Saturday, September 8, 2012

Objective and subjective


One of the barriers to understanding Scholastic writers like Aquinas is their technical terminology, which was once the common coin of Western thought but is alien to most contemporary academic philosophers.  Sometimes the wording is unfamiliar even though the concepts are not.  For example, few contemporary analytic philosophers speak of act and potency, but you will find quite a few recent metaphysicians making a distinction between categorical and dispositional features of reality, which is at least similar to the former, Scholastic distinction.  Sometimes the wording is familiar but the associated concept is significantly different.  For example, contemporary philosophers generally use “property” as synonymous with “attribute,” “feature,” or “characteristic,” whereas Scholastics use it in a much more restricted sense, to refer to what is “proper” to a thing insofar as it flows from the thing’s essence (as the capacity for having a sense of humor flows from our being rational animals and is thus one of our “properties,” but having red hair does not and so is not a “property”).  Other terms too which are familiar to contemporary philosophers have shades of meaning in Scholastic writers which differ significantly from those associated with contemporary usage -- “intentionality,” “necessary,” “causation,” “essential,” and “teleology” are examples I have discussed in various places.

And then there are “objective” and “subjective,” which are sometimes used by Scholastic writers to convey more or less the opposite of what contemporary philosophers mean by these terms.

Hence, contemporary philosophers of mind like Thomas Nagel and John Searle describe as “subjective” those aspects of reality which are accessible only from the “first-person” point of view of conscious experience, and as “objective” those aspects that are equally accessible to any observer, from the “third-person” point of view.  So, bodily sensations, mental images, and consciously entertained thoughts would in this sense be “subjective” while tables, chairs, rocks, trees, muscles, bones, and neurons would be “objective.”  What is “subjective” on this usage is what is within the mind, what is part of the “inner” realm of consciousness; what is “objective” is what is without the mind, what is part of the “outer” world of extra-mental reality.  

This is, in any event, what Searle characterizes as the ontological sense of the subjective versus objective distinction.  There is also an epistemological sense, in which to be “subjective” is to be unduly influenced by emotion, prejudice, and the like, whereas to be “objective” is to be guided by reason and the facts.  As Searle rightly emphasizes, to be “objective” in the epistemological sense is fully compatible with recognizing the existence of what is “subjective” in the ontological sense.

Now Scholastic writers would certainly agree that we should be objective in the epistemological sense and that there are both subjective and objective aspects of reality in Searle and Nagel’s ontological sense.  But they also sometimes use the words “objective” and “subjective” in a very different way -- indeed, as I have indicated, in a way that very nearly reverses the meanings attached to them by writers like Searle and Nagel.

Hence, in Scholastic literature, something is sometimes described as “objective” when it exists only as an object of thought, but as “subjective” when it exists in a real subject outside the mind.  So, for example, that unicorns have horns might in this sense be described as an “objective” fact, because (since there are no unicorns in reality) what is true of a unicorn is true only qua object of thought.  By contrast, that a certain horse can run very fast is “subjective” in the sense that its capacity for speed can be predicated of a real subject outside the mind.  

To be sure, Scholastic writers also sometimes use “objective” and “subjective” in the senses that are more familiar from current philosophical usage.  But when they do not, confusion can sometimes result.  Hence modern readers of Descartes’ “trademark argument” for God’s existence are sometimes baffled by his talk of the “objective reality” of an idea, since given current usage an idea seems paradigmatically “subjective.”  But Descartes was making use of Scholastic jargon that would have been familiar to the readers of his day.

Properly understood, the claims typically made using “objective” and “subjective” in these various senses are perfectly compatible.  We just have to keep the senses straight.  Hence, if we avoid subjective bias (in Searle’s epistemological sense) we will see that we can be said to have objective knowledge (in Searle’s epistemological sense) that it is an objective fact (in Searle’s ontological sense) that the speed of a horse is a subjective feature of it (in the Scholastic sense), whereas that unicorns have horns is merely an objective fact (in the Scholastic sense) insofar as it is true of unicorns qua objects of our thoughts, which exist subjectively (in Searle’s ontological sense).

“Whoa, hold on!  Let me see if I get this.  So it isn’t subjective to say that it is objectively true that what is subjective can be objective and what is objective can be subjective.  Dude, that is so trippy!”  

I know, isn’t it?  Like something off Revolver!

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser ==

It seems to me that the use of the word "property" in chemistry retains the A-T meaning quite well.

One improvement in terminology (at least for English speakers) is the use of the single, non-ambigous word "agency" for "efficient cause"..

The linguistic barriers are indeed starting to be breached. Now if only we could find a good substitute for the highly misleading "accident".

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

Can you elaborate a little more on the modern use of categorical and dispositional and how it relates to act and potency?

I think that's a very interesting observation.

Thanks.

Tony said...

I have been frustrated to no end by the opposing usages of objective and subjective, so much so that I have tended to simply shun all uses of either term myself, and to the extent possible try to push others to avoid them as well. I doubt that using alternative phrasings can be even remotely as problematic as having to unravel the errors and misunderstandings from using the terms in discussions these days.

Eid said...

If A-Tists are want A-T misinterpreted less and taken more seriously, then they should reframe A-T in contemporary philosophy. That A-T was there first or the longest isn't a viable excuse; there is no sound reason for not optimizing the promulgation of your ideas if you believe your ideas should be spread.

aleph_0 said...

@Eid, that's precisely what Feser is doing.

Radik said...

@Eid
"there is no sound reason for not optimizing the promulgation of your ideas if you believe your ideas should be spread."

Maybe there is: When optimizing the promulgation of your ideas, impairs the promulgation of the ideas of others.

I think we should stay with the traditional terminology, so that we can harvest all the treasures of our rich tradition.

Also, scholastic terminology is pretty similiar between the different world languages, so that it makes it easier to comprehend and translate foreign texts.

Eid said...

Feser is explaining A-T to an audience familiar with contemporary philosophy, he is not reframing A-T within contemporary philosophy. To reframe, A-Tists would have to drop Aquinas et al, and then reformulate Aquinas et al's philosophy in such a way that it engages with the various problems in philosophy that they oppose or support. This would require using the language and tools of contemporary philosophy. Of course, this would unobscure Aquinas and make the philosophy considerably more open to critique. But then critical and free thinkers should welcome and encourage this.

(btw, posting comments doesn't work so well. regardless of whether the posting is successful, I receive an error for the captcha.)

Josh said...

Eid,

It is Ed's contention (so far as I understand it) that modern philosophy carries incompatible baggage, and therefore, you're backwards. If modern philosophy has made mistakes where A-T hasn't, then the recasting needs to be in the opposite direction. A lot of modern philosophy is defined by particular opposition to A-T premises. There's no fitting a square peg into a round hole in some cases.

That A-T was there first or the longest isn't a viable excuse; there is no sound reason for not optimizing the promulgation of your ideas if you believe your ideas should be spread.

That modern thought is here now or the newest isn't a viable excuse, etc......

Tony said...

there is no sound reason for not optimizing the promulgation of your ideas if you believe your ideas should be spread.

Eid, I see that you are nice and sure of your conclusions. It might help if you also knew something about the subject matter. What if, just for example, the optimizing of promulgation is pointless without optimizing its intelligibility, and if that optimization requires much if not all of the standard A-T language? Hmmm? Without actually knowing A-T itself, you cannot judge the matter.

Anonymous said...

Eid --

It's true we must speak the same language if we are to communicate. But I submit that the physical words of scholasticism (e.g., form, substance, intention, right, essential, action, and many others) are ubiquitous even in ordinary, non-technical language -- but their *meanings* have developed, spliced, sometimes changed a bit, sometimes a lot, sometimes completely. The result is that philosophical vocabulary needs a basic lexicon to which everyone can refer, and in which most schools will find some overlap with their own meanings. In other words, for them it won't be like learning Japanese.

In other words, the language of philosophy today is largely debased old scholastic terminology. Better to return to the old meanings which were usually crafted very, very carefully over the course of centuries.

Yes, there are some fine new words. What springs to mind is the treasure trove of semiological terminology invented by Peirce for philosophy of language. But note: he knew a least some of the scholastics very, very well. Wise man.

Jonathan said...

@anonymous 12:11am

I'm not sure if you are the same anon who is engaged with a discussion with Jesse/Reighley/et al in the other combox, but if you are, might I suggest you consider taking on a pseudonym? You seem to have a lot to add to the conversation, so identifying yourself will make your contributions (and arguments) much more clear. Maybe "theanonymousposter"?

If you aren't the referred to anonymous, carry on.

Ann Olivier said...

Hello, Jonathan --

No, I'm not that same anonymous. But thanks for listening anyway.

I tried to use my own name, but that didn't work (I don't know why), so I just checked "anonymous". I'll give it another try.

Eid said...

I just wanted to say that I'm unimpressed with the replies to my comment thus far. (Hopefully this comment will spur better responses.)

Crude said...

I'm not sure what you want, Eid. Ed's literally written multiple books that explain many of these views to those unfamiliar. They've been pretty popular and had an impact - and so have the blog entries he's written.

If you're holding out because you personally can't grasp this stuff, the problem seems to be more yours than anyone else's.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: The linguistic barriers are indeed starting to be breached. Now if only we could find a good substitute for the highly misleading "accident".

Actually, that's one of the terms that has largely preserved its meaning. An accident is something that just happens: as an attribute, it's one that you don't have to have, it just happens that you do; as an event, it's something that wasn't planned, but it just happened anyway. Human beings don't by their essence have to have red hair, but you might happen to have red hair by accident of birth. Of course, "an accident" often carries a negative connotation, but that's because we don't like it when things don't happen the way we planned; but the ordinary meaning also applies to a "happy accident". Once you see the etymology, I don't think there's anything very confusing about the term in either context.

Mr. Green said...

As for terminology in general, the point is about marketing. Modern terminology will not make Scholastic philosophy any easier to understand or to develop, but the old terminology does make it harder to increase brand mind-share. On the other hand, even if all the texts could suddenly be rewritten, that wouldn't make everyone a Thomist. I do think that Scholastic philosophy needs to be "sold" more, and more aggressively, than it has been in recent times, but it's not clear how to do this other than with efforts like Ed's own books, which as mentioned are excellent at explaining the concepts to a modern audience. He doesn't resist translating ideas into modern language when it's helpful to do so, and he doesn't shy away from explaining the traditional language. I'm not sure there's anything anyone else could or should do differently.

What we really need are more Fesers. A good on-line Scholastic glossary with examples would be helpful. And Scholastic philosophers ought to be more involved with computer science. Maybe unbeknownst to me they are, but I haven't seen much in the vein of the paper to which Glenn recently linked about Aristotle and OO-Programming. Not being exposed to anything else, computer geeks are suckers for modern mechanistic views, even though Aristotelian positions make a far better fit with programming itself. Not only that, but Scholastic philosophy ought to be able to offer insight into programming paradigms (such as object-orientation) that are being stumblingly rediscovered. It should be being sold as the philosophy for the Information Age… because that's what it is!

Ann O. said...

Mr. Green --

It is my understanding of Aristotelian metaphysics that accidents belong to substances as further perfections of some sort. Some are necessarily represent from the start of the substance and necessarily continue as parts of the whole being. These "necessary accidents' are called "properties", and they include such perfections as quantity in material things and the powers of intellect and will in human beings. They help define the species. Other accidents do not persist in that manner, and some are not necessarily present in all kinds of a species, and so they do not define them, e.g., red-haired in humans.

I'd say that "accident" in ordinary English means an event, and events include relationships among many substances, and, as you point out, accidents in this sense often are negatives for the involved substances, not perfections.

There are, I think, problems with the A=T theory of accidents posed by contemporary science, but the fundamental notion is a very useful one, very descriptive of important facets of things. ("Thing". Now there's an ambiguous term. Sigh.)

Ann O. said...

Oops -- should be: some are necessarily PRESENT from the start

Madison Jordan said...

Dr. Feser, please respond to Craig's thoughts here:


http://www.reasonablefaith.org/proof-of-divine-simplicity

Eduardo said...

O_O don't stop there Ann, what are the problems with the accident theory ?

Eid said...

Crude, you and others like you in these comments assume I'm unfamiliar with A-T for the purposes of discounting and rationalizing away what I'm asking, but I am familiar with A-T and this blog and Feser's books.

And that's exactly the problem, the responses to my comment have been political rather actual answers.

Eid said...

Mr. Green,

I agree entirely about Scholastic philosophy becoming more involved in computer science (and even non-scholastic philosophy). Such a project will bring more clarity and precision to philosophy, and reframing Scholasticism within computer science would be considerably better than reframing it within contemporary philosophy (although, contemporary philosophy is moving in that direction anyway). And where can I find the Aristotle and OO-programming paper that you referenced?

Mr. Green said...

Madison Jordan: Dr. Feser, please respond to Craig's thoughts here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/proof-of-divine-simplicity

The Profeser's Aquinas explains St. Thomas's doctrine of simplicity and the background for it. Both the book and the old posts here are highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand Thomism. In particular, Ed has addressed WLC in this post: William Lane Craig on divine simplicity

Josh said...

I just wanted to say that I'm unimpressed with the replies to my comment thus far. (Hopefully this comment will spur better responses.)

Yawn, well, better luck next time. My opinion is Chesterton's (big surprise):

"There is one metaphor of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying, "You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction, can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour. In the same way society, being a piece of human construction, can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed.

There is another proverb, "As you have made your bed, so you must lie on it"; which again is simply a lie. If I have made my bed uncomfortable, please God I will make it again.


Glenn said...

Eid,

And where can I find the Aristotle and OO-programming paper that you referenced?

The paper mention by Mr. Green is Aristotle and Object-Oriented Programming: Why Modern Students Need Traditional Logic.

A related paper (by the same authors) is An Aristotelian Understanding of ObjectOriented Programming.

Then there is the (very) wee, non-academic article Having trouble grasping object-oriented programming? Read Plato.

Of interest also may be Michelle Ramona Silva's dissertation Digiigital Alchemy: Matter And Metamorphosis In Contemporary Digital Animation And Interface Design.

(From Silva's abstract, In contrast to scholarly approaches to digital technology, computer engineers, interface designers, and special effects producers have invented a robust set of terms and phrases to describe the practice of digital animation. In order to address this disconnect between producers of new media and scholars of new media, I argue that the process of digital animation borrows extensively from a set of preexisting terms describing materiality that were prominent for centuries prior to the scientific revolution. Specifically, digital animators and interface designers make use of the ancient science, art, and technological craft of alchemy. Both alchemy and digital animation share several fundamental elements: both boast the power of being able to transform one material, substance, or thing into a different material, substance, or thing. Both seek to transcend the body and materiality but in the process, find that this elusive goal (realism and gold) is forever receding onto the horizon.

(And from her introduction, Alchemy as a cultural practice, demonstrates the metaphysical logic of diminishing horizons. In short, despite breathtakingly real visual effects in contemporary digital practice, the real goal or "gold" continually slips further away the closer the practitioner comes to realizing the much coveted levels of realism. The operant theory of metaphysics at work in this dissertation is borrowed from Aristotle's theory of the twofold nature of reality. The alchemists were deeply influenced by this theory and attempted to put these concepts into practice. Although certainly Pre-Socratic thinkers were invested in understanding the material world, few would disagree that Aristotle posits the first systematic approach to natural philosophy. The cultural history of transformation that continues to inform contemporary practices of material transformation can be traced to the long-held belief, stemming from Aristotle, that metamorphosis is possible due to the dual nature of material things. This theory of materiality suggested that objects composed of form and matter can be artificially altered and manipulated. My concern here is not to connect Aristotelian formalism to digital alchemy on the grounds that its understanding of matter is "scientific" but to explicate how these views serve as a cultural substratum of how we think about the status of matter across a wide range of social contexts.)

- - - - -

PS Am I the only one who thinks that Eid sounds like it may be an alter-ego of gip?...

Glenn said...

PS Am I the only one who thinks that Eid sounds like it may be an alter-ego of gip?...

This is poorly phrased; I didn't mean to make an object out of a human being. My apologies.

Glenn said...

The first link doesn't work; don't know how that happened. We'll try again: Aristotle and Object-Oriented Programming: Why Modern Students Need Traditional Logic... Yup, it works (at least when being previewed).

Glenn said...

Josh,

Yawn, well, better luck next time. My opinion is Chesterton's (big surprise):

"There is one metaphor of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying, "You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction, can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour. In the same way society, being a piece of human construction, can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed.


I recently completed Robert Littell's An Agent in Place. From page 25,

She glanced at a tiny watch on her wrist. ...it had been constructed so that the hour and minute hands ran counterclockwise. "If time ran backward," her Polish friend had said when he gave her the watch as a joke, "you could go back in time and undo the future. You could fix things so that things did not need to be fixed."

Chesterton puts it nicely, and Dr. Feser--though I do not mean to put pressure on him--is fixing things that shouldn't have had to be fixed.

Glenn said...

...that shouldn't have had to be fixed.

...that should not have come to be in need of fixin'.



Radik said...

@Glenn

A big "thank you" from me for the links, Glenn!

I am studying mathematics and computer science in combination, and the analogy between OOP and Aristotelian metaphysics has really fascinated me for some time now.

@Mr. Green
An on-line scholastics glossary is a great idea! Or what about a Schlastics wiki? If there isnt already one, maybe we should start one?

Mr. Green said...

Eid: Such a project will bring more clarity and precision to philosophy, and reframing Scholasticism within computer science would be considerably better than reframing it within contemporary philosophy (although, contemporary philosophy is moving in that direction anyway).

That's a good point about contemporary philosophy. But I do think it is comp. sci. that would benefit more from the clarity and precision of Scholastic terminology and thought. The old language is never going to go away, so it is worth learning, but from a P.R. perspective there's no use being stodgy about it and insisting that people learn the arcane vocabulary before they get to the fun stuff. It's no disrespect to Scholastic thought to translate it into more familiar terms and introduce the original language along the way. (Which, again, is what Ed does and is one of the reasons why he's such a good teacher.)

Mr. Green said...

Ann O.: There are, I think, problems with the A=T theory of accidents posed by contemporary science, but the fundamental notion is a very useful one, very descriptive of important facets of things.

Yes, and certainly one needs to be taught the technical meaning of "accident", just as one needs to be taught the technical way physicists use the term "light" (and in both cases the relationship between the technical and everyday usage makes sense). Not sure what you're thinking of for problems posed by science — actual science (as opposed to interpretations thereof) fits A-T as well as or better than modern positions.

Mr. Green said...

Radik: I am studying mathematics and computer science in combination, and the analogy between OOP and Aristotelian metaphysics has really fascinated me for some time now.

I have a computer manual that invoked Plato in describing classes. After quoting a few lines from the Euthyphro, the author states, "The problems with Plato's characterization are well known: […] thus, his program is almost certainly doomed to failure as an explanation of how the world works. But he is perfectly accurate about how an object-oriented program works!"

Of course, Plato was fundamentally correct: forms are a necessary foundation for understanding reality, but due to accidents(!) of history, that vital discovery became somehow obscured (at least from general academic view). Interestingly — and ironically, considering how many computery people show up here suggesting the opposite — it seems to me that a great deal of Aristotelianism can be elucidated by considering how one would approach the issues in OOP.

An on-line scholastics glossary is a great idea! Or what about a Scholastics wiki? If there isnt already one, maybe we should start one?

I've pondered that myself. My main concern is quality-control. I'm no expert myself, and a resource with errors can be worse than no resource at all. It definitely would be valuable (consider how many comments here revolve around explaining the same basic points). It might work if we could get a core of reliable volunteers to do the main writing and editing, with oversight from one or more Thomist professors like Ed. (They couldn't simply write it all, as ideal as that would be, but maybe they could vet it, provide the old nihil obstat to make sure it didn't get out of line.)

Ann O. said...

My problem is not with the concept of accidents, nor with the distinction between properties and non-properties, but I do have some bothersome questions about whether Aristotle's concepts are adequate to explain some of the apparent findings of contemporary physics and biology. I wonder whether the principles of being are more numerous than he postulated.

It seems to me that biologists, following Aristotle in fact, are still plagued with taxonomic problems. It seems to be a fact that because we do not directly grasp the substantial forms of organisms, we must rely on their properties to reveal their fundamental natures at least to some extent. We therefore include properties in our definitions of species. For instance, the human intellect and will, being known by introspection to be spiritual, reveal that they must have their origin in principles (souls) which are themselves also spiritual . But take the case of, say, a little purple frog with green polka dotted skin, the only species found in a certain pond deep in the Amazon. All of the frogs in the pond are purple with green polka dots. Is the purple-plus-green polka dots a property? ISTM we cannot really tell from the nature of purpleness and green polka dots *what* the nature of the frog (its substance) is -- is its substantial form somehow a purple, green polka-dotted one? Silly question? It sounds silly, but I think it really isn't -- we reason from the spirituality of the intellect and will to the spirituality of the human soul, so shouldn't we reason from the green-polkadotted purpleness of the frogs' skin to a purple-skinned with green polka-dots substantial form in the frogs? Shouldn't the biologists look for some sort of green polka dotted factor elsewhere in the frog?

I understand very little of contemporary physics, but given the little that I seem to grasp, I also have to wonder whether or not the Aristotelian concept of the category of position (an accident) can stand up to Einstein's theory of space-time (which seems to be well established), and what little I understand (or guess I understand) of the theory of the entanglement of certain sub-atomic particles makes me wonder whether Aristotle's notions of action and passion (two accidents) can adequately describe entanglements. (This is assuming that the entanglement events are real -- it seems that they are still controversial.)

I also have questions about the nature of matter and quantity as it relates to Aristotle's "materia", but that problem may be peculiar to me or perhaps to the physicists definition of "matter", IF they have a settled definition. (The Oxford science dictionary doesn't offer even one definition of the word!) Wikipedia (the ultimate authority on everything) defined it last time I looked in it terms of quantity (measurable dimentions), but is that what the physicists actually do? If so, the physicists have reduced quantity to matter -- or matter to quantity.

Crude said...

Just chiming in to say that in one of my object oriented programming manuals, Plato was indeed referenced. Considering how OOP is set up (you have the class as the 'ideal' and objects as particular instantiations of that ideal, complete with accidents), it's pretty easy to see why anyone who was aware of him would go to him immediately for the model.

George R. said...

I also have to wonder whether or not the Aristotelian concept of the category of position (an accident) can stand up to Einstein's theory of space-time (which seems to be well established)…

Ann, it’s an ongoing scandal, imo, that certain academics who like to go around calling themselves Aristotelians refuse to stand up to Einstein and his ridiculous theories. It should be painfully obvious to anyone with even a perfunctory familiarity with Relativity that it is completely incompatible and irreconcilable with Aristotelian principles. If Einstein was right, then Aristotle was wrong, and vice versa. It’s that simple.

As for the theory of space-time being “firmly established,” it’s not firmly established… except in the vapid imaginings of those who have no idea what they’re talking about. Space-time is a completely unintelligible and metaphysically absurd concept which simply cannot have any actual being in reality -- and even the proponents of GTR will admit this and say that it is merely an abstract system for plotting data. When it comes to explaining cosmological reality, the General Theory is a complete failure.

… and don’t even get me going on his Special Theory.

The Masked Chicken said...

For those who want to spend time doing some reading on definitional problems, might I suggest the Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) at Stanford, home to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The website is: http://www-csli.stanford.edu/

Many of the book have been made available for free downloading: http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/bling/2007/11/13/csli-books-for-free/

The Chicken

Ann O. said...

Roy Defferari's monumental Dictionary of St. Thomas Aquinas (I've seen other titles) is a boon for Aquinas fans, but hardbacks and used copies are very expensive. It seems to me I saw somewhere that a paperback edition is coming, but I could be wrong.

There used to be a small lexicon of scholastic terms, whose name and author I've forgotten. I didn't find it very useful.

James said...

“it’s an ongoing scandal, imo, that certain academics who like to go around calling themselves Aristotelians refuse to stand up to Einstein and his ridiculous theories.”

That would be all of them, wouldn’t it? Do you have some example of someone calling Einstein’s theories (some equivalent of) ridiculous, when that individual (a) is an academic; (b) self-identifies as an Aristotelian; and (c) held those beliefs until at least somewhat recently?

“If Einstein was right, then Aristotle was wrong, and vice versa.”

On some occasions, a few of them famous, Aristotle was undoubtedly wrong. The mere fact of disagreement doesn’t (and shouldn’t) cause anyone to shed the Aristotelian label if it otherwise fits. But presumably, you have in mind some foundational incompatibility between Aristotle and the theory of relativity — something that about relativity that would (if true) render false nearly everything about Aristotelianism.

You wrote that the source of that cataclysmic incompatibility should be graspable by anyone with a perfunctory understanding of relativity, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to describe it specifically?

Josh said...

Wuellner's Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy, and Summary of Scholastic Principles, for those so inclined.

George R. said...

You wrote that the source of that cataclysmic incompatibility should be graspable by anyone with a perfunctory understanding of relativity, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to describe it specifically?

James,
Einstein denied absolute locomotion, reducing all motion to relative motion. For Einstein, absolute motion would depend on an absolute frame of reference, and since, according to him, none such thing existed, neither can there be absolute motion. For Aristotle, on the other hand, absolute motion depended not on a frame of reference but on a mover. That which is moved is in motion, and that which is not moved is at rest. Nor does being at rest depend on an absolute frame of reference, but rather it’s the absolute frame of reference that depends on something being at rest. Whatever is not moved by a mover is at rest and is thereby an absolute frame of reference.

Of course, Einstein often talked as if things were moved absolutely. That’s because his thesis on relative motion was at bottom irrational, and no rational creature can for long predicate his speech and thought on an irrational notion.

Josh said...

George R,

Are we certain there's not an equivocation at work here on 'motion' between Einstein and Aristotle?

George R. said...

No equivocation here, Josh. Aristotle's understanding of motion extending to more things than Einstein's, but it included what the latter meant by it.

21st Century Scholastic said...

I'm all for starting/contributing to a quality "scholastic wiki"! Oh, and as a network admin i find all this stuff about Aristotle and programming just amazing!

O.T.: MR. GREEN, do you have an e-mail address?

Josh said...

George R,

I'm having trouble parsing your paragraph to James if I input Aristotle's general notion of motion as change in amongst Einstein's more specific motion as movement of material bodies, and then how that falsifies the notion of position/location as an accident?

Glenn said...

21st Century Scholastic,

Oh, and as a network admin i find all this stuff about Aristotle and programming just amazing!

Now you can, when occasion permits, refer to subjects in lieu of objects.

"What the heck are you talking about?"

"Oh, sorry. What we think of as objects, the Scholastics sometimes used to refer to as subjects."

"'The Scholastics'? Who were they?"

"I'm glad you asked. You see..."




Michael Brazier said...

George R:

Don't blame Einstein for denying absolute local motion; the man responsible for casting out that part of Aristotle's physics is Galileo. In fact, it was Galileo's chief contribution to science to show that uniform local motion is not a motion in Aristotle's sense, and that explaining it does not require a mover. Einstein was, in that respect, only following where Galileo led.

JesseM said...

George R.:
Einstein denied absolute locomotion, reducing all motion to relative motion.

Einstein denied that objects have absolute speeds/velocities (as did Galileo, as Michael Brazier said), but there is still an absolute difference between inertial motion and accelerated motion in his theories (inertial motion is understood to mean motion along a geodesic path).

21st Century Scholastic said...

@Glenn: LoL! A perfect example of "becoming all things to all people"! ;-)

George R. said...

Michael and Jesse,

Thanks for those points. I can't argue with what you're saying there.

lee faber said...

Concerning the lexicon conversation: there are also helpful lexicons at the back of Allan Wolter's translation of Duns Scouts' Quodlibet and the Wolter-Bychkov edition of Scotus' Reportatio IA, for those interested in other scholastics.

Mr. Green said...

Ann O.: ISTM we cannot really tell from the nature of purpleness and green polka dots *what* the nature of the frog (its substance) is -- is its substantial form somehow a purple, green polka-dotted one?

It's true that we can't infallibly read of metaphysical truths from empirical ones, but all that really means is there are some things we don't know… although they have their roots in metaphysics, biological classifications don't (and don't need to) line up with substantial forms. I think the real problem is that (some) biologists make the mistake of thinking that how they view the world in order to do biology is the last word in how reality is. Same for physics — relativity clearly is established and thus tells us something true about the physical world, but nothing in that directly contradicts Aristotle unless you try to treat the equations as the whole and only reality.

we reason from the spirituality of the intellect and will to the spirituality of the human soul, so shouldn't we reason from the green-polkadotted purpleness of the frogs' skin to a purple-skinned with green polka-dots substantial form in the frogs?

Well, purple skin is the kind of thing that can be an accident while an intellectual soul has to be the form of a substance. There are a lot more metaphysical possibilities for skin-colour that we can't read off from what is physically observable. It doesn't really matter for metaphysics because nothing important follows from purple green-spotted skin being, say, a proper accident rather than a common one; and it doesn't matter to biology, because it's concerned with empirical aspects.

Wikipedia (the ultimate authority on everything) defined it last time I looked in it terms of quantity (measurable dimentions), but is that what the physicists actually do? If so, the physicists have reduced quantity to matter -- or matter to quantity.

Yes, I think that's right, i.e. physicists' idea of matter is basically "the stuff we're measuring when we measure stuff". And just as it's tempting to see every problem as a nail when your tool is a hammer, it can be tempting when your tool is physics to see reality as material quantities and forget about material qualities.

Mr. Green said...

21st Century Scholastic: I'm all for starting/contributing to a quality "scholastic wiki"! Oh, and as a network admin i find all this stuff about Aristotle and programming just amazing!

Since programming is just "creating" little worlds, it of course would have to be applicable. Not that making up worlds is something new — man has been writing fiction since forever. But most stories are not especially metaphysically interesting because they simply piggy-back on reality. Animated cartoons, however, can be very instructive, I think, in seeing how to build a universe that doesn't follow the reductive mechanistic atomism that most of us have absorbed growing up in the modern world. (For example, I had trouble with the idea of "virtual parts" until noticing that Daffy Duck is not built up out of atoms, even though he can be disintegrated into atoms should circumstances dictate.)

O.T.: MR. GREEN, do you have an e-mail address?

Certainly: mr.green ať telus dọt net

Radik said...

Re: Analogies between OOP and Aristotle

Here are some:

Nature - Type (not abstract types)
Individuation - Instantiation
Genus - Superclass (properly it should be an abstract superclass)
Species - Subclass, Subtype
Difference - That by which a superclass is extended in the subclass
Universals - types and abstract types as such



The relation between genus and species - the inheritance relation (is-a)

Categories:
Substance - Object
Action - Function
Quantity and Quality - Fields/member variables

Relations and Passion are only rudimentaraly there.
You could see the function parameters as the passive subject in an action.

Post-Predicaments:
Prior-Posterior - Arrays, Trees (Ordered sets generally)

You have also the one-many distinction in single objects and sets.

good/evil or bad - more or less: a fully initialized object, and an object that is in the initialization (construction) process. As a corollary: there is no object that is absolutely evil :)

creation - contruction (the "new" keyword is like Gods "fiat!")

In the hypostatic union you have an example of polymorphism: Gods nature in union with human nature. In OOP terms: The object Christ is of type God, and of type human. :) But there is a small problem, God is not a genus, so he cannot be instantiated one or several times. He just is.

These come to mind for now.

Radik said...

Here is another one:

A function that is not executed is just potential. A function which is executed is an actual action

Radik said...

final cause - that what a function is supposed to accomplish, or what the construction process is supposed to build (the finished object).

the category of time is of course the running time of the programm.

Ann O. said...

Radix,

Thanks for the OOP analogies. Fascinating.

Ann O. said...

Speaking of lexicons and OOP, here (apparently) is an attempt to form a dictionary of Biblical Hebrew words based on similar principles. Extremely Aristotelian, though Aristotle's name isn't mentioned. Don't be put of by the apparently redundant title of "Semantic Dictionary ..

"http://www.sdbh.org/framework/index.html

Yes, The Philosopher is returning.