Monday, May 14, 2012

Oerter on universals and causality

George Mason University physicist (and author of The Theory of Almost Everything) Robert Oerter is writing up a series of posts on my book The Last Superstition over at his blog.  Oerter is critical but he engages the book seriously and in good faith.  He’s presented a couple of objections so far, and they merit a response.  So, here’s a response.
 
Universals and secondary qualities

In the book, I defend a realist (as opposed to nominalist or conceptualist) approach to the problem of universals.  Realism comes in several varieties, but they all agree that at least some universals exist.  A realist about circularity, for example, would hold that there really is such a thing as circularity over and above individual circles, which the individual circles all instantiate; a realist about redness would hold that there really is such a thing as redness over and above individual red things, which the individual red things all instantiate; and so forth.  (In the book I introduce the issue by way of Plato and Aristotle, but as should be clear to those who’ve read the whole book, the position I ultimately take is not the “extreme realism” of Plato nor even, exactly, the “moderate realism” of Aristotle.  Rather, I endorse the “Scholastic realism” of Aquinas and other Scholastics, which is essentially a modified Aristotelian moderate realism on which universals exist either in the things which instantiate them or in intellects, but where the latter includes the divine intellect, in which they pre-exist as the archetypes according to which God creates.  But that is neither here nor there with respect to Oerter’s objections.)

Oerter suggests that “redness” poses a problem for realism about universals.  But it seems to me that he commits several fallacies.  The first is that even if he succeeded in showing that “redness” was not a true universal, that wouldn’t entail that there are no universals at all.  Indeed, even if it turned out that there were no true color universals, that would hardly show that there are no universals at all.  Oerter’s criticisms appeal in part to scientific considerations, and yet many realists emphasize that scientific laws themselves necessarily appeal to universals.  For example, force, mass, acceleration, energy, the speed of light, etc. are all universals -- the laws that make reference to these properties are not referring merely to this or that particular instance of mass, acceleration, or whatever, but to mass, acceleration, etc. wherever they are instantiated.  Hence to appeal to science in order to refute realism about universals only kicks the problem up a level.  Even if you get rid of universals in one domain, you just reintroduce them somewhere else.

Second, it isn’t clear that Oerter properly understands what is meant by calling something a “universal.”  He puts great emphasis on the fact that not all cultures have the same color words we do, do not all distinguish red from other colors, etc.  That makes it sound as if realists about universals are making some anthropological claim, to the effect that redness is a universal in the sense that a word for it can be found in all languages.  But of course, that is not what the realist is claiming at all.  When the realist says that mass or acceleration is a universal, he doesn’t mean that all cultures have words for these properties.  He means that all instances of mass and acceleration (including those instances that existed before human beings came on the scene, those instances that exist in cultures which have no words for them, those instances that will exist if the day ever comes when there are no more human beings, etc.) are all instances of one and the same thing -- that there is something over and above these instances which they all instantiate or exemplify, and which could in some sense remain even if none of the instances existed.  Similarly, when a realist claims that redness is a universal, he is not saying that all languages have a word for redness, that they all distinguish between colors in just the same ways, etc.  He is making a claim about redness itself and the things that instantiate it, not a claim about our words for redness and its instances.

Alternatively, it may be that Oerter understands what the debate over universals is about but is simply committing a use/mention fallacy.  He writes:

When someone says "The apple is red (nyian)" in Tiv, they are saying something very different than I am when I say that sentence.   So it is clear that color is a culturally dependent quantity.

This is a bit like saying that since people used to think that “the morning star” and “the evening star” named different objects, it follows that the planet Venus is “culturally dependent” (whatever that could mean).  The way we use terms for heavenly bodies is one thing; what is actually true of the heavenly bodies themselves is another.  Similarly, the way we use terms for colors is one thing, and what is true of the colors themselves is another.  In both cases, it is a fallacy to suppose that what is true of our usage of terms necessarily tells us anything about the nature of the things the terms are used to refer to.

Oerter also argues that the evidence for the mind-dependence of colors is reason to reject the claim that “redness” names a genuine universal.  But here he is confusing the problem of universals with the question of whether colors are primary or secondary qualities.  These are entirely distinct issues.  Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we follow the tradition inaugurated by Galileo, Locke, and other early modern scientists and philosophers in distinguishing “redness” as common sense understands it (the way red looks to normal observers when they perceive it in ordinary circumstances) and redness as a property describable in terms of physics (in terms of surface reflectance properties etc.).  Then we can distinguish between RED (in caps) and red (in italics) as follows:

RED: the qualitative character of the color sensations had by a normal observer when he looks at fire engines, “Stop” signs, Superman’s cape, etc. (which is different from the qualitative character of the sensations had by e.g. a color blind observer when looking at these objects, and different from the qualitative character of the sensations had by a normal observer when looking at the sky, at Batman’s cape, etc.)

red: whatever set of physical properties it is in fire engines, “Stop” signs, Superman’s cape, etc. that causes normal observers to have RED sensations (and which is different from those physical properties of the sky, Batman’s cape, etc. which cause normal observers to have sensations other than RED ones when looking at those things)

Now, even if we make this distinction, both RED and red are still themselves candidates for being universals.  There is the instance of red present in this “Stop” sign, the instance of red present in that other “Stop” sign, the instance of red present in such-and-such a fire engine, and so forth.  (Even if it turns out that there is no single set of physical properties present in every single red thing, that doesn’t make any difference either.  For then we will still have a set of distinct kinds of red each of which is itself a kind of universal -- just as German shepherd is no less a universal than dog is.)

There is also the instance of RED represented by the sensation you are having now, the instance of RED represented by the sensation you had yesterday, the instance of RED represented by the sensation the guy sitting next to you is having, etc.  (And even if it turns out that what you call RED and what I call RED are qualitatively different, that wouldn’t make any difference either.  For then it will still be the case that every instance of RED in my sense of “RED” is an instance of the same one universal, and every instance of RED in your, different sense of “RED” is an instance of a different universal, and so forth.  This no more shows that “RED” doesn’t name a universal than the fact that “bat” can mean either a certain kind of animal or a certain piece of sports equipment shows that “bat” doesn’t name a universal.)

The principle of causality

Oerter also takes issue with my claim that any potential must be actualized by something already actual (which is one formulation of the Scholastic “principle of causality”).  Oerter says that my argument for this claim assumes that “a potentiality can't be actualized by nothing (because then there would be no way to explain when the change occurs).”  He goes on to object:

This step only works if you assume that there is always a way to explain when a change occurs. But what if there isn't?

This might seem a strange complaint - unless you know something about quantum mechanics.

And in a follow-up post he presents an example from QM he evidently takes to be a counterexample to the principle of causality:

[O]ver the last hundred years, physicists have discovered systems that change from one state to another without any apparent physical “trigger.”  These systems are described by quantum mechanics.

The simplest such system is the hydrogen atom. It's just an electron bound to a proton. Two particles - that's about as simple as you can get. According to QM, the electron can occupy one of a discrete set of energy levels. The electron can be excited to a higher energy level by absorbing a photon…

When the electron drops from a higher energy level to a lower level, it emits a photon: a quantum of light…

Quantum mechanics describes this process beautifully, but it only predicts the average time the electron will stay in the higher energy level. It doesn't give any clue as to the specific time the electron will drop to the lower level. More precisely, the transition rate (the probability of a transition per unit time) is constant: it doesn't matter how long it has been since the atom was excited, the transition rate stays the same…

When you first encounter this, you can't quite wrap your brain around it. Surely there must be some internal mechanism, some kind of clock, that ticks along and finally "goes off," causing the transition! 

But no such mechanism has ever been found. QM has had an unexcelled record of accurate predictions, without any need for such a mechanism…

Now so far none of this is even a prima facie counterexample to the principle of causality.  From:

1. QM describes the transition of the electron without making reference to a cause.

it simply does not follow that:

2. QM shows that the transition of the electron has no cause.

Such an inference would be no better than:

3. Kepler’s laws describe the orbits of the planets without making reference to any cause of those orbits, so

4. Kepler’s laws show that the orbits of the planets have no cause.

Even if for some reason you think that the orbits have no cause, Kepler’s laws give you no reason to doubt that they have one.  And even if you think the transition of the electron has no cause, QM gives you no reason to doubt that it does.

Or doesn’t it?  Oerter goes on to add:

Further, we have good reason to suspect that, if there were such a mechanism, then QM would not be accurate in its predictions. (I'll come back to this point in a later post.)  So, the absence of violations of QM is evidence that Feser's expectation - that there is always a reason for a change to happen when it does - is just wrong.

Well, obviously we’ll have to wait until this later post to see exactly what he thinks this reason is; until then Oerter hasn’t really given us any reason to doubt the principle of causality.  But even before he gives it, it is hard to see what such a reason might be.  What does Oerter have in mind by a “mechanism,” the presence of which is incompatible with the accuracy of QM?  Does he mean something acting deterministically?  The principle of causality doesn’t require that.  It requires only that a potency be actualized by something already actual; whether that something, whatever it is, actualizes potencies according some sort of pattern --deterministic or otherwise -- is another matter altogether.  (The Scholastic holds, after all, that God caused the world, but does not hold that divine causality is deterministic, or probabilistic, or in some other relevant way comparable to the sort of causality one finds in physical systems.)

Indeed, showing that there cannot be any strict incompatibility between the accuracy of QM and the principle of causality is a pretty trivial task.  Laplace and Maxwell had their demons, so to this grand tradition of thought experiments in physics, I’ll add my own.  Consider Feser’s demon, who knows QM and causes electrons to transition between levels in a pattern consistent with what he’s read in his physics textbooks.  Here we have a cause which (a) actualizes the potential of the electron to be at this level or that and (b) does so in a way consistent with the predictive accuracy of QM.

(For the dumber-than-usual New Atheist reader out there about to rush over to the Richard Dawkins Foundation combox to fill in the gang on Feser’s latest outrage, I suppose I ought to emphasize that I am not saying that any such demon exists, any more than Laplace or Maxwell were.  Nor am I saying that the electron transition has a supernatural or preternatural cause of any sort.  Indeed, I am saying nothing at all about what the cause of the electron transition might be.  I am merely making the narrow point that there is no conflict between the accuracy of QM and the claim that the transition has some cause or other.)  

Oerter ends his latest post with the remark that “It seems that physics is not, after all, irrelevant to metaphysics.”  Well, I don’t think I ever said that it is irrelevant.  But I would say that you are not going to read off any metaphysical results from physics without first reading some metaphysics into the physics.  There is a reason why there has long been a debate over how to interpret QM, and indeed about whether QM ought to be given any sort of realist (as opposed to instrumentalist) interpretation in the first place.   The reason is that it just isn’t at all clear from QM itself how to understand its underlying metaphysics.  Hence, whenever buying a philosophical argumentum ad QM -- especially from a non-philosopher, even a smart and intellectually honest non-philosopher like Oerter -- make sure you get a receipt.  Such arguments absolutely never perform as advertised.

P. Z. Feser?

Oerter makes some very kind remarks about me in his first post, which I appreciate.  But he also compares me to P. Z. Myers -- which is, well, not so kind.  I don’t think Oerter means any harm by the comparison; and obviously, like Myers I am not exactly a shrinking violet and am known to have my polemical moments.  Still, the comparison isn’t fair.  While I think polemics are occasionally justified, I have also made it clear that I do not think they always are.  And for the most part I am polemical only with those who have themselves already been polemical.  Nor is most of my work anywhere near as polemical as The Last Superstition.  Myers, by contrast, never seems to trade in anything but snark and abuse.  (I have addressed the question of when polemics are justifiable in a couple of earlier posts, here and here.)

Perhaps more importantly, Myers’s main claim to fame is the “Courtier’s reply” dodge, a blatantly question-begging attempt to rationalize his refusal to learn what his opponents have actually said before ridiculing and dismissing it.  He never responds to serious, worthy critics.  

By contrast, I just did.  And I have responded (for the most part politely!) to other serious atheist and agnostic writers at length -- to the traditional objections to theistic arguments (from Hume, Kant, and others) in The Last Superstition and elsewhere, to J. L. Mackie and Anthony Kenny in Aquinas, to Bede Rundle and John Beaudoin in my American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (which you can read online by Googling the article title, scrolling down to about the fourth result, and clicking “Quick view”), to Paul Edwards here, and so on.  

If Myers has ever presented a substantive reply to any serious theist, I’d love to hear about it.  But I’m afraid this is more his speed.

Anyway, I thank Prof. Oerter for his kind words and worthwhile criticisms. 

206 comments:

1 – 200 of 206   Newer›   Newest»
Steve Ruble said...

And even if it turns out that what you call RED and what I call RED are qualitatively different, that wouldn’t make any difference either. For then it will still be the case that every instance of RED in my sense of “RED” is an instance of the same one universal...

How small can a universal get? For example, I'm told that a very small percentage of people who get cataract surgery find that their visual spectrum subsequently extends slightly further into the ultraviolet. Should we say that this new color sensation is a universal? Was it a universal for the very first person who experienced it, or did it only become a universal after a second person experienced the same phenomenon?

Even if it turns out that there is no single set of physical properties present in every single red thing, that doesn’t make any difference either. For then we will still have a set of distinct kinds of red each of which is itself a kind of universal...

Redness is a somewhat arbitrary property in that we only give it a name because our visual spectrum includes the frequencies which we call RED and associate with red; if our visual spectrum didn't include those frequencies, it seems reasonable to suppose, we wouldn't identify red as a universal. But would it still be a universal, in some sense, even if we didn't know about it? Another way to frame the same question is: are there universals for all the different combinations of interactions with electromagnetic radiation which exist in the world, or are there only universals for the ones we think about?

Hunt said...

To clarify, from your position on causality, you're predicting that determinism will be found beneath quantum mechanics?

Sean Robsville said...

How do we know that universals are necessary? Maybe the mind identifies objects by exclusion, so the universal of red is the opposite of non-red, and the universal of circle is the opposite of non-circle, just as the universal of elephant is the opposite of non-elephant.

This may seem bizarre, but it's algorithmically effective.

David T said...

Sean,

Your idea might work for God, but I don't see how it can work for us, since it implies omniscience. If I can only know the universal elephant by exclusion of everything that is non-elephant, then I must know everything to know anything at all.

It also seems that excluding everything that is non-elephant already implies a universal understanding of elephant, since if you don't know elephant, how can you know it excludes x, y or z? If I tell you I have a flubborgow, and you ask what it is, does it help if I tell you that you can know it by excluding everything that is non-flubborgow?

Sean Robsville said...

@ David T
From observing one or a few instances of the salient features of something named elephant, the mind constructs a logical 'taxonomy' or flowchart of yes/no decisions to fit other elephants into a corresponding logical slot.

However no Platonic 'ideal form' of elephant is mapped on to, as demonstrated by the effectiveness of 20 questions.

Anonymous said...

it is really quite SAD that accomplished physicsts lie Oerter do not seem to understand the difference between 'causality' and 'determinism'.

Yet this shows how my professor of Quantum Mechanics at university was right "we can DO QM, yet we do not (fully) understand it"

Now the electron in Oerter example might not have an 'accidental cause' from going to a lower energy level from an higher one... but certain it has a material cause

Anonymous said...

@Steve

Should we say that this new color sensation is a universal? Was it a universal for the very first person who experienced it, or did it only become a universal after a second person experienced the same phenomenon?

this is somewhat like asking if fermions exist only after two indipendent experimentys confrim them.

A universal exist, like a certai fermion (eg an electron) independently from the AWARENESS of it by people.

Electrons have existed long before people were aware of them Science has not invented electrons but DISCOVERED them.

The same goes for a universal like circularity. Circularity has always existed even if there were no people aware of geometryand circles around.

are there universals for all the different combinations of interactions with electromagnetic radiation which exist in the world, or are there only universals for the ones we think about?

Same as above.

Maybe there are 15 types of fundamental forces in nature, not 4, but we observe only 4... how can we really kn ow they are not really 15 but we fail to observe the other 11...

Hence there might be plenty of universals we are not aware of, just as n physics there can be 'entites' (forces, particles, etc) we are not even aware in theory.

==========

@ Sean

Ok but how do you definbe something that is 'non-elephant' if therte is no concept of what an elephant is in the first place.

The mind might work on RECOGNIZING some o0bjects by elimination process but that does not really touch the universals question.

You are confusing the idea of Universals with the 'recognition process' that is carried out by the brain... they are two different things.

===========

@ Hunt

To clarify, from your position on causality, you're predicting that determinism will be found beneath quantum mechanics?

NO. That is NOT what Feser is implying at all.

Feser is not claiming that the electron changing energy state has a deterministic accidental cause.

Mr. Green said...

Steve Ruble: But would it still be a universal, in some sense, even if we didn't know about it?

Certainly. We don't have to think it (or perceive it, etc.); universals are what make it possible to think something, regardless of whether anyone actually does. (Of course, on the Scholastic view, God is thinking all these universals, so in that regard you could say there must be at least one Person thinking them, or else they wouldn't exist… of course if the universals didn't exist, then neither could any of the objects that instantiate them.)


Hunt: To clarify, from your position on causality, you're predicting that determinism will be found beneath quantum mechanics?

No, that's not what he said at all. (You might want to look for previous posts explaining the traditional philosophical notion of "causation". It does not mean the same thing that modern science usually means by it.)


Sean Robsville: Maybe the mind identifies objects by exclusion, so the universal of red is the opposite of non-red, and the universal of circle is the opposite of non-circle, just as the universal of elephant is the opposite of non-elephant.

But "noncircularity" is just as much a universal as "circularity" is. In fact, if you can have a concept of it, it's a universal (or a Form), since to understand something is just to hold a form in the mind. (And if you can't, then it wouldn't help to posit it!)

JR said...

My quantum mechanics is rusty, but my recollection is that the 'cause' of an electron making a transition from a higher energy state to the ground state is due to a coupling between the electron and the radiation field. In fact, this spontaneous transition can be suppressed by placing the atom in a electromagnetic cavity that eliminates or reduces the magnitude of this 'coupling' between the electron and the radiation field. So, I will hazard to speculate that it is reasonable to say that the radiation field (which is something 'acutal') is the cause of the spontaneous transition of the electron from an excited state to the ground state.

Sean Robsville said...

@ Mr Green

But "noncircularity" is just as much a universal as "circularity" is. In fact, if you can have a concept of it, it's a universal (or a Form)


Yes I agree, form and ground are complementary.

In the '20 questions' game , the form of an elephant is defined by all the 'Yes' answers (depending on how the questions are framed) and the ground of non-elephant by all the 'No' answers.

It may well be that, in the interests of efficiency, the mind holds its representation of universals in the form of a taxonomic tree, rather than by reference to a library of specifications of ideal forms. To quote the Wiki article about 20 questions: "The game suggests that the information (as measured by Shannon's entropy statistic) required to identify an arbitrary object is at most 20 bits. The game is often used as an example when teaching people about information theory. Mathematically, if each question is structured to eliminate half the objects, 20 questions will allow the questioner to distinguish between 220 or 1,048,576 objects. Accordingly, the most effective strategy for Twenty Questions is to ask questions that will split the field of remaining possibilities roughly in half each time. The process is analogous to a binary search algorithm in computer science or successive approximation ADC in analog-to-digital signal conversion.'

Untenured said...

If you cannot conceptually disentangle universality from mind-independence, and if you cannot distinguish between the problem of universals and the problem of secondary qualities, you probably don't need to be philosophizing in public.

Sean Robsville said...

'Universals', in Buddhist philosophy, are known as 'generic images', which are produced by the mind of the observer, and don't exist 'out there' in some Platonic realm of ideal forms.

goddinpotty said...

"Red" seems to be a singularly bad example of a universal, since we have a great deal of knowledge about how color vision actually works, and such specific knowledge seems to dissolve both the need and the ability to posit universals. Oerter went into some of that, but probably the most relevant bit is the frequency-specificity of the retinal cones. There is no universal "red", there is a continuous spectrum of wavelengths of light, some of which stimulate color receptors that are tuned to certain wavelengths. (I was going to suggest that the peak wavelength of the red-tuned cones was the closest thing to a universal "red", but it's actually orange, so that won't work).

You'd have better luck with candidate universals for more abstract concepts like "addition" or "justice".

David T said...

Sean,

'Universals', in Buddhist philosophy, are known as 'generic images', which are produced by the mind of the observer, and don't exist 'out there' in some Platonic realm of ideal forms.

Are you making a statement about the universal condition of the human mind, or only about your personal generic image of the human mind? If the latter, why should anyone pay attention to it? If the former, then you've contradicted yourself.

All the 20 questions thing does is push off the question of universals one step, for the questions themselves imply universals. The deeper logical problem is this: If you can know something only by eliminating everything else, then you will never know anything, since "eliminating something" means knowing enough about it to eliminate it, which means we've already gone through the process of elimination with respect to it and everything else (since, by hypothesis, we only know things by eliminating everything else). But then we must already know the original thing we wanted to know, since we couldn't have eliminated it in the secondary process if we didn't know it already. So the process is deadlocked at the start, unless there are things that are known through themselves and not merely through eliminating everything else.

Bobcat said...

Ed,

Oerter writes that "[Feser] presents his case in this book as an (irrefutable!) logical argument for God". There are other comments he makes along the same lines (e.g., "Feser claims that conceptualism and nominalism, the major alternatives to Feser's preferred realism, are demonstrably false" and "given the fact that theistic philosophers like Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga have agreed that there are no valid deductive proofs of God's existence [obviously, Oerter means "sound" rather than "valid", and even with this correction, I still don't think Plantinga would agree with the claim], I don't feel the need to pursue those any more. If Feser thinks he has rehabilitated Aquinas's cosmological proof and that all atheists need to read his book to find out how, well, fine: when he has convinced his fellow theists that he's done so, then I might look into it").

I think you should take some time to explain what you mean when you say that conceptualism and nominalism are demonstrably false. I take it you mean simply that you have a deductive argument that has true premises, and that concludes with the claim that nominalism and conceptualism are false. You make no claims that this is uncontroversial, that people couldn't reasonably disagree, or that you couldn't be wrong, right? (I mean, if you're right, then in an ontological sense you couldn't be wrong, but you could be wrong in an epistemic sense.)

Anonymous said...

Great reply. I hope this edifying exchange continues! Leagues better than Coyne, McDonald, Rosenhouse, et al.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> Consider Feser’s demon, who knows QM and causes electrons to transition between levels in a pattern consistent with what he’s read in his physics textbooks. Here we have a cause which (a) actualizes the potential of the electron to be at this level or that and (b) does so in a way consistent with the predictive accuracy of QM. <

Doesn't Aquinas' "primary or first cause" argument imply physical indeterminism? (The phrase "physical indeterminism" means that not every physical event has a physical cause. It does not necessarily mean that some physical event is without any cause whatsoever.)

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 the creative act itself. Right?

It should be noted that quantum fluctuations, according to the standard interpretation of QM (a.k.a. the Copenhagen interpretation), are uncaused.

"According to this interpretation, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is not a temporary feature which will eventually be replaced by a deterministic theory, but instead must be considered a final renunciation of the classical idea of "causality". (emphasis mine)

(source: Wikipedia: Quantum mechanics)

Anonymous said...

There you go again, AFP. QM do NOT show there are uncaused events. That was answered in the last thread, and you chose not to reply to it.

Untenured said...

Oerter, and some commenters here, are conflating two different questions.

Superficial appearances notwithstanding, the following questions are not equivalent:

Question 1: Are Universals real?

Question 2: Are Universals mind-independent?

Universals can be real even if they are mind-dependent. Even if solipsism or idealism were true, it could still be true that universals exist. To see this, consider the following scenario:

You are a solipsistic subject. You have one qualitatively "red" quale and then you have another qualitatively "red" quale. Let us suppose that these qualia are phenomenologically equivalent even though they are instantiated only in your mind and have no objective causal correlates.

Even if there are no objective correlates to these qualia, they would still belong to the same type. And thus universals would be real even though they are mind dependent.

This is not up for debate. This is case closed. There aren't many philosophical positions that can be established conclusively, but realism about universals is definitely one of them.

Bobcat said...

Untenured, have you read Craig on the question of nominalism? Here it is:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/van-inwagen-on-uncreated-beings

I haven't read it -- it's too long, and I'm grading right now -- but to say that the case is closed on nominalism strikes me (not that I know much about the debate) as premature, simply on the inductive grounds that philosophical positions are almost never established conclusively.

SR said...

Like Bobcat, I am also bothered by A-T's claim to have "demonstrated" conclusions. To do so means that one has argued from self-evident first principles, but it is just those (to the extent that I have an accurate idea of what they are) that I doubt. Mainly:

a) the reality of prime matter,
b) assigning the power of actualizing to form,
c) assuming that because we have trouble thinking of change without assuming a substantial thing that changes, that that entails that there are substantial things.

As I see it, these are all debatable, and that there is no alternative to just assuming them. But since one can also assume alternatives, how can one claim one has demonstrated anything?

Eduardo said...

LOL

this is gonna be a heated one.

by the way where is Ben Yacov XD ???

rank sophist said...

SR,

Oderberg addressed all of these issues in depth in Real Essentialism, particularly the latter two.

Notably, with regard to prime matter, it cannot be demonstrated. We have only a vague knowledge of it--we know it exists because other, more firm concepts necessitate it.

BenYachov said...

I am here. Let the Universe howl in despair!

Eduardo said...

"But since one can also assume alternatives, how can one claim one has demonstrated anything? "

I think the idea roams around, trying to show that the statement is more plausible than it's negative.

Or I think maybe you can show that ... given the initial assumptions it follows this conclusion. So you did demonstrated something, but it is not absolute and the only demonstration possible.

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty said… "Red" seems to be a singularly bad example of a universal, since we have a great deal of knowledge about how color vision actually works, and such specific knowledge seems to dissolve both the need and the ability to posit universals.

Oh geez, we just went through a long thread where you proved at every turn that you didn't understand the issue. Not that you didn't agree, or didn't like the proposed resolution, or didn't come up with a better alternative, but that you just didn't understand what it was you were disagreeing with. We're not going to have to go through this with every post, are we?

Feser: "This TV show is full of plot holes."
goddinpotty: "Actually, someone with my specialized experience knows that television is a well understood technology involving the transmission of radio waves and cathode ray tubes. There is no need to posit your mythical fairy holes."

(P.S. everything you mentioned in your "retort" was just more universals. please read the OP again until you get it.)

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> There you go again, AFP. QM do NOT show there are uncaused events. That was answered in the last thread, and you chose not to reply to it. <

Robert Oerter (professor of physics at George Mason University) says there are physically uncaused events. This is the standard interpretation of QM.

Sean Robsville said...

@ David T
"All the 20 questions thing does is push off the question of universals one step, for the questions themselves imply universals."

Not necessarily. The questions are just branch points, like the taxonomic criteria for separating species in cladistics. The different species are not instantiations of different universals (except perhaps to creationists). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clade

Anonymous said...

AFP,

Once again, your assertions were rebutted in the other thread. Unless you can come up with a cogent reply, you're spitting in the wind.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

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."

The scientific evidence simply does not support materialism.

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."

Please note that I have completely dismantled materialism with aplomb. No appeal to philosophical argumentation was necessary. I simply presented the scientific evidence.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> Once again, your assertions were rebutted in the other thread. Unless you can come up with a cogent reply, you're spitting in the wind. <

I have substantiated each of my claims with appropriate documentation. Simply engaging in denial does not qualify as a rebuttal.

Anonymous said...

Paisley, simply insisting you replied to the rebuttals does nothing for you. Your assertion that there are uncaused events is hairless unless you reply. You didn't in spite of repeated attempts to get you to do so. So quit pretending that you have.

Anonymous said...

What Paisley did was selectively reply to some of the arguments while ignoring the parts he couldn't rebut. Other arguments he ignored altogether while claiming he addressed them.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

According to the standard interpretation of QM, nature is fundamentally indeterminate. If you're not aware of this fact, then you simply do not have a basic layman's understanding of QM. It's that simple.

"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)

SR said...

@rank sophist,

Oderberg addressed all of these issues in depth in Real Essentialism, particularly the latter two.

Meanwhile, Nagarjuna et al have also addressed these issues in depth and come to different positions, though Nagarjuna would say to no position.

Or, I could ask: what are Oderberg's assumptions, or do I have to spend $31 to find out? If reading Aquinas isn't enough, then where does it end?

Notably, with regard to prime matter, it cannot be demonstrated. We have only a vague knowledge of it--we know it exists because other, more firm concepts necessitate it.

Such as? I'm not aware of any. I do see a need for something other than form, namely formlessness, but calling it 'matter' makes a distinction I don't think is required. I call it 'acts of existence', and thereby remove the ontological distinction between physical and non-physical reality.

Mr. Green said...

Alastair F. Paisley: Doesn't Aquinas' "primary or first cause" argument imply physical indeterminism?

No. As pointed out last time, you seem to be claiming that there are no secondary causes, while A-T claims there are such things. To conclude from "God is the primary cause of everything" that "God is the only cause of anything", you need an additional premise like "There can be only one cause for any effect". You have not defended such a premise (and it would be hard to do so, since without natural or secondary formal and final causes, physical things would be unintelligible, which they obviously are not).

Anonymous said...

Paisley says,

"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."

For the umpteenth time, this was directly rebutted in the last thread. We're still waiting for the reply.

BeingItself said...

Can someone describe how the "The principle of causality" could be falsified to Feser's satisfaction?

jhall said...

BeingItself,

Why do you presume such a principle is even falsifiable, empirically. In other words, how can science ever show that there are causeless effects (or the so-called causeless QM events)?

BeingItself said...

jhall,

I think QM does show that there are causeless events. Does it "prove" it absolutely? No, that is not how science works.

So are you saying the principle cannot be falsified?

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Mr. Green

> No. As pointed out last time, you seem to be claiming that there are no secondary causes, while A-T claims there are such things. To conclude from "God is the primary cause of everything" that "God is the only cause of anything", you need an additional premise like "There can be only one cause for any effect". You have not defended such a premise <

I have never defended such a belief because I have never expressed one. You're simply making a straw man argument. I suggest you go back and re-read my argument. Then come back with some kind of response that actually addresses my argument.

Anonymous said...

Paisley writes,

I have never defended such a belief because I have never expressed one. You're simply making a straw man argument. I suggest you go back and re-read my argument. Then come back with some kind of response that actually addresses my argument.

Of all the cheek! WE have to go back and re-read the thread and properly reply to his highness, but HE is above doing so. Remarkable.

goddinpotty said...

@Anonymous (and why don't you pick a name?):

Don't see your analogy at all. "Plots" have a symbolic structure that is to a large extent independent from whatever physical form they are instantiated in (eg, a book plot and a tv plot can both have similar holes).

"Red" is impossible to decouple in such a way from its physical realization. There are no red sounds or smells (or plots or dreams), and the notion of what "red" would mean to a creature who only responded to, say, ultraviolet frequencies is problematic indeed. You seem to be hinting that the "red" universal is not physical at all, maybe its a quale or something. But again, biophysics has eaten away a lot of the mystery.

This is why it seems like a poor choice of example of a universal.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

I must admit that I am somewhat baffled why all the Thomists here feel so threatened by physical indeterminism. Do you not realize the implications of the alternative? If everything is physically determined, then everything can be explained in physical terms. This implies materialism. THINK!

jhall said...

BeingItself,

You didn't answer my question. I understand that you believe there are uncaused events. But you need to tell me exactly what scientific experiment convinced you of this, and how. Just repeating "this is the predominate view among physicists" a la Paisley won't cut it, as I'm not impressed by arguments from authority. Especially from physicists who don't know the first bit about philosophy.

Science is not capable, in principle, of demonstrating such a claim. Folks like grodrigues have been over this countless times, and the issue is always avoided.

To speak of causality as something which can be falsified is extremely confused. It is a metaphysical presupposition/first principle - you can either accept it or reject it (on pain of absurdity). Good luck trying to make sense of the scientific enterprise without it, though.

Steve Ruble said...

I don't think I really understand what ya'll intend to mean by "universals", I guess. There seems to be a general agreement between the believers in universals that they don't need to be instantiated at all to exist, but in Untenured's argument for realism about universals he relies on the existence of two things which "belong to the same type" to demonstrate that universals are real. Is there a way to demonstrate that universals are real without appealing to any existent things which instantiate them?

More interesting to me is the question of how you think you can determine which universals actually exist, and which universals are which. Maybe you think that all possible universals exist, but if you don't, how do you determine which ones do exist and which ones do not? And how do you determine that the particular universal you intend to refer to is actually the universal which is instantiated by a particular object, as opposed to a very similar universal which you are not thinking of? Using the example of circularity as a universal, how can you tell whether the character "o" is an imperfect instance of circularity, as opposed to a perfect instance of pixelated circularity, a different universal?

Alastair F. Paisley said...

There are only two options here: "determinism" or "indeterminism - necessity or chance. If there is a third option, then why is it that no one here is able to give an intelligent account of it?

Anonymous said...

SR: b) assigning the power of actualizing to form

Power isn't "assigned" to form; is it self-evident that everything isn't potential (or there wouldn't actually be anything), and so we make up a name, "form", so we have a way to refer to whatever it is that does the actualising. You could make up the word "matter" to describe it instead, but that doesn't change anything.

c) assuming that because we have trouble thinking of change without assuming a substantial thing that changes, that that entails that there are substantial things.

Again, it's not a question of having trouble of thinking of things. "Change" is what we call the self-evident phenomenon of stuff being partly the same and partly different (if everything were always all the same, that wouldn't be "change", and if stuff "changed" completely all the time, that wouldn't be "change" either, it would just be a bunch of different unrelated things). So we call the part the stays the same a "substance".

Of course, that's just a quick-and-dirty simplification, but linguistic preferences aside, it's not as arbitrary as you suggest.

Anonymous said...

"Can someone describe how the "The principle of causality" could be falsified to Feser's satisfaction?"

Sure, just as soon as you describe how the principle of non-contradiction could be falsified to your satisfaction.

BeingItself said...

jhall,

So you hold the principle dogmatically. For you, it is True come what may.

I never spoke of "causality as something which can be falsified". Rather, the principle of causality seems to be falsified by QM. No one experiment convinced me of this. That would be idiotic.

Thanks for answering my question.

Steve Ruble said...

jhall,

To speak of causality as something which can be falsified is extremely confused. It is a metaphysical presupposition/first principle - you can either accept it or reject it (on pain of absurdity).

Really? Why can't we accept that everything down to a certain size follows the rules which we call cause and effect, and everything below that size follows statistical rules which don't correspond to the rules we call cause and effect? There's nothing logically impossible about such a situation, and if that's how the world actually appears to work, it seems more absurd to insist that the world really works the way you presuppose it does than to accept that, in fact, it works the way it appears to work. What makes your presuppositions so cool, anyway?

Anonymous said...

Alastair,

When you say there are uncaused events, you mean physically uncaused, correct? You are not asserting that there are uncaused events, full stop, right?

Bill

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty said… @Anonymous (and why don't you pick a name?)

I think it's because all us different anonymouses are a bit ashamed of feeding an ever-increasingly obvious troll.

Don't see your analogy at all.

We know you don't. Par for the course.

You seem to be hinting that the "red" universal is not physical at all

<forehead smack>

But again, biophysics has eaten away a lot of the mystery.

"But TV-repairman technology has eaten away a lot of the mystery!"

This is why it seems like a poor choice of example of a universal.

No, but it's a great example of how you have missed the entire point of what a universal is.

BeingItself said...

A philosopher once said, 'It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results.' Well, they don't!

Richard P. Feynman

goddinpotty said...

Well, O wise anonymous, why don't you say what they are instead of spending so much ink on describing what I don't know? That would seem to be a more productive use of both your time and mine.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

According to the "theory of relativity," time and space are relative to the reference frame of the observer. And since our conception of causality is directly related to time and space, then causality itself must also be considered relative...relative to the reference frame of the observer. Of course, this does not preclude an absolute cause...a nonlocal cause that transcends the boundaries of space and time. Historically, we have referred to this "absolute cause" as God.

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

@ BeingItself

> A philosopher once said, 'It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results.' Well, they don't!

Richard P. Feynman
<

Thanks for sharing. (I will file this quote for future reference.)

"The essence of quantum randomness is simply this: identical physical situations give rise to different outcomes. Once you get down to the quantum randomness level, no further explanation is possible. You can't go any deeper because physics stops here." pg. 118

"Critics who object...fail to appreciate the nature of quantum randomness: identical situtations give different results. That's all there is to it." pg. 119

(source: "Quantum Reality" by Nick Herbert)

Anonymous said...

One has to marvel at SR's simultaneous extreme skepticism toward Thomism and his naive promotion of theosophical nonsense.

Or, I could ask: what are Oderberg's assumptions, or do I have to spend $31 to find out? If reading Aquinas isn't enough, then where does it end?

Really? One short introductory book did not answer every conceivable objection from every perspective? Horror of horrors! You may actually have to do research.

And what of your position, SR? Do you have any reason for others to accept your metaphysics? Every time you are questioned, you tout a story about the evolution of the history of consciousness. When that story is questioned, you act as if the narrative is manifestly evident and inform us that we should just read Owen Barfield. At no point have you offered a single argument to support your idealism and the reality of your totalizing principles, nor can you really substantiate your narrative as fact.

Eduardo said...

Alastair the principle of causality is not broken by relativity... yep if you read textbooks about relativity you will check what I just said.

AND;depends which theory of cause you using, Philosophers could have already come up with other types of theories or interpretations.



AND YOU people and Quantum Mechanics ahhahaha ... oh man, everything is know about quantum events is because of causal relations and conservation principles( there could be more stuff I suppose ).

This events people like to talk about, of particles poping without a cause is sort of funny since they only happen during certain events. So no .... not even in the newtonian sort of causual relations QM has refuted Causation.


AND ..... WHAT .... did I just read that science does need repetition to be science ... Feynman, he is best at physics, but is a shame when it comes to philosophy. Repetition is PARAMOUNT to science ... experimental science. If you can reproduce an effect or a outcome is considered pseudo-science automatically by scientists.

Robert Oerter said...

Dr. Feser: Thanks for the compliment of this in-depth response.

On universals: What you write here is quite different from TLS, where you emphasize mind-independence and the idea that two people entertain "one and the same concept" of redness. If you are now allowing your universals to be mind-dependent, then we are substantially in agreement.

On causality, I apologize if I implied you thought physics was irrelevant to metaphysics. That was actually directed at one of the commenters on Victor Reppert's thread, and I should have made that clear.

My explanation of the QM point is now up - I hope you get a chance to comment on it.

On PZ: I'm only saying there's a certain similarity in tone. Definitely NOT in content.

To the other folks who have commented here: this thread is expanding too fast for me to keep up - sorry! Feel free to post a comment at my blog if you really want an answer.

Eduardo said...

I think my post got in the spam filter, I think. I surely hope so

Anonymous said...

Argument F. Proxy said... I must admit that I am somewhat baffled why all the Thomists here feel so threatened by physical indeterminism.

We're not threatened by it. (Why, have been trying to threaten us, Alastair?) We're simply unimpressed by your alleged argument. Thomism does not demand that the physical be indeterminate, nor is there evidence that it is that way. If you have made such a brilliant discovery to the contrary, you ought to be able to present it coherently.

Do you not realize the implications of the alternative? If everything is physically determined, then everything can be explained in physical terms. This implies materialism. THINK!

The problem with thinking is that people think(!) they know it all before they bother to find out what smart people have already figured out for the past few thousand years. Complete physical determination does NOT imply materialism. This shows you do not understand even the basics of Thomism. Even if Thomism were all wrong, you would have to actually understand what it says before you could show a Thomist why it was wrong, get it?

Anonymous said...

Adler writes,

At the same time that the Heisenberg uncertainty principles were established, quantum physics acknowledged that the intrusive experimental measurements that provided the data used in the mathematical formulations of quantum theory conferred on subatomic objects and events indeterminate character...It follows, therefore, that the indeterminacy cannot be intrinsic to subatomic reality.

Anonymous said...

Craig writes,

The recent use of such vacuum fluctuations is highly misleading. For virtual particles do not literally come into existence spontaneously out of nothing. Rather the energy locked up in a vacuum fluctuates spontaneously in such a way as to convert into evanescent particles that return almost immediately to the vacuum. As John Barrow and Frank Tipler comment, ". . . the modern picture of the quantum vacuum differs radically from the classical and everyday meaning of a vacuum-- nothing. . . . The quantum vacuum (or vacuua, as there can exist many) states . . . are defined simply as local, or global, energy minima (1986, p. 440). The microstructure of the quantum vacuum is a sea of continually forming and dissolving particles which borrow energy from the vacuum for their brief existence. A quantum vacuum is thus far from nothing, and vacuum fluctuations do not constitute an exception to the principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

Anonymous Bill

"> When you say there are uncaused events, you mean physically uncaused, correct? You are not asserting that there are uncaused events, full stop, right? <

Yes, there are PHYSICALLY uncaused events.

The observer is the cause of the wave function collapse. But having said that, free will involves an element of chance. (The "two-stage model of free will" explains how this works.)

Anonymous said...

@Edward (and everyone else with a source)

I have been very fascinated with the Five Ways since I read TLS (currently reading Aquinas) and was wondering if there are any additional sources out there that refute/answer the objections raised by Anthony Kenny in his book that criticizes Aquinas).

I have also read Oderberg's article that defends the first premise of the Argument. So along with Aquinas by Feser are there any other books/articles that provide a substantive rebuttal to Kenny's Objection?

Thanks

Anonymous said...

alisatir,

what you describe in your last post is not an uncaused event.

Eduardo said...

Define "cause" ?


You people must because this thing is getting out of hand.

Photons that appear only when the eletron goes to more "fundamental layers" of the atom

Beta particles that only occur during decay.

Collapse of wave function that only accurs when someone observes.

And relativity somehow being against causual relations, even though it doesn't XD. Yep check the textbooks, it doesn't and I was tested in that during my Relativity course.


You people are sort of confuse really, that is what I am interpreting.

Darrin said...

//If you have made such a brilliant discovery to the contrary, you ought to be able to present it coherently.//

Let S be the set of objects whose actualization precedes a physical event or entity X. Then, according to Aquinas, the set is composed of elements

S={G, x1, x2, ... , xn, X}

Where G is that entity lacking potentiality (Pure Act) and X is the particular event under analysis, with each x(k) being events or entities who actualize x(k+1).

Assume WLOG that G is the only nonphysical event or entity in the chain. Then since G->x1, x1's potential is not actualized by something physical, QED.

Therefore, necessarily, for each physical event X there must exist some physical preceding event x1 with potency actualized by a nonphysical event or entity.

Eduardo said...

Darrin

That is in a sense what i get from Aquinas. However Alastair is not really meaning that.

G is actualizing RIGHT NOW all quantum events, that is Alastair's position on the matter. That is why he is alwyas talking about Determinism, which could be interpreted as causual closure of the physical reality.

Now, I suppose Alastair COULD be right about quantum event having no PHYSICAL cause... I suppose physical here is materialism of some sort.

SR said...

Anonymous @May 15, 2012 3:32 PM

SR: b) assigning the power of actualizing to form

Power isn't "assigned" to form; is it self-evident that everything isn't potential (or there wouldn't actually be anything), and so we make up a name, "form", so we have a way to refer to whatever it is that does the actualising. You could make up the word "matter" to describe it instead, but that doesn't change anything.


So all the examples used to explain hylemorphism could switch 'form' and 'matter' and still make sense? Don't think so. Let's see, a ball's sphericity is its matter, while the rubber it is made with is its form....No, 'form' means a great deal more than "that which actualizes".



c) assuming that because we have trouble thinking of change without assuming a substantial thing that changes, that that entails that there are substantial things.

Again, it's not a question of having trouble of thinking of things. "Change" is what we call the self-evident phenomenon of stuff being partly the same and partly different (if everything were always all the same, that wouldn't be "change", and if stuff "changed" completely all the time, that wouldn't be "change" either, it would just be a bunch of different unrelated things). So we call the part the stays the same a "substance".


You've begged the question with "the self-evident phenomenon of stuff being partly the same and partly different". That's mistaking common sense for self-evidence. When we investigate this phenomenon, we find that nothing actual stays the same, which is why the anti-essentialist will argue that talk of 'substantial things' is just absolutizing convention.

machinephilosophy said...

Mr. Green,

We don't have to think it (or perceive it, etc.); universals are what make it possible to think something, regardless of whether anyone actually does.

Very good point.

And on a related note, while universals are not dependent on finite minds for their existence, they do seem dependent on the mind of God precisely because they are ultimate intellectual objects.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Bobcat,

Yes, that's pretty much correct. I use "demonstration" the way Scholastic writers typically use it -- a deduction from premises that are certain. But to call the premises "certain" doesn't entail that they are uncontroversial" and it doesn't entail that they are such that there are no circumstances in which a reasonable person might doubt them.

Hence I would claim to be certain that I am now typing on a computer and that a computer is a material object existing independently of my mind. I assume that most readers will agree that it is reasonable for me to say that I am certain about that much. And they would agree with that even if they also agree that there have been reasonable people who embrace skepticism, or idealism, or some other doctrine incompatible with the claim that I am now typing on a computer. Furthermore, they would also agree that for me to claim to be certain about this does not entail that I am not open to hearing out arguments for skepticism, idealism, etc. "S claims to be certain of X" does not entail "S claims that X is uncontroversial" or "S claims that no reasonable person could ever doubt X" or "S dogmatically refuses to consider criticism of X."

Similarly, I claim that it is certain that (for example) no potential can actualize itself or be actualized by nothing. But that doesn't mean that I deny that this claim is controversial or that some reasonable people doubt it, and it doesn't mean that I am not open to hearing arguments to the contrary. Hence when I claim, as I do, that the existence of God can be demonstrated, I am not claiming that the existence of God is uncontroversial, or that no reasonable person could ever doubt it, or that we needn't listen to arguments to the contrary or to criticism of the proofs of God's existence.

It is important to use the word "demonstration," though, for several reasons. For one thing, it is important to stress that God's existence is something that the traditional proofs, properly understood, given us genuine knowledge of. (And it is widely understood that "S claims to know X," like "S is certain of X," does not entail "S thinks no reasonable person could doubt X," "S refuses to consider arguments against X," etc.) For another thing, it is important to emphasize the difference between, on the one hand, the traditional arguments as they were historically understood, and still understood, by writers in the Scholastic tradition, and on the other hand, the way theistic arguments are presented by some contemporary writers. E.g. Swinburne presents them as mere probabilistic empirical hypotheses, and Plantinga presents them (or at least the ontological argument) as something whose premises aren't necessarily better known than, or even knowable apart from, the conclusion. I've got no interest in such arguments and want to make it clear that they are not the sort of thing Aquinas and other Scholastic writers are putting forward.

rank sophist said...

Or, I could ask: what are Oderberg's assumptions, or do I have to spend $31 to find out? If reading Aquinas isn't enough, then where does it end?

Oderberg makes no assumptions. He argues for all of his positions, and against alternative interpretations.

Such as? I'm not aware of any. I do see a need for something other than form, namely formlessness, but calling it 'matter' makes a distinction I don't think is required. I call it 'acts of existence', and thereby remove the ontological distinction between physical and non-physical reality.

If only substantial form existed, then nothing could be created. Either form would be a potential needing actualization, or it would be an actualizing principle with no potential to actualize. In either case, no change would occur.

Prime matter is the pure potentiality required by this system. To quote Oderberg, it is not anything definite. It does not "exist", so to speak--it is not "something or other". Calling it matter is just a wording quirk. It comprises every hylemorphic substance, physical and non-physical.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous at 4:40,

For another response to Kenny's criticisms of the Five Ways, get a hold of Christopher Martin's book Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations. (It's a terrific book anyway.) For responses to Kenny's critique of Aquinas on being (which is relevant to the evaluation of the arguments for God's existence), see the readings from Davies, Klima, Miller, Braine, and Knasas in the "Further reading" to chapter 2 of my book Aquinas.

Some of the sources cited in the "Further reading" section of chapter 3 are also relevant to some of the objections Kenny makes. For example, the long chapter on the Five Ways in John Wippel's The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas is very useful.

I also recommend (no surprise!) reading my ACPQ article "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways," which I think makes it about as clear as possible that, contrary to Kenny's position, outmoded Aristotelian ideas in physics are completely irrelevant to the Five Ways.

Anonymous said...

Again, as noted above from Adler, if observation confers upon subatomic particles indeterminacy (meaning that indeterminacy is not intrinsic), then all this talk about uncaused events is mere speculation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a bunch Edward for all the sources!

I've been meaning to read your article on Existential Inertia for a while now. Will get on it right after I finish Aquinas!

And thanks for writing the TLS and Aquinas. They've helped me distance myself from my previous naive and unconscious commitment to materialism.

Anonymous said...

SR,

You missed the comment on May 15, 2012 4:03 PM.

Brian said...

Is it not true, though, that if a person does doubt the proofs for God's existence, it is not because the proofs themselves are deficient, but because their is some deficiency in their understanding of them? That being the case, you could only say that a person is relatively or subjectively reasonable in doubting the proofs and not objectively reasonable. Otherwise, we admit that the proofs are not truly demonstrative since there are objectively reasonable grounds to doubt them. And that does not seem to jive either with the classical theistic tradition or Church teaching.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> what you describe in your last post is not an uncaused event. <

It was partially uncaused. Free will (libertarian) involves an element of chance. So, I would call it a "causeless cause." (The "wave function" describes the possibilities. The "collapse of the wave function" describes the "selection" of one of the possibilities. Both deterministic and indeterministic aspects are involved here.)

The "two-stage model of free will" is the only model of "free will" that provides an intelligible explanation of "how an agent could have chosen to do otherwise given the same situation and circumstances."

SR said...

@rank sophist,


If only substantial form existed, then nothing could be created.


Other than using the word 'substantial', I agree.

Either form would be a potential needing actualization, or it would be an actualizing principle with no potential to actualize. In either case, no change would occur.

Right, but what I am suggesting is that it makes sense to opt for the first alternative: "form [is] potential needing actualization."

Prime matter is the pure potentiality required by this system. To quote Oderberg, it is not anything definite. It does not "exist", so to speak--it is not "something or other". Calling it matter is just a wording quirk.

But it is not needed if form is considered to be potential. Instead, that which is not form -- which we can only name as 'formlessness' -- does the actualizing. Though another name for it is, of course, 'God', which also cannot be said to 'exist' (except analogically), which is also not "something or other", etc.

It comprises every hylemorphic substance, physical and non-physical.

Umm. My understanding is that angels and post-mortem souls are not, in A-T, form/matter composites.

SR said...

@Anonymous at May 15, 2012 6:23 PM

I didn't miss it. If you want to know how I would respond to it, read our debate in the comments to this post, in which Anonymous@May 15, 2012 4:03 PM mostly didn't respond to my responses to his accusations.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

Anonymous,

> We're not threatened by it. <

There doesn't seem to be any other explanation for the public hissy fits that ensued after I simply posed the question.

> Complete physical determination does NOT imply materialism <

It either implies materialism or renders God superfluous. There are only two options here: determinism or indeterminism. (The belief in the deterministic and mechanistic "clockwork universe" of Newtonian physics is what lead directly to Enlightenment deism. Why? Because in a world where everything is physically determined, it is not logically possible for the theistic God to interact with the world.)

> Even if Thomism were all wrong, you would have to actually understand what it says before you could show a Thomist why it was wrong, get it. <

I never argued that Thomism was wrong. I simply argued that it implied physical indeterminism. And hitherto, no one has presented an intelligible case to suggest otherwise.

By the way, your continual attempt to misrepresent my position simply reinforces my impression that you and other Thomists feel threatened by physical indeterminism.

Anonymous said...

SR,

I responded to your accusations; you just weren't listening.

Let's put it point by point:

1) You made an argument for Barfield's idealism, narrative of the history of consciousness, and dialectic (i.e. "polarity").

2) When challenged, you re-presented the narrative of the history of consciousness as proof for your position.

3) The narrative itself was challenged on the same grounds that one could challenge the Hegelian narrative: it's reductive, unfalsifiable, simplistic, etc.

4) You responded to these arguments by asserting that the narrative doesn't fall prey to these objections because it's about consciousness and not the history of ideas.

This was the sequence, over and over again, that the discussion followed. You can't seem to get it into your head that I'm not talking about the "history of ideas"; I'm talking about historicism. All historicist interpretations deal with knowledge, "consciousness," epistemology, and metaphysics as historical phenomenon. Hegel's deals with consciousness as formed by the dialectic moving toward the Absolute. Marx argues that consciousness is a by-product of material circumstances. Heidegger and Collingwood discuss metaphysics from a historicist perspective, arguing that a given metaphysical framework alters how humans encounter the world, including how this affects their "consciousness."

Again, you have utterly failed to respond to any of the critiques adequately:

1) Why should we accept post-Kantian idealism? You can't point to Barfield's narrative about consciousness to substantiate it because this narrative assumes idealism is true before it can even get off the ground. You have to demonstrate idealism first.

2) How can this narrative be falsified? You seem to accept it prima facie, as an act of blind faith. Why should we do so? Like other historicist accounts, it is simplistic and reductionist. Every gets reduced to one principle and history is divided into discreet ages. This is too neat. Historical events are not reducible to one cause. They are multifaceted and multilayered.

3) How does the narrative escape Eurocentricism (read: racism)? The rest of the world does not seem to be experiencing this "evolution" of consciousness. Too bad for those brown people, right?

You have to give us actual reasons to accept your loony theosophy. Having a really provocative narrative doesn't help -- there are plenty of those out there and there is no reason to choose Barfield's unfalsifiable story over, say, Hegel's. And it makes you look intellectually dishonest when you accept your position on blind faith and intuition, but then parade a super-skepticism about realism, demand demonstrations for every premise, and bemoan that the one introductory text you read did not contain answers to criticisms from idealists. The book is written for those who engage analytic philosophers, for crying out loud. The vast majority of them are materialists or dualists. Feser was responding to them.

SR said...

@Anonymous @7:29 PM,

I stand by what I said in the debate. You say I am not responding, and I say you are not responding. I'll let others be the judge if they care.

Anonymous said...

SR,

Great non-answer. I suppose this means we can ignore your skepticism now, since you refuse to apply it self-referentially.

rank sophist said...

Other than using the word 'substantial', I agree.

Substantial form is the technical term, since a "substance" is the name for a form-matter hybrid. It's the same deal as plain-old form.

Right, but what I am suggesting is that it makes sense to opt for the first alternative: "form [is] potential needing actualization."

This sounds vaguely Platonic. In any case, it doesn't make much sense in the case of Aristotle's metaphysics. Prime matter is the potential for anything and everything. It even encompasses such things as, to paraphrase Oderberg, the possibility of a tiger popping into existence next to the sun. It's everything, amorphous, undifferentiated. The form actualizes a part of this infinite potentiality, "sectioning it off", so to speak, from the rest.

What you're saying is that forms are in a kind of "third realm": they exist on their own, but must be actualized by something else. For Aristotle, a form would cease to exist if nothing was instantiating (and no mind considering) it. Scholastics, on the other hand, believe that forms exist within the "mind of God", and so they cannot fail to exist--but, still, they only exist because they're being considered by a mind. In other words, they aren't things that have a concrete existence as a result of actualization. Really, that sounds a lot like Plato's forms. Maybe you should look into that.

But it is not needed if form is considered to be potential. Instead, that which is not form -- which we can only name as 'formlessness' -- does the actualizing. Though another name for it is, of course, 'God', which also cannot be said to 'exist' (except analogically), which is also not "something or other", etc.

Yeah, that's definitely Platonism.

Umm. My understanding is that angels and post-mortem souls are not, in A-T, form/matter composites.

You're semi-correct. Angels are hylemorphic, but they don't quite operate in the same way as the rest of existence--Googling, I found arguments that they contain no prime matter. I'd have to read more before I had a complete explanation. Anyway, anything that changes is hylemorphic, regardless of whether or not it would be called physical in the contemporary sense.

Mr. Green said...

Alastair F. Paisley: I have never defended such a belief because I have never expressed one. You're simply making a straw man argument.

That you have not expressed such a belief is the very problem I was describing. Your (attempted) argument is missing a step. Either that, or it just isn't clear what your argument actually is. You seem to be mixing different uses of the word "cause", by physicists and philosophers, by Aristotelians and non-Aristotelians. That's why simply pasting a bunch of quotations together is insufficient. Nobody is questioning that some physicist has said something about QM meaning nature is "uncaused" in some way. The question is exactly what sort of "cause" and how it has been demonstrated. Better than citations would be to present clear definitions and the premises and logic of your argument. Citations from physicists doing physics and Merriam-Webster that are not using the technical metaphysical jargon are not necessarily relevant to a metaphysical claim. If you present your position step by step using traditional A-T terminology, I'm sure that will help us all to understand exactly what you are trying to say.

rank sophist said...

I just realized that Robert Oerter was the guy in the discussion on Dangerous Idea awhile back. I argued with him on the very same subject that Feser did above. Wish I'd gotten my arguments straight sooner--I had no idea I was arguing with someone so notable.

Anonymous said...

rank sophist,

SR is not a platonist (and if he is, he isn't a consistent one). He follows Owen Barfield, who is derivative of the British idealists (and theosophists). Plato did not deny that matter exists; idealists do.

SR said...

@rank sophist,

[Me:]Right, but what I am suggesting is that it makes sense to opt for the first alternative: "form [is] potential needing actualization."

[You:]This sounds vaguely Platonic. In any case, it doesn't make much sense in the case of Aristotle's metaphysics.


Since I'm proposing an alternative to Aristotle's metaphysics, that isn't surprising. I am, though, agreeing with Aristotle that the existence of change implies the reality of potentiality. Just saying there is no reason to, and reasons not to, call it 'matter'. I am also in agreement that forms do not exist on their own.


Prime matter is the potential for anything and everything. It even encompasses such things as, to paraphrase Oderberg, the possibility of a tiger popping into existence next to the sun.

Same can be said of form.


It's everything, amorphous, undifferentiated. The form actualizes a part of this infinite potentiality, "sectioning it off", so to speak, from the rest.

In the alternative, form is everything morphous and differentiated, and there is (can only be) one (non-)thing that is amorphous and undifferentiated, the formless.

In the alternative, the formless creates form to actualize itself, to section itself off from the rest. Same empirically, two ways to say what's happening. But in the alternative there is one less concept, which I would think makes it a better theory.

What you're saying is that forms are in a kind of "third realm": they exist on their own, but must be actualized by something else.

No, there are just two "realms", forms, and the formless. with no form existing on its own. It is A-T that has three realms: form, prime matter, and God, giving rise to an unnecessary dualism.


For Aristotle, a form would cease to exist if nothing was instantiating (and no mind considering) it. Scholastics, on the other hand, believe that forms exist within the "mind of God", and so they cannot fail to exist--but, still, they only exist because they're being considered by a mind.

I can agree with this. I would add that "being considered by a mind" is the form's actualization. No matter required.

In other words, they aren't things that have a concrete existence as a result of actualization.

Not following here. Aren't you just reasserting, rather than explaining why the concept of prime matter is necessary?

Mr. Green said...

Steve Ruble: Why can't we accept that everything down to a certain size follows the rules which we call cause and effect, and everything below that size follows statistical rules which don't correspond to the rules we call cause and effect?

Because we do call that "cause and effect". At least, in traditional philosophical terms. Modern physics tends to use "cause" differently, but all it boils down to, and all it can boil down to, given the scientific method, is that certain causes might be invisible to science. Which isn't really a particularly bizarre claim after all (just one that was unexpected by billiard-ballists).

What makes your presuppositions so cool, anyway?

They're reasonable. Indeed, without them, reason couldn't work. If stuff could just happen for literally no reason, then it would be impossible to make sense of anything using reason. But since we can — in fact, we can even make sense of the subatomic world (the much-vaunted accuracy of QM itself!) — then the world apparently is reasonable. Again, it must be noted that there is nothing to suggest that the world doesn't work this way. It doesn't work like tiny billiard-balls, so if the only kind of causation you acknowledge is billiard-ball causation, then sure, it follows that some physical events are "uncaused". But meanwhile all the other kinds of causation that philosophers were concerned with for millennia fit perfectly well with QM. Ed has lots of posts here that cover these notions (not to mention his books).

Anonymous said...

@ rank sophist

I just read your interraction with oerter on dangerous idea and notable or not, you, Ben, Rodgiguez and Crude pretty much unveiled the fallacious thinking he angaged in and provided formidable refutations to his claims. This day and age with all the information available to us, scientists are losing their appeal (and at an accelerated rate)as the authorities on matters pertaining to reality.

Any second year philosophy student with a good grasp of metaphysics and logic can pretty much destroy most of the ridiculous claims made by faithful of scientism these days such as the krausses and the hawkings of the world. This guy oerter is no different.


Byt the way, why are SR and anonymous still arguing about Barfield? lol Come on guys!

Alex said...

Quantum mechanics is no friend of the atheist. I recommend the essay "A Quantum theoretic argument against naturalism" by Bruce L. Gordon.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Mr. Green

> Nobody is questioning that some physicist has said something about QM meaning nature is "uncaused" in some way. <

Yes, as matter fact, they are.

> The question is exactly what sort of "cause" and how it has been demonstrated. Better than citations would be to present clear definitions and the premises and logic of your argument. Citations from physicists doing physics and Merriam-Webster that are not using the technical metaphysical jargon are not necessarily relevant to a metaphysical claim. If you present your position step by step using traditional A-T terminology, I'm sure that will help us all to understand exactly what you are trying to say. <

Spare me your condescending attitude. I presented my argument. It's sound. God as the primary cause is not only the final cause but also the efficient cause. Effecient causality is employed not only in Thomism but also in science. The problem here is that you have no counterargument. We both know that.

rank sophist said...

Not following here. Aren't you just reasserting, rather than explaining why the concept of prime matter is necessary?

Neither. I was referring to a somewhat Platonic conception of emanation from the Good, but it appears that I misjudged your post.



The third realm is the name for the world of forms in Platonism. I was not criticizing your statement--merely explaining. Again, I see now that you are not a Platonist.

In the alternative, form is everything morphous and differentiated, and there is (can only be) one (non-)thing that is amorphous and undifferentiated, the formless.

In the alternative, the formless creates form to actualize itself, to section itself off from the rest. Same empirically, two ways to say what's happening. But in the alternative there is one less concept, which I would think makes it a better theory.


This strikes me as pantheistic. Everything would be made of God: creator and creation would be the same thing, with only superficial differentiation. I have no idea whether you're religious or merely a philosophical theist (if that), but your view has a lot of irreconcilable theological differences with Christian, Islamic or Judaic systems. You might find acceptance in certain Hindu schools, such as Advaita--but many others would disagree with you. In any case, I don't think that your view's apparent simplicity makes it preferable to Aquinas's, as it raises many issues of its own.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Eduardo

> Alastair the principle of causality is not broken by relativity... yep if you read textbooks about relativity you will check what I just said. <

I didn't say that it was. I said that "causality" was relative to the reference frame of the observer.

"In modern physics, the notion of causality had to be clarified. The insights of the theory of special relativity confirmed the assumption of causality, but they made the meaning of the word "simultaneous" observer-dependent.[6] Consequently, the relativistic principle of causality says that the cause must precede its effect according to all inertial observers."

(source: Wikipedia: Causality (physics))

Anonymous said...

Pais,

Your central premise of indeterminacy is challenged by the argument that observation confers indeterminacy; it is not intrinsic. Unpredictability does not entail that events are uncaused, and the quantum vacuum is something. It appears, then, your argument is a nonstarter.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous on May 15, 2012 10:08 PM

The reason that I brought up SR's idealism is because he is hypocritical: his posture toward his own position is complacent and uncritical acceptance, while he adopts a strong skepticism toward any other.

Untenured said...

@bobcat:

Like Ed, I am not saying that no reasonable person could doubt the claim that realism about universals is true. Nevertheless, the arguments against nominalism are so many, and are so overwhelmingly plausible, that we are in an epistemic position to say that it has indeed been refuted.

Unlike many philosophers, I am pretty confident that some philosophical truths have been established to a reasonably high degree of certainty. The fact that many intelligent people believe otherwise is no argument to the contrary.

Taking the long view, I think that metaphysics is rather like Geometry in that its basics were correctly established early on in its intellectual history. Aristotelianism, broadly construed, enjoyed centuries of intellectual hegemony over Western thought for a reason. Modern philosophy, on the other hand, has been one long string of dialectically unstable miscarriages. From rationalism to empiricism to idealism to logical positivism to ordinary language philosophy to the present dominance of physicalism and naturalism, modern philosophy reads off as one easily refuted "system" after another. This, in itself, is striking. *No* modern school has had any staying power at all. This dialectical instability points us towards more basic problems, problems which are curiously absent from the Scholastic tradition; a tradition which, unlike modern philosophical traditions, was abandoned and ignored but never decisively refuted. This tells me that some babies got chucked out with the bathwater some centuries ago.

Anonymous said...

Untenured,

I'm with you on modern philosophy and all of it's problems, but your characterization of premodern thought seems rather off. Aristotelianism wasn't really dominant for long. Ancient philosophy was dominated by eclecticism and Platonism. Medieval philosophy was equally heterogeneous. The Byzantines were platonic -- and they even read Aristotle as a Platonist. Muslims and Jews were largely Aristotelian and Platonic, some more of the former (e.g. Avicebron), others more of the later (e.g. Averroes). Scholasticism was hardly homogeneous, either: Albert was more platonic in his later years, Aquinas was a synthesizer, getting to platonic conclusions about God from an Aristotelian base, Siger identified with pure Aristotelianism, Bonaventure was strongly Platonist, Duns Scotus created an original system, and Ockham propounded his own idiosyncratic version of Aristotelianism. In fact, after the Condemnation of 1277, Thomism lost its dominance save for its presence among the Dominicans and some Augustinians. Scotism became the rule of the day until nominalism overtook it.

Untenured said...

@anonymous:

You are right, and I should have spoken more carefully. I view the historical trajectory of pre-modern philosophy as going back and forth along a broadly Platonist/Aristotelian axis, with the Scholastic tradition emerging as the most well-articulated and refined synthesis of these views. When you take the wide-angle view, I don't think there is that much heterogeneity within this tradition, but it could be possible that I view things this way simply because I am most familiar with what has come after.

My basic point is simply that the Classical, pre-modern philosophical tradition embodied an accumulation of knowledge that has been subsequently lost, however you decide to characterize that tradition. The disputes within that broad tradition seem trivial in comparison to the gross distortions and errors of modernity.

Anonymous said...

Untenured,

You have modernity pegged perfectly. I think onepoint that strengthens your argument and extends your analsysis is that the "Platonist/Aristotelian Axis" was more of a spectrum than an opposition. Most medieval philosophers made use of both thinkers, interpreting them differently or siding with one view or another on key issues like the nature of forms. Nonetheless, until Ockham they were almost all realists. The disputes were over the details and, as you wrote, were trivial in comparison to modern disputes.

SR said...

@rank sophist,

This strikes me as pantheistic. .... In any case, I don't think that your view's apparent simplicity makes it preferable to Aquinas's, as it raises many issues of its own.

Perhaps it does lead to pantheism, but that's theism's problem if there are no purely philosophical objections. Though religious, I am not presupposing theism, so I am not bothered by this possibility. As to its raising many issues of its own, no doubt that is true, as there is a limit to what discursive reason can encompass. But that is the case with all metaphysical systems that aren't completely off the charts (like eliminative materialism or solipsism). So all I am addressing at this stage is to ask just what a Thomist sees as the conceptual (as distinct from the dogmatic) problem with removing the concept of prime matter. The only answer I seem to get is that 'prime matter' is just the name of pure potential, but as I have pointed out, that name can just as well be 'form'. If it is not "just as well", then why not?

rank sophist said...

SR,

No Thomist would support your system because of the bare fact that it's pantheistic. Thomists are explicitly committed to a creator-creation separation. On top of that, your system makes God something that can be described univocally (as with prime matter), rather than by analogy only. Any Thomist--and many people in the wider Christian traditions--would be very unsettled by that.

Further issues can be raised. How can formlessness do anything? As in, how does something formless section itself off with potential forms? And doesn't this imply that God can be divided into parts, and is therefore not purely actual (simple, unchanging)? If that's the case, then how can it be a necessary being? If it isn't purely actual, then some pure actuality must lie beyond it, in which case your "God" becomes contingent.

The problems will doubtlessly multiply from here, but I have no interest in considering your idea further. Suffice it to say that it is bad metaphysics.

Steve Ruble said...

If stuff could just happen for literally no reason, then it would be impossible to make sense of anything using reason.

I'm not sure how you're drawing this conclusion. It would make sense to say, "If stuff could just happen for literally no reason, then it would be impossible to understand why that stuff happened," but I don't see why some stuff happening "for no reason" interferes with the proposition that lots of other stuff happens for some reason. Is it really your position that if anything at all, ever happens for no reason, then reason is universally useless?

But since we can — in fact, we can even make sense of the subatomic world (the much-vaunted accuracy of QM itself!) — then the world apparently is reasonable

For the world to be "reasonable" in this sense the only prerequisite is that events are to some extent predictable, such that we can evaluate our predictions against what actually happens. In QM, predictions must be purely statistical descriptions of the distribution of future events, while in the macro world predictions can be made about specific concrete objects, but in either case you can reason perfectly well without assuming a metaphysical cause-and-effect relationship between the things you're reasoning about.

Gyan said...

A question to the local Thomists,

Can it be so that the modern philosophers esp materialists/naturalists define and understand "free will" differently than the medievals/scholastics?

What has free will got to do with physical indeterminacy? Free will is a faculty of rational souls by virtue of which will chooses an intellectual good.

So, there has to be rationality first and that should exclude quantum indeterminacy or any kind of randomness.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Gyan

"What has free will got to do with physical indeterminacy? Free will is a faculty of rational souls by virtue of which will chooses an intellectual good.

So, there has to be rationality first and that should exclude quantum indeterminacy or any kind of randomness
."

The free will debate has historically (since ancient times) been framed in terms of determinism vs. indeterminism.

The bottom line is this: If you believe that given the same situation and circumstances you could have chosen otherwise, then you are implying a belief in indeterminism and chance is at play. The only alternative is that your choices are completely predetermined and could not have been otherwise.

It has been my experience that most people presuppose that they have free will (libertarian)...that the choices they make are not predetermined. However, when it is logically demonstrated to them that such a view implies a belief in chance, then they reject this type of free will. However, they refuse to acknowledge the implications - namely, that the only alternative is determinism. And when prompted to give some other intelligible account of free will where this is not the case, they are unable to do so.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> Your central premise of indeterminacy is challenged by the argument that observation confers indeterminacy; it is not intrinsic. Unpredictability does not entail that events are uncaused, and the quantum vacuum is something. It appears, then, your argument is a nonstarter <

Your continual predilection to misrepresent and distort my position does not help your cause. It simply reveals a serious character flaw on your part - namely that you are given to intellectual dishonesty.

Eduardo said...

Right Alastair you are confusing things then. A cause is not necessarily simultaneous.

That is why you people should define cause, because that would spark a discussion about something that interest people and it would eliminate possible misconceptions.

Read the textbook it helps, causality and simultaneous events are everywhere in them.


And by the way, you did said that causality was relative XD; It is not. How people receive information from the experiment depends on their relative speed to the experiment, but the causal relations of the experiment don't.

It might look to you AS IF something has caused body A to move before body B, and therefore body A is not the cause... but errr the whole point of relativity was to challenge this simultaneous thing.

Eduardo said...

Alastair

I suppose there is a post somewhere in this blog about free will.
Can't remember where though ... Why don't you go read it see if it adds anything to you.

Eduardo said...

"In QM, predictions must be purely statistical descriptions of the distribution of future events, while in the macro world predictions can be made about specific concrete objects, but in either case you can reason perfectly well without assuming a metaphysical cause-and-effect relationship between the things you're reasoning about."

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

Steve I agree with you, because as Hume like to say, we might know nothing of causality or there could be no causes.

But see... it all depends on what you believe science is. Some people thing that science (experiment) is deep down just description and some people believe that Science is meant to EXPLAIN stuff. The problem is that explaining is deep down, giving reasons to WHY certain effect happens that way.

IN the first form, causation is not necessary, but in the second one, CAUSES are everything. For instance, in Quantum events we can't not know what the particles are doing precisely because that hurt the principle of incertainty.... yep it is the principle, not necessarily the experiments that makes us conclude these things.

So Steve, yes you don't cause and effect to describe things.... But heck, try talking physicists into it. They will never admit it because science EXPLAIN stuff, which means, science show connections or reasons for the effects lying in the world.

Yep call what I just said nutz, but it is a common view among most people that are interested in science.

So that said, your proposition is true only to certain view of science.

Anonymous said...

Pais writes,

Your continual predilection to misrepresent and distort my position does not help your cause. It simply reveals a serious character flaw on your part - namely that you are given to intellectual dishonesty.

Oh, now that is funny. You're the one making indeterminacy the issue for your argument.

Vincent Torley said...

Alastair,

Reagrding your contention that free will implies indeterminism, I suggest that you have a look at my post, http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/is-free-will-dead/

In it, I suggest a top-down model of free will which I think addresses the problems you raise.

Regarding the causes of spontaneous emissions: I've been doing some reading, and it appears that while the rate of spontaneous emissions depends on the kind of atom and on the frequency of the photon emitted, the actual occurrence of this or that emission at time T is determined by fluctuations occurring in the quantum vacuum. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QED_vacuum

"The quantum theory asserts that a vacuum, even the most perfect vacuum devoid of any matter, is not really empty. Rather the quantum vacuum can be depicted as a sea of continuously appearing and disappearing [pairs of] particles that manifest themselves in the apparent jostling of particles that is quite distinct from their thermal motions. These particles are ‘virtual’, as opposed to real, particles. ...At any given instant, the vacuum is full of such virtual pairs, which leave their signature behind, by affecting the energy levels of atoms." (Joseph Silk, On the shores of the unknown: a short history of the universe. Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 62.)

Hope that helps.

BenYachov said...

After reading the website Robert Oerter it is a tragedy the he seems positively predisposed toward JESUS MYTHERISM.

Yikes!

That's the Atheist version of Young Earth Creationism!

Double Yikes!

Oh well. Nobody is perfect.

BenYachov said...

edit:

After reading the website of Robert Oerter it is a tragedy that he seems positively predisposed toward JESUS MYTHERISM.

Yikes!

That's the Atheist version of Young Earth Creationism!

Double Yikes!

Oh well. Nobody is perfect.

At least he can spell unlike moi.

Eduardo said...

Woah! Torley you write in Uncommon descent XD hahahahha

I never thought I might see someone from ID place here.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Vincent Torely

> Reagrding your contention that free will implies indeterminism, I suggest that you have a look at my post, http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/is-free-will-dead/

In it, I suggest a top-down model of free will which I think addresses the problems you raise. <

The term "indeterminism" does not necessarily mean that ALL events are without cause, but only that SOME events are without cause.

The type of free will that you have described in your blog is compatible with the "two-stage model of free will" (a model of free will that I have already discussed on this and other threads.) The two-stage model involves both a deterministic aspect and an indeterministic aspect. (It basically works on the same two principles that are employed in Darwinian evolution - random variation and selection. And the randomness is needed for the very same reason that it is needed in evoution - namely, for creativity.)

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Eduardo

> Right Alastair you are confusing things then. A cause is not necessarily simultaneous <

You may be right. I stand corrected here.

"If the two events are causally connected ("event A causes event B"), then the relativity of simultaneity preserves the causal order (i.e. "event A causes event B" in all frames of reference)."

(source: Wikipedia: Relativity of simultaneity)

Mr. Green said...

Alastair F. Paisley: > "Nobody is questioning that some physicist has said something about QM meaning nature is "uncaused" in some way." <
Yes, as matter fact, they are.


Now that's a claim that could use some documentary substantiation. (It has been questioned just what is meant by that and whether it's true, but not that somebody somewhere has said it.)

God as the primary cause is not only the final cause but also the efficient cause. Effecient causality is employed not only in Thomism but also in science.

That is not, by itself, an argument. Either you are simply mistaken, or else it is not at all clear to most of us what your argument is supposed to be. Asking you to clearly state your argument and definitions is not an unreasonable request, yet you respond by calling people "condescending" and "intellectually dishonest". That will hardly encourage anyone to take you seriously.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Mr. Green

> That is not, by itself, an argument. Either you are simply mistaken, or else it is not at all clear to most of us what your argument is supposed to be. Asking you to clearly state your argument and definitions is not an unreasonable request, yet you respond by calling people "condescending" and "intellectually dishonest". That will hardly encourage anyone to take you seriously. <

I have clearly stated my argument in my first post on this thread - a post that was addressed to Professor Feser. I suggest you read it. And don't bother responding to me unless you actually have some counterargument that addresses that post.

Gyan said...

Alastair,
"The free will debate has historically (since ancient times) been framed in terms of determinism vs. indeterminism."

Are you sure?
Aquinas puts it as:
"Some things act without judgment; as a stone moves downwards; and in like manner all things which lack knowledge. And some act from judgment, but not a free judgment; as brute animals. For the sheep, seeing the wolf, judges it a thing to be shunned, from a natural and not a free judgment, because it judges, not from reason, but from natural instinct. And the same thing is to be said of any judgment of brute animals. But man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought. But because this judgment, in the case of some particular act, is not from a natural instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore he acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined to various thing"

Also (from Disputations blog)
To say we have free will is to say that we are capable of willing things as a result of free judgment -- "free" in the sense of "contingent, as opposed to "necessary."

Seeing a wolf, a sheep necessarily wills to avoid it. Seeing a beggar, a man freely wills...whatever he chooses.
Also:
A sheep gains knowledge of a sort through its senses. That knowledge is received and processed according to sheep-nature and results in its sensitive appetite desiring some end ("Flee!", perhaps, or "Nom nom nom!").

A stone has neither senses nor sensitive appetite, so when it moves it's not due to any desire on the part of the stone.

Since humans have physical bodies and sensitive appetites in addition to rational appetites, we can move in all three ways. Like a stone, when our chair breaks. Like a sheep, when we eat the whole bowl of crackers. Like a person, when we choose one good rather than another.
---------------------------------
So the comparison with sheep shows that at least, for the medievals, the question was not physical determinism (which they never seem to have considered), but
(1) Necessary vs contingent
(2) Rational vs non-rational.

Anonymous said...

Pais writes,

I have clearly stated my argument in my first post on this thread - a post that was addressed to Professor Feser. I suggest you read it. And don't bother responding to me unless you actually have some counterargument that addresses that post.

Paisley evidently doesn't know what an argument is. He asked several questions of Dr. Feser and made a few contentions, but no strict argument was made. He did, however, close with a quote from Wikipedia in relation to the CI:

According to this interpretation, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is not a temporary feature which will eventually be replaced by a deterministic theory, but instead must be considered a final renunciation of the classical idea of "causality".

This has been repeatedly challenged and he simply ignores the challenges. Since that point is disputed, his assertions (note, I said "assertions," not argument since he didn't craft an argument) cannot be sustained. Again from Craig:

Whatever begins to exist has a cause seems obviously true—at the least, more so than its denial. Yet a number of atheists, in order to avoid the argument’s conclusion, have denied the first premise. Sometimes it is said that sub-atomic physics furnishes an exception to premise (1), since on the sub-atomic level events are said to be uncaused. In the same way, certain theories of cosmic origins are interpreted as showing that the whole universe could have sprung into being out of the sub-atomic vacuum. Thus the universe is said to be the proverbial ‘free lunch.’

This objection, however, is based on misunderstandings. In the first place, not all scientists agree that sub-atomic events are uncaused. Many physicists today are quite dissatisfied with this view (the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation) of sub-atomic physics and are exploring deterministic theories like those of David Bohm. Thus, sub-atomic physics is not a proven exception to premise (1). Second, even on the traditional, indeterministic interpretation, particles do not come into being out of nothing. They arise as spontaneous fluctuations of the energy contained in the sub-atomic vacuum; they do not come from nothing. 12 Third, the same point can be made about theories of the origin of the universe out of a primordial vacuum. 13 Popular magazine articles touting such theories as getting ‘something from nothing’ simply do not understand that the vacuum is not nothing, but is a sea of fluctuating energy endowed with a rich structure and subject to physical laws.


Craig continues:

The quantum vacuum is not what most people envision when they think of a vacuum—that is, absolutely nothing. On the contrary, it’s a sea of fluctuating energy, an arena of violent activity that has a rich physical structure and can be described by physical laws. These (sub-atomic) particles are thought to originate by fluctuations of the energy in the vacuum.

Given that, the "final renunciation of the classical idea of 'causality'" is just hand waiving, and without the platform of QM indeterminacy, there can be no attack on classical causality. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause, and the metaphysically necessary stopping point of a per se series must be something uncaused. Nothing Paisley writes from QM challenges that. Consequently, the appeal to QM is unwarranted.

Anonymous said...

In addition, I understand Paisley isn't arguing against the existence of God. Craig's reference to atheists is not intended to identify Paisley with them. The association is the ill-conceived appeal to QM to justify an attack against classical causality.

Codgitator said...

I've been waiting for someone else to say the following (point 2, not point 1), though by now I may have missed it when someone else did, so here goes.

1. Alastair:

Despite your profile and your quasi-autistic doggedness, I am still on the "non" side of the question of whether you're a troll. I respect your reference to citing sources, no matter how inane it may come across. Plus, anyone who cites John Leslie and 'gets' teleonomy vs. teleology is pretty cool in my book. So I guess I'd say you're more like the Pepé Le Pew of blogdom, if not of philosophy per se, than a troll. Why? You've fallen in love, it seems, with your "physical indeterminism" argument against (?) ... (or from?) ... Aquinas' via prima, and no amount of refutation or clarification will hold you back from making love to it in this blog's comboxes. You just keep bouncing ahead, no matter how much logic throws in your way.

What can I say to that? Respect. Baffled respect, mind you, but respect, all the same.

2. Now-- or once again, since I believe my comments about determinism vs. necessity, along with others' replies about secondary causality, etc. sufficiently defuse your skunky beloved, but who can argue with love?-- In any case, as for the substance of your jargument (i.e. an argument based more on jargon than on a fair use of use logic), here's another major reason it fails.

If your pantheistic reading of Aquinas' conception of God is correct, then His absolute actuality entails physical DETERMINISM, not indeterminism. For if beneath every possible layer of causality (as you like to derive from Feser in TLS, p. 96), God is at work actualizing all possible potentiality, then the potency of indeterministic causation would have no ontic 'space' or 'slack' in which to operate. If God, as you prefer Him/It, by necessity (even if it's just an ethical necessity à la Leslie) actualizes all the potency that Love could actualize, then there is *no potential for potency*, and your indeterministic jargument fails.

On your account, based on no less an authority than _A Course In Miracles_, every possible physical interaction and result would of necessity be actualized, and thus physical (or other) indeterminism would necessarily be impossible. So, either your dependence on Copenhagen QM is flawed or your picture of God (and of Aquinas' account of God) is flawed. Either way, your priapic jargument stinks.

3. Presumably, AFP would have us believe the non- or anti-causalist truth of QM CAUSED the death of causality, a creed no less absurd than the old Humeanism that would have us believe not only that the anti-causal arguments of Hume CAUSED the refutation of causality but also that the reading of his ideas CAUSED the acceptance of said arguments, not even th mention that his anti-causalist intentions CAUSED the setting of his quell and ink to paper way back when.

Rupert said...

There seems to be a lot of confusion here about where the burden of proof lies. Obviously I can't completely rule out the possibility that the transition of the electron from one energy state to another might have a cause. The claim is only "For the moment, on the basis of the best available evidence, it seems more reasonable than not to believe that there is no such cause." The Thomist, on the other hand, would appear to be putting forward the claim that such a statement is incoherent. What I would like is an explanation of why it is incoherent - that is, why it is an a priori necessary truth that the event *must* have a cause.

grodrigues said...

@Rupert:

"There seems to be a lot of confusion here about where the burden of proof lies."

I agree with you. We would probably disagree where the confusion lies though.

"The claim is only "For the moment, on the basis of the best available evidence, it seems more reasonable than not to believe that there is no such cause.""

Is it? Given the sureness with which such pronouncements are made, I somehow doubt that that is the only claim. But it is good to know that it is an inferential conclusion, as strong as the strength of the empirical evidence available, and subject to future revision.

But there is no such evidence. What there is, is a metaphysical (mis)reading of certain phenomena. No one has given *any* argument why an epistemological limitation is an ontological limitation, because those who peddle this QM uncaused-events rot simply do not know what they are talking about. And yes, I also include certain physicists that will go unnamed. And please, spare me the red herring of Bell's theorem.

"What I would like is an explanation of why it is incoherent - that is, why it is an a priori necessary truth that the event *must* have a cause."

The principle of causality, PSR for short, is a metaphysical first principle, not an "a priori necessary truth": human beings are not God, able to place themselves out of reality in order to arrive at a proof of such a first principle. Also, as Prof. Feser commented, it should not be confused with Leibnitz's PSR or similar principles which are framed in epistemological terms, but given the AT framework, the Thomistic PSR does have as a consequence an epistemological PSR of sorts, so I will blur the distinction between the two. It can be rationally justified or motivated in two ways: a positive one, where we adduce plausibility arguments for it, and a negative one, where we show that its denial leads to absurdities. The principle is an analytical judgment so obviously evident and the reasons for it so abundant, that I will content myself with the following succinct comment: to "rationally" deny or doubt the PSR, one would have to see some reason for so doing, and thus one would admit the validity of the principle; denying it because we see a reason for so doing. Employing reason against reason is self-defeating and should not be tolerated.

reighley said...

@grodrigues,

"to 'rationally' deny or doubt the PSR, one would have to see some reason for so doing, and thus one would admit the validity of the principle"

I don't think you formed this right. If the PSR is "every fact has an explanation", then to negate it I would have "some fact has no explanation".

I would still be at liberty to believe that all facts but one had an explanation.

Anonymous said...

reighley writes,

I don't think you formed this right. If the PSR is "every fact has an explanation", then to negate it I would have "some fact has no explanation".

And I think this is inexact. A "fact" cannot be introduced unless it is intelligible, and to make it intelligible is to explain it.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Gyan

> So the comparison with sheep shows that at least, for the medievals, the question was not physical determinism (which they never seem to have considered), but
(1) Necessary vs contingent
(2) Rational vs non-rational.
<

Several points:

1) I said: "The free will debate has historically (since ancient times) been framed in terms of determinism vs. indeterminism."

I did nor say it was framed in terms of physical determinism. (Materialism is deterministic. But dualism and idealism can also be deterministic.)

2) Aquinas may not have framed the free will debate in these terms, but others have. (This is how it is framed in academic philosophy.)

3) The way you are employing the terms "necessity and contingent" seems to imply "determinism and indeterminism." (Something that is "contingent can suggest something that is conditional or something that occurs by chance.)

4) No one here is arguing that we don't employ some element of rationality in our decision-making process. That being said, I would argue that nonrational elements are also involved. And it is very possible that these non-rational aspects are truly random events.

Be that as it may, the bottom line is that there are only a limited number of options here: determinism or indeterminism (or some combination thereof). So, if you believe that given the same situation and circumstances you could have chosen otherwise, then you are tacitly acknowledging a belief in indeterminism - a belief which would imply that chance is at play. The only other alternative is that your choices are completely predetermined and could not have been otherwise. (Aquinas' definition of free will is subject to the same restrictions.)

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> Paisley evidently doesn't know what an argument is. He asked several questions of Dr. Feser and made a few contentions, but no strict argument was made. He did, however, close with a quote from Wikipedia in relation to the CI:

"According to this interpretation, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is not a temporary feature which will eventually be replaced by a deterministic theory, but instead must be considered a final renunciation of the classical idea of "causality"."

This has been repeatedly challenged and he simply ignores the challenges. Since that point is disputed, his assertions (note, I said "assertions," not argument since he didn't craft an argument) cannot be sustained"

Correction. It's a SUBSTANTIATED assertion. How many more quotes from reputable sources do I have to cite in order to substantiate a claim? Robert Oerter (who is a professor of physics) has substantiated my claim that quantum events are uncaused!

Also, you seem to be operating under the false assumption that I an atheist. I'm not.

Anonymous said...

Paisley, your reading comprehension is as bad as your argument formulation. In the very next post I clearly stated I was not associating you with atheism. Are you that dense?

Anonymous said...

Laughably, Paisley writes:

Correction. It's a SUBSTANTIATED assertion. How many more quotes from reputable sources do I have to cite in order to substantiate a claim? Robert Oerter (who is a professor of physics) has substantiated my claim that quantum events are uncaused!

As noted many times, insisting it is so doesn't make it so. I've provided plenty of evidence to show it isn't established. I'll bat back at you what you have tried to put upon others: Unless you actually engage the argument, don't bother posting.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> Given that, the "final renunciation of the classical idea of 'causality'" is just hand waiving, and without the platform of QM indeterminacy, there can be no attack on classical causality. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause, and the metaphysically necessary stopping point of a per se series must be something uncaused. Nothing Paisley writes from QM challenges that. Consequently, the appeal to QM is unwarranted. <

That's exactly why I have argued that Aquinas' "Primary or First Cause" argument implies PHYSICAL indeterminism. The argument anticipated quantum indeterminsm. And I clearly demonstrated that to Professor Oerter (see link below).

"Somewhat Abnormal: Laws, Reasons, and Tigers Under My Desk"

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> Paisley, your reading comprehension is as bad as your argument formulation. In the very next post I clearly stated I was not associating you with atheism. Are you that dense? <

I was responding to the post where it appeared to me like you were. And the fact that you had to write another post in order to rectify this possible misunderstanding is an indictment against your verbal communication skills, not my reading comprehension skills.

Anonymous said...

Paisley writes,

And the fact that you had to write another post in order to rectify this possible misunderstanding is an indictment against your verbal communication skills, not my reading comprehension skills.

No, the original post was in reply to your QM contention, so the reference to atheists has no bearing on your position. Given your track record of selective "jargument" (thanks Cogitator), I thought it necessary to add that disclaimer (since I knew you would misinterpret it). You did not disappoint.

Anonymous said...

Barrow and Tipler:

It is, of course, somewhat inappropriate to call the origin of a bubble Universe in a fluctuation of the vacuum 'creation ex nihilo,' for the quantum mechanical vacuum state has a rich structure which resides in a previously existing substratum of space-time, either Minkowski or de Sitter space-time. Clearly, a true 'creation ex nihilo' would be the spontaneous generation of everything--space-time, the quantum mechanical vacuum, matter--at some time in the past.

Odenwald:

[M]atter is derivative from energy, and energy is derivative from 'field' so in some sense, the physical laws that determine the quantum dynamics of fields must have been primary, with matter as we know it coming much later.

In reply to the question of the quantum field initiating the Big Bang:

We have no idea. And certainly not one that we can examine and test to confirm the theoretical expectations. The best we can say is that the fundamental field in nature is the gravitational field, and out of this and its weird quantum properties, the stage was somehow set for everything else we can identify in the physical world. We do not, however, understand what the gravitational field 'IS' in any real fundamental way. We know how it OPERATES but that is not the same as understanding its actual nature.

Alexander Vilenkin's quantum creation model shows the quantum tunneling is at every point a function from something to something. This caused Craig to note:

For quantum tunneling to be truly nothing, the function would have to have only one term, the posterior term. Another way of seeing the point is to reflect on the fact that to have no radius (as is the case with nothingness) it is not to have a radius, whose measure is zero. Thus, there is no basis for the claim that quantum physics proves that things can begin to exist without a cause...

Kanitscheider:

The violent microstructure of the vacuum has been used in attempts to explain the origin of the universe as a long-lived vacuum fluctuation. But some authors have connected with this legitimate speculations [sic] far-reaching metaphysical claims, or at most they couched their mathematics in a highly misleading language, when they maintained 'creation of the universe out of nothing.' "From the philosophical point of view it is essential to note that the foregoing is far from being a spontaneous generation of everything from naught, but the origin of that embryonic bubble is really a causal process leading from a primordial substratum with a rich physical structure to a materialized substratum of the vacuum.

Rupert said...

No one has given *any* argument why an epistemological limitation is an ontological limitation

What one rationally believes to exist depends on what one's best theory about the world is. For the time being, at least, our best theory about these events do not posit any causes for them, so it's rational not to believe that they have any cause. Physicists do know what they are talking about. They are in the business of constructing theories about physical reality and they are very good at it, and a metaphysical conviction occasionally needs to be revised by a physical discovery, as with Kant's conviction that Euclidean geometry was a priori true. This is not to say that the metaphysician has nothing to contribute to interpreting the physicist's theories, but he does have an obligation to say something in support of his basic premises. I find it unlikely that the physicists refused to accept your contention that every event has a cause out of sheer stubbornness; I find it more likely that the people who presented the case to the physicists didn't do a very good job of defending it.

to "rationally" deny or doubt the PSR, one would have to see some reason for so doing, and thus one would admit the validity of the principle; denying it because we see a reason for so doing.

That's nonsense. I doubt the PSR (that is, the proposition that every change in an object must be caused by some other object; I am assuming that is what you meant here because that was the target of my critical query) because it doesn't seem obvious to me and so far I haven't encountered anyone who can offer me a decent reason for thinking it true. That in no way involves me "admitting the validity of the principle".

grodrigues said...

@Rupert:

"For the time being, at least, our best theory about these events do not posit any causes for them, so it's rational not to believe that they have any cause."

It is certainly rational to believe there is a cause, except we are ignorant of it, and for all we know, we may forever remain ignorant. How do we adjudicate the case? By stepping into the metaphysical battlefield because while there is no doubt that the empirical sciences can offer input, by themselves they cannot decide the matter. Has anyone of the traffickers in uncaused events made even a gesture towards a metaphysical argument? No. Have they substantiated the illicit jump from an epistemic, operationally-effective description to the imposition of an ontological status? No. Have they responded to the numerous metaphysical objections posed? No. Have they even responded to the very simple question of why we should accept CI in the first place rather than one of the deterministic, fully causal interpretations of QM? No. Have they responded to the enormous difficulties that declaring QM events as uncaused poses? No. Is the alleged empirical evidence of the absence of a cause have any weight when the very nature of causality is in dispute? Not really. Do they show a clear understanding of what Thomists understand by causality? No. But if they do not understand it, then what sense can we make of the categorical pronouncement that such a thing is absent? Not much.

Want to keep reducing causality to only that which can be described by mathematical formalisms? Have a ball. Want to continue to make pseudo-philosophical -- *not* scientific -- claims that certain physical phenomena require no cause? Be my guest.

"Physicists do know what they are talking about."

No one is disputing that physicists know about physics better than anyone else. Philosophy? Sorry, in general they are ignorant of it (and why should we expect otherwise?) nor they, qua physicists, have any special authority because the issue is at bottom a metaphysical one.

"This is not to say that the metaphysician has nothing to contribute to interpreting the physicist's theories, but he does have an obligation to say something in support of his basic premises."

Metaphysicians *have* given such reasons; I have said this much. Need references?

"That's nonsense."

No it is not nonsense; that you cannot recognize an argument is your problem, not mine. Presumably to accept ~PSR, the denial of PSR, and if you want to avoid dialectical dead ends, you must have a reason for it, say in the form of an example of an uncaused event. But to say that an event is uncaused you must have a reason to say that it is uncaused rather than that it is caused but we just do not know what the cause is. You cannot simply get away by saying that some event is uncaused and offer no justification. But what is this intuition, other than a disguised appeal to PSR?

Suppose I, as a defender of the PSR, were to say the following: you accept ~PSR? Then I do not feel compelled to offer any defense of PSR, for if PSR is a contingent fact, and you accept ~PSR, then why do I need to give *you* a defense of PSR in the first place? I take it simply as a self-evident brute fact of reality and that is that. If you feel that this is all ad hoc, I agree. But why is it ad hoc? Because our intuitions tell us that to accept some statement about reality as true, then there must be some reason justifying it, we cannot simply get away by declaring it a brute fact or let our imaginations dictate what reality is. But what is this other than an appeal to PSR?

reighley said...

@grodregues and @Rupert,

"Has anyone of the traffickers in uncaused events made even a gesture towards a metaphysical argument?"

You know, a previous generation of physicists used to make metaphysical arguments all the time. Permit me to throw down a gauntlet in that direction.

The three propositions are inconsistent, one of them must be false :
(a) we can trust the results of our experiments with photons.
(b) if one photon passes a polarizing filter and another does not there must be some reason that this was so.
(c) the reason for things that happen to photons must be close to the event in space and time.

Obviously no scientist is going to throw out (a), and (b) seems like it should follow directly from the PSR. So if we choose to throw out (b) then some would say we are denying PSR.

None the less, the majority position among physicists seems to be to abandon (b). The argument in both camps hinges on which assumption would allow us to make more sense of the universe. I think that is fair. Why do we have metaphysical principles if not to help us make sense of the world? If we had to get rid of locality in assumption (c) it could become completely impossible ever to identify the cause of anything. We would be worse off than when we started.

I think the point the Aristotelian's here are trying to make is that even if they abandon proposition (b), quantum physicists do not usually get rid of the PSR.

The Copenhagen interpretation would resolve the dilemma by saying that it was improper in (b) to phrase the problem in terms of photon and filter : we should have said "if we observe one photon to pass the filter and another not, then there is some reason for the observation. That reason happens in this case to be rooted in the observer and the collapse of the wave function; ie not in the photons at all, of which it might be said that they neither passed nor failed to pass the filter"

A many worlds interpretation would resolve the dilemma by saying that in fact both photons passed and did not pass the filter but we have access to only a thin slice of reality so we do not see the other aspects of these photons.

A hidden variable interpretation would keep (b) on the grounds that the other two interpretations seem like hand waving sophistry and we might just suck it up and start trying to figure out what these non local rules are (how bad could it be?).

None of the interpretations are really denying the PSR. They are perhaps denying the reality of the photon. They are making frightening conjectures about what might be causing what, but still there is cause.

That said, the core of the discussion (at least among physicists) is very much the pragmatic one : those things are true which allow us to make the most sense of the universe.

The possible interpretations of quantum mechanics are all rather ugly, and they are ugly only because they feel the need to retain PSR. We feel we need an interpretation.

If we judge the PSR by how much sense it allows us to make of the world, it is rather failing here. Most of us are already admitting of at least one uncaused cause : perhaps the easy way out is to abandon the doctrine of divine simplicity.

Then we could move forward by saying that the photon behavior had no cause, because after all there was always going to be something that had no cause. Why not a lot of things? Especially if we can easily characterize when a thing has a cause and when we shouldn't bother.

We would then judge whether this made more sense of the world than simply saying that the photon did as it did because God willed it so.

Anonymous said...

There is no slavish adherence to the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS). Given the axioms of Thomism, it is as nonsensical to deny DDS as it is to deny reason itself. One must, of course, question the axioms in order to question DDS. One of the objections leveled here is against the principle of causality (PC). The objections here mostly relate to QM or to why it (PC) is rationally compelled.

I think the above quotations from physicists and philosophers suffice to demonstrate that QM does not prove the inadequacy of PC. The quantum vacuum (QV) is something. The mere fact a particle or event cannot for the moment be observed to be caused or predicted does not imply it has no cause. If the QV is something and events occur within it, and if we cannot tell how they occur, it it far more reasonable to plead ignorance than to state categorically that events are uncaused. However, as shown above, the are sound, logical reasons to conclude that quantum events (QE) are caused.

Moreover, as already noted, PC is rationally compelled. No sense can be made of its denial. As Geisler notes:

In point of fact, the very denial of causal necessity implies some kind of causal necessity in the denial. For unless there is a necessary ground (or cause) for the denial, then the denial does not necessarily stand. And if there is a necessary ground or cause for the denial, then the denial is self-defeating; for in that event it is using a necessary causal connection to deny that there are necessary causal connections.

Some have attempted to avoid the logic of the above objection by limiting necessity to the reality of logic and propositions but denying that necessity applies to reality. But this will not succeed because in order for this statement to accomplish what it intends to do, namely, to exclude necessity from the realm of reality, it must itself be a necessary statement about reality. That is, it must in effect be claiming that it is necessarily true about reality that no necessary statements can be made about reality. It must make a necessary statement about reality to the effect that necessary statements cannot be made of the real. This is clearly self-canceling, for it actually does what it claims cannot be done.


So, there are sound reasons to affirm PC. Moreover, the objections from QM and reason fall, at best, well short of the mark.

Rupert said...

It is certainly rational to believe there is a cause, except we are ignorant of it, and for all we know, we may forever remain ignorant.

Yes, *you claim* that it is certainly rational to believe that there is a cause. But that is the claim I am asking you to *defend*. It is certainly not a self-evident proposition to me. I do not find your attempts to defend it to date to be satisfactory.

How do we adjudicate the case? By stepping into the metaphysical battlefield because while there is no doubt that the empirical sciences can offer input, by themselves they cannot decide the matter. Has anyone of the traffickers in uncaused events made even a gesture towards a metaphysical argument? No.

What do you mean by a "metaphysical argument"? I think that they've looked at the totality of information we have available and decided that the most reasonable interpretation of it (pending further data) is that what we have here is an uncaused event. It sounds to me like it's reasonable to call the chain of reasoning that led to that conclusion a "metaphysical argument". In my view, metaphysical arguments are frequently part of physics.

Have they substantiated the illicit jump from an epistemic, operationally-effective description to the imposition of an ontological status? No.

The question is, if you don't think that it's a self-evident proposition that every event must have a cause (and probably a lot of physicists don't) and you have a set of observations and it looks like the best way to make sense of them is to assume that this particular event is an uncaused event, then what's illicit about drawing the (provisional) conclusion that that's what you have?

Have they responded to the numerous metaphysical objections posed? No.

Well, that's as may be. I came here for the purpose of learning what those "metaphysical objections" are. In my view, you have not yet posed a serious objection to the idea that there might be an uncaused event. If you think that you can pose such an objection, I will gladly make every effort that I can to listen with an open mind.

Have they even responded to the very simple question of why we should accept CI in the first place rather than one of the deterministic, fully causal interpretations of QM? No.

Could you clarify what you have in mind here? Are you talking about the many-worlds interpretation?

Have they responded to the enormous difficulties that declaring QM events as uncaused poses? No.

As I say, I came here for the purpose of learning what those difficulties are, and I don't think it's been satisfactorily explained to me yet. I am happy to do my best to listen with an open mind.

Is the alleged empirical evidence of the absence of a cause have any weight when the very nature of causality is in dispute? Not really.

Why not?

Do they show a clear understanding of what Thomists understand by causality? No.

That's as may be. As I say, I came here for the purpose of being educated about the matter. I have read Edward Feser's "The Last Superstition".

But if they do not understand it, then what sense can we make of the categorical pronouncement that such a thing is absent? Not much.

You misunderstand the claim. The claim is that we have no especially good reason at the moment to believe that the event has a cause. If you believe that there is such a reason (in whatever special sense you want to give to "cause") then it's your job to specify the sense of "cause" you have in mind and to make your case. I came here for the purpose of hearing such a case, or learning where I can read the case that has already been made. Go for it.

Rupert said...

In point of fact, the very denial of causal necessity implies some kind of causal necessity in the denial.

So let me see. Suppose I claim that the possibility is at least open that there might have taken place at least one caused event. Apparently that "implies some kind of causal necessity". Well, it's not clear to me, but supposing it's so, then what?

For unless there is a necessary ground (or cause) for the denial, then the denial does not necessarily stand.

Why not? If I deny it, I deny it. I don't see where the need for a "necessary ground or cause" comes into it. And if it does, so what, what bearing does that have on the example under discussion of the electron in the hydrogen atom jumping from one energy level to another?

And if there is a necessary ground or cause for the denial, then the denial is self-defeating; for in that event it is using a necessary causal connection to deny that there are necessary causal connections.

But that's a straw person, I didn't deny that there are necessary causal connections in the world, I said that it was at least an open possibility that there might have taken place at least one uncaused event, and as far as I can tell no-one's given me the least reason to think I'm mistaken in this.

Some have attempted to avoid the logic of the above objection by limiting necessity to the reality of logic and propositions but denying that necessity applies to reality. But this will not succeed because in order for this statement to accomplish what it intends to do, namely, to exclude necessity from the realm of reality, it must itself be a necessary statement about reality. That is, it must in effect be claiming that it is necessarily true about reality that no necessary statements can be made about reality.

Why? Why couldn't it be a contingent truth?

I suppose in some modal logics (S5 maybe) it couldn't.

But you've still given no reason to think that someone couldn't come up with an account of the totality of necessary statements that can be made about reality that contradicts yours.

Anonymous said...

So let me see. Suppose I claim that the possibility is at least open that there might have taken place at least one caused event. Apparently that "implies some kind of causal necessity". Well, it's not clear to me, but supposing it's so, then what?

That is not what the statement you replied to means. It is explained in the next sentence to which you replied:

Why not? If I deny it, I deny it. I don't see where the need for a "necessary ground or cause" comes into it.

Because the denial itself presupposes causality. Your response attempts to elicit a rational ground for PC which presupposes the necessity of rational justification. That, in turn, presupposes the intelligibility of reality of which PC is intends to describe. To deny both or either is to render incoherent the objection. So, the denial assumes necessity. Now, if there must be a cause or ground for the justification, then the objector, in the act of objecting, assumes causality (a ground for the claim). PC merely claims there must be a rational ground (sufficient reason) of being. Given that, your request is self-defeating. You are asking for a sufficient reason for sufficient reason.

“But wait!” You may object. “I’ don’t have to ask you for anything. I merely deny causality.” However, that compels you to affirm that bald assertions are reasonable or you must have some ground or cause for the objection. As noted by grodrigues, using a rational ground to deny the necessity of a rational ground is self-defeating.

And if it does, so what, what bearing does that have on the example under discussion of the electron in the hydrogen atom jumping from one energy level to another?

This has been replied to numerous times. We have reproduced quotations from physicists and philosophers to show that QM does not justify a denial of PC. With respect to QM, given our uniform experience of causality, it is much more reasonable to conclude that there is a cause of a QE than to conclude there is no cause. Science cannot, in principle identify an uncaused event. As Dulle notes:

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 writes,

I didn't deny that there are necessary causal connections in the world, I said that it was at least an open possibility that there might have taken place at least one uncaused event, and as far as I can tell no-one's given me the least reason to think I'm mistaken in this.

Since you affirm necessary causal connections in the world, and since you employ reason to justify your claims, you are concomitantly compelled to offer a reason for that affirmation. Simply claiming its logical possibility is self-defeating. For if the logical possibility of an uncaused event defeats PC, then the claim itself is defeated for the same reason (for there are logically possible alternatives to it, among others, PC). One must give an intelligible account of how something can come from nothing. Lacking that, the claimant is hoist with his own petard.

Rupert said...

Your response attempts to elicit a rational ground for PC which presupposes the necessity of rational justification.

I don't know if I'm making any assumptions about the necessity of rational justification. I'm simply asking you whether or not you have a rational justification. If you haven't got one, then just admit it: "I haven't got a rational justification for the claim I made."

That, in turn, presupposes the intelligibility of reality of which PC is intends to describe.

I don't believe so. We can observe that reality is intelligible in at least some respects, but that is a different issue. We have to look at reality to see whether it is intelligible or not. Asking you to justify one of your claims doesn't make any assumptions one way or the other about that.

To deny both or either is to render incoherent the objection. So, the denial assumes necessity. Now, if there must be a cause or ground for the justification, then the objector, in the act of objecting, assumes causality (a ground for the claim).

I don't know what you mean by a "cause" of a "justification". This seems to me to be talking about something completely different. I was talking about the cause or lack thereof of an electron in a hydrogen atom jumping from one energy level to another.

PC merely claims there must be a rational ground (sufficient reason) of being. Given that, your request is self-defeating. You are asking for a sufficient reason for sufficient reason.

You are conflating two completely separate issues here. I may personally have a policy of only wanting to affirm those propositions for which I see some kind of rational foundation. That's completely different to the assertion that every event necessarily must have a cause. There's nothing self-defeating about asking for a justification of this claim.

This has been replied to numerous times. We have reproduced quotations from physicists and philosophers to show that QM does not justify a denial of PC.

Again, you are confused about the burden of proof. Your job is to justify PC. There is not much point in talking about it until you have made some attempt at this task.

With respect to QM, given our uniform experience of causality, it is much more reasonable to conclude that there is a cause of a QE than to conclude there is no cause.

Why would that be? Our experience also tells us that most of what we intuitively believe based on our experience with the macro-world is not true in the micro-world.

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.

Not in the sense of strict logical entailment, no, but if your best theory about the world describes it as an uncaused event then it's reasonable to regard it as such.

Simply claiming its logical possibility is self-defeating. For if the logical possibility of an uncaused event defeats PC, then the claim itself is defeated for the same reason (for there are logically possible alternatives to it, among others, PC).

The first issue is, is PC a necessary truth? If the QE being uncaused is a logical possibility, then it's not a necessary truth. Making this claim is not self-defeating. The second issue is, is there any reason at all to think PC is true? If there's no reason at all to think that the QE is caused, then there's no reason at all to think that PC is true. Making this claim is not self-defeating. If there is the least reason to think that the QE is caused, then it should be possible to specify what that reason is. I don't believe that you've done so to date.

One must give an intelligible account of how something can come from nothing.

Not unless the claim that that is possible is under discussion, which it isn't.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I'm making any assumptions about the necessity of rational justification. I'm simply asking you whether or not you have a rational justification.

Of course you are. The instant you request a rational justification for a claim, you assume its necessity. If you didn’t assume its necessity, then no response is needed. I’m right, full stop.

I don't know what you mean by a "cause" of a "justification". This seems to me to be talking about something completely different.

I am talking about the general case for PC (or the principle of sufficient reason).

You are conflating two completely separate issues here.

Not so, and I explained, albeit in a truncated manner, why. Unless you assume the necessary connection between reality and our statements about it, your objections are incoherent. They are tied together.

Again, you are confused about the burden of proof. Your job is to justify PC. There is not much point in talking about it until you have made some attempt at this task.

You said this in reply to my statement about QM. I see no connection here. QM does not assail PC. That was my only point at that juncture.

Not in the sense of strict logical entailment, no, but if your best theory about the world describes it as an uncaused event then it's reasonable to regard it as such.

Now who is conflating issues? Again, science cannot, IN PRINCIPLE, inform us about existence by what it fails to observe. To appeal to science as a defeater for PC is unwarranted. If a scientist gets into a car and an unidentified “something” momentarily appeared in the passenger seat, what would he do? Presumably, he would wait to see if it happened again. If it did, he would try to discover why “it” appears. If after repeated attempts, he and all of his friends are unable to detect a cause, he would not be justified in claiming that this “something” is uncaused. All he could rationally do is claim ignorance.

The first issue is, is PC a necessary truth?

No. You already acknowledge necessary causal connections in the world. So far, you can only identify one possible exception to that—a QM. As noted above, this move is invalid. You are then left to appeal to the logical possibility of an uncaused event. Again, if logical possibility warrants refutation of PC, then logical possibility warrants refutation of the counter claim—that an uncaused event is a logical possibility.

Gotta run now. Thanks for the dialog. I’m certain you’ll reply, but it’ll be much later before I can get back.

All the best.

reighley said...

"In point of fact, the very denial of causal necessity implies some kind of causal necessity in the denial."

I continue to be flumoxed by this statement. It seems to me I might say something along the lines of "once upon a time, in circumstances unknown to me, something happened for no reason", without in making that statement creating any sort of logical blunder. The statement might be true of false. I may or may not offer any evidence for it, but it is not self contradictory standing alone.

Rupert said...

The instant you request a rational justification for a claim, you assume its necessity. If you didn’t assume its necessity, then no response is needed. I’m right, full stop.

If you can't provide a justification on request but continue to believe the claim, then what will happen is that I will conclude that you are irrational. This is something that follows from the meaning of the word "irrational". I may also have a personal policy of trying to be as rational as I know how to be. But I don't know what you have in mind when you say that I am assuming the "necessity" of being rational. Does it mean anything over and above having a personal policy of trying to be as rational as possible?

I wrote

I don't know what you mean by a "cause" of a "justification". This seems to me to be talking about something completely different.

and you wrote

I am talking about the general case for PC (or the principle of sufficient reason).

I'm afraid I'm not much the wiser. What I wanted to know is how the word "cause" came up.

Unless you assume the necessary connection between reality and our statements about it, your objections are incoherent.

Can you tell me what necessary connection you have in mind here? Is it some kind of representing relation?

QM does not assail PC. That was my only point at that juncture.

All right, well the Copenhagen interpretation of QM is inconsistent with PC. If your point was simply that other interpretations are possible then I have no quarrel with you (although I would still point out that you have given me no reason to think that PC is true). If your point is that other interpretations are to be *preferred*, then I think it's reasonable to ask you to justify this.

Again, science cannot, IN PRINCIPLE, inform us about existence by what it fails to observe.

We're not talking about doing that. We're talking about how best to account for the totality of what we *have* observed.

If a scientist gets into a car and an unidentified “something” momentarily appeared in the passenger seat, what would he do? Presumably, he would wait to see if it happened again. If it did, he would try to discover why “it” appears. If after repeated attempts, he and all of his friends are unable to detect a cause, he would not be justified in claiming that this “something” is uncaused. All he could rationally do is claim ignorance.

You seem to be talking about thought-experiment about something that (a) occurs at the macro-level and (b) doesn't appear to be something that fits into any of the best systematic descriptions of nature we previously had. It differs from the example of the QE in those two respects.

We do have a general mathematical formalism which is very good at telling us the probability that a certain QE will occur in a certain time interval in a wide range of contexts. We also have Bell's theorem telling us that no local hidden variables theory can account for these observations. Our task is to give an interpretation of the formalism. The Copenhagen interpretation which describes certain QE's as uncaused events is not the only possible interpretation, but it is a possible interpretation. Which bring us to your remark below...

Rupert said...

Again, if logical possibility warrants refutation of PC, then logical possibility warrants refutation of the counter claim—that an uncaused event is a logical possibility.

I think you misunderstand my point here. If it is possible that an uncaused event might have taken place, then PC is not a necessary truth. If there is *no good reason* to think that an uncaused event might not have taken place, then there is no good reason to think that PC is true. Those were the claims and they are pretty solid.

As far as this business goes of logical possibility refuting the counter-claim that an uncaused event is a logical possibility, in S5 if it is possible that an uncaused event occurs then it is a necessary truth that it is possible that an uncaused event occurs. If you don't accept S5 and you think that it's possible that an uncaused event occurs, but it's possible that it's not possible that an uncaused event occurs, then very well, you describe the modal facts that way, just as I described my modal facts in full, and that is all that follows, no "refutation" ensues.

You already acknowledge necessary causal connections in the world. So far, you can only identify one possible exception to that—a QM. As noted above, this move is invalid. You are then left to appeal to the logical possibility of an uncaused event.

What I said was that it was no part of my project to make a uniform denial of necessary causal connections in the world. If you want me to say whether I think there are any then I'd want to know more about what this "necessity" is. I think that causal connections are a feature of the world. And I think that it is at least a possibility that some QE's are uncaused events; specifically, they are so on the interpretation of QM most popular with physicists. If you cannot give me any *reason* to think that they are in fact caused, then it follows that you cannot give me any *reason* to think that PC is true. And as far as I am aware you have not given any such reason to date. So my conclusion is: PC might possibly be true (and you seem to have admitted that it is not a necessary truth), but you have given me no good reason to think that it is true and I don't have to regard any a priori metaphysical demonstration of e.g. God's existence as rationally compelling if it has the PC as one of its premises.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Rupert. Very sorry for the delay, but my schedule doesn't afford me much time. I'll try to reply within a couple of days.

Very quickly, so as to avoid redundancy, have you read Dr. Feser's Aquinas and or The Last Superstition?

Thanks, in advance.

Anonymous said...

Rupert "I would still point out that you have given me no reason to think that PC is true"

He doesn't need to. After all, according to you, some stuff simply doesn't require any reason. So the PC is one of them, ta dah.

"If there is *no good reason* to think that an uncaused event might not have taken place, then there is no good reason to think that PC is true."

Hang on, so you're saying that if there is no good reason to think that an uncaused event might have taken place, then there is no good reason to think the PC is false. So you must have a "good reason" to suppose these allegedly uncaused events are going on. What is it? (And "maybe it's possible that they aren't impossible" is not a good reason.) If you can't provide a justification but continue to believe it anyway, we'll have to conclude that you're irrational.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Codgitator

> If your pantheistic reading of Aquinas' conception of God is correct, then His absolute actuality entails physical DETERMINISM, not indeterminism. For if beneath every possible layer of causality (as you like to derive from Feser in TLS, p. 96), God is at work actualizing all possible potentiality, then the potency of indeterministic causation would have no ontic 'space' or 'slack' in which to operate. If God, as you prefer Him/It, by necessity (even if it's just an ethical necessity à la Leslie) actualizes all the potency that Love could actualize, then there is *no potential for potency*, and your indeterministic jargument fails. <

Determinism does not necessairly imply that all physical effects have physical causes. If a physical effect has a mental cause, then determinism still can hold true. This is something that you are not intellectually grasping here. So, whether God actualizes one world or an infinite set of worlds does not change the fact of physical indeterminism. God, who is nonphysical, is ultimately determining (creating) the physical. Therefore, the physical is ultimately indeterminate and completely dependent on God (the source of all potentiality).

Anonymous said...

Rupert, like a subatomic particle, I can only briefly appear in the EFB (Edward Feser Blog). Again, to avoid redundancy, please tell me what your conception of PC is. You believe in certain necessary causes, please tell me what they are and please define cause and effect.

Thanks again, and I hope to get back within a couple of days.

Rupert said...

I have read "The Last Superstition". My conception of PC is that it's the proposition that a potential inherent in an object can only be actualised by something outside the object.

Rupert said...

After all, according to you, some stuff simply doesn't require any reason. So the PC is one of them, ta dah.

I never said that.

Hang on, so you're saying that if there is no good reason to think that an uncaused event might have taken place, then there is no good reason to think the PC is false. So you must have a "good reason" to suppose these allegedly uncaused events are going on. What is it?

No, I never said anything which entails that. The PC is the sort of thing which shouldn't be accepted without some kind of reasoning in its favour. I am simply waiting (verrrrry patiently...) for someone to produce that reasoning.

grodrigues said...

@Rupert:

"My conception of PC is that it's the proposition that a potential inherent in an object can only be actualised by something outside the object."

Incorrect.

"The PC is the sort of thing which shouldn't be accepted without some kind of reasoning in its favour. I am simply waiting (verrrrry patiently...) for someone to produce that reasoning."

The way you formulated PC, albeit incorrectly, the reasoning is right there in TLS. Given the division in being between potency and act, PC follows from the definition of motion, that is, change, and an appeal to the law of non-contradiction. See Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 13, (9).

Anonymous said...

Rupert,

I am again briefly popping in. grodrigues is correct, both in his definition of PC and the fact that it is positively argued in TLS (and Aquinas). There was no need to wait.

Rupert said...

The same thing cannot be at once in act and in potency with respect to the same thing. But everything that is moved is, as such, in potency. For motion is the act of something that is in potency inasmuch as it is in potency. That which moves, however, is as such in act, for nothing acts except according as it is in act. Therefore, with respect to the same motion, nothing is both mover and moved. Thus, nothing moves itself.

How do you know the first sentence?

Anonymous said...

Rupert, temporarily back. As grodrigues pointed out, the appeal is made to the law of non-contradiction. A does not imply ~A in the same respect. To use an illustration you read in TLS, a rubber ball has the potential to become "goo," but it cannot be both in the same respect. The ball is potentially goo but actually a ball.

Rupert said...

Thanks.

That which moves, however, is as such in act, for nothing acts except according as it is in act.

How do you know?

Anonymous said...

Rupert, as I said, I want to avoid redundancy. I indulged your request with your first question, but your second baffles me. All of that is explained in TLS. Do you not recall what it said?

Rupert said...

Are you referring to the passage on p. 54: "For potential gooeyness, say, precisely because it is merely potential, cannot actualize itself; only something else (like heat) could do it."

Anonymous said...

Rupert, actually the whole chapter is necessary to properly absorb PC. That's a very brief encapsulation.

I very much apologize, but since I hold down two jobs, I do not have a lot of time (except perhaps on weekends). I'll try to get back with more detail later on.

Rupert said...

Well, I've read the whole chapter and indeed the whole book. But I still don't see any good reason why an object couldn't have a propensity for changing in a certain way (with a certain probability within a certain time interval), which may or may not manifest itself within any given time interval, and which can manifest itself without the help of any outside agent. I don't see how Dr. Feser has shown that that's incoherent.

Rupert said...

By the way there is no need to apologize; just post when you have the time.

Codgitator said...

AlastAir:

This is my last comment to you on this. Hereafter, I'm just "nolo contendere". God, I hope you're not a troll.

1. God's absolute and indiscriminately necessary actualization of all potency still entails physical determinism, since it just as much entails the actualization every mental act as of every physical act (a logical point you did not so much address as evade), the formerwhich you would posit as cause of physical states. But your ad hoc nuance fails, since my point us that all potency, of any character, is subject to your Spinozistic actualism.

2. You're arguing for radical occasionalism, which is fine, but you're trying to do so from thomist principles, which is not. The difference between mental and physical causation is trivial for occasionalism, since ALL causes are effects of the divine action, directly and univocally so.

2a. Further, your own method eradicates the terms on which you insist. If the "physical" is intrinsically mental, then the mental is intrinsically physical. So even positing "mental" causes for physical events still confines you to the "physical" as you want to conceive of it.

3. Your last sentence only underscores your profound, fatal, and intransigent confusion about the point I've made about indeterminism vs. contingency. That--not if--you can't see thus, then we have nothing to talk about. Primary vs. secondary causality! Look into it! Stephen Barr and Alexander Sich on Science and religion, YouTube lecture, PLEASE listen to it. Sententiæ Deo FTW.

4. In any event, your autistic repetition that the only choices are determinism vs. indeterminism, is logicallly and bibliographically false. The entire point of "free will" is that reality contains a *non-deterministic* power of action which is, nevertheless, not *indeterminate* (in the chaotic, irrational sense you're peddling).

4a. Agent causation, rational self-determination. Timothy O'Connor. Simply Philosophy. Richard Taylor. Thomas Pink. Derek Melser. Roderick Chisholm. Karol Wojtyla Acting Person.

Codgitator said...

Rupert:

You speak of objects with effects. You also speak of objects with dispositions. But, by the beard of Thor, man, can't you see why this explodes your anti-CP sophistry (well-meaning as it may be)? Objects CAUSE THEIR EFFECTS, otherwise their EFFECTS are not KNOWN AS SUCH. Likewise, dispositions are real causal bases, revenue grey admit of probabilistic uncertainty. Indeed, the entire basis of rational will is that real agents indeterministically but probabilistically (really) tend toward certain effects: grasp if truth, attainment of bodily needs, etc.

Anonymous said...

Before my "smart phone" intervend, revenue grey was typed as "even if they".

Codgitator

Anonymous said...

Rupert asks how we know,

That which moves, however, is as such in act, for nothing acts except according as it is in act.

Because “act” is the act of existence. If it doesn’t exist, it cannot move (change). The ball can become (is in potency to become) goo (or an eraser, etc.) because it exists. If it did not exist, “it” could not become goo, and if rubber did not exist, there would be no goo, in that respect. Although a contingent being has the potential to change, it cannot change unless it is. Again, the law of non-contradiction is in play. Nothing cannot be something in the same respect. So, change is the province of being, not nonbeing.

You state,

But I still don't see any good reason why an object couldn't have a propensity for changing in a certain way (with a certain probability within a certain time interval), which may or may not manifest itself within any given time interval, and which can manifest itself without the help of any outside agent

Do you have an example in mind? Throughout our experience, we see the same patterns of causation. Whether rocks, trees, rivers or mountain ranges, things become via the act of something other than what it is. Are you thinking of the self-movement of living beings? Dr. Feser addresses that in TLS and how it relates to a per se ordered series of causality. A being either is in itself a sufficient explanation of its existence or its existence must be explained by the act of another. I don’t see another logical category. You are actualized by cells, which are actualized by molecules, which are actualized by atoms, etc. You know the story. A per se series must have a necessary stopping point.

From our previous dialog, I see you offering two objections to the pervasive, consistent observation of PC—QM and logical possibility (LP). You tie possibility to QM which, if I read you correctly, justifies LP because (there’s that word cause again) it isn’t offered as a bald assertion. The measurement of QE justifies non-causality as a logical option (if not entailment). Have I got that right? I don’t see any other argument, unless you’re a total skeptic. You don’t sound like one, so we can leave it there unless I’m wrong.

With respect to QM, I think Dr. Feser has argued much better than I can why it doesn’t appear relevant to the topic. Insofar as our discussion goes, I cannot see the rationality of concluding that our nonobservance of the cause of a subatomic particle justifies the disposal of PC. If everything else in our experience confirms PC, it appears far more reasonable to claim ignorance of the cause, whether on the macro or micro level.

Anyway, I’ve typed this in a great rush and probably won’t be able to reply for awhile because the coming weekends look very busy. I’ll do what I can, though.

All the best.

Rupert said...

Not everything in our experience confirms PC. We observe some quantum events with no apparent cause. I don't see why it wouldn't be rational to entertain the idea that there is no cause as a working hypothesis.

Anonymous said...

But I still don't see any good reason why an object couldn't have a propensity for changing in a certain way (with a certain probability within a certain time interval), which may or may not manifest itself within any given time interval, and which can manifest itself without the help of any outside agent.

I might also add that this, too, would violate the law of non-contradiction. If a thing could move itself from potency to act, it would have to be and not to be in the same respect. For goo to bring itself into existence, it would have to exist. But if it already exists, then the potential is already realized. There is nothing more to actualize in that sense. Since a thing cannot exist and exist in the same respect, and since self-causation would require existence and non-existence, a thing cannot move (cause) itself.

What you call “a propensity for changing in a certain way” is what we call potential. A potential cannot “manifest itself” because it isn’t yet in act. What does not exist cannot act, and what is in act.

Anonymous said...

The last sentence should end, "...and what is in act exists."

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Another bad sentence. "Since a thing cannot exist and exist in the same respect..." should read, "Since a thing cannot exist and not exist in the same respect..."

Anonymous said...

Well, I’ve got some time to sneak in a few comments:

We observe some quantum events with no apparent cause. I don't see why it wouldn't be rational to entertain the idea that there is no cause as a working hypothesis.

As I stated above, I think Dr. Feser adequately addresses this issue. Moreover, I still insist that whether on the macro or micro level, science cannot identify what does not exist by what it fails to observe.

This does not, however, leave us at an impasse, for the same law of non-contradiction (LC) applies here. A quantum particle (QP) cannot be in act and potency in the same respect. Since it cannot bring itself into existence, it must be caused by another. A ball is one thing, goo is another. Goo does not come from goo; it comes from a ball. Hence, its movement (coming to be) is caused by another. Given that, the uncausality of subatomic particles cannot qualify as a working hypothesis.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Codgitator

> 1. God's absolute and indiscriminately necessary actualization of all potency still entails physical determinism, since it just as much entails the actualization every mental act as of every physical act (a logical point you did not so much address as evade), the formerwhich you would posit as cause of physical states. But your ad hoc nuance fails, since my point us that all potency, of any character, is subject to your Spinozistic actualism. <

To reiterate: Determinism does not necessarily imply that all physical effects have physical causes. If a physical effect has a MENTAL cause, then determinism still can hold true. (A mental cause is a NONPHYSICAL cause.) This is something that you are not intellectually grasping here. So, whether God actualizes one world or an infinite set of worlds does not change the fact of physical indeterminism. God, who is NONPHYSICAL, is ultimately determining (creating) the physical. Therefore, the physical is ultimately indeterminate and completely dependent on God (the source of all potentiality).

> 2. You're arguing for radical occasionalism, which is fine, but you're trying to do so from thomist principles, which is not. The difference between mental and physical causation is trivial for occasionalism, since ALL causes are effects of the divine action, directly and univocally so. <

No, I am not. I am making an ontological distinction between the physical and the nonphysical. I'm also making a distinction between a finite causal agent and an infinite one.

> 3. Your last sentence only underscores your profound, fatal, and intransigent confusion about the point I've made about indeterminism vs. contingency. That--not if--you can't see thus, then we have nothing to talk about. Primary vs. secondary causality! Look into it! Stephen Barr and Alexander Sich on Science and religion, YouTube lecture, PLEASE listen to it. Sententiæ Deo FTW. <

I actually watched the video. I understand the difference between "vertical causality" and "horizontal causality." (Quantum indeterminism implies vertical UNcausality.)

My agrument still stands. And Professor Barr hasn't stated anything that would lead me to believe otherwise.

Aquinas' "First Cause" argument implies physical indeterminism for reasons I have already stated on this thread and other threads. If this were not the case, then Aquinas' argument would not resolve the infinite regress of one level of potentiality being actualized by another and so forth. More to the point, if this were not the case, then it would render God superfluous. Indeed, Fr. George Coyne (former head of the Vatican Observatory and who apparently subscribes to your interpretation of Thomism) freely acknowledged to Richard Dawkins that God is superfluous. (See video link below.)

"Father George Coyne Interview (5/7) - Richard Dawkins"

> 4. In any event, your autistic repetition that the only choices are determinism vs. indeterminism, is logicallly and bibliographically false. The entire point of "free will" is that reality contains a *non-deterministic* power of action which is, nevertheless, not *indeterminate* (in the chaotic, irrational sense you're peddling). <

"Non-determinism" and "indetrminism" are interchangeable terms.

> 4a. Agent causation, rational self-determination. Timothy O'Connor. Simply Philosophy. Richard Taylor. Thomas Pink. Derek Melser. Roderick Chisholm. Karol Wojtyla Acting Person. <

Either agent causation is compatible with determinism or it is not. It's really that simple.

> This is my last comment to you on this. Hereafter, I'm just "nolo contendere". <

English translation: "I concede the point."

Anonymous said...

On Paisley's refusal to address the arguments against his fallacious appeal to QM:

He concedes the point.

Rupert said...

I don't find your attempted explanations of why I should believe PC to be satisfactory. When you say "A potential cannot 'manifest itself' because it isn't yet in act", this seems to me to be assuming the very thing that you are trying to prove. Nothing that I have read either here or in TLS really gives me any conviction that PC has to be true.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> On Paisley's refusal to address the arguments against his fallacious appeal to QM:

He concedes the point.
<

I concede nothing. What fallacious appeal to QM?

Anonymous said...

Not only is Paisley's reading comprehension challenged, but it appears his memory is equally challenged.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Rupert. I’m popping in between jobs to give a quick reply. Given the fact that I explained my reasoning, I do not know how I could be begging the question. Please note what I previously wrote:

For goo to bring itself into existence, it would have to [already] exist. But if it already exists, then the potential is already realized. There is nothing more to actualize in that sense. Since a thing cannot exist and [not] exist in the same respect, and since self-causation would require existence and non-existence, a thing cannot move (cause) itself.

What question is being begged? If goo already exists, then it would have to exist before it exists to bring ITSELF into existence. “Act” means “currently existing,” and “potential” means “not currently existing.” It appears you have already agreed with that distinction. A rubber ball can potentially be goo, but it isn’t goo. Goo is one thing and a ball is another. A ball cannot be goo in the same respect. Hence, for goo to cause itself, it must exist before it exists to do so; but if it already exists, there is no potentiality to act upon. From LC it then follows that something cannot exist and not exist in the same respect. Since self-causation, by definition, entails existence and non-existence in the same respect, self-causation is impossible. If self-causation is impossible, then what is caused to exist is caused by another.

Gotta scoot to another job.

All the best.

Rupert said...

It looks as though you might be making the following argument:

(1) Only a thing that exists can be the agent of any change
(2) A propensity doesn't exist
(3) So a propensity by itself can't be the agent of any change

I apologise if this is not a fair paraphrase.

It seems to me that premises (1) and (2) may be reasonably doubted.

Anonymous said...

No, I do not think that is accurate, but let’s take it as you’ve written it.

Only a thing that exists can be the agent of any change.

You say this can be reasonably doubted. How can something that doesn’t exist be the “agent” of anything? If it is an agent, then it exists. So, it appears that to doubt that statement obligates the doubter to affirm that nothing can be something.

A propensity doesn’t exist.

Strictly speaking, the potential to be something else exists in something, but the potential DOES NOT exist as what it can be. Hydrogen has the potential to be water if conjoined with oxygen, but hydrogen does not exist as water so long as its potency is not actualized. Going back to the example Dr. Feser has given us, a rubber ball’s potential to be goo is real, but “goo” does not currently exist (is not in act). We then rightly say that potency is not act and act is not potency in that sense. This is true by definition, so I cannot see how one can reasonably doubt that.

Self-causality, as shown above, is a contradiction.

Rupert said...

All right, I retract my claim that (1) can be reasonably doubted, but it still seems to me coherent to say that a propensity can manifest all by itself without the help of an outside agent. I don't really see how you've shown that this is not coherent.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> Not only is Paisley's reading comprehension challenged, but it appears his memory is equally challenged. <

I will accept this as your way of conceding the point. I didn't make any fallacious appeal to QM. We both know that.

Anonymous said...

And I will accept that as your way of conceding the point. The posts demonstrate your deliberate avoidance of the objections along that line. Your appeal to QM is irrelevant and false in principle. As I stated elsewhere, unless you specifically engage those arguments, you have said nothing.

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

@ Anonymous

> And I will accept that as your way of conceding the point. The posts demonstrate your deliberate avoidance of the objections along that line. Your appeal to QM is irrelevant and false in principle. As I stated elsewhere, unless you specifically engage those arguments, you have said nothing <

What objections? You haven't articulated anything that remotely addresses my argument. You're just blowing hot air. Everyone here knows that.

Anonymous said...

Like a broken record, Paisley the Prevaricator, claims there have been no objections to his reliance on QM. He has been shown both why those claims are irrelevant and has been given substantive arguments from physicists and philosophers why his conclusions are unsound. He is mentally incapable of understanding what an invalid metaphysical claim is with respect to empirical data, and he has time and again shown an inability to understand the simplest arguments. He is so enamored with himself, he misreads very easily understood statements which causes (or is this an uncaused cause?) him to zig while the author is really sagging.

Everybody knows there have been no substantive objections to his fallacious QM argument? Well, well. It’s nice to know that everybody here has emailed Paisley and let him know they see things the way he does. Although most if not all of the contributors here have voiced their disagreement with him, he is such a mind reader he knows that their hearts are really with him. Will Paisley be like the Most High? Will he sit in the sides of the north? Stay tuned.

Paisley, you are either an incompetent buffoon or an abject liar. Your only out is to plead ignorance because English isn’t your mother tongue. If you had the slightest measure of principle, you would investigate the counter claims with an open mind and ENGAGE those arguments. Instead you search (grope) the Internet for a quotation that merely restates your claim without recognizing the invalid inference in the process. You avoid arguments you cannot answer because you’re an ideologue. Although Rupert and I have voiced our disagreement with one another, he has the integrity to address me point-by-point. He has honor and principle. You have neither.

Anonymous said...

Last sentence, first paragraph, "...while the author is really zagging."

Anonymous said...

Hi, Rupert. I think we’re almost there. You write,

… it still seems to me coherent to say that a propensity can manifest all by itself without the help of an outside agent. I don't really see how you've shown that this is not coherent.

Although I think I have addressed that, let’s look at it from another angle. Using again our friend the rubber ball, we know that it has the potential (propensity) to be goo. Let us say there is some mechanism in the ball that can initiate a process that would eventually reduce the ball to goo. That does not change the principle that what is moved is moved by another. A rubber ball is not goo and goo is not a rubber ball. Hence the cause of the goo is not goo; the cause of the goo is a rubber ball. The ball is one thing and the goo is another. Let’s use you as an example. Rupert’s body has the potential to be ash, but it obviously isn’t ash at the moment. You can will your remains to be cremated or you can take a shortcut and throw yourself into a fire. In any instance of the reduction of a human body to ash, we must rationally affirm that the ash was caused, in part, by Rupert. The ash was not caused by ash. Even if your relatives will look at your urn and say, “That is Rupert,” what they are really saying is that the contents of the urn are your remains. So, if we let Rupert in act be represented by R1, and Rupert in ash be represented by R2, it is easy to see that R2 is caused, in part, by R1. R2 cannot cause R2 (or D2 – ha!) and neither can R1 cause R1; both propositions are incoherent. However, it is not incoherent to say R2 is caused by R1. Consequently, the causal principle remains.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@Anonymous

> Like a broken record, Paisley the Prevaricator, claims there have been no objections to his reliance on QM. He has been shown both why those claims are irrelevant and has been given substantive arguments from physicists and philosophers why his conclusions are unsound. He is mentally incapable of understanding what an invalid metaphysical claim is with respect to empirical data, and he has time and again shown an inability to understand the simplest arguments. He is so enamored with himself, he misreads very easily understood statements which causes (or is this an uncaused cause?) him to zig while the author is really sagging. <

Several points:

1) The only claim I have made in regards to QM is that the standard interpretation holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate, that events really do occur uncaused. That's a fact. And Robert Oerter (the only physicist who has participated in this debate) supports my claim. In fact, his argument against the "principle of causaility" is predicated on quantum indeterminism!

2) My argument in regards to Aquinas' "First Cause" argument does not rely on quantum indeterminism. My argument is that Aquinas' "First Cause" argument implies physical indeterminism. No one here has furnished me with any kind of response that would undermine my argument.

3) Your ad hominem attacks do not qualify as a counterargument. They simply reveal that you have no counterargument.

Anonymous said...

And 1 has been shown by both Dr. Feser and myself to be both irrelevant and an invalid logical inference.

With respect to 2, I have already told you I have no problem with any philosophical argument you offer, even if I disagree with your conclusions. They do not depend upon QM.

As to 3, you deserve it. My ad hominem attacks have no bearing on my argument. They accurately describe how you’ve presented yourself here. You are beneath contempt and an arrogant doofus.

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

@ Anonymous

> And 1 has been shown by both Dr. Feser and myself to be both irrelevant and an invalid logical inference. <

Your attempt to distort my claim in order to spare yourself embarrassment will not work. Neither Feser nor you have refuted my claim. The standard interpretation of QM (a.k.a. Copenhagen) most definitely holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate.

> With respect to 2, I have already told you I have no problem with any philosophical argument you offer, even if I disagree with your conclusions. They do not depend upon QM. <

I never made the argument that my argument depends on quantum indeterminism. You're simply trying to distort the record in order to "save face" because we both know that you cannot refute my argument. Aquinas' "First Cause" argument implies physical indeterminism for reasons I have already explained. That the standard interpretation of QM holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate is simply incidental.

> As to 3, you deserve it. My ad hominem attacks have no bearing on my argument. They accurately describe how you’ve presented yourself here. You are beneath contempt and an arrogant doofus. <

Personal attacks are typically employed by those who are incapable of crafting an intelligible argument.

Anonymous said...

The Prevaricator said,

Your attempt to distort my claim in order to spare yourself embarrassment will not work. Neither Feser nor you have refuted my claim. The standard interpretation of QM (a.k.a. Copenhagen) most definitely holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate.

Your attempt to change the subject away from your non-engagement will not work. Feser clearly refuted your claim, but you’re too stupid to understand it. All you did to address Dr. Feser’s argument was grope the Internet for a quotation that merely restated your bias. Such impeccable bovine waste from the Prince.

You spew a commodity found in abundance where bulls congregate, and when that is pointed out, you foolishly try to argue that everybody’s olfactory glands are malfunctioning because you are perfume of truth, Mr. Narcissist.

The Prevaricator can’t keep track of his own arguments. He lies:

I never made the argument that my argument depends on quantum indeterminism.

But at 2:55 he writes:

The only claim I have made in regards to QM is that the standard interpretation holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate, that events really do occur uncaused.

There is no point in mentioning QM if you did not believe that it supported your argument in some measure. In fact, the record shows you did cite it consistently to prove that claim. Your Revised Standard Version is like saying, “Chocolate chip cookies taste better that Oreo cookies. I mean, after all, the Giants won the Super Bowl.” Who did or didn’t win the SB has no bearing on the claim, so it can be dispensed with. If it has bearing on the claim, then it is shown to be irrelevant and false, in principle. Unless you actually demonstrate you understand the objections and unless you can show why the objections are unsound (without groping the Internet for quotations that restate your claim), you are firing blanks.

The Liar continues,

Your ad hominem attacks do not qualify as a counterargument. They simply reveal that you have no counterargument..

It shows your inability to read because I’ve been quite clear. We are still waiting for your rebuttal. The fact you still, AFTER ALL THIS TIME, do not offer one, demonstrates who really doesn’t have an argument.

Prevaricator closes:

Personal attacks are typically employed by those who are incapable of crafting an intelligible argument.

Said the one who just leveled a personal attack.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Anonymous

> There is no point in mentioning QM if you did not believe that it supported your argument in some measure. <

I raised the issue because I wanted to see how some here would respond to the observations of "uncaused" events. If my analysis of Aquinas' "First Cause" argument was correct (which it most certainly was), then his argument implied physical indeterminism. And since we have scientific evidence for physical indeterminism, then I wanted to learn how Thomists were going to respond to that fact. And what I learned is that many here feel threatened by quantum indeterminism.

Anonymous said...

We don't feel threatened by a nonexistent enemy. QM is simply irrelevant because it cannot be rationally cited as proof of uncaused events.

Rupert said...

So if we apply that to the specific example of a hydrogen atom which has a propensity to have its electron jump from one energy level to another with a certain probability in a certain time interval, then what do we make of that? Is the issue that the propensity must be included in one's ontology?

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, Rupert, but I'm not certain what you mean. All beings capable of being moved have the potential to be other than what they are by definition. Would you please elaborate? Thanks, in advance.

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