

How a soul having no senses, and therefore completely disconnected from the reality outside itself can reason? Unless a soul has a mind from where it can retrieve memories of experiences, things and thoughts and play around with them. For example if a person was a chess player in his life, can the soul after his death entertain itself by solving chess problems?

T.H.

21st Century Scholastic said...

>>>As far as I can see you are saying that the essence of iron is “an element with atomic number 26”and the definition of iron is "a metal with atomic number 26".

Well, I’m sorry, but for the life of me I can’t see the difference between the two.

Consider how "a metal with atomic number 26" is just a proposition, some phrase written in ink (or in pixels on a screen, or whatever). Of course an essence is not a phrase; it's the thing itself - the composite of matter and form.

To know the essence of iron you put it under the appropriate instruments and take all the needed tests; to know its definition, you just ask somebody who did the relevant tests (an expert, a metallurgist?)

>>>Otherwise I had no problem seeing what the “medium” of definition is, so I don’t understand why you’re trying to enlighten me on this instead of responding to my question that still, is: “…why does the essence-of-the-thing needs the nature-of-the-thing to express itself?” A question which was set off by your assertion that nature of the thing is the expression of its essence.

Maybe you misunderstood what i said as arguing for the nature as another further thing, distinct from the essence. It is not; in fact, i think it's only an abstraction.

>>>How a soul having no senses, and therefore completely disconnected from the reality outside itself can reason? Unless a soul has a mind from where it can retrieve memories of experiences, things and thoughts and play around with them. For example if a person was a chess player in his life, can the soul after his death entertain itself by solving chess problems?

Memories are stored in the (passive) intellect as well. So, yes, the chess player could entertain himself by reflecting on his favourite hobby.

Gene Callahan said...

"I am a little confused in regards to your claim about animals having imagination. How is it that animals are said to have imagination? My understanding is that imagination is unique to humans."

No, animals certainly have imagination: how else does my dog get excited at the words "Want to go for a ride?"

Gail F said...

Daniel Smith: I will have a go at your questions. You are mistaking Platonic forms for something they are not. Plato posited that forms were actually real -- more real than anything else -- and that there was only one of each. According to Plato, there is ONE dog, and all the dogs we see and know and that have ever been partake of its "dogness." They are sort of shadows of the one Dog. But each dog is not a separate, perfect form of "this exact dog."

Aristotle, though a student of Plato, thought the whole "one perfect form on a different plane" idea was wrong, and I agree. It's kind of a dazzling idea, if you take the time to think about it seriously, but it requires you to ignore reality. There is no "real" form in some other realm. A form is an abstraction and, though it is real, is real AS an abstraction. The intellect learns the abstraction from the many examples of it, grasping what "a dog" is by seeing, and perhaps touching and feeling, at least one dog -- and comparing them with things that are NOT dogs. Aristotle started with what was obvious from the world around us, and it is obvious to anyone who has ever had or known a baby that they do in fact learn this way.

Your assertion that you are the perfect example of your own form is just being silly, and I'm sure you know perfectly well that you are an individual example of a human being. To deny that there is no such thing as a form, as some do, and claim that there are only individuals is yet another denial of reality. Philosophy has quite enough of that.

Gail F said...

Oops, I see that I misread that last bit. No, Aristotle does NOT say that each individual thing is a separate form. Have you READ any Aristotle? He says, as I wrote above, that forms are abstractions. There is both a universal form (as an abstraction) AND individual concrete reality (each individual expression of a form). Plato said there was only form, and that what we think of reality did not really exist -- or sort of half existed, by resembling a form.

Westcountryman said...

I have deep respect for Dr.Feser, but I think he is a little uncharitable towards Platonism. But I suppose, as a Platonic Christian, I would say that.

Words like 'abstract' are not very helpful, I feel.

A Platonist, in the sense of Plato, Plotinus, and Proclus, does not believe forms exist in an abstract realm as pure forms. Rather he basically agrees forms exist within the Divine Intellect (or in the One, or however one frames it) in perfect, distinctionless unity or unicity.

They exist only separately as they manifest or reflect themselves in Being or existence or creation (or whatever you wish to refer it as).

The Platonist, like St.Thomas and all traditional Christians, accept the existence layer of Being. As the forms are reflected down these layers they are also refracted, becoming more separate and multifarious. To the refrain of abstraction the Platonic replies that it is a curious belief for the Aristotelian to affirm the highest levels reality, as well as the corporeal, but to ignore the necessary intermediate layers through which the highest levels unfold themselves and externalise and formalise themselves to manifest the corporeal.

Ultimately though, I think Coleridge is right about all men being either Platonists or Aristotelians.

"Every man is born an Aristotelian, or a Platonist. I do not think it possible that any one born an Aristotelian can become a Platonist; and I am sure no born Platonist can ever change into an Aristotelian. They are the two classes of men, beside which it is next to impossible to conceive a third. The one considers reason a quality, or attribute; the other considers it a power. I believe that Aristotle never could get to understand what Plato meant by an idea. There is a passage, indeed, in the Eudemian Ethics which looks like an exception; but I doubt not of its being spurious, as that whole work is supposed by some to be. With Plato ideas are constitutive in themselves.[1]

Aristotle was, and still is, the sovereign lord of the understanding; the faculty judging by the senses. He was a conceptualist, and never could raise himself into that higher state, which was natural to Plato, and has been so to others, in which the understanding is distinctly contemplated, and, as it were, looked down upon from the throne of actual ideas, or living, inborn, essential truths."


By understanding he means here discursive thought or reason, as opposed to Intellectual or mystical contemplation. Leaving aside any issues of the historical positions of any particular figure, I think it is a good division of the nature of men; most men almost only the particular and the many, the Platonist is one who strives to see first the Universal and Unity, like Coleridge himself, and comes to appreciate the particular and the many through them.

Edward Feser said...

Just to be clear, I love Plato, Plotinus, and Co. So I am emphasizing the differences here merely to make the A-T position as clear as possible, not out of any disrespect for those very highly esteemed rivals.

Aquinas3000 said...

I think it worth pointing out that the great Australian scholastic Dr Austin Woodbury points out (in my view the greatest scholastic mind of the 20th century) when it comes to substances such as silver or iron or differentiations between sorts of animals we don't know the philosophical difference that constitutes its essence. What we know is the empiriological signs that point to an essence of a certain sort.
(And if a thing didn't have an essence it wouldn't be any sort of thing at all. But it is important to keep in mind). They get used for examples a lot but there are unfortunate limitations with them. The more something is rooted in the material the more of matter and thus potentiality it has about it and matter is a principle of darkness. It is through act that things are more luminious to the intellect. Well I've said my piece. Good day to all.

Anonymous said...

@Aquinas 3000 DB?
Where is the best place to find "the doc's" work?

P.s. Imagine what we could do with a battalion of Thomists.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Torley:

"I am not my soul." My soul no more thinks than my tongue speaks, but I only think and speak *in virtue of* my intellect and my tongue, as the organ of immaterial awareness and locution, respectively. The tongue severed from my head is an incomplete speech organ but still recognizable in its articulate aspects as the quintessential organ of verbal expression. Likewise my soul separated at death from my body is an incomplete substance but still recognizable in its immaterial capacities as the organ of contemplation.

Does this help?

Daniel Smith said...

Gail F,

Thank you for that. I am just now only starting to read Plato and Aristotle so my understanding will (hopefully) clear up soon!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Btw, since physicalism P and/or mind-brain identity MBI seem(s) to have cropped up from the neuroenvy post, I'd like to propose what I think is the key to defeating P and MBI.

1. The (Kripkean) modal argument against MBI (MAMBI... sorry, I couldn't resist) is compelling. Given the truth of the indiscernibility of identicals InId, where a relevant difference can be found between M and B, they are not identical. There are such relevant differences, ergo....

2. MBI is basically a fallacy of the identity if indiscernibles IdIn. MBI: --» for any mental event M there is a corresponding neural state N, so M is empirically indistinguishable from N, therefore M = N --» MBI.

Daniel Smith said...

Gail F: Aristotle does NOT say that each individual thing is a separate form... He says, as I wrote above, that forms are abstractions. There is both a universal form (as an abstraction) AND individual concrete reality (each individual expression of a form).

My confusion began when Dr. Feser was defending the Aristotelian concept of forms against a challenger who cited Darwin and the theory of evolution.

Dr. Feser seemed (to me) to be saying that there really wasn't some abstract 'form of a dog' but only individual forms of various animals. Either that or he was saying that the abstract 'form of a dog' only began to exist when real dogs evolved into being.

I'm actually not sure what he was saying and it seems now that I most likely misunderstood his position.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

[This seems not to have posted from my first attempt]

Btw, since physicalism P and/or mind-brain identity MBI seem(s) to have cropped up from the neuroenvy post, I'd like to propose what I think is the key to defeating P and MBI.

1. The (Kripkean) modal argument against MBI (MAMBI... sorry, I couldn't resist) is compelling. Given the truth of the indiscernibility of identicals InId, where a relevant difference can be found between M and B, they are not identical. There are such relevant differences, ergo....

2. MBI is basically a fallacy of the identity if indiscernibles IdIn. MBI: --» for any mental event M there is a corresponding neural state N, so M is empirically indistinguishable from N, therefore M = N --» MBI.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

3. A more ambitious but very tentative methodological conclusion I might like to draw from the above two-pronged argumentation is this:

Insofar as identity arguments fail to motivate any serious metaphysical position (assuming a refutation of MAMBI), but only detract from alleged identity theses *about anything*, identity itself is an inappropriate relation to bring to metaphysical questions. As such, no identity thesis is possible, and thus MBI is methodologically possible.

That requires a lot of axiological unpacking, I admit, but it's just a hunch. Meanwhile, the meat is in the above two points.

4. If the arguments against materialism have ever been any good, then no amount of neuroscientific precision can reverse them. We've always known "the body is involved in human thought", so it's irrelevant in principle to argue by scope that this or that particular patch of tissue, or this or that complex of neurons, is "involved in human thought". If it's ever been coherent to argue against "a body as such" being the organ (tool, proper means) of conceptual awareness, then it's just as coherent to maintain that claim in the face of something as stunning as, say, optogentics and the neuron-specific location of memories. The researchers in the article I cited in the neuroenvy thread made bold metaphysical claims on behalf of materialism, but their claims are probative only if the neurons they manipulated are necessary and sufficient for the memories they manipulated. Certainly exciting those optogenetic neurons was necessary to simulate the mouse's fear response, but the question hinges on whether the same fear memory could be simulated by that neuron itself, in isolation from the mouse as a whole. I contend that it could not, and therefore the neuron is not a sufficient condition for generating memories, and materialism is false, at least on this empirical front. The upshot is that the research actually becomes rather underwhelming, metaphysically speaking. For while the necessity of those neurons illuminates how mice remember fear, the insufficiency of those neurons by themselves to generate the same cognitive content reminds us that it is not the neurons which remember, but rather the mice.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Daniel,

Please keep in mind that neither the original post nor my combox remarks were intended as a treatment of the problem of universals. The notion of "form" is complicated and does a lot of work in A-T, but what is at issue here is the role in plays as an aspect of a concrete individual human being. And what I was emphasizing was that the soul conceived of qua form of the body in A-T is in no way a Platonic universal, so that all the stuff about Darwinism was just irrelevant. (It's not even relevant as a criticism of Platonism, actually, but that's another matter.) But nothing I said entails, or was meant to entail, that there is no such thing as a universal human nature, etc. I just wasn't addressing that subject, because it's not relevant to the specific issue I was speaking to, viz. the relationship of the soul to the human being as a whole.

Anyway, briefly, the difference between A-T and Platonism on the subject of universals is not over whether there are such things -- both sides say there are, which is why both sides are versions of realism -- but rather over the mode of their existence. For Platonic realism the essence or nature of being a human being (for example) exists as a universal apart from both individual human beings and apart from any mind. Not so for A-T: It exists only in concrete individual human beings (Socrates, Obama, etc.) or, qua universal, in a mind that abstracts it from the individuals or "pulls it out" of the individualizing Socrates-like, Obama-like, etc. aspects.

To be sure, there is also a sense in which it pre-exists in the divine intellect as an archetype according to which God creates human beings. But in that case it still exists in an intellect, rather than in a third (non-material, extra-mental) Platonic realm. Indeed, the doctrine of forms as divine ideas provided a nice middle ground on which Platonists and Aristotelians could meet. (The two sides aren't in fact as far apart as is often supposed, though they certainly aren't identical either. Either side can take on board in an altered form some of the insights of the other, resulting in either a "Platonizing" of Aristotle -- which is what Neo-Platonism does -- or an "Aristotelianizing" of Plato -- which is what Thomism does. One side or the other is going to be dominant, though.)

James said...

@Codgitator:

“The (Kripkean) modal argument against MBI (MAMBI... sorry, I couldn't resist)”

[John Stewart]The Kripkean modal argument against MBI, or NAMBLA …[/John Stewart]

goddinpotty said...

I've remarked before that your position, once all the semantic waffling has been subtracted out, doesn't seem that different from the neural cognitivism that you deplore. That's because cognitivism, which (as you would probably agree) is philosophically naive, and as a result simply ends up importing the default assumptions of the culture, which are pretty much Aristotelian. As a result, it is just as inadequate for capturing the nature of human reality as your mildewed philosophy.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

James:

??

Edward Feser said...

GIP,

See, here's the problem. Cognitivism, like all materialist approaches to the mind, presupposes what I've elsewhere called a mechanistic conception of nature, viz. one that denies immanent formal and final causes of the sort that are central to A-T. Hence whatever similarities there may seem to be are bound to be superficial -- unless the cognitivist decides to abandon the approach to nature in question, in which case he is assimilating his position to the Aristotelian view rather than the other way around.

Now, I've only made this sort of point about, I don't know, a million times. You seem unaware of this fact, and unfamiliar with the overall A-T approach to things. You say things that reflect fundamental misunderstandings of the A-T position, make snide remarks about "semantic waffling" and the like, and then have the cheek to complain (as you did above) that I don't answer every question you raise.

Well, I've got very little time to comment in the combox as it is and it's hard enough to find time to respond even to the folks who are making a good faith effort, you know?

Tony said...

I think it worth pointing out that the great Australian scholastic Dr Austin Woodbury points out (in my view the greatest scholastic mind of the 20th century) when it comes to substances such as silver or iron or differentiations between sorts of animals we don't know the philosophical difference that constitutes its essence. What we know is the empiriological signs that point to an essence of a certain sort.

Aquinas3000, I don't think that works. To say that that a mouse is a different kind of thing than a lion, is to make a proposition that we know. We know these because we know that mousiness is essentially different from lionality. We know it because we have a concept of mouse, and a concept of lion, and those concepts are essentially distinct.

Now, it may be difficult for some people to articulate precisely in what manner the essence of mouse is distinct from that of lion, but that's got to do with other problems besides the ability to abstract forms. If people didn't correctly abstract the forms, we would be unable to correctly make statements like "man is a 2-legged animal", and in general we would be unable to use universals in speech. But we all DO use such universals, because we all do abstract essential forms.

The empiriological signs that we know in their particularity by sense are part of the process by which we abstract essential forms, but we don't stop there.

Tony said...

Ed, have you had a post on the differences in meaning between body and matter, between soul and spirit, between soul and form, between form and essence? It might be worthwhile to just go over the nuances.

Tony said...

Westcontryman: By understanding he means here discursive thought or reason, as opposed to Intellectual or mystical contemplation. Leaving aside any issues of the historical positions of any particular figure, I think it is a good division of the nature of men; most men almost only the particular and the many, the Platonist is one who strives to see first the Universal and Unity, like Coleridge himself, and comes to appreciate the particular and the many through them.

West, I wonder then what you would make of St. John of the Cross, who was BOTH heavily Aristotelian and mightily mystical. Not to mention St. Thomas himself.

Westcountryman said...

St.John of the Cross was a great mystic. His mysticism is what could be called passion mysticism, which is, I suppose, rather more limited compared with what could be called Love mysticism (St.Francis of Assisi being a representative of this kind) and particularly Knowledge mysticism (of which many examples can be found, from the Cappadocian Fathers to Meister Eckhart.).

I have nothing but admiration for St.John and St.Theresa, they are far, far more Godly than I am. However I think Catholics do privilege them quite a bit, when really they are perhaps not the best representatives of Christian mysticism.

I do not think we should take Coleridge's division as primarily historical or doctrinal. He is using those labels to differentiate between two different kinds or temperament of Man, not doctrines. It is certainly possible for a someone more beholden to the Aristotelian or Scholastic doctrine to be more of what Coleridge calls a Platonic than an Aristotelian.

I do not subscribe to his belief that one cannot change from one temperament to the other, either. I'm not sure he truly did either.

Martin S. said...

@Tony

There is an excellent book called 'The Science Before Science' by Dr Anthony Rizzi - highly recommended Aristotelian philosophy of nature. We need, as William E. Carroll said, dozens more doing this work rather than giving it up to the so-called 'Newtonian settlement'.

Crazily his physics text is virtually impossible to order for overseas customers; and the API website deserves investment.

BenYachov said...

Maybe I am being overly simplistic here but I find merely learning about Classic Theism(& it's contrast with Theistic Personalism)& the philosophy behind it I find the Catholic & Eastern Christian Mystics in general make a lot more sense to me these days.

goddinpotty said...

Yes, cognitivism is a materialist approach to the mind, yet (except for the extreme eliminativists, who aren't typical and don't interest me) they believe that ideas and other semantic constructs can somehow be embodied by material brains or devices. Brains are both material and semantic. Whereas you said, in the post that I linked to:
And the efficient cause of the action includes the intellectual activity distinctive of something with that sort of substantial form...where the intellectual element and the neural element are not two things (as they are for the Cartesian dualist) but rather two irreducible aspects of one thing (just as a sentence is one thing with two aspects, material and semantic).

Now, you are using quite different terminology, and no doubt there are many real differences, but from my somewhat radical perspective they just seem to be basically two different ways of saying the same thing. This is exacerbated by the inability of you or anyone else, apparently, to give a cogent definition of terms like "substantial form". Apparently there's still no agreement among even sympathetic philosophers about this topic, and since I can't make sense of all these mysterious essences and forms and substances, it all looks like useless vaporing to me.

My own view is that both Aristotle and the cognitivists are hobbled by a reliance on everyday common-sense notions (eg in what they think of as matter or ideas), whereas common sense is a wholly inadequate tool to think about the metaphysics of mind, and you need to entertain much more radical (or crazy) ideas (this has been articulated recently by Eric Schwitzgebel). The eliminativists at least don't have this problem, but their form of crazy doesn't appeal to me. I'm partial to Bruno Latour, not that I completely understand him but at least his style is to blow up the kind of common-sense distinctions that seem to interfere with true philosophical understanding.

Anonymous said...

since I can't make sense of all these mysterious essences and forms and substances

You can't understand it, so it's everyone else that's wrong. Sure, that's it.

My own view is that both Aristotle and the cognitivists are hobbled by a reliance on everyday common-sense notions

Your own view on that thing you don't understand. Gotcha.

Aquinas3000 said...

Anonymous,

No, I'm not DB though I am friends with him (you must be Austalian - no one else here would know what we are talking about haha). The Doc's works are unpublished so I had to buy mine privately although I also have all the philosophy stuff (or most of it) on my computer. When it comes to Thomism the Doc is the grandmaster of Thomists.

And @ Tony I'm not saying we can't grasp their essence but it is in a more confused less distinct manner since we don't know the ultimate philosophical difference. Two legged animal is not man's essence either but a proper accident.

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty: "but their form of crazy doesn't appeal to me"

What appeals or does not appeal to you is irrelevant.

Westcountryman said...

goddinpotty, one thing you need to learn is that just because some source like the Standford philosophical encyclopedia says something, doesn't make it correct.

You also need to learn that sources like that, by trying to be neutral and not take sides while giving equity to different views, are bound to make things look more unsettled than they may well be.

Aristotelians have long held they have 'cogent definitions' for the terms you mention.

Anonymous said...

@ 21 Century Scholastic:

To know the essence of iron you put it under the appropriate instruments and take all the needed tests; to know its definition, you just ask somebody who did the relevant tests (an expert, a metallurgist?)

"To know the essence of iron you put it under the appropriate instruments"???

Oh boy...

Considering that the access to "appropriate instruments" available to Aristotle was rather limited, if any, he must have been quite ignorant of the essence of iron. And of course the future generations with ever more sophisticated "appropriate instruments" available to them will find our knowledge of iron's essence quite poor.

Seriously now, it seems that we are talking at cross purposes and perhaps it's time I should look for answer to my questions elsewhere.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully,

T.H.

Ray Ingles said...

BenYachov - I've gone back to skim TLS, and I think I may have read slightly more into Feser's case than he stated.

I can't find an unequivocal statement that mathematical truths would be true even if no mind believed in them. He does claim that, say, the truths about triangles would exist even if all material triangles went out of existence, but that is consistent with Scholastic Realism.

So, I'll backtrack a bit. I don't think Feser's being self-contradictory about this point, I just think he's wrong about how they couldn't exist "apart from any mind whatsoever". I'm not a fan of Philip K. Dick, really, but I like his definition of reality: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."

I guess I don't have an intuitive sense that the truths about Euclidean triangles require a mind ('purely actual' or otherwise) to recognize them in order to be true. Does Feser elaborate on this somewhere on the web?

Ray Ingles said...

BenYachov - "He is not discussing the nature of Universals or addressing the idea Universals exist as thoughts in the Mind of God."

But in the part I quoted, he is discussing abstract objects like the periodic table.

Anonymous said...

Hello again. I apologize for repeating my questions, but I'm stumbling over a couple of points:

1) Dr. Feser states (in Aquinas) that the mind must be immaterial because if it were material, the conception of another form would convert it to that form. I don't understand why that is the case. Will somebody please help?

2) From 1, why does that hold in the material realm but not the immaterial realm? Why wouldn't Gabriel's conception of Michael's angelic form convert him to Michael?

I know this appears elementary, but I simply cannot wrap my head around these things. Somebody please help.

Thanks much, in advance.

Ray Ingles said...

some kant - "Aristotelianism appears more moderate, and certainly more palatable to modern sensibilities."

Well, it's one approach to moderation, but I'd think there are others. I recall a passage from Dennett (probably 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea') which noted the 'eternality' of things like mathematical truth.

Certainly the sense in which mass-energy exists is different from the sense that 'forms' exists. As opposed to Plato's notion that the forms are more real than the imperfect exemplars in the real world, I'd put them as 'separate but equal'. As noted, the forms have no causal power, and any real-world object 'instantiates' or 'participates in' or 'fits to some degree' a practically unlimited number of forms.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for kindly answering my query. I have one more question. My original objection to A-T psychology was that "in Aristotelian-Thomistic hylomorphism, the substantial form of a body is envisaged as the realization of some underlying potential (in this case, prime matter). But it should be quite clear that under this definition, a form cannot have any kind of subsistent operation in its own right."

You replied:

"Well, A-T doesn't say that any substantial form by itself, full stop, does anything. Angels, after all, are forms without matter, but not mere forms -- each of them is a form plus an act of existence, and thus a particular thing. Same with the postmortem human soul."

So here's my question. Does the human soul, while united to the body, have its own proper act of existence? Aquinas seems to answer "Yes" in S.T. I, q. 75, art. 2, where he writes that "the intellectual principle which we call the mind or the intellect has an operation per se apart from the body. Now only that which subsists can have an operation per se." But if the human soul has its own proper act of existence, then it cannot be just a "realization of some underlying potential." In which case it seems to follow that the human soul isn't the substantial form of the body, in the Aristotelian sense. Which leaves us with the question: what, then, is the soul? Do we need a better definition of a substantial form?

goddinpotty said...

@Anonymous -- Perhaps you have to take my word for it, but I'm above average in both intelligence and openmindedness. So I'm perfectly happy to at least grapple with the idea of essences, substantial forms, and whatnot, if they can be described coherently. So far they have not.

Eg, Feser says: the formal cause, which is the human soul -- “human soul” here understood, not in the popular sense of a wispy, ghostly thing that enters into a body in order to animate it and exits it at death, and not in the Cartesian sense of an immaterial substance, but rather in the technical Aristotelian sense of the substantial form of a rational animal.

OK, a human soul is NOT a cartesian immaterial substance, NOR a ghostly substance. I'm fine with that. So what is it? Well, it is the "formal cause" of action, and also the "substantial form" of a rational animal. And what is a substantial form? Feser elsewhere says it's "the immanent principle by virtue of which a natural object carries out its characteristic operations. " So, the explanation for how and why humans are human is "an immanent principle". Paging Dr. Molière! This kind of talk explains exactly nothing.

I can sort of see the motivation. You don't want to think of a human being as simply a bunch of mechanical parts arbitrarily linked together, so there must be a human "substance" which has a "substantial form" or "essence" that gives a human, or other organism, whatever coherence and higher-level characteristics it has. This is the same concern which motivates various holists and antireductionists in the sciences, although they tend to produce theories which at least attempt to explain rather than explain away.

BenYachov said...

>But in the part I quoted, he is discussing abstract objects like the periodic table.

Yeh so?

BenYachov said...

>I've gone back to skim TLS, and I think I may have read slightly more into Feser's case than he stated.

No worries bro. As long as you make a sincere effort. If it helps I stopped reading TLS in the middle and read a few relavent chapters from Adler's ARISTOTLE FOR EVERYBODY on form,matter, actuality, potency etc then I went back and resummed TLS. I needed a dumbed down explaination of Aristotle to get the more advanced explainations from Feser.

Remember, the begining of wisdom in secular philosophy is the words "I don't know".

> I just think he's wrong about how they couldn't exist "apart from any mind whatsoever........."I guess I don't have an intuitive sense that the truths about Euclidean triangles require a mind ('purely actual' or otherwise) to recognize them in order to be true. Does Feser elaborate on this somewhere on the web?

Well fair enough but I am at a loss at this point how to answer you other then to think it has something to do with seeing God in Theistic Personalist terms where God is unequivocally compared to humans.

I will have to mull this over.

Cheers Ray.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

"'The Science Before Science' by Dr Anthony Rizzi"

This is a great bok. I highly recommend it.

Also, to echo what another poster said I wouldn't mind seeing a post for an in-depth analysis of formal cause.

21st Century Scholastic said...

>>>it seems that we are talking at cross purposes

Uh? I don't share this impression. I see interesting and potentially fruitful dialogue. Of course, if you want to end it here, i won't (and i can't) stop you from leaving.

>>>Considering that the access to "appropriate instruments" available to Aristotle was rather limited, if any, he must have been quite ignorant of the essence of iron.

Of course he was. Indeed, we can say that Ari had only rudimental knowledge of iron's properties, but none of its essence. I suppose you know the distinction between a thing's properties and its essence in A-T metaph.

We have a very good candidate for essence in iron's atomic number (which seems to be the characteristic that "marks" it from every other thing in the universe), but we can't be sure that it is the correct one.

>>> And of course the future generations with ever more sophisticated "appropriate instruments" available to them will find our knowledge of iron's essence quite poor.

As we've seen, this is (possibly) true. And...?

Knowledge of essence is fallible according to the most prominent of aristotelian epistemologists. Why should this be a problem?

Best regards,

R.P.

Westcountryman said...

goddinpotty, what you appear to be asking for is an exact summing up, in terms of discursive thought and human language, of things like essences.

Dr.Feser's explanation is completely coherent and rational, and explains all that needs to be explained and defined in terms of discursive thought and human language.

The problem is your extreme rationalism, and modernist inability to intellectually grasp the obvious, means you are trying to totally grasp something like an essence in terms of discursive thought and human language.

I will give you that Aristotelianism has an unfortunate rationalist streak, but still, it should be obvious that human language and discursive thought are always indirect, they never totally grasp the essence of something and sum it up.

Daniel Smith said...

Dr. Feser: Either side can take on board in an altered form some of the insights of the other, resulting in either a "Platonizing" of Aristotle -- which is what Neo-Platonism does -- or an "Aristotelianizing" of Plato -- which is what Thomism does. One side or the other is going to be dominant, though.)

Thank you for taking the time to explain these things to a beginner like myself. It is greatly appreciated.

You mentioned some time back that you were preparing a paper (or some form of in-depth treatment - I can't remember) on the Fifth Way. Is that still in the works? I hope so because the Fifth Way seems (to me at least) to be where Aquinas "Platonizes" Aristotle by basically saying that 'ideas' explain (and therefore precede) nature (and not the other way around.)

Thanks again!

goddinpotty said...

@Westcountryman -- I'm perfectly happy with the notion that their are some aspects of reality that are beyond discursive thought. In fact, I just cited Schwitzgebel who makes basically the same point).

But Feser does not treat essences and all the other paraphernalia of his theory as unknowable and ungraspable by logic. He seems to think he has iron-clad arguments involving them that prove the existence of god and that gay marriage is wrong, among other things. Rather than obey Wittgenstein's dictum to shut up about things we can't talk about, he talks about them at great length and quite aggressively.

Anonymous said...

gip, you weren't just told that these things were "unknowable and ungraspable by logic". The fact that these things can't be summed up to your satisfaction does not mean "crazyism". Though frankly, since you yourself are an advocate of crazyism, even if you thought Feser's claims were boggling, you'd have no argument against them.

If your motivation here is politics (meaning "Wow, I have to argue against this, because I hate the political ramifications") you're setting yourself up for a fall.

Westcountryman said...

goddinpotty, anonymous has already pretty much given the right answer to your objection.

Not being able to totally sum up and grasp, through discursive thought and human language (which is not the same, simply, as logic), does not in any sense entail that we can have no knowledge of these areas. That is not what I said, nor is it implied in the discussion. In fact, as Dr. Feser himself regularly proves, we can know and realise, discursively, a good deal about these areas, such as essences and certainly can describe and define them coherently, whatever a few modern "philosophers'(an oxymoron, the wise man who said that if Plotinus is a philosopher then Kant is not, or something similar, was right) may bleat about the topic. But there are limits to our discursive faculties to directly know and fully grasp the essence of things, certainly, which you blissfully ignore.

Plus I have been talking only about reason, ratio, or discursive thought. Suprarational knowledge, likeImaginal and Intellectual knowledge or gnosis, is capable of grasping essences in themselves, so I doubly reject the idea we must 'shut up' about these topics.

goddinpotty said...

Westcountryman: The problem is your extreme rationalism, and modernist inability to intellectually grasp the obvious, means you are trying to totally grasp something like an essence in terms of discursive thought and human language.

Westcountryman, a very short time later: In fact, as Dr. Feser himself regularly proves, we can know and realise, discursively, a good deal about these areas, such as essences and certainly can describe and define them coherently

I'm afraid my crude modernist mind cannot detect the subtleties of your thinking that prevent the above from being contradictory.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

gip:

Do you think that grasping a thing's essence means 1) knowing the thing "in itself" and/or 2) being able to provide an exhaustive account of the thing?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

IOW, gip, is your basic retort to any claim to knowledge of an essence, "Yeah, but, how do YOU know?"

Westcountryman said...

It should be bloody obvious. We can, discursively, grasp a lot about essences and communicate that in human language. We can certainly grasp and know enough to belie your talk of incoherent definitions, and that sort of thing.

We, however, cannot completely grasp or directly know everything about an essence. Discursive thought and human language are, by their nature, largely indirect and separative. So there is a limit to their ability to unite us with the truth of the essences of things. But this in no sense means they are utterly useless to inform us about them, which seems to be the non sequitur you are relying on.

For example, discursively we can grasp a lot about the essence and properties of chairs. Certainly to the point of coherent ideas of their form. However, our written and purely discursive knowledge of chairs is not a complete and total assimilation of our knowledge to the essence of chairs. There is still a separateness, an indirect in any discursive knowledge.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

That last question was not snarky, incidentally.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand GIP's screen name. Want to read the conversation but his choice of name is 'pneumatologically' repellent. I'm off.

Ray Ingles said...

"Angels, after all, are forms without matter, but not mere forms -- each of them is a form plus an act of existence"

Could the form of a triangle have an 'act of existence' added to it?

Brandon said...

Could the form of a triangle have an 'act of existence' added to it?

Of course; what do you think you have when you have triangular things that actually exist? There are differences between the two cases, however:

(1) The form of a triangle requires matter to exist since it only admits of material individuation; Aquinas argues at some length that this would not be necessary for angels.

(2) The form of a triangle is an accidental form, whereas angelic forms would necessarily have to be substantial forms. (Feser and Torley were discussing substantial forms in particular.)

John said...

@Godinpotty,

I'm wondering what other counter-argument you can come up with that's not of the 'I-can't-understand-it-therefore-it's-false' kind.

goddinpotty said...

I wonder if you can come up with any arguments other than "oh it's so complicated you have to read 2000 pages of Thomas Aquinas before you can hope to understand it".

I'm not even, for the most part, trying to argue, I'm trying to understand your ideas. For instance I asked several times above for an explanation of "substantial form" and its relationship to the soul, which after all was the subject of the post. I don't care to prove or disprove these ideas (I don't really believe that proofs or disproofs apply to these metaphysical abstractions), just to understand them enough so I could, eg, read something about the soul and take a guess at what Edward Feser would think about it. But the concepts are presented with so much hedging and fudging and slipperiness of meaning that I can't even do that.

This leads me inescapably to the conclusion that there are no real ideas here, it's just an elaborate shell-game to try to preserve a particular religious faith. If I'm wrong, then it should be possible to present the ideas clearly and simply.

If you want more of the same see my comments on this earlier post here for example.

arensb said...

Edward Feser wrote:
Well, is the dog torso of my example a dog or not?

I'd say it depends on the situation: if I went to the SPCA to adopt a dog and they offered me a torso on life support, I'd say that's not a dog.

If I needed canine liver secretions for medical research, and someone offered me fluids drawn from the torso, that would be okay.

If my beloved pet Fido had an accident and wound up as a torso on life support, I would have him euthanized, since that's not Fido (or any companion dog) in any meaningful sense.

If I were a parasite that fed on dog's blood, then the dog torso would be an acceptable food source.

If I were a city legislator drafting a leash law, I wouldn't object to excluding dog torsos.

If the dog had bred puppies before being reduced to a torso, I would include it on the pedigree chart just like any other dog.

The question "is the dog torso a dog or not?" assumes that there's a one-size-fits-all definition of what is and isn't a dog. That doesn't seem to be the case. Some definitions are useful in certain situations, and there's probably even a definition that's useful most of the time. Definitions are there for us to subdivide reality into convenient pigeonholes. They don't change what a thing is.

Daniel Smith said...

"I can't stand GIP's screen name."

Perhaps he's a Tintinologist?

Anonymous said...

@potty

I've been following the discussion and although I've had a pre-existing understand of formal cause this discussion as whole has been quite informative. Maybe, it's you that is the problem here and you're simply unable to grasp the issue or maybe your commitments to other metaphysics (most likely modernist tradition) is to ingrained in your thought to allow you to understand anything "outside the box".

I know for a fact, that my prior commitment to modernism was a huge obstancle to my intellectual growth and it took me a while to free myself from it. Just a thought ;)

goddinpotty said...

My handle is quite relevant to the discussion; but it would be both boring and pretentious to explain it...figure it out for yourselves.

I don't know that I have a "commitment" to modernism, though like any normal person it informs my beliefs. I am aware of modernism's shortcomings, but that doesn't change the fact it killed off more traditional views quite a while ago, and they aren't coming back, and any new insights have to be found in going forward from modernism, not backwards.

I might be willing to be convinced otherwise, but that certainly hasn't happened here.

Tony said...

GIP: I'm not even, for the most part, trying to argue, I'm trying to understand your ideas. For instance I asked several times above for an explanation of "substantial form" and its relationship to the soul, which after all was the subject of the post.

GIP, the problem is that the meaning of "form" and "essence" in Aristotelian and Thomistic thought simply is not something that can be stated in a few sentences, or even in a few paragraphs or pages. Plato spent years and years drawing out "form" from the previous 100 years of pre-Socratic attempts to philosophize (with very little to show for it). Aristotle spent more years refining the ideas of "form" to deal with problems Plato had not dealt with. And the works in which they state their theses are long and arduous. The explanations of these issues is not combox-ready stuff. Ed's primary post above was an extremely cursory discussion, making all sorts of assumptions about the terminology, he wasn't attempting a thorough discussion. Not even remotely.

If you want to understand "what they are saying", you have to plow through some of the pre-Socratics like Anaxagoras and Heraclitus, a couple dozen of Plato's dialogues, and then Aristotle's Organon, and his Physics, and then his De Anima.

Westcountryman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Westcountryman said...

goddinpotty, you don't half talk a lot of nonsense.

Firstly, when you claim, on the one hand, to be just a neutral seeker, and on the other hand, to blithely talk of 'abstractions' and no proofs for metaphysics, we can be forgiven for not taking you as completely sincere. This is obviously compounded by your further, puerile comments about modernism killing off more traditional perspectives, by which you just mean that it is currently more accepted, and therefore we must bow to it.

Secondly, it is clearly your preconceived idea that classical essentialists and realists are vague, but you are even vaguer in spelling out where this is and where their arguments are unsatisforcy. The best support you have, it seems, is the modern 'philosophers' behind the Standford philosophical encyclopedia seem to somewhat agree with you. These sympathetic 'philosophers' you mention are no doubt simply modern 'philosophers' of the mainstream continental or analystical kind and therefore not only do they only represent contemporary and later 20th century academic 'philosophers', but are hardly likely to even represent wider views points like Dr.Feser's, or Etienne Gilson's, or, say, Henry Corbin, or Rene Guenon (to mention a few thinkers outside mainstream, contemporary 'philosophy').

So forgive me if I do not take your vague handwaving and appeals to the authority of sophists as particularly convincing.

goddinpotty said...

Argument by 'scare quotes' is pretty weak.

You don't have to bow to modernism; I really couldn't care less. But I'm trying to take a bow in your direction -- seriously, I'd like to at least understand it. But apparently you can't without plowing through thousands of pages of Plato, Aristotle, and others. I guess the answer to that is, convince me that that is a worthwhile use of my time. What does it buy you?

Sorry if that sounds flip, but it's a serious question. Plowing through science textbooks will help you understand the workings of nature, plowing through Buddhist scripture may help you attain enlightenment (at least, that is the sales pitch). What is plowing through Aristotle going to get me?

I have no idea what you mean when you accuse me of appealing to authority; the only point where I referenced the Stanford encyclopedia was to point out that there is some controversy among philosophers about the right way to interpret Aristotle. That point itself shouldn't be very controversial and it isn't central to anything I'm saying.

[FWIW, I see Feser is cited a few times in the SEP -- but it's his earlier stuff, when he was an obnobnoxious libertarian rather than an obnoxious theist. Etienne Gilson and Henry Corbin are widely cited there. I don't really care one way or another, not having that much of a stake in either the SEP or what you or anybody else classes as philosophy or 'philosophy']

Eduardo said...

You will be able to argument toe to toe with the people acquainted with his work and you might find a new way to look at the world by reading him ????


Potty ... I think what bothers them is that you post here... you have a small knowledge of the subject ( not a problem with that really... ) and you want to show all sort os incoherences and incosistences in Aristotle by pointing to .... * insert joke about Darwin u_u * when apprently you are just unwantedly printing your metaphysics on the guy's theory.

I mean, I wouldn't do any better then you I suppose, but I think their point is ... read the work at least before saying it is all superfluous or worthless.

at least tha is the vibe I got.

Westcountryman said...

Being cited by it is hardly a proof that it is not of a particular bent. While Standford encyclopedia does tend to use somewhat more sympathetic authors for each topic, than perhaps might be the case, it is still very much to be seen seen as part of contemporary academic 'philosophy'. In this context the traditional controversies of Aristotle are to be differentiated from the chirping of modern sophists taking pot shots at Aristotle.

When it comes to Plato, at leas, his work is so well written and a good read, with so much depth and insight, that the question is why would you not read his dialogues? They are nothing like the dry, sophistic treatise of a Locke or Kant.

You never really specified this vague vagueness you kept banging on about.

Codgitator said...

I think it's worth reiterating my previous two questions to gip, though I think hearing answers from others might be illuminating.

According to A-T, does grasping a thing's essence 1) mean knowing the thing "I itself" and does it 2) entail being able to provide an exhaustive account if the thing?

My impression is that, as Feser said, critics of A-T reify abstractions and then accuse A-T of having a bloated ontology. Specifically, it seems gip thinks of "essence" as some extra layer superimposed on a thing, such as the virtus dormitiva he's so fond of citing. This is I'd course an erroneous imposition on A-T. Essence is not an additional layer of being that exists over and above a thing's properties and dispositions as we try to know the thing. Essence is simply that in virtue of which it is true to say a thing's properties and dispositions cohere AS a single operative thing. Essence is that which provides noetic assurance, as it were, that we are tracking closer to a thing's 'proper', 'act-ual' place in nature by following its operations, instead of merely cataloguing a heap of accidents and phenomena which merely reflect our investigative tools and observational biases.

Codgitator said...

Sorry for any deadly typos above, I'm on a "smart phone" so the autospell function is perilous.

Aquinas3000 said...

Well I'm not going to solve all of gip's problems here but I'll make two comments.

Firstly, I do want to disagree with some of my fellow thomists that you have to trawl through thousands of pages of Plato, Aristotle, commentaries etc to at least understand what the terms mean. You don't need to re-enact the history of philosophy in your head to do philosophy. However that doesn't mean it is always easy work. There are always obstacles to understanding and being of dull intellect is not the only obstacle.

Secondly, as for relationship between substantial form and the soul the soul is a case of a substantial form so the only relationship obtaining between them is that of identity. That's not going to answer your million other questions you might have on that but it should answer at least that.

Oh and one other thing. Not all thomists do an equally good job of explaining the terms (sadly) and there can be different shades. For instance with "essence" there can be a broader usage of it and a narrow more strict usage. If you are still getting used to that it doesn't help.

Aquinas3000 said...

That comment on a dull intellect was meant to acknowledge someone can be "smart" and still find something difficult for other causes.

machinephilosophy said...

"Intellect is not immaterial, it comes from the brain."

Are you saying that is *true*? Or that it just comes from your brain? If true, doesn't "true" just mean "comes from the brain"?

Ray Ingles said...

machinephilosophy - Are you saying that is *true*? Or that it just comes from your brain?

Why would those be mutually exclusive?

Codgitator said...

Ray:

Is there any meaningful difference between the following statements, and, if so, how do you parse it?

1. "N is the state of neural connectivity detected in a person who self-describes as being in a happy mood'."

2. "N is a happy clump of brain tissue."

machinephilosophy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
machinephilosophy said...

How do you get true from "comes from the brain"? By "true" are you meaning anything additional to origination in the brain? Another way of putting it is: Is ascribing truth to a claim *anything* beyond a repeat of "comes from the brain"? If not, then "X is true" simply means "X comes from the brain". If so, then materialism is contradicted, ipso facto.

But more fundamentally, how could origination in the brain be *known*---as anything *beyond* mere brain origination---since that state or activity of intellect would ITSELF be merely another brain-originated event, and in that case, its status as "knowledge" is superfluous to brain events. But that would fly in the face of the original claim against intellect being distinct from brain matter or events thereof.

Anonymous said...

"Plowing through science textbooks", like say Penrose's "Road to Reality"? I think you'll find that the old Greeks are invaluable to the modern geek, Mr Potty.

goddinpotty said...

@Codgitator-- I'm not sure why you are asking me about essences, I don't speak in such terms.

Essence is simply that in virtue of which it is true to say a thing's properties and dispositions cohere AS a single operative thing. Essence is that which provides noetic assurance,...

Thanks for that compact summary; I can at least start to get a sense of what questions you are asking; what problems you are trying to solve. The grammar above is rather convoluted but at least can be made sense of.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

gip:

I'm asking you those questions because i) by being in this conversation... about... essence/form... you ipso facto are using such terms and ii) it's a general practice of mine to as an interlocutor for his own account of my view so that I can suss out wher he's confused or where I'm unclear. To wit, I believe your answers to my questions would tell me more about your grasp of or stance on these matters than you just telling me.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Btw, gip, I would think someone willing to go through Finnegans Wake and live to tell the tale wouldn't be averse to "plowing through" a few pages of metaphysics. ;-)

Ray Ingles said...

Codgitator - Given what I've read about neurology, the statements seem to be equivalent, in the sense they approach the same place from different directions.

Kind of like "the land ends at the coast" and "the water ends at the coast". It doesn't seem like there's much room between the water and the land, so to speak. That's not certain, of course - there's plenty of coastline left to explore - but it's seem to hold up in every case we can examine so far.

(BTW, I don't think happiness is an instantaneous 'state', exactly, anyway. It's more a derived value, like curvature or acceleration.)

Ray Ingles said...

machinephilosophy - Water molecules bounce around randomly. The term "Brownian motion" was invented from watching particles buffeted around by water.

And yet, a puddle perfectly conforms to the shape of the depression it's in. Why can't brain processes run smack into - and be conformed into alignment with - the truth?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Ray:

A bullet makes a dent in a plate of armor; the metal is perfectly conformed to the bullet; is the plate a bullet?

Wind blows a spiral shape in a heap of sand; the sand conforms to the wind; is the sand wind?

The brain encodes a pine tree in its visual center; the synaptic pattern conforms to the tree's optical features; is the brain a tree, or light, for that matter?

In case you've forgotten your comments recently in the Kit Fine thread, it's either disingenuous or extremely careless of you to grab for hyperrealism here, since the whole point of treating the brain as an evolutionary "kludge", is to deny a genuine, transcendental adequation of the mind and the world. As you noted in the other thread, our brains are horribly evolved to know the world as it really is. Yet now, we're conformed to "the truth"?

I think you missed the point of my question about the two happiness claims. It makes sense to interpret brain states as the neural correlates (caveat, lector! post hoc ergo propter hoc! correlation ain't causation!) of various behaviors, but it makes no sense to speak of brain tissue--actual clumps of organic gunk-- as happy. And happiness is easy compared to truth, though there's a useful enough parallel. Happiness with respect TO WHAT? True in respect TO WHAT, in virtue OF WHAT?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

"Truer neurons have never been spoken."

Hmmm....

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"And yet, a puddle perfectly conforms to the shape of the depression it's in. Why can't brain processes run smack into - and be conformed into alignment with - the truth?"

Given that we human clearly make mistakes, an argument is needed to establish that. Now what type of argument could that be? I will leave it to your imagination, but consider this: under metaphysical naturalism, we arrive at true conclusions not for logical reasons (sound premises, deductive validity) but because of the inexhorable chain of causes and effects at work in the brain. Reasons for and causes of are two clearly distinct things. So a priori, under metaphysical naturalism, there is no reason to accept as valid any argumemnt you make. In particular, any argument you make for the validity of metaphysical naturalism or for "brain processes run smack into - and be conformed into alignment with - the truth", that is, reasons for and causes of are "aligned", is automatically suspect and there is absolutely no *rational* reason to accept it.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

The other worry I have with "smacking into" truth by purely evolutionary means is this, er, these:

1. From what vantage point are you assessing that my neurons, indeed, my entire cognitive constitution, is "true"? It would have to be from a vantage point not subject to the same limitations I suffer as a kludge-bearer. IOW, truth is a relation ascribed *to* a situation based on analogical proportion between the units of the system. In English: there must be a "ratio" between the nature of x and the nature of y, in order for us to say "it is true that x(y)". Truth doesn't come from my neurons, since, if all we have to go by are neurons, there are only x and y (i.e. my neurons and your neurons responding to mine), but there is no basis for assigning a third, transcendent, unifying relation to those dyads.

2. Lots of animals are better adapted to conform to their environments than we are, but we don't ipso facto say those animals are truer than we are, nor even that animal's know the truth about reality better than we do.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

My Spider-sense tells me that if Ray replies to my worries and others being raised now, he'll either make himself into a proponent of proper function (Lo! the ghost of Plantinga!) or show himself to be a true, albeit unwitting, Aristotelian. Or both. Happiness may not be a warm gun, but it is a "well functioning", "healthy" neo-cortex and limbic system, right?

machinephilosophy said...

"All intellect is from the brain! And my intellect knows this because that knowledge came from the brain! See? It's soooo universally true that no one can challenge it!

And the brain activity theory is itself true because it too came from the brain! Any challenge to this ignores brain activity!"

Sheesh

Ray Ingles said...

Codgitator (Cadgertator) - A geometer finds geometrical truths. Is the geometer herself a geometrical truth?

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - under metaphysical naturalism, we arrive at true conclusions not for logical reasons (sound premises, deductive validity) but because of the inexhorable chain of causes and effects at work in the brain.

Unless causes and effects can implement deductive validity and so forth.

Sure, humans can make mistakes, and we don't have any transcendental way of apprehending truth... but can you explain why we couldn't winnow away error?

"[W]hen people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was [perfectly] spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together." - http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

As a matter of fact, Ray, that's the entire point of deducing an immaterial power of reason. In reasoning the mind formally becomes the object of its operation. By contrast, a material medium can't formally become its model, but can only resemble it. The point is not that we make mistakes but that we can ascertain that we've made a mistake. The point is not that we can cognitively represent things in the world, but that we cam assess the accuracy of our representations.

I don't really feel like reinventing the wheel on these matters for you, so I encourage you to browse this blog for discussion of the intellect, see James Ross's paper on immaterial aspects of thought, look up the standard discussion of the immateriality of the soul in St Thomas' Summa Theologica and Aristotle's De Anima, pieces by Mortimer Adler, Adrian Reimers, etc.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Well, hot dog, here's a perfect passage for you to read, Ray, to get a sense of the problems facing "truth" vis-á-vis physicalism and vice versa.

http://agentintellect.blogspot.com/2012/03/quote-of-day.html?m=1

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

BTW, do you reject the existence of "the immaterial as such"?

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"Sure, humans can make mistakes, and we don't have any transcendental way of apprehending truth... but can you explain why we couldn't winnow away error?"

Can you read? I pointed out that there is a gap to fill and asked you for an argument and you answer with the question "why we couldn't winnow away error?" What can I say? If cows had wings I would always walk around with an umbrella under my arm.

"Unless causes and effects can implement deductive validity and so forth."

Arguments? None, zero, zilch, nada. And before and if you present one, make sure you understand the bind you are in pointed out by me, and more capably and fully expanded on by Codgitator.

Ray Ingles said...

Codgitator - Is there an immaterial reason why there would be people who "accept only those positions which are reasonably argued"? It sounds like a standard that supernaturalists aren't held to...

machinephilosophy said...

Note to self:

1 ask question when argument demanded for claims

2 complain about unfairness and/or blame others

3 return to 1

I'm going to get this formula down yet!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Ray, sounds like you're mixing up the question of materialism with that of determinism. The case rational freedom can be made in response to either ism, but since materialism and determinism are commonly treated as one, I can understand why you'd do that here. The point of the passage I cited concerns the incompatibility of determiningniam,and rational autonomy, not immaterialism.

Anonymous said...

can any one point me to discussions on soul and microorganisms (e.g., cells, bacteria, etc) from the A-T perspective?

Aquinas3000 said...

The soul isn't supernatural.

Living organisms like bacteria etc mostly fall into the category of having vegetative souls. Not sure of any source I could easily point you to though off the top of my head. Rizzi has a discussion of it in "The Science Before Science." If it has sense knowledge even if only that of touch it would be animal. Sense knowledge is the differentiator even if we may not know if it does or does not exist in a given case. But like being pregnant you either have it or you don't even if there are degrees of it.

Anonymous said...

Aquinas3000,

thanks. another question though: if such things i.e., microorganisms, have souls, then it would seem to follow that animals and plants would be things that not only have souls of their own but also be 'made up', so to speak, of hundreds and thousands of other souls (i.e., the microorganisms which exist in the plant or animal that were said to have souls). but that does not seem right. and the answer to it seems to be the key notion of the unity of substance. but i'm unclear as to exactly how.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

If I may intrude... The term soul is horribly overused, even, or perhaps especially, by advocates of the philosophy in which it belongs. Soul is just a species of ACT as opposed to potency, FORM as opposed to matter. Speaking very loosely, therefore, all actual existents have a 'soul', since on Aristotelianism, existence is the dynamic union of form and matter. (I'm bracketing abstract and truly supernatural modes of being, of course.) To speak more precisely, soul properly refers to the act of living as opposed to nonliving ("in-anima-te") organisms. The 'lower' a thing is ontologically, the closer it is to the potency of matter; the closer it is pure potency, the more amenable or susceptible it is to being 'reduced' by a higher formal agent. Hence the soul––or formal unity–– of a plant is 'overtaken' (or 'deanimated') by the soul––or formal unity–– of a rabbit, which is in turn overtaken by that of a hunter at dinner. On their own, microbes have their own proper teleology, yes, but it's a very weak kind of teleology, which is why, like embers always susceptible to extinction, they 'tend to' function in groups. As Gilson remarks in _From Aristotle to Darwin_, cells don't exist independently, but AS tissue OF an organism. Down the ontological ladder, the same holds for atoms: they only exist AS the elements of some formally more-integrated substance. Hence, in a metaphysically imprecise way of speaking, microbial finality is 'subjugated by' or 'defers to' the finality of the larger organism, just as neurons function best AS the cells OF a cerebral organism.

Ray Ingles said...

Codgitator - Ray, sounds like you're mixing up the question of materialism with that of determinism.

Well, you asked me about whether I 'reject the existence of "the immaterial as such"'.

In any case, not as such, no. I'm more what I'd call "Platonish" - "sorta like Platonic". It would seem that, say, "2+2=4" or the Mandelbrot Set "exist" in some sense.

I think that sense is rather different from the way that a material thing like the keyboard I'm typing this on "exists", so in that sense it's 'immaterial'. However, I don't see a way for something like "2+2=4" or the Mandelbrot Set to have any causal power, to have an effect as such on material things.

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - I pointed out that there is a gap to fill and asked you for an argument and you answer with the question "why we couldn't winnow away error?"

We have rather different frames of reference, I expect. Some stuff that seems obvious to me probably isn't to you, and vice versa.

In epistemological terms, I'd probably best be categorized as a "Foundherentist" who leans to Foundationalism. I start with some basic assumptions; ones that could be wrong, but I try to limit it to ones whose converse is self-defeating. I mean, if Solipsism is true... then what? Likewise, I assume reason is capable of reaching valid conclusions (thought that's not guaranteed), and Ockham's Razor (since there's no end to the tales you can spin if you don't assume it).

Now, given that, we've managed to come up with neurological evidence - which I've linked to above - that, however it works, the brain really does do the thinking. We've also seen how material processes like evolution and computer software can do things that have been widely regarded as requiring intellect.

This was an article of faith for Edgar Allen Poe when he wrote his famous essay on Maelzel's Chess Player: "It is quite certain that the operations of the Automaton are regulated by mind, and by nothing else. Indeed this matter is susceptible of a mathematical demonstration, a priori. The only question then is of the manner in which human agency is brought to bear." But now we've got Deep Blue.

And then there's the long history of successive improvement in our models. This constitutes positive evidence we are capable, at least sometimes, of matching up predictions with the data we receive and updating our models.

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"Now, given that, we've managed to come up with neurological evidence - which I've linked to above - that, however it works, the brain really does do the thinking."

I do not know who the "we" is suppose to reference; in any case what you say is patently false.

"We've also seen how material processes like evolution and computer software can do things that have been widely regarded as requiring intellect."

I do not know who the "we" is suppose to reference; in any case what you say is patently false.

So you have no argument as per my request. Do you even understand what the problem is? Somehow, and given the above quoted sentences, I doubt it.

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - "I do not know who the "we" is suppose to reference; in any case what you say is patently false."

'We' as in humans studying the brain and cognition, or algorithms and evolution. You could read the link, at least. Just saying "nuh uh" isn't terribly productive...

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

""I do not know who the "we" is suppose to reference; in any case what you say is patently false."

'We' as in humans studying the brain and cognition, or algorithms and evolution. You could read the link, at least. Just saying "nuh uh" isn't terribly productive..."

Could you cut the bullshit and answer the challenges with an argument? Maybe you think that posting a bunch of links constitutes an answer. While I do not deny that it can fool the unwary into thinking that you actually know what you are talking about, it does not an answer make. Sure, you *assume* the non-self defeating premise that our reasoning abilities are essentially sound, but then the argument is precisely that under metaphysical naturalism they are not. And repeat my earlier question, do you even understand the argument? Because by your non-answers (invoking Deep Blue? Repeating ad nauseam that our knowledge is improving?), it sure as hell looks like you do not.

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - You see, you claimed that "any argument you make for the validity of metaphysical naturalism or for "brain processes run smack into - and be conformed into alignment with - the truth", that is, reasons for and causes of are "aligned", is automatically suspect and there is absolutely no *rational* reason to accept it."

Except I've pointed out rational reasons to start from that point as - in a Plantinga-ish sense - a properly basic belief. Then, from that, we can actually explore the world - and interestingly, we find arguments and evidence to support the notion of metaphysical naturalism (which you haven't looked at so far). In other words, it's not the case that "a priori, under metaphysical naturalism, there is no reason to accept as valid any argumemnt [humans] make", unless you further assume that reasons and causes are completely uncorrelated.

(Contra Plantinga, btw, his "evolutionary argument against naturalism" is wrong because truth and utility are positively correlated.)

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"Except I've pointed out rational reasons to start from that point as - in a Plantinga-ish sense - a properly basic belief."

No you did not, you *assume* it because the alternative is obviously self-defeating. But since it is this precise assumption that is at stake, you cannot simply retreat by appealing to some alleged foundational status. In other words, since what the argument purports to prove is that reason is not sound under metaphysical naturalism, what you end up with is an inconsistent system. Since an inconsistent system proves everything, every conclusion under your system is automatically suspect.

You also point out to the evidence that reason is indeed essentially sound, but I am not asking for the evidence, because I do agree that it is a fact of reality that our rational faculties are essentially sound. That is not what is under dispute.

"Then, from that, we can actually explore the world - and interestingly, we find arguments and evidence to support the notion of metaphysical naturalism (which you haven't looked at so far)."

Pointing out failings of my understanding? That is perfectly fine and I honestly appreciate it. But please refrain from commenting on what I did or did not do, as you cannot possibly know.

"In other words, it's not the case that "a priori, under metaphysical naturalism, there is no reason to accept as valid any argumemnt [humans] make", unless you further assume that reasons and causes are completely uncorrelated."

You are way off base, as correlation is not what is at stake, but then again this is the only language you seem to know and as the saying goes, if you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail. If you had payed attention to Codgitator's comments you would understand why a positive correlation buys you essentially nothing. And even leaving all this aside, to prove that reasons and causes are positively correlated in metaphysical naturalism (as per the "positive" evidence you have gathered) you have to assume... that they are positively correlated. You must be dizzy from chasing your own tail. And upon failing to provide a non-circular argument, you try to turn the tables and task me to prove that they are completely uncorrelated. Bluster and hot air.

I confess this is something I never expected to see: a metaphysical naturalist employing Christian apologetics weaponry (that has been so much maligned) to fend off the collapse of his views into utter incoherence. Let me guess: you "try" to assume only propositions whose negation is obviously self-defeating. But trying is not actually accomplishing it.

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - "No you did not, ou *assume* it because the alternative is obviously self-defeating."

Wait, hold up. Isn't avoiding self-defeating assumptions perfectly rational?

But please refrain from commenting on what I did or did not do, as you cannot possibly know.

I can read my own home webserver logs to see if anyone's clicked a link, though. That's not omniscience or telepathy, I concede, but it's effective in limited cases. :)

Let me guess: you "try" to assume only propositions whose negation is obviously self-defeating. But trying is not actually accomplishing it.

Had, you, y'know, actually clicked on the links you wouldn't have to guess.

If I'm not grasping Codgitator, maybe you can explain it to me in you own words, btw.

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"Wait, hold up. Isn't avoiding self-defeating assumptions perfectly rational?"

Wait, have you not read the rest of the paragraph you quote?

"Had, you, y'know, actually clicked on the links you wouldn't have to guess."

I do not have to pursue your links to know what Foundationalism or Foundherentism is.

Btw, that is what I meant by my rebuke -- apologies for the misunderstanding I caused. Although I did end up looking it up, but it did not tell me anything I did not know already.

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - I'm not "reatreating" to the position that reason can be effective - I'm pointing out why it's perfectly legitimate for me to use it as a starting point.

"what the argument purports to prove is that reason is not sound under metaphysical naturalism"

"Purports" is right. Because I've already pointed out additional unstated assumptions that have to be granted for it to be valid. (Can you name one?)

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

""Purports" is right. Because I've already pointed out additional unstated assumptions that have to be granted for it to be valid. (Can you name one?)"

From April 17, 2012 11:28 AM:

"In other words, it's not the case that "a priori, under metaphysical naturalism, there is no reason to accept as valid any argumemnt [humans] make", unless you further assume that reasons and causes are completely uncorrelated."

To say that reasons for and causes of are positively correlated itself presupposes that we can recognize valid and invalid reasonings. But that is precisely what is at stake, as we cannot even recognize *for sure* when say, we have made a valid or invalid application of modus ponens, so we cannot even know if reasons for and causes of are indeed positively correlated. Your suggestion is simply incoherent.

Frankly, I am out of patience for your deflection, your dodging and circling around. I am not going to waste my time trying to explain James Ross's arguments to you, as I cannot do it better than him or Codgitator. You have nothing of relevance to say on the issue. So with a bow, I take my leave. Exeunt.

note: And Codgitator was right in his prediction, you actually pulled a Plantinga on us!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Ray:

Here is whence grodrigues' frustration cometh, methinks:

You are proposing to answer the question, "What accounts for the human ability to perceive, cognize, and respond to its environment?" You're effectively saying, "Well, first of all, we know that the mind tracks reality, so now let's give a purely naturalistic account of human cognition." Erm, but you're mounting your account based on something barred from naturalism, especially according to leading lights in naturalism.

Anonymous said...

The Platonic ideas are abstractions only for the mind. In themselves they are the archetypes in the cosmic Logos, and ultimately they refer to the Divine Qualities in pure Being, and in the very last analysis, to the principial possibilities included (as it were) in the infinitude of the Divine Essence.

======================
As for the human soul, it is only conditionally immortal. It is immortal to the extent it actually actualizes the human, but it can be lost: that is the whole meaning behind the difference between the "wide gate" and the "strait gate." The Buddhist exhortation to value the human state, "so precious and difficult to obtain," refers to the same reality. Religions exisst to "save" the soul, precisely. I think the Muslim philosophers are clearer and more complete regarding all this: Ibn Sina in particular. They developed a synthesis between the more "outward" Artistotelian view and the more "inward" Platonic, showing that these are two aspects of the Unity of the real.

Anonymous said...

What is crucial to understand the medieval point of view, and which radically distinguishes it from the modern, is that for the traditional mind reality is affirmed by degrees, which are successively more bound or conditioned. The Real as such is boundless and unconditional, and transcends all that is relative in any way whatever. The cosmic plane of our bodies, along with the countless galaxies, is distinct from the subtle or "animic" world in which the material world is embedded and from which it has been projected, otherwise it would not even be perceptible, nor would it contain life; and it is this degree whereas the soul and its various faculties is situated. These two degrees pertain to the domain of individual forms.

Similarly, the subtle world is, so to speak, contained in the spiritual world, failing which it could not exist for an instant, nor would any degree of consciousness be possible. This is the supraformal degree of the cosmos, and it is the habitation of the immortalized souls, of the paradises, and of the angelic beings, and of which the cosmic Logos is the Center.

And so on. "In Him we live, and we move, and we have our being."

Ian Heslop said...

I enjoyed reading your post and like your definition of the Human as being a rational animal.
The issue is that the average Human does not behave rationally at all!
Because of this Human Beings are 'Sophisticated animals'.
This is to say that the average Human may exhibit a sophisticated expression of basic animal drives at best, and ultimately nearly all behavior can be stripped back to expose the animistic core of an individual. But this too is their soul? Or a part of it?
I am a Shaman and understand that the soul is not a singular entity/existence at all, but is comprised of components, including the physical form. In this way the soul is not experienced as something separate from the self (whether this self is identified as the 3D body, the ego, the astral body, the spirit or whatever label is utilized), because the soul is actually the sum of ALL the components that make the self, including the self that asks questions like this!
Any individual seeking to truthfully answer the question "What is a soul?" should be very careful about accepting other peoples opinions such as yours and mine, because we can never know how another may experience their own soul or ours.
I do however really appreciate your opinion on this blog.
I created a website myself to enable people to answer this question through direct experience, because i believe that this is the only way to answer the question truthfully.
It is here What is a soul? and i hope you may take a look and consider the value of direct experience in all philosophies, for it is only here through experience, where theory may be validated...Or not?