Sunday, May 20, 2012

Oerter contra the principle of causality

The Scholastic principle of causality states that any potential, if actualized, must be actualized by something already actual.  (It is also sometimes formulated as the thesis that whatever is moved is moved by another or whatever is changed is changed by another.  But the more technical way of stating it is less potentially misleading for readers unacquainted with Scholastic thinking, who are bound to read things into terms like “motion” or “change” that Scholastic writers do not intend.)

In an earlier post I responded to an objection to the principle raised by physicist Robert Oerter, who has, at his blog, been writing up a series of critical posts on my book The Last Superstition.  Oerter has now posted two further installments in his series, which develop and defend his criticism of the principle of causality.  Let’s take a look.

Quantum mechanics and causality

Recall that in an earlier post Oerter claimed that quantum mechanics casts doubt on the principle of causality insofar as it describes “systems that change from one state to another without any apparent physical ‘trigger.’”  Recall also that I pointed out that it 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.

In the first of the two further installments he’s posted since my response, Oerter replies to this sort of objection as follows:

This is a valid point.  Just because quantum mechanics…  is the most amazingly well-tested, most accurate, most far-reaching description of the universe that we have ever produced, we can't just conclude that it's the end of the story.  Maybe quantum mechanics is incomplete - maybe there is some further, more precise, theory that will tell us about the causes of electron transitions and radioactive decay…

This very point was raised in a famous paper by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen, who argued in 1935 that quantum mechanics must be incomplete…  An [sic] major advance came in 1964, when John Bell showed that (under a very general set of assumptions) any attempt to “complete” quantum mechanics would end up making predictions that differed from those of QM.  This led to a series of experiments designed to look for such differences.  The upshot: quantum mechanics has come out the winner in every test to date… 

[A]ny additional “causes” added to quantum mechanics will result in violations of quantum mechanical predictions.

Let's suppose that there is some physical property - something not included in the quantum mechanical description - that determines for each atom exactly when the electron will decay.  Call it property A.  Since property A is a physical property, it must have some physical effect.  If it has some physical effect, then it must be possible to separate out systems with one value of property A from systems with some other value.  That is, we can use property A as a filter…

Applying this filter, we separate out a subset from our original set of identically prepared atoms.  This subset, having a physical difference from the original set, will have a measurably different set of physical properties… Thus, this subset will violate the rules of quantum mechanics. 

Now, I put it to you that the 100-year history of successful predictions of quantum mechanics strongly suggests that there are no such additional physical properties…

End quote.  Now, to see what is wrong with this, recall the analogy I drew in my previous post with Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.  I noted that it would be fallacious to argue from the premise that Kepler’s laws describe the orbits of the planets without making reference to any cause of those orbits to the conclusion that Kepler’s laws show that the orbits of the planets have no cause.  And it would remain fallacious whatever you think about Kepler’s laws and whether or not you think the orbits of the planets have a cause.  For the 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.

Hence, suppose someone who insisted that Kepler’s laws do show that the planetary orbits have no cause responded to criticism of this fallacious inference by saying: “That’s a valid point.  Even though Kepler’s laws have had tremendous predictive success, they may not be the end of the story.  Maybe some future theory will posit some heretofore unknown massive bodies additional to the ones we already know about (the sun, planets, asteroids, etc.), which make the planets orbit the sun in just the way they do.  But the problem is that if there were such further bodies, they would influence the ones we do know about in such a way that their behavior would not match Kepler’s predictions.  So the success of Kepler’s laws strongly suggests that there are no such additional bodies.  So Kepler’s laws really do give us reason to doubt that the orbits of the planets have any cause.”

Such a response would, of course, completely miss the point.  For the point has nothing at all to do with the empirical question of whether there exist some heretofore unknown bodies additional to the sun, planets, asteroids, etc. which exert a causal influence on the rest of the solar system.  The point is much simpler (though also much deeper) than that sort of issue.  It is not a point about the existence of causes of this or that particular kind, but a point about causality as such.  And the point is that Kepler’s laws, which merely describe the behavior of the planets, tell you nothing one way or the other about why the planets behave that way.  They are not even addressing that question.  Hence they cannot answer that question.  Nor (we might note for those who eschew metaphysics) can they tell you whether the question is a good question, whether it has any answer in the first place, etc.  To the issue at hand, they are simply irrelevant.

Now the same thing is true of the relationship between QM and the principle of causality.  To point out that it is fallacious 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, is not to say that for all we know there may be some heretofore undiscovered physical property which exerts an influence on the energy level of the electron (or whatever).  The point is much simpler (though also much deeper) than that sort of issue.  It is that QM, which merely describes the behavior of a system, tells you nothing one way or the other about why the system behaves that way.  It also tells you nothing one way or the other about whether the question of why it behaves that way is a good question, whether it has any answer in the first place, etc.  To the issue at hand, QM is simply irrelevant.

This naturally brings us to another objection to his position that Oerter considers in his recent post, to the effect that the principle of causality is “a metaphysical premise that can't be contradicted by any possible set of observations.”  Oerter’s reply is that to insist, on metaphysical grounds, that the actualization of a potential must always have a cause is either to beg the question against him, or to rest one’s position on definitions of the key terms (“actuality,” “potentiality,” “change,” etc.) without giving any reason to think that the terms so defined really capture anything in the real world.

To see what is wrong with this response, consider once again the fallacious inference from the premise that Kepler’s laws describe the orbits of the planets without making reference to any cause of those orbits to the conclusion that Kepler’s laws show that the orbits of the planets have no cause.  Suppose that when you pointed out the fallaciousness of this inference to someone who made it, he replied: “Your position either begs the question against me or rests on arbitrary definitions!”  Obviously this too would simply miss the point, since the criticism of the inference in question was not: “The orbits of the planets do have a cause, here’s my theory about what that cause is, here are the technical terms my theory makes use of, etc.”  The criticism was rather: “Whether or not the orbits of the planets really do have a cause, the inference you are making is fallacious, because Kepler’s laws by themselves aren’t even relevant to that particular question.”  Similarly, the inference 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 is fallacious, and it remains fallacious whether or not the principle of causality is true, whether or not the definitions of its key terms have any application to reality, etc.  Even if the Aristotelian position turned out to be false, quantum mechanics wouldn’t be what falsifies it.

Oerter also addresses another potential objection to his position, to the effect that “the laws of quantum mechanics are the cause of the change [i.e. the change described in examples of the sort Oerter appeals to].”  The first part of Oerter’s response is as follows:

This objection can be dismissed easily.  The question is what causes the change to happen at the particular time it happens.  QM is silent on this question.

Further, in most philosophical views of physical laws, the laws have no causal efficacy.  For instance, we might think of laws as just descriptions of the way things actually behave.  But a description of how something happens is not a cause of it happening.  So, the moon's orbit around the earth isn't caused by the law of gravity.  It's caused by the actual gravity of the actual earth. 

Now as it happens I more or less agree with what Oerter says here.  Indeed, it is ironic that he should say it, because it actually supports my position rather than his.  Oerter writes that “we might think of laws as just descriptions of the way things actually behave.”  Exactly.  Laws -- including the laws enshrined in QM -- are descriptive.  They tell you what happens, but they do not tell you why it happens that way.  They may, of course, make reference to particular sorts of causal factors -- gravitation, mass, charge, etc. -- but the explication of these factors itself simply amounts to a further description of what these causes do, not why they do it.  Indeed, the causality as such of gravitation, mass, etc. is, strictly speaking, irrelevant to the laws.  That A and B will behave in such-and-such a way is all the law qua law commits you to; that A is the cause of B drops out as irrelevant.  That is why Newton’s law of universal gravitation was so useful even when we had no clear idea of what gravity was or how it worked.  And that is why positivists could hold that causality was a pre-scientific holdover which could be dispensed with.  They were wrong to hold this, but the point is that they could hold it with a straight face in the first place only because the status of causality as such -- its nature and even its existence -- is something about which the laws of physics themselves (including the laws of QM) are silent.  

But the status of causality as such is precisely what the principle of causality is about.  And that is why QM has nothing to tell us about the principle of causality.  They are simply not addressing the same question.  Given that you have already determined on independent grounds whether or not the principle of causality is true, QM may raise questions about how it is to be understood in contexts like that of the hydrogen atom (to allude to Oerter’s example).  But there is nothing special about QM in that regard.  One billiard ball knocking into another, melting and freezing, electromagnetism, gravitational attraction, plant and animal growth, volitional behavior, divine creation, all involve very different sorts of efficient causality.  There are also distinctions to be drawn between essentially ordered and accidentally ordered causes, between causes that contain what is in their effects formally and those that contain what is in their effects only virtually, between total causes and partial causes, between the causality of substances and that of accidents, and so forth.  If you think that all efficient causality reduces to some crude, deterministic billiard-ball model, then QM might seem to be a challenge to the very notion of causality.  (“Look, there’s no little billiard ball deterministically pushing the electron into a higher energy level!  Causality itself crumbles!”)  But no Aristotelian or Scholastic would buy this simplistic conception of efficient causality in the first place.  (Naturalist critics of Aristotelian-Scholastic arguments rarely beg one question at a time.  They beg whole books full of questions.)

The principle of causality itself does not make any claim about how exactly efficient causes operate in all of these diverse cases.  It just tells us that whatever the details turn out to be, any potential will only be actualized by something already actual.  How does this work out in the case of QM?  This brings us to the second part of Oerter’s response to the claim that the laws of QM are the cause of change.  He writes:

Finally, even if we think of physical laws as having some sort of actual existence and causal efficacy, well, the laws of QM exist right at the moment the electron is excited, so by this view the electron should immediately decay.  In Aristotelian terms, we are looking for the efficient cause: the thing that brings about the change at the instant it occurs.  The laws of physics apply equally to all times; they can't be the reason something happens at some particular time.

(It seems to me that the laws of physics could be considered the formal cause in Aristotelian language.  But Feser says that modern philosophers have abandoned formal (as well as final) causes.  Does anyone know if laws can, or cannot, be considered formal causes?)

The answer to this latter question is: No, laws are not formal causes.  Nor do laws have any sort of independent existence or efficacy as efficient causes.  The correct thing to say from an Aristotelian point of view is rather something like this: Natural substances have essences or substantial forms that ground their characteristic patterns of operation.  For instance, it is in virtue of the substantial form of a tree that it tends to sink roots and grow branches; it is in virtue of the substantial form of water that it tends to freeze at one temperature and boil at another temperature; it is in virtue of something common to the substantial forms of material objects in general that they exert a gravitational pull on each other; and so forth.  Now a “law of nature” is a description of these patterns, a description of how things will tend to operate given their natures, essences, or substantial forms.  The existence and operation of laws of nature thus presupposes the existence and operation of concrete natural substances.  Indeed, strictly speaking it is not the laws that exist and operate; “laws” are mere abstractions from the concrete substances.  What exist and operate are the concrete substances themselves.  The laws are not even formal causes but rather mere descriptions of how things operate given their formal causes, i.e. their substantial forms.  (See chapter 6 of David Oderberg’s Real Essentialism for an important recent treatment of laws of nature from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view.) 

[This is, by the way, why “laws of nature” don’t really explain anything, at least not ultimately.  The very idea is a holdover from a time when Descartes, Newton, and Co. wanted to chuck out the Aristotelian framework, and replaced the idea that things operate according to intrinsic natures or substantial forms with the idea of operation according to externally imposed divine commands or “laws.”  Stripped of this theological context, the notion of a “law” must either be cashed out in Aristotelian terms of the kind suggested above, or in other metaphysical terms equally unwelcome to the naturalist, or -- as Nancy Cartwright has pointed out -- collapse into incoherence.  It is ironic that atheists so unreflectively help themselves to an inherently theological idea, albeit an idea derived from modernist rather than Scholastic theology.]

In the case of the hydrogen atom (once again to appeal to Oerter’s example), what we have is a concrete system that behaves in the way described by QM.  Now as I have noted before, 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.

An interpretation of QM that is both Aristotelian and realist will, naturally, insist that it is not the laws of QM themselves that cause anything, since they are mere abstractions from concrete systems operating in accordance with their substantial forms.  Hence it is in virtue of the substantial form of a hydrogen atom that it will behave in the manner described by QM, just as it is by virtue of the substantial forms of material things in general that they will exert a gravitational attraction on one another.  Now for the Aristotelian, the substantial form of an inanimate substance is not the efficient cause of its natural operations; rather, those operations flow “spontaneously” from it, precisely because it is in the nature of the substance to operate in those ways.  (See James Weisheipl’s Nature and Motion in the Middle Ages for an important treatment of the subject.)  Hence that a planet exerts a gravitational pull is just something it does by virtue of its nature or substantial form; it does not need a continuously operating efficient cause to make it exert such a pull.  That does not mean that there is in no sense an efficient cause of a thing’s natural operations, but that efficient cause is just that which gave the substance in question its substantial form in the first place, i.e. that which generated the substance or brought it into being.  It is not something that needs continuously to operate after the thing is brought into being.  Hence the efficient cause of a planet’s exerting a gravitational pull on other objects is just whatever natural processes brought that planet into existence millions of years ago, thereby giving it the nature or substantial form it has.  Its exerting that pull is now something it just does “spontaneously,” by virtue of its nature.  (Mind you, that does not mean that it can exist or operate even for a moment without a divine sustaining cause; it cannot do so, for reasons I spell out in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.”  But that is a separate issue.  What I am talking about here is whether there needs to be some efficient cause alongside it within the natural order that causes it to exert a gravitational pull.)

Now, along the same lines, we might say that the hydrogen atom also behaves as it does “spontaneously,” simply by virtue of having the substantial form it does.  Why do the electron transitions occur in just the pattern they do?  Because that’s the sort of thing that happens in anything having the substantial form of a hydrogen atom, just as gravitational attraction is the sort of thing that naturally happens in anything having a substantial form of the sort typical of material objects.  What is the efficient cause of this pattern?  The efficient cause is whatever brought a particular hydrogen atom into existence, just as the efficient cause of gravitational attraction is whatever brought a particular material object into existence.  That is one way, anyway, of giving an Aristotelian interpretation of QM phenomena of the sort cited by Oerter, and it is intended only as a sketch made for purposes of illustration rather than a completely worked out account.  But it shows how QM can be naturally fitted into the Aristotelian framework using concepts that already exist within the latter.

Of course, critics of Aristotelianism will reject this way of interpreting what is going on.  Fine and dandy.  (Though please don’t waste everyone’s time with sophomoric Molière-style “dormitive virtue” objections to substantial forms.  I have explained why this objection is no good in The Last Superstition and Aquinas.)  The point is that QM itself gives one no reason whatsoever to reject it.  If the critics of the Aristotelian position are to find rational grounds for rejecting it, they must look elsewhere.

Newton and local motion

In the second of the two installments he’s posted since my initial response to him, Oerter raises the hoary objection from Newton’s law of inertia against the principle that whatever is moved is moved by another.  Now, as I have already noted, the less misleading way of stating the principle is as the thesis that any potential, if actualized, must be actualized by something already actual.  And when it is put that way, it is less obvious that there is any conflict with Newton’s law.  After all, Newton’s law tells us that every body continues in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.  And how, exactly, does this contradict the thesis that any potential, if actualized, must be actualized by something already actual?
 
The answer is that there is no conflict at all, because (once again) the principle of causality and the laws of physics are not even addressing the same question.  Now I discussed this issue briefly in The Last Superstition, and it is to what I said there that Oerter is responding.  But I addressed the issue at greater length in Aquinas (at pp. 76-79), which it seems Oerter has not read.  And I address it at much greater length still in my paper “The medieval principle of motion and the modern principle of inertia,” which is forthcoming in the Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics (and which, when it appears, should be available online as well as in print).  

I’m not going to repeat everything I’ve said in Aquinas or preempt what I say in the forthcoming paper, but some general remarks should suffice for present purposes.  There are five general reasons why the purported conflict between Newton’s law and the principle of causality is illusory (reasons I develop at length in the paper).  First, there would be no formal contradiction between the two even if they were using “motion” in the same sense.  For like Kepler’s laws and the laws of QM, Newton’s law is descriptive.  It tells us how a body behaves, but not why it behaves that way.  Thus the law does not rule out the thesis that the reason a body so behaves is because of a “mover” which actualizes its potencies for motion.  (To be sure, the law does rule out any scenario where a body continues at rest or uniform rectilinear motion while acted upon by physical forces impressed upon it.  But -- to appeal once again to the analogy with Kepler’s laws -- the principle of causality no more requires that what actualizes a potency is, specifically, a physical force of this sort than to affirm a cause of the orbits of the planets requires positing a special kind of massive body additional to the sun, planets, asteroids, etc.)

Second, Newton’s law and the principle of causality are not in fact using “motion” in precisely the same sense in the first place.  Newton’s law pertains to local motion specifically, i.e. change with respect to place.  The principle of causality applies to change of any kind, which includes not only local motion but change with respect to quantity, change with respect to quality, and change from one substance to another.  Now some might object that these other sorts of change can all be reduced to local motion.  I think that is quite false, but that is neither here nor there for present purposes.  For the deeper point is that when the principle of causality speaks of motion (local or otherwise) what it is talking about is the actualization of potentials.  And Newton’s law simply has nothing whatsoever to say about that.  In particular, when Newton’s law says that a body in motion will tend to stay in motion, it is not asserting that a potential which is being actualized will continue being actualized.  Even if it were suggested that Newton’s law entails this, the point is that that isn’t what the principle of inertia itself, as understood within physics, is saying.  Indeed, the whole aim of early modern physics of the sort practiced by Newton was to provide a description of nature that sidestepped the whole Aristotelian-Scholastic apparatus of actuality and potentiality, substantial forms, and the like.  Modern physics didn’t offer different answers to the questions the Scholastics were asking.  It simply changed the subject.

A third point is that Newtonian inertial motion is often characterized as a “state” -- that is, as the absence of any real change.  Now if such motion really is a state, then there is no conflict with the principle of causality, for if inertial motion involves no real change, than it involves no actualization of potential -- in which case, obviously, it involves no actualization of a potential without a cause.  Indeed, since Newton’s law says that a genuine change in an object’s local motion can occur only if a force acts upon it, the law implicitly affirms the principle of causality!  Hence if 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.  

A fourth point is that those who assert a conflict between Newton and Aristotle often direct their attacks at a straw man.  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.  (This is related to the point made earlier about the operations that a substance will carry out “spontaneously” given its substantial form.  And here too, Weisheipl’s book is the place to look for a detailed treatment of the subject.)  To be sure, the idea of “natural place” is a piece of Aristotelian physics (as opposed to metaphysics) that is obsolete; and the violent (as opposed to natural) motions of objects were thought to require some conjoined mover.  But all of that is beside the point.  For the 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.

Finally, and as all of this indicates, there can be no conflict between Newton’s law and the principle of causality because the former is a thesis of natural science and the latter a thesis of metaphysics -- or more precisely, of that branch of metaphysics known as the philosophy of nature.  As Bertrand Russell and others with no Aristotelian or theological ax to grind have emphasized, what physics gives us is really only the abstract mathematical structure of the material world.  It does not tell us what fills out that structure, does not tell us the intrinsic nature of the material world.  But that is what metaphysics, and in particular the philosophy of nature, are concerned with.  Moreover, the philosophy of nature, as modern Scholastics have understood it, tells us what the natural world must be like whatever the specific laws of physics, chemistry, etc. turn out to be.  And the Scholastic position is that the distinction between actuality and potentiality, the principle of causality, and other fundamental elements of the Aristotelian conception of nature are among the preconditions of any possible material world susceptible of scientific study.

That is why no findings of empirical science can undermine the claims of metaphysics and the philosophy of nature.  It is also why no findings of empirical science can undermine the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments for the existence of God, for these are grounded in premises drawn, not from natural science, but from metaphysics and the philosophy of nature.  Now that does not mean that these arguments of natural theology are not susceptible of rational evaluation and criticism.  What it means is that such evaluation and criticism will have to be philosophical and metaphysical, rather than empirical, in nature.  Nor is natural theology in this regard at all different from atheism.  Atheists who think they are arguing from “purely scientific” premises never really are.  They are, without exception, arguing from metaphysical assumptions -- and usually unexamined ones at that -- that are first read into empirical science and then read back out, like the rabbit the magician can pull out of the hat only because he’s first hidden it there.

Readers who disagree with these claims are cordially invited to refute them -- without either begging the question or smuggling in metaphysical assumptions of precisely the sort they deny making.  Good luck with that.

227 comments:

1 – 200 of 227   Newer›   Newest»
Alan Aversa said...

Have you read William Wallace, O.P.'s 2 volume Causality & Scientific Explanation? Judging by the quality of his The Modeling of Nature, I'm sure it's good.

Rupert said...

If (as I would claim) we have independent reason to affirm the principle of causality...

So where can I read about this reason?

WMF said...

Dear Dr. Feser, could you please elaborate on something?
You claim that the principle of causality is not violated if we don't find a "billiard-ball property" or "property A" as Oerter calls it that "deterministically pushing the electron into a higher energy level!"

How would a non-deterministic cause would be like? Let's stay within QM. It's easy to construct a scenario where a system is in a state X before measuring it, we measure it and then after measuring it it has a 50% chance of being in state Y and a 50% chance of being in a state Z. Let's say it's in state Y. By the principle of causality, there is something actual that actualizes the system being in state Y. But why wasn't state Z realized?

Sean Robsville said...

Causes and effects are arbitrary concepts generated by our minds as convenient 'working approximations' to make sense of what's going on in the ever-changing world.

In reality, all functioning phenomena are intrinsically impermanent and do not remain in the same state from one millisecond to the next (viz. wave functions of fundamental particles). It is the 'significant' interactions of these ever-changing particles (and their ever-changing macroscopic aggregates) that we choose to label 'causes' and 'effects'.
The insignificant interactions we simply ignore.

The cause of the apple falling at precisely that exact spot on the ground is the gravitational attraction of the planet Pluto. But compared with the gravitational attraction of the earth, that of Pluto is insignificant, so we ignore it.
However, 'significance' and 'insignificance' are ultimately matters of arbitrary judgement.

Codgitator said...

Notice how Sean assumes causality holds twice in the opening sentence of his May 20 2:59 comment: causality is a fiction CAUSED BY the mind in response to impressions CAUSED BY the outside world.

I like this game, let's try again! But when did Nintendo make a logical version of Duck Hunt?

Codgitator said...

As I, ahem, recently tweeted: "Even 'uncaused' quantum events are BASED ON quantum mechanical laws & the prior conditions from which they emerge. #Copenhagen #logic #fail"

Is anyone here,familiar with the import Tic Machuga notes about the per se vs. per accidens causal distinction in his Defense of the Soul?

David T said...

Sean,

So your view that "causes and effects are arbitrary concepts" is an effect arbitrarily caused by your mind? Why should we pay any attention to it?

Since you grant yourself the privilege of talking about how things are "in reality", and not just how they are arbitrarily constructed by the mind, where do the rest of us apply for such a privilege?

David T said...

Dr. Feser,

I flatter myself that I anticipated your point about the Newtonian "state" over on Dr. Oerter's blog, he responded thusly:

Your second paragraph seems to be an attempt along the lines I mentioned in my response to (1.) in the post: to declare that "only changes of type X 'count.'" But how do you define the class X? And how do you justify saying that only these changes count? In any case, you have abandoned the principle that "Whatever changes is changed by something else."

I wonder what you think of my response, to wit that inertial motion is a matter of perspective, since an inertial mover is not moving in its own inertial reference frame, and no inertial frame has an absolute privilege over any other (this is Einstein's point). Oerter's challenge requires an arbitrary insistence on interpreting inertial movement from a specific frame of reference (e.g. one in which an inertial mover appears to be moving). But the principle of causality is about absolute change (i.e. one that is not dependent on perspective) rather than the appearance of change from arbitrarily forced perspectives.

BeingItself said...

"no findings of empirical science can undermine the claims of metaphysics"

But in TLS you use empirical examples to support your metaphysical claims.

To then then around and say empirical science cannot undermine your metaphysics is to rig the game in your favor.

Eduardo said...

Metaphysics talks about the world. So you have to use examples that people have empiracally seen, to talk about the metaphysical theories.


However going in a lab and taking several measurements of jet of particles hitting nother jet of particles, or one particle hitting another particle, doesn't necessarily entail that the metaphysical theory that you were talking before will change.

Is a one way relation between the ideas. Perhaps, it is the very method of how you analyse things that creates the one way relation.

Anyways he is not rigging the game.

Codgitator said...

Nope, BI, that's a basic logical error on your part.

Consider:

A. No claims about our family by outsiders can subvert our own testimony of our lives.

B. Outside research on the average family can be used to illustrate or enrich our testimony for outsiders.

A'. Empirical claims can't in principle falsify true metaphysical theses.

B'. Empirical claims can be used to illustrate or enrich true metaphysical theses.

Feser does/did not argue thus: Based on such and such empirical data, therefore A-T is true. Rather, he argues that A-T is true and various empirical data illuminate its claims thus and such.

Your objection is basically that A-T doesn't meekly conform to empirical data, as 'Science' allegedly does, but even that is a metaphysical axiom on your part. What counts as evidence? Proof? Axiom vs. conclusion?

If I may turn the tables to show you how misplaced your objection is: What and how much empirical data would falsify your adherence to empiricism? What's that? You say empiricism can't in principle be refuted by empirical data? Interesting!

BeingItself said...

Codgitator wrote:

"Feser does/did not argue thus: Based on such and such empirical data, therefore A-T is true. Rather, he argues that A-T is true and various empirical data illuminate its claims thus and such."

I understand what you are saying. Unfortunately, I no longer have the book, and it's not available on Kindle. But I recall early in the book he outlines what a "metaphysical demonstration" is, and I'm pretty sure it involves empirical information as a key part of the process.

I could be wrong about this. But if someone could look it up and quote it exactly, that would be great.

machinephilosophy said...

Relax everyone! Everything about causality is arbitrary and conventional, and I of course know this as The Non-Arbitrary Non-Conventional Universal Objective Truth of Causality! Quantum Mechanics revealed this to me personally!

You can all bow down now---that is, after you've invited Arbitrary Conventionality into your heart!

Bobcat said...

Hi BeingItself,

Not to threadjack, but I have a question for you: you've been on the threads to Feser's blog for a while now, gleefully arguing against A-T philosophy. I've not paid too much attention, but I gather the sense that your tone has softened a bit. I was wondering: even though I assume you still think A-T philosophy false, have you come to respect it more than you used to? If not, have you at least felt that your interactions here have improved the way you (and/or your interlocutors) think about things?

BeingItself said...

"have you come to respect it more than you used to?"

No.

But I did learn this from Feser's book: if you accept A-T metaphysics, the 3 arguments are not idiotic.

But I have been given no good reasons to accept A-T metaphysics.

"have you at least felt that your interactions here have improved the way you (and/or your interlocutors) think about things?"

Sure. As I said above.

This is the main problem I have: I can find no common ground.

For example, if I bring in empirical evidence shared by us all, I am met with screams of "empirical evidence is not permitted!"

Which just leaves me scratching my head. If our shared experience of the world is excluded, how can we even have a conversation?

Anonymous said...

BI,

Tell me if I understand you:

Do you think that the theists here are trying to clumsily and unjustifiably force physical reality to fit into an A-T metaphysical framework, a metaphysics which is itself directly formed from observation of physical reality, but which they then turn around and say cannot be refuted by physical reality, even in principle?

BeingItself said...

Anon,

Yes. I see over and over people say that "the law of causality", or whatever principle it is, cannot be refuted by empirical data. Feser himself says it.

Codgitator said...

BI:

That's true and I didn't want to leave the impression that A-T is anti-empirical, quite the contrary. I mean, Aristotle gets a terrible rap for not looking around as carefully as we think we've come to do, but there's no denying he looked around in an extremely empirical way. Indeed, his less famous books are mostly catalogues of observations and inferences. In any event, my point is that there's a risk of false dichotomy about empiricism vs. rationalism. But I think it's largely a modern debate, and, as a Thomist, I think A-T does strike the right balance (dare I say golden mean?) between the two trends. All metaphysics of course draws upon and is 'instigated' by empirical awareness. Yet its focus is on what per se can't be merely empirical data, i.e. causes and relations, substance and accident, etc. If metaphysics were as subject to empirical refutation as any passing datum, it would fail to be the science of cause per se and would point towards a higher science which would nevertheless serve the same purpose. I don't know any competent Thomist would say, much less scream, "Empirical evidence is not permitted." This does not mean Thomists could not object to the further unwarranted premise that such evidence is the only thing permitted. It's sadly ironic, therefore, that you complain of no common ground: for metaphysics is precisely the pursuit of categories and realities that are universal (naturally common) to all empirical inquiries. Metaphysics, we might say, is the grammar of empirical wonder: it's just not the thing to be refuted by common language usage, since every act of such usage is itself subject to and demonstrative of its own grammar.

BeingItself said...

Codg,

Could any empirical observation or observations in principle cast doubt on "whatever changes is changed by another"?

Codgitator said...

And to be clear: I think there are metaphysical claims that can be refuted by empirical data. That is why I carefully said "true metaphysical theses" above. Such super-empirical principles would be those which cannot be rejected without eo ipso exploding one's own basis for empirical knowledge. Retortion. Performative contradiction. Petitio principii. Kind of like saying, "Words can't express truth", or,"There's no external world, I've looked!"

reighley said...

I for one am still having trouble making causality fit the facts.

I keep imagining two polarizing filters, one mounted at 45 degrees to another. One photon passes the first but not the second. Another photon passes both. Why are they different? There seems to be no answer to that question, in either physics or metaphysics beyond "that's just what photons do, they did this thing because they are photons."

Is that actually the understanding of the verb "to cause" I am expected to have?

Daniel Smith said...

Re: Newtonian motion...

It helps me to view things in terms of actuality and potentiality:

Whatever is actually at rest is potentially in motion.
And...
Whatever is actually in motion is potentially at rest.

In either case, something else must cause the change from potentiality to actuality.

Eduardo said...

U____U

So why not simply discuss what the theory of causation in thomism says ???

Anonymous said...

Why try so hard to shoehorn the world into a metaphysical framework? Why don't we take BI's advice and just "let the world be world"?

Eduardo said...

U_U we are all lunatics... You know, you can't really expect crazy people to act normal. Whatever normal is !!!!


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

By the way doesn't that phrase adds nothing at all ??? I mean is just like saying A=A therefore A...

Codgitator said...

Reighley:

Let's slow things down.

Carry the two-slit experiment (TSE) to its end point and what do you get? The striped interference pattern (SIP), as you know. Now, what causes SIP? The wave-form nature of quanta, a bedrock tenet of QM. Since, however, SIP just is the aggregate and final behavior/display of released quanta in TSE, it follows that the cause of SIP is precisely the cause of each quantum's behavior. IOW, each random quantum emission is causally a function of the wave-function to which it belongs. Far from refuting causality, it reinforces it ay the qubit level of analysis.

The obverse shows the same truth from the other direction. If we assume that each quantum has no cause at all, it follows that SIP has no cause either, which is bizarre, since TSE is hailed as one of QM's greatest supports and explanatory heuristics. If QM entails no individual quantum has a cause, it follows that SIP has no cause, and TSE fails as an explanation. Wave-form QM would explain nothing, since it would not be the cause of the phenomenon to be explained.

Hence, I find it amusing that A-T is so often accused of a failure of imagination (e.g. being unable to fathom how immaterial intellection could be performed by a material brain-organ), yet, when it comes to QM, it is the imagination of critics of A-T that fails. "Garsh, I can't fathom how TSE works if A-T causality is true, so A-T must be false!" Yet TSE may in fact just be a time-lapse illustration, as it were, of the very principle of causality A-T defends. For in each quantum emission, we are literally observing the bit-by-bit depotentiation of subatomic energy into a coherent (!), real, formal, explanatory actuality (viz. SIP). Everyone acknowledges how baffling and unsatisfying QM is as a complete theory, so it behooves us not to toss out manifest metaphysical realities like causality just because we can't yet grasp the underlying causal principles of QM.

So I'll reiterate what I posted earlier: "Even 'uncaused' quantum events are BASED ON quantum mechanical laws & the prior conditions from which they emerge. #Copenhagen #logic #fail"

P.S. I hope no one cries "fallacy of composition" about what I've said here WITHOUT first clarifying how SIP can be ontologically distinct from its constituent quanta. Not all composition is fallacious.

Sean Robsville said...

@Codgitator
"Sean assumes causality holds twice in the opening sentence of his May 20 2:59 comment: causality is a fiction CAUSED BY the mind in response to impressions CAUSED BY the outside world."

I never said that causality is a fiction. Causality, like all aspects of impermanence, is an indivisible continuous process which our mind arbitrarily divides up into discontinuous causes and effects.

The terms 'cause' and 'effect' are arbitrary and indeed interchangeable. How many effects of the First World War were causes of the second?

@ David T
Q: ...where do the rest of us apply for such a privilege?
A: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_function

Anonymous said...

It is important to remember that quantum mechanics was described by one of its founders Heisenberg as a system best understood via Aristotle's notion of potentia.

It's a very interesting book that illustrates the mind of a very interesting thinker. You can find it for free here in .pdf format:

http://www.naturalthinker.net/trl/texts/Heisenberg,Werner/Heisenberg,%20Werner%20-%20Physics%20and%20philosophy.pdf

Enjoy

Codgitator said...

Sean:

“Sapientis enim est non curare de nominibus.” (St Thomas Aquinas)

Help me understand how an arbitrary reality differs from a fiction.

You clearly have a conceptualist stance on causality (and all else) so how does that not entail a fictionalist account of causality? Fiction is what thinkers make up. Causality is a story we make up, according to you. Stop being dodgy, stop mincing words.

Again, the bottom line is that you're proferring a CAUSAL argument against real causality (à la the mind CAUSES causal order-- er, like, what?), hence you're coming off as incoherent and/or disingenuous. Why don't I just say that YOUR "rational" (Buddhist) account of the mind, as causing arbitrary taxonomies of cause and effect, IS ITSELF an arbitrary analysis? Or that your dichotomy between mind and world is just as indefensibly arbitrary? Or didn't you know arbitrary is a euphemism for blindly irrational? What? You mean various facts and arguments CAUSE your adherence to Buddhism? How arbitrary!

Word to the wise: being Buddhist doesn't deliver you from dogmatism, not at all, and the West has also wised up to the old Boomer blather that Buddhism is beyond logic. Illogic is no more beyond logic than a prisoner is beyond social reality. You're really just a warmed over Spencerian with HTML skillz. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? There is no egg,no chicken, no spoon, yada yada yada. Well, there is no Sean, if that's your game. Brother. e_e

BeingItself said...

anon,

From that book:

"Only experimental research itself, carried out with all the refined equipment that technical science could offer, and its mathematical interpretation, provided the basis for a critical analysis — or, one may say, enforced the critical analysis — of these concepts, and finally resulted in the dissolution of the rigid frame."

The "rigid frame" that QM dissolves is the law of causality.

reighley said...

@Codgitator,

"it follows that the cause of SIP is precisely the cause of each quantum's behavior."

So now what if I perform this experiment for a single particle rather than wait for the whole pattern to emerge.

It seems to me that when you write "each random quantum emission is causally a function of the wave-function to which it belongs", you mean that this single particle will fall in the light parts of the interference pattern and not in the dark parts, and the reason for this is the wave function itself.

I find this to be a perfectly good answer to the question "what caused the particle to land in the light part of the interference pattern, rather than the dark part", but it fails to answer the question "what caused the particle to lie on one side of the pattern rather than the other".

For the interference pattern, and the wave function, and indeed the whole apparatus is perfectly symmetric about the center line between the two slits. Yet the particle lands either to the left or to the right of center.

So we have what should be a perfectly symmetric cause with an asymmetric effect. Whereas the wave function itself is different in the light parts than in the dark parts of the interference pattern, it is not different on the left than on the right.

So the statement "the particle landed in the interference pattern because of the wave function" makes sense to me, but "the particle landed to the left of center because of the wave function" makes no sense.

Sean Robsville said...

@Codgitator
Or didn't you know arbitrary is a euphemism for blindly irrational?

Division of a continuum of causality into discrete parts is arbitrary, just as division of the year into 12 discrete months is arbitrary. In the French revolution they had ten months, and I believe the Muslims have thirteen and a bit. None of these is irrational.

All events are processes if viewed on a short enough timescale. All material objects (including our galaxy and all that's in it) are processes if viewed on a long enough timescale. Impermanence is all-pervasive.

Anonymous said...

BI,

We are well aware that you're a troll and a bad one at that. Read the whole book first, try to understand it and then you can engage in your irrelevant quote mining.

What Heisenberg questions there as well as in other areas of the book is the notion of determinism. He uses the word cause in the context of determinism. But nice try.

Anonymous said...

That an the absurd notion of "cause" in the humean sense.

Unless you have a good understanding of his ideas on QM and how they relate to epistemology I'd advise you to stop trolling by copy+pasting excerpts from the book that you obviously do not understand.

goddinpotty said...

it is in virtue of the substantial form of a tree that it tends to sink roots and grow branches; it is in virtue of the substantial form of water that it tends to freeze at one temperature and boil at another temperature; it is in virtue of something common to the substantial forms of material objects in general that they exert a gravitational pull on each other; and so forth.

Dormitive principle alert. Oh wait, that argument has been pre-emptively dismissed with reference to the sacred Book. Sorry, no matter what the Book says, statements like the above are laughably empty compared with materialist explanations. The latter actually tell you something, the former, well, it is not clear what they do. They do have a sort of quasi-religious incantatory appeal, but zero information.

BTW, if you are interested in Causality you should really look at Judea Pearl's work; the two introductory lectures here are a good start.

BeingItself said...

Anon,

I too would encourage everyone to read the whole book. By no means should one quotation be the last word on the matter.

rank sophist said...

Excellent response.

Awhile back, when I first argued with Oerter about this, I presented a confused and confusing version of Prof. Feser's above account: "The efficient cause is whatever brought a particular hydrogen atom into existence, just as the efficient cause of gravitational attraction is whatever brought a particular material object into existence."

I always thought I'd gotten it wrong. Glad to see I was on the right track, even though I didn't understand why or how. There's always something new to learn in A-T metaphysics.

Codgitator said...

Reighley:

I'm confused. I'm sure you know how weird QM is, yet you seem to expect it to be Newtonian.

As I've argued, in every instance the quantum emitted conFORMS to SIP, so it is just dull bias on your part to claim each quantum arises from the exact same starting point and THUS refutes causality. QM so far only shows us that each emitted quantum starts from the same RANGE of probable effects and is THUS caused by a wave function.

Deal with my LOGIC in my above post before just repeating your same baffled objection in new words. If the wave function explains SIP, then it explains each quantum emission. If the wave function is the cause of SIP, then it's the cause of each quantum act. (The "if", btw, is merely rhetorical.) Why should we gave grants to QM scientists if they're not able or willing to provide causal paydirt?

I'm the type of person for whom, once the logic is in place, making allowance for others based on misunderstanding or cognitive intransigence, is a spiritual act of charity, so I apologize for seeming abstruse or bullish. By my lights, your "objection" is logically piffle, so plz put up or shut up.

Then again, maybe I'm the cognitive moron.

kuartus said...

If a natural cause of quantum mechanical phenomenon is not found, then at the most it would signify the inadequacy of naturalism not causality. The essay by Bruce L. Gordon,"A quantum theoretic argument against naturalism" demonstrates this quite nicely.

Sean Robsville said...

@goddinpotty
"it is in virtue of the substantial form of water that it tends to freeze at one temperature and boil at another temperature"

Tell that to anyone trying to cook rice at high altitude: http://www.chefsline.com/blog/discussions/cooking-rice-at-high-altitude/

rank sophist said...

Sean,

Prof. Feser said nothing that could be contradicted by that link. Merely clarify that part of water's substantial form is that it boils at a certain temperature dependent on altitude, and your objection falls flat. In fact, if Prof. Feser had used the technical description of water's essence/form--as David Oderberg did in Real Essentialism--, then you would never have even gotten off the ground. To paraphrase: water is a liquid with the chemical constituents H2O. By virtue of this form, water will boil at certain temperatures at certain altitudes.

Tony said...

Codg,

Could any empirical observation or observations in principle cast doubt on "whatever changes is changed by another"?


BeingItself: could any empirical observation (or group of them) upset the "Empirical Observation Principle" (EOP) that empirical evidence can act as an effective reductio to a hypothesis?

We see the EOP in operation when a hypothesis is X must be followed by Y and an empirical observation that X is not followed by Y, and we conclude "The hypothesis is wrong."

If some empirical observation could upset EOP, then we are to believe that some empirical evidence could lead to the conclusion "EOP is wrong".

If that could be so, then why in the world would you object to Feser saying that EOP cannot disprove his metaphysical thesis: if empirical evidence might disprove EOP, then EOP might be wrong, in which case his claim is on good ground. If not, then you are claiming for EOP exactly the same privilege that he is claiming for his metaphysical thesis. Don't be two-faced here: You know perfectly well that you think EOP is true, and you don't think it is true in such a way that you might have to say, based on future empirical evidence, "EOP has been falsified."

There are metaphysical statements that cannot possibly be subject to the EOP, the EOP being just one of them.

Gio said...

BeingItself, you are committing something like the denying the antecedent fallacy when you say

"To then then around and say empirical science cannot undermine your metaphysics is to rig the game in your favor."

You see, just because a certain metaphysical idea is proven by (although it really isn't, it's more exemplified or illustrated in, as others have pointed out) empirical evidence, doesn't mean that the absence of empirical evidence (or presence of other empirical evidence) can refute it. So Dr. Feser isn't being inconsistant or "rig[ging] the game in [his] favor" when he says we can't refute A-T metaphysics with empirical ideas.

Sean Robsville said...

@ Rank sophist
"By virtue of this form, water will boil at certain temperatures at certain altitudes."

Not by virtue of its 'form' (whatever that may be), but by virtue of its hydrogen bonding... http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/163boilingpt.html

The concept of 'form' has no explanatory power and is a candidate for Occam's razor.

kuartus said...

Stop feeding the trolls!

Eduardo said...

The whole conversation melted down to who screams louder...

It is sort of sad that things in the internet always boil down to it.

Sean Robsville said...

@reighley

"So the statement "the particle landed in the interference pattern because of the wave function" makes sense to me, but "the particle landed to the left of center because of the wave function" makes no sense."

The particle landed according to the probabilistic nature of the collapse of the wave-function, which has to be probabilistic rather than deterministic in order to avoid two nasty logical absurdities:

(i) Partless particles existing as infinitessimally small points.

(ii) An infinite regress of ever smaller building blocks of sub-particles, sub-sub-particles etc.

Partless Particles would be inherently existent. Each particle would exist undetectable in splendid isolation, unable to exchange any part of itself with any other entity, or accept into itself any part of any other entity.

Such a particle would thus be incapable of taking part in any process, or manifesting its existence in any way. It would be completely defined by its own nature and would be incapable of changing by undergoing any internal changes of state.

It could not even have directional parts (top, bottom, left, right etc), so it would be an infinitesimally small point in space.

But if partless particles cannot exist, how can we avoid the infinite regress of small building-blocks being composed of even smaller building-blocks, all the way down for ever?

The resolution of this apparent contradiction came with discoveries in quantum physics in the early twentieth century. When physicists arrived at the stage where further subdivision was no longer possible, they did indeed find numerically irreducible particles. However these particles are no longer discrete 'things', but are smeared out into a myriad of fuzzy probabilistic 'parts' - a continuum of probabilities distributed in a wave function throughout space.

So, bizarre as this quantum behavior of fundamental particles may appear, we are forced to conclude that it is necessary in order to avoid two even worse logical absurdities, either.


[i] The absurdity of inherently-existing, partless fundamental monads.

or

[ii] The absurdity of an infinite regress of ever smaller components and subcomponents which can never bottom out. (If the regress did terminate it could only do so at the level of inherently-existing, partless fundamental monads, which brings us back to absurdity [i] )

The infinite regress 'downwards' into infinitely deeper levels of particles, subparticles, sub-subparticles etc is avoided by sending the infinity 'sideways' into a probability cloud of an infinite number of 'possible' instances of the particle. The infinity is necessary in some form or other to avoid having a partless particle which is a 'thing in itself'.

In other words, God had no choice but to play dice at the fundamental level of matter.

More at http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2009/11/quantum-buddhism-buddhist-particle.html

rank sophist said...

Not by virtue of its 'form' (whatever that may be), but by virtue of its hydrogen bonding... http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/163boilingpt.html

The concept of 'form' has no explanatory power and is a candidate for Occam's razor.


Your post is entirely free of content. Make an argument.

BeingItself said...

Gio,

Suppose I made the following metaphysical claim: Whatever changes changes on its on. I point to electron transitions as evidence of this, or as an example of this.

Then you come along and point out that windows often break when hit with baseballs. Clearly, the windows did not break on their own.

I retort that empirical evidence cannot refute my metaphysical claim.

You would suspect me of rigging the game. And you would be right.

Eduardo said...

Actually, you would still be correct. The window ccould have broken on its own, the ball just happened to be nearby at the moment.

The whole problem is that the person that objected to you, has made no model to see how your claim is.

So he pressuposes that the event is explained solely by his metaphysics adn therefore you are wrong.... but you are not.

TheOFloinn said...

Random thoughts:
+ + +
Ockham's Razor is, of course, a metaphysical principle.

Heck, my auto mechanic doesn't need Darwinian theory to fix my car, so it too is a candidate for Ockham's Razor at that altitude.
+ + +
For more on the "myth of the boiling point," see here:
http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/people/chang/boiling/index.htm
+ + +
As a matter of curiosity, are we talking about Quantum Mechanics as understood through the Copenhagen interpretation, the many-worlds interpretation, the standing-wave interpretation, the transactional interpretation, or Wolfgang Smith's interpretation? Might this make a difference? After all, the existence of paradoxes is usually a sign you've gotten your theory wrong.
+ + +
Who needs QM to question causality? Al-Ghazali did not. Hume did not. But I notice a confusion between "X is caused" and "X is determined." Consider a man who is brained by a hammer falling off a roof as he walks by. It seems random, but everything in it is caused. He is walking by because he is going to lunch at a diner he has chosen, and at that time because it is lunch time, and because he has walked at a certain pace. The hammer falls because of "gravity" and strikes with a specific kinetic energy because of the distance fallen. It slipped off the roof because of the angle of the roof and the coefficient of friction. It slid because it was nudged by the workman's foot as he arose to go to his own lunch. The event was random, nothing (save the purely physical) was deterministic, and everything was caused.
+ + +
"At rest." Name something that is "at rest." My tea cup here on my desk is hurtling toward the east at a high rate of speed, whirling about the sun, and whizzing through the Orion Arm of the Milky Way!
+ + +
Mach's Conjecture is that "inertia" (Lat. "laziness") is simply the net effect of the gravitational attraction of the rest of the universe, a multitude of efficient causes, it would seem.
+ + +
Formal "causes" do tell us something: "emergent properties" are those possessed by the thing-as-whole due to its form. Material causes tell us something, too; as do efficient and final causes. Depending on your purpose one or another may be more interesting, but you need all four kinds for a full understanding.

Eduardo said...

what a great answer U___________U, I could have never done any better.

Anonymous said...

Sean Robsville "Not by virtue of its 'form' (whatever that may be), but by virtue of its hydrogen bonding
The concept of 'form' has no explanatory power and is a candidate for Occam's razor.


You don't understand what 'form' means. You might as well say your beloved hydrogen bonding has no explanatory power and cut it because the real reason is forces between the subatomic particles. The form IS the structure (hydrogen bonding in this case, something else in some other case -- it's just the general term for this sort of thing).

sean Robsville said...

@TheOFloinn
"Formal "causes" do tell us something: "emergent properties" are those possessed by the thing-as-whole due to its form."

Emergent properties are psychological in origin and emerge from the mind of the beholder, not from what is being beheld.

Crude said...

I'll just chime in to note this.

People keep objecting to causality on the grounds that they interpret quantum mechanics to involve events which they're certain can have no physical cause.

While I think the assorted Thomists and Aristotileans have amply responded to that confusion, I also wonder if another response is possible - at least for non-Thomists. Namely, if someone is convinced that no physical cause for quantum events can be possible, then obviously the only candidate left would be some form of non-physical, immaterial cause.

In which case, it seems like we have empirical evidence for the immaterial, and materialism stands refuted empirically.

I suppose the reply can come, 'Aha! It's only refuted if you don't sacrifice causality!' I think the best reply in that case is, "Alright. You do that. Have fun!"

Eduardo said...

I think that is a num sequitur. I think it is a good point to put emergent characteristics in the mind, but just because you think that A+B+C isjust A+B+C, a reductionist view of the world to begin with, that does not mean that they have no emergency on them and therefore it has to be in the mind.

Well overall I like the idea, wonder what it would be like if it was carefully worked.

rank sophist said...

Good thing Sean always has a handy blog post to link. This is almost starting to seem like an attempt at viral marketing.

TheOFloinn said...

An atom of sodium and an atom of chlorine are made of precisely the same matter: protons, neutron, and electrons [whatever they are]. What makes one a flammable metal and the other a poisonous gas is the number and arrangement of their parts; i.e., the form of the atom and not the parts themselves. A free electron behaves differently than an electron in a valence orbit of an atom; that is, the form of the atom-as-a-whole constrains the behavior.

Inanimate forms are relatively simple compared to animate forms, but there you have it. There's a limit to what you can stuff into the Fibber McGee closet of the mind and pretend that it isn't real because you have defined "real" tendentiously.

Sean Robsville said...

But is the form of the atom as a whole anything more than the interaction of its parts? Is there any additional mystery ingredient at work? The properties of Sodium seem to be explanable in terms of a single electron in its outer shell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Electron_shell_011_Sodium.svg

David T said...

BI,

If I may insert myself...

Suppose I made the following metaphysical claim: Whatever changes changes on its o[w]n. I point to electron transitions as evidence of this, or as an example of this.

I would argue in reply that your attempt refutes itself, since your attempt assumes that you can change my mind through argument, when by hypothesis my mind can only be changed by itself.

TheOFloinn said...

a) The parts could not "inter-act" except that they are arranged in a certain form.
b) There is no "mystery." There is no "additional ingredient."
c) When you say "a single electron in its outer shell" you are describing part of its form. You are simply denying that you are doing so.
d) When you say that "The properties of Sodium seem to be explanable in terms of a single electron in its outer shell," you assume formal cause implicitly, since the single electron must be in a particular arrangement to the other parts.
e) There are other chemicals that have a single electron in their outer shell. They are not all sodium.
f) Like Monsieur Jourdain, who was surprised to discover that he had been speaking prose all his life, you may be surprised to discover you have been relying on form all your life, all the while denying its existence.

reighley said...

@Codgitator,

"it is just dull bias on your part to claim each quantum arises from the exact same starting point and THUS refutes causality."

This statement might be taken to express some incorrect physics.

The unhappy behavior of the photon can in no way be reduced to some accident of the photons original condition, which it carries with it. That's physics though, and it is the metaphysics that we are here to gnaw on.

My argument is simply this. A symmetric cause should have a symmetric effect. Quantum mechanics admits of the possibility of symmetric cause having an asymmetric effect. All efforts to amend the model have been unfortunate.

Now let me try to get a wedge into your argument.

Your choice of a double slit experiment as our core example is regrettable, because it is easier to build than to think about. In changing the subject from an interference pattern to a question of left or right I was only trying to a yes or no question.

After all, I should be free to make such a transformation no? There is nothing special about an interference pattern in the ways of the world. If I am to hold any sort of principle of causality I must be able to ask not only "what causes SIP?", but also "what causes X" where X is any other particular feature of the experiment, of which SIP is only one.

You choose this one feature of the experimental result : the appearance of an interference pattern in the end, whereas I would have you choose another : the fact that the first photon lands on one side or the other.

I hold that it is not sufficient for you to simply answer your question in one case, based on the most obvious feature of the experiment. It seems to me that you should be able to answer the question "what cause?" in all cases whatsoever. So I might swap out your interference pattern (which I agree has a cause) with some other feature of the result which I do not agree has a cause.

For the fact that I accept the cause in the interference pattern comes entirely from the fact that this very pattern was already present in the wave function before I even turned the light on. If only this were true for every feature of the experimental result! Alas it is not, I can simply swap out your interference pattern for some other pattern of my choosing (so long as it is also seen in experimental conditions) and the asymmetry of the first photon is the pattern I choose. That I insist does not have its cause in the wave function.

So the first part of your argument, that the SIP has a cause in the wave function seems to me to be on shaky ground. It isn't that it is untrue, but it seems a poor place to stand if you want to be able to make very general statements about photons, rather than just about interference patterns.

None the less, let us grant it. As I understand the second part of your argument you wish me to believe that once I have given a cause to the pattern, I have given a cause to the placement of each photon which ultimately revealed it.

Facts about the placement of the photons fall into two groups, those which contribute to facts about the interference pattern and those which do not. For the same pattern will be seen in many different arrangements of photons, so we have overspecified somehow.

Now I am happy to admit that if I know the cause of the individual placement of the photons then I know the cause of the pattern but I cannot go the other way.

If I tried to do that I would catch a whole bunch of extra facts about the photons in the action, and some of them might have no connection to my wave function. Then I would be claiming that some statement about the photon was caused by the wave function, even though it had no logical relationship to it.

In fact I feel this is exactly what you have tried to do, and I don't think that step is valid.

goddinpotty said...

Like Monsieur Jourdain, who was surprised to discover that he had been speaking prose all his life, you may be surprised to discover you have been relying on form all your life, all the while denying its existence.


Or in other words, the concept of "form" adds nothing to materialist descriptions of the world, which already incorporate its useful aspects and discard the useless ones.

reighley said...

@Sean Robsville,

"The particle landed according to the probabilistic nature of the collapse of the wave-function, which has to be probabilistic rather than deterministic in order to avoid two nasty logical absurdities:"

I'm not asking why quantum mechanics is as it is. My issue is, shouldn't the question "why did the photon land here, and not and there?" have some sort of answer that distinguishes between "here" and "there"?

If I don't impose some sort of stricture on statements of the form "A caused B" then I should just be able to throw out all kinds of nonsequiturs and magic like "the moon caused the Macy's day parade" or "two caused angels" or "I caused triangleness".

In this case I am asking for "symmetric cause yields symmetric effect", but if you gave me pretty much any restriction on what may cause what I could probably build some sort of quantum experiment to break it.

Gio said...

BeingItself, I don't see what your point is. Just because some metaphysical claims are refutable empirically doesn't mean all are.

Anonymous said...

reiighley, why don't you reply to Feser's argument that quantum mechanics is entirely irrelevant to the issue?

TheOFloinn said...

Or in other words, the concept of "form" adds nothing to materialist descriptions of the world, which already incorporate its useful aspects and discard the useless ones.

Which "useless" aspects were you thinking of? Surely, you do not restrict reality merely to that which you or industry find "useful." (Though I grant you, that Bacon and Descartes had that in mind when they redefined science as the handmaiden of engineering and industry.)

You can call "form" by some other name if that makes you feel safer in your skin; but that doesn't make form go away. No matter what you do, matter will always be some form of matter.

Material causes alone are insufficient, since the same matter arranged in a different form will behave differently. Since so-called "materialist" causes have smuggled formality under the radar, I don't know why you would expect that they would not already be part of the explanation.

reighley said...

It has been suggested that I compose I reply to Dr. Feser's thesis directly, rather than dance around double slit experiments etc.

The question is whether quantum mechanics can cast any doubt on the principle of causality.

As I see it the core of his argument is to observe that quantum mechanics, or any theory of physics is purely descriptive and therefore one cannot reason from a premise of quantum mechanics to get to the principle.

This is true. In fact I would argue that physicists, including Oerter, are usually using a principle of causality somewhere. There are a number of ways of reading quantum theory that allow us to answer the question "what caused that?" without blushing.

Even so, just because we can make quantum theory consistent with the principle of causality doesn't mean we should. I think there are other metaphysical assumptions in play.

The one I've been picking on here is that there should be some logical connection between cause and effect. So when a perfectly symmetric cause is proposed for an asymmetric effect I get nervous. When the cause is far distant from the effect, as in some Bell's theorem experiments, I get nervous.

This isn't a logical argument of course. We can't get from the physics to the metaphysics by a formal derivation. Yet we hold our metaphysical principles in large part because they satisfy the intuition and permit us to reason well. There are aesthetic considerations involved.

Quantum mechanics has introduced a twist into our intuition. We would like to accept it, because we intuitively understand that physical law and uniformity in the universe is good and useful and in some sense true. We would like to accept the principle of causality on much the same grounds.

Unfortunately when we accept these two together we have to do some real violence to the elegance of both things.

Look at the math in quantum mechanics. That's the physics, the formalism. It's actually really nice. Hilbert spaces and cospaces. Fundamental features of matter built into Lie groups of only a couple of dimensions. Everything in discrete units. It's great.

Look at an attempt to explain the import of that math to the layperson. Everything is both a wave and a particle. The cat is both dead and alive. Things are going backward in time, or faster than light, but you could never know it because every time you point your instrument at it things change. Nobody can make sense of the word "nothing". It's really scary.

The difference between the math and the English is a matter of interpretation. It's where we wedged the metaphysics in. It isn't the fault of a particular interpretation : they are all ugly like that. It was the need to interpret that did the damage.

We know that is bad. Don't ask me how we know : that's more metaphysics. The physics is going to get revised. That's how physics goes. Hopefully they will be able to come up with a theory we will want to take home to mom, without any revision to the metaphysics.

What if they can't? What if we could make sense of the world by changing the way we translated the math into meaning? What if we could fix everything by making a small adjustment to our understanding of the word "cause". Or for that matter throwing it out entirely.

Shouldn't we do it?

Crude said...

What if they can't? What if we could make sense of the world by changing the way we translated the math into meaning? What if we could fix everything by making a small adjustment to our understanding of the word "cause". Or for that matter throwing it out entirely.

I don't think what you're saying here is accurate. You're not 'making sense of the world' by throwing out 'cause'. You're just saying that some things don't make sense and that's that.

A similar problem comes with the appeal to elegance. You seem to be suggesting, 'If we just get rid of this cause talk - or at least stop insisting on the universality of the principle of causality - everything will be elegant!' From my perspective, it looks more ad hoc and hamfisted, not elegant. In fact, it looks closer to, "If we just give up the principle of causality, then we won't have to come to a conclusion that many people really would rather not come to."

Either way, I think the some old problem just rears its head again - and I also thing you're saying as much too. The science, the physics, the empirical isn't causing any problems here for the A-T view. What's happening is that others, often without much reflection, are picking up an alternative metaphysical view and interpretation of the formalism. Which they're welcome to do - just don't pretend it's science, or that 'I saw this come into existence out of utter nothingness without cause' is the stuff of empiricism.

goddinpotty said...

The point is, is that there is no version of materialism that does not already incorporate some notion of 'form' as you are using it (eg, the number and arrangement of subatomic particles in an atom). The materialism you are attacking, which apparently is based on some kind of formless, partless, substanceless matter, does not exist. It's a particularly flimsy straw man.

Thus, the concept of "form" as some sort of metaphysical primitive is doing no useful work whatsoever, and can be safely ignored. Every materialist in the world is already a believer and user of forms if they are defined so loosely, yet they don't seem to have the slightest inclination to embrace the rest of the obsolete bundle of ideas you are trying to sell them.

Eg: it is true that atoms come in discrete kinds, defined by the number of protons they contain. This does not imply that there is some Platonic form of, say, "dog", of which you can say that any particular dog is a more or less good instantiation of. Nor does it imply that there is something called natural law which forces a similar valuation on human sexual behavior.

goddinpotty said...

The point is, is that there is no version of materialism that does not already incorporate some notion of 'form' as you are using it (eg, the number and arrangement of subatomic particles in an atom). The materialism you are attacking, which apparently is based on some kind of formless, partless, substanceless matter, does not exist. It's a particularly flimsy straw man.

Thus, the concept of "form" as some sort of metaphysical primitive is doing no useful work whatsoever, and can be safely ignored. Every materialist in the world is already a believer and user of forms if they are defined so loosely, yet they don't seem to have the slightest inclination to embrace the rest of the obsolete bundle of ideas you are trying to sell them.

Eg: it is true that atoms come in discrete kinds, defined by the number of protons they contain. This does not imply that there is some Platonic form of, say, "dog", of which you can say that any particular dog is a more or less good instantiation of. Nor does it imply that there is something called natural law which forces a similar valuation on human sexual behavior.

goddinpotty said...

The point is, is that there is no version of materialism that does not already incorporate some notion of 'form' as you are using it (eg, the number and arrangement of subatomic particles in an atom). The materialism you are attacking, which apparently is based on some kind of formless, partless, substanceless matter, does not exist. It's a particularly flimsy straw man.

Thus, the concept of "form" as some sort of metaphysical primitive is doing no useful work whatsoever, and can be safely ignored. Every materialist in the world is already a believer and user of forms if they are defined so loosely, yet they don't seem to have the slightest inclination to embrace the rest of the obsolete bundle of ideas you are trying to sell them.

Eg: it is true that atoms come in discrete kinds, defined by the number of protons they contain. This does not imply that there is some Platonic form of, say, "dog", of which you can say that any particular dog is a more or less good instantiation of. Nor does it imply that there is something called natural law which forces a similar valuation on human sexual behavior.

Eduardo said...

Is sort of funny ... you always bring bout human sexual behavior XD on the table, you are addicted to that XD, it is really funny!


But I guess the quarrel with materialists was about final causes. You are the one creating a straw man right now, And you know this is the quarrel they have been talking about because you have discussed that already. I mean really Potty... really.

Eduardo said...

You had to post three times XD ????

Crude said...

Nor does it imply that there is something called natural law which forces a similar valuation on human sexual behavior.

And there we have it. What this argument is really about, and what they're almost always really about. The actual arguments and ideas don't really matter, but damnit, there better not be any purposes or causes in this world we find unsettling at the moment!

Anyway - the fact that many self-proclaimed materialists accept without hesitation (some) formal and final causes isn't really disputed here, even by Ed himself. Instead, it's simply noted that they're either being inconsistent, or they're actually not really materialists after all.

Don't worry, you can reject materialism and still fight against and disagree with those mean ol' Christians who disapprove of bestiality and incest or whatever else you think should be praised.

Anonymous said...

"And there we have it. What this argument is really about, and what they're almost always really about."

Crude, this is true, but it cuts both ways. I'm sure there are a number of Christians who are motivated towards Thomism by a desire to have a strong foundation for their sexual morality of choice. Not a sole motivation, mind you, but certainly a motivation.

Eduardo said...

So what ... potty is in the end motivatedby his sexuality to be what he is XD ???

U_U that explains everything!!!!!

Crude said...

Anon,

Crude, this is true, but it cuts both ways. I'm sure there are a number of Christians who are motivated towards Thomism by a desire to have a strong foundation for their sexual morality of choice. Not a sole motivation, mind you, but certainly a motivation.

I'm sure all kinds of people have all manner of motivations. But when someone just blurts this out in the middle of discussing an A-T subject where sexuality isn't even being discussed, it really comes across like telegraphing. And frankly, as someone who's been watching and taking part in these conversations for a long time, I have to say - I've seen this happen repeatedly.

goddinpotty said...

[sorry for the multiple postings, it kept telling me that the comment was rejected when it wasn't]

Re sexual morality, I'm not the one who opened up that line of debate. Your Fearless Leader's book spends a large chunk of its time attempting to demonstrate that metaphysics can be used to condemn some classes of sexual activity.

the fact that many self-proclaimed materialists accept without hesitation (some) formal and final causes

Wait a minute, the immediate question was the status of "form", defined so broadly as to include atomic structure. Materialists defintely "believe" in atomic structure, that in no way entails any belief in formal or final causes.

If I understad what a formal cause is, and I may not, it just refers to the way in which the arrangement of (say) subatomic particles makes a nitrogen atom a nitrogen atom. Obviously materialists "believe" in this, but they would not normally classify it as a form of causality. Such an arrangement constitutes a nitrogen atom, it doesn't cause it, whatever it means to cause an atom. Causality (in the modern definition at any rate, perhaps whatever Greek term Aristotle was employing had a broader meaning) properly links events to events, not objects to objects.

Eduardo said...

Potty, stop .. breath ... think.

He is talking about other stuff, in this case possibly minds, functions, and stuff like that were spoken before, not this subject here about forms.

Now about the sexual morality part... I haven't read the book sooo I wasn't aware of that. It is still funny how many time you brought you schlong XD to the table.

Crude said...

Re sexual morality, I'm not the one who opened up that line of debate.

Yes, you did. No one else in this conversation was talking about it whatsoever, but you suddenly blurted it out unprovoked. It says a lot.

Maybe you think that every Thomist argument ultimately feeds back into sex. In which case, you've got a bit of projection going on.

Your Fearless Leader's book spends a large chunk of its time

This is adorable. My fearless leader? Yes, clearly I disagree with you and haven't really been impressed by your input here, so it must be because I'm just a complete Feser drone. Despite disagreeing with him at times, and having a pretty laid back attitude about the whole topic.

Actually, Ed spends a comparatively brief time in the book discussing sexual morality. The bulk of TLS is dedicated the explaining the history of metaphysical/philosophical thought, explaining what follows from mechanistic views of nature, etc. That you seem to think he spends a tremendous amount of time on the subject says more about you than about the book, or the A-T reasoning therein.

Wait a minute, the immediate question was the status of "form", defined so broadly as to include atomic structure. Materialists defintely "believe" in atomic structure, that in no way entails any belief in formal or final causes.

So in a single instance you object that formal causes so defined are something that materialists definitely believe in, then turn around and argue that since materialists believe in it they can't possibly believe in formal causes. Alright.

If I understad what a formal cause is, and I may not,

No, apparently you don't, after all this time. That probably has something to do with you focusing the lion's share of your energy on arguing against Thomist ideas and denouncing them because you're convinced that to accept anything but materialism means the Scary Ideas About Sex are gonna getcha, like some intellectual bogeyman.

Here's some advice: stay the course, and continue to desperately avoid learning about Thomism. Because once you realize the criticisms they (and others) lodge against a mechanistic view of nature, you may find it reasonable. And clearly, you associate 'finding a criticism of a mechanistic view of nature/materialism to be reasonable' so strongly with 'opening the door to ideas that terrify you' that the very event may cause you a serious freakout.

Subscribe to the Warhammer 40k space marine motto: An open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred and unguarded. ;)

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser --

You say,

"Now for the Aristotelian, the substantial form of an inanimate substance is not the efficient cause of its natural operations; rather, those operations flow “spontaneously” from it, precisely because it is in the nature of the substance to operate in those ways."

Where does Aristotle say this or something very like it? Does he use a word equivalent to "spontaneous"?

You also say,

"Hence that a planet exerts a gravitational pull is just something it does by virtue of its nature or substantial form; it does not need a continuously operating efficient cause to make it exert such a pull. That does not mean that there is in no sense an efficient cause of a thing’s natural operations, but that efficient cause is just that which gave the substance in question its substantial form in the first place, i.e. that which generated the substance or brought it into being."

When you say that a thing "does' something, that would seem to imply that the doing-thing itself is the efficient cause of what is done. Yet you then place the efficient cause of the effect *outside* of the doing-thing, viz., in the efficient cause of the doing-thing itself. In other words, you seem to be saying that the doing-thing is not the efficient cause of what results from its doing, rather the doing-thing is something like an instrument of its own metaphysically prior efficient cause.

Have I misunderstood you? This is not the Aristotle I have known and loved.

rank sophist said...

GIP,

A few examples of form/essence.

Water: A liquid with the chemical constituents H2O.

Gold: A metal with atomic number 79.

Animal: A living thing that is sentient.

Fish: A water-dwelling vertebrate with gills.

Man: An animal that is rational.

A form/essence contains one genus ("animal", in man's case) and one specific (as in "species") difference. The goal is to find the most fundamental genus and specific difference for each subject. The traditional tool for this process is the Porphyrian tree.

Anything with a form inherits a set of properties. One of gold's properties is its malleability, which it has by virtue of its form as "a metal with atomic number 79". However, failing to instantiate one or more of these powers has no effect on a thing's form/essence, contra bundle theory. Humans by nature have two arms and two legs, for example; but losing one or all of these does not change their status as humans. Ditto people in comas and so forth.

There is no alternative to this system that does not end up shooting itself in the foot, as Oderberg showed in Real Essentialism. Use of rigid designators, bundle theory and, worst of all, non-essentialism invariably leads to confusion and ridiculousness.

rank sophist said...

Above, "powers" should be "properties".

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> It is that QM, which merely describes the behavior of a system, tells you nothing one way or the other about why the system behaves that way. It also tells you nothing one way or the other about whether the question of why it behaves that way is a good question, whether it has any answer in the first place, etc. To the issue at hand, QM is simply irrelevant. <

The mathmatical formalism of QM is describing nature as fundamentally random and indeterminate.

"Before quantum physics came along, it was generally believed that the strictly causal laws of nature such as Newton's mechanics determined everything, so that all motion would be the result of the action of known forces...In the quantum world, however, this no longer holds: randomness and indeterminism are a fundamental property of nature."

(source: pg. 180, "Quantum Physics: A Beginner's Guide" by Alastair I.M. Rae)

Aquinas' "Primary or First Cause" argument implies physical indeterminism. (The phrase "physical indeterminism" means that not every physical event has a physical cause.)

You argued in your 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)

You then go 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, I will assume the "Pure Act" is actualizing something. If not, then what we have here is an infinite regress that Aquinas' "First Cause" argument fails to resolve.

So, if the "nervous system [is] actualized by its molecular structure, which in turn is actualized by its atomic structure" (pg. 96), which in trun 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 than the creation act itself. Right?

So, irrespective of what QM holds, the bottom line is that Aquinas' "First Cause" argument implies physical indeterminism.

> Now for the Aristotelian, the substantial form of an inanimate substance is not the efficient cause of its natural operations; rather, those operations flow “spontaneously” from it, precisely because it is in the nature of the substance to operate in those ways. <

The term "spontaneous" is simply being employed here as a euphemism for "uncaused cause."

The standard interpretation of QM is holds that all matter (mass/energy) reduces to "potentiality that is being actualized uncaused." And if something actual is spontaneously actualizing potentiality from within, then that something is ANIMATE, not inanimate.

"Even an electron has at least a rudimentary mental pole, respresented mathematically by the quantum potential."

(source: pg. 387 "The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory" by David Bohm and B.J. Hiley)

Alastair F. Paisley said...

There are only two options here: "determinism" or "indeterminism." Either everything is predetermined and whatever will be, will be...que sera, sera. Or, chance is at play.

Eduardo said...

U_U I found real essentialism to read on Google books hehehe... need to study physics though.

Well anyways! See you people later..

Sean Robsville said...

@TheOFloinn

a) The parts could not "inter-act" except that they are arranged in a certain form.
- Maybe the interaction produces the form

b) There is no "mystery." There is no "additional ingredient."
- True

c) When you say "a single electron in its outer shell" you are describing part of its form. You are simply denying that you are doing so.
- I'm describing the result of the electron's interactions with the rest of the electrons, which exclude it from the inner shells.

d) When you say that "The properties of Sodium seem to be explanable in terms of a single electron in its outer shell," you assume formal cause implicitly, since the single electron must be in a particular arrangement to the other parts.
- Which is a result of various quantum physical laws.

e) There are other chemicals that have a single electron in their outer shell. They are not all sodium.
- But they are very like it.
Mendeleev showed that the realisation that the properties of the elements follow a mathematical law modulo 8 was far more useful and informative than saying that they resulted from some vacuous 'form'.

Ismael said...

I think that Oerter refutes himself here:

This objection can be dismissed easily. The question is what causes the change to happen at the particular time it happens. QM is silent on this question.


Further, in most philosophical views of physical laws, the laws have no causal efficacy. For instance, we might think of laws as just descriptions of the way things actually behave. But a description of how something happens is not a cause of it happening. So, the moon's orbit around the earth isn't caused by the law of gravity. It's caused by the actual gravity of the actual earth


What he is saying, maybe he does not realize it even: "The laws of physics we use to describe the world are indeed *descriptions* based on our observations and are indeed unable to go beyond the direct description they provide".


The point is indeed that QM, like all scientific theories are 'descriptions of what we observe'.

Also Oerter seems to speak about QM like it's something all to certain and fixed. That might be true for the math, however the INTERPRETATION of QM is still under debate.

Recently this paper came out on Nature Physics, arguing for a new interpretation of the quantum states and the wavefunction:

http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nphys2309.html

Here's the abstract:

Quantum states are the key mathematical objects in quantum theory. It is therefore surprising that physicists have been unable to agree on what a quantum state truly represents. One possibility is that a pure quantum state corresponds directly to reality. However, there is a long history of suggestions that a quantum state (even a pure state) represents only knowledge or information about some aspect of reality. Here we show that any model in which a quantum state represents mere information about an underlying physical state of the system, and in which systems that are prepared independently have independent physical states, must make predictions that contradict those of quantum theory.


Now this paper seems to opt towards the 'realist' position rather than the purely 'orthodox' (Copenhagen) one which treats wavefunctions as mathematical probability functions that give the information on the quantum state of the particle if a matheamatical operator acts on them (like the Hamiltonian operator for the energy of the quantum state).


So Oerter is confusing the "predictive description" of QM with the interpretation of QM, which is not so straight forward, as 1 century of QM tells us.


A very interesting quote from the article:

But our present (quantum mechanical) formalism is not purely epistemological; it is a peculiar mixture describing in part realities of Nature, in part incomplete human information about Nature—all scrambled up by Heisenberg and Bohr into an omelette that nobody has seen how to unscramble. Yet we think that the unscrambling is a prerequisite for any further advance in basic physical theory. For, if we cannot separate the subjective and objective aspects of the formalism, we cannot know what we are talking about; it is just that simple.

Hunt said...

"Oh wait, that argument has been pre-emptively dismissed with reference to the sacred Book."

I know. Everywhere I see this technique I find it hilarious. I call it the "rhetorical talisman." Apparently, if you note the fault in your own argument, it somehow is supposed to immunize you against it. Un, no, it doesn't, I means you realize the error you're making, but you're damn well determined to do it anyway.

Eduardo said...

Sean, the idea of form was probably created for other reasons. And you could marry form to these new ideas. You are complaining about that the philosophical theory changes nothing in a natural sciences theory. But that means nothing, that is what Oflinn was trying to show you.

Just so you get a grasp of your logic. I am watching a superconductivity presentation, they have no reference about mind creating concepts, nor any other theory that is not related to the subject. Sooo, should I conclude they are all worthless just because I thinkthat everything that matters must somehow help to unserstand this?

Imean it makes no sense Sean.

Alastair F. Paisley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alastair F. Paisley said...

The "form" aspect in the A-T doctrine of hylomorphic dualism (form/matter) seems to lend itself to the contemporary notion of information ("in-formation") which is employed in digital physics (physics explained in terms of information theory).

Physicist Frank Tipler explains this connection in his brief interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn (host of PBS's "Closer to Truth" program). See link below. It's very interesting.

"Is Consiousness an Ultimate Fact?"

TheOFloinn said...

I'm sure there are a number of Christians who are motivated towards Thomism by a desire to have a strong foundation for their sexual morality of choice.

A better illustration of the concerns of the Late Modern Age cannot be imagined, unless this were also framed in the language of power. No matter what the topic, the Late Modern will bring up sex eventually, because... well, because he cannot imagine that anything else might matter.

Anonymous said...

gip's bench is weak, like his arguments.

just saying ok bye guys.

Nick said...

"Oh wait, that argument has been pre-emptively dismissed with reference to the sacred Book."

And:

“I know. Everywhere I see this technique I find it hilarious. I call it the "rhetorical talisman." Apparently, if you note the fault in your own argument, it somehow is supposed to immunize you against it. Un, no, it doesn't, I means you realize the error you're making, but you're damn well determined to do it anyway.”

But wait, guys, wait – it’s even worse than you think! This “Professor Feser” shaman had the gall to pre-emptively dismiss the dormitive principle argument by not only noting it, but by magically “addressing it directly” in two “books”, which he now thinks he can just refer to as though you and I can somehow read them!

Listen up, Professor: GIP and Hunt and me, we’re not buying it. You think you can pre-emptively dismiss an argument and immunise yourself against it just by directly addressing it in two readily-available books, one of which is now in convenient audio format? No way, mister. You can’t wriggle out of having to deal with an issue just by dealing with it. In print. Twice.

Everywhere I see this technique I find it hilarious! [Wipes eyes.] Those stupid classical theists and their rhetorical talismans (or, as tricksters like Feser call them, books).

TheOFloinn said...

"form", defined so broadly as to include atomic structure

Why would "form" not include the form of an atom?
+ + +
Materialists defintely "believe" in atomic structure, that in no way entails any belief in formal ... causes.

Sure they do, they call them "emergent properties." That is, they deny formality formally, but accept its substance.

If I understad what a formal cause is, and I may not, it just refers to the way in which the arrangement of (say) subatomic particles makes a nitrogen atom a nitrogen atom.

Precisely. The properties of nitrogen are not caused by the matter that makes it up. Protons, neutrons, and electrons make up all sorts of elements with very different properties. Rather it is the arrangement of the matter, the form of the matter that gives it its properties, that "makes it what it is."
+ + +
Obviously materialists "believe" in this, but they would not normally classify it as a form of causality.

Then they believe that the matter is not all that matters. That's why materialists have more recently taken to calling themselves "physicalists." It was pointed out that they believed in all sorts of non-material entities, like gravity.

You claim that formal causation is not the same as efficient causation. Ich bin von Stalk gefallen! A formal cause is not an efficient cause? Who would have thunk it?

One feature of the Modern Ages has been the use of a generic term to cover only a subset, so "cause" has been restricted to metrical and controllable efficient causes.
+ + +
Such an arrangement constitutes a nitrogen atom, it doesn't cause it, whatever it means to cause an atom.

But uphill you agreed that the form is what caused the nitrogen atom to be a nitrogen atom and not, say, a petunia. The efficient cause of a nitrogen atom is the fusion of carbon with hydrogen in stars. In a more mundane fashion nitrogen can be caused by treating aqueous ammonium chloride with sodium nitrite.

In both cases, you will note that the matter-energy is conserved, but has been transformed, i.e., matter has been converted from one form (carbon and hydrogen) into another form (nitrogen), releasing gamma radiation and 1.95 MeV.
+ + +
Causality (in the modern definition at any rate, perhaps whatever Greek term Aristotle was employing had a broader meaning) properly links events to events, not objects to objects.

Or improperly links...

The Greek term was IIRC αιτια, and the translation may be more like "becauses" rather than "causes." It's like when Moderns decided that "people" only meant "white people," and then had to coin new names for other kinds of people.
One scheme I saw uses "made":
1. Material cause: what X is made of.
2. Formal cause: what makes it an X.
3. Efficient cause: what made X.
4. Final cause: what X is made for.

J. R. P. said...

While I grant we have to give up a distinctly primitive notion of 'natural place', can we keep the notion in terms of a natural entropic disposition, without doing violence to the rest of the reasoning about the motion of bodies?

J. R. P. said...

If BeingItself is still here:

In seeking common ground, have you considered and rejected the necessary grounds of all philosophy (many times left unstated)?

For instance, how do you deal with such pre-A-T philosophic content as "The Laws of Thought"? (Wikipedia is fine for a gloss)

They seems unempirical - a priori - but they also seem to be necessary for the capability of reasoning (capax ratio) and in order to have rational discourse/communication.

They do not seem to be amenable to empirical disproof, either.

The effect of rejecting the laws (like post-modernists) seem to be doing something other than 'rational thinking' or 'rational communicating'. E.g. polemics or poetry don't need to follow those laws (ought to, maybe, but don't need to).

From these laws we derive a correspondence theory of extra-mental truth that undergirds both A-T philosophy (the truth of a being is intrinsic to the being, and knowledge is the conformity of the mind to that truth) which is reflected in the usual way - that is, the lived experience - of dealing with empirical science, despite that correspondence being rejected in several modern philosophies deriving from Descartes via Kant.

Anonymous said...

Paisley the Persistent writes:

The mathmatical formalism of QM is describing nature as fundamentally random and indeterminate.

He then quotes from Rae:

Before quantum physics came along, it was generally believed that the strictly causal laws of nature such as Newton's mechanics determined everything, so that all motion would be the result of the action of known forces...In the quantum world, however, this no longer holds: randomness and indeterminism are a fundamental property of nature.

As is customary for dear Paisley, he misses the point of Dr. Feser's argument, refuses to engage the numerous quotations from physicists and philosophers which refute that notion, and then proceeds to partially engage an argument in order to claim he has replied to it.

Not only has Dr. Feser adequately demolished such a notion, it was pointed out in the previous thread that science cannot, IN PRINCIPLE, identify an uncaused event. Moreover,

Science contributes to our knowledge of reality by making observations about physical things. If they are able to directly or indirectly observe some X, then we have good grounds for adding X to our ontology. For example, when scientists detect a new particle such as the neutrino, we add neutrinos to our list of things that exist. While science can identify what exists by what it observes, science cannot identify what does not exist by what it fails to observe. If science cannot identify what does not exist by what it fails to observe, then the failure to observe a cause for particle pair production [or movement of electrons] does not entail the absence of a cause.

Rupert, who opposes Thomism, acknowledged this as a matter of logical entailment. I think that is rather obvious. The inference is unwarranted, and so the objection collapses for want of relevance.

reighley said...

I think it better if, rather than asserting that quantum mechanics throws doubt on causality itself, we observe that at least it upsets some ideas we have about what the causal relationship should be like.

In the case in which two things had identical potentials but different actual outcomes, we could ascribe the difference to some difference in the thing that caused the actualization.

There is nothing whatsoever in the statement "any potential made actual is made actual by something" that requires this. So we are not dealing with a logical entailment.

Still, it is awkward no?

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

If you do not argree with the standard interpretation of QM, then it is incumbent on you to furnish us with an interpretation that adequately explains the observed facts. (An instrumental interpretation is a cop-out, not an explanation at all.)

Aquinas' "Primary or First Cause" argument implies physical indeterminism. If not, then Aquinas has no argument. It's really that simple.

Hitherto, no one here has been able to refute my argument.

Feser writes the following...

> Now for the Aristotelian, the substantial form of an inanimate substance is not the efficient cause of its natural operations; rather, those operations flow “spontaneously” from it, precisely because it is in the nature of the substance to operate in those ways. <

The term "spontaneous" is simply a euphemism for random. Everyone here knows that. Furthermore, anything that has the capacity to exhibit spontaneity is ANIMATE, not inanimate.

There are only two options here: "determinism" and "indetermnism." Either everything is predetermined and whatever will be, will be...que sera, sera. Or, chance is at play. Logic dictates this much. And all your ranting and raving will not change this fact.

Anonymous said...

As stated, you've BEEN replied to several times, and each time you ignore the relevant points. As somebody else observed, no amount of logic thrown in your way will deter you from appealing to QM. As Dr. Feser states above, if A-T is false, it wouldn't be QM that falsifies it.

You've been refuted several times, you only keep ignoring it with cut-and-pastes for your view. Well, you've been given plenty of counter cut-and-pastes. Unless YOU engage those arguments (and the one you ostensibly reply to by Dr. Feser), you have said nothing.

goddinpotty said...

@TheOFloinn

Then they believe that the matter is not all that matters. That's why materialists have more recently taken to calling themselves "physicalists." It was pointed out that they believed in all sorts of non-material entities, like gravity.

I prefer "naturalist", even though that has other meanings. The defining feature of naturalism is that there are no supernatural forces or entities behind or underlying the natural world.

But whether or not "materialism" is a good name, the belief system it named was never about some mythical formless matter, and always included things like energy and forces like gravity, so I call strawman.


But uphill you agreed that the form is what caused the nitrogen atom to be a nitrogen atom and not, say, a petunia.


Uh, no, I explictly said that I didn't think "cause" is a good name for the relationship between the constituent parts and their arrangement in an atom (eg) on one hand and the thing they constitute on the other.

You seem to think that the more radical linguistic separation of efficient cause and formal cause was some crime of modernity since you compare it to white racism, but it seems like an advance to me. They are just two very different things and lumping them together seems to cause confusion.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

You didn't address any of the points I raised.

Anonymous said...

What is legitimately proven by Bell's theorem is that QM is non-causal...or non-local. It most certainly does not disprove causality, it only proves that ultimately, any causation must be non-local. Now this kind of non-locality (one might be tempted to call it "omnipresence") is just the kind of abject craziness that those backwoods theists would believe, so we'll all just stick with the "quantum mechanics proves the universe is random" line.

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty said... But whether or not "materialism" is a good name, the belief system it named was never about some mythical formless matter, and always included things like energy and forces like gravity, so I call straw man.

I call straw brain. Just because you are ignorant of philosophical terminology that has been standard for centuries doesn't mean you can make crap up and expect people to take you seriously.

They are just two very different things and lumping them together seems to cause confusion.

"Cause" confusion?! The irony will of course be lost on you.

BeingItself said...

JRP,

Asks: "In seeking common ground, have you considered and rejected the necessary grounds of all philosophy?"

Of course not.

The rest of your questions seem to presuppose that I am a strict empiricist of some kind. I'm not.

Let me spell it out again: If you make an argument and refer to physics, as Feser does, and get it wrong, as Feser does, then using real physics to criticize his arguments is legitimate. No matter how many times he says it isn't.

Anonymous said...

Paisley writes,

You didn't address any of the points I raised.

Yes, I did, numerous times. Look, if you want to offer a philosophical argument, go ahead. Our only challenge has been your insistence that QM proves your theory. It doesn't.

As I told you before, I thought your theory was interesting but unpersuasive. When I saw you repeatedly dodge, ignore or misrepresent serious objections to your argument, I lost respect for you. You then had the gall to demand that others engage your argument when you time and again did a Muhammad Ali dance around theirs. You're doing the same with Dr. Feser's argument.

Before you demand others to genuflect when you hit the "Publish" button, try to seriously engage the objections. I repeat your own words: Unless you engage the objections, don't bother replying.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"What is legitimately proven by Bell's theorem is that QM is non-causal...or non-local. It most certainly does not disprove causality, it only proves that ultimately, any causation must be non-local."

Not true. Some important qualifications need to be added.

goddinpotty said...

@Anonymous, perhaps I am ignorant, but I can't even imagine a version of materialism that does not include forces, since force is the way in which particles of matter interact with each other, or forms (in a loose sense), since the world is obviously not an undifferentiated blob.

So perhaps you can point me to the writers who assert your materialism, which you claim is the only one, where there are no forces and no forms. I'm always eager to remedy my ignorance.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

Randomness (or "spontaneity") is required for true novelty and creativity. This is something that many here are simply failing to grasp.

The following excerpt taken from Ken Miller's book "Finding Darwin's God" applies directly to those religious believers who would deny the theory of evolution. But it also applies indirectly to those religious believers who would deny quantum indeterminacy because random mutations are directly linked to quantum events. (Evolution is based on the interplay of chance and necessity - a.k.a. random mutations and natural selection.)

"What the critics of evolution consistently fail to see is that the very indeterminacy they misconstrue as randomness has to be, by any definition, a key feature of the mind of God. Remember there is one (and only one) alternative to unpredictability - and that alternative is strict, predictable determinism. The only alternative to what they describe as randomness would be a nonrandom universe of clockwork mechanisms that would also rule out active intervention by any supreme Deity. Caught between these two alternatives, they fail to see the one more consistent with their religious beliefs is actually the mainstream scientific view linking evolution with quantum reality of the physical sciences."

(source: pg. 213 "Finding Darwin's God" by Kenneth R. Miller)

It should be noted that Ken Miller is a professor of evolutionary biology at Brown University, prominent opponent (not proponent) of ID, and a practicing Catholic.

Also, Fr. W. Norris Clarke (the late Thomistic scholar) echoed Miller's thought. (It should be noted that the context for this excerpt was the "metaphysics of evolution.")

"The God of our universe seems to exercise his providence by a creative interweaving - inscrutable to us now - of law, order, and chance, and occasional direct personal intervention, possibly between the cracks of quantum indeterminacy."

(source: pg. 257, "The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics" by W. Norris Clarke, S.J.)

Unknown said...

In point of fact, Bell's Theorem states that any model of quantum particles that treats them as very small billiard balls (AKA "local hidden variables") predicts that in some experiments, the states of a pair of particles will not be correlated when QM predicts that they will be. Several such experiments have been performed, and QM has been confirmed by all of them.

As it's the materialists who have historically compared the basic operations of the physical world to the bouncing of billiard balls (a comparison going back to Democritus) Bell's Theorem is if anything a major obstacle to materialism. It certainly doesn't pose any difficulty to Aristotelian metaphysics; no followers of Aristotle ever tried to reduce all physical events to the interactions of miniscule particles, so the fact that QM makes such reduction insuperably difficult has no effect on them.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

The following is the brief exchange I had with Robert Oerter. It demonstrates how simple it is to dismantle atheistic materialism. (Isn't that really the goal here?)

This is taken form Oerter's blog "Somewhat Abnormal: Laws, Reasons, and Tigers Under My Desk"

Alastair F. Paisley May 16, 2012 9:49 AM

@ Robert Oerter

You're missing the bigger picture here - namely, that the scientific evidence simply does not support materialism.

Merriam-Webster defines "materialism" as "a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter."

Quantum mechanics holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic. Therefore, "matter is NOT the only or fundamental reality."

Quantum mechanics holds that there is neither a physical explanation for quantum indeterminsm nor for quantum entanglement. Therefore, "all being and processes and phenomena can NOT be explained as manifestations or results of matter."

Robert Oerter May 17, 2012 6:33 AM

Alastair, notice that I'm not arguing for materialism. I'm just looking at Feser's presentation of the First Way, and asking if quantum mechanics has any relevance to it.

As I pointed out in a comment on a previous post, if you define "supernatural" in a certain way, then quantum mechanics is proof of the supernatural. But it's a very strange sort of supernatural: one that restricts itself to a very narrow range of action (defined by the Schroedinger equation).

The game is over at this point. Oerter has conceded that quantum mechanics qualifes as proof of the supernatural. I did respond to this post. Here's the link. (It should be noted that he did not bother to respond again. And we both know why. I had througly demonstrated to him that Aquinas' "Primary or First Cause" argument implies physical indeterminsim. And since he had already gone on record and committed himself to the position of physical indeterminism, he had no counterargument.)

goddinpotty said...

I came across this very relevant looking book Causation and Laws of Nature in Early Modern Philosophy by Walter Ott (complete text online) and could not resist highlighting this quote:

Locke speaks of the ‘learned Gibberish’ of the schoolmen, while Joseph Glanvill, in a memorable phrase, calls Aristotelian science a ‘flatulent vacuity'.

I feel like I'm participating in a ritual of mutual abuse that's hundreds of years old if not older.

rank sophist said...

GIP,

Locke's arguments were some of the worst presented by any philosopher in history. Not quite Dennett-level, admittedly; but still terrible. Appealing to him in this case just makes you look bad.

Alan Aversa said...

Also, William Wallace, O.P.'s Review of Metaphysics 27:3 (March 1974) ("Aquinas on the Temporal Relation between Cause and Effect") is very good, too.

Eduardo said...

The Aristotelean Science and metaphysics are two different things no?

one build over the other but two different things nonetheless.

goddinpotty said...

Are the rules of debate here structured so you can just drop names-of-badness like Dennett or Locke without making any argument or even specific statement of what is so horrid about them? Because, frankly, that seems pretty boring. If you all already agree with each other, what's the point?

At least Feser goes to great length to dissect the arguments of those he disagrees with; you his minions should learn from that.

Anonymous said...

GIP,

Assertion does not need to be met with argument. Your quote was a bare assertion about how Aristotelianism is (allegedly) a "flatulent vacuity."

goddinpotty said...

@Nick -- I've already gotten quite into the "dormitive principle" discussion, including reading what Feser's book has to say on it, see here and the long string of followups in that thread. Causality and even quantum mechanics make an appearance. Thanks to linking, I don't find a need to repeat myself here, but if any new arguments are offered, I will be happy to respond.

Eduardo said...

Perhaps you are confusing things.

Why is the water the way it is???

The trick is in the WHY. Why could be origin; it could be what causes water to have a certain effect during an experiment; It could also mean, what is it's purpose in the world; Or what is it's final objective that explains it's characteristics... like why the fire "points" up: Because the fire's objective is to go to higher places or something like that.

Yeah the point is... "Why" is interpreted many times through our own metaphysics.

Now the whole essence concept is meant to explain Why = Origin of characteristic A and Why = That which makes A different from B

In Potty world view, Why = The structure which causes characteristic A based on fields and forces in the Newtonian sense.



Yep ... you people have been talking past each other for months ... is awesome really.

rank sophist said...

Eduardo,

I think it's more of a confusion between the words "why" and "how". I mentioned this on Oerter's blog. "Why?" is the question of metaphysics; "How?" is the question of science. Increasingly, scientists have conflated the two, going so far as to offer answers to questions like "Why is there a universe?" and "Why do humans exist?". Of course, their answers merely explain how humans exist, and how there is a universe. When they do venture into metaphysical territory, it's to deny that "Why?" is a meaningful question. You get this from guys like Dawkins when they rant about how the universe is nothing but "pitiless indifference".

Science can never in principle answer "Why?". It's just not in its game plan. There was a time when people understood this.

Anonymous said...

Rank Sophist, agreed. That's why this clap-trap about QM seems never-ending. "Despite our best efforts, we cannot observe how this happened, so it must have been uncaused." What many fail to realize is that scientists are not immune from mixing those categories.

Some posters here gleefully cite this physicist or that book as proof that an invalid logical inference (or an invalid move from physics to metaphysics)is valid after all.

Sean Robsville said...

@ Rank Sophist
"Science can never in principle answer "Why?". It's just not in its game plan. There was a time when people understood this."

Yes, there's a lot of confusion about the limits of science.

The Church-Turing principle clearly demarcates these limits.

The domain of science concerns those aspects of the world that can be modelled effectively and efficiently in terms of algorithms and data-structures.

'Effectively' means that the models have predictive power.

'Efficiently' means that the models are simpler and more general than the phenomena that they model (they embody 'algorithmic compression', Kolmogorov-style )

All non-algorithmic phenomena, are, by their very nature, outside the scope of science.

Consequently, the 'materialists', 'physicalists', 'greedy reductionists' and other practitioners of scientism are committed to trying to represent the three-dimensional world of causality, mereology and mind , in terms of the two dimensions of algorithms and datastructures. This process requires them to insert various square pegs (qualia, semantics, intentionality, etc) into the round hole of computationalism . The lack of progress with The Hard Problem is one of the best illustrations of the failure of their project.

Sean Robsville said...

@ Eduardo
"Now the whole essence concept is meant to explain Why = Origin of characteristic A and Why = That which makes A different from B

In Potty world view, Why = The structure which causes characteristic A based on fields and forces in the Newtonian sense."


So the conceptual distinction would seem to be:

Structure: a physical or logical (eg relational database) arrangement of parts. The same parts arranged according to a different structure can have different properties (e.g. chemical isomers).

Essence or Form: A metaphysical blueprint or specification for a structure which exists over and above any instantiations of that structure, and over and above any purely topological description of the structure.

Eduardo said...

@sean

It is sort of like that. Actually you might have nailed it slightly better than me

Ray Ingles said...

I've been busy (two family surgeries, parents moving, kids summer stuff ramping, up, and working through TLS) but it does seem like Feser isn't directly grappling with Bell's Inequalities and such. Or how about this? http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/35391/title/Math_Trek__Do_subatomic_particles_have_free_will%3F

grodrigues said...

@Ray Ingles:

"it does seem like Feser isn't directly grappling with Bell's Inequalities and such."

Because he does not need to. Bell's inequalities are a red herring.

Eduardo said...

Personally I think we need some sort of a model to discuss the subject... because it freaking helps people to not get things wrong.

An image speak a thousand words.

machinephilosophy said...

I'd sure like to see a refutation of the law of causality that draws conclusions about causality without assuming the law of causality in that process.

Then I'd have a meta-causal principle that no one could possibly challenge!

Eduardo said...

Right ... Causality is a metaphysical thing. There comes a physicist with whatever metaphysical proposition he has in mind and concludes that there are no causes for certain things... therefore there are no causes.


Amazing, this feels like the night of walking trolls O_O!!!!

Nick said...

Goddinpotty - 'I've already gotten quite into the "dormitive principle" discussion'

I didn't say you hadn't addressed it; I was saying that Feser has addressed it. Which means it's unfair to accuse him of merely dismissing the accusation, even if you don't agree with him.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> Yes, I did, numerous times. Look, if you want to offer a philosophical argument, go ahead. Our only challenge has been your insistence that QM proves your theory. It doesn't. <

Feser writes...

> Now for the Aristotelian, the substantial form of an inanimate substance is not the efficient cause of its natural operations; rather, those operations flow “spontaneously” from it, precisely because it is in the nature of the substance to operate in those ways. <

The term "spontaneous" is simply a euphemism for random. Everyone here knows that. That includes you.

Anonymous writes...

> Where does Aristotle say this or something very like it? Does he use a word equivalent to "spontaneous"? <

"Indeterminism is 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. It is highly relevant to the philosophical problem of free will, particularly in the form of metaphysical libertarianism."

(source: Wikipedia: Indeterminism)

Aristotle subscribed to indeterminism (i.e. chance). In fact, he characterized "chance" as an "uncaused or self-caused cause." Does this sound familiar? I hope so. Because this is the same Aristotle that you have come to know and love.

"In his Physics and Metaphysics, Aristotle also said there were "accidents" caused by "chance (τυχή)." In his Physics, he clearly reckoned chance among the causes. Aristotle might have added chance as a fifth cause - an uncaused or self-caused cause"

(source: Wikipedia: Indeterminism)

Mr. Green said...

Crude: >"Nor does it imply that there is something called natural law which forces a similar valuation on human sexual behavior."
And there we have it. What this argument is really about, and what they're almost always really about.


Funny how it works out that way, huh? Ever notice how nobody ever says, "Well, even if some kind of First Cause did exist, it wouldn't be concerned with whether we look after widows and orphans!" No, the objections always seem to come down to sexual morality. But I'm sure that's just coincidence.

Josh said...

Aristotle subscribed to indeterminism (i.e. chance). In fact, he characterized "chance" as an "uncaused or self-caused cause." Does this sound familiar? I hope so. Because this is the same Aristotle that you have come to know and love.

"In his Physics and Metaphysics, Aristotle also said there were "accidents" caused by "chance (τυχή)." In his Physics, he clearly reckoned chance among the causes. Aristotle might have added chance as a fifth cause - an uncaused or self-caused cause"


Paisley, that's some poorly-substantiated wiki-ing. Better to take the direct Aristotle quote than the highly editable (ahem) commentary on it.

goddinpotty said...

Funny how it works out that way, huh? Ever notice how nobody ever says, "Well, even if some kind of First Cause did exist, it wouldn't be concerned with whether we look after widows and orphans!" No, the objections always seem to come down to sexual morality. But I'm sure that's just coincidence.

This is a function of the current political/religious climate. It is the right who is concerned with control of sexual behavior, and the left with the widows and orphans, generally speaking. So the relevant questions here are: is there metaphysical support for the right-wing position on sex? and does the absurdity (in my view) of the right-wing position on sex constitute a reductio for the metaphysics?

Eduardo said...

??? we are in politics now ???

U_U mannn I need a encyclopedia!

you people change XD topic way too much!

Anyone up to a awesome Astronomy class... issss awwwee... okay is really boring.

Anonymous said...

Continuing to show his poor reading comprehension, Paisley writes,

The term "spontaneous" is simply a euphemism for random. Everyone here knows that. That includes you.

I have already told you that if you want to make a philosophical argument, that's fine. Your remark was in reply to what I wrote, namely:

Our only challenge has been your insistence that QM proves your theory. It doesn't.

Resting your claim on an invalid inference collapses your argument. My consistent challenge has been your reliance on QM. For the umpteenth time, unless you ENGAGE the counterarguments I've posted, you have said nothing.

BenYachov said...

>While I'm sure that many of his [Feser's]accusations of conceptual confusion on my part are on target, I'm going to continue to push back, in the hopes of (a) clearing up some of my confusion, and (b) understanding his position better.

The above my friends is what separates a philosophically uniformed but principled Atheist critic from the common tedious Gnu Troll.

God bless Prof Oerter!

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd see the day where, on this blog, a person would seriously think there to be something worthwhile to the idea that, "Your Right Wing politics suck, therefore your metaphysical beliefs are wrong!"

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Josh

> Paisley, that's some poorly-substantiated wiki-ing. Better to take the direct Aristotle quote than the highly editable (ahem) commentary on it. <

"This also has the consequence that there is indeed no defined cause for the accidental, but only a chance (and therefore an indefinite) cause."

(source: pg. 150, "The Metaphysics (Penguin Classics)" translated by Hugh Lawson-Tancred)

Eduardo said...

I was sort of going to reply to Anon that Potty hasn't gone that far... but heck he indeed have done so U____U ...

goddinpotty said...

I never thought I'd see the day where, on this blog, a person would seriously think there to be something worthwhile to the idea that, "Your Right Wing politics suck, therefore your metaphysical beliefs are wrong!"

Why on earth not?

Do you think that you, or Dr. Feser, first derived their metaphysics and only then deduced their political and moral beliefs from that? On the contrary, to me the whole enterprise here looks like a desperate and rickety attempt to erect a metaphysics to support bad politics. Why else would someone be so attached to such obsolete and weak ideas?

Or put it another way: Feser's book draws a line from metaphysics to sexual morality. If his argument was as ironclad and airtight as he seems to think it is, perhaps it would cause a homosexual reader to modify their beliefs and behavior, to better comport with natural law.

But since it is nowhere close to that good, instead the effect is that once you glimpse the destination the path is leading you to, you just want to jump off that path and can use any of the manifest weaknesses as an excuse to leave.

[apologies for the highly mixed metaphors, hopefully the point is clear]

grodrigues said...

@Alastair F. Paisley

"you have said nothing."

(source: this thread, Anonymous, May 22, 2012 12:17 PM)

rank sophist said...

and does the absurdity (in my view) of the right-wing position on sex constitute a reductio for the metaphysics?

I was going to write a serious response to this post, but I just can't. GIP, this is probably the most ridiculous thing you've ever written on this blog.

Anonymous said...

rank sophist,

That's the motor that propels gip's arguments. When he first mentioned it some time ago, I got suspicious, but the fact it continues to crop up indicates that's the hub to which all of his spokes are conjoined.

Josh said...

Paisley,

My quibble is with this: "Aristotle subscribed to indeterminism (i.e. chance). In fact, he characterized "chance" as an "uncaused or self-caused cause.""

Those aren't Aristotle's words. Aquinas wrote a commentary on that bit as well:

And it should be borne in mind that there is no determinate cause of the kind of accident here mentioned, “but only a contingent cause,” i.e., whatever one there happens to be, or “a chance cause,” i.e., a fortuitous one, which is an indeterminate cause. For example, it was an accident that someone “came to Aegina,” i.e., to that city, if he did not come there “in order to get there,” i.e., if he began to head for that city not in order that he might reach it but because he was forced there by some external cause; for example, because he was driven there by the winter wind which caused a tempest at sea, or even because he was captured by pirates and was brought there against his will. It is clear, then, that this is accidental, and that it can be brought about by different causes. Yet the fact that in sailing he reaches this place occurs “not of itself,” i.e., inasmuch as he was sailing (since he intended to sail to another place), but “by reason of something else,” i.e., another external cause. For a storm is the cause of his coming to the place “to which he was not sailing,” i.e., Aegina; or pirates; or something else of this kind.

Anonymous said...

rank sophist said... I was going to write a serious response to this post, but I just can't. GIP, this is probably the most ridiculous thing you've ever written on this blog.

I dunno, that's a pretty tough call to make. Maybe we can commission AFP to collect all the relevant quotations together, assuming anyone has the stomach to go through them.

Anonymous said...

Re: Gip's priapic and otherwise fixation on sexuality.

gip's willful blindness is not limited to metaphysics, after all. One does not have to look for long to find Continental philosophers commenting on this very issue -- and they aren't exactly in gip's corner. Foucault, for instance, would argue against the "repression hypothesis," i.e. the thesis that humans have an essentialized sexual identity and that traditional norms have repressed these identities, and thus also repressing the authentic person. Instead, he argued that this very way of thinking about sexuality itself emerged in the 19th century as part of new discourses that medicalized sexual practice, creating the sexual person in the process. What has happened in the 20th century is a both a rebellion against this and a continuation--with modern discourses being rooted in a false belief that there is an essential sexual identity intimately tied to authentic identity. Critical theorists, like Zizek for example, make a similar point and argue that the commodification and permissiveness of sexuality is actually an extension of the logic of capitalism and liberalism into every aspect of society, fostering a sort of false consciousness about the importance of so-called sexual "freedom."

Here is the funny thing: gip's entire position has been to oppose metaphysical essentialism in order to safeguard a sexual ethos that is completely reliant upon an anthropological essentialization of sexuality. If there was any doubt that he was a deeply unserious and disingenuous interlocutor, that should have dissolved by this point. I'm not even sure if we can call him an ideologue, as in his last post he actually seemed to fess up to his false consciousness.

But then there is a second irony: gip, for all his hatred of Christianity, is still defined by it to the very core. His thinking is motivated by a desire to be "master" over "words" and nature. Reality must bend to the human will. This is the recapitulation of the early modern desire to master nature and achieve freedom -- not only without God, but in spite of God -- in one person. It should illustrate that modern atheists are not of another kind of thing; they are still Christians -- only those in rebellion.

Anonymous said...

Why on earth not?

GIP,

I believe in the existence of numbers. I also believe that a deflationary approach to possible worlds is correct. Those are metaphysical beliefs. But according to you, if I have "bad" politics, then my beliefs about numbers and possible worlds are flat-out false and/or justifiably dismissible.

If you cannot come to your senses and see just how spectacularly nonsensical such a modus operandi is, no one here can offer anything to you.

Eduardo said...

You mean Atheist Christians like in thw wikipedia article but even more rebelious ???


cooooll!

goddinpotty said...

@Anonymous: I believe in the existence of numbers. I also believe that a deflationary approach to possible worlds is correct. Those are metaphysical beliefs. But according to you, if I have "bad" politics, then my beliefs about numbers and possible worlds are flat-out false and/or justifiably dismissible.

Don't be stupider than you have to be.

If you use your belief in the existence of numbers to justify a political position (a rather important step which you completely left out) then people who do not share your political position will be led to question the basis for that position. In the case of numbers, that questioning is not likely to get very far. But if the root metaphysical belief is something that is not universally acknowledged or otherwise tenuous, like God or forms or essences or natural law, that questioning will tend to lead people away from those metaphysical beliefs.

Again, I don't understand why people are so shocked, since I'm quite certain that every one of you had your metaphysical beliefs shaped by earlier moral, political, or cultural commitments. This is not a very exotic process.

Eduardo said...

You didn't get his point.

He meant: Bad/Failed political position >>> Wrong metaphysics.

He is saying such inference is nonsensical. Even if you didn't mean to say that, the words didn't help.


Who knows XD what caused us to be the way we are, right now the point it to find answer to questions, reasons to believe in certain arguments, or experiences that might agree with certain theories and so on and so on.


Sooo ... by the way the thread is totally off topic by this time.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Josh

What's a "contingent cause?"

Merriam-Webster defines "contingent" as "happening by chance or unforeseen causes" or "not necessitated : determined by free choice."

And 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. It is highly relevant to the philosophical problem of free will, particularly in the form of metaphysical libertarianism."

There are only two options here: "determinism" or "indeterminism." If there is another option, then no one here appears capable of giving an intelligible account of it.

Anonymous said...

GIP,

Leaving aside the fact that "stupider" is not a word, you're assuming that anyone who subscribes to certain A-T metaphysical notions (e.g. essence and causation) are at least roughly cognizant beforehand of their moral and political implications. Indeed, you extend your position to embrace all metaphysical beliefs with moral and political import. Your assumption is false.

And even if it wasn't, that doesn't necessitate a person subscribing to A-T because he likes its moral and political implications. It could very well be - and often is - the case that a metaphysical notion he honestly think to be true just so happens to have moral and political import.

Why you won't admit as much is beyond me.

Tony said...

There are only two options here: "determinism" or "indeterminism." If there is another option, then no one here appears capable of giving an intelligible account of it.

Ally, if you were to give a strict definition of each one that does not imbibe in erroneous metaphysical presumptions, you would find people here would accept your thesis that there are only 2 possibilities, determinism and indeterminism.

Unfortunately for you, you haven't been able to provide a strict and acceptable definition. For example, is an acorn growing to tree-hood contingently due to its form and its final cause "deterministic" or "indeterministic." If you say deterministic, then you don't mean by formal and final cause what other people mean by it. If you say indeterministic, you admit that indeterminism can exist independently of mind and free will: something can be CAUSED without being caused deterministically and without being caused by free will.

It does no good to try to specify (as you have repeated tried and repeatedly failed) in terms of "physical" causes, because "physical cause" is, itself, an ambiguous term in this debate. Your expression of "physical cause" is horribly unspecific, open to all sorts of equivocations here. Is the final cause of a rock a physical cause or not? What about the formal cause?

If you were to say: determinism is the theory that ALL CAUSES CAUSE Deterministically, and indeterminism is the theory that not all causes cause deterministically, you would have gotten agreement a long time ago.

dover_beach said...

I'm quite certain that every one of you had your metaphysical beliefs shaped by earlier moral, political, or cultural commitments.

Doesn't seem to accord with Feser's intellectual biography as provided in TLS, for instance, or with mine, for that matter. Maybe you're speaking from your own experience; that is, it may indeed be the case that your "earlier moral, political, or cultural commitments" have 'shaped' your metaphysical beliefs. But, anyway, I suppose this is where the discussion leads where the coherence of one's metaphysics, ethics, or politics are set aside.

goddinpotty said...

Of course "stupider" is a word. That statement goes beyond stupider to stupidest (thing I've seen today).

Let's take a hypothetical scenario. You know of two metaphysical systems: your basic cold, mechanical materialism, and believing that the universe was built and is run by the great god Tlaloc. You don't have enough evidence to choose between them, leaving you Tlaloc-agnostic -- the two systems seem equally plausible.

Now, as it happens devotion to Tlaloc involves sacrficiing one of your children every few years. Given that, wouldn't it make sense to shift your allegience towards materialism?

rank sophist said...

Doesn't seem to accord with Feser's intellectual biography as provided in TLS, for instance, or with mine, for that matter. Maybe you're speaking from your own experience; that is, it may indeed be the case that your "earlier moral, political, or cultural commitments" have 'shaped' your metaphysical beliefs. But, anyway, I suppose this is where the discussion leads where the coherence of one's metaphysics, ethics, or politics are set aside.

I think this is a case of someone assuming that what is true of them is true of everyone. Like Feser and yourself, my discovery of A-T metaphysics was an accident that destroyed many views I had held in the past. To put this in GIP's favorite terms, it went against my previous ideas of sexual morality. However, I could find no flaws in the logic of natural law, and, in the tradition of Socrates, I ended up following the argument where it led and changing my mind.

Anonymous said...

Oops. Looks like I was wrong. "Stupider" has in recent times become grammatically acceptable, though "more stupid" remain the preferred usage. You were right, GIP.

Still, better to be a poor grammarian than a poor philosopher, a fact that GIP amply demonstrates.

Anonymous said...

Goddinpotty - since cold mechanical materialism has led large numbers of people to condoning human sacrifice on a massive scale within living memory (I refer to the atrocities of Communist regimes) Tlaloc worship actually comes off better on the scale you suggest measuring metaphysical systems by. So your claim is wrong factually. It's also wrong in principle; to observe that the moral implications of a metaphysical premise are uncongenial to oneself is not a refutation of the premise. You have not shown that the sexual mores entailed by Thomist metaphysical premises are incoherent; you have shown only that you find them uncongenial. Advancing this as an argument against Thomism is a mark of an unserious intellect.

Eduardo said...

Depends... are the child's life any important XD ??? Perhaps .... err Tlaloc ?

So is that it? You can't stop impressing guys in the shower with your schlong so you better not believe in G*d because G*d could get mad with all that exposition ???



Well I suppose you think different from other people that is all... Just keep your dick in your pants while I am close... I might step on it.

machinephilosophy said...

Inference gets treated as a principle of truth-causality in arguments about causality.

I'm just glad it gets a free ride.

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty said... Now, as it happens devotion to Tlaloc involves sacrficiing one of your children every few years. Given that, wouldn't it make sense to shift your allegience towards materialism?

Sigh. At least I'm convinced that "stupider" and "stupidest" must be words, because how else could we describe GIP's posts?

Look, if there is no evidence to choose between them, then you must be "child-sacrifice agnostic". On the other hand if you acknowledge that child-sacrifice is wrong, then THAT IS EVIDENCE AGAINST IT. The logic is simple, how can you not see this? You're unstupider enough to operate a computer and keep posting here... or are you getting one of the less-medicated inmates to post for you??

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty said... So perhaps you can point me to the writers who assert your materialism, which you claim is the only one, where there are no forces and no forms. I'm always eager to remedy my ignorance.

If you're so eager, how can you not have figured out one of the main themes of this site and Feser's work? Of course "materialism" can't work without forms, that's why people who try to claim that are clearly wrong, and just end up reinventing the concepts in new terms. If you're saying that you acknowledge the A-T basics, then congrats, welcome to the club.

rank sophist said...

Let's take a hypothetical scenario. You know of two metaphysical systems: your basic cold, mechanical materialism, and believing that the universe was built and is run by the great god Tlaloc. You don't have enough evidence to choose between them, leaving you Tlaloc-agnostic -- the two systems seem equally plausible.

Now, as it happens devotion to Tlaloc involves sacrficiing one of your children every few years. Given that, wouldn't it make sense to shift your allegience towards materialism?


This is a runner-up for Most Ridiculous GIP Post. Do you have any idea how many questions you just begged? Let's count.

1. Whether the "lack of evidence either way" in your scenario is comparable to the cases presented by materialism and Thomism.

2. Whether Tlaloc is comparable to the God of Thomism.

3. Whether child sacrifice is comparable to traditional sexual morality.

Hey, that's only three. Better than I thought when I started writing this. Maybe if you can bring it down to just one or two begged questions per post, people might not laugh at your arguments.

Arthur said...

"You don't have enough evidence to choose between them... the two systems seem equally plausible."

I thought GIP was meant to be a materialist who rejected Thomism. Why is he saying that "the two systems seem equally plausible"? Or did I miss something?

"Now, as it happens devotion to Tlaloc involves sacrficiing one of your children every few years. Given that, wouldn't it make sense to shift your allegience towards materialism?"

Actually, no, it wouldn't, even if we accept your question-begging scenario. Appealing to unpleasant practical consequences of having a belief strikes me as a fallacy. The way you put it, "allegience towards materialism" is just a really roundabout way of saying "dislike of child sacrifice". You're basically admitting that you're operating on pragmatic, rather than rational, grounds.

Then again, why am I surprised? I've seen you make such moves before.

grodrigues said...

It always seemed very puzzling why goddinpotty, The Pragmatic, who has little concern or understanding for metaphysics, would be haunting this blog. Well, now that he cleared it out (it is an extension of his political evangelizing), it seems we are faced with a slightly improved copy of djindra...

DNW said...

"It always seemed very puzzling why goddinpotty, The Pragmatic, who has little concern or understanding for metaphysics, would be haunting this blog. Well, now that he cleared it out (it is an extension of his political evangelizing), it seems we are faced with a slightly improved copy of djindra...
May 23, 2012 4:40 AM "


Since yours was the last in a line of comments which basically said "oh geez ... is that what he has been on about?" I'll just echo it.

Oh geez ...

By the way, since we are disposing of the concept of real (in some coherent and intellectually obligatory sense) essences and essential natures and even species, "we" if the term retains any meaning, might just as well explore what taking this view seriously would entail for the politics Potty (his fecal fascination does now seem better explained) adverts to, if we were to abandon the notion of an essential nature.

It's not that it hasn't been done before. The 20th Century was convulsed by several such explorations which burned themselves out on rather grand scales. But it also has implications for any dimension wherein one so-called person levels a moral claim against another on the basis of some supposedly shared identity or entitlement.

Kind of difficult to accuse someone of applying a double standard of judgment to you, if you are in fact materially, and radically other.

What's left for negotiating leverage are mere compromises based on calculations of relative coercive power; or, empty formalistic entitlements scribbled on parchment. Entitlements which are rendered literally meaningless because the terms of the predicates, such as "All men are endowed by their Creator with ... such and such " have themselves been rendered literally meaningless on both the large and small scale.

Not only is there no creator, there is really no man, either.

So what is it exactly then, that politically confronts you and demands that you commit to "sharing a fate" (Rawls) - perhaps to the cost of your own biological family?

goddinpotty said...

@Anonymous_1 (why don't you give yourselves handles for Tlaloc's sake) – I didn't think I needed to explictly lay out the process of updating a prior belief, but I guess I do. In this scenario, you start with both beliefs at equal confidence values (0.5), then add the information about child sacrifice and see if that changes the confidence values.


@rank_sophist and @arthur seems to miss the point entirely; perhaps they are unacquainted with the idea of a hypothetical scenario?

Arthur said...

"@arthur seems to miss the point entirely"

I'll admit I missed some of the point of your hypothetical scenario, but I think that I also made a substantial criticism which you haven't addressed. I objected that "appealing to unpleasant practical consequences of having a belief strikes me as a fallacy." In other words, just because you don't like Thomist morality is a flimsy reason to reject Thomism. You can disagree with that, but so far just telling me that I "miss the point entirely" dodges that objection without answering it.

goddinpotty said...

@DNW: Kind of difficult to accuse someone of applying a double standard of judgment to you, if you are in fact materially, and radically other.

You raise an interesting line of thought which I don't think I really want to get into at the end of a long comment thread. Suffice it to say; there is such a thing as a circle of empathy (like causality it is rooted in a biologically innate capability that has been and is being radically expanded and transformed by culture). This is not based on essence, but on something else. It's difficult to say what that something else is; certainly "formalistic entitlements scribbled on parchment" are a part of it, albeit not the most important part. Eg The UN Declaration of Human Rights is a pretty empty statement in some sense; despite its existence human rights get trampled on all the time. Yet there it is, it was declared and assented to, it sits there waiting for reality to match it.

In reality, for whatever reasons the circle of empathy seems to be expanding. In 17th century France burning cats alive was a form of popular entertainment; it appears horrible now. In 20th century southern USA stringing Negros up from trees was similarly considered a form of good family fun, now, not so much. Up until very recently abusing homosexuals was the norm, now it mostly isn't (and it's very interesting to me to see some of your cohort trying to defend the practice of bullying which is under legislative and popular attack).

But you want to know why this should be considered a good thing if there is no human essence to defend. The answer is that there is no pre-existing essence, but there is a socially constructed idea of what it is to be human. That used to not include negroes, or indigenous peoples, or homosexuals, or women for that matter...but now it does. So it's not an essence, because it's changing, but it plays the part I think you want essences to play. The idea of human determines what we feel empathy for, to what class of entity we apply the Golden Rule and Hillel's one-line Torah.

Eduardo said...

Funny.... you said that being human is a social construct, an social illusion of ourselves. And then you go to say that shows objectively that it shows that there are no essences. I mean your argument is completely wrong, is a typical bait-and-switch. Because our perception changes than there is no essences because if there were essences our perception wouldn't change... but that makes no sense, just because you change you mind about certain things hardly means that essences are not real.

I remember watching in some discovery channel like documentary that in medieval ages people have made a court to judge a pig... that is a bit more than we do today I would think.you whole view of things is merely whatever you desire to see. Our circle of empathy is growing ... dunno, one example won't show that it is of it is not. I could just point to the millions of people we killed last century and say that people are more and more cruel

I mean whatever Potty, your worldview is based around whatever that makes you feel happy at that time. You have no reason to post beyond busting other people balls XD, That much is clear.

DNW said...

Potty,

I realize that your response to my comments regarding the questionable logic of celebrating or submitting to moral principles having no actual referents, was constructed with something of the same kind of casual rhetoricality found in my own comment.

The problem is that in attempting to take what you have said seriously, we would not only be forced to take issue with almost every hyperbolic line you casually present as a historically conditioning or relevant fact, and then to further consider whether there really is any causal connection between what you claim to be present effects and your supposed causes, *but*, at the end of it all we would in the final analysis still be no closer to knowing the answer to:

"... what is it exactly then, that politically confronts you and demands that you commit to "sharing a fate" (Rawls) ...?"

You say for example that,

"But you want to know why this should be considered a good thing if there is no human essence to defend. The answer is that there is no pre-existing essence, but there is a socially constructed idea of what it is to be human. That used to not include negroes, or indigenous peoples, or homosexuals, or women for that matter...but now it does. So it's not an essence, because it's changing, but it plays the part I think you want essences to play. The idea of human determines what we feel empathy for, to what class of entity we apply the Golden Rule and Hillel's one-line Torah."

Well apart from the fact that I didn't ask whether it was a good thing or not, but whether it was a logical or morally binding or even applicable thing, there is the obvious fact that you have not yourself demonstrated it as a good thing. Unless you take whatever is manifest as the definition of an unqualified good.

And, as a pragmatist, you of all people ought to be able to see what the everyday problem is with a 'socially constructed idea of what it means to be human' considered within a social situation wherein moral claims are taken seriously and enforced by the power of the state.

If different fundamental organic and moral interests obtain, then no universally binding moral rules are, or principle of reciprocity is, applicable; and your version of an expanding circle or empathy - or concern as some might have it - is nothing more than a kind of state imposed environmental filter applying to some greater or lesser subset of anthropoids.

And what use after all is a Golden Rule, whether positively or negatively formulated, if you find yourself in the company of say, masochists or slavish types? The principle is useless across a gulf of actually divergent core interests.

Progressives know this of course, and that's why they qucikly sidestep the question as they slide toward the notions of nice nihilism, and hedonic utilitarianism, they are so well known for.

They have nowhere else to go ... because ultimately, in accordance with the rules of the game they have themselves constructed, there is nowhere else to go.

Finally, they themselves disappear into a world-shaping reflexivity driven by feelings which as feelings have no ontological claim to an evaluative priority in the first place.

A funny little dance that. It's a wonder that everyone and anyone who can think at all doesn't find it hilarious.

rank sophist said...

GIP,

I didn't miss the point at all. You presented your "hypothetical scenario" to shed light on why you don't buy Thomism, begging three questions in the process. Play dumb to save face if you must; but you haven't fooled me.

DNW said...

I remember watching in some discovery channel like documentary that in medieval ages people have made a court to judge a pig...


In Anglo-Saxon England, prior to the introduction of the idea of intention by the Catholic Church, motivation played no obvious role in the law codes.

Even later, the phenomenon of which you speak could occur. If something caused a man's death it could be considered his "bane" and be subject to forfeit. Small comfort I guess, to receive the tree that fell on your father as a compensation.


"that is a bit more than we do today I would think. you whole view of things is merely whatever you desire to see. Our circle of empathy is growing ... dunno, one example won't show that it is of it is not. I could just point to the millions of people we killed last century and say that people are more and more cruel."


The problem isn't some tepid concession that some or other entity is capable of perceiving some stimuli as unpleasant, or even in refraining from the deliberate infliction of any such experience on it; but, whether this "concern" is reason enough to risk a substantial loss to one's self if you are reasonably certain that the problem won't spread.

So, and in honor of Potty, suppose a group of Islamicists decides to strike some notorious Asian "gay riviera" frequented by ardent European socialists, by using a few firebombs.

Eventually a political call to action is issued. So, long story made short: if recourse is to arms you calculate the damage to your sons' futures and your potential progeny in what balance?

More dead socialists might even equal less in the way of taxes and more grandchildren, and their blood is not on your hands. But what if the killing spreads? At what point might people in whom you are actually invested, and who are not actively working during their non-holiday moments to appropriate your future, begin to suffer in ways that impinge on your biological or rational self-interests?


If you are a Catholic, I suppose you can attribute souls capable of redemption and eternal value to either party and hope that God will make your loss up to you.

But *if you take some of the parties to this dispute at their own word concerning what they really are* ... what is your risk in aid of?

DNW said...

"begging three questions"

That has a kind of ring to it.

Anonymous said...

GIP,

Would you concede that, without an objective human essence or nature, moral nihilism inescapably follows?

I ask because your outrage over, say, gay bullying, indicates that you think there to be a fact of the matter whether bullying is objectively right or wrong.

goddinpotty said...

Would you concede that, without an objective human essence or nature, moral nihilism inescapably follows?

No, of course not.

And I detect in this line of questioning the same sort of reasoning you (or someone) is giving me a hard time about. That is, moral nihilism is a bad state of affairs, therefore you adjust your metaphysics to avoid that (supposed) unpleasant consequence.

goddinpotty said...

@DNW -- I can't quite tease out what you are trying to say, sorry.

And, as a pragmatist, you of all people ought to be able to see what the everyday problem is with a 'socially constructed idea of what it means to be human' considered within a social situation wherein moral claims are taken seriously and enforced by the power of the state.

Well, of course there are problems with it. But just as I said in the previous comments: are you suggesting that I adjust my metaphysics to avoid unpleasant consequences? I thought that was disallowed.

Or let's put it another way: life is simpler in a theocracy, where everyone has the same metaphysical and moral beliefs which are enforced by the state. It avoids a lot of the problems that you find in a liberal democracy. We should acknowledge its advantages, but that doesn't mean I want to live in one, since the advantages don't outweigh the disadvantages, at least for me.

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty said... I didn't think I needed to explictly lay out the process of updating a prior belief, but I guess I do.

Nah, you just need to learn to express yourself clearly. So let's see, you start off with the child-sacrifice info not being available to you, so it must not follow inherently from Tlalocism. Thus the fact that Tlalocists seem to go in for chucking their kids down a volcano must just be coincidence (some "social custom" that accidentally evolved over time or whatever). Therefore there's no reason why you can't accept Tlalocism itself and simply ignore the unsavory add-ons. And thus you still have no reason to shift your allegiance.

@rank_sophist and @arthur seems to miss the point entirely; perhaps they are unacquainted with the idea of a hypothetical scenario?

Yeah, that must be it. Nothing to do with the fact that your argument doesn't work even when you make it more explicit.

DNW said...

"Well, of course there are problems with it. But just as I said in the previous comments: are you suggesting that I adjust my metaphysics to avoid unpleasant consequences? I thought that was disallowed."

I'll pretend you are not evading the issue, and reiterate along general lines.

You thought that adjusting your metaphysics in order to avoid disturbing social implications was disallowable? Well, quite so.

Which means that it is also disallowable to pretend that moral obligations emanate from some imaginary convention or "socially constructed idea of what it is to be human."

What I am suggesting is not that you pretend to be a Thomist, but that you lay your real cards (the grounds of your moral claims against others) out on the table, and content yourself with living with the consequences, rather than pretending that your silly fiction is any better than the "fiction" you attribute to Feser.

Instead though, having boldly cast off the mantle of traditional metaphysics, you immediately wrap yourself in the Emperor's new post-modern clothes. Scanty though they may be.

Now, such delusional garb may feel like some kind of rhetorical armor to you, but it's really quite transparent and useless. And I am sure that at some level you recognize it.

You would be better off I think, or at least more honest, to do without it.

So, in fine: you say tow-may-tow, he says tow-mah-tow. You say 'man by convention', he says 'archaic hominid and pass the ammunition, Sport'.

It doesn't matter, this business of definitions and their basis of course, until such time as accepting one label or the other costs us something or adversely affects our interests.

Then it becomes a matter of some potential importance to know if there is anything more than social convention or mirror neurons involved in arbitrating whether you should throw it a crust of bread, or kick its nuisance ass off your front porch.

goddinpotty said...

@DNW --
Which means that it is also disallowable to pretend that moral obligations emanate from some imaginary convention or "socially constructed idea of what it is to be human."

Don't follow your logic, sorry. Anyway, you seem to be confusing "socially constructed" with "imaginary", I guess due to some inner belief that the social is unreal.

What I am suggesting is not that you pretend to be a Thomist, but that you lay your real cards (the grounds of your moral claims against others) out on the table, and content yourself with living with the consequences, rather than pretending that your silly fiction is any better than the "fiction" you attribute to Feser.

1) I don't think I accused anyone of "fiction", that's a little fiction of yours. See the previous point.

2) I've tried to be as explicit about my beliefs here as I could, so don't know what you mean about not laying out my cards. I don't think I've made any particular moral claims. My point was that the link between morals and metaphysics can run both ways, and if I illustrated it with some moral opinions of my own, that's incidental.

Instead though, having boldly cast off the mantle of traditional metaphysics, you immediately wrap yourself in the Emperor's new post-modern clothes. Scanty though they may be.


I truly don't know WTF you are talking about. I can see you like to turn a phrase, that's really nice for you, but don't let your pirouetting get in the way of saying what you mean.

Mr. Green said...

Alastair F. Paisley: The term "spontaneous" is simply a euphemism for random. Everyone here knows that.

Except that it isn't. If you'll permit me the Attributive Form of Proof: "spontaneous (adj.): 3a. Of natural processes: occurring without apparent external cause; having a self-contained cause or origin." (Oxford English Dictionary). The context clearly is referring to this sense, i.e. there is no need to bring in extraneous causes beyond what is already present in the atom. Of course, "random" can simply mean to "signify well-defined statistical properties, such as a lack of bias or correlation" (Wikipedia). So if you are referring to a lack of correlation to external measurements then, yes, the changing electron could be said to be "random" with respect to any outside event. But since it is caused by the atom and its current state, it doesn't follow that it's "indeterminate". Now perhaps you can show that it is "indeterminate" in some specific sense, but you'd have to make an argument to that effect, for it does not immediately follow from what Prof. Feser said, especially if by "undetermined" you mean "uncaused".

Mr. Green said...

GoddinPotty: This is a function of the current political/religious climate. It is the right who is concerned with control of sexual behavior, and the left with the widows and orphans, generally speaking.

Well, no, that's not right politically or historically. But even if it were, that just supports my point: that the objection is not based on a serious philosophical point. It is one and the same natural law that requires both supporting the needy and eschewing deviancy. A legitimate philosophical objection would be as likely to use one example as the other… but the empirical evidence shows an unwavering bias in this regard.

On the contrary, to me the whole enterprise here looks like a desperate and rickety attempt to erect a metaphysics to support bad politics. Why else would someone be so attached to such obsolete and weak ideas?

I'm at least glad that you specified "for you". Any serious study of Scholastic philosophy will show that it is not "desperate" or "rickety". It may or may not conclude that Scholastic philosophy is true, but an honest evaluation will certainly not conclude that it is desperate or rickety. Of course, that means your following sentence is just unwarranted insult. (Seriously, "obsolete ideas"? So you've given up on hoary old chestnuts like 1+1=2, one must suppose.)

DNW said...

goddinpotty said...

@DNW --
'Which means that it is also disallowable to pretend that moral obligations emanate from some imaginary convention or "socially constructed idea of what it is to be human.'

Don't follow your logic, sorry. "

That's because you have forgotten what it was that you wrote that triggered the response.

I'll help you to remember:

" [Potty] 'Well, of course there are problems with it. But just as I said in the previous comments: are you suggesting that I adjust my metaphysics to avoid unpleasant consequences? I thought that was disallowed.'

[DNW] ... You thought that adjusting your metaphysics in order to avoid disturbing social implications was disallowable? Well, quite so.

Which means that it is also disallowable to pretend that moral obligations emanate from some imaginary convention or "socially constructed idea of what it is to be human."


See Potty? You got exactly what you said that you were looking for. You just couldn't recognize it when you got it because of your prior editing.

Now, if you wish to go on to make an argument explaining how your "socially constructed idea of what it is to be human" premise entails certain sound and valid conclusions concerning the objective reality of moral obligations in a way that, say, Thomism or natural law concepts don't, then go ahead. Or don't.

Because as you were just saying...: "My point was that the link between morals and metaphysics can run both ways ..."

So it's quite possible that in your world how someone "actually" deserves to be treated is merely an artifact of how people - some number of them apparently - figure they ought to be treated.

A little social constructing here or a little social deconstructing there ... and an output of entitlement. Today a real and deserving human, tomorrow maybe not.

It all depends on the social construction, you see.

Anonymous said...

potty writes,

Why else would someone be so attached to such obsolete and weak ideas?

As a matter of fact, Thomism has been the catalyst in turning me away from a mechanistic concept of the universe, and I can assure you it had nothing to do with my politics or sexual views.

If the concepts you abjure are so "obsolete" and "weak," you are free to go someplace else. Are you being forced to listen to Wayne Newton unless you post here?

As a newcomer, I can tell you I am totally unimpressed with your arguments. In fact, it is now very seldom that I read what you write. The fact you're equally unimpressed with the likes of Feser makes it even more inexplicable why you keep showing up.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Mr. Green

> Except that it isn't. If you'll permit me the Attributive Form of Proof: "spontaneous (adj.): 3a. Of natural processes: occurring without apparent external cause; having a self-contained cause or origin." (Oxford English Dictionary). The context clearly is referring to this sense, i.e. there is no need to bring in extraneous causes beyond what is already present in the atom. Of course, "random" can simply mean to "signify well-defined statistical properties, such as a lack of bias or correlation" (Wikipedia). So if you are referring to a lack of correlation to external measurements then, yes, the changing electron could be said to be "random" with respect to any outside event. But since it is caused by the atom and its current state, it doesn't follow that it's "indeterminate". Now perhaps you can show that it is "indeterminate" in some specific sense, but you'd have to make an argument to that effect, for it does not immediately follow from what Prof. Feser said, especially if by "undetermined" you mean "uncaused". <

Merriam-Webster defines "indeterminism" as "a theory that the will is free and that deliberate choice and actions are not determined by or predictable from antecedent causes" and "a theory that holds that not every event has a cause."

If you're ascribing free will to the spontaneous event, then you're describing an uncaused cause. If you're not ascribing free will to the spontaneous event, then you're making what philosophers call a "distinction without difference."

"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." - Albert Einstein

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

goddinpotty said...

@DNW -- if you wish to go on to make an argument explaining how your "socially constructed idea of what it is to be human" premise entails certain sound and valid conclusions concerning the objective reality of moral obligations in a way that, say, Thomism or natural law concepts don't, then go ahead. Or don't.

It probably doesn't, at least not in the sense you want.

So I guess you are saying that you like Thomism at least in part because of what you percieve of as the moral consequences of naturalism?

Your ranting about social construction is not very interesting. The concept offends you, probably because you don't understand it, and it's nothing that hasn't been said millions of times over. Make an argument, or say something new.

dover_beach said...

Don't follow your logic, sorry. Anyway, you seem to be confusing "socially constructed" with "imaginary", I guess due to some inner belief that the social is unreal.

Ever heard of the 'social imaginary'? Probably not. But I grant you we may have confused you with someone who could grasp what was a stake when distinguishing whether a moral practice is objectively right as opposed to simply conventional right. I mean, eating with forks and knives is a matter of convention, but not poking the eye out of the person next to me is not only a matter of convention; to do so would be to objectively wrong them.

Eduardo said...

Potty

the last post you were doing just a bit too much of projection on DNW.

He didn't say the things you said he said. Read carefully... He is pointing to his metaphysics and stating conclusions, conclusions that he probably likes or not XD who knows. He stateing his allegiance to Natural Law THROUGH Thomism. That is different from stating allegiance to Natural Law THROUGH the emotional appeal it has to someone.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

I would disagree in your statement that Thomists are at the forefront of refuting a mechanistic understanding of the universe.

I think Heideggerians have them beat on that.

DNW said...

goddinpotty said...

@DNW -- [DNW]'if you wish to go on to make an argument explaining how your "socially constructed idea of what it is to be human" premise entails certain sound and valid conclusions concerning the objective reality of moral obligations in a way that, say, Thomism or natural law concepts don't, then go ahead. Or don't.

[Potty] It probably doesn't, at least not in the sense you want."


You mean, in other words Potty, that there is "probably" no moral imperative logically derivable from your "socially constructed" reality, and that your brandishing the concept around as if there were, "probably" amused me. I think that you are probably right in that much at least.


" [Potty] So I guess you are saying that you like Thomism at least in part because of what you percieve of as the moral consequences of naturalism?"

You guess wrong. I never said that I like Thomism. I simply find some form of realism less intellectually incoherent than the gibber-jabber you spout.

And the moral consequences of naturalism don't disturb *me* in the least.

It's those puling naturalists who don't have the courage, moral, intellectual, or otherwise, to squarely and publicly confront the ultimate consequences which their own worldviews imply for themselves in particular, who are a bit annoying.

You know all that, "I'm a human just like you" rhetoric they spew from one side of their mouths while nominalist proclamations and fluttery nonsense about 'as if' this, and 'conventions' that, issue from the other.

But then, and placing the category of "humanity" itself aside, their obfuscating rhetorical gambits, or vocalizations if you prefer, are to be expected once you step back and examine their activities through natural selection's self-preservation-impulse lens.

I mean, regardless of its beliefs, what should we *expect* any given organism with the power of speech to say: "Go ahead and let me starve if it doesn't move you to tears" ?


" [Potty] Your ranting about social construction is not very interesting. The concept offends you, probably because you don't understand it, and it's nothing that hasn't been said millions of times over. Make an argument, or say something new."


What is there to say about your deploying pseudo-inferences drawn from vaporous premisses, other than that you are engaging in a kind of self-indulgent fakery?

My argument has in substance been that your "argument", if we wish to dignify your mental trend line with that term, is logically bankrupt, and your moral notions based on a self-defensive whimsey (who cares how many share or repeat it) rather than any logical entailment due respect or assent.

Finally, Potty - and you should appreciate the symmetry here - your level of interest in my examinations of your incoherence is, well, of no particular interest to me.

Sean Robsville said...

"I would disagree in your statement that Thomists are at the forefront of refuting a mechanistic understanding of the universe.

I think Heideggerians have them beat on that."


Buddhist philosophers such as B Alan Wallace are also in the forefont of demolishing a purely 'mechanistic' (aka materialist, physicalist or computationalist) model of the universe.

A mechanistic view of the universe is technically known as 'computationalism', since, as the great Buddhist philosopher Alan Turing demonstrated, all physical systems ('mechanisms') are computable.

The difference between the Buddhist and the Computationalist view of reality can be stated quite simply:

The Buddhist believes that all functioning phenomena are dependent upon
- Causality
- Structure
- Designation by mind

The Computationalist believes that all functioning phenomena are dependent upon
- Causality
- Structure
...with the mind being reducible to the operations of causality on structures in the same way that the activities of a computer are reducible to the operation of algorithms on datastructures.

However, to the Buddhist the mind is an irreducible 'axiomatic' aspect of reality.

DNW said...

Eduardo said...

" Potty

the last post you were doing just a bit too much of projection on DNW.

He didn't say the things you said he said. Read carefully... He is pointing to his metaphysics and stating conclusions, conclusions that he probably likes or not XD who knows. He stateing his allegiance to Natural Law THROUGH Thomism. That is different from stating allegiance to Natural Law THROUGH the emotional appeal it has to someone."


It's probably difficult for most atheist progressives to imagine that their spreading inkblot metaphysics, their emergent reality ontology, and their kumbayaist liturgy isn't shared or appreciated by everyone who is not a convinced theist. Logical coherence or even sense be damned. And why not?

As we have seen, even the most basic rules of legitimate inference have been challenged as localized psychological or behavioral artifacts; and reality itself proclaimed as fundamentally unintelligible. (Except when some bit of rhetoric requires that a "fact" appear as ballast.)


We are assured that all this is true, on the basis of certain inferences the knowing-kind claim to draw, or to have seen drawn by others, from the most recent and informed speculations about physical models.

You may rest assured that while the logic may be difficult to follow - logic being not especially legitimate or conditioning anyway - the sociopolitical conclusion you are to draw is that it's none of your business what anyone does with his or her genitalia; but that it is your unchallengable responsibility to pay for his or her upkeep, and to underwrite the costs of any unfortunate outcomes.

Why? Well, you have to vote for it first, in order to find out.

DNW said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

I would disagree in your statement that Thomists are at the forefront of refuting a mechanistic understanding of the universe.

I think Heideggerians have them beat on that."


This isn't intended as a challenging or combative remark, but if you have anything to add to that, I'd be interested in seeing it.

Because I do think that whatever its ultimate merits, phenomenology is an interesting intellectual ... er phenomenon.

Sean Robsville said...

@DNW

Ultimately we're all phenomenologists, whether we admit it or not. Because whatever our model of the universe, we just can't factor out the consciousness that constructs or experiences it.

goddinpotty said...

In answer to some Anonymous who wondered why I post here -- it's simple, I like to argue. Argument is how I refine my thoughts, learn what their weak points are, force myself to dig deeper into them. And I learn things about how other people think. Dialectic, you've heard of it I suppose?

That's the theory anyway. In practice, in blogs nowadays people seem to prefer huddling together with people who agree with them (just as true on the left as on the right, fwiw) and treat disagreement as some kind of threat to be repulsed with insult rather than met with argument. Or they start raving about some imagined consequences of what I'm saying rather than engage with what I'm actually saying. So, you are probably right and I should give it up.

Anonymous said...

Potty, you are contradicting yourself. You have proclaimed our beliefs "obsolete" and "weak." Obsolete and weak arguments cannot strengthen your argumentative skills unless they are able to challenge you in some measure. A weak chess player doesn't challenge me and neither does a weak argument.

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