Thursday, July 5, 2012

Atheistic teleology?

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere and elsewhere about former atheist blogger Leah Libresco’s recent conversion to Catholicism.  It seems that among the reasons for her conversion is the conviction that the possibility of objective moral truth presupposes that there is teleology in the natural order, ends toward which things are naturally directed.  That there is such teleology is a thesis traditionally defended by Catholic philosophers, and this is evidently one of the things that attracted Libresco to Catholicism.  A reader calls my attention to this post by atheist philosopher and blogger Daniel Fincke.  Fincke takes issue with those among his fellow atheists willing to concede to Libresco that an atheist has to reject teleology.  Like Libresco, he would ground morality in teleology, but he denies that teleology requires a theological foundation.

Atheism, teleology, and morality

Fincke writes:

Teleology should not be at all out of bounds for atheists.  Teleologists do not need to posit that there is an intelligent goal-giver who gives natural beings purposes to fulfill, as many theists think…

I am an atheistic virtue ethicist requiring no divine agency for the teleological dimensions of my ethics to make minimal sense and have minimal coherence.  I am just describing purely naturalistically occurring patterns as universals or forms.  I am saying that since humans’ very natures are constituted by a specific set of powers, fulfilling them is incumbent on humans as the beings that we are.  It is irrational and a practical contradiction to destroy the very precondition of our own being (all things being equal).  We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves.

Now there is some truth in what Fincke says, but it is not the whole truth and his account suffers from some systematic ambiguities.  On the one hand, I would agree that the teleological properties of natural substances, including human beings, can in principle be known whether or not one believes in God, precisely because they are natural.  That is what makes natural law possible.  You can know just by studying trees that their roots have among their natural ends the taking in of water and nutrients, and that it is objectively good for a tree that its roots carry out this function and bad for it if for some reason the roots are unable to do so.  You don’t need to make reference to God to see this.  By the same token, you can know just by studying human beings that it is objectively good for them to pursue truth, to show courage and resolution in the face of difficulties, to exercise self control in the indulgence of their appetites, and so forth, since without such virtues they would be unable to fulfill the ends of their various natural capacities.  No special reference to God is needed in order to see this either.  Not only do I agree with Fincke about that much, but I have made a similar point at length in a post from almost a year ago.  It is in my view a mistake for religious apologists to think they can go directly from the objectivity of morality to the existence of God.  

(For an overview of the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to natural law ethics, see chapter 5 of Aquinas, chapter 4 of The Last Superstition, and roughly the first half of my Social Philosophy and Policy article “Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation.”)  

However, that is only part of the story, for three reasons.  First, all of this is true on an Aristotelian construal of the natural world, but it is not true on the conception of the natural world one finds in contemporary scientism and naturalism -- a conception to which most modern atheists are committed.  In particular, no construal of teleology consistent with modern naturalism and scientism can give you the kind of teleology necessary for objective morality.  More on this in a moment.

Second, while objective morality depends directly on an Aristotelian philosophy of nature rather than on theism, an Aristotelian philosophy of nature leads in turn to theism.  So, there is an indirect connection between the possibility of objective morality and theism.  That a natural substance has the teleological properties it does is something we can know just from studying the nature of the thing; no reference to God is necessary.  But how is it that anything ever in fact actualizes the potentials inherent in its nature?  That, as Aquinas’s First Way shows, is possible in principle only if there is an Unmoved Mover (or, to be more precise, an Unactualized Actualizer) which at every moment actualizes the potentials of things without itself having to be actualized in any way.  How is it that the ends things have by nature can be efficacious?  That, as Aquinas’s Fifth Way shows, is possible in principle only if there is a Supreme Intelligence which at every moment directs things toward their ends.  How is it that things can even exist at any moment, with the natures they have, in the first place?  That, as Aquinas’s Second Way (as I interpret it) shows, is possible in principle only if there is an Uncaused Cause of existence which at every moment sustains things in being without itself having to have existence imparted to it, precisely because it is not a being among others but Subsistent Being Itself.  (In this particular argument some distinctively Thomistic metaphysical ideas enter the picture.)  

(And so forth.  I will not pursue this topic here since I have defended the Five Ways at length elsewhere -- most fully in Aquinas and in my American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” with three of Aquinas’s arguments defended in a little less detail in The Last Superstition.  Some relevant blog posts can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Third, what was said above about the foundations of ethics applies to the content and justification of morality to a large extent, but not entirely.  For one thing, the fact that God exists naturally has moral implications of its own, and since the existence of God can be known through natural reason, there are certain very general religious obligations (such as the obligation to love God) that can be known through reason alone, and thus form part of the natural law.  (Indeed, these are our highest obligations under natural law.)  Then there is the fact that the natures of things, including human nature, derive ultimately from those ideas in the divine intellect which form the archetypes by reference to which God creates.  (In this way morality is neither independent of God nor grounded in arbitrary divine commands, as I explained in a post on the Euthyphro objection.)  

Furthermore, a complete account of moral obligation, specifically, requires reference to God as legislator (even if moral obligation can proximately be explained by reference to the natural end of the will).  Finally, divine revelation is also needed for a complete account of everyday moral life.  For divine revelation discloses certain details about morality that the human intellect is too feeble reliably to discover on its own; and some aspects of the natural law are so demanding that many people are capable realistically of living up to them only given the hope of a reward in the hereafter, of the sort divine revelation promises.  (I won’t pursue these issues further here either.  I discuss them at greater length in Aquinas.  And see chapter 8 of the first volume of Michael Cronin’s The Science of Ethics for a useful treatment of the proximate and ultimate grounds of moral obligation.)

Intrinsic, derived, and as-if teleology

Let’s look more closely at the sort of teleology required for objective morality.  As my longtime readers know, I have discussed the subject of teleology in a great many places, and I’m frankly pretty tired of repeating myself.  Lengthy treatments can be found in Aquinas, The Last Superstition, and my Philosophia Christi article “Teleology: A Shopper’s Guide.”  I have also said a lot about the subject here on the blog, especially in the many posts I’ve devoted to the dispute between Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) philosophy and “Intelligent Design” theory.  Here I’ll just summarize the points most relevant to the issue at hand.

Start with the distinction between natural substances, artifacts, and accidental arrangements drawn by Aristotle in the Physics, and which I discussed at length in a couple of earlier posts (here and here).  To borrow some examples from those earlier posts, a liana vine is a natural substance insofar as it has an inherent or immanent tendency toward certain ends -- exhibiting certain growth patterns, taking in water and nutrients, and so forth.  A hammock that Tarzan might make from living liana vines is an artifact rather than a natural substance insofar as, while the hammock has the end or function of serving as something suitable for sleeping in, the parts of the hammock have no inherent tendency toward this end.  That end is, instead, extrinsic to the parts, imposed from outside by Tarzan rather than flowing naturally from the parts themselves (as can be seen from the fact that left to themselves the vines will tend to grow the way they otherwise would have had Tarzan not interfered with them, including in ways that will impede their performance as a hammock).  A set of liana vines that have by chance grown into a pattern that looks vaguely like a cross is an accidental arrangement rather than either a natural substance or artifact.  For there is no natural or inherent tendency of such vines to grow into such a pattern, and neither did any artificer interfere with them so as to make them grow that way for the sake of achieving some externally imposed end, such as serving as a religious symbol.  

We might usefully think of these three kinds of object in terms of a distinction drawn by John Searle in a different context.  In his book The Rediscovery of the Mind, Searle differentiates between intrinsic, derived, and as-if intentionality.  Intrinsic intentionality is the sort thoughts have.  When you have the thought that the cat is on the mat, that particular content is intrinsic to or constitutive of the thought.  By contrast, the English sentence “The cat is on the mat,” while it has the same content, does not have it intrinsically but only in a derived way.  There is nothing in the shapes, ink marks, pixels, sounds or any other physical symbols and properties in which that sentence might be embodied that gives it its intentional content or meaning.  The meaning is rather imposed from outside by language users following certain conventions.  Finally, an arrangement of stones looking very vaguely like the word “on,” which has been made by chance as the stones tumbled to the bottom of a hill during an earthquake, do not possess any intentionality at all, though look as if they did.  That is to say, they look as if someone had arranged them for the purpose of expressing the meaning of the English word “on,” though in fact they were not and the appearance is entirely accidental.

Similarly, we might say that the teleology that the liana vines manifest qua liana vines is intrinsic, that the teleology they exhibit insofar as they have been arranged by Tarzan for the purpose of functioning as a hammock is derived, and that the entirely chance arrangement of liana vines into a form looking vaguely like a cross is a case of as-if teleology insofar as the vines were not really arranged for the purpose of representing a cross but merely appear as if they were.  (To forestall an irrelevant objection, yes, God could of course cause the vines to grow in such a way that they look vaguely like a cross, just as He could cause a tortilla to exhibit a burn pattern that looks vaguely like the Virgin Mary.  But whether He does this sort of thing or not -- and the usual examples are the stuff of the Weekly World News rather than having a serious claim to miraculous status -- the point is that such patterns could arise through chance rather than being the outcome either of a natural object’s typical activity or of artifice.)

Now, the traditional Aristotelian distinction between “nature” and “art” is essentially a distinction between, on the one hand, those phenomena exhibiting intrinsic teleology, and on the other, those having only derived or as-if teleology.  Another way to put the same point is that it is essentially a distinction between, on the one hand, those objects that have substantial forms and those having only accidental forms.  It is important to emphasize this because the language of “nature versus art” sometimes leads to misunderstanding.  In particular, it is sometimes mistakenly supposed that the Aristotelian is claiming that all man-made objects are in the relevant sense “artificial” and that everything that occurs without human interference is in the relevant sense “natural.”  But that is not the case.  Water synthesized in a lab is in an obvious sense “man-made,” but it is still as “natural” in the relevant sense as the water that exists in lakes and rivers, because its tendencies are intrinsic to it, the manifestation of a substantial form.   A pile of rocks that gradually forms at the bottom of a hill is not man-made, but it is also not “natural” in the relevant sense, because the arrangement constitutes only an accidental form and the rocks have no intrinsic tendency to form a pile.  It is because the paradigmatic examples (though not all examples) of phenomena exhibiting intrinsic intentionality involve no human interference, and because the paradigmatic examples (though not all examples) of phenomena resulting from human interference involve only derived rather than intrinsic teleology, that the traditional Aristotelian distinction is made in terms of “nature versus art.”  But this is a somewhat loose way of putting it.  Again, a more precise way of speaking would be to distinguish between substantial forms and accidental forms, or between intrinsic teleology on the one hand and derived and as-if teleology on the other.  

Now, it is only intrinsic teleology or substantial form that can ground goodness as an objective feature of things.  Taking in water and nutrients is good for liana vines -- it allows them to flourish in the sense of realizing their ends -- precisely because a tendency toward those ends is intrinsic to them.  That is why we say that liana vines that do so are good specimens of liana vines, while vines that fail to do so (because of disease, damage, or what have you) are bad specimens.  This standard of goodness or badness is entirely objective because it follows from the nature of the vines themselves rather than from our subjective attitudes about them or the purposes to which we might put them.  Of course, in the case of liana vines this standard of goodness or badness is not a moral standard.  But for the Aristotelian, moral goodness is just a special case of this more general sort of goodness.  Moral goodness is the kind that exists in rational animals (namely us) because, unlike liana vines and other non-rational substances, we can intellectually grasp the ends toward which our nature directs us and freely choose whether or not to pursue them.  (For more on this subject, see the writings of mine on natural law theory cited above.)

By contrast, there is no objective feature of a hammock that makes some things good for it and other things bad.  To be sure, we would say of a hammock which is fraying and ready to fall apart that it is a bad specimen of a hammock, and of a hammock that is more tightly constructed that it is a good hammock.  But that is to speak loosely.  For what makes a hammock good or bad has nothing to do with anything intrinsic to the liana vines (or whatever) out of which it is made, but concerns instead our purposes or ends in making it.  It is an entirely mind-dependent or conventional standard of goodness rather than one that is there in the nature of things themselves.  

It should be even more obvious that as-if teleology can provide no objective standard of goodness.  If we say of the liana vines that have by chance grown into something vaguely resembling a cross that they look like a “good cross” or a “bad cross,” we are again only speaking loosely.  Since they have no inherent tendency to grow into a cross in the first place -- that they have grown this way in this one case is the result of a chance convergence of other factors such as how they happened to have fallen, how they happened to have been rooted, how much water and nutrients they happened to have taken in, etc. -- there is no objective sense to be made of their being a “good cross” or “bad cross.”  If an artist had tried to make them grow this way, we could have said it is a “good cross” or “bad cross” in the sense that the artist’s craftsmanship was good or bad, or that his materials were more or less suitable for his ends.  But by hypothesis that is not at issue here either.  The most we could say is that it is as if the liana vines that have grown this way were a “good cross” or “bad cross.”  But this “as-if” goodness or badness is no more objective (or even in any way real) goodness or badness than as-if teleology is objective teleology, or as-if intentionality is real intentionality.

Naturalism and as-if teleology

Now, scientism and naturalism as they are typically understood can give you at most only as-if teleology and as-if objective goodness, but not the real thing.  The reason why will be obvious to readers of The Last Superstition and of the many other things I’ve written on the subject of the transition from Aristotelian-Scholastic to early modern philosophy.  Here too I am getting tired of having to repeat myself, so I will once again focus on just the points most directly relevant to the issue at hand.  (I also hasten to emphasize that the sketch of the history of this transition that I am about to give is by no means a purely partisan one.  Those familiar with the work of historians of early modern philosophy like Margaret Osler, Kenneth Clatterbaugh, Dennis Des Chene, and Walter Ott, and philosophers of science like Brian Ellis and Nancy Cartwright, will recognize the general themes.)

The transition in question involved a number of factors, but the central component was a rejection of the Aristotelian-Scholastic doctrine of formal and final causes in favor of a broadly “mechanistic” conception of nature.  There are features of the early mechanistic theories that did not survive -- for example, early proponents of the “mechanical philosophy” sought to reduce all causation to the push-pull variety, but that didn’t last long -- but the core idea was that the explanation of natural phenomena should make reference neither to substantial forms or immanent natures nor to intrinsic or “built in” teleology or final causes.  As Ellis has put it, the early moderns replaced the Aristotelian notion of active powers with an essentially “passivist” conception of nature.  For the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, by virtue of their substantial forms natural substances exhibit a directedness toward the generation of certain outcomes as toward a final cause.  Efficient cause thus presupposes final cause or teleology, which in turn presupposes substantial form.  Get rid of substantial form and final causality, and efficient causality in any robust sense -- any sense that entails an active tendency toward the generation of certain effects -- goes out the window with it.  That is precisely why Hume’s puzzles about causation and induction followed upon the early moderns’ anti-Aristotelian revolution.  What replaced active powers was the idea of natural phenomena as essentially passive -- as inherently directed toward no particular outcome at all -- on which certain “laws” have been imposed from outside.  If A tends regularly to generate B, that is, on this new view, not because of anything intrinsic to A itself, but rather because it is simply a “law of nature” that A will be followed by B.

But why does such a “law” hold?  The early moderns had a principled answer to this question.   They were theists, and took it that God had simply imposed on inherently passive matter certain patterns of activity.  Hence for Descartes, Newton, and Boyle it is not that no teleology or final causes exist at all.  Rather, natural teleology was reinterpreted as entirely derived rather than intrinsic.  Paley’s conception of the world as a kind of machine made by a divine artificer was the logical outcome of this way of thinking.  Like watches, hammocks, and other everyday artifacts, natural objects came to be seen as having essentially accidental rather than substantial forms.  The Aristotelian distinction between “nature” and “art” was dissolved, and the natural world was reinterpreted as a kind of divine artifact.

One implication of this is that goodness is no longer an inherent feature of natural phenomena, any more than it is an inherent feature of hammocks, watches, and the like.  Just as the goodness or badness of a hammock or watch is relative to the purposes of the makers and users of such artifacts, and has nothing to do with anything inherent to the parts of these objects themselves, so too on the view of nature associated with Descartes, Newton, Boyle and Paley, the goodness or badness of various human actions cannot intelligibly be seen to follow from anything inherent to human nature itself, but rests entirely on the purposes of the divine artificer.  Morality comes to seem no longer a matter of natural law but rather of sheer divine command.  That is not to say that the thinkers named were all actually committed to this sort of view about morality.  I’m talking about what the view of nature they championed tends to lead to, whether or not they realized it.

(And as I have repeatedly pointed out -- though people fanatically obsessed with “defeating Darwinism” seem never to want to get the point -- the deeply anti-Aristotelian character of the conception of the world as a kind of “machine,” and the many unhappy philosophical and theological consequences of this conception, are the reasons Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers are often so critical of “Intelligent Design” theory.)  

Now, what happens when you keep the anti-Aristotelian component of this position but throw out the theological component is that you get a conception of nature on which both intrinsic and derived teleology disappear, leaving only as-if teleology, which is no teleology at all.  And by the same token, both intrinsic and derived goodness disappear as well, leaving only as-if goodness, which is not really goodness at all.  On this conception, since the Aristotelian-Scholastic conception of nature is seen as a medieval relic, there is no intrinsic teleology to a liana vine, and thus no objective reason to call this growth pattern good and that one bad.  But neither is there any derived teleology or goodness, since there is (on this view) no divine artificer of the Newtonian or Paleyan sort either, whose purposes might give content to teleological and evaluative descriptions of natural phenomena in the absence of inherent Aristotelian forms and final causes.  The most we can say is that the liana vine behaves as if it had teleology and as if this growth pattern were good and that one bad.  For on the view of nature in question, the material world ultimately has only the mathematically describable (and essentially non-teleological) properties described by physics.

This is why John Searle is right to say (as he does in the book cited above) that naturalists are deluding themselves if they think that Darwinism gives them a way to “naturalize” teleology.  As Searle argues, the point of explanations in terms of natural selection is precisely to eliminate teleology, to show that such-and-such biological phenomena do not really have functions but only seem to (which is exactly what such explanations do show if interpreted within the larger context of a naturalistic metaphysical framework).  It is also why Alex Rosenberg is right to say that if we accept scientism, then to be consistent we have to deny the existence of any teleology and value whatsoever.   That is not to say that this conception of nature is coherent; on the contrary, I think it is completely incoherent, as I have argued in The Last Superstition, in the posts on Alex Rosenberg just linked to, and in other places.  But it is the conception of nature to which many naturalists are either explicitly or implicitly committed.

This brings us back at last to Fincke.  Both in the post linked to above and in an earlier post, Fincke makes use of expressions like “teleology,” “form,” “function,” “flourishing,” and “intrinsic goodness,” and refers positively to Aristotle.  That makes him sound like an old fashioned Scholastic like me, or at least like a neo-Aristotelian of the Ellis or Cartwright sort.  Yet he also uses “function” in a way that seems to imply that complex natural objects are simply arrangements of smaller components which interact in a law-like way.  This indicates a kind of reductionism that no Aristotelian can accept.  From an Aristotelian point of view, neither complex natural phenomena like organisms nor even relatively simpler natural substances like water are in any way less real than or reducible to their parts.  On the contrary, the parts of an organism are intelligible only by reference to the whole of which they are a part. And even the oxygen and hydrogen in a certain volume of water are less real than the water itself in the sense that while the prime matter underlying that volume has the substantial form of water, the hydrogen and oxygen in it exist only “virtually” rather than “actually.”

There is nothing in any of this, rightly understood, that is in any way contrary to what we know from modern physics, chemistry, and biology, but it does require a very radical rethinking of the metaphysical assumptions most philosophers (and scientists too, in their philosophical moments) bring to bear, almost always uncritically, on their interpretation of science.  (David Oderberg’s Real Essentialism is the most thorough recent treatment of the relationship between Aristotelian metaphysics and modern science.)

My guess would be that Fincke has simply not thought through the details of Aristotelian metaphysics thoroughly enough to see how radically at odds it is with the metaphysical assumptions typically made by contemporary academic philosophers, and naturalists in particular.  But I have not read a lot of his writing, so it is possible that he knows exactly what he is doing and that his comments about Libresco reflect a much larger, and quite radical, rethinking of naturalism itself.  (I highly doubt it, but who knows.)

If the latter is the case, then the rethink has to be very radical indeed, and it would be quite silly in that event for Fincke glibly to pretend that his fellow atheists should have no qualms about hopping on board.  For not only must a consistent Aristotelian essentially chuck out most of what has passed for the general metaphysical conventional wisdom in mainstream philosophy during the last few centuries, but he must also take very seriously the natural theology that has traditionally been associated with Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of nature.  That is not dogmatically to insist that there can be no way to extricate the metaphysics and philosophy of nature from the natural theology (though I don’t for a moment think this can be done).  Perhaps Fincke could make a go of it.  The point is rather that (as I show in many places, like Aquinas) the general metaphysics and philosophy of nature on the one hand and the natural theology on the other are very deeply interrelated.   To develop a consistently Aristotelian conception of nature without committing oneself to an Aristotelian natural theology is a major project, not the work of a few blog posts.  

More likely, Fincke is essentially committed to the same naturalistic assumptions his fellow atheists are, and does not realize that the Aristotelian categories he likes cannot be so easily harmonized with those assumptions.  And if that is the case, he will certainly have failed to give either teleology or morality an objective foundation, for he will have established at most only as-if teleology and goodness rather than either intrinsic or derived teleology and goodness.  But as things stand his arguments seem too ambiguous between a traditional Aristotelian reading on the one hand, and a naturalistic reading on the other, to know for sure what the content of his position really is.

472 comments:

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rank sophist said...

I'd be very interested to see a robust atheistic version of Aristotle's philosophy of nature. I personally think it could be done, at least by a brilliant thinker. If nothing else, it would send the theist-atheist discourse back to a more rational time, when the absurdity of naturalism was not the order of the day. It gets tiring trying to explain the meanings of "teleology", "directedness", "essence" and so forth to naturalists who have no idea that alternative ways of thinking exist.

Jayman said...

rank sophist, in the comments on Fincke's post I tried to nudge him into explaining where he thought this teleology came from and alluded to Aquinas' Fifth Way. Unfortunately, he thought natural selection disproved the Fifth Way. This suggests he does not grasps Aquinas' views on teleology. But it is possible he deals with the origin of teleology somewhere on his blog. It might be worth sifting through. I'd be interested to know if you find anything intriguing.

Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately, he thought natural selection disproved the Fifth Way. "

This sort of comment is tiresome and unending. Our naturalist friends peddle this message incessantly.

Has Dr. Feser addressed this in a blog post? I know he does in his books, but it would be nice to be able to copy and paste a link.

Justin said...

I'm new to A-T philosophy (I have G. Rodriques to thank for this). I'm making my way through Aquinas now, and TLS is due for delivery Friday (perhaps getting the reading order backwards here). Anyway, every so often my rusty mind slips a gear and clicks into a better place, and the relationship between the "laws of physics" and matter just clicked for me. Anyways, with one child, it's difficult to get in as much reading time as I'd like, so I'm really appreciative of the blog, Dr. Feser, considering you have five children!

Thanks, and I'm enjoying Aquinas and looking forward to TLS.

Edward Feser said...

Well, as you know, natural selection cures wooden legs (as David Stove might say). It is a universal tonic ready for deployment against all enemies of naturalism foreign and domestic, sure to defuse absolutely every argument, including arguments that are perfectly consistent with it. No serious naturalist should walk a block without it. Order today!

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anonymous,

I've addressed this in lots of place online at least to some extent -- check through the A-T versus ID posts, the "Teleology: A Shopper's Guide" article, etc., and you may find something useful.

Hello Justin,

Thanks for the kind words, and I hope you enjoy the books. And it's six kids, actually -- got to go get them ready for bed just now!

Edward Feser said...

Oh, and if you order now we'll throw in that other universal tonic, Quantum Mechanics (TM). Gets rid of causality, substance, and other pests. $4.95 for shipping.

Anonymous said...

"And even the oxygen and hydrogen in a certain volume of water are less real than the water itself in the sense that while the prime matter underlying that volume has the substantial form of water, the hydrogen and oxygen in it exist only “virtually” rather than “actually.”"

Could someone explain exactly what this means?

PhysicistDave said...

Ed,

I'm a physicist (Ph.D. from Stanford, 1983) and one of those mechanistic naturalists you love to rail against.

Despite that, I'd like to thank you for this clear exposition of the basic points on which your and my side differ.

I've been debating these points with Dan Fincke on his blog, but have been unable to get him to see how sharp the distinction is between these two perspectives. Part of the problem, as Dan volunteered, is that he never took calculus: You just cannot grasp what modern natural scientists are doing and how they view what they are doing unless you grasp calculus.

Anyway, while I oppose your views, I think you for clearly delineating the lines of division.

Dave Miller in Sacramento

Anonymous said...

Strange...most of the biologists I know are terrible at math. Do, say, evolutionary biologists strike you as the kind of people who would be proficient in calculus? What exactly do you mean by "natural science"?

grodrigues said...

@PhysicistDave:

"Part of the problem, as Dan volunteered, is that he never took calculus: You just cannot grasp what modern natural scientists are doing and how they view what they are doing unless you grasp calculus."

First, you do not need to invoke modern physics, as already Newtonian mechanics (and thus basically all of physics) needs calculus for a correct understanding.

Second, what do you mean by "grasping"? If by it you mean understanding physics as physicists do then you are correct. But one does not need to know calculus to understand the *philosophical* issues involved (although it can help).

In the interests of disclosure, two notes:

1. I do know calculus, so I may be simply blind to what you are trying to say.

2. Do physicists understand calculus? Many of them can surely use it, as one can use a car without understanding its inner workings, but do they *understand* it? For some (many?) the answer is a resounding no.

BenYachov said...

PhysicistDave,

I've told you a numerous times over at dangerous minds not to confuse physics with metaphysics. Why do you insist on pretending they are the same thing?

For example pretending Feser was making scientific arguments in TLS.

Just because you designed hard-drives for satellites(my father used to do the same thing) doesn't make you qualified in anyway to pronounce authoritatively on philosophy.

You scientific knowledge doesn't mean much here. Go philosophical or go home.

goddinpotty said...

Shorter @BenYachov - how dare you pollute this discussion with actual knowledge?

Or in other words -- you can tell the difference between a cult and an actual branch of scholarship by how necessary it is to erect walls around it. Real philosophy embraces and interacts with science; religion masquerading as philosophy has to insulate itself.

It is mildly amusing to see that you guys have quite a bit in common with the segments of the academic left (pomos, cultural studies etc) who also stoutly defend their intellectual walls against science.

BenYachov said...

>Shorter @BenYachov - how dare you pollute this discussion with actual knowledge?

So what your saying is science alone sans philosophy is "actual knowledge"?

goddinpotty this Positivism nonsense is false by it's own standards as you have been shown time and again. It's irrational and nothing more than Young Earth Creationism for Gnu'Atheist.

>Or in other words -- you can tell the difference between a cult and an actual branch of scholarship by how necessary it is to erect walls around it. Real philosophy embraces and interacts with science; religion masquerading as philosophy has to insulate itself.

I thought science alone was "actual knowledge"? So that is not true anymore? Do try to be consistant. I have always embraced science and philosophy as the means to natural knowledge. You OTOH reject philosophy and can't make a philosophical case for your Atheism. I doubt you even know where to start.


>It is mildly amusing to see that you guys have quite a bit in common with the segments of the academic left (pomos, cultural studies etc) who also stoutly defend their intellectual walls against science.

Nobody here is anti-science and quite a few posters here have an actual scientific backround and knowledge. Some of us know some philosophy. To date you have show us you are in neither catagory.

Now I renew my challenge. Go philosophical or go home.

BenYachov said...

Positivism/Scientism is the Sola Scriptura of New Atheism. I find it an interesting coincidence. If you attack Sola Scriptura Fundamentalists accuse you of rejecting the Bible and or attacking it.

If you attack Positivism/scientism Gnu'Atheist fundamentalists accuse you of rejecting or attacking science.

Hysterical! Anyway Fincke being an Atheist Philosopher is an order of magnitude above any anti-philosophy Gnu any day of the week.

Just as a JP Morrison is an order of magnitude above a Ray Comfort.

It would be interesting to see if Fincke can divorce classical natural Theology from natural philosophy.

I have my doubts. But no anti-philosophy Gnu is qualified.

The Deuce said...

Ed:

That is not to say that this conception of nature is coherent; on the contrary, I think it is completely incoherent, as I have argued in The Last Superstition, in the posts on Alex Rosenberg just linked to, and in other places.

I think this is precisely why guys like Fincke end up invoking teleological concepts despite their supposed naturalism. Because naturalism is incoherent, naturalists are unable to consistently argue or reason from it, and so *have* to make implicit or explicit use of the concept of irreducible teleology in order to be able to say anything coherent and intelligible, or even seemingly coherent and intelligible, at all. Even eliminativists like Rosenburg can't help but slip up with regularity.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

Two questions:

1) Do all substantial forms have "intrinsic intentionality?"

2) Do substantial forms ever evolve (i.e. change forms)?

Mark Szlazak said...

Here is a seemingly atheist functionalist reply but to another philosophy that branched off from Aristotelian thinking which isn't scientism nor materialism.

'A functionalist reinterpretation of Whitehead's metaphysics' by George Allan

Continous procecess don't require an actualizer because they self-actualize. Isn't this correct?

Anonymous said...

2. Do physicists understand calculus? Many of them can surely use it, as one can use a car without understanding its inner workings, but do they *understand* it? For some (many?) the answer is a resounding no.

--

I can't say about physicists, but I've met plenty of engineers and for them calculus is just another tool. I don't think many of them know of (or even care about) the foundational stuff that calculus depends on, e.g. real analysis.

I remember talking to two physicists (one of them an Ivy League Ph.D., the other a graduate student at a top school) and their grasp of probability theory and statistics was disappointingly weak. Obviously, I can't conclude anything about physicists from such a small sample.

George R. said...

Ed writes:
Efficient cause thus presupposes final cause or teleology, which in turn presupposes substantial form.

This is clearly erroneous.

While it’s true that the efficient cause presupposes the final cause, the latter definitely does not presuppose the substantial form, but rather it‘s the other way around. For the final cause is “the cause of causes,” as Thomas says. It is the cause of all the other causes, including the formal cause, which the substantial cause is. To say that the formal cause is prior to the final cause is to suggest the something can be directed toward an end before there’s even an end toward which something may be directed, which is absurd.

I think it would help clarify things if everyone would start to consider final causes in nature as existing prior to all natural substances.

rank sophist said...

George,

The primacy of the final cause over the formal cause, in this case, would be the belief that a form is completely indescribable without reference to a purpose. Consider, for example, a heart. Is it possible to explain the form of a heart without reference to its telos? No.

I'm not sure I'm entirely in agreement with Aquinas on this one, but the case can be made.

Mr. Green said...

The Profeser: if you order now we'll throw in that other universal tonic, Quantum Mechanics (TM). Gets rid of causality, substance, and other pests. $4.95 for shipping.

[*Offer not available to anyone who takes the situation with Gravity.]

TheOFloinn said...

he thought natural selection disproved the Fifth Way.

And yet natural selection is said to move evolution toward greater fitness in a niche and (on the grand scale) to have as its end the origin of species.

I suspect that since Thomas noted in passing that if new species ever did arise, they would do so through the powers inherent in nature from the beginning, that he would have regarded natural selection, to the extent that it is a natural law at all, would be one more illustrative example for the Fifth Way, a mild confirmation of it.

Edward Feser said...

George,

Your ability to give an uncharitable reading to whatever I write never ceases to amaze and appall me. At least you're not accusing me of selling out to my "Darwinist buddies" this time. No doubt that was an oversight.

Yes, the final cause is the cause of causes. I've said so myself about, oh I don't know, a thousand times. As you surely know. So, quite obviously what I meant was something consistent with that.

When we talk about final causes, we need to distinguish the end toward which a thing is directed from the tendency toward that end. So, for example, if you are hungry you are in a state that is directed toward the getting of food. Now the food itself is something entirely distinct from you. But the appetite is not.

Now, you have such appetites because you have the substantial form of a kind of animal, viz. a rational animal. So in that sense your tending toward food presupposes having a certain sort of formal cause. On the other hand, the appetite itself exists only for the sake of the food, and in that sense the food itself (a certain end) is prior to both the appetite and the substantial form that grounds the having of such appetites. That end is the (final) cause of your having a certain (formal) cause.

As is well known to anyone familiar with Scholastic thought, there are different senses in which something might be "prior" or "posterior." E.g. the acorn is prior to the oak in the temporal sense that it exists before the oak does; but the acorn is posterior to the oak in the different, non-temporal sense of existing only for the sake of the oak.

In general, you would be well advised to think through distinctions like this before accusing others of making obvious errors, selling out, etc.

Edward Feser said...

Hello PhysicistDave,

I recognize the moniker. Aren't you the dude who went off on a rant over at Reppert's blog some time back about how I was a liar, crazy, should go to Hell, etc.?

Oh well, water under the bridge, I guess. Glad you found some value in my post.

Re: calculus and physics, I don't necessarily disagree with you about that. But that physics tells us the truth about the material world doesn't entail that it tells us the whole truth about it. It only captures those aspects capable of mathematical description. See e.g. my recent series of posts written in reply to Robert Oerter.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

Evolution theory (random variation and natural selection) furnishes us with a plausible explanation for how an agent could have chosen otherwise given the same situation and circumstances. It's called the "two-stage model of free will."

Anonymous said...

"Strange...most of the biologists I know are terrible at math. Do, say, evolutionary biologists strike you as the kind of people who would be proficient in calculus?"

I don't know about most biologists, but population geneticists are at least as good at math as the average physicist. (It is true that many physicists, including me, only use math as a tool and don't necessarily know the foundations that well. Though some do. The same is probably true of population geneticists.) You've apparently never heard of Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright, JBS Haldane, Kimura (forgot his first name), James Crow, etc...

Not that this is relevant to the post. But I'm way too out of my depth to contribute to any serious discussion on metaphysics.

Donald

goddinpotty said...

@BenYachov:
So what your saying is science alone sans philosophy is "actual knowledge"?

Not exactly. I'm saying that are two different ways to do philosophy: you can either embrace the content of science -- which like it or not serves as something of a gold standard for knowledge, even if cannot include all of knowlege -- or you can fight against it. Well, OK, there is a third way, which is to pretend to ignore it, to act like your little corner of the intellectual woods is not either already swallowed up by the imperium of science or likely to be enfolded in the future.

To date you have show us you are in neither catagory (scientifically or philosophically knowledgeable).

Not sure why you would say that since I've given plenty of illustrations from biology and computer science here. As for philosophy, I won't claim any expertise but I certainly can pick my way around a philosophical argument. Mostly though I don't see what I consider arguments here, I just see a kind of foot-stamping if I don't adopt wholesale your terminologies and ontologies.


Yes, pretty much the whole project seems to try to control definitions in order to manipulate the argument in your favor. For instance, there are a lot of shades to "telology", some of which Feser explores in the post. But notice how he conveniently reserves the "real" teleology for the supernatural, thus winning his argument defnitionally and trivially. This seems like a fancy form of question-begging to me.

rank sophist said...

For instance, there are a lot of shades to "telology", some of which Feser explores in the post. But notice how he conveniently reserves the "real" teleology for the supernatural, thus winning his argument defnitionally and trivially. This seems like a fancy form of question-begging to me.

GIP, your learned ignorance never ceases to amaze. How, pray tell, does he beg the question? He shows quite clearly that meaningful teleology is impossible without Aristotle's philosophy of nature, which comes part-and-parcel with the strongest arguments for God. He doesn't even say that it's impossible to extricate the two--he personally believes that it is, but he doesn't totally rule out the possibility. Feel free to explain to us where he goes wrong in his argument. (This should be good.)

21st Century Scholastic said...

@PhysicistDave,

well, of course now we want to know why you think that "knowing calculus" disproves a teleological view of nature and how it does it, exactly. Do you have a post about it, or something like that?

Also, people like Mark Burgin seem to be pretty skilled at math and calculus, and yet it looks like he's an hylemorphist. What's gone wrong with him?

@Alastair Paisley,

>>>1) Do all substantial forms have "intrinsic intentionality?"

I would tend to say "yes". Why do you ask?

>>>2) Do substantial forms ever evolve (i.e. change forms)?

How could a form change its form? Maybe you're asking whether substances ever change their forms. In this case, this answer would be another "yes": for example, chopping down a tree and reducing it to timbers equals to changing its form. It's not the same substance (thing) as before.

Same story if you burn the resulting wood to ashes. "Evolution" is just one of the manifestations of substantial change in the biological realm.

d said...

since we're on the topic, i thought i'd share an interesting, and in many ways modern, objection to the principle of finality in nature from a 12th century Muslim theologian, named Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d.1209). he is objecting specifically to Avicenna's contention that 'the final cause, through its quiddity, is the cause of the causality of the efficient cause', even in non-voluntary agents.

his argument goes something like this:

For the final cause to be a cause, it must either exist in the soul (mentally) or outside the soul (extra-mentally). But in things with no intention or consciousness it exists in neither way. Therefore, in such things it has no existence at all and so will not be a cause.

proof of the major: for any given thing to have causal efficacy, it must exist. and a thing can only exist either one of two ways i.e., mentally or extra-mentally.
proof of the minor: in non-voluntary agents, the final cause cannot be said to exist mentally, for such things have no mind. and it also cannot be said to exist extra-mentally, for on the present assumption its existence is supposed to be the effect of the action of the efficient cause - which has not acted yet. accordingly, the final cause will have no existence simpliciter; and what is nonexistent cannot cause anything. therefore, natural i.e., non-voluntary, acts have no end.

the above i think is the main thrust of Razi's argument. i'm very interesting to see how Thomists would respond to it. many thanks in advance.

Arthur said...

"...you can either embrace the content of science -- which like it or not serves as something of a gold standard for knowledge..."

What do you mean by a "gold standard for knowledge"? If you mean that science is the most realiable knowledge we have, that isn't true. Science is based on philosophical premises, and no conclusion can be more certain than its own premises. If you mean something else, then what?

As for philosophy, I won't claim any expertise...

I love this. GIP freely admits to not knowing much about philosophy, yet he obviously thinks that all the Thomists here are wrong. It's rather like listening to a creationist who admits that they don't know much about biology. It's nice of you to admit your ignorance at least, GIP, but why not do something about it?

Christian said...

Hey Dr. Feser I have a philosophical question and I figured the best place to put it so you would see it would be on this post. It doesn't have to do with the topic of this post, though you did answer some questions I had about teleology with this post. My question is, since matter is the property of individualization in composites of matter and form, wouldn't that suggest that all human beings have the same soul sine the soul is the form of the body? But if the soul is also unique, then how can the matter count as a true property of individualization? I've been trying to figure this out but I'm probably looking at it wrong so I was wondering if you could help me out. Thanks! Great blog by the way.

goddinpotty said...

@rank
Feser (using Searle's terminology) dismisses the actual kind of telelogy found in the universe as mere "as-if". According to him, the only worthwhile kind of intentionality is "intrinsic" and that is only found in natural objects that have something over and above their physical nature -- substantial forms. That seems to me to be mere question-begging, or close to it -- an attempt to win the argument by definition.

Let's imagine we have created an intelligent robot -- or take an existing not-very-intelligent but purposive one like a Roomba. Does it have telology, whether the good kind (intrinisic) or otherwise? It's possibly an interesting question, but not if you define teleology so as to win the argument before it begins.

The actual teleology found in nature is just as mechanical as that of a Roomba -- whether it is really purposive or not, it is definitely implemented by biological machinery obeying physical laws and mechanical causation. There is no magic teleojuice. The difference is that with a Roomba we have a complete causal story to tell about it, because it was engineered. Life is not engineered so is much harder to tell the causal story, but that doesn't mean it isn't there in principle.

rank sophist said...

Feser (using Searle's terminology) dismisses the actual kind of telelogy found in the universe as mere "as-if". According to him, the only worthwhile kind of intentionality is "intrinsic" and that is only found in natural objects that have something over and above their physical nature -- substantial forms. That seems to me to be mere question-begging, or close to it -- an attempt to win the argument by definition.

So you think that imagined teleology (which is what as-if teleology happens to be) is no different than ontologically real teleology? What?

The actual teleology found in nature is just as mechanical as that of a Roomba

And you accused Feser of begging the question. Defend this claim, please.

PhysicistDave said...

Ed wrote:
> I recognize the moniker. Aren't you the dude who went off on a rant over at Reppert's blog some time back about how I was a liar, crazy, should go to Hell, etc.?

Oh, probably, though I do not remember the details.

I can think someone is as crazy as a bat in one respect and on one occasion and still acknowledge that something they have done on another occasion is worthy of respect.

Y’know, I have lots of evangelical friends and relatives who think I deserve to go to Hell but that I am nonetheless a pretty good fellow.

In general, I think your philosophical conclusions are way of-base, but I do think you do a real service in pointing out the distinction between the mechanistic mode of thinking prevalent among scientists (and, in my judgment, largely correct in scientific applications) and other contrasting views of reality. I actually think that kids would learn even high-school physics better if the instructor would start out explaining that the text they are going to study is going to try to train them in a way of thinking that is rather alien to the way they and most human beings naturally think -- i.e., mechanism.

You also wrote:
> Re: calculus and physics, I don't necessarily disagree with you about that. But that physics tells us the truth about the material world doesn't entail that it tells us the whole truth about it. It only captures those aspects capable of mathematical description.

Yeah, one of the questions that it is difficult to ask without making the distinction between mechanistic vs. other world-views is: how far can the mechanistic world-view be successfully pushed? The main point where I differ from you is that I think you neo-Thomists are flat-out, obviously wrong when you suggest that we physicists are making a mistake in using a mechanistic approach to physical phenomena.

Can a mechanistic approach fully explain mental phenomena? Well, more progress has been made in that direction than I might have thought, but I still do not really see how the sort of issues that go under the rubric of “intentionality” (e.g., consider Searle’s “Chinese-room” paradox) can be handled mechanistically. And I assume you have read McGinn’s The Mysterious Flame? I had reached similar conclusion back in the late ‘60s when I started learning physics: I very much doubt that physics as we now know it can explain consciousness.

So, might the mechanistic world-view reach its limits? Who knows? But that does not mean that the neo-Thomist attacks on mechanism as it is now used in natural science are on-target.

By the way, the real dogmatists on mechanism tend not to be us physicists but people in the “soft” sciences and humanities.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

grodrigues wrote to me:
>Do physicists understand calculus? Many of them can surely use it, as one can use a car without understanding its inner workings, but do they *understand* it? For some (many?) the answer is a resounding no.

Well… I explicitly referred to the understanding of calculus needed to “grasp what modern natural scientists are doing and how they view what they are doing.” Yes, in that sense, most of physicists I have known do indeed grasp calculus. Now, if you mean fully grasping all the contents of an advanced course on real analysis (uniform convergence, the Lebesgue integral, etc.), then, no, most physicists do not fully grasp that (though perhaps more do than you might think), but, of course, neither did Newton, Cauchy, Gauss, etc.

And, yes, I do not think you can grasp the philosophical issues involved unless you know a fair amount about physics.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Ben Yachov wrote to me:
> Just because you designed hard-drives for satellites

No, BY, I never designed, or said I designed, hard drives for satellites!

As always, you are batting “0” when it comes to facts!

Ah, well, pesky things, those facts.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Dave,

Thomists don't object to the mechanistic method per se, just to its elevation into a complete metaphysics. Certainly that's all I mean when I use the term "mechanism" pejoratively.

I suspect, given what else you say, that the dispute between us may be at least in part a matter of terminology. It's interesting what you say about Searle and McGinn. I was going to ask you what you thought of Alex Rosenberg's position (about which I've blogged a lot recently), but now I suspect that you would reject it as dogmatic.

What you say about the soft sciences and humanities (or some social scientists and humanists, anyway) is probably on target. They've got "physics envy." Not that physics isn't very impressive, because it obviously is. It's just that its successes do not entail that it is the whole story or that its methods are the only legitimate methods. As Aristotelians insist, we've got to tailor our methods to the phenomena rather than insist that the phenomena must fit the methods. But I gather you'd agree with that much.

Edward Feser said...

Oh, and re:

I can think someone is as crazy as a bat in one respect and on one occasion and still acknowledge that something they have done on another occasion is worthy of respect.

Fair enough.

PhysicistDave said...

21st Century Scholastic wrote to me:
> well, of course now we want to know why you think that "knowing calculus" disproves a teleological view of nature and how it does it, exactly. Do you have a post about it, or something like that?

Oh, you misunderstood me: you cannot fully grasp modern natural science unless you grasp calculus. But, simply knowing calculus alone most assuredly will not prove or disprove “a teleological view of nature.”

Calculus is simply a prerequisite for grasping modern science. As I think Ed himself implies in TLS, if you go through a standard natural-science course sequence at a modern university, you will get a strong, intense exposure to the “mechanistic” approach to understanding nature. Now, Ed thinks that is unfortunate, if I understand him correctly; I, on the other hand, think that this mechanistic perspective is indeed correct, at least when dealing with physical phenomena that do not obviously involve consciousness.

But, in any case, if you didn’t do calculus, as Dan volunteered he did not, then you are not going to make it through a standard university-level natural-science course sequence or obtain comparable knowledge elsewhere: you need the calculus. And, without that, you will not get the nice stiff, bracing exposure to mechanism needed to understand how and why most natural scientists are mechanists. Is that clearer?

21CS also wrote:
> Also, people like Mark Burgin seem to be pretty skilled at math and calculus, and yet it looks like he's an hylemorphist. What's gone wrong with him?

Sorry, don’t know the man, so I cannot diagnose him! If he is a mathematician but not a natural scientist, then it is not relevant to my original point.

Anyway, I was not even trying to make a point as to whether or not hylemporphism is true, but merely the point that someone who never took calculus is not in a position to figure out what natural scientists are doing.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

An Anonymous asked me:
>Strange...most of the biologists I know are terrible at math. Do, say, evolutionary biologists strike you as the kind of people who would be proficient in calculus? What exactly do you mean by "natural science"?

Well… truth be told, even most engineers and many physicists rarely use calculus on a day-to-day basis. In fact, in the work I have done in engineering, I do not recall any of my co-workers, myself excepted, using any significant calculus on the job. Much of engineering, in practice, actually uses the fact that many calculus problems can be reduced to algebra problems, and the engineers, on the job, usually just plug into the algebraic formulae.

However, calculus is part of the background knowledge that engineers and physicists are expected to have that helps give them the proper perspective on their work: indeed, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that the engineers take physics and calculus, which is needed for the physics, mainly to imbue them with the proper “mechanistic” perspective.

As to biologists, well, where I went to school as an undergrad (Caltech), the biologists were indeed expected to sweat through pretty rigorous physics (and therefore the calculus prereq), again, largely to give them the proper “mechanistic” perspective. If you want a pleasant introduction to modern biology, which shows how pervasive that mechanistic perspective is in contemporary biology, try watching Steve Nowicki’s lecture series from the Teaching Company, which gives a great overview of modern biology.

Now, of course, you can argue, if you want, that it is a terrible tragedy that most modern biologists are as deeply imbued with a “mechanistic” perspective as we physicists are! But, yes, at least in all the universities I am familiar with, the biology majors are expected to take calculus, so that they can understand physics, so that they will indeed take a “mechanistic” perspective to their own science. And, all of the biologists I have discussed this with feel that this perspective has been enormously productive during the last half century. (I take it that everything I have just said about biology education was much less true before 1950 or so.)

I’m not trying to argue a case here but just trying to report on how science education really does proceed at almost all modern universities I know of.

Oh, and by “natural science,” I mean physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, and various hybrids thereof (e.g., planetary science, meteorology): I think that is the common use of the phrase.

Dave

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@21st Century Scholastic

> I would tend to say "yes". Why do you ask? <

Well, if all substantial forms have "intrinsic intentionality," then that would seem to imply that all substantial forms exercise free will.

> "Evolution" is just one of the manifestations of substantial change in the biological realm. <

It doesn't seem to me that A-T metaphysics can give an adequate account of evolutionary change of substantial forms (essences) from one generation to the next.

TheOFloinn said...

I think you neo-Thomists are flat-out, obviously wrong when you suggest that we physicists are making a mistake in using a mechanistic approach to physical phenomena.

Actually, Heisenberg thought it was a mistake, too. Physics began to abandon 19th century mechanistic metaphors a hundred years ago. Biology seems not yet to have had its "quantum revolution."

kuartus said...

Life is not engineered?

Talk about begging the question. Abiogenesis is NOT a given. Especially since there is no empirical support for it and pretty much the entire edifice of scientific evidence stands against it.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ PhysicistDave

> I, on the other hand, think that this mechanistic perspective is indeed correct, at least when dealing with physical phenomena that do not obviously involve consciousness. <

Physics itself doesn't support the notion that all physical phenomena are completely mechanistic. (There is no physical mechanism for quantum fluctuations)

BenYachov said...

>No, BY, I never designed, or said I designed, hard drives for satellites!

I remember the topic that last time we had a barney was over the book NEW PROOFS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.

You said something about having a Patton on something involving satellites? Not that I care to remember the precise details since it has little to bear on your general lack of knowledge on philosophy.

>As always, you are batting “0” when it comes to facts!

Physicist heal thyself.

BenYachov said...

Now as for you GIP......

Nay! There is nothing I can say that others here have already said. It's just too easy.

Touchstone said...

@Alistair F. Paisley,

Physics itself doesn't support the notion that all physical phenomena are completely mechanistic. (There is no physical mechanism for quantum fluctuations)
I understand your point, but suggest that "randomness", "contingent probabilities" and other "non-mechanisms" are part and parcel of mechanistic models.

Decomposition has to end somewhere, or you have an infinite regress, so any "thoroughly mechanistic" model has to bottom out and hit brute dynamics at some point. Quantum fluctuations represent that "mechanistic floor".

I point that out because while such "brute dynamics" are admittedly opaque to internal (and further reductive) mechanisms, neither are they telic in nature. They are brute, to the best of our investigations thus far.

That may be compatible with what you said, but "completely mechanistic" must necessarily include some base features that are not mechanisms themselves. That's as "mechanical as mechanical gets".

Also, not to Alistair's comments, but apropos Dr. Feser's post, I note again this kind of teleocetric, anthropocentric language:

"You can know just by studying trees that their roots have among their natural ends the taking in of water and nutrients, and that it is objectively good for a tree that its roots carry out this function and bad for it if for some reason the roots are unable to do so."

This strikes me as backwards. Trees don't have "roots" as ends, because roots are (objectively) good. Roots are good as a the result of trial and error, as the result of an incremental search of the fitness landscape, and so because roots, for those organisms at that time happen to be beneficial, trees (or their plant precursors) that adapted to develop roots realized survival advantages because of that adaptation, and thus are more likely to be with us today than other variants with search options that were not so beneficial.

-TS

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Touchstone

> That may be compatible with what you said, but "completely mechanistic" must necessarily include some base features that are not mechanisms themselves. That's as "mechanical as mechanical gets" <

"The concepts which now prove to be fundamental to our understanding of nature...seem to my mind to be structures of pure thought...the unvierse begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine." - Sir James Jeans

Glenn said...

Touchstone,

You write,

- - - - -

...apropos Dr. Feser's post, I note again this kind of teleocetric, anthropocentric language:

"You can know just by studying trees that their roots have among their natural ends the taking in of water and nutrients, and that it is objectively good for a tree that its roots carry out this function and bad for it if for some reason the roots are unable to do so."

This strikes me as backwards. Trees don't have "roots" as ends, because roots are (objectively) good. Roots are good as a the result of...

- - - - -

Consistent with the fact that it wasn't said that trees have "roots" as ends, is the fact that no explanation was offered for what wasn't asserted.

Two possible reasons why what was said strikes you as backwards: 1) your mind is playing tricks on you; and, b) you're so in the habit of recasting things that you sometimes recast them non-consciously, then believe that the recasted version is what was originally said.

Aaron said...

Touchstone,

You quoted Dr. Feser saying,

"You can know just by studying trees that their roots have among their natural ends the taking in of water and nutrients, and that it is objectively good for a tree that its roots carry out this function and bad for it if for some reason the roots are unable to do so."

Apologies to Dr. Feser if I'm reading him wrong, but I don't think he's saying that the roots of a tree are a tree's natural end, but rather it is the taking in of water and nutrients that are among its natural ends. And it is the taking in of water and nutrients that is what is objectively good for a tree; the roots are simply that which may allow the tree to do so. Just because it is the roots specifically that may allow a tree to obtain some of its natural ends doesn't mean that they themselves are the natural ends.

Hunt said...

I think to a certain extent Fincke and Feser are talking past each other due to not-so-subtle semantic translations of "teleology" and other terms. In Feser's use of the world Fincke does mean "as if," but continues by outlining how even as-if teleology is a useful and descriptive concept. Forms and universals are categories describing potential configurations of matter, and so on. His use of the language, "tweaked" perhaps, has its own merit.

Continuing from there, and this is my own editorializing, I think the two points of view are actually more compatible than surface impression might convey. Fincke teleology is conceptually a network of meaning and direction, which I believe is also implicit in the A-T version of meaning and direction. A root directed at absorbing water can only be meaningful by way of the existence and nature of water. It is only healthful in relation to the biological nature of the rest of the plant. Take the plant to an arid location with an alien soil and the root loses its function to maintain the health of the plant. Another example: spiders can't spin functional webs in zero-gravity. Whatever teleological capacity there is inherent in a spider to spin a useful web relies on normal Earth gravity. The interconnected meanings and directions of the natural world are dependent on a causal network. For biology and ecology, this is the "circle of life." (You always knew the secret of life was going to be found in an Elton John song.)

It's actually rather difficult to empirically distinguish this type of teleology, which Dr. Feser would call "as if" (ersatz) teleology from Feser teleology. Some here would say it is impossible, since the question does not admit of experimental analysis. One possible way to shoot down "true" (Feser) teleology would be to find a system that acts naturally but to its own detriment and analyze the reasons for it. For instance, a cancer cell is actually a cell that is working at a more optimal level of growth than normal cells. The rebuttal here wold be that a cancer cell is disordered, but that opens the question of just what that means and how something operates in a disordered fashion in a world with A-T teleology. Another example is hyper-reactive immune system. It's well-known that a normally functioning immune system can easily kill a patient when it comes into contact with certain antigens, and this seems to be a universal trait. It's just the way immune systems work. This opens a larger question about why there exists universally sub-optimal, in fact recognizable defective, natural systems? If nature operates teleologically, why doesn't it operate teleologically in an optimal way?

Sean Robsville said...

Regarding trees, roots and mycorrhiza.

The natural end of all self-replicating systems is to replicate themselves. How they do it in their particular niche is a matter of detail.

Most self-replicating systems are not artifacts, though some such as computer viruses and memes are.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

You argue the following point...

"What is good for us is necessarily good for us because it follows from our nature."

(source: pg. 182,"Aquinas" by Edward Feser)

Question[s]:

Is it possible to act contrary to our nature. If so, how exactly is it possible?

TheOFloinn said...

a cancer cell is actually a cell that is working at a more optimal level of growth than normal cells. The rebuttal here wold be that a cancer cell is disordered, but that opens the question of just what that means and how something operates in a disordered fashion in a world with A-T teleology.

"A" cell does not exist -- except as part of an organism. My take is that a cell does not have such ends except as part of the emergent whole. This is similar to the root having the end of taking up water and nutrients not for its own sake but for the sake of the tree. Cancerous cells IIRC are defective; that is, something had "broken" in their DNA coding, leading them to mal-function. Hence, they are dis-ordered.

There is a tree in the Namibian desert that has driven its taproot miles into the arid ground in search of water. Remember, a thing may have an end, yet be unsuccessful in attaining that end. (Which is how natural selection is supposed to work: by culling the less successful.)

George R. said...

Ed writes:
(And as I have repeatedly pointed out -- though people fanatically obsessed with “defeating Darwinism” seem never to want to get the point -- the deeply anti-Aristotelian character of the conception of the world as a kind of “machine,” and the many unhappy philosophical and theological consequences of this conception, are the reasons Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers are often so critical of “Intelligent Design” theory.)

First of all, the reason why Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers are so critical of ID is not because the IDers see the world as a machine, but rather because most A-T philosophers are themselves Darwinists. I think we should be honest about that. Any Thomist who recognizes Darwinism as the errant jackassery that it is will have no problem ID. I certainly don’t, and I’m a more orthodox Thomist than Ed Feser.

But I hear the cries already: “ID is bad theology!” No, in fact it is no theology whatsoever, nor does it pretend to be. “ID is bad metaphysics!” No, in fact it is no metaphysics whatsoever, nor does it pretend to be. Any Thomist who has managed to avoid the Darwinist Kool Aid will easily recognize what ID really is: common sense applied to observed data. “But what about the IDers’ calling living things machines?” ID does not teach that living things are machines, but only that, like machines, they exhibit a functional and irreducible complexity.

I suspect that the real reason why certain A-T philosophers tend to misrepresent the ID position in order to make it look anti-Aristotelian is that they are a little ashamed to admit that they are less interested in defending Aristotelianism than in making metaphysics safe for Darwinism.

Eduardo said...

AND THE PLOT THICKENS !!!!!

u_u as far as it goes I am a bit confused by what teleology means in Thomism. Maybe my mind is too damn mechanistical xD and I can't really seem to connect the dots.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Eduardo

> u_u as far as it goes I am a bit confused by what teleology means in Thomism. Maybe my mind is too damn mechanistical xD and I can't really seem to connect the dots. <

To put it succinctly, everything is pursuing the good. (The ultimate good is, of course, God.)

Edward Feser said...

PhysicistDave's posts keep ending up in the spam filter and I only just saw and liberated them. Sorry about that, PD. Scroll up to see them.

Eduardo said...

Is that so Paisley ???

If so... than damn I have no idea what teleology really is in Thomism XD. That NEVER crossed my mind not even slightly.

Glenn said...

George R.,

If a person says that A is like B, I do not understand that person to be saying that A is a kind of B, but that A is a kind of "B". So, if P1 says, "X is like Y", I do not see any inaccuracy or anything misleading in P2's view that P1 sees X as being a kind of "Y".

To come at it another way, suppose I were to say, "A certain pond is like a sea (in that that certain pond is teeming with microscopic life)." If someone then were to say, "Glenn sees that certain pond as being a kind of sea", I would point out that that is not my view. But if someone else were to say, "Glenn sees that certain pond as being a kind of 'sea'", then, since the statement is accurate and true, I'd have no basis for claiming that it is inaccurate, misleading or false.

In other words, in saying that "A certain pond is like a sea," I am not claiming that that certain pond is an instance or member of the category 'sea', but am viewing that certain pond through the lens of what constitutes the category 'sea'.

So, if someone were to say, "Living things are like machines (in that they exhibit a functional and irreducible complexity)," then, since that person is viewing living things through the lens of the category 'machines', to say that that person sees living things as kinds of "machines" is to say something which is both accurate and true.

If, however, it were said that that person sees living things as kinds of machines, then the statement at best would be inaccurate, and at worst would be false.

TheOFloinn said...

If, however, it were said that that person sees living things as kinds of machines, then the statement at best would be inaccurate, and at worst would be false.

James Chastek once wrote:
"The problem with the Cartesian view is only that he puts it forth as the only necessary account of life. Descartes's analysis of life as a machine is necessary for an operable view of life. If we want to heal an animal (human or not, physically or mentally, and whether by prevention or cure!) we cannot go too far from the mechanical view of life. Aristotle and St. Thomas allowed for this sort of view, but they allowed for a multitude of different analyses as well. In a famous passage in De Anima, Aristotle will describe the role of the one who studies life as having to account for both (what we would call) the 'mechanical' aspects of life and those that are less so: anger, says Aristotle, can be considered either as a "boiling of blood around the heart" or "as a desire for revenge". Clearly, if one was trying to develop drugs to treat anger, he would have to account for it in the same sort of way as the first account; if one were trying to deal with anger in a legal or moral way, they would have to account for anger more in the second way. Aristotle, however, says that the goal of the natural philosopher is to know life in both ways. This sort of distinction - which is takes as foundational in the study of life - provides a way in which we can see a deeper likeness between human and non-human animals than is afforded by the purely mechanical view. There are in fact a multitude of different analyses that can divide behaviors, emotions, and even moral behavior in different ways. Certainly many of these analyses will show a likeness, if not an identity, between the behavior of human and non-human animals. If anger really was a boiling of blood around the heart, one could verify this every bit as much of a man as of a plucked chicken.
http://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/what-really-are-uniquely-human-traits/

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Eduardo

> Is that so Paisley ???

If so... than damn I have no idea what teleology really is in Thomism XD. That NEVER crossed my mind not even slightly.
<

That we all pursue the good should be self-evident.

Eduardo said...

@Paisley

Well I sort of undersntad the part where we all pursue the good. Is just that I never connected the things thomists are saying with what you said.

goddinpotty said...

me: The actual teleology found in nature is just as mechanical as that of a Roomba

@rank: And you accused Feser of begging the question. Defend this claim, please.

If it isn't mechanical, what is it? Certainly there are other ways to explain teleology, but they all crumble like plaster idols when compared to naturalistic models.

For instance, here's an article (found almost at random) that details some of the mechanisms that ants use to implement their teleological behavior, the representations they use, the computations they perform.

It is true that there are other ways to describe ant behavior without delving into these mechanisms. For example, you could study their navigation patters and determine if they are optimizing their energy use (eg) without going into the details of how they do it. Or you could just note that ants are a very successful form of life based on their numbers. You could describe ants in terms of their desires for food and fear of predators and devotion to their nestmates.

Or you could say that ants behave as they do because that is dictated by their substantial forms, but you would be laughed at, because that is obviously vacuous when compared to an actual /explanation/.

Now, humans are not ants obviously, but they have in common being (a) animals and (b) displaying teleological behaviors. I have some doubts about how well the methods of cognitive neurobiology work when applied to humans; certainly at the present time they are at best very crude models of human thought. But the principle is pretty clear -- the best way to understand how living minds work is through computational models, which is roughly the same thing as "mechanical".

So, a question for you folks: let us suppose that we've managed to build a complete mechanical model of an ant. That is, when an ant seems directed towards (say) finding food and bringing it back to the nest, we can look underneath that intentionality and teleology and see mechanisms at work. Maybe we can even alter them so the ant goes in the wrong direction or something.

So, is the ant displaying real teleology or mere as-if teleology?

Justin said...

It seems neither the ant or the mechanized version of the ant would demonstrate as-if teleology.

TheOFloinn said...

For instance, here's an article (found almost at random) that details some of the mechanisms that ants use to implement their teleological behavior, the representations they use, the computations they perform.

OMG! You mean that in addition to the final causes at which they aim there are efficient causes that aim at them? I shall die of shock.

suppose that we've managed to build a complete mechanical model of an ant. ... So, is the ant displaying real teleology or mere as-if teleology?

Heck, we've build mechanical cockroaches, so the answer is very simple: the ant displays teleological behavior by its nature and the mechanical ant displays teleological behavior by artifice. The various and sundry parts of the mechanical ant do not come together by their own natural motions.

I suppose you may think that if you can build a device (let's call it a "camera") that captures video images that you have also built a device that can "see." But the map is not the territory; the simulation is not the thing simulated.

Gene Callahan said...

"They were theists, and took it that God had simply imposed on inherently passive matter certain patterns of activity."

Of course, Berkeley's solution is different, and much better, I'd suggest: we are simply viewing God's ideas directly. There is no "passive matter" and no need to posit it.

kuartus said...

Thats what I dont understand. You say that the mechanical ant is an artifice because its parts dont inherently come together.
But then the real ant would also be an artifice because the matter out of which its made of also have no inherent tendency to come together and form an ant. Spontaneous generation was disproven almost 400 years ago if I recall correctly.

Eduardo said...

Maybe if the mechanical ant was chemically identical to that ant, than maybe it is this time natural.

Or perhaps it is only natural if it is born and not assembled.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Eduardo

> Well I sort of undersntad the part where we all pursue the good. Is just that I never connected the things thomists are saying with what you said. <

What exactly are Thomists saying?

TheOFloinn said...

@kuartus
Ants are not made by assembling otherwise independent components, taking legs, wings, thoraxes, etc. and bolting them together. Rather, the parts emerge from the being itself through a process of morphogenesis. Biological critters self-organize. They start as single-cell fertilized eggs, and the cell divides and differentiates based on the form (genome; i.e., in-form-ation) actualizing within its proper environment.

A piece of plastic, however, does not grow and split with part of it developing into semiconductor material that then forms itself into a transistor, etc. while another part grows longer and becomes a leg.

rank sophist said...

If it isn't mechanical, what is it? Certainly there are other ways to explain teleology, but they all crumble like plaster idols when compared to naturalistic models.

You're blustering like this is the prologue to a pro wrestling match. Let's see what you have to offer.

For instance, here's an article (found almost at random) that details some of the mechanisms that ants use to implement their teleological behavior, the representations they use, the computations they perform.

As Floinn said, this is efficient causation--something presupposed by final causes. Certainly the ants have "mechanisms" (clever--or not so clever--way to bend the words there) by which they work. But are these mechanisms directed toward any ends? Do they possess an "unconscious intentionality"? Or do they really serve no purpose whatsoever, and any perceived purpose is our "projection"? If this is the case, then we're dealing with as-if teleology; and natural law cannot be grounded in it. As-if intentionality/teleology is mind-dependent and therefore subjective, which means that any moral obligations derived from it are arbitrary.

It is true that there are other ways to describe ant behavior without delving into these mechanisms. For example, you could study their navigation patters and determine if they are optimizing their energy use (eg) without going into the details of how they do it. Or you could just note that ants are a very successful form of life based on their numbers. You could describe ants in terms of their desires for food and fear of predators and devotion to their nestmates.

Most of these examples appeal to intentionality ("optimizing", "desire", "fear", "devotion"), so I have no idea what you're saying.

Or you could say that ants behave as they do because that is dictated by their substantial forms, but you would be laughed at, because that is obviously vacuous when compared to an actual /explanation/.

Of course, you have merely begged the question. Whether or not substantial forms really are vacuous is what's at issue. Excellent work.

Now, humans are not ants obviously, but they have in common being (a) animals and (b) displaying teleological behaviors. I have some doubts about how well the methods of cognitive neurobiology work when applied to humans; certainly at the present time they are at best very crude models of human thought. But the principle is pretty clear -- the best way to understand how living minds work is through computational models, which is roughly the same thing as "mechanical".

Except that you have consistently appealed to intrinsic teleology to explain your "computational models", thereby making no point whatsoever.

So, a question for you folks: let us suppose that we've managed to build a complete mechanical model of an ant. That is, when an ant seems directed towards (say) finding food and bringing it back to the nest, we can look underneath that intentionality and teleology and see mechanisms at work. Maybe we can even alter them so the ant goes in the wrong direction or something.

So, is the ant displaying real teleology or mere as-if teleology?


I am forced to assume that you failed to read Feser's post. They would display neither. Instead, they would possess derived teleology, since they were designed to fulfill certain purposes that are unconnected to their natures qua metal and so forth.

Glenn said...

TheOFloinn,

Re the quotations from what I wrote above and what Chastek once wrote elsewhere (the latter for which I say thank you), part of the response to a statement which included the phrase the conception of the world as a kind of "machine,", was ID does not teach that living things are machines, but only that, like machines, they exhibit a functional and irreducible complexity. It simply seemed at the time easier to pivot on the distinction between _kind of machine_ and _kind of "machine"_.

Also...

But the map is not the territory; the simulation is not the thing simulated.

Yes, indeed.

Eduardo said...

@Paisley

I can't remember with precision the words. But I sort of feel that teleology is inherent in nature, I think this part is correct. G*d is directing things towards certain ends all the time, I think this could be mostly correct. But I have never read the Good thing. I sort of had Eureka moment here, the Good discussion, people spoke about goodness in some other terms, related to teleology.

BUT ... I never connected I didn't read corectly the thing.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Eduardo

>
I can't remember with precision the words. But I sort of feel that teleology is inherent in nature, I think this part is correct. G*d is directing things towards certain ends all the time, I think this could be mostly correct. But I have never read the Good thing. I sort of had Eureka moment here, the Good discussion, people spoke about goodness in some other terms, related to teleology.

BUT ... I never connected I didn't read corectly the thing.
<

God is not only the first cause but also the last cause; everything is seeking the good as its end.

Eduardo said...

@Paisley

Well, now that I know how it goes perhaps certain things will make more sense.

kuartus said...

@TheOFloinn
Suppose we make a mechanical ant that was able to self replicate like a von neumann self replicating machine. In such a case the mechanical ant would "self organize"
Would it still be classified as an artifice?

grodrigues said...

@PhysicistDave:

"As I think Ed himself implies in TLS, if you go through a standard natural-science course sequence at a modern university, you will get a strong, intense exposure to the “mechanistic” approach to understanding nature. Now, Ed thinks that is unfortunate, if I understand him correctly; I, on the other hand, think that this mechanistic perspective is indeed correct, at least when dealing with physical phenomena that do not obviously involve consciousness."

No, that is not where the misfortune lies. Each science requires its method, and the subject matter of the (hard) empirical sciences being the metric properties of mobile bodies, such a “mechanistic” methodology is just about unavoidable. The misfortune is making a metaphysics out of a method or the suggestion that the method, the map, gives a complete exhaustive picture of the territory or even that it *is* the territory.

"And, without that, you will not get the nice stiff, bracing exposure to mechanism needed to understand how and why most natural scientists are mechanists. Is that clearer?"

Are you implying that people here are not "mechanists" out of ignorance? Because that is pure, unmitigated BS.

"Well… truth be told, even most engineers and many physicists rarely use calculus on a day-to-day basis."

Truth be told, most engineers and many physicists do not even *understand* calculus.

"However, calculus is part of the background knowledge that engineers and physicists are expected to have that helps give them the proper perspective on their work: indeed, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that the engineers take physics and calculus, which is needed for the physics, mainly to imbue them with the proper “mechanistic” perspective."

In view of what you yourself recognize is the status of the knowledge of calculus by most engineers and many physicists, it *is* an exaggeration, and a tad silly. Calculus is not taught to imbue anything but rather is taught because God is in the details and to know the details, and actually solve problems, of say classical mechanics, you do have to know calculus, in the same way you have to know differential geometry if you are studying general relativity, or Hilbert spaces, operator theory and Lie group representations for QM, etc. and etc.

rank sophist said...

Suppose we make a mechanical ant that was able to self replicate like a von neumann self replicating machine. In such a case the mechanical ant would "self organize"
Would it still be classified as an artifice?


You seem to be missing the point. It was built--designed. Even if it was self-replicating, it would only self-replicate because it was designed to self-replicate. It has no inherent nature, but rather one imposed from the outside. It is a bundle of unconnected parts that someone decided to put together.

kuartus said...

@rank sophist
Thats my point actually. The matter out of which it is made of has no inherent nature to form a self replicating artificial ant, if there ever is one. And the same is true of living things. The matter out of which I am made of such as lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, water ect..... has no inherent tendency to come together and form a human body. If you put me in a blender, the bad news for me is im not coming back from that even if every bit of matter Im made of is retained.
It has to be given form from outside or either inherit that form from parents.
But you wouldnt call me an artifice would you?

rank sophist said...

And the same is true of living things. The matter out of which I am made of such as lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, water ect..... has no inherent tendency to come together and form a human body.

This smuggles reductionism in through the back door. Aristotelians explicitly reject that conception of the world. We're holists to a fault.

It has to be given form from outside or either inherit that form from parents.

I'm not sure you entirely understand what the word "form" means in traditional metaphysics. It isn't simply "shape". It's a mind-independent, abstract, metaphysical constituent.

But you wouldnt call me an artifice would you?

That's because you have a substantial rather than accidental form. What are you? A rational animal. You remain a rational animal whether you lose a limb, your mind or even (for Aquinas) your life. What is a replicating robot ant? A collection of metal parts that was designed to behave like an ant. You must see the difference here.

goddinpotty said...

@rank


Certainly the ants have "mechanisms" (clever--or not so clever--way to bend the words there) by which they work.

Maybe I spend too much time in the scientific world, but that to me seemed like completely standard usage, not wordplay. What do you call the complexly related arrangement of functional parts that makes living things work? Say, to take my favorite example, the ribosome, or the neurons responsible for heart rhythms?

But are these mechanisms directed toward any ends? Do they possess an "unconscious intentionality"? Or do they really serve no purpose whatsoever, and any perceived purpose is our "projection"?

Yes they are directed towards ends and serve a purpose (we wouldn't call them mechanisms otherwise) "Intentionality" is not so well-defined that you can give a crisp answer to your second question.

Most of these examples appeal to intentionality ("optimizing", "desire", "fear", "devotion"), so I have no idea what you're saying.

I'm acknowledging that there are perfectly legitimate ways to think about ants that do not involve mechanisms. I

Except that you have consistently appealed to intrinsic teleology to explain your "computational models", thereby making no point whatsoever.

See above, I have no idea what point you think you are making, but you are obviously incapable of grasping mine. Unfortunate but not really my problem.

they were designed to fulfill certain purposes that are unconnected to their natures qua metal and so forth.

why is robo-ant's relationships between it and its purpose, nature, and material different from the relationships between bio-ant and its relationship to its purposes, nature, and material? That one was designed by humans and the other designed by evolution doesn't seem like a salient difference to me, and it would seem incumbent on you to explain why it should be.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. Feser for this, another brilliantly-written article! I pray that you never get tired of repeating yourself (as you have said). You provide one of the most articulate and strongest defenses of Christian thought, and your work is of great value for the lay faithful who have not been benefitted with having a formal education in the classical philosophical tradition (and some are largely unaware of the rich cultural and philosophical heritage of our faith), but are only now starting to be aware of these things. I have on many occassions shared your articles to some of my contacts in social network, and some of my friends are now discovering AT and first philosophy for the first time. I have your books Aquinas and TLS, and I have ordered Philosophy of Mind (as well as some of Etienne Gilson's books - the interest was sparked by reading your posts). So please write more. God bless you and your family with happiness and love, and may your professional endeavors be inspired and informed by the same grace. ~ Mark

The Deuce said...

rank sophist:

So you think that imagined teleology (which is what as-if teleology happens to be) is no different than ontologically real teleology?

It's an example of what I was talking about when I said, "Because naturalism is incoherent, naturalists are unable to consistently argue or reason from it, and so *have* to make implicit or explicit use of the concept of irreducible teleology in order to be able to say anything coherent and intelligible, or even seemingly coherent and intelligible, at all."

On the one hand, naturalists endorse naturalism, which implies that all apparent teleology in nature is an illusion which our minds impose on the world rather than something ontologically real that we perceive (and ultimately, since our minds are supposed to be part of nature too, it implies that even the illusion of teleology doesn't exist, nor do our minds really impose it - the view aka eliminativism).

On the other hand, it's blitheringly, manifestly, undeniably obvious that there is ontologically real teleology in biological organisms and in our own minds, and it's impossible make any coherent sense out of biology, or especially psychology (or anything else, actually), while adhering to the notion that there's no objectively real teleology there.

So, often naturalists will just conflate the two, and think they've thereby solved the problem. They'll acknowledge that the teleology is ontologically real, while also espousing naturalistic accounts that imply that it's merely as-if teleology, and conclude that because they believe both contradictory things, therefore subjective as-if teleology is objectively real teleology, and that their account actually explains how ontologically real teleology arises from no teleology. You'll see statements to the effect of "It's just intuitively obvious to me that organisms have real intrinsic functions, and Darwinian theory explains how something can appear to us to have function while arising in a purely mechanistic and non-teleological way, so we have a naturalistic account of how real mind-independent teleology arises from and reduces to the mechanistic and non-teleological."

In short, they fail to see their own inability to consistently and coherently think about teleology as if it were fake, as implied by naturalism, as the indication of naturalism's absurdity that it is, and instead erroneously conclude that naturalistic attempts to show that teleology is illusory are really explanations of ontologically real, mind-independent teleology.

Hunt said...

"Because naturalism is incoherent, naturalists are unable to consistently argue or reason from it, and so *have* to make implicit or explicit use of the concept of irreducible teleology in order to be able to say anything coherent and intelligible, or even seemingly coherent and intelligible, at all."

Naturalism, particularly a naturalism with evolutionary natural selection (the "universal acid") is not incoherent, although to think in purely mechanistic terms is something like programming in assembly language. Few people like doing it; those that do often find key insights into the actual nature of computation (or reality, in the case of purely non-teleological thinking). Teleology is mental shorthand; a useful but ultimately false way to think about nature. In fact teleological thinking WILL lead you astray in particular instances, while it proves benign, even insightful, in many other places. It's much like many other "good," as in more or less useful, theories that get you most of the way in 98% of the cases and fail in the only the last 2% (think Newtonian Mechanics). There are about a zillion examples from biology, from the vagus nerve to the structure of the eye, showing the teleology is a false conception, though it consistently fools those not expert in any one area, which includes most of us.

Hunt said...

And by the way, my reference to eyes and nerves doesn't mean I've fallen prey to some Paleyian misconception in either the atheistic or Feserian way. What I mean is that eyes and vagus nerves tell us the nature does not include inherent teleology in natural processes; they are apparently dumb to final causes. To a great extent, this can be seen from the non-optimal structures in nature, as per my last comment, which seem heedless to their goal. There are countless inefficiencies in nature, which present not only a problem for ID, but also for teleology.

Brandon said...

And by the way, my reference to eyes and nerves doesn't mean I've fallen prey to some Paleyian misconception in either the atheistic or Feserian way.

Unfortunately it does, as the rest of your discussion makes clear; inefficiency is an artificial, not a natural category, dependent on extrinsic teleology, as is efficiency when it is not merely a synonym for effectiveness -- which is why Paleyan conceptions make so much of it, and Aristotelian conceptions don't. Your argument presupposes that teleology is necessarily Paleyan; in that sense, that you naturally fall back on the eye example is impossible to see as an accident here -- it's the case that has the most common cultural treatment as an engineering, i.e., as an extrinsic-teleology, problem, so of course it would come to mind to someone assuming a Paleyan approach to teleology.

Anonymous said...

Hunt,

How are you able to define what is optimal functioning without reference to the end of the function? And can you elaborate on what you mean by "dumb to final causes?"

Thanks

Daniel Smith said...

Ed: How is it that the ends things have by nature can be efficacious? That, as Aquinas’s Fifth Way shows, is possible in principle only if there is a Supreme Intelligence which at every moment directs things toward their ends.

Was that a typo Dr. Feser? It seems a bit like the occasionalism you've condemned elsewhere.

Most likely I've just failed to grasp the nuances of your position (again!)

Jayman: I tried to nudge him [Fincke] into explaining where he thought this teleology came from and alluded to Aquinas' Fifth Way. Unfortunately, he thought natural selection disproved the Fifth Way.

For me this was where the discussion got derailed because suddenly it became about biological things. The Fifth Way applies to everything in nature though!

How does 'natural selection' explain the intentionality inherent in water or any other non-living thing?

goddinpotty said...

@Hunt -- I liked your analogy with assembly language, but disagree with you when you say "Teleology is mental shorthand; a useful but ultimately false way to think about nature.". To continue your analogy, thinking telogically is like working with a high-level langauge -- it is a shorthand, an abstraction of some lower-level reality, but not "false".

A computer interpreting a program in a high-level language can be described in terms of that language, in terms of assembly language, or in even lower-level terms such as the actual electrical signals being gated around. None of these are false, and all of them, even the electrical one are in some ways abstractions of a lower-level more fundamental reality. That's just how things work, and biological systems are roughly similar. Of couse there are major differences too, reflecting both the materials and the way in which they have come to be (design vs. evolution).

rank sophist said...

Maybe I spend too much time in the scientific world, but that to me seemed like completely standard usage, not wordplay. What do you call the complexly related arrangement of functional parts that makes living things work? Say, to take my favorite example, the ribosome, or the neurons responsible for heart rhythms?

As I said earlier, this is reductionism. A living thing is not a collection of parts that cause it to "work": it is a holistic substance. Reductionism is incredibly destructive (and obviously false) when played out to its natural conclusion. A robot, on the other hand, is a more obvious candidate for reduction--even if its natural parts cannot also be reduced.

Yes they are directed towards ends and serve a purpose (we wouldn't call them mechanisms otherwise) "Intentionality" is not so well-defined that you can give a crisp answer to your second question.

So they serve a purpose. But who designed them to serve a purpose? Us. Therefore, they have derived rather than intrinsic teleology. Their purpose is not connected to their natures (as metal parts), but is rather imposed from the outside.

I'm acknowledging that there are perfectly legitimate ways to think about ants that do not involve mechanisms.

But the "mechanisms" are also teleological, in that they are directed toward certain purposes. So I still have no idea of what you're trying to prove.

See above, I have no idea what point you think you are making, but you are obviously incapable of grasping mine. Unfortunate but not really my problem.

Actually, you're trying to squeeze contradictory ideas into your head. The cognitive dissonance makes it almost impossible to understand you.

Here's how it is. "Computational models" of natural substances are reductionistic, but, even then, they appeal to teleology. One thing causes another--in fact, it's directed toward causing that other thing. Either this is intrinsic, derived or as-if. If it's intrinsic, then the substance possesses features that are totally contrary to the dictates of naturalism. If it's derived, then there must be an intelligent source (like a human) that designed its complex parts to operate in the ways that they do. (This leads us to a Paleyan watchmaker.) If it's as-if, then there really isn't any direction--we just believe that there is. In the final case, no natural law theory can be formed. In the second case, we must appeal to supernaturalism to make a coherent argument. In the first case, we must appeal to hylemorphism, the four causes, and all kinds of other stuff that naturalists hate.

why is robo-ant's relationships between it and its purpose, nature, and material different from the relationships between bio-ant and its relationship to its purposes, nature, and material?

One is a holistic natural substance and the other is a collection of parts constructed to act like a holistic natural substance. Is this challenging to understand?

That one was designed by humans and the other designed by evolution doesn't seem like a salient difference to me, and it would seem incumbent on you to explain why it should be.

Think about what you just said. You just attributed human-like intelligence to evolution. Is natural selection a kind of feral spirit, then? A pagan entity that guides species along their evolutionary paths?

Glenn said...

GIP,

If one can see that there is software, that there is hardware on which software can 'run', and that there are so-called physical laws in accordance with which hardware operates, then one can also see the reality of different discrete levels.

If one can see the reality of different discrete levels, then one can understand that philosophy and science are on different discrete levels.

If one can understand that philosophy and science are on different discrete levels, then one ought to be able to figure out which of the two is on a higher discrete level, and which is on a lower discrete level.

And if one's figuring gets it right, then, with a little practice, it is possible, at least theoretically, to better prescind one's ideas and assign them to their appropriate levels.

TheOFloinn said...

@kuartus
A mechanical ant that "reproduces" does not self-organize, but organizes another; viz., its reproducant. The resultant mecho-ant is still composed of components that do not by their natures come together to form ants. That is, the organizing principle is external to the heap of components. The organizing principle of a fertilized ant-egg otoh is internal to the ant-egg.

Now, if you could command the parts and components to march by themselves and meld together into Ant, or arrange that a stack of lumber should arrange itself into a ship, then you may be on to something. At least the telos would be internal to the matter itself.

TheOFloinn said...

So, often naturalists will just conflate the two, and think they've thereby solved the problem.

You can get into a flight simulator for a 747 and it will be just like flying a 747 to Paris, with one striking difference. When you step out of the simulator, you will not actually be in Paris.

TheOFloinn said...

What have "inefficiencies" got to do with the matter? X may be directed "toward" something, like the origin of species or an attractor basin or chemical equilibrium, without being the most efficient possible X for doing so.

What does the vagus nerve do?

Justin said...

What does the vagus nerve do?

Mostly just wanders aimlessly.

Hunt said...

"A computer interpreting a program in a high-level language can be described in terms of that language, in terms of assembly language, or in even lower-level terms such as the actual electrical signals being gated around. None of these are false,"

I appreciate your point, but ultimately I think I have to stick to my original claim. Teleology is false in the way that a flawed high level language might compile to invalid code, though most of the time it works well enough as useful abstraction--not that the compiler is faulty, rather there is something wrong with the language itself. It does not correspond to reality even as an abstraction and even given its utility. But right now I have no time, so I'll return later.

TheOFloinn said...

What does the vagus nerve do?

Mostly just wanders aimlessly.


Hm. If that was all it did, Darwinian theory holds that it would be "ruthlessly destroyed." It must do something. Perhaps it carries a nerve impulse? Maybe it communicates "the state of the viscera" to the brain?

goddinpotty said...

@rank:
As I said earlier, this is reductionism. A living thing is not a collection of parts that cause it to "work": it is a holistic substance.

Sorry, reductionism is not a swear word to me. Quite the opposite. Whether a living thing is a "holistic substance" or not (no idea what that even could mean), it most certainly is (also) a collection of parts. Haven't you ever dissected a frog? Or carved a turkey? So how is that even controversial? I believe even your hero Aristotle would agree with me.

So they serve a purpose. But who designed them to serve a purpose? Us. Therefore, they have derived rather than intrinsic teleology. Their purpose is not connected to their natures (as metal parts), but is rather imposed from the outside.

That is a distinction that I do not accept or care about.

Actually, you're trying to squeeze contradictory ideas into your head. The cognitive dissonance makes it almost impossible to understand you.

If you can't make sense of what I am saying, which should be absolutely non-controversial, just a simple description of how the world is, then I would gusess the fault is with your head, not mine.

Your conceptual schemas (like Searle's tripartite division of intentionality) don't match the world and thus are making you stupid. Try to get beyond your fixed ideas if you want to understand how things work.

You just attributed human-like intelligence to evolution. Is natural selection a kind of feral spirit, then?

Don't be so literal. Presumably anyone literate can figure out what "designed by evolution" means. Natural selection is not a spirit, but it can be seen as a distributed learning process that emits progressively better adapted designs. An extremely inefficient learning process, but good enough.

rank sophist said...

Sorry, reductionism is not a swear word to me. Quite the opposite. Whether a living thing is a "holistic substance" or not (no idea what that even could mean), it most certainly is (also) a collection of parts. Haven't you ever dissected a frog? Or carved a turkey? So how is that even controversial? I believe even your hero Aristotle would agree with me.

GIP, you are one of the most philosophically uneducated people I've ever seen in a combox. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you will learn.

You are making an unargued assertion of bundle theory against Aristotelian essentialism. As you likely do not even know what bundle theory is, let me explain. For Aristotle, a frog is constituted by a substantial form that dictates its properties. For Hume (the founder of bundle theory), a frog is a collection of properties. Under bundle theory, if you explain the parts, you explain the whole. Under classical essentialism, if you explain the parts, you explain the parts. The parts help you learn about the whole, but they are not the whole in and of themselves.

You can laud bundle theory all you want. But you have to defend it before you can assume it.

That is a distinction that I do not accept or care about.

And no one could care any less about your uninformed, unargued assertions. Searle is one of the most respected philosophers in the world. Why is his distinction of derived intentionality irrelevant? Either make the case or take a hike.

Your conceptual schemas (like Searle's tripartite division of intentionality) don't match the world and thus are making you stupid. Try to get beyond your fixed ideas if you want to understand how things work.

Another excellent assertion from the Master of Assertion himself. How do you do it?

Don't be so literal. Presumably anyone literate can figure out what "designed by evolution" means. Natural selection is not a spirit, but it can be seen as a distributed learning process that emits progressively better adapted designs. An extremely inefficient learning process, but good enough.

GIP, think about this for a second. If something has teleology because it was designed to have teleology, then you posit a designer. Whether this is a human, a replicating robot, your spirit of natural selection or the God of Intelligent Design is irrelevant. It has to be a being with agency--otherwise, it can't design anything for a purpose.

If you say that natural selection is a non-agent, then you reduce nature to as-if teleology. Things look to us like they're directed toward certain ends merely because non-rational, non-meaningful physical processes built them over time. It's really no different than the vine cross in Feser's post. Again, this makes natural law morality impossible, because, without a mind-independent, ontologically real telos, you can't say whether something is "good" or "bad" at anything. It's just an arbitrary opinion.

goddinpotty said...

If being philosophically educated equates to being trapped in sterile and useless abstractions, then I'm happy to be uneducated (I don't actually think it does, since not all philsophers are as braindead and enfeebled as you seem to be).

Searle is one of the most respected philosophers in the world.

Where I come from, he is considered one of the most ridiculous philsophers in the world (for his Chinese Room argument).

GIP, think about this for a second. If something has teleology because it was designed to have teleology, then you posit a designer. Whether this is a human, a replicating robot, your spirit of natural selection or the God of Intelligent Design is irrelevant. It has to be a being with agency--otherwise, it can't design anything for a purpose.

Evolution does not have agency or purpose, yet results in creatures which do have agency or purpose. That may be a little difficult for your philosophically-hobbled mind to grasp, but that's not my problem.

This is not design in the standard everyday sense of the word but fits comfortably within its metaphorical penumbra. Just like biological mechanisms are not literally machines (ue, not made by engineers out of gears in a machine shop) but only the cloddish could have a problem with referring to them in that way.

rank sophist said...

If being philosophically educated equates to being trapped in sterile and useless abstractions, then I'm happy to be uneducated (I don't actually think it does, since not all philsophers are as braindead and enfeebled as you seem to be).

Classy.

Where I come from, he is considered one of the most ridiculous philsophers in the world (for his Chinese Room argument).

Isn't that precious?

Evolution does not have agency or purpose, yet results in creatures which do have agency or purpose. That may be a little difficult for your philosophically-hobbled mind to grasp, but that's not my problem.

Considering that it's a logical contradiction, I have no reason to try grasping it. I think it might cause me to go insane.

Anonymous said...

"Under bundle theory, if you explain the parts, you explain the whole. Under classical essentialism, if you explain the parts, you explain the parts. The parts help you learn about the whole, but they are not the whole in and of themselves."

very, very nicely put.

dover_beach said...

Rank sophist, you have the patience of a saint.

Eduardo said...

I second the motion above XD.

TheOFloinn said...

Whether a living thing is a "holistic substance" or not (no idea what that even could mean), it most certainly is (also) a collection of parts.

Well, yes; but it is not only a collection of parts. "Holistic" means that the whole has properties that are not derivable from those individual parts. For example: a chlorine atom is composed of neutrons, protons, and electrons; but the chemistry of chlorine gas is not predicable on the properties of protons, neutrons, or electrons. (In fact, an electron in a valence orbit behaves very differently from a free electron. That is, the part takes its behavior from its participation in the whole.) Now the crypro-Aristotelian term for this is "emergent properties," but the old term was "formal causes."

So how is that even controversial?

It's not. Aristotelians consider all aspects of a thing: analystical (whole->parts) as well as sythetical (parts->whole). Reductionism is the unfounded belief that only one direction is the whole ball of wax. You cannot cry "A is important!" to someone who thinks A and B are important. Not without getting a shrug in response.

+ + +
Their purpose is not connected to their natures ... but is rather imposed from the outside.

That is a distinction that I do not accept or care about.

It certainly makes it easier to march them into the gas chambers if you think of them as no more than meat machines. Be careful what road you march down. Consider what may be at the end of it.

Chris said...

I apologize for making this request- it's misplaced in this ongoing thread. But..... I came across a paper written by the Orthodox scholar, James Cutsinger, entitled "On Earth As It Is In Heaven." I would be most appreciative to get a reaction to the metaphysical position that this author presents from a Thomist.

Glenn said...

It certainly makes it easier to march them into the gas chambers if you think of them as no more than meat machines. Be careful what road you march down. Consider what may be at the end of it.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

Whilst peering down from above
The judge did say sans any love,
"Now that you have had your fun
Good-bye to you til kingdom come."

"No!" cried Lizzie all aflame
"'tis godinpotty who's to blame!
His creed for me was a sun--
There is no such thing as a one."

goddinpotty said...

Oh joy, just when this thread seemingly couldn't get less prodcutive @OFloinn Godwinizes it.

Hunt said...

"What does the vagus nerve do?"

Sorry, my impression was that this is a well-know anti-ID talking point. It's actually a branch off the vagus nerve, the recurrent laryngeal nerve, that is the notorious example. Here's a creationist article that explains the problem from the creationist perspective makes the argument that RLN pathway "inefficiency" is due to developmental constraints:

http://www.icr.org/article/5512/

And here is Richard Dawkins helping to dissect one in a giraffe:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO1a1Ek-HD0

I scare quote "inefficiency" because others have asked on what I base my judgement, which is a good question, and I think I form it on the basis of comparison with how my own intelligently derived teleological design would work. I believe this is how all the anti-ID arguments that use stupid biological structures ultimately justify their arguments. Because they're judgement calls, none of them are iron clad arguments. In fact, the counter argument from ICR above is not bad.

Why do I claim that these anti-ID arguments are also potential problems for teleology? For the same reasons as above, I think these are judgment calls, or pieces of evidence that can contribute to an opinion, not iron clad arguments. The question is, why would teleological directedness ever do anything dumb in biology? If teleology is the ultimate guiding principle, why do end goals so often seem stymied by arbitrary legacy conditions which seem fixed mechanistically?

Glenn said...

Oh joy, just when this thread seemingly couldn't get less prodcutive @OFloinn Godwinizes it.

Since OFloinn's remarks don't mention God, it must be you who has 'Godwinizing' them.

Glenn said...

Since OFloinn's remarks don't mention God, it must be you who has 'Godwinizing' them.

Either 'has' s/b 'is', or 'Godwinizing' s/b 'Godwinized'. One or the other substitution will render the statement more, er, prodcutive.

goddinpotty said...

Don't they teach people anymore about Godwin's Law before letting them loose on the Internet?

rank sophist said...

GIP, you are the only unproductive one in this combox. You've been reduced to throwing ad homs at John Searle. Just admit defeat--or don't; it's irrelevant--and go rethink the faulty logic that led you to these conclusions. (Conclusions, I might add, that not even people like Dennett embrace. No one believes that a non-intentional process can give rise to ontologically real intentionality.)

Glenn said...

Don't they teach people anymore about Godwin's Law before letting them loose on the Internet?

Oh darn, that's right--I forgot you know nothing at all about equivocation.

Eduardo said...

OH! please. Equivocation is merely a abstraction! it has nothing to do with reality whatsoever U_U, I mean, seriously folks.

Glenn said...

Equivocation is merely a abstraction! it has nothing to do with reality whatsoever

Like gip's logic?

Eduardo said...

n_n' Oh I had to parody him, he is such a iconic "member".

u_u anyways logis is also... just a abstraction, have ever studied logic the object in a lab?

I have never, and none of my many Ph.D professors have pointed to experiments with it. So as far as it goes, it is just another abstraction being projected onto the world, it serves a good purpose but overall is not part of reality really.

Glenn said...

That actually is a very good point, Eduardo. Still, if logic overall is not a part of 'reality really', and yet exists and serves a good purpose, then doesn't 'reality really' refer merely to some circumscription of 'reality'?

Glenn said...

To carry that a step further, there isn't anything wrong with a rational person dedicating himself to the study of some circumscription of reality. But he's lost his rationality when he comes to see that circumscription of reality as being the all of reality. The irony is, he then thinks he's never been more rational. And when he seeks constantly to make a case in favor of what he is convinced is an amazing revelation, those who have not lost their rationality may feel as if they're being lulled into a stuporous or obtunded state.

Anonymous said...

Oh joy, just when this thread seemingly couldn't get less prodcutive @OFloinn Godwinizes it.


abloo abloo abloo I HAVE BEEN GODWINIZED OH NO.

also your bench is weak, goon.

The Deuce said...

GIP:

If being philosophically educated equates to being trapped in sterile and useless abstractions, then I'm happy to be uneducated

Ah yes, it's your old tactic of retreating to the lack of "usefulness" of facts that contradict your position when backed into a corner. And I certainly won't disagree: undoubtedly you don't find having your position shown to be false useful at all.

However, the coherence of your position, as well as your belief that it doesn't entail eliminativism, depends on the relevant logical distinctions (aka abstractions, which is what all logical distinctions are, even the ones you like) being false rather than useless and/or sterile.

And the way you deal with the relevant logical distinctions is... by refusing to deal with them and insulting anyone who does. You've just admitted that your position relies on a deliberate refusal to think logically, specifically by continuing to conflate contradictory notions by deliberately refusing to examine them. Any of us could have told you that long ago (and did).

Don't be so literal. Presumably anyone literate can figure out what "designed by evolution" means.

Yes, it's an expression of your inability to conceive of the appearance of teleology in living things as an illusion, despite "officially" advancing an explanation for it that implies that it is an illusion. It's also an expression of the fact that you conceptualize (or abstract, if you will) evolution as an agent with intentions, despite "officially" holding otherwise.

It's intuitively obvious to you that living things have real, objective functions. You also have what seems to you an intuitive explanation for how something that seems to you like function could come from what you believe to be a blind and mechanistic process. Now, either the process isn't really blind and mechanistic, or it doesn't really account for the function in living things, or what seems to you like function in living things is not really an objective fact about the world (in which case eliminativism is implied), but you manage to avoid dealing with those details by, as you put it, not being so literal.

goddinpotty said...

@rank, you were the one who introduced personal insult into this conversation.

I did not "throw ad homs" at John Searle. I thought someone as philosophically sophisticated as you would at least know what an ad homined argument is.

Conclusions, I might add, that not even people like Dennett embrace. No one believes that a non-intentional process can give rise to ontologically real intentionality.

I'd like to know how you think my position differs from Dennett. I don't think either of us would use the phrase "ontologically real intentionality". I'm not sure what he would say if confronted with that phrase, but I say that the kind of intentonality you get from evolution (which you would like to dismiss as "as-if" intentionality) is the only kind there is, and therefore as real as it gets, so it is as ontologically real as anything else.

So intentionality is no more real and no less real than other abstractions we use to make sense of the natural world. The category of "chair" is also an abstraction of an underlying physical reality. Like intentionality, it is not all that well-defined, but we know how to identify members of the category when we see them. An eliminativist would say that chairs and intentionality are not real, but a pragmatist would not.

dguller said...

First, I have been convinced by Feser regarding the truth of teleology in nature, specifically teleology understood as a directedness of nature towards the actualization of possible outcomes restricted by the natures of entities that exist.

My only problem is with the belief that we can localize a special final telos of particular entities, because the ends of entities depend upon the perspective that one ultimately takes, i.e. local versus distant ends, immediate versus long-term ends, low-level versus high-level ends, and so on. How one decides what within this matrix of ends is the final one is beyond me, because one would have to justify one particular perspective as the perspective for identifying final ends. I have no idea how this could be done without begging the question.

Second, regarding the distinction between intrinsic, extrinsic and as-if teleology, ultimately, at least according to a Thomist, all teleology other than God’s is extrinsic and as-if. After all, individual substances get their natures from God, and thus derive their final causes from God, and thus derive their directedness from God, which would mean that they are extrinsic.

If one wants to give up this idea, and admit the possibility of intrinsic intentionality other than God’s, then it becomes somewhat arbitrary to me, because it depends upon what one takes as a paradigm of intrinsic teleology. Is it subatomic particles and their interactions? Is it molecules and their interactions? Is it cells and their interactions? Is it genes and their interactions? Is it living organisms and their interactions? Is it collections of living organisms and their interactions? Is it the biosphere? Is it the galaxy? Is it the physical universe? Again, where one begins determines where one ends, and it just seems arbitrary to me where to begin.

Any thoughts?

BenYachov said...

dguller is what an Atheist who does his homework looks like.

SO GIP what is your malfunction?

Good questions dguller.

Anybody.

TheOFloinn said...

Perhaps some think that regarding human beings as meat machines would make dehumanizing less palatable? If you like, substitute any other dehumanizing activity you wish. If people are no more than mechanisms, why not?

TheOFloinn said...

I did not "throw ad homs" at John Searle. I thought someone as philosophically sophisticated as you would at least know what an ad homined argument is.

Technically, it was argumentum ad populum, which is a subset of arg. ad hom. Your "argument" was:
Where I come from, he is considered one of the most ridiculous philsophers in the world.
which is merely an assertion that Searle's argument should be ignored because your co-workers think he's ridiculous.

Hazarding a guess based on responses to Searle, I would suppose that "Where I come from" would be a milieu of computer programmers, narrowly trained in one technological field and virtual naifs outside it. Why should we take their opinion on a point of philosophy any more seriously than we would take a dentist's opinion of a statistical inference?

rank sophist said...

you were the one who introduced personal insult into this conversation.

I wrote that you are philosophically uneducated, and that your position is the result of learned ignorance, and that you are trying to create an argument out of contradictory ideas. None of these are personal insults. The closest is the first one, which I followed with the comment, "The sooner you realize this, the sooner you will learn". I, too, have suffered from learned ignorance and contradictory ideas in the past, and I know how debilitating they can be. You, on the other hand, called me "stupid", "illiterate", "braindead" and "enfeebled". See the difference? I want you to understand the holes and inconsistencies in your own arguments, because I think you're smart enough to construct good ones once you realize how bad your current stance is.

I did not "throw ad homs" at John Searle. I thought someone as philosophically sophisticated as you would at least know what an ad homined argument is.

Your argument against John Searle's categories of intentionality was that, where you come from, he's considered "one of the most ridiculous philosophers in the world". That sounds like an ad hominem to me.

I'd like to know how you think my position differs from Dennett. I don't think either of us would use the phrase "ontologically real intentionality". I'm not sure what he would say if confronted with that phrase, but I say that the kind of intentonality you get from evolution (which you would like to dismiss as "as-if" intentionality) is the only kind there is, and therefore as real as it gets, so it is as ontologically real as anything else.

Forgive me--I'd given Dennett too much credit. Reading up on the subject, I find that he too is extremely confused on this matter. He thinks of natural selection as a kind of proto-intentional agent (i.e. feral spirit) that is the first stage in the more developed intentional system of humans. Unfortunately, unless one views natural selection as a literal agent rather than as a non-intentional abstraction, then this system collapses into eliminativism. Without a real intentionality at the lowest levels, no derived intentionality (a distinction he accepts) can exist in the higher levels. Yet, if the literal agent is accepted, then one is committed to a supernatural explanation. Dennett tries to forge a middle ground that is only coherent by way of muddy thinking.

So intentionality is no more real and no less real than other abstractions we use to make sense of the natural world. The category of "chair" is also an abstraction of an underlying physical reality. Like intentionality, it is not all that well-defined, but we know how to identify members of the category when we see them. An eliminativist would say that chairs and intentionality are not real, but a pragmatist would not.

In other words, it's a "useful fiction". Unfortunately, this commits you to eliminativism.

The Deuce said...

Hazarding a guess based on responses to Searle, I would suppose that "Where I come from" would be a milieu of computer programmers, narrowly trained in one technological field and virtual naifs outside it.

Hey, now! NAPALT! (Not All Programmers Are Like That)

Eduardo said...

@Glenn

U_U I knew I went too far joking about logic not being part of reality.

-----------------------------------
" Still, if logic overall is not a part of 'reality really', and yet exists and serves a good purpose, then doesn't 'reality really' refer merely to some circumscription of 'reality'?"
-----------------------------------
But he's lost his rationality when he comes to see that circumscription of reality as being the all of reality. The irony is, he then thinks he's never been more rational. And when he seeks constantly to make a case in favor of what he is convinced is an amazing revelation,
-----------------------------------
______________________________________________________________________
Although I never thought the words "reality, really" meant anything more than just dismissal of anything else that is not part of the speaker's beliefs, you seem to be correct... I mean, I am stuck with logic being part of my life versus the reality I am suppose to believe in( the empirical/realist view of it ).

* I can't think harder because, I agree with you, see XD. * Now, I see you are going from my Eliminative idea >>to>> circumscription of reality. Okay perhaps the way out would be to call logic, at least some of rules, as empirical ... the problem is that definitions are not empirical, without saying that each sense has s different "view" of the object. there is no way to prove the laws this way.

I slept thinking about it, sorry. But I can only see that the way to invalidate your inference is to call upon illusion of some sort. The question then is, what is being illuded and how to prove the illusion.


______________________________________________________________________

rank sophist said...

My only problem is with the belief that we can localize a special final telos of particular entities, because the ends of entities depend upon the perspective that one ultimately takes, i.e. local versus distant ends, immediate versus long-term ends, low-level versus high-level ends, and so on. How one decides what within this matrix of ends is the final one is beyond me, because one would have to justify one particular perspective as the perspective for identifying final ends. I have no idea how this could be done without begging the question.

Isn't a final cause merely a directedness toward a result? "Final" is something of a stumbling block for newcomers. It insinuates "last" and "only". A mouth is for communication as well as eating, but neither is more "final". Rather, the mouth is directed toward an array of purposes. However, speech itself, as an example, does indeed have a "dominant" final cause. That is, it is primarily directed toward the transmission of true information. Likewise, eating has a dominant final cause in the form of keeping a person healthy. Other final causes, such as the enjoyment of eating, are obviously lower on the hierarchy.

Second, regarding the distinction between intrinsic, extrinsic and as-if teleology, ultimately, at least according to a Thomist, all teleology other than God’s is extrinsic and as-if. After all, individual substances get their natures from God, and thus derive their final causes from God, and thus derive their directedness from God, which would mean that they are extrinsic.

While it is true that God directs things toward their ends, he does so through their natures. He isn't a divine artificer who imposes telos contrary to nature, as man does with a robot; rather, final causes always flow directly from the substantial form. That is the key difference.

Anonymous said...

goddinpotty sounds like a troll, no?

dguller said...

Rank:

Isn't a final cause merely a directedness toward a result? "Final" is something of a stumbling block for newcomers. It insinuates "last" and "only". A mouth is for communication as well as eating, but neither is more "final". Rather, the mouth is directed toward an array of purposes. However, speech itself, as an example, does indeed have a "dominant" final cause. That is, it is primarily directed toward the transmission of true information. Likewise, eating has a dominant final cause in the form of keeping a person healthy. Other final causes, such as the enjoyment of eating, are obviously lower on the hierarchy.

So, there are multiple final causes for any particular entity, and these final causes often can be arranged into a hierarchy. However, how that hierarchy is arranged depends upon the perspective, which depends upon what values are held to be primary. For example, if the value of pleasure is held to be primary, then eating would be about enjoyable food, and that consumption of disgusting food would be an imperfect form of eating. However, if the value of sustenance is held to be primary, then eating would be about the digestion of nutrients to maintain the integrity of equilibrium of a living organism. There are reasons to support either of these perspectives, and probably others.

And with regards to speech being primarily about the transmission of information, that depends upon the perspective, as well. If the transmission of true information results in an increase in knowledge, which in the hands of human beings will result in increased technological sophistication, which will result in the destruction and desolation of the biosphere, then from the perspective of the biosphere, it would not be considered a good outcome, and thus not dominant. Perhaps speech is more about telling jokes to increase mirth and happiness amongst human beings, which would decrease depression and the need for increased technological control of nature to improve our moods, which would save the planet! Again, what one places at the top of the values hierarchy, which defines one’s perspective, makes a huge impact upon what final causes are held to be primary.

I think that there are certainly final causes in terms of a series of possible outcomes for existing beings, which is why I accept teleology as a real phenomenon, but that ranking them in an objective hierarchy is highly problematic. This is because all rankings depend upon perspectives that differ in terms of a hierarchy of values and choices of what aspects of reality to focus upon and take as fundamental and primary.

While it is true that God directs things toward their ends, he does so through their natures. He isn't a divine artificer who imposes telos contrary to nature, as man does with a robot; rather, final causes always flow directly from the substantial form. That is the key difference.

It seems to be a distinction without a difference. Would things have substantial forms or natures with final causes without God’s power as the creative and sustaining cause? Would computers, or robots, or any other human artifact, have the final causes that they do without human creativity and effort? The answer to both is “no”, and thus there is a dependency and causal direction that flows from a being with intellect and will making something else that has a particular directedness that is derivative. I suspect that is part of man being made in the image of God.

And I don’t think that you can say that a thing with a substantial form derives its final cause from the substantial form alone by virtue of the fact that God has created it to have that nature and has given that its nature is the cause of its own causal efficacy in the world. This is because that thing will require God’s ongoing causal power to sustain it in existence, and to be the source of the substantial form within the divine intellect, and thus it remains secondary and derivative from a primary source.

dguller said...

Rank:

Here’s another way to look at it.

Take an existing being X with a specific nature N at a particular location in space-time. As the time dimension moves into the future, a variety of outcomes occur. As you continue to move into the future, even more outcomes occur. And these outcomes continue as time moves forward.

Take another existing being Y with the same nature N at a particular location in space-time. As the time dimension moves into the future, a variety of outcomes occur. As you continue to move into the future, even more outcomes occur. And these outcomes continue as time moves forward.

You can continue in this vein with all beings in space-time that have the same nature N, and you will have a whole set of outcomes that one can say are possible outcomes of beings with nature N.

The next step would be deciding which of these outcomes will count as one of the final causes of beings with nature N. One would have to decide just how far into space-time one will want to go collecting outcomes to decide which outcomes will fit into the set of final causes. Should you go an hour into the future? A day? A week? A month? A year? Or longer? Should you include outcomes that occur in the immediate vicinity? 5 meters away? 10 meters away? A kilometer? Or farther away? Should you only include outcomes that stop when impacting other beings with nature M, or do you include the impact of the behavior of beings with nature M as within the purview of outcomes of beings with nature N?

And that is just to decide what fits within the set of final causes of beings with nature N.

Then you have a rank them in a hierarchy, which requires you to justify a particular perspective that includes a specific hierarchy of values and the identification of important and salient aspects of reality that are treated as primary and paradigmatic.

None of this means that it is impossible, but I think that people skip over just how difficult it can be.

goddinpotty said...

@Deuce
it's your old tactic of retreating to the lack of "usefulness" of facts that contradict your position when backed into a corner.

Not sure what you are talking about, as far as I can tell I am the only one contributing facts to this discussion. "Living things have a holistic substance" is not a fact, it is (to be charitable) a theory.

You've just admitted that your position relies on a deliberate refusal to think logically, specifically by continuing to conflate contradictory notions by deliberately refusing to examine them.

Once again, I have no idea that you are talking about.

Now, either the process isn't really blind and mechanistic, or it doesn't really account for the function in living things, or what seems to you like function in living things is not really an objective fact about the world (in which case eliminativism is implied), but you manage to avoid dealing with those details by, as you put it, not being so literal.

Unpacking this, you seem to be asserting (without any justification or argument) that a mechanistic process can't give rise to function. In other words, you are just contradicting me. If you have an argument, let's hear it.

As for the objective facts of function and eliminativism, see my previous comment.

Justin said...

So, just thinking here...

Science, with respect to Aquinas' Fifth Way, has only made the concept of intrinsic teleology more granular, it has not eliminated it by any stretch. So a quark has quarky teleology til it is combined with two other quarks and makes a proton or neutron, and this form has its own teleology until combined with more protons, neutrons, etc.


Being able to rank them, to my mind, doesn't seem to have any effect on the thrust of Aquinas' point. Ranking them, or deciding where to start in the chain, or knowing every conceivable final cause seems more like an epistemological problem than an ontological problem, the latter of which seems to be Aquinas' thrust.

Am I thinking about this right?

goddinpotty said...

@rank

Your argument against John Searle's categories of intentionality was that, where you come from, he's considered "one of the most ridiculous philosophers in the world". That sounds like an ad hominem to me.

Do you have some kind of cognitive disability that intereferes with memory? That was in response to your assertion that he's one of the most respected philosophers in the world. If your statement is allowable, so is mine.

Someone else was wondering about my background which I alluded to. It is indeed in computer science, mathematics, AI, and cognitive science. These fields are not philosophy but they certainly overlap with it in interesting ways. There are philosophers like Dennett who try to interact constructively with cognitive science, and others who prefer to hide.

And speaking of Dennett, how come you bow down to Searle because he's so respectible but refuse to acknowledge that in Dennett, who is about at the same rank? And, if my position is so similar to Dennett, how come you feel free to mock it as philosophically ignorant? I assume that even if you think Dennett is 100% wrong you'll acknowledge that he has professional standing as a philosopher.

rank sophist said...

So, there are multiple final causes for any particular entity, and these final causes often can be arranged into a hierarchy. However, how that hierarchy is arranged depends upon the perspective, which depends upon what values are held to be primary. For example, if the value of pleasure is held to be primary, then eating would be about enjoyable food, and that consumption of disgusting food would be an imperfect form of eating. However, if the value of sustenance is held to be primary, then eating would be about the digestion of nutrients to maintain the integrity of equilibrium of a living organism. There are reasons to support either of these perspectives, and probably others.

Consumption of disgusting food would be an imperfect form of eating. The pleasure of eating is not discounted when the life-giving properties of food are given primacy. They are merely secondary.

Also, no plausible case can be made for the dominance of pleasure in this example. Eating and drinking are what allow an organism to continue living, and therefore flourishing. The pleasure of eating coaxes one toward eating; but it does not keep one alive.

And with regards to speech being primarily about the transmission of information, that depends upon the perspective, as well. If the transmission of true information results in an increase in knowledge, which in the hands of human beings will result in increased technological sophistication, which will result in the destruction and desolation of the biosphere, then from the perspective of the biosphere, it would not be considered a good outcome, and thus not dominant. Perhaps speech is more about telling jokes to increase mirth and happiness amongst human beings, which would decrease depression and the need for increased technological control of nature to improve our moods, which would save the planet! Again, what one places at the top of the values hierarchy, which defines one’s perspective, makes a huge impact upon what final causes are held to be primary.

You'd have to take this one up with Feser (who has written pages and pages on this subject). I'm not an expert at defending the truth-telling purpose of speech.

I think that there are certainly final causes in terms of a series of possible outcomes for existing beings, which is why I accept teleology as a real phenomenon, but that ranking them in an objective hierarchy is highly problematic. This is because all rankings depend upon perspectives that differ in terms of a hierarchy of values and choices of what aspects of reality to focus upon and take as fundamental and primary.

If a nuclear bomb explodes properly, then it is a well-made bomb. Now, it wouldn't be good for all of the life that it wipes out--but it would still be a good nuke. Likewise, a good sword is one that does its job properly, even if its job involves something negative to other organisms. A good lion can take down a gazelle, and a good gazelle can get away from a lion. See where this is going? Goodness relates to the flourishing of that specific substance qua that specific substance. A flourishing nuke is one that blows up good.

rank sophist said...

It seems to be a distinction without a difference. Would things have substantial forms or natures with final causes without God’s power as the creative and sustaining cause? Would computers, or robots, or any other human artifact, have the final causes that they do without human creativity and effort?

Being built into a computer, a robot or another human artifact is not intrinsic to the natures of the constituent parts. That's the point. Is it part of iron's intrinsic nature to be built into a robot? No. Is it part of gold's nature to be formed into jewellery? No. Gold's essence, to quote David Oderberg, is "a metal with atomic number 79". It manifests a slew of properties as a result of this nature, such as ductility, malleability and a certain melting point. Being turned into jewellery is not among these, but, because of its intrinsic properties, gold can be turned into jewellery by artifice.

As a side note, God-as-Supreme-Intelligence applies to immanent teleology (i.e. life) only, as far as I'm aware. Could be wrong.

Josh said...

Dguller,

Hello again. A few queries:

1. Re: your question about the hierarchy of causes. I don't follow what you're getting at; obviously one would say God is the absolute final end of all things...

2. This is because that thing will require God’s ongoing causal power to sustain it in existence, and to be the source of the substantial form within the divine intellect, and thus it remains secondary and derivative from a primary source.

But derivative in what way? I think Rank pointing out telos contrary to nature re: robot provides enough grounds for a distinction there.

3. The next step would be deciding which of these outcomes will count as one of the final causes of beings with nature N.

I don't follow. Wouldn't apprehending a thing's substantial form entail knowing a final cause irrespective of time?

Josh said...

Oops, Rank beat me; I'll step aside from this exchange

rank sophist said...

The next step would be deciding which of these outcomes will count as one of the final causes of beings with nature N. One would have to decide just how far into space-time one will want to go collecting outcomes to decide which outcomes will fit into the set of final causes. Should you go an hour into the future? A day? A week? A month? A year? Or longer? Should you include outcomes that occur in the immediate vicinity? 5 meters away? 10 meters away? A kilometer? Or farther away? Should you only include outcomes that stop when impacting other beings with nature M, or do you include the impact of the behavior of beings with nature M as within the purview of outcomes of beings with nature N?

Determining a thing's essence is generally the first step. This involves locating its nearest genus and its specific difference. In another example from Oderberg, water is a liquid (genus) with the chemical constituents H2O (specific difference). Once the essence is known, the rest is easier. We can analyze its powers and properties, and eventually learn what exercise thereof results in its flourishing as the kind of thing that it is.

rank sophist said...

Josh,

Feel free to join in. Discussions are always more interesting when multiple people contribute.

GIP,

Do you have some kind of cognitive disability that intereferes with memory? That was in response to your assertion that he's one of the most respected philosophers in the world. If your statement is allowable, so is mine.

Do you understand the rules of debate in any way, shape or form? An argument requires a counterargument, regardless of its source. Your counterargument was an ad hominem. My comment about Searle's reputation was merely an aside--you would have had to present a counterargument to Searle's point even if it had been made by Joe Nextdoor, who spent most of his time drunk and/or unconscious.

And speaking of Dennett, how come you bow down to Searle because he's so respectible but refuse to acknowledge that in Dennett, who is about at the same rank?

Because Searle makes arguments that I can't beat. Dennett's are swiss cheese.

And, if my position is so similar to Dennett, how come you feel free to mock it as philosophically ignorant? I assume that even if you think Dennett is 100% wrong you'll acknowledge that he has professional standing as a philosopher.

Dennett's arguments are some of the muddiest in contemporary philosophy, and his ignorance of classical metaphysics is pronounced. Certainly he's very famous, but, then, so is Nickelback.

When I attributed philosophical ignorance to you, I was unaware that your (incoherent) position was actually lifted from Dennett. I suppose an apology is in order, there. However, the argument is still bad, for the same reasons; and your constant failure to grasp philosophy other than Dennett's hasn't changed.

Eduardo said...

Dennett and Nickelback in the same post. Damn that remark was genius!

Eduardo said...

so since we have already threadjacked so hard the post.

What would be the best arguments for Holistic view and Blundle view of things ???

Got really interested in that part.

Richard said...

Just a quick note to the Prof. Feser, Chris Hallquist has thoughtfully posted a rant over at Freethoughtblogs about what a cranky poopy-pants he thinks you are. If you need a few ruefull chuckles, go check it out.

dguller said...

Justin:

Being able to rank them, to my mind, doesn't seem to have any effect on the thrust of Aquinas' point. Ranking them, or deciding where to start in the chain, or knowing every conceivable final cause seems more like an epistemological problem than an ontological problem, the latter of which seems to be Aquinas' thrust.

No, it doesn’t have any impact upon Aquinas’ argument that teleology implies the existence of an immaterial entity that contains forms and that structures them according to a reason and logic, which he identifies as the paradigmatic functions of an intellect. However, it does have an impact upon how one infers the appropriate behavior of an entity on the basis of its final cause. This would presuppose the ability to discover which final causes are ultimate and primary, and thus to be prioritized.

dguller said...

Rank:

Consumption of disgusting food would be an imperfect form of eating. The pleasure of eating is not discounted when the life-giving properties of food are given primacy. They are merely secondary.

Also, no plausible case can be made for the dominance of pleasure in this example. Eating and drinking are what allow an organism to continue living, and therefore flourishing. The pleasure of eating coaxes one toward eating; but it does not keep one alive. 


Again, why the priority to sustain existence? Perhaps pleasure is the ultimate purpose of the universe, irrespective of how long that pleasure lasts, even if only for a fraction of a moment when compared to the existence of the universe? Sure, all beings do persist in being, but so what? Just because the majority of beings do X does not mean that X is essential to them. After all, the majority of human beings reason imperfectly, and yet they all are supposed to have the essential nature of being rational animals.

If a nuclear bomb explodes properly, then it is a well-made bomb. Now, it wouldn't be good for all of the life that it wipes out--but it would still be a good nuke. Likewise, a good sword is one that does its job properly, even if its job involves something negative to other organisms. A good lion can take down a gazelle, and a good gazelle can get away from a lion. See where this is going? Goodness relates to the flourishing of that specific substance qua that specific substance. A flourishing nuke is one that blows up good.

As far as I understand it, X is good to the degree that X actualizes the potentiality in its nature towards its final cause(s). Thus, identifying final causes is paramount to understanding the goodness of existing entities. If we cannot identify final causes according to a reliable methodology, then the entire A-T metaphysics is compromised, because understanding anything essentially requires identifying the four causes, the final cause being paramount.

dguller said...

Rank:

Being built into a computer, a robot or another human artifact is not intrinsic to the natures of the constituent parts. That's the point. Is it part of iron's intrinsic nature to be built into a robot? No. Is it part of gold's nature to be formed into jewellery? No. Gold's essence, to quote David Oderberg, is "a metal with atomic number 79". It manifests a slew of properties as a result of this nature, such as ductility, malleability and a certain melting point. Being turned into jewellery is not among these, but, because of its intrinsic properties, gold can be turned into jewellery by artifice.

Say that we develop sufficiently sophisticated artificial intelligence in our machines such that they are capable of mass-producing themselves without our involvement whatsoever. These machines take a variety of materials and produce replicated forms of themselves, which then operate according to their respective programming, and function fairly independently. And say that these machines manage to sustain their existence in this manner for billions of years, say longer than the existence of biological organisms on this planet, which long ago went extinct, for example.

Would you say that the essence of their material components now includes being part of machines? And if not, why not? Look at individual cells. They originally evolved to be single celled organisms, and then evolved to become multicellular organisms. After the latter step, the nature of the cell included being part of a collective unit, whereas in the former step, the nature of the cell did not. And what is an individual cell other than a machine? It has a barrier that it must maintain based upon materials that are acquired from its environment, and it has smaller machines within itself for replication, digestion, excretion, metabolism, and so on. Other than the actual physical materials, there is not much difference between my AI robots and cells, except in the manner of reproduction.

And so what? Why is biological reproduction the paradigm? Why can’t replication be done via external means? Again, it just seems arbitrary. You start with living organisms as the paradigm, and then generate a metaphysics around it, when you could have started with replicating DNA, and possibly come up with something entirely different with different categories and notions of what counts as a substance and a holistic unit. Or you could have started more grandly with a planet, which has its own homeostatic set of physical processes, and then replication would be completely irrelevant.

Determining a thing's essence is generally the first step. This involves locating its nearest genus and its specific difference. In another example from Oderberg, water is a liquid (genus) with the chemical constituents H2O (specific difference). Once the essence is known, the rest is easier. We can analyze its powers and properties, and eventually learn what exercise thereof results in its flourishing as the kind of thing that it is.

But a thing’s essence is just the set of properties that it has that are both necessary and sufficient for its being the thing that it is. This requires a methodology to categorize and differentiate substantial properties from accidental properties. This would require one to be able to first list all the different activities and possible behaviors of such things, and then identify which activities and behaviors count as essential, which would effectively be the final causes of such a thing. You can’t just start with the essence. That might be the hardest part, especially since what you count as essential depends upon your perspective. What is essential about a lion to a human being is not what is essential about a lion to a galaxy. In fact, from a galaxy’s standpoint, the lion effectively does not even exist!

goddinpotty said...

I wouldn't say my philosophy was lifted from Dennett, more or less the other way around. Not that Dennett copied me of course, but he based it on the same scientific/computational/evolutionary worldview that I share, and I had that in place long before I encountered Dennett.

I am still not quite getting the rules of discourse that make it a crime for me to say something dismissive about Searle while you are free to do pretty much the same thing re Dennett. To say that it is because Searle is wonderful while Dennett is trash is to beg the question, and of course, it was you who opened the door to argument from authority (but only the authorities preapproved by you, apparently).

For someone who like to mock the philosophical ineptitude of others, you seem singularly unable to articulate any kind of argument that doesn't rest entirely on pre-existing biases.

Eduardo said...

Don't be dense Potty. He wants you to argue against Searle. You get the argument, show that some premises are wrong or that the conclusion doesn't follow. Or perhaps talk about the post and challenge some premises. Nothing better than coming from the argumenter view and show that is doesn't sustain itself. It is no secret man.

Mostly you just assert that your way of seeing things is correct, which of course is no argument whatsoever.

Justin said...

dguller,

However, it does have an impact upon how one infers the appropriate behavior of an entity on the basis of its final cause. This would presuppose the ability to discover which final causes are ultimate and primary, and thus to be prioritized.

Sure, and if you attempt to abandon the idea of final causes with respect to behavior, then one is only limited in act by the power they have over others. If there is no formal or objective behavior, then all is permitted, if you can get away with it.

David T said...

dguller,

If I may jump in:

Again, why the priority to sustain existence? Perhaps pleasure is the ultimate purpose of the universe, irrespective of how long that pleasure lasts, even if only for a fraction of a moment when compared to the existence of the universe

There is a natural order to the ends of eating. You must first eat to live, then eat to have pleasure, because you can't have pleasure if you aren't alive.

Ungrounded speculation that a fleeting moment of pleasure might somehow fulfill the purpose of the universe is just that... ungrounded speculation. Of course we can make up anything we want, but how does that count as an argument?

As far as a method goes, the priority of natural ends is grounded in an analysis of nature as we find it. You've got to be alive to experience pleasure, so eating first serves the purpose of being alive, and secondarily the purpose of pleasure.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

I'll get back to you soon.

GIP,

I am still not quite getting the rules of discourse that make it a crime for me to say something dismissive about Searle while you are free to do pretty much the same thing re Dennett. To say that it is because Searle is wonderful while Dennett is trash is to beg the question, and of course, it was you who opened the door to argument from authority (but only the authorities preapproved by you, apparently).

Actually, I took apart Dennett's argument above. Feel free to respond to that if you want. Go ahead and show me how natural selection simultaneously possesses and does not possess agency.

dguller said...

Justin:

Sure, and if you attempt to abandon the idea of final causes with respect to behavior, then one is only limited in act by the power they have over others. If there is no formal or objective behavior, then all is permitted, if you can get away with it.

I do not deny the existence of final causes in nature, but only question whether it makes sense to prioritize one final cause over others with respect to the behavior of existent entities. So, all is not permitted, and there are objective limitations in nature.

dguller said...

David T:

There is a natural order to the ends of eating. You must first eat to live, then eat to have pleasure, because you can't have pleasure if you aren't alive.

This seems to confuse the foundation with the end. Yes, eating to live is the foundation, but that does not necessarily mean that it is the end of eating.

Take the Aristotelian doctrine of soul as the animating principle or form of living beings. Aristotle argues that in order to have a rational soul, one must have the foundation of an appetitive soul. According to your argument, because the rational soul is built upon the foundation of the appetitive soul, it follows that the end of the soul is its appetitive form. Naturally, you would agree that just because the appetitive soul is the foundation of the rational soul that it does not follow that the appetitive soul is the end of animate entities.

Similarly, just because eating to live is the foundation of eating for pleasure, it does not follow that eating to live is the end of eating in general.

Ungrounded speculation that a fleeting moment of pleasure might somehow fulfill the purpose of the universe is just that... ungrounded speculation. Of course we can make up anything we want, but how does that count as an argument?

The argument is that what we identify as important and salient in nature depends upon the values that inform our perspective, which means that different values will result in different aspects of nature that are considered to be important. A perspective that prioritized pleasure would naturally see pleasure as the final cause of eating, irrespective of what else must exist in order to pleasurable eating to be possible. After all, Christian theology states that humanity is the pinnacle of creation despite the fact that human beings have only existed for about 150,000 years compared to the 15 billion years since the Big Bang. If you want to say that a tiny fragment of creation cannot possibly be given priority, especially given the multitude of surrounding and sustaining events, then human exceptionalism would be compromised, I think.

Any thoughts?

dguller said...

Rank:

No problem.

Just wanted to add a few comments about your claim that all teleology presupposes a mind.

Certainly, one can argue that the teleology that we observe all around us is indicative of an explanatory source, and that source can be characterized as being (a) immaterial, (b) in possession of all forms that are subsequently combined with matter to individuate particular beings within space-time, and (c) rational and logical principles that organize the activity of individual beings within space-time. According to Thomism, this source would be called an Intellect, because it shares features with human intellects, such as (a*) being immaterial, (b*) containing forms without becoming an individuated entity, and (c*) being organized according to reason and logic.

However, there are a few problems with this account.

(a), (b) and (c) are themselves abstracted from (a*), (b*) and (c*). As such, they exclude other characteristic features of human intellects. For example, human intellects are also capable of (d*) abstraction from concrete particulars. This is not possible for the Divine Intellect, which has the causal relationship going in the other direction. Also, human intellects are capable of (e*) a sequential series of logical steps to arrive at a conclusion, which is characteristic of rational arguments. This is not possible for a Divine Intellect, which does not unfold over time and in a series of steps, because it exists outside of space-time and does not undergo any change whatsoever, being Pure Act.

I do not understand why one cannot say that any intellect must also be characterized by (d*) and (e*), and thus anything that does not also have (d*) and (e*) cannot be considered to be an intellect. As such, the source of teleology in nature, having (a), (b) and (c), but not (d*) and (e*) cannot be an intellect at all. It is certainly something, but it is not an intellect.

I am not even sure that (a), (b) and (c) are sufficient to even count as a mind. After all, the mind is more than just the intellect. It is also conscious awareness, qualia, memory, concentration, emotions, feelings, planning, imagination, and so on. I am not too sure if a Divine Mind can plausibly be said to have any other these qualities, because they would violate its characteristics of Pure Act and Divine Simplicity.

So, although one can argue that there are particular qualities that the source of teleology in nature must possess, I am not too sure that one can justifiably call it an Intellect or even a Mind.

goddinpotty said...

@rank says, in his imaginary evisceration of Dennett:

Without a real intentionality at the lowest levels, no derived intentionality (a distinction he accepts) can exist in the higher levels.

Those questions are so cute when they go begging like that.

rank sophist said...

GIP,

So, if I don't have an ice cream cone, can I give someone an ice cream cone? Is that how this works now?

estry said...

Rank,

You're are much better off spending you time dialoguing with dguller than with GIP. Word to the wise...

Josh said...

Dguller,

Christian theology states that humanity is the pinnacle of creation despite the fact that human beings have only existed for about 150,000 years compared to the 15 billion years since the Big Bang.

I'm surprised you give credence to this statement. Fix it to some Christian theologians have stated, and you might have a point, though even then size and matters of time have nothing whatsoever to do with importance in God's eyes.

Brian said...

Wait a sec, which Christian theologians say that human beings are the pinnacle of creation? ONE human being is the pinnacle of creation. Namely, the God Bearer. But she is the exception. All of us, I am afraid, are nowhere near the pinnacle of creation.

And WTF does time have to with it? In any case, if we believe our scientists, it is precisely that amount of time that is needed for the evolution of intelligent life, anyway. From stars to us. So the span of 15 billion years, far from relegating human beings to insignificance (how does that work, again?), punctuates it all the more.

Brian said...

Wait a sec, which Christian theologians say that human beings are the pinnacle of creation? ONE human being is the pinnacle of creation. Namely, the God Bearer. But she is the exception. All of us, I am afraid, are nowhere near the pinnacle of creation.

And WTF does time have to with it? In any case, if we believe our scientists, it is precisely that amount of time that is needed for the evolution of intelligent life, anyway. From stars to us. So the span of 15 billion years, far from relegating human beings to insignificance (how does that work, again?), punctuates it all the more.

goddinpotty said...

@rank: By your logic, if nobody has ice cream (as was the state of the world at some time in the past, let's say 2000 years ago), then there could never ever be any ice cream. Yet here it is, so perhaps you need to examine your reasoning.

Josh said...

Brian,

Wait a sec, which Christian theologians say that human beings are the pinnacle of creation? ONE human being is the pinnacle of creation. Namely, the God Bearer. But she is the exception. All of us, I am afraid, are nowhere near the pinnacle of creation.

There's probably an equivocation afoot on the term 'pinnacle' as put forth by myself and Dguller, but I simply assumed there were some silly theologians out there that had made such a claim in the past. ;-)

And WTF does time have to with it? In any case, if we believe our scientists, it is precisely that amount of time that is needed for the evolution of intelligent life, anyway. From stars to us. So the span of 15 billion years, far from relegating human beings to insignificance (how does that work, again?), punctuates it all the more.

I'd rather just say that time elapsed is irrelevant to the whole matter, personally.

Anonymous said...

Happiness is the now-and-forever Mystery that IS the Real Heart and the Only Real God of every one.

Which is to say that there is not much unqualified uncaused Happiness to found on this site!

Every object is only Light, the Energy of Consciousness.
Even so, there is no mind.
Only this stark embodiment, without inwardness.

First transcend the mind, not the body.
Inwardness and all thinking is flight from Life and Love.
Only the body is Full of Consciousness.

Therefore, be the body only, feeling into Life.
Surrender the mind into Love, until the body dissolves in Light.
Dare this Ecstasy, and never be made thoughtful by birth and experience and death.

rank sophist said...

By your logic, if nobody has ice cream (as was the state of the world at some time in the past, let's say 2000 years ago), then there could never ever be any ice cream. Yet here it is, so perhaps you need to examine your reasoning.

You have absolutely, always and forever missed the point of my comment. To use your example, imagine a world in which the constituents of ice cream (i.e. milk, sugar, etc.) did not exist. Imagine that the lower "links in the chain" (cows, etc.) that led up to the "evolution" of ice cream did not exist. Now imagine that there was a "lowest link" that exhibited none of the traits or potentials for the production of ice cream. Something that could not even evolve into a cow--something that isn't even alive. A rock. Now tell me how you're going to get ice cream from this rock.

The creation of ice cream was possible because the constituents of ice cream existed. But unless there is something that has these constituents to begin with, ice cream is impossible. Likewise, unless something had intentionality, there could not ever be a derived intentionality. Even a "proto-intentionality" must necessarily be some kind of intentionality, which means that it must be an agent. Dennett wants to pretend that he's exempt from the law of the excluded middle, but it ain't happening. Intentionality either existed or did not exist: it wasn't spawned ex nihilo.

dguller,

Again, why the priority to sustain existence? Perhaps pleasure is the ultimate purpose of the universe, irrespective of how long that pleasure lasts, even if only for a fraction of a moment when compared to the existence of the universe?

Aristotle believed that all knowledge begins from experience. What you're describing is not the way that our universe works. This should be obvious to everyone, and, as David T said, random speculation is meaningless. Animals do not "live for pleasure". If this was the case, then studies of fight or flight responses would be nonsense. Life is oriented toward the continuation of life, even in an evolutionary sense. An animal that lived only for pleasure--an incoherent concept from a logical standpoint--would be an extinct animal.

As far as I understand it, X is good to the degree that X actualizes the potentiality in its nature towards its final cause(s). Thus, identifying final causes is paramount to understanding the goodness of existing entities. If we cannot identify final causes according to a reliable methodology, then the entire A-T metaphysics is compromised, because understanding anything essentially requires identifying the four causes, the final cause being paramount.

A thing is good if it flourishes as that kind of thing. Take the case of a living thing, rather than an artifact (like a nuke). If we observe that a tree is flourishing, then it is obviously doing something right. We then locate the actions it is undertaking in order to flourish. In the case of a gazelle, four healthy legs allow it to escape from a lion, which in turn allows it to flourish. It follows that four healthy legs are among the elements that constitute a good gazelle. It further follows that a single leg is working properly if it helps the gazelle escape.

E.H. Munro said...

Dave Miller being courteous in a combox when interacting with theists? And people say there's no such thing as miracles. (Sorry, Dave, I'm only familiar with you from Amazon.)

goddinpotty said...

@rank: oy vey, it just keeps going round and round. Don't you ever get tired of begging the question? I certainly am getting tired of pointing out that you are.

If I may summarize: you are apparently of the belief that intentionality is necessarily some kind of ontological primitive, and if it isn't baked into the cosmos from the very beginning then it can never arise. I, on the other hand, believe that intentionality is an emergent property of systems, that it is built out of other stuff and so can appear, say, after a few billion years of evolution.

Now, maybe you are right and I am wrong, but you have to argue that, not just keep restating your suppositions over and over and over and over as if they were obviously true. Surely that should be an easy task for one so skilled in the philosophical arts as you seem to think you are.

rank sophist said...

Would you say that the essence of their material components now includes being part of machines? And if not, why not? Look at individual cells. They originally evolved to be single celled organisms, and then evolved to become multicellular organisms. After the latter step, the nature of the cell included being part of a collective unit, whereas in the former step, the nature of the cell did not. And what is an individual cell other than a machine?

It's a living thing. It possesses immanent teleology. A machine does not possess immanent teleology--it is a collection of metal parts that imitates life. It possesses derived intentionality/teleology only: it was designed for a purpose. A machine cannot ever be alive, because it cannot ever have immanent teleology. Even if a machine race replicated itself for billions of years, it still would not possess immanent teleology.

But a thing’s essence is just the set of properties that it has that are both necessary and sufficient for its being the thing that it is. This requires a methodology to categorize and differentiate substantial properties from accidental properties. This would require one to be able to first list all the different activities and possible behaviors of such things, and then identify which activities and behaviors count as essential, which would effectively be the final causes of such a thing. You can’t just start with the essence. That might be the hardest part, especially since what you count as essential depends upon your perspective. What is essential about a lion to a human being is not what is essential about a lion to a galaxy. In fact, from a galaxy’s standpoint, the lion effectively does not even exist!

You have a point there. This is probably yet another one of the reasons why Aquinas called the final cause "the cause of causes".

So, although one can argue that there are particular qualities that the source of teleology in nature must possess, I am not too sure that one can justifiably call it an Intellect or even a Mind.

The phrase "Divine Intellect" is an analogy. Unlike many contemporary Christians, Thomists do not literally believe that God is "a mind". God is something like a mind--that is all. Immanent teleology gets us to something like a mind.

rank sophist said...

If I may summarize: you are apparently of the belief that intentionality is necessarily some kind of ontological primitive, and if it isn't baked into the cosmos from the very beginning then it can never arise. I, on the other hand, believe that intentionality is an emergent property of systems, that it is built out of other stuff and so can appear, say, after a few billion years of evolution.

Nothing comes from nothing. Few logical principles are this concrete. Either there was an "ontological primitive" of intentionality, and intentionality exists; or there was no such primitive, and intentionality does not exist. It's really that simple. Not even Dennett disagrees--this is why he claims that natural selection possesses a kind of "proto-intentionality" from which we derive ours (even though his explanation is a muddled and ultimately ridiculous combination of eliminativism and ID). Claims to the contrary--like the one you're presenting--might fairly be characterized as appeals to magic. You call this begging the question, but I call it protecting my sanity.

David T said...

dguller,

This seems to confuse the foundation with the end. Yes, eating to live is the foundation, but that does not necessarily mean that it is the end of eating.

Well, it is surely an end, is it not? What I have been giving you is a natural order of ends according to necessity. But you are right that there are other possible orderings, specifically an order according to nobility. And according to that order, pleasure has priority over sustenance.

According to necessity, eating for sustenance has priority over eating for pleasure. But we don't live merely for the sake of living, but for the sake of the good; and pleasure is certainly a good. So according to the order of nobility eating for pleasure has priority over eating for sustenance.

The orderings according to necessity and nobility apply across the range of goods. Aristotle said that philosophy is the least necessary yet noblest of activities.

The argument is that what we identify as important and salient in nature depends upon the values that inform our perspective, which means that different values will result in different aspects of nature that are considered to be important. A perspective that prioritized pleasure would naturally see pleasure as the final cause of eating, irrespective of what else must exist in order to pleasurable eating to be possible

The orderings I have given you are grounded in nature, not in an arbitrary, subjective scale of value. People eat because they have to, or because they enjoy it. That's just a fact of nature, not a matter of perspective.

David T said...

dguller,

As I've given you two orderings according to nature, naturally there arises the question of an "ordering of orders." Can we answer the question of whether the ordering according to necessity or the ordering according to nobility takes priority?

Well, I think nature gives us the answer with the fact that the good of pleasure cannot be fulfilled unless the good of existence is already being fulfilled. And this is true of many other goods. Pleasure is not the only good. Knowledge is another one, virtue yet another, love and friendship another, etc., etc. To prioritize pleasure over sustenance is also to prioritize pleasure over all other goods that sustenance makes possible; the man who pursues pleasure at all costs (to the extreme of not doing enough to survive), is sacrificing not just life but all the other goods that life makes possible - goods that are arguably more noble than pleasure (e.g. knowledge and love).

Our natural morality reflects this order. Given the choice between giving a donut to a starving man or a man who is well fed but just loves donuts, any sane person will give the donut to the starving man. I submit this is because we intuitively recognize the natural priority of eating for sustenance over eating for pleasure.

The Deuce said...

GIP:

So intentionality is no more real and no less real than other abstractions we use to make sense of the natural world. The category of "chair" is also an abstraction of an underlying physical reality. Like intentionality, it is not all that well-defined, but we know how to identify members of the category when we see them. An eliminativist would say that chairs and intentionality are not real, but a pragmatist would not.

Come on, this is just sad. Obviously what defines a chair as a chair is that we use it for sitting on. Chairs are defined in terms of their purpose, which they derive from our intentionality. The category of "chair" is an abstraction not just of physical reality, but of our purposes for that physical reality. The "fuzziness" of the chair concept results from the fact that we can construct or make use of a variety of different structures to serve that purpose. It's an obvious case of derived intentionality. It should also be obvious why this makes a poor analogy to intentionality: to say that intentionality is intentionality by virtue of being derived from intentionality is circular and nonsensical.

It's a similar error to your argument about teleology in living things. It's just intuitively obvious to you that chairs really exist, and it seems to you that chairs are purely naturalistic and mechanistic, and that this provides a suitable analogy for intentionality. It all falls apart when you consider that what makes a chair a chair is intentionality in the first place, but your "strategy" for overcoming the incoherence of your position is to simply refuse to think in a logically rigorous (ake, "literal" or "philosophically educated" as you put it) manner, and to deliberately ignore logical distinctions in favor of vague gesturing and handwaving.

dguller said...

Josh:

I'm surprised you give credence to this statement. Fix it to some Christian theologians have stated, and you might have a point, though even then size and matters of time have nothing whatsoever to do with importance in God's eyes.

It is my understanding of Catholic teachings that following Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden, human beings have been stained by Original Sin, and thus have become sinful by nature. God had to sacrifice himself in order to pay the cost of the totality of humanity’s sinfulness in order to be able to redeem humanity. That seems like quite the cost to God for a created being that he perceives as trivial and unimportant. It actually looks more like human beings are a top priority for God, and thus their salvation warrants the extreme measure of God’s self-sacrifice in the form of Jesus Christ.

dguller said...

Rank:

Aristotle believed that all knowledge begins from experience. What you're describing is not the way that our universe works. This should be obvious to everyone, and, as David T said, random speculation is meaningless. Animals do not "live for pleasure". If this was the case, then studies of fight or flight responses would be nonsense. Life is oriented toward the continuation of life, even in an evolutionary sense. An animal that lived only for pleasure--an incoherent concept from a logical standpoint--would be an extinct animal.

Pleasure is an experience of conscious minds, and since not all animals have consciousness, those that do not obviously cannot live for pleasure. If you focus upon conscious (e.g. humans) or proto-conscious organisms (e.g. higher mammals), then you see them as guided towards activities that encourage their well-being, and when they engage in such activities, they experience pleasure. It does not matter if non-conscious organisms do not engage in this behavior. I can simply argue that they are unimportant in the grand scheme of things, which is to achieve the evolution of conscious organisms that experience pleasure. It is similar to the Thomist argument that even though most human beings fail to exercise their rational capacities properly, it is still essential to their nature to be rational animals. In other words, experience is not the final arbiter of the essential.

A thing is good if it flourishes as that kind of thing. Take the case of a living thing, rather than an artifact (like a nuke). If we observe that a tree is flourishing, then it is obviously doing something right. We then locate the actions it is undertaking in order to flourish. In the case of a gazelle, four healthy legs allow it to escape from a lion, which in turn allows it to flourish. It follows that four healthy legs are among the elements that constitute a good gazelle. It further follows that a single leg is working properly if it helps the gazelle escape.

Again, this presupposes that you already know the final causes of a tree or a gazelle. That would presuppose that you have already achieved the correct hierarchy of values that are the foundation of any interpretative scheme. It is easier to achieve this feat with mathematical and abstract entities, such as triangles and squares, but it is much harder when you are dealing with entities in space-time, because you have to categorize their actions according to particular criteria, which must be established at the outset. I mentioned above that you would have to decide whether the final cause occurs within the immediate future, medium future, long-range future, or even within the lifespan of the entity in question. For example, it might be the final cause to raise productive and functional offspring, which may happen after the parent dies. So, do you value immediate actions more than medium range ones? Do you value long-term actions more than immediate actions? Do you value actions that affect the being in question more than actions that affect others? These are all value judgments that require justification.

dguller said...

Rank:

It's a living thing. It possesses immanent teleology. A machine does not possess immanent teleology--it is a collection of metal parts that imitates life. It possesses derived intentionality/teleology only: it was designed for a purpose. A machine cannot ever be alive, because it cannot ever have immanent teleology. Even if a machine race replicated itself for billions of years, it still would not possess immanent teleology.

Why does a living organism have to be the paradigm for teleology? That is an assumption that gets the metaphysical system going, but if you started somewhere else, such as with the actions of DNA, or the actions of molecules, then you would get a different metaphysical system with a different conception of what counts as immanent teleology.

And even cells did not always exist. There was once a time where there were only atoms and molecules engaging in chemical reactions. Ultimately, those atoms and molecules formed self-contained structures with properties that were able to sustain their existence, including the inclusion of organelles that performed different functions. Sure, they were self-replicating, but why take self-replication as the paradigm of immanent teleology? Even self-replication requires the acquisition of materials from outside the cell to produce an offspring. So, the replication apparatus is within the cell rather than outside the cell. What significant difference does that make when deciding about immanent teleology? And if you look at the replication of DNA, for example, it is all done by biological machines from outside itself that acquire materials in the form of nucleotides, unwind the DNA, and then attach complementary nucleotides to each strand of the DNA. That is not unlike the machine reproduction example I made above. If you take that as the paradigm of immanent teleology, then you have a different metaphysics.

Furthermore, one can go even deeper, and say that the paradigmatic cases of immanent teleology are chemical reactions. After all, there are many more chemical reactions than living organisms in the universe, and thus by sheer volume can be taken to be primary. That is if you take large volume as a fundamental value when deciding upon final causes. And if you do that, then living organisms are actually the special case, and fundamentally unimportant. Again, this all depends upon your perspective and the values that you prioritize.

And here is another issue that I have with identifying final causes. How does one determine a property that is essential from a property that is accidental? It is not done through statistical analysis, because it is supposed to be a metaphysical distinction. However, it is supposed to be based upon experience. So, what experiences is it based upon? Anecdotal data? That is known to be highly unreliable in a number of cases. Thus, I’m unsure how one decides what is essential and what is accidental without a rigorous methodology for collecting data.

Furthermore, it is always possible that all collected examples are defective, and thus not exemplars of the correct essence at all. It may be that there is a physical defect that prevents all those entities from manifesting their true natures and final causes. So, how do you decide what is defective versus what is fully functional, and how you do decide the intermediate cases? I mean, if human beings evolved to have a brain change that compromised their ability to engage in rational thought, then would they still be considered rational animals, albeit defective ones? And if not, then how are they different from ordinary human beings with severe brain damage, which are still considered to be rational animals, albeit defective ones?

dguller said...

Rank:

The phrase "Divine Intellect" is an analogy. Unlike many contemporary Christians, Thomists do not literally believe that God is "a mind". God is something like a mind--that is all. Immanent teleology gets us to something like a mind.

Likeness presupposes identity in some respect. X is like Y iff X and Y share some properties that are identical. There would have to be something being a human intellect and a Divine Intellect that is the same, or you do not have an analogy at all. What would that identical property be?

BenYachov said...

>What would that identical property be?

They both have an intellect. They both "know". Accept how God knows is incomprehensible to us and unlike how we know.

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

dguller

Good to see you.

But you know this is not the Thomist view: "Likeness presupposes identity in some respect. X is like Y iff X and Y share some properties that are identical."

I hope rank sophist didn't slog through our 800 post to-and-fro on analogy; and if he didn't, don't you think you should explain that the Thomist doctrine of analogy disagrees with you?

BenYachov said...

@Jack

Can we have a link to that discussion? I remember siting on the sidelines reading it but I would like a refresher.

dguller said...

David T:

To prioritize pleasure over sustenance is also to prioritize pleasure over all other goods that sustenance makes possible; the man who pursues pleasure at all costs (to the extreme of not doing enough to survive), is sacrificing not just life but all the other goods that life makes possible - goods that are arguably more noble than pleasure (e.g. knowledge and love).

But what about the pleasure of knowledge and the pleasure of love? That is an essential part of those values, and thus it is not as distinct as you make it seem. Furthermore, this fails to answer my question regarding your methodology for ranking values (or goods), which must be established at the onset. Sustenance is not the most important good, because there are times when self-sacrifice is necessary. So, the question is, if self-sacrifice can be considered a good, then choosing to deny oneself sustenance can also be good, and thus sustenance is not always a good. That also implies that what is considered good or valued in a particular circumstance is not always fixed and constant, but rather is fluid and changing.

That is my conception of ethics, at least. I conceive of an objective set of goods or values that are common to all human beings. The problem is how to choose between them or rank them in a hierarchy, depending upon the situation, cultural background, emotional state, and so on. This ranking and choice will change and differ, depending upon the individual and the context, and I submit that there is often no right answer as to which good should be given priority over another. That is at the heart of our ethical dilemmas, i.e. the conflict between our values that are fundamentally irresolvable, except by fiat. For example, the issues involved with abortion and euthanasia are fundamentally about a conflict of values, each of which is absolutely essential and important, and yet one must be sacrificed for the other. It is akin to having to choose which of your children must live and die. That is how emotionally and viscerally salient they are. And the fact that there is no hard and fast set of rules that will justify one’s choice of value priorities makes it all the more intense and passionate.

dguller said...

Jack:

But you know this is not the Thomist view: "Likeness presupposes identity in some respect. X is like Y iff X and Y share some properties that are identical."

To be honest, I never understood the Thomist view. It seemed to be highly problematic. After all, it agrees that likeness and similarity require things to be same in some ways, but different in others. However, when you try to pin down exactly how some things can be the same, there is no clear explanation, at least to me. I recall there was a debate about the definition of “properties”, about how transcendentals cannot be understood univocally, because they were dependent upon the context and examples being used in the analogy, and thus – somehow – unable to be considered univocal, and some other issues.

Anyway, I never got around to reading my book on Thomist analogy, Gregory Rocca’s Speaking the Incomprehensible God: Thomas Aquinas on the Interplay of Positive and Negative Theology, but I am going to get around to it now. I am just finishing up some books on Spinoza, then picking up my other Aquinas books by Brian Davies and Eleanor Stump, and then the analogy book, so I have the background right. I still think that there is a deep problem with the doctrine of analogy, especially as it denies the very possibility of univocal meaning between created properties and divine properties, but I am open to the possibility that I just don’t understand.

Josh said...

Dguller,

That seems like quite the cost to God for a created being that he perceives as trivial and unimportant.

I of course never implied we weren't important to God; I simply said that claiming theology says that we are the "pinnacle" of creation is an unwarranted claim, and more specifically, that your bringing time into the equation is irrelevant to the matter. If you wish to say 'pinnacle' in terms of the great chain of being...well, that's still wrong, cause you got angels to contend with. But this all is an aside from the main discussion, so I'm happy to drop it.

BenYachov said...

dguller,

Sustenance precedes pleasure in eating but that doesn't mean you are not allowed to enjoy eating for sustenance.

>Sustenance is not the most important good, because there are times when self-sacrifice is necessary.

Well fasting is good but self-starvation is not fasting it is suicide which is evil. OTOH deny yourself food to feed another does make sustenance the most important good in this because you are sustaining another.

Putting one's self in danger of starvation to keep another from starvation is heroic charity. Putting one's self in danger of starvation so another may have the pleasure of Eating (assuming he has food that can sustain him he just doesn't like the taste) is not good.

BenYachov said...

>I still think that there is a deep problem with the doctrine of analogy, especially as it denies the very possibility of univocal meaning between created properties and divine properties, but I am open to the possibility that I just don’t understand.

Which is why you are a class act my son & earns mad respect from moi.

Keep studying.

Cheers.

dguller said...

Ben:

Regarding sustenance, the issue is whether it is always to be considered the top priority and primary good. There are clearly scenarios in which it would not, which necessarily compromise its absolute status as the primary good. For example, sacrificing my life for my children, even if that requires giving them the last morsel of food that results in my death. And there are innumerable such possible ethical scenarios out there.

The bottom line is that to discover the final causes that define the essential nature of a thing, one must be able to find something that, if actualized, would always and necessarily result in an improvement in the flourishing of that thing. My contention is that this may be fairly straightforward for simple beings, such as atoms, molecules, chemicals, and so on, but becomes much more complex as physical entities become more complex. That means that our conclusions about what counts as a final cause at that level of complexity would necessarily have to be probabilistic and provisional, and would depend upon one’s framework of interpretation, which would include a ranking of values and a particular perspective. And I contend that this element of uncertainty and relativity undermines the metaphysical certitude that Thomists claim to have attained.

dguller said...

Our epic discussion of analogy can be found here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2011/11/reading-rosenberg-part-ii.html?commentPage=2

Eduardo said...

O_O, 800+ posts... too much time in their hands.

BenYachov said...

Thank for the link bud.

>Regarding sustenance, the issue is whether it is always to be considered the top priority and primary good. There are clearly scenarios in which it would not, which necessarily compromise its absolute status as the primary good. For example, sacrificing my life for my children, even if that requires giving them the last morsel of food that results in my death. And there are innumerable such possible ethical scenarios out there.

Well I don't see how it's still not the primary good since you are giving your last morsel of food to sustain your kids not to please them?

Well we can talk about it later.

Cheers Brah!

dguller said...

Ben:

Well I don't see how it's still not the primary good since you are giving your last morsel of food to sustain your kids not to please them?

Good point. But then is the final cause ultimately just about sustaining anything? That would imply that it would be good for human beings to commit mass suicide to save the planet from global warming, nuclear destruction, ravaging of ecosystems, pollution, and all the other negative effects of human existence to the rest of the biosphere. After all, it would lead to the sustenance of the majority of the planet’s biological organisms. And if you disagree with this, then there is a higher principle over and above sheer sustenance. What would that be?

David T said...

But what about the pleasure of knowledge and the pleasure of love? That is an essential part of those values, and thus it is not as distinct as you make it seem

Pleasure sometimes accompanies love and knowledge, but is necessary to neither. Or is your position that the truth should be avoided if it is painful? Similarly, love is sometimes painful, as any new parent suffering sleep deprivation from staying up all night with a crying baby can tell you. Or as any parent of teenagers can tell you (my category). Or as Christ on the Cross attests.

Furthermore, this fails to answer my question regarding your methodology for ranking values (or goods), which must be established at the onset.

Why must a methodology be established at the onset? This demand is the fundamental difference between Enlightenment-based philosophy and classical philosophy, and I do not think it can be sustained. For any adjudication among methods must be done in light of some evidential basis (i.e. nature), which means we must have access to truths about nature prior to method (unless, that is, you are a Kantian and think method can be established as a matter of "pure reason.") At best, method can provide us additional facts about nature, but can't serve as the sole basis of facts about nature. In any case, I have not ranked any "values." I've simply read off from nature the order of ends that is found there.

So, the question is, if self-sacrifice can be considered a good, then choosing to deny oneself sustenance can also be good, and thus sustenance is not always a good.

I think this is a sophistical argument. Self-sacrifice per se is not a good. But it sometimes serves as a means to the end of a genuine good, e.g. preserving the life of another. All this means is that the good of self-preservation is not the greatest good in the universe, and must sometimes be sacrificed for the greater good.

In any case, the original question regarded the ordering of ends with respect to eating per se The fact that self-preservation is not the greatest of all goods does nothing to change the ordering of ends with respect to eating per se.

That is my conception of ethics, at least. I conceive of an objective set of goods or values that are common to all human beings. The problem is how to choose between them or rank them in a hierarchy, depending upon the situation, cultural background, emotional state, and so on. This ranking and choice will change and differ, depending upon the individual and the context, and I submit that there is often no right answer as to which good should be given priority over another. That is at the heart of our ethical dilemmas, i.e. the conflict between our values that are fundamentally irresolvable, except by fiat.

Yes, that is your dilemma, and it is the unresolvable dilemma of philosophy that is founded on Enlightenment principles... and is why relativism is now the default worldview of most Westerners. The only possible escape is to ground ethics in nature... and that means acknowledging an ordering of ends that is found in nature, rather than merely arbitrarily imposed as "values." For myself, once I got beyond the scientistic/materialist prejudices of my youth, it has become increasingly curious how people can fail to see the obvious ordering of ends in nature.

BenYachov said...

>Good point. But then is the final cause ultimately just about sustaining anything?

No, bugs and or vermin that might take up residence in my house don't need to be sustained. They need to be whipped out for the sake of sustaining my kids who live there.

>After all, it would lead to the sustenance of the majority of the planet’s biological organisms.

Animals are not our metaphysical equals. It is immoral to sacrifice yourself for an animal. If the animal is valuable you could maybe put yourself in danger for it if you have a reasonable chance of success. But sacrifice for creatures without immortal souls made in the Divine Image?

I think not. Now I got work to do.

Cheers my friend.

dguller said...

David T:

Pleasure sometimes accompanies love and knowledge, but is necessary to neither. Or is your position that the truth should be avoided if it is painful? Similarly, love is sometimes painful, as any new parent suffering sleep deprivation from staying up all night with a crying baby can tell you. Or as any parent of teenagers can tell you (my category). Or as Christ on the Cross attests.

Again, that simply presupposes that pleasure is not the ultimate expression of human teleology. Perhaps all other activities and experiences are examples of defective human beings? How does one decide between what is the norm, what is normal deviation, and what is defective?

Why must a methodology be established at the onset? This demand is the fundamental difference between Enlightenment-based philosophy and classical philosophy, and I do not think it can be sustained. For any adjudication among methods must be done in light of some evidential basis (i.e. nature), which means we must have access to truths about nature prior to method (unless, that is, you are a Kantian and think method can be established as a matter of "pure reason.") At best, method can provide us additional facts about nature, but can't serve as the sole basis of facts about nature. In any case, I have not ranked any "values." I've simply read off from nature the order of ends that is found there.

You must have an agreed-upon methodology from the onset, because that decreases the chances of motivated reasoning and wishful thinking. It decreases the chances that you simply look for reasons to justify preconceived ideas. That is why during a research trial, the methodology must be determined at the beginning, because otherwise, researchers can just cherry-pick and make ad hoc adjustments to get the result that they want.

And even classical philosophy must have a methodology. I mean, it is not just a haphazard affair without any rules of engagement. For example, there is the principle of sufficient reason, i.e. anything that exists must have a reason or cause of its existence. That is a principle that is established from the start in order to engage in any form of inquiry whatsoever. I don’t think that you just see it in nature, but rather both abstract it from nature, and read it into nature.

Finally, how one interprets nature depends upon a predetermined conceptual framework that necessarily includes rules of interpretation. For example, if you observe a new species of beetle, then you do not interpret it as popping into existence the moment you saw it, but rather assume, based upon your framework, that it had a lifespan like other biological organisms. In other words, you do not just see nature as it is without any distortion or bias. You see it through a lens, which can either sharpen the image, or distort it. The issue is understanding this lens, both its strengths and its weakness, and at the very least, acknowledging its existence.

I think this is a sophistical argument. Self-sacrifice per se is not a good. But it sometimes serves as a means to the end of a genuine good, e.g. preserving the life of another. All this means is that the good of self-preservation is not the greatest good in the universe, and must sometimes be sacrificed for the greater good.

Exactly. It means that self-preservation is not an essential good for every existent being. It is just one good in the list of values, which changes its position in the hierarchy, depending upon the circumstance. And even the “greater good” can be a slippery concept.

dguller said...

In any case, the original question regarded the ordering of ends with respect to eating per se The fact that self-preservation is not the greatest of all goods does nothing to change the ordering of ends with respect to eating per se.

But it does have relevance. If self-preservation is not the most important good, then eating for sustenance cannot be the most important good with respect to eating. After all, the sole basis for saying that eating for sustenance is the most important good was that is facilitates self-preservation, which is the higher good! You have undercut the foundation of your argument.

Yes, that is your dilemma, and it is the unresolvable dilemma of philosophy that is founded on Enlightenment principles... and is why relativism is now the default worldview of most Westerners. The only possible escape is to ground ethics in nature... and that means acknowledging an ordering of ends that is found in nature, rather than merely arbitrarily imposed as "values." For myself, once I got beyond the scientistic/materialist prejudices of my youth, it has become increasingly curious how people can fail to see the obvious ordering of ends in nature.

But what you find in nature is often what you look for in nature, i.e. the lens that you use to perceive nature will partially determine what you see. Certainly, it is “obvious” to you to perceive nature in your particular way, but it does not follow that what is obvious to you is what is truly occurring in nature. It also does not follow that nothing that is obvious to you is truly occurring. It just means that we must be careful about how we interpret what is occurring, and be absolutely clear that all interpretation is from a particular framework and perspective, and modifying that framework will result in different interpretations of what we observe.

And “nature” is ambiguous. One can found ethics upon the violence found in nature, the triumph of the strong over the weak, and so on. Power becomes the dominant virtue, at least according to what we observe in nature. Or, one can look at the proto-kindness and proto-compassion found in higher mammals, and finally to the actual kindness and compassion found in human beings. All of this is part of “nature”. Should humans prioritize strength over weakness or weakness over strength or some balance between the two? You find all of these scenarios in nature, and again, what you prioritize depends upon the values that you bring to the equation.

I just don’t see how you can escape it. And just saying that you have the ability to read off of nature exactly as it is in itself without any distortion or imposition of your subjectivity is a claim that requires justification. After all, you are a finite being in a massive universe, and there is much more that you do not know than that you do know. Provisional and probabilistic reasoning is best in such a situation, which is unlike general metaphysical principles or abstract concepts (i.e. logic and mathematics).

Josh said...

David T,

I remember Gilson talking somewhere about how realists and idealists are doomed to argue past each other; it seems clear that Dguller is arguing from a broadly idealist perspective, and insofar as that is unchallenged, I'll wager there will just be a stalemate re: ranking the objective order in Nature, etc.

dguller said...

Josh:

I remember Gilson talking somewhere about how realists and idealists are doomed to argue past each other; it seems clear that Dguller is arguing from a broadly idealist perspective, and insofar as that is unchallenged, I'll wager there will just be a stalemate re: ranking the objective order in Nature, etc.

I am not an idealist. I do not believe that all that exists is dependent upon a mind. I only believe that reality is one thing, our ideas about reality are another, and often they meet, but often they fail to meet. We must understand ways of inquiry that facilitate meeting between our ideas and reality (e.g. utilizing observation and sound logical reasoning), and try to avoid ways of inquiry that facilitate a disconnect between our ideas and reality (e.g. avoiding fallacious lines of reasoning). Furthermore, one thing that we know is that people have distorted perceptions, memories, reasoning abilities, and so on, that affect their ability to understand reality. All those distortions come from within ourselves, and thus we must be aware that we bring something to the interaction with reality from ourselves. Certainly, this does not entirely account for what we experience, but it does account for some of it. It would be foolish to just ignore this fact, because it would increase the odds of incorrect beliefs.

goddinpotty said...

@rank Nothing comes from nothing. Few logical principles are this concrete. Either there was an "ontological primitive" of intentionality, and intentionality exists; or there was no such primitive, and intentionality does not exist. It's really that simple.

What a sterile and lifeless view of the universe. Apparently in your world there is not even the remotest possibility of novelty, invention, or creativity.

And of course you are once more simply restating your position without any kind of support.

Nothing will come of this conversation, that much is clear.

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