Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Natural theology, natural science, and the philosophy of nature

Physicist Robert Oerter has added some further installments to his series of posts on my book The Last Superstition, including a reply to some of my criticisms of his criticisms of the book.  I will respond to his latest remarks in a forthcoming post, but before doing so it seemed to me that it would be useful to make some general remarks about certain misunderstandings that have not only cropped up in my exchange with Oerter and in the combox discussions it has generated, but which frequently arise in disputes about natural theology (and, for that matter, in disputes about natural law ethics and about the immateriality and immortality of the soul).  In particular, they tend to arise in disputes about what we might call classical natural theology -- natural theology grounded in philosophical premises deriving from the Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and/or Scholastic traditions.

To understand the arguments of classical natural theology -- arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways, for example -- you need to understand the difference between empirical science on the one hand and metaphysics and the philosophy of nature on the other.  And you need to understand how the attitudes that classical philosophers (Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, Thomists and other Scholastics) take toward these three fields of study differs from the attitudes common among modern philosophers (whether early modern philosophers like Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Co., or the average contemporary academic philosopher, who has -- often unreflectively -- inherited his basic philosophical assumptions from the early moderns).  For the arguments in question are grounded in the philosophy of nature (and in some cases in metaphysics) and not in natural science; and they are grounded in a classical rather than modern philosophical understanding of the three fields and their relationship to one another.  (I addressed this issue in a recent lecture which you can watch via YouTube.  What follows is some conceptual and historical background to what I said there.)

What is the philosophy of nature?

Metaphysics, as traditionally defined in Aristotelian philosophy, is “the science of being qua being.”  What that means is that it is not concerned merely with this or that kind of being, but with being as such, with what is true of anything whatsoever that does have or could have being.  Thus it is concerned with questions like:  What is it to be a substance?  What is an essence?  What is it to exist?  What is it to have quantity?  What is a quality?  What are universals and what is their relationship to particulars?  And so forth.  

Empirical science, as it is typically understood in modern times, studies material reality by developing quantitative models and testing them by observation and experiment.  That, at any rate, is the paradigm, which is why physics -- with its mathematical formulae, rigorous predictions and technological applications, and discovery of strict laws -- is commonly regarded as the gold standard of science.  

The philosophy of nature is a middle ground field of study, lying between metaphysics and empirical science.  Unlike metaphysics, it is not concerned with being as such, but with changeable, empirical reality in particular.  But neither is it concerned merely with the specific natures of the changeable, empirical things that happen to exist.  It is rather concerned with what must be true of any world of changeable, empirical things of the sort we might have scientific knowledge of, whatever their specific natures and thus whatever turn out to be the specific laws in terms of which they operate.  Nor is the philosophy of nature concerned merely with the quantitative aspects of material things, but with every aspect of their nature.  In Aristotelian philosophy of nature, these fundamental features of any possible empirical reality (or at least any sort we might have scientific knowledge of) include act and potency, substantial form and prime matter, efficient and final causality, and so forth.  (That is not to say that some of these concepts don’t also have broader metaphysical significance.  But the philosophy of nature approaches them from the point of view of the role they play in making sense of the empirical world, specifically.)

Now one immediate source of potential confusion is the fact that the terms in question are not used by all writers on these subjects in quite this way.  Contemporary analytic philosophers tend to use the term “metaphysics” in a broader sense that includes not only what Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophers would think of as “metaphysics,” but also questions that fall under the philosophy of nature.  For example, in contemporary analytic metaphysics one finds discussion of whether fundamental physical entities have essences in virtue of which they behave in the ways they characteristically do, whether there are categorical as well as dispositional properties in nature, whether dispositions posses a kind of “physical intentionality” or “natural intentionality” insofar as they are directed toward their typical manifestations, and so forth.  This is (even if not all the metaphysicians in question realize it) more or less a revival of Aristotelian and Scholastic notions like substantial form, act and potency, final causality, and the like.  And it often arises in contexts where what is at issue is how to interpret the results of modern physics.  Hence it really amounts to a revival of the philosophy of nature -- and is sometimes presented as such -- but is nevertheless commonly regarded as part of “metaphysics.”

Aristotelian writers, meanwhile, sometimes use terms like “science” and “physics” in a way that includes theses in the philosophy of nature.  This reflects the older, broader Aristotelian understanding of what it is to be a “science” and of what is included in the domain of “physics,” and is a perfectly defensible usage of the terms.  But it is so different from the way most people use the terms these days that it seems to me that clarity is better served by following the practice of more recent Aristotelian and Scholastic writers of letting “science” and “physics” retain more or less their current meanings, and then using “philosophy of nature” to cover the sorts of topics I cited as characteristic of that field of study.  

A further complicating factor is that much of what falls under the label “science” these days doesn’t really fit the physics paradigm, whatever people like Alex Rosenberg think.  Indeed, even some of what physicists themselves say is really philosophy rather than physics.  Thus, when physicists pronounce upon the nature of physical law, or causality, or the role of the observer in physical systems, they are really (in part) doing philosophy of nature, metaphysics, or epistemology rather than physics.  And when some contemporary scientists and philosophers of science suggest an “emergentist” or “non-reductive physicalist” interpretation of certain chemical, biological, or psychological phenomena, they are really rediscovering (albeit in an often piecemeal or inchoate way) Aristotelian notions like substantial form, immanent final causality, etc. -- and in the process rediscovering that natural phenomena cannot be exhaustively described in the quantitative terms characteristic of physics, but require for their analysis the conceptual tools provided by the philosophy of nature.  

Now if we nevertheless insist on counting these sorts of claims as part of “science,” then we are in effect returning to something like the older, broader Aristotelian sense of the term -- a sense that includes the sorts of theses I’ve characterized as part of the philosophy of nature.  If instead we go along with the modern conceit that something falls short of “real” science to the extent that it fails to conform to the mathematical and predictive techniques of physics and/or fails to be reducible to what physics tells us exists, then (the Aristotelian will argue) this entails that “science,” so defined, captures only certain aspects of material reality, and philosophy of nature captures the rest.

In any event, it is, as I have said, in premises drawn from the philosophy of nature (and in some cases in premises drawn from metaphysics), rather than in premises derived from science in the modern narrow sense, that the arguments of classical natural theology are grounded.  (The same thing is true, at least to a large extent, of arguments in classical natural law theory and in classical arguments regarding the existence and nature of the soul.  For example, Thomistic natural law theory is grounded in the idea that human beings have an essence in the sense of having an immanent nature or substantial form.  Hence, while discovering the details of human nature is something to which empirical science is relevant, the question of whether we have such a nature in the first place is not a question for empirical science, but a question for the philosophy of nature.  By the same token, since for the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, the human soul is the substantial form of a human being, and intellect and will are powers inherent in anything having such a form, human action -- and thus questions about free will -- can only properly be understood in terms of concepts derived from philosophy of nature.  And so forth.)

Classical versus modern philosophy

Early modern philosophy was defined more than anything else by its rejection of the Aristotelian-Scholastic apparatus of act and potency, substantial form and prime matter, final causality, etc. -- that is to say, by its rejection of the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy of nature.  Now in one sense, what the early moderns put in its place was an alternative, “mechanistic” philosophy of nature, central to which was the insistence that there is in the material world nothing like substantial forms or immanent natures and nothing like immanent or “built in” teleology.  But in another sense, precisely because this alternative philosophy of nature was essentially negative, defined only by the Aristotelian ideas it rejected rather than in terms of any positive content (or at least was entirely negative after earlier aspects of mechanism like push-pull causation were abandoned), the effect was that philosophy of nature as a field of study largely disappeared.  Empirical science came to be seen as giving us the whole truth about the material world rather than only the quantifiable aspects of material world.

Now the story is in fact more complicated than this.  Despite his hostility to Scholasticism, Descartes’ work is permeated with Scholastic ideas (albeit they are put to anti-Scholastic use).  Writers like Locke attempted to formulate, in a manner consistent with the new “mechanical philosophy,” something like the older Aristotelian-Scholastic idea that material objects have inherent powers.  Newton and others thought that extrinsic final causes -- teleology imposed on the world entirely from outside, by God -- were necessary for a complete account of the natural world.  But gradually these ghosts of the older Scholastic framework disappeared and the view that the material world as described by physics just is the material world full stop came to prevail.  There have, of course, always been dissenters who pointed out that this cannot be right -- that the abstract mathematical structure described by physics cannot be the whole story, since there needs to be some concrete reality to have this structure.  Idealists, process philosophers, and neutral monists would make diverse suggestions about the nature of this underlying reality -- seeking, in effect, a new philosophy of nature that would allow them to resist reductionism without returning to Aristotelianism.  And Neo-Scholastics would, of course, continue to uphold the Aristotelian position.  But materialists and their Cartesian opponents alike would come to treat natural science as if it gave us an exhaustive description of material reality.  And since materialism and Cartesianism came to seem the main alternatives in general metaphysics, the philosophy of nature as a field of study largely dropped off the radar screen.  

As this middle ground field of study virtually disappeared, metaphysics on the one hand and natural science on the other came to seem the only avenues of investigation of reality.  And metaphysics no less than science was transformed as a consequence of the abandonment of the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy of nature.  For Aristotelian metaphysics itself can be seen to be an outgrowth of the philosophy of nature.  Consider the theory of act and potency.  It originated as a response to the view of Parmenides and Zeno that change and multiplicity are illusions.  It is thus central to the Aristotelian account of how it is possible for there to be a world of diverse empirical, changing things susceptible of scientific study.  But these notions end up having a completely general application.  Being, the core notion of metaphysics, is inseparable from the notion of act or actuality.  Though metaphysics takes us well beyond the natural world, then, its concepts have a foundation in our empirical knowledge of that world -- to be sure, not necessarily in the knowledge of the specifics of the empirical world that natural science gives us, but in the knowledge of what must be true of any empirical world in general, which the philosophy of nature gives us.

But when this middle ground discipline was effectively abandoned, metaphysics could no longer be given such a foundation.  Moreover, general epistemology was bound to be transformed as well, since the epistemology of the Scholastics had also been grounded in Aristotelian concepts.  Empiricism and rationalism would fill the void, and radically alter not only epistemology, but metaphysics as well.  Now for the Aristotelian no less than for the empiricist, all of our concepts and all knowledge must ultimately derive from experience.  But for the Aristotelian, concepts are irreducible to images or phantasms, so that strictly intellectual activity, though grounded in sensation and imagination, ultimately outstrips sensation and imagination.  (To take a simple example, our concept of triangularity has a universality and determinacy that mental images and sensations cannot have.)  The modern empiricists, by contrast, denied that there is any difference in kind between intellectual activity on the one hand and sensation and imagination on the other.  (Hence to have the concept of triangularity came to be seen by them as a matter of associating a mental image of a triangle with the general term “triangle.”)  The history of empiricism from Locke to Hume is a history of the gradual drawing out of the implications of this conflation -- namely complete skepticism about the very possibility of metaphysical knowledge, or indeed any knowledge at all, since this would require the having of concepts that outstrip one’s immediate sensations and mental images.  (This remains true even if we interpret Hume as a kind of “skeptical realist.”  Realism might for Hume be part of common life, but it still has in his view no rational foundation, and its hold over us rests on a kind of animal faith.)  

Now the rationalists could see that intellectual activity cannot be reduced to sensation and imagination and that we have all sorts of concepts that cannot be accounted for on a modern empiricist epistemology.  But rather than grounding these concepts in empirical reality by reaffirming the older, richer Aristotelian understanding of the role of experience in concept formation, the rationalists divorced our key metaphysical concepts from empirical reality altogether.  Such notions were held to be a priori or even “innate.”  When the doctrine of innate ideas and the notion of a priori knowledge came to seem problematic, metaphysics came in turn to seem grounded in mere “conceptual analysis” or even in contingent linguistic usage.  Key metaphysical theses were thereby transformed and ultimately deflated.  For example, the Aristotelian-Scholastic principle of causality -- which is intended as a claim about objective reality -- was transformed into the rationalist “principle of sufficient reason” -- a so-called “law of thought,” in effect a description of our explanatory practices.  And to the extent that metaphysics came to seem little more than conceptual analysis or wordplay with no necessary connection to mind-independent or language-independent reality, the principle of sufficient reason came to seem lacking in any necessary application to the objective world -- an ungrounded insistence that the world meet our explanatory demands.  Kant’s critique of metaphysics was, naturally, the sequel.

Natural theology was also radically transformed as a result of these developments.  Since a thoroughgoing empiricism ultimately takes everything down with it -- natural science no less than metaphysics -- the empiricist tradition has tried to pull back from the Humean brink and modify its position in a way that will make room at least for science.  Accordingly, the broadly empiricist approach to natural theology has been to transform it into a kind of scientific theorizing, making of God a “hypothesis” “postulated” as the “best explanation” of this or that natural phenomenon -- Paley’s design argument being the best-known instance of this kind of “natural theology.”  Rationalists, by contrast, grounded natural theology in metaphysical rather than scientific premises, but where the metaphysical premises in question are purportedly a priori theses like the principle of sufficient reason -- Leibniz’s version of the cosmological argument being a well-known instance of this kind of natural theology.  Kant’s critique of natural theology, an extension of his critique of metaphysics, lay just around the corner.  

Most contemporary commentators on the issues we’re discussing, including most academic philosophers, think entirely inside the box constructed by the early moderns.  If you say that metaphysics provides knowledge that natural science cannot give us, they will assume that you must believe that such knowledge has no empirical foundation but derives instead from something called “conceptual analysis.”  If you say that there are solid arguments for the existence of God, they will assume that you must be committed either to something like Paley’s design argument or to some Leibnizian sort of cosmological or ontological argument.  If you respond that you are talking instead about (say) Aquinas’s Five Ways, they will assume that Aquinas was just giving arguments of the sort Paley, Leibniz, et al. gave.  And if you answer that the sorts of arguments you have in mind are grounded instead in the philosophy of nature, most of them will have no idea what you are talking about.  They simply do not realize how radical are the differences between classical and modern authors, and how contingent and open to challenge are the assumptions made by the latter.

Some common misunderstandings 

As I have indicated, ignorance of the distinction between natural science, metaphysics, and the philosophy of nature, and of the differences between the classical and modern conceptions of these three fields of study, underlies a number of common misconceptions about the arguments of classical natural theology.  Here are some of them:

1. Confusing questions in philosophy of nature with questions of empirical science

When Aristotelians maintain that any actualized potential must be actualized by something already actual (a version of the principle of causality), or that there are substantial forms, or that there are final causes immanent to material processes, they are not trying to answer the sorts of questions empirical science (in the modern, narrow sense discussed above) is trying to answer.  Empirical science seeks to uncover the physical causes that happen to exist, or the chemical structure of the material substances that happen to exist, or what have you.  The philosophy of nature is concerned with deeper questions -- for example, with what has to be true if there is to be any causality at all, or any material substances at all.  

Hence, when the Aristotelian says (for example) that natural objects must have substantial forms, he is not trying to give an explanation of the sort that the modern chemist is giving.  He is not claiming that we can say everything we need to know about opium simply by noting that whatever it does it does by virtue of its substantial form, and that no further chemical analysis is needed.  Rather, he is saying that, whatever the specific chemical details of opium (or water, or lead, or whatever) turn out to be, if these really are natural substances about which we can have scientific knowledge, then there must be some intrinsic principle that grounds the properties that chemistry uncovers and that gives them the regularity that chemistry shows them to have.  That is to say, it cannot be that a tendency toward such-and-such effects is to be found only in this or that sample of opium, but must derive from opium as such, from something common to any instance of opium; it cannot be that opium’s typical behavior derives from something extrinsic to it, but must be grounded in an inherent source; if it has causal properties that are irreducible to those of its parts, then there is a sense in which opium itself is irreducible to its parts; and so forth.  Naturally we still have to do chemical analysis in order to discover the specific means by which opium brings about its characteristic effects.  The Aristotelian does not deny this because he is not making a claim that is in competition with chemistry.  He is rather approaching the phenomenon from a different and more fundamental level of analysis, and asking a different sort of question about it.  (This is one reason Moliere-style “dormitive virtue” objections to substantial forms are puerile.  I have discussed that objection in more detail in The Last Superstition and Aquinas.)  

Thus, to raise considerations from physics, chemistry, biology, etc. as if they cast doubt on arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways is simply to make a fundamental category mistake.  For such arguments are not addressing the same sorts of questions addressed by natural science in the first place, but rest instead on premises derived from the philosophy of nature.  Nor is the point merely that empirical science is different from the philosophy of nature.  Natural science is less comprehensive and fundamental than the philosophy of nature.  Physics in particular confines itself to those aspects of material reality susceptible of rigorous prediction and control, and thus susceptible of mathematical modeling.  It deals with abstractions from concrete reality, not concrete reality itself.  It does not tell us anything about the deeper nature of the substances and processes that bear the mathematically definable properties it identifies.  But that deeper nature is precisely what the philosophy of nature is concerned with.  

This, as I have emphasized before, is the deep reason why considerations drawn from Newtonian mechanics or quantum theory simply do nothing to undermine arguments like Aquinas’s First Way, contrary to what Oerter and others suppose.  For physics does not give us anything close to a complete description of material reality in the first place.  Hence, that physics makes no reference to some principle affirmed in Aristotelian philosophy of nature is neither here nor there.  You might as well say: “There’s good reason to think that the scissors cannot be in any of the kitchen drawers.  Therefore the scissors are nowhere in the house.”

No doubt some will object that this makes arguments like Aquinas’s “unfalsifiable” or otherwise arbitrarily immune to criticism.  This is like saying that someone who insists on looking for the scissors in the rest of the house and who refuses to draw conclusions from what can be found in the kitchen drawers alone has thereby made his position unfalsifiable.  Obviously such a person’s position is not unfalsifiable; rather, the range of evidence that may or may not falsify it is simply larger than is supposed by someone who is fixated on the drawers.  Similarly, nothing I have said entails that the arguments of classical natural theology are not subject to rational evaluation or criticism.  The claim is rather that the kind of rational evaluation and criticism to which they are subject is not the sort typical of empirical science.

2. Confusing nonessential illustrations with crucial empirical claims

A related error is the confusion of examples that are intended merely to illustrate philosophical points with purported empirical evidence for those points.  For example, expositions of Thomistic arguments for the existence of God often make use of examples like that of a hand which is moving a stick in order to move a stone.  One point of such examples is to introduce the idea of instrumental causality, where an instrumental cause is one whose causal power derives from something outside it, as the stick derives its power to move the stone from the hand.  Another point of such examples is to introduce the idea that God is cause of the world not merely in the temporal sense of having gotten the universe going at some point billions of years ago, but in the deeper sense of keeping the universe going at every moment, just as the stick’s movement of the stone persists only insofar as it is itself kept moving by the hand.  

Now when a physicist illustrates a point he is making by asking us to imagine what we might experience if we fell into a black hole or rode on a beam of light, no one thinks it a clever response to point out that photons are too small to sit on or that we would have been ripped apart by gravity long before we made it into the black hole.  Such “objections” would completely miss the point.  But it would similarly miss the point to insist that Aquinas is refuted by the fact that there is a very slight time lag between the motion of a stick and that of a stone it is pushing (as one hostile reader of this blog used to point out obsessively a few years back, as if it were a fatal objection).  For nothing in Aquinas’s argument rides on the question of whether the motion of a stick and that of the stone it is pushing are strictly simultaneous, any more than it rides on a hand’s really being a “first” or non-instrumental cause in the relevant sense (which it obviously is not since the hand itself is moved by the arm).  The example is intended merely as an illustration to jog the reader’s understanding of abstract concepts like instrumental causality and conserving causality.  And as I have argued in several places, once the homely examples in question give us a grasp of these concepts, as well as of concepts like that of the actualization of a potency, we are on the way to seeing that even the sheer existence of a thing from moment to moment (never mind its local motion) requires a sustaining cause.  (For more on how properly to understand the causal claims made in arguments like the First Way, see this post, this post, and my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” which you can read online by doing a Google search and clicking “Quick View” on about the fourth search result.)  

A somewhat different but related point is that the falsification of certain specific applications of theses derived from the philosophy of nature does not falsify the theses themselves.  For instance, Aristotle held that the local motion of an object like a stone has the earth, specifically, as its natural end or terminus.  He was wrong about that, but that does not show that there are no final causes or natural ends, any more than the falsification of phlogiston theory shows that combustion and rusting don’t have a chemical explanation.  That there are, in general, final causes, substantial forms, etc. in the natural order is something the Aristotelian argues we can know from philosophical analysis.  But the specific details of the nature or finality of this or that particular substance or process is something that requires careful empirical study, and claims about such details are open to empirical scientific challenge.  (Compare: Most naturalists would agree, on philosophical grounds, that there must in general be something like laws of nature if empirical science is to be possible at all.  But it doesn’t follow that every specific claim about whether such-and-such is a law can be settled on general philosophical grounds, and it doesn’t follow that the falsification of such a claim shows that there are no laws after all.)

3. Reading modern philosophical assumptions back into classical writers

A third common error is to assume that the general philosophical assumptions underlying arguments in classical natural theology are the same as those made by modern writers.  As I have noted many times, reading Aquinas’s Fifth Way as if it were more or less the same as Paley’s design argument is a particularly egregious example of this error.  But it is also erroneous to assume that when classical writers like Aquinas talk about contingency and necessity, they are (like modern rationalist writers) appealing to what is “conceivable,” or to “possible worlds,” or to logical necessity.  And it is erroneous to assume that their versions of the cosmological argument rest on the “principle of sufficient reason,” if that is understood in Leibnizian rationalist fashion as a “law of thought.”  For the Scholastic principle of causality is a claim about objective reality itself -- not a claim about our explanatory practices, about how we do or even must think about objective reality (where the latter sort of claim opens modern cosmological arguments up to the Kantian critique).  

Again, classical writers would not accept the empiricist or rationalist assumptions that ultimately underlie modern arguments in natural theology -- assumptions that had their origin in the rejection of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature in which arguments like those of Aquinas are grounded.

4. Radically oversimplifying the notion of “cause”

A fourth common error is a corollary of the others.  The Scholastic tradition had worked out a complex and sophisticated theory of causation.  For the Scholastics, following Aristotle, there are the four basic kinds of cause: formal, material, efficient, and final.  In the realm of efficient causes there is the principle of causality, the principle of proportionate causality, the principle of proper causality, distinctions between primary causes and secondary or instrumental causes, essentially ordered causes and accidentally ordered causes, total and partial causes, concurrent causes, sustaining causes, and so on.  Efficient causes were also taken to presuppose final causes, and final causes were in turn essentially connected to substantial forms (and thus to formal causes, which in turn were instantiated in matter and thus required material causes).  Now the moderns gradually chucked out almost all of this nuance -- which, despite its complexity, is really just a systematic articulation of common sense thinking about causation -- as they unpacked the implications of their anti-Aristotelian revolution.  By the time of Hume, little was left except the notion that causation involves some kind of necessary connection between temporally separated events, but where the “necessary connection” aspect was something for which it was hard to find an objective basis.  (See Kenneth Clatterbaugh’s The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy 1637-1739 for a useful account of this gradual desiccation of the notion of cause.)  

In physics too the notion of cause was reduced more or less to the vanishing point -- to something like the law-like correlation between temporally separated factors A and B, where the causality of A per se is irrelevant and the law-like correlation is really all that matters.  Of course, that it is law-like seems to suggest some kind of inherent connection between A and B, but Humean empiricist arguments together with the replacement of law-like correlations with statistical ones effectively undermined the appearance of such a connection, so that causality itself seemed to recede like a will-o’-the-wisp.  

Now, if you start with the moderns’ desiccated notion of “cause” and buy Hume’s empiricist presuppositions and/or the scientistic claim that physics gives us the whole story about material reality, then the causal claims made in arguments like Aquinas’s can seem shaky at best.  But there is (so the classical philosopher will argue) no good reason to accept any of those presuppositions.  And in any event, merely to presuppose them simply begs the question against Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy of nature, and thus begs the question against any argument grounded in that philosophy of nature, as Aquinas’s arguments are.

5. Begging the question in favor of scientism

New Atheist types tend to be very impatient with remarks of the sort I’ve been making.  They’ve absolutely fallen in love with the “Science has refuted religion” meme and don’t appreciate being shown how superficial and ill-informed it is.  As a consequence their tendency is to double down on the snark while just repeating yet again the very assertions that have been called into question.  “Science has refuted theism, and that’s that, and don’t bother me with all this philosophy BS, and nothing in this long-winded exercise in medieval nostalgia shows that your sky daddy exists and nyah nyah nyah I’m not listening anyway even though I find myself posting obsessively in your combox…”

Still, it is worth emphasizing for atheists of good will that it simply will not do to appeal to some further specific finding of modern science, or to the predictive and technological successes of science in general, or to what most contemporary academic philosophers happen to think.  All of this simply begs the question, for the reasons stated above.  And as I have argued many times (e.g. here, here, here, and here) there are in any event no good arguments for scientism and decisive arguments against it.

It also will not do to throw up one’s hands and retreat into agnosticism, declaring that even if science doesn’t answer every question, it is still the only intellectual enterprise worthy of attention since it is the only one that provides something close to definitive answers and consensus.  For one thing, this is like avoiding classes you know you won’t do well in and then appealing to your GPA as evidence of your superior intelligence.  As the esteemed Mike Flynn put it in a recent blog post:

[Francis Bacon’s] goal of “mastering and possessing” nature necessarily focused scientists on just those aspects of nature that could be predicted and controlled; and this required Descartes’ quantitative, mathematical approach.  Baconian science thus ensured that Nature would be “quantifiable, predictable, and controllable” by defining nature as quantifiable, predictable, and controllable. 

If you will allow to count as “scientific” only what is quantifiable, predictable, and controllable, then naturally -- and trivially -- science is going to be one long success story.  But this no more shows that the questions that fall through science’s methodological net are not worthy of attention than the fact that you’ve only taken courses you knew you would excel in shows that the other classes aren’t worth taking.

For another thing, the claim that questions susceptible of scientific investigation are the only ones worth investigating is itself not a scientific claim, but a philosophical claim, and thus one that requires a philosophical defense.  You cannot escape philosophy.  The only question is whether you will do it well or badly.  And if you pretend you are not doing it, or pretend that it is not worth doing, or refuse to familiarize yourself with its history and methods, you are going to do it badly.

144 comments:

Sean Robsville said...

The most 'greedily reductionist' form of scientism is 'computationalism' . It is based on three assumptions:

(1) The mind is identical to the brain.
(2) The brain is a purely physical system.
(3) All physical systems can be modelled, described and predicted by computer programs (Church-Turing thesis).

Conclusion: All mental activities, including questions in psychology, philosophy, theology, metaphysics etc, are reducible to problems in computer programming.

Arthur said...

Thanks, professor Feser. I'm interested in improving my understanding of what metaphysics is and your post has helped immensely.

BenYachov said...

Can we make this thread more about Prof Oerter's responses to Prof feser instead of letting it be hijacked by weird individuals who think Thomism is compatible with Panentheism?

monk68 said...

In terms of needed clarification within modern scientific and philosophical circles, I think this is possibly THE most needful article you have ever written.

goddinpotty said...

That is to say, it cannot be that a tendency toward such-and-such effects is to be found only in this or that sample of opium, but must derive from opium as such, from something common to any instance of opium; it cannot be that opium’s typical behavior derives from something extrinsic to it, but must be grounded in an inherent source; if it has causal properties that are irreducible to those of its parts, then there is a sense in which opium itself is irreducible to its parts; and so forth.

This mixes together many different things, some of them right and some of them wrong:

- yes, any sample of opium should have the same properties, insofar as it is chemically pure.

- the behavior of opium obviously does depend on something extrinsic to it, namely, the neural receptors that it acts on.

- the causal properties of opium are a function of the configuration of its atoms and the corresponding configuration of the above receptors. Is that "irreducible"? Depends what you mean. The parts of an opium molecule will not have the same effect as the whole molecule; but the configuration is wholly dependent on the mechanical properties of the component atoms; there is nothing magical or mysterious about it.

If "substantial forms" is exactly equivalent to chemical configurations, well, OK, then there is nothing to argue about, but I don't see that the concept of substantial forms brings anything insightful to the table.

Naturally we still have to do chemical analysis in order to discover the specific means by which opium brings about its characteristic effects. The Aristotelian does not deny this because he is not making a claim that is in competition with chemistry. He is rather approaching the phenomenon from a different and more fundamental level of analysis, and asking a different sort of question about it.

OK, so you aren't competing with chemistry. That's good. But I fail to see in which this substance-talk and essence-talk is "a more fundamental level of analysis". More fundamental in what sense?

Sean Robsville said...

@ goddinpotty.
I tend to agree that 'substantial forms' adds nothing to our understanding of opium that isn't more adequately dealt with by chemical topology

And as for why the molecule has that specific topology, we need to consider the raison d'etre of secondary metabolites , which is more a question of why and how a key should fit a lock, than form 'in itself'.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks very much for this piece. I'll confine my remarks to the level of metaphysics. As I understand it, the Aristotelian-Thomistic argument from motion, when pared down to its bare essentials, goes like this:

(1) Change involves something which is potentially F becoming actually F.

(2) But a thing's becoming actually F cannot be explained merely by its being potentially F. [For is it were, then anything which was potentially F would ipso facto be actually F, and then there would be no change.]

(3) Therefore a thing's becoming actually F must be explained by something more than its being potentially F. This could be:

(i) the thing's possessing some additional potential property;

(ii) the thing's possessing some additional actual property;

(iii) some other thing's possessing some potential property, which makes the first thing become actually F; or

(iv) some other thing's possessing some actual property, which makes the first thing become actually F.

(4) We can eliminate (i) as postulating an additional potential property in the thing still fails to explain why that thing, which was potentially F, becomes actually F.

(5) We can eliminate (iii) for the same reason.

(6) We can eliminate (ii) because if a thing's becoming actually F is explained by its being actually G, then everything which is G and potentially F should already be actually F, and then there would be no change.

(7) That leaves us with (iv): a thing's becoming actually F must be explained by some other thing's being actually G, and thereby causing the first thing to go from being potentially F to actually F.

(8) In the process of causing the first thing to do that, the other thing (which causes the change) either itself needs to undergo change or it does not.

(9) The former cannot be necessarily the case for all causes of change, for if it were, then we would have an infinite regress of explanations, which is no explanation at all. (You can have an infinite regress of [per accidens] conditions, but not of [per se] explanations.)

(10) Hence we are compelled to ultimately postulate an Ultimate cause of change, which does not need to undergo any change when it causes other things to change. Such a Cause must be timeless.

I have a problem with step (6).

I think step (6) works only if the predicates used (e.g. F, G) are predicates which make no reference to time. Some predicates are like this: "red" for instance. Others are not: "moving east at 25 km/h" for instance. If I'm actually at point P at time t, and I'm actually moving at 25 km/h, then in the absence of interference, there is no mystery in the fact that four hours later, I'm at a point Q, 100 km east of P.

Generalizing: if some of the actual properties of a thing describe constant rates of change of other properties of that thing, then the fact that the change takes place over time and doesn't happen instantly is no longer a mystery. To explain why the change happens NOW and not earlier or later, we need only know the prior state of that thing at time t, and its intrinsic rate of change.

Thus, for instance, if a sample of radioactive material contains N radioactive atoms, and if it is a basic property (specifically, a time-dependent actual property) of that sample that half of the atoms decompose after 100 years , then this is enough to explain why, when we come back 100 years later, half have decomposed. No additional outside cause need be postulated.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this one, Ed. Thanks.

TheOFloinn said...

a) I wouldn't mind a future post on the taxonomy of causation. I'm acquainted with some of it, but perhaps not the big picture. As someone familiar with fault trees and failure modes and effects analysis as used in engineering design, I have seen some of the complexity of causal chains running through AND gates or with enabler-and-trigger. I suspect this is something like "partial cause."

b) I would imagine that if Betsy were investigating the structure of gloop, the knowledge that gloop has a structure would be more fundamental. Not that Betsy needs to know this to do her job, any more than a pet store owner needs to know Darwinian theory. But it is always amusing to see someone who denies X while simultaneously relying upon X questioning whether X is more fundamental!

Michael Brazier said...

GIP: the philosophy of nature is more fundamental than empirical research because, to draw sound conclusions from empirical data, it's necessary to assume some propositions that belong to the philosophy of nature. For instance, that two samples of opium have something in common, and that this common factor is relevant to the results of a human ingesting them, is not discovered by chemical analysis of one sample; the analyst assumes such a common factor exists and matters, and studies samples to discover what it might be. If that assumption isn't sound, no empirical studies would prove anything about opium in general. (Which is what David Hume said, regarding scientific laws in general.)

David T said...

Natural philosophy can be difficult to grasp for the paradoxical reason that it is so evident we often look past it. Especially when we are scientifically minded, we are in a hurry to get to the science so we fall into the habit of skipping past the assumptions that make science possible, or perhaps even come to think that science works without any assumptions at all.

I think this is shown in the comments of godinpotty and sean. And when a glimmer of the true subject of natural philosophy is eventually gained, the reaction is often incredulity: This is all you are talking about?? Natural philosophy seems trivial because we are so used to it being merely an unspoken foundation to the empirical sciences, that we can't conceive that it can articulate valuable truths in its own right. But it can, and this aspect of natural philosophy is what has been largely lost to the modern intellect, and which Prof. Feser seems to be in the business of recovering.

For instance, take chemical topology. As Prof. Feser notes, it's the business of empirical science to determine the specifics of any particular substance's chemical configuration. But that substances must have some particular structure, whatever that is, is a matter of natural philosophy, and it is no trivial conclusion. Nor is it a trivial conclusion that these structures don't spontaneously change themselves from one moment to the next, but endure until they change through some intelligible cause. Both these principles are necessary for chemistry, and there have been philosophies of nature that have denied them (e.g. Heraclitus).

Now one doesn't need to dwell on these principles to do chemistry. One can assume them, even unconsciously through cultural conditioning, and get on just fine as a chemist. But, as Prof. Feser says, it's simply missing the point to think that any particular conclusions from chemistry can challenge them, or that any particular conclusions from chemistry can substitute for them.

Glenn said...

But it is always amusing to see someone who denies X while simultaneously relying upon X questioning whether X is more fundamental!

Indeed, indeed.

Let "him" = "deny X", let "me" = "rely on X", let "she" = "the wanna-be me that really wants to see", and let me apologize to Rupert Holmes.

Over by the window, there's a pack of cigarettes
Not my brand, you understand, sometimes the girl forgets
She forgets to hide them, I know who left those smokes behind
She'll say, OH he's just a friend
And I'll saw, OH i'm not blind to
Him, him, him

What's she gonna do about him
She's gonna have to do without him
Or do without
Me, me, me

'natch I speak appropriately
I'm just a Humpty Dumpty
Who one day may
See see see (that)

No one gets to get it for free
It's me or it's him



(Sorry. The goings on here sometimes are truly hilarious, and I apologize for letting it get the better of me.)

goddinpotty said...

@David T -- that there are enough regularities in the natural world that we can make scientific theories about it is indeed interesting, and is perhaps a better subject for metaphysics or natural philosophy than for science itself.

However, there are plenty of treatments of this question coming from the science side (eg the idea of anthropic selection among multiple universes). Whatever you think of these theories, they at least say something new. As you yourself say, the Feserian version of natural philosophy seems trivial because it is already baked into our thinking.

Un-baking those concepts also seems like a valid goal for philosophy, but Feser and Aristotle just seem to be putting a gloss of fancy words on everyday concepts, which are often misleading or outright wrong. Whereas science can employ mathematics to offer up some truly novel perspectives.

this day in goddinpottery said...

goddinpotty said… If "substantial forms" is exactly equivalent to chemical configurations, well, OK, then there is nothing to argue about, but I don't see that the concept of substantial forms brings anything insightful to the table.
That's good. But I fail to see in which this substance-talk and essence-talk is "a more fundamental level of analysis". More fundamental in what sense?


SUMMARY:
"You're right, that is an essential part of the explanation, I just don't see any point to it. By the way, what are we talking about??"

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I scantily heard of this "philosophy of nature" but I don't think Socrates or Plato would make that distinction separate from metaphysics.

My question is "Where does the Ancient concept of the Natural Law or Laws of Nature, i.e. Macrocosm/Microcosm, righteousness, Teleology, form, structure, The Golden Mean, etc, fall under? Is the Natural Law/Laws of Nature metaphysics? Philosophy of Nature? or just plain ol' philosophy?

Is not Righteousness, Metaphysics?

I am interested where this is catalogued. For me, the Natural Law, Laws of Nature of the Dorians is Metaphysics, Right?

David T said...

GIP,

I said it seems trivial, not that it is trivial. And if you still think that empirical science is a competitor to natural philosophy, you aren't getting it.

Edward Feser said...

Hello all, I will try to get to the substantive questions as I can. But since threadjacking has become a problem of late, let me warn anyone who needs to be warned that logorrheic discourses on the "real, original natural law," or Buddhist semantics, or any other theme irrelevant to the main post will be deleted.

BeingItself said...

I have asked this over and over and nobody will give me a straight answer. My question is an epistemological one.

Feser says: "these fundamental features of any possible empirical reality (or at least any sort we might have scientific knowledge of) include act and potency, substantial form and prime matter, efficient and final causality, and so forth."

How does he know this?

Eduardo said...

perhaps because empirical is interpreted and interpretation is not empirical in nature but philosophical in nature.

I certain somebody said something like before to you didn't they>

Michael Brazier said...

However, there are plenty of treatments of this question coming from the science side (eg the idea of anthropic selection among multiple universes). Whatever you think of these theories, they at least say something new.

No, anthropic arguments don't deal with philosophical questions; at least, the valid uses of the anthropic principle don't. A valid anthropic argument is strictly empirical - given that humanity exists and that physical laws are as we currently believe them to be, it follows that certain other things (which can be measured by experiments) must be true. Anthropic arguments can't rule out occasionalism or Humean skepticism; according to those philosophical positions, the existence of humanity implies nothing about the rest of the universe, for under them literally anything is possible. So using the anthropic principle as a basis for natural philosophy can't be valid; it's as wrong as trying to make a philosophy out of gravity or evolution.

monk68 said...

BeingItself,

The same way Aristotle did, through direct sense experience of the world of changable things. Things change, yet remain identifiable as in some sense the *same* "things" across or through the change. Its as simple as starting with this one fact and systematically fleshing out what must be the case in order for this experiential reality to be made intelligible to us. The entire conceptual edifice of the philosophy of nature (PON) can be developed from this starting point and ultimately utilized to prove both the existence of an immaterial First Cause as well as the immateriality of the soul. Such proofs entail that the totality of what exists is not exhausted by material, changable being. Hence, metaphysics proper can in turn analogically extend the truths and concepts accumulated within PON to all known modes of being. - but go read Aristotle, he truly builds from the ground up - no a priori BS.

Pax

Edward Feser said...

BI,

The short answer is that the theory of act and potency is necessary to make sense of the very possibility of change -- as I mentioned, it was developed by Aristotle in response to Parmenides and Zeno. Substantial form and prime matter are act and potency applied to material substances in particular (since the notions of act and potency are more general and apply to any possible substance, including immaterial substances if there are any). Final causality follows from act and potency insofar as a potency is always a potency for (and thus directed toward) a certain way or range of ways of being actual. Etc.

To reject the theory of act and potency is inevitably to return to something like a Parmenidean view of the universe (e.g. the contemporary suggestion that temporal becoming is an illusion and that what really exists is a four-dimensional block universe -- as Popper noted, this just makes Einstein into Parmenides). But no Parmenidean view is coherent. Change can never be entirely eliminated, but only shuffled around. If you deny it really exists in the mind-independent world, you've still got to deal with it in the mind itself. If you deny it exists even there, you've got to show how that very suggestion is coherent -- which is impossible because the very act involves going though a chain of reasoning, trying to convince someone (even if only yourself) that change is illusory, etc. -- all of which involves change.

And so forth. Again, that's the short answer.

BTW, you might get answers to your questions more frequently if there were more solid evidence that it is worth responding to you. Judging from the snotty and (to put it very charitably) inaccurate things I see you've been saying in Oerter's combox, I'm not sure I didn't just waste my time.

goddinpotty said...

@Michael Brazier (and I hope this isn't threadjacking) -- I don't know what you mean by "proper", but anthropic arguments generally are outside the bounds of normal science and start to trespass on metaphysics. Eg -- they posit that all possible universes exist, but of course only those that support intelligent life are observable. And for us, only our single universe is observable, so there is no way to prove or disprove such a theory by observation, so it is not within the normal bounds of science, but hovers around the borderlands between physics and metaphysics.

TheOFloinn said...

so it [multiverse theory] is not within the normal bounds of science, but hovers around the borderlands between physics and metaphysics.

It is not being unprovable-by-science that marks the border between physics and metaphysics. (If anything, that border is marked by mathematics.) There are scads of things that are not within the normal bounds of science and which are not metaphysics: music, sport, jurisprudence, art, etc. In fact, I suspect that there are elements of physics that lie beyond the bounds of physics -- as restricted to the metric properties of material bodies. "Red," for instance, as opposed to wavelengths of light or optic neurons.

BeingItself said...

Dr Feser,

So suddenly you're worried about tone? TLS was dripping with juvenile snot. But you won't catch me whining about it.

"act and potency is necessary to make sense of the very possibility of change"

Not much of an answer; but as you say that's the short version.

Monk,

"The same way Aristotle did, through direct sense experience of the world of changable things."

Well that's a better answer. But then it opens up the argument to refutation by further experience. Things change. Sometimes by other things, sometimes on their own. Seems to me that observation is fatal to the argument from change.

But we cannot blame Aristotle or Aquinas for not knowing about electron transitions.

Eduardo said...

???

What ... come again?

Electron transition is a form of change but if you see something change itself therefore act and potency is wrong ???

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> No doubt some will object that this makes arguments like Aquinas’s “unfalsifiable” or otherwise arbitrarily immune to criticism. <

That's exactly what it sounds like.

Aquinas is making a claim. He is claiming that a nonphysical, uncaused cause is the primary cause of all secondary causes. This necessarily implies physical indeterminism. If this were not the case, then Aquinas doesn't have any argument.

Quantum mechanics (according to the standard interpretation) holds that nature is physically indeterminate, that all matter (mass/energy) reduces to and spontaneously emerges (uncaused) from a nonlocal field of infinite potentiality. It is incumbent on you to explain to us what is the ACTUALITY that is actualizing this POTENTIALITY.

"Are virtual particles really constantly popping in and out of existence?"

Edward Feser said...

BeingItself,

Nah, tone doesn't much bother me if someone at least bothers to represent my views correctly. Which you didn't, over at Oerter's blog. Which was my point.

As to what I said "not being much of an answer" -- well, when you've given any evidence (a) that you understand the Aristotelian theory of act and potency and how it is intended to respond to the problems raised by Parmenides and Zeno, and (b) that you have some serious criticisms of it (as opposed to yet more sophomoric snark), then I might revise my judgment that responding to you really was what I knew it would be: a waste of time.

Alan Aversa said...

Excellent clarification of terms :)
Thanks

David T said...

BI,

Well that's a better answer. But then it opens up the argument to refutation by further experience. Things change. Sometimes by other things, sometimes on their own. Seems to me that observation is fatal to the argument from change

I wonder how science is possible under this view. How do you know any instance of change isn't an instance of "changing on its own" rather than "change by another?" I see a cube of ice in my freezer last night before I go to bed. This morning, I see a flat sheet of ice in the freezer instead of a cube. I speculate that there was a power loss overnight and the cube melted and then re-froze.

But how do I know this isn't just an instance of something "changing on its own?" You reply that we know from prior experience that ice doesn't change on its own but requires a change in temperature. But this assumes a philosophy of nature that holds the nature of ice is stable over time, and that ice will behave tomorrow the same way we saw it behave yesterday. Since I have no evidence of an overnight power loss (nothing else melted and refroze in the freezer), I claim this is an example of empirical evidence falsifying your philosophy of nature. Sometimes things just change on their own, even if they never did so in the past.

Furthermore, I claim that all prior instances of heat melting ice may have been coincidence and are merely illusions of causation. It just happened by chance that heat was around everytime ice melted. There are an infinite number of possible universes, and we just happen to be in one of those where heat is around when ice melts - except in the case of my refrigerator last night.

I would be interested if you could come up with a non-question begging, purely empirical rubric for distinguishing "change by itself" from "change by another." I'm pretty sure it can't be done, but I'm open to the possibility.

Eduardo said...

Dr as I read the article very carefully, I had all sorts of dejavu's; this semester is very interesting because I have a teacher who loves discussong ideas but if you listen to him long enough, he pretty much split things in materialism or Descartes idea's. Reading the post was lime a picture of the thinking of many people I have met before.

By the way Potty didn't got the post hahahhahhaha oh Potty boy. Needless to say I don't fare any better than Potty in this subject.

But for instance, does metaphysics necessarily depends ona analysis of all possible "worlds" or can we go about it some other way???

BeingItself said...

David T,

Scientific conclusions are tentative and scientific theories are underdetermined. Yet scientists slog ahead nonetheless.

David T said...

BI,

OK, you won't accept my challenge. Then I'll just ask a question.

Things change. Sometimes by other things, sometimes on their own

Is this conclusion scientific?
Is this conclusion tentative?

Lamont said...

Several comments have made the point that some types of change do not require an extrinsic agent to produce them. Radioactive decay is an example given by Vincent Torley. It is only a change that involves a movement from potency to act that requires a source for that actuality that can be traced back to that which is pure act and the ultimate source of all actuality.

Decomposition, death, and decay are examples of change that can occur as a result of internal processes. No external agent is necessary. Any composite being and breakdown and cease to exist.

Anonymous said...

"Empirical science, as it is typically understood in modern times, studies material reality by developing quantitative models and testing them by observation and experiment."


How does this apply to chemistry and biology? Many, many discoveries in chemistry and biology involved no mathematics whatsoever.

Eduardo said...

quantifiable is not necessarily mathematical. For instance I say that I have better chances than you to jump a certain gap on the street.

Now perhaps I am just taller and stronger, so it is expected that I will have a better chance, however none of what I said is mathematical in nature, I don't know and maybe you don't know how big this chance is. But it is quantifiable, is something I can describe as being a quantifiable characteristic.

Ray Ingles said...

Lamont - Decomposition, death, and decay are examples of change that can occur as a result of internal processes. No external agent is necessary. Any composite being and breakdown and cease to exist.

Well, actually, in TLS Feser states that there must be some cause of even atomic decay, otherwise there would be no reason the decay happened at that time rather than some other time.

Of course, many people who actually study QM seem to think that there really is no reason why an atom decays at a particular time.

Eduardo said...

Define reason for an event.

If reason for an event is a extra particle. than most likely there is no reason for decays to happen.

If reason is a past state of some sort that "always" happens before that event; then we do have a reason for decay, it is the problem of the stability of the atom.

If reason is some mechanism internal or that is "everywhere", perhaps the reason is some random internal or intrinsec mechanism or some Transcedent mechanism !!! or as Alastair like to put... it could be G*d actualizing these particular events.

u_u it could also be a sign of conscience inthe quantum level, yeah you people heard that before, it is possible XD.


Overall all you need in order to keep QM intact is to make sure the Wave function won't change for that particular system. Don't know exactly what nuances rise in decay scenarios though. * you see that is why Oerter said that no physical entity could be the cause because a physical entity would change the wave function ... at lesat in principle it should. *

BeingItself said...

David T,

Your challenge was unreasonable. Unpacking your scatter-shot post shows you want me to solve a host of problems nobody has been able to solve for thousands of years.

"Is this conclusion scientific?"

Sure. But it has some philosophical assumptions built in.

"Is this conclusion tentative?"

Of course.

What's next? You want me to define precisely what 'scientific' means? Well, I can't do that either.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Ray Ingles

> Well, actually, in TLS Feser states that there must be some cause of even atomic decay, otherwise there would be no reason the decay happened at that time rather than some other time. <

Can you furnish us with the exact quote in TLS where Feser states that?

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> If you deny it really exists in the mind-independent world, you've still got to deal with it in the mind itself. If you deny it exists even there, you've got to show how that very suggestion is coherent -- which is impossible because the very act involves going though a chain of reasoning, trying to convince someone (even if only yourself) that change is illusory, etc. -- all of which involves change. <

Question:

Does God have the capacity to go through a "chain of reasoning?" If so, does that involve change?

Alastair F. Paisley said...

Just FYI. Science is still called "natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature" at Oxford University.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

Science (natural or physical) employs efficient causation. Although formal causation is being employed under the guise of "in-formation" in "digital physics." Also, it can be argued that biology employs final causation by virtue of the fact that biologists can't distinguish between teleonomy and teleology. But biology is not actually classified as a natural or physical science.

Eduardo said...

Alastair ... is that true? Biology is not a natural Science ??? XD

if it is so u_u... that would be really damn funny.

Eduardo said...

By the way I think I have to add this. Correct if I am wrong, but it seems that some people are having a bit of a problem with Form. yeah it is you Sean and Potty; I understand you want the specific form that creates certain feature, but the conversation is not about the elements of the group but the group itself.

And secooonddd... you people are in a sense being off topic, unwantedly I suppose. Your criticism seems to go like:

Given a group A with a number of elements in it, a conversation breaks between the critics and the Feserites * yeah the name is funny xD *

"Okay The element A-121 is the correct answer for this problem/question, however the group A means nothing, it helps me in nothing; but element A-121 does."

"Alright, you do realise that you ARE talking about group A, a ELEMENT WITHIN group A."

"Sure but knowing the group means nothing, you need the element if an idea is to have any worth."

"Well we are not talking the elements, we are talking about the groups here, the elements are no doubt important, but they are not the subject here."

"Still I don't see the use for A... U_U it is worthless!"

"... I give the fuck up..."

---------------------------------

Hope this has illustrated that ... yeah your point has some importance to it, but it is not the topic of the discussion at all. At least that is what I got so far from seeing it all.

Syphax said...

I still think that the numerous thread-jacks lately are a result of 1) a website that is increasing in visibility, and 2) the forced linear nature of blog commenting. An adjoining message board (like the forum at Reasonable Faith) would be far better at incorporating multiple lines of argument/thinking/discussion around Feser's posts. Of course, this post itself is not on-topic, but I thought I'd put that out there.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Eduardo

> Alastair ... is that true? Biology is not a natural Science ??? XD <

Biology (a life science) is not considered a natural or physical science in academia.

"Physical science – encompasses the branches of natural science and science that study non-living systems, in contrast to the life sciences"

(source: Wikipedia: Outline of physical science)

Science is basically divided into two categories: the physical sciences (e.g. physics and chemistry) and the social sciences (e.g. psychology and sociology). Biology falls somewhere in between these two. Of course, there is some overlap. (Human beings are biological organisms.)

TheOFloinn said...

Aquinas is making a claim ... that a nonphysical, uncaused cause is the primary cause of all secondary causes. This necessarily implies physical indeterminism...

Quantum mechanics (according to the standard interpretation) holds that nature is physically indeterminate,


This would bear out what you claim is the result of Thomism. Actually, the metaphysics implies nothing about indeterminism or determinism, whatever those may mean.

However, it is not quantum mechanics that "holds" this. It is one of the several quantum theories that tries to explain the mechanics: the Copenhagen interpretation vs. "many worlds," "standing wave," "transactional," and even a Thomist quantum theory! In natural science, there is a difference between facts, laws, and physical theories. And as one physicist put it, when a theory results in paradoxes, that is nature's way of telling you the theory is wrong.

the standard interpretation... holds that ... all matter (mass/energy) reduces to and spontaneously emerges (uncaused) from a nonlocal field of infinite potentiality.

It is not clear that this nonlocal field is actually Aristotle's prime matter, as you assert, from which things are actualized (by the will of God???) "Spontaneity" is not the same thing as "uncaused." It may or may not be the same thing as "we don't yet know the cause" because our theory lets us see nothing but deferents, equants, and epicycles.

It is incumbent on you to explain to us what is the ACTUALITY that is actualizing this POTENTIALITY.

Actually [pun intended] this is the job of physics. Heisenberg thought it was actualized by the act of observation. (Ol' Werber belonged to the last generation of physicists to be versed in philosophy. Curiously, he also belonged to the last generation of great physicists.)

Eduardo said...

@Alastair

Wow, I ... I would never have thought about it, I mean I never even imagined that natural Sciences excluded the Life sciences XD.

That is interesting.

Ross said...

Anon: ""Empirical science, as it is typically understood in modern times, studies material reality by developing quantitative models and testing them by observation and experiment."


How does this apply to chemistry and biology? Many, many discoveries in chemistry and biology involved no mathematics whatsoever."


Dr. Feser, I also have the same question as Anon. As a chemistry major, I was explicitly taught that chemistry is sometimes a quantitative science and is, at other times, a qualitative science (and often its both). The latter answering the question "What is there?", whereas the other giving an answer to "How much is there?"

It certainly seems to be the case that the idea of a "qualitative science" (e.g. many fields of chemistry and biology) would undermine Dr.Feser's given definition of empirical science.

TheOFloinn said...

"Empirical science, as it is typically understood in modern times, studies material reality by developing quantitative models and testing them by observation and experiment."

How does this apply to chemistry and biology? Many, many discoveries in chemistry and biology involved no mathematics whatsoever.


By the standards of the Scientific Revolution, one element of which was the privileging of mathematics as the discourse of science, these things are therefore less Scientific™. One history of science noted that the farther one got from the physics of local motion, the less the science resembled the Great Paradigm of Science. The methods developed to deal with motion worked really well in other parts of physics, darned good in chemistry (where, yes, mathematical models are used), somewhat in biology (esp. biophysics and biochemistry, like genetics), and not at all in the social sciences. A great deal depends on whether the object of study has a mind of its own.

Discoveries are often made by chance and intuition. Maxwell had his theory before he had his laws. But chance discoveries are not Science™.

goddinpotty said...

@syphax and @feser -- yes, I think the linear comments are not a good match for the discussion here.

You should think about enabling a third-party comment system that allows for tree-structured conversations, like Disqus. Then people can argue a single point to death in their own part of the conversation without it impacting everybody else.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous and Ross,

Don't forget, immediately after characterizing empirical science that way, I wrote:

"That, at any rate, is the paradigm, which is why physics -- with its mathematical formulae, rigorous predictions and technological applications, and discovery of strict laws -- is commonly regarded as the gold standard of science." [emphasis added]

And I also went on a few paragraphs later to write:

"A further complicating factor is that much of what falls under the label 'science' these days doesn’t really fit the physics paradigm, whatever people like Alex Rosenberg think."

And I said that if we insist on counting what is not reducible to physics and/or what doesn't fit the methodology of physics as nevertheless genuine science, then we would in effect be returning to the broader, Aristotelian conception of science (where I explicitly said that that broader conception of what counts as "science" is perfectly defensible).

So no, I don't myself endorse the model of science I'm referring to, and I don't for a moment really think that neuroscience, biology, chemistry, etc. really fit that model. My point was just that even one did (for the sake of argument) endorse it, the points I am making in the post could still be made by relocating whatever doesn't fit the physics paradigm to philosophy of nature. The aim was to acknowledge that there is a terminological issue here while insisting that we need not settle it in order to recognize that there are aspects of nature that the physics model doesn't capture.

Michael Brazier said...

I don't know what you mean by "proper", but anthropic arguments generally are outside the bounds of normal science and start to trespass on metaphysics. Eg -- they posit that all possible universes exist, but of course only those that support intelligent life are observable.

That's not an argument, it's a speculation. If you're thinking of statements made in some physics papers that the physical constants which appear in the Standard Model, and whose values we know only from experiments, have the values they do "because of the anthropic principle" - well, those statements are on the same intellectual level as the "dormitive virtue" explanation for the properties of opium; that is, they are true enough, but nowhere near being an explanation.

Regarding QM: that theory makes two assertions. First, when a system of quantum particles is not measured, its state evolves deterministically according to a differential equation; second, when such a system is measured, its state jumps to one of a spectrum of successor states, choosing among them at random. But nothing in the theory explains what measurements are, or why they occur. On that subject, all that is known is that measurements occur only when a particle in the system interacts with something that is not in the system, or when it could have so interacted but provably did not. The "interpretations" of QM are attempts to account for measurement as a physical process.

Does this really cast doubt on an Aristotelian principle of causality? It is perfectly sensible, as far as I know, to say that a system of quantum particles changes only when it is measured, since its state when not measured is wholly predictable; the rule in Newtonian mechanics that movement at a constant velocity is not change is a precedent. But in that case whatever does the measuring is the cause of the quantum system's change, and by definition that cause is not part of the quantum system; that confirms Aristotle.

Atomic decay isn't an insuperable problem. Recall that not detecting a particle can be a measurement, if it's possible for the particle to appear. (Most of the weirdness of QM has its origin in the fact that events which might have happened, but didn't, sometimes have real effects.) So a radioactive atom placed next to a Geiger counter is, in a very real sense, being measured constantly - just as much when the counter does not detect anything as when it does. If measurement is change, then the Geiger counter is constantly changing the atom, and thus is the cause of the atom's decay.

kuartus4 said...

I wonder, where does the philosophy of physics and in general the philosophy of science fall in between the scheme of metaphysics and philosophy of nature?
Just wondering.

kuartus4 said...

Also, where does the discussion on the topic of the laws of nature belong? Is that also philosophy of nature? Im just curious thats all.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ TheOFloinn

> This would bear out what you claim is the result of Thomism. Actually, the metaphysics implies nothing about indeterminism or determinism, whatever those may mean. <

Merriam-Webster defines "indeterminism" as the "theory that holds that not every event has a cause."

Wikipedia defines "indeterminism" as the "concept that events (certain events, or events of certain types) are not caused, or not caused deterministically (cf. causality) by prior events. It is the opposite of determinism and related to chance."

Physical indeterminsm means that not every physical event has a physical cause. If God is the nonphyiscal cause of the physical universe, then every physical event (namely, the creation) does not have a physical cause. (This is not difficult.)

> However, it is not quantum mechanics that "holds" this. <

I clearly stated that this was the standard interpretation (a.k.a. the Copenhagen interpretation).

> And as one physicist put it, when a theory results in paradoxes, that is nature's way of telling you the theory is wrong. <

The paradox occurs only when you attempt to shoehorn it into a materialistic paradigm.

> It is not clear that this nonlocal field is actually Aristotle's prime matter, as you assert, from which things are actualized (by the will of God???) <

I never stated it was Aristotle's prime matter. I said it was a nonlocal field of infinite potentiality. (This is quantum field theory.)

> "Spontaneity" is not the same thing as "uncaused." <

It is in the context I employed the term.

> It is incumbent on you to explain to us what is the ACTUALITY that is actualizing this POTENTIALITY.

Actually [pun intended] this is the job of physics. Heisenberg thought it was actualized by the act of observation.
<

This is where physics ends and metaphysics begins.

"The essence of quantum randomness is simply this: identical physical situations give rise to different outcomes. Once you get down to the quantum randomness level, no further explanation is possible. You can't go any deeper because physics stops here."

(source: pg. 118, "Quantum Reality" Nick Herbert)

Kevin O'Brien said...

What a great post! Mr. Feser, I have read in the past few months perhaps twenty books by Fr. Stanley Jaki, who says pretty much what you say about Science and Philosophy, but this one post of yours has crystalized for me those twenty books and made lucid points that even Fr. Jaki got a bit entagled in.

reighley said...

@TheOFloinn,
"Heisenberg thought it was actualized by the act of observation."

I think this is a much better expression of the Heisenberg interpretation than saying "there is no cause". When someone brings quantum mechanics into a discussion of causality the upshot is not that causality has been refuted, but only that in real life, efficient causes are really strange.

Konoma said...

Dr.Feser: and thus questions about free will -- can only properly be understood in terms of concepts derived from philosophy of nature.


Doc, I'm confused here. Re: free will, take the case of neuroscience. Modern neuroscientists seem to be saying, "Look people, just as an active billiard table with bouncing billiard balls is clearly the stage of a wholly deterministic event (or, if qua Thomist, you don't like the word 'deterministic,' make do with the concept that 'any snapshot at any time of that physical drama was necessitated by some initial act acting on initial conditions'), we can now look at - and within - the entirety of the human body and conclude that our lives are much like the billiard event - an event that unfolds in every way according to the laws of physics."

Are they exaggerating their knowledge of the human body? I don't read peer-reviewed scientific papers, so I don't know. I believe they are, though, since our brain is frankly more complicated than the universe. But it does seem to be true that, in principle, some incredibly powerful empirical science in the future could prove free will to be false by simple, scrupulous, empirical observation and straightforward data collection/analysis, just as a scientist (or anyone really) could easily and merely look at and determine (by straightforward data analysis) that a billiard table with bouncing billiard balls is the stage of a wholly 'deterministic' event.


(I hope it does not, though, since I cannot imagine my life, human history, etc., without a belief in libertarian free will)

Anonymous said...

Again, Dr. Feser very recently wrote almost an entire post demonstrating why QM is irrelevant to the issue of causality. It must be frustrating for him to read comment after comment about QM from persons who do not appear to either have read it or understand what he wrote.

Fellow Thomists, please don't feed the trolls.

Vincent Torley said...

With the greatest respect, I really do feel that QM has relevance to the issue of causality. To see why, I'd invite readers to have a look at this non-technical article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_variable_theory

The last paragraph in the article, by the way, is highly contentious: I recently emailed a physicist who told me he didn't think Colbeck and Renner had proved what they set out to prove. But the issues they raise are nonetheless germane. If quantum events have causes, we can ask: are they local or non-local? There's no "third" possibility - unless you wish to invoke non-physical causes. If it turns out that there are events in the submicroscopic world which can only be explained by postulating such causes, well and good. But let's be up-front about it.

In my opinion, there should be a Thomist interpretation (or interpretations) of quantum mechanics. People who wish to be taken seriously in an argument have to first put themselves on the map. If quantum fluctuations have a cause, then it must be some kind of cause.

Re determinism: there is currently no scientific consensus on the issue. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretations_of_quantum_mechanics#Comparison

I'm also looking forward to reading Ed's response to my earlier question about the First Way.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Vincent. Did you read Dr. Feser's posts in reply to Oerter? The post dated May 14th is the most recent one. Whether you have or haven't, you really should engage what he's written and explain why he is mistaken before you insist on QM's relevance.

Regards.

Anonymous said...

Correction: Dr. Feser's latest post on QM is May 20th.

BeingItself said...

anon,


'Again, Dr. Feser very recently wrote almost an entire post demonstrating why QM is irrelevant to the issue of causality."

Just because Feser writes something does not make it true. He makes that claim, yes, but he's just wrong.


"It must be frustrating for him to read comment after comment about QM"

What I find frustrating is when theists appeal to physics to prove that their god exists, and when I point out how they have bungled the physics, they come back and say physics is irrelevant. Doh!

Eduardo said...

Well if there are reasons/arguments in favor of making physics irrelevant for a certain discution so be it.

Alex said...

Hehe, funny how quantum physics is actually the death of naturalism. The phenomenon of quantum non locality and quantum non localizability do not and cannot in principle have a physical cause on pain of contradicting physical observation. So much for the causal closure of nature.

I recommend everyone read Bruce L. Gordons essay,"A quantum theoretic argument against naturalism."

Anonymous said...

BI,

I never said that anything Dr. Feser writes should be accepted ex cathedra. I invited Vincent to show us why Dr. Feser is mistaken. You are, therefore, misrepresenting what I wrote.

If you think Dr. Feser is mistaken, then read his May 20th post and tell us what his errors are.

Eduardo said...

hmmm shame I can't find the essay on Google academics u_u the poor's man search engine for academic stuff

Alex said...

Empirical not physical, above.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> What I find frustrating is when theists appeal to physics to prove that their god exists, and when I point out how they have bungled the physics, they come back and say physics is irrelevant. Doh! <

The bottom line is that contemporary physics does not support materialism.

rank sophist said...

Anyone else love how BI never bothers presenting arguments? How he never even offers a hint that he's read and/or understood his opponents? How he rags on Feser for making some mistake or other but never tells us what it is? He's a pitiful little troll.

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

"The bottom line is that contemporary physics does not support materialism."

That's why philosophers are calling themselves 'physicalists' now rather than 'materialists'.

But I don't see how that is relevant.

Eduardo said...

@ Rank Sophist

have faith brother... he might just come up with some nice argument and defend it too!!!

reighley said...

To me there is a very large gap between "one cannot expect to draw logical inferences from physics into metaphysics" and "knowledge of physics may inform metaphysics".

It is precisely the relationship between logical inference and existence that metaphysics is concerned with so we can't just take that conclusion for granted.

There is a school of thought that says all of our models of anything are ultimately driven by our day to day experience. Is this the point of disagreement?

Just because I can't get from the specifics of physics to the generalities of metaphysics or the philosophy of nature by deduction alone, does that mean physics tells us nothing at all about the nature of being? I can't assent to that proposition. To borrow Dr. Feser's example : knowing that the scissors were not in the kitchen drawer does not tell me that there were no scissors, but it does give me some interesting information about their possible disposition. Especially if I feel sure that is where I left them.

Tony said...

Konoma: Are they exaggerating their knowledge of the human body?

Yes, they are. They have very little understanding of the brain itself, and they certainly don't understand the various elements of imagination, conceptualization, logic, and so on. It is sheer bravado to say "we can see now that thought is fully explained by molecules bouncing around." They can't.

But it does seem to be true that, in principle, some incredibly powerful empirical science in the future could prove free will to be false by simple, scrupulous, empirical observation and straightforward data collection/analysis,

That depends on what you mean by "could prove". Materialists think that free will is a "problem" for their system, so they are bent on showing that there ain't no sich animal. Theists and other kinds of non-materialists, the opposite. Neither side has proven their claim to the satisfaction of the other, of course. If you mean by "could" that, because materialists have not yet been disproven to their own satisfaction then in some theoretical sense we should "allow for" the possibility that their claim will eventually prove out as the correct one, well, that's a theory about knowledge and argumentative stance, epistemology, and it isn't the only possible theory available. A more wholesome stance would be to actually look at the form, structure, and grounds of each side's argument and see if (a) either side's argument is itself sound in all facets, or (b) one side's argument is simply not sound in one of its facets, or (c) BOTH sides' arguments have problems, holes, gaps, uncertain premises, etc. Even if you cannot affirm (a) or (b), then you simply don't know whether is it ever "could be proven" that the materialist claim about free will is true, you just can't say yet. Maybe it could, maybe it could not. Unproven is not the same as "certain, we just don't know how to prove it", not in science it isn't. In science, unproven is "possibly wrong."

Anonymous said...

Again, reighly, did you read Dr. Feser's reasoning? I feel like a broken record. If you don't like his reasoning, please tell us why. That's why stuff like this is so frustrating. It smacks of, "Yeah, whatever Dr. Feser says, I still think..." That holds no rational force because it doesn't address his argument.

For me, science cannot tell us what doesn't exist by what it fails to observe.

Michael Brazier said...

Vincent, read this passage from Feser's post on May 20:

... whether to give QM a realist (as opposed to an instrumentalist) interpretation in the first place is itself a vexed metaphysical question. And since it is a metaphysical question, it is precisely the sort of question to which we can legitimately bring to bear considerations like the principle of causality. So even if there were some conflict between that principle and QM (which, as I have argued, there is not) it wouldn’t follow that we’d have to give up either. If (as I would claim) we have independent reason to affirm the principle of causality, what would follow from such a conflict is that we should take an instrumentalist rather than realist view of QM -- a position some philosophers and scientists with no Aristotelian ax to grind would adopt in any case.

A "hidden variable" theory is, precisely, one which takes an instrumentalist view of QM, while the usual "Copenhagen" interpretations are realist views. Note that the question Are the causes of quantum events local? has been answered in the negative without appealing to any metaphysical premise; that's the real upshot of Bell's Theorem.

TheOFloinn said...

In my opinion, there should be a Thomist interpretation (or interpretations) of quantum mechanics.

"Quantum paradox, it appears, is Nature's way of repudiating a spurious philosophy."

http://www.webcitation.org/5XP2UXXwN

http://www.thomist.org/jourl/1997/973AWall.htm

And as a nod to final causes:
http://www.npl.washington.edu/AV/altvw16.html

TheOFloinn said...

Materialists think that free will is a "problem" for their system, so they are bent on showing that there ain't no sich animal.

That is so delicious. How can they ever hope to convince anyone? How can they suppose they have reached that conclusion rationally when they have been blown thither by the winds of deterministic causation. Except for quantum events, because then we have to deny causation. Dang.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> That's why philosophers are calling themselves 'physicalists' now rather than 'materialists'. <

They're just moving the goal posts. If you have to redefine materialism so that it is compatible with immaterialism, then all you have accomplished is to render both terms meaningless.

>But I don't see how that is relevant. <

The point is that Aquinas' "First Cause" argument actually anticipates quantum indeterminism.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I am still waiting for an answer to a valid question.

Does the Natural Law fall under Metaphysics or a "Philosophy of Nature"?

BeingItself said...

Alastair,


"The point is that Aquinas' "First Cause" argument actually anticipates quantum indeterminism."

Explain.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> Explain. <

Aquinas' "First Cause" argument relies on the metaphysical categories of "potentiality and actuality."

Professor Feser argued in his book that the "nervous system [is] actualized by its molecular structure, which in turn is actualized by its atomic structure, etc. - what we have is the POTENTIAL existence of one level ACTUALIZED by the existence of another, which is in turn actualized by another, and so forth." (emphasis mine)

(source: pg. 96, "The Last Superstition" by Edward Feser)

He then goes on to argue that the regress must stop somewhere and where it stops is with a "Pure Act." Of course, this "Pure Act" is the "Primary Cause or First Cause or Uncaused Cause" (a.k.a. God).

So, if the "nervous system [is] actualized by its molecular structure, which in turn is actualized by its atomic structure" (pg. 96), which in turn is actualized by its subatomic structure, which in turn is actualized by what?

At some point God is actualizing the physical constituents upon which everything depends. And this "actualizing" is none other the creative act itself. (Keep in mind that creation is an ongoing affair...at least from our perspective. From the divine perspective, it's one act.)

So, what is the standard interpretation of QM actually saying? That all matter (mass/energy) reduces to "potentiality that is being actualized uncaused."

reighley said...

@Anonymous,
Obviously this post is doing a lot of work, and much of it I have not formed an opinion on and most of it I probably agree with anyhow. However there seems to be a thread of argument here, and in the previous post of a form something like this :

(I) natural philosophy and metaphysics are not physics. therefore
(II) I cannot follow a physical argument to get to a metaphysical result. therefore
(III) Involving quantum mechanics or any other physical theory is unsound.

I hold this chain of reasoning to be invalid. Getting from (I) to (II) is only somewhat dicey, since it requires that I be able to make a clear distinction between what constitutes a physical argument. However, reasoning about physics, even when the end goal is a proposition of physics necessarily involves a certain amount of philosophy. Whether it is done well or badly it is certainly done. So even if you brush of Heisenberg the scientist, Heisenberg the philosopher was still making a philosophical argument right along side his physical description of the facts.

The jump from (II) to (III) is completely absurd. Even if was primarily interested in a theory of lions qua lions, of what things had to be true of all lions for there to even be lions, I would still make the trip down to the local zoo and inspect the lions they had on offer. To be sure I might form some bad ideas about lions by having familiarized myself with only the few I could actually be introduced to. Nonetheless it would still be silly, if I were to enter into a discussion about the nature of lionism to be enjoined against bringing up the lion with which I was most familiar as at least a counterexample.

So it is with metaphysics. Even though we may wish to understand being as such, it will not do to bar references to the particular set of beings we see before us. Simply as empirical data points, they perhaps prove nothing.

Yet it will not do to regard these beings simply as empirical data points.

Anonymous said...

Reighley, I doubt that anyone is making the argument you criticize. Rather, Feser has pointed out a logical error in Oerter's argument from quantum mechanics. It's not that appeals to QM are always irrelevant in the philosophy of nature, but that the specific appeal Oerter made is unsound.

Paraphrasing: Oerter claimed that according to QM, the decay of an electron into a less energetic orbit has no cause. This is false. QM does not say anything about the cause of an electron's decay; there are interpretations of QM which posit a cause, but the formal theory just gives a probability as a function of elapsed time. Oerter confused "QM does not say a cause for electron decay exists" and "QM says a cause for electron decay does not exist" - a quantifier shift fallacy.

Glenn said...

If this were meant as a preaching to the choir, it would be logorrheic; but it isn't, so it's not. It is, instead, for those commenters who have read Dr. Feser's May 20th post on QM and failed to understand a vital point--or, having both read and understood, have feigned ignorance in order to be perverse (or for some other reason). (Nonetheless, if it is deemed deletable, and is deleted, well, then, such is life.)

A: What is today's date?

B: June 1, 2012.

A: Are you sure?

B: Of course I'm sure.

A: But can you prove it?

B: Of course I can prove it.

A: Please do.

B: Why should I? You asked what today's date is, and I told you that today is June 1, 2012.

A: Yes, you did answer my original question by saying that today is June 1, 2012. I then asked if you were sure that today is June 1, 2012, and you said you were. And then I asked if you could prove that today is June 1, 2012, and you said you could. Now I'm asking you to make good on your claim that you can prove that today is June 1, 2012. You met each of my first three requests with a direct response. Why are you are trying to wriggle out of responding to my fourth request?

B: I have responded to your fourth request.

A: Well, okay, yes you did. Technically speaking. But with a dodge rather than a direct response.

B: There ya go. I responded to your fourth request, as yourself have just acknowledged. Who cares if it was a dodge or a direct response?

A: You made a claim, and I asked you to back it up. Now you're being shifty. Your unwillingness to prove, as you say you can, that today is June 1, 2012 renders suspect the veracity of your claim, as well as your credibility.

B: Well, if it's so important to you, okay, I'll prove it. Are you ready? Here goes: The Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson River. Therefore, today is June 1, 2012.

A: I see. Are you finished with your series of transitions of state--from responsiveness, to dodginess, to shiftiness, to silliness?

B: There is nothing silly about it. You asked me to prove that today is June 1, 2012. I have done that.A: No, you haven't. That the Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson river is evidentially irrelevant to today's date.

B: What do you mean 'is evidentially irrelevant to'?

A: I mean that the fact that the Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson river is not evidence relevant to the question of what today's date is.

B: I told you what today's date is. It is June 1, 2012.

A: Yes, you did say that. And it may even be true. But that the Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson river does not prove that today's date is June 1, 2012.

B: Of course it does. My first statement is true, and my second statement is true. Ergo, the former proves the latter.

A: No, it does not work like that. Nice try, but your reasoning is fallacious.

B: What do you mean my reasoning is 'fallacious'"?

A: It is faulty.

B: How could it be faulty? The Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson river, and today's date is June 1, 2012.

(cont)

Glenn said...

A: It is true that the Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson river, yes. And it may even be true that today's date is June 1, 2012. But as the former does not entail the latter, to reason that it does is to reason incorrectly.

B: What do you mean, 'the former does not entail the latter'?

A: To 'entail' is to require as a necessary consequence. Today's date--whatever it may be--is not a necessary consequence of the Tappan Zee Bridge spanning the Hudson river. And to reason that it is is to commit a fallacy.

B: Oh, I think I see what you're saying now. Let me rephrase it, and then you tell me if I've got it right. To infer from the premise that the Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson river to the conclusion that today's date is June 1, 2012 is to reason incorrectly, i.e., to reason fallaciously. To put it another way, to reason like that is to commit a fallacy. And it is a fallacy even if it happens to be true that today's date is, in fact, June 1, 2012.

A: Yup, that's it.

B: Hey, that's pretty neat. And I'll bet I've got the hang of it, too. Check it out: the fallacy of inferring from the premise that the Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson river to the conclusion that today's date is June 1, 2012, is similar in form to the fallacy of inferring from the premise that QM describes such-and-such a state without describing its cause to the conclusion that QM shows that such-and-such a state has no cause, particularly in that in both instances the premise is evidentially irrelevant to the conclusion. Do I win the bet?

A: My, my, that is quite a mouthful. But, yes, you would have won the bet had I taken you up on it.

B: I knew it! So what you're really saying is that an argument is not valid simply because its premise is true, or even simply because its premise is true and its conclusion might be (or certainly is) true.

A: It can be put that way, yes. Congratulations on straightening out your thinking.

B: Thanks. And now that my thinking is straightened out, it is quite obvious and clear what Dr. Feser was saying in this excerpt from his May 20th post on QM,

"[I]t is simply a fallacy to infer from the premise that QM describes such-and-such a state without describing its cause to the conclusion that QM shows that such-and-such a state has no cause... [This] point has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of either the premise or the conclusion. It has to do instead with the logical relationship between the premise and conclusion. The premise doesn't entail the conclusion, and it doesn't even make the conclusion more probable. It is evidentially irrelevant to the conclusion."

Tony said...

reightley, your I, II, and III completely mischaracterize what Dr. Feser is saying. No wonder you don't feel comfortable with his thesis in this post.

For example, modern physics has chosen to only address itself to one type of causality (agent cause). Hence, it is outside the capacity of "physics" (in the modern sense) to render judgment about arguments about other types of causality of physical events, such as formal and final cause - except in the rare and narrow case that these arguments would attempt to conclude something that is explicitly disproven by experimental evidence. So, yes, it is possible for modern physics to provide experimental evidence that disproves a certain specific claim of non-modern-physics studies, whether you call that philosophy, metaphysics, or something else. So, Dr. Feser isn't saying that conclusions of natural philosophy are immune from having to match up with (at least not contradict) the experimental evidence of modern physics.

I would re-cast your I, II, and III in a manner that makes them more compatible with what Dr. Feser is actually saying, but I am not at all certain the can be re-cast to do that. Maybe it would be

A. Modern physics studies only a small smattering of the sort of stuff available to physics to study, and studies it from an angle that is more limited than the approaches under which philosophy can view the same stuff.

B. Modern physics is unable make general claims about whether study outside of the small smattering it has chosen to devote itself to is rigorous thinking or not.

C. Modern physics is able to present specific counter-examples to conclusions of philosophy when those conclusions delve into the arena of the small smattering of stuff that modern physics has chosen to limit itself to, and otherwise is mostly unable to even address, much less disprove, the general work of philosophy.

Josh said...

*Slow claps for Glenn*

Ray Ingles said...

Alastair F. Paisley - "Can you furnish us with the exact quote in TLS where Feser states that?"

He didn't say it about atomic decay specifically, but he didn't need to, since he was talking about all change, all motion from potential to actual. TLS, page 54, final paragraph:

...Aristotle holds that even though a thing's potentials are the key to understanding how it can change, this is not the end of the story. And outside source of change is also necessary. For potential gooeyness, say, precisely because it is merely potential, cannot actualize itself; only something else (like heat) could do it. Consider also that if a potential could actualize itself, there would be no way to explain why it does so at one time rather than another. The ball melts and becomes gooey when you heat it. Why did this potential gooeness become actual just at that point? The obvious answer is that the heat was needed to actualize it. If the potential gooeyness could have made itself actual all by itself, then it would have happened already, since the potential was there already. [Emphasis added.]

BeingItself said...

Alastair,

So just as I anticipated, you are using a god of the gaps argument.

When we learned that we could not explain why electrons transitioned at the time they did, scientists then said "Oh, god must be doing it", so they stopped wondering.

I hope you can see how idiotic that is. But most arguments for god are idiotic.

Anonymous said...

@ Glenn...

Yes, you've nailed it.

Eduardo said...

BI

No he is saying that a non physical entity is making the change you don't even know what a god of the gaps is XD... He is calling upon God because it is a non-physical entity in Thomism, so he is saying that it is probably it that is doing the work.

A god of the gaps is an argument that goes from lack of knowledge to a conclusion in this case, God did it.


Sure but don't worry, most of your arguments are idiotic so I guess we are all good friends here.

Vincent Torley said...

Part 1:

I'd like to thank Michael Brazier for pointing me in the direction of Ed's May 20 post.

I'd like to get straight to the point. First, I'll talk about local motion. In his May 20 post, Ed wrote:

"[I]f inertial motion really is a 'state,' then what Newton and his Aristotelian predecessors disagreed about was not whether genuine change requires a cause, but only about whether local motion of a uniform rectilinear sort counts as genuine change."

My response: This might seem like a Schoolmen's dispute, but it is a point of vital importance. For Aristotle and Aquinas, local motion was the cause of all other forms of change in the cosmos. As Aquinas wrote (SCG II, 43):

"[6] Then, too, motion in respect of form is naturally posterior to local motion, since the former is the act of that which is more imperfect, as Aristotle proves [Physics, VIII, 7]. Now, in the natural order, things posterior are caused by things prior. Therefore, motion with respect to form is caused by local motion. The first local motion, however, is that of the heaven. Hence, all motion toward form is brought about through the mediation of the heavenly motion."

If all change can ultimately be explained in terms of local motion, and if (as you seem to suggest, Ed) local motion requires no external cause, then there is no reason why a body undergoing change should require an external cause to actualize its potencies. Such an interpretation would completely ruin the logic of Aquinas' First Way, in which Aquinas argues that "whatever is in motion is put in motion by another."

Ed also wrote:

"In particular, it is sometimes thought that Aristotle and Aquinas maintained that no object can persist in any local motion unless some mover is continuously conjoined to it as an efficient cause. But in fact they denied this; their view was that an object will tend to move toward its 'natural place' simply by virtue of its substantial form, and will do so even in the absence of that which imparted this form, and thus in the absence of that which is the efficient cause of their local motion... [T]he point is that Aristotle's and Aquinas's principle of causality in fact did not presuppose that local motion as such requires a continuously conjoined physical cause."

This is very misleading. Aristotle and Aquinas did teach that that no object can persist in any local motion unless some mover is continuously conjoined to it as an efficient cause. Local motion, for Aristotle and Aquinas, did not require a continuously conjoined physical cause, but it did require a continuously conjoined non-physical cause.

Aquinas really did believe that angels move the planets, by applying the force of their intellects. A few quotes:

"[3] Again, everything that is moved must be moved by another being, as we proved earlier. Therefore, a celestial body is moved by something else." (SCG III.23)

"[8]... And so, the motion of a celestial body, as far as its active principle is concerned, is not natural, but voluntary and intellectual; however, in relation to its passive principle, the motion is natural, for a celestial body has a natural aptitude for such motion." (SCG III.23)

"[4] Also, if the separate substances move the heavenly bodies, as the philosophers say, then whatever results from the movement of the heavenly bodies is attributed to those bodies as instruments, since they move in being moved, but is ascribed to the separate substances [angels - VJT] which move them, as principal agents. Now, separate substances act and move by their intellect. Hence, they are actually causing whatever is effected by the movement of the heavenly bodies, even as the craftsman works through his tools." (SCG II.99)

More quotes here: http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/thomas1long.html#smoking4

Brandon said...

This is very misleading. Aristotle and Aquinas did teach that that no object can persist in any local motion unless some mover is continuously conjoined to it as an efficient cause. Local motion, for Aristotle and Aquinas, did not require a continuously conjoined physical cause, but it did require a continuously conjoined non-physical cause.

This is a common misunderstanding, but it is not in fact true. Aquinas, and Aristotle at least as Aquinas understands him, recognizes that there are cases of local motion, namely, involving intrinsic natural motion (in an Aristotelian account, the most obvious example would be local motion of the elements to their natural places), in which the mover is simply the generating cause (since it is the source of the nature), which in general will not be continuously conjoined. Likewise, there is no real sense in which the prime mover or the intelligences are 'conjoined' to what they move, which would require that they be physical unless we are using 'conjunction' in a purely equivocal way or simply as a metaphor for talking about causal activity itself. (And although things are more complicated in Aquinas's account and in Aristotle as Aquinas reads him, it's entirely possible to read Aristotle's account as saying that the intelligences and the prime mover move only as final causes, i.e., as being aimed at in some way by other things.)

Vincent Torley said...

Part 2:

Professor Tkacz argues that "nature and her operations are autonomous in the sense that nature operates according to the way she is, not because something outside of her is acting on her." Tkacz's position sounds like your own, Ed. You seem to believe that according to Aquinas, any operation that flows from an entity's substantial form does not require a continually operating efficient cause.

But in reality, Aquinas was a proponent of concurrentism: he taught that whenever a natural agent makes something happen, God also makes it happen, as an immediate cause. (See Alfred Freddoso's 'Comment on Peter van Inwagen's "The Place of Chance in a World sustained by God"', at http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/chance.htm .)

According to Aquinas, whenever a natural agent brings about an effect, God acts as the principal agent, moving the natural agent as His instrument to produce the desired effect. God is an immediate cause of every effect brought about in the natural world, because every such effect results directly from an action of God's. Hence God is an immediate cause of each and every natural change, and not just an immediate cause of the being of things. God really does "reach into" nature's operations. Proof from Aquinas' writings:

http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/thomas1long.html#smoking5

"God causes the action of every natural thing by moving and applying its power to action.... Hence, fourthly, one thing causes the action of another, as a principal agent causes the action of its instrument: and in this way again we must say that God causes every action of natural things.... God is the cause of everything's action inasmuch as he gives everything the power to act, and preserves it in being and applies it to action, and inasmuch as by his power every other power acts." (Quaestiones Disputatae De Potentia Dei Q. III art. VII.)

For Aquinas, even the natural operations of a body, which flow from its substantial form, still require a continually operating external cause. Ultimately, this cause is God, who not only sustains things in being, but also causes their every action, as a principal agent moves an instrument.

It appears that the position you are upholding, Ed, is what is called conservationism. But Aquinas wasn't a conservationist; he was a concurrentist.

"A miracle is contrary to nature, when nature retains a disposition contrary to the effect produced by God: for instance when he prevented the three children in the furnace from being hurt, while the fire retained the power to burn..." (Quaestiones Disputatae De Potentia Dei Q. VI art. II.)

Here, Aquinas implicitly concedes that the dispositions of natural agents do not suffice for the production of their natural effects. Something else is needed: God's active co-operation with the natural agents in question. That's the concurrentist position, in a nutshell.

Getting back to Newton's first law and QM: it seems that on Aquinas' philosophy, he really is committed to saying that the ultimate cause of bodily changes (and not just the existence of bodies) is the ceaseless (and timeless) activity of God.
As regards QM: the sudden appearance of virtual particles can be regarded as nothing more than the fluctuations of some underlying quantum field. However, these fluctuations are changes, so they still require a cause. There seems to be no plausible physical cause, so we are forced to postulate a non-physical one. Pure randomness cannot exist, and determinism is false, if libertarian free will is real; hence God must be continually (but timelessly) making zillions of choices regarding exactly where and when these quantum fluctuations shall take place in the natural world.

Thoughts, Ed?

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon:

Thank you for your post. Re the definition of conjoined: I simply mean "able to move immediately," not "in spatial contact." Hence it can truly be said that God and the angels are conjoined to whatever bodies they move, insofar as they do not move them through any intermediary.

Re the natural motion of falling bodies: Aquinas did write that "motion with respect to form is caused by local motion. The first local motion, however, is that of the heaven. Hence, all motion toward form is brought about through the mediation of the heavenly motion." (SCG II. 43) Thus even the movement of falling bodies is ultimately due to the movements of the heavenly bodies, which are moved by angels according to Aquinas.

Finally, you suggest that according to Aristotle (not Aquinas), intelligences and the prime mover move only as final causes. Aristotle does seem to have said that, but if he did, his position is unintelligible. To say that a heavenly body (e.g. Sirius) has a built-in "longing" for some intelligence to which it is ontologically linked (e.g. the archangel Gabriel) doesn't tell me which way Sirius will move. It also sounds animistic.

Vincent Torley said...

Part III

Hi Ed,

I've just been looking at your ACPQ article. I'm glad you finally expressed your arguments in syllogistic form. They're much easier to assimilate that way. I'd like to briefly comment on your (interesting) rendition of Aquinas' 1st way. In a nutshell:

1. Let S be a natural substance in which some potency is actualized.

2. This actualization either presupposes the actualization of some further potency or it does not.

3. If it does, then there must be an ultimate actualization that does not presuppose the actualization of any potency, since an infinite regress of per se causes is impossible.

That's a lot shorter than your ten steps, but it preserves the essence.

The problem, however, is that the argument is incomplete. You still need to show that the actualization of a potency in S does in fact presuppose the actualization of some further potency. Why should it, if the actualization in question is a substantial form?

Even granting that it does, step 3 only proves that there is an ultimate actualization that does not presuppose the actualization of any potency. It doesn't prove that this ultimate actualization is purely actual; all it proves is that whatever potentialities it may have, these are not presupposed by the actualization of a potency in S.

So it seems we are still short of establishing the existence of an unchangeable Being Who is Pure Act. Or am I mis-reading your argument?

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> So just as I anticipated, you are using a god of the gaps argument. <

Correction. This does not represent a "gap" in our scientific knowledge. Quantum mechanics holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate, that at ground zero (actually the zero point field) potentiality is being actualized, that subatomic particles are constantly popping in and out of existence, and that random fluctuations of energy are perpetually occuring without any cause. And if you attempt to mischaracterized this as a gap in our knowledge, then you do not understand quantum mechanics. It's really that simple. Besides, you have already conceded the point that contemporary physics does not support materialism. So, there really is nothing left here to debate.

George R. said...

The problem, however, is that the argument is incomplete. You still need to show that the actualization of a potency in S does in fact presuppose the actualization of some further potency. Why should it, if the actualization in question is a substantial form?

Hello VJ. Good analysis.

I would say that finite beings that are unmoved movers must always at least be in potency to causing further motion, and this potency must be actualized by another.

I think another way to consider it is that a substantial form is not strictly speaking a principle of motion, but rather a principle of such and such a motion. Substantial forms and essences merely determine motion, they do not cause it.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Vincent:

You've raised a lot of issues over several comments, and I don't have time to get to all of them right now. But a couple of serious misunderstandings need to be cleared up right away.

First, I do not know why you think I would either reject concurrentism or deny that Aquinas is a concurrentist. For one thing, I explicitly defended concurrentism in the talk you can watch at YouTube (though maybe you haven't seen that). For another thing, that that is my view is, I would have thought, pretty clear from what I have written on Aquinas's theistic proofs, especially the ACPQ article.

Second, I don't know why you focus on what Aquinas says about the motion of the planets, since that is not what I was talking about. I was talking about ordinary cases of the motion of earthly bodies, such as a stone falling to earth or projectile motion. And as I said, Aristotle and Aquinas do not think that a conjoined physical cause is needed in those cases. In his commentary on De Caelo, Aquinas writes:

[Aristotle] says, therefore, that what has been said is manifested by the fact that natural bodies are not borne upward and downward as though moved by some external agent.

By this is to be understood that he rejects an external mover which would move these bodies per se after they obtained their specific form. For light things are indeed moved upward, and heavy bodies downward, by the generator inasmuch as it gives them the form upon which such motion follows... However, some have claimed that after bodies of this kind have received their form, they need to be moved per se by something extrinsic. It is this claim that the Philosopher rejects here. (I.175)

And in De potentia Dei he writes:

An instrument is understood to be moved by the principal agent so long as it retains the power communicated to it by the principal agent; thus the arrow is moved by the archer as long as it retains the force wherewith it was shot by him. Thus in heavy and light things that which is generated is moved by the generator as long as it retains the form transmitted thereby… And the mover and the thing moved must be together at the commencement of but not throughout the whole movement, as is evident in the case of projectiles. (3.11 ad 5)

The chief recent scholarly work on this question is James Weisheipl's Nature and Motion in the Middle Ages, which contains a useful discussion of how some Aristotelians (but not Aristotle and Aquinas themselves) took a different view from this.

Edward Feser said...

To forestall further misunderstandings, I should add that that second quote does not entail that Aristotle and Aquinas did not think that projectile motion, specifically, did not require some conjoined mover other than what initiated the motion. (They did, because they took all violent motions to require such a mover.) The point is that they did not think that local motion as such always required a conjoined physical mover. Anyway, as I've said, I discuss all this in my forthcoming article "The medieval principle of motion and the modern principle of inertia."

reighley said...

@Tony,
I didn't really misunderstand that aspect of Dr. Feser's argument. It's just that I agree with it as far as it goes and mostly it isn't so interesting to me.

In fact that might be his whole argument and it is only Anonymous who I disagree with. I don't think it is : I think that Feser and others are trying to argue that not only is quantum mechanics not decisive in metaphysical questions, it is actually irrelevant. Neither here nor there. Bell's theorem is a red herring . etc.

Now, this I cannot agree with. I think that physics has philosophical content, and I think that physical examples can be illuminating to metaphysics. You can't finish the argument with an experiment but you should be able to start one. So quantum mechanics should be part of the discussion, and Anonymous should not be so peeved.

I actually do not care much for statements like "quantum mechanics holds that certain events are uncaused". It really does no such thing, but this comment thread has raised all sorts of questions for me about the nature of cause; among them :

Do causes have any consistent relationship to their effects? For example : should symmetric causes yield symmetric effects, should a cause precede it's effect in time, should causes be proportional to their effects? Should effects follow logically from causes?

Are Aristotle's four causes still sufficient or should we add a fifth one centered on the act of observation? At this point it seems hard to ignore the possibility that if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, then it doesn't make a sound. So ears are in part a cause of sound. Material, Formal, Efficient or Final?

How much does the intuitive conception of cause inform our use of that term in metaphysics. More broadly, if I am presented with an idea that makes little or no sense : should I just get rid of it? Or at least change its name?

George R. said...

Even granting that it does, step 3 only proves that there is an ultimate actualization that does not presuppose the actualization of any potency. It doesn't prove that this ultimate actualization is purely actual; all it proves is that whatever potentialities it may have, these are not presupposed by the actualization of a potency in S.


VJ,

Suppose S is actualized by B to cause motion C. B, then, would have to be either the principle of all motions or not the principle of all motions. Now if B is not the principle of all motions but only some motions, there would have to be a reason why it is the principle of some and not others, and this “reason,” whatever it is, would then be the principle that actualizes B to actualize S to cause motion C. Therefore, only if B were the purely actual principle of all motions could it avoid being in potency with respect to actualizing S.

(Ed, you gotta be kidding me with these captcha tests. Stop the madness!)

BeingItself said...

Alastair,

Your posts are extremely muddled,

First you say "God is actualizing the physical constituents upon which everything depends", and then in a later post say that "random fluctuations of energy are perpetually occuring without any cause".

The latter part I agree with. But it also seems you want to shoehorn a god in there somewhere. I see no need for that.

Arthur said...

"a god", BI? I'll leave it to the Thomists here to explain what's wrong with this phrase alone. Anyone who can use the phrase "a god" rather than "God" with a straight face either doesn't understand theism or isn't trying hard enough.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> The latter part I agree with. But it also seems you want to shoehorn a god in there somewhere. I see no need for that. <

It's without any PHYSICAL cause. The "uncaused cause" is a MENTAL cause, not a physical one.

You have already conceded that there is no physical explanation. The only explanation is a mental one.

Tony said...

Alastair,

Is the form of a dog a physical cause? Is the final cause a physical cause?

BeingItself said...

"You have already conceded that there is no physical explanation. The only explanation is a mental one."

False dichotomy. Perhaps there is no explanation at all.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> False dichotomy. Perhaps there is no explanation at all. <

It's not a false dichotomy.
There are only two causal explanations - physical or mental. And the fact that you cannot furnish us with any other explanation simply makes my point.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Tony

> Is the form of a dog a physical cause? Is the final cause a physical cause?

No, they're both nonphysical.

Aristotelianism is actually animistic (i.e. it views everything as "ensouled.")

Alastair F. Paisley said...

Physicist Frank Tipler explains the body/soul in terms of digital physics (physics explained in terms of information theory) - which is directly related to Aristotle's hylomorphism (matter/form). (See the the video link below. It's a short interview between Robert L. Kuhn - host of PBS's "Closer to Truth" - and Frank Tipler.)

"Is Consciousness an Ultimate Fact? (Frank Tipler)"

Also, Rupert Sheldrake has fleshed-out Aristotle's "formal" causation with his hypothesis of "morphic resonance and formative causation."

kuartus said...

If things could happen without a cause then there would be absolutely no restrictions and everything and anything would come into existence at any and every time. Obviously this scenario is false, therefore it follows that things need a cause. The fact that quantum physics rules out physical causes for quantum phenomenon is not warrant to dismiss causality, but it is warrant to reject naturalism.

Tony said...

There are only two causal explanations - physical or mental.

No, they're both [formal and final cause] nonphysical.

Aristotelianism is actually animistic (i.e. it views everything as "ensouled.")


OK. But that shows that you mean by "physical" something different from what Aristotle and Feser mean by it. And it also shows that you mean by "mental" and "soul" something different from what Aristotle, Feser, and most of the philosophical world mean by it.

Since you are the newcomer to these pages, it is incumbent on you to understand the current meaning of the terminology here, and to explain your departure from that meaning when you use a term differently. You have not done so. That means you have been equivocating for your entire set of arguments here.

Do you know what equivocation does to an argument?

Tony said...

The fact that quantum physics rules out physical causes for quantum phenomenon is not warrant to dismiss causality,

kuartus, don't fall into Alastair's little word-trap. All that quantum physics rules out is the sort of material-agent-cause that is captured in modern physics. It says nothing about agent causes that act other than in the materialistic manner modern physics is prepared to observe, much less does it speak to other kinds of physical causes.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Tony

> OK. But that shows that you mean by "physical" something different from what Aristotle and Feser mean by it. And it also shows that you mean by "mental" and "soul" something different from what Aristotle, Feser, and most of the philosophical world mean by it. <

Aristotelianism is based on hylomorphism - the duality of form (nonphyiscal or immaterial) and matter (physical or material).

"Only the soul and body (i.e. "form" and "matter") together constitutes the thing or substance."

(source: pg. 126, "The Last Superstition" by Edward Feser)

"Aristotle says that a soul is related to its body as form to matter.[25]"

(source: Wikipedia: Hylomorphism)

Final causation is teleology. As such, it ultimately presupposes mind. No further commentary is necesary.

> Since you are the newcomer to these pages, it is incumbent on you to understand the current meaning of the terminology here, and to explain your departure from that meaning when you use a term differently. You have not done so. That means you have been equivocating for your entire set of arguments here. <

It would appear to me that your understanding of the terminology is the one that is lacking.

> Do you know what equivocation does to an argument? <

I haven't equivocated. And I have not made any claim that I did not back up with appropriate documentation. I'm afraid that you don't have the luxury of ignoring this fact.

BeingItself said...

Rupert Sheldrake? LOL. I wish you had told me up front you were a woo-meister and I would not have wasted my time.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ kaurtus

> The fact that quantum physics rules out physical causes for quantum phenomenon is not warrant to dismiss causality, but it is warrant to reject naturalism. <

Agreed. But it is important to understand that free will involves an element of chance. This is made evident by the paradoxical terms of "uncaused cause" or "causa sui" that are often employed to describe it.

Either free will is compatible with determinism or indeterminism or, depending on how you define the terms, some combination thereof. There are no other options here. And it never ceases to amaze me that propopents of free will lack the basic intellectual honesty to acknowledge this.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> Rupert Sheldrake? LOL. I wish you had told me up front you were a woo-meister and I would not have wasted my time. <

What's a "woo-meister?"

Eduardo said...

He means you are a crack-pot. Akin to a shaman or something like that.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Eduardo

I know what the term means. (This isn't my first trip to the rodeo.) But I want him to define the term for me.

BeingItself said...

http://www.skepdic.com/woowoo.html

Tony said...

Aristotelianism is based on hylomorphism - the duality of form (nonphyiscal or immaterial) and matter (physical or material).



Of course, you assume here that "physical" and "matter" are identical in meaning, but they are not. If you had bothered to read the Wiki link on hylomorphism that you put in, above, you would have seen this: "matter" and "physical" are not identical expressions.

In Aristotle's writings, the term "matter" (hyle) has a somewhat different meaning than the term "matter" in modern English.[1] In modern English, the term "matter" often refers to a specific kind of substance, namely physical substance. In contrast, for Aristotle, "matter" is a relative term.[2] For Aristotle, the question is not "Is X matter?" but, rather, "What is the matter of X?" Aristotle defines X's matter as the "constituents" of X, as "that out of which" X is made.[3] Thus, in Aristotle's scheme, something can be matter without being physical. For example, letters are the matter of syllables.[4] Aristotle even calls the parts of a geometrical shape (that is, of a pure geometrical shape, considered apart from any physical object having that shape) "intelligible matter"

Furthermore, you are making the mistake of thinking "body" and "matter" are identical in all respects. That is an invalid assumption.

Eleanore Stump describes Aquinas's theory of the soul in terms of "configuration". The body is matter that is "configured", i.e. structured, while the soul is a "configured configurer". In other words, the soul is itself a configured thing, but it also configures the body.[65] A dead body is merely matter that was once configured by the soul. It does not possess the configuring capacity of a human being.

Final causation is teleology. As such, it ultimately presupposes mind. No further commentary is necesary.

In fact, all created causes presuppose Mind, since they all presuppose God. But that does not imply that all created causes are themselves forms of mental causality. In fact, A-T entails that there are final causes in things where there is no mind: animals, plants, and rocks exhibit teleological aspects without having minds.

Aristotelianism is actually animistic (i.e. it views everything as "ensouled.")

In fact, it doesn't. It only views living things as ensouled. Non-living things have forms, but forms are not all souls. That you would attempt to mis-characterize A-T to say that everything is ensouled proves that you don't pay attention to the details sufficiently.

"Aristotle says that a soul is related to its body as form to matter.[25]"

That's a proportion, or (since this is not mathematical), an analogy: the relationship of soul to body is similar to the relationship of form to matter. However, since "body" is not wholly identical to "matter", it should be obvious that there is more going on in saying that the soul (analogously) "informs" the body than merely that the soul IS the form of the matter.

Please get this straight: when Aristotle or Aquinas say "matter", they are not expressing the same thing moderns mean by "matter", or "physical", or "body". There are distinctions throughout all those terms.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> Here's a dictionary definition of woo-woo:

adj. concerned with emotions, mysticism, or spiritualism; other than rational or scientific; mysterious; new agey. Also n., a person who has mystical or new age beliefs.

When used by skeptics, woo-woo is a derogatory and dismissive term used to refer to beliefs one considers nonsense or to a person who holds such beliefs.
"

(source: The Skeptic's Dictionary: Woo-woo)

The problem here is that virtually all the founders of quantum mechanics are guilty of quantum mysticsm ("woo-woo").

"In many philosophies, the conscious mind is considered to be a separate entity, existing in a parallel realm not described by physical law. Some people claim that this idea gains support from the description of the physical world provided by quantum mechanics. Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger,[1] Werner Heisenberg,[2] Wolfgang Pauli,[3] Niels Bohr,[4] and Eugene Wigner[5]"

(source: Wikipedia: Quantum mind-body problem)

And since there is no physical or naturalistic explanation (by your own admission) for quantum indeterminacy and quantum entanglement, the only other plausible explanation is a a nonphysical, mental or supernaturalistic one. That we have prominent skeptics such as physicist Lawrence Krauss invoking what amounts to the theological doctrine of "creation ex nihilo" only serves to make my point.

kuartus said...

The proposition put forth by atheists that there might in fact be phenomenon for which no explanation can exist just shows the desperation of atheists to avoid theism and the irrationality they are willing to accept. Too bad for them that all attempts to refute the principle that all contingent state of affairs must have an explanation(i.e principle of sufficient reason) have failed. Consult Alexander Pruss's work for details.

Anonymous said...

Having read oerter's objections (if you can call them that) on his blog, I'm pretty sure he has a very limited understanding of both metaphysics and natural theology. Maybe after this article he'll rehabilitate his thinking a little.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Tony

This will be a two-part response.

Part 1

> Of course, you assume here that "physical" and "matter" are identical in meaning, but they are not. If you had bothered to read the Wiki link on hylomorphism that you put in, above, you would have seen this: "matter" and "physical" are not identical expressions. <

Aristotle may have been using the term "matter" to mean different things in different contexts. That being said, Aristotle's "primary matter" is physical "stuff" (for lack of a batter term).

"["Primary matter" or "pure or radical potency"] is the ultimate non-formal, quantitatively extended "stuff" that underlies and supports all forms in our material world, which has no form of its own but is open to all forms."

(source: pg. 143, "The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics" by W. Norris Clarke, S.J.)

"In philosophy, hyle (play /ˈhaɪliː/; from Ancient Greek: ὕλη) refers to matter or stuff. It can also be the material cause underlying a change in Aristotelian philosophy."

(source: Wikipedia: Hyle)

"The material cause is the underlying stuff a thing is made out of."

(source: pg. 62, "The Last Superstition" by Edward Feser)

> Furthermore, you are making the mistake of thinking "body" and "matter" are identical in all respects. That is an invalid assumption. <

You're simply making a straw man argument. I never made any such assumption. I simply cited Feser.

"Only the soul and body (i.e. "form" and "matter") together constitutes the thing or substance.

(source: pg. 126, "The Last Superstition" by Edward Feser)

> In fact, all created causes presuppose Mind, since they all presuppose God. But that does not imply that all created causes are themselves forms of mental causality. In fact, A-T entails that there are final causes in things where there is no mind: animals, plants, and rocks exhibit teleological aspects without having minds <

This is another straw man argument. What I stated previously was that final causation ULTIMATELY (that's key!) presupposes mind (which it most certainly does.)

"Still,if the Supreme Intelligence were to cease his directing activity, final causes would immediately disappear."

(source: pg. 117, "The Last Superstition" by Edward Feser)

BeingItself said...

Alastair,

Again with the false dichotomy. Why do you continue to make the same reasoning errors?

Perhaps each electron transition is a an uncaused event.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Tony

Part 2

> In fact, it doesn't. It only views living things as ensouled. Non-living things have forms, but forms are not all souls. That you would attempt to mis-characterize A-T to say that everything is ensouled proves that you don't pay attention to the details sufficiently. <

I stand corrected (somewhat). I should have said "all living things," not "everything." That being said, the idea that all living things have a soul can be said to qualify as a form of animism.

"Throughout European history, philosophers such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, among others, contemplated the possibility that souls exist in animals, plants, and people"

(source: Wikipedia: Animism)

"Aristotle's philosophy was animistic. He believed that nature was animate and that all living beings had psyches, or souls. These souls were...immanent in actual living beings."

(source: pg. 21,"The Presence of the Past: The Habits of Nature" by Rupert Sheldrake)

Also, the soul of a living thing is its essence. And the essence of any substance is its substantial form.

"For Aristotle, a soul is just the form or essence of a living thing." pg. 121

"The substantial form is the form that makes a thing the kind of substance or thing that it is, its essence." pg. 58

(source: "The Last Superstition" by Edward Feser)

In addition, Aristotle formulated the hypothesis of "spontaneous generation" in which he postulated that "nonliving material contained pneuma" (spirit or soul). In fact, this is the basis for "vitalism."

"According to this theory [spontaneous generation], living things came forth from nonliving things because the nonliving material contained PNEUMA, or "vital heat"."

(source: Wikipedia: Spontaneous generation)

Finally, Aristotle explicitly states that "all things are full of soul."

"Animals and plants come into being in earth and in liquid because there is water in earth, and air in water, and in all air is vital heat so that in a sense all things are full of SOUL." — Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Book III, Part 11

(source: Wikipedia: Spontaneous generation)

> Please get this straight: when Aristotle or Aquinas say "matter", they are not expressing the same thing moderns mean by "matter", or "physical", or "body". There are distinctions throughout all those terms. <

As you have learned, Aristotle's primary matter is fairly consonant with our present scientific conception of matter (mass/energy).

"Radical, spatially extensive energy fits just as well, if not better, all the requirements of the Thomistic primary matter as the ultimate non-formal principle of continuity underlying all forms, a potency at the deepest level to be taken over successively by all forms of material things but identical to none."

(source: pg. 147, "The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics" by W. Norris Clarke, S.J.)

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> Perhaps each electron transition is a an uncaused event. <

We have already debated this and I won the point. Atheistic materialism doesn't have much explanatory power. Moreover, it's a worldview based on faith - faith as the atheist defines the term (belief despite evidence to the contrary).

BeingItself said...

Alastair,

Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back. You have not "won the point". All you are doing is making the same mistake over and over.

Also, "atheistic materialism", whatever that is, is not the topic of discussion.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> Also, "atheistic materialism", whatever that is, is not the topic of discussion. <

Yes, it is this topic of the discussion. Atheistic materialism is always the topic in any debate between theism and atheism. And since atheistic materialism cannot account for physically uncaused events, this debate is over.

BeingItself said...

Alaister,

Why do you think all events can be accounted for?

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ BeingItself

> Why do you think all events can be accounted for? <

Because my worldview is not confined to only physical explanations.

BeingItself said...

Alastair,

Non sequitur.

Tony said...

so that in a sense all things are full of SOUL

Hahahaha. You don't get it, do you? When Aristotle says "in a sense" he means "in a qualified sense" which is to say not in an unqualified sense. Without qualifying it, he would not have said "all things are full of soul" because he was using "full of soul" in a different sense than "the soul is the form of the body". Which should have been obvious, because "full of" is not a construction that he would have used for an ordinary living thing anyway - we don't typically say "your body is full of soul" because the soul is the form of the body as a whole body, the "full of" cannot add anything and is actually misleading. But in the above "everything is full of soul", since he is using it in a different sense, the "full of" adds something.

I could go on about the others, how when Aristotle and Aquinas say the soul is the substantial form of the living thing, and that it is the form of the body, there are important nuances that make it clear that "body" and "matter" are not identical. But you won't listen, you think that you have absorbed all of Aristotle's and Aquinas's subtlety, in spite of the fact that you keep making bone-headed modern assumptions about what they mean by things like matter. If you understood them, you couldn't remotely fail to understand that final cause in a rock is not an instance of mental causality.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Tony

> so that in a sense all things are full of SOUL

Hahahaha. You don't get it, do you? When Aristotle says "in a sense" he means "in a qualified sense" which is to say not in an unqualified sense. Without qualifying it, he would not have said "all things are full of soul" because he was using "full of soul" in a different sense than "the soul is the form of the body". Which should have been obvious, because "full of" is not a construction that he would have used for an ordinary living thing anyway - we don't typically say "your body is full of soul" because the soul is the form of the body as a whole body, the "full of" cannot add anything and is actually misleading. But in the above "everything is full of soul", since he is using it in a different sense, the "full of" adds something.
<

What you are failing to acknowledge is that Aristotle makes this qualification because he holds that all nonliving things have PNEUMA or "vital heat." (The Greek term "pneuma" means the spirit, the soul, or the "breath of life" - and the term is translated as such in the New Testament.)

"According to this theory [spontaneous generation], living things came forth from nonliving things because the nonliving material contained PNEUMA, or "vital heat"."

(source: Wikipedia: Spontaneous generation)

He argues that all things are full of soul because all things have vital heat (pneuma, spirit, soul, or the "breath of life,").

"Animals and plants come into being in earth and in liquid because there is water in earth, and air in water, and in all air is VITAL HEAT so that in a sense all things are full of SOUL." — Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Book III, Part 11"

(source: Wikipedia: Spontaneous generation)

> If you understood them, you couldn't remotely fail to understand that final cause in a rock is not an instance of mental causality. <

You continue to make this straw man argument because you have no argument whatsoever. What I stated previously was that final causation ULTIMATELY (that's the operative term here!) presupposes mind - which it most certainly does. (The final cause in a rock ultimately presupposes the mind of God as the external agent.)

"Still,if the Supreme Intelligence were to cease his directing activity, final causes would immediately disappear."

(source: pg. 117, "The Last Superstition" by Edward Feser)

You have been thoroughly refuted on every point. Unfortunately, you neither have the intellectual honesty nor the intellectual humility to acknoweldge it.

Tony said...

Unfortunately, you neither have the intellectual honesty nor the intellectual humility to acknoweldge it.

You might think I am dishonest, but when you SAY that I am dishonest without knowing me you violate norms of proper behavior, even for a blog.

What I stated previously was that final causation ULTIMATELY (that's the operative term here!) presupposes mind - which it most certainly does.

True. But you seem to have forgotten your earlier comment that I was addressing. Earlier, you said:

You have already conceded that there is no physical explanation. The only explanation is a mental one.

The antecedent thing to be explained for this sentence was "random fluctuations of energy".

I agree that God is a Mind, and that final causality rests ultimately on God. I also agree with Feser that if you took God out of the picture then final causality would fall out of the picture. But the question is, in what way?

See, formal causality also rests ultimately on God. And if you took God away, formal causality would also be gone, because He is the Exemplar cause that is the ground of all formal causes. But formal causality isn't teleological. So, to rest ultimately on God isn't distinctive to telological causes. Nor does it prove that all teleological causes are themselves instances of mental causes.

You have already said that formal causes are not physical causes. Let's keep that in mind.

So, again: the final cause of an atom does require God as an ultimate cause (of course), but it does not require God (or any mind) as the immediate cause. There are final causes in nature that are not directly mental causes - final cause rests in entities where no mind rests. Hence, Aristotelianism does not stand for the proposition that when an atom undergoes a random energy fluctuation, that a mental cause is the immediate causal explanation.

And thus the final and formal cause that we can look to as the cause of the random fluctuation are neither matter nor mental causes.

And you you insist over and over that it's either a physical cause or a mental cause:

There are only two causal explanations - physical or mental.

Your red herring about "ultimately" is irrelevant. We are asking for the immediate cause of the fluctuation, not the ultimate cause. I suppose that next to save your dictum you will claim that according to Aristotle formal cause is also mental? Please.

Mr. Green said...

Syphax: An adjoining message board (like the forum at Reasonable Faith) would be far better at incorporating multiple lines of argument/thinking/discussion around Feser's posts.

Indeed. The built-in commenting is an afterthought designed to capture a moderate number of "LOL", "Me too", and "Great post! By the way please visit my site lots-of-pictures-of-cats.com." (Who expected serious discussion on the Internet?!) Of course, we could set up a suitably-themed forum somewhere, but being dissociated from Ed's site, it would take on a life of its own… which could be good or bad. (I miss Usenet.)

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: Anyone else love how BI never bothers presenting arguments? How he never even offers a hint that he's read and/or understood his opponents?

I'm just hoping that if the rest of us tip-toe around them, BI and AFP will keep each other busy and out of our hair.

Anonymous said...

Here, here, Mr. Green. Like I said earlier, please don't feed the trolls.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Tony

> You might think I am dishonest, but when you SAY that I am dishonest without knowing me you violate norms of proper behavior, even for a blog. <

I have characterized you as intellectual dishonest based on your continual refusal to acknowledge when a valid point has been made. And to the extent that you continue to engage in such behavior, I will continue to call you out on it.

> True. But you seem to have forgotten your earlier comment that I was addressing. Earlier, you said:

You have already conceded that there is no physical explanation. The only explanation is a mental one.

The antecedent thing to be explained for this sentence was "random fluctuations of energy".
<

I did make that statement. But you're taking it out of context. It was addressed to "BeingItself," not you.

> I agree that God is a Mind, and that final causality rests ultimately on God. I also agree with Feser that if you took God out of the picture then final causality would fall out of the picture. But the question is, in what way?

See, formal causality also rests ultimately on God. And if you took God away, formal causality would also be gone, because He is the Exemplar cause that is the ground of all formal causes. But formal causality isn't teleological. So, to rest ultimately on God isn't distinctive to telological causes. Nor does it prove that all teleological causes are themselves instances of mental causes.
<

This is another one of your straw man arguments. I never argued that all formal causes are teleological. To reiterate:
"What I stated previously was that final causation ULTIMATELY (that's the operative term here!) presupposes mind." And the fact is that you have already conceded the point by going on record and stating: "I agree that God is a Mind, and that final causality rests ultimately on God."

A physically uncaused event has no physical cause by definition. And the only possible explanation is a mental one. This is irrespective of A-T metaphysics. (It so happens that A-T metaphysics posits an "uncaused cause." Also, if I not mistaken, Aristotelianism posits numerous "uncaused causes.")

> You have already said that formal causes are not physical causes. Let's keep that in mind.

So, again: the final cause of an atom does require God as an ultimate cause (of course), but it does not require God (or any mind) as the immediate cause. There are final causes in nature that are not directly mental causes - final cause rests in entities where no mind rests. Hence, Aristotelianism does not stand for the proposition that when an atom undergoes a random energy fluctuation, that a mental cause is the immediate causal explanation.

And thus the final and formal cause that we can look to as the cause of the random fluctuation are neither matter nor mental causes.

And you you insist over and over that it's either a physical cause or a mental cause:
<

A physically uncaused event has no physical cause by definition. Therefore, the only possible explanation is an "uncaused cause" - a cuase that not only presupposes some form mentality but also some element of chance (your objections not withstanding).

"The idea that an electron...by its own FREE DECISION CHOOSES the moment and direction in which it wants to eject is intolerable to me. If that is so, I'd rather be a cobbler or a clerk in a gambling casino than a physicist."

(source: pg. 574, "Albert Einstein" by Albrecht Fölsing, translated by Ewald Osers)

Anonymous said...

Wow, talk about trolls. I didn't know a person could have so many non sequiturs in such a small space. Does he try for it, or is it uncaused, just by chance, do you think?