Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The metaphysics of bionic implants

Take a look at the classic title sequence of The Six Million Dollar Man.  Oscar Goldman (the bionic man’s superior in the Office of Scientific Intelligence) says the following in the famous voiceover:

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him.  We have the technology.  We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man.  Steve Austin will be that man.  Better than he was before.  Better, stronger, faster.

Now that raises an interesting philosophical question.  Aquinas holds that:

[T]here exists in everything the natural desire of preserving its own nature; which would not be preserved were it to be changed into another nature.  Consequently, no creature of a lower order can ever covet the grade of a higher nature; just as an ass does not desire to be a horse: for were it to be so upraised, it would cease to be itself. (Summa Theologiae I.63.3)

Now, Steve Austin loses an arm, an eye, and his legs.  They are replaced with artificial parts which allow him to surpass his previous levels of strength, speed, and visual distance perception.  Still, they are artificial.  His normal human organs are not restored; instead, he becomes a cyborg.   We might even suppose that he likes being one -- certainly to every teenage boy, and to some of us middle-aged types, the idea sure seems pretty cool.  So, is the bionic man a counterexample to Aquinas’s claim?  For isn’t a cyborg -- being “stronger, faster” than an ordinary human being -- also “better” than an ordinary human being?  And doesn’t the fact that someone might plausibly desire to be a cyborg show that a thing could desire to be another kind of thing?

No, it doesn’t.  Let’s see why not.  (The uninitiated reader is asked to keep in mind that, as with so much else on this blog, what follows presupposes certain Aristotelian-Thomistic ideas that I have developed and defended elsewhere, such as in my book Aquinas.  My earlier post on “The Metaphysics of The Fly is also relevant.)

For one thing, Aquinas is well aware that people have all sorts of conscious desires that are contrary to the ends inherent in their nature -- to take only the most obvious example, some people are suicidal.  But when Aquinas says that “there exists in everything the natural desire of preserving its own nature,” he isn’t engaging in a kind of easily refutable armchair psychology.  He isn’t saying “Absolutely every single person always consciously wants to preserve his nature.”  That should be obvious from the example he gives of the ass which does not desire to be a horse.  An ass, of course, doesn’t consciously think “I always want to be an ass; I’d never want to become a horse,” precisely because it doesn’t think in first place.  And when Aquinas says that the ass doesn’t desire to be a horse, he isn’t making the trivial point that the ass doesn’t consciously entertain the thought that it would be good to become a horse.

What he is talking about is what a thing will naturally tend toward.  Even a suicidal person tends naturally to preserve his life.  If, after he tells you he is suicidal, you stick his head under water and hold it there, he will very likely reflexively start to struggle, and not only because drowning is unpleasant.  Of course, deciding that dying is what he wants to do anyway, he might soon stop struggling, but if so he will have to resist his natural tendency to try to fight you off.  And even if he had no tendency whatsoever to resist, it wouldn’t follow that such a tendency wasn’t natural to him, any more than someone’s being born without eyeballs would show that having eyeballs isn’t natural to such a person.  In either case, what we’d have is damage or deformity -- bodily deformity in the latter case, psychological deformity in the former.  Having eyeballs is natural to human beings, even those human beings who, due to some injury or defect, do not have them.  And a tendency toward self-preservation is natural to us in that same sense.  What Aquinas is talking about, then, is what a thing will tend toward when it has not been damaged or deformed in some way, and (in the case of an intelligent creature) when it is not laboring under some form of irrationality or error.

So that is one point.  Another is that we need to be cautious before attributing to someone a desire contrary to his nature.  After all, the typical suicidal person doesn’t want death per se; rather, he wants (say) release from bodily or psychological suffering and sees death as the only way to achieve that.  Similarly, if we are tempted to attribute to someone a desire to be other than the kind of thing he is, we might find on more careful consideration that it is really something else that is desired.  As Aquinas says immediately following the lines quoted above:

But herein the imagination plays us false; for one is liable to think that, because a man seeks to occupy a higher grade as to accidentals, which can increase without the destruction of the subject, he can also seek a higher grade of nature, to which he could not attain without ceasing to exist. 

Thus, for someone to wish to have greater intelligence or strength is not of itself to wish to have a different nature -- to be a different kind of thing -- as opposed to being the same kind of thing but merely with a higher degree of some perfection of which that kind of thing is capable.  Accordingly, to desire to have Steve Austin’s strength, speed, and eyesight does not by itself amount to desiring to be a different kind of thing.

But suppose someone said: “No, I don’t merely want to have Steve Austin’s strength, speed, and eyesight; I want to have it the way he has it, via artificial organs of the robotic sort he has.  And I don’t want to have it in this artificial way merely because that’s the only way I could realistically achieve the greater strength, etc.; I want the artificial parts for their own sake, for the sake of being a cyborg.”  Would this be a counterexample to Aquinas’s claim?

It would not, for two reasons.  First, a cyborg would, in fact, not be in the relevant sense a different kind of thing than a human being is.  And second, someone who really wanted to be a cyborg in the relevant sense would not be willing rationally, but contrary to his natural tendencies.

After all, what is a cyborg (or “cybernetic organism”)?  The notion is, it turns out, less well defined -- and, I think, less metaphysically interesting -- than meets the eye.  Normally we think of a human being with built-in mechanical parts, as in the case of Steve Austin, or RoboCop, or Deathlok.  But of course, by that definition, anyone with a pacemaker would count as a cyborg.  And what’s so special about having the parts built in?  If Steve Austin’s artificial legs make him a cyborg, why don’t carbon-fiber prosthetic legs -- which some have argued give runners who use them an unfair advantage -- make their wearers into cyborgs?

As it happens, there are those who would more or less stretch the concept this far.  In his book Natural-Born Cyborgs, philosopher Andy Clark suggests that recent steps in the direction of science-fiction style cyborg technology -- “wearable computers” (pioneered by people like Steve Mann and perhaps soon to be mass marketed by Google), thought-controlled prosthetics, and the like -- are really just an extension of a “human-technology symbiosis” that has more or less always existed.  Cell phones, computers, even just books, pencil and paper, and ordinary tools differ in Clark’s view only in degree and not in kind from the sort of thing we see in the cyborgs of the movies.  In fact we human beings always have in Clark’s view been what he says we are in his title -- “natural born” cyborgs.

It would seem, then, that my one-year old daughter counts as a cyborg, given that she sports a “wearable toilet” (commercially available, if you’re interested in acquiring this technology, under the generic label “diaper”).  If that makes Clark’s thesis sound anticlimactic, that’s because it is.  For like other startling identity claims, this one can be read in two directions.  And if Clark establishes anything, it’s not the bold and sexy claim that We’re all really cyborgs! but really only the rather unexciting and indeed deflationary conclusion that Cyborgs are just human beings who use technology.  In particular, Steve Austin is not a different kind of thing from a human being.  Rather, he’s simply a guy with some unusual prosthetics.  Not entirely uninteresting, to be sure, but in no way metaphysically earth-shattering.

Clark thinks otherwise at least in part because of his commitment to the “Extended Mind Thesis” (EMT), which holds that aids to our cognitive endeavors like notebooks, iPhones, and the like are literally parts of the mind.  (And it is technologies that enhance our mental lives, specifically, that Clark has primarily in view.)  But the EMT is, for reasons noted by Jerry Fodor, itself no more plausible than the (bold interpretation of the) claim that we’re all cyborgs.  (That is not to deny that Clark makes some important points, both in the cyborg book and in his work on the EMT.  On the contrary, Clark is a prominent advocate of the thesis that human thought is of its nature embodied -- a thesis with which any Aristotelian is bound to sympathize.  And as I noted in an earlier post, there is also, from the Aristotelian point of view, a kernel of truth in the EMT.)

Artifacts are if anything even less plausibly regarded as part of us the more we try literally to insert them into our bodies.  It is precisely because the parts of the body function together as an organic unity -- rather than being no more essentially connected to each other than to what lies outside of the “biological skin-bag” (to use Clark’s charming expression) -- that the body will tend to reject prosthetics as foreign to it.  (E. Paul Zehr’s recent book Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine discusses not only the prospects for, but also the serious biological difficulties involved in, the integration of man and machine.)

So, wanting to be a “bionic man” is no more wanting to have a different nature, wanting to be a different kind of thing, than wanting to own a pair of binoculars is.  The man with binoculars is, like Steve Austin, “better” than other men with respect to long-distance vision.  But that is only because he’s got a certain tool, not because he has somehow transformed (or would want to transform) his nature.  The change is in both cases an accidental rather than substantial change (to use the Scholastic jargon) even if the accidental change is more dramatic in the case of Steve Austin than in the case of the purchaser of binoculars.  

Nor is it plausible to suppose that a normal person would prefer the benefits of bionic implants if he could get them without loss of his natural bodily organs.  Would Steve Austin, all things considered, prefer artificial legs with which he could have normal sensations, as well as run at super speed?  Surely he would.  But such legs would as a matter of anatomical-cum-technological fact have to be so close to actual human legs that there would be no reason to prefer artificial legs to natural ones if the latter could somehow be enhanced so as to provide the greater speed, durability, etc. that the artificial ones could provide.  In other words, all things being equal a normal person would prefer becoming Superman -- having enhanced strength and the like without sacrificing the natural integrity of the body and its organs -- to becoming Steve Austin.  

Nor is it clear that the normal person would tolerate even less invasive enhancements for very long.  We comic books geeks are usually too busy thinking about how cool it would be to wear Iron Man’s armor to consider how utterly claustrophobic it would be.  According to Zehr, astronauts who have to wear spacesuits for prolonged periods report that their tasks require continual intense concentration -- rather than the smooth and casual integration of man and suit that we see in the comics and movies -- and that they are very happy to get out of the suit as soon as they can.  Even if this were not the case, though, there is no more reason to think that a willingness to stay within such a suit for a long period constitutes a desire to be a different kind of thing than a willingness continually to wear eyeglasses or a wristwatch does.  

Of course, there may for all that be the odd person here or there who really does consciously desire to have some of his body parts replaced by artificial ones.  But again, the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher has always allowed that people occasionally have various odd desires that are contrary to what is good for them given their nature.  In this case we would have a variation on what has come to be called “Body integrity identity disorder.”  This reflects psychological deformity or irrational belief, and is no more a counterexample to Aquinas’s claim, properly understood, than the existence of polydactyly and blindness are counterexamples to the claim that it is natural for human beings to be sighted and to have ten fingers and toes.

In sum, then, the bodily modifications characteristic of cyborgs are (in the Aristotelian sense) accidental rather than substantial changes, and also changes that, all things considered, the normal person would prefer not to have.  This is evidenced by the fact that the more invasive such a prosthetic modification is, the more difficult it is for the prosthesis to be successfully integrated into the body and/or for a person to function with it in a prolonged way, and the less likely it is in fact that people would want to have it.  As I have noted before, what people in fact tend viscerally to be drawn to or repelled by is by no means an infallible guide to what is natural for them -- in the technical Aristotelian-Thomistic sense of “natural” -- but it is at least a very rough indicator.  In the case at hand, if Aquinas’s claim about what is natural for us were true we would expect that in fact people would at least in general be repelled by the loss of their bodily integrity, and that is indeed what we do find.  The existence of the occasional person who is not repelled by this can be accounted for in terms of psychological defect or irrationality.  

So, The Six Million Dollar Man does not constitute a falsification of Aquinas’s thesis.  (Of course, someone who rejects Aristotelian-Thomistic claims about substances, essences, natural objects versus artifacts, the natural end of our rational powers, etc. would have a different take on the example.  But the point of the foregoing was not to argue for the metaphysical claims in question -- again, I have done that elsewhere -- but rather to indicate how this example would be interpreted in light of them, and why it does not constitute a counterexample to the claims.)

136 comments:

Crude said...

You, sir, make philosophy interesting, yet still educational. Well done.

scineram said...

In Kaiba the characters can even switch bodies. With hellish results.

David F. said...

I agree that most people who are excited by bionic implants desire accidental benefits, rather than a change of nature.

But at what point could the pursuit of the accidental benefits of bionics or genetic modification result in an actual change in nature?

Mr. Green said...

David F.: But at what point could the pursuit of the accidental benefits of bionics or genetic modification result in an actual change in nature?

At no point does the nature of an individual change — if it changed, it wouldn't be that individual any more, so natures can only come into existence or out of it. When, say, a dog dies, there is a change of nature in that a dog used to be there, and now there is pile of chemicals, i.e. the canine individual ceased to exist and was replaced by new nature(s)… so in that sense, whenever the modifications or mutations are such that they result in the death of the organism, then that's a change.

In the evolutionary sense, we sometimes talk about Xs "becoming" Ys, but really that is shorthand for referring to a change in a population of Xs eventually dying out and being replaced by a populations of Ys. No individual X can change into a Y, but it is (according to the theory) possible for a suitably modified X to at some point produce offspring that are Ys.

Mr. Green said...

The Profeser: Artifacts are if anything even less plausibly regarded as part of us the more we try literally to insert them into our bodies. It is precisely because the parts of the body function together as an organic unity[…] that the body will tend to reject prosthetics as foreign to it.

What exactly does it mean to be an "artificial organ"? An organism is not a mechanism because it has a substantial form, while the mechanism has accidental form(s) — intrinsic vs. extrinsic formality. But an organ is not a substance; its form is imposed by the organism of which it is a part, no? That is, it lies somewhere between substance and mechanism, not having its own intrinsic form, yet being informed directly and singularly by its organism. Once an artificial organ is placed and tied into a body, is it not being "driven" by the substance as much as the natural muscles/cells/atoms/etc. were, in the same way that made them a true organ? (That the body may try to reject it is surely because it is not good enough, that it is defective in some particular, just as the body will attack a natural part if that part becomes diseased or damaged in some specific way.)

Ben said...

Speaking of people who want to mechanically enhance themselves just for the fun of it, Mr. Feser, see this very interesting article and video: http://www.theverge.com/2012/8/8/3177438/cyborg-america-biohackers-grinders-body-hackers

I'm particularly intrigued by the pretty overt Manicheanistic body-hatred that goes along with this line of thinking.

David T. said...

Mr. Green,

There is also the problem of what it means for us to desire to be something else. I might see a bird and wish I could be a bird and fly around, but what I'm really doing is imagining what it would like to be a man flying around like a bird, not a bird flying around like a bird, since - pace Nagel - I really can't know what it is like to be a bird being a bird, and I can't desire what I don't know.

rank sophist said...

Of course, there is a sorites paradox-type effect with cybernetics. Eventually, the person must disappear. The question is when.

Arthur said...

This is probably a basic question, but the article made me think of it.

You say that "what people in fact tend viscerally to be drawn to or repelled by is by no means an infallible guide to what is natural for them". Okay, so not all our wants are in line with our natures. What puzzles me is, how do we tell what these natures are, if they are not reliably exhibited in our behaviour or thoughts?

Suppose I were suicidal and wanted to die rather than live. Why not say that it is in my nature to be suicidal rather than that I am going against my nature? Why not postulate that I simply had a different nature than the majority of people?

Getting at the question in a different way, suppose I lose an arm. An Aristotelean, I take it, would consider my new, one-armed form to be an incomplete human rather than a complete, one-armed human. But why?

Hopefully the Thomists here can help me understand this.

Oh, and yay for Iron Man.

Lila Rajiva said...

@Arthur,

You would not lose the memory of your two-armed form, would you?

And that memory is where your sense of yourself as an injured two-armed form sources itself.

That and the fact that people all around you who are two-armed express aversion to losing a natural arm.

A better example would be plastic surgery. In the case of cosmetic surgery, implants are often embraced and advertised as improvements on the original, so the social environment,one's memory of one's pre-surgical appearance (assuming that things went well), and the fact that the procedure was voluntarily chosen, all combine to prevent one considering the surgery as anything but an enhancement.

It is a fact, nonetheless, that many people, even those with good outcomes, end up disliking the feeling of having become semi-artificial....and thus, in their mind, freakish.

rank sophist said...

Arthur,

Prof. Feser is reasoning from natural law, which is based on formal and final causality. Suicide cannot be your final cause, seeing as you're human (a rational animal). Aquinas did not base his ideas on inclinations; rather, he believed that inclinations and regularities came after natures (formal causes), which means that one can know something's proper function even if it does not actualize it.

Arthur said...

I guess that's my question, really. How do we discover things' formal causes, given that they don't always follow them?

Mr. Green said...

Arthur: how do we tell what these natures are, if they are not reliably exhibited in our behaviour or thoughts?

As with anything, we figure it out. We will never have a complete, perfect knowledge of human nature, but some things are pretty obvious (such as its being natural for humans to have two arms and two legs), and we can draw conclusions from what is consistent with and what follows from things we do know. (For example, the history of medicine is a long process of observing human bodies and continually building on that knowledge so that we can better diagnose problems and fix them.)

Why not postulate that I simply had a different nature than the majority of people?

Well, in theory it is possible that your parents procreated the first member of a brand-new species, but in practical terms there is of course no good reason to think that. And even if you had a different nature, you are still a rational animal, so certain things follow from that. Suicide would be contrary to your nature as a rational animal as much as for any human, or any other type of rational animal there might be. (And in that case, being suicidal is a defect regardless of what kind of creature your are, and thus cannot be evidence of your being a different kind of species in the first place!)

Radik said...

@Arthur

"Suppose I were suicidal and wanted to die rather than live...."

I think Prof. Feser adressed this here: "After all, the typical suicidal person doesn’t want death per se; rather, he wants (say) release from bodily or psychological suffering and sees death as the only way to achieve that."

Arthur: "how do we tell what these natures are"

By observation, of course. If we could observe what kind of actions a good exemplar of a specific nature performs, we could tell what its abilities or potentialities are, and how they are interrelated, and by this we would have delineated its species.

The problem is of course to find a good exemplar. So, how can one tell whether a given organism is a good exemplar of its species?

I think one way would be to observe its development from generation to its end.

Supposing that we can somehow discern the delepmental tendencies of the organism, then we could also tell whether they are somehow hindered by an outside force, or by its matter. (Defects can never come from the species or the final cause, since the abstract species itself is perfect. Their cause must lie either in the matter or some outside thing. In other words: Matter and force are the proper causes of evil.)

Now, a good exemplar would be an organism with all natural tendencies fully developed without any hindrances. In this organism the species would have reworked the matter to its full potential, the species is capable of. (This of course also requires an suitable environment.)

We would also know its (natural) final cause, by knowing its highest kind of activity, which is that activity, that presupposes and rules all other activities.

This procedure might not always be possible in practice, but it suffices that it is possible in principle to show that the nature of thing is an objective reality, and not just a convention of our thinking.

I hope that I have not strayed from orthodox Thomism in all of this :)

Radik said...

Correction:

"delepmental tendencies" should read as "developmental tendencies". By which I mean roughly the "direction" in which the organism tries to develop.

Also, instead of "exemplar" I should have maybe better said "instantiation".

Anonymous said...

Somewhat related:
"A robot named Nico could soon pass a landmark test - recognizing itself in a mirror. Such self-awareness would represent a step towards the ultimate goal of thinking robots. Nico, developed by computer scientists at Yale University, will take the test in the coming months. The ultimate aim is for Nico to use a mirror to interpret objects around it, in the same way as humans use a rear-view mirror to look for cars. 'It is a spatial reasoning task for the robot to understand that its arm is on it not on the other side of the mirror,' Justin Hart, the PhD student leading the research told BBC News. So far the robot has been programmed to recognize a reflection of its arm, but ultimately Mr Hart wants it to pass the "full mirror test". The so-called mirror test was originally developed in 1970 and has become the classic test of self-awareness."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19354994

Arthur said...

Thanks, Radik. I think that answers my main question. Something is a good exemplar of a specific nature if it is not being affected by outside forces. I don't see any problem with telling which forces are "outside", so that solves that problem as far as I'm concerned.

My worry with all of this, I think, is that which forms and natures we attribute to members of a species seems to be somewhat arbitrary and conventional. Sure, we normally think of all people as sharing the form of "human", but why not think of it in another way? Couldn't we equally think of each person as exhibiting their own, individual form, and thus each being perfect exemplars of themselves? It seems that there are actually countless other ways we could attribute forms and natures, so why choose the ways we choose?

As I understand it, such conventional categorizing would not be enough for Thomism, which requires that forms and natures are objectively there for Natural Law to function.

David T said...

My worry with all of this, I think, is that which forms and natures we attribute to members of a species seems to be somewhat arbitrary and conventional. Sure, we normally think of all people as sharing the form of "human", but why not think of it in another way?

Because it would be false. Since we normally think of people as sharing the form of "human", the form of human is neither arbitrary nor merely conventional.

Arthur said...

"Since we normally think of people as sharing the form of "human", the form of human is neither arbitrary nor merely conventional."

That can't be the only reason that the form of "human" is not merely conventional, can it? We "normally" think in all kinds of ways, some rational, others not. If anything, we can be relied upon to "normally" think in a haphazard way that fails to fullfil our potential for reason.

That's my trouble. It seems that we need some higher standard than just what we "normally think" to ascribe the boundaries between different forms, yet I can't see what that would be.

David T said...

Sure it can be the only reason. Something doesn't have to be purely rational to be non-conventional. Little children the world over are "normally" afraid of thunder and lightning, which isn't rational, but neither is it conventional. My only point was that you need not worry that normal thinking about human nature is merely conventional, since the very fact that such thinking can be called "normal" shows that it isn't conventional.

But this sentence puzzles me:

We "normally" think in all kinds of ways, some rational, others not.

This seems to be an assertion of fact about a natural class of creatures referred to by "we", which I take to be the class of human beings. If it's to be an assertion of natural fact, then the principle by which you establish the class of human beings must be natural rather than conventional. The form of human being, then, is whatever you are using to support this assertion of fact in its reference to a certain natural class designated by "we." Or are you using "we" in a conventional manner here? In that case I don't know what it means to describe "normal" thinking with reference to a conventionally constructed class.

Radik said...

@Arthur

" Something is a good exemplar of a specific nature if it is not being affected by outside forces."

Yes, or its matter is not completly suitable for its form. Also, I should have said violent outside forces, i.e. forces that are contrary to its natural tendencies.

" Couldn't we equally think of each person as exhibiting their own, individual form, and thus each being perfect exemplars of themselves?"

If I remember right, Scotus(?) argued that individuals have an individual form ("haecceity" or "thisness"). St. Thomas denied this. He said, that the principle of individuation is matter. But I havent looked into his reasons for this.

In any case there is something that is common to all humans, that makes them objectively human. Like there is something common to all animals, that makes them animal, although there is no instance of a "pure animal".

I think it suffices that there is some commonality in all humans that determines them, or their parts, to certain common ends, in order to make the main ethical conclusions work.

dguller said...

Radik:

Here's a related problem.

Say you have two human beings, A and B. You presume that since they appear to be similar in essential ways, that they must share a human essence or form. However, say that you are able to fastforward millions of years into the future, and see that human B was actually part of a line of evolutionary development that ultimately led to a new species, e.g. numanity.

So, the question is, was B really human or numan? After all, since essences do not necessarily have to have all their powers actualized, then B could have been really numan, but not have his numan powers actualized. It may have only actualized the powers similar to humans, but the numan powers were not actaulized at all. Thomism seems to allow this possibility.

If this is a genuine possibility, then how does this impact our ability to know the essence of anything around us, particularly living organisms? I mean, any organism that we look at may be an exemplar of its species' essence, or it may be the beginning of a new species, and thus not have the previous species' essence at all. In which case, we can never really know an essence at all, because we may be totally wrong.

Eduardo said...

Maybe dguller, the evolutionary lines don't really affect the form or essence of some species. I think they were talking about that before. some place in the blog, I am certain.

Josh said...

Dguller,

What you say intrigues me (as per usual).

So, the question is, was B really human or numan? After all, since essences do not necessarily have to have all their powers actualized, then B could have been really numan, but not have his numan powers actualized.

Seems like this would fall prey to the ol' razor in a sense, wouldn't it? I mean, we can't go round hypothesizing potentials for essences that we have no evidence for. That it's a logical possibility, I suppose one would have to grant...but I don't see how it would undermine the knowledge of essences, without falling into the trap that everything is one undifferentiated thing.

dguller said...

Eduardo:

Maybe dguller, the evolutionary lines don't really affect the form or essence of some species. I think they were talking about that before. some place in the blog, I am certain.

I’m not saying that they “affect the form or essence of some species”. Each member of the species has the same form or essence. My point is that two beings can appear to have the same essence without any discernable difference, and yet still be members of different species, and thus have different forms or essences. And if that is true, then we need some kind of criterion in order to determine when two beings share the same essence, and when two beings only appear to share the same essence.

And the real complicating factor here is that a being can have an essence, but never actually express the essential powers associated with that essence. In that case, how do you know if that being is part of a species, but not expressing the essential powers of that species, or if that being is a part of a different species altogether with different essential powers?

There doesn’t seem any way to know the difference here. And that would be a problem for those who claim metaphysical certitude when it comes to nature law and its implications for human behavior.

dguller said...

Josh:

Seems like this would fall prey to the ol' razor in a sense, wouldn't it? I mean, we can't go round hypothesizing potentials for essences that we have no evidence for. That it's a logical possibility, I suppose one would have to grant...but I don't see how it would undermine the knowledge of essences, without falling into the trap that everything is one undifferentiated thing.

I don’t think that conclusion follows. There could still be diverse essences of different things, but when we say that X has essence E, we could never be certain of it, on evolutionary grounds. X could seem to be a member of E, but really be a member of F, but only actualizes the potentials of F that are similar to E, and not actualizing the potentials of F that are different from E.

What I am concerned about is the metaphysical certitude of moral pronunciations based upon natural law. There is not supposed to be any wiggle room at all in terms of these moral conclusions, and yet there seems to be a compelling reason, based upon Thomist principles and evolutionary biology, that there is wiggle room, and thus the metaphysical certitude is an illusion here.

David T said...

dguller,

Going back to your human and numan example:

So, the question is, was B really human or numan? After all, since essences do not necessarily have to have all their powers actualized, then B could have been really numan, but not have his numan powers actualized.

I think what this would mean isn't that B was really numan, but that to be human means to be numan without having all the powers actualized. Thomists don't claim that we know everything there is to know about human nature. They do claim that we know enough to draw moral conclusions from our nature.

Would an unrealized potential make any difference to the moral analysis of human nature? I don't see how it would. Morality deals with action, with what you should and should not do. If these supposed numan powers are purely potential in us, then by definition they are irrelevant to action, and so irrelevant to morality. If the futuristic numans have the ability to fly, then there may be some ethic associated with numanian flight, but it's got nothing to do with us, whether or not we want to consider flight an unrealized potential within us.

Josh said...

Dguller,

I'll confine my remarks to addressing the ancillary topic you brought up, leaving the moral aspect aside.

There could still be diverse essences of different things, but when we say that X has essence E, we could never be certain of it, on evolutionary grounds.

So we admit the existence of diversity and essence, and deny the knowledge of it. I'm assuming this reduces to some 'useful model of reality' schema?

I take it back, I will try to think about the Natural Law question:

Supposing this 'numan' were to be latent in society, it seems that what's required for Natural Law to apply is precisely those things that aren't determined by biological/material change, freedom of the will, rationality, etc. (I don't have my Fagothey at hand) In that case, I don't see how the biological form would necessarily play a primary role.

Josh said...

Perhaps relevant:

As to the suggestion that “there is no static 'Form', because life is constantly and mindlessly changing,” this sort of talk, though also very common, is just muddleheaded. If species A gives rise to species B, that does not entail that the form of an A somehow morphed into the form of a B -- whatever that could mean -- but rather that organisms that had the form of A gave rise to organisms with a different form. The form itself doesn’t change, any more than erasing a triangle from a blackboard changes the form of triangularity. What happens in that case is that the matter which had the form of a triangle now has the form of a pile of dust particles -- not that the form of triangularity has itself changed, so that the geometry textbooks would have to be rewritten to make reference to dust particles instead!

-E. Feser, "TLS and Formal Causes," Friday, November 25, 2011.

Link

Josh said...

And if that is true, then we need some kind of criterion in order to determine when two beings share the same essence, and when two beings only appear to share the same essence.

If man is a 'rational animal,' then the criterion seems clear: if the 'numan' is not rational, or is a machine or something, then there's the criteria. If it is a rational animal in the same sense, then all that's changed is accidental form, like say, the aliens in Out of the Silent Planet. The moral law applied to the Hross in that story just as much as Ransom.

Insofar as your critique is aimed at our being able to know a difference, I think it's clear that the distinctions are there whether or not we currently have the tools to discern them.

dguller said...

David:

think what this would mean isn't that B was really numan, but that to be human means to be numan without having all the powers actualized. Thomists don't claim that we know everything there is to know about human nature. They do claim that we know enough to draw moral conclusions from our nature.

First, the problem is that each thing is supposed to have only one substantial form. So, a being could not be both human and numan. One could be a human being or a numan being. That’s all. It’s all-or-nothing.

Second, if there are aspects of human nature that are unknowable, then any conclusions drawn from human nature will be necessarily incomplete and uncertain, which compromises the metaphysical certainty that is implied.

Would an unrealized potential make any difference to the moral analysis of human nature? I don't see how it would. Morality deals with action, with what you should and should not do. If these supposed numan powers are purely potential in us, then by definition they are irrelevant to action, and so irrelevant to morality. If the futuristic numans have the ability to fly, then there may be some ethic associated with numanian flight, but it's got nothing to do with us, whether or not we want to consider flight an unrealized potential within us.

Not necessarily. Morality deals not just with what we do, but also with what we should do. The former is actuality and the latter is potentiality. It is not as if only the former is relevant to an analysis of morality whereas the latter is irrelevant. Both are relevant. Thus, if a numan has an unactualized essential power, then it is not necessarily a good numan at all, according to Thomism. And so, a being that exemplifies the essential powers of a human essence might be a good human being, but if it also does not exemplify the essential powers of numan essence, then it would be a bad numan being. And that carries moral implications.

dguller said...

Josh:

So we admit the existence of diversity and essence, and deny the knowledge of it. I'm assuming this reduces to some 'useful model of reality' schema?

I don’t know.

Supposing this 'numan' were to be latent in society, it seems that what's required for Natural Law to apply is precisely those things that aren't determined by biological/material change, freedom of the will, rationality, etc. (I don't have my Fagothey at hand) In that case, I don't see how the biological form would necessarily play a primary role.

It’s not about just the biological form. It is about how a new being comes into existence via evolution. There are new species in existence that evolved from older species, no longer in existence. That would require the procreation of individuals with substantial forms different from their parents’ substantial forms. In other words, an organism X with a substantial form F has offspring Y that have a substantial form G. X and Y are from different species, because they have different substantial forms. However, if you and I were to examine X and Y, they would look, for all intents and purposes, like they had substantial form F. We would make all kinds of conclusions about X and Y about whether they were good or bad F’s, and yet we would be wrong to call Y a good or bad F, because it could only be a good or bad G. That seems problematic to me.

If man is a 'rational animal,' then the criterion seems clear: if the 'numan' is not rational, or is a machine or something, then there's the criteria. If it is a rational animal in the same sense, then all that's changed is accidental form, like say, the aliens in Out of the Silent Planet. The moral law applied to the Hross in that story just as much as Ransom.

Both humans and numans may share the power of rationality as an essential power of their respective essences. However, the numan may have additional essential powers that a human simply lacks. Thus, a good numan would require not only the actualization of rationality, but also of this additional essential power, whereas a good human would only require the actualization of rationality. Otherwise, it would be like saying that if a dog and a human have their digestive systems working well, then they are both good dogs.

Josh said...

Dguller,

Both humans and numans may share the power of rationality as an essential power of their respective essences.

What my example was showing, though, is that if human and numan both share in the substantial form of 'rational animal' then all the other differences are really moot with respect to morality, e.g., the Hross.

If, however, you are saying that human and numan have two different substantial forms, then Feser's quote above is applicable.

David T said...

First, the problem is that each thing is supposed to have only one substantial form. So, a being could not be both human and numan. One could be a human being or a numan being. That’s all. It’s all-or-nothing.

Right. My point is that the human is really just a numan, the difference being insubstantial. Just one thing. Or is your numan not a rational animal? Then it does in fact have a new substantial form.

Not necessarily. Morality deals not just with what we do, but also with what we should do. The former is actuality and the latter is potentiality. It is not as if only the former is relevant to an analysis of morality whereas the latter is irrelevant. Both are relevant.

Yes. I may have misunderstood your scenario. I thought the idea was that numans, sometime in the future, will actually be able to do things that we can't do now, like x-ray vision or something. If your point is that we might have unrealized potentials we could fulfill now but are utterly unaware of, yet are so significant that they would call into question the very nature of man, I would reply that there isn't any reason to believe in any such things, and plenty of reasons not to believe in them. We seem to be in Flying Spaghetti Monster territory here.

David T said...

continue...

Alternatively, if you mean we can't actually do now what the numans will be able to do in the future, then it is irrelevant for moral considerations. You can't be expected to do what you can't possibly do.

rank sophist said...

So, the question is, was B really human or numan? After all, since essences do not necessarily have to have all their powers actualized, then B could have been really numan, but not have his numan powers actualized.

This problem arises when you replace and/or combine essentialist morphology (the Thomists' preferred option) with cladism. Oderberg tackles the problem in Real Essentialism, and he shows cladism to be largely bankrupt and unhelpful.

Josh said...

Rank,

That's interesting; I had to pick that up after you mentioned it.

Oderberg says (of Cladism):

"There cannot be more than one determinant of a species. In particular, there cannot be one criterion that determines species identity over time and another for species identity at a time..."

--p. 217

That seems pretty key to me. Is that right?

rank sophist said...

Pretty much, Josh. He goes on to illustrate paradoxes that arise from this problem. They're along the lines of the stuff that dguller is discussing. On the other hand, morphology of an essentialist bent has nothing to worry about. Species history is irrelevant under this model.

David T said...

rs, thanks for pointing that out, I'll look it up...

Mr. Green said...

Dguller: And if that is true, then we need some kind of criterion in order to determine when two beings share the same essence, and when two beings only appear to share the same essence.

Why? That is, in theory the criterion is what substantial form each being has. In practice, we cannot pick up an essence and look at it. But obviously there are plenty of things we can figure out about something's essence. In your example, we can discover that B is a rational animal, and we can discover plenty of things about B's physiology. Perhaps there is some subtle difference between humans and "numans" that we can't figure out — so what? If numans are so much like humans that we can't discern any of the differences, then numan flourishing will be almost exactly the same as human flourishing; numan morality will be almost exactly the same as human morality; and so on.

And if there are differences that aren't so subtle but that we still do not discover, again — so what? Maybe we'll make mistakes because we did not know the exact essence of B. But we make mistakes all the time anyway. Nobody ever claimed that human knowledge is exhaustive or perfect, so your hypothetical case is merely another example of something that we might or might not get wrong to some greater or lesser degree. I don't know exactly how many people there are in China at this exact moment, but that's an epistemological problem, not a metaphysical one. It's entirely irrelevant to what it means to be a person, or to be countable, or to be in China, or anything else.

Radik said...

@dguller

"Say you have two human beings..."

Of course, I agree that there can be a gap between appearance and reality, either because the appearance itself is false, or because it is incomplete. Therefore, in questions of principle we can reach genuine knowledge, but their application to the natural world rests on judgements depending on our senses, which are only morally certain, at best.

In case of humans this means, that we can deduce alot of ethical conclusions from what it means to be a rational animal. These conclusion constitute real genuine knowledge. But the question whether this or that being is really a rational animal depends on our senses, and can reach "only" a very high degree of moral certainty (think of the turing test, or other deceptions of that sort).


Now, you raise the question of discernability, whether it is possible to discern the species of one concrete being A from that of another B.

As your scenario shows, this is not always possible, in any set of circumstances. But the possibility of this really depends on the particalar set of circumstances. The powers of B can lay dormant in some set of circumstances C1, but become active in the set of circumstances C2.

So, if you stay passive, and just observe how the being behaves in C1 you can miss out something. But if you get involved and change C1 to C2, you would get the details you want.

If it is possible to go through all possible circumstances, then it is also possible to obtain full knowledge of the species.

This is most of the time not feasible, but we can approximate this to a certain degree in experimental setups, like in the natural siences. Also, we dont really have to through all sets of circumstances, but only change some relevant details. But what details are relevant, has to be decided on a case by case basis, I think.

So, the key to your question are experiments. But in the end we still have to be contend with mere opinions, morally certain opions that is, but still not knowledge.

Gregory said...

Glad to say hello Dr. Feser and guests!

First time poster, who saw a few Steve Austin re-runs...

"a cyborg would, in fact, not be in the relevant sense a different kind of thing than a human being is." - Dr. Feser

Is it a bit like when "he ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader"? Not a 'different kind of thing'?

Curiously, no one has raised the issue of 'trans-human' and 'transhumanism' yet. It may surprise some to hear that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is thought to have coined the former term.

Better than Clark and Chalmers, imo, is going back to an earlier visionary in the work of Catholic media, culture and technology theorist, and English professor, Marshall McLuhan.

Indeed, not long ago from reading Dr. Feser and other neo-Thomists or Aristotelian-Thomists, I've come to believe in a third option. Aristotelian-Thomistic-McLuhanism 'extends' the reach of this tradition. It also enables more profound grappling with the electronic-information age, which, no offense to Dr. Feser, Saint Thomas and Aristotle, don't imho do satisfactorily alone.

A-M-T: a new-old view of humanity and transhumans, that can fruitfully deal with the Six (and Sixty) Million Dollar Man.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWa44yWS0qE

p.s. Darth Vader/Anakin remembered he was a man at the end of SW: Episode 6, willfully becoming the chosen one, as had been prophesied. That seems to support Dr. Feser's main claim in this OP about 'being natural'.

p.p.s. also interesting that this post fell almost on the same day that Lance Armstrong gave up defending that he had taken massive amounts of (artificial) performance 'enhancing' drugs while a professional cyclist

The Ubiquitous said...

Combox-kin to Libresco has several questions on natural law and Aristotelian forms, et al. Would the combox folks here be of much help?

Eduardo said...

U_U you came to the right place sir... come in and in 8 hours a thomist monk will be with you.

You can read the old posts and use the search bar as well. It helps, seriously.

dguller said...

Josh:

What my example was showing, though, is that if human and numan both share in the substantial form of 'rational animal' then all the other differences are really moot with respect to morality, e.g., the Hross.

Not really. It would be rational of a numan to also strive to actualize the differentiating power that it possesses, but a human lacks. And thus a moral numan would be one that chose by virtue of his intellect to actualize this differentiating power, which means that it is a difference that makes a difference, and is not “really moot” at all.

If, however, you are saying that human and numan have two different substantial forms, then Feser's quote above is applicable.

I would say that a human and a numan have different substantial forms, because they have different essences. The numan evolved from the human lineage. The issue is whether it makes sense to make claims about humans today in the face of the possibility that there may already be numans around that simply have not actualized their differentiating power. A moral human is not necessarily a moral numan, but a moral numan would be a moral human. So, matters get kind of complicated, I think.

dguller said...

David:

Yes. I may have misunderstood your scenario. I thought the idea was that numans, sometime in the future, will actually be able to do things that we can't do now, like x-ray vision or something. If your point is that we might have unrealized potentials we could fulfill now but are utterly unaware of, yet are so significant that they would call into question the very nature of man, I would reply that there isn't any reason to believe in any such things, and plenty of reasons not to believe in them. We seem to be in Flying Spaghetti Monster territory here.

Although no-one has ever seen or observed the FSM, evolutionary change is a reality with substantial empirical support. So, I don’t think your comparison is apt. Given the truth of evolutionary theory, it is quite possible that there are numans amongst us today with the substantial form of numanity, but which we confuse as being humans with the substantial form of humanity. This is a genuine possibility, and not a fanciful one, like the FSM, and given that we cannot differentiate a human from a numan, when we say that a person X is moral, then we are quite possibly incorrect, because a moral human is not a moral numan.

dguller said...

Mr. Green:

Why? That is, in theory the criterion is what substantial form each being has. In practice, we cannot pick up an essence and look at it. But obviously there are plenty of things we can figure out about something's essence. In your example, we can discover that B is a rational animal, and we can discover plenty of things about B's physiology. Perhaps there is some subtle difference between humans and "numans" that we can't figure out — so what? If numans are so much like humans that we can't discern any of the differences, then numan flourishing will be almost exactly the same as human flourishing; numan morality will be almost exactly the same as human morality; and so on.

Exactly, it will be “almost exactly the same”, but not “exactly the same”. A moral human is not necessarily a moral numan, and thus our moral conclusions about a particular person may be incorrect at a fundamental level, because we simply do not know what their substantial form is.

And if there are differences that aren't so subtle but that we still do not discover, again — so what? Maybe we'll make mistakes because we did not know the exact essence of B. But we make mistakes all the time anyway. Nobody ever claimed that human knowledge is exhaustive or perfect, so your hypothetical case is merely another example of something that we might or might not get wrong to some greater or lesser degree. I don't know exactly how many people there are in China at this exact moment, but that's an epistemological problem, not a metaphysical one. It's entirely irrelevant to what it means to be a person, or to be countable, or to be in China, or anything else.

This is a matter of there being a principled incapacity to identify a thing’s essence. If you cannot determine the differentiating power that divides one species from another, then you are going to make all kinds of mistakes. Imagine if you could not, perhaps due to some cognitive deficits, differentiate a chimpanzee from a human being. You simply could not observe the presence of the intellect in the human being. You would then make all kinds of conclusions about the substantial form and essence of these beings, and when you talk about humans, you would be wrong.

dguller said...

Rank:

Damn. I really have to get around to Oderberg’s book. Just have a stack of Aquinas books to get through first!

rank sophist said...

dguller,

He really gets into the nitty-gritty of essences. I think it'll help you out. Also, one more thing.

Exactly, it will be “almost exactly the same”, but not “exactly the same”. A moral human is not necessarily a moral numan, and thus our moral conclusions about a particular person may be incorrect at a fundamental level, because we simply do not know what their substantial form is.

Remember that there can only be two factors in an essence: genus and specific (as in species) difference. If a "numan" had a different genus, then it would no longer be an animal. If it had a different specific difference, then it would no longer be rational. All other changes are accidental. So, I really don't think it would be difficult to spot a numan.

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic...

I was reading on Aristotle's concept of God and run into some quotes by Martin Luther who seem to have been extremely antagonistic to Aristotle (even called him the Devil). He was also very critical of Aquinas as well.

Anyone know why he was so aggressive against Aquinas and Aristotle?

rank sophist said...

Anon,

Martin Luther was a follower of William of Ockham, who held similar opinions regarding Aquinas and Aristotle. He felt that they restricted and rationalized God. (Note: they didn't. In fact, it was Ockham who wound up doing that.)

David T said...

dguller,

Yes, the reality of numans is a raw possibility. But nothing beyond it. What is your evidence that there actually are numans?

But that's really beside the point, since it looks like I am right that we humans now can't do what numans might be able to do in the future. If so, then the alleged numan-powers are irrelevant to morality because, as you say, morality pertains to what you should do, and what you should do cannot be what you can't do, and we can't do now what numans might do in the future.

David T said...

Actually it doesn't even matter if we can't do now what numans can do in the future. It's enough that we don't know that we can do it. If I have some secret power I don't know about - say, I somehow get x-ray vision if I spin around 10 times in a row - I can't be held accountable for not using x-ray vision if I never knew I'd get it by spinning around 10 times.

Anonymous said...

@rank

Thanks for clearing that up. Now it makes more sense. Given Ockham's commitment to conceptualism and ontological reduction, it makes sense why Luther would be so opposed to Aquinas.

Anonymous said...

"Philosophers’ Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity." -- Dan Dennett

Josh said...

Dguller,

I would say that a human and a numan have different substantial forms, because they have different essences. The numan evolved from the human lineage. The issue is whether it makes sense to make claims about humans today in the face of the possibility that there may already be numans around that simply have not actualized their differentiating power. A moral human is not necessarily a moral numan, but a moral numan would be a moral human. So, matters get kind of complicated, I think.

Ok, so then a numan is either not rational, not an animal, or neither rational or animal. Yet these beings are possibly among us now. Where? How do you know? Shouldn't you confine these observations to actual evidence?

How can a moral numan be a moral human? What's superadded to 'rational animal'?

This is starting to suspiciously sound like your position on the Law of Contradiction-"we can't know that it is a necessary law," "we can't know that numans don't exist among us," which I'll just say again: that's not a position anyone can refute, except by appealing to the laws which you think aren't necessary truths. Given that, there's really no point to this then.

Josh said...

"Philosophers’ Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity." -- Dan Dennett

Dennett Syndrome: Thinking shit can just happen for no reason.

Edward Feser said...

"Philosophers’ Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity." -- Dan Dennett

Dennett and those of his ilk should look in a mirror once and a while, though perhaps the shock would be too great to bear. Hence, while I am no fan of conceivability arguments for dualism of the sort Cartesians put forward, they are precisely the opposite of "failures of imagination," and materialists who dismiss them are guilty of precisely the "failures of imagination" of which they accuse others.

Then there's Dennett's sophomoric treatment of theistic arguments in Breaking the Spell, about which I have had much to say elsewhere. If that isn't a colossal "failure of imagination," that can only be because it is a colossal failure of intellectual honesty.

Edward Feser said...

Oops, I meant "once in a while."

Anonymous said...

@anon

"Philosophers’ Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity." -- Dan Dennett

If there was ever a metaphysic that was guilty of failure of imagination it would be materialism. Tell dennett to stop by and say hello once he finally manages to escape from Plato's cave.

Anonymous said...

@Josh

This is starting to suspiciously sound like your position on the Law of Contradiction-"we can't know that it is a necessary law,"

The best insight into the law of non-contradiction was provided by Avicenna:

Anyone who denies the Law of Non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.

Apply this insight every time you have some random buffoon question it and the issue will resolve itself in no time.

;-)

dguller said...

Rank:

Remember that there can only be two factors in an essence: genus and specific (as in species) difference. If a "numan" had a different genus, then it would no longer be an animal. If it had a different specific difference, then it would no longer be rational. All other changes are accidental. So, I really don't think it would be difficult to spot a numan.

I would say that a human and a numan are both rational animals, but that a numan also has a differentiating power P, which a human lacks. So, they share the same genus of “rational animal”, but differ in that a human lacks P and a numan has P.

dguller said...

David:

Yes, the reality of numans is a raw possibility. But nothing beyond it. What is your evidence that there actually are numans?

I don’t have any. But given Thomist principles and evolutionary biology, it is quite possible that there are numans, but they never had the opportunity to have their differentiating power P actualized. Furthermore, unless you want to say that human beings are outside of the evolutionary process in the sense of no longer being capable of evolving, then you must admit that it is an inevitability that numans will evolve from humans. So, it is not just a logical possibility, but more like a biological and metaphysical necessity.

But that's really beside the point, since it looks like I am right that we humans now can't do what numans might be able to do in the future. If so, then the alleged numan-powers are irrelevant to morality because, as you say, morality pertains to what you should do, and what you should do cannot be what you can't do, and we can't do now what numans might do in the future.

The point is that we don’t even know if we are humans at all. We might be numans who haven’t actualized P (yet). And since morality is the actualization of the essential powers of one’s essence, it follows that if you do not know what your essence is, then how can you know what to choose to actualize to fulfill your final end?

And whether we know it or not, if we choose to do X on the basis of our best information, and doing X does not actualize our essential properties, then we may be subjectively good, but we are certainly not objectively good, which is what real goodness is supposed to be. It is like a criminal choosing a life of crime, because they think it is good, when in fact, it is objectively not good at all.

dguller said...

Josh:

Ok, so then a numan is either not rational, not an animal, or neither rational or animal. Yet these beings are possibly among us now. Where? How do you know? Shouldn't you confine these observations to actual evidence?

No, a numan is a rational animal plus a differentiating power P, which puts it in a new species of rational animal, thus differentiating it from a human.

Also, I don’t know if there are numans around us at this time. However, given evolutionary biology, plus Thomist metaphysics, the reality is that if there aren’t any at this time, then there will be some at some point in the future, assuming humanity survives long enough, unless you want to say that humans are no longer capable of heritable differential traits that have variable fitness in different contexts? And I think that the possibility of numan beings puts a dent in Thomist morality.

How can a moral numan be a moral human? What's superadded to 'rational animal'?

All I meant was that if a numan actualized its rational and animal powers to the fullest extent possible, then it would count as a moral human, but it would not count as a moral numan, because it failed to actualize P, which is actually its particular and differential power. It would be like a human being actualizing its animal nature, but failing to actualize its rational nature, and yet claiming to be moral. In that case, the human being would have failed to actualize the distinctively human power of rationality, and would not be considered moral at all.

This is starting to suspiciously sound like your position on the Law of Contradiction-"we can't know that it is a necessary law," "we can't know that numans don't exist among us," which I'll just say again: that's not a position anyone can refute, except by appealing to the laws which you think aren't necessary truths. Given that, there's really no point to this then.

This isn’t like that discussion. I’ll concede that there is no logical or rational means of rejecting the LNC, but I’m still agnostic about whether logic and reason are capable of capturing all aspects of reality. Again, that doesn’t mean that the LNC doesn’t hold for most aspects, but that reality at some level may be sufficiently bizarre that the LNC fails to apply. Admittedly, I cannot even conceive of how that could be possible, but my conceivability is delimited by logic and the LNC. But that’s neither here nor there, because my current argument is based upon evolutionary biology and Thomist metaphysics. It is not like my earlier rejection of the LNC, which was based upon a vague intuition that didn’t even make sense, according to any rational system.

dguller said...

Ed:

Hence, while I am no fan of conceivability arguments for dualism of the sort Cartesians put forward, they are precisely the opposite of "failures of imagination," and materialists who dismiss them are guilty of precisely the "failures of imagination" of which they accuse others.

How are they different exactly? They seem to be based upon the same underlying principle:

(1) I conceive of X to be the case iff X is, in fact, the case

From which it follows that:

(2) If I cannot conceive of X to be the case, then X is not, in fact, the case.

Which is what Dennett was getting at, and yet that seems to be what conceivability arguments are all about.

What am I missing?

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Specific differences can't become genera, as far as I know. This would lead us to bizarre conclusions. For example, gold is a metal with atomic number 79, but gold* is a metal with atomic number 79 that bounces. This would mean that gold would simultaneously be an individual species and a genus, which is impossible. Further, because "being a metal with atomic number 79" encompasses all lower features of gold--all of its powers and accidents--, you would be endorsing the position that an essence did not necessarily determine all lower powers. Gold*'s bouncing power would be utterly inexplicable and essentially magical. Worst of all, gold* would have two specific differences, possessing both atomic number 79 and a bouncing ability. A subspecies of rational animal would suffer the same fate. A numan would be "an animal with rationality and [further specific difference]", which is just untenable.

You really need to pick up Oderberg's book. He actually bites the bullet on rational aliens and so forth--they'd be "human" no less than us.

Gail Finke said...

In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the vampire rules were that the person died and that the body, while retaining its memories, became a new creature -- a demon, with its own personality, albeit one that was influenced by the dead person's personality, interests, talents, etc. I always thought that little philosophical touch was nice, and it added to plots in which people sometimes wanted to become vampires so that they would be immortal or super strong or whatever -- but really, they would be dead. I doubt Joss Wheedon is a fan of Aristotle; it's probably just a plot device to make it quite certain that they were never killing actual people.

Josh said...

Rank,

A subspecies of rational animal would suffer the same fate. A numan would be "an animal with rationality and [further specific difference]", which is just untenable.

You really need to pick up Oderberg's book. He actually bites the bullet on rational aliens and so forth--they'd be "human" no less than us.


Bingo. Hence why humanoid aliens such as C.S. Lewis' Hross were subject to the same natural law.

Dguller,

I'm actually curious as to what the superadded trait would be in a numan that is substantial and not accidental to it.

It would be like a human being actualizing its animal nature, but failing to actualize its rational nature, and yet claiming to be moral. In that case, the human being would have failed to actualize the distinctively human power of rationality, and would not be considered moral at all.

If a being didn't actualize rationality, then how is it human? Obviously I'm not talking about a physically handicapped person, but a being that metaphysically doesn't actualize rationality. That fails to meet the requirements for humanity per se.

However, given evolutionary biology, plus Thomist metaphysics, the reality is that if there aren’t any at this time, then there will be some at some point in the future, assuming humanity survives long enough, unless you want to say that humans are no longer capable of heritable differential traits that have variable fitness in different contexts?

A biological necessity? I thought these things were contingent.

But really, the point is not essentially different from Ed's that I quoted above. If humans give rise to numans, and their substantial forms are different, then this doesn't entail anything whatsoever about how the natural law applies to humans, any more than it would for the difference in natural law between stones and humans.

If they are simply a species of humanity (humanoid), then you fall prey to Rank's point of a specific difference becoming a genera.

And another point: the very tool you use to criticize the knowability of form is parasitic on us knowing the form of 'numanity,' which provides the basis for the critique in the first place.

David T said...

I don’t have any. But given Thomist principles and evolutionary biology, it is quite possible that there are numans, but they never had the opportunity to have their differentiating power P actualized. Furthermore, unless you want to say that human beings are outside of the evolutionary process in the sense of no longer being capable of evolving, then you must admit that it is an inevitability that numans will evolve from humans.

Humans must inevitably change? That's a metaphysical assertion; it at least isn't an empirical conclusion from evolution. Crocodiles have hardly changed at all since the time of the dinosaurs, and the Coelecanth was thought to have gone extinct 60 million years ago until one was fished out of the waters off South Africa.

The point is that we don’t even know if we are humans at all. We might be numans who haven’t actualized P (yet). And since morality is the actualization of the essential powers of one’s essence, it follows that if you do not know what your essence is, then how can you know what to choose to actualize to fulfill your final end?

Since you are claiming this possibility is supported by evolutionary theory, do you have any examples of this happening? That is, a creature that was apparently one type of creature, but can in retrospect can be seen to be something entirely different, because it had powers it could have actualized but never did?

Edward Feser said...

Hi dguller,

It's not "I can conceive of X, therefore X is the case" that the people I have in mind are saying, but rather "I can conceive of X, therefore X is metaphysically possible." Though again, I don't myself like this way of arguing (though I think some of them make points that can be reformulated in other ways).

Anyway, as I understand Dennett, he is claiming that critics of materialism essentially argue that because they cannot imagine (he should say "conceive," but never mind) how a naturalistic explanation of (say) consciousness might go, it follows that there can be no such explanation. But the standard arguments simply don't fit that caricature. For example, the zombie argument (a type of conceivability argument) says that all the physical facts could be as they are without the facts of consciousness holding. Now that is not a claim about what we can't conceive but a claim about what we can conceive.

Jackson's and Nagel's arguments might seem more plausible targets of Dennett's remark, but they are not, because they are essentially making the same point as the zombie argument but from a different angle. You could take Jackson and Nagel as saying, in effect, that we can clearly conceive of knowing all of the physical facts without knowing all the facts about consciousness. (There's more to Nagel's argument than that, but that's at least part of it on one natural reading.) Again, this is a claim about what we can conceive, not a claim about what we can't.

So, if one is going to play the "Whose imagination/powers of conception are richer?" game, it's people like Dennett who lose it rather than people like Jackson, Nagel, Chalmers, et al. The latter are saying that the world is richer than the materialist will allow. Dennett has the chutzpah to claim that they lack imagination, but in fact it is he who is forcing the world into a narrow straitjacket so as to fit his dogmatic naturalistic metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

Struck a nerve, did I? Very gratifying.

But maybe you have a point. The philosophical zombie argument is a case where philosophers are all too ready to conceive of something that is unbearably stupid, based on premises that nobody with any understanding or taste would entertain for a moment. Even the people who do take the argument seriously don't believe that their conceptions have any relationship with actuality.

The imagination Dennett is talking about is one that *is* trying to grapple with reality, that can stretch to accomodate the structure and operations of the world as it actually is. This is, to be sure, difficult. Understanding evolution, or quantum mechanics, or cognitive neuroscience takes a great deal of imagination, and not everyone can do it. Nothing to be ashamed of. But it is shameful to turn your lack of ability into an ideology that you try to impose on the rest of us.

Edward Feser said...

Struck a nerve, did I? Very gratifying.

Get over yourself. I was responding to Dennett, whom any anonymous schmuck can quote.

dguller said...

Rank:

Specific differences can't become genera, as far as I know. This would lead us to bizarre conclusions. For example, gold is a metal with atomic number 79, but gold* is a metal with atomic number 79 that bounces. This would mean that gold would simultaneously be an individual species and a genus, which is impossible.

First, I thought that the genus was the general category, and the species was a particular type under that category?

Second, according to our knowledge, gold is a species. However, if we discover gold*, which has all the same properties as gold, plus a differentiating power P, then wouldn’t that make gold* a species of gold? For example, you have the genus “animal”, which divides into the species rational animal and non-rational animal. I can understand how rational animal is a species, but what about non-rational animals? Don’t they get further divided into non-rational animals that walk, that swim, that eat meat, that eat vegetables, and so on? In that case, a non-rational animal that walks would be a different species than a non-rational animal that swims, for example? How could this be incoherent?

Further, because "being a metal with atomic number 79" encompasses all lower features of gold--all of its powers and accidents--, you would be endorsing the position that an essence did not necessarily determine all lower powers. Gold*'s bouncing power would be utterly inexplicable and essentially magical.

It would be inexplicable, which is perhaps why using gold is a bad example. I was talking about biological evolution, not chemistry or physics. In evolution, it is totally explicable and possible for a new species to evolve from an older species.

Worst of all, gold* would have two specific differences, possessing both atomic number 79 and a bouncing ability. A subspecies of rational animal would suffer the same fate. A numan would be "an animal with rationality and [further specific difference]", which is just untenable.

That would imply that evolution is impossible, because a species with a new differentiating power cannot possibly evolve from an older species that lacked that differentiating power. A fish could not possible evolve into an animal that walked, for example.

Josh said...

That would imply that evolution is impossible, because a species with a new differentiating power cannot possibly evolve from an older species that lacked that differentiating power. A fish could not possible evolve into an animal that walked, for example.

Under your schema, is the animal that walks that evolves from a fish a species of fish? Why or why not?

Mr. Green said...

Dguller: If you cannot determine the differentiating power that divides one species from another, then you are going to make all kinds of mistakes.

But no: you won't make "all kinds" of mistakes, you will (assuming you are careful) make only mistakes that correspond to the details beyond your ken. If those details are insignificant differences, then your errors in moral reasoning, etc. will likewise be insignificantly small. And we make tiny mistakes about all sorts of stuff all the time. Therefore again… so what?

This is a matter of there being a principled incapacity to identify a thing’s essence.

Yes, we can't just put a substantial form under a microscope. Oh, well. That hardly puts a "dent" in Thomistic morality. We have a moral duty to feed ourselves healthy food, and our understanding of what constitutes healthy food has changed over time; and you could still hardly say we have a perfect understanding of it. But in practical terms… so what? We don't know all the details, but we know that a steak is better for you than a bowl of arsenic. Morally, this just doesn't matter a whole lot. For one thing, honest mistakes are not immoral, so we do the best with the knowledge we have. And even if we knew that, say, never eating dessert would guarantee living an extra year, our duty to be healthy is not so legalistic that we would be bound never to eat dessert anyway.


Furthermore, unless you want to say that human beings are outside of the evolutionary process in the sense of no longer being capable of evolving, then you must admit that it is an inevitability that numans will evolve from humans. So, it is not just a logical possibility, but more like a biological and metaphysical necessity.

As already pointed out, there is certainly no necessity to any sort of biological evolution. And it's not even implausible that humans are "immune" to further evolutionary pressures, since we have the ability to change our environment to fit us, rather than changing to fit our environment. (And that's a simplistic view anyway, since all creatures affect their environment, and there are no guarantees that an environment will change in the right sort of ways anyhow.) But that's a question for biology, not metaphysics. And to turn to practical metaphysics, it is possible that no matter how many physical differences, large or small, there are between humans and "numans", they could both have the same nature, i.e. all those differences could be accidental.

Ron Murphy said...

As for being a different kind of thing, this is related to human biology. For all of an individual's life, and for all of their learned history of humanity, humans have known themselves only as humans. Biologically, evolutionarily, this must introduce a great deal of bias into how we view ourselves. Speciesism, essentially. Our nearest non-human (non-Homo-sapiens) relatives have been extinct for all our recorded history, so it's a bit difficult to say whether we would have acquired any empathy with them. But then given how whites once considered non-white races as different animals it doesn't seem likely. So there seems to be an in-built human supremacist tendency, which of course religion has encouraged.

We also fear other species that appear dangerous to us, even if not because of their intelligence but because of their power, poison, etc. So it might be worth wondering if we might in fact fear any different and, for want of a better comparison, 'more advanced' species.

Add all this together and the real block to any wide spread desire to change ourselves might simply boil down to a natural fear of difference. Having said that, given that there is a great deal of variety in the make-up of human minds and the extent to which they identify themselves I'm sure there would be many adventurous souls that would welcome the change, the improvement in physical and mental capabilities.

Ron Murphy said...

There are barriers now to natural evolution because it acts at such a low pace, and by our very efforts to improve our survival and to control reproduction we are preventing those natural processes playing out. So it is likely that any significant change will be artificial.

Of course there will be resistance, from those that fear change, and from those that have come to see humans as the pinnacle of some divine creation. That might stunt our growth I suppose. Which I see as a potential pity. It would be a mistake to think that our thinking capacity is all it could be. We seem to struggle with so many issues because we are limited in our mental capacity to understand. This site has lamented the philosophical capabilities of some scientists, and many scientists know damned well that there are philosophers that are plumb ignorant of science they should really understand. Perhaps we all need an upgrade; perhaps we would do well to start planning to change the species.

As a thinking species we have a very parochial view of ourselves. I wonder what our enhanced descendants of a thousand years from now will think of us. Even if we don't enhance our biology we may well have tools to aid us that to us are indistinguishable from magic, as our tools may well be to Aquinas (Arthur C Clarke was it?). Fortunately we've fallen for the magic trap once too often already and should be prepared to be a bit more open-minded - hopefully.

Until then our biggest challenge is probably not making ourselves extinct. Even this isn't too much of a problem, if we do evolve, artificially or naturally, so that we leave something else or lead on to something else. It might be tempting to worry unduly about the current human species. We don't, after all, worry too much about our pre-human ancestors that have gone extinct.

Ron Murphy said...

"Nor is it clear that the normal person would tolerate even less invasive enhancements for very long."

And this is an example of a parochial view. Nor is it clear that a normal human could not be enhanced to accept any other artificial enhancement by the means of artificially enhancing their psychological or physiological acceptance of it.

"According to Zehr, astronauts who have to wear spacesuits for prolonged periods report that their tasks require continual intense concentration..."

With hindsight this seems obvious. It's not a natural environment. Humans have actually lived in caves, but potholing strikes uncontrollable fear into many people.

"But again, the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher has always allowed that people occasionally have various odd desires that are contrary to what is good for them given their nature."

But their nature itself can also be changed. Difference is accounted for quite simply by natural biological variation within the gene pool, plus learned differences, both cultural and individual, and by greater deviations from the norm that we label as abnormal. When a human is born without eyes it is seen as abnormal because it deviates from the current norm. This isn't as much as a survival problem as it once was (and still is for most animals that are normally sighted). But such a person would not be disadvantaged in a subterranean culture and might survive with some added benefit to become the norm.

"the bodily modifications ... all things considered, the normal person would prefer not to have."

But all things haven't been considered (changes made to allow physiological and psychological acceptance). Perhaps you mean 'other things being equal'.

"we would expect that in fact people would at least in general be repelled by the loss of their bodily integrity, and that is indeed what we do find. The existence of the occasional person who is not repelled by this can be accounted for in terms of psychological defect or irrationality."

Yes, I agree this is currently the case. I note that this is currently the view of the Catholic Church in Scotland with respect to same sex marriage and homosexuality generally. It's quite possible that three of the greatest injustices of recent centuries, sexism, homophobia, and racism may produce backlashes that make us wake up to our own parochial view of our place in the universe and embrace difference and change.

Mr. Green said...

Josh: Under your schema, is the animal that walks that evolves from a fish a species of fish? Why or why not?

Sure. But we have to take care whether we are using the words "genus" and "species" in their biological sense or their metaphysical sense. Any general classification is a genus and any special distinction is a species; and that "species" considered in general can be subdivided into further (sub-)species, and so on. But the modern biological term "species" has, er, evolved a fair bit from its philosophical origin. Biologists took the relative terms and anchored them to fixed positions on the ladder, so that "species" refers to the infima species, the lowest level. "Order" is a genus compared to its species "family", or "family" is a genus compared to its species, the (biological) "genus", and so on. (Biologists also nowadays classify creatures according to their supposed evolutionary family trees, which may or may not usefully match up with a metaphysical classification.)


Rank Sophist: [Oderberg] actually bites the bullet on rational aliens and so forth--they'd be "human" no less than us.

Yes, although that doesn't mean that there cannot be further differences that distinguish one kind (species) of "human" from another. (Given the terminology we use in sci-fi, in practice we'd probably call rational animals "humanoid" or something, and "humans" would be one race or species of humanoid… but the terminology isn't the issue, of course.) It's also possible that rational animals from some other planet, even if they were physically quite different from man, could have the same nature, with all the differences being accidental, but they wouldn't have to be.

I don't remember exactly what Oderberg says about this. He points out that rationality is the important thing (which is surely right — it is a higher power than, say, having pointy ears), and that physiological details can easily all be accidental. In fact, we would recognise other rational animals as effectively being human (again, in practice, this is how we do image intelligent extraterrestrials; it's not merely that they usually look like dressed-up human beings; no matter how good the make-up job, we think of them — we react to them — as funny-looking humans. Or for that matter, to "rational animals" like Bugs Bunny, etc.) So I agree that it is reasonable to think that any rational alien creatures share the same essence as man. But I don't think it's logically impossible to have different such substances.

Josh said...

Mr. Green,

Sure. But we have to take care whether we are using the words "genus" and "species" in their biological sense or their metaphysical sense.

I was just assuming Dguller would know what sense I was referring to; my point in asking the question is whether under his taxonomy, as a numan evolves from a human and is considered a species of human, that the 'walking animal' evolving from fish would be considered a species of fish.

Yes, although that doesn't mean that there cannot be further differences that distinguish one kind (species) of "human" from another.

I've noted the humanoid/alien distinction; I was also wondering what differences could be superadded to the substantial form 'rational animal' to get to a species of numan that wasn't merely accidentally different from humanity, but substantially different. So rationality and animality would be necessary conditions for this, and the difference would have to be essential to both rationality and animality, otherwise it'd just be the humanoid/alien/accidental feature thing.

Seth said...

Serious request for Dr. Feser and any of the informed interlocutors on this blog:

I consider myself a decently conversant philosophy enthusiast who has the time and inclination to spend it becoming more seriously engaged with philosophy. I find, however, that in selecting my reading I have a hard time coming up with a list that will do the job well.

I would love for Feser to come out with a post outlining an 'education plan' for people like me who are willing to spend the money on books and time to study them such that they can acquire a serious familiarity and engagement with the different themes and schools of philosophy. But failing that (it is a large request) I wonder if folks here would be willing to suggest a reading list for me? My primary interests at the time are Thomism and semiotics.

I do have TLS (working through it) with Aquinas on order, and a couple of shelves worth of other texts. But I need a way to decided what I should be reading.

Thanks!!

Josh said...

Seth,

The work has been done, my son

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/search?q=scholastic+bookshelf

Anonymous said...

@anon

But maybe you have a point. The philosophical zombie argument is a case where philosophers are all too ready to conceive of something that is unbearably stupid, based on premises that nobody with any understanding or taste would entertain for a moment. Even the people who do take the argument seriously don't believe that their conceptions have any relationship with actuality.

You are right, the conceivability argument for Zombies shows just how unbearably stupid materialism as a doctrine imposed on reality actually is.

Furthermore, given materialism, it could well be argued that you might be a zombie, here and now, without even knowing it while every conscious experience you might have is in fact illusory.

The imagination Dennett is talking about is one that *is* trying to grapple with reality, that can stretch to accomodate the structure and operations of the world as it actually is. This is, to be sure, difficult.

He has no idea what he is talking about most of the time and this one is no different. Materialism does not stretch reality, but instead it limits it to the point where it becomes absurd. It's a restrictive and intellectually suffocating ideology. You're very confused.

Understanding evolution, or quantum mechanics, or cognitive neuroscience takes a great deal of imagination, and not everyone can do it.

Most people can do it. With the exception of highly abstract, math-based quantum theoretical models the other things you mention are pretty easy in fact.

You might not be aware of it, but you seem to be conflating science with materialism, which betrays a type of ignorance on your part. Whatever scientific theories we have about the actual world can be interpreted in both non-materialistic as well as materialistic way. The only difference is that the latter ends up making science incoherent.

But it is shameful to turn your lack of ability into an ideology that you try to impose on the rest of us.

Pot calling the kettle black.

dguller said...

Josh:

Under your schema, is the animal that walks that evolves from a fish a species of fish? Why or why not?

I don’t know. It could be classified as an animal that walks and breathes air whereas a fish is an animal that swims and breathes water, for example. It could also be classified as a species of fish, but as one that can walk and breath air. This would especially make sense in the immediate aftermath of its evolution. It seems that there are a number of classificatory schemes available here. However, the issue is less where you would classify a numan, and more about the fact that it is quite possible, and not in a farfetched or fantastical sense, that there are numans already amongst us, but have not actualized P. Perhaps you and I are numans, but simply don’t know it! So, whether numans should be classified as a new kind of human, or a new kind of animal, or a new kind of fish, or whatever, does not matter. All that matters is you have a being that, until it actualizes P, looks exactly like a human being, and yet it has a totally different substantial form.

Eduardo said...

Just one thing I was thinking here. Do you people think that we really like difference... or we just like that other people be what they want as long as I can do whatever I want.

You know... being different is good as long as we all keep silent about the things other people do.

Let me see if I could explain it in more details: Let´s say a certain person defends that people ought to accept differences, but he lives with other people who think that difference is wrong and we should all be the same about a certain aspect in life; let´s say... tattoos, this group thinks that everybody should have a tattoo.

Now... what if the person who defends difference decides to criticize or campaign against the group from above... wouldn´t that mean that the person in question does not REALLY like difference, but rather there is some other principle involved that HE INTERPRETS as it was an "empathy" towards difference ?

dguller said...

Mr. Green:

But no: you won't make "all kinds" of mistakes, you will (assuming you are careful) make only mistakes that correspond to the details beyond your ken. If those details are insignificant differences, then your errors in moral reasoning, etc. will likewise be insignificantly small. And we make tiny mistakes about all sorts of stuff all the time. Therefore again… so what?

But are the details insignificant? I am not talking about accidental properties, but essential powers that differentiate a numan from a human, or from any other kind of animal. I don’t think that is an insignificant detail. In fact, a numan that failed to actualize P would be a bad numan, much like a human that failed to actualize the power of their intellect would be a bad human. So, I could see a person who could be a good human, but a bad numan, and thus my moral judgment could be way off in such a case.

Yes, we can't just put a substantial form under a microscope. Oh, well. That hardly puts a "dent" in Thomistic morality. We have a moral duty to feed ourselves healthy food, and our understanding of what constitutes healthy food has changed over time; and you could still hardly say we have a perfect understanding of it. But in practical terms… so what? We don't know all the details, but we know that a steak is better for you than a bowl of arsenic. Morally, this just doesn't matter a whole lot. For one thing, honest mistakes are not immoral, so we do the best with the knowledge we have. And even if we knew that, say, never eating dessert would guarantee living an extra year, our duty to be healthy is not so legalistic that we would be bound never to eat dessert anyway.

None of that is relevant here, I think. The bottom line is that when you are appraising the goodness of a particular person, you are doing so on the basis of an objective standard that is based upon knowledge of that person’s substantial form. If you simply do not know that substantial form, especially its differentiating power, then your appraisals will be incomplete at best, and completely wrong at worst. So, a person that has a healthy physical body and a functioning intellect could be considered to be a good human, but if they failed to actualize P, then they would be a bad numan. Thus, your appraisal could be wildly off base without a proper understanding of essential features of a substantial form.

As already pointed out, there is certainly no necessity to any sort of biological evolution. And it's not even implausible that humans are "immune" to further evolutionary pressures, since we have the ability to change our environment to fit us, rather than changing to fit our environment. (And that's a simplistic view anyway, since all creatures affect their environment, and there are no guarantees that an environment will change in the right sort of ways anyhow.) But that's a question for biology, not metaphysics. And to turn to practical metaphysics, it is possible that no matter how many physical differences, large or small, there are between humans and "numans", they could both have the same nature, i.e. all those differences could be accidental.

First, I’m saying that there is a difference that is not accidental, but substantial. They have different substantial forms, and you don’t get more substantial than that. And they differ, because a numan has a differentiating power P that a human lacks. This is the case even if numans never actualize P at all, because of the principles of Thomist metaphysics.

dguller said...

Mr. Green:

Second, the human ability to change our environment is not all-powerful, and it is certainly a biological possibility that new species can evolve from human beings over time. This has been the case for all species, which have had evolved species offshoots from their lineage over time. Personally, I think it is necessary that human beings are under selection pressure that over enough time, and with enough environmental changes, will result in a new species offshoot. I mean, even species that haven’t changed in millennia still had other species evolve from them.

Eduardo said...

I think dguller, until one of us evolve a new ability that completely change how we live our lives, shouldn´t we conclude that we are still humans?

Or that maybe humans need multiple definitions in order to grasp their essence, and once the topics in this list of definitions are found to be wrong, we could infer that these people are numans ?

rank sophist said...

First, I thought that the genus was the general category, and the species was a particular type under that category?

Kind of right. But a genus can't be a species at the same time.

Second, according to our knowledge, gold is a species. However, if we discover gold*, which has all the same properties as gold, plus a differentiating power P, then wouldn’t that make gold* a species of gold?

No. Gold cannot be a genus and a species. Consider Oderberg's discussion in Real Essentialism of nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite, though the "original" jade, is not considered a genus under which jadeite ("new" jade) falls. They are two different species of mineral.

For example, you have the genus “animal”, which divides into the species rational animal and non-rational animal. I can understand how rational animal is a species, but what about non-rational animals?

Nothing can be just a non-rational animal. Essences are supposed to be positive, rather than negative. "Non-rational animal" is a nearly content-free description defined in negation to something else, as is often the case with genera. As it basically means "animal", we are left with the conclusion that there can be a completely nondescript species called "animal". It has no identifiable traits other than its animality. This is, of course, utterly impossible and absurd.

How could this be incoherent?

Because "non-rational animal" is not a species. If it was, then we would see the featureless monsters I described above, which is not possible.

I was talking about biological evolution, not chemistry or physics. In evolution, it is totally explicable and possible for a new species to evolve from an older species.

Only when you use "species" in an equivocal sense and combine morphology with cladism, as you've been doing this whole time. Oderberg discusses evolution in detail in Real Essentialism. He explains how one species can arise from another, metaphysically, without one being a genera to the other.

That would imply that evolution is impossible, because a species with a new differentiating power cannot possibly evolve from an older species that lacked that differentiating power. A fish could not possible evolve into an animal that walked, for example.

All it would imply is that a fish with legs was a different species. Oderberg talks about this stuff at great length. You need to pick up his book--trust me.

Josh said...

Dguller,

All that matters is you have a being that, until it actualizes P, looks exactly like a human being, and yet it has a totally different substantial form.

So:
Humans have potential for numanity according to the actualization of P.

Until P is actualized, there are no numans.

If P is actualized as a function of material change (evolution), then this can be discovered through natural science.

Therefore, essences are still knowable, and until Ps are discovered to be actualized, we have no reason for inferring the existence of numans, or celestial teapots.

Something wrong here?

rank sophist said...

Pardon me: "He explains how one species can arise from another, metaphysically, without one being a genus to the other."

Anonymous said...

@dguller

What is the importance of the claim that another species could eventually arise from homo sapiens?

How does that change anything?

Seth said...

dguller,

Under your argument (as I understand it) what is the significance of potential numan powers and their actualization have for human morality? Even if we accept your argument about the arrival of numans with power P, it seems like they would still be beholden to human morality and natural law, just with additional moral duties possibly tacked on.

Unless you are postulating that the actualization of numan power P would entail the abrogation of human morality, I don't see how it has any relevance to natural law as it applies to humans.

Seth said...

dguller,

Also, it's difficult to understand the consequences of your scenario in its highly abstract formulation. I don't want to be accused of a failure of imagination, but its hard for me to think of a new power P that would significantly add to or alter human morality in a qualitative way.

Do you have any specific (or at least less general) ideas about what possible power P would undermine the structure of Thomistic natural law/morality? I'm assuming you aren't envisioning an X-men scenario here, because I don't see even under such a scenario how the numan winds up with a qualitatively different set of moral imperatives. I think you would need something more fundamental for that to happen - on the level of the power of rationality.

dguller said...

Rank:

Kind of right. But a genus can't be a species at the same time.

I’m confused. (I know, I know. Surprise.) It seems that the genus of body can be divided into the species of animate and inanimate beings. It also seems that the species of animate beings can be divided into the species of sensitive and non-sensitive living beings. Would it be wrong to consider the species of animate beings as the genus of sensitive and non-sensitive living beings? And if that would be not a genus-species structure, then what kind of structure is it?

No. Gold cannot be a genus and a species. Consider Oderberg's discussion in Real Essentialism of nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite, though the "original" jade, is not considered a genus under which jadeite ("new" jade) falls. They are two different species of mineral.

That is fine. I think that we are getting sidetracked by this genus-species discussion. My only point was that given Thomist metaphysical claims that a substantial form can result beings with essential powers that are never actualized, and given evolutionary biological claims that organisms in the old species can have differential traits that ultimately end up as a new species, then it is possible that there be numan beings amongst the human beings at this time.

Nothing can be just a non-rational animal. Essences are supposed to be positive, rather than negative. "Non-rational animal" is a nearly content-free description defined in negation to something else, as is often the case with genera. As it basically means "animal", we are left with the conclusion that there can be a completely nondescript species called "animal". It has no identifiable traits other than its animality. This is, of course, utterly impossible and absurd.

I see. So, the species is the endpoint of the classification scheme, and “animal” cannot be the endpoint, but only a general category that requires further differentiation and specification.

All it would imply is that a fish with legs was a different species. Oderberg talks about this stuff at great length. You need to pick up his book--trust me.

That’s fine. It can be a different species. And I know, I have to read his book. It’s on the list!

dguller said...

Josh:

Humans have potential for numanity according to the actualization of P.

No, humans have no potential for numanity. Humans have the substantial form of humanity, period. A numan would have the substantial form of numanity, period. They are different. A human does not become a numan. A human is a human, and a numan is a numan.

Until P is actualized, there are no numans.

Not necessarily. If P is a differentiating power, then that power does not need to be actualized in the same way that our power of rationality might not be actualized in someone with brain damage, and yet the power remains present.

If P is actualized as a function of material change (evolution), then this can be discovered through natural science.

Right.

Therefore, essences are still knowable, and until Ps are discovered to be actualized, we have no reason for inferring the existence of numans, or celestial teapots.

Not necessarily. The point is that Thomism allows the existence of an essential power P that is not actualized, and once you admit this possibility, then numan beings could exist. If you want to confine yourself to only actualized powers as counting, then how can you say that a human being with brain damage still has the power of rationality, especially since they cannot reason at all? Perhaps they lost that power altogether? Similarly, a fetus lacks the power of actuality, because it never actualizes it. Once a human being has reached a certain stage of cognitive and neurological development, then they have the power of rationality. I mean, what sense is there to have a power that you cannot possibly actualize? But if you accept that this is possible, then numans become a possibility, as well, because they have a power of P, which they cannot actualize at this time, because the environment isn’t right.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

What is the importance of the claim that another species could eventually arise from homo sapiens?

It isn’t important.

dguller said...

Seth:

Under your argument (as I understand it) what is the significance of potential numan powers and their actualization have for human morality? Even if we accept your argument about the arrival of numans with power P, it seems like they would still be beholden to human morality and natural law, just with additional moral duties possibly tacked on.

Right, but those additional moral duties could not possibly be performed without actualizing P, and thus if they cannot actualize P, then they cannot be good, especially if P is the differentiating power that distinguishes numans from other beings. It would be like a human being being unable to actualize their intellect properly due to brain damage, but still having their animality intact. They could not be considered good, because their intellects cannot identify their good for their will to initiate in their bodies.

Also, it's difficult to understand the consequences of your scenario in its highly abstract formulation. I don't want to be accused of a failure of imagination, but its hard for me to think of a new power P that would significantly add to or alter human morality in a qualitative way.

If P is a differentiating power, i.e. a power that differentiates a numan being from other animals, much like rationality differentiates humans from other animals, then failing to actualize P would constitute a failure to actualize the essential differentiating power of numanity, and thus fail to be a good numan being.

Do you have any specific (or at least less general) ideas about what possible power P would undermine the structure of Thomistic natural law/morality? I'm assuming you aren't envisioning an X-men scenario here, because I don't see even under such a scenario how the numan winds up with a qualitatively different set of moral imperatives. I think you would need something more fundamental for that to happen - on the level of the power of rationality.

Nope. No idea what P could be. However, just because I cannot imagine it, does not necessarily mean it is impossible. My imagination does not determine the boundaries of the metaphysically possible, but only the boundaries of what I can imagine. In fact, my imagination, according to Aquinas, is caused by our power of phantasia, and not by our power of intellect.

Josh said...

Dguller,

I want to take issue with this particular point, which I think is at the crux of your point:

The point is that Thomism allows the existence of an essential power P that is not actualized, and once you admit this possibility, then numan beings could exist. If you want to confine yourself to only actualized powers as counting, then how can you say that a human being with brain damage still has the power of rationality, especially since they cannot reason at all? Perhaps they lost that power altogether?

Where are you getting that first sentence? I'm curious. Secondly, let me quote from Ed:

To apply all this to the case at hand: Terri Schiavo, like every human being, is a rational animal as a primary actuality. And this remains true if she is impeded, by the damage to her brain, from exercising the various capacities that normally follow upon rational animality as secondary actualities. Put another way, in being a human being at all she has a first potentiality for speech, episodes of thought, and the like. When her brain is in good working order she also has a second potentiality for these capacities. But when it is damaged, though she loses this second potentiality, the first potentiality remains. That is precisely why, had regenerative treatments had been available, the second potentiality would have returned. What made her different from a “vegetable” or a mere animal is that these things never even have or could have rational animality as a primary actuality, and never even have or could have the capacity for speech, episodes of thought, etc. as a first potentiality. All told, Terri is neither a potential rational animal, nor a former rational animal, but an actual rational animal who has been frustrated in realizing her potentials. Vegetables and animals, by contrast, are never rational animals at all. They don’t “fail” to realize the potential for speech, episodes of thought, etc., because unlike even a brain damaged human being, they never have those potentials in the first place.

The relevance to abortion should be obvious. A fetus too isn’t a potentially rational animal or a potential person. A fetus is an actual rational animal and thus an actual person who hasn’t yet realized all his potentials. Etc.



Ed Feser, "Act and Potency," May 7, 2009


The point of this to me to your discussion is that a numan's substantial form, in order to be different from a human's, must actualize its P as part of its primary actuality, and if this is discoverable/brought about by evolution, then its discoverable, and natural law is safe. If you are referring to a P that is a secondary actuality, then you can see that that person isn't substantially different from a human.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Species are always concrete things. Genera cannot be, ever. There is no species of "substance", none of "body", none of "living"--all of these are abstractions, real but incapable of standing alone. A species is what you get when a genus is mixed with a specific difference ("metal"-"atomic number 79" or "liquid"-"chemical formula H2O").

If there were numans, they would either be non-animal or non-rational. As a result, there would be a clear difference between a numan and a human. A numan might be like a robot twin from the Blockhead argument, for instance, and act exactly like a human but have a totally different genus and specific difference, being neither alive nor rational. This could, of course, be discovered via investigation. But there could never be a race of rational animals with different final causes than those of a human--this is metaphysically impossible.

Anonymous said...

But maybe you have a point. The philosophical zombie argument is a case where philosophers are all too ready to conceive of something that is unbearably stupid, based on premises that nobody with any understanding or taste would entertain for a moment. Even the people who do take the argument seriously don't believe that their conceptions have any relationship with actuality.

This sounds a lot like the answer who indeed does NOT understand the arguments, but just dismisses an argument from a priori reasoning.



The imagination Dennett is talking about is one that *is* trying to grapple with reality, that can stretch to accomodate the structure and operations of the world as it actually is. This is, to be sure, difficult. Understanding evolution, or quantum mechanics, or cognitive neuroscience takes a great deal of imagination, and not everyone can do it. Nothing to be ashamed of. But it is shameful to turn your lack of ability into an ideology that you try to impose on the rest of us.


Sometimes I wonder if Dennett or his fanboys really understand Quantum Mechanics at all... or even evolution.

Dennett & friends have come up with some whoppers over the years, which really shakes my confidence in their fundamental understanding of science... and some of his friends call themselves scientists (like Dawkins).

Anonymous said...

PS: funny how some atheists are quick to 'quote verses'. They sound like fundametalists, but insteat of quoting the Bible or the Q'ran they quote their 'sacred scriptures' like 'the Book of Dennett' or 'the Book of Dawkins'...

Ironically, similarly to fundamentalists their understanding of the issues is poor and flawed... also they are drones, unable to really think for themselves but just vomiting some catchphrases in the hope to dazzle the opponent.

Atheism is indeed a religion, the worst one. Quote me on that.

Anonymous said...

Don't be stupid. I quoted a quip by Dennett, not some piece of materialist gospel. And in truth, I've had almost exactly the same thoughts on my own, but Dennett's name gets more attention than if I just said it myself.

dguller said...

Josh:

Where are you getting that first sentence? I'm curious.

What I mean is that Thomism allows that a primary actuality is never secondarily actualized. So, a primary actuality of an essential power may never be actually used by a being. For example, all humans have the primary actuality of the power of rationality, but not all humans have the secondary actuality of rationality. Thus, a being with a substantial form that includes the power of P may never actually use P ever, and still have the power P.

But when it is damaged, though she loses this second potentiality, the first potentiality remains. That is precisely why, had regenerative treatments had been available, the second potentiality would have returned. What made her different from a “vegetable” or a mere animal is that these things never even have or could have rational animality as a primary actuality, and never even have or could have the capacity for speech, episodes of thought, etc. as a first potentiality.

And that is the problem. Just because only humans have ever been observed to be rational does not mean that only humans have the primary actuality of the power of rationality. Perhaps other animals simply haven’t secondarily actualized their rationality. All we can observe are secondary actualities. The primary actualities are inferred on the basis of secondary actualities. And yet, Thomism allows the existence of a primary actuality that fails to be secondarily actualized, which means that it could exist and yet we never observe its results. That’s all I meant.

David T said...

We should remember that to be a rational animal isn't simply to be an animal with the random property "rational" stuck on. It means that our being expresses rationality from top to bottom, not only in mind but in body. If an intelligent alien comes across the naked corpse of a man, he should be able to deduce that man was rational because 1) The man has no natural defenses like the claws of a bear, the smell of a skunk or the camouflage of a chameleon, 2) He's got a marvelous instrument in the hand that is not merely a tool like a bear claw but is a "tool of tools", capable of rational adaptation to many different purposes, 3) He's got no natural clothing like fur or feathers and must somehow extract them from nature, 4) He's got a tongue uniquely adapted for expressing complex sounds that make language possible. The same thing holds for other animals. Great white sharks are seal hunters and everything about them is organized to that purpose. A white shark doesn't have opposable thumbs or a complex tongue because they contribute nothing to its mode of life, but it does have rows of sharp, triangular teeth appropriated for ripping seals apart. Nor does a hypothetical latent power that a shark might have yet is unexpressed in its existence contribute to seal hunting - for the precise reason that it is unexpressed. This is a reason from natural philosophy to doubt the existence, or even the natural possibility, of numans.

Further, every moment in time is a snapshot of evolution. If numan-type creatures were a live possibility, where are they? Where are the creatures (not just human, but of any kind among the millions of extant species) that live for some number of generations with latent but unexpressed natural powers that only become actual some time in the future? I know of none, nor of any that have been discovered in natural history. Simply imagining the possibility of numans isn't sufficient to establish them as a genuine evolutionary possibility. All the evidence suggests that numan-like creatures simply don't happen.

So there are good reasons from both natural philosophy and evolution to doubt the possibility of numans, and no good reasons to believe in them, beyond their raw logical possibility. I renew my objection that we are in Flying Spaghetti Monster territory here, for that is just what the FSM is: A raw logical possibility supported by no good metaphysical or empirical arguments, and against which there are both good metaphysical and empirical arguments.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said... Sometimes I wonder if Dennett or his fanboys really understand Quantum Mechanics at all... or even evolution.

Do you? Do you really? I think it's pretty clear that they don't.

dguller said...

Rank:

If there were numans, they would either be non-animal or non-rational. As a result, there would be a clear difference between a numan and a human. A numan might be like a robot twin from the Blockhead argument, for instance, and act exactly like a human but have a totally different genus and specific difference, being neither alive nor rational. This could, of course, be discovered via investigation. But there could never be a race of rational animals with different final causes than those of a human--this is metaphysically impossible.

And this is where I simply do not understand why it is “metaphysically impossible” for there to a rational animal with an additional essential power P. Such a being would have vegetative, appetitive and rational powers, plus an additional essential power to P. This does not seem to be contradictory or incoherent at all. What metaphysical principles prohibit such a scenario? I mean, fine, a numan may not be considered to be a type of human at all, and rather should be placed under different genus, maybe under animal instead, but it would still have the powers that I described, and it is just a matter of classification rather than ontology.

dguller said...

David:

We should remember that to be a rational animal isn't simply to be an animal with the random property "rational" stuck on. It means that our being expresses rationality from top to bottom, not only in mind but in body.

That’s fine. A being necessarily has a single substantial form, except that expressing rationality in body would have to mean bodily acting as a rational being would choose to behave. After all, our intellect acts on the body by virtue of presenting an action as good, which serves as a final cause of the will, which actualizes the bodily behavior in question. However, the intellect per se is immaterial, and only requires the body for the presentation of phantasms with sensible species that the intellect abstracts into intelligible species or quiddities. That’s all the body has to do with the intellect, as far as I know.

If an intelligent alien comes across the naked corpse of a man, he should be able to deduce that man was rational because 1) The man has no natural defenses like the claws of a bear, the smell of a skunk or the camouflage of a chameleon, 2) He's got a marvelous instrument in the hand that is not merely a tool like a bear claw but is a "tool of tools", capable of rational adaptation to many different purposes, 3) He's got no natural clothing like fur or feathers and must somehow extract them from nature, 4) He's got a tongue uniquely adapted for expressing complex sounds that make language possible.

I don’t think a dead body could provide good information to an alien. There are organs that are vestigial after all, and serve no real purpose at this time, although they were probably useful in the past. You can look at the appendix, or even the so-called “junk” DNA in our sequence in between the actual genes. So, I think an alien could hypothesize a number of possibilities, but only empirical observation would confirm any of those hypotheses.

The same thing holds for other animals. Great white sharks are seal hunters and everything about them is organized to that purpose. A white shark doesn't have opposable thumbs or a complex tongue because they contribute nothing to its mode of life, but it does have rows of sharp, triangular teeth appropriated for ripping seals apart. Nor does a hypothetical latent power that a shark might have yet is unexpressed in its existence contribute to seal hunting - for the precise reason that it is unexpressed. This is a reason from natural philosophy to doubt the existence, or even the natural possibility, of numans.

Just because we don’t observe a secondary actuality does not necessarily mean that there is no primary actuality. My point is that evolutionary biology informs us that any given population has a degree of variability in terms of phenotypes, and that one kind of variability could confer a survival advantage in different circumstances, even if it is unexpressed at this time. So, an organism in a population with that unexpressed power may be indistinguishable from other organisms that lack that power at all, and would only be distinguishable over time once the environment changes such that the power becomes expressed. Even looking at sharks, you may be looking at a snark instead, which has an additional essential power to P, but it has not been secondarily actualized, because there is no environmental condition that facilitates its actualization.

dguller said...

David:

Further, every moment in time is a snapshot of evolution. If numan-type creatures were a live possibility, where are they?

Say you were to look at hominid primates 100,000 years ago. Some individuals in that population suddenly develop the power of rationality, but they haven’t actualized them yet, because they haven’t the opportunity, maybe because their brains haven’t developed sufficiently, or something. Those individuals have a completely different substantial form compared to the other hominids around them, but until they have the secondary actuality of rationality, they are indistinguishable to the eye from other hominids. If I had told you that there were homo sapiens within that hominid population, you could say that I was wrong, because there was no empirical evidence for them, and yet the fact is that they existed, and I would be right to think so. Thus, a snapshot approach is fundamentally flawed in terms of determining whether there are humans or numans. One would have to look at the long view of evolutionary history, which would have to include the future, to know, which we are simply unable to do.

Where are the creatures (not just human, but of any kind among the millions of extant species) that live for some number of generations with latent but unexpressed natural powers that only become actual some time in the future? I know of none, nor of any that have been discovered in natural history.

You think it is biologically impossible for an organism to have genes for a specific function that have not been activated by their environment? Do all genes have to be necessarily activated? What if the organism with the new gene could not activate it, because the signals necessary for activation simply could not reach the gene in question due to structural or functional limitations of the organism?

Simply imagining the possibility of numans isn't sufficient to establish them as a genuine evolutionary possibility. All the evidence suggests that numan-like creatures simply don't happen.

All evidence suggests is that there are no organisms that have a secondary actuality of P. What we can infer from those observations is that either there is no primary actuality of P or that there is a primary actuality of P, but it has not been secondarily actualized. The evidence supports both possibilities. And perhaps numan-like creatures simply haven’t happened yet.

I renew my objection that we are in Flying Spaghetti Monster territory here, for that is just what the FSM is: A raw logical possibility supported by no good metaphysical or empirical arguments, and against which there are both good metaphysical and empirical arguments.

And I renew my claim that a numan is a genuine biological possibility, unless you want to say that it is impossible for a new species to evolve from human beings, which have the essential powers of a human being plus a new differentiating primary actuality of P, which is what makes the new species a new species.

David T said...

Say you were to look at hominid primates 100,000 years ago. Some individuals in that population suddenly develop the power of rationality, but they haven’t actualized them yet, because they haven’t the opportunity, maybe because their brains haven’t developed sufficiently, or something. Those individuals have a completely different substantial form compared to the other hominids around them, but until they have the secondary actuality of rationality, they are indistinguishable to the eye from other hominids.

Well, if there brains hadn't developed sufficiently to be rational, then those individuals didn't have the power of rationality, did they? I have the power of flight, but it's not realized because I haven't yet grown wings. No, I just don't have the power of flight.

And that's the point... we don't find in nature creatures with latent but unrealized natural powers. If we can't find them now, it doesn't make it any more plausible to speculate about things 100,000 years ago. It just removes us even further from an empirical foundation.

Just because we don’t observe a secondary actuality does not necessarily mean that there is no primary actuality. My point is that evolutionary biology informs us that any given population has a degree of variability in terms of phenotypes, and that one kind of variability could confer a survival advantage in different circumstances, even if it is unexpressed at this time. So, an organism in a population with that unexpressed power may be indistinguishable from other organisms that lack that power at all, and would only be distinguishable over time once the environment changes such that the power becomes expressed. Even looking at sharks, you may be looking at a snark instead, which has an additional essential power to P, but it has not been secondarily actualized, because there is no environmental condition that facilitates its actualization.

Again, this sounds superficially like an empirical argument from evolution, but it isn't one because you don't site any examples where this has actually happened. There may be organisms in your imagination that lurk unsuspected with secret powers, but your imagination isn't sufficient to establish empirical plausibility. The evidence is uniformly conclusive that when we look at sharks, we are seeing sharks and not snarks, or any other mythical creature.

Josh said...

Dguller,

All evidence suggests is that there are no organisms that have a secondary actuality of P. What we can infer from those observations is that either there is no primary actuality of P or that there is a primary actuality of P, but it has not been secondarily actualized. The evidence supports both possibilities. And perhaps numan-like creatures simply haven’t happened yet.

I understand how one can be a rational animal and not express its powers flowing from that, as in speaking, but how can one be a rational animal, yet not have the power to be rational or an animal? Seems like your principle that secondary actualities can not be expressed is conditioned by a being's first pair; the primary act of its being what it is, and the necessary capacity for being what it is that follows from that.

So it seems that only secondary actualities of secondary actualities relative to a primary actuality of existence are the ones that can or cannot be expressed, e.g., a person who doesn't speak or laugh.

rank sophist said...

And this is where I simply do not understand why it is “metaphysically impossible” for there to a rational animal with an additional essential power P. Such a being would have vegetative, appetitive and rational powers, plus an additional essential power to P. This does not seem to be contradictory or incoherent at all. What metaphysical principles prohibit such a scenario? I mean, fine, a numan may not be considered to be a type of human at all, and rather should be placed under different genus, maybe under animal instead, but it would still have the powers that I described, and it is just a matter of classification rather than ontology.

No, that isn't how it works. Either the additional power does not differentiate them as a species--and they remain human, like people of different skin colors--or their species and/or genus are totally different, which means that it's impossible for them to be confused with a human. (Remember: these things would be naturally evolved, unlike the robots designed to look like humans that I mentioned.)

Your scenario simply does not work.

Anonymous said...

@anon


PS: funny how some atheists are quick to 'quote verses'. They sound like fundametalists, but insteat of quoting the Bible or the Q'ran they quote their 'sacred scriptures' like 'the Book of Dennett' or 'the Book of Dawkins'...

Ironically, similarly to fundamentalists their understanding of the issues is poor and flawed... also they are drones, unable to really think for themselves but just vomiting some catchphrases in the hope to dazzle the opponent.

Atheism is indeed a religion, the worst one. Quote me on that.



That sounds exactly like me. In fact, the bolded part came out for my mouth multiple times, word for word.

Eventually, with the rise of atheist hatered and anti-intellectualism, sensible people will become more averse to it and will eventually die out.

The important thing from a conservative/traditional stand-point is not allow the wave of atheism to hijack science (especially science-talk) and to expose its ethical nihilism. Once atheism is exposed as such and its only life-line curtailed this phenomenon of angry nerd atheism will perish just like every other sophism in the past.

Anonymous said...

@anon

Don't be stupid. I quoted a quip by Dennett, not some piece of materialist gospel. And in truth, I've had almost exactly the same thoughts on my own, but Dennett's name gets more attention than if I just said it myself.

This is a different anon that the one you just insulted.

You might have not quote materialist dogma but the implication was evident and the source was in fact a bottom-feeding atheist. To use an analogy, dennett gets attention in the same way that an Auguste clown gets attention at a circus (if you're not familiar with clown types, look it up).

Now if you want to quote materialist gospel feel free.

dguller said...

David:

Well, if there brains hadn't developed sufficiently to be rational, then those individuals didn't have the power of rationality, did they? I have the power of flight, but it's not realized because I haven't yet grown wings. No, I just don't have the power of flight.

But then you could say the same thing of a fetus then, i.e. a fetus lacks the power of rationality because it lacks the neurobiological underpinnings of rationality.

And that's the point... we don't find in nature creatures with latent but unrealized natural powers. If we can't find them now, it doesn't make it any more plausible to speculate about things 100,000 years ago. It just removes us even further from an empirical foundation.

I just described one. A fetus. A fetus has the primary actuality of rationality, but does not have the secondary actuality of rationality. We observe the secondary actuality, and infer the presence of the primary actuality. However, a failure to observe a secondary actuality could either mean that there is a primary actuality or that there isn’t a primary actuality.

Again, this sounds superficially like an empirical argument from evolution, but it isn't one because you don't site any examples where this has actually happened. There may be organisms in your imagination that lurk unsuspected with secret powers, but your imagination isn't sufficient to establish empirical plausibility. The evidence is uniformly conclusive that when we look at sharks, we are seeing sharks and not snarks, or any other mythical creature.

Think about how a new species evolves. It begins with normal variation in a population, and that variation includes genes that are present in some members of the population and not present in others. Those genes get activated to produce proteins which have a physiological impact that is either advantageous, neutral or harmful to the organisms in question. If the environment changes such that individuals with such phenotypic expression have a fitness advantage, then more of those individuals will reproduce in the population. It is necessary to this account that there are individuals who have genes that other individuals do not, and which can be activated or unactivated, and which can confer an advantage over other individuals when activated in certain environments. So, it is necessary that there be primary actualities with no secondary actualities in all kinds of biological organisms for evolutionary change to be possible at all.

dguller said...

Josh:

I understand how one can be a rational animal and not express its powers flowing from that, as in speaking, but how can one be a rational animal, yet not have the power to be rational or an animal? Seems like your principle that secondary actualities can not be expressed is conditioned by a being's first pair; the primary act of its being what it is, and the necessary capacity for being what it is that follows from that.

Because to have the secondary actuality of rationality, then one must be reasoning about something. If one has the potential to reason, but is not actually reasoning, then one has the primary actuality of rationality, but not the secondary actuality of rationality. That is why a fetus has the primary actuality of rationality, but not the secondary actuality of rationality. That is why Terry Schiavo has the primary actuality of rationality, but not the secondary actuality of rationality.

dguller said...

Rank:

No, that isn't how it works. Either the additional power does not differentiate them as a species--and they remain human, like people of different skin colors--or their species and/or genus are totally different, which means that it's impossible for them to be confused with a human. (Remember: these things would be naturally evolved, unlike the robots designed to look like humans that I mentioned.)

First, is it possible that the whole genus-species structure is incorrect? After all, the genus-species structure cannot account for our divisions of types of Being, i.e. actual versus potential being, necessary versus contingent being, and so on. So, if we can make divisions independent of the genus-species structure, then the genus-species structure does not encompass all categories or divisions in reality.

Second, are you saying that it is metaphysically impossible for there to be two different species with different substantial forms, but we are simply incapable of identifying them as distinct species?

Third, take the primate ancestor that chimps and humans share. Call it X. Within the population of X, there was, at some point, hominids that would evolve into chimps and humans, call them C and H. At that particular point, those hominids would still be part of X, because perhaps they did not have the genetic changes that resulted in the phenotypic expressions of C and H. But what about when they did have those genetic changes? And what if those genetic changes were not activated into different protein expressions? In that case, you would have C’s and H’s present amongst X’s, and they would all appear the same.

Fourth, I still don’t understand why “rational animal” cannot be considered a genus, especially if there are both humans and numans present. Both are “rational animals”, but humans lack P and numans have P. Take the first animal to have evolved. According to you, I think, it must belong to the genus of animal, but what is its species? It seems that its genus would be “living organism”, and its species would be “sensate living organism”, which is what an “animal” is. So, would it be a genus of animal and species of animal? How can something be a genus and a species? Furthermore, if you want to say that its genus is “living organism”, and its species is “animal”, then it necessarily is possible for a species to become a genus, because through further evolution, there were different kinds of animals, and thus the species of animal, which began with the first animal, or animals, then became different varieties of animals, and thus necessitated the species animal to become a genus animal.

ozero91 said...

dguller,

"But what about when they did have those genetic changes? And what if those genetic changes were not activated into different protein expressions?"

Just to clarify, are you referring to a silent mutation here? Like a change in a base that results in the same protein that would normally be produced anyway? I may be misunderstanding your scenario, but if the Xs, Cs and Hs all have the same proteome, can they really be considered different species at this point?

Josh said...

Dguller,

That is why Terry Schiavo has the primary actuality of rationality, but not the secondary actuality of rationality.

She has both the primary actuality of rationality by virtue of her human essence, and the first potentiality of the capacity to reason. The secondary act of reasoning is what's frustrated in her case.

"in being a human being at all she has a first potentiality for speech, episodes of thought, and the like. When her brain is in good working order she also has a second potentiality for these capacities. But when it is damaged, though she loses this second potentiality, the first potentiality remains. That is precisely why, had regenerative treatments had been available, the second potentiality would have returned."

My question is, if there are numans that have evolved, then why couldn't this first potentiality, this capacity for P, be discovered by natural science?

Josh said...

And anyway, all this is very strange. The response to your objections that Numans exist undermining natural law should be "prove it," i.e., point to an actualized P. The mere possibility means nothing. You can't infer from a possibility to an actuality.

If humans exist, then natural laws applying to humanity hold. Numans are a different substantial form, and natural laws would apply to them, perhaps differently. But right now, they don't exist. Think they do? When you can point to an actualized P, then we can point to the final causes which dictate its natural laws. Until then, there's absolutely no reason to overturn the application of morality.

dguller said...

Ozero:

Just to clarify, are you referring to a silent mutation here? Like a change in a base that results in the same protein that would normally be produced anyway? I may be misunderstanding your scenario, but if the Xs, Cs and Hs all have the same proteome, can they really be considered different species at this point?

No, I’m talking about a genetic change that would result in a new protein being synthesized, which a distinct phenotypic result. However, that gene has not yet been activated, whether due to a number of factors.

dguller said...

Josh:

She has both the primary actuality of rationality by virtue of her human essence, and the first potentiality of the capacity to reason. The secondary act of reasoning is what's frustrated in her case.

Right, but the first potentiality is just a potential secondary actuality, which is what we actually observe. In other words, the first actuality necessarily contains a potentiality, much like a disposition is both actual and potential. So, one can have the power to do X, which is actually present, but one can either potentially do X or actually do X. We only observe whether X happens, and then make inferences backwards about how that was possible.

My question is, if there are numans that have evolved, then why couldn't this first potentiality, this capacity for P, be discovered by natural science?

Because P would first have to actually occur. As long as P remains a potency, natural science cannot begin to study it. It must first make an appearance, and then natural science can begin examine it. How would one study the power to do X before a being actually does X?

And anyway, all this is very strange. The response to your objections that Numans exist undermining natural law should be "prove it," i.e., point to an actualized P. The mere possibility means nothing. You can't infer from a possibility to an actuality.

All I am saying is that given evolutionary biology, the scenario that I have devised seems to be a necessary stage in the evolution of new species. And if it is a necessary stage in evolution, then given the fact that evolution is still happening in the world today, then such a stage could be present even at this time. This is not a mere logical or metaphysical possibility, but a garden variety biological possibility. No FSM here, I’m afraid.

If humans exist, then natural laws applying to humanity hold. Numans are a different substantial form, and natural laws would apply to them, perhaps differently. But right now, they don't exist. Think they do? When you can point to an actualized P, then we can point to the final causes which dictate its natural laws. Until then, there's absolutely no reason to overturn the application of morality.

That’s the point. We don’t know if you are a human or a numan. We don’t know if I am a human or a numan. All we can point to are actual behaviors, and yet those same behaviors are consistent with both humans and numans. And it is a genuine biological possibility that there could be numans present at this time, or if not at this time, then perhaps they were present in the past and died off, or perhaps they will be present in the future. This is not science fiction, FSM or zombies. It is a possibility rooted in the consequences of evolutionary biology, which I think we should take seriously.

And like I said, you can argue that it is impossible for new species to evolve from homo sapiens, but that is a strong claim that requires support, much more support than my humble invocation of possibility. Maybe you can pull it off, but we won’t know until you’ve tried. Or, you could accept that it is possible for new species to evolve from homo sapiens, and then the issue is how exactly this could happen. I think that my account would capture the essential features for such an occurrence, and if I am right, then this scenario is logically, metaphysically, physically and biologically possible, which is pretty good, I think.

rank sophist said...

First, is it possible that the whole genus-species structure is incorrect? After all, the genus-species structure cannot account for our divisions of types of Being, i.e. actual versus potential being, necessary versus contingent being, and so on. So, if we can make divisions independent of the genus-species structure, then the genus-species structure does not encompass all categories or divisions in reality.

They are perfectly compatible. Oderberg discusses both of them and their connections in Real Essentialism.

Second, are you saying that it is metaphysically impossible for there to be two different species with different substantial forms, but we are simply incapable of identifying them as distinct species?

I'm saying that substantial forms offer differences significant enough to be detected. Nothing that we know contradicts this.

Third, take the primate ancestor that chimps and humans share. Call it X. Within the population of X, there was, at some point, hominids that would evolve into chimps and humans, call them C and H. At that particular point, those hominids would still be part of X, because perhaps they did not have the genetic changes that resulted in the phenotypic expressions of C and H. But what about when they did have those genetic changes? And what if those genetic changes were not activated into different protein expressions? In that case, you would have C’s and H’s present amongst X’s, and they would all appear the same.

Oderberg covers such scenarios in Real Essentialism.

Fourth, I still don’t understand why “rational animal” cannot be considered a genus, especially if there are both humans and numans present. Both are “rational animals”, but humans lack P and numans have P. Take the first animal to have evolved. According to you, I think, it must belong to the genus of animal, but what is its species? It seems that its genus would be “living organism”, and its species would be “sensate living organism”, which is what an “animal” is. So, would it be a genus of animal and species of animal? How can something be a genus and a species? Furthermore, if you want to say that its genus is “living organism”, and its species is “animal”, then it necessarily is possible for a species to become a genus, because through further evolution, there were different kinds of animals, and thus the species of animal, which began with the first animal, or animals, then became different varieties of animals, and thus necessitated the species animal to become a genus animal.

"Sensate living organism" is not a species, though. "Sensate" is not a specific difference, but rather a further genus. If "sensate living organism" were a species, then there would be utterly featureless, abstract beings wandering around.

Also, even the first life form, whatever it was, was not a genus. It was a species. Substance -> material -> living -> animal (probably) -> and then, after a few more, specific difference. You've gotten cladism and morphology mixed up again.

Please, please go read Real Essentialism. You're just going to be engaging in a lot of pointless arguments until you do--Oderberg covers all of this stuff in incredible detail.

dguller said...

Ed:

Thanks for the clarification. It was helpful.

dguller said...

Rank:

"Sensate living organism" is not a species, though. "Sensate" is not a specific difference, but rather a further genus. If "sensate living organism" were a species, then there would be utterly featureless, abstract beings wandering around.

But it’s only a genus, because there are beings further down the tree. If there were no more beings, and thus no more specific differences, then the only difference would be sensate and non-sensate, which would only become a reality once sensate organisms evolved. Prior to that, there would only be animate beings and inanimate beings.

And it would not be featureless. It would have properties associated with animate organisms, but with the addition of sensation. The sensation may be highly primitive, just a light receptor, for example, but still count as sensation, and thus it would be like its immediate ancestor, but with this additional power. So, I don’t see how it would be featureless and abstract. It could be just like its immediate ancestor, but with an additional sensate power. How is that metaphysically impossible? It happens all the time in the natural world.

Also, even the first life form, whatever it was, was not a genus. It was a species. Substance -> material -> living -> animal (probably) -> and then, after a few more, specific difference. You've gotten cladism and morphology mixed up again.

Crap!

Please, please go read Real Essentialism. You're just going to be engaging in a lot of pointless arguments until you do--Oderberg covers all of this stuff in incredible detail.

Okay, I’ll drop this. Like I said, lots of books to read first, but his book is on my list.

Take care.

rank sophist said...

You too, dguller.

dguller said...

Rank:

Just one thing, though.

First, my understanding of “specific difference” was a power or property that a class has that specifically differentiates it from other classes of beings. So, if you have two groups of beings, X and Y, each of which shares the common property set S, but one group has property P and the other lacks property P, then P would count as a specific difference, differentiating one group from the other, especially given the fact that they otherwise are the same.

Second, are you saying that it is impossible to have a population of individuals that share the common property set S, and then a new species evolves that has S plus P?

Josh said...

Dguller,

I follow you now. However, I still don't think one could even say it's a necessary or even likely step in evolution, given the contingency of the laws of nature. And as long as we're within the domain of the natural sciences, the hypothesis likelihood (FSM) seems perfectly germane.

This isn't even broaching on the issue of what could possibly further distinguish a being in substantial form while still actualizing rational animality. If we're letting it rest, I'll be glad to hang it up as well?

ozero91 said...

Rank, your advocacy of Real Essentialism has me interested. I'm reading TLS right now as a layperson. Would Real Essentialism be a good read for a layperson?

rank sophist said...

dguller,

First, my understanding of “specific difference” was a power or property that a class has that specifically differentiates it from other classes of beings. So, if you have two groups of beings, X and Y, each of which shares the common property set S, but one group has property P and the other lacks property P, then P would count as a specific difference, differentiating one group from the other, especially given the fact that they otherwise are the same.

A specific difference is one half of a substantial form. The other half is the genus. If and only if P is a non-accidental feature--that is, if it's a substantial feature--, then X and Y are different species. On the other hand, if X and Y share genus S, but one possesses a feature P, it does not necessarily follow that they are different species. P may still be encompassed by a shared specific difference R. We can determine whether X and Y share both S and R by examining attributes other than P. Let's consider whether X and Y both possess malleability, ductility and a melting point of 1064.43 degrees Celsius. If yes, then it seems likely that P is not a substantial change. In the case of X and Y--which, here, are gold--we have a further test: do both possess atomic number 79? If yes, then X and Y are both S and R, and therefore share a substantial form, regardless of P.

Now, let's consider John and John2. John and John2 clearly share S, but John2 has P (a psychic power). If and only if John2 does not possess R (rationality), then John2 is a different species than John. However, both John and John2 possess R. Therefore, John and John2 are both S and R, and are therefore the same species. Chalk P up to genetic variation.

Second, are you saying that it is impossible to have a population of individuals that share the common property set S, and then a new species evolves that has S plus P?

To make this more interesting, let's use a scenario from one of my favorite webcomics: Axe Cop. (Link: http://axecop.com/index.php/acepisodes/read/episode_3/)

Axe Cop and his partner Dinosaur Soldier eat a lemon and an avocado, respectively, and transform ("evolve"). Axe Cop becomes Axe Cop with Lemon, while Dinosaur Soldier becomes Avocado Soldier. Axe Cop with Lemon maintains his animality (S) and his rationality (R), which means that he remains the same species regardless of the addition of lemon (P). But what of Avocado Soldier? Is he the same species? If and only if Dinosaur Soldier and Avocado Soldier possess both S and R, then they are the same species. Both clearly possess R, but one might debate S, since a vegetable body is clearly different than a t-rex body. However, because Avocado Soldier continues to possess the sensitive features of animality, one can only conclude that both possess S. Therefore, the change between Dinosaur Soldier and Avocado Soldier was accidental, and not substantial.

In a more plausible scenario, if a human X was born with a tail P, but kept S and R, then X does not possess a different substantial form, regardless of P. However, if a fish L gave birth to gill-less offspring X (X = fish iff it is a "water-dwelling vertebrate" with "gills"), then X has a different substantial form than L, and is therefore a different species than L.

I hope this is helpful.

rank sophist said...

Rank, your advocacy of Real Essentialism has me interested. I'm reading TLS right now as a layperson. Would Real Essentialism be a good read for a layperson?

I read it as a layperson--my prior experience with A-T was TLS and this blog--, but I can tell you that it's tough going. If you can stomach occasional passages like the following, I might recommend it.

"Suppose we have a stereotypical or paradigmatic sample of some kind K - call it S1. Suppose also that S1 and all other such samples in the actual world have a certain set of characteristics C1...n by virtue of which they are (according to experts, perhaps) members of K. Now unless the essentialist begs the question by presupposing that all members of K must have exactly C1...n, then we can suppose: a world w1 in which K-members have most of C1...n; a world w2 in which the K-members have most of C1...n [...]" and so on.

"Here is the standard definition of form: it is the 'intrinsic incomplete constituent principle in a substance which actualizes the potencies of matter and together with the matter composes a definite substance or natural body."

It can be very opaque and very dry. Thankfully, Oderberg does not engage in gratuitous amounts of symbolic logic--something that makes so much of analytic philosophy unreadable. It's an incredible book, though. It's what really sold me on A-T, since it answered the vast majority of the questions I had after reading Feser's work.

dguller said...

Rank:

As usual, it was most helpful. Just finished Stump's book. On to Wippel's to better understand Aquinas's metaphysics.

Take care.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Glad to be of service. Good luck in your reading.

Anonymous said...

@ozero91

I too am not a professional philosopher who read TLS and Aquinas as a gateway into Essentialist theory (along with some works by Mortimer Adler). I just started reading Real Essentialism and so far it's a fun but challenging read. It requires focus and contemplation and in some cases reading statements/paragraphs a few times over to fully understand what is being said.

In my opinion it requires patience and and a keen curiosity.

Mr. Green said...

Dguller: So, I could see a person who could be a good human, but a bad numan, and thus my moral judgment could be way off in such a case.

If the differences are so great that you could be "way off" then it seems likely that they would be great enough to distinguish them. But even if they weren't, then yes, we could be wrong. I say "so what" because this not a surprising result; human beings get things wrong all the time. If your question is merely, "Is it hypothetically possible to be wrong in such a way", then yes, of course. But you talked about "putting a dent in Thomistic morality" — if I make a mistake in doing long division, that doesn't put a dent in arithmetic. So if you are suggesting that it is a problem for the system that we sometimes misapply it, then I don't follow.

Personally, I think it is necessary that human beings are under selection pressure that over enough time, and with enough environmental changes, will result in a new species offshoot.

Well, there's no metaphysical necessity, of course. It might or might not actually ever happen. But it may be worth nothing that even drastic changes in physiology do not require a change in substance. Since, as agreed above, we do not have a perfect knowledge of human nature, it could be that our substantial form entails only a very broad physical anatomy, and that a creature that looked very different from us could still possess the same form of rational animal.

Anonymous said...

Potentialities, 'distributed' agencies (is that a soft way of putting quotes around agency?), creativity, complexity... What are our modern scientists up to?

"Our ideas of ‘brute’ materiality that required rational instruction, were forged during the Enlightenment when Galileo and Newton set out the mathematical principles of the universe world, which became known as the ‘natural laws,’ while Rene Descartes cleaved our understanding of the world into an ephemeral mind and mechanical body. Currently the modern world wrestles with these imposed polarities..."

I'd love to see a A-T analysis of this. Can its philosophic trajectory be identified?

"...[we propose] that at the end of an industrial, mechanised age of separation, it is time to reconnect with the uniquely quivering expanse of sensitive matter that makes up our universe to facilitate these new fusions and midwife a Cambrian Explosion of technological species into existence."

http://metamorf.no/?p=2036&lang=en